Awesome Astute “surpassed every expectation” on her toughest test yet
1 March 2012

The first of the Navy’s next-generation submarines HMS Astute has returned to Scotland after her most demanding stint at sea.

The hunter-killer nuclear submarine has spent the past four and half months off the Eastern Seaboard of North America undergoing extensive trials – including firing her main weaponry for the first time.

Astute's crew work on her casing as she arrives back on the Clyde. Pictures: LA(Phot) Paul Halliwell, FRPU North

SHE’S big, she’s black and she’s back.

The most advanced submarine Britain has ever sent to sea today returned home to the Clyde after a 142-day deployment to North America for her most important series of sea trials to date.

It was also a voyage of discovery for the hunter-killer boat which was tried and tested as never before – and she came through with flying colours.

She spent 77 days at sea, 65 alongside, and was inspected by 18 stars worth of American and British naval authority – including the First Sea Lord and America’s naval equivalent, the Chief of Naval Operations.

She ‘battled’ against USS New Mexico, America’s newest and best Virginia-class hunter attack submarine. She deep dived, fired her Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles… and over the course of the deployment she sailed 16,400 miles.

Within sight of Helensburgh for the first time in more than four months

Her Commanding Officer, Glasgow-born Cdr Iain Breckenridge, 45, was met in the Clyde by his wife, Steph and she sailed with him the last few miles to the Coulport side of HM Naval Base Clyde.

He said: “We are looking forward now to a bright future – this is a submarine of tremendous capability.”

Of the deployment, which saw them visit the giant US Naval Base in Kings Bay, Georgia, Cdr Breckenridge said: “We met and surpassed every expectation. She is just better than any other submarine I have ever been on.

“Astute is still on trial and she is first of class which always brings its own problems but we are beginning to look beyond those problems and see the promise.

“We fired off four Tomahawks, aimed at a corner of Eglin Air Force Base to test for accuracy and we fired six Spearfish torpedoes, including the first salvo firing by a British submarine for 15 years.

“Our sonar is fantastic and I have never before experienced holding a submarine at the range we were holding USS New Mexico. The Americans were utterly taken aback, blown away with what they were seeing.”

Not entirely unusual Scottish mist greets Astute

Astute’s captain, whose first submarine was diesel-powered HMS Olympus, basically a redesign of WW2 technology, said: “This is the future – Astute is on its way – and she is still a trials boat.”

The oldest man on board, coxswain CPO John Adam, 50, from Old Kilpatrick, said: “To have achieved what we achieved is a very significant milestone. The whole world was watching us and we did it.

“To serve on a boat like this in the twilight of my career has actually been the highlight of my career.”

Astute fires a Tomahawk missile for the first time. Picture: PO(Phot) Paul Punter, FRPU East

From the oldest to the youngest man on the 7,800-tonne boat, stoker Jonathon Ball, 19, from Ballyclare in Northern Ireland, who only signed up in January of last year. Astute is his first submarine and the deployment marked his first trip to America.

“I volunteered for this because it was the bigger challenge and submarines are a lot more interesting than skimmers,” he said. “America was just great.”

Astute will never need refuelling. Her sonar can track ships 3,000 miles away and her missiles have a target range of 1,200 miles – with accuracy measured in metres.

Not only that, naval command in Britain can re-programme the missiles in mid-flight and aim for another target, even if the submarine is thousands of miles away.

Next in line for her is a Base Maintenance Period at Faslane, before returning to sea later in the year for more trials.

Cdr Breckenridge said: “She is one awesome piece of kit – and I am very proud of the fellowship that has formed in a very fine crew.”