New Cutaway of Royal Navy's Trafalgar Class Submarine
The Trafalgar Class are the final Cold War era Royal Navy attack submarines. Thoroughly upgraded throughout their lives, three remain in service. Still in the top tier of submarines, they are workhorses, often tasked with extremely long or challenging deployments. This includes everything from the arctic to the tropics.
Yet although they are well known as far as submarines go, they retain a significant air of mystery. Relatively little information is available in the public domain about many aspects.
A rare photo showing the flank sonar arrays. The retractable hydroplanes are also clearly visible near the water level
Possibly due to their Cold War (and pre-internet) start in life, they are better kept secretes than the Astute Class which followed. Things like their unusual torpedo tube arrangement (four forward shooting and one angle down), and their large flank array sonars, are rarely mentioned in open sources. They have also been fitted with a series of exotic non-acoustic sensors. Most recently when HMS Talent (S92) pulled in to Gibraltar on February 2.
The non-acoustic 'wake homing' sensors are mounted on theforward casing and either side of the fin (sail). They comprise a number of probes which project forward and are similar in appearance and concept to the Russian SOKS (System Obnarujenia Kilvaternovo Sleda) system. The exact sensors are not available in public sources but they can likely detect water density, chemical composition sand radiation. This system gives the submarine an additional passive means of trailing another submarine. This may be increasingly important as adversary submarines become quieter.
The Trafalgar class were designed in the 1970s are an iterative improvement on the preceding Swiftsure Class. In keeping with Royal Navy tradition all 7 boats have named beginning with the same letter of the alphabet. Therefore they are informally known as the T-boats, as the Swiftsures were the S-boats. This tradition has been retained for the following Upholder Class, Vanguard and Astute Classes. But it will be broken by the future Dreadnought Class.
They were originally intended as a hunter-killer, capable of trailing Soviet submarines. This anti-submarine capability remains but they soon took on significant ISR (Intelligence Surveillance and Reconnaissance) roles. In this role they are reputed to have been frequent visitors to arctic waters. Then in the 1990s they added a 'first night' land attack capability with Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM). These have been fired in anger and are now the improved Block-IV model.
Learn EVERYTHING about Special Forces subsCovert Shores 2nd Edition. A world history of naval Special Forces, their missions and their specialist vehicles. SEALs, SBS, COMSUBIN, Sh-13, Spetsnaz, Kampfschwimmers, Commando Hubert, 4RR and many more.
Check it out on Amazon
Today the main underwater weapon of the Trafalgar Class is the Spearfish torpedo. This is a dual-purpose weapon able to hit both submarines and surface targets. It is in the same class as the US Navy's Mk.48 ADCAP. The latest version, the Spearfish Mod-1, has recently been tested aboard HMS Talent. The Mod-1 has improved homing, warhead and tactical systems. It is guised by a high bandwidth fibre optic data link.
The Trafalgar class did not inherit the special forces focus of some Swifture Class submarines. These had been equipped with a detachable dry deck shelter (DDS) for an SDV Mk.VIII minisub. The DDS capability was instead carried forward by the Astute class which are among a newer generation of submarines designed with DDS capabilities from the outset. The Trafalgar class do operate with Special Forces however.
Trafalgar Class submarine exercising with Royal Marines otr Special Forces. Photo Calum Gillies (Twitter)
Related articles (Full index of popular Covert Shores articles)
British SSN(R) next generation Royal Navy SSN
Project 885 'YASEN' (Severodvinsk Class) SSGN. w/Cutaway
Chinese Type-093 Shang Class Submarine
Project 09851 Khabarovsk Class Submarine. w/Cutaway
Type-212 AIP submarine w/Cutaway
Project 09852 Belgorod Special Mission submarine (spy sub). w/Cutaway