Swiftsure class submarine

Swiftsure class submarine
Class overview
Builders: Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd
Operators:  Royal Navy
Preceded by: Churchill class
Succeeded by: Trafalgar class
In commission: 17 April 1973 - 10 December 2010
Completed: 6
Active: 0
Retired: Swiftsure
General characteristics
Displacement: 4,400 tonnes (4,850.17 short tons) standard; 4,900 tonnes (5,401.33 short tons) submerged
Length: 82.9 metres (272 ft)
Beam: 9.8 metres (32 ft)
Draught: 8.5 metres (28 ft)
Installed power: nuclear
Speed: In excess of 28 knots (52 km/h) when dived
Range: Unlimited (nuclear)
Complement: 116 officers and men
Sensors and
processing systems:
Bow, flank, active intercept, and towed array sonar
Armament: 5 x 21 in (533 mm) torpedo tubes

The Swiftsure class were a class of nuclear-powered fleet submarines (SSN) in service with the Royal Navy from the early 1970s until 2010.

Six boats were built and commissioned. Swiftsure was decommissioned in 1992 due to damage suffered to her pressure hull during trials. Splendid followed in 2004 after defence cuts caused a reduction in the size of the RN SSN fleet. Spartan was decommissioned in January 2006, with Sovereign following on 12 September 2006. Superb was decommissioned on 26 September 2008. The remaining boat in the class, Sceptre, was decommissioned in December 2010.[2] They are being replaced by the Astute-class submarines.

A few were upgraded with the capability to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles in addition to their original armaments of torpedoes, mines and anti-ship missiles. They were also the first class of Royal Navy submarines to be fitted "as built" with a shrouded pump-jet propulsor.[3]



The Dreadnought, Valiant and Churchill classes all had a "whale-shaped hull", of "near-perfect streamlining giving maximum underwater efficiency". The hulls were of British design, "based on the pioneering work of the US Navy in Skipjack and Albacore."[4] The hull of the Swiftsure was a different shape and maintained its diameter for a much greater length than previous classes.[5] Compared with the Valiants the Swiftsures were 13 feet[3] "shorter with a fuller form, with the fore-planes set further forward, with one less torpedo tube and with a deeper diving depth."[5]

A second major change was in propulsion. Rather than the seven/nine-bladed propeller used by the previous classes, all but the first of the Swiftsure-class submarines used a shrouded pump-jet propulsor.[3] The prototype propulsor had powered the Churchill.[6] It is not clear why the Swiftsure was the only one of the class not fitted with a propulsor.[3] The propulsor was perhaps as much as 50% more efficient than a propeller, producing the same speed at lower revolutions, thus reducing the noise signature. In addition all pipework connections to equipment on the main machinery raft had expansion/flexible coupling connections, which also reduced noise. The US Navy secured a licence to copy the main shaft flexible coupling arrangement in US-built submarines.[3]

Construction programme

Pennant number Name (a) Hull builder Ordered Laid down Launched Accepted
into service
Commissioned Decommissioned Estimated
building cost[7]
S126 Swiftsure VSEL, Barrow.[8] 3 November 1967 [5] 6 June 1969 [8] 7 September 1971 [8] 17 April 1973 [8] 1992 £37,100,000 [5]
S108 Sovereign VSEL, Barrow.[8] 16 May 1969 [5] 18 September 1970 [8] 17 February 1973 [8] 22 July 1974 [9] 11 July 1974 [8] 12 September 2006 £31,100,000 [9]
S109 Superb VSEL, Barrow.[8] 20 May 1970 [5] 16 March 1972 [8] 30 November 1974 [8] 29 November 1976 [9] 13 November 1976 [8] 26 September 2008 £41,300,000 [9]
S104 Sceptre VSEL, Barrow.[8] 1 November 1971 [5] 19 February 1974 [8] 20 November 1976 [8] 11 March 1978 [9] 14 February 1978 [8] 10 December 2010.[10] £58,900,000 [9]
S105 Spartan VSEL, Barrow.[8] 7 February 1973 [5][11] 26 April 1976 [8] 7 April 1978 [8] 10 October 1979 [9] 22 September 1979 [8] January 2006 £68,900,000 [9]
S106 Splendid (ex-Severn)[8] VSEL, Barrow.[8] 26 May 1976 [5][12] 23 November 1977 [8] 5 October 1979 [8] 5 May 1981 [9] 21 March 1981 [8] 2004 £97,000,000 [9]


On 28 May 2008, HMS Superb collided with a rock while submerged in the Red Sea. No injuries or reactor damage resulted, but the submarine was forced to surface due to damage to the sonar equipment.

In fiction

HMS Sceptre acts as a nom de guerre for the Red October in Tom Clancy's eponymous novel, as she enters the Norfolk Naval Station.

General characteristics

  • Builder: Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd
  • Displacement: 4400 tons standard; 4900 tons submerged
  • Length: 83 m
  • Beam: 9.8 m
  • Draught: 8.5 m
  • Complement: 13 officers, 103 ratings
  • Armament: 5 tubes capable of firing:
    • Spearfish torpedoes
    • Tigerfish torpedoes
    • RN Sub Harpoon missiles
    • Tomahawk missiles (selected submarines only)
  • Sensors:

See also

List of submarines of the Royal Navy


  1. ^ http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200001/cmhansrd/vo010129/text/10129w19.htm
  2. ^ Hansard
  3. ^ a b c d e Hool, Jack, and Nutter, Keith, Damned Un-English Machines, a history of Barrow-built submarines, pub Tempus, 2003, ISBN 0-7524-2781-4 pages 181-4.
  4. ^ Blackman, Raymond VB, Jane's Fighting Ships, 1966-67, pub Sampson Low Marston & Co Ltd, 1966, page 279.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i Moore, John, Janes Fighting Ships 1982-83, pub Jane's Publishing, 1982, ISBN 0-7106-0742-3 page 546, which quotes building costs for Swiftsure, Superb, Sceptre, and Splendid. The costs quoted for Superb, Sceptre, and Splendid are identical to those from Hansard.
  6. ^ Hool, Jack, and Nutter, Keith, Damned Un-English Machines, a history of Barrow-built submarines, pub Tempus, 2003, ISBN 0-7524-2781-4 page 180.
  7. ^ "Unit cost, i.e. excluding cost of certain items (e.g. aircraft, First Outfits)." Text from Defences Estimates
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y Gardiner, Robert Conway's All the World's Fighting Ships 1947-1995, pub Conway Maritime Press, 1995, ISBN 0-85177-605-1 page 531.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Hansard HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc357-8W Question to the Secretary of State for Defence asking him to list the Royal Navy vessels built in each of the past 15 years, showing the cost of each and the yards in which they were constructed, 23 October 1983. The second part of this may be found at Hansard HC Deb 23 October 1989 vol 158 cc358-61W.
  10. ^ Sceptre's Apple Bye, Navy News, August 2010, page 11.
  11. ^ Hansard HC Deb 24 November 1977 vol 939 cc869-70W Question to the Secretary of State for Defence about contracts, 24 November 1977.
    For the fifth Swiftsure class fleet submarine (HMS Spartan) the planned order date when tender invited was September 1972. The contract was placed in February 1973.
  12. ^ Hansard HC Deb 15 November 1976 vol 919 c363W Question to the Secretary of State for Defence about shipbuilding contracts, 15 November 1976.
    For the sixth Swiftsure class fleet submarine, the planned order date when tender invited was late 1974. The contract was placed in May 1976.

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