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The Vanguard class' are the Royal Navy's current nuclear ballistic missile submarines (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear or SSBN), each armed with up to 16 Trident II Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). The class was introduced in 1994 as part of the UK government's Trident nuclear weapons program.

The class includes four boats:Vanguard ,Victorious ,Vigilant , andVengeance , all built at Barrow-in-Furnessmarker by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd between 1986 and 1999.

All four boats are based at Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde marker, 40 km (25 miles) west of Glasgowmarker, Scotlandmarker. Since the decommissioning of all WE.177 free-fall nuclear bombs in 1998, and the removal of all nuclear weapons from the British Army, the Royal Air Force, and all surface ships of the Royal Navy, the Vanguard submarines' Trident SLBM system is the sole holder of all the United Kingdom's nuclear weapons.


The Vanguards were designed from the outset as an unlimited-range nuclear powered ballistic missile submarine, unlike the previous Resolution class which was adapted from the then existing Valiant class and the American Lafayette class of nuclear powered fleet ballistic missile submarines (SSBN in US terms). At long and submerged displacement the Vanguards are roughly twice the size of the Resolutions, and are the third largest submarines ever built, by displacement when surfaced, after the Sovietmarker Typhoon and Americanmarker Ohio classes. The great increase in size is largely related to the much larger size of the Trident D-5 missile as compared to Polaris.

The Vanguards were designed and built at Barrow-in-Furness by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Limited (VSEL), now BAE Systems Submarine Solutionsmarker. The Devonshire dock hall was built specifically to build these submarines. The missile compartment is based on the system used on the Ohio class, though only 16 missiles are carried rather than the 24 of the Ohio.

In addition to the missile tubes the Vanguard class is fitted with four torpedo tubes and carries the Spearfish heavyweight torpedo, allowing it to engage submerged or surface targets at ranges up to . Two SSE Mark 10 launchers are also fitted to allow the boats to deploy Type 2066 and Type 2071 decoys, and a UAP Mark 3 electronic support measures (ESM) intercept system is fitted.

HMS Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant and Vengeance were commissioned in 1993, 1995, 1996 and 2000 respectively.


Vanguard carries the Thales Underwater Systems Type 2054 composite sonar. The Type 2054 is a multi-mode, multi-frequency system, which incorporates the 2046, 2043 and 2082 sonars. The fleet is in the process of having their sonars refitted to include open architecture processing using commercial off the shelf technology.

A Type 2043 hull-mounted active/passive search sonar is also carried, as is a Type 2082 passive intercept and ranging sonar. Finally a Type 2046 towed array is carried. This operates at very low frequency, giving a passive search capability.

Two periscopes are carried, a CK51 search model and a CH91 attack model. Both have a TV camera and thermal imager as well as conventional optics.

A Type 1007 I-band navigation radar is also carried.

Command system

A specialised Submarine Command System (SMCS) was originally developed for the Vanguard boats and was later used on other Royal Navy submarines.


A new pressurised water reactor, the PWR 2, was designed for the Vanguard class. This has double the service life of previous models, and it is estimated that a Vanguard class submarine could circumnavigate the world 40 times without refuelling. This should allow the class to carry out their entire service life without the need for expensive refuelling. The reactor drives two GEC turbines linked to a single shaft pump jet propulsor. This propulsion system gives the Vanguards a maximum submerged speed of . Auxiliary power requirements are provided by a pair of 6MW Steam-turbine generators supplied by WH Allen, (later known as NEI Allen, Allen Power & Rolls-Royce) with two Paxman diesel alternators for provision of backup power supply.


Table 1 Vanguard class—significant dates
Name Launched Commissioned Test launch 1 Test launch 2 Maiden patrol
HMS Vanguard (S28) March 1992 August 1993 May 26, 1994 June 20, 1994 December 1994
HMS Victorious (S29) September 1993 January 1995 July 24, 1995 August 22, 1995 December 1995
HMS Vigilant (S30) October 1995 November 1996 October 10, 1997 October 10, 1997 June 1998
HMS Vengeance (S31) September 1998 27 November 1999 September 21, 2000 N/A February 2001

The Trident II D-5 achieved an initial operational capability with the U.S. Navy in March 1990. Following launch and commissioning the vessels deployed on Demonstration and Shakedown Operations (DASOs). The major part of this was the test firing of Trident missiles at the United States' SLBM Launch Area, Eastern Test Range, Cape Canaveralmarker, off the coast of Floridamarker (see table above).


A decision on the replacement of Trident was made on the 4 December 2006. Then-Prime Minister Tony Blair told MPs it would be "unwise and dangerous" for the UK to give up its nuclear weapons. He outlined plans to spend up to £20bn on a new generation of submarines for Trident missiles. He said submarine numbers may be cut from four to three, while the number of nuclear warheads would be cut by 20% to 160. Blair said although the Cold War had ended, the UK needed nuclear weapons, as no-one could be sure another nuclear threat would not emerge in the future.

On 23rd September 2009, Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that he was considering reducing the Trident carrying submarine fleet from 4 to 3 submarines, as part of plans to cut costs and to promote nuclear disarmament.


  1. See "The Royal Navy Handbook" 2003, Conway Maritime Press, ISBN 0-85177-952-2

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