The Ministry of Defence announced yesterday, 24th November, that of the four Trafalgar class nuclear powered but conventionally armed hunter-killer submarines remaining in commission, two will stay in Devonport in Plymouth, with two transferring to Faslane on the Gare Loch in Argyll.
The two older submarines, Torbay and Trenchant are to stay in their home port of Devonport, with the MoD saying that, since they are to be decommissioned in 2017 and 2019 respectively, it is more cost effective to keep them where they are.
Of the two coming to Faslane, Talent was launched in 1988 and commissioned in 1991; with Triumph launched and commissioned in 1991. With Talent to be decommissioned in 2021 and Triumph in 2022, two thirds of their operational lives are behind them.
The Trafalgar class has not been without its problems. The most recent – and the one of interest to Argyll, is that the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator reported in 2013 that the reactor systems of the ageing Trafalgars were experiencing progressive technical problems which required ‘effective management’. One of the class, Tireless, now decommissioned, had leaked radioactive coolant for eight days that year, although the leak was described as small.
Triumph’s service history is of interest for a variety of reasons.
In 1993, two years after being commissioned, she made the longest solo passage of any British nuclear submarine – 41,000 miles – submerged – to Australia and with no forward support.
More recently she was involved in the regime change military intervention in Libya, which included British forces. In March 2011 she fired missiles at Libyan air defence targets on three occasions. When she came back into Devonport in April of that year,she flew the Jolly Roger with the addition of six small tomahawk symbols to signify the missiles she had fired.
This was a gung-ho moment which echoed that in 2003 of her class sister, Turbulent, now decommissioned. Turbulent was the first Royal Navy vessel home after the 2003 Bush-Blair invasion of Iraq – and flew the Jolly Roger into Plynouth to mark her firing of thirty Tomahawk missiles in that conflict.
In preparation for the arrival of the two Trafalgars, HM Naval Base Clyde has started an integrated construction programme to support the needs of the ships, submarines and Royal Marines that will be based there.
Commodore Mark Adams, Base Commander Clyde, says: ‘Several years of hard work have already gone into preparing HMNB Clyde to be the Home of the UK Submarine Service. The base regularly successfully hosts Trafalgar Class submarines for both routine visits and to undertake periods of extended maintenance and we are delighted to welcome HMS Talent and HMS Triumph on their move from Devonport.
‘HM Naval Base Clyde and the surrounding Argyll and Bute communities are renowned for their hospitality so the crews and their families can be assured of a warm welcome.’
Part of the reality that has to be acknowledged is that these two submarines will only be arriving at Faslane shortly before they will have to be decommissioned – from the Clyde not not from Devonport. They are coming to a care home up here to die by a due date.
This is likely to mean their transfer to Rosyth to join the substantial fleet there of the hulks of decommissioned nuclear submarines, which remain undismantled and are ‘maintained’ there by Babcock.
Only in February this year, The Liberal Democrat Leader at Holyrood, Wille Rennie MSP, rasied fears that, without intervention, the MoD would turn Rosyth into ‘a nuclear submarine dump’. His demand that they should do no such thing was born of rising local fears fears that the MoD’s plan finally to start dismantling the seven defunct nuclear submarines berthed there would lead to substantial volumes of radioactive waste being dumped in Scotland.
Mr Rennie’s concern that the waste would be stored at the yard for decades after the dismantling was fuelled by the fact that the MoD had not established any new nuclear waste storage site.
Rosyth can now be certain that in seven years time, it will be receiving Talent and Triumph to add to its portfolio.