The most powerful weapon in the Navy’s arsenal, ballistic missile submarine HMS Vigilant, sailed for the first time in more than three years today.
The nuclear submarine departed Devonport to begin trials after a £300m revamp which means she is effectively a new boat inside.
Pictures: LA(Phots) Joel Rouse, Rob Gillies and Shaun Barlow, FRPU West
ON A glorious early spring day with the aptly-named tug Careful at her side, the most powerful weapon in Britain’s arsenal makes for open water for the first time in three and a half years.
This is HMS Vigilant, the third of Britain’s quartet of ballistic missile submarines, leaving Plymouth Sound after her £300m mid-career revamp.
Just a day after a contract was signed by Defence Secretary Philip Hammond to refit her younger sister Vengeance in the same yard, Vigilant sailed from Devonport Naval Base to begin the long road back to front-line operations: carrying out strategic deterrent patrols for three months at a time somewhere beneath the Seven Seas.
Getting Vigilant out of the large No.5 Basin, into the Hamoaze and out into Plymouth Sound was a particularly demanding manoeuvre.
To practise the departure, the boat’s navigational team plus tug drivers headed to Wageningen, near Arnhem, in the Netherlands, home to the MARIN simulator. Although the Royal Navy possesses bridge simulators which can replicate numerous scenarios at sea, it does not have one where tug crews and a ship’s company can train side-by-side.
Nor could Vigilant sail if the wind in Plymouth was stronger than 10kts – but as it was, the boat was blessed by one of the finest March days on record on the South Coast.
The 40-plus-month revamp the Vanguard-class boat has undergone is arguably the biggest engineering task in the Senior Service – save actually building one of these 16,000-ton leviathans.
She emerges from that revamp – officially a Long Overhaul Period (Refuel) – effectively as a new boat inside. In all, 26,000 items were removed from the V-boat and overhauled or replaced, 400 systems aboard thoroughly tested. Externally 32,000 litres of paint (enough to fill the fuel tanks of more than 550 Ford Focus cars) were applied to Vigilant’s 491ft hull.
“She’s been fully stripped out – every nut and bolt polished, and replaced shiny and new. It’s probably the biggest job of its kind in Europe – it’s absolutely massive,” said Vigilant’s Executive Officer Lt Cdr ‘Freddie’ Fox.
It has taken a dedicated team of some 2,000 experts from the Royal Navy, MOD and Babcock, and 2.3 million man hours to prepare Vigilant for the second half of her active life. The refuelling of her nuclear reactor will power the boat well into the mid-2020s.
Vigilant arrived at the specialist refit complex in Devonport in the autumn of 2008, refuelling was completed in November 2010 and waters lapped around her hull once more in June 2011, since when she’s undergone thorough testing ahead of sea trials this spring and her return to Faslane.
The crew pose for a traditional whole ship's company photograph on the casing - with a few deeps on the brow as well
Her first period of trials lasting nearly four months will eventually take her to the USA, where she’ll launch a dummy Trident missile – each V-boat must do so at least once following a refit...
...which will be a novelty to some aboard, but not sonar expert Lt Dean Ingram. He’s been aboard all three of Vigilant’s sisters (Vanguard, Vengeance and Victorious) when they’ve carried out a test firing. He’s also served aboard all four of the V-boats’ predecessors, the R-class which completed their patrols in the mid-90s.
Before Vigilant sailed from Devonport she was formally rededicated. In time-honoured tradition, it fell to the very youngest man aboard, 19-year-old ET Sam Magowan, to help Susan Lister, the wife of Commanding Officer Cdr Mark Lister, cut the rededication cake.
Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope chats with the Guard of Honour at the rededication service, accompanied by CO Cdr Mark Lister
Guest of honour (and a submariner himself) was First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope who joined Deputy Chaplain of the Fleet the Ven Martin Poll, ship’s sponsor Lady Frere, Babcock Chief Executive Archie Bethell and Rolls-Royce Submarine Programme Director David Orr plus ex-Vigilant COs, friends and family at the service, to which the Band of HM Royal Marines Scotland provided the appropriate music.
Admiral Stanhope told those gathered on the Devonport parade ground: “It is a moment to recognise the high degree of innovative thinking, technological skill and collaborative endeavour that exists between industry and the Ministry of Defence.”