The Vanguard submarine returns home, its entire surface adorned with a dense layer of algae.

Title: British Navy Submarines Reveal Signs of Wear as They Return From Extended Patrols


Images of a Royal Navy Vanguard class Nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) have surfaced, showcasing the wear and tear inflicted on these vessels during extended patrols. The photographs, captured by Sheila Weir, highlight the corrosion, rust, and accumulation of marine organisms on the submarine’s surface. This article explores the impact of prolonged deployments on submarine structures, discusses the secrecy surrounding SSBN movements, and addresses concerns over extended patrols and their effects on crew morale and safety standards.

The Submarine’s Condition:

The Vanguard class submarine, which completed a six-month deterrent patrol, demonstrates the toll these leviathans of the deep endure. The images revealing the submarine’s disheveled appearance and the presence of marine organisms are a result of extended time spent at sea rather than the submarine’s age. The accumulation of marine pollution is evident, emphasizing the need for ongoing maintenance and protection against corrosion.

Challenges of Submarine Maintenance:

Unlike surface combatants, submarines lack easy access to their structures for routine maintenance and corrosion control. Ballistic missile submarines, specifically, spend minimal time on the surface, making it difficult to clean and remove fouling effectively. The submarine’s anechoic tiles, responsible for absorbing sound waves and reducing detection, were visibly missing, revealing rust formation underneath.

About the Vanguard Class Submarines:

The Vanguard class submarines are the Royal Navy’s nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, designed for strategic deterrence. Four submarines make up this class, and they have been the UK’s sole nuclear weapons capability since 1998. Each submarine can carry up to 16 missiles, but treaty rules restrict them to transport only eight. The UK plans to replace the Vanguard class submarines with four Battleship class ships and modernize the Trident missiles, including the W93 warhead.

The Secrecy Surrounding Submarine Movements:

The Royal Navy maintains strict secrecy regarding the movements of its SSBNs. While the specific submarine captured in the images and its exact patrol activities remain undisclosed, it is customary for at least one British SSBN to be on patrol at all times from the HM Clyde Naval Base. This ensures the credibility of the UK’s second nuclear deterrent strike capability.

Expert Commentary and Concerns:

Tom Sharpe, former commander of the Royal Navy, has speculated on the submarine’s potential operations based on the images. He suggests the submarine may have operated in warm waters, near coastal areas, and at low speeds. The extended six-month patrol duration has sparked questions about the reasons behind such deployments and potential implications for crew morale and safety standards. Concerns have been raised in the past regarding the mental and physical strain on submariners during prolonged deployments.

The Impact of Extended Deployments:

Extended submarine deployments are becoming more common in the Royal Navy, challenging the endurance and well-being of both crews and vessels. While it may be seen as a testament to the crew’s resilience, the visual wear and tear on the submarine’s exterior highlight the need for careful maintenance and monitoring. Prolonged deployments risk breeding boredom, complacency, and a decline in operational standards, as noted by retired Royal Navy Commander Rob Forsyth.


The recent images of the Royal Navy’s Vanguard class submarine after completing a six-month deterrence patrol shed light on the challenges submarines face during extended deployments. The corrosion, rust, and accumulation of marine organisms serve as a reminder of the demanding operational tempo faced by these vessels. While plans are underway to replace the aging Vanguard class submarines, the impact of extended patrols on crew morale and safety standards remains an ongoing concern.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *