Submarines: December 12, 2000


The British Royal Navy has taken all 12 of its Swiftsure and Trafalgar-class nuclear submarines out of service after discovering that reactor problems in HMS Tireless could affect all 12 submarines. The four Tireless-class Trident ballistic missile submarines have a different type of reactor and are not affected by the same problems. Taking these submarines out of service, even for a limited time, will severely reduce the Royal Navy's deployed combat power. This also means that the two missile submarines at sea no longer have escorting attack submarines. (Rumor has it that the US was asked to provide such escorts but was reluctant to do so as it is short of submarines for its own missions.) Tireless pulled into Gibraltar last May with a reactor leak, and remains there out of service. (Spain regularly files protests that the submarine has not been removed and that key information about the problem has not been released.) First inspections of the problem indicated that it was a unique welding problem that affected only that one submarine. Later investigations, however, indicate that the problem could be endemic to the British submarine force. Initial checks of six other boats have found similar weld problems, although none of them show leaks as yet. --Stephen V Cole


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