Upholder/Victoria class submarine

Upholder/Victoria class submarine

The "Upholder"/"Victoria"-class submarines, also known as the Type 2400 (due to their displacement of 2,400t), are diesel-electric Fleet submarines designed in the UK in the late 1970s to supplement the Royal Navy's nuclear submarine force. In 1998, Canada purchased the submarines and a suite of trainers from the Royal Navy to replace the decommissioned "Oberon" class of submarines.


The Royal Navy was going to follow the "Oberon"s with nuclear powered boats but there was still a role for diesel powered boats, as demonstrated by activities during the Falklands War, and they could be built faster than nuclear submarines. The only yard building nuclear subs was Vickers at Barrow-in-Furness and it was occupied with the Vanguard class.Accordingly to provide the Royal Navy with a diesel boat for the Greenland-Iceland-UK Gap, Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd developed the "Upholder" class from the 1970s onwards.

The design was based on their private scheme for a 2400 tonne submarine for export sales. This combined with lessons learnt from the "Oberon"s and the design of the "Trafalgar" class Fleet submarines. They were built with teardrop hulls and the fin was built from glass fibre to keep weight down. The submarines are packed with technology generally found only on nuclear-power submarines and are still widely regarded as being among the best diesel-electric submarines in the world.

The price of each submarine was published at US$215 million, but actual cost after correcting the design flaws was higher. As in most new submarine classes, the emphasis was placed on standardisation and automation to reduce manning requirements. The first of the class ("Upholder") was ordered in November 1983 and completed in 1990, and there followed three boats ("Unseen", "Ursula" and "Unicorn") ordered in 1986 and completed in 1991-1993. The Royal Navy had planned to order 12 such boats; but this scheme was trimmed first to 10 and then to nine before being curtailed at just four as part of the "peace dividend" at the end of the Cold War in the early 1990s.

UK service

The submarines entered service from 1990 to 1993. Initially they were unable to actually fire torpedoes and the first three were refitted in 1992 and 1993 to have this fixed at a cost of some £9 million. They were operating from HMS Dolphin (Gosport) but with only 4 submarines the base was deemed uneconomic and they transferred to the Devonport Naval Base.

In their short period in service, the class operated mostly in the Atlantic Ocean, the Mediterranean and UK waters. The exception was "HMS Unicorn", which completed a 6 month deployment east of Suez completing operations and exercises in the Mediterranean, the Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean and in the Persian Gulf. Her return in October 1994 to decommission marked the end of service of this class, following a defence review by the UK government that decided to maintain an all-nuclear powered submarine fleet rather than a mix of diesel with fewer nuclear submarines.

Canadian service

In 1998, Canada accepted the four "Upholder"s as replacements for their old "Oberon"s; one to operate in the Pacific fleet and three in the Atlantic.After all four subs were leased to the Canadian Navy, the Canadian Forces renamed them the "Victoria" class. The first of class, HMCS "Victoria", was commissioned in Halifax in December 2000, HMCS "Windsor" in June 2003, HMCS "Corner Brook" in March 2003, and HMCS "Chicoutimi" in September 2004.

On October 5 2004 HMCS "Chicoutimi", sailing from Faslane Naval Base, Scotland to Nova Scotia declared an emergency north-west of Ireland following a fire onboard. The fire was caused by seawater entering through open hatches in rough seas. It soaked electrical insulation which had not been sufficiently waterproofed (since it conformed to an older specification than the three other submarines), starting a fire. The "Chicoutimi" lost power and was rescued by Royal Navy frigates HMS "Montrose" and "Marlborough" on October 6. Lt(N) Chris Saunders died subsequently from the effects of smoke inhalation; due to the rough weather it had not been possible to airlift him and the other casualties to a hospital until two days later. "Chicoutimi" was later transported to Halifax for repair. A board of inquiry cleared the captain of any fault but the regulations permitting the submarine to run on the surface with open hatches are being revised.

The boats are named after Canadian port cities. "Victoria" operates out of CFB Esquimalt, British Columbia and operates in Maritime Forces Pacific (MARPAC) fleet in the Pacific Ocean, while the three remaining boats are based at CFB Halifax, Nova Scotia and operate in the Maritime Forces Atlantic (MARLANT) Fleet within the Atlantic and Arctic oceans.

Although the Canadian government touted the procurement as a bargain, there have been arguments over the quality of the submarines with some suggestions that the purchase price of £244m will be at least spent again putting things right. Canadian opposition parties are demanding that the British government fund any further costs, since it is widely believed that the submarines deteriorated while in storage and the Royal Navy was not completely forthcoming on their condition during the sale. However, it cost the Royal Navy £900m to build the submarines and even if there are some minor problems, Stephen Saunders, editor of "Jane's Fighting Ships" argues that "there is not something inherently wrong with the class of submarines." [cite web|url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/3719760.stm|title=Rescue ship reaches sub crew|publisher=BBC News|date=2004-10-07]


The boats were designed and built by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd for the Royal Navy, but saw only brief service before being mothballed in favour of an all nuclear force. They are essentially identical to modern nuclear submarines (with the distinctive "Albacore"-derived teardrop hull and sonar-absorbing tiles) but run on diesel engines instead of nuclear reactors (which limits their range, but conversely makes them quieter and more manoeuvrable). These were Britain's first conventional submarines to feature the tear-drop shape, which greatly reduced the acoustic signature produced by the boat while cruising.

The boats were designed with advanced noise-attenuation features to reduce the radiated noise levels below those of the already very quiet "Oberon" class. There was also a reduction in the short time required to recharge the batteries to ensure a minimum exposure time of any part of the masts above the water. The design included an updated version of the fire-control system being installed on the SSNs under construction at the same time, designed to reduce stability problems at torpedo launch, a state-of-the-art French passive sonar system, the then-current towed array, and a passive ranging set.

A large double-armature motor was powered by a 9000-ampere-hour battery or a pair of Paxman Valenta diesel engines. Slow patrolling would require only 30 to 60 minutes of snorkeling per day; an eight knot (15 km/h) transit would require snorkeling some 30% of the time. Top speed matched any comparable SSK class and could be sustained for some 90 minutes.

During construction of the first boats it was recognized that the weapon-discharge system design did contain flaws. The torpedo tube slide valve controlling operation of the torpedo tube doors, could have, under certain system failure conditions, allowed the opening of the inner door while the outer door was open. The flaw was quickly fixed in the first three boats and the modifications included in the fourth boat while still under construction.

Miscalculations were made in the design of the main-motor control circuitry. During the sea trials of HMS "Upholder", when performing the specified trial for an emergency reversal ("crash back"), a flash-over incident occurred, which resulted in catastrophic complete loss of all power and propulsion. On investigation this was traced to a make-before-break fault in the design of the control circuitry, resulting in a discharge-to-earth current of more than 60,000 amperes.

The diesels were originally designed for use in railway locomotives, and were not intended to be rapidly stopped and started. Shutting them down after snorkeling led to many failures. Similarly, the motor-generators were operated at full power for longer than expected, and consumed brushes and filters rapidly (the brush problems were not specific to the "Upholder"s, and were a widespread issue on all UK RN vessels at that time).

Acceptance of the class into service was delayed for three years, partly due to the programme being scaled back by the MoD, while such problems were corrected. The result of those corrections, however, was an extremely capable design. When operating on battery power, "Upholders" were almost undetectable on passive sonar, and when snorkeling, their acoustic signature was comparable to their SSN contemporaries in normal operation. They were physically small, and thus difficult to detect by magnetic anomaly or other non-acoustic means.

A local area network was built into the "Upholders", supporting most of the sensors and fire-control systems, including remote viewing through the periscopes using both low-light television and infrared, an unmanned helm, and direct control of the main motor from the conn. The boat could fight with a team of four in the sonar room and a conn team of eight. Fire-suppression in unmanned compartments could be initiated remotely, and watch-keeping logs were automatically recorded. In port, the boats could be electronically linked such that one duty watchstander could monitor several submarines.

The submarine has a single skin hull constructed of NQ1 high tensile steel. The outer side of the submarine's hull, casing and fin is fitted with about 22,000 elastomeric acoustic tiles to reduce the submarine's acoustic signature. The hull is 70.3 m in length by 7.6 m in width and with a depth of hull of 5.5 m. The fin or main sail houses a five-man lockout chamber. The submarine's escape and rescue system has been extensively upgraded with additional stowage space for escape stores and an underwater telephone to meet the Canadian Maritime Force requirements. The hull displacement is 2,168 t surfaced and 2,455 t dived.

The submarine accommodates a crew of 48 including seven officers. There is room for an additional five mission crew, observers or training crew. "Upholder" is highly automated to reduce manning.

Weapons Systems

Lockheed Martin Canada, Lockheed Martin Undersea Systems and Northstar Technical upgraded and installed the submarine's Lockheed Martin Librascope Torpedo Fire-control system (TFCS) to meet the operational requirements of the Canadian Navy. Components from the fire control system of the "Oberon" class submarines were installed. A UHF DAMA satellite communications system has also been fitted.

The submarine has six 533 mm (21 in) bow torpedo tubes equipped with two air-turbine pump discharge systems. In Canadian service, the sub-Harpoon missile firing and mine-laying capabilities have been removed. The torpedo room or weapons storage compartment houses racks for storing up to 18 Gould Mk 48 Mod 4 heavyweight torpedoes. The torpedoes, operating at convert|40|kn|km/h speed, are deployed against targets over a range of 50 km. The torpedo range is 38 km at speeds up to convert|55|kn|km/h. The torpedoes use active and passive homing to approach the designated target.


The "Victoria"-class submarines are equipped with the CK 35 search periscope and the CH 85 attack optronic periscope supplied by Thales Optronics. The CK35 search periscope incorporates a binocular optical system with an optical target ranging system. The CH85 attack periscope incorporates a monocular optical system and an infrared system. It is primarily used for surveillance and attacks on surface targets.

The submarine's long range sonars are the Thales Underwater Systems Type 2007 flank array sonar and the Thales Underwater Systems Type 2046 towed array sonar, both operating in passive mode and low frequency for long range detection and location. The Canadian Towed Array Sonar (CANTASS) has been integrated into the towed sonar suite.

The Thales Underwater Systems Type 2040 hull mounted sonar installed in the bow is a passive search and intercept sonar operating at medium frequency for optimum medium range performance.

The navigation suite includes a Global Positioning System, and a Kelvin Hughes Type 1007 and a Foruno portable navigation radar both operating within the I-band frequency range. Northrop Grumman Sperry Marine was awarded a contract in February 2005 to provide the Mk 49 inertial navigation system, based on ring laser gyroscope technology.


The ship is fitted with two submerged signal ejectors (SSE), small vertical discharge tubes which can launch either acoustic or bubble decoys.

The antenna of the passive Condor Systems Sea Search II electronic support measures (ESM) unit is fitted to the CK35 mast. The Sperry Guardian Star intercept radar also provides ESM.


The submarines are fitted with a diesel-electric propulsion system driving a single shaft, based on two Paxman Valenta 16SZ diesel engines each rated at 2.7MW sustained power with two 2.8MW Alsthom alternators and an Alsthom motor rated at 4MW. The propulsion and power systems are controlled from the Machinery Control Room.

For operation under ice, the "Victoria"-class submarines could be fitted with an air independent power system. The installation of an air-independent propulsion system might be considered in a future refit or upgrade program.

The surface speed is convert|12|kn|km/h and the dived speed is in excess of convert|20|kn|km/h. In snorting mode, travelling at low speed at periscope depth using an extendable air breathing system, the submarine can continue at up to convert|12|kn|km/h. The range at an convert|8|kn|km/h snorkeling speed is convert|8000|mi|km. The submarine has a patrol endurance of 56 days.

The hull is rated to a diving depth over 200 m


* Displacement: 2,200 tons surfaced, 2,400 tons submerged
* Length: 70.26 m
* Beam: 7.2 m
* Height: 7.6 m
* Propulsion: Diesel-electric: 2× Paxman Valenta 4070hp (3,035kW) 1600 RPA SZ diesels, 1 GEC electric motor (5000kW), 1 shaft, 20+ knots (37 km/h) submerged, 12 knots (22km/h) surfaced
* Range: 10,000 nautical miles (18,500 km) at 12 knots (22 km/h)
* Crew: Seven officers, 40 crew
* Sonar: Type 2040 active/passive bow, Type 2041 micropuffs, Type 2007 flank, Type 2046/CANTASS MOD towed array, Type 2019 active intercept
* Fire Control: Lockheed-Martin Librascope SFCS Mk 1 Mod C
* Radar: Kelvin Hughes Type 1007
* EW: Condor Systems Sea Search 2 radar warning receiver
* Armament: 6 x 21 inch (533 mm) torpedo tubes (18 Mark 48 torpedoes)

Ships in class


External links

* [http://www.hazegray.org/navhist/canada/current/upholder/ Canadian Navy of Yesterday & Today]
* [http://www.submariners.co.uk/Boats/Barrowbuilt/Upholder/index.htm Barrowbuilt submarines at submariners.co.uk]
* [http://www.btinternet.com/~warship/Postwar/Submarines/upholder.htm Upholder class submarines]

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