Patrols in excess of six months are becoming a dangerous new normal for Britain’s nuclear-armed fleet, after a rusty HMS Vengeance was spotted returning to port at Faslane over the weekend after 201 days on patrol.

Images circulated online show the submarine with large sections of rust, with The National newspaper also noting that “the anti-sonar anechoic tiling which lines the vehicle’s exterior was missing in parts.” 

It’s the second time that a Vanguard-class submarine has undergone a patrol in excess of six months. Last September, HMS Vigilant returned from a record-breaking tour “encrusted with barnacles and covered in slime.” 

On Britain’s previous generation of nuclear-armed subs, tours rarely exceeded 60-70 days. But over the last number of years, tours on the Vanguard fleet have regularly exceeded 150 days. The last two patrols have been in excess of 200 days.

Until recently, only Vigilant and Vengeance have been deemed sea-worthy. HMS Vanguard has returned from dry-dock after a seven-year mid-life refit, known as a deep maintenance period. In January, its big return to service ended in embarrassment after the first British test of a Trident missile in eight years ended in failure. Despite this, it’s believed HMS Vanguard was the nuclear-armed vessel spotted by watchers leaving port the day after Vengeance’s return. 

The final sub in the fleet – HMS Victorious – began its own multi-year deep maintenance period in May 2023. Earlier this month, the government awarded a £560 million contract to Babcock to carry out the work. 

CND General Secretary Kate Hudson said: 

“We’ve entered a dangerous new normal where increasingly shaky subs and their crews are enduring patrols in excess of six months. This should be a matter of concern for us all. Time must be called on this crumbling and wasteful project that puts us all at risk. With an election looming – we call on supporters to make scrapping nuclear weapons, and using the money to rebuild our public services, an issue on the doorstep!” 

Image credit: Faslane365