Astute vs. Virginia: Which Navy Has the Best Nuclear Attack Submarine?
Astute vs. Virginia: Which Navy Has the Best Nuclear Attack Submarine? This article compares the Royal Navy’s Astute class and the US Navy’s Virginia class, two of the world’s premier nuclear attack submarine classes.

The Royal Navy and the United States Navy field some of the best modern attack submarines in the world, designed to carry out specific combat and maritime defense operations. 

But sometimes, Defense enthusiasts debate which is better, the Royal Navy’s Astute class or the US Navy’s Virginia class.

Attack submarines, also known as hunter-killer submarines, are designed to combat and sink enemy submarines, warships, and merchant ships. Therefore, they are smaller, faster, and stealthier than other types of submarines.

Astute vs. Virginia: Overview

Astute vs. Virginia: Which Navy Has the Best Nuclear Attack Submarine?
Astute Class Submarine

The Royal Navy’s Astute class was designed and developed by BAE Systems Maritime, and the US Navy’s Virginia class was designed and developed by General Dynamics Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding. 

Astute vs. Virginia: Which Navy Has the Best Nuclear Attack Submarine?
virginia class submarine

Both are among the best classes of nuclear-powered attack submarines in the world. In this Article, We pit each other against factors like size, speed, weaponry, technology, and cost.


The Royal Navy’s Astute class is currently the 10th largest submarine class in the world, with a surface displacement of between 7,000 and 7,400 tonnes and a submerged displacement of between 7,400 and 7,800 tonnes.

With a length of 97 m and a beam of 11.3 m, the Astute class is smaller than the US Navy’s Virginia class. The Virginia class has a displacement of 7,900 tons, making it the ninth largest submarine when all submarine variants are compared. She is longer than the Astute class, at 115 m (377 ft), but also narrower, with a beam of 10 m (34 ft).

Winner: Tie

Speed and Resistance

The Astute is powered by Rolls-Royce’s latest pressurized water reactor (PWR 2) design, the Core H, which eliminates the need for refueling and means the submarine’s nuclear reactor only requires one refueling instead of two. Traditional throughout its useful life.

The Astute has unlimited stamina and can provide an unlimited supply of air and water to crew members. However, the amount of provisions carried by the crew usually lasts up to 90 days.

For its part, the Virginia class uses an S9G reactor, a ninth-generation core designed by General Electric. Again, the Virginia class can run indefinitely in terms of propulsion, limited only by fuel and maintenance needs.

When fully submerged, the Royal Navy’s Astute class has a top speed of 30kn (56km/h; 35m/h). The Virginia class reaches ar speeds of around 25kn (46km/h; 29m/h), making it a bit slower than its comparative part. 

Winner: Cunning


Both classes are naturally armed with the latest maritime weaponry as attack submarines. Astute-class submarines come with six 21-inch torpedo tubes capable of firing heavy Spearfish torpedoes.  It can launch Raytheon Tomahawk Block IV cruise missiles for ground attack operations. The Astute class can store up to 38 weapons.

The Virginia class is more powerful, incorporating 12 Tomahawk vertical launch system tubes and four five 21-inch tubes for the Mk-48 torpedo. The new Virginia Payload Module (VPM) on the latest Block V ships increases the count of torpedoes and missiles it can carry from 37 to 65.

Winner: Virginia

Countermeasures and EW Sensors

The Royal Navy’s Astute-class electronic warfare (EW) suite is equipped with electronic support measures (ESM), decoys, and sonars. The ESM system is Thales’ Sensors Outfit UAP (4) and features two multifunction antennas mounted on non-hull penetrating optronic masts.

It also uses the Eddystone Communications band ESM system, which provides enhanced communications, signal interception, reconnaissance, direction finding, and tracking.

The main sonar suite is Thales’ 2076 passive/active integrated search and attack sonar with bow, intercept, flank, and tow capabilities. Raytheon was awarded the contract to supply its Successor IFF friend or foe naval transponder system.

Virginia class submarine is equipped with Northrop Grumman’s AN/WLY-1 acoustic countermeasures system, which provides range and heading data. Lockheed Martin is also working on AN/BLQ-10 mast-mounted electronic support measure (ESM) for the US Navy’s Virginia-class submarines.

The AN/BLQ-10 provides full spectrum radar processing, enhanced situational awareness, and an automatic threat alert system.

Its sonar suite includes a range of active and passive sonars, two Kollmorgen AN/BVS-1 photonic masts instead of optical periscopes, and Boeing’s Long-Range Mine Reconnaissance System and Northrop Anti-Submarine Warfare Sonar System.

Winner: Tie


Although an exact unit cost of defense equipment is difficult to come by, a Royal Navy Astute-class submarine was last valued at more than £1.4bn ($1.83bn), according to the 2015 Major Projects Report from the UK National Audit Office.

Meanwhile, the Virginia class is more expensive. The October 2018 Congressional Research Service report pegged the price of standard Virginia-class submarines at $2.7 billion, while the upgraded VPM model costs about $3.2 billion per unit.

Winner: Cunning


The contest between Astute and Virginia has ended with both submarines equal blow for blow in each comparative measure. Still, in the bell, Astute has the advantage in competitiveness.