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Why Did The British Royal Navy Install A New Sensor Suit On Its Trafalgar-Class Submarine HMS Talent?

The UK’s Royal Navy has deployed its Trafalgar-class submarine HMS Talent in the Mediterranean. It is equipped with a new sensor suite that can track enemy submarine movement, photos reveal.

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Freelance photographer David Parody, who captured the images of HMS Talent upon its arrival at Gibraltar on a routine port visit on February 2, mentioned that the sensors were “clearly new to the ship and the entire class and an obvious development of the one already seen on the hull”.

According to analyst Joseph Trevithick, the sensors are a part of the suite designed to detect enemy submarines without the use of SONAR, which first appeared on the hull in 2019. HMS Talent was spotted in May 2019 with a unique “wake object detection system” while docking at Gibraltar.

Such a device allows the submarine to detect enemy underwater vessels based on the chemicals left by its wakes, radiation traces from nuclear-powered submarines, or warming patches of water due to the submarine’s heat production. However, it is not clear as to exactly when the new systems were installed on the vessel.

In the photos, the boat can be seen fitted with two L7 general-purpose machine guns (FN MAG derivatives) mounted on pintles on top of the sail. HMS Talent is one of the three remaining Trafalgar-class submarines in the Royal Navy and is scheduled to retire by this year-end.

The new sensors have been “almost exclusively” associated with the Soviet-era and subsequent Russian submarines. In that country, these sensors are commonly called System Obnarujenia Kilvaternovo Sleda (SOKS), or Wake Object Detection System.

There have also been reports in the past suggesting that certain SOKS variants could be able to detect trace amounts of certain chemicals in a submarine’s wake, including from temporary anti-corrosive coatings or byproducts from oxygen generation systems, Trevithick writes.

The main disadvantage of using active SONAR is the exposition of the submarine’s own location, alerting the enemy crews of its presence and losing the whole idea of being stealthy. This is where passive SONAR and such submarine detection systems come in handy, which help to quietly detect the presence of enemy hulls in the vicinity while maintaining its own silence. However, these systems are generally less accurate than active SONAR.

Nonetheless, their continued use in Russian submarines combined with advanced technologies does hint at their practical use and additional sensing abilities.

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