A replacement for Britain’s ageing Vanguard-class nuclear missile submarines has come a step closer after the Ministry of Defence awarded £201m to BAE Systems to develop the so-called “Successor” vessels.
The funding will allow the FTSE 100-listed arms business to develop the design of the new submarines, including the layout and systems, and build early prototypes.
The move comes despite the massive project having yet to get formal approval in Parliament.
The project to upgrade Britain’s nuclear submarine deterrant is estimated to cost £31bn, with a £10bn contingency fund to pay for any unexpected costs.
Last week, MPs on the Defence Select Committee wrote to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon saying that there was an “unacceptable level of uncertainty” on the Successor programme among “not only Parliament, but also main contractors and their supply chains”.
Photo: TAM MACDONALD
Committee chairman Julian Lewis said there was “growing concern” no date had been set for a Parliamentary vote on whether or not to go ahead with the programme, adding that MPs on the committee would “be grateful for an indication of when this long-anticipated vote is due to be held and an explanation of any reasons for not proceeding forthwith, now that the political obstacles which existed in the previous parliament no longer apply”.
If it does go ahead, the Successor submarine project will be one of the biggest the military has undertaken in decades. It will also see the creation of some of the most technologically advanced and stealthiest submarines in the world.
BAE will be the lead contractor on the project and expects to have between 5,000 and 6,000 people working on the programme at its peak, out of a total of about 9,000 people in the unit at the time. BAE’s submarine business currently employs 7,700 staff, with the bulk of them working on the Astute-class attack submarines.
Other major companies involved include Rolls-Royce, which will build the nuclear reactors on the submarines, and Babcock. Hundreds of other smaller companies will also be in the supply chain for the programme.
Photo: BAE Systems
More than £1bn has already been spent on design work, as well as expanding BAE’s shipyard in Barrow in Furness, Cumbria, where the submarines will be constructed.
However, Mr Fallon has previously warned that the industry will put national security at risk if the project suffers delays or goes over budget.
Vice-Admiral Simon Lister, chief of materiel for the Royal Navy’s fleet, said: “We are now in the detailed design stage of the most technologically advanced nuclear submarine in the history of the Royal Navy. Building on cutting edge developments carried out by the MoD, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock, this funding will allow us to continue to move forwards with the programme.”
Tony Johns, managing director of BAE’s submarines division, said: “We are incredibly proud of the role we play in designing and building our nation’s submarines.
“The Successor programme is one of the most challenging engineering projects in the world today and this additional funding will enable us to further mature the design”.