Confirmation that the Ministry of Defence has awarded BAE Systems a £1.5bn contract for delivery of the seventh Astute class submarine together with an additional £900m award covering the next phase of the Dreadnought class submarine programme, a vitally important and complex submarine which is designed to replace the Vanguard class submarines from 2028, is extremely welcome not only for UK defence and the Royal Navy but also for BAE Systems and the 8,700 personnel that the company employs on submarine building at Barrow-in-Furness.
This excellent news will be welcomed also by the 700 suppliers currently involved in the submarine build supply chain just as it will by the Barrow-in-Furness community.
Royal Navy submarine capability combines the vital important requirements of stealth, endurance and flexibility in order to carry out the individual tasks silently and, for the most part, unhindered. Royal Navy submarine capability also plays a vital role in patrolling the world’s seas just as it also does in respect of delivering the UK’s continuous-at-sea Trident nuclear deterrent capability.
With Russian submarines providing a far more aggressive stance towards NATO and having stepped up activity in respect of threatening undersea cables that are clearly vital to both our economy and national security it is little wonder that the UK government and our NATO allies are concerned to ensure that we are properly equipped in respect of sub-surface capability in order to face up to the increasing level of threat against us.
It is worth recalling here that the outgoing Chief of the Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach recently remarked in an interview that “Russia could imperil the cables that form the backbone of the modern global economy” and that this is both “a pattern of activity, and it’s a vulnerability” adding that “Can you imagine a scenario where those cables are cut or disrupted, which would immediately and potentially catastrophically affect both our economy and other ways of living if they were disrupted?”
Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson, will be formally announcing the two additional contracts later today during a visit to BAE Systems submarine site in Barrow-in-Furness in Cumbria. During the visit to this centre of UK excellence in submarine building capability he will also formally open a new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility which is the latest development in the ongoing infrastructure development investment programme on the site. Mr Williamson is also expected to name the seventh and final planned ‘Astute’ class submarine as HMS Agincourt.
The Government recognises the vital importance of maintaining sovereign shipbuilding capability just as it does the importance and need to maintain modern surface and sub-surface ship and submarine capability. I had last visited the Barrow-in-Furness submarine building site three years ago and it is pleasing that in recognising the need to maintain state-of-the–art submarine design and building capability that for the next generation of nuclear ballistic submarines that will replace the current SSBN (Ship Submersible Ballistic Nuclear) capability built during the 1980’s and 1990’s that much of the existing Barrow in Furnace site is being redeveloped to provide a range of both new and upgraded facilities. The new Dreadnought class submarines will have a life expectancy in excess of thirty years.
The new development at Barrow-in-Furnace includes an extension to the already massive Devonshire Dock Hall facility that was originally built by Vickers Shipbuilding and Engineering Ltd in 1986 in order to accommodate the build of the Vanguard class nuclear powered ballistic missile carrier submarines that were then the largest ever to be built in the UK. Interestingly, the Devonshire Dock Hall facility remains the second largest indoor shipbuilding construction complex in Europe and I understand that the planned extension comprises a 28,000m2, off-site logistics facility together with an 8,000m2 Central Training Facility together with the recently completed Central Yard Facility.
Eventual construction of all four of the planned Dreadnought class nuclear deterrent submarine capability that will eventually replace the four existing Vanguard class SSBN’s will take place at the new Central Yard Facility that Mr. Williamson will visit today. Additional investment is being made to improve all production, workshop and office facilities on the site and the latest funding is designed to support both ongoing design and build activities, procurement of materials and the planned investment in new and existing facilities for a further 12 months.
In a statement accompanying the announcement Secretary of State for Defence, Gavin Williamson will say that “The multi-billion-pound investment in our nuclear submarines [Astute and Dreadnought class] shows [the Governments] unwavering commitment to keeping the UK safe and secure from intensifying threats”.
The seven Astute class nuclear powered hunter killer attack submarines are replacing existing Royal Navy Trafalgar class nuclear powered submarines as these come to the end of their service lives. The Astute class submarines are, at 97 metres long and displace 7,400 tonnes making them the most powerful sub-surface capacity to have ever entered Royal Navy service.
A total of 8,700 people are engaged in the submarine business by BAE Systems and confirmation of the two separate awards is excellent news for not only the workforce at Barrow in Furness and the thousands who work in the wider supply chain, more than 700 suppliers in all and with whom BAE Systems spent over £700 million last year, but also for those in the wider community.
The first three ‘Astute’ class submarines, HMS Astute, HMS Ambush and HMS Artful are already in service with the Royal Navy. Work on the fourth (HMS Audacious – launched in April 2017), the fifth (HMS Anson) and the sixth (HMS Agamemnon) is at various stages of build or near completion.
The Dreadnought class submarines that will replace existing Vanguard class submarines which currently hold the UK’s Trident D5 nuclear missile deterrent capability will have a new design of nuclear propulsion systems and a new tactical weapon system for self-defence purposes both before and after missile launch.
First steel for the new submarines was cut during October last year. This highly complex project will be overseen by the newly created Submarine Delivery Agency which will work closely with the Royal Navy and the Defence Nuclear Organisation. BAE Systems and Rolls Royce are contracted for the production of the four Dreadnought class nuclear submarines planned. Together with Babcock International, the three companies comprise the Tier One industrial partners.
BAE Systems has estimated that eventually a potential 850 (approximately 85% of all supply chain companies involved) UK companies will be engaged on the Dreadnought programme. Rolls-Royce will produce nuclear power plants for each of the four vessels which will be built over the next 15 to 20 years.
CHW (London – 14th May 2018)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785