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Successor Programme Moves Forward With Confidence By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.

tridentAhead of a short visit to Berlin today a very quick comment from me this morning on the vote in the House of Commons last evening and that by a majority of 472 votes to 117 backed renewal of the UK’s Trident submarine replacement programme. Commentary will return on Thursday.

Yesterday’s House of Commons vote to support replacement of Britain’s Trident nuclear weapons system clears the way for the next stage of the Successor programme. No longer called ‘Main Gate’ as this more traditional title that we have got used to is in this case deemed inappropriate for a programme of such scale and complexity, the vote is welcome confirmation that the UK will move forward to deliver replacement of the four existing Vanguard class submarines that form the basis of our existing nuclear deterrent capability without further delay.

The existing Vanguard fleet of submarines are due to be retired gradually through the 2030’s as each of the four new ‘Successor’ class submarines that will be built come into service. Successor will, according the HMG, take around 20 years to build and last evening’s vote goes a very long way to providing the certainty and clear policy objective that industry and all others involved in the programme need.

Having watched much of the debate in the House of Commons yesterday it was good to see such wholesale and genuine support for Trident replacement. The House of Commons was at its best and it decided by a huge majority that ‘Successor’ strategy was the right way forward. Now it is down to this government and its successors to deliver on what the House of Commons has backed. British politics had a very good day yesterday and with great support for the Prime Minster who opened the debate it is excellent to know that the ‘Successor’ programme can move forward unencumbered.

Including an additional £642 million commitment to the design phase the total cost of the assessment phase will by the time all has been completed and signed off have been £3.9 billion. Including inflation, the total cost of the design and manufacturing phase of four ‘Successor’ class boats is put by HMG at £31 billion. Very sensibly and based on past experience of large complex projects such as this, HMG has also set a contingency of £10bn, a figure that represents around 35% of the cost of completion. In terms of operating costs the four ‘Successor class submarines equates to approximately 6% of the annual defence budget and 0.13% of total government spend.

In marking the way forward HMG has established the position of Director-General Nuclear and a corresponding supporting organisation in order to create a single and accountable focus within the MOD for all aspects of the defence nuclear enterprise. This appears to be a very sensible idea and in parallel the MOD is planning to create a new organisation for the procurement and in-service support for all nuclear submarines, including Successor. This organisation will have specific focus on delivery and will have the authority and freedom to recruit and retain the best people in industry to manage the technical challenges and the industrial base involved.

Major companies involved in Successor are BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock International but the programme will include involvement from many other primes and hundreds of small and medium sized enterprises as well. The Successor programme will sustain thousands of jobs at BAE Systems Barrow-in-Furness submarine building facility throughout the 2030’s. Ensuring that we have and retain sufficient nuclear skills will in part be down to the work done by the recently announced formation of the National College for Nuclear. In addition, the Nuclear Industry Council is supported by the Nuclear Skills Strategy Group which itself comprises representation from the MOD and various other government departments with vested interests in nuclear.

I am absolutely delighted that the House of Commons gave Trident replacement such a resounding vote of confidence. Now for the next stage – getting everything set up for delivery.

CHW (London – 19th July 2016)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS


Tel: 07710 779785


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