New Nukes: Britain’s Next-Gen Nuclear Missile Submarines
December 17/21: Progress Report A report from the UK’s Ministry of Defense discusses the progress made on the Dreadnought submarine programme in the last year. The Dreadnought class will carry the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles, replacing the Vanguard class submarines.
“We are committed to working towards a safer world in which there is no requirement for nuclear weapons… However, the continuing risk from the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the certainty that a number of other countries will retain substantial nuclear arsenals, mean that our minimum nuclear deterrent capability, currently represented by Trident, is likely to remain a necessary element of our security.” — UK SDSR, 1998
Britain has a big decision to make: do they remain a nuclear weapons power, or not? In an age of collapsing public finances and an uncertain long-term economic future, the money needed to design new nuclear missile submarines is a huge cost commitment that could crowd out other needs. Then again, in an age of collapsing non-proliferation frameworks, clear hostility from ideologies that want nuclear weapons, and allies who are less capable and dependable, the downside of renouncing nuclear weapons is a huge risk commitment. Pick one, or the other. There is no free lunch.
This article covers that momentous decision for Britain, and the contracts and debates associated with it.
Contracts & Key Events
Britain’s government took the first big steps in 2006-2007, a joint US-UK “Common Missile Compatment” (CMC) project was launched in 2008, and initial gate approval for Britain’s “Successor” project followed in 2011. Other contracts have followed, covering design, infrastructure, and even the new kind of nuclear reactor the submarines are expected to use. What hasn’t quite followed yet, is full approval to launch the build program.
Note that the CMC sub-program, which is financed by the USA and UK, is covered in its own article.
FY 2015 – 2021
December 17/21: Progress Report A report from the UK’s Ministry of Defense discusses the progress made on the Dreadnought submarine programme in the last year. The Dreadnought class will carry the UK’s Trident nuclear missiles, replacing the Vanguard class submarines.
June 16/21: Training Facility A new training facility that according to the British Defense Ministry will “secure HMNB Clyde as the central base for submariners in the UK” is taking shape at HMNB Clyde. Last year the Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) awarded a contract to Kier Graham Defence Ltd to deliver the works, which are expected to be completed in early 2023. HMNB Clyde in Scotland will host the Submarine Training Facility for the personnel on board the future Dreadnought Class nuclear submarines yet to enter service.
November 17/20: Common Missile Compartment The Charles Stark Draper Laboratory won a $133.5 million modification to provide research into the applications of technologies to meet guidance requirements for operations on the Common Missile Compartment for the US Columbia Class program and the United Kingdom Dreadnought Class program; provide specialized technical knowledge and support for the hypersonic guidance, navigation and control application; and provide technical and engineering services to support the guidance, navigation and control system that will support the Navy’s hypersonic flight experiments. The Columbia Class is an upcoming class of nuclear submarines. The Columbia SSBN program consists of a minimum of 12 submarines to meet the requirements for U.S. strategic deterrent force structure as set forth in the 2018 Nuclear Posture Review. The Columbia Class program completed Acquisition Milestone B on January 4, 2017 and is in the Engineering and Manufacturing Development Phase. The British Navy has also planned to acquire Columbia-class submarine under the name of Dreadnought-class SSBN. This submarine will be armed with eight D-5 SLBMs, or half the number to be carried by the Columbia class. The modular design of the CMC (Common Missile Compartment) will accommodate this difference. The UK provided some of the funding for the design of the CMC, including a large portion of the initial funding. Work will take place in Massachusetts and California. Estimated completion date is September 30, 2021.
November 3/20: AWE According to news reports, the UK Government will take back control of the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) following a written ministerial statement by the Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace. The AWE designs, manufactures and supports the UK’s nuclear weapons. For two decades, it has been under privatized management. It is currently run by Lockheed Martin, Serco and Jacob’s Engineering, with Lockheed holding a majority stake in the management consortium. The establishment, based at Aldermaston in southern England, is at the core of British activities toward developing, producing and disassembling nuclear warheads for the Royal Navy’s fleet of Trident missile-armed submarines. Back in February 2020, the Ministry of Defense started the development of a new nuclear warhead to allow the Navy to field an effective deterrent for deployment on the new fleet of Dreadnought Class submarines due to start replacing the existing boats early in the next decade.
June 12/20: Development General Dynamics Mission Systems won a $104.2 million deal for fiscal 2020-2023 Columbia (US01) and Dreadnought ballistic missile submarine class development, production and installation requirement. The Columbia Class program is meant to design and build 12 new ballistic missile submarines to replace the Navy’s current force of 14 aging Ohio Class boats. Dreadnought Class nuclear-armed ballistic missile submarines are being constructed by BAE Systems at its Barrow-in-Furness shipyard in Cumbria, UK, for the UK Royal Navy.The Dreadnought class will replace the Vanguard class submarines from 2028 onwards and will host the United Kingdom’s nuclear deterrent. Work will take place in Massachusetts, the UK, Rhode Island and Connecticut. Work is expected to be complete by November 2024.
March 4/20: Sonar Suite And Above-Water-Sensor Systems Thales UK has been awarded contracts worth around $422.8 million to develop the sonar suite and above-water sensor systems for the new Royal Navy Dreadnought Class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Previously known as Successor, the Dreadnought submarine program is planned to replace the RN’s four existing Vanguard Class SSBNs – one for one, from the early 2030s – to maintain a posture of continuous at-sea deterrence. Manufacture work on the first two 17,200-tonne displacement boats is under way at the BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines’ Barrow-in-Furness shipyard facility in Cumbria.
September 24/19: Logistics Engineering And Integration Support BAE System Technology Solution and Services won a $19.9 million modification to provide logistics engineering and integration support of the US Ohio Class and UK Vanguard Class Strategic Weapon System (SWS) platforms, including support of future concepts. The Vanguard class is a class of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) in service with the UK Royal Navy. The Ohio class of nuclear-powered subs is the sole class of SSBNs currently in service with the USN. Work will take place within the US and estimated complete date is September 30, 2020. UK funds in the amount of $3,652,728, are being obligated on this award.
August 26/19 HMS Valiant General Dynamics won a $64.8 million cost-plus-incentive-fee contract in support of the UK’s second hull of Dreadnought Class ballistic missile submarines, nuclear, recently named as HMS Valiant, and the UK Software Facility. The Dreadnought Class of submarines are set to gradually replace the four Vanguard Class boats from the early 2030s. Construction on HMS Dreadnought, the lead ship in the class, started in October 2016. The submersibles are 152.9m (501ft) long, displace 17,200 tonnes and will be armed with Trident II D5 missiles. The ships will be fitted with a new lighting system which can imitate night and day, making it easier for crew to get used to normal life after three months submerged. The HMS Valiant is the second Royal Navy Dreadnought Class submarine. Under the new contract, work will take place in Pittsfield, Massachusetts and estimated completion date is August 22, 2025.
April 23/19: Missile Tubes General Dynamics won a $269.3 million contract modification from the US Navy in support of the UK Dreadnought fleet and the US Navy’s Columbia Class fleet ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). The modification includes the manufacturing of 42 missile tubes as well as missile tube outfitting material. The Dreadnought Class submarines, the future replacement for the Vanguard Class, will like their predecessors carry the Trident II D-5 missiles. The upcoming Columbia Class of nuclear submarines will replace the UGM-133 Trident II-armed Ohio Class. Work will take place in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania and is expected to be finished by May 2028.
February 27/19: Maintenance Britain awarded Rolls-Royce a $307 million contract to maintain nuclear submarines. Until 2022, Rolls Royce will provide support and advice for systems on board the fleet of Trafalgar, Vanguard and Astute class submarines. The new deal, known as the Nuclear Propulsion Lifetime Management (NPLM) contract, forms part of a wider suite of contracts with Rolls-Royce to provide naval reactor plant design, support, advice and components to the submarine build program and provide enabling services such as infrastructure and IT. The British Defense Ministry also revealed the name of the third Dreadnought submarine, which will be called the HMS Warspite. The name Warspite goes back to 1595 and was the last “great ship” to be built during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The newest submarine is expected to see service in the early 2030s, and will be the eighth Royal Navy ship to carry the name Warspite.
October 4/16: BAE Systems will commence work on the UK’s newest nuclear submarines following the release of nearly $1.7 billion in funds. The announcement was made by the Minister of Defence on Saturday after approval was given by MPs earlier this year. Known colloquially as the Trident system, the first of the Vanguard-class submarines will enter service in the early 2030s.
March 10/16: Britain’s Ministry of Defense has confirmed that it is to invest £642 million (US $908 million) in preparation for the production of its new fleet of Trident missile-armed nuclear submarines. The funding had initially been set out in the government’s 2015 strategic defense and security review (SDSR), and will be spent on upgrading production facilities at BAE Systems’ Barrow-in-Furness nuclear submarine yard, essential long lead items for the submarines, and the nuclear propulsion program being led by Rolls-Royce. In total, the Successor submarine program is estimated to cost around $44 billion, with a contingency fund of $13 billion set aside for any emergencies that arise.
December 15/15: The UK government may nationalize the nuclear submarine arm of Rolls-Royce as concerns grow that the company may be subject to a takeover bid by a foreign company. The news comes as Rolls-Royce has reported its fifth profit warning in 20 months as the company struggles to come to grips with its finances. While it’s not usually the Conservative Party’s style to nationalize, the company is integral to the development of the powering of the Trident nuclear deterrent system. Other alternatives may see a partial or full merger with BAE Systems, although this has already been mooted. Either way, David Cameron will be impatient to keep the firm within British control to protect UK interests and the security of the Trident program.
Aug 21/14: Industrial. BAE is starting to demolish certain disused buildings at their Barrow-in-Furness site, as the 1st major stage in a large-scale 8-year industrial program. An old foundry and boiler shop are the first to go, and construction will eventually include:
- Refurbishment of the site’s main fabrication facility, together with its existing plant and machinery;
- An extension to the Devonshire Dock Hall construction facility to include a new state-of-the-art manufacturing and installation facility;
- An intent to build a 28,000 m2 off-site facility to store submarine parts and materials within the local area, for easier and faster access.
Sources: BAE Systems, “Demolition Begins To Transform Submarine Building”.
Feb 2/14: Politics. The buzz in Westminister is that Labour Party MPs are beginning to back away from their leader Ed Miliband’s support for the Successor Class. The erosion is serious enough that Conservative Party Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has told his junior ministers to lobby the shipbuilding unions and have them firm up Labour Party support.
The Liberal Democrats are openly against the project, but the Labour Party doesn’t want to head into the next election on a pledge to abandon Britain’s deterrent. Neither does the Conservative Party, despite reservations in some of its own quarters. Labour’s Miliband voiced his public displeasure over the perceived interference in his party’s affairs, but he has no way to block discussions with the shipbuilding unions. Sources: The Guardian, “Lobby ship unions over Trident, Philip Hammond tells ministers”.
Jan 31/14: RUSI Report. RUSI releases a report that looks at how a smaller or less active SSBN force would affect Britain’s deterrent, compared to the current arrangement of Continuous At-Sea Deterrence (CASD) that ensures at least 1 submarine ready at all times. A number of proposals are in play politically:
“At lower readiness, the ‘preserved deterrence’ posture presented in the TAR and the ‘contingency’ posture proposed elsewhere by the Liberal Democrat Party would have no nuclear platforms deployed on a day-to-day basis, and would only have the ability to reconstitute a force over a limited period of time (in the case of ‘preserved deterrence’, a matter of years).19 At medium levels of readiness, the ‘sustained’ or ‘responsive’ postures presented in the TAR would have nuclear-armed submarines patrolling on a day-to-day basis, interrupted by voluntary periods of inactivity of varying length (the former permitting fewer and shorter interruptions than the latter). At higher levels of readiness, the ‘focused’ posture would maintain back-to-back patrols, interrupted only for periods of technical or personnel recuperation.”
RUSI’s conclusion is that the lowest-readiness option, and proposals that would cut the submarine force to just 2 boats, are problematic because of the breadth of gaps and/or lag time they create. Medium levels of readiness, or a fleet of 3 boats, might work, but it means the UK has to change from deterrence as an undefined concept and invisible non-factor in crisis escalation. Instead, the need to activate the deterrent would require a very clear doctrine of deterrence and escalation that would play a significant role in future crises. This state of affairs also adds opportunities for British politicians to bungle things beforehand by ignoring vital signals, or create big problems during a crisis by managing their suddenly-public moves badly. Based on the historical record, RUSI is more complacent about future governments’ handling of such things than they ought to be.
Britain will also have to worry about rushed moves causing a submarine-related accident, and about the morale and readiness rot that afflicts personnel who see themselves as a sideline. RUSI uses the USA’s ICBM missile force as a negative example. Sources: RUSI, “A Disturbance in the Force: Debating Continuous At-Sea Deterrence” (see Additional Readings).
Long-term nuclear infrastructure deal; Political turbulence in Scotland, Labour Party, and even the Conservative Party; Small long-lead buys begin.
Dec 16/13: Procurement begins. GBP 79 million is a drop in the ocean for this program, but the UK MoD has begun the process of ordering known early-build items items like structural fittings, electrical equipment, castings and forgings, etc. The GBP 79 million in contracts are actually a set of 2, both awarded to BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines.
The Ministry of Defence also releases the 1st conceptual graphics of the Successor Class design, based on work done to date. At this stage, they don’t show much and shouldn’t be expected to. Sources: UK MoD, “News story: New investment in Successor submarines” | Royal Navy, “£79m investment in next generation nuclear submarines” | BAE, “First Successor procurement contracts awarded”.
Dec 15/13: Doubts. Former defense minister James Arbuthnot [Cons. – North East Hampshire], who chairs Parliament’s Defence Select Committee, tells the Guardian that he’s concerned about the UK armed forces, and is less sure that maintaining Britain’s nuclear deterrent is a good idea. He isn’t suddenly becoming a pacifist. Rather:
“Nuclear deterrence is essentially aimed at states, because it doesn’t work against terrorists. And you can only aim a nuclear weapon at a rational regime, and at rational states that are not already deterred by the US nuclear deterrent. So there is actually only a small set of targets.
“With the defence budget shrinking, you have to wonder whether [replacing Trident] is an appropriate use of very scarce defence sources. You have to wonder whether nuclear deterrence is still as effective a concept as it used to be in the cold war…. [If Russia wanted to attack, they] would organise for a terrorist group to put a nuclear weapon on a container ship and sail it into Tilbury docks, with the signature of Pakistan on the nuclear device. And what would the UK do? Launch a missile at Islamabad? We could not be sure against what we are retaliating. Nuclear deterrence does not provide the certainty that it seemed to in the past. It’s not an insurance policy, it is a potential booby trap.”
On the other hand, can Britain assume that the US nuclear deterrent will remain reliable over the next 50 years? The last half decade has greatly frayed their relationship, and the USA faces significant financial challenges of its own. Arbuthnot says he would still vote in favor of renewing Trident, but the extent and content of his reservations suggest that a “Syria moment” over nuclear weapons remains a possibility in Parliament. Sources: The Guardian, “Tory ex-defence minister voices doubts over need for Trident replacement”.
Oct 6/13: Not good. The Independent newspaper reports that a 90-minute breakdown of all reactor coolant supply at Devonport dockyard’s Tidal X-Berths in Plymouth, UK nearly led to a major nuclear incident. Based on a heavily redacted report from the Ministry of Defence’s Site Event Report Committee (SERC), both the electrical power for coolant supply to docked nuclear submarines, and the diesel back-up generators, failed at the dockyard on July 29/12. That failure followed a similar failure involving HMS Talent in 2009, and a partial failure involving HMS Trafalgar in 2011.
The newspaper adds that an internal Babcock investigation blamed the incident on the central nuclear switchboard, but added a note of concern about “inability to learn from previous incidents and to implement the recommendations from previous event reports.” This will not help existing uneasiness over the next generation of nuclear submarines, and “Nuclear scare at Navy submarine base after ‘unbelievable’ failures” adds that:
“Its own “stress test” on Devonport safety, launched after the Fukushima disaster, said that in the event of the failure of both power supplies, heat levels in reactors could be controlled by emergency portable water pumps, and added that such a failure had occurred a “number of times” previously.”
Oct 3/13: SSE. Babcock announces an unspecified contract from BAE Systems for the System Design phase of a new model of Submerged Signal Ejector (SSE Mk.12). It follows Babcock’s October 2012 system definition contract for the Successor Class’ WHLS (tactical weapons handling and launch) and SSE, thanks to a recent and successful concept review.
An SSE’s self-contained launch tubes sit in the submarine’s external under-casing, and are used for more than just communications beacons. Decoy devices, bathythermograph sensors, flares, and escape signals are all options for the SSE, hence Babcock’s description of it as a “first level system.” Babcock has extensive experience in SSE design and has been heavily involved in designing and making all UK SSE systems. Sources: Babcock International release, Oct 3/13.
March 19/13: Politics. With an SNP-sponsored debate on Trident set to take place in the Scottish Parliament this week, a Labour Party that depends on its advantage in Scotland needs to be clear on its policy. British media are reporting that the Labour Party is looking to backtrack slightly, and propose replacing the 4 Vanguard Class submarines with just 3 successors. Labour Shadow Defence Secretary Jim Murphy continues to support the idea of a Trident replacement, saying that:
“North Korea is trying to develop nuclear weapons, as is Iran. If they do, then Saudi Arabia and Turkey may do the same. The UK shouldn’t just give up our nuclear deterrent by ourselves…. The precise shape of the future deterrent will be based on capability and cost.”
March 7/13: Scotland. With a 2014 referendum looming that could deprive the UK of its nuclear submarine base in Scotland, Britain’s House of Commons Scottish Affairs Committee weighs in. Bottom line? The SNP seems to have taken a leaf from their counterparts in Quebec, Canada, and decided to be extremely vague regarding their plans in a potentially controversial area. After all, 6,700 work at Falsane and Coulport now, which is expected to rise to 8,100 after they house all of Britain’s Astute and Trafalgar Class boats and other facilities. Parliament will be pressing the issue hard and publicly:
“Unfortunately, the Scottish Government has gone on evasive manoeuvres over the issue of what they will really do in the event of Separation. Their response dodges the central question, which is what they really mean by their stated policy of the ‘speediest safe transition’ of Trident from Scotland. As we said in our report, in reality, Trident can be deactivated within a matter of days and the warheads removed from Scotland within twenty four months. In the process, the UK would lose the ability to operate its nuclear deterrent. Alternatively, it would take approximately 25 years for new facilities to be created elsewhere in the UK. We believe the Scottish Government must be honest and open about their intentions. Tomorrow we will be taking evidence from the Convener and Shop Stewards at the Coulport and Faslane. They represent the workers who will bear the brunt of job loss…”
Really? 25 years? If so, the whole issue of the Successor Class could become moot very quickly. Which would be fine with the SNP, who want to eliminate the Trident program if Scotland does vote to stay in the UK. Expect to hear more of this sort of to-and-fro, what with another 5,000 jobs on the line in shipbuilding, 15,000 in the UK government 4 Army infantry battalions, 2 Royal Marine Commando units and 5 squadrons of Tornado and Typhoon fighter aircraft in Scotland. UK HoC | SNP | Aviation Week | The Scotsman.
Feb 13/13: Reactors. The UK MoD signs a 10-year, GBP 800 million (then about $1.2 billion) contract with Rolls Royce, financing the Submarines Enterprise Performance Programme (SEPP) envisioned in the 2010 SDSR. The goal is to consolidate costs under one contract with consistent incentives, and improve operational efficiency in the infrastructure that delivers and supports the UK’s naval nuclear propulsion systems. They’re hoping for a GBP 200 million saving over this 10 years. Time will tell.
Jan 25/13: Electrical. HMS Vengeance’s GBP 350 million Long Overhaul Period and Refuel (LOP(R)) will feature a switch that’s likely to be a precursor for Britain’s next-generation SSBNs. Vengeance is replacing the maintenance-heavy rotating machinery of motor generators (MGs) with fixed solid-state Main Static Converters (MSCs), as a key component of the boat’s electrical system.
The new MSCs are derived from the system developed for Britain’s Astute Class SSNs, but adapted for the higher power requirements of an SSBN. They also had to be smaller, due to space limitations in the Vanguards. Finally, they had to successfully integrate into the Vanguard submarines’ existing electrical, control, and coolant systems. Installations have now begun, and a modified version is almost certain to to be part of Britain’s Successor Class. Its designers are likely to be watching the MSCs’ performance in the Vanguards closely. Babcock, via ASD.
Design contracts; Reactors.
Dec 18/12: The British Ministry of Defense submits its 2012 report to Parliament [PDF] on the future nuclear deterrent, noting the ramp up in public and private resources via an Integrated Programme Management Team (IPMT). A whole boat System Definition Review is scheduled to take place in 2013. With respect to the big items:
“Of the [GBP] 3Bn we plan to spend in the Assessment Phase, the expenditure to the end of Financial Year 2011/2012 has totalled [GBP] 315M. This is some [GBP] 30M lower than expected at the time of the Initial Gate approval, principally as a result of slower than expected manpower build-up in our Industrial partners… still expects to deliver the Assessment Phase within the approved cost of [GBP] 3Bn… Current forecast costs, including planned SEPP efficiency measures, indicate that we remain within the 2006 White Paper estimates of [GBP] 11-14Bn (at 2006/7 prices) for the Successor platform costs (assuming a four boat fleet).
The 2006 White Paper also recognised that investment of [GBP] 4-6Bn (at 2006/7 prices) would be required for supporting infrastructure and a replacement warhead ([GBP] 2-3 Bn for each element). As set out in the 2011 report, the MOD plans to spend some [GBP] 8M between 2011 and 2013 assessing the requirement for additional infrastructure investment. The 2011 report also noted that a decision on whether to refurbish or replace the existing warhead design could be deferred until the next Parliament, as the current warhead design is now planned to continue in service until the 2030s.”
Oct 29/12: Design contracts. The UK commits GBP 350 million to design their next-generation SSBN submarine, which will incorporate CMC. The work will be divided GPB 315 million to BAE Systems, who already has over 1,000 people working on this program, and a further GBP 38 million to Babcock. This award is part of the GBP 3 billion design phase (vid. May 18/11 entry).
The current Vanguard Class submarines are scheduled for replacement from 2028, and Britain is busy moving its entire submarine force to Falsane in Scotland, which will grow to 8,000 jobs by 2017.
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, who leads Britain’s Liberal Democrat party, angrily denounced the way the move was presented by the government. The government presented it as another step toward renewing the submarine deterrent, but Clegg sees that as ‘jumping the gun.’ His party has set up a review that’s looking at options like shorter-range cruise missiles launched from the torpedo tubes of existing Astute Class fast attack submarines, or to air-launched nuclear missiles. UK MoD | BAE Systems | UK’s Daily Mail.
June 18/12: Reactors. Britain’s Ministry of Defense signs a GBP 1.1 billion contract with Rolls Royce for submarine nuclear reactor cores, (GBP 600 million) and industrial investment in the Raynesway plant that manufactures them (GBP 500 million). The contracts will secure 300 jobs at Rolls-Royce.
The nuclear reactor cores will be used to power the 7th and final SSN Astute Class fast attack submarine, and the 1st of the Royal Navy’s next generation of SSBN nuclear deterrent submarines, currently known as the Successor Class.
Rolls Royce is the sole Technical Authority for the UK Nuclear Steam Raising Plant, whose reactors have powered British nuclear-powered submarines for the past 50 years. The GBP 500 million infrastructure contract aims extend the operating life of the Rayneway plant in Derby, UK, by more than 40 years. Rolls-Royce will continue to maintain and operate its existing reactor core manufacturing facility, while undertaking a parallel phased rebuild and modernization of buildings on site. UK MoD | Rolls Royce | The Telegraph.
May 22/12: Design contracts. The UK MoD issues a series of design phase (vid. May 18/11 entry) contracts for its next-generation “Successor” Class SSBNs, while re-iterating that a decision on the final design and build contracts won’t be made until 2016. The design work has to be done, or it would be impossible to make an informed decision about costs.
BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines receives the main design contract, worth GBP 328 million.
Babcock receives a GBP 15 million contract to focus on designing parts of the in-service support program.
Rolls Royce receives over GBP 4 million to integrate a new reactor design into the submarine. The reactors themselves will be separate design/ build contracts.
May 15/12: 5 bn for AWE. The UK MoD announces a multi-billion pound agreement with the AWE Management Limited (AWEML) joint venture, which manages Britain’s Atomic Weapons Establishment. The AWEML joint venture includes Jacobs Engineering, Serco and Lockheed Martin, and they signed the current 25-year management contract in 2000.
Scientists at the AWE’s Berkshire sites are involved from the initial concept and design of British nuclear warheads, through manufacture and support, to their decommissioning and disposal. Under the agreement, the ministry will invest GBP 1 billion a year over the next 5 years in skills and facilities at the company’s Aldermaston and Burghfield sites in Berkshire, where more than 4,500 staff are based. Around 40% cent of this money will be invested in essential capital projects, including production and research facilities. The remainder will be spent on operating and maintaining the AWE.
2010 – 2011
Initial Gate. SDSR.
May 19/11: Initial Gate. The British government approves the initial Successor Class assessment phase, known as Initial Gate. This allows a design phase to begin that could be worth up to GBP 3 billion.
The new submarine class will retain the current Trident II D5 missiles, and introduce a PWR3-based passive cooling nuclear reactor design for the Royal Navy. The cost for 4 boats is estimated to be GBP 15-20 billion at 2006/7 prices, but the final decision to build 3 or 4 submarines will be taken in 2016. UK House of Commons, “Statement on the Nuclear Deterrent.” | UK MoD.
Design Phase approved
March 23/11: New reactor? Britain is reportedly shifting toward the passive-cooling PWR3 nuclear reactor design for its future SSBN nuclear missile submarines. The PWR2 design used in its SSBN Vanguard Class, as well as the SSN Trafalgar, and new SSN Astute Class fast attack boats, reportedly shares unwelcome features with the Fukushima reactors, in that they entirely on back-up power supplies to provide emergency cooling in the event of an accident.
In contrast the PWR3, which is widely used in modern US nuclear submarines, uses “passive” cooling. That makes it less reliant on back-up power, and offers additional methods of injecting coolant into a reactor.
Oct 18/10: SDSR Britain’s new government releases its 2010 Strategic Defense and Strategy Review [PDF]. With respect to its future SSBNs, the government intends to move forward, but:
“Under the 1958 UK-US Agreement for Cooperation on the Uses of Atomic Energy for Mutual Defence Purposes (the ‘Mutual Defence Agreement’) we have agreed on the future of the Trident D5 delivery system and determined that a replacement warhead is not required until at least the late 2030s. Decisions on replacing the warhead will not therefore be required in this Parliament. This will defer £500 million of spending from the next 10 years. We have also reached agreement with the US over the size of the missile tubes in the new submarines; this has enabled us to reduce the cost of the submarine missile compartment by up to [GBP] 250 million.
As a result of our value for money review, we will reduce the number of operational launch tubes on the submarines from 12 to , and the number of warheads from 48 to 40, in line with our commitment vigorously to pursue multilateral global disarmament. This will help reduce costs by [GBP] 750 million over the period of the spending review, and by [GBP] 3.2 billion over the next ten years. ‘Initial Gate’ – a decision to move ahead with early stages of the work involved – will be approved and the next phase of the project will start by the end of this year. ‘Main Gate’ – the decision to start building the submarines – is required around 2016.”
There is tension in the governing coalition between Conservative party members, who want to maintain the deterrent, and the Liberal-Democrat party members, who do not.
Concept designs. Integrated project team.
March 19/09: Report. Edward Leigh MP, Chairman of the Committee of Public Accounts, makes a statement as the committee publishes “The United Kingdom’s future nuclear deterrent capability” :
“The Department’s timetable for completing the design and build process for the replacement submarines is extremely tight. It has 17 years to do it, even though the Department itself accepts that such a process usually cannot be completed in under 18. The MOD’s track record in delivering major defence projects on time is not exemplary.
The MOD must make absolutely fundamental decisions about the design of the new submarines by September of this year. These include the main design features; whether to develop a new type of nuclear reactor requiring substantial research and development; and, crucially, the design and size of the missile compartment.”
Oct 26/07: Concepts. BAE presents 2 SSBN concept designs at DSEi 2007, labelled Concept 35 and Advanced Hull Form (AHF). Concept 35 is an evolution of the SSBN Vanguard Class and SSN Astute Class. The Advanced Hull Form uses a broad y-shaped stern with twin propulsor shrouds, which reportedly houses much of the boat’s machinery outside of the pressure hull. See Beedall for pictures.
Oct 18/07: IPT opened. BAE Systems announces that Rear Admiral Paul Thomas CB, FREng chairman of the defence nuclear safety committee, has officially opened the Future Submarines (FSM) Integrated Project Team office at Barrow-in-Furness.
“This element of the Future Submarines IPT will be based on the BAE Systems Submarine Solutions site and will be manned by a collaboration of up to 128 personnel made up from the Ministry of Defence, BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and Babcock Marine. Working with the FSM IPT office in the MoD’s Abbey Wood offices, the team will, over the next two years, develop a concept design for the submarine component of the future deterrent programme.”
March 4/07: Vote. Britain’s Labour government wins a 409 – 161 vote to build a new SSBN successor the Vanguard Class. 95 Labour Party MPs vote “no,” but the motion passes with the support of most Labour Party MPs and Britain’s Conservative Party. Britain’s Liberal Democratic Party, Green Party, and Scottish National Party are all opposed as matters of party policy. BBC | The Guardian | The Telegraph.
Dec 4/06: Britain’s government releases “The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent” [PDF] white paper, and decides to maintain the UK’s nuclear deterrent. That will mean building a class of 3 or 4 SSBNs, to replace the current fleet of 4 Vanguards.
- BAE – Successor.
- Navy Matters – Future Submarines.
- DID – CMC Program to Define Future SSBN Launchers for UK, USA.
- DID – Trident II D5 Missile: Keeping Up with Changing Times.
- DID (March 27/12) – GBP 350M for Final Refit of UK’s Vanguard Nuclear Missile Subs. Final? Other refits may be needed in future, in order to keep the Vanguards in service until the new submarines arrive. These will be the last British nuclear submarines to require a Long Overhaul Period and Refuel (LOP-R) during their service lives. The New PWR2 Mk.2 reactor in refitted Vanguard and current Astute submarines, and the PWR3 reactors in the new submarines, will last for the submarine’s entire lifetime.
- UK Ministry of Defence (Dec 18/12) – The United Kingdom’s Future Nuclear Deterrent: 2012 Update to Parliament [PDF].
- UK Parliament (May 19/11) – Statement on the nuclear deterrent.
- UK Committee on Public Accounts (March 19/10) – The United Kingdom’s future nuclear deterrent capability.
- UK Defence Committee (May 24/07) – The Future of the UK’s Strategic Nuclear Deterrent: the White Paper: Government Response to the Committee’s Ninth Report of Session 2006-07.
- UK Defence Committee (Dec 19/06) – Fourth Report of Session 2006-07, The future of the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent: the manufacturing and skills base, HC 59.
- UK MoD (2006) – The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent: Defence White Paper 2006 [PDF].
News & Views
- RUSI (January 2014) – A Disturbance in the Force: Debating Continuous At-Sea Deterrence [PDF]. See also their release, complete with YouTube video.
- Naval Technology (July 30/13) – Deep impact: inside the UK’s new Successor-Class nuclear submarine.
- RUSI, on TouTube (July 16/13) – Danny Alexander on the Trident Alternative Review [59:14].
- LabourList beta (Jan 29/13) – Will Trident split the Labour Party in half?.
- RUSI (July 29/10) – Like for like renewal of Trident will come at expense of conventional forces.