Artful, the third of the Royal Navy's 'Astute' class attack submarines, was launched at the BAE Systems Barrow shipyard in May.
The launch date for the submarine had been delayed as a result of concerns about the structural integrity of the Wet Dock Quay at Barrow, to which submarines are moored after they have been launched while their nuclear reactors are commissioned.
Inspection work conducted by BAE Systems indicated that the structural condition of the dock could not be guaranteed, and as a result the Office for Nuclear Regulation (ONR) imposed a regulatory 'hold point' on the company to prevent the launch of the submarine before further surveys and remediation work had been completed.
BAE Systems have now provided the necessary safety justification to ONR, allowing the submarine to be launched on 17 May. The quay's structure is considered to be in better condition than had been feared, although it is likely to have a limited future life. Further safety justification work is being undertaken by BAE Systems and precautions will be taken to protect Artful from a quay collapse incident while work is underway on the submarine in the water.
BAE Systems made a decision to limit the amount of work that is needed on the submarine at the Wet Dock Quay, and instead completed as much work as possible on the submarine inside the Devonshire Dock Hall with the aim of minimising delays to the construction programme.
As the next stage in the construction programme Artful's reactor will be taken to criticality and commissioned. Once the reactor has been commissioned power range tests will be completed, and the submarine will be handed over to the Navy for sea trials early next year.
The Astute submarine programme has experienced a series of delays, cost over-runs, and performance shortfalls. The programme has been running nearly six years late and £1.3 billion over budget. A recent report from the National Audit Office revealed that, so far, Astute class submarines have been unable to meet their intended top speed.