Defence secretary publishes update on progress with Trident replacement

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has published the second of a series of annual updates on the Trident replacement programme and announced two further contracts with BAE Systems for work on the programme, taking the total spent on replacing Trident to more than £800 million since 2011.

The update, published as a report to Parliament, gives an outline of progress made to date on the Trident replacement programme and particularly on plans to build a new 'Successor' submarine to replace the current Vanguard class Trident missile submarines.  The report includes a concept image showing an approximation of the design for the new submarine – the first such picture to be released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).

Exactly how many of the planned submarines will be built and how they would be deployed remain uncertain until Parliament votes again on the Trident replacement programme at the 'Main Gate' decision point in 2016.

Launching the report in Parliament, Mr Hammond announced that two contracts have been awarded to BAE Systems Maritime Submarines to allow work to commence on some 'long lead' items required during the submarine construction process.  A £47 million contract will allow work to begin on parts of the hull structure for the submarines, including structural fittings, castings, forgings, and electrical equipment.  A second contract worth £32 million is for work on elements of the submarine's propulsion equipment.

Other commitments already made for long lead items include a contract worth £52 million on elements of the nuclear propulsion system and £31 million for missile tube long lead items with US contractors.  Further contracts for long lead work will be placed over the next year.

The report states that expenditure on the programme to the end of the financial year 2012-13 totalled £415 million, bringing the overall sum spent on the current assessment phase to £730 million, in line with budgets set out in the Initial Gate Business Case.  The forecast cost of the assessment phase remains “within the £3 billion envelope approved in April 2011”.

Elsewhere, in its equipment plan for 2012, the MoD has published figures showing that the UK's annual spending on nuclear weapons is set to increase from £2.5 billion pounds annually in 2012 to £4.5 billion by 2022.

The report emphasises that  lessons have been learnt from the Astute class submarine programme and US programmes, no doubt with the aim of providing reassurance that the lengthy delays and expensive cost over-runs experienced during the Astute programme will not be repeated again.   The programme remains “on schedule to be sufficiently mature in terms of design and cost estimates” for a Main Gain decision on submarine construction afer the next election in 2016.

Work undertaken to date has been part of the assessment phase of the programme, intended to define the specification for the submarine and develop definitions for each of the submarine's systems.  The next stage will be to develop the functional designs for around 200 individual systems in sufficient detail to prepare detailed specifications for major components, working alongside contracting suppliers.

Collaboration with the USA is underway in the areas of nuclear propulsion and the Trident weapon system, including the missile, missile compartment, and navigation and computer systems.  A strategy has been agreed for procuring and building a Common Missile Compartment – a design which will be common to both Successor and the US Ohio class replacement submarines – which  allows Missile Compartments to be built in theUK using pre-constructed missile tubes supplied by the Electric Boat division of the US General Dynamics company in the US.   A prototyping programme is underway and the manufacture of four prototype forgings for the upper tubes has commenced.

Work with the programme's prime contractors – BAE Systems, Babcock International, and Rolls-Royce – under the Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme (SEPP), which aims to deliver financial savings across the MoD's submarine enterprises, remains key to delivery of the Successor programme.  MoD expects SEPP to deliver savings of £900 million by 2020/21, of which Successor’s share is some £220 million. By the end of the last financial year, a total of £107 million in savings had been identified and removed from the initial Successor costing and a range of measures to deliver a further £113 million had been identified.

As part of SEPP the MoD has awarded Rolls Royce an £800 million contract to improve the efficiency of the company’s operations, which is hoped to deliver savings of around £200 million over the next decade.  A contract was also signed with BAE Systems in July 2013 intended to deliver savings of £380 million over the next eight years.

When fully underway, the Successor programme will involve over 850 UK companies and an undisclosed number of US and overseas companies in the supply chain, and emply a “significant portion” of the UK’s engineers, project managers and technicians, according to the Ministry of Defence.  The report estimates that around 2,000 people are currently employed on the programme, with numbers of skilled workers scheduled to reach a peak of around 6,000 people during the production phase.

The MoD has described the Successor submarine as the largest submarine operated by the Royal Navy – even though it will carry fewer Trident missiles than the design for the Vanguard class submarines currently in service.   A programme of civil works has been prepared to provide capacity to accommodate the larger Successor submarine at the submarine construction shipyard at Barrow-in-Furness. Preliminary infrastructure design will commence in late 2013 with construction starting some 12 months later.

A recommendation on the number of submarines to be ordered will be made at the end of the Main Gate Assessment Phase, when MoD will have sufficient information on the maintenance requirements of the new design to assess how to meet its operational requirements.

Shortly before the Parliamentary report was published James Arbuthnot, a former Conservative defence minister and current chair of the House of Commons' Defence Committee, said during an interview with the Guardian newspaper that he is no longer convinced of the need to maintain a sea-based nuclear deterrence.

"There has been a steady decline in my certainty that we are doing the right thing by replacing Trident," he said. "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."

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