The Ministry of Defence has awarded £2.7 billion worth of new contracts to BAE Systems for construction of its planned fleet of Astute class attack submarines, despite cost overruns, severe delays, and concerns over quality of work on the vessels.
A total of £1.2 billion has been committed with an order for construction of the fourth of seven Astute class submarines, HMS Audacious. Work on construction of the submarine has already commenced and £640m of the total £1.2 billion has already been awarded in previous contracts, according to BAE Systems. A further £1.5bn has been committed to work on the remaining three submarines in the class which are in the early stages of construction.
Audacious is the fourth of the seven Astute Class submarines which the Royal Navy intends to purchase. The first two submarines, HMS Astute and Ambush, have yet to enter service and are currently undergoing sea trials and the third submarine, HMS Artful, is in the late stages of construction at the BAE Systems Barrow shipyard. The keel has been laid and early work has started on the fifth vessel, HMS Anson, and preparatory work has begun on the sixth and seventh submarines in the class. The submarines will eventually replace the ageing Trafalgar class submarines which are currently in service.
The controversial Astute class submarine programme has been plagued by problems, with construction of the first three submarines more than £1.2 billion over budget and 58 months behind schedule. According to reports in the 'Guardian' newspaper poor quality of work on HMS Astute has resulted in the submarine suffering from leaks, corrosion, and problems in monitoring its nuclear power plant.
Ministers claim that the submarine contracts will provide continued employment to 3000 staff at the BAE Systems shipyard in Barrow-in-Furness.