More than £200 million in funding has been released by the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to support further design work for 'Successor' class Trident replacement submarines.
The department has given £201m to submarine builder BAE Systems to fund the last design and development stage of the project before construction is scheduled to commence. The funding has been awarded in recognition that BAE has met the necessary contract conditions and project milestones to satisfy MoD that it is in a position proceed to the next stage of submarine design.
The £201m will be the last large tranche of funding awarded to BAE as part of the £3.3bn assessment and design phase for the Successor programme. The money will enable BAE Systems to further develop the design of the submarine, including specifying the layout of equipment and systems, and to develop manufacturing processes, including the production of early prototypes.
Although the government insists that the Successor programme is running smoothly, evidence suggests that MoD is struggling to manage the project. The expected costs of building four new submarines was revised last autumn from £25bn to £31bn, with a further £10bn put aside to cover unforeseen risks. The design and assessment phase of the programme, which commenced at the 'initial gate' decision point in May 2011, is scheduled to end this year. However, some MoD sources have hinted that BAE Systems will not be ready to commence construction work on the submarine until autumn.
Last November the Strategic Defence and Security Review announced that a new body would be set up to oversee the delivery of the entire Trident renewal programme, and that new project management arrangements would apply. Malcolm Chalmers, director of UK defence policy at the Royal United Services Institute, has said the move is the equivalent of putting the programme on “special measures”.
Members of the House of Commons Defence Committee have written to Defence Secretary Michael Fallon to express concerns about the “unacceptable level of uncertainty” on the timetable for the Successor programme within Parliament and among contractors and their supply chains.
The committee's letter said that there was “growing concern” that no date has yet been set for a Parliamentary vote on whether the Successor programme will go ahead, and requested “an indication of when this long-anticipated vote is due to be held and an explanation of any reasons for not proceeding forthwith, now that the political obstacles which existed in the previous parliament no longer apply”.
According to BAE Systems 70% of the Successor submarine design will have been finalised by the time the submarine enters production. In preparation for the commencement of work on Successor new working practices at Barrow have been negotiated with trades unions, pay rises agreed, and automation introduced, with some of the welding work on submarines now done by robots. To cut costs, the submarine is scheduled be built in a series of vertical modules.
In addition to submarine design work, £300 million is to be spent at Barrow to build new facilities for construction of the submarine, with preparation currently underway to commence building work for the new facilities.