In its fifth update to Parliament since the British government committed to maintaining the Continuous At Sea Deterrence (CASD) posture into the 2050s – and the first update since the Strategic Defence & Security Review 2015 (SDSR15) – MoD has laid out for politicians the progress it – and its industrial partners – have made. At the centre of the programme is the replacement of the VANGUARD-class submarines, current bearers of the nation’s nuclear deterrent.

The replacement class of four submarines – officially named the DREADNOUGHT-class on 21 October (Trafalgar Day) – has moved forward considerably as a programme in the last two years: SDSR15 reset the estimated cost for design and manufacture and announced a move away from a traditional ‘Main Gate’ procurement approach to a staged investment approach with multiple control points; the first control point was established in July 2016; production started in September. The programme is “the largest UK submarine project in a generation and will be one of the most complex undertaken by British industry,” the MoD briefing states.

The Cost of Design and Manufacture

The expected design and manufacturing cost for the four submarines now stands at £31 billion, including inflation over the 35-year lifetime of the programme. To this, MoD has set a contingency of £10 billion, “a prudent estimate based on best practice in delivering large, complex projects,” it says, going on to point out that “revised cost estimates and schedule reflect the greater understanding of the detailed design of the submarines and their manufacture.”

Total approved cost of the Assessment Phase amounts to £3.9 billion, of which the MoD has so far spent a little more than £2.5 billion, including buying essential long-lead items for all four boats. Payments for this phase are expected to continue till around 2023.

On 9 September the DREADNOUGHT programme entered the Demonstration and Manufacture stage (Delivery Phase 1), with contracts for platform building and construction design let at £986 and £277 million respectively. The submarines are to be built in 16 units, grouped into 3 “mega-units,” (Aft, Mid and Forward), a modular approach that accelerates overall build timescales. Units will receive their acoustic coatings and paint finishes prior to the installation of intricate systems and equipment and will then be transferred to the Devonshire Dock Hall for creation of the mega-units and their subsequent assembly into finished boats. “MoD will continue to apply key learning points from the ASTUTE-class and US VIRGINIA-class attack submarine programmes to inform the overall build strategy for DREADNOUGHT, particularly in maturing the design of the submarine to avoid significant re-work during production and in de-risking the build schedule.”

Supply Chain

Hundreds of suppliers across the UK are working on the programme, “(which) underlines the fact that the nuclear deterrent represents a significant national undertaking, which is drawing on cutting edge capabilities, innovation, design and development prospects for a substantial number of apprentices, trainees and graduates in a wide range of technical and other disciplines. Broader and deeper engagement with the supply chain is planned in 2017.”

Since the end of 2014 orders have been placed for a variety of long-lead items, including elements of the PWR3 nuclear propulsion systems, the steam generators for Boat 1 and early long-lead forgings for Boat 2. BAE Systems has also procured the specialised submarine high strength steel required to construct the pressure hull for Boat 1. The company expects that 86% of the supply chain will be UK-based.

International Collaboration

The UK and US renewed the 1958 Mutual Defence Agreement (MDA) – which underpins all nuclear deterrence cooperation between the two countries – in December 2014. The MDA is of considerable mutual benefit, “…and allows the UK to significantly reduce the cost of maintaining its capability while retaining an independent nuclear deterrent.”

Collaboration with the US continues on nuclear propulsion and the strategic weapon system, including the TRIDENT D5 missile, the Common Missile Compartment (CMC) and associated navigation, fire control and launch systems. General Dynamics Electric Boat, design and integration authority for the CMC, are collaborating with BAE Systems in Barrow to ensure the design accommodates UK requirements and can be integrated with DREADNOUGHT.

Under the 2010 UK/France Treaty on Joint Radiographic/Hydrodynamics Facilities (known as the TEUTATES programme), British personnel are working at the French Atomic Energy Commission’s Epure facility at Valduc, supervising construction of UK test facilities and carrying out preparatory work for future hydrodynamic and radiographic experiments.


A replacement warhead for TRIDENT D5 is not required until the late 2030s, possibly later. Given the gestation period of development, however, a decision on warhead replacement may be required within the lifetime of the current Parliament (i.e. by 2020).

MoD has conducted a number of technology studies to support the planned refurbishment of the current system and explore options for a future warhead and is working on a shared UK/US Joint Technology Demonstrator (JTD) project dedicated to the development of a series of joint integrated system demonstrators that support new safety, security and advanced manufacturing technologies. “The JTD is not a new warhead programme, but is intended to help sustain skills and develop the capabilities, processes and technology needed to inform potential options being considered in the future, and to reduce future technical cost and risk issues.

Submarine Nuclear Enterprise

The total number of MoD, BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce and Babcock International employees working directly on the programme is now in the region of 2,600, more than half of whom are engineers or designers. “The demand for skilled workers continues to grow throughout the supply chain as the programme moves towards full production and MoD expect the DREADNOUGHT programme to sustain thousands of jobs at Barrow.

Subject to formal approval, MoD will establish an Executive Agency to manage the submarine enterprise, working alongside Defence Equipment & Support (DE&S) and enjoying similar freedoms. DE&S personnel working on the programme will transfer to the new Agency with effect from 1 April 2017. Further, MoD is investigating the development of a new commercial and organisational model, in the form of an alliance between MoD and the two key industrial leads, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce, to improve collective performance on the DREADNOUGHT programme.
MoD plans next to report to Parliament in late 2017.


The DREADNOUGHT-class submarines will provide Britain’s nuclear deterrent well into the middle of the century. (Photo: BAE Systems)

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