Successor: developing the UK’s next-generation strategic deterrent

HMS VictoriousPlans for Successor, the replacement of Trident, were debated in the House of Commons on 20 January. The Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon, responded to alternative proposals to the Continuous at Sea Deterrent, explaining the Government’s commitment to nuclear defence. Here, MOD DCB features writer Julie Shennan examines the implications for the UK defence industry.

On 20 January 2015, the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru sponsored a Commons debate on an Opposition day motion ‘that this House believes that Trident should not be renewed’, to highlight their opposition to the Successor programme, the Ministry of Defence’s process to replace its existing Trident submarine-based nuclear deterrent force.

However, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon defended plans to provide a revised Continuous at Sea Deterrent (CASD) ballistic missile armed submarine capability.

Mr Fallon said: “Today’s debate is about the primary responsibility of any Government: the security of our nation, our freedoms and our way of life. It is not about short-term politics. Whatever the current threats to this country, we cannot gamble with tomorrow’s security.

“That is why this Government, and all previous Governments for the last six decades, have retained an operationally independent nuclear deterrent. This Government is committed to maintain that credible, continuous and effective minimum nuclear deterrent based on Trident and operating in a continuously at-sea posture for as long as we need it.”

Mr Fallon continued: “There is simply no alternative to a continuous at-sea deterrent that can provide the same level of protection and the ability to deter an aggressor. We know that because successive Governments have looked at the different options for delivering a deterrent capability. None of these alternative systems and postures offers the same degree of resilience as the current posture of Continuous at Sea Deterrence, nor could they guarantee a prompt response in all circumstances.”

In anticipation of Trident’s retirement, the MOD started planning its successor, and in 2006 the Government released a White Paper entitled The Future of the United Kingdom’s Nuclear Deterrent. In March 2010 Parliament voted by a majority of 409 to 161 to build a fleet of new ballistic missile submarines, proceeding with the programme that Parliament approved in March 2007. This plan was updated in the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) later in 2010 and the Trident Alternatives Review in 2013.

These reviews came to the conclusion that the UK would retain and renew its nuclear deterrent, calling it the ‘ultimate insurance policy in an age of uncertainty’. The papers recommended the UK should retain a credible, continuous and effective minimum nuclear deterrent for as long as the global security situation makes that necessary.

Replacing Trident started with Initial Gate, the first stage of planning, which was launched on 18 May 2011. During this planning period the Government met with defence officials to procure £3 billion of important items, and discuss the design of the new-generation ‘Successor’ submarines.

Leading the design team is BAE Systems, alongside partners Rolls-Royce and Babcock Marine.

Rolls-Royce is working to deliver cost savings of up to £200 million in the provision of nuclear propulsion systems for the UK’s existing and future submarine flotilla.

Babcock has been awarded a contract to support the design of the UK’s next-generation ballistic missile armed submarines, by providing through-life support expertise to ensure that the emerging design adequately considers and addresses in-service constraints and experience.

Other suppliers working on the Successor project include Analox Military, chosen to produce the Successor’s final Ptolemy gas analyser system; and Warbreck Engineering and Construction, chosen to create a full-size steel replica of the Successor’s nuclear reactor compartment.

Warbreck Engineering and Construction will manufacture and assemble this replica in sections and then ship it to the BAE Systems site in Barrow, where it will be re-assembled.

BAE Systems, which started the Concept Design Phase in 2007, is now working on the five-year Assessment Phase, the first stage of the new submarine’s development. This is where the vessel concept and requirements are fleshed out and finalised into a detailed hull form and systems.

In a report to Parliament, the MOD forecast Successor’s design would be around 70 per cent complete by the end of the Assessment Phase. This would enable manufacturing to commence after the Main Gate investment stage, without the need for redesign, thereby saving time and money.

For further economy, the report outlined an Integrated Programme Management Team (IPMT) to oversee the schedule, costs and risks of the programme and to coordinate between the MOD and its industry partners.

Some £900 million was spent developing the submarine concept design and up to £3.3 billion will be spent developing the detailed designs and ordering long lead items before a final ‘Main Gate’ investment decision is taken in 2016.

At that stage the Government will determine the number of boats needed to maintain CASD and decide whether or not to approve full production.

The number of submarines to be included in the Successor programme has been an issue debated between the Coalition partners. The Liberal Democrats have proposed ordering fewer submarines, a move which could save around £4 billion in the long term, but the Conservatives have rejected this, saying the savings made would be small in respect of the MOD’s annual £34 billion budget.

The final cost of the Successor programme was estimated in 2013 at £15-20 billion at 2006/07 prices, while the Government’s 2014 update to Parliament confirmed that a further £261 million had been reprofiled to be spent on the project ahead of the Main Gate stage.

However, building the Successor will boost UK manufacturing with BAE Systems alone seeking to recruit upwards of 200 new employees, particularly in its Engineering function. The new roles include electrical, mechanical and structural engineers, engineering managers and naval architects, along with project managers.

This team will work to get the first Successor submarine into service by 2028.