The first work has begun on a successor to the Submarine Service’s cutting-edge hunter-killer force – even before all the current boats have been delivered to the Navy.
BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce have each been given £85m to start thinking about the design and capabilities of a new class of submarine which will eventually take over from the Astute class.
Over the next three years 350 designers, engineers and shipwrights – 250 in the North-West and 100 in the Midlands – will carry out design and concept work, work which will help Whitehall determine how it replaces the Astutes when they begin to reach the end of their active careers.
Four boats are currently in service – the newest, HMS Audacious, is formally commissioned next week – No.5 (HMS Anson) is undergoing final trials and testing in Barrow, where the last two boats (HMS Agamemnon and Agincourt) are being completed.
All seven Astutes will be in service by 2026 and each is expected to serve for at least a quarter of century – taking the class into the second half of the 21st Century.
HMS Astute herself has already been in service over a decade and given the complexities of building nuclear submarines – plus the pace of technological change below the waves (the Royal Navy is already investing in its first crewless submersibles) – preparing for the next generation of boats needs to start now.
“Designing and building submarines is one of the most complex and challenging feats of engineering that the maritime industry undertakes,” explained Ian Booth, head of the Submarine Delivery Agency.
“It is essential that work on the next generation underwater capability commences as early as possible. This relies on some of the nation’s most experienced defence nuclear experts from the very beginning of the design phase.”
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said awarding the two contracts marked “the start of a new journey for the Royal Navy’s submarines. British designers and engineers will lead the way in developing submarines for our Royal Navy.
“This multi-million pound investment ensures that this vital capability will be ready to replace our Astute Class submarines as they come out of service, whilst supporting high-skilled jobs across the Midlands and North West of England.”
The BAE team will focus on the design and construction of the new class – provisionally known as the SSNR (Submersible Ship Nuclear Replacement) program – while Rolls-Royce in Derby will concentrate on the development/production of the boats’ reactors.