The Royal Navy has awarded contracts worth £170 million for early work on the design of next-generation attack submarines, even though work continues on delivering the current Astute-class submarines.
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 will carry out design and concept 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.
The Royal Navy announcement follows news of Australia’s sudden decision to cancel a contract for the procurement of French conventionally-powered submarines in favor of a nuclear solution. Australia’s announcement is part of the new AUUKUS initiative, which will see the UK and US share nuclear-propulsion technology with Australia.