The Dreadnought class submarine in focus

The programme to construct the 4 submarines that will replace the Vanguard class boats, will soon become the largest defence project in the UK. Ballistic missile submarines are some of the most sensitive and closely guarded defence assets and there is understandably limited information about them in the public domain. At this early stage in the construction programme, we look at what is known about the Dreadnought project.


Outline concepts to replace the Vanguard class have been under consideration by the MoD since 2002 but the 128 people of the Future Submarines (FSM) Integrated Project Team (IPT) started work at Barrow in 2007. Two initial concepts were made public in 2009. The radical ‘Advanced Hull Form’ had a rectangular hull cross-section, with propulsors embedded in ducts. In addition to Trident missiles, 16 x Mark 36 vertical launch tubes, suitable for conventional missiles such as the Tomahawk were sited outside the pressure hull. This design also offered greater stability and manoeuvrability than conventional designs but the costs would have been prohibitive. The alternative ‘Concept 35′ was a more conservative evolution of the Vanguard design with a conventional cylindrical hull form, its main innovation was shaftless electric drive and it appears that this design was used as the basis for Dreadnought.

Design work began in earnest on what was known as ‘Successor’ in May 2011 after passing MoD Main Gate approval. The loss of experienced designers and problems with the Computer Aided Design (CAD) system that plagued development of the Astute class are now consigned to history and the teams working in Barrow benefit from a much more settled organisation. The design was 70% complete and in line with the original schedule when first steel was cut for HMS Dreadnought in late 2016. The first section, now under construction, will form the structural steelwork for auxiliary machinery compartments containing switchboards and control panels for the reactor.

Much of the technology used in the Astute class submarines will find its way into Dreadnought but the new design can in no way be described as a ‘stretched Astute’ with missile tubes. The Astute hull is not large enough to accommodate the height of the Trident missile, neither does it have sufficient beam for two missile tubes to be placed side by side. Most commonality between the Astute and Dreadnought is likely to be found at the forward end, where the 6 Torpedo tubes, weapons handling system, world-class Type 2076 sonar and Common Combat System (CCS) are likely to be fitted. Commonality of control systems, weapons and sensors will save money and make it easier for RN submariners to move between Dreadnought or Astutes as needed

The Dreadnought will be the first RN submarine to feature combined hydroplanes and rudders in an ‘X tail’ configuration at the stern. This arrangement is more complex to build and to control but allows for smaller planes and reduces noise. It is likely the Dreadnought uses an electric permanent magnet motor to drive the boat instead of the steam turbines used on all RN nuclear submarines until now. This follows developments in the surface fleet where Integrated Electric Propulsion (IEP) is being used in the latest generation of ships. On Dreadnought the nuclear reactor will drive steam turbo generators that provide power for the motors and the rest of the boat’s requirements. Motors avoid the need for noisy reduction gears and allow more flexibility in the layout of the propulsion system. There is a slim possibility that Dreadnought has adopted the submarine shaftless drive (SSD) system with an electric motor mounted outside the pressure hull in a watertight enclosure integrated into the propulsor unit.

Dreadnought will be slightly larger than the Vanguard class, with a submerged displacement some 8% greater, totalling 17,200-tons. They will also be 3 metres longer than their predecessors, despite having fewer missile tubes. The growth in displacement will allow for a larger reactor, further quieting technology and provide more room for crew facilities. Improved accommodation is a priority as the submarine service struggles to recruit and retain people while serving on ‘bombers’ can be perceived by some as rather dull. This will be the first RN submarine designed from the outset to accommodate both male and female personnel and have improved sickbay, gym, and education facilities on board as well as a new lighting system simulating day and night.


Dreadnought will have 12 Trident missile tubes, a reduction from the 16 carried by the Vanguards. The missile tubes will be the same 87-inch diameter as the Vanguard, but have been extended in length by 12 inches to accommodate future missiles. To save duplication of costs and effort, the Common Missile Compartment (CMC) is being designed in co-operation with the US and will equip their Columbia SSBNs as well as the UK’s Dreadnoughts. Design work on the CMC began in 2008 and is now mature. The modular ‘quad pack’ design is cheaper to produce than the legacy method of inserting and fitting out individual tubes into the completed hull and allows other sub-contractors to build them at dispersed locations. Babcock in Rosyth has won an £80M contract to fabricate a batch of 22 tubes for use in British and American submarines.

The 2010 SDSR stated that only 8 Trident II D5 missiles will be routinely carried by the new deterrent submarines (each missile is tipped with 5 separate re-entry vehicles that with a nuclear warhead). The remaining 4 tubes have the potential to carry equipment and munitions that could extend Dreadnought’s role beyond that of a pure deterrent submarine. This could include The US-developed multiple all-up round (MAC) canister with can hold 7 Tomahawk cruise missiles per tube, special forces equipment or vehicles, unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs) decoys and sensors and encapsulated unmanned air vehicles (UAVs). For the Dreadnoughts to be used for launching Tomahawks or special forces would require a significant change in operating doctrine. SSBNs are expected to disappear in the ocean depths and avoid any action that might reveal their presence. With its shortage of SSNs this flexibility might be attractive for the RN but would incur additional equipment costs and expose a multi-billion strategic submarine to increased risk.


The PW3 reactor that will power the Dreadnoughts is a brand new design and is not just an evolution of the PW2 used on the Vanguard and Astute class. There is no better demonstration of the close naval relationship between the US and the UK than in the sharing of highly sensitive nuclear reactor technology. Rolls Royce are the technical authority for all RN Nuclear Steam Raising Plant (NSRP) and the US has granted their designers access to their latest S9G reactor that powers their Virginia class submarines. The generous sharing of this information saves time and expensive research but has worked both ways, with the US benefitting from British nuclear expertise, especially in extending the life of existing reactors. The PW3 is larger and more expensive to build than the PW2 but it will meet even higher safety standards, be easier to maintain and should have much lower through-life costs. It is also a simpler design that requires fewer coolant pumps making it significantly quieter. Theoretically, the PW3 reactors should last at least 30 years and not require refuelling. There is some concern that the PW3 project is already over-budget and RR is struggling to find enough specialist nuclear engineers due to competition from the civil sector.

  • Probably the most realistic depiction of Dreadnought currently in the public domain.

  • The 12 missile tubes behind the sail and ‘X tail’ are clearly visible in this rendering.

  • A Common Missile Compartment quad pack prototype built by Electric Boat in the US.

  • Architects cross-section of the Central Yard Complex, now under construction in Barrow. The overhead gantry cranes will be able to lift the vertically-constructed modules onto transporters to be moved to the DDH for assembly.

  • The Devonshire Dock Hall at Barrow used the assemble the Vanguard, Astute and soon the Dreadnought class submarines.

Construction and support infrastructure

In 2013 the MoD announced the signing of the first ‘Foundation Contract’ with Rolls Royce under its Submarine Enterprise Performance Programme (SEPP). Other Foundation Contracts will also provide BAE Systems and Babcock guaranteed funding to invest in new facilities and maintain skills required for the Dreadnought programme while focussing on efficient delivery. SEPP takes a sensible, holistic approach to contractors cash flow during this giant enterprise and it is estimated will save over £900 million in the long-term.

To build a completely new class of submarines has required major new investment at several sites around the UK. A vast new facility at Barrow, the Central Yard Complex (CYC) is being built that will be used to fit out sections of the Dreadnoughts. BAE Systems and the Unions at Barrow have agreed on new working practices, pay scales and additional automation introduced as more of the welding will be done by robots.

Construction will be sub-divided into 16 blocks, grouped into three mega blocks – Aft, Mid and Forward.

Although slightly longer than Vanguard, Dreadnought should be accommodated within the existing facilities that support the deterrent submarines. These are: (1) The DDH construction hall at Barrow (2) The 186m long ship-lift at Faslane that allows a fully armed submarine to be lifted out of the water for maintenance. (3) The Explosives Handling Jetty (EHJ) – a covered floating dock at Coulport where the Trident missiles are loaded vertically into the submarine’s tubes by overhead crane. (4) Number 9 dock at Devonport where Long Overhaul Period (LOP) and Deep Maintenance Project (DMP) refits are carried out.


The Dreadnought programme is immense and, although work has already been underway for some years, the first boat is not scheduled to be on patrol until around 2028. There will be many technical and political challenges along the way but it is encouraging to see so much investment and far-sighted planning has been put into in a project that will guarantee UK security into the 2050s. HMS Dreadnought is a name associated with landmark naval vessels – the revolutionary battleship (1906) and the first RN nuclear submarine (1963). The Navy has stated the other 3 boats will be given names “with historic resonance”. Assuming that names used by both former battleships and submarines are chosen, HMS Warspite, HMS Valiant and HMS Sovereign are perhaps likely options.


from Save the Royal Navy


HMS Queen Elizabeth prepares for commissioning into the Royal Navy

Today HMS Queen Elizabeth formally commissions in the presence of the ship’s sponsor, Her Majesty the Queen. This ceremony marks the transition from being a ship to a warship as she becomes part of the Royal Navy, serving in the fleet potentially for 50 years. The Queen will arrive by royal train at Portsmouth Harbour and be taken by car to the ship which is alongside at Princess Royal Jetty. The ceremony will be held in the vast aircraft hangar with a reception for around 3,000 people including the ship’s company, their families and many invited guests.

The commissioning does not actually signal the formal hand over of the ship from the builders. QE is still owned by the Aircraft Carrier Alliance and there is a long list of items that must be certified as working correctly before the ship can be accepted. The MoD must be completely satisfied the ship meets the specification before handing over a very large final cheque. It is hoped this will be done very soon.

Captain Jerry Kyd: “We are proud to have flown the blue ensign but now it’s time to transition to the White Ensign and special sense of pride that goes with that”.

The captain is a busy man but adept at dealing with media and for a man carrying enormous responsibility, he has a relaxed and friendly style. Speaking with obvious excitement about the visit of Her Majesty for the ceremony he said: “She is very supportive of the armed forces, she married a naval officer and two of her sons served in the navy – I think she will be very proud and I hope she enjoys it”. He also noted the incredible achievement that the QEC represent; “Putting together an aircraft carrier and all its various facets is a complex business that takes time. Building aircraft carriers is not for the faint-hearted, it has been a national endeavour that few other nations can match”.

17-year-old steward AB Hui is the youngest member of the ship’s company, and in keeping with tradition will cut the commissioning cake with the Captain’s wife.

For the ceremony, the hangar has been temporarily converted into an auditorium with seating, and stage lighting.

PO Dean Allen, galley manager – cooking for the Queen and responsible for managing the team catering for 3,000 people.

There are normally 48 chefs on board HMS Queen Elizabeth but for the commissioning ceremony, extra catering staff from the Defence Maritime Logistics School at HMS Raliegh have been brought in. An additional function for 200 people in aid of the Royal Navy and Royal Marines Charity (RNRMC) will be held on board in the evening.

The QEC are designed to carry food stores for up to 45 days without replenishment. The ships’ company presently number around 720 but this number could more than double when the air group and EMF (Embarked Military force) are on board. A healthy 500-calorie breakfast is served on board each day except Sunday when the full English is available. Trivia enthusiasts will be excited to know that QE’s storerooms currently hold about 12,000 tins of beans, 60,000 sausages and 50,000 pieces of bacon.

Security around HMS Queen Elizabeth is reassuringly tight. Visitors must not only be allowed into the naval base, but must also pass through further security checks to gain access to Princess Royal Jetty. Armed Royal Marines are on guard and on the waterfront, at least 3 police boats patrol around the ship 24/7.

A nice final touch – engraved steel plates bearing the names of the thousands of contractors, civil servants and forces personnel who have helped build HMS Queen Elizabeth have been mounted on the forward aircraft lift doors.

The ship’s wooden name board being craned into place on the starboard side of the forward island.

The two ABs who will be responsible for raising the white ensign for the first time rehearse the ceremony with the blue ensign.

The vast flight deck. Note the 2 x 4m Electronic Information Display boards. Four are fitted on the islands and two in the hangar. They can show real-time data to pilots and aircraft handlers including wind speed, ships speed, heading and aircraft movements. They are also handy for the ship’s company to watch football matches.

The aircraft handlers offices and rest/briefing compartment in the aft island. Note their branch motto painted over the door “Nostris In Manibus Tuti” which translates as “safe in our hands”.

Aircraft Lift

The scale and design of the QEC require special gangways for accessing the ship. Also visible is the extendable gantry that carries the High Voltage cables providing shoreside power. The 90-year-old Queen will access the ship via the temporary passenger lift (on the dockside far right) to take her up to hangar level.

For the majority of the part 1 and part 2 sea trials the ship encountered unusually benign weather, so far the ship has only been briefly exposed to a moderate sea state (6). Some slight rolling was experienced but very little pitching. Unsurprisingly, the ship has proved immensely stable and sea trials threw up no serious issues. The ship’s company is still very much learning about how to operate the vessel but reports about living on board are generally very favourable.

The ship will sail for Operational Sea Training (OST) sometime in January. OST will not be conducted in and around Plymouth as normal (QE cannot go alongside in Devonport). The FOST sea riders will embark in the ship for a training period in the South Western approaches. As the ship is not yet fully equipped for combat, the focus will be on safety and damage control. In February or March, the ship will head into the Atlantic for heavy weather trials and will embark Merlin Mk 2 helicopters of 820 Naval Air Squadron. In the summer the ship will cross the Atlantic to the US to embark the first F-35s.

The Queen first visited the ship when she formally named her on 4th July 2014 in Rosyth. Three and a half years later she makes her second visit to attend the commissioning which will be another memorable milestone on the long journey to restore carrier capability to the UK.


from Save the Royal Navy

Reflecting on the sad loss of Argentine submarine ARA San Juan

Argentine submarine ARA San Juan has disappeared while on routine patrol and was last heard from on 15th November. After reporting technical problems, she failed to make contact again and by the 17th, the Argentine Navy announced she was missing and had begun a search operation.

The San Juan is one of three conventional Argentine submarines, she was built in Germany in 1985. Her TR-1700 class sister vessel is the ARA Santa Cruz, while the older ARA Salta is a Type 209 (a veteran of the Falklands war which made plausible claims to have launched failed torpedo attacks on HMS Alacrity and HMS Invincible). Although very old by western standards, the San Juan completed a major refit and modernisation 2008-13.

An international rescue effort

More than 4,000 personnel from a dozen countries joined the search and rescue effort. Ships and aircraft have been scouring 190,000 sq miles of stormy ocean, an area about the size of Spain. The United States sent two P-8A Maritime patrol aircraft and a NASA P-3 Orion. They also delivered by Air to Argentina their Submarine Rescue Chamber (SRC) and the Pressurized Rescue Module (PRM) a tethered, remotely operated submarine rescue vehicle.

HMS Protector joined the search on 19th November and is still searching the seabed using her multi-beam echo sounders. HMS Clyde was recalled from South Georgia and made the long journey north to join the search. The Royal Navy’s specialist 10-man Submarine Parachute Assistance Group (SPAG) were deployed from the UK to the Falklands. Their role is to act as first responders when a submarine in distress is located and parachute into the sea with inflatable boats and medical equipment to assist personnel who may have escaped the submarine.

An RAF Voyager aircraft made the longest ever non-stop UK military flight to deliver 3 tonnes of specialist rescue equipment, including 12 deep emergency life support pods. This was the first time a British military aircraft has landed in Argentina since the Falklands war. An RAF C-130 Hercules based in the Falklands also participated in the search. While the search continued for several days in very poor weather, various reports of possible satellite phone calls, noise detection and a ‘heat patch’ all raised false hopes.

The view from HMS Protector’s bridge as she encounters 10-metre waves on 20th November, while searching the South Atlantic for the missing submarine. (Image: @Protector_HMS via Twitter)

A needle in a haystack

Hydroacoustic data recorded by the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO) has found that a short explosion occurred on 15 Nov 13:51 GMT (Lat -46.12 deg; Long: -59.69) in the vicinity of the San Juan’s last reported position. It took over a week for this discovery as the vast amounts of data had to be analysed. The global network of hydrophones owned by the CTBTO are designed to record any disturbance caused by underground nuclear testing but are not optimised for tracking submarines. The explosion must have been of reasonable magnitude as the CTBTO hydrophones that detected the sound are thousands of miles away at Ascension Island (Mid Atlantic) and Crozet Island (Southern Indian Ocean). With the report of an explosion and 8 days having passed, by 23rd November it was clear the crew could not have survived and the rescue effort had become a recovery operation.

Several ships equipped with hydrographic sonar are now scanning the seabed for wreckage within a radius of few miles of the explosion point identified by the CTBTO. Ships involved in the search the US Research Vessel Atlantis, Argentinian vessels; Research ship Austral, Survey ship Puerto Deseado, Fishery protection ship Victor Angelescu, Chilean research ship Cabo de Hornos and Antarctic patrol ship HMS Protector. If the wreck is located and the weather is favourable, there are several ROVs that could be deployed.

The loss of the San Juan bears some resemblance to the loss of the USS Scorpion in June 1968. The Scorpion sunk off the Canary Islands whilst submerged. The cause of her loss has never been clearly established but her wreck was found in October 1968 using hydroacoustic data from the SOSUS hydrophone network used to track Soviet submarines combined with Bayesian search theory (a mathematical probability model). The Soviet submarine K-129 was also lost to an explosion of some kind in March 1968, somewhere in the Pacific. Despite an extensive search, the Soviet Navy was unable to find her. Using SOSUS data, the US Navy was able to narrow down the search area and located her in October 1968.

Many people do not fully appreciate the vast size of the oceans, even in a modern world of GPS and easy global communication, finding craft sunk at sea can take a great deal of time or even prove impossible. To date, the main wreckage of airliner MH370 lost somewhere in the Indian Ocean in 2014 has yet to be found, despite the most expensive search in aviation history.

What could have happened?

(This is informed speculation only, based on the limited available facts) The evidence of a short explosion record by the CTBTO points to one of two causes. Either San Juan suffered some kind of flooding incident and went into an uncontrolled dive, passing through crush depth and the hull imploded due to water pressure. Alternatively an internal explosion, either a torpedo malfunction or batteries, which could have quickly disabled and sunk her. During her last communication which has now been made public, San Juan reported water had entered the vessel through its snorkel, causing “the beginning of a fire” and short circuit in the forward battery which had been dealt with. The submarine was encountering big seas at the time, making it difficult to snorkel or proceed on the surface and she was ordered to make for Mar del Plata submerged, transiting slowly drawing power from the aft battery. This would tend to suggest a sea-water induced battery explosion as a likely cause.

It is possible the wreckage will eventually be located and some evidence gathered as to the cause of her loss. The search area straddles the continental shelf where the sea floor drops away down to 1,000 – 5,000m deep in places. If she went down in this very deep water it might be possible for an ROV to visually survey the site but recovering wreckage for any kind of meaningful analysis could be extremely difficult.

Recrimination and disinformation

As part of a Kremlin-inspired disinformation campaign, a Russian ‘expert’ Captain Vasili Dandikin has theorised that “a British mine planted during the Falklands war was responsible for the sinking of the San Juan”. Mines are essentially a defensive weapon and the RN did not deploy a mine-laying capability during the Falklands war. The Argentines did lay some sea mines around the islands, (observed by submarine HMS Spartan) but they were swept by RN teams after the war. Even more pernicious are bizarre claims by Argentine extremists that “a Royal Navy submarine sank the San Juan”  The RN is now down to just 6 attack submarines as can deploy a maximum of 2 or 3 boats simultaneously. RN priorities now centre around monitoring Russian submarine activity, rather than a very limited threat to the Falkland Islands. It is extremely unlikely there is a British submarine in the South Atlantic. Even if there was, there would be no possible reason to make such an unprovoked attack, which would benefit no one.

In Argentina there is anger and the hunt is on for scapegoats. Many are accusing the “government of killing those sailors”. Without the full facts, it is impossible to know if this was just an accident caused by severe weather, bad luck or a chain of events aggravated by the poor material state of the vessel. Everyone should remember that all submarine operations carry an inherent risk and things can go wrong quickly.

A navy with an unhappy recent history

The Argentine navy, plagued by underfunding has suffered a series of mishaps in recent years, although until the San Juan, none had caused loss life. In April 2007 the icebreaker ARA Almirante Irízar suffered a major fire at sea which required the entire crew to be evacuated. The vessel was eventually towed home but funding issues delayed her rebuild and she only put to sea again in 2017. In 2012 sail training ship ARA Libertad was impounded for 10 weeks in Ghana due to unpaid Argentine government debts. Inactive since 2004 the Argentine-built Type 42 destroyer Santísima Trinidad capsized at her moorings in 2013 after an internal valve failed. She has now been re-floated and will be converted to “a museum dedicated to the 1982 war”. In June 2014, sister of the San Juan, Santa Cruz ran aground near Buenos Aires while on her way to be refitted. During June 2016 ARA Esporta dragged her anchor and collided with a merchant ship in Puerto Belgrano. In June 2017 the destroyer La Argentina rammed a pier at Punta Alta Naval Base, badly damaging her bow and then suffered a fire during welding work to repair the ship.

Every navy has discovered, maintaining a credible and safe fleet requires a complex logistics tail and training organisation to keep equipment at people at peak efficiency. Submarine construction, maintenance and training are especially demanding and there are few corners that can be cut without boats becoming a liability.

Accidents are by no means unique to the Argentine navy, the mighty US Pacific fleet has suffered a series of recent fatal catastrophes, primarily due to operational demands being prioritised above training. The RN has also had incidents of its own, although mercifully has not lost a submarine at sea since HMS Affray sank in April 1951 with the loss of 57 lives, probably due to a snorkel problem.

As the international response has demonstrated, despite being adversaries at times, submariners of all nations have common cause with others in peril under the sea. Let us also hope the considerable British contribution to the rescue effort can be a stepping stone towards improving relations with Argentina. May the 44 on eternal patrol rest in peace and the bereaved families someday find closure.


from Save the Royal Navy

Has the time come to the move the cost of Trident replacement out of the MoD budget?

On July 29th 2010 the then Chancellor, George Osborne, announced that the MoD would have to fund the capital costs of replacing the Vanguard class submarines (Successor) from within its own core equipment procurement budget, instead of from the Treasury Reserve as had been expected. Defence Minister at the time, Liam Fox argued strongly that funding Successor from within the MoD would be hugely damaging to the rest of defence. He lost his argument with Osborne, but time has proved him right about the consequences.

The annual running costs of the UK nuclear deterrent have always been part of the MoD budget. The sources of funding for Trident has always been contentious. Maintaining Continuous At Sea Deterrent (CASD) has been both a blessing and a curse for the Navy. While a top government priority and a prestigious responsibility, the running costs were moved from the MoD to the Navy’s budget in the 1981 Defence Review. This has inevitably has impacted directly on funding for other naval programs and a major contributing factor in hollowing out the navy.

Trident is widely perceived as a ‘political’ weapon, a national instrument and there is a strong case that it should sit outside a single service budget. It is also disproportionate to allocate the vast capital cost of the successor project to one of the smaller government departments. (In real terms, the MoD’s budget has approximately halved since the original Trident project of the early 1990s). Precedent exists for this arrangement. HS2 and Crossrail are also large long-term projects and they are funded from the Treasury budget, rather than by the Department of Transport.

The spending on the Successor project will peak in the next 5 years and will severely constrain MoD cash flow. The most challenging issue is the cost fluctuations or overspends which could force the MoD to find additional savings on an annual basis. The costs of building the Dreadnought submarines are likely to flex and alter considerably, year-on-year. The program would be better-managed holistically within a 30-year envelope, rather than under in-year budgetary frameworks which means that every other part of the MoD budget will suffer.

George Osborne’s excuse in 2010 was that by making the MoD fund the Trident successor programme, it would be incentivised to manage costs better if it was responsible for the budget. The reality is that even if it exercised the best management practice in the world, holding all the financial risk and inevitable cost growth leaves the MoD out of pocket. Already this financial year, £300 million in savings will have to be found within from the defence budget to cover growth in expenditure on Successor. The construction program will see costs rise to almost 10% of the defence budget at its peak in 2019-20. It is these peaks and unexpected over-runs that are a greater problem than the overall total cost.

The annual cost of maintaining Trident is around £2.5Bn per year, split roughly evenly between operating the Vanguard class submarines and running AWE Aldermaston where nuclear warheads are manufactured and refurbished. Pictured is HMS Vanguard currently undergoing mid-life nuclear refuelling in number 9 Dock at Devonport. (Photo: Maps data ©2017 Google)

Understanding the capital costs

Government has earmarked £31 Billion for the capital costs of the Successor project (with an additional £10bn contingency fund which most analysts expect to be fully used or exceeded). Precise figures are hard to come by, but the £31 Billion can be broken down into ‘ballpark’ figures something like this:

  • Already spent on the assessment phase, design, facilities and long-lead items for first 2 submarines – £6.1Bn
  • Construction of four Dreadnought class submarines – £16.4Bn
  • Development of PW3 reactor – £1.4Bn (This project is already in trouble and likely to over-spend)
  • Upgrades to infrastructure at Barrow (construction yard) & Faslane (submarine base) – £3Bn
  • New nuclear warhead design and manufacture at Aldermaston/Burghfield – £3Bn
  • Extending life of Vanguard submarines in operation until 2028 – £1.6Bn
  • Joint US/UK Trident D5 missile life extension programme – £250M

The MoD ups its game

Recognising the great risks and magnitude of the task, the MoD has already established a new executive agency – the Submarine Delivery Authority (SDA) employing 1,300 people to oversee the Dreadnought construction program. Inspired by the success of the 2012 London Olympics Delivery Authority, the SDA is separate from DE&S and has the freedom to recruit the best managers to ensure the Dreadnought class are delivered on time and budget. It will also be responsible for the remaining Astute class submarines and support of submarines already in service. The SDA is led by Ian Booth, former head of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance that has built the ships on time and on budget. The Dreadnought submarines will be delivered by a similar MoD, BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce alliance. The SDA will report to the newly created Director General Nuclear (Julian Kelly, a former Treasury trouble-shooter) who is responsible for all aspects of the defence nuclear effort including submarines and warheads, from procurement through to disposal. Despite their effort to manage the Successor program with the best people available, funding challenges will remain a concern for the MoD.

Paying the premium for our ultimate insurance policy

Many opponents of nuclear weapons will use the cost argument as a good excuse to axe Trident. Fortunately this government, an overwhelming number of MPs and the majority of the general public recognise the critical importance of our deterrent. To put the costs in perspective, over its 35-year lifetime (assuming we continue to spend approximately 2% GDP on defence) Trident will consume an average of 6% of the annual defence budget, equivalent to 0.13% of total government spending. The annual running costs of Trident are about the same as what we spend on the NHS in a single week.

Unilateral nuclear disarmament on cost grounds would be a dangerous blunder and signal the end of Britain was a leading world power. At the same time, we must not allow our conventional forces to be so weakened that Brexit Britain is perceived by the rest of the world to be disengaging and retreating behind its nuclear shield.

The deeper reserves of the Treasury make it far better equipped to cope with the variables in the lengthy Successor programme. Moving the cost centre will not make it any cheaper but would immediately stabilise the MoD budget at a time when pressures are mounting.

With a budget that is already too small, the challenge of the Trident renewal program threatens to undermine and damage conventional capabilities even further. There are a growing number of MPs who recognise this and would back a change in Successor funding. General Sir Richard Barron’s recently exposed the perilous state of UK defence saying any further cuts would leave the government “responsible for tipping the armed forces into institutional failure”. Making this change would be a big step to remedy some of the funding problems of the Navy, Army and RAF.


from Save the Royal Navy

Type 45 Destroyer issues continue – HMS Diamond breaks down on Gulf deployment

Today the Times correctly reported that HMS Diamond has had to abort her Gulf deployment and return to home for repairs. The defect concerns the propellor but is not directly related to the engine issues that have been the primary cause of Type 45 destroyer woes. Unfortunately,  the problem cannot be rectified by dry docking in Bahrain or Gibraltar and requires the attention of specialists in Portsmouth.

In recent years the RN has maintained single frigate or destroyer East of Suez on Operation Kipion. Patrolling the Gulf and the Indian Ocean on maritime security operations is an important priority for the RN and Diamonds departure will mean there is now no major RN warship in the region for the first time in since the Armilla Patrol was established in the early 1980s. This defect once again exposes how over-stretched the RN surface fleet has become as there are no replacements close to hand. While HMS Diamond’s ships company can enjoy Christmas at home, another ship is likely to have a radical change of program, Kipion is a priority tasking for the RN.

The only RN warship currently in the Mediterranean is HMS Ocean on her last major deployment as flagship for NATO Standing Maritime Group 2. HMS Diamond had already deputised for HMS Ocean in this role during September while Ocean made a dash across the Atlantic to support hurricane relief work in the Caribbean. At the end of October, HMS Ocean returned to the Meditteranean and HMS Diamond formally handed over to her at Suda Bay in Crete. She then sailed for the Gulf to relieve HMS Monmouth.

The Times states “Admiral Sir Philip Jones, head of the navy, is under pressure to demonstrate that the Type 45s work despite long-running problems with the engine in warm water”. The First Sea Lord cannot be blamed for the propulsion problems of the Type 45s, the roots of the issue go back several decades (explained in detail here). In this specific case, it is the Ministry of Defence (DE&S) and their BAE Systems contractors in Portsmouth who are responsible for the state of HMS Diamond’s propellors, not navy command. The over-stretched surface fleet is the fault of politicians of all parties who have repeatedly cut the navy and even now are contemplating further cuts.

It should be noted that despite the backdrop of manpower shortages, not enough ships and further possible cuts, on 22nd November 2017 the RN still managed to have 32 ships and submarines either overseas or on operations (including RFAs but not including P2000 boats) and around 8,000 people actively deployed. The beleaguered First Sea Lord can claim with some credibility that, in proportion to its size, the RN is the busiest navy in the world. (The majority of these vessels are deployed in European or home waters).

Overall the Type 45 fleet spends far too much time alongside in Portsmouth. The £280 million Power Improvement Package (PIP), which should provide a permanent cure for the engine troubles, promised in the 2015 SDSR will not begin until 2019. This delay is unacceptable and should be brought forward as a matter of urgency, beginning with HMS Dauntless. Despite the propulsion troubles, it should be remembered the Type 45s have successfully deployed in the heat of the Gulf and elsewhere by using temporary engine fixes and some operating restrictions developed under the Equipment Improvement Plan (EIP).

Type 45s – snapshot

  • HMS Daring – in long-term lay-up as harbour training ship (due to manpower shortages) since returning from successful 9-month Gulf deployment in May 2017.
  • HMS Dauntless – due to begin major refit, having been laid up since 2015.
  • HMS Diamond – Due back in Portsmouth in early December after propellor defect put a premature end to Gulf deployment.
  • HMS Dragon – Participated in Exercise Formidable Shield in October and assisted with HMS Queen Elizabeth sea trials in early November. Alongside in Portsmouth. (Possible candidate to replace Diamond in the Gulf?)
  • HMS Duncan – Alongside in Portsmouth – operational and may sail soon.
  • HMS Defender – About to complete a lengthy major refit and return to the feet.


from Save the Royal Navy

Gordon Brown and the TOBA that shafted the Navy


In this guest article, Jag Patel considers if Gordon Brown’s reputation as a prudent politician is deserved and the impact his policies are still having on the RN today.

During his 10 years as Chancellor of the Exchequer and then as Prime Minister, Gordon Brown cultivated a carefully crafted reputation as a prudent politician and trustworthy custodian of the public purse. Indeed, such was his penchant for using the word ‘prudence’ that political journalists took to playing a fun game of counting the number of times it was mentioned in his budget speeches. Some even jokingly suggested that Prudence was the name of his girlfriend, who had been kept out of the public eye. Either way, Brown’s record in office, as a “fiscally prudent politician”, does not tally with the evidence.

In his autobiography My Life, Our Times, Brown discusses among other things the financial crises, his economic record and that fateful promise made by Tony Blair. Not surprisingly, there is no mention of one of most disgraceful actions of his government. It concerns state-sponsored protectionism, and failure to install genuinely independent regulatory bodies. This shameful episode, which marred Brown’s time in office, relates to the procurement of military equipment.

What has been clear for many years is that, public subsidies handed out to defence equipment manufacturers over several decades, is the reason why they have failed so miserably, to deliver equipment to the Armed Forces which is fit for purpose, adequately sustained in-service and constitutes value for money through-life.

Means of defence production in the hands private interests

In the UK, as in many western countries, the means of defence production, distribution and exchange is exclusively in the hands of private interests, that is to say, the State is entirely dependent on for-profit organisations for the design, development, manufacture and delivery of new military equipment to the Armed Forces. Consequently, the government has no choice but to rely on the Private Sector for all its military equipment needs, including its subsequent upkeep when in-service with the user. The harsh reality is that, no department of state in Whitehall is as dependent on the Private Sector, as is the Ministry of Defence – putting it at serious risk of capture by private interests (if it hasn’t already been) which allows them to bend policy to their will, as it relates to the expenditure of public funds. Equally, these private interests are entirely dependent upon a steady flow of taxpayer funds for their very survival – no least, because they have not bothered to diversify at all.

For those not familiar with this concept of state capture, Transparency International, the anti-corruption watchdog, defines it as “a situation where powerful individuals, institutions, companies or groups within or outside a country use corruption to shape a nation’s policies, legal environment and economy to benefit their own private interests”.

The shipbuilding Terms of Business Agreement (TOBA)

The Terms of Business Agreement on naval shipbuilding was signed in secret by the Brown government with BAE Systems during the dying days of the 2005-10 Parliament. It locked the government into an appallingly poor 15-year commercial arrangement laced with a punitive get-out clause which, if made public, would have attracted an outcry during the run-up to the 2010 general election. The agreement left the incoming administration no room to manoeuvre at all, as it set about started the 2010 SDSR, the first defence review in 12 years.

Gordon Brown

The existence of the TOBA was only revealed to Parliament in 2011 by the coalition government, when it was confronted with the undeniable truth that MoD finances were in bad shape and needed to be declared publicly, to garner public support for deep cuts in the defence budget that ensued.

It is an open secret that the even the most fiscally prudent people in government are prone to softening their stance just before a general election, when they are up for re-election, which makes them more likely to open-up the public purse. Equally, defence contractors are aware of this weakness in top politicians and will take full advantage, by surreptitiously intensifying their lobbying efforts (in concert with trade unions), to apply political pressure spliced with threats of massive lay-offs, timed to coincide with the electoral cycle, to relieve politicians off taxpayers’ money and maximise their take – which is exactly what happened with this TOBA.

TOBA – What it is all about

Briefly, the TOBA commits the government to guaranteeing BAE Systems a minimum level of surface ship construction and support activity of about £230 million a year. Apparently, this level of work was independently verified as the minimum level of work required to sustain a credible warship building industry in the UK, and thus avoid the delays encountered during the Astute class submarine build programme, caused in part by the loss of skilled staff, which arose due to the gap between Astute and the Vanguard class submarine builds. MoD claims that the TOBA was designed in such a way as to incentivise major reductions in the size of the shipbuilding industry, on a managed basis, to minimise the rationalisation cost which MoD was liable to pay for, under historic Yellow Book rules.

However, delay after delay in letting the build contract for the Type 26 frigate, largely due to the considerable pressure on MoD finances brought on by the appearance of the so-called ‘black hole’, resulted in a gap in orders opening up between completion of the second aircraft carrier and the start of the Type 26 construction programme. It was to avoid exactly this type of situation from arising in the first place, that the TOBA was established!

So, in an attempt to fill this gap, the government agreed to buy five Offshore Patrol Vessels from BAE Systems, for a price of £348 million. But because the TOBA required £230 million to be spent with BAE Systems each year, the government ended up paying an additional £100 million, on top of the agreed price for the OPVs – making them the most expensive OPVs in the world. Worse still, these are ships the RN did not especially need as it already had 4 relatively modern OPVs.

The staggering incompetence of people in government who negotiated and then gave the green light to this agreement, that is, elite politicians, their special advisers, senior civil servants and military top brass, knows no bounds – it is there for all to see!

TOBA finds no mention in the National Shipbuilding Strategy

To be fair, this government inherited the TOBA from the last government. Notwithstanding, it is so embarrassed by the existence of the TOBA, that it couldn’t even bring itself to mention it in its new National Shipbuilding Strategy, released in September 2017 – yet the National Shipbuilding Strategy was shaped by the terrible experience of the TOBA.

Most notably, the National Shipbuilding Strategy abandons the failed policy of intervening in the market to dictate the composition of the shipbuilding industry and also extends (finally) use of the instrument of fair and open competition, to select the Prime Contractor for the new generation of Type 31e general purpose frigates, to be built for a fixed, not-to-exceed price of £250 million each.

What’s more, for the first time in the history of defence procurement in the UK, it will be mandatory for the ship to be designed with exports in mind from the outset, and accordingly, bidders will be required to prove that they have secured the commitment of potential export customer(s) which the government will verify, before placing the shipbuilding contract with the winning Prime Contractor, on the basis of best value for money. This requirement will also serve to achieve the government’s wider goal of a Global Britain in the post-Brexit era, so that it can pay its way in the world.

The only saving grace about this TOBA is that it has a sunset clause built into it, that is to say, it expires after 15 years, in 2024 – otherwise, it could have quite easily been much worse for taxpayers!

Protectionism and favouritism

So, instead of exposing defence equipment manufacturers to the full rigours of the free market, the Brown government chose to engage in protectionism and favouritism by handing out uncontested, long-term shipbuilding contracts worth billions of pounds – with virtually no checks and controls, or even guarantees, which has come to haunt this minority government. Nevertheless, it has decided to honour the TOBA because it simply has no choice.

What’s more, in the military equipment market, it has been long-standing policy to combine the role of the sponsoring agency and regulatory authority in a single department of state, the Ministry of Defence – which means that the crucial independent scrutiny function, free from political interference, is non-existent. So, capture of one amounts to taking control over both!

The revolving door

Worse still, people at the Ministry of Defence are, without exception, favourably disposed towards the defence industry because they are completely dependent upon it for their subsequent career when their time in public service comes to an end sometimes by political edict. Indeed, it is very hard to find anyone at MoD who will aggressively defend taxpayers’ interests, once they have enjoyed a cosy relationship with contractors.

A modern Defence Industrial Strategy

An innovative proposal (download the paper here) on how to go about eliciting Private Sector investment capital in defence procurement programmes is set out in a written submission to the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, which reported on its inquiry into Industrial Strategy in the last Parliament. It introduces a modern Defence Industrial Strategy that puts financial security and the national interest first, not military equipment manufacturers’ commercial interests.

The signing of this TOBA is another contributing factor to the pressure the defence budget is now under. It is understandable why Treasury Ministers are disinclined to increase the MoD’s budget, given their historic record of mismanagement, with this TOBA being another example.


Jag Patel is an independent Defence Procurement Adviser with over 30 years experience of researching, analysing, publicising and solving a wide range of entrenched procurement problems. He tweets as @JagPatel3 
(Opinions expressed here are not necessarily that of Save the Royal Navy. We also recognise Conservative administrations have made just as many mistakes with defence as Labour)



from Save the Royal Navy

10 reasons the Royal Navy needs to keep HMS Albion and HMS Bulwark

Government is seriously considering axing HMS Albion and Bulwark, severely curtailing UK amphibious capability. Recent reports suggest the new defence secretary is resisting the cuts and is in a battle with the Treasury for new funding. If the Treasury needs reminding, speaking before the House of Commons Defence Select Committee this week, the former First Sea Lord Admiral Zambellas said: “Nobody in the world of complex warfare thinks a reduction in sophisticated amphibiosity is a good idea”. The LPDs (Landing Platform, Dock) Albion and Bulwark are the key ships needed for credible amphibious capability.

1. Amphibious capability is a strategic part of our conventional deterrence

By retaining the ability to land troops and their equipment on a foreign shore at a time and place of our choosing, the UK has a deterrent to other nations or actors that may seek to invade our allies or undermine our national interests. Throughout the Cold War, the primary role of our amphibious forces was to reinforce Norway in the event of an invasion by Russia. Apart from providing assistance to the people of Norway, the UK’s Northern Flank would be strategically important in controlling Russian naval access to the North Sea and Atlantic. As tensions with Russia increase, the amphibious capability is becoming increasingly relevant again.

To be ready for unexpected events, the RN has developed the  Response Force Task Group (RFTG) and more recently the Joint Expeditionary Force (Maritime) concepts. These are exercised during annual deployments to maintain amphibious capability and have been centred on HMS Ocean or the LPDs. (although in recent years the number of ships and marines participating has been reducing as the navy has been hollowed out). There JEF(M) is an important tool for the government foreign policy.

There may be increasing public opposition to involvement in major overseas conflicts but our amphibious forces provide the option for small-scale raiding, interventions and humanitarian operations. Our Amphibious forces offer potentially large strategic impact for a relatively low cost. In the mid-1990s the RN had a plan for a balanced amphibious force which eventually delivered HMS Ocean (LPH), HMS Albion & Bulwark (LPD) and the 4 Bay class (LSD(A). The entire cost of these 7 ships (at 2010 prices) was just £1.26 Billion.

2. Other nations are investing, not cutting

Should the government cut the LPDs, be prepared for disingenuous claims about how “amphibious warfare has changed and we are adjusting our doctrine accordingly”. The rest of the world does not agree that LPDs are redundant and many nations are striving to modernise their amphibious vessels or gain the capability. It should be noted that the US, China, Russia and France can all deploy and support amphibious forces over distance and the UK could drop out of that club. Australia, Spain, Egypt, Turkey, Singapore, Netherlands, China, Italy and South Korea have also all invested in modern LPH and LPDs.

3. You cannot do amphibious assault entirely by air

The justification for axing HMS Ocean is that troops will go ashore by helicopter from one of the new aircraft carriers. As already discussed, this is a flawed concept, even without LPD support. It may make sense to deliver the first wave of troops quickly by air from a deck, far out to sea, instead of by slow landing craft from a vulnerable stationary ship close to the beach. Unfortunately, Troops need heavy weapons, vehicles, fuel food and ammunition which cannot be delivered in sufficient quantity by helicopter. In more intense conflict, armoured vehicles, artillery or even a few main battle tanks may be required. Unless there is a convenient port close by, the armour and logistic support must be delivered over the beach even if in a ’second wave’ after the helicopter-borne troops have secured the area.

You can’t do this with a helicopter

Armed Forces Minister Mark Lancaster recently suggested that even if we lost the LPDs, we still retain some amphibious capability with the RFA Bay class landing ships. This is very misleading. The Bays are auxiliaries designed to carry additional stores to support the LPDs. They carry a single landing craft (LCU) as opposed to the 4 LCUs and 4 LCVPs that the LPDs can carry. They are manned by merchant sailors and not intended to spearhead an amphibious assault. More importantly, they are a victim of their own success. The inherent flexibility of amphibious platforms has made them well suited to other roles. One of the three remaining ships is permanently forward-deployed in the Gulf supporting minehunters and they have been used to conduct humanitarian operations and anti-narcotics patrols in the Caribbean. The Royal Marines have had limited opportunity to exercise with the Bay class which are often in use for other things.

4. We would be throwing away decades of investment

HMS Albion recently completed a £90 Million refit at Devonport and was planned to be the high-readiness amphibious ship for the next 5 years. In 2013 RM Tamar was constructed as base for Royal Marine landing craft at a cost of £30M. There has been considerable investment in specialised amphibious kit and equipment for the Marines and the navy. Axing the LPDs, together with the loss of HMS Ocean (refitted at a cost of £65M between 2014-15) represents a ludicrous waste of money and hard-won defence assets.

5. We would be letting down our NATO and European partners

The amphibious capability of the UK is integrated into NATO planning. The Dutch marines have especially close ties with the Royal Marines and frequently exercise together. As Brexit looms, it would be especially poor timing to abandon a critical defence relationship with our European allies. The US Marine Corps also enjoys a good relationship and mutual respect for the Royal Marines and several senior US officers have already spoken out against proposed cuts. At a time when we need a trade deal with the US, any significant downgrading in our defence capability would be poorly received by president Trump who expects Europeans to be shouldering more of their own defence costs.

6. They are well suited to humanitarian aid and relief work

Recent history suggests the RN is more frequently involved in disaster relief work or humanitarian operations than in combat. The LPDs and UK amphibious forces are especially well suited to this work and it would be foolish to diminish this important soft power asset.

7. They have valuable command and control facilities

The LPDs have large, purpose-built facilities designed primarily to exercise control over amphibious assault operations. The facility can also command a task group at sea or other operations – HMS Bulwark was used as the control centre for the security of the 2012 Olympic sailing events at Portland. There are no other large C3 facilities available in the fleet apart from aboard the QE aircraft carriers. Most of the time, only one of the carriers is likely to be available, leaving the RN with very limited flagship options.

8. The RN needs as many hulls as possible

Put simply, the RN needs ships. The loss of the 2 LPDs would be a further decline in hull numbers. (One of the LPDs has been kept in mothballs or refit since 2010). Mass matters and the LPDs are large, capable ships able to perform in many roles beyond their core assault function. Rescuing migrants, evacuating British Citizens or protecting the Olympics are all tasks these versatile ships have performed since they joined the fleet. For officers who aspire to senior rank, they are an important intermediate stepping stone, a step up from a frigate or destroyer command on the way to becoming a candidate to captain an aircraft carrier or attain flag rank.

9. Once a capability is gone, it is difficult or impossible to regenerate

If we dispose of the LPDs we will quickly lose the institutional knowledge and experience of amphibious operations built up over decades. Once lost, it would be expensive, difficult and take years to regenerate this capability from scratch.

10. The wrong signal at the wrong time

As discussed in a previous article, axing the LPDs at the same time as HMS Ocean would call into question the future of Devonport naval base. We do not have ships to justify bases but we need to keep options open and retain skilled workers available to support the RN in an emergency or allow future expansion. Cutting the LPDs would further damage the morale of the navy and marines, cause loss of civilian support jobs and above all, say to our allies and potential enemies we are not serious about defence.



from Save the Royal Navy