HMS Anson trundled out of Devonshire Dock Hall on Tuesday to a ripple of applause, before its 7,400-tonne bulk slipped into the water for the first time. The launch of the Royal Navy’s fifth Astute submarine was a milestone for the defence giant BAE Systems, which builds the boats at its cavernous factory at Barrow-in-Furness on the Cumbrian coast. But despite the fanfare, it was also a reminder of the growing risks that haunt this most sensitive corner of the defence industry. HMS Anson, a hunter-killer submarine powered by a nuclear reactor but armed with conventional weapons, has been almost a decade in the making. It is years late and is still some way off being ready. It may have to undergo years of trials before being accepted into service. Its launch was delayed by problems with HMS Audacious, the fourth Astute. It sat in the water for almost three years before leaving Barrow last year. Delays to the Astutes illustrate the challenges facing Britain’s submarine enterprise, the biggest cost to the Ministry of Defence. Crucially, they point to the risks around the successor programme: the construction of four Trident nuclear warhead-armed submarines, Dreadnoughts, which are needed to sustain the UK’s policy of continuous at-sea deterrent. Those risks range from delays refuelling the ageing Vanguard submarines they will eventually replace, to setbacks and cost overruns on vital infrastructure projects, to management churn and weak scrutiny. They suggest that without drastic action, the MoD may have to adjust its expectations for the £41 billion project, particularly the assumption that the first boat will be in service in the “early 2030s”.
Times 25th April 2021 read more »