Report: UK’s submarine-based nuclear deterrent may be put at risk

An artist's impression of the Royal Navy's future Dreadnought-class submarine design. Photo: UK MoD

The UK’s ability to provide the continuous submarine-based nuclear deterrent will be put at risk if a number of issues are not solved, a new report finds. 

At times of major international uncertainties, the country’s defense department needs to bridge a £2.9 billion affordability gap, according to the report issued by the Public Accounts Committee.

The department also needs to ensure it fills identified skills gaps, sustain its supply chain, and make important decisions on significant projects in order to maintain the current at sea deterrent.

These include infrastructure upgrades and the defueling and dismantling of the 20 submarines held by the UK.

Although the UK had deferred dismantling on affordability grounds in the past, this was no longer acceptable on safety and reputation grounds. The department has started work dismantling its first submarine, which it expects to complete in the mid-2020s.

In addition, the department’s new attack submarines are expected to be delivered late. There have also been delays to the construction of new propulsion production facilities.

Since 1969, the Ministry of Defence has maintained a submarine-based nuclear deterrent to support the government’s national security policy. Over the next ten years, it faces significant pressures to provide the network of programs, equipment and people, often termed the ‘Nuclear Enterprise’, necessary to provide this deterrent.

“In the past there has been significant slippage across Enterprise programmes. The MoD must now bridge an affordability gap running to nearly £3 billion, fill critical skill gaps and ensure its supply chain is maintained effectively,” Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP, commented.

“I am particularly concerned that the infrastructure available to support the Enterprise is not fit for purpose (…) The MoD admits that while it has previously put off dismantling submarines on grounds of cost, this is no longer acceptable on grounds of safety and reputation,” she added.

“The MoD needs to get on top of this quickly and, in general terms, be more open about progress being made with management and delivery of the submarine-based deterrent,” Hillier concluded.

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