BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce’s ability to deliver the new Successor nuclear missile submarines to replace the ageing Trident fleet faces fresh doubts ahead of a crucial vote on the huge project.
On Monday MPs will decide on whether to press ahead with the programme – the biggest UK defence deal for decades with a £30bn price tag and £10bn contingency fund to deal with snags – with major worries about their record for building submarines.
Both are involved with the current programme building Astute-class attack submarines, but this has been littered with problems.
HMS Astute, the first of the seven-boat programme, was four years late and the project went £2bn over budget. Troubles included issues with the nuclear reactor provided by Rolls and concerns about the quality of work and equipment overseen by BAE, and submarine suffered a flood when a valve broke.
The Government is looking at a range of options as to how Successor can be kept on track and to budget to prevent a repeat of problems.
One is recruiting top talent from industry experienced in huge and complex projects, rather than relying on civil servants and the military. Bringing in other companies to make the work more efficient could also be an option, and Anglo American chairman Sir John Parker’s shipbuilding review is expected to present further choices.
The measures could head off mistakes made with Astute, which in 2003 saw the MoD ploughing in an extra £430m as BAE enlisted the help of US submarine builder Electric Boat to sort out problems.
BAE and Rolls both said they were “committed” to working with government to find the best structure to deliver Successor project work.
However, sources close to the companies pointed to the 10-year gap between work on Astute starting and the last time the UK built such complex submarines, saying the hiatus meant vital skills were lost.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon used a punchy speech last year to warn against the project slipping, saying “politicians, unions and the business community to put aside politics in the national interest… There can be no failure to meet build times, no overrunning costs, no excuses.”
The MoD said: “Negotiations continue with industry on the most appropriate way to deliver the Successor to time and cost. It is not appropriate to comment further at this stage.”