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I wonder if the time has come for parliament to consider an “in camera” enquirey where the MOD , RN and BAE are obliged to give evidence under oath. The MOD is perceived to have poor control of big projects and non are bigger than the “Nuclear Enterprise”. In my opinion a way has to be found for proper and full parliamentary scrutiny without jeopardising security.


This is so frustrating, I could understand the initial issues with astute but I thought that was behind BAE and that these delays where entirely down to the government slowing the build rate until dreadnought started construction. I doesn’t offer much hope for dreadnought if they are still struggling with a mature design batch 2 or not.


This is embarrassing.


Is it down to lack of infrastructure at Barrow, personnel or technical issues?

Surely if they increased the size of the build site, it should improve productivity and perhaps allow to boats to be built at the same time? I thought BAe had help from General Dynamics on training apprentices and labour etc, so are they still undermanned to maintain or improve productivity. Technically are these boats are on a similar level to the US Virginia class, yet even with US help they have slipped massively on the delivery schedule.

I agree we should maintain a level of secrecy, but is there not a point where scrutiny by the national audit office/defence select committee is not only required but a necessity?


The problem is barrow is a small site and I believe it is not possible to enlarge the site or the submarine assembly hall.
GE is still helping but it is proving hard to recruit people due to the history of feast and famine in the work at Barrow.
Successive governments have chopped and changed ship numbers ,delayed orders ,cut orders or extended builds all these things add massively to build costs and the ability to retain and attract staff.

If you look at the usa Virginia class boats they have been produced at a steady drumbeat and updated and the unit cost has come down .
We need to stop gold plating and build to our budget .


We are a large enough country to (just about) justify maintaining a steady drumbeat of orders (as opposed to feast or famine) if we were willing to fund defence sufficiently to justify our position on the UN security council. I can still remember the ’90s when they were talking about ‘hitting above our weight’ on the world stage.


Groton is the main build site that receives parts from Newport News and Pasagoula. Groton is not huge and Barrow looks pretty big and comparable to Newport News and Pasagoula sites (Google Earth) which mainly build surface ships (as Barrow should be doing too).


Either your Google Earth is badly broken or you’ve misread the scale. Newport News is one of the largest naval shipyards on the planet and has a waterfront alone of over 2km, Barrow isn’t even close to being comparable, you couldn’t get a QEC in or out of Barrow and a QEC is smaller than a Nimitz by some margin, Newport News has the capacity to build and dock multiple Nimitz class ships simultaneously.


I had a tour of Newport News it absolutely massive and a hive of activity and the workforce are highly motivated and very proud of the work they do .
Barrow is tiny compared to Newport News .

I have been to Barrow and there is a culture of clock watching and demarcation in the work place it is not a well functioning team and the management are largely to blame along with the unions who seem more interested in lining there own pockets than actually delivering.

Gavin Gordon

Is Audacious still in the water or back out of it?


It is barely afloat


“Normally it would be expected that price and construction times for a series of vessels would reduce over the production run but somehow the opposite has been achieved”

Tangential to the main point of the article but traditionally, boats & ships get cheaper because they get built quicker. Largely through project management improvements where worker spend less time standing around waiting for their turn because work is scheduled better as the builder progresses up the learning curve. So fewer man hours to build the ship, therefore lower cost.

But in the UK that has all been stood on its head because of the Treasury’s insistence that all boat/ships be built to exactly the same schedule. This means that they won’t be built quicker and therefore cheaper. Stretching out build times has lead to the Type 26’s being so expensive. Built at an economic speed, the same program money would build more ships but the Treasury doesn’t care about that.

Astute is the first program that was contracted to this ludicrous policy. The defence parliamentary committee is on record as saying the cost of an additional boat has already been wasted in this fashion.

The policy has been sold as being a “constant drumbeat” and the weak minded have picked this up as being a good thing. It isn’t.

Definitely not saying this is causing the delay. Just an explanation why the first few boats of the class didn’t show any cost reduction.

Will O

I know it won’t help speed up the Astutes, or lead to more of them, & would cost another billion or more, but is it not time to review that decision in 1992 to switch to all SSNs, & start looking at building some SSKs?

The UK still has the skill-base to design them (at BMT for instance), but there seems no capacity at Barrow to build them.
To kickstart the building of SSKs I honestly think we should perhaps look at something like Sweden’s A26, with a tech transfer.

The shores around the UK are littoral, & our scarce Astutes should be freed up to focus on blue water, what they’re best at.
The A26 would surely be a better, safer option for SBS insertion than that ‘caravan of death’ reported here previously;

A26’s can also host 18 VLS TLAMs, the usefulness of which is likely to much increase within the next 5 years or so with blocks Va & Vb, with the Va functioning as an AShM, or for moving targets, with something like a 1500km-2000km range, & the Vb gaining the capability to hit hardened bunkers.

A26s would certainly need modifying for UK service, the RN doesn’t hot-bunk as the Swedes do for a start.

The practicalities are way beyond my knowledge base, but I wonder if a yard such as Appledore, desperate for orders & under threat of closure, could be repurposed for building SSKs? A26 or otherwise. If £300m for improvements at Barrow was considered worthwhile, why not do similar for Appledore & save the yard in the process?


What a load of rubbish. A lot of comments here and everyone seems to be guessing. You quote hisutton what a joke.

We are no longer a SSK nation and we will gain nothing from building them. Let our Nato partners operate them. You also talk about the Saab A26. That’s funny although they look great but they are not long-range submarine. You also talk about that other buzz word. VLS you do know the Tomahawk will be obsolete in the RN shortly ie in the next 15 years.. We don’t own any versions of that weapon that can be used in VLS tubes.

The Astutes are world Class. Leave them alone as there is nothing wrong with them.

Will O

Hisutton isn’t something I’m that familiar with, to me it’s just another page that presents some basic info on the sub in a quickly, easily digestible way, along with real photos of some of the actual kit for a sense of scale, not just cgi.

A range of 10,000nmi seems quite generous for an SSK? Like much of the population, my very limited understanding of how SSKs & subs generally may be used (& thus my gauging of their usefulness), may be crude, outdated, & may well be wrong. What I see is a lack of SSKs or equivalent deterrent, to guard choke points, giving adversaries easier access to waters around our coast than needs be. If I’m wrong then all the better, nothing is lost.

I don’t like to see Russian subs, which outnumber our Astutes 10 to 1, floating about so close to our mainland & our bases, with what looks like near impunity;

There have been a few incidents with Astutes having mishaps whilst operating in littorals which have reached the press.
So whatever it is they’re up to there, why use them & risk them in that way, rather than a purpose built SSK?

It’s all well & good saying we aren’t an SSK nation, we’re now an SSN nation, but with how many SSNs? Too few it looks like. Precious too few to waste on tasks that could be more readily done with SSKs.
Add me to the list of people that would have liked to see more efficient & faster production of Astutes with more ordered. It looks like because of bureaucracy, delay, & limited capacity, ordering more Astutes would now just push back Successor, which would mean risks taken extending OSDs?
So we’re at a point where ordering SSKs wouldn’t impact Astute orders in any event, I’m not even suggesting they be built at Barrow am I? Not suggesting SSKs as substitutes for our world class Astutes, but in addition to.

I’m aware existing RN Tomahawks are capsule launched, through torpedo tubes of Astutes. Isn’t that a more expensive way of doing it than VLS anyway? Of course more would need to be ordered, I’m even saying wait for block V.
Perhaps existing RN stocks may be obsolete in 15 years, sure, I expect they’ll expire too if unused won’t they. I foresee block V versions though, given what they can do, as still being of some use by then. Anything that potentially saves pilots, or crew, having to fly, or sail, miles into hostile territory shouldn’t be considered obsolete. Our intended ‘strike’ aircraft for many decades to come, the F35Bs, can’t even reach that far if they needed to.
If there’s a better option than TLAM in 15 years, well great, put that in the VLS instead.

It may be that my contributions are rubbish, it’s of no consequence. The bigger picture is that another UK shipyard is at risk of closure, & our existing subs are visibly spread too thinly. Even rubbish suggestions serve as expressions of public support.
I do genuinely hope that people with far greater knowledge than the likes of me put forward some better ideas that are worthy of action, perhaps you can suggest something better? Without some workable ideas, & if nothing more is done, Appledore is destined to close it’s doors for good.


It would be best to find a close international ally with SSN / SSBN construction expertise to redevolop the existing wasteland adjacent to Cavendish Dock Road, near the existing BAE site.

The two yards would increase capacity, use the same talent pools but most importantly create competition.

From what is said in the article, the attitude of the BAE directors is completely and utterly wrong. Only other options are taking it into public ownership or more billions wasted.


The A26 is not the only long range option. SAAB Kockums are also working on a large long range sub they hope to sell to Netherlands with assistance from Damen (who maintain the current long range Walrus class) & ASC (who built & maintains Australia’s Collins class). There is also Australia’s currently in design Attack class (a SSK based off Frances new Baracuda SSN) & Japan’s large SSK’s. If you want a large long range SSK there are up to date designs coming available.


Embarrassing doesn’t cover it…’s an outrage!

A lot of the initial delays and cost increases were undoubtedly a mess of the MoD’s own making by abandoning any attempt at a regular drumbeat of orders in the 90s by not pursuing a second batch of Trafalgar’s.

But come on! 4 boats and approximately 18 years into construction surely means those excuses don’t fly anymore. We may not have an alternative to Barrow for submarine construction but there clearly needs to be a LOT more oversight and transparency here. Perhaps the government needs to go as far as threatening direct control, nationalization even if they can’t get their act together?

This will presumably have a knock-on effect with Anson, Agamemnon and Agincourt and who know’s if the remaining Trafalgar’s can soldier on long enough to prevent numbers dropping even further.

It seems we now won’t have 7 SSN’s again until 2026 at the earliest (running just 6 looks to be an increasingly major challenge) by which time Astute herself will be roughly 18 years old, but the Dreadnoughts won’t be anywhere near finished. It has been said before that 12 SSN’s / SSBN’s is the optimum force to maintain a steady drumbeat of delivery every 2-3 years but it only works if the builder can actually grasp the challenge and meet the time-scales.

John Clark

The alternative is to threaten to buy Virginia class ( or SSNX) replacement boats after Dreadnaught is built.

We will have to start designing and building Astute replacement boats, as soon as the last Dreadnaught is under construction.

We have to aim a gun at BAE Systems head and say, ‘ No more, deliver quality SSN’s on time and budget from now on, or we go elsewhere for our next generation SSN’.

The British tax payer is paying for this bloody feasco ( diverting defence funds from the front line) and RN submariner’s are being forced to keep Trafalgars running on beyond their out of service date, at additional cost.

Perhaps, just collaborate with the US SSNX, the RN would be perfectly happy with that solution, I am sure.

Build sections here and have them built in the US

As has been said, it really doesn’t bode well for Dreadnaught!

I suggest the above with a heavy heart, I hate the thought of loosing UK Submarine production, but if they can’t pull the rabbit out of the hat, then future contracts need to be placed with a company that can.

Getting quality, world beating boats into the RN Submarine service, is the priority, not propping up BAE Systems.


Although that in theory sound like a genuine threat, BAE would see right through it. Virginia class production is currently behind where the USN wants it to be, the likelihood that they’d allow an even slower delivery rate to allow the RN to receive boats is highly unlikely.

You’re making the assumption that BAE is dependent on the UK to stay afloat, but that’s completely wrong. We’re a nice market for them, but they’re the 3rd largest defence company in the world with major facilities in multiple countries like the US and Sweden. That’s why when they said they didn’t see much of a future in the UK, the government shat itself and gave them special status to make their UK businesses more secure.


Also, the Virginia’s are a lot more expensive. A lot.

Will O

Tail is wagging the dog. The yard(s) should be producing at a pace to meet orders sufficient to maintain a force that optimally reflects the real world strategic needs of the RN/UK, rather than needs being understated, & orders being artificially adulterated downwards by Ministers to match the limited capacity of a yard.

John Clark

Absolutely Will, spot on.

Unlike other areas of defence, MPA, Aircraft Carrier capability etc, that were sacrificed on the joint alter of austerity and endless misguided war in the sandpit, cutting SSN numbers to the bone, is proving virtually impossible to turn around.

It’s eye watering from an expense perspective.

The sheer complexity and sophistication of these boats is absolutely jaw dropping.

Perhaps, with the tiny numbers required by the RN today, we have to just stop and admit it’s now beyond us….

If we threw our lot in the Americans on SSNX, at least we could keep a hand in the game.

It really pains me to say it, but when the force dropped from 12xSSN to just 7, it just doesn’t make economic sense any more to carry on in the present manner.

It’s like BAE Systems designing and building a stealth bomber for the RAF from scratch and only building a handful!

Gavin Gordon

Have to agree.
BAE were preparing to depart Audacious mid 2018 so clearly thought she was ready for trials. That is not the HMGov fault, for once.
In addition, the Barrow site was turning out nukes in significant numbers during the cold war so, unless someone can state that it was somehow larger back then, the site size cannot be such a significant issue.


Barrow is one of the most UN-joined up production sites I’ve ever seen. I was there for the best part of a year. Over staffed over paid too many levels of management processes immature. And you cannot be sacked. No one gets sacked from barrow. Work stops at noon on Friday. Monday to Thursday there’s a stampede for the time clocks at 4.15 pm you need to be careful or you’ll get run over. But the car park is full of X5s. Frankly I think it should be nationalised and run on a franchise model make bae bid every decade for the right to operate it


How do the French cope, with even smaller numbers?

Does not this confirm that it is time for a small force of 5 to 7 SSKs based on the latest German or Swedish design

How much has the fire on Audacious caused this delay?


Precisely SD67, un-productive and no work ethic. Britain is still capable of building fine ships. The massive problem is, how long does the build take and how much does the build cost?


At the risk of nitpicking, if Audacious isn’t going to be in service until January 2021, isn’t that a delay of a little over 15 months, not 17?


From an outsider, this just is unacceptable considering the batch 1 and 2 must be virtually 95% identical in exterior terms, and that means the redesigned interior must be at least 75% the same? So, the remaining 25% is causing considerable slippage and cost overrun? How much of the 25% is being held up? Let me suggest 10%, and if that is the case, why wasn’t the feasibility of this 10% identified from the early computer simulations? Barrow needs RN submarine construction and the majority of the district is reliant on the work. Monopolies are only viable if quality standards are maintained and project timings strictly adhered to. Could it be that the MOD has no option but ride, this delinquency due to this fact? If so, such a mindset hopefully needs to change and that can only be accomplished by having an alternative shipyard willing to share the work? I doubt Barrow wants that, nor should it be necessary, so someone somewhere needs to step up to the plate, and resolve these inhibitors before that great town and yard face the unthinkable.

John Clark

If they carry on like this Maurice, they will unfortunately pull the rug from under their own feet.

Perhaps a collaborative effort on a future joint SSN design with the Americans, will ultimately be the only option for Barrows survival?

If we could plug into a production run of dozens of boats, we could bring down the unit cost for both the Royal Navy and the US Navy.

Would this mean we build our own to a common collaborative design, or manufacture sections for assembly in the US I wonder ?

Being realistic, honestly can’t see another way for Barrow to survive long term, unless we go back to 12 SSN’s and get a steady drum beat of ‘affordable and effective’ national production in place.

Each generation of boats being an incremental improvement over the last, like the previous generations, Swiftsure class passing the baton to Trafalgar class.

I say again, 7 boats simply isn’t a viable number to build (and sustain) an industry on.

Referencing Recs comment on how the French do it.

Their SSN program runs to 6 boats, though I believe they are somewhat less ambitious in design, in comparison to our Astute boats and re-use elements of CDG reactor design too.


The USN already has SSN designs, why waste time and money on one that isn’t tailored to its needs?


This is patently absurd. Here is a top build for the RN with a boat that is 4th in the series. If they haven’t sorted themselves out after 3 something is critically wrong with the whole system. There needs to be an speedy enquiry with strong powers to call witnesses and apportion blame so the taxpayer knows what is going on and it doesn’t happen with boats 5,6,7 and Dreadnaught class.


I live in Cumbria and regularly see jobs posted for BAE Barrow (even worked on site myself on occasions), often the positions are fixed term 6 months or 1 year so the staff are regularly changed. It might be the 4th boat but many of the staff could be new. Regular changes to staff over the contract is an institutional mess up easily seen ahead of time and easily sorted put in place by senior management.


This is becoming well stupid. Audacious non operational for a further 17 months delays in the next three Astues due to this delay being likely, an expected knock on effect to the Dreadnought project, three of our T45s non-operational, further reports yesterday 24/10 (Plymouth Live) that they are having more trouble in warm waters and 6 of the T23s non-operational due to refits, extended maintance etc and new OPVs having to go back to the yard because of glued on bolts.
Jackie Fisher if alive would be ripping someones head off. I don’t know where the fault is but in the words of Beatty ‘ there something wrong with our bloody ships’.
Someone needs to be held to account and heads need to role.


Let’s just leave it on display a little while longer so the rest of the foreign actors can pay some Barrow boy 200 quid to get a good old set of imahes for them. Jesus f***ing christ. Embarrassing.

David Moore

Maybe if the Navy did the designing of ships/submarines instead of leaving to certain builders then the vessels could be built in any shipyard simultaneously rather than relying on one to build just submarines, another just Type 26s and a third to concentrate on the Type 31 frigate

Barry Larking

No one knows what the issue is that has delayed the Audacious. It is clearly serious and fundamental, so likely to do with the reactor, built elsewhere I believe. I have read nothing to suggest the other Astute class under construction have been delayed. I doubt such information is public. Britain still leads the world in talking itself down. Some years ago a bird was selected to represent our national character, the Robin. Some, correctly in my view, chose the Grouse. As a country we are still borrowing 14,000,000 GPB every year to distribute to our former colonies, two of whom are now nuclear armed, and are among the many who vote against the U.K. in world fora with regularity.

Whale Island Spy

January 2021? Ha that’s optimistic. The thing won’t leave until mid way through next year due to industrial malpractices that have been covered up.

Still it keeps a little town employed in the north west.