Dreadnought [Successor] SSBN
One of the most symbolic names in Royal Navy history was resurrected 21 October 2016 after more than 35 years and assigned to the first of the next-generation nuclear-missile-armed submarines. On the most important day in the Royal Navy’s calendar - Trafalgar Day - Her Majesty The Queen gave her royal assent for the 17,200-tonne boat to carry the name Dreadnought. It’s a warship title which goes back to the reign of Elizabeth I, more than 450 years, but was most famously borne by two British warships in the 20th Century.
The name was last held by Britain’s first nuclear-powered submarine, launched by the Queen exactly 56 years ago in Barrow – the very same yard where the new boat is being constructed. That ninth Dreadnought largely served as an experimental/trials boat for subsequent generations of hunter-killer submarines and conducted Cold War patrols, until she was paid off in 1980. Far more famous, however, was Dreadnought No.8, launched in 1906 in Portsmouth Dockyard. At a stroke she rendered every single battleship in the world’s navies obsolete. So revolutionary was this all-big-gun leviathan that all battleships built afterwards were called dreadnoughts.
Since 1969, the Royal Navy has delivered the UK’s nuclear deterrent under Operation Relentless, with at least one of four nuclear-armed submarines on patrol at all times. The Vanguard Class of nuclear-armed boats will begin to leave service by the early 2030s. The headline grabber in the 2016 SDSR is that it was decided that the UK is to make the necessary investment to sustain a Continuous At-Sea Deterrence. The Government said that four boats are needed, in order to give assurance that at least one will always be at sea, undetected, on a Continuous At-Sea Deterrent patrol. Submarines on patrol will continue to carry 40 nuclear warheads and eight operational missiles [though the design has 12 tubes]. The UK will retain no more than 120 operationally available warheads, and by the mid-2020s will reduce the overall nuclear weapons stockpile to no more than 180 warheads, meeting the commitments set out in SDSR 2010.
Construction work would start on the UK’s new nuclear submarines - initially known as Successor - Defence Secretary Michael Fallon announced 01 October 2016, as he unveiled nearly £1.3 billion of new investment with BAE Systems. The Dreadnought project would now move into the next stage, known as ‘Delivery Phase 1’, with manufacturing work beginning on structural steel work for the ‘auxiliary machine space’ of the first submarine: this contains switchboards and control panels for the reactor. The money would also be spent furthering the design of the submarine, purchasing materials and long lead items, and investing in facilities at the BAE Systems yard in Barrow-in-Furness where the submarines will be built. As part of our £178 billion equipment plan, the program would be supported by a defence budget that will rise every year until the end of the decade, meeting the NATO commitment to spend two per cent of GDP on defense.
The Dreadnought-class of SSBN's are meant to replace the existing Vanguard class nuclear submarines. They would take over Britain’s nuclear deterrent role and maintain the nation’s continuous-at-sea defense (CASD) posture, which involves having at least one submarine, armed with Trident II D-5 SLBM’s, on patrol at any given time. British ministers had implied that studies on a potential Trident system replacement had been in the works since at least 2002. The Ministry of Defense’s (MoD) 2003 White Paper stated that, though a decision on whether to replace the Trident system or not was necessary, it did not need to be made by the current Parliament, but the next. That Parliament ended in 2005. The decision to renew the Trident program was made on 14 March 2007 by the British House of Commons.
The program, Future Submarines Integrated Project Team (FSM-IPT), is staffed by BAE Submarine Solutions, Rolls Royce Marine, Babcock Marine, and the MoD. BAE Submarine Solutions is leading the project and providing concept and design plans. Rolls Royce Marine is developing a new generation of Pressurized Water Reactors (PWR3) for deployment in the Dreadnought series. The PWR3 reactors, while £50 million more expensive per ship to buy and operate, offer enhanced safety measures and a simplified control and operation scheme. Furthermore, the PWR3’s would eventually become equal or cheaper than the existing PWR2 due to their longer life spans (rated for 25yrs with an optional 5yr extension).
The total cost of the Dreadnought class ships was estimated to be in the range of £11 billion to £14 billion in 2006-2007, with a top range of £25 billion after accounting for inflation. The first ship (“B-01”) is predicted to cost £380 million, which is split between the propulsion system (PWR3 reactor), main systems, and steel. “B-02” is estimated at £145 million between the PWR3 reactor and main systems. The third submarine (“B-03”) is expected to cost £6 million, also split between the PWR3 reactor and main systems. This does not include the £900 million already spent on concept design and development. By 2016, an estimated £3.9 billion (15% total budget) will have been spent; 70% of the design is expected to be complete by that point. Commissioning of the first ship should be in 2023, the second in 2025, and the third in 2027, but these dates are all contingent on few, if any, delays (other estimates put the first deployment in 2028).
FSM-IPT entered into a 2-year concept phase in May 2007. Initial Gate approval was given on 18 May 2011, after being delayed first in November 2009 until July 2010, then again in January 2011. It begins a review of the program's feasibility and design concepts going forward. Granting Initial Gate review does not lock Parliament into granting Main Gate approval, which would commence the full design, construction, and trial process. A Main Gate vote is expect in 2015-2016, and if passed, the first submarine would be in service by 2028 (the first of three, possibly four). Following the initial 2-year concept phase would be a 7-year design phase, a 7-year build phase, and a sea-trial phase. All ship construction is to be done at BAE System’s shipyard Barrow-in-Furness and stationed at HMNB Faslane, outside of Glasgow, Scotland.
BAE presented two potential submarine designs at Defense Security and Equipment International exhibition (DSEi) in September 2007. Concept 35 was a more traditional submarine design based in equal parts on the Vanguard class and the new Astute class submarines. It featured a simplified submarine assembly that removed the need for extensive and intrusive dockyard modernization. The design reduced the number of piece parts and bespoke submarine systems while doing nothing that would adversely affect the submarine’s signature or its safe operation. The concept also included:
- A next-generation Naval Propulsion Plant, with extensive passive features and designed for disposal
- Extensive use of automation for submarine control, damage control, and condition monitoring
- Full electric propulsion with shaftless drive
- Externally mounted tactical weapons
- Electrical actuation of control surfaces
- Replacement of obsolescence equipment, with extensive use of current military and commercial off-the-shelf equipment
The Advanced Hull Form (AHF) concept was a much more ambitious design model. It featured a Y-shaped stern in place of a more traditional design. It used modular design techniques and advanced hydrodynamic ideas. The resulting external hull form offered advantages in signatures, maneuvering, and safety. It also provides large volumes of space for payloads and equipment outside the pressure hull. This gives exceptional flexibility in design and operation, with the maximum capability for rapid role change or upgrading. Safety is enhanced by the hydrodynamic design, which offers improved maneuvering and emergency recovery compared with current designs. It is further improved through the external payload and equipment locations, which minimize hull penetrations and improve watertight integrity. The AHF was designed for low cost fabrication using largely flat or single curvature surfaces. This approach allows rapid repair and modification, providing the basis for a flexible and economical platform throughout its useable life.
Because the UK leases its warheads from the United States, it entered into the Common Missile Compartment (CMC) project with the US in 2008. The aim of the project is to standardize the size of the missile storage compartments and launch tubes on both American and British submarines. To this end, the UK is increasing the size of the Dreadnought’s launch tubes from 2.21m to 3.04m, as well as its storage areas, in order to accommodate any size weapon. In the interest of cost saving, the Dreadnought series will only have eight launch tubes as compared to the 12 originally considered and 16 on the Vanguard class ships. The new US submarines will have 12 launch tubes, down from the 24 on the OHIO class submarines. To save even more money, only three ships have been officially considered. The fourth would be up for consideration come the Main Gate vote in 2015-2016. This decision created much controversy as it was claimed that having only three SSBN’s would severely limit the UK’s ability to maintain its CASD posture and lead to increased costs as the three ships would need multiple redundant systems to be more reliable.
In February 2016, HM Treasury agreed, as set out in SDSR15, the further investment of £642 million in the Assessment Phase, including further submarine design de-risking and buying essential long-lead items for the fourth submarine. This will take the total cost of the Assessment Phase for the Successor submarine program to £3.9 billion. It was intended to pursue an incremental approval approach to this program, in order to maintain better control of cost. The programme estimate published in SDSR is for a 35-year period and includes £10B for contingencies.
A decision on whether to replace the UK's Trident nuclear-armed submarines is due to be made in 2016, although the current systems will not have to be taken out of service until 2028. The Ministry of Defence said replacing Trident with four new submarines would cost about £20bn at 2006 prices, which is about £25bn at current prices, but there were much higher numbers circulating. Independent analysis in 2009 found that final project costs were typically 40% higher than the ministry's initial forecasts.
The SNP uses the figure of £100bn, which comes from the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND). That figure includes the cost of maintaining the system, which is put at between 5% and 6% of the UK defence budget, which in turn is between £1.7bn and £2.1bn a year. Over an estimated 30-year life of the system, the total comes to between £51bn and £62bn (although the current system is likely to be used for closer to 40 years). The CND also makes an estimate of £13bn for decommissioning which gets to £100bn.
The Liberal Democrats suggested reducing the number of submarines from four to three, which they say would save £4bn a year.
Those who oppose the program argue that renewing it could violate the UK’s obligations to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, and that it plays into the hands of the military industrial complex, which will make billions from the deal. Further, the UK is currently cashed-strapped, and funding a program that is estimated to cost over $150 billion could push the country over the edge.
Supporters of the program maintain that the missiles are important for security. The Arms Control Association estimates that the US has over 7,000 nuclear warheads at its disposal while the UK has 225. New British SSBN, commissioned in the late 2020s or early 2030s, with an estimated lifetime of 30-40 years, would guarantee an active UK SSBN force at least until the 2060s. The only reason why Russia in 1990s and early 2000s was still seen as a major power was its nuclear arsenal.
With a vote of 472 to 117, on 18 July 2016 British lawmakers approved the modernization of the country's aging nuclear weapons system and will add four new nuclear submarines to its fleet. The 205 billion-pound initiative was seen as a requirement for the United Kingdom to remain a world power, particularly in the wake of the Brexit referendum in which Britain voted to leave the European Union. The modernization meant that the UK will be able to keep atomic weapons at sea continuously. "We cannot outsource the grave responsibility we have for keeping our people safe, and we cannot abandon our ultimate safeguard out of misplaced idealism," newly appointed-Prime Minister Theresa May said ahead of the vote. "That would be a reckless gamble."
The proposal saw stiff opposition from the Scottish National party, as well as Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. "What is the threat we are facing that a million people's deaths would actually deter," Corbyn told MPs, arguing for nuclear disarmament. "I make it clear today, i would not take a decision that kills millions of innocent people. I do not believe the threat of mass murder is a legitimate way to deal with international relations."
|Length overall||150+ meters|
|Displacement||17,200 tons (submerged)|
|Speed||25 knots (submerged)|
|No. of shafts||1|
|Propulsion||Pump jet propulsor|
|Reactor||1 Rolls Royce|
|Turbines||2 GEC Turbines|
|Power||30,000 shp ?|
|Complement||135 (2 crews) ?|
|Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list|