Initial manufacturing work on the MoD’s Successor Submarine programme began late last year. Claire Apthorp looks at what it means for main contractor, BAE Systems, and the wider supply chain.

Four Successor submarines – the next-generation of nuclear-powered craft to replace the current Vanguard class – are expected to enter service in the 2030s.

They will carry Trident ballistic missiles, serving as the UK’s nuclear deterrent at sea, and ensuring that the country has the capability to deter the most extreme threats to its national security well into the 2050s.

The industry side of the programme is being led by BAE Systems. The company has been working on designing the new submarine class for more than five years and, last March, secured a further £642 million investment from the MoD, bringing the total cost of the programme’s assessment phase up to £3.9 billion.

This funding will aid further design work and new parts, and includes a £225 million investment for new facilities at BAE Systems’ Barrow-in-Furness site, where the submarines will be built.


BAE Systems embarked on the £300 million eight-year transformation project for its submarine-building capabilities in 2014, when it placed framework contracts with three contractors: Costain, Shepherd and Morgan Sindall.

The framework design allowed the contractors to compete on a mini-tender basis for the design and build of the individual projects that will make up the overall programme, including a mix of new builds and the refurbishment of existing facilities.

The facilities had not been updated since the 1980s, when the site saw the Navy’s four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered submarines being built.

While the Astute-class submarines are also currently being built at the site, the next-generation Successor submarines will be the largest and most advanced ever operated by the Royal Navy. As such, newer, larger state-of-the-art facilities were needed.

The first major project on the build was the design and construction of a new £130 million central yard complex, which will house major submarine equipment modules to be integrated into sections of pressure hull. By August 2016, the work was well under way for the construction of the 45-metre tall yard, with the first pieces of steel structure in place.

Also in August, work on the extension of the Devonshire Dock Hall was also formalised, with BAE Systems signing a £67 million contract with Morgan Sindall to extend the hall to incorporate new manufacturing and installation capabilities.

A new off-site 28,000sqm logistics facility, where submarine parts and materials will be stored, is also set to open later this year.

The project includes the construction of a further new building for the housing of pressure hull units ready for shot blast and paint. The site’s main fabrication facility, together with its existing plant and machinery, will also be refurbished.

The investment at Barrow in Furness will not only transform the way submarines are built in the UK, but also provide valuable security for a highly skilled sovereign capability beyond the end of work on the Astute-class build – a capability that only a handful of nations in the world possess.

BAE Systems engineers design, build, equip and support submarines for the Royal Navy, with workforce skills running across advanced precision steel fabrication to complex, state-of-the-art combat systems and nuclear engineering.


The modernisation of the Barrow in Furness facilities is expected to protect 6,000 highly skilled jobs at the site, as well as providing hundreds of construction jobs.

Design work of the Successor programme employs more than 2,600 people between BAE Systems, Rolls-Royce, Babcock and the MoD – around 1,800 of whom are BAE Systems employees. The company expects this figure to grow to around 5,000 people employed on the Successor programme at its peak in the early 2020s

Additionally, the design and build of a next-generation nuclear-powered submarine is one of the world’s most complex engineering challenges and will involve a supply chain in excess of 350 companies across the country.

Around 85% of the 100-plus suppliers that BAE Systems has worked with to date are based in the UK. Across the supply chain, some 7,800 people are, on average, expected to be working on Successor each year throughout the duration of the programme, with the total spend in the supply chain expected to reach between £8-9 billion.