United Kingdom's Nuclear Submarine Industrial Base, Vol. 1: Sustaining Design and Production Resources

United Kingdom's Nuclear Submarine Industrial Base, Vol. 1: Sustaining Design and Production Resources

by John F. Schank, John Birkler, James Chiesa, Jessie Riposo

Recommends strategies to efficiently sustain and operate the United Kingdom's submarine industrial base.


Recommends strategies to efficiently sustain and operate the United Kingdom's submarine industrial base.

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The United Kingdom's Nuclear Submarine Industrial Base, Volume 1

Sustaining Design and Production Resources
By John F. Schank Jessie Riposo John Birkler James Chiesa

Rand Corporation

Copyright © 2005 RAND Corporation
All right reserved.

Chapter One


During the Cold War, with a clearly defined enemy and clearly defined threats, the major allied nations such as the United Kingdom and the United States maintained fairly large force structures and placed significant demands on their defence industrial base. However, since the end of the Cold War, defence budgets and force structures have become much smaller, causing the defence industrial base to contract and change as well. Now, nations like the United Kingdom must closely monitor and manage their industrial base to ensure that the capabilities required to support their forces do not deteriorate but will be available when needed. Activities that might be modified to sustain a robust industrial base might include the scheduling and assigning of new design and construction programmes.

Industrial base challenges are especially difficult for the design and production of nuclear submarines. In the United Kingdom, submarines are the only types of ships that use nuclear propulsion; partly as a result, the personnel skills and disciplines necessary for nuclear submarine design and production are unique in the shipbuilding industrial base. The recently publicised cost and schedule problems with the Astute programme are a manifestation of thedifficulties that can arise in the nuclear submarine industrial base. The gap between the end of the preceding submarine programme-Vanguard-and the start of Astute has been postulated as one of Astute's problems. Such gaps in design and production present problems, since many of the necessary disciplines and skills cannot be maintained by other, non-submarine programmes. (Other possible problem sources include a lack of sufficient design resources and frequent management changes at the shipbuilder.)

The UK submarine industrial base is facing potential future gaps in submarine design and production programmes. If there is no successor to the Vanguard class, there may be a 20-year gap between submarine design efforts-that is, between the end of the design of the Astute class and the start of the design of the follow-on Maritime Underwater Future Capability (MUFC) class (which may not even be a submarine). Also, given the small numbers of attack submarines in the Royal Navy inventory and the possibility of no successor to the Vanguard class, there are likely to be gaps of several years between the end of the Astute production and the start of production for the next class.

Questions, therefore, arise concerning how best to maintain submarine design and production capabilities in this era of declining defence budgets and force structures. Answers to these questions must consider both the Ministry of Defence (MOD) and all the organisations that comprise the nuclear submarine industrial base, including prime contractors, shipbuilders, component and equipment vendors, and the organisations that support in-service submarines.

Study Objectives and Research Approach

Given the concerns surrounding the vitality of the submarine industrial base, the Attack Submarine Integrated Project Team (IPT) within the MOD asked RAND Europe to examine the following questions pertaining to submarine design and production:

What level of resources is needed to sustain a submarine design capability? When might, or should, the next design effort be undertaken? What actions should be taken to maintain submarine design capabilities during gaps between design efforts? (See Chapter Two.)

How should submarine production be scheduled for efficient use of the industrial base? What are the implications of decisions regarding fleet size and production rate? How viable is the nonnuclear vendor base supporting submarine production? (See Chapter Three.)

Clearly, these questions can only be meaningfully addressed if a long view is taken. Definitive answers are thus not yet possible: important aspects of the long-term future submarine fleet structure are unsettled. What we seek to accomplish here is to make some assumptions regarding that structure and work out the implications of acquisition options for the industrial base. In doing so, we develop an analytic framework that the MOD can apply again once more specifics are available.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding future UK submarine programmes and force structures, our analysis considered various options, including

a follow-on to the Vanguard class as the next new submarine programme

no new submarine programme until MUFC (i.e., no follow-on to the Vanguard class)

extending the operational life of the Vanguard class 4 Volume 1: Sustaining Design and Production Resources

various numbers of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) and nuclear-powered fleet ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) in the Royal Navy force structure

various times between production starts of new submarines

different start dates for the next submarine after the first three Astute boats.

In examining the issues listed above, we gathered information from a variety of sources, which included a wide range of interviews. In addition to interacting with several organisations within the MOD, we talked extensively with various organisations that are part of the nuclear submarine industrial base, including the BAE Systems Submarine Division in Barrow-in-Furness, Devonport Management Limited (DML), Rolls-Royce Naval Marine, and Strachan & Henshaw. We gathered insights and information from US nuclear submarine organisations, including the Program Executive Officer for Submarines as well as the Electric Boat Corporation and Northrop Grumman Newport News, the two organisations that design and build all US nuclear submarines. We conducted an extensive literature review of past studies addressing the US and UK nuclear submarine industrial base. Finally, we performed quantitative analyses supported by databases and models constructed for previous analyses of US and UK shipbuilding studies.

Before we convey our findings regarding submarine design and production issues, it will be useful to set the scene with a description of the submarine industrial base in the United Kingdom.

The UK Submarine Industrial Base

The design and production of nuclear submarines in the United Kingdom is accomplished by BAE Systems and its Submarine division, which is located at the Barrow-in-Furness shipyard in northwest England. BAE Systems is the prime contractor for Astute design and production. It is also the design authority5 for the class-i.e., it is primarily responsible for each boat's design and has the authority to determine whether the boat is being produced to the requirements of the design (with the exception of certain safety-related aspects, which must still be certified by the MOD).

Numerous vendors provide various equipment and materiel to Barrow to support submarine construction. Rolls-Royce Naval Marine is the sole provider for the nuclear steam-raising plant and acts as the delegated design authority for the Astute-class nuclear propulsion system. Two of the larger nonnuclear vendors, in terms of the cost of the equipment provided, are Strachan & Henshaw, which is responsible for the weapons handling and launch systems, and Thales Underwater Systems, which provides the sonar and other combat systems. There are more than 30 vendors that provide equipment or materiel worth in excess of £1 million each for the current Astute contract and hundreds of other vendors that provide smaller quantities of parts and materiel.

The Royal Navy fleet currently includes a declining number of Swiftsure-class SSNs, seven Trafalgar-class SSNs, and four Vanguard-class SSBNs. The seven Trafalgar-class submarines have their homeports at Her Majesty's Naval Base Devonport in Plymouth, the largest naval installation in Western Europe. DML is responsible for the maintenance of all ships at Devonport; it is also the sole facility licensed to perform mid-life refuelling and end-of-life deactivations of nuclear submarines. The Swiftsure- and Vanguard-class submarines are based at Faslane, part of Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde in Scotland. The Astute class will also be based at Faslane. Babcock Engineering Services (BES) manages and performs the submarine maintenance functions at Faslane. BES is not licensed to perform nuclear refuellings or deactivations but can do the other scheduled maintenance actions for the Swiftsure- and Vanguard-class boats. DML and BES, along with the MOD's Submarine Support IPT, work together to develop maintenance plans and work packages for the support of in-service submarines.

Chapter Two

Maintaining Nuclear Submarine Design Resources

The design and engineering of any complex system requires special skills, tools, and experience. Of all military and commercial ships, a nuclear-powered submarine presents the greatest design challenge. The unique operating environment and characteristics of a nuclear submarine impose special demands on designers and engineers. These individuals need unique skills to address the ability to operate in three dimensions, the requirement to submerge and surface, the fine degree of system integration due to weight and volume limitations, and the use of nuclear propulsion. These skills are not found or maintained in the design of other UK military or commercial ships.

In this chapter, we examine various issues associated with maintaining the capability to design nuclear submarines. Specifically, we address the following questions:

What resources are required to design a new submarine class? What is required to sustain a design capability? How should future design programmes be timed to sustain design resources? What are options for sustaining a minimum set of design resources between new design programmes?

First, however, we elaborate on the nuclear submarine design challenge: Why is it difficult to maintain nuclear submarine design resources?

Problems in Maintaining Resources

Any ship design programme requires a mix of skills, including those of naval architects, systems engineers, and marine engineers, plus designers and engineers skilled in specific systems such as electrical and mechanical systems, structure, and stress and dynamics. In addition, workers experienced in project management and test and commissioning are required, as well as a wide range of draughtsmen. The design of a nuclear submarine adds a set of unique skills to these general ship design and engineering resources (see Table 2.1). These skills include nuclear propulsion, noise and vibration (e.g., acoustics), and radiation shielding. It is these unique skills that can only be sustained through nuclear submarine design efforts.

Maintaining submarine specific skills is not difficult when there is a sufficient overlap of new design efforts. Historically, as one design programme was winding down, the design for the next new submarine started. Figure 2.1 shows the time between the project acceptance dates (PADs) for the first boat in various classes of nuclear submarines designed in the United Kingdom (the PAD for the Upholder class, a diesel submarine, is added for completeness). The time between the PAD for the first boat in one class and the first boat in the following class provides a measure of the overlap between design programmes. Until the Astute class, the time between PADs for the first of class was eight to 10 years. This provided some overlap between design programmes, since it takes, on average, 10 years to design and build the first of class for an SSN and 15 years for an SSBN. The overlap permitted designers and engineers to move from one programme to the next without the need to commit to other work.

The problem occurs when there is a gap between the end of one design programme and the beginning of the next. There has been a gap of 16 years between the PAD for the Vanguard and the PAD for the Astute. Such a gap between new design programmes makes it difficult to maintain the nuclear submarine design resources. When a gap occurs, skilled workers are transferred to other shipbuilding programmes, are placed on overhead, or leave the nuclear submarine design base altogether. Because they are highly trained and have skills that are in demand in other industries, nuclear submarine designers and engineers, especially electrical and mechanical engineers and draughtsmen, typically have little problem finding positions outside the shipbuilding industry. As these experts commit to other career paths, the loss to the national submarine design base becomes permanent. Such a net erosion of design skills associated with a programme gap is viewed as one of the causes of the problems experienced by the Astute programme.

Hiring new people to replace lost personnel is difficult. Prospective new hires into nuclear submarine design often view it as an industry with a limited future and large uncertainties for steady employment. Also, the Barrow area is somewhat remote with very few other employment opportunities for designers or engineers. This compounds the difficulty in attracting new hires and in rehiring those who obtain other employment during periods of decreased workloads.

Furthermore, experience is a fundamental requirement in all phases and at all levels, particularly with those key individuals who must lead and oversee the design effort. The combination of experience and leadership in total nuclear submarine design synthesis rests with a few special individuals-some in the private sector, some employed by the Royal Navy or the MOD. These leadership functions require 10 to 15 years to develop. Thus, this talent is critical to maintain and very difficult to recruit.

The Barrow shipyard is facing a watershed in sustaining nuclear submarine design resources. As shown in Figure 2.2, the demand for direct design and engineering resources has been falling. Demand will continue to erode through the end of the current Astute contract (which covers boats 1, 2, and 3). Further design should start immediately, or it will take several years and significant funding to reconstruct the nuclear submarine design base for the next new programme.

Resources Required for a New Design Effort

In identifying potential gap-induced shortfalls in the submarine design base, the first question to answer is: What is needed? That is, how many engineers and draughtsmen are required? And how does the answer to that question change over the course of design?

In addressing these questions, we interviewed individuals involved with previous UK submarine design programmes as well as knowledgeable people at Barrow, Northrop Grumman Newport News, and Electric Boat. We supplemented the information gathered from these interviews with historical data on previous UK and US submarine design programmes.

To estimate the resources required, we had to settle on the general character of the next class of submarines to be designed. Given the projected retirement dates of the Vanguard and Astute classes, we initially assume the next class will be SSBNs. It should be kept in mind that no decision has been made as to whether there will be a new SSBN class to replace the current one.

Assuming there is an enduring requirement for nuclear attack submarines, a decision to not have a follow-on to the Vanguard class would mean the next new submarine design effort would be for an SSN. Currently, the MOD envisions a system providing what it terms an MUFC as the successor to the Astute class. With a projected 25-year life for the Astute class, the MUFC design effort would start in approximately 2024 to produce the first MUFC boat in approximately 2034. With no follow-on to Vanguard, there would thus be a gap of approximately 15 years between the PAD of the first Astute-class submarine and the start of the next submarine design. Such a large gap would make it very difficult and costly to reconstitute the nuclear submarine design base.


Excerpted from The United Kingdom's Nuclear Submarine Industrial Base, Volume 1 by John F. Schank Jessie Riposo John Birkler James Chiesa Copyright © 2005 by RAND Corporation. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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