Earlier concern over the speculated cancellation of Astute boat number seven has been eased by a defence minister.

New defence procurement minister Guto Bebb informed MPs in a written statement:

“The Ministry of Defence (MOD) has received approval in principle from Her Majesty’s Treasury (HMT) to recognise new contingent liabilities associated with the Astute Boat 7 ‘Whole Boat’ Contract.”

We understand that this announcement paves the way for the formal contract to be signed before the end of the financial year.

The scrapping of the seventh Astute Class submarine under construction had been “actively considered” it emerged earlier in the year. A leaked document seen by The Sunday Express stated senior officials read:

“In the long term the delay (or cancellation) will ease the pressure on manning, but we must not be seen to welcome this situation. Any loss of capability will impact on operations.”

Barrow MP John Woodcock said at the time:

“This leaked document is confirmation that scrapping Astute boat seven is being actively considered by the government. There is embarrassingly flawed logic within the decision but it shows just how much pressure there is to find any route out of the cash crisis that is gripping the MoD.”

Woodcock later tweeted:

“To be clear – we are not there yet. The defence secretary will clearly fight for the funds to cover the defence equipment programme, including boat 7. But the fact our submarine programme is under threat shows the terrible funding pressure being imposed by the Treasury.”

This comes not long after the fourth Astute class submarine, Audacious, which is being built by BAE Systems for the Royal Navy, completed her first ever dive.


    • … and then after SSBN Barrow hopefully goes straight on to Astute replacement. Astute is a truly world-class boat and that was after the U.K. having to regenrate lost sub design and build capabilities so imagine, if things go to plan and we enter the Astute successor era with submarine design and build firing on all cylinders, how good that might be.

  1. Well, is this Williamson’s third victory (1 being separation of defence and security reviews, 2 the new defence review being non fiscally neutral) then he might just be the minister we’ve been waiting for.

    Shows how far Gov has fallen though that not cancelling the seventh boat is considered a win.

    Will he sneak an 8th into the review and is their enough capacity to build it if he could?

    • We technically don’t even have the funds for T31 sorted, finding an extra billion quid for another Astute would be nothing short of miraculous. Still, we can hope. Another option could be something like the T31 programme for submarines, either a light Astute (still nuclear, still with the same sensor suite, but with a reduced weapon, crew, and store supply, restricting them to the North Atlantic) or a diesel-electric boat (definitely less preferable capable, and we’d most likely be buying a foreign design, but they’d be much cheaper than even small nuclear boats).

      Honestly, if Williamson keeps actually demonstrating a will to fight for what we need, I’d even vote for him as PM. I’ve always been Conservative anyway, but I’ve seen very few politicians from any party that I genuinely have faith in

          • Slow boiling the 7th Astute is ok with me, as long as the RN get it in the fullness of time.

          • The current 8-hull program. I hate to be cynical but I believe precious little from the mouths of our politicians! I wouldn’t be at all surprised if later the thought of cancelling hulls 7 and/or 8 are floated around just like the Astute Boat 7.

      • The Astute size was part driven by having to accommodate the nuclear reactor. If you go for an Astute light would you be looking at the new reactor for the Successor . How would this affect the sizing of Astute light.
        A few more subs are needed but there is no funding or sailors for them.

      • Astute Light? Where did you come up with that? Apart from the fact you’ve made it up how much savings do you think that would provide. And how small do you think you can make the crews on these boats withoit compromising watchkeeping and mission capabilities?

        • At no stage did I claim it was anything more than an idea. Its simply one possible solution to the fact that our current fleet of attack subs is insufficient for the amount of tasks we need them to perform. We need more hulls, and the simplest way of doing that is to build cheaper platforms (in the same vein as T31, which is what I initially suggested). Shockingly, I have no costings for something that is just a vague concept, but the general idea is that we could perhaps gain several more subs to bulk out the fleet. Even if they were just diesel-electric boats, they could still perform duties around the UK and GIUK gap while the nuclear boats escort the carriers and perform duties further afield.

      • will the type 31 happen or will it go the same way as the bristol class planned for, but never built? if we can find this kind of money why didn’t we stop the type 45 order for 12 type 45’s being slashed to 6? or the 13 type 26 dropping to 8?

        • The process is simple I think. Think of a number of ships, N; now guess how much they will cost, X. Set up a budget B = N times X to cover all design 1/3 rd and manufacture 2/3rds costs over a 12 year program, say. After 4 years you have spent 1/3 of your budget in designing a more capable ship than you originally conceived that will cost 50% more to make. So now you have 2/3 of your budget left but can only afford to build half the number of ships. Terms and conditions apply. Numbers for illustration only. Your project may be at risk if you cannot keep up payments.

    • Don’t new defense seceterys always ‘win’ a few funding battles when they start? Gives them credibility, then they stop pretending and the cuts start again.

      If in a year or two he’s still fighting tooth and nail for the armed forces and protecting the funding then I’ll take note. Double that and he’ll be the the best Defense secetery we’ve had since…ever. That’s how low the bar is. But this all feels like a foregone conclusion. We always get our hopes up with each new minster and it’s always the same. Somehow I doubt a man who’s spent his entire career playing politics and forging shady backroom deals and getting a reputation for it cares about the military.

      Then again maybe that’s the kind of person we need to fight for the military. We’ll see. We’ll see.

  2. We won’t wait and we want eight. These are a frighteningly powerful weapon that keeps the UK still in the game of controlling the seaways if we need to. That is not to mention their land attack capability.

  3. These boats trump every asset we possess save the carriers.
    An 8th would be good but as one commentator here regularly reminds us even if it were ordered where are the crew coming from?
    Uplift in personnel needed.

    • Theres the crux of the issue: the RN is several thousand men short of what it really needs. At last count, we have several destroyers and frigates laid up not because of refits or money, but because there are no men to man them.

        • Crewing is all part of the same funding crisis!

          Enough funds for better pay, proper rotation, the right balance of missions, long enough alongside, better career ladder because growing not shrinking – list goes on.

          Money sorts the crewing issue. End.

          • True, but not quite “End”. Unemployment is low at the moment – recruitment always suffers in those circumstances.

          • true, so would all training establishments finishing courses on the same day allowing big drafts to the ships identified as being priority. sorting out the married quarters may help. did you know that sailors leaving the service are never asked why are you going? if you can’t identify the problem, you can’t fix it.

        • Ben P. And one LPD, and one LPD, one Hydrographic ocean survey ship, RM numbers to RN, etc, etc.
          There are many more issues that are kept quiet.

        • Other at sea units are carrying Gaps in manpower on board. For redundancy during a conflict most Engineers double up on the equipment they are trained to maintain and look after. However from personal experience this is more and more the norm. Long term gaps are not filled and maintainers end up covering 2 or 3 jobs and the associated equipment. This leads to a huge work overload, no leave and the maintainer sticking their notice in and quitting the RN, which makes the gapping situation even worse.

          Money doesn’t sort out gapping. Engineers where recently offered a cash incentive to commit to 5 years in the RN. Some took it as their career and personal circumstances made it worth while to do it. Others did the math ( ’cause engineers are clever like that!) 40% tax on the lump sum, divided by the 5 years you had to stay in the RN and it worked out at around 2-3K a year. For the extra hassle you get that is not worth it especially as you pay it all back if you leave early.

          They are even sending out the come back begging letters to former engineers.
          “Join back up! Its Great!”
          Er…no it isn’t. I am now on twice as much money(Take home), have a far better standard of living and don’t spend 6-9 months away from home every year.
          I do miss the runs ashore though…:)

  4. This is good news although a few more would be better. Maybe a mix of nuclear and diesel electric boats would be a good option. Considering how shallow the English channel and Mediterranean is.

  5. Excellent news! Agree with posters who propose an eigth. Would be a fabulous morale boost and industrial stimulous. Might clash with construction plans for Successor?

    • You’re correct. Unless I’m wrong, Barrow can build 3 submarines at a time (currently Anson, Agamemnon, and Ajax), so unless we somehow manage to keep the Vanguards serviceable even further past their sell by date (not advisable, or perhaps even possible given that they were designed with a 25 year service life), the Astute build is over. Of course, once Dreadnought is built, HMS Astute will be at the end of her intended service life, so hopefully the design for the Astute replacement will be done and we can go straight into the build for them before Barrow loses all of its staff again

      • You guys are correct about capacity at Barrow but bearing in mind we have actually been paying a premium to BAE to build the Astutes slower than they actually would like to we might be able to up the build rate and sneak another one in the programme. However, the bigger concern is the lack of crews it would seem from recent reports. Personally, I would prefer 2-3 more Astutes we can actually use and only order three Dreadnoughts. The CASD has become a bit like the NHS, a sacred cow that can never be criticised or changed.
        I am now retiring to the rear with my tin hat on.

  6. You have to hope that ASW plays a strong part in the Review. Same with nearly aspect of defence but more Astutes and P-9s are needed.

      • Ben your right and I’m sure we all appreciate on here and sleep better knowing that the Red Arrows, Bear Skins, Cavalry and every other non warlike piece of expenditure will be safe from cuts. No sacred cows in the MOD that’s for sure and it will be an almost top to bottom review!

      • You’re right on subs but all of the noises coming from the MOD are optimistic around potential outcomes. The mood music has changed. I await the outcome with interest.

  7. Will believe it when I see it. I know it’s controversial but I’d rather see the trident program scrapped and instead with the money saved build three more Astute and how ever many conventional subs we could afford with what’s left.

  8. Please can all talk of returning to conventionally powered subs stop.
    They do not have the high end capability or endurance astute class has. A German type 214 design would quickly lose in a sub Vs sub engagement with an astute class in anything other than shallow coastal waters.
    The Astute class is our best defence against Russia’s proliferation of new nuclear submarine designs.
    Agree with comments here we need 8 and we won’t wait.
    Or better still 10-11.
    Defence budget set in law at 3% of GDP and the nuclear deterrent removed from core defence budget and put back into the central treasury to fund.
    Easy now enough money to recruit a further 4000-5000 RN personnel and put the force back to around pre SDSR 2015 levels.
    Retain river class batch 1s as needed for our EEZ post Brexit
    Order 13 type 26s not just 8
    Build 7-10 type 31s
    Fit mk41 vl strike cells to type 45
    Build a replacement lph for ocean
    All achievable if defence budget increased to where it should be.
    Any increase budget the lion’s share needs to go to the Royal navy. RAF will just waste it on £14 billion for air to air refuelling (Voyager programme) that then cannot refuel our RAF purchased maritime patrol aircraft. Genius!

    • Voyager can be modified with a boom for refuelling, I believe every nation that has ordered the A330MRT has this capability it’s just the UK is the odd one out.

      Just a question of how much and does the contract with AirTanker allow it.

    • Conventional subs have their benefits. Firstly there cheeper and safer to purchase and operate which makes them great for training. And as you say due to their ability to operate in shallow water and as they are quieter they can be used in coastal defence operation.

  9. 7 is the minimum given our global commitments. This should mean we have at least 2 deployed in peacetime.

    Regards T31E funding it is my understanding that this will come out of the original T26 budget which assumed 13 T26 warships, this has now been to reduced to 8.

    So bags of money available for T31E and other equipment!

    • I suspect what might have happened is that as a result of requirements drift and delays the 8 Type 26 Global Combat ships currently planned will cost what the original 13 ASW frigates were to have cost. In which case another 2 might have to be sacrificed to pay for 5 Type 31 unless the defence budget is increased. And the way the MOD contract worked HMS Forth is the first Tyoe 26!

      • The budget for the T26 project was around £11bn for 13 ships, I assume now that it’s only 8 that the total cost will be less than £11bn.

        If not we are well and truly stuffed.

  10. Cautiously welcome the news that A7 is to be built.

    Welcome any opportunity to see that photo at the top of the article – definitely in my top 10, along with Big Lizzie steaming away from Gibraltar.

    • Re the picture at the top, I hadn’t noticed before but it’s interesting to see that the one on the left is presumably less advanced than the other two. Compare the hull shapes at the front, the one of the left has a sort of bump around the lower section whereas the other two are smooth. It looks as if there is a second layer of plating still to be applied to the one on the left (hence the scaffolding) whereas the other two have the front bit complete. It’s interesting to be able to see how that multiple skinning is set out by comparing the subs.

  11. An 8th Astute would cost 1.5 billion plus, I would suggest 5 or 6 diesel electric boats is just what the UK need to get sub numbers back to where they should be. It is time the UK got into the AIP game as 7 subs is simply not enough

      • I’m in favour of AIPs but only if there’s enough SSNs and there aren’t so the point is moot.

        As for deployment, all around the coast, channel, Falklands and no mentions how useful AIPs would be on escort duty of all sorts – plus use for training.

        As a blue water navy island nation, I would have 12 SSNs before investing in AIP.

        Japan is our only peer nation – she has 17 attack subs rising quickly to 22.

        We have 7. We are mad!

        France has 6 with five major land borders. I extra SSN for every French land border I say, plus one for two small ones 😉

      • UK EEZ mainly, allowing the Astutes to deploy globally. I would like to see Astute numbers in the teens but with the costs involved, it simply isn’t going to happen. The UK could enter the AIP game quickly and pretty cost effectively returning hull numbers into the teens in a pretty short space of time.

  12. I think this is yet another example of people paying far too much attention to rumour, dodgy stories and ‘leaked information’ that has no source. We sadly live in a world of ‘instant information’ that people far too readily take as Gospel without question:
    “Well I saw it on Buzzfeed / Bacefook / Twatter so it must be true”

    And the Express has a bit of form is setting hounds running as part of its editorial policy (to which it is fully entitled unlike the BBC).

    However I am once again grateful to ‘NavyLookout’ for some factual explanation (even if it is on Twatter). Hope this helps the discussion:

    • I’m happy for people to pay attention to rumour, dodgy stories and ‘leaked information’ if it gives the public and MPs the opportunity to push back on these things before it’s too late.

      We don’t know where it will lead but there is clearly a positive change of tone and tack on defense in both the government and parliament for the first time in decades.

  13. Couple of things – if we are spending 2% of GDP on Defence that should be circa £52bn pa. (according to the Govt’s own figures), They have stated in the last treasury update they are spending £48bn pa. So there is a shortage there already of 4bn pa.

    Like the Carriers and T26 – costs of all these assets have been unduly inflated due to government decision making / mismanagement (depending on your viewpoint). T26 has taken over 15 years in design, CVF was delayed at a cost of over £1bn, Astutes slowed on numerous occasions instead of building more, plus regeneration of industrial base due to gaps in orders. Lets not even go with FRES…

    I really do hope that the 7th Astute goes ahead, but feel this will be a short term victory as we clearly have issues within the MOD and Government that is causing us to escalate the costs of key assets thereby necessitating a reduction in those assets (T45/T26/SSN fleet) that ends up undermining the force, its supporting industrial base and our foreign policy and global influence.

    Good news today, very happy for south lakes, but much more structure and a proper fully costed plan needs to be done.

  14. A7 go ahead good news. Now we need A8. Our submarine force is critically overstretched due to a shortage of boats and manpower. Decision to base all SSNs at Faslane just compounded the manpower problem.

    • Why do other countries have Submarines?
      Who is their enemy?
      Are you suggesting other nations haver them and yet the UK cannot?

  15. What HMG seems to forget is that all the money that they invest in defence contracts in our country, goes straight back into the economy, and a whole lot of it goes straight back to the government in all kinds of taxes. This country cannot afford to buy cheaply.


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