A House of Commons research paper has detailed the spending so far undertaken by the Dreadnought programme.

The paper, entitled ‘Replacing the UK’s Nuclear Deterrent: Progress of the Dreadnought Class’ is presented as an analysis of the programme and was published this week.

According to the paper, approximately £4.8 billion had been allocated to the concept and assessment phases of the programme (£905 million and £3.9 billion respectively). Several long-lead items, including the steel for the first submarine and items relating to the propulsion system, were contracted for under this phase of spending according to the research paper.

In its 2016 Update to Parliament the MoD confirmed that, by the end of 2016, they had spent approximately £2.5 billion of its assessment phase funds. It also confirmed that, due to the long-lead nature of some of the goods and services under contract, payments for items procured during the assessment phase will continue through to 2023.

At the start of Delivery Phase 1 two contracts were awarded for work going forward notes the paper:

• £986 million for platform construction
• £277 million for continuing design work, purchasing materials and long lead items and investing in facilities at Barrow.

According to the research paper:

“Up to the end of March 2017 the MOD had also spent £157.6 million on Trident Service-Life Extensions project, thus far. In its January 2018 assessment of the MOD’s Equipment Plan, the National Audit Office raised concerns over the impact of nuclear-related projects, including Dreadnought, on the Department’s overall equipment spend:

Nuclear-related projects (the nuclear enterprise) represent around a quarter of the Plan. They are inherently complex projects and, because of their size, have the potential to destabilise the wider plan. In particular, the Dreadnought project accounts for a significant proportion of the estimated cost of buying equipment in the Plan.

Nuclear-related project costs continue to grow and forecast costs are higher than those shown in the Plan. Nuclear-related projects could destabilise the Plan because of their size and complexity. Our project testing has shown that costs for the Dreadnought and Astute projects have increased by £941 million since the 2016 Plan. The Department is reviewing the reliability of forecast costs for all of its nuclear projects and expects that updated costs as a result of this exercise will be incorporated into the 2018 to 2028 Plan.”

It concludes:

“At, potentially, £41 billion the Dreadnought programme is one of the most expensive Government projects going forward. It is a project that has around twice the budget of Crossrail, and three times the budget of the London Olympics.

With respect to departmental spending, the running costs of the nuclear deterrent (presently around £2.2billion per year) is often compared to the benefits bill, or NHS spending. The £2.2bn spent on maintaining the nuclear deterrent per year is roughly equivalent to £42m per week, or around £34 per person per year.

Alternatively, £2.2 billion a year is roughly equivalent to what is spent on Income Support, Statutory Maternity Pay, Carer’s Allowance, or Winter Fuel Payments (each of which are around £2 – £2.8 billion per year). According the Treasury’s Spending Review 2015, the planned spend on the costs of providing health care (including the NHS) in 2017/18 is £120.1bn. This equates to around £2.3bn per week.”


  1. I ask again. How is the cost so high compared to an SSN? How can a compartment for SLBMs or greater size cost so much more?

    I keep reading with other projects that size does not always equate to cost.
    Is there corruption in here somewhere?

    I believe in having Trident but find the costs difficult to believe.

    • Tube and missile length I would guess Danielle, Tomahawk at 6.25 metres with booster, Trident D5 3 stage at 13.6 metres for the missiles. Keeping watertight, and maybe even supply of compressed air?

    • A sub does have the requirement for the pressure hull to withstand forces in all directions which are very significant at maximum dive depth which is something that a surface ship does not have to contend with. I can imagine that because of this the cost and design challenges increase much more steeply as contained volume is scaled up compared to a ship.

      A couple of other factors that I can think of are..

      1 – It’s not just size. SSBN is a run of 4 vs 7 (or at least I really, really hope it will be 7) SSN so if design costs are amortised across the hulls those are nearly double from presumably a higher total SSBN design cost anyway because it’s a bigger vessel.

      2 – Some of the cost includes joint development (with the USA) of the common missile compartment which, assuming it does deliver an ability to also be used in cruise missile carrying subs, is a component of value beyond just the SSBN program, e.g. in the Astute replacement.

      I’m not trying to justify the cost or saying the above are sufficient to account for the entire increase vs SSN but I suspect they probably are at least a part of the answer to your question.

      • Great answers thank you Julian.

        MoD equipment budget for Submarines next 10 years 44 Billion.

        Unbelievable amounts of money.

        Even if a single SSBN was say 4 billion instead of a 1 billion ish Astute, 44 Billion?

  2. Supposedly the 48 missile tubes have been ordered, but as far as I can see the source of that info is some kind of ban the bomb source, so may not be reliable!

    • Not those clever people who follow the convoys around broadcasting to all precisely where they are.
      Not a good idea.
      They are probably reliable enough.

  3. Just a thought, is there any way the principles of the Astute Class could not be applied to the Dreadnought? I guess the height and maybe width, would need to be increased, yet modular concepts are nothing new. Take the simple Transit van, that comes in various lengths and heights, yet is commonality count is surprisingly high! I don’t know if the dimensions of astute are much different to the Trident boats, apart from length obviously. Could it be possible to carry fewer Trident missiles and save on development costs and build time?

    • I think the problem is, and I could be way wrong, that the Trident D5 fully fuelled and with the warhead married either prior to loading, or on top of the missle when loaded, is 55 tonnes weight, so is pre-loaded into the 12 missile tubes (16 on Vanguard I think). The Tomahawk is less that 2 tonnes max, and is loaded and fired via torpedo tubes, but if I’m wrong, please don’t laugh at me!

    • SIze would definitely need to go up significantly to fit Trident. With the significant structural issues with scaling up the pressure hull, putting vertical openings in an Astute design that has none at the moment, and all the knock on changes, it would probably cost as much or more as the clean-sheet design, if it is even possible, and probably end up with a sub-optimal SSBN vs a clean-sheet design.

      Where I think the Transit van modular concept might have merit is the other way round, could/has Dreadnought been designed with a view to possibly scaling it down, probably only in length, to act as a basis for the next generation Astute?

      The SSBN will use the joint US-UK developed Common Missile Compartment for the launch tubes for Trident but the CMC, if the design delivers, should also be adaptable to launch multiple cruise missiles from a single tube. A next generation SSN with a single CMC (I think they are currently in 6 packs but maybe a 4-pack variant wouldn’t be a big cost to develop) would be a potent asset and presumably the design of the stealth technologies for Dreadnought is some years of Astute given the vintages of the designs so could form the basis for a spectacular SSN. The bigger height and diameter also gives more space for huge sonar flank arrays giving it very big ears which is also good for an SSN.

  4. Can’t nuclear warheads be fitted onto Tomahawks negating the need for Dreadnought class subs and getting more usage out of the Astute class?

  5. Alternatively, listen to an increasing number of retired senior military people and dispense with this unusable white elephant in favour of better conventional defences,

    • Well some would be tempted to go with that if that meant an expansion in all areas of the military using the Trident money to create more mass, more personnel, more ships, more planes.

      But I think we all know that money would be instantly sent elsewhere.

      And as I and probably most here support the UK having a role in world affairs comparable to our place in it that means a lot more than a navy of patrol boats which you have often supported.

      I would want to see instead several more Astutes, more helicopters, more ISTAR, more Atlas, C17 and Hercules, more escorts, and an uplift across the board in personnel.

      And I’m quite happy with the idea of more Corvettes and up gunned Patrol boats too.

  6. How do we know something is expensive if we don’t compare costs to an equal? ( not NHS or Social Service spending that’s stupid) what do the Russian , French and US equivalents cost. Very simple.

      • I’ve no idea about the numbers but Robert is spot on with the concept. The nuclear deterrent is better thought of as a national insurance policy than a military asset. It is unfortunate that the fact it is run by military personal and uses military facilities often confuses the issue. I wish the UK treasury funding structure would reflect the reality of what it is, as it once did, and stop making the military budget fund an insurance policy.

  7. According to Wikipedia the Ohio class of SSBN cost roughly $2.86 billion (2016) each and carry 24 Trident II D3 missiles, so double the amount of bang for your bucks. I also believe that our Tridents will have less warheads per Trident compared to the US.
    Four Ohio class SSBNs have been converted to SSGNs using Tomahawk with a possible payload of 150+ cruise missiles. Shame the Vanguards couldn’t have that option done to them rather than scrapping them!

    • And the Equipment plan for nuclear subs stands at some 44 Billion for the next decade, including Astute.

      If comparable, or even superior, is some 2.8 Billion each in USD and we will acquire 4 where is all that extra going?

  8. A large share of the cost of Successor should be paid for from a separate budget. It is unreasonable to expect that the MOD should pay all of it as it is beggaring the armed forces including the Navy. Trident is not just the deterrent, it is a potent political symbol that buys the UK a seat on the UN Security Council and a hell of a lot of influence besides that.


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