Barrow in Furness

BAE Systems Submarine Solutions, already building the nuclear-powered Astute Class hunter killer submarines, Barrow will be building any future replacement for the current Vanguard Class Trident missile boats.

Barrow in Furness - Nuclear Shipyard

BAE Systems


Submarine building in Barrow began in 1886 with the building of two submarines for a Swedish arms dealer called Thosten Nordonfelt, these were eventually sold to Turkey and Russia. The Turkish boat became the first submarine to ever fire a torpedo underwater. In 1888 the site was renamed the Naval Construction& Armaments Company after buying out an arms and ammunition manufacturer; in 1897 it was bought out by the Sheffield steel makers Vickers.

In 2003 it became a wholly owned subsidiary of BAE Systems and was renamed BAE Systems Submarine Solutions in 2007.

Naval Nuclear Reactors

Naval reactors are pressurised water, liquid-metal-cooled, or boiling water types, which differ from commercial reactors producing electricity in that:

* they have a high power density in a small volume; some run on low-enriched uranium (requiring frequent refuelings), others run on highly enriched uranium.

* the fuel is not UO2 (Uranium Oxide) but a metal-zirconium alloy (circa 15% U with 93% enrichment, or more U with lower enrichment),

One of the technical difficulties is the creation of a fuel which will tolerate the very large amount of radiation damage. It is known that during use the properties of nuclear fuel change; it is quite possible for fuel to crack and for fission gas bubbles to form.

Reactor sizes range up to 550 MW in the larger submarines and surface ships. The French Rubis class submarines have a 48 MW reactor which needs no refueling for 30 years.

The British navy uses steam turbine propulsion from a single reactor in each boat.

Decommissioning nuclear-powered submarines has become a major problem. After defuelling, UK boats are typically left afloat in dockyards - Rosyth and Devonport are now home to several rotting submarines that have been left for their radiation to dissipate.

Nuclear Powered Submarines

HMS Dreadnought was the UK’s first nuclear powered submarine. It was launched from Barrow in 1960 and while the body was of a UK design, the reactor was made in the US and based on designs for the US boat Nautilus – the world’s first nuclear powered submarine.

The second UK nuclear submarine HMS Valiant entered service in 1966 with a full UK design, now retired both boats are currently laid up at Devonport Dockyard, Plymouth awaiting storage of their radioactive components.

HMS Valiant

Barrow’s is currently working on the Astute Class nuclear powered hunter-killer submarines. In all four have been proposed, with the final boat - HMS Artful – due for completion in 2012.

Astute Class Submarine

Nuclear Missile Submarines

HMS Resolution, launched in 1966, was the first of the Resolution Class submarines. These were designed to carry the Polaris ballistic nuclear missiles that were the predecessor to the current Trident missile system. Polaris missiles were carried on UK submarines between 1968 and the mid 1990s.

Between 1993 and 1999, Barrow built the Vanguard Class Ballistic Nuclear Submarines that carry Trident and are still in operation today.

The Royal Navy’s first Vanguard class SSBN, HMS Vanguard, was commissioned in December 1994.

Vanguard Class submarine

Each of the UK’s four Vanguard class SSBNs currently in service is powered by one Pressurised Water Reactor, has a displacement of 15,900 tons submerged, a length of 150m and a crew of 135 submariners.

Each Vanguard has a16-tube missile compartment for 16 Trident II D5 missiles. The Trident II D5 is a three-stage solid propellant missile with a 7,400km-range and was first deployed on HMS Vanguard in 1994. Each D5 can carry 8-12 multiple independently targetable reentry vehicle (MIRV) warheads.

The 1998 Strategic Defence Review (SDR) confirmed that the UK’s new nuclear force structure would consist solely of the four Vanguard class SSBN, only one of which is on active patrol duty at any one time. By 1998, Trident II became the UK’s sole nuclear weapon.

Trident Replacement

The replacement of Trident is a proposal to replace the existing Vanguard class of four submarines with a new submarine-based system.

Any replacement submarines will be built at BAE’s Barrow shipyard. In October 2007 BAE announced the opening of the Future Submarines (FSM) Integrated Project Team office at Barrow-in-Furness.

Over the next two years, FSM will develop a concept design for the submarine component of the UK’s future nuclear missile programme. It has a staff of 128 made up from the Ministry of Defence, BAE Systems, Rolls Royce and Babcock Marine. Rolls Royce, based in Derby, design and build the reactors while Babcock Marine are an engineering firm that manage the refits of naval vessels for the military.

The fact that the project is happening in stages means that the deal is not yet done and that it will still be possible to change the government's policy in the future.


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  • BAE Systems
    The Astute Class submarine, designed and built by BAE Systems, is a next generation nuclear powered submarine that will be the largest attack submarine that the Royal Navy has operated.
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