20 March 2009 | Martha McKenzie-Minifie
MPs have raised doubts over the ability of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) to design and build replacement submarines in the "extremely tight" planned timetable.
In its UK Future Nuclear Deterrent Capability report released yesterday, the
Public Accounts Committee (PAC) also highlighted the department's less than exemplary track record on delivering major defence projects.
Chairman Edward Leigh MP said the timetable allowed 17 years to complete the replacement submarine design and build project, despite the MoD "accept[ing] that such a process usually cannot be completed in under 18".
The report said the MoD intended to overlap the submarine's design and construction phases to respond to an already challenging timeline.
"The MoD must make absolutely fundamental decisions about the design of the new submarines by September of this year," said Leigh. "These include the main design features; whether to develop a new type of nuclear reactor requiring substantial research and development; and, crucially, the design and size of the missile compartment."
The PAC said those decisions would affect the programme's procurement and support costs for decades to come. It urged the MoD to commission an independent assessment of aspects of its plans.
The report said the UK had a policy of having at least one nuclear-armed submarine on patrol at all times since 1968. It said the government announced its intention in 2006 to maintain the UK's nuclear deterrent capability and set out plans to build a new class of submarines to replace the current Vanguard fleet.