Babcock dives head-first into £350m sub refit contract

The engineering firm will upgrade HMS Vengeance, replacing its nuclear core - which should secure 2,000 jobs in Plymouth.

by Emma Haslett
Last Updated: 30 Oct 2012

After much um-ing and ah-ing, Philip Hammond will finally confirm today that nuclear submarine HMS Vengeance will undergo a refit at the Devonport Dockyard in Plymouth. The contract, worth a cool £350m, has gone to engineering firm Babcock, and will safeguard about 2,000 jobs (1,000 at the firm itself, 300 at other companies in Plymouth and 700 elsewhere). Plymouth’s workforce is, naturally, pleased – although there are questions about why it took so long to give the overhaul the go-ahead.

Refuelling a nuclear sub takes a bit more effort than simply rolling up at the pumps: the 15,000-tonne vessel (berthed in a specially-built dock because, at 150m long, it’s too long for a conventional one) will undergo a complete refit of its equipment, including improved missile launch capabilities and new computer systems. The reactor core that powers it will also be refitted, which should last the submarine until she’s decommissioned in a few years’ time.

During his speech at a Plymouth dockyard today, Hammond will hint that although this will be the last time a Vanguard class vessel will be refuelled before they are decommissioned, chances are there will be plenty more to keep engineers going. ‘As we stabilise the defence budget we are increasingly able to commit to equipment projects to safeguard the UK’s national security,’ he’ll say. ‘Devonport Dockyard is at the heart of maintaining and supporting the Royal Navy and I am pleased that such a large number of jobs will be protected.’

But while workers in Plymouth are understandably relieved a deal has gone ahead, they’re a bit confused as to why it’s taken so long to negotiate. As MP for Plymouth Moor View Alison Seabeck pointed out, it’s been languishing at the Devonport Dockyard since March 2 while the Government and Babcock negotiated the finer points of the deal. ‘There was no obvious reason why, given refits are planned years in advance, there should be a delay,’ she said.

Although given the Chancellor wants to reallocate money currently spent on defence as British troops pull out of Afghanistan, these sorts of delays may become rather more common...

- Image credit: Flickr/Defence Images

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