Babcock International, a British defence and nuclear engineering company, has formed a strategic partnership with the largest American military shipbuilding company, Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII).

The enterprise will see both companies collaborate on naval nuclear decommissioning and consturction opportunities in the US and the UK. The agreement was solidified in a memorandum of understanding (MoU) signed on 17 July 2023.

Both companies will apply their complementary capabilities to existing nuclear decommissioning contracts for US ships and UK submarines, to share best practices and provide the opportunity to upskill and enhance both organisations’ capability for the benefit of the US and UK projects.

“As we expand our presence globally this is an important agreement to leverage more than 60 years of HII expertise in complex nuclear processes on behalf of civil and defence customers,” said Chris Kastner, President and CEO of HII. “We are excited to explore with Babcock potentially promising opportunities for both companies.”

“This collaboration supports our expanding global reach and capability” said David Lockwood, CEO of Babcock. “We look forward to working with HII to realise the benefits that our collaboration can bring to the nuclear programmes in UK, US and beyond.”

Naval nuclear decommissioning

The UK Ministry of Defence has announced it will hold a market engagement day later this year at Babcock Marine’s Rosyth dockyard to determine industrial capabilities ahead of beginning the initial phase of the Submarine Dismantling Project (SDP), a programme to scrap dozens of nuclear-powered submarines once in service with the Royal Navy.

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In collaboration with the UK Defence Equipment Sales Authority, the event, to be held on 12 October this year, will focus on plans for the first submarine – the former HMS Swiftsure – to be recycled within the boundaries of the Rosyth dockyard.

The majority of submarines stored at Rosyth, Scotland, and Devonport, England, are thought to have been defuelled since being decommissioned, although hazardous and classified materials remain onboard, requiring specific clearances and capabilities to be disposed of safely.

The SDP’s mandate is intended to fully dismantle 27 of the UK’s nuclear-powered submarines after they have been defuelled, including the ballistic missile boats (SSBN) that housed the country’s nuclear deterrent.

Babcock and HII collaboration on AUKUS

One of the UK-US projects that the MoU refers to includes the AUKUS programmes, in which both companies are already heavily involved in the development of advanced technologies required from the trilateral agreement.

“Whilst the [AUKUS] deal covers joint work in electronic warfare, AI [artificial intelligence], hypersonic weapons and quantum technologies, its centrepiece is Australia’s acquisition of nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs). Compared to diesel-electric boats, SSNs are much better suited to operating in large, deep, and wide oceans – ideal for the Indo-Pacific region, and a large deterrent for any hostile naval force,” a GlobalData analyst briefing stated in March 2023.

Owning and operating the UK’s only licensed facility for refitting, refuelling and defuelling nuclear submarines, Babcock sustains the entirety of the Royal Navy’s nuclear-powered submarine fleet, including the delivery of through-life support and life extension of the Vanguard, Trafalgar, and Astute submarine classes.

Similarly, in March this year, HII announced: “HII is prepared to leverage our longstanding expertise in nuclear shipbuilding and defence technologies, and our presence in Canberra, Australia, in support of AUKUS. We look forward to working closely with the US, Australian, and British governments.”