Babcock and the UK Submarine Delivery Agency (SDA) have signed an initial contract for the multi-year refit of the second of the country’s Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), HMS Victorious.

According to a 13 July Babcock release, the initial full cost recovery agreement, which will be replaced with a contract on the same terms for the full programme before the end of 2023, enables the company to begin deep maintenance of the submarine at its facility at Devonport.

Babcock stated that the company, the SDA and the Royal Navy were “in discussions” with the intention of finalising a “long-term strategic partnership to ensure the stable, safe, effective and efficient delivery of deep and base maintenance of submarines”.

The new arrangement will replace current commercial agreements under the Future Maritime Support Programme, as part of a wider defence nuclear enterprise.

The four Vanguard-class SSBNs house the UK’s nuclear deterrent with the Trident II D5 ballistic missiles, with one boat always at sea on operations. The Vanguard class will begin to leave service from the early 2030s onwards, according to official UK figures, and plans on where the hulls will be stored currently under review.

The first in class, HMS Vanguard, recently completed the same Long Overhaul Period and Refuel (LOP(R)) process at Devonport, where an expected three-year programme eventually took more than seven, following a series of delays and refit difficulties. Included in the boat’s work was a refuel of its nuclear core, a complex process that was not envisaged would be required at that stage in the vessel’s service life.

Vanguard class replacement process underway

All four of the Vanguard class, HMS Vanguard, HMS Victorious, HMS Vigilant, and HMS Vengeance, have earlier completed their first LOP(R) around the late-2000s to mid-2010s. The completion of a second refit will see each of the class through to their expected out-of-service dates.

HMS Vanguard was commissioned into UK service in 1993, followed by HMS Victorious (1995), HMS Vigilant (1996), and HMS Vengeance (1999). By the time of their eventual decommissioning in from the 2030s, the vessels will have been on operations for around 40 years.

The Vanguard class is being replaced in service on a like-for-like basis with the new Dreadnought class of SSBNs, being manufactured at the BAE Systems site in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. In February 2023 the build process of the third-in-class, the future HMS Warspite, commenced, with the other vessels to be named HMS Dreadnought, HMS Valiant, and HMS Kind George VI.