BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce have won two £85m contracts to begin design work on the successor to the UK Royal Navy’s Astute-class attack submarines.

The new project will see 350 designers, engineers and shipwrights perform the design and concept work in the next three years.

The contracts follow even before the service has taken delivery of all seven Astute-class submarines, which are being built by BAE Systems.

The seven Astutes are expected to become operational by 2026. Currently, four boats are in service.

In April, the company launched the fifth boat of the class, Anson, at its Barrow-in-Furness site.

Commenting on the awards, UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said they marked ‘the start of a new journey for the Royal Navy’s submarines. British designers and engineers will lead the way in developing submarines for our Royal Navy’.

Wallace commented: “This multimillion-pound investment ensures that this vital capability will be ready to replace our Astute Class submarines as they come out of service whilst supporting high-skilled jobs across the Midlands and North West of England.”

The new class is provisionally known as the Submersible Ship Nuclear Replacement (SSNR) programme.

The BAE team will be involved in the new submarine class’ design and construction while Rolls-Royce will focus on development/production of the vessel’s reactors.

BAE Systems’ Submarines business managing director Steve Timms said: “We’re very proud of our role in the delivery of the nation’s submarine fleet and this contract further builds on our rich heritage.

“In what is the 150th anniversary year of our Barrow shipyard, we now have the opportunity to further strengthen our partnership with the Royal Navy long into the future.”

“We’re looking forward to working with our partners and helping to deliver another strategically important and critical national defence programme.”