The UK retired its 20 legacy submarines in 1980 and the Ministry of Defence’s (the Department) progress in disposing of these submarines has been a serious disappointment. The project has moved at a glacial pace and the 15-year delay has led to extortionate storage and maintenance costs which are now costing the taxpayer £30 million per year. The Department is also looking increasingly likely to find itself without any further storage space by the mid-2020s. The Department is rapidly approaching crisis point and simply cannot afford any further delays, particularly as much of the money currently being spent on the project is not going directly towards either defueling or dismantling. While it has taken the Department 16 years to devise a workable dismantling strategy, it is encouraging to see that progress is now being made and there is finally some momentum behind the project. However, while there is now an agreed policy, we remain sceptical that the ambitious timetable will be met, particularly given how many times this project has been delayed or deprioritised over the years. It is clear that the commitment to dismantle its first submarine—Swiftsure—by 2023 will not be met and will likely be completed three years after the target date. The scale of the task faced by the Department appears even more challenging given the defence affordability ‘black hole’ which totals at least £7 billion. The Department has some way to go to establish submarine disposal as a routine part of its business.
Published: 19 June 2019