GEC-Marconi clinches £2bn submarine deal

7,000 jobs safe as contract for Royal Navy’s new fleet subs goes to Barrow shipyard

The Government has awarded a long-delayed submarine contract to GEC-Marconi. The order, worth nearly £2bn, should help to sustain around 7,000 British jobs.

The first of three Astute-class fleet submarines will be laid down at the firm’s VSEL shipyard in Barrow in two or three years time. Detailed design work will be completed first, said the Ministry of Defence.

The submarines, formerly known as the Batch 2 Trafalgar-class, will replace three of five Royal Navy Swiftsure-class boats.

The MoD said it would order two more Astute-class vessels to maintain the navy’s force of 12 fleet submarines.

These are nuclear-powered but unlike Trident submarines do not carry nuclear weapons.

The Astute-class subs will be powered by Rolls-Royce PWR-2 nuclear reactors driving a pump jet far quieter than conventional propellers. With a crew of 100, they will be armed with Spearfish torpedoes from GEC-Marconi as well as Harpoon anti-ship missiles and Tomahawk cruise missiles from the US.

The submarines will have BAeSEMA software for their combat systems and a new Thomson Marconi 2076 sonar suite.

Both these items are also being fitted to updated Trafalgar-class submarines. The weapons handling will be supplied by Strachan & Henshaw.

The price was finally agreed after long delays since last year because of the tough line the MoD took under its `no acceptable price, no contract’ rule.

* The contract was the second GEC naval order in a week. A £200m contract for two fast fleet oilers was last week awarded to VSEL.

Kvaerner Govan, also in contention for the oiler contract, warned that the decision might lead to the loss of hundreds of jobs.

The oilers are due for delivery after 2000.