| LONDON, March 13
LONDON, March 13 Britain is to award firms
millions of pounds worth of contracts for its submarine fleet,
bringing it a step closer to the costly and controversial
renewal of its Trident nuclear deterrent, an issue which has
divided its coalition government.
The country has been locked in debate over the merits of
replacing the vessels carrying the deterrent - which currently
consists of four ageing Vanguard-class submarines carrying
Trident missiles - which would cost 20 billion pounds ($33
billion) at a time when the cash-strapped government is trying
to cut back on spending.
The Conservative party, the senior member of the two-party
ruling coalition, favours a like-for-like replacement of the
deterrent while its junior Liberal Democrat partner believes the
current size of the fleet is more suited for the Cold War era
and should be scaled down.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, a Conservative, will
unveil the contracts on Thursday on a visit to defence
contractor BAE Systems' historic Barrow-in-Furness
shipyard on England's northwest coast, which has been building
submarines for over 120 years.
Sources familiar with the matter said the deals will be for
the Successor submarine to replace the Vanguard as well as the
Astute-class attack submarine programme. The MoD is set to start
sea trials early next year for the third of seven planned
Astute-class nuclear powered ships built at the Barrow yard at a
cost of more than 1 billion pounds each.
Renewing and maintaining Britain's overall submarine fleet
is expected to cost 38 billion pounds over the next decade,
representing a large share of the country's 164 billion pound
defence equipment budget, the defence ministry said last month.
While a final decision on Trident renewal is not expected
until 2016, a year after the next parliamentary election,
Hammond's announcement will likely be seen as a reinforcement of
the Conservatives' commitment to the like-for-like replacement
Since 2011, the government has already spent 730 million
pounds on assessing the Successor programme, it said last
Britain estimates the Successor programme alone could employ
up to 6,000 people over the course of its building programme and
provide over 850 British companies such as BAE, Rolls Royce
and Babcock with work.