LONDON, May 22 (Reuters) - Britain awarded contracts to design its next generation of nuclear deterrent submarines on Tuesday, bringing renewal of the controversial and costly Trident weapons system a step closer.
Debate has raged in cash-strapped Britain on whether to renew the Trident nuclear deterrent - which currently consists of four submarines carrying Trident warheads - at an estimated cost of some 20 billion pounds ($31.5 billion).
The decision to award BAE Systems, Babcock and Rolls Royce contracts worth a total of 350 million pounds to design the successor submarine to Trident’s current Vanguard class vessels appears to underline the government’s commitment to a like-for-like renewal of Trident.
“This government is committed to maintaining a continuous submarine-based nuclear deterrent,” said Defence Secretary Philip Hammond in a statement. “The contracts announced today with BAE Systems, Babcock and Rolls Royce symbolise an important step towards renewing our nation’s nuclear deterrent into the 2060s.”
The decision on whether to renew Trident divides Britain’s coalition government, and the Liberal Democrats, the Conservative Party’s junior partners, are expected to publish a review looking at alternatives.
The largest share of the design contracts, worth some 328 million pounds, went to BAE Systems’ maritime unit, while Babcock received a 15 million pound portion and more than 4 million pounds went to Rolls Royce.
The defence ministry said the deals would sustain or create 1,900 jobs at sites across Britain and that engineers at the companies would work with it on the design of the submarines, which will use a new nuclear propulsion system.
A final decision on Trident’s renewal is not expected until 2016, after parliamentary elections in 2015.
Should the plan go ahead, the first successor submarine is due to be delivered in 2028.