Cracked missile tubes may delay UK’s next generation nuclear submarines


Britain’s new nuclear submarines face glitches as the US boats fitted with same missile tubes have been found to have cracks.

Faulty welding found in the missile tubes of the new US Columbia Class nuclear-armed submarines could delay the future deliver of British Dreadnought boats.

Seven of 12 tubes on the $122.3 billion programme were found to be in need of repair when delivered to General Dynamics Electric Boat (GDEB), the lead contractor. An investigation has been launched into the work, carried out by the company BWXT Incorporated.

Questions have been asked as to whether the whole US Columbia Class programme will be delayed. The US Navy says it is vital the faults are rectified in order to allow the ageing Ohio Class submarines to be withdrawn from service.

The US Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman said the Columbia programme should not be adversely affected, but said the impact on the Royal Navy’s Dreadnought programme was “less clear”.

“Impacts to the delivery of missile tubes to the UK will be assessed upon completion of GDEB’s efforts to define and scope next steps,” the spokesman said.

The UK’s Dreadnought Class Ballistic Missile submarines are due to enter service in 2028, replacing the current fleet of four Vanguard Class boats. Four Dreadnoughts are planned, each with 12 missile tubes and a complement of up to eight Trident D5 nuclear missiles. The boats will also be armed with torpedoes. Each new British submarine will be over 150m in length, with a displacement of 17,200 tonnes.

The programme has not been without controversy however, with questions asked over the affordability of the submarines and the ability to protect the fleet.

The four Vanguard-class submarines form the UK’s strategic nuclear deterrent force. Like all submarines the Vanguard Class are steam powered, their reactors converting water into steam to drive the engines and generate electricity.

The Ministry of Defence has been approached for comment.

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