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Multiple risks to delivery of nuclear deterrent

21 September 2018

Committee seeks new assurances on Nuclear Enterprise in context of challenges facing MoD.

MoD 'Nuclear Enterprise' under scrutiny

Since 1969, the Ministry of Defence has maintained a submarine-based nuclear deterrent to support the Government's national security policy.

Over the next 10 years, it faces significant pressures to provide the network of programmes, equipment and people, often termed the 'Nuclear Enterprise', necessary to provide this continuous at sea deterrent.

At a time when, across the Enterprise, major organisational and governance changes have still to take full effect, the Department needs to bridge a £2.9 billion affordability gap, ensure it fills identified skills gaps, sustain its supply chain, and make important decisions on significant, high-profile projects.

These include infrastructure upgrades and the defueling and dismantling of the 20 submarines held by the UK.

If these complex interdependencies are not managed, alongside the many contractual relationships on which the Enterprise depends, the Department's ability to provide the continuous at sea deterrent will be put at risk.

Chair's comment

Comment from Committee Chair, Meg Hillier MP:

"The pressure bearing down on the Ministry of Defence have been laid bare by my Committee this year.

In January we reported on the challenges the MoD faces in delivering Carrier Strike – a hugely complex, costly programme intended to be at the heart of the national defence for years to come.

In May we highlighted concerns that the MoD could find itself more than £20 billion short of the funding required to buy all the equipment it says it needs.

Last week we recommended action to address the MoD's 'make do and mend' approach to staffing its defence commitments in the face of significant skills shortages in critical trades.

There are ongoing concerns about the MoD's management of its estate and the sometimes woeful standard of accommodation provided for Forces personnel.

These challenges, taken with the cost, complexity and risks to delivery of the Nuclear Enterprise, give rise to serious questions about the MoD's ability to meet its national security commitments.

In the past there has been significant slippage across Enterprise programmes. The MoD must now bridge an affordability gap running to nearly £3 billion, fill critical skill gaps and ensure its supply chain is maintained effectively – all at a time of significant uncertainty in international politics and trade.

I am particularly concerned that the infrastructure available to support the Enterprise is not fit for purpose. The UK has 20 submarines awaiting disposal, nine of which contain fuel.

The MoD admits that while it has previously put off dismantling submarines on grounds of cost, this is no longer acceptable on grounds of safety and reputation.

The MoD needs to get on top of this quickly and, in general terms, be more open about progress being made with management and delivery of the submarine-based deterrent.

It must ensure Parliament has the detailed information it needs to make informed and meaningful judgements."

Further information

Image: Crown copyright