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HMS Vanguard expected to return to sea next year

Under current planning HMS Vanguard is expected to rejoin the fleet next year following the completion of its delayed LOP(R). (Crown Copyright)

UK Royal Navy (RN) chiefs hope the nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) HMS Vanguard will have competed a delayed refuelling next year and sail to the east coast of the US to test fire its Trident weapon system.

A senior RN source told Janes on 8 October that the submarine would complete the refit – which has taken twice as long as expected and is believed to be considerably over budget – in time for the weapon demonstration “in mid-2022”.

Vanguard started its three-year Long Overhaul Period (Refuel) – (LOP[R]) – at Babcock International's Devonport facility in Plymouth in December 2015, but the project has experienced technical problems and the imposition of safety restrictions during the Covid 19 pandemic.

Microscopic cracks were detected in similar fuel rods to those used on Vanguard during trials at a test reactor in Dounreay, on the north coast of Caithness, a decade ago. This prompted the Ministry of Defence to order the submarine to be refuelled even though its reactor was not designed to be refuelled for a second time. The technical challenges of this unforeseen work meant the LOP(R) was already behind schedule when the pandemic struck in March 2020.

The senior RN source told Janes that the project had been reset by Babcock and a new delivery schedule had been agreed with the shipyard, which has the exclusive contract to overhaul the UK nuclear-powered submarines at its Devonport facility.

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