Britain’s Nuclear Deterrent Goes fly by Wire

Fly by wire technology has revolutionised the world of aviation. Now BAE systems plans to do the same underwater with the next generation of nuclear submarines.

 A nuclear submarine is seen at the Royal Navy's submarine base at Faslane, Scotland, Britain August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne
A nuclear submarine is seen at the Royal Navy's submarine base at Faslane, Scotland, Britain August 31, 2015. REUTERS/Russell Cheyne

LONDON (Bywire News) - Fly by wire technology, of the kind normally seen in aircraft is being adapted for the UK’s next generation of submarines. 

BAE Systems plans to use the innovative technology for the Dreadnought class of submarines. As in aircraft it will use electronic systems to control everything from the heading to the pitch, depth and buoyancy of the submarines. 

Fly by wire technology was introduced to aircraft in the 70s. It revolutionised the industry making planes lighter, more fuel efficient, easier to fly and, above all, safer. Today the government hopes to spark the same revolution under water. 

The complete Active Vehicle Control Management (AVCM) system will over see all aspects of the submarines manoeuvring capacity, ensuring everything operates at the highest level of safety. 

The UK is currently in the process of replacing its old-fashioned Vanguard class of submarines with four new Dreadnoughts in a bid to extend the nuclear deterrent beyond 2030. The Vanguards are very much children of the eighties with technology to match. Operation is manual and intensely demanding with a pilot or planesman operating controls through a single joystick. It’s a tough and demanding job, but BAE believes the new fly by wire technology can hold the answer.

Jon Tucker, Director for Maritime Controls at BAE Systems Controls and Avionics, said: “With over 50 years of avionics experience, we already have a great understanding of how to develop complex, control systems for hi-tech platforms. However, taking our technology underwater brings exciting new challenges and we are proud to support the Dreadnought program and play an important part in our national security effort.” 

Work has already begun on the project which BAE systems say will support more than 130 highly skilled jobs. It will be one of the largest development projects at their Rochester site and they have invested heavily in new labs, equipment and personnel to make it happen. 

Two submarines are already under construction – Dreadnought (since 2016) and Valiant (since 2019) – with £2.5bn having been spent with contractors and suppliers. 

More Warheads

Last month, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced that Britain will grow its nuclear warhead stockpile by more than 40% to ensure its security in a more risky global environment and as it faces new technological threats.

The country had previously been reducing its nuclear weapons stockpile, and in 2010, the government set a cap of 180 warheads for the mid-2020 period. Johnson scrapped the earlier limit and said the number would now rise to a maximum of 260.

In its security and defence review, Britain said it faced risks from nuclear-armed states, emerging nuclear states and state-sponsored nuclear terrorism, and its nuclear deterrent was needed to guarantee its security and that of its allies.

"Some states are now significantly increasing and diversifying their nuclear arsenals," the government said. "The increase in global competition, challenges to the international order, and proliferation of potentially disruptive technologies all pose a threat to strategic stability."

The move was criticised by The Elders, a group of former global policymakers who campaign for peace.

"While the UK cites increased security threats as justification for this move, the appropriate response to these challenges should be to work multilaterally to strengthen international arms control agreements and to reduce - not increase - the number of nuclear weapons in existence," said Mary Robinson, chair of the group.

Questioned over the policy in parliament Johnson said Britain was still committed to global nuclear arms reduction.

Britain also said it planned to replace its current nuclear warhead with a new one which would be able to operate throughout the lifespan of four new submarines being built and due to enter service in the early 2030s.

It will work with the United States to ensure the new warhead remains Trident-compatible.


(Written by Tom Cropper, reporting by Sarah Young, additional reporting by William James, editing by Michael O'Sullivan and Elizabeth Piper)

Bywire will email you from time to time with news digests, stories & opportunities to get involved. Privacy