U.K. probes costly tech failure for submarines

Computer-aided design failures contribute to delay of three nuclear subs, $1.57 billion shortage.

The British government has again been forced to admit that failures in a computer-aided design program have contributed to the delay of the manufacturing of three nuclear submarines and to the project coming in about $1.57 billion over budget.

Adam Ingram, a minister for the U.K. Ministry of Defence, said on Monday that the CAD system chosen to design the submarines was not up to scratch, after Parliament member Mike Hancock quizzed him over why there had been delays.

"The increase in costs and delay to the delivery of <="" news:link=""> stem primarily from problems that arose from the application of CAD techniques," Ingram said in a statement. "Due to the complexity of the program, the benefits that CAD was envisaged to provide were more difficult to realize than either (the defense department) or the contractor had assumed."

BAE Systems, which is contracted to build the Astute-class nuclear submarines, renegotiated the contract in 2003 when it realized that the CAD system was not suitable for the job.

This is the second time the U.K. defense department has had to answer for overspending on this submarine project, after facing Parliament members on the House of Commons public-accounts committee last year.

A number of factors caused the cost of the project to rise from $4.49 billion (2.57 billion pounds) to $6.1 billion, according to the defense department. "The program ran into problems," a Ministry of Defence representative admitted. "That was because of design issues, poor management and the use of CAD. (We) and the contractor overestimated (computer-aided design) and underestimated the problems it would cause. We had to learn lessons from similar things in the U.S. on subs. We had to renegotiate the contract. Not all of it is down to CAD, but that was an element."

The first of the submarines is set to enter service in 2009, when Swiftsure- and Trafalgar-class submarines will start to be replaced.

BAE said it will take no profit in 2006 for the Astute contract; the company is this year bidding for a contract to build a fourth submarine.

"There are no new delays," a BAE representative told Silicon.com. "We recognized the system should never have been taken on. But it was a large defense contract and a must-win."

Dan Ilett of Silicon.com reported from London.