Astute – ‘the most complex engineering project in the world’

Company: BAE Systems

The Astute attack submarine is now justly regarded as one of the pinnacles of British design and engineering. But it was at one time seen as the poster child for defence procurement disasters; over budget, behind schedule and in danger of being scrapped completely.   

In 2005 I joined the BAE Systems Submarine Solutions communications team in Barrow as external communications manager.  The brief was simple - to turn around the public perception of the programme and create the awe and wonder which was due to an engineering project more challenging that the Space Shuttle!  We developed a plan designed to generate positive press coverage for the project through carefully managed press visits, photo opportunities, and developing relationships with key trade journalists and national journalists. The result was a groundswell of positive coverage that explained the complexity of the submarine  - memorably described by one Royal Navy admiral as 'a 7,500 tonne Swiss watch'  - and established the perception of the nuclear submarine programme as ‘the most complex engineering project in the world’.

A key milestone in that programme was the roll-out and naming ceremony for the first of class Astute on June 8 2007.  We attracted massive media attention – more than 70 journalists, broadcasters and photographers from around the globe attended the event and the naming ceremony performed by the Duchess of Cornwall.  A pre-event press day was attended by 10 national newspaper journalists and TV broadcast teams who were given a tour of the submarine and allowed to film inside the build facility.

Outcome:

It is estimated that the coverage of the submarine and its roll-out and naming was seen by more than 30 million people in the UK alone – and a story on the BBC news website was the most viewed on the day it was posted attracting 500,000 hits in 24 hours.  It also re-set the public and media perception of the Astute submarine as a great British success story - and the submarine programme is still reaping the benefits of that solid foundation more than ten years later.