Internal documents warn that a lack of recruits for the Submarine Service may leave attack submarines and boats carrying the Trident nuclear missile stranded in port.
A separate threat comes from a predicted 15 per cent shortfall in engineers by 2015.
One in seven posts for weapons officers at the rank of lieutenant will also be vacant, raising operational questions over the boats equipped with nuclear and cruise missiles.
Many submariners are being poached by the civilian nuclear sector and those who remain are being forced to go to sea for longer and more frequently.
Adml Lord West, the former First Sea Lord, said the situation was “very worrying” and he hoped the Navy had mechanisms in place to make up for the shortfall.
The gaps facing the Submarine Service are disclosed in the Risk Register of the Defence Nuclear Executive Board.
Under the “Risk” heading of “Submarine Manpower”, the MoD’s internal safety watchdog said: “There is a risk that the RN will not have sufficient suitably qualified and experienced personnel to be able to support the manning requirement of the submarine fleet.”
The Navy has a fleet of six attack submarines and four Vanguard boats that carry the Trident nuclear missile, but the personnel issues could mean they cannot be deployed.
The report found that the recruiting and retention of submariners was also threatening operations. “Inability to recruit, retain and develop sufficient nuclear and submarine design qualified personnel will result in an inability to support the Defence Nuclear Programme,” the document said.
It also questioned whether industry can deliver the Trident replacement, warning of the “erosion of manufacturing capability, cost growth, time delay, and poor performance of contractors”. The Navy is carrying out a senior officer manpower review looking at ways to improve “quality of life” for submariners. It is understood that some submarines are putting to sea with only 85 per cent of their full complement.
Submariners are subsequently being forced to deploy more frequently and do more jobs. When the hunter-killer HMS Triumph returned home earlier this year it had been at sea for 13 out of the previous 17 months. There are 5,000 submariners in the Navy, but with deployments lasting four months or more continuously under the surface it is proving difficult to attract recruits.
A “dearth of experienced mid-career people” is threatening the Service and would continue “into the next decade”, warned the Defence Nuclear Safety Regulator annual report.
Lord West said: “There’s no doubt that recruiting and keeping highly qualified nuclear engineers has been tough. Nuclear engineers have also become highly sought-after by the civil industry as this country has not trained enough.” A redacted copy of the Risk Register was provided to the Nuclear Information Service. Peter Burt, the director of NIS, which promotes nuclear safety awareness, said: “These risks highlight major pitfalls ahead and that Trident replacement is far from a forgone conclusion. How effective we are at mastering these risks will determine whether Britain can remain in the nuclear weapons business.”
A Navy spokesman said: "This report recognises that the Royal Navy has sufficient manpower for its submarines and we are confident that this will remain the case.
“To ensure that the Royal Navy continues its excellent nuclear safety record, we review the nuclear propulsion programme to identify and manage any possible future risks; this report is part of that process.”
* Notícia publicada al Telegraph. Malgrat les bones condicions econòmiques i "beneficis" a l'arma submarina de la Royal Navy, aquesta segueix afrontant un problema de manca de personal. És quelcom ben lògic donada les implicacions que té aquest servei: mesos i mesos sense veure ni la família ni la llum natural, sumats a curts períodes de descans. Sumat als atractius sous i condicions del sector privat, provoquen una sagnia de personal altament qualificat.