Fraud, deception and missed targets: inside the shambles of the AUKUS submarines 

Fraud, deception and missed targets: inside the shambles of the AUKUS submarines 

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The US Virginia-class nuclear submarine program has been beset by countless issues. Is Australia set to inherit expensive lemons? We explore the fraud case that could be the root of many of these issues, and the implications for Australia’s future submarine fleet.

The US Federal Court in late 2021 saw the conclusion of an extraordinary 30-year fraud case. Metallurgist Elaine Thomas pleaded guilty to falsifying test results on the strength of metal used to build the US Navy’s submarines, including the Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines. It emerged that between 1985 and 2017, Thomas had systematically falsified test results that measured the strength and toughness of some 240 separate productions of steel. This represented a “substantial percentage” of the castings produced for two giant defence contractors.

The implications of this fraud were large. It caused the US Navy to make payments it would not have made otherwise. Australia is due to inherit two or more used submarines from this fleet. What does that mean for their safety, longevity and reliability?

The metal used in the submarines has an effect on their capacity to withstand the intense stresses of seawater pressures. Chief among these stresses is corrosion, and this corrosion can weaken structural components and shorten the lifespan of essential parts. If these parts didn’t receive the strength and integrity they require, then the submarines pose a serious risk for users. The Australian government needs to make sure they have the correct maintenance and safety protocols in place before allowing the submarines to be operated.

Ultimately, with the seriousness of this case, it remains essential for Australia to get all relevant information from the US Navy to ensure that these submarines are fit for use. The US Navy has made restitution for the fake steel, but what long-term effects have resulted from it? Will Australia have to shoulder expensive repair and maintenance bills?

The Australian government must make sure it performs its due diligence before taking delivery of used submarines from the US Navy. The Virginia-class program has been beset by countless issues, and Australia could easily inherit expensive lemons.

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