Newest Virginia-class subs ‘degrade’, will affect Australia too

Four Virginia Block V-class attack submarines for the US Navy have been ordered. Six more to come. Thus, the US Navy hopes to have a total of ten such submarines, at least according to initial military planning.

Australia hopes to run second-hand US subs for at least 20 years
Photo credit: USN

However, an independent audit by the GAO suggests that the construction of each submarine will be extended two years beyond the planned time. GAO uses the phrase “continues to degrade” for the performance of this program concerning the construction of the ten Block V submarines.

As the reason, the GAO determined “problems with personnel evaluations and operational efficiency”. A deeper analysis shows that the problem is a lack of manpower. At the same time, the GAO writes, the US is building another class of submarines. These are the Columbia class and this class of submarines are carriers of ballistic missiles. All this will require a new plan for the production of the submarines to be made this year.

Three in a year

The GAO sees a problem in building three submarines in one year [two Virginia-class and one Columbia-class]. According to experts, such a load affects the industrial capabilities of the fleet and the workforce involved in this production.

Another dependence is noticed – the increasingly frequent participation of external contractors. According to the independent audit, shipyards are beginning to outsource the production of individual parts, modules, or assemblies to third parties, where the shipyard itself has the potential to carry out this production.

Delaying the Block V of the Virginia-class attack submarines will increase costs. This, as well as the excessive weather, can seriously affect the combat capability of not only the American fleet but also the Australian one.

Australia will be affected

As previously reported, Australia will buy five Virginia-class submarines from the US. This decision strongly contradicted the original idea that Australia would produce them in local shipyards. At least that was the deal years ago, when Australia terminated the contract with the French shipyard Naval Group and preferred to work with Britain and the US, creating the AUKUS project.

Australia hopes to run second-hand US subs for at least 20 years
Photo credit: USN

The first two submarines purchased by Canberra will most likely be Virginia-class Block IIIs. But Australia hoped to purchase Block IV submarines as well. Now that it is clear that the latest generation of US submarines will be stuck for years, this will most likely affect Australian capabilities.

Although Canberra has not announced a desire to purchase Block V, delaying its production would affect the combat capability of the US Navy. In order not to put the national defense at risk, Washington could force Canberra to buy more Block III submarines.

Any delay in the production of Block V will harm the originally estimated price. This will also affect the production of the remaining amount of submarines in Australia. If the “bills don’t come out” Canberra could be forced to reduce the number of domestically produced submarines and increase the number purchased from the US.


In fact, there are just such signals among local Australian experts. What’s more, the Australian government is now passing the ball to the next governments, saying that the next governments will make the decisions, which means that Australia may not produce a single submarine at all.

The dominoes are so complicated for Australia that the current Collins class of submarines, long in service with the Royal Australian Navy [RAN], may remain underwater for a long time. And every day the repair and maintenance of these submarines becomes more and more expensive, more and more difficult, and more and more impossible.


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