A starboard bow view of the US Navy (USN) New Attack Submarine (NAS) Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) VIRGINIA (SSN 774), as it is moved out doors for the first time in preparation for itÕs christening, at the Electric Boat Corporation of Connecticut facility, located at Groton Shipyard, Connecticut (CT).

The US Navy has initiated the procurement of four Virginia Block V-class attack submarines, with plans to acquire an additional six in the future. This effort aims to bolster the US Navy’s submarine fleet to a total of ten vessels, as per preliminary military planning.

However, an independent evaluation conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) indicates that the construction timeline for each submarine is projected to extend by two years beyond the initial schedule. The GAO report utilizes the term “continues to degrade” to describe the performance of the program in relation to the construction of the ten Block V submarines.

Upon closer examination, the GAO has determined that the underlying cause for this setback lies in issues with personnel evaluations and operational efficiency. Further analysis reveals that the primary problem stems from a shortage of manpower. In addition, the GAO highlights the concurrent development of another class of submarines known as the Columbia class, which serve as platforms for ballistic missiles. These circumstances necessitate the development of a new production plan for the submarines to be formulated within the current year.

One aspect of concern identified by the GAO is the challenge posed by constructing three submarines in a single year, consisting of two Virginia-class and one Columbia-class submarines. Experts assert that such a workload places strain on the industrial capabilities of the naval fleet and the workforce engaged in the production process.

Another issue that has come to light is the increasing reliance on external contractors. The GAO audit reveals a growing trend of shipyards outsourcing the production of specific components, modules, or assemblies to third-party entities, despite having the capacity to handle these tasks internally.

The delayed delivery of the Block V Virginia-class attack submarines is expected to result in escalated costs. Furthermore, the adverse impact of inclement weather, coupled with these delays, has the potential to significantly affect the combat readiness not only of the American fleet but also that of the Australian naval forces.

As previously noted by military analysts, Australia’s decision to procure five Virginia-class submarines from the United States will have significant implications. This choice deviates from the original plan of constructing these submarines in domestic shipyards, a departure from the terminated contract with the French shipyard Naval Group. Instead, Australia opted to collaborate with Britain and the US through the AUKUS project.

The initial acquisition by Canberra will likely involve Virginia-class Block IIIs, although there were hopes of acquiring Block IV submarines as well. However, with the projected delays in the production of the latest generation of US submarines, Australian capabilities are expected to be impacted.

While Canberra has not expressed explicit interest in purchasing Block V submarines, any delays in their production would affect the combat capabilities of the US Navy. To avoid compromising national defense, Washington may compel Canberra to acquire more Block III submarines.

The delay in Block V production will have adverse effects on the estimated costs and also impact the production of the remaining submarines in Australia. If financial challenges arise, Canberra may be compelled to reduce the number of domestically manufactured submarines and increase the quantity purchased from the US.

Local Australian experts have raised concerns about these developments, and the Australian government is deferring decisions to future administrations, implying the possibility of Australia not producing any submarines at all.

The complex nature of this situation presents challenges for Australia, including the current Collins class of submarines, which have served in the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) for an extended period. These submarines face prolonged underwater operations, and each day, their repair, maintenance, and sustainment become increasingly expensive, difficult, and potentially unfeasible.