U.S. Navy Submarines Aren’t As Durable as People Think

Andrei Tapalaga

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One of the many U.S. NAVY submarines produced with low quality steelDarren Halstead on Unsplash

Submarines are the pride of the U.S. Navy presented as some of the best submarines in any army around the world. At least this was the idea until an old decommissioned submarine seemed to have a very weak hull structure, although on paper the hull was really sturdy. Upon checking the quality of the steel, it had failed to meet the standards presented by the U.S. Navy.

The inspectors thought that there may be a mistake, but everything came clear at the start of October 2021 when an attack submarine named USS Connecticut had its hull affected in a collision. On the 2nd of October USS Connecticut (SSN-22) struck an object whilst submerging. The thing is that based on the impact, the hull was supposed to resist the damage, but it didn’t.

Although the investigation of the quality of steel used to produce submarines has been going on since early 2020, this was the last straw. This is because USS Connecticut and most U.S. submarines built in the past 32 years have been built with low-quality steel, putting not only the lives of soldiers at risk but national safety in case of a war.

32 Years of Fraud

For the past 32 years, the Director of Metallurgy at Bradken Inc. in Tacoma has been falsifying the test results that measure the toughness of steel used to produce the hulls and other parts of U.S. submarines.

During the investigation to identify the source of poor quality steel the Department of Justice had identified at fault Bradken Inc. which has been the main supplier of steel for the U.S. Navy. The company is the one producing the hulls for ships and submarines as well as creating steel based on the strict requirements of the U.S. Navy. If a steel bach fails the metallurgist’s test then it cannot be used to produce anything for the U.S. Navy.

Elaine Thomas has been the Director of the metallurgy lab at Badken Inc. for the past 32 years and during her whole time, she had falsified the results for over 240 productions of steel. Getting that high quality of steel required by the Navy is difficult and it’s normal to have a few baches fail. Of course, this costs the company a lot, therefore someone ended up making a lot of money in the process.

The Truth

After further investigation by the Department of Justice, it has been found out that no managerial body was aware of this fraud until 2017, but it seemed that no one had spoken about this until 2020 when the main investigation on the quality of steel had started. Besides Bradken's deferred prosecution agreement, the company also had to pay $10,896,924 to resolve the allegations about the company selling substandard steel to the U.S. Navy.

Thomas has pledged guilty to all the falsified tests and she is looking at a potential sentence of up to 10 years and at least a $1 million fine. The criminal case that has risen from this investigation that has been ongoing for almost 2 years is thanks to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Washington, the Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch, the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General’s Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the Defense Contract Audit Agency.

It is at least nice to see that at the age of 67, Thomas is making the right decision to pledge guilty and to be honest. There would be no point for her to say she isn’t guilty when all the evidence is in the hands of the U.S. Attorney’s Office. It is interesting that for so many years there wasn’t a second pair of eyes to check any of this.

Thomas has still remained quiet and did not disclose a reason as to why she did this for so long. The better question is who profited the most from this as you don’t do fraudulent business without gaining anything in exchange. All of this information may come out on February 14th, 2022 when her sentence will be settled by U.S. District Judge Benjamin H.

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