Readers of the Royal Australian Navy's newspaper, Navy News, would have been gripped by an account of recent military exercises in the South China Sea, involving HMAS Dechaineux impersonating an enemy submarine stalking a taskforce of Anzac-class frigates and other warships.
The hitch, as the Department of Defence admitted yesterday, was that the report was a fabrication.
While the annual war games, involving Australia, New Zealand, Britain, Malaysia and Singapore, took place this month, Dechaineux did not participate because a faulty propulsion system forced the Collins-class submarine to remain in Singapore.
The story appears in the latest issue of the fortnightly publication, which went to press before the exercises began.
After the blunder was pointed out by the Australian, the Defence Department said it would publish a retraction in the next edition.
The drama of the imagined occasion was evoked in the article, which began: "Like a scene from the film The Hunt for Red October, HMA Ships Ballarat and Parramatta have been gliding through the waters of the South China Sea in search of an 'enemy' submarine."
"The free-play phase provided Ballarat and Parramatta with the chance to exercise their anti-submarine warfare capabilities against a Collins-class submarine recognised as the best diesel-electric boat in the world," the article said.
The two ships, it said, were "the eyes and ears of a coalition maritime task group that has been stalked by HMAS Dechaineux and frequently 'attacked' by Australian F/A-18F Super Hornets, Russian- made MiG-29s and US-manufactured F-16 fighters during Exercise Bersama Shield".
Undeterred by the fact that nothing had yet happened, the reporter continued: "The free-play phase provided Ballarat and Parramatta with the chance to exercise their anti-submarine warfare capabilities against a Collins-class submarine recognised as the best diesel- electric boat in the world.
"During the live phase, Dechaineux stalked the Anzac-class frigates and the seven other warships in a tactical game of cat and mouse, while evading military aircraft such as Ballarat's embarked Seahawk from 816 Squadron."
The Bersama Shield exercises are aimed at cultivating regional ties and enhancing the relationship between Australia's armed forces and those of New Zealand, Britain, Malaysia and Singapore.
The Defence Department told the Australian that the crew of the Dechaineux took part in the planning phase of the war games, before the taskforce went to sea, but was forced to remain in port after the propulsion fault was discovered.
The Australian Navy has been beset by problems, with a large proportion of its fleet unable to operate at full capacity at certain times, according to local media.