Report: Corrosion costs DoD over $21 billion per year

Corrosion isn't just unsightly, it's extraordinarily expensive, particularly for car owners seeking to keep their automobiles in great shape for as long as possible. That's a tough ask for anyone who lives in parts of the country that see snowfall and slick conditions, as the salt that most communities use leads to premature rusting of vehicle exteriors and undercarriages.

But it isn't just road warriors who feel the pinch when rust rears its ugly head. The same is true for the governmental organizations charged with keeping America safe: the Defense Department.

"Corrosion chiefly affects weapons systems and vehicles."

According to a report released earlier in November by the DoD and conducted by the Government Accountability Office, the effects of corrosion winds up costing the Pentagon approximately $21 billion per year. The primary sources include weapon systems and vehicles, such as fighter jets, ships, tanks, ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.

Of course, corrosion has been around since the dawn of the industrial revolution, but it wasn't until the 1990s that defense officials got a better indication of just how commonplace it was on their investments. This led to legislation in 2002 that granted the undersecretary of defense for acquisition, technology and logistics with responsibilities relating to the mitigation of corrosion on military equipment and infrastructure. The exorbitant expense of diminishing the harsh effects of corrosion also led to the Corrosion Prevention and Control Integrated Product Team.

Sixteen years later, however, corrosive metals continue to plague the Defense Department's systems, which have also adversely affected the armed forces.

Corrosion particularly pricey for Navy
For example, the report showed that the total annual cost of corrosion for the U.S. Navy is $8.6 billion. That's nearly 25 percent of what the Navy spends in maintenance per year. Rusting is particularly problematic with aviation equipment – such as missiles – as well as ground vehicles.

The same issue is plaguing the Army, only to a slightly lesser extent. For example, the report found that the total annual cost of corrosion for the Army in corrosion control runs north of $3 billion, or 15.5 percent of equipment maintenance expenditures per year.  Ground vehicles and aviation account for  a combined 34 percent of the systems corrosion chiefly attacks.

Poor accounting and reporting protocols
Despite the massive losses that the military has experienced, the different ways in which they're accounting for these losses has led insufficient funding. For example, the report noted that in 2017, the Navy only requested $220,000 to use for repair purposes, while the Army asked for $2.4 million. This is a substantial difference, especially given corrosion is more costly for the Navy than it is for the Army.

The GAO said the reason for the differences is poor reporting methods, on the part of both the Army and Navy.

"The Army data GAO received did not reconcile with data presented in the Corrosion Office annual reports to Congress for five of eight fiscal years," the report said, as quoted by NextGov. "The Navy data did not reconcile for two of eight fiscal years, and there was no supporting documentation identifying how these figures were calculated."

No figures were available from the Air Force, the report added.

As for recommendations, the GAO advised the Defense Department to issue uniform guidance so all the armed forces better understand and implement corrosion planning and mitigation. It also called on the Corrosion Office to develop a more streamline process that better tracks corrosion spending.