Corrosion is a major problem in many facets of everyday life, whether people know it or not. It can affect the roads they drive on, the public transit they ride, the industries that supply their electricity or fuel and the goods they buy. It can also have a serious and negative impact on the U.S. military, which therefore has a strong stake in finding new and better ways to identify, prevent and combat corrosion.
Many pieces of military equipment that are still used every day are years or decades old, and as both time and use go on, the threat posed by corrosion increases, according to Defense News. For instance, the U.S. Navy wants to keep a class of destroyer ship operational for more than 40 years each, and with so much exposure to potentially corrosive seawater, air and other concerns, there's a major potential cost in failing to catch corrosion before it starts. As such, the Navy spends billions to stay out in front of such risk.
"Corrosion is one of the big things if we want to keep the ships around for 40 to 45 years; we have to do what is necessary on the corrosion side of things," Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command, said at a recent industry conference, according to the site. "I don't have the exact numbers, but we are spending $10 billion on our ship depot maintenance. And I'm guessing that several billion of that is corrosion-related, so it's a significant portion of the budget."
Moore further noted that Navy officials typically see a strong relationship between commanders who prioritize identifying and dealing with corrosion on an ongoing basis, and the strength of the ships they command, the report said. The good news is that from 2003 to 2009, efforts to control corrosion of this type increased 400%, and that commitment is only increasing.
Getting a better handle
Of course, it's one thing to be able to spot small signs of corrosion and address them before they become bigger problems, and entirely another to predict where and when corrosion is like to happen – as a means of more effectively cutting it off before it starts, according to IT Toolbox. With that in mind, the use of artificial intelligence to more effectively identify areas of concern and diagnose corrosion problems before they even rear their heads can be a major positive for the military.
This can be true for big-ticket items like warships that cost billions of dollars, to smaller things like the personal equipment soldiers use on a daily basis, the report said. In some cases, AI may already be in place to deal with these issues on an ongoing basis, but it's a safe bet that if they prove efficient and cost-effective, they will be implemented more broadly in the years to come.
Meanwhile, the military also has a clear vested interest in developing new materials that are more resistant to corrosion in the first place, according to the Tandon School of Engineering at New York University. At the school, Dr. Jin Kim Montclare, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, recently received a three-year grant worth $400,000 from the Army Research Office for research related to bio-engineering proteins with "wet adhesion" properties similar to those found in some animals like tree frogs' toe pads.
There may be many practical applications for this kind of material, which Montclare and a team of researchers are using to create "biogels," for everyday military needs, the report said. Montclare said this includes living-anti-corrosion paint, sealants, coatings and more. Dr. Stephanie McElhinny, the biochemistry program manager at the Army Research Office, noted that the research is "particularly exciting" because it may yield materials that eliminate corrosion on paints, among other things.
A massive market
Given how much the U.S. alone spends on its military readiness each year, it should come as little surprise that the global market for corrosion-resistant military and aerospace coatings is in the hundreds of millions of dollars, according to new research from S&P Consulting. In 2018, the sector had a value of about $297 million, and that number is expected to rise to $390 million by 2026. That comes with an average compound annual growth rate for the market of about 4%.
After all, any coatings applied to military aircraft must be resistant to many different stress factors, from extreme weather conditions (and variations) to the chemical fluids used to keep aircraft systems running and, of course, corrosion, the report said. And because each country has its own standards for military-grade coatings, the market could continue to broaden for some time to come as companies develop different solutions to the challenges each military faces.
With all these issues in mind, it should come as no surprise that the U.S. military is looking to address corrosion concerns on multiple fronts, and on an ongoing basis. The more that can be done to understand the risks, identify issues and otherwise address corrosion before it gets a foothold, the better off any military equipment is likely to be in the years ahead.