With what has been reported to be a rusting fleet of ships that cost billions of dollars to maintain each year, the U.S. Navy has taken another step toward revising its inspection methods.
In September, the Navy showcased a drone fitted with technology capable of detecting corrosion, anomalies and other issues on ships in a demonstration on the USS Midway Museum.
Results of the technology's "pilot" inspection of the historic aircraft carrier, first launched in 1945 and decommissioned in 1992, found extensive amounts of corrosion, according to the Center.
The sensor package and processing system – which takes video, infrared footage and LIDAR measurements around ships to create a digital model for corrosion detection – was developed through the Office of Naval Research's TechSolutions Topside drone project, and will likely be put to use in the near future. Above all, Topside's aim is to cut both costs and overall time spent with regards to maintenance and inspections to allow servicemen to focus on other aspects of their respective missions.
Corrosion comes at a cost for the Navy – and not just financially
Amid a past two years marked by criticism of the current state of the branch's fleet following highly-publicized photographs showing rust on a number of ships and an investigation that found the July 10, 2017 KC-130T plane crash that killed 16 servicemen had been caused by a corroded propeller that had gone undetected – the new drone technology seems to be the Navy's latest step towards making changes in its inspection processes.
In June, Vice Adm. Thomas Moore estimated that the branch spends approximately $10 billion each year to maintain its ship depots ("several million" of which he said is directed towards corrosion-related repairs) and called for a "concerted effort at all levels" amongst personnel on ships to "stay after (rust and corrosion)".
"Corrosion is one of the big things if we want to keep the ships around for 40-45 years; we have to do what is necessary on the corrosion side of things," Moore said.
Correcting longstanding issues, planning for new ones
Just before the end of August, the Naval Warfare Center's Corrosion and Coatings Engineering Branch announced that it had begun a new standardized ship inspection method involving "maintenance-requirement cards" with step-by-step instructions for corrosion-related upkeep and repairs uploaded to a maintenance index-viewing software. The new method is expected to cut the Navy's maintenance costs, the Center hopes.
Inspections on 14 Navy ships revealed that corrosion-related issues presented themselves mostly in destroyers' bridges and landing safety officers' windows. There were a number of factors that caused the issues, including a "corrosive environment," design flaws and a lack of attention in repairs.
"There were a lot of corrosion issues," one engineer noted in a Materials Performance article about the new inspection method.
Among other concerns related to corrosion in the Navy include the documented rising sea level at Naval Station Norfolk – located in southeastern Virginia – due to the potentially costly worst-case scenario for flooding resulting in saltwater-induced corrosion, electrical short-outs and infrastructure damage.