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Naval Aviation Enterprise Poised to Tackle Corrosion

Officials Cite “Readiness” as Paramount Concern

When deployed on the carrier U.S.S. Harry S. Truman, Navy Squadron VFR-37 (Ragin' Bulls) aircrews launch F/A-18C Hornet aircraft. Photos courtesy of Squadron VFR-37, Naval Air Station Oceana, Virginia.

Officials and engineers in the Naval Aviation Enterprise are tackling the insidious problem of corrosion through a system-wide campaign.

Two years ago, officials at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) began mounting a full-scale attack on corrosion under the auspices of the Naval Aviation Enterprise Corrosion Prevention Team (NAE CPT). This team works hand in glove with other cross-functional teams led by Dail Thomas, the Navy’s Corrosion Prevention and Control Executive.

It is customary for technical experts to cite the huge costs of mitigating corrosion on military equipment. Indeed, out of a yearly Defense Department budget of $40 billion, the annual cost of corrosion on U.S. Navy aircraft is approximately $3 billion.

The Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) consists of more than 3,700 aircraft, 11 aircraft carriers, and 192,000 people. Navy and Marine Corps aircraft operate in a highly corrosive salt water environment, in addition to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Aircrews who operate fighter jets and helicopters train at Navy and Marine Corps Air Stations such as NAS Oceana, NAS North Island, NAS Lemoore, NAS Jacksonville, NAS Whidbey Island, MCAS Cherry Point, MCAS New River, MCAS Miramar, MCAS Yuma, Marine Corps Base Hawaii, and many other bases along both U.S. coasts and overseas.

“Understandably, many folks in DoD look at the problem of corrosion from a cost perspective,” said Captain David Randle, NAVAIR’s Military Director for Maintenance Planning and Logistics Sustainment who is based in Patuxent River, Maryland. “However, those of us in Naval Aviation look at corrosion from the standpoint of readiness. Corrosion reduces the number of jets we have available on the flight line. At the squadron level, corrosion can make a jet unflyable. At the depot level, it’s difficult to meet the delivery schedule if an aircraft shows up at the depot in poor condition because of corrosion. Every delay means one less aircraft available.”

Currently the NAE Corrosion Prevention Team has identified more than 15 corrosion focus areas on the F/A-18 Hornet. “These areas are places on the aircraft that degrade readiness and drive up costs,” said Capt Randle. “If we take care of these specific corrosion focus areas, we will go a long way toward reducing the cost of corrosion.” The NAE CPT has also developed corrosion focus area lists for other aircraft, including the E-2/C-2 Hawkeye aircraft and the CH-53 Sea Stallion, with the SH-60 Sea Hawk list now in progress, he added.

Improving Quality of Data and Training – Key Challenges

To tackle corrosion, which is being dubbed as a “significant readiness degrader” by Capt. Randle and top officials in the NAE, the CPT is focused on carrying out five key goals supporting a systematic strategy to improve the material condition of naval aviation's airframes. These goals include working closely with the Fleet at every operational level; improving the data that could link corrosion and equipment degradation to specific factors; identifying gaps in the training of maintainers and inspectors within each command’s squadron, repair shop, and depot; improving the materials used to build and maintain airframes; and raising awareness about the merits of corrosion prevention in every possible manner.

To tackle the problem of corrosion effectively, the NAE CPT must start with the data. “Over the next year our main focus will lie on improving the data that correlates corrosion to specific criteria such as the number of aircraft hours flown and specific environmental conditions,” said Capt. Randle. “The documentation we have now on aircraft corrosion prevention and treatment is simply not reliable enough.”

“To fix this problem,” Capt. Randle explained, “we intend to put an automated data capture system into the hands of the depot and wing inspectors. We want to make sure that the wing inspectors are trained by the depot estimators and evaluators. The data they collect will be fed back into a Reliability-Centered Maintenance (RCM) program. We hope the widespread use of laptop computers, and having both squadron-level and depot-level data feed into the RCM program, will go a long way toward solving data inaccuracy.”

In addition to improving the quality of its aircraft data, the NAE CPT has started identifying significant gaps in the training of equipment inspectors. The team is in the process of completing a “training gap analysis” on those who maintain and inspect the F/A-18 Hornet and Super Hornet models. “Through that gap analysis, we have pinpointed deficiencies in classroom and flight line training, support equipment and tools, materials, and packaging,” said Capt. Randle.

The team also has begun implementing the findings of a “root cause analysis” study on the SH-60 Sea Hawk helicopter in 2009. “The root cause analysis study examined human performance to see how it affects corrosion costs at the depot,” explained Capt. Randle. “Unlike corrosion cost studies that have a technological emphasis, we asked, ‘How do we perform corrosion prevention and treatment, and are we effective in how we do it?’”

Mechanics from Naval Air Station Oceana’s squadron VFA-37, known as the Ragin’ Bulls, perform maintenance on an F/A-18 Hornet during an 84-day inspection interval. Photo by Cynthia Greenwood, CorrDefense.

Improving Each Airframe’s Resistance to Corrosion

Another key focus of the NAE CPT is to improve the material condition of each airframe on the Fleet. The NAE CPT plans to attack corrosion problems in all phases of an aircraft’s life cycle. For new aircraft, the Navy will establish corrosion language and define corrosion performance criteria for original equipment manufacturers that design new systems. In addition, the Navy will develop criteria to validate standards for a specific aircraft’s environmental performance. During the early mature stage (phase two) of an aircraft’s life span, the Navy plans to optimize corrosion prevention strategies in order to minimize certain types of maintenance. New technologies will also be implemented and measured for validating unproved materials.

During the late mature stage of an aircraft’s life cycle (phase three), the Navy will take steps to assess and extend the life of each aircraft. The team will also optimize corrosion control strategies to minimize Fleet maintenance. In addition, new repair technologies will be implemented. During the last phase of an aircraft’s life (phase four), the Navy will apply advanced inspection techniques to minimize the potential need to disassemble the airframe and its components. During all phases of an aircraft’s life span, the Navy intends to incorporate all lessons learned at each phase into a plan to preserve new and younger aircraft.

Ultimately, to improve success in the quality of data, training, and the material condition of its airframes, Naval Aviation must ramp up its communications within the Fleet to increase corrosion awareness among Sailors and Marines. At every level, the NAE CPT will stress that corrosion is everyone’s problem. “A little focus on everyone’s part makes a huge difference,” said Capt. Randle.

“We intend to make sure that when our Sailors and Marines are on the flight line, they know what to look for on the aircraft, how to look for it, and where to look for it. We’ll ensure that they have the right tools and materials to treat corrosion,” said Capt. Randle. “These tools may even be as simple as a flashlight and a mirror.”

Capt. Randle added that these efforts to pinpoint the most corrosion-prone areas on each aircraft and then treat them as expeditiously as possible should help reduce the cost of corrosion.

Capt. Randle predicts that the NAE CPT effort will have a direct benefit on the war fighter. “Ultimately, we hope that our Sailors and Marines can get their weekends back. These men and women get tired of working two and three Saturdays out of a month.”

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