NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Heavily corroded tanks and voids that greatly increased yard time and cost are not the problem they once were, but Navy maintainers are now plagued by unforeseen problems with gas turbine engines and problems with nonskid. In fact, the latter has crippled a second ship less than one year after a botched resurfacing delayed the deployment of amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard.
Nonskid laid on the amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde in early May didn't cure right, Navy Times has learned. The Bonhomme Richard had the same problem last year, when a $2.3 million resurfacing passed initial tests but didn't hold up in hot weather. Officials blamed the problem on a lack of ventilation in the large enclosures used at Fleet Activities Sasebo, Japan.
Bonhomme Richard was the "straw that broke the back," according to Rear Adm. Bryant Fuller, chief engineer of Naval Sea Systems Command. There had been numerous reports of delaminating and cracking aboard the big deck, as well as foreign object damage to Marine AV-8B Harrier engines, Fuller told attendees of the MegaRust 2015 Naval Corrosion Conference.
A Failure Review Board convened after Bonhomme Richard. Authority for nonskid departures from specifications (there were 16 in the past year) was taken from waterfront chief engineers and had to be approved by Vice Adm. William Hilarides, head of Naval Sea Systems Command. Fuller, who likened this to car keys being taken from a young driver, said the engineers "got our keys back about six weeks ago," just before the problems on Mesa Verde surfaced.
Without a pause, nonskid was identified as the biggest challenge for carriers and amphibs by Ray Vickers, corrosion control program manager for Naval Air Force Atlantic. Failures are expensive, and compounded by the introduction of the Joint Strike Fighter and V-22 Osprey.
Nonskid did not hold up well amid the force and heat from the F-35B, the Marines' jump-jet variant of the JSF. A new Highly Tolerant Temperature Resistant thermal spray nonskid coating was applied to the amphibious assault ship Wasp, which is hosting the JSF's shipboard operational tests, and has held up "really, really well," Fuller said.
Joking that an F-35 engine costs about as much as an aircraft carrier, "to FOD one of those engines, especially while it's doing [testing and evaluation] type stuff, really would have been bad," he said. "We don't want to be anywhere close to being responsible for FOD'ing one of those things."
Officials called on engineers to expand the life expectancy of nonskid. Polysiloxane nonskid shows promise, as it has higher temperature resistance. Officials expressed interest in the robotic application of thermal spray, while companies such as PENTECH Inc. have developed a spray application designed to prevent pinholes and provide an even application. Jessup Manufacturing also demonstrated the first approved peel-and-stick nonskid to compete with 3M, which will likely drive a price drop.
'We've got problems'
Unexpected maintenance or overruns are killing timelines and budgets for the surface Navy, according to Rear Adm. Michael Smith, president of Board of Inspection and Survey.
"We are not consistently executing the class maintenance plan and the tools the [Surface Maintenance Engineering Planning Program] commander has to ensure the plan is executed consistently are not strong enough. So, we've got problems there," he said.
Inconsistent zone inspections and preventative maintenance are key issues. Smith emphasized the need to mandate zone inspections, as INSURV finds "glaring errors" in 10 to 15 percent of its inspections.
"The expert capability to identify the easy stuff isn't even there," he said.
Other factors contributing to additional repair work include poor scheduling of shipchecks and assessments, and inconsistencies in quality assurance and documentation of problems.
"The process is not set up for success," Smith said. "We are not scheduling intrusive inspections at the right point."
He offered an example that caught some engineers by surprise. His analogy started with the identification of a 5-foot engine crack shortly before a deployment. The default of an engineer is to down that engine until that crack is fixed, but there is no way a skipper is going to deploy late. So the problem is not addressed until the ship returns, by which time the five-foot crack has doubled in size.
Smith's solution: Accept the risk, report the issue and deploy with the crack.
"You're an engineer — are you going to tell me the whole thing is going to fall off because I have a 5-foot crack?" he asked. "OK, it might become a 10-foot crack by the time I get back from deployment, but the thing is not going to fall off. [In the first example] we were just covering our eyes and pretending it didn't exist. So we come back with same 10-foot crack, but no prep time."
Getting knowledge of the situation in time to schedule yard work is critical, he said. And this approach has worked in recent years.
Entering the void
Advanced inspections of tanks and voids, and the longer lifespan of advanced coatings, are driving down repair costs and yard time, officials said.
Some amphibs went nearly 20 years without an inspection of tanks and voids, and the findings were not good. Planned availabilities in recent years were extended by months to address the costly corrosion.
The condition of most carrier tanks and voids were unknown in 2013, according to Vickers. This included more than 70 percent of those spaces aboard carriers John C. Stennis and Harry S. Truman. Today, those numbers are at or below 1 percent across the carrier fleet.
Training more than 1,000 sailors to aid in assessments has been key, Vickers said. This has more than tripled his assessment capacity to 10 tanks per day. This, along with a return of regional maintenance centers and the filling of fleet gaps, is returning predictability to overhauls — a critical component of the Optimized Fleet Response Plan, which promises to cap deployments at seven months starting next year.
Finding the problem is only half the battle. When it comes to fixing the problems of corrosion, advanced coatings are proving their worth. Advanced coatings applied to the carrier Dwight D. Eisenhower in 2001 have kept the tanks in great shape, with only about 5 percent needed touch-ups 12 years later.
Ike was supposed to complete its yard work in August, but has yet to emerge. As a result, Truman will deploy in the fall, nearly half a year ahead of schedule. Unlike many ships in recent history, it was not the tanks that caused this delay. Eisenhower, the oldest carrier on the East Coast, had trouble with the shafts, rudders and distilling units.