US Navy warships covered in rust due to overwhelming pace of deployment

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For decades the Navy has pushed its ships and sailors to breaking point in order to maintain a constant presence in the world, and now several Navy ships are in dire need of maintenance as their unseaworthy appearance is an embarrassment to them. United States.

The Navy spends billions of dollars a year to fight corrosion; yet ship watchers have for years published images of Navy ships covered in common rust, including destroyers USS Curtis Wilbur and USS James E. Williams as well as the quay landing ship USS Fort McHenry.

The outward signs of corrosion on Navy ships are visible proof that the pace of service operations is so overwhelming that it has become difficult to perform all the maintenance necessary to prevent rusting.

Most recently, longtime naval journalist and commentator Chris Cavas shared photos showing the destroyer on Twitter. USS Arleigh Burke covered with rust.

This is not an isolated incident. As reported by The War Zone on December 10, photos taken by a Twitter user @ cjr1321 showed the USS Zumwalt, one of three DDG-1000 destroyers, with rust along its hull. Several of the Zumwalt’s radar-absorbing tiles, which are said to make the ship more difficult to detect, also appeared to be rusty. (A Navy official noted that the Zumwalt’s radar absorbing tiles cannot simply be painted when they fade, as they are very advanced and require special maintenance.)

Rust is a serious threat to ships at sea. Sailors wage a constant battle to protect surface ships from corrosion, said Cmdr. Nicole Schwegman, spokesperson for the US Naval Surface Forces.

“The harsh environment in which we operate degrades our ships, and our sailors work hard to combat corrosion along with all the maintenance and crew training necessary to maintain our navy’s combat readiness,” Schwegman said.

The Navy provided Task & Purpose with photos of the Zumwalt taken on December 16, which showed the ship in much better condition than the ship appeared in images widely shared on Twitter.

TOP: This photo shows the USS Zumwalt, a DDG-1000 destroyer, entering San Diego on December 9. (Photo of @ cjr1321). BOTTOM: The USS Zumwalt at the Port of San Diego on December 16, 2021 (US Navy Photo.)

When asked if Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin was concerned about Arleigh Burke and Zumwalt’s appearance, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby did not respond directly.

“Not to mention these footage, military readiness remains a priority for the secretary, and he knows it remains a priority for leaders across the department as well,” Kirby said.

The Navy’s rusting issue is indicative of a larger readiness issue the service faces, said Becca Wasser, of the Center for a New American Security think tank in Washington, DC.

“Rust is found on ships that have a high tempo of operation,” said Wasser, a member of the CNAS defense program. “Consistent operations really mean there is less time for required maintenance and servicing. “

The non-stop operations also weigh on the sailors who are constantly on the way, she said. Not only is it more difficult for Sailors to keep up with their qualifications if they are still at sea, longer deployments also mean Sailors are spending more time away from their families.

In October 2020, the destroyer USS Stout finally returned home after a record 215 days at sea. The ship has not had a stopover for eight months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Following the deployment of the marathon, the ship and her crew were put to the test.

Navy rusting thanks to crushing deployment cycle
The USS Stout returns to the ship’s home port at Naval Station Norfolk in October 2020. (US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Jason Pastrick.)

“So if you want to fight rust on ships, what’s the answer? It works less; maintain more, ”Wasser said. “It’s about recovering the preparation, and I think that’s really the heart of the matter here. It is about asking the difficult question: why does the Navy operate as much as it does constantly. “

As of Thursday, 77 of the Navy’s 295 deployable ships were underway, according to the Navy’s official website. This means that around 26% of ships classified as deployable are currently in operation.

In the past, combatant commands have driven the high tempo of operations by frequently requesting more Navy ships in their theater of operations to deter adversaries, Wasser said. But recently, the Pentagon has had some success in rejecting these requests for commanding combatants.

Another issue is how the Navy sees its role within the overall U.S. military, Wasser said.

“At this point, the Navy – more broadly – seems to believe it needs to have a constant forward presence, which it achieves through continuous operations, in order to deter; in order to be there and wave the flag, make a difference and do what the Navy is supposed to do for the joint force, ”Wasser said.

“I would say it ends up being a very expensive deterrent theory and ultimately comes at the expense of preparation,” she continued. “And preparation is really what we need to preserve in the event of a potential future conflict against an advanced adversary like China. “

During the 1990s, the Navy adopted the idea that the constant deployment of ships forward could prevent conflict from occurring, recently wrote Robert O. Work, who served as Under Secretary of the Navy from 2009. to 2013, in “Proceedings,” which is published by the United States Naval Institute.

But as the fleet grew from nearly 600 ships at the end of the Cold War to 336 ships in 1999, the military failed to match the Navy’s missions with its reduced resources, Work wrote, a retired Naval Colonel who also served as Assistant Secretary of Defense from 2014 to 2017. Military commanders continued to request Navy and Marine forces for their areas of operations.

“Slowly but surely, the culture of the Navy has shifted from its ‘cold war-centric’ culture to a peacetime ‘deployment-centric’ culture,” Work wrote. “In the process, the force’s material readiness began a long and inexorable decline, particularly in the surface warfare community. Even more worrying, the overall readiness of the Navy’s “surge” forces, which are expected to deploy in the event of war, has started to deteriorate. “

The pace of operations may not be the only factor causing the Navy’s rusting problems. While the Navy is clearly overloaded, commanders also have a responsibility to keep their ships looking seaworthy, said retired Captain Brent Sadler, senior fellow for naval warfare and the cutting-edge technology at the Heritage Foundation conservative think tank in Washington, DC

“I don’t attribute the overwork or overly short-crewed vessels to the cause of the rust we see on ships coming out of yards, deployed or operating locally near their home port,” Sadler said. , a former submariner. “The problem is too widespread and appears to be a lack of standards. “

Rather than blaming base sailors and individual ship commanders, Sadler said commanders may not get the support they need from their leadership to meet Navy standards. He noted that sailors are actually happier when their captains are in charge of a tight ship.

“A hard working, dedicated crew that takes care of their home / ship actually has the highest camaraderie and morale, but sometimes it takes a bit of hard work and groaning to get there,” Sadler said. “This is, after all, what we can expect from our naval leaders.”

Update: This story has been updated to include before and after images of the USS Zumwalt taken on December 9 and 16, respectively.

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