Combating Corrosion: Highlights in the Fight Against Naval Aviation’s No. 1 Enemy
By Julia Russell
It’s not a missile or bullet. It’s not an enemy plane. And it’s not the latest high-tech electronic gadget or cyber weapon. No, when it comes to Naval aviation’s worst enemy—and biggest systemic degrader—the clear leader is a much older and simpler problem: corrosion. According to the Department of Defense (DoD) Corrosion Policy and Oversight Office, the impact of corrosion (such as that shown in Figure 1) on DoD-fielded systems has cost U.S. taxpayers a staggering $20 billion annually since 2005 and has directly contributed to 94 million hours of system downtime. Furthermore, the corrosion-driven maintenance average is estimated to represent 20% or more of Naval aviation’s total maintenance costs. Thus, corrosion has been named the top issue degrading the overall performance of the Navy [1, 2].
Ongoing efforts at the Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE), however, are attempting to change that, or at least significantly reduce the scale and impact of this silent but deadly threat. Leading the fight is the Corrosion Management Board (CMB), which the Navy established in 2020 specifically to address its systemic corrosion problem. Using a top-down perspective, the board is responsible for guiding relevant strategy, addressing challenges, identifying barriers, and tracking actions and outcomes across the Navy.
In addition, the board has identified and aligned investments to address the leading causes of corrosion, a problem that includes not just the oxidation and deterioration of metals (i.e., rust) but also of other materials, such as polymers and ceramics. These causes include:
- Coating Failures
- Improper Maintenance
- Outdated/Inadequate Corrosion Maintenance Tasks
- Inadequate Corrosion Measures
- Dissimilar Metals
- Design Limitations.
Working across systems commands, the CMB is also executing a number of initiatives in the engineering, training, and data analytics domains to confront corrosion. The following sections briefly highlight a sampling of some of those initiatives.
Engineering is a key component of effective corrosion prevention and control. For example, corrosion engineering technical warrant holders (TWHs) at the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) are responsible for developing, validating, and implementing robust material and process solution sets to at least control, if not prevent, corrosion. Shortly after being established, the CMB directed investment for NAVAIR to validate a pneumatic scraper tool (such as shown in Figure 2) to reduce maintenance manhours associated with the time-consuming task of sealant removal. When compared to hand removal tools, the technology demonstrated a 75% reduction in maintenance manhours on multiple type/model/series (TMS). As a result of this work, the H-1 community revised its technical publications to permit the use of this tool for sealant removal maintenance tasks .In another example, a new, advanced plating process (such as that shown in Figure 3) was implemented at three of the Navy’s Fleet Readiness Centers (FRCs)—FRC East in North Carolina, FRC Southeast in Florida, and FRC Southwest in California—to help address the corrosion problem. The new process replaces the current cadmium plating, which is a sacrificial coating designed to protect steel from corrosion. However, cadmium, the coating’s main corrosion inhibitor, is carcinogenic and poses a hazard to the fleet maintainers and depot artisans. Cadmium plating is also susceptible to wear and abrasion, leaving the steel substrate vulnerable to the corrosive operational environment. The new plating, on the other hand, is an environmentally compliant sacrificial coating with robust wear performance; and its use is targeted for high-wear, corrosion-prone components, such as transmission systems and landing gear.
To support the transition to the new plating technology, NAVAIR published a new military specification in 2020 that covers a new alloy composition for electroplating. Furthermore, in 2022, the plating technology was incorporated into a separate instruction that covers the requirements for cleaning, surface treatment, and application of inorganic coatings for metallic surfaces of weapons systems parts. The instruction is a key element of NAE’s corrosion prevention and control requirements recommended to ensure corrosion prevention is incorporated into a weapon system’s design up front and early.
Executed by the corrosion engineering workforce, the CMB also partnered with the F/A-18 and EA-18G Program Office (PMA-265) and landing gear TWHs to use a suite of technologies to address corrosion damage on F/A-18 Super Hornet landing gear. Once the coating stack-up is demonstrated and validated, PMA-265 will have a mature corrosion solution in its toolbox that will offer improved durability protection and extended corrosion protection. And this protection continues to be vitally important for Navy aircraft, especially those that spend much of their service lives operating in wet, salty, and other corrosion-conducive environments.
COMPREHENSIVE CORROSION TRAINING STRATEGY
Training in the area of corrosion maintenance has also been a top priority for the CMB, as it strives to ensure sailors receive proper, proficiency-based training, as envisioned in the NAE Corrosion Training Strategy. To date, the NAE is implementing several systematic reduction initiatives to address corrosion and is instituting Naval aviation-wide training to improve the approach of current aircraft maintainers to corrosion mitigation.
For example, both Naval Aviation Maintenance Center of Excellence-Training (NAMCE-T) Lemoore and NAMCE-T Oceana have implemented corrosion prevention and/or treatment efforts that have contributed to achieving the mission-capable aircraft goals of strike fighters. Technicians have worked more than 200,000 manhours fixing, repairing, and returning aircraft to the flight line and have launched corrosion-specific courses contributing to an overall maintenance reset of aircraft. In addition, NAMCE-T Lemoore collaborated with PMA-265 in 2021 to set up a 35-calendar-day deep dive into F/A-18 aircraft that arrive for a maintenance reset. Maintainers identify and repair all corrosion and other discrepancies during this timeframe.
Parallel to these efforts, the CMB is executing a comprehensive corrosion training strategy to include tasking Corrosion Maintenance Readiness Teams (CMRT) to assess squadron corrosion removal efforts on a quarterly basis. The CMB is also pursuing the establishment of a Center of Excellence for Corrosion and Finish (CoECF) to produce certified and proficient professionalized maintainers.
Finally, to help accomplish the NAE’s tasking to better understand, address, and control the widespread issue of corrosion, the CMB analytics team has developed several data analytic strategies to help baseline and quantify the problem. These strategies include a comprehensive Corrosion Health Assessment Scorecard (CHAS) and a Corrosion Integrated Assessment (CIA) tool.
The CHAS offers a 360° view of the corrosion challenge for the PMA across four pillars of metrics. These metrics are exercised to identify areas of improvement in engineering, logistics, maintenance compliance, and supportability per TMS. Likewise, the CIA tool, under development with the fleet as the end user, will consolidate existing operational maintenance corrosion measures into one dashboard per TMS and be accessible on the CMB website.
The aforementioned examples are just a few highlights of a plethora of corrosion-related efforts currently being conducted within the Navy’s engineering, governance, training, supply, maintenance operations, and maintenance support domains. For further information on these or other activities within the NAE CMB, please contact the board at email@example.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ms. Julia Russell is currently the Corrosion Management Board Civilian Lead for the Naval Aviation Enterprise, as well as a 17-year employee at NAVAIR. She previously worked as a chemist and the Industrial Processes Science & Technology Lead, where she leveraged her experience in environmentally compliant coatings to complement her role as a senior corrosion engineering subject-matter expert for Navy and Marine Corps Aviation Program Offices. Ms. Russell holds a B.A. in chemistry from Saint Mary’s College of Maryland and is currently working toward an M.S. in business management from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
 Hertzberg, Eric F., Catherine L. Acton, et al. “Estimated Impact of Corrosion on Cost and Availability of DoD Weapon Systems.” Logistics Management Institute, March 2019.
 Lagasse, Paul. “How Naval Aviation Is Solving Its Billion-Dollar Corrosion Problem.” U.S. Navy website, https://www.navy.mil/Press-Office/News-Stories/Article/3025210/how-naval-aviation-is-solving-its-billion-dollar-corrosion-problem/, 9 May 2022.
 Rybeck Services LLC. “RYNO Sealant Removal Tool.” https://www.therynotool.com/, accessed December 2022.