Rust never sleeps, but it’s very expensive

A study finds that corrosion across the military cost DoD more than $22 billion in just one year. Now the services have to figure out what to do about it.

We’re living in a golden age for rust in the military — or a dark age, depending on the way you look at it. Commanders at all levels are more aware than they’ve ever been about the hazards and costs of corrosion, which cost DoD $22.5 billion just in 2009, according to one study. The brass is convening rust conferences, pursuing new materials and technology to help defeat it, and, in the case of the Navy, completely changing its thinking about what it means for ships. Back in the day, the Navy got sick of its ships and just threw them away, on the theory that, hey, we’ll just buy new ones! But over the past few years, the service has come to realize that it has to make all of its ships last as long as they can, which means it’s focusing on rust, hulls, tanks, voids and other unglamorous parts of it ships, to keep them around for their full service lives.

Our phriend ‘Phib has a post about this, linking to that 2009 report, and he nails it on the head: Traditionally, if you wanted to impress a general, admiral or lawmaker, you didn’t show a presentation about rust. You talked about “transformation,” “disruptive” or “game-changing” technologies, and had big diagrams that showed ships, aircraft, ground vehicles, UAVs, satellites and troops connected by lightning bolts:

Or as CDR Salamander wrote:

It isn’t sexy; I know. It isn’t as “fun” as talking about how unbuilt and untested platforms integrated through a unfunded and nondeployed “network” will “transform” all war in to rainbows and unicorns; I know. Imagine if even a small percentage of what the dreamers and social planners bleed off the main funding line was diverted to making sure we get just a little better, just a little, on the fundamentals. You know, stuff like rust.

“The total cost of corrosion for DoD is $22.5 billion, with $20.9 billion derived from maintenance records from the military services’ various databases and $1.6 billion from sources outside normal reporting. We estimated corrosion as a percentage of maintenance for DoD to be 23.0 percent. This includes both infrastructure and facilities (15.1 percent) and weapon systems/equipment (24.0 percent). The corrosion cost for infrastructure and facilities is $1.8 billion, while the corrosion cost for weapon systems and equipment is $20.7 billion.”

The Navy’s part of this seems obvious — as Sen. Jeff Sessions might say, y’got big metal boats, you put ’em in saltwater, they’re gonna rust! So what are the other big victims around the force? Army and Marine Corps ground vehicles, according to the report; as well as Air Force aircraft and missiles and DoD “facilities and infrastructure.” So if the rest of the force begins buying into the new rust awareness movement, recovering even some of that $23 billion could go a long way under the coming decade of lean budgets.