The U.S. military could fight corrosion damage far more effectively with better cooperation, training and communication among the various service branches, the Department of Defense has concluded after a year-long study of its infrastructure.
The 182-page Facilities and Infrastructure Corrosion Evaluation Study, released July 15, presents the results of an in-depth evaluation of corrosion control challenges and findings from a sample size of DoD installations.
Overall, the study pointed to several areas of immediate concern for addressing corrosion prevention and control, including training, communication, data collection and management, contracting issues and new technology implementation.
Corrosion Prevention Opportunities
The study was implemented after the House Committee on Armed Services' report (H. Rept. 112-78) requested an evaluation of corrosion at DoD facilities and infrastructure within 300 days of enacting H.R. 1540, the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.
Photos: Department of Defense
The DoD spends an estimated $22.5 billion each year to combat and prevent the effects of corrosion.
"[T]he committee believes that there may be more cost-efficient opportunities for developing strategies for enhancing the sustainability of existing facilities, as well as for ensuring the integration of corrosion prevention and mitigation technologies into the buildup of future facilities," the House report said.
The DoD spends an estimated $22.5 billion each year to combat and prevent the effects of corrosion; $1.904 billion of that amount is spent on facilities and infrastructure.
The Director of the Office of Corrosion Policy and Oversight was directed to conduct the study, which was to:
Identify key drivers of costs and recommend strategies for reducing their impact;
Review a sampling of facilities that are representative of facility type, military department and facility age;
Assess at least one planned facility construction program; and
Include information obtained from site visits and the examination of program documentation including maintenance and facility engineering processes.
A 15-person study team that included subject matter experts from all branches of the military, industry and academia was assembled to review program documents and develop questionnaires to send to facility managers.
After sending the questionnaires, the team visited 15 locations and interviewed representatives from an additional 15 places by teleconference. Two laboratory-level commands and the Naval Facilities Command (NAVFAC) Criteria Office were also sent questionnaires and interviewed.
The 30 locations were selected from a list of 5,211 DoD sites; selected locations are all considered "major installations" that host numerous tenants. According to the report, no location surveyed in the study was less than 50 years old, and half of the sample installations were established in preparation for or response to World War II.
The study team used steel coupons that had been left exposed to elements for 10 years at 130 military installations around the world as part of the DoD's Environmental Severity Index. For locations without ESI coupons, the team used time of wetness and salinity as predictors for corrosion.
'Doing What They Can'
The team found that military services are "doing what they can in the areas of corrosion prevention and control (CPC); however, opportunities for improvement exist throughout DoD."
The study team noted a lack of communication and training, reluctance to use new corrosion technologies, and contracting issues as areas where DoD could improve.
DoD facilities and infrastructure management varied by respective military service and installation mission, specific environments and available personnel, but the underlying challenges that each military service faces in sustaining its infrastructure are fairly similar, the evaluation said.
Among facilities, corrosion is often perceived as rust and oxidation of metals, rather than the more comprehensive definition in congressional language, the study noted.
"They may accept corrosion as normal wear, not knowing that corrosion prevention criteria or mitigation technologies are available," the study team reported. This view of corrosion correlates to a lack of focus on corrosion issues, it added.
Guidance and Training Issues
After compiling a list of guidance documents that specifically address CPC in the acquisition, development and long-term management of DoD infrastructure, the team found that the awareness and implementation of these policies and guidance varied considerably. It also noted that field-level implementation was not always well executed.
Most sites included in the study had similar CPC engineering processes and practices, despite differences in mission and facility objectives.
All of the sites included in the study cited resource constraints as a constant concern. The study team found that compliance with required programs (e.g., Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design [LEED], Anti-Terrorism Force Protection, and the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966) reduced funding available to eliminate or control corrosion's effects.
On-the-job and formal CPC training could be improved and would result in better corrosion-related decision making and more balanced investments in preventive and corrective maintenance, the team found.
CPC training was reported as minimal because of funding constraints and a lack of available coursework. Another training concern is that high personnel turnover from an aging workforce is contributing to a loss in corrosion expertise.
Shying Away from New Technologies
The report also found that newer corrosion mitigation technologies are used only reluctantly"because of the inherent risk of failure and fear of losing scarce resources."
Because only proven and mature corrosion mitigating technologies are being used in design and construction criteria, transitioning new technology into criteria was found to be a "cumbersome and time consuming" process, resulting in large time lags before new technology is included in contracts.
To accelerate the use of new technologies, the study team found that better cross-installation of communication would improve the sharing of CPC best practices. Participating personnel suggested that a centralized forum for discussing challenges, best practices, lessons learned and policies would be beneficial for fostering collaboration.
A lack of corrosion-centric maintenance actions "creates a scenario in which maintenance requirements quickly outgrow available funding, and it feeds a continuous cycle of increasing deferred maintenance levels," the team found.
Many of the personnel interviewed also said they were more comfortable with a headquarters requiring and directing the implementation of new technologies, instead of having a choice.
Contracting and Maintenance Concerns
Contracting personnel also weighed greatly on CPC outcomes, improving when personnel were familiar with facilities and infrastructure requirements. Some respondents said that mandatory contracting targets, such as contract laws and mandated small business set-aside programs, hinder the ability to obtain the best-qualified CPC contractor.
In many instances, contractors avoid offering CPC technologies that would exceed minimum performance requirements because they cost more up front, putting the contractor at a competitive disadvantage.
The study included an assessment of a planned facility construction program. The selected project was the Hospital Replacement, Naval Hospital Guam, as Guam is one of the most severe corrosion environments. The assessment results showed that "appropriate CPC planning and decisions made in the development of this project will directly enhance the facilities' lifecycle and is a good model of a military construction project from a CPC perspective."
By improving CPC requirements at the design stage, corrosion-related decision making will be improved, the study found
When it comes to maintaining existing facilities, the team found that most maintenance actions and requirements are not corrosion-centric, although corrosion could be a root cause or a contributing factor. Another challenge is a backlog of deferred maintenance when funding is not available, which increases degradation and results in greater costs from additional damage.
"This creates a scenario in which maintenance requirements quickly outgrow available funding, and it feeds a continuous cycle of increasing deferred maintenance levels," the team said.
The Comptroller General of the United States has 60 days from the delivery of the report to provide an assessment of the evaluation to the congressional defense committees.