The Air Force’s $228 million corrosion problem with the F-22 Raptor taught the service something about corrosion prevention and control, but not enough—and the entire Department of Defense should develop systems to learn from the experience, the General Accounting Office recommends.
Although some new CPC measures were later incorporated into initial production of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, others were not, GAO said, raising questions about the implementation of such measures in other weapons systems.
At least five other weapons systems now in production may also benefit from review in light of the F-22 problems, GAO said in “Defense Management: DOD Needs to Monitor and Assess Corrective Actions Resulting from Its Corrosion Study of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,” a briefing report released to Congress on Thursday (Dec. 16).
Both the Navy and the Air Force have already begun to implement corrective actions, GAO said.
The GAO issued its report in response to an evaluation of the F-35 submitted Sept. 30 by DOD’s Director of Corrosion Policy and Oversight.
The House Armed Services Committee had ordered the DOD evaluation, due to “concerns that the lessons learned regarding the prevention and management of corrosion in the F-22 Raptor had not been fully applied to the development and acquisition of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter,” GAO said.
The DOD study team made informal recommendations to the F-22 and F-35 programs regarding corrective actions, and its evaluation included “numerous statements suggesting corrective actions may be needed at other weapon system program offices, the services and DOD to improve their CPC programs,” GAO said.
‘Establish a Process’
DOD also identified key CPC practices for any weapons systems. However, GAO adds, the evaluation made no formal recommendations, which it said may make it difficult “for DOD and Congress to monitor and assess corrective actions resulting from the corrosion study.”
DOD said it had not had sufficient time to make detailed formal recommendations.
“Therefore,” GAO said, “we are making recommendations that the Secretary of Defense direct the Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, Technology and Logistics to document, and establish a process for monitoring and assessing, corrective actions taken by the F-35 and F-22 program offices, other weapon system program offices, the Air Force, the Navy, and DOD in response to the corrosion study.”
Recommendations and Response
GAO recommended that DOD document program-specific recommendations from the study for the F-35, the F-22 and the five other weapons systems. It also recommended that DOD document DOD-wide recommendations from the study and that the Air Force and Navy do the same for their services.
In responding to the GAO draft report, DOD concurred with three of the recommendations, but noted that its recommendations regarding the other weapons systems were only general statements of best practice. The evaluation did not review those systems in depth, wrote Daniel J. Dunmire, DOD Director of Corrosion Policy and Oversight.
“The DOD corrosion program is seeking to improve the policies and practices for CPC across the department and will use the information from the report to help guide future actions,” Dunmire wrote.
The Air Force and Navy have told GAO that CPC changes are underway. The Navy said it was developing both a corrosion strategic plan and a Navy instruction with corrosion policy, protocols and times. Both are to be completed by FY 2011.
F-22: ‘Corrosion was Prevalent’
The F-22 and F-35 will be the backbone of DOD’s tactical fighter fleet for decades, GAO notes.
The government has already paid $228 million to make F-22 corrosion-related repairs and retrofits through 2016, GAO said. Corrosion of the aluminum skin panels was detected in spring 2005, less than six months after the Air Force introduced the aircraft to a severe environment.
“By October 2007, a total of 534 instances of corrosion were documented, and corrosion in the substructure was becoming prevalent,” GAO said.
F-35: More Changes Needed
Production of the nation’s 187 F-22s is almost complete, but it’s still relatively early in the F-35 program, which may turn out more than 3,000 fighters over the next 20 years.
Production of the F-35 has incorporated some lessons learned from the F-22 problems, but more can be done, GAO said. It said, for example:
• The F-22 program discontinued use of a nonchromated primer because it did not provide sufficient corrosion protection and reverted to a chromated primer. However, the F-35 is using “a nonchromated primer that has never been tested on an aircraft in a corrosive operating environment.”
• “No operational-level test for corrosion was conducted on the F-22 prior to initial operating capability, and none are currently planned for the F-35.”
• “The length of the F-22 full-scale climatic test was cut in half, and the program office for the F-35 is currently considering reducing its full-scale climatic test.”
DOD’s evaluation noted that many of the F-22’s problems could have been addressed or headed off by earlier testing in the program. Thorough testing of the F-35 could be equally beneficial, GAO said.
Corrosion of military equipment costs the military services more than $21 billion a year, DOD said in July. GAO notes that corrosion affects military readiness by taking critical systems out of action, and has also affected safety, resulting in fatal accidents due to the degradation of equipment.