The builder of a new Navy combat ship that is rusting aggressively says the problem is not the company’s fault, but more likely the result of poor maintenance.
In fact, published reports show, corrosion in the aluminum ship’s propulsion areas was spotted even before the Navy took delivery of the USS Independence (LCS-2), the second in a new series of next-generation Littoral Combat ships designed for coastal waters.
The Navy has been working on short-term and long-term repair plans for the $432 million ship since December, a Navy spokesman says. That was the same month that the ship’s manufacturer, Austal Ltd., won a $3.6 billion 10-ship deal as prime contractor for the Littoral Combat Ship program.
|The USS Independence, shown here under construction, was commissioned in January 2010.|
Austal Ltd., a subsidiary of Australian defense contractor Austal, is the largest employer in Mobile, AL.
Galvanic Corrosion Cited
In a statement this week, Austal Ltd. blamed the problem on galvanic corrosion, which occurs when two dissimilar metals, “after being in electrical contact with one another, corrode at different rates,” the company noted.
But that’s not Austal’s fault, the company added.
“As a specialist in aluminum shipbuilding, having built over 220 aluminum vessels for defense forces and commercial clients around the world since its formation in 1988, Austal is intimately familiar with the management of galvanic corrosion,” the statement said.
“According to company records, galvanic corrosion has not been a factor on any Austal-built and fully maintained vessel, and our technical experts are eager to support any request to identify root causes of any corrosion issue in any aluminum naval vessel in service today.”
‘Storm in a Teapot’
In an interview with the Sydney Morning-Herald, Austal chief executive Andrew Bellamy called the corrosion problem “a storm in a teapot” and pointed the finger at operations or maintenance issues.
‘‘We have built 230 vessels of this type that have not suffered from this type of problem … where the operator and the maintainer of the ship have followed the procedures in a thorough way,’’ Bellamy told the newspaper. ‘‘I suspect there is a problem in the area of operational maintenance if there is a galvanic corrosion issue.’’
Bellamy said he did not expect the corrosion problem to affect Austal’s pending or future Navy contracts.
The Navy has declined to comment on its maintenance program or on Bellamy’s remarks.
Problem Discovered Early
The corrosion problem was discovered before the ship was delivered to the Navy, Jim DeMartini, a spokesman for Maine-based Bath Iron Works, told the Mobile Press-Register.
Bath partnered on the first two LCS built at Austal: Independence and Coronado, the latter of which is set for delivery in summer 2012, the newspaper reported.
In a written statement Sunday, a Navy spokesman also blamed galvanic corrosion for the problem. He said the Navy would install “doubler plates” next month around parts of the Independence propulsion system, which would make it safe to operate in the near future, he said.
Long-term repairs will require installing a cathodic protection system next year when the ship is dry-docked, said spokesman Chris Johnson. The same type of system will be installed in the Coronado before launching, he added.
Austal’s statement said that the company was “intimately familiar” with how to address galvanic corrosion and that post-delivery support for its LCS ships, if sought by the Navy, would be “a straight-forward process” that could use the company’s six maintenance hubs worldwide.
A Pentagon report released in April said officials were concerned about the potential for corrosion during construction of the ship because of “dissimilar metals,” particularly near the steel propulsion shafts.
Though only the second ship in the LCS series, the Independence is not the first to have problems. In February, the program’s first ship—USS Freedom, built by a different construction team—developed a six-inch crack three and a half feet below the waterline, the Navy confirmed.
The hull crack allowed water to seep in, and the ship was forced to abort sea-keeping trials and return to its homeport for repairs, the Navy said.