Army Attacks Hardware Corrosion
February 10, 2012
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala. -- Scott Reis is on a mission.
An anti-corrosion mission, that is.
He and fellow Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center employees carry out the mission of the Aviation and Missile Command's Corrosion Program Office to promote corrosion prevention programs for a wide range of AMCOM systems. They study the way metals, coatings and finishes develop corrosion; engineer design and materials solutions for corrosion issues in the field; train Soldiers on how to prevent equipment corrosion; and tout the ill effects of corrosion on the Army's missile and aviation systems.
Those ill effects are staggering in terms of capabilities lost, and the cost of repairing or replacing equipment due to corrosion. At AMCOM, an estimated $1.6 billion a year is spent combating corrosion issues. The U.S. General Accounting Office estimated the cost of corrosion to the Department of Defense at between $9 billion and $20 billion annually.
"Problems with corrosion represent 20 percent of AMCOM's total annual maintenance program," Steve Carr, AMCOM's corrosion program manager, said.
"Corrosion continues whether there is a war or not. It's an issue of concern because of the need in the field for performance reliability."
In recent years as corrosion has become a top concern within the Department of Defense and even Congress, AMCOM has focused squarely on corrosion issues, developing new procedures and techniques to combat corrosion, studying how different system designs and materials can encourage or discourage corrosion, and working to make Soldiers aware of corrosion effects. Its Corrosion Program Office, which employs more than 40 civilians, is equipped with laboratories and machinery to study corrosion issues. Recently the program moved into its new offices in building 7631 on Line Road near Gate 3.
For Reis, combating corrosion in one particular missile system -- the Patriot -- is a personal commitment. He retired in 2009 as a chief warrant officer 3 after a career operating and supporting the missile system.
"I really believe in the Patriot missile system and I want it to be successful and ready to fire when it's needed," the senior engineer analyst said.
Reis is a member of a team of corrosion program employees who assess corrosion issues in the field that are affecting the Patriot missile, write corrosion checklists for each piece of equipment related to the Patriot, and then teach Soldiers how to prevent that corrosion.
"We take pictures of corrosion on Patriot equipment, and then we show this in the classroom. If we can train the Soldiers on how to take care of the equipment, and they follow through with that training and work to prevent corrosion, then we can reduce the number of issues we have with corrosion on equipment," Reis said.
Reis was joined by corrosion program employees Courtney Guasti, Terry Williams and Stephen Coons on a 26-day deployment in 2011 to the Southwest Asia countries of United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait to conduct corrosion assessments of about 200 pieces of equipment and to train more than 170 Soldiers of the 69th Brigade, Air Defense Artillery, about corrosion prevention at four Patriot missile locations.
"Corrosion affects missiles, aviation and supplies," he said. "Dehumidification facilities and airtight storage facilities can assist with preventing corrosion. But a lot of the units, especially those deployed, don't have the facilities and tools to prevent corrosion.
"And that issue is compounded because the shelf life of today's equipment has to be longer. Equipment that once lasted 10 years now has to last 20 years. The number one thing is mission readiness. In general, Soldiers don't worry about corrosion. But looking to the future 20 years down the road, minor corrosion now means mission equipment later that can't perform."
The teaching team emphasizes to Soldiers that it only takes one day a month to prevent corrosion. Besides instruction, they leave each unit with corrosion prevention/repair kits.
"If they follow the instruction, mission readiness ratings will go up," Reis said. "Equipment will look better and run better. Preventing corrosion in the Patriot system is especially important because its life has been extended to 2042. There will be no new equipment. So, what can we do to help prolong the life of equipment?"
With that in mind, Reis will continue to be part of a team that pinpoints the 15 Patriot units stationed at Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas; Fort Sill, Okla.; Fort Bragg, N.C.; and in Korea, Germany, Okinawa and Southwest Asia.
Corrosion prevention has been an Army concern ever since the development of ballistic missiles.
"Corrosion prevention was a very serious consideration for missile systems because we wanted high reliability. The systems had to be stored over long periods of time and still have high reliability," said Carr, who began working on corrosion issues at Redstone as a young materials engineer 30 years ago.
"Corrosion problems can make a system unreliable and not operational. So, we reverse engineered the designs for missile systems so that we could study corrosion and how it affected the system, and so we could develop corrosion prevention and control processes."
Although most think of corrosion as only affecting metals, it can also affect plastics, polymers, sealants and all materials that go into the manufacturing of any piece of equipment. Besides the Patriot missile, Carr spent the early part of his career studying corrosion on many different missile systems, including Chaparral, Hawk, TOW and Javelin.
"Materials, finishes and design all affect corrosion," Carr said. "We study corrosion on different kinds of steels and metals, the impact of corrosion on bare metals versus finished metals, and how system designs can prevent water entrapment."
The Army's corrosion program was active until about 1990, when budget cuts led to the end of the formal program. Carr and others who studied corrosion prevention issues continued their work through the program management offices at Redstone.
"But in the mid-1990s, there were so many corrosion issues on vehicles in the Pacific Rim. Doors, floorboards, batteries, everything was getting corroded. There was a lot of high level Army attention brought to the issue and, in 1998, the Army restarted its corrosion program with the Tank and Automotive Command taking the lead," Carr said.
Also, between the ending of Desert Storm in 1991 and the beginning of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003, "lots of things were coming back for reset, and corrosion was a major issue. It began getting a lot of attention," Carr said. "After Desert Storm, missiles had to be de-milled because of corrosion. Desert Storm really affected aviation and missiles. Extensive corrosion required de-mil or repair. It was a major impediment."
By 2001, AMCOM officially set up its corrosion program with Carr as its program manager. Under then Maj. Gen. Larry Dodgen, AMCOM formed a partnership with Naval Aviation to study corrosion.
"Dodgen's last action (as commander of AMCOM) was to set up this partnership to look at the aircraft coming back for reset and doing assessments of corrosion issues and coming up with solutions," Carr said. "In 2004, we spent a lot of time looking at aircraft, and identifying several key corrosion issues and solutions.
"At about the same time, Congress signed the National Defense Appropriations Act with the requirement to start a corrosion program to determine the impact of corrosion throughout the Department of Defense."
Other AMCOM commanders also gave corrosion a top priority.
During the command of then Maj. Gen. Jim Pillsbury, who consequently gave program funding to corrosion prevention in 2004, AMCOM tackled a major corrosion issue involving deployed aircraft shipped back to the states. Many were in good condition before shipment, but then had corrosion problems once they were back in the U.S.
"All the aircraft coming back were required to be shrink-wrapped, and the CH-47s (Chinook) were shrink-wrapped and stored on the top deck of a ship," Carr said. "The ship went through a storm and the shrink wrap was torn. Saltwater was trapped inside the shrink wrap, and it created rust.
"Even the Black Hawks, Apaches and Kiowas that were shrink wrapped and shipped below deck had condensation and water entrapment inside the shrink wrap. Gen. Pillsbury asked for the study, and we ended up getting rid of shrink wrap and now all helicopters must ship under deck. We found that even in Kuwait, helicopters that were shrink wrapped would sit in 140 degree weather before getting shipped. The shrink wrap wasn't well done because in that kind of heat you can't touch the aircraft while you wrap it. So, water would get inside while the helicopters sat there and mildew would grow."
Another major corrosion case involved 12 Patriot launchers in Korea that had to be shipped back to the U.S. for corrosion overhaul and repair at a cost of $4 million. In 2005, AMCOM spent $17.4 million in corrosion maintenance costs on Patriot, putting the system in the AMCOM top 10 for average corrosion cost and in the AMCOM top 20 for total corrosion cost.
Since then, corrosion issues have been given high visibility throughout DoD. There have been 30 DoD forums on the subject to develop policies for corrosion prevention, to study the cost of corrosion, and to conduct corrosion technology demonstration projects that show corrosion issues and solutions.
At AMCOM, another direct result of corrosion studies was to develop a conductive antenna gasket for the Chinook and Black Hawk helicopters to prevent corrosion from occurring between the aircraft's antenna and the body of the aircraft, which caused communication problems. In 2008, AMCOM's Corrosion Program became a Corrosion Center of Excellence for the Program Executive Office for Aviation.
"Now we have corrosion technology demonstration validation teams, corrosion unit assessment teams and non-destructive testing assessment teams that go out all over the world to study, assess and resolve corrosion issues," Carr said. "We provide corrosion awareness and prevention training, and corrosion repair kits to Soldiers. We are providing training and technology for Soldiers so they can take care of equipment in the field."
With existing systems, the corrosion program works to make modifications that reduce corrosion issues. With new systems, the program's engineers are involved in the design and acquisition process to minimize corrosion issues before a new system is even built. The corrosion program is involved in addressing corrosion issues on three levels -- research and development, acquisition and sustainment.
"We are involved in both acquisition and sustainment. We can do better with our processes and our technologies, but we can never totally prevent corrosion. But if it is addressed in sustainment and if equipment is taken care of properly, it can be minimized," Carr said.
"Helicopters designed 50 years ago didn't have the technology and knowledge we have today to address corrosion in the design. There is nothing we can do about that but work to sustain and prevent corrosion problems. But in the systems we are designing today, we need to really address corrosion issues because once they are acquired those systems will impact the Army for years."
And to better help Carr and his employees in the battle against corrosion, Congress passed a law that requires the Department of Defense to have an organized effort to prevent and mitigate corrosion, and to ensure all major acquisitions are designed with a corrosion prevention control plan and a corrosion prevention action team.
"Those two things are in place for the life of the system," Carr said. "And the team works to revise designs and oversee sustainment so that new technologies can be incorporated to address corrosion issues during the lifetime of the system."