How Naval Aviation is Combatting Its Billion-Dollar Corrosion Problem

June 16, 2022
Initiatives include corrosion monitoring, training and the use of corrosion mitigation products developed by NAWCAD.

Corrosion can be an expensive problem. For the U.S. Navy, the cost of corrosion maintenance from 2017-2020 – for its F/A-18C-G fleet alone – was more than $2 billion. That cost doesn’t include the costs for treating corrosion on other aircraft or ships in service.

The problem of corrosion is so significant that in 2020, the Navy identified it as naval aviation’s No. 1 systemic degrader across the fleet. In other words, it’s the top issue eroding overall performance of the Navy.

Since 2020, the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division (NAWCAD) in Patuxent River, Maryland, has been leading a campaign against corrosion. Working with other system commands including Commander, Fleet Readiness Center and the Naval Air Systems Command, NAWCAD established a Corrosion Management Board (CMB) to guide strategy, address challenges, identify barriers, and track actions and outcomes across the Navy.

Initiatives of the board include corrosion monitoring, training and the use of corrosion mitigation products developed by NAWCAD.

“Corrosion is almost like a cancer,” said NAWCAD chemist Dr. El Sayed Arafat, who retired in 2021. “If nothing is done to stop it, it keeps going until it’s too late to fix.” Before joining NAWCAD, the physical chemist said he never really thought much about corrosion. Working at NAWCAD’s Corrosion and Wear Branch, for more than two decades, it became his specialty.

With funding from the Office of Naval Research and the Defense Logistics Agency, Arafat and his team developed Navguard, a unique corrosion prevention compound formulation that makes a family of aircraft cleaning, coating and lubricant products to prevent rust and mildew on aircraft and their components.

The U.S. patents within the Navguard family are:

• Oleaginous Corrosion Resistant Composition, issued in 2010

• Oleaginous Corrosion & Mildew-Inhibiting Composition, issued in 2010

• Corrosion Preventative Compositions (NAVGUARD DRY IV), issued in 2021

While Arafat trademarked the name "Navguard," NAWCAD is not associated with any commercial company producing products with this name or products that are similar to that name.

NAWCAD currently has two active patent license agreements in place with two companies to formulate, produce and sell the Navguard inventions. The qualified product formulations that have been licensed meet the performance requirements of MIL-PRF-81309H, as do other commercial products not associated with Navguard.

MIL-PRF-81309 Rev. H with Amendment 1, dated July 26, 2021, specifies four different types:

• Type I – Soft film, with mildew inhibitor

• Type II – Soft film, general purpose grade

• Type III – Soft film, avionic grade

• Type IV – Advanced corrosion preventive compound

Per MIL-PRF-81309 Rev. H with Amendment 1, there are two distinct class designations: Class 1 – bulk container for brush, dip or spray application and Class 2 – self-pressurized container for spray application.

Products submitted for qualification that meet the performance requirements within MIL-PRF-81309 (corrosion preventative compounds, water displacing, ultra-thin film) are listed in the Defense Logistics Agency Qualified Products Database.

Over the course of his NAWCAD career, Arafat received many patents for the products that he developed. The latest corrosion prevention compound formulated by Arafat is a next-generation product based on prior versions. Another formulation is explicitly designed to prevent corrosion and inhibit the growth of mildew simultaneously. Like corrosion, mildew can be a constant headache for aircraft maintainers.

“Metal, oxygen and water are all that's required to make rust,” Arafat explained. “Preventing water from reaching the metal is the secret to mitigating it. In addition, if you can use a metal alloy that resists corrosion, that helps a lot too. And if you can combine the two, you get the best results.”

Corrosion preventative compounds (CPCs) are used across the entire fleet of Navy and Marine Corps aircraft, which includes more than 900 aircraft. 

The CMB has funded a grassroots effort to evaluate multiple different CPCs on test articles that mimic airframe structure and CPC use cases. An evaluation is ongoing at the outdoor corrosion test facility at the Naval Research Laboratory Key West site.

Monitoring and Training

Overall corrosion monitoring of aircraft type, models and series is done using a Corrosion Health Assessment Scorecard, the first of its kind in the Navy and the Department of Defense. The scorecard identified several systemic challenges that contribute to corrosion. One was a lack of training for corrosion maintenance tasking at the organization level.

To address the corrosion training gap, the Navy launched the Organization-Level Corrosion Control Reform program. The Navy-wide training strategy is designed to establish a cadre of proficient and professional corrosion maintainers and improve material conditions throughout the fleet.

According to NAWCAD’s Julia Russell and Cmdr. Terrance McCray, who are leading the corrosion response effort, the approach is threefold. First, the Navy needs to develop and implement a uniform training program for dealing with corrosion. Next, a cultural shift is required in how squadrons see corrosion mitigation. Historically, it has been considered a low-skill job that doesn't contribute much, if at all, to operational readiness.

“We want to put in place a culture where squadrons see corrosion mitigation as being just as important as the radar system or the weapons delivery system, where we are motivated to perform just as well on corrosion as we do on immediate readiness,” McCray said.

Thirdly, sustaining corrosion training and culture changes requires novel policy, said Russell and McCray. In order to track overarching Naval Aviation Enterprise (NAE) corrosion investment more effectively, they would also like to see corrosion mitigation established as a program of record within the Navy. That, however, will take time.

“It could take a decade or more to see the benefits of today’s investment,” Russell said. “There's no way to do this job without being optimistic.”

Optimism has been long been a characteristic of NAWCAD's approach to complex problems like corrosion mitigation.

“It's a serious issue, and any effort that can reduce maintenance costs or reduce corrosion is very rewarding,” Arafat said.

About the Author

Rebecca Kanable | Assistant Editor

Rebecca Kanable, a veteran journalist, joined Endeavor Business Media's aviation group in 2021. She has worked for various publications, including trade magazines and newspapers.

Contact: Rebecca (Becky) Kanable

Assistant Editor of Airport Business, AMT, Ground Support Worldwide 

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