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Navy 3-Star Says Rust on Ships Is Not Driving Up Maintenance Costs

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The flag officer who oversees maintenance on the Navy’s ships and submarines is hitting back against the idea that corrosion on warships is leading to big repair bills.

Retired naval officers and other experts have been sounding off on the state of the Navy’s fleet after recent photos have shown rust buildup on multiple surface vessels. But Vice Adm. Thomas Moore, head of Naval Sea Systems Command, said there has been no effect on maintenance.

“I think some of this is a little like, ‘Hey, the Packers were a great football team in the ’60s,” Moore told reporters at the Pentagon last week. “Corrosion has always been one of the major drivers for maintenance for us.”

When asked what is causing rust to take over after recent photos showed the amphibious assault ship Boxer and dock landing ship Fort McHenry covered in the brittle buildup during recent stops in Bahrain and Germany, Moore pointed to high operational tempo. The Navy is operating a smaller fleet than it did 20 years, he said, and the ships are deploying a lot.

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“Aesthetically, maybe there’s a little bit there,” Moore said. “But when we get the ships in availability, we’re not seeing anything that would tell me that anything is different today than it was, say, 10, 15, 20 years ago.”

Critics, including military blogger CDR Salamander, said the rust sends a bad message, even if it’s only aesthetic. A Navy with rusty ships looks complacent and unfocused, he wrote, and signals weakness and vulnerability.

“I don’t know what we’re doing, but we’re not doing it right,” CDR Salamander wrote Aug. 6. “When your fundamentals are so transparently being ignored, you have a larger problem at hand.”

Two days after the photos caused a stir on social media, Navy officials shared new pictures on Twitter of the Fort McHenry with a fresh coat of paint.

Moore wouldn’t comment on observations of ships looking rusty more often. But when it comes to maintenance, he said there’s no data to support that it’s causing widespread problems.

James Geurts, assistant Navy secretary for research, development and acquisition, agreed.

“I don’t assess that as being the thing that’s driving maintenance times and delays,” he said.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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