One year old US Navy Warship is Disintegrating because of a massive design flaw that is causing electrolysis

In 2011, the Navy discovered “aggressive” corrosion around Independence‘s engines. The problem is so bad that the barely year-old ship will have to be laid up in a San Diego drydock so workers can replace whole chunks of her hull.

The 418-foot-long warship is dissolving due to one whopper of a design flaw. There are technical terms for this kind of disintegration. Austal USA, Independence‘s Alabama-based builder, calls it “galvanic corrosion.” Civilian scientists know it as “electrolysis.” It’s what occurs when “two dissimilar metals, after being in electrical contact with one another, corrode at different rates,” Austal explained in a statement.

“That suggests to me the metal is completely gone, not rusted,” naval analyst Raymond Pritchett wrote of Independence‘s problem.

In 2013, the 2011 problems were fixed. There is a bill would to prohibit spending any money for “construction or advanced procurement of materials” for LCS 25 and LCS 26. But Littoral Combat Ships 5 through 12 are still under construction, while ships 13-16 are “in pre-production phase.” LCS 17-24 are still awaiting Congressional authorization.

McCain opened fire on the “over budget, behind schedule, deficient” Littoral Combat Ship, quoting the Government Accountability Office’s recent report calling for a “pause” in the program. (Interestingly, GAO largely backed off that recommendation in a subsequent hearing). Did she favor such a pause?

When Rooney tried a diplomatic answer, McCain stomped again: “I hope you will answer the question, and that is, do you believe a pause is needed as recommended by the GAO?”

Rooney’s polite reply boiled down to “No”: Slowing down production at this point, she said, when the price per ship has come down dramatically, will just send costs spiking upwards again.

The Navy won’t have finished key tests of LCS’s much-disputed battleworthiness, such as “full ship shock trials,” until 2016. By that point, the nation will have paid for all 24 ships already under contract, and the Navy will be about to issue a second multi-ship “block buy” for more, heading towards a planned fleet of 52.

Meanwhile, of the three planned “mission modules” — essentially plug-and-play packages of equipment that turn an LCS into a minesweeper, a sub-hunter, or a small craft killed — the first, most complex, and most critical is the mine-warfare package, whose initial, limited-capability version won’t even begin operational testing until 2014, by which date the Navy will already have bought four of them. Before the full-up mine-clearing module completes testing in 2018, the Navy will have bought at least 13.

From the Navy’s point of view, Independence and the other Littoral Combat Ships are unique. As in, uniquely cheap. Each vessel is supposed to cost just $400 million, compared to more than a billion bucks for a larger, all-steel Arleigh Burke-class destroyer.

Lots of things — major weapons, for one — have been left off the LCS in order to keep the price down. The list of deleted items includes something called a “Cathodic Protection System,” which is designed to prevent electrolysis.

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