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High-tech ship paint means less work

Coating likely to reduce time spent with needle gun

Jan. 29, 2013 - 04:02PM   |   Last Updated: Jan. 29, 2013 - 04:02PM  |  
Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Mark Aktabowski paints aboard the cruiser Mobile Bay on Jan. 3 while deployed to 5th fleet. The Navy has begun employing a new paint that lasts longer and requires fewer coats.
Boatswain's Mate 2nd Class Mark Aktabowski paints aboard the cruiser Mobile Bay on Jan. 3 while deployed to 5th fleet. The Navy has begun employing a new paint that lasts longer and requires fewer coats. (MC2 Armando Gonzales / Navy)
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The Navy’s old paints, while easy to apply, too soon become chalky and fade away. But the new polysiloxane paint lasts longer and holds its haze gray color, and Naval Surface Forces is pushing ships to use the more durable paint for exterior surfaces.
SURFOR, in a December message, gave guidelines for using the new paint, an epoxy that comes in two buckets sailors must mix together before applying.
"These coatings are extremely durable, corrosion-, chemical- and abrasion-resistant and can be scrubbed clean to remove stains, greatly reducing the need for cosmetic touch-up or over-coating," the message reads.
Among the guidelines spelled out in the message:
• SURFOR now requires polysiloxane paint for depot and intermediate-level maintenance on exteriors above the waterline, including the freeboard, superstructure, stacks and masts.
• Old silicone alkyd paints are still allowed in limited amounts. Once a ship switches to the polysiloxane, it can’t paint over it with the older paint since the benefits of the new paint will be eliminated.
• One-gallon touch-up kits are available to paint over areas that can’t be scrubbed clean.
• Polysiloxane applies best to a "clean, bare-blasted surface." Because of this, the first coating can only be applied during an availability or in the yards.

Your time spent toiling away with a needle gun is about to lessen.

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Your time spent toiling away with a needle gun is about to lessen.

Naval Sea Systems Command is rolling out a new topside paint for surface ships that does a better job of preventing corrosion. The new paint will keep ships in good condition longer and take less work to keep them looking shipshape.

NAVSEA says that current silicone alkyd paints fade, stain or peel in as little as 18 months, but the new polysiloxane coating could last up to five times longer, or 7 years. Navy officials like that it will cut down on maintenance and therefore save money.

Sailors will no doubt appreciate the fact it's less time spent painting in the long run.

The new paint can be applied with either a brush, roller or spray system, either directly to metal or atop a polymer undercoating that provides an additional layer of protection. It takes one fewer coat than its predecessor. Corroded surfaces still need to be addressed with a needle gun when applying new coats, but officials said the grimy, uncomfortable work will be less frequent.

"I know that's shocking to the sailors in the room," said Rear Adm. Matthew Klunder, chief of naval research during a Jan. 16 speech at the Surface Navy Association's annual symposium in Arlington, Va.

Officers may find the savings just as shocking, said Lawrence Schuette, the acting director of research at the Office of Naval Research. In all, the new coating is projected to save 57,000 man- hours of labor every year between the ships' crews and yard workers.

So far it's the standard paint only on surface ships above the waterline, but Klunder said it's being evaluated for under the waterline and aircraft, as well.

Maintenance time for the submarine that will replace the Virginia class could be reduced enough to get one to two additional deployments before a boat reaches the end of its service life.

"I would simply say that we have fewer people onboard today and they're very, very busy either maintaining their ship or training or operating their equipment. This will give them more time to do tasks related to war fighting," Schuette said.

In a presentation at the symposium, Mark Ingle, NAVSEA's technical warrant holder for coatings and corrosion control, said the new coating does a better job holding its color than the paint it replaces. Some older paints turned slightly pink as they aged.

The new polysiloxane paint, from NCP Coatings Inc. in Niles, Mich., is effective because it's, in a way, "pre-aged."

The current paint weakens faster on a ship's surface because, as it faces heat, sunlight and sea salt, oxidation occurs. The new paint is already oxidized, so it doesn't weaken after it has been applied, he said.

Because a coat of the polysiloxane paint lasts longer, it means that it will last through a deployment, doing a better job of controlling corrosion. Coatings that quickly wear out sometimes could not be addressed during a cruise because sailors couldn't do the required work without getting in the way of crucial operations. For example, nonstop helicopter sorties make it tough to find enough time to paint around a flight deck, Schuette said.

Officials could not provide the price per gallon, but Schuette said the new paint costs around 30 percent more than the silicone ones. But the new paint only requires two coats, instead of the silicone varieties that require 3 coats, Schuette said. That would make the new paint ultimately cost less.

And there is a greater savings over time, since the new paint doesn't need to be replaced as frequently, he added.

So far, it's been used on the cruiser Cape St. George, amphibious dock landing ships Gunston Hall and Oak Hill, destroyer Hopper and amphibious transport dock Mesa Verde as part of an ONR effort to demonstrate the new paint.

When put to mass use, the money-saving potential could be significant. According to one Navy study, corrosion costs around $7 billion per year, or a quarter of the maintenance budget. Of that, $3.1 billion is spent on ships and submarines, while another $2.6 billion is spent on aviation. The rest is spent on ground vehicles and facilities.

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