Surface Forces: Sandstorms Sink Ships


August 7, 2006: The U.S. Navy is finding that operating in the Persian Gulf is more expensive in ways they had not anticipated. The biggest problems are the combination of heat (this is one of the hottest places where American ships are regularly at sea) and the fine sand and abundant dust. This sand and dust blows out to sea for quite a distance. Actually, on some days, you will find yourself steaming into a "mist" of dust no matter where you are out there. The smaller ships, like mine sweepers, patrol boats and amphibious craft, have it the worst. More of their gear is exposed to the sun and sand, and their crews are relatively smaller. This means fewer manhours available for extra maintenance. The damage piles up, and the navy is finding that many of these smaller ships will need overhauls earlier, and more maintenance on a regular basis, just to keep them in service.
Another maintenance problem was caused by the "Sea Swap" program, where smaller ships get their crews replaced every six months, instead of ship and crew steaming back to home port after six months. The different crews don't have the same intimate knowledge of a ships quirks, just experience working on a nearly identical ship of the same class. Thus some maintenance problems got worse. Moreover, pre-Sea Swap, the voyage to and from the Gulf gave the crew time to do more maintenance. Now, a Sea Swap crew flies into the Bahrain, spends a few days with the departing crew, and gets right to work.
The navy is taking all this seriously, and is revising how it does maintenance with Sea Swap crews, and smaller ships.


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