H I Sutton Contributor Feb 24, 2020, 07:50am
One of the U.S. Navy’s latest fast attack submarines, the USS Colorado, recently returned from its maiden deployment. Homecoming photos show that large sections of the stealth coating have come off.
This issue is not new. Last September a whistleblower accused a U.S. shipbuilder of falsifying quality tests on the stealth coating. Whether or not quality control is an issue, the coatings are evidently still falling off.
USS Colorado (SSN 788) is the 15th Virginia Class submarine, and the fifth of the enhanced Block-III model. She was launched on March 17, 2018, so she is still considered new. And this was her first deployment. Significantly, she was built at a different shipyard than the one in the whistleblower case. This shows that problems with the coating are wider than that one complaint.
A certain amount of understanding is needed on this topic. The stealth coatings, known as anechoic coatings or as Special Hull Treatment in the U.S. Navy, are an engineering challenge. They work by absorbing sound waves from sonar, which is one way submarines are detected and tracked. But the coatings need to stay attached in some of the most challenging environments on earth. The hull of the submarine, despite being made of super-strong steel, flexes as the submarine goes deep. And the coating is exposed to temperature changes.
The U.S. Navy sends its submarines on longer patrols and in harsher conditions than most navies so the problem is exacerbated. According to an official press release, the Colorado steamed approximately 39,000 nautical miles during the deployment. That is roughly equal to sailing twice around the world.
We know that she has been in harsh northern waters. Although her exact route and activities are classified, it was reported that she crossed into the Arctic Circle. And she conducted port visits to Haakonsvern in Norway and Faslane in Scotland.
Based on open sources I have seen, when she pulled in to Faslane on January 10, most of the visible holes in the coating were already there. But at least one small section has come off since leaving Scotland.
The U.S. Navy is not alone in having challenges with its stealth coatings. The Royal Navy, which deploys in similar patterns, often has parts of the coating come off. And the Russian Navy, which operates in the harsh Arctic, faces similar problems. Their challenges are further exacerbated by the titanium hulls of some of its submarines, which appears to be even harder to stick the coating to.
So next time you see a submarine with visible scars where the coating has come off, realize that it is a common problem which reflects the hard operating conditions. A fix may be in the works.
Source: Forbes “Photo Shows That U.S. Submarines Still Have Stealth Problems”
Note: This is Forbes’ article I post here for readers’ information. It does not mean that I agree or disagree with the article’s views.