Rust is not something the average person thinks much about when it comes to designing high-tech weapons. But several years ago I reported on a major missile test defense test that was ruined because a part rusted that helped hold the missile in place before liftoff. And in February the entire F-22 fleet was grounded "due to poorly designed drainage in the cockpit." The affected parts were ejection seat rods. Congress is worried that similar problems could afflict the Joint Strike Fighter and has requested a report about lessons learned from the F-22's experience.
Regardless of how lowly rust might seem at first glance, it is a huge problem for the military, costing about $20 billion each year. According to the House Armed Services Committee, roughly $7 billion of that rust is preventable. So, the committee, doing its job of congressional oversight, wants to substantially increase the budget of a little known Pentagon entity, the Office of Corrosion Policy and Oversight, to improve the military's ability to stop rust from crippling major weapons systems.
"The Office of Corrosion Policy and Oversight has a proven record of successfully reducing corrosion costs, with a 50-to-1 return on investment on the 169 programs that have been implemented through it," the HASC says in the summary of its bill. So the committee is increasing the office's budget to a paltry $10.8 million, up from a tiny request of $3.6 million. Doing the math, that should result in a return of $540 million to the taxpayer. Kudos to Daniel Dunmire, director of Corrosion Policy and Oversight.
Of course, there's usually a rub, and there is a little one this time. The HASC says that it has not yet gotten a "congressionally directed report" from Dunmire about those lessons learned from the F-22's rust problems: "The Committee notes that it has yet to receive the congressionally directed report from the Director of Corrosion Policy and Oversight assessing the corrosion control lessons learned from the F-22 Raptor fleet—which was grounded in February 2010 for corrosion on ejection seat rods due to poorly designed drainage in the cockpit—as they apply to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program."
We hear little evidence of congressional irritation and expect the prospect of a bulging purse will only encourage OSD to cough up the report forthwith. Dunmire, who responded promptly to our inquiry about when the report would be done, said it should be ready by August.
For those interested in the corrosion issue writ large, have a look at this Government Accountability Office briefing.