Monday, January 11, 2021

Ships and Fires

The USS Bonhomme Richard recently caught fire pierside in San Diego and burned for more than a week before the fire was brought under control. There are many things of interest about that fire and the course that it ran, which I will not go into here. They do not reflect well on the Navy.

Even more interesting is the end result, which is that the damage was so extensive that the Navy decided to decommission and scrap the ship.

The major lesson that should be taken from this incident is that Navy ships are still vulnerable to large fires. Fire, in fact, is the sailor’s greatest fear at sea. The fear of sinking is so far down in second place that there is no second place. The thought of fire at sea causes nightmares.

Enter the Arleigh Burke class destroyer, the most numerous class of destroyers the Navy operates. It’s an old class; they’ve been around forever, and have undergone more upgrades than anyone can count. Among those upgrades was the brilliant (!) idea to build the superstructure out of aluminum. Doing so, the theory went, would lower the center of gravity and make the ship more stable in heavy seas.

It worked like a charm. The ships rode out storms very well indeed. Then one of the new ships suffered a major fire at sea and the aluminum superstructure melted, because that’s what aluminum does in such a fire. Steel just gets hot, maybe turns red, but aluminum melts. A ship with a melted superstructure is not a ship.

Subsequent Arleigh Burke destroyers, ships of all classes in fact, have been built with steel superstructures. Seemed like the Navy had learned a lesson.

Not so much. The new “Littoral Combat” ships not only have aluminum superstructures, they have aluminum hulls as well. That which has been learned can be unlearned.

1 comment:

bruce said...

I don't suppose much of the aluminum hull or sailors will be left after a missile or mine or torpedo hit. I thought the keel at least had steel in it.. Maybe it does but the rest?

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