Monday, August 14, 2006

FF(i)G lover's lament

As the fleet limps along, we need to rely on our underloved FF(not-so)G-7's to fill the gap in ships afloat. More often than not, those who know the ships best are those who work on them - for years. If you are a Frigate Sailor, you owe it to yourself to read what a someone who works on your ship sees. I post without addtional comment.
An open letter to the FFG-7 community

I'm a shipfitter, the guy that builds, repairs, and modifies ships, and I've been doing it since Nixon's first administration. It's not a glorious job, but for someone who got a huge thrill the first time he saw a ship he helped build enter the water and come to life, it's the only job for me. It became even more important when I got the opportunity to work on Uncle Sam’s finest warships. See, I've always loved reading about Naval History ever since I was a kid, so getting to work on Navy ships was just way cool.

I worked hard at learning how my customer worked too, since I was going to be working on his home/workplace every day. I got pretty good at that part too, if I say so myself. I can get cooperation from the crew when project managers can't, just because I know how to talk to them. To put it simply, I like the Navy.

Thus, my angst. I've worked on the Perrys since they were brand spanking new I know all the faults, and their strengths. I believe that the Perry class is the best deal the Navy got on a class of ships in a long, long time. They re not perfect ships, but for what they cost, a damn fine bargain, especially since back when this class was proposed, no one even remotely thought these ships would last past the mid-90s (and some didn't, the peace dividend). But here we are today, with the Perrys in every corner of the seven seas, performing the mission. All in all, my favorite class of ships. Small, easy to work on, a tidy little package, well fit to go in harms way. But, shipmates (if I may call you that), you are killing your ships. Slowly, surely, you are killing this fine class of ships with neglect. I challenge you to go to the third deck level and below, and look into all the bilges and side shell longitudinal's, and tell me you can't see the rot.

I’ve spent the last year fixing this rot, and much as I hate to say this, we aren't doing but a small fraction of what we should. We just replaced a vertical support stanchion in Aux 2, lower level, because it had a hole in it. Good, it needed to be done. But just for the hell of it, I walked over to the side shell, and looked at the third deck underside, and there it was: L-11 and L-12, the two longs below the third deck, were rotted away. From the topside, they look fine. That's because the cancer has been covered by numerous coats of paint. Recently, while removing the paint before hot work, I found fresh paint at the bottom of a half inch of coatings. Shipmates, you cannot cure rust with a simple coat of paint. It does NOTHING to stop the corrosion. And what's worse, your own books tell you so. You can't keep doing dumb stuff like this. In the past year, rotten longs have also cause the shell to erode and weaken in the same area, and in three cases, leaks to the sea. Really sucks when your home starts sinking, shipmates, really sucks And the problem is wide spread: Aux 1, Aux2, Aux3, MER, and CHT, all suffer from the same neglect.

Now, I'm told sailors today are far too busy to work on their bilges. Yet they have plenty of time to make the parts of the ship that visitors walk down look shipshape and Bristol fashion. I've even seen sailors laying down new non-skid in the centerline passageway. They paint whole p-ways, spaces, ladderwells, scuppers, all sorts of stuff, and ALL of it where it won't keep the ship from foundering. Obviously, there is time for some restricted men to haul out the needle guns and do some chipping in the bilges. Just think of it as character building.

The really nasty part of this story is that your ships HAVE to hold up until they are replaced by the LCS, or, as I call it, the Little Crappy Ships. This class is going to have problems, hell, it already IS having problems. So your great little warships, which the LCS can't hold a candle to, are going to have to hold the line. Us yardbirds would love to do it all NAVSEA won't let, dontcha know. So it's up to you to stem the tide. Hell, just have a little pride in your ship! I know it's done, I've seen it before. But then, that was a Navy years ago, the one that stared the Red Banner Northern Fleet in the eye, and did not blink. What kind of Navy is this?

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