Military

USS Rust Bucket? Why Navy's Ship Looks More Brown Than Haze Gray

January 2, 2023Carl Prine
A series of photos released by the US Navy's guided-missile destroyer Hopper on Dec. 29, 2022, revealed extensive rust topside on the Arleigh Burke-class warship. Hopper is homeported at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. US Navy photo.

A series of photos released by the US Navy's guided-missile destroyer Hopper on Dec. 29, 2022, revealed extensive rust topside on the Arleigh Burke-class warship. Hopper is homeported at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. US Navy photo.

Photos of a rust-ravaged US Navy warship have gone viral, but military officials say there’s a really good reason why the vessel’s topside looks brown instead of haze gray.

Released on Thursday, Dec. 29, to showcase an awards ceremony on board the guided-missile destroyer Hopper, the images captured sailors in several different uniforms of the day standing atop a deck that looks muddier than a chief’s cup of joe.

Coffee or Die Magazine quickly figured out DDG-70 was pierside in Hawaii, but officials confirmed Tuesday that Hopper's been in the yard for a few weeks, undergoing repairs that included mending its nonslip surface.

“The ship is currently in a continuous maintenance availability period in Pearl Harbor,” said Cmdr. Arlo K. Abrahamson, the spokesperson for Naval Surface Force Pacific in Coronado, California. “Repairs to the ship’s topside and non-skid are scheduled to begin later this week. Those repairs were scheduled well in advance of the recent photos.” 

Haze gray

A series of photos released by the US Navy's guided-missile destroyer Hopper on Dec. 29, 2022, revealed extensive topside rust on the Arleigh Burke-class warship. Hopper is homeported at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. US Navy photo.

Compared with three decades ago, it’s not always easy to maintain ships in port.

Municipal, state, and federal environmental regulators have cracked down nationwide on once routine efforts to scrape rust, maintain equipment, and repaint vessels and aircraft, including in Hawaii.

Commanding officers have learned to schedule specific types of anti-rust work at specific places, and the maintenance will take place only under calm weather conditions.

Warships like Hopper entering the yard also face restrictions barring them performing extensive topside maintenance because scheduled deck work often requires a surface free of new paint.

Haze gray

A series of photos released by the US Navy's guided-missile destroyer Hopper on Dec. 29, 2022, revealed extensive topside rust on the Arleigh Burke-class warship. Hopper is homeported at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii. US Navy photo.

At the same time, however, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday demands his crews take ownership of their warships.

He's ordered them to value what the vessels look like when they ply the world’s seas.

“Appearance is important,” Gilday, a highly decorated career surface warfare officer told an April 28 audience at the nonprofit Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC. “I mean, you got to look sharp. We are the world’s premier Navy. We’ve got to look like it. This comes down to our Get Real, Get Better campaign for people to self-assess and self-correct, for people to stand up and take action when they see stuff wrong, and not accept stuff that’s broken. Do what you can to fix it. If you can’t elevate it, the chain of command ought to be listening. They ought to be listening to your proposed solutions.”

COMNAVSURFPAC’s Abrahamson agreed completely with Gilday, telling Coffee or Die the US Pacific Fleet’s surface crews “have high expectations for being shipshape and seaworthy.”

“Our ships by and large do this well. If ships fall short of these high expectations, we take measures to remediate these issues quickly.” 

haze gray (1920x1080, AR: 1.78)

haze gray

Aviation Ordnanceman Airman Tyler Helm fights rust on board the aircraft carrier, Ronald Reagan, Sept. 2, 2022, in Yokosuka, Japan. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Eric Stanton.

Abrahamson declined to address concerns swirling across the waterfront, where sailors kvetch about manning ships in a growing Navy dogged by recruiting and retention woes, which have led to not enough hands to perform nonskid maintenance, especially when underway.

That's a chronic problem that's been exacerbated over the past several years by a global COVID-19 pandemic, and efforts by Big Navy to boot sailors concerned about the vaccine's safety.

Instead, Abrahamson pointed to a range of outstanding rust-busting efforts to protect Navy vessels worldwide, including the ongoing ship preservation campaign on board the aging guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain while moored in San Diego.

Haze gray

Sailors assigned to deck division conduct hull preservation on the Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser Lake Champlain on Nov. 15, 2022, in San Diego, California. US Navy Photo by L.t.j.g. Sarah Weinstein.

The crew of the Ticonderoga-class cruiser realized that the best time to attack rust is when the vessel is in port, not at sea.

So the Tico’s triad — commander, executive officer, and their top enlisted advisor, the command master chief — decided to send reinforcements to help deck division battle the blight.

They created a “pres team” of preservationists to remove the rust, and they’ve been joined by other sailors dragooned from nearby warships to pitch in pierside.

“Sometimes in order to get things done we have to get creative in finding extra resources,” said Chief Boatswain’s Mate William Sanchez in a prepared statement. “Having the correct tools, favorable weather conditions, containment, and manpower can make preservation an easy task, but not all of those are always available at the same time.”

Read Next: ATF Agents Probing Guided-Missile Destroyer’s Suspicious Fire

Carl Prine
Carl Prine

Carl Prine is a former senior editor at Coffee or Die Magazine. He has worked at Navy Times, The San Diego Union-Tribune, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. He served in the Marine Corps and the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. His awards include the Joseph Galloway Award for Distinguished Reporting on the military, a first prize from Investigative Reporters & Editors, and the Combat Infantryman Badge.

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