Naval Air: July 21, 2004

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The U.S. Navys Sea Swap program has run into an unexpected glitch. The program basically saves a lot of money by flying new crews out to a distant location, rather than having a ship spend a month getting to, say, the Persian Gulf, staying for four months, than steaming back. With Sea Swap, the ships stay there 18-24 months, getting new crews every six months, then steam back for any major maintenance required. That has worked fine for the ships, but not for the aircraft. Some of the helicopters on Sea Swap destroyers have had to come home early, with replacements flown in on Air Force C-5s. Being at sea corrodes and damages aircraft at a faster rate than does land based duty. Thus doing a Sea Swap with amphibious ship, which carries twenty or more aircraft, presents more problems because you have to  replace aircraft almost as frequently as you do the crew. The sea based aircraft, it appears, can be kept on the ship for about a year before requiring more intensive maintenance than the ships crew can provide. Another problem with amphibious ships is finding hotel rooms for several thousand officers, sailors and marines of the second crew, in the week or so it takes for the two crews to complete the swap. 

But the navy is finding that it may be possible to handle the aircraft problems like a wartime situation, where ships would be losing aircraft regularly, and getting replacements moved in would be just another chore for the fleet supply people to handle. During World War II, some of the smaller carriers did nothing but move replacement aircraft out to the larger carriers, who were losing aircraft every week to accidents and combat. 

 


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