Who among the Navy’s best and brightest hasn’t at some point earlier in their enlisted career been forced to scrape rusting, dilapidated paint from the various corners of the service’s ageing fleet of vessels? Hardly anyone, perhaps, until now.

The Naval Undersea Warfare Center Division, in partnership with industry, has discovered that laser ablation may be the key to removing hazardous paint and other coatings from ships’ surfaces in a cheaper, faster way than conventional methods, more commonly known as sailor scut work.

Chipping paint has, in essence, served as a torturous form of labor since the Navy made the switch from wood to metal ships.

“The average ship requires enough chipping and painting annually to keep 16 sailors busy full time,” reported the LA Times.

Luckily, an experiment aboard the aircraft carrier Carl Vinson that used laser ablation from Adapt Lasers, proved successful in cutting time and cost from paint removal activities. The company’s process had previously been used to strip away paint and coatings from Air Force aircraft parts, however, this is the first time that the Navy has considered laser ablation on its ships.

“Results from these experiments showed laser paint removal to be safer for the workers and faster than traditional methods used for many years,” Timothy Niemeier, vice president of Adapt Laser, said in a statement. “It reduces solvent or chemical exposure hazards while eliminating time consuming preparation and clean-up steps.”

Benefits of laser ablation reportedly include “less operational downtime for military personnel [and] no additional need to use solvents or chemicals to remove any oils, grease or other surface contaminants.”

“Based on excellent test results, our laser coating removal equipment is Navy approved for shipboard use,” Niemeier said. “The Navy has a new solution, to save time, reduce hazards and better maintain the most advanced ships in the world.”

Now, it seems sailors will finally be able to shift their focus away from chipping paint and onto more important tasks like planning steel beach picnics or figuring out what to do with all those aquaflage cammies now that the service has retired them.

Sarah Sicard is a Senior Editor with Military Times. She previously served as the Digitial Editor of Military Times and the Army Times Editor. Other work can be found at National Defense Magazine, Task & Purpose, and Defense News.

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