Summary, Findings, and Recommendation

Halons 1301 and 1211 have served the Navy well as fire extinguishing agents for ships and aircraft since their operational introduction in 1978. Some $1 billion are invested in halon-based fire extinguishing systems hardware, engineering support, testing, installation, and the agent itself, both in platforms or in reserve.

Effective alternative chemical agents have been identified by the Navy and are being incorporated into the design of new ships and aircraft. There is a weight and volume penalty associated with these agents relative to halons, but the impact can be minimized if use of these agents is incorporated into the initial platform design. In addition to these chemical replacement agents, there are promising alternative fire extinguishing systems. The Navy is currently studying and testing water mist and inert gas generator systems and is incorporating these systems into its new-design platforms.

It is technically feasible to retrofit, into existing platforms, non-halon fire extinguishing systems equipped with the replacement chemical agents selected by the Navy for its new-design ships and aircraft. Such a program would cost about $1 billion if executed in the near term, with the amount diminishing over time as ships and aircraft retire from service.

The Navy has sufficient halon 1301 agent in hand to support halon-equipped ships and aircraft until they go out of service. However, inventory projections point to a marginal reserve in the 2030 time period. To hedge against uncertainty, miscalculation, or unanticipated high future usage, the Navy could consider increasing its safety margin by buying recycled halon 1301 in the near term while prices are at a reasonable level. Alternatively, the Navy could consider installing non-halon fire suppression systems in selected new-construction vessels, such as the DDG-51, thereby increasing the halon 1301 reserve by some 400,000 pounds.

FINDING: Effective alternative chemical agents have been identified by the Navy and are currently being incorporated into the design of new ships and aircraft. There is a weight and volume penalty associated with these agents relative to halons, but the impact can be minimized if use of these agents is incorporated into the initial platform design. Further, retrofit of these agents into existing naval platforms is technically feasible in most cases.

FINDING: In addition to the chemical replacement agents, promising alternative fire extinguishing systems such as water mist systems and inert gas generators are under consideration by the Navy for some applications. These systems are being incorporated into new-design naval platforms.

Options

The committee sees several options available to the Navy for meeting its requirements for ongoing, environmentally acceptable effective fire suppression in its ships and aircraft:

  1. Continue on present course. Continue to implement selected alternative fire protection approaches in new-design platforms. This option is based on the assumption that the current supply of halon 1301 set aside for Navy use will be sufficient for the remaining life of existing ships and aircraft. To hedge against a potential shortfall in the halon 1301 inventory, the Navy could consider buying additional recycled halon to augment the Navy bank and/or adopt alternative agents and technologies in current-design ships not yet constructed, such as the DDG-51. Further, the Navy should maintain, at the present level, its scientific and engineering research effort devoted to developing alternative fire suppression agents and technologies.


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