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Sep 15, 2017 | By Troy Carter

How the Navy’s mothball fleet survives big storms

Small company collaborates with Navy on dependable, robust mooring solution with assistance from TechLink

News Article Image of How the Navy’s mothball fleet survives big storms
Decommissioned aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy begins its transfer to the Navy Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia in 2007. (Tommy Gilligan/Navy)

The Navy owns a fleet of 50 inactive warships that have no propulsion, no crew, and no way to outrun big weather. And when storms like Hurricane Irma have most captains sailing for blue skies, these ships are stuck in harbor.

Many of the mothballed ships, like the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy, which retired in 2007 after four decades of service, are now permanently docked at the Naval Inactive Ship Maintenance Facility in Philadelphia. There they serve as reserve, but await dismantle, donation to a museum, or repurpose as an artificial reef.

To keep storms with strong winds from turning these relics into floating wrecking balls, the Navy has partnered with Truston Technologies, a small, Maryland-based marine company, to design and build a dynamic mooring system proven to withstand 100-year weather events.

Erick Knezek
Truston Technologies CEO Erick Knezek

“Imagine a massive storm coming into a port with 130 mph winds, coming broadside on a ship like an aircraft carrier, that wind load on those ships can certainly be dozens if not hundreds of tons, and they have to resist that load,” said Erick Knezek, founder and CEO of Truston Technologies.

The system the Navy currently has in place in Philadelphia held during hurricanes Sandy and Irene, but it’s an early version and Truston is ready to outfit the Navy with an improved design.

The basic idea is the same, instead of tying off on the pier, the mooring line–a chain with single links weighing 50 pounds–is threaded through eyelets attached to the pier (or off-shore mooring buoy) and the ship.

At the end of the line are massive counterweights, concrete with chain cast into them, that hang from steel equalizers (pulleys without wheels) on either end of the ship. The counterweights constantly pull the ship into the pier, but allow it to push away during a storm rather than break the mooring chain or bollard.

“We’ve had instances with the Navy where the chain was connected directly to the bollard and it was overloaded and ripped right off the pier, that has happened before,” the former naval officer said. “Most people assume that these are massive ships, and you can just tie them to the pier. But typically, naval vessels go underway to outrun a storm when the wind speeds are forecast in excess of 34 knots.”

Truston Technologies' self-tensioning, load-equalizing mooring system is installed on the USS John F. Kennedy
Truston Technologies’ self-tensioning, load-equalizing mooring system is installed on the USS John F. Kennedy, a decommissioned aircraft carrier. (courtesy Truston Technologies)

As a collaborative effort with research engineers at the Naval Facilities Engineering and Expeditionary Warfare Center, Truston Technologies found it useful to license the resulting patented design in June 2017, giving them exclusive rights to produce the mooring system.

Marti Elder, senior technology manager at TechLink, guided the patent license to completion. Elder said that Truston Technologies was a hardworking firm that was earning its successes.

“These guys are serious players and we were pleased to see them sign another license agreement with the Navy,” Elder said, referencing a previous deal that transferred a Navy-patented port security barrier system to Truston Technologies.

Knezek in turn credited partnerships between the government and industry, calling the collaboration good for the nation.

“It’s very easy to work with the NAVFAC, we’ve worked together for a long time,” Knezek said. “And TechLink was helpful for us in navigating the federal process to quickly get technology to market, and especially in negotiating the financial aspect of it, communicating to the government our limited market and the upfront costs we had already invested in the technology.”

Troy Carter can be reached at troy.carter@montana.edu or 406-994-7798.