US Navy: From $600 toilet seats to $158 LED bulbs Let's say you were shopping for a batch of light bulbs for your ship. You find a nice fluorescent model for $4 each, and an LED equivalent for $158. Which would you buy?

If you were the US Navy, your answer more and more these days would be a no-brainer: 'I'll have a job lot of the $158 model, please.'

That's the subtext in an article by DefenseNews, which reports that the Navy has been choosing LED bulbs over T12 fluorescents for a variety of reasons, not least of which is that in the long run the LEDs save money.

According to the story, the Navy has retrofitted LEDs into at least 200 ships, including a couple of guided missile destroyers called the USS Preble and the USS Chafee. It is also currently building its first all-LED destroyer, the USS Paul Ignatius in Pascagoula, Mississippi. All future new builds in the same destroyer class – known as the Arleigh-Burke - will also sport LEDs.

'Reduced energy and fuel consumption and reduced maintenance and replacement were the primary drivers toward implementing LED lights,' DefenseNews quoted the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA)  as saying. 'Life expectancy for LED lights is approximately 5 to 10 times longer than fluorescent and incandescent light, in addition to offering a 50 percent to 80 percent energy savings.'

Bearing in mind that fluorescents can be roughly as energy efficient as LEDs (depsite the NAVSEA quote) it seems that the longevity of LED bulbs was a main factor.

Lt. Stephen Szachta, chief engineer of the Pearl Harbor-based Preble, told DefenseNews that LEDs 'are significantly brighter than the fluorescent lighting' and that 'LED lighting also lasts much longer, helping to save the ship money, and more importantly reducing the amount of man-hours expended replacing lights throughout the ship.'

Dave Bina, business and development manager for Energy Focus, Inc. an Ohio company that sells expensive LEDs to the Navy, said onboard LEDs should last 10 years – not as long as what vendors claim for landlubbing environments, but a long time in the rigorous life of a bulb at sea.

Another benefit of the LED bulbs over fluorescents is that they eliminate the flickering and humming that can cause sleepless nights for sailors, Energy Focus president Eric Hilliard implies.

The Navy appears to have a considerable demand for them. According to DefenseNews: 

'A typical Arleigh Burke-class destroyer needs 281 bunk lights, 201 large and 50 small globes, 19 explosion-proof globes, and at least 3,682 2-foot bulbs in single, double and triple-lamp fixtures. As ship size goes up, so do the number of bulbs. Cruisers, for example, need about 6,000 two-foot lamps.'

Among the products Energy Focus is providing is a 2-foot long bulb at a price of $158, including $13 for delivery.

Seems like an ocean of a difference next to a $4 T12. But this is the US Navy that once made headlines for buying $640 toilet seat covers that met stringent specifications for vibration resistance, weight and durability.

Yes, the Navy likes a rugged, durable product. To this day, people continue to debate the merits of the infamous fibreglass commode. Critics might now equally wrangle over the pros and cons of those light bulbs.

But if the savings turn out as advertised, then that should calm any storm over the expenditures. The thing is, we'll have to wait a decade to find out.

Photo: Sailing, sailing, lit up by LEDs. Climb aboard the Pearl Harbor-based USS Preble and you'll find some pricey 2-foot LED tubes. Image is from US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Shawn J Stewart via Wikimedia