Navy officials further explained to a congressional panel on Wednesday why they decided to scrap the fire-damaged USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) and how they are looking to mitigate impacts.

On Monday, the Navy said it decided to scrap LHD-6, concluding it would cost too much to fix or convert it to another use rather than build other new ships (Defense Daily, Nov. 30).

A fire continues to be fought into the evening on board USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12. (Photo: U.S. Navy)
A fire continued to be fought into the evening on board USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) at Naval Base San Diego on July 12. (Photo: U.S. Navy)

A fire heavily damaged the Wasp-class amphibious assault ship for four days in July while undergoing maintenance in San Diego (Defense Daily, July 17).

Responding to a question from Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Readiness and Management Support Chairman Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska), Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite said the investigation is still ongoing, but called the damage extensive.

“I’m a businessman, Mr. Chairmen, and at the end of the day there’s a return on investment and the return on investment of what it would’ve taken to rebuild that ship. Working very closely with the secretary of defense, Dr. [Mark] Esper wanted to see that ship come back and for all the right reasons to send the right message to say we don’t give up our ships very easily.”

However, “using logic and looking at what it would’ve required to put that ship back together, it would’ve been a foolish investment of our American taxpayer dollars to invest in a ship that was over 20 years old instead of looking at the options of building another ship in the future that would have more relative capabilities, embracing the technologies that are emerging,” Braithwaite continued.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday added LHD-6 is 22 years old and explained “about 60% of it was so heavily damaged it would have to be replaced. If we tried to rebuild the ship into an LHD, return it to its original state, it would take five to seven years to be straining the industrial base.”

Gilday said the Navy thinks there is one shipyard on the Gulf Coast that could do that kind of work, but “it would cost almost as much as a brand-new ship.”

Huntington Ingalls Industries [HII] built the ship and has its Ingalls Shipbuilding facility in Pascagoula, Miss. HII also builds the newer America-class LHA amphibious assault ships.

Gilday said when the service looked at repurposing the Bonhomme Richard into a command and control, hospital, or sealift vessel, it still would cost less money to just buy a new ship than convert this one.

Therefore, Gilday argued the $30 million the decommissioning cost they are planning to use was the right decision.

Braithwaite noted LHD-6 was not set to deploy until 2022 “so talking with the commandant about how we can ensure that we have the right assets to come in in the deployment plan to offset the loss of the ship. We’re working all those now.”

Gilday elaborated the Navy has mitigated any near-term operational impacts to losing LHD-6 by moving some other deployment schedules around. However, they are still figuring out longer term impacts like possibly accelerating production of another ship.

“Let’s say out to three to five years, we’re taking a look at what those other options could be. Do we accelerate the production of a big deck vessel? What would that mean with respect to the amphibious force that we’re building for the future? What are the priorities that we want to take a look at within the department? What is the demand signal from the Secretary of Defense and the combatant commanders of those vessels?”