The US Navy has announced that the USS Bonhomme Richard will be decommissioned and scrapped, after an investigation found that the damage the amphibious assault ship sustained during a fire that burned for nearly four days in July was too extensive to economically repair.
In a phone call to reporters yesterday, Rear Admiral Eric Ver Hage, commander of the Navy Regional Maintenance Center and Naval Sea Systems Command director, Surface Ship Maintenance and Modernization, said:
“After thorough consideration, the secretary of the Navy and the chief of naval operations have decided to decommission the Bonhomme Richard due to the extensive damage sustained during that July fire. In the weeks and months since that fire, the Navy conducted a comprehensive material assessment to determine the best path forward for that ship and our Navy.”
Three main options were evaluated for the future of the Bonhomme Richard:
- Restoring the Bonhomme Richard to its original pre-fire configuration.
- Rebuilding the Bonhomme Richard in a new configuration, such as a tender for surface ships and submarines.
- Scrapping the Bonhomme Richard.
A comprehensive material assessment carried out by the Navy following the fire concluded that the cost of restoring the Bonhomme Richard could exceed $3 billion in cost (the Bonhomme Richard is estimated to have cost $750 million in 1998 dollars, or $1.2 billion today, while a new America-class amphibious assault ship is estimated to cost $4.1 billion) and require between five and seven years to complete. Another examination of the ship for rebuilding the Bonhomme Richard in a new configuration concluded that doing so would cost more than $1 billion, “as much or more” than a new ship built from scratch, while taking just as long. In comparison to the two options, decommissioning, salvaging for parts, towing and ultimately scrapping the Bonhomme Richard would cost only $30 million and only take 9 to 12 months to complete, according to Rear Admiral Ver Hage.
Rear Admiral Ver Hage stated that harvesting of some systems has been done since September, and will continue. A timeline for the deactivation and scrapping of the Bonhomme Richard is yet to be finalized, owing to four investigations into the fire that are still ongoing. These are:
- A Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) criminal investigation, which now includes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).
- A command investigation led by Vice Adm. Scott Conn, the commander of U.S. 3rd Fleet.
- A Naval Sea Systems Command failure review board investigating safety, structural and design issues related to the ship and what changes can be made to prevent a fire moving through the hull the way it did during the fire.
- A NAVSEA safety investigation board looking into events on board preceding the fire and any divergences from current policies and procedures.
The Bonhomme Richard was nearing the end of an 18-month maintenance period when the fire broke out, which saw the ship refitted for operations of Marine Corps F-35Bs at an estimated cost of $250 million. Rear Admiral Ver Hage did not comment on how much of the equipment added or modified during the refit could be saved, merely saying that it was “clearly a loss” for the Navy and Marine Corps.
Rear Admiral Ver Hage did not comment on whether the decision to scrap Bonhomme Richard would affect future procurement of amphibious assault ships, saying that the Navy is in a “good place for LHA construction for now”.