Boxer deployment delay highlights aging fleet, lack of repair capacity

Boxer deployment delay highlights aging fleet, lack of repair capacity

It’s likely the U.S. Navy can repair its nearly 30-year-old amphibious assault ship Boxer with an underwater team, but the dilemma of how to fix the ship and redeploy it as soon as possible highlights the service’s dual challenges of an antiquated amphibious fleet that lacks the necessary repair capacity, the Navy secretary told reporters.

Boxer left San Diego, California, for deployment on April 1. It was already behind schedule, as fellow ship Somerset left the city in January. Somerset was the lone member of the Boxer Amphibious Ready Group prepared to leave at the time. Boxer and Harpers Ferry stayed behind for maintenance before leaving in the spring.

But Boxer had to turn around on April 11, due to what was ultimately determined to be an issue with the ship’s starboard rudder and roller bearing system.

“USS Boxer will execute repairs to its starboard rudder at Naval Station San Diego. The waterborne repairs will be conducted at the pier and will likely not require a dry dock. Boxer may resume its deployment as soon as this summer,” Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, a spokesman for the commander of Naval Surface Forces, said in an April 30 statement.

Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told reporters following a speech at the Modern Day Marine conference this week that Boxer “just came out of a very complicated availability, and we are investigating the reason why the bearing failed on the rudder.”

The Navy is also still investigating if it can fully address the problem with an underwater repair team rather than having to wait for a dry dock in San Diego to become available. However, waiting for a dry dock would cause further delays to the ship’s redeployment to the Pacific, Del Toro said, adding that the Navy should know the final repair plan within the next few days and that teams are preparing for both outcomes.

Del Toro noted there can be material deficiencies in new ships, but the old fleet is much more likely to experience them.

“In the amphibious navy in particular, we have failed to basically purchase new amphibious ships at the pace that we should have for decades, and now we’re sort of paying the consequences of that,” he said.

He noted the Navy’s fiscal 2025 budget plan shows the service is preparing to buy San Antonio-class amphibious transport docks in FY25, FY27 and FY29, as well as the next America-class amphibious assault ship in FY27.

“I’m hopeful about the future, and we’ll continue to do the very best that we can to replace those old amphibious warships,” he said, noting that deployment roadblocks like Boxer’s would become less common when the average age of the amphibious fleet is younger.

Lawmakers for years have pushed the Navy to sign a multi-ship contract with HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding to lower the cost of buying these amphibious platforms. The Navy, despite several congressional measures giving it the contracting authority, has declined to take this step, citing uncertainty about how many, if any, amphibious vessels it wants to buy in the future.

With the debate over the future of San Antonio-class procurement now settled, Del Toro said the Navy hopes to have this multi-ship deal worked out in the coming weeks.

The Navy acquisition chief “is in close discussions with the shipyard, and obviously we’re trying to negotiate the best deal possible on behalf of the American taxpayer. So I feel confident that, hopefully over the next several weeks, we’ll be able to have a negotiated deal that we can announce,” Del Toro said.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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