Home » Budget Industry » Damaged Destroyer USS Fitzgerald Heading to U.S. for Repairs as Soon as September

Damaged Destroyer USS Fitzgerald Heading to U.S. for Repairs as Soon as September

USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) moves into Dry Dock 4 at Fleet Activities (FLEACT) Yokosuka to continue repairs and assess damage sustained from its June 17 collision with a merchant vessel. US Navy Photo

THE PENTAGON — The destroyer damaged by a collision with a merchant vessel off the coast of Japan is heading back to the U.S. for repairs, according to a Navy solicitation issued last week for a transport large enough to take the warship back to the U.S.

A Navy official confirmed to USNI News that the solicitation is a sign that service leadership has decided to take USS Fitzgerald (DDG-62) back to the U.S. for repairs to fix the hundreds of millions of damage from the June 17 collision that claimed the lives of seven sailors.

According to the Aug. 4 Fed Biz Opps solicitation, the Navy is looking for, “one U.S. or foreign flag Float On/Float Off (FLO/FLO) vessel capable of transporting an ARLEIGH BURKE class destroyer from [the] Far East to U.S. Gulf Coast or U.S. East Coast.”

The official said while the solicitation names the homes of the two shipyards that build Arleigh Burke destroyer, the work will likely be done on the West Coast.

A Tuesday report from Reuters indicated Fitzgerald could move as soon as next month.

The ship that will be contracted required to pick up Fitzgerald in Yokosuka for the trans-Pacific journey in a move reminiscent of the transport of USS Cole (DDG-67) from Yemen to the East Coast after the 2000 terrorist attack that killed the lives of 17 sailors.

At the time, the U.S. Navy commissioned the Norwegian heavy transport M/V Blue Marlin for $4.5 million to transport Cole at the time ($6.5 million in 2017 dollars) to take the ship back to the Gulf Coast for repairs from the Middle East.

MV Blue Marlin transporting USS Cole from Yemen following the 2000 attack on the ship. US Navy Photo

While the Navy is still tabulating the estimates, the cost to repair Fitzgerald could easily exceed $500 million — twice the repair bill of Cole.

Much of that cost will be driven by the extensive damage to the ship’s electronic systems, USNI News reported last month.

“The Cole was largely engineering, and it’s electronics that gets you,” retired Navy captain and naval analyst Chris Carlson told USNI News last month.
“An engine looks expensive, but it’s a pretty basic repair compared to electronic systems.”
Several investigations into the collision with Fitzgerald and the Philippine-flagged ACX Crystal are ongoing.

The ship’s commander at the time, Cmdr. Bryce Benson, was temporarily relieved last month for medical reasons.

  • Chris Carson

    It’s amazing you cannot get oxygen generation right. It’s also stunning your electronic systems are not modular and largely self diagnosing and repairing. I know stuff got smashed, but war does that a lot.

    • NavySubNuke

      Please tell me where we can buy some of these modular, self diagnosing, and self repairing electronics — the sound great!

      • Chris Carson

        Any modern car has circuitry and a computer modulating that. Some of that stuff has several levels of fall over, before it fails completely.

        Certainly having a big hole smashed in the ship is seriously traumatic, but generally you run electronics in conduits, just like the electrical supply on ships. That should be just replace, and replugin at the electronics level.

        • NavySubNuke

          Don’t forget having a big hole smashed and then having that space filled with sea water.
          Also it is about more than just the electronics themselves since one of the flooded spaces included the cooling equipment that supports that equipment so you also have to change that out.
          Keep in mind that warships capable of defending themselves, engaging in anti-surface & anti-submarine & strike operations while also defending the ships around them, and even defending the homeland by intercepting inbound ballistic missile traveling than space are just a bit more complicated than cars….

        • Bill McCandless

          Cars don’t usually get infiltrated with seawater which is highly corrosive to electronics. A large portion of the cost is also coming from the fact that they are going to upgrade a lot of the electronics, not just replace what was there.

        • Horn

          Would you call a car designed in the 1980s a modern design? The Arleigh Burke-class was designed in the 1980s. I’d love to know where you could get modern, modular, self-diagnosing, self-repairing electronics during that time period.

          • NavySubNuke

            Shoot I’m still waiting to hear where you can get self-diagnosing and self-repairing electronics in 2017!

  • DaSaint

    I still can’t see this being repaired in a West Coast yard. Just doesn’t make sense. To the best of my knowledge, only Ingalls or Bath (which built it) has ever built or modernized a Burke class DDG.

    • torbai

      I think both Burke class and Ticonderoga class modifications are assigned to BAE Systems.

      • DaSaint

        You’re absolutely correct. But the type of modifications and upgrades BAE has been contracted to do has been generally for under $60 million per ship, and those are for intact hulls requiring typical hull maintenance and system upgrades. The scope of work required for the Fitzgerald, other than possibly straightening out her keel and/or replacing a good section of the ship, includes significant electronics replacement as well.

        This will be instructive to see who gets this contract. There may be some thinking that they don’t want to disrupt the new build production lines of the Burkes underway at Ingalls and Bath. On the other hand, that would seem perfect in terms of just building new modules and plugging them in…

      • DaSaint

        But the RFP did state that either MS or ME would be selected prior to Panama Canal transit, and pricing for ME was requested to be included.

  • SDW

    If this were a car, after a collision with this much damage, wouldn’t it be considered “totaled”? I also wonder about its worth for parting out; i.e., cannibalizing it for usable parts. I remember what happened to the USS San Francisco and the use of the USS Honolulu as a transplant donor.

    • NavySubNuke

      You total a car when the cost to repair it is more than the car is worth.
      A replacement for the Fitz would cost about $1.3B dollars with an expected service life of 40 years so every year of life is worth about (1300/40=) $32.5M.
      Fitz herself was launched in 1995 meaning she will be around until ~2030. This means her base “worth” to the Navy, assuming no upgrades are performed, is about (18*32.5=) $585M
      So if the Navy can return Fitz to service for less than $585M than they shouldn’t total her by car insurance standards.
      This calculation is of course overly simplistic as there are also other reasons to repair Fitz and return her to service too:
      1. Shipyard capacity – it is easier and faster to repair a ship like Fitz even in her current condition than it is to start over.
      2. It is actually easier to get repair money out of congress for something high profile like this than it is to get money for a whole new ship
      3. There is the emotional aspect of the fact that sailors died on the Fitz and other sailors struggled to save them and to save Fitz herself — taking the time to fix her and send her back out to sea on deployment is just the right thing to do so long as it isn’t completely impractical to repair her

      • Hugh

        Agreed. Politically it cannot be paid off.

      • James

        A car is generally considered “totaled” when repairs exceed 70% of the fair market value, not the purchase price and not the replacement cost. Vehicles depreciate quickly in value, and one would have to assume ships do, too. If you paid $30k for a new car, drove it for 10 years, then sustained $15k in damage to that car, would you think it a smart move to sink that money into that car? In general I think not.

        Price to build a destroyer varies wildly based on many, many variables. However, FITZGERALD’s keel was laid in 1993 and was commissioned in 1995. Back then the running advertised price was around $1B (side note: she’s a Flight I). So, for all intents & purposes she’s 22 years old. I understand that there has been much discussion about extending the service life of DDG’s to 40 years, but there is much debate on both sides of that issue, too. Last I looked the ADVERTISED service life is still 30 years, but of course they can be used longer than that… like a car if it’s taken care of. Regardless,
        considering she’s well over 20, I would consider that part a wash.

        What is more relevant is the fact that this ship has been very badly damaged. Ships that sustain this amount of structural damage (the keel is bent! That’s akin to damaging the frame on a car) are destined to forever have problems. Take a look at PORT ROYAL. She ran aground and wound up with an initial repair bill of (only) around $125M and missed two deployments because of it (I don’t care that the Navy claims she’s never missed a deployment. I was on the ship that covered her deployments. They’re full of s… with their creative scheduling and distractive language). That ship has been nothing but one huge problem ever since then.

        Bottom line: There is no objective reason to repair this ship at $500M plus. Remember that is just the current estimate, there is still more assessing to do before they have the final
        estimate. The final estimate will be much higher, and then the final number after cost run-ups and such will go way, way higher than that by the time everything is said and done. Everyone knows this even if they pretend otherwise. The only reasons to repair are purely political/emotional and cannot be debated using logic. It’s purely subjective on those grounds. She will be repaired, though. Let’s watch and see what the final bill is… at least the part they’re willing to divulge.

        • NavySubNuke

          Just double checked and the Navy is telling folks the life of some DDGs is 35 years and some is 40. (I tried to post the source link but it is blocked – just google “arliegh burke service life” and look at the break defense article that is the number 2 result – the answer is almost at the bottom of the page) — so the answer then is ~$445M for a 35 year ship (1300/35*13) or the $585M if Fitz is a 40 year ship.
          I’d also point out there is no actual estimate on what it will take to repair Fitz at this point. Also this will be a repair and an upgrade since she will get the update to the latest Aegis version as part of it which also complicates the calculation since whatever the upgrade would have cost should come out of the cost of repair since that is money the Navy would have spent on Fitz either way.
          “There is no objective reason to repair this ship”
          I completely and totally disagree with this statement. As I said in my original post:
          1. Shipyard capacity – it is easier and faster to repair a ship like Fitz even in her current condition than it is to start over.
          2. It is actually easier to get repair money out of congress for something high profile like this than it is to get money for a whole new ship
          We can argue if #2 is political or objective but #1 is purely objective. We can only build so many ships so fast.

          • James

            “Easier and faster” does not necessarily equal “objective”. Lots of things are easier and faster… like McDonald’s… but you still wind up with a less-than-ideal product. It all depends on the goal. If the only factor is “we need more ships yesterday” then okay, you’re right, but if we’re going to acknowledge cost-efficiency as any factor at all, then fixing her is not a cost-efficient move.

            30 years, 35, 40, w/e… like I said before, the couple of extra years you might possibly get… one day… maybe… is practically irrelevant. The fact is that this ship is over 22 years old, will be at 24 before she ever does sea trials and is destined to be a maintenance nightmare for the rest of her days. If she makes it to 35, those are going to be hard years.

            Focusing on cost-efficiency only here: You’re still not taking into account what the ship is actually worth. You’re still treating this as if it were worth as much as a brand new DDG. It’s absolutely not (and let’s not forget they are now Flight III’s). It’s only worth some portion of what it cost 22 years ago. I spent 15 years, of my 22, on four different DDG’s. My last one was ’70’. I left there over five years ago, and it was a rust bucket before I showed up in 2009 (before anyone starts blaming the Sailors I will remind you it’s a completely different Navy than it was 25-30 years ago… optimal manning, op-tempo, etc). FITZ is obviously older than HOP and now has very major structural damage (refer to my PORT ROYAL comments). If we were talking about a five year old DDG, then maybe the juice is worth the squeeze, but we’re not. If they’re ball-parking $500M before they’re even done assessing, then you can bet on $600M+ before it’s all done… on a ship that’s arguably not worth much more than that.

            The question is not whether or not it can be fixed. The question is not whether or not it’s easier and faster. The question is, is it efficient? Is it practical. The answer to that is “no”.

            If your wife wanted to spend $15k to fix a 10-yr-old car you paid $20k for, how long would it take your tongue to heal from biting it?

            You’re simply proving my point. The only reasons to spend that kind of money on this specific ship are purely political and emotional.

            Again… it will, of course, be fixed. Because that’s how we operate… emotionally. However, FITZ will, UNFORTUNATELY, always be a rusty car with it’s alignment somewhat off. If you’re cool with that, then that’s no problem. If we wind up spending 2/3 of a billion to fix an old ship, then that’s fine with me, too. It’s not real money anyway, and I love sayin’ I-told-ya-so. However, I will not pretend that it makes sense.

            Don’t blame me for being realistic.

            One more time… if the only goal is having as many ships as possible regardless of what they cost or how reliable they are, then please ignore everything I’ve said because there is no argument. I would hope that’s not the only goal, though.

          • NavySubNuke

            From what I have heard talking to other SWOs the Port Royal was a bad luck boat even before she ran into Hawaii. Everyone knows that some boats take more O&S dollars than others – saying that a boat that took more O&S to start now still takes more O&S after isn’t really saying much.
            How about Cole? How much extra is she per year to operate?
            As you say the real issue the surface fleet is facing is how poorly maintained their ships are thanks to reduced manning, increased optempo, and the resultant crew apathy.

          • James

            PR may have been a sub-par ship before that, but nothing compared to after. Failed to deploy twice in a row after that (had a direct impact on HOP and other ships in Pearl, plus ripple effects throughout the fleet for several years.

            As far as COLE, not sure. Not to downplay the damage/casualties, but the area she was hit was less significant as far as the ship itself (especially electronically)… obviously more significant in terms of human damage. Repair costs for her were somewhere around $250M, but I don’t think there was any question about whether she had to be fixed or not. There was an obvious statement to be made. There were no questions of cost efficiency after a terrorist attack. Oh, I almost forgot… she was only four years old at the time. So, she was still “new”.

            My brother-in-law was their MPA at one point, but that was a couple years prior. I have no direct knowledge of how the ship performed structurally after that, but I would expect some detectable differences regardless of there being somewhat less structural damage. Maybe not that much, but the nature of the attack, and the young age of the ship, pretty much nulled out that conversation, I guess.

          • James

            I meant to add that COLE’s keel wasn’t damaged, but that becomes irrelevant when the other factors mentioned are considered, except for whether or not she had performance issues.

          • DaSaint

            Good dialogue on this issue fellas.

          • James

            Oh, and that $585M you keep mentioning is additional money that only gets you back to your original expected service life that you spent the $1.3B on… although it was actually about $1B on a flight I… then you spend another $600M to bring it to $1.6B… plus annual operating costs are going to increase by some significant factor just like an old car that starts five-and-diming you to death… except this one was bought with a salvage title after being T-boned by a semi… and they still want to charge 70% of the new value for it.

          • NavySubNuke

            Not exactly – the $585M “buys” you 13 years of an available DDG that you wouldn’t otherwise have should you choose to save the money and not repair the Fitz since you don’t have the money or shipyard capacity to buy an entire new extra DDG to replace Fitz.
            You keep speaking as if the choice is to either spent that money on a portion of a new ship and then get that an entire new ship 13 years earlier or spend that money to fix the Fitz and get 13 more years out of the Fitz.
            That isn’t the choice at all – the choice is to spend the money and fix the Fitz and be able to get whatever we can out of her or not spend the money and be down an extra DDG.
            Congress isn’t going to suddenly open up the purse and grant the Navy a new DDG (assuming we even had the shipyard capacity to build one which by the accounts I’ve read we currently don’t) but we just might get them to open the purse and pay to fix the Fitz.

          • James

            I have no doubt that she’s going to be fixed, and, again, I don’t really have a problem with it. I just don’t think it’s cost-efficient… at all. If that’s at the very bottom of our list of goals, then it obviously doesn’t matter.

          • Duane

            It’s not just a matter of returning the Fitz to what she was new. She was scheduled for an electronics upgrade to bring her up to at least Flight II, if not Flight III performance standards. So that amounts to a deduct from the repair cost because it was already costed in to her continued ops.

            Current delivered cost for a Flight III is just a bit under $2B, and that cost escalates annually. $500 to $600M to buy another 15-20 years of a $2B ship makes good economic sense.

            As far as fixing a bent keel, that’s not unusual. It’s just steel. Bend it back to shape, or cut it out and replace it.

          • DaSaint

            Duane, let me admit that I’m going to be lazy and not look it up, but just asking, is it likely that a Flight I has as many VLS as a Flight III and therefore is it worth upgrading to Flight III standards? But I guess you can only upgrade to the latest releases, so that probably answers my own question…

          • Duane

            Flight 1 DDGs have 90-cell VLS, while the Flight IIs have 96 cell … the difference is small. The main differences are in the electronics, and the fact that the Flight I and II (but not IIA) don’t carry MH-60R choppers, even though they have a flight deck. Other later hull changes include propulsion plant (hybrid electric drive to improve fuel efficiency), and gun upgrades.

          • Phillip Haycock

            There is a risk, only small but real that the US may be at war while the replacement for this ship is being built.
            So, Time is of the essence or at least could be.
            For the want of a nail a shoe was lost
            For want of a shoe the horse was lost
            For want of a horse the battle was lost……….

          • James

            The U.S. has been at war for 222 of the last 239 years (including today). We’re talking about one ship here. I think we’ll be okay.
            Even though this conversation that you’ve restarted was before MCCAIN, that still does not finalize the case for repairing FITZ. MCCAIN will be a cheaper and quicker repair.

            The amount of time FITZ is going to be sitting out is probably going to be in the neighborhood of two years plus another year of work-ups (we’re at three months and the repair schedule doesn’t even exist yet. Heck, they’re still “assessing”). It takes about 2 1/2 years to build a ddg.

            I’m not saying we couldn’t always use a few more ships, but we’ve got enough tied to the pier right now to cover anything in the foreseeable future. Besides, if we were really worried about actually “defending” the country… whatever that means… then we’ve got plenty of resources we could pull back from other things.

            No nails or horses to be lost here. Lets not be so melodramatic.

            Besides, like I said in one of my previous posts “If the only factor is ‘we need more ships yesterday’ then okay, you’re right, but if we’re going to acknowledge cost-efficiency as any factor at all, then fixing her is not a cost-efficient move.”

            Take care.

    • SDW

      Thank you all for the interesting conversation. So, the answer to the question of whether the Fitzgerald is beyond economic repair is “it depends.”
      BTW: I thought I was throwing out a question but I guess it was something of a grenade!

      • James

        “it depends”… exactly. It depends on what the goal is.
        Every comment on the internet is a grenade waiting for the pin to be pulled. This actually turned out pretty civil, I think.

  • Grey_Alien_Zeta_Reticuli

    Given that the U.S. is $20T in debt and very likely going to go to war with North Korea in the near future, a war which will really explode the debt (from both the cost of war as well as lost value in stocks, lost trade, etc.), there probably won’t be any money left to fix it anyway by the time it makes it back to the West Coast. That’s just the sad state of our economic mess.

    Oh, as far as monthly military retirement payments go as well as Social Security, I hope both classes of people are ready to take a fiscal haircut. Prepare accordingly. This war will end up costing us $5 – $10T. Everyone is going to have to sacrifice. Most of all those who sacrifice their lives for our protection. No, make that our survival! But military retirees can afford to give some back.

  • lano

    that will teach you! let capt krunch drive, oh my!

  • Steve Richter

    Was the accident caused by one sailor not paying attention to his radar equipment? Or were many mistakes made?

    • James

      In this type situation the list is not short.

      • Steve Richter

        I do not understand why it is taking so long for the Navy to publish an account of what happened. Was any equipment sounding an alarm as the cargo vessel approached?