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Failure of Two Ships to Participate in RIMPAC Highlight Amphibious Readiness Gap

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) arrives in San Diego on May 8, 2018. US Navy Photo

This post has been updated to correct the amphibious ships that suffered mechanical problems preventing their full participation in RIMPAC. USS Boxer was sidelined with mechanical difficulties and could not participate in RIMPAC SOCAL. USS Portland (LPD-27) served as the 3rd Fleet command ship for the duration of the exercise. This post has also been updated to clarify the role of USS Bonhomme Richard during RIMPAC.

THE PENTAGON — The two U.S. amphibious warships that were planned to be central to the Rim of the Pacific 2018 exercises were unable to fully participate in the event due to mechanical failures that highlight continued readiness problems with the Navy’s amphibious fleet.

The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) was set to lead the amphibious portion of the Rim of the Pacific 2018 exercise, but it spent the second half of the exercise tied to a pier in Pearl Harbor. USS Boxer (LHD-4) was set to be a key platform in Southern California RIMPAC SOCAL but was sidelined before the exercise.

In December, half of the Navy’s 31 amphibious ships were in maintenance as a result of short-term spending bills and irregular funding, Vice Adm. Andrew Lewis, deputy chief of naval operations for operations, plans and strategy (OPNAV N3/N5), said at a House Armed Services readiness subcommittee hearing.

Bonhomme Richard was set to be the command ship for the task force commander Royal Australian Navy Commodore Ivan Ingham. However, partway through the exercise the ship suffered a propulsion casualty and came back to port, USNI News understands. Ingham, his staff and the ship’s company still participated in the exercise from the pier, USNI News understands.

“USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) is currently in port Pearl Harbor and is participating in RIMPAC 2018,” reads a U.S. 3rd Fleet statement to USNI News this week. Officials would not elaborate on why the ship was not underway.

Among the operations, the crew conducted was launching lightly loaded landing craft from Bonhomme Richard while it was pier-side.

Big deck amphib Boxer was set to host Mexican, Canadian, U.S. and Brazilian forces for an amphibious landing exercise. The lack of amphibious shipping in the Southern California portion of the exercise caused Brazil to drop out of the exercise, USNI News has learned.

“There was going be some more amphibious operations [in California]. One of the ships we had identified had some mechanical issues, so we were not able to get her out of maintenance in time to do that. … Most of the [Southern California] amphibious operations turned into land training with our partner nations and our Marines there at [Camp] Pendleton,” 3rd Fleet commander Vice Adm. John Alexander told reporters at a July 20 press conference at Pearl Harbor. “When the amphibious ship couldn’t get underway, Brazil decided they didn’t want to participate.”

When USNI News originally asked on July 2 why Brazil had dropped out of RIMPAC, U.S. Navy spokeswoman Lt. j.g. Ada Anderson said it was due to a “change in operational schedules.”

GAO Graphic

The high demand for a limited number of amphibious warships prompted a congressionally mandated study from the Government Accountability Office that was released in September. The GAO found that the 31 amphibious ships in the U.S. fleet were insufficient for the Marines to conduct training outside of the pre-deployment training needed for Amphibious Ready Group and Marine Expeditionary Unit training.

“The services have taken steps to address amphibious training shortfalls, such as more comprehensively determining units that require training. However, these efforts are incomplete because the services do not have an approach to prioritize available training resources, evaluate training resource alternatives, and monitor progress towards achieving priorities,” read the report. “The services are not well positioned to mitigate any training shortfalls.”

  • ScottishGent

    I don’t see why any one should really be surprised that this has happened. The Commandant of the Marine Corps and everyone else at Headquarters Marine Corps, plus the Chief of Naval Operations Director of Expeditionary Warfare, has been telling Congress and anyone else who will listen that there are not enough amphibious ships. Everyone gives the problem lip service but no real solutions are provided.

    This exercise may mark a turning point. When two big deck amphibs are not able to take part in a planned, major multinational exercise due to maintenance issues, senior leadership and policy makers need to take notice and find solutions to the root problems.

    • Rocco

      This has nothing to do with not enough amphibious assault ship’s!! The USS Tripoli was just built same as America! Just typical breakdown . At the wrong time but at least not in action.

    • proudrino

      How realistic is it that the next war will include the need for amphibious landing operations? This is a serious question that should drive the requirements for amphibous platforms. My guess is that when it comes to warfare, the “amphibious readiness gap” is overstated.

      Now when it comes to operations other than war (humanitarian relief, transport, NEO, etc.) there is a need for the capability that comes with the amphibs. Maybe the need is for a new class of transport ship.

      • ScottishGent

        The need for amphibious operations during a future conflict should not be discounted out of hand. At the same time, wise militay professionals will be continuously evaluating the strengths and opportunities for improvement in the various tactics, techniques and procedures that are employed.

        The Marine Corps of today is not organized or equipped like the Marine Corps that fought at Iwo Jima or Inchon, but they are prepared and equipped for the missions they are being prepared for. Yes, there is a future for the USMC and amphibious warfare future conflicts.

      • Matthew

        Its actually quite simple, Run off the assumption you are going it alone because one should always assume a worst case scenario. Based on that there are literally two nations on earth that the US could reach with out an amphibious landing. Canada and Mexico.

        Airborne attacks are inefficient. Not useless but inefficient. Lot of aircraft to deliver so many troops with little to no heavy equipment. They are great at disrupting enemy movements and if was a 3rd world nation they could handle things but against a more capable adversary would need more forces and heavier gear, Such gear that would have to come by sea, Which means an amphibious landing because you do not drop airborne on the beaches and expect them to hold off enemy counter attacks while unarmed cargo ships come in to unload at port.

        That is why you need amphibious ships.

  • dino digger

    They should have kept the Newport class LST in production. “They took a licking and kept on ticking” I’m a Plank Owner of the last LST made. The USS Bristol County LST 1198. She was commissioned in 72 and decommissioned in 93. Only 21 years old and sold off to Libya where the last time I checked she’s still in operation at 46 years old!!!
    It’s time to quit the UN, stop funding countries that openly hate us, and get all of our fleets up to fighting strength!!!

    • Joe Maxwell

      Libya? No, she was sold to Morocco. She was decommissioned from the Royal Moroccan Navy in 2010.

    • Rocco

      Of all countries why Lybia!!

    • jon spencer

      As I have said before, “the Newport class can do everything the LCS does (and more) with the exception of speed”.
      How hard would it be for a modernized LST to be put back into production?

      And another thing.
      Bring back the PG’s.
      If for nothing else, a spot for LT’s to get command experience.
      And Ensigns and LTJG’s dept. head experience too.

  • dino digger

    If the Navy were given the funds they need we wouldn’t have so many ships in need of repair!!

    • Ron

      1) Not enough money combined with often being gifted ships by Congress without the full back end cost associated with those ships

      2) The struggle between the tribes within the Navy for money with expeditionary ops often falling at the bottom of that hierarchy

  • PRONESE

    Sequestration has ended. The House just passed a 717 Billion Dollar Defense spending bill. A 2.6% Pay Increase (not just COLA). Things may get better. Time will tell…

    • ShermansWar

      Everyone knows it was a 2 year respite, and it kicks back in in 2020

  • ShermansWar

    So basically we soiled ourselves on the world stage, and then to add insult to injury, we spouted sad rhetoric about how pier side ships were participating?

    BOTH LHD’s slated to take part broke down? BOTH? The US Navy looks more and more like the Russian Navy circa ’93 with each passing day.

    The Chinese and Russians are supposed to respect this? One can only hope we have abandoned the idiocy of the third offset by now. We ain’t scaring anyone…, other than servicemen’s mothers…

    • Duane

      One ship had an engineering breakdown, the other ship planned was in a scheduled maintenance availability … meaning the event planners screwed up, not the ship.

      Focusing on one ship that had a breakdown out of the 40 some USN participants that didn’t is way out of proportion.

      The Russians and Chinese do not even bother to attempt such large multinational naval exercises
      .. not only are their forces not competent to mount such exercises, they do not have any friends in the world who would join them. The closest the Chinese ever got to participating in one of these was when they got invited to a prior RIMPAC by the US … and they got that invite withdrawn this year due to their bad behavior in the SCS.

      • Lazarus

        It’s not just LCS that has problems. A close examination of the fleet reveals that all classes have readiness issues.

      • Patrick Bechet

        I was at Seattle’s Sea Fair yesterday where I toured USS Momsen and USS Somerset. Both were impressive ships, the Momsen especially. Her CPO was amazing, he knew his ship and its capabilities in and out, in stark contracts to the PO who led the tour on the USS Cole when I toured her 3 years ago. The CPO was happy to be at Seafair but you know what he told me? The Momsen was a last minute addition, she replaced the (wait for it) USS Coronado which had broken down AGAIN! Someone asked him about the LCS, in answer he said it’s “cool”, when I gave him a quizzical look he laughed and said it’s a “crappy ship that always breaks down”. Duane I don’t want to prescribe what you do on your free time but maybe you should tour a real warship once in a while and speak to the crew about the extra duties they need to pull because your beloved LCS is always AWOL!

    • TheArtificer

      Boxer’s problems are well known and have been for years. She’s a tough ship, but even the toughest can only take so much abuse. She spent years leaking badly while deployed.

      • Audrix98

        disqus_GkGwHQUGFn yes

  • Ken B. NPB

    A real chit show, someone has had their heads in the sand for quite some time, CG Fleet getting out dated & retiring, FFG Fleet retired. New Zumwalt destroyer lost in space @ 3 billion ea. CVN Ford, 13 billion of a floating cluster f**k, F35’s jury’s still out on. Littoral Class brainstorm still looking for it place in life. Yup we r doing gr8.

  • Mark Burns

    You ride them hard, put them away wet and don’t do scheduled maintenance yard periods. What else did you expect? May help if you built ships vice wondering what hairs styles are allowed to be worn.

    • Rocco

      Copy that or changes in uniforms all the time!!

    • Bruce Lytle

      You are so right! And it doesn’t stp at haircuts.
      I was stationed in San Diego @ DATC/FMAGPAC from 76-78. I was a electro-mechanical troubleshooter. I was appalled as an E-6 at the lack of knowledge of E-8’s! Things that are taught in “A” school and were on the 3rd class exam.
      I found division “supply PO’s” that didn’t know how to fill out a requisition. Much less even find a part number.
      Chiefs that couldn’t figure out that that screeching noise was coming from that bearing RIGHT THERE!
      I’m sure it has gotten worse with all the sensitivity training and all.
      Jus saying

  • proudrino

    Maybe we should develop a “Maritime Component Command” module and turn the LCS platforms into C2 vessels.

  • NavySubNuke

    This is all part of the maintenance bill coming due after nearly a decade of deferring it under both Bush and Obama. The Mabus era and sequestration were particularly hard in the way that they allowed the manning levels of our shipyards to crash so not only was there not enough money for adequate maintenance there wasn’t even enough workers to do the maintenance that was actually funded.
    Hopefully congress gets their act together and actually gets the military funded at the start of the fiscal year for once rather than operating under a CR. That will help a lot. But it is still going to take years to overcome the damage inflicted by the years of neglect our fleet suffered.
    People have at least heard about the USS Boise being tied to the pier for over 2 years unable to submerge due to lack of maintenance but that is far from the only example — just the most public one.

    • Lazarus

      It’s not just LCS that has breakdowns that weld ships to the pier.

      • NavySubNuke

        Reposting this since Duane had it deleted:
        Certainly – despite your repeated false claims to the contrary there have been a number of well publicized incidents of other ships breaking down and being unable to put to sea.
        We don’t hear about every ship that breaks down – LCS or otherwise.

  • Epictetus

    The US Navy’s metric of performance should be much, much higher than the Russians. This is a symptom of the maintenance rot that has been happening in the amphibious force for well over a decade. CNSF has deferred long-term preventative maintenance in favor of near-term emergent requirements for too long. You can play that game for a while, but it will catch up in the form of major breakdowns to capital warships. The CVNs would be in a similar situation if it were not for the oversight of Naval Reactors which does not answer to the “right now” emphasis of the operational commanders.

  • Ed L

    Thanks to our Congress 🙁