Navy Elects to Fix USS Boxer Rudder with Divers, Repair Could Take 2 Months

April 30, 2024 8:05 PM - Updated: April 30, 2024 8:40 PM
Amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD-4) steams in the Pacific Ocean, April 4, 2024. US Navy Photo

Divers will attempt to repair the big deck amphibious warship USS Boxer (LHD-4) in the water while the ship is pierside at Naval Station San Diego, Calif., USNI News has learned.

The effort will focus on repairs to the starboard rudder and the bearing that failed following Boxer’s departure for deployment on April 1, Navy officials told USNI News.

“The issue is the ship’s starboard rudder and roller bearing system. A series of inspections and assessments determined a waterborne repair is the most efficient way to execute maintenance and repairs,” reads a statement from Naval Surface Force provided to USNI News.
“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.”

U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Stephen Koehler made the determination for Boxer to get fixed under water on Monday afternoon after reviewing recommendations from U.S, 3rd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Michael Boyle and Naval Surface Force commander Vice Adm. Brendan McLane, defense officials confirmed to USNI News.

A defense official told USNI News the repairs could take one to two months to complete. In parallel, the Navy is investigating the root cause of the rudder failure to see if “materials, parts or a faulty installation” are to blame for the failure of the starboard rudder, reads the statement from the service.

Boxer has been dogged with engineering issues since it completed an extensive modernization period in 2022. Navy officials have blamed contractor performance and quality assurance for a delay in a deployment that was supposed to start in January.

Sailors assigned to Boxer’s engineering department were found to be negligent in two command investigations. For example, in 2023 during sea trails, Boxer’s main reduction gear, the complex gearing mechanism that links the output of the steam plant to the props, ran without lube oil for two hours.  It’s unclear whether the previous issues are related to the current rudder issue.

A workman is dwarfed by the stern of the Amphibious Assault Ship USS WASP (LHD-1) as he puts the final touches on the recently completed vessel in dry dock. US Navy Photo

Before Monday’s decision, the Navy considered dry docking Boxer to repair the rudder, but the two dry docks in San Diego that are large enough to accommodate the 41,000-ton big deck amphib are occupied. The dry dock at BAE Systems’ San Diego repair yard is occupied by Littoral Combat Ship USS Oakland (LCS-24). General Dynamics NASSCO is hosting USS Chung Hoon (DDG-93), which is undergoing an availability to install the AN/SLQ-32(V)7 Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program Block 3 as part of the DDG Mod 2.0 program.

The Navy also considered moving the ship north to Vigor’s ship repair yard in Portland, Ore., but the idea lacked appeal because the top ten feet of the ship’s mast would have to be removed to fit under a bridge over the Willamette River, sources familiar with the idea told USNI News.

Now with a path forward, the Navy and Marine Corps intend to deploy Boxer following the repairs.

Boxer is the flagship of the Amphibious Ready Group that includes USS Somerset (LPD-25) and USS Harpers Ferry (LSD-49). Somerset and Harpers Ferry, with elements of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit embarked, are currently operating in the South China Sea. The two ships are part of the Balikatan 2024 exercise taking place with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Boxer was slated to be a key platform for the exercise during the at sea period. How the deployment will proceed is still an open question. Somerset deployed in January for a series of exercises and Harpers Ferry departed in early April.

The emergent Boxer repair highlights troubles the Navy has had with maintaining the big deck fleet – the majority of which are powered by older steam boilers rather than modern diesel or maritime gas turbines.

“We found our amphib ships – the big decks in particular with steam plants – are having larger growth work than most of our ships and its it’s a challenge because of availability of parts, artisans, etc., “ Vice Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jim Kilby told the House Armed Services readiness subcommittee on Tuesday.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
Follow @samlagrone

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