VIDEO: Navy decommission USS Bonhomme Richard in waterfront ceremony in San Diego

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Rear Adm. Philip Sobeck, commander of Expeditionary Group Three, and Capt.GS Thoroman, commanding officer of the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), salute the ensign of colors during a decommissioning ceremony for Bonhomme Richard at the Naval Station San Diego April 14, 2021. U.S. Navy Photo

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) was decommissioned today, 22 years after an expected lifespan of 40 years, following a fire last summer on the amphibious assault ship that damaged the island and the flight deck beyond affordable repair.

The fire broke out during a quayside maintenance availability, on a Sunday morning, when few staff were present to extinguish the fire from the first moment. The five-day firefighting effort ultimately involved personnel from nearly every ship at Naval Base San Diego and all nearby local and federal firefighting units. The high heat – up to 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit – and the duration of the fire damaged the island, mast and flight deck, as well as most of the computer systems and sensors housed in these spaces.

The Navy decided in November to decommission the ship instead of spending between $ 2.5 billion and $ 3.2 billion over five to seven years to rebuild it as an amphibious ship or “over $ 1 billion” for it. rebuild in a configuration less capable of serving a new mission.

The decommissioning took place today at Naval Station San Diego in a closed-door ceremony as Sailors assigned to the ship watched from a closed-circuit power supply in other parts of the Naval Base.

“As the BHR Sailors disperse throughout the fleet, bring teamwork, spirit and unity to your next command,” Captain Gregory Thoroman, Bonhomme Richard, said during a speech at the ceremony. “For this crew and what we have experienced together, it is the embodiment of our fundamental values ​​of honor, courage and commitment. The resilience I saw – male or female, sailor and up to our highest ranks, united in our common cause and the strength to depend on one another – lived up to my motto of training to beat and fight to win. It has been an absolute honor and privilege for me to be your Commander.

Nine months after the fire, several key questions still remain unanswered.

First of all, how the fire started, as well as how it became unmanageable so quickly. The Navy has seen numerous other fires during maintenance availability over the past decades, but a five-day span is highly unusual.

The Navy acknowledged that the ship’s fire extinguishing systems were out of order due to vessel maintenance and that few staff were present on a Sunday morning with little activity scheduled for that day. Nevertheless, a fire watch should have been in place with the appropriate precautions since the automatic fire extinguishing systems were offline.

The Navy has said little about this, as investigations are still ongoing. Four investigations are running in parallel: a criminal investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which includes the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF); a command investigation led by Vice Admiral Scott Conn, the commander of the US 3rd Fleet; a Naval Sea Systems Command Failure Review Board, which will examine the safety, structural and design issues associated with the ship and how modifications could be made to prevent a fire from tearing the hull as it did on Bonhomme Richard; and a NAVSEA Safety Investigation Committee to review events that occurred on the vessel prior to the fire against existing policies and procedures.

A second big question that remains unanswered is the impact on the fleet. The Navy saw the readiness rates of its amphibious warships decline throughout the 2010s, as maintenance work at private shipyards plagued backlogs and delays. Although the situation at private yards has improved over the past two years, the Navy now finds itself in a capital ship – raising questions as to whether the other nine Wasp and America-class amphibious assault ships will be invited to operate further. to make up the difference, or if the Navy and Marine Corps will simply see less availability for training and amphibious warfare operations.

The Navy cannot afford to buy a direct replacement, nor can Ingalls Shipbuilding fit another new ship into its production line. A multi-ship agreement to purchase LHA-9 and three LPDs could speed up LHA-9 delivery by about a year, according to USNI News. USNI News also understands that LHA-8, the future Bougainville, was to be repatriated to the east coast, but could instead travel to the west coast to help replace Bonhomme Richard, although the fleet as a whole is still ashore.

The Navy began a rescue effort in February, removing the island from the ship to facilitate towing of the ship’s hull to a demolition site for dismantling. This follows work last summer to remove the aft mast out of excess of caution, due to structural integrity concerns following long exposure to very high heat. The forward mast collapsed during the fire.

The Navy said in November that the decommissioning of the ship – including inactivation, harvesting parts to return to the fleet supply system, towing the ship from San Diego, and scrapping the hull in a Gulf Coast shipyard – will cost around $ 30 million and take nine to twelve months.


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