Repairing Fire-Damaged USS Bonhomme Richard Would Likely Take Years, Admiral Says

firefighters combat a fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard
Sailors and Federal Fire San Diego firefighters combat a fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) July 12, 2020. (U.S. Navy photo/Jason Kofonow)

The Navy lacks the shipbuilding and repair capacity to meet the demands of peacetime, much less war, a top Navy official said Tuesday.

"We don't have enough capacity in peacetime, we can't get ships delivered on time with the predictability we need today," said Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, the Navy Regional Maintenance Center commander and director of surface ship maintenance and modernization.

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"Think how long it took the Fitzgerald and [John S.] McCain to get back in operation," Ver Hage said, citing as examples the lengthy repairs of the two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers involved in deadly collisions two months apart in 2017.

The Fitzgerald collided with a container ship off the coast of Japan on June 17, 2017, killing seven sailors who were trapped below decks in flooded compartments. The destroyer went back to sea on Feb. 3 of this year.

The McCain collided with a tanker off Singapore on Aug. 21, 2017, killing 10 sailors, and was declared operational in June.

Ver Hage also cited the catastrophic July 12 fire dockside in San Diego aboard the "big deck" Wasp-class amphibious assault ship Bonhomme Richard to illustrate the difficulties the Navy has in quick turnarounds on repairs. The Navy has yet to decide whether to scrap or repair the Bonhomme Richard.

"We'll see what we'll do with the Bonhomme Richard, but that will be a massive effort to repair her," Ver Hage said. "I'm talking years, most likely."

Ver Hage spoke with Rear Adm. Tom J. Anderson, the Navy's Program Executive Officer for Ships, at a Navy League webinar on the status of Navy shipbuilding.

The final question put to them concerned the dire warnings from Marine Commandant Gen. David Berger about the U.S. ability to fight and win at sea in the event of war with a major adversary such as China.

In the draft of a doctrine statement first reported by Breaking Defense in June, Berger wrote that "Large ships offer superior endurance and flexibility for forward presence but are lucrative targets ... Replacing ships lost in combat will be problematic, inasmuch as our industrial base has shrunk while peer adversaries have expanded their shipbuilding capacity."

In response to Berger's warnings, Anderson said that he was part of a group that met two years ago on war planning and the capacity of the defense industrial base to meet the challenge with James Geurts, Assistant Navy Secretary for Research, Development & Acquisition.

Anderson said the questions considered included how prepared the Navy was to enter a fight; what authorities are needed from Congress; how the Navy could get ships closed to delivery out of the yard; and what repair capabilities would need to be leveraged.

"That calculus exists" for answers to all those questions, Anderson said, but the capacity to meet the challenge of war with a major adversary "goes beyond what we're currently doing."

Numerous government and think tank reports over the years have noted the persistent and prolonged delays in getting Navy ships into the yards for repairs and maintenance and getting them back to sea.

In May, the Government Accountability Office reported that delays were continuing at the three main Regional Maintenance Centers, although costs were coming down under new contracting procedures.

Between 2015 and 2019, only three of 24 ships in for repairs at the Norfolk, Virginia, maintenance center were finished on schedule, the GAO said.

The GAO pointed to "the extra time it often takes to coordinate funding for additional repairs that may have been expected but could not be quantified when the contract began."

-- Richard Sisk can be reached at

Related: Navy's Top Admiral Won't Say Yet If Bonhomme Richard Will Be Repaired After Fire

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