USS Bonhomme Richard Set to be Decommissioned Months After Devastating Fires

December 1, 2020Joshua Skovlund
uss bonhomme richard

A helicopter from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron 3 combats a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard at Naval Base San Diego, July 14, 2020. On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pierside at Naval Base San Diego. US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Garrett LaBarge, courtesy of DVIDS.

The USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6), a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship, is decommissioned as of Monday after a fire raged through the ship for more than four days starting  July 12, 2020, according to the US Navy.  

“We did not come to this decision lightly. Following an extensive material assessment in which various courses of action were considered and evaluated, we came to the conclusion that it is not fiscally responsible to restore her,” Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite said. “Although it saddens me that it is not cost effective to bring her back, I know this ship’s legacy will continue to live on through the brave men and women who fought so hard to save her, as well as the Sailors and Marines who served aboard her during her 22-year history.”

USS Bonhomme Richard
The amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) conducts air operations off the western coast of Australian. Photo by Captain George Doyon, courtesy of the US Navy.

After months of evaluation and consideration during the ongoing investigation into the cause of the fire, the US Navy found the cost of repair to be too great. They looked into three options — either rebuilding, repurposing the ship for a different mission, or scrapping it. 

Rebuilding the Bonhomme Richard would have cost $3 billion and would require at least five years to complete. Rebuilding the ship with a new configuration for a different mission would be more than $1 billion dollars and, according to the US.Navy, that cost would exceed the cost for a newly constructed ship. 

According to the US Naval Institute (USNI), the final and approved option is scrapping the ship and passing on equipment that wasn’t destroyed, which will cost an estimated $30 million and could take up to 12 months.  

The investigation into what or who started the fire aboard the ship is still ongoing and may delay the start of the scrapping process. The USNI said there are four active investigations into the fire incident aboard the ship

uss bonhomme richard
Sailors depart the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) after combating a fire on board. On the morning of July 12, 2020, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018. Photo by Seaman Jeffrey F. Yale, courtesy of the US Navy.

The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) along with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) are conducting a criminal investigation; Vice Admiral Scott Conn, the commander of the US 3rd Fleet, is leading a command investigation; a Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) failure review board is looking into the “safety, structural and design issues” of the Bonhomme Richard and if any improvements can be made to limit fire spread in a ship in the future; and a NAVSEA safety investigation board is evaluating the events leading up to the fire and whether they are in line with existing policies and procedures.

Investigations have identified a possible arson suspect that is a US Navy sailor, according to Navy Times, but the details and identity have not been released yet due to the active investigation. 

uss bonhomme richard
Sailors discuss the firefighting efforts as Sailors from multiple commands and Federal San Diego Firefighters combat a fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) July 14, 2020. Photo by Specialist 3rd Class Christina Ross, courtesy of the US Navy.

The decommissioning of the Bonhomme Richard highlights a critical problem facing the US Navy. Ship maintenance and repair have been significantly delayed, according to Stars and Stripes, and has delayed ships from returning to duty on time. 

These problems come while the US military’s new focus is on the great power competition with Russia, China, Iran, and other transnational threats. 

“Replacing ships lost in combat will be problematic, inasmuch as our industrial base has shrunk, while peer adversaries have expanded their shipbuilding capacity,” said Gen. David Berger, Commandant of the Marine Corps, in a document originally obtained by Breaking Defense. “In an extended conflict, the United States will be on the losing end of a production race—reversing the advantage we had in World War II when we last fought a peer competitor.”

Joshua Skovlund
Joshua Skovlund

Joshua Skovlund is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die. He covered the 75th anniversary of D-Day in France, multinational military exercises in Germany, and civil unrest during the 2020 riots in Minneapolis. Born and raised in small-town South Dakota, he grew up playing football and soccer before serving as a forward observer in the US Army. After leaving the service, he worked as a personal trainer while earning his paramedic license. After five years as in paramedicine, he transitioned to a career in multimedia journalism. Joshua is married with two children.

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