Navy Hopes to Have Beleaguered USS Boxer Deploy This Summer After Fixes

The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) steams in the Pacific Ocean.
The Wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4) steams in the Pacific Ocean, April 4, 2024. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Connor Burns/U.S. Navy photo)

Officials in the Pentagon say that they hope to have the USS Boxer -- the amphibious assault ship forced back to port due to a major breakdown just days after starting her deployment -- repaired and back out to sea by this summer.

"We're working to see if it can resume its deployment as soon as the summer," a defense official told Monday. However, that official also noted that the goal is being regularly evaluated.

The ship deployed at the start of April for a deployment that was set to start late last year after suffering months of maintenance delays but was forced to return to port just 10 days later after suffering a then-undisclosed maintenance issue. Navy leaders publicly acknowledged the ship developed an issue with her rudder late last week.

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"We are investigating the reason why the bearing failed on the rudder," Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro told reporters Thursday.

"We don't know yet the exact answer of why it failed," Del Toro said, noting that the current plan is to have divers conduct the repairs while the ship remains in the water.

USNI News was the first to report the rudder issue last Tuesday.

The Boxer's issues have resulted in the USS Somerset and the USS Harpers Ferry, both of which are part of the amphibious ready group that the Boxer commands, as well as parts of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit deployed anyway but lacking all of the aircraft and other equipment the ship would have carried.

Del Toro said the Navy is still trying to figure out how the rudder failed but did say that the service is "fully understanding that sometimes we have material deficiencies that take place in the construction process."

The rudder issue is just the latest in a long series of mishaps and engineering issues that the ship had been dealing with despite having recently undergone a lengthy $200 million overhaul that ended in 2022.

However, a pair of command investigations into engineering issues on the Boxer revealed that since early 2023 the Navy continued to deal with headaches aboard the aging ship, and her engineering department was poorly led and had problems that ranged from inexperience to allegations of assault among the crew.

Despite those issues, Navy officials were publicly adamant that the ship was getting ready to deploy.

When the Boxer made it out to sea in August 2023, web cameras in the San Diego Harbor caught smoke billowing from the ship as it moved across the water just outside the harbor.

Despite local observers recording radio traffic describing the event as an "engineering casualty," Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, a spokesman for the Naval Surface Force, at the time said that the incident was connected to system tests and argued that there was "no current impact to the mission, and Boxer remains focused on executing its sea trials."

When Del Toro was confronted by members of the House Armed Services Committee last week about issues with the ship, the top Navy leader conceded that "since [2017-2018], we unquestionably have been challenged by maintenance problems with our amphibious ships."

"The age of our amphibious fleet is excessively high," Del Toro said. "We need to continue to invest in new ships to replace these old ships."

-- Drew Lawrence contributed to this report,

Related: At Least 3 Engineering Incidents and Poor Leadership Kept USS Boxer from Deploying, Investigations Reveal

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