Bonhomme Richard flight deck unfit for flight operations, could delay next deployment
By JAMES KIMBER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: August 22, 2014
SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan – The USS Bonhomme Richard will likely miss its next underway deployment after a botched $3 million resurfacing of the amphibious assault ship’s flight deck.
The ship had undergone the resurfacing less than a month ago.
“A recent application of non-skid coating on the flight deck of the USS Bonhomme Richard was not up to Navy safety standards and is being reapplied,” Cmdr. William Marks, spokesman for 7th Fleet, said in an email to Stars and Stripes. “This will cause an increase in port time and decrease in underway days for Bonhomme Richard.”
An “accidental gouging” of the flight deck on Aug. 8 led to a visual inspection, during which time officials from Naval Ship Repair Facility and Japan Regional Maintenance Center Detachment Sasebo saw the non-skid surface was flaking.
Further testing confirmed the nonskid material had not set properly, making the surface unsafe for flight operations, something preliminary quality-assurance testing didn’t indicate, Marks said.
The problem was immediately reported to Naval Surface Forces Pacific.
“We are now researching the root cause of the failure,” Marks said. “There could be a number of reasons it didn’t set properly and we won’t know the final details until additional testing takes place.”
As a result, the ship will likely have to delay its next deployment, which was set for late September or early October. The ship is currently conducting sea trials, and the repairs will take place afterward.
Personnel from SRF-JRMC Detachment Sasebo are working with technical experts from Naval Sea Systems Command and Naval Surface Warfare Center Carderock on a rework plan, the Navy said. The same contractor, Sumitomo Heavy Industries, is expected to reapply the nonskid with increased oversight.
“At this time, the contract for this rework is not yet complete,” said Marks. “SRF is still reviewing what it can do to hold the original contractor accountable for paying for the rework.”
The Bonhomme Richard — which can carry a crew of 100 officers, 1,000 sailors and 1,900 Marines, along with four CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters — is often called into duty when disaster strikes. Most recently, the ship spent more than a week in the Yellow Sea, assisting South Korean officials after the April 16 sinking of a South Korean ferry.
While the ship is out of commission, Navy officials say they will lean on the USS Peleliu — which arrived Friday in Sasebo a port visit — and the USS Makin Island Amphibious Ready Group to pick up the slack.
“Peleliu can be configured to conduct the same operations and take the same types of aircraft and landing and attack craft as USS Bonhomme Richard in different numbers,” Marks said. “Her characteristics are different, but she can support the same mission as USS Bonhomme Richard and this will not affect our participation in planned exercises throughout the deployment.”
The Bonhomme Richard arrived in Japan in April 2012 to replace the USS Essex, which had its share of problems during its final days in Sasebo.
In the months before the hull swap, mechanical and maintenance issues made the Essex unfit to fulfill its mission. In July of 2011, the ship was unable to take part in the Talisman Sabre exercise in Australia, and it never left port in February of 2012 when it was to participate in Cobra Gold training in Thailand.
Ironically, the Bonhomme Richard broke down while en route to Sasebo to replace the Essex. Problems with its boiler forced the ship to stop in Okinawa for repairs before making it to Sasebo.
For years, Navy officials have said that the high operations tempo placed on ships have led to advanced wear and tear.
Testifying before Congress in 2012, then-Vice Adm. William Burke, who was serving as deputy chief of naval operations for fleet readiness and logistics, said the Navy has “a limited supply of forces.”
“When you have these additional deployments, you sometimes impact the maintenance, or you impact the training, which will impact the maintenance,” Burke said. “So what we have is one event cascading into another, so we don’t get either of them quite right.”