The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer (LHD 4). (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Ryan Riley/Released)

MODERN DAY MARINE 2024 — Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said the service is in the process of investigating why a critical component on the amphibious assault ship Boxer (LHD-4) failed just days into an anticipated deployment and promised to make the answers public when able.

“We are investigating the reason why the bearing failed on the rudder,” he told reporters here on the sidelines of the Modern Day Marine Exposition. “We’ll investigate that and once we investigate it and understand better why the bearing failed, we will make that public obviously.”

The ship has been dogged by engineering issues in recent years and had just completed a maintenance availability prior to leaving port in April with the intention of conducting integration exercises in the 3rd Fleet area of operations as well as taking part in the US-Philippines military exercise Balikatan, which is now ongoing. But the ship was forced to turn around less than two weeks after leaving port, as USNI News first reported.

Del Toro said the source of the problem was a bearing on the ship’s rudder that failed, but the cause of that failure is not yet clear. He said Navy divers were currently investigating the problem, also previously reported by USNI, and were preparing for one of two outcomes.

Ideally, divers are able to assess and fix the problem while the ship remains in the water, which would ultimately save time and bring the ship closer to redeploying sooner. If that is not an option, the service would be forced to bring Boxer into dry dock, which will necessarily eat up more time and resources as the repairs are made.

The secretary said the Navy is prepared for either option and hopes to know which is necessary in the coming days.

The Boxer’s status has the attention of lawmakers who grilled Del Toro and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Lisa Franchetti on its condition during a hearing on Capitol Hill this week. Rep. Trent Kelly, R-Miss., chairman of the House Armed Services Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee, noted the ship has effectively not been out of port for five years.

Franchetti told Kelly the current repairs are estimated to take four to six weeks. She also said that while the investigation is ongoing, the service believes the bearing was either installed improperly or the part itself had a defect.

Elsewhere during the hearing, Del Toro also told lawmakers there’s “no question in my mind” that the Navy should have been purchasing new amphibious ships “earlier,” an ostensible turnaround compared to the arguments the Navy and the Office of the Secretary of Defense made last year while advocating a “strategic pause” for amphibious shipbuilding.

On the question of a potential multi-ship amphib buy, three San Antonio-class and one America-class amphibious assault ship, Del Toro said he was “confident” the service would have a deal it can announce “over the next several weeks.”