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Cost cutting, crew complacency to blame for USS Boxer's engine problems, Navy says

Bad leaders, a complacent crew and maintenance cost-cutting by the Navy contributed to a series of engineering failures on the USS Boxer that prevented the ship from going to sea for more than one year, a recently-obtained Navy investigation says.

Investigations into three separate incidents in the ship's engineering department found problems with parts, crew training and a lack of supervision from Navy leaders.

One leader in the ship's engineering department "failed miserably" in their responsibilities, the investigation says, and was also the subject of assault allegations.


Boxer's inability to go to sea and perform its mission left the Pacific Fleet "less ready and less capable," the expeditionary strike group commander wrote in a memo attached to the investigation report.

The Boxer was last deployed in 2019. As it was going into dry dock for overhaul in 2020, another amphibious assault ship — the USS Bonhomme Richard — was just coming out after undergoing $250 million in upgrades.

The Bonhomme Richard was destroyed by fire a month later. Since then, the Navy has been down two big-deck amphibious ships for more than three years. Politico reported on the strain left on the amphibious fleet in a January report.

KPBS first reported problems on the Boxer last July and requested the investigations under the Freedom of Information Act.

Boxer command investigation into Forced Draft Blowers
The command investigation into the first of three engineering casualties on the USS Boxer over one year.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The Boxer is an amphibious assault ship that serves as a sort of miniature aircraft carrier. These types of ships are used to carry almost 2,000 Marines and conduct flight operations with helicopters and the F-35B Lightning II fighter.

While in dry dock, an important engine components — called Forced Draft Blowers — were overhauled. But after coming out of dry dock in 2022, those overhauled components failed, so in August 2022, the Navy again repaired and overhauled them.

But then those components also failed, the investigation says.

Poor craftsmanship, lack of shipyard repair skill and lack of Navy oversight were among the causes of these failures, the investigation says.

The investigating officer writes that in 2020, the Naval Sea Systems Command, which oversees ship repairs, reduced certain "checkpoints" for the sake of "production schedules and overhaul costs across the waterfront."

USS Boxer in San Diego Bay returning from sea trials in August 2023.
Petty Officer 1st Class Mark Faram
U.S. Navy
The amphibious assault ship USS Boxer returns to San Diego following sea trials after successfully getting underway in August 2023.

The next major incident was in May 2023 during a boiler light-off event, which is when the crew lights the ship's boilers in preparation for at-sea operations.

Command investigation into USS Boxer main reduction gear
The command investigation into USS Boxer's main reduction gear casualty, the third such incident in less than a year.
To view PDF files, download Acrobat Reader.

The complete investigation into this incident wasn't provided by the Navy, but a memo from the expeditionary strike group commander says complacency led to a casualty to the boiler safe cabinet during the light-off. The departure from "sound shipboard operating principles" could have resulted in "severe injuries" to personnel, the memo says.

While the boiler safe cabinet incident was under investigation, the Boxer experienced a third mishap in its engineering department when crews operated the main reduction gear without oil for two hours — something that could have damaged its engines.

After learning of the incident, the ship's chief engineer withheld the news from the captain for more than 24 hours, the investigation says.

The investigating officer writes that "the slow erosion of standards over time … lack of deck plate procedural compliance, marginalized training, inadequate supervision and lack of adherence to formal written orders" were found among the ship's engineering crew.

The strike group commander wrote in a memo that "every level" of engineering leadership failed to manage the ship's engineering department.

The senior enlisted sailor in the engineering department was also the subject of an assault around this time and on previous occasions, the memo says. The Navy did not provide a copy of that investigation and a spokesperson declined to comment on a personnel matter.

Several members of the Boxer's crew — including the captain, the executive officer, the command master chief, the chief engineer, among others — faced administrative or disciplinary action, the memo says.

Cmdr. Arlo Abrahamson, a spokesperson for Naval Surface Forces in San Diego, did not comment on personnel issues but said any such issues have been resolved.

The Boxer was able to get underway last summer and has been in a training and workup cycle since. It's set to deploy soon, Abrahamson said.

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