Defense Begins for Accused Bonhomme Richard Arsonist

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The government’s prosecution against a young sailor accused of arson, which ultimately destroyed an amphibious warship in 2020, centers on one shipmate’s claim he saw that sailor where the fire started shortly before it was reported. That’s the picture Navy prosecutors painted last week during Seaman Recruit Ryan Sawyer […]

An MH-60S Knight Hawk helicopter from the ‘Merlins’ of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 and fire boats assist in US Bonhomme RIchard firefighting efforts on July 13, 2020. US Navy Photo

NAVAL BASE SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The government’s prosecution against a young sailor accused of arson, which ultimately destroyed an amphibious warship in 2020, centers on one shipmate’s claim he saw that sailor where the fire started shortly before it was reported.

That’s the picture Navy prosecutors painted last week during Seaman Recruit Ryan Sawyer Mays’ general court-martial on charges of aggravated arson and hazarding a vessel. A conviction on the latter charge carries a punishment of up to life imprisonment.

Trial judge Navy Capt. Derek Butler heard testimony from nearly two dozen sailors, investigators and experts over the past week. On Monday, defense attorneys got their shot to convince the judge that Mays is not guilty and that the Navy’s case rests on a questionable investigation that lacks convincing evidence of arson and ignores other potential causes of the fire. The case is expected to wrap up by the week’s end.

The fire began aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) at about 8 a.m. on July 12, 2020, and burned for five days. The blaze is among the Navy’s costliest, destroying the amphibious assault ship just as the ship neared the end of a $249 million modernization to accommodate the F-35B Lightning II Joint Strike Fighters multi-mission jet. Contractors with NASSCO, a shipbuilding company contracted to do the maintenance availability, hadn’t yet signed the ship back to the Navy, but sailors living in a berthing barge had begun to move back aboard.

Navy officials ultimately decided not to repair the ship – an estimated $3 billion loss – and sold it for scrap.

A sweeping command investigation into the fire pointed to suspected arson as a cause, based on the criminal investigation conducted by Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The investigation also highlighted widespread failures, inaction and inadequate training by the ship’s leadership and crew, revealed significant gaps in command relationships and found serious gaps and shortfalls in capabilities for fire suppression and fire attack.

Blaze Began in Lower Stowage Deck

Diagram of the fire aboard Bonhomme RIchard. US Navy Photo

Four days into the fire, ATF fire investigators with a national response team began to examine the ship’s damaged, sooted hull once the onboard fires abated. They zeroed in on an area in the ship’s lower vehicle stowage deck where they believed the fire began around 8 a.m. and shortly after duty section turnover. NCIS and ATF agents questioned dozens of the ship’s crew and collected scores of questionnaires ATF had provided them, and they sifted through debris recovered from the Lower V. Agents then cast eyes on a handful of sailors, including Mays, who they suspected of intentionally setting the fire.

Prosecutors last week arranged testimony that placed Mays in the vicinity of the Lower V, which on the weekend of the fire was packed with a mix of cardboard boxes, buckets, hoses, coils, scaffolding, forklifts and other equipment and trash. One sailor described it as “a junkyard.”

ATF Special Agent Matthew Beals, a certified fire investigator, led the agency’s report into the “origin and cause” of the fire. A 21-year veteran of the ATF, Beals said he’s investigated 225 fires over his career, and upon hearing of a Navy ship aflame at the naval base, the San Diego-based agent testified that he offered NCIS the bureau’s services.

NCIS “deferred the origin-and-cause portion (of the investigation) to ATF,” Beals said when testifying Sept. 20.

In his investigation and inspection of the ship’s Lower V deck, the agent said he believes the fire began when someone put a flame to a petroleum distillate liquid applied on thick, cardboard boxes known as “triwalls.” That fire, he concluded, spread to other items in the space.

Capt. Jason Jones, a Navy prosecutor, asked if any liquid accelerant was found at the site. None was found, Beals said, adding that it could have evaporated or been consumed in the fire. He believes a flame, potentially from a lighter or a match, was used to set the fire intentionally. He based the analysis in part on a series of field tests done in January 2021, six months after the fire. Beals also acknowledged that the contents of a metal pail he found in the Lower V were not collected and analyzed.

“I didn’t feel it warranted sending it to the lab,” he said, adding that its contents were “already contaminated.”

The investigation had noted a sailor who reported seeing someone – alleged to be Mays – walking in the Lower V with a bucket in their hand within a half-hour of the fire being reported.

He ruled out any accidental ignition, such as from an electrical malfunction from forklifts or lithium-ion batteries that were in the space or a discarded cigarette, all of which Mays’ attorneys have raised as potential causes of the fire.

A Second Look at Batteries

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Graphic of the suspected Arson site in the Lower “V”

ATF’s origin-and-cause investigation, finalized in January 2021, however, did not include detailed inspections or scans of the Li-ion batteries. Defense attorneys during Mays’ Article 32 preliminary investigation hearing in December 2021 raised the batteries as a possible source of arcing, creating a spark that led to the fire. Subsequent inspection of eight batteries that Beals believed to be those ATF photographed in the Lower V after the fire were collected in December 2021 – 17 months after the fire – and taken by Beals to the National Fire Lab in Maryland. The agent testified that after CT scans of the batteries, the ATF “eliminated” them as the cause of the fire.

Beals also dismissed two forklifts near where the fire began as culprits in the fire. He testified that ATF’s experts disagreed with Mays’ experts that arcing had occurred in the engine space of one of the forklifts. Federal investigators did no further inspection of the forklifts.
“They were left in place in the Lower V,” Beals testified.

Defense attorneys raised the possibility that a malfunction in one of the forklifts led to arcing that started the fire. But ATF electrical engineer Michael Abraham, testifying for nearly three hours on Sept. 21, said what the defense’s expert claimed was arcing in the forklift was just a “globule” of melted copper. Copper melts at 1,985 degrees Fahrenheit.

“We considered all potential sources of ignition,” said Abraham, who was part of the National Response Team assigned to the Bonhomme Richard fire investigation.

He said he visually inspected both forklifts and determined the globule would not have caused the fire, nor would the Li-ion batteries that he examined at ATF’s lab, he added.

But in cross-examination by Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres, one of Mays’ attorneys, Abraham acknowledged that he hadn’t included the Li-ion batteries in five pages of notes he took from his post-fire inspection aboard Bonhomme Richard, although he recorded seeing 9-volt and other batteries among the debris. He disagreed with the attorneys’ contention that internal damage or ruptures inside batteries could have started a fire.

Mays’ defense attorneys this week are expected to call their own experts in electrical engineering to testify and chip away at the government’s arguments and raise reasonable doubt of the allegations against Mays.

A Sailor’s Accusation

US Fire Pump forward-looking infrared (FLIR) imagery of BONHOMME RICHARD. US Navy Photo

Personnel Specialist 2nd Class Kenji Velasco, one of several sailors who testified on Sept. 22, told the court that it was Mays who he saw in the Lower V deck, wearing a mask and carrying a pail, before the fire was reported.

Velasco’s identification has been questionable. Velasco was more confident in identifying who he spotted that morning than in eight previous times he spoke with NCIS and ATF investigators, defense attorneys noted. In his initial interviews with agents, Velasco hadn’t identified the person he saw by name, but he eventually suspected Mays after discussing it with several other deck department sailors.

Operations Specialist 3rd Class Andrew Cordero testified that he and several others spoke with Velasco in the days after the fire about what they did and saw that morning. During those conversations, they started to think that Mays might have been the one who Velasco told them he saw go down to Lower V. They discussed what that person was wearing, and the “boot camp coveralls” that Velasco described he saw was something that they’d seen Mays wear previously.

“You all started thinking, Seaman Mays?” Lt. Tayler Haggerty, a defense attorney, asked Cordero. “Yes,” he replied.

Mays’ attorneys contend that he was wearing coveralls that morning, not the Type III working uniform. Petty Officer 2nd Class Ray Smith testified that he would have seen Mays during the 7:45 a.m. muster on the flight deck and he said he would have chewed him out if he wasn’t wearing coveralls since “I don’t like people mustering in Type IIIs.” Smith recalled first seeing smoke about 15 minutes after muster.

Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Beau Benson, recalled to the stand on Sept. 23 by prosecutors for a second time, testified that Velasco “was fixated on one person” and had asked him what time he, as a deckplate supervisor, had given Mays an assignment following muster.
“He was just fixated on him in particular,” he said.

BHR Sailors’ Recollections

Sailors and Federal San Diego Firefighters equip gear before providing firefighting assistance on board USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on the morning of July 13, 2020. US Navy Photo

Eight sailors, all Bonhomme Richard crew members at the time of the fire, took the stand on Sept. 19 to recall what and who they saw the morning the fire began. Nearly 140 of the 1,000-person crew were on duty, according to the Navy’s investigation, and 10 minutes elapsed after smoke was first spotted before the fire was reported

Benson testified that he was standing near the top of the ramp to the Lower V when he saw white smoke, and he reported it to the officer of the day.

Senior Chief Brian Six heard the 1MC call and hustled to the hangar bay, where he saw “bellowing black smoke.” The veteran sailor said “it wasn’t like electrical smoke” but was “almost like petroleum.” He heard “a lot of popping and crackling, and you could hear the roar of the fire.”

Carrying a firefighting thermal imager as he tried to go down the ramp to the Lower V around 8:30 a.m., Six recalled high heat emanating from the bulkheads and visibility just “two or three inches in front of my face.”

Photos taken by Chief Jason February in the initial firefighting efforts show increasingly thick, dark smoke pouring into the ship’s vast hangar bay – coming up the ramp from the Upper Vehicle deck that’s above the Lower V – in the first half-hour after the fire was reported. Teams of firefighting sailors gathered in the hangar bay and later were joined by federal and local firefighting crews before two explosions two hours later forced evacuation from the ship.

“There was no visibility whatsoever down there,” Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nelson Ernesto PablosGarcia testified.

He was pulling roving duty when he heard alarms go off sometime before 8:10 a.m. and was told to check it out. He told February “to sound battle stations” and he ran to get equipped with a SCBA mask before trying to get down to the Lower V. Heat from the fire, though, kept preventing him from reaching the landing.

Damage Controlman 1st Class Jeffrey Garvin was on duty as a fire marshal when he heard a report via the ship’s 1MC speakers of “black smoke” in the Lower V. Garvin testified he ran up to the hangar bay “and I see smoke bellowing out … black, thick, very dark.”

Garvin said he was pushed back by smoke in an attempt to go down the ramp.

“It was intense smoke. Super hot. It was something I’d never felt before,” he testified.

He saw an “orange glow” and described an “excessive heat and inability to breathe.”

In cross-examination by defense attorney Torres, Garvin said that he tried to get down to the Lower V on his own initiative to try to make sure no one was down there. He was visibly upset , recalling how he couldn’t do it.

“You’re supposed to make sure everybody is safe,” he said.

Sarcasm or Confession?

The location of the lower vehicle deck aboard Bonhomme Richard (LHA-6). USNI News Graphic

The judge also heard testimony on Sept. 23 from two sailors who had escorted Mays between the NCIS office at the San Diego base and the military brig located at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in San Diego. Mays was driven to Miramar, where he would be held in detention for several months, after some 10 hours of interrogation by NCIS and ATF investigators.

Prosecutors argued that statements the detained Mays made while he was in an office at the San Diego base awaiting a medical exam amounted to a confession.

Senior Chief Master-at-Arms Jeremy Kelley testified that he heard Mays say “‘I’m guilty I did it,’ or words to that effect.

In questioning by Torres, Kelley said “you could hear his frustration. He sounded frustrated.” He conceded that he had told NCIS that it was possible that Mays was being sarcastic.

When Cmdr. Leah O’Brien, a prosecutor, asked Kelley if Mays’ tone had changed from the casual conversation during the drive from the naval base, he said “it was very different” and added, “I took it seriously.”

Master-at-Arms 1st Class Carissa Tubman testified that Mays became less chatty and less “playful” as he sat six feet away, waiting to be taken to the doctor.

Mays

“At that point, he was a little nervous. He kind of sat there quiet,” Tubman said. “He was mumbling under his breath… I heard, I’m guilty I guess I did it. It had to be done.”

Mays had enlisted in May 2019 and completed the Pre-Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL program at Great Lakes Naval Training Center, Ill., on Sept. 30, 2019. He reported to the Naval Special Warfare Training Center in Coronado, Calif., as a BUD/S student and, during his second attempt at the course, had voluntarily dropped just days into the first week of the first phase. He left Coronado on March 3, 2020, and reported to Bonhomme Richard two weeks later. He’s been assigned to Amphibious Squadron 5 in San Diego since April 2021.

Mays’ sour attitude came from frustration after dropping from BUD/S and assignment to Bonhomme Richard as an undesignated seaman, according to testimony and the investigation. Mays often talked about returning to the training course and openly complained about the deck department and shipboard duty and cursed out the “fleet Navy,” sailors recounted.

Senior Chief Boatswain’s Mate Michael Simms, testifying on Sept. 21, described Mays as cocky, disrespectful and unhappy with doing grunt work, like painting and cleaning, as a member of the ship’s deck department, but in cross-examination acknowledged that “it’s not the most glamorous job in the Navy.”

NAVSEA: Navy ‘Struggling’ to Get Attack Subs Out of Repairs on Time as Demand Increases

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Less than a third of the Navy’s attack submarines have made it out of maintenance on time in the last decade as demand for the boats remain high, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command said on Wednesday. “We’re really struggling to get submarines out on time. Over the last ten […]

USS Jefferson City (SSN-759) departs Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Dec. 8, 2021, as it heads to Naval Station Guam for a homeport shift. US Navy Photo

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — Less than a third of the Navy’s attack submarines have made it out of maintenance on time in the last decade as demand for the boats remain high, the head of Naval Sea Systems Command said on Wednesday.

“We’re really struggling to get submarines out on time. Over the last ten years, 20 to 30 percent [came] out on time,” said Vice Adm. Bill Galinis at the American Society of Naval Engineers’ annual Fleet Maintenance and Modernization Symposium.

The Navy currently fields a fleet of 50 attack submarines split between the Los Angeles (SSN-688), Seawolf (SSN-21) and Virginia (SSN-774) classes, with more Virginias under construction. While the U.S. attack boat force is key to the Pentagon’s plans to counter China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, the service has had trouble keeping up with the maintenance demands.

As of Thursday, 18 submarines were in some type of maintenance, PEO Submarines Rear Adm. Jonathan Rucker said at the ASNE conference.

“That’s too high a number,” Rucker said Wednesday.

The earliest Virginia-class boats are among the hardest submarines to repair on time.

“We’ve seen a significant growth in the amount of man days required in submarine availabilities, particularly in the Virginia class,” Galinis said.
“We’re doing a deep dive to figure out why that is. It’s really a continuous process.”

While private yards like HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding and General Dynamics’ Electric Boat have taken on submarine maintenance work, the bulk of the attack submarine work happens at the Navy’s four public yards. Attack boats are third in line after nuclear ballistic missile submarines and aircraft carriers when it comes to repair priority and can bear the brunt of the shortfalls at the shipyards.

The yards have improved the on-time track records for boomers and carriers, but the record attrition at the public yards and a gap of a 1,000 workers have trickled down into sub repairs while demand for attack submarines has grown.

According to the Government Accountable Office, “Virginia class submarines have returned to operations almost nine months later than expected, on average; Los Angeles class submarines have taken four and a half months longer than scheduled, on average, to return to the fleet. As a result, some submarines have missed deployments or had their deployments at sea shortened.”

CBO Graphic

The class was designed following the end of the Cold War as a less expensive attack submarine compared to the high-performing Sea Wolf-class boats. The Virginias were designed to operate closer to shore and with components that met rigorous NAVSEA standards for submarine safety, but were not as durable as some of the older components on the Los Angeles-class boats.

“When we came off the Sea Wolf-class we had an extremely capable but relevantly more expensive submarine,” Rucker said.
“Where we were in the beginning of the Virginia class, we had a charge early on to build a design and build a submarine for an affordable cost to make sure we got the numbers we needed.”

Sustainment of the submarine class wasn’t a major requirement for the program and the Navy pushed maintenance aside for other cost saving considerations.

“Unfortunately, some of those challenges are here today,” Rucker said.

USS Virginia (SSN-774), commissioned in 2004, is wrapping up a mid-life availability and lessons from that repair and other early boats in the class are informing a class-wide maintenance plan to assist with scheduling and securing materials.

That Navy will implement that plan starting in Fiscal Year 2023 and may not see improvements until FY 2024.

“If you throw a rudder over on the Titanic, it takes a while for the ship to turn,” Rucker told USNI News.
“It’s going to take a little bit of time, just because there’s a lag and getting the resources or changing behavior or ensuring that we plan better for what we’re going to do.”

In the long term, the lessons from the Virginia-class sustainment issue have informed how the Navy planned for repairing and maintaining the Columbia-class ballistic missile submarines and the next-generation attack submarine SSN(X), Rucker said. Maximizing the time the submarine can deploy is key to the new design.

“The initial capabilities document actually has in it requirements for operational availability and sustainment,” Rucker said.
“It’s one of our four main requirements for SSN(X) … Speed, [signatures], payload and operational availability.”

Trial Begins for Alleged Bonhomme Richard Arsonist

NAVAL BASE, SAN DIEGO, Calif. – To military prosecutors, the fire that led to a 2020 conflagration that destroyed a multi-billion dollar amphibious warship was “a mischievous act of defiance” by a young sailor angry that he dropped from Navy SEAL training. But defense attorneys contend that Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays is innocent, the target […]

An MH-60S Knight Hawk helicopter from the Merlins of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 provides aerial firefighting support to fight the fire aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on July 14, 2020. US Navy Photo

NAVAL BASE, SAN DIEGO, Calif. – To military prosecutors, the fire that led to a 2020 conflagration that destroyed a multi-billion dollar amphibious warship was “a mischievous act of defiance” by a young sailor angry that he dropped from Navy SEAL training.

But defense attorneys contend that Seaman Apprentice Ryan Mays is innocent, the target of a questionable federal investigation into the July 2020 fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) that has little evidence to tie him to the blaze.

Mays, 22, a Kentucky native, is facing two felony charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice – one count of aggravated arson (Article 126) and one count of willful hazarding a vessel (Article 110). The latter charge carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

A military judge, Capt. Derek Jones, is presiding over the two-week general court-martial and will determine the fate of May, who opted for a trial by judge rather than have a military jury hear the case.

Bonhomme Richard was berthed at Pier 2 at Naval Base San Diego on the Sunday morning of July 12, 2020, when a fire broke out in the ship’s lower vehicle deck. The ship was at the end of a $249 million scheduled maintenance overhaul that included upgrades to the ship’s combat systems and flight deck to accommodate the Marine Corps’ new fleet of F-35B Lightning II joint strike fighter jets.

Only a fraction of ship’s company was aboard the 844-foot-long vessel that morning. That weekend, junior sailors began moving back aboard the ship, which was in the 88th week undergoing work under the maintenance availability contract the Navy had issued to BAE Systems.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Graphic of the suspected Arson site in the Lower “V”

On Monday, prosecutors argued that Mays had a grudge against the Navy and hated doing the drudge work of the deck department. Mays was assigned to the ship after dropping out of the Basic Underwater Demolition Training/SEAL course and his frustration caused him to set his ship afire.

“It was a mischievous act of defiance gone wrong,” Cmdr. Leah O’Brien told the court in opening statements Monday morning.

“There is absolutely no doubt that fire was arson,” O’Brien said, and she argued that “there was nobody in the Lower V… except for one sailor, Seaman Recruit Mays.”

Mays became a suspect after another sailor told Navy and federal fire investigators that he had seen Mays in the lower vehicle deck before the fire broke out.

Investigators, however, in prior testimony, haven’t identified the specific source of what started the fire, which spread quickly from the ship’s lower vehicle stowage area and grew as it spread across most of the ship’s 14 decks. It took hundreds of firefighters and sailors nearly five days to get the fire to get under control. The Navy eventually sold the hulk for scrap.

Mays has denied any role in the fire. His attorneys have argued that fire investigators – led by agents from the Bureau Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service – skipped other possible suspects and selectively left out evidence of other potential causes in the final fire investigation they submitted to the Navy.

“Cognitive bias led this entire investigation astray,” Lt. Tayler Haggerty, one of May’s three military attorneys. Mays, “is innocent,” she said.

Mays

Mays had mustered on the flight deck the morning of the fire as the crew was on their Sunday holiday routine, Haggerty said. He did light chores in his assigned spaces before he heard calls of “black smoke” ring out. “He was never in the Lower V,” Haggerty told the court. “So why are we here?”

The attorney argued that investigators dismissed another sailor as a potential suspect for starting the fire, even after they learned that sailor, Fireman Elijah McGovern, had done internet searches that morning for “heat scale white” and “fire color heat scale.” McGovern had been standing watch before the fire started, and investigators who questioned him had said that he said those internet searches were part of his interest in his personal writings about fire-breathing dragons.

It’s unclear whether McGovern, who last year was separated from the Navy, will be called on to testify. Navy prosecutors last month told the judge that they had no luck locating him.

Haggerty described McGovern as having his own grudge against the Navy.

“He did not like being in the Navy,” he said.

She noted that McGovern, whose nickname was Arc, was considered a suspect in what was an inconclusive investigation into a series of graffiti scrawled on ship and portable toilets after the Bonhomme Richard fire. He was eliminated as a suspect even though a handwriting expert found him to be a possible match. Those writings included comments like, “I did it[.] I set the ship on fire. Fuck the ship. One down three to go,” she said.

Defense attorneys also have argued that the fire investigation didn’t examine other potential sources of the fire, including discarded Lithium-ion batteries stored in the Lower V area where fire investigators agree the blaze began.

Seven former Bonhomme Richard sailors testified on Monday – several by video call – and described seeing smoke and their firefighting reporting and response in the initial hour after the fire began

One sailor, Boatswain’s Mate 2nd Class Beau Thomas Benson, described the area in the Lower V area as a cluttered catch-all, a “junkyard” filled with ship and contractor gear.

Damage Controlman 3rd Class Nelson Ernesto PablosGarcia, during questioning by lead prosecutor Capt. Jason Jones, described thick smoke that filled the area by the Upper and Lower vehicle decks and heat so intense he could feel it through his boots. He made several attempts to reach the lower deck via the ramp but was pushed back by the heat and lack of full protective firefighting and breathing equipment in those early moments of the fire.

The location of the lower vehicle deck aboard Bonhomme Richard (LHA-6). USNI News Graphic

The fire “will get hotter by the foot,” PablosGarcia said. He had to close his eyes and nearly got blinded because of the heavy smoke.

Damage Controlman 1st Class Jeffrey Garvin, a fire marshal on duty when the fire broke out, was visibly shaken during questioning on the stand when asked about events that morning.

“It was very intense smoke. Super-hot. It was something I had never felt before,” Garvin testified. He tried to reach the Lower V deck but was turned back by “excessive heat and the inability to breathe.”

Garvin left the hangar bay at times, unprovoked, to reach the space where he and several sailors reportedly saw “orange” glow. He was concerned there were crew members there.

“You’re supposed to make sure everybody is safe,” he said.

The handheld thermal imager he held showed the heat in the spaces to be 900 degrees and higher. The imagers max out at 1,100 degrees, with the screen going white.

Before testimony began, both sides argued over the inclusion of evidence for the judge to weigh about a separate and smaller fire that was reported aboard Bonhomme Richard just a few weeks before the huge blaze. ATF Special Agent Matthew Beals described that fire as a report of a fire in a styrofoam cup.

During questioning by a defense attorney Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres, Beals admitted “there was no analysis of the liquid” in the cup, which the attorney said was found in an engineering maintenance space aboard the ship in June 2020 after a sailor reported seeing “12-inch flames” and smoke. The incident wasn’t included in the larger Bonhomme Richard fire investigation.

The trial continues Tuesday, with fire investigators and fire forensics experts expected to testify as the government’s case continues.

Fincantieri Begins Construction of First Constellation-class Frigate

THE PENTAGON – Fincantieri Marinette Marine will officially start building the first Constellation-class frigate at its yard in Marinette, Wis., today. The start of fabrication comes nearly two and a half years after the Navy issued Fincantieri the detail design and construction award for the first frigate in April 2020. After finishing the critical design […]

Rendering of USS Constellation (FFG-62). Fincantieri Marinette Image

THE PENTAGON – Fincantieri Marinette Marine will officially start building the first Constellation-class frigate at its yard in Marinette, Wis., today.

The start of fabrication comes nearly two and a half years after the Navy issued Fincantieri the detail design and construction award for the first frigate in April 2020.

After finishing the critical design review in May and the production readiness review in July, the Navy green-lit the shipbuilder to start production, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, told reporters in a roundtable this week.

Asked why it took the shipyard two and a half years to begin building the lead ship, Moton said both the service and Fincantieri wanted to complete the design as much as possible before beginning construction.

“It was maturing the design. It is a pretty healthy process that’s got to go on … that’s a fairly lengthy process of going through the functional design where you’re looking system by system. And then it’s a little bit of a spiral, right. If you change some things that they have impact on another [thing],” Moton said.

“It just takes a while to move through that process. In order to complete the design, the shipbuilder has to get all of their major vendors on contract because we’re literally at the level where it’s not just, okay here’s a pump, but we need to know which pump because we got to have the right circuit breakers to feed that pump. It is at quite [a] detailed level. That takes time. And mutually we and the shipbuilder agreed that design maturity was probably the single biggest factor we could do to reduce the risk of production,” he added.

While Fincantieri is the lead for the functional design, Gibbs & Cox is in charge of designing the ship’s 3D model, Moton said.

“Since the contract for Constellation-class detail design and construction was awarded in April 2020, Fincantieri and its team have been completing the detail design of ship systems – placing material suppliers under contract and developing the three dimensional model that is used for supporting production,” he said.

Fincantieri has also embarked on a capital improvement effort at the Marinette shipyard so it’s ready to build the frigates.

A Fincantieri Marinette Marine model of the proposed USS Constellation (FFG-62). USNI News Photo

The detail design is just over 80 percent finished, which was the Navy’s goal prior to fabrication, Moton said.

“That’s a percentage beyond just the number. That percentage reflects two things – one is that we wanted to ensure the functional design was largely complete and that’s important because that’s what sets the systems and the equipment selection and all those types of things,” he told reporters. “The other part of it is making sure that the 3D model was complete enough to know that there’s still work that will happen a kind of the modular level, almost compartment level – but making sure that those ship-wide things were mature and stable.”

The lead ship in the class is slated to deliver to the Navy in 2026. The service’s requirement is 20 frigates and it has the option to bring in a second yard to build the small combatants. But Congress in Fiscal Year 2022 legislation mandated a pause on the second yard effort, arguing the Navy must mature the design before bringing in a second shipbuilder.

The Navy previously planned to buy two frigates per year starting in FY 2023, but slowed down that effort in the most recent budget submission. A service official during the FY 2023 budget rollout said the frigate’s procurement projection, which alternates between buying one ship per year and then two, reflects what one shipyard could build in the next five years.

Moton said the cadence at which the service buys the ships will depend on funding and industrial base capacity.

“The pace that we will build that frigate class is a function of that measured approach that we took initially. It’s a function of an approach that is balanced against topline constraints. It’s an approach that’s balanced against the entire industrial base and how quickly we might need to go to a second builder,” Moton said.

Navy officials would not give details on when they’d need to make a decision about a second yard, but said it would take Fincantieri about a year to put together the technical data package the service would have to give to the second builder.

“They are essentially producing a set of documents – electronic documents – that we could then hand to another shipbuilder to take a look at it. So we’ll keep an eye on that, we’ll see how it’s informed by the portfolio. We’ll know here as the next couple of years progress. As I said, there is a lot of advantage in terms of holding on getting that package because as the shipbuilder moves through production, there will be fixes and changes and things that need to happen,” Moton said.
“It’s kind of to our advantage to sort of wait as long as we can to get those good fixes, but also support when it looks like we’re going to need to put our an [request for proposal] if and when we do that for a second builder.”

Both HII’s Ingalls Shipbuilding and Austal USA are positioning themselves to bid for second line of the Constellation-class frigates, USNI News recently reported.

The Navy and Fincantieri adapted the Italian FREMM multi-mission frigate parent design so the Constellation-class frigates can field U.S. systems like Aegis Baseline 10 and C4I systems, Moton said.

Attorneys Argue Over Graffiti Confessions, Alternative Suspects in Bonhomme Richard Fire Criminal Hearing

NAVAL STATION SAN DIEGO, Calif. – While firefighting crews and sailors massed at Naval Base San Diego’s Pier 2 to attack a fire spreading across former USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), a small fire scorched a mattress on another amphibious assault warship berthed a mile away. That fire, on a rack in troop berthing aboard Wasp-class […]

USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) sits pier side at Naval Base San Diego on July 16, 2020. US Navy Photo

NAVAL STATION SAN DIEGO, Calif. – While firefighting crews and sailors massed at Naval Base San Diego’s Pier 2 to attack a fire spreading across former USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6), a small fire scorched a mattress on another amphibious assault warship berthed a mile away.

That fire, on a rack in troop berthing aboard Wasp-class USS Essex (LHD-2), was extinguished by a petty officer, leaving the compartment on the ship’s 02 level in a smoky haze.

The fire was minor in scale compared to the conflagration that consumed much of the 844-foot-long Bonhomme Richard and its 13 decks. But the mattress fire in COVID-restricted berthing aboard Essex revealed some parallels to the larger fire. A military judge on Wednesday ruled that those similarities are worthy of further examination by defense attorneys representing a junior sailor accused of setting a fire that led to the $3 billion loss of the 22-year-old Bonhomme Richard, which the Navy decommissioned in 2021 and sold for scrap.

USS Essex (LHD-2) arrives at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for RIMPAC 2020 on Aug. 10, 2020. US Navy Photo

Seaman Recruit Ryan Mays, 22, is charged with aggravated arson and hazarding a ship. Mays has denied the allegations, and his attorneys contend that criminal investigators have overlooked other suspects and dismissed potential causes of the fire.

A Naval Criminal Investigation Service probe did not identify any suspects for the July 12, 2020, Essex fire, believed to have been started when someone lit a flammable cleaning wipe found on the charred but flame-resistant bedding.

During a two-day pretrial hearing this week in a courtroom at the 32nd Street naval base, defense attorneys argued that NCIS and federal investigators did not pursue potential links between the two ship fires that occurred the same day at the same base along the same waterfront. They raised the possibility that one person might have set both fires. Investigators do not know what time the fire aboard Essex began, as some time had passed before it was reported that afternoon and the ship secured its brow. A duty fire marshal testified that anyone with a CAC card could access the ship.

The location of the lower vehicle deck aboard Bonhomme Richard (LHA-6). USNI News Graphic

While the government determined that the Essex fire was unrelated to the Bonhomme Richard blaze, “that does not mean we are foreclosed from evidence that these two fires were related,” defense attorney Lt. Tayler Haggerty argued before the military judge, Cmdr. Derek Butler.

Prosecutors countered that any connection between the two fires is “sheer speculation,” noting a lead federal fire investigator had identified no link.

Bonhomme Richard “is a massive, incendiary fire,” Lt. Chesley Nyaradi told the court. “The other is a smoldering fire that eventually put itself out or someone put it out.”

Injecting evidence about the Essex fire into the Bonhomme Richard case would create “a trial within a trial,” forcing them to litigate an incident that happened on another ship, she argued.

NCIS Special Agent Alexandra Baruffi, who led the Essex investigation, testified Tuesday that investigators suspected someone unhappy they were stuck in COVID isolation prior to going underway had started the fire, and they looked into several persons of interest.

“Ultimately, no suspect was identified,” Baruffi said, adding that she found no links to the Bonhomme Richard fire.

When questioned by Haggerty, the agent admitted that she had not interviewed the duty fire marshal who doused the smoldering mattress fire.

“There were suspects in the case that the government eliminated for no good reason. They were done with this,” Haggerty argued to the judge. But the fire aboard Essex “poses a relevant alternate theory” in the case of the fire aboard Bonhomme Richard.

Butler agreed, noting the government’s evidence “does not rule out the possibility.”

That two ships had fires on the same day “is a matter relevant to pursue,” the judge said. “The investigation did not identify a prime suspect, leaving the matter ripe. … There’s another
possible perpetrator here.”

“Another possible suspect in the case,” he added, “is not a waste of time.”

Investigators’ Actions Questioned

Ryan Mays

Mays’ attorneys have argued that NCIS agents and a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives investigator fixated on Mays early on as the suspect in the Bonhomme Richard fire. The Navy’s prosecution against Mays is shaping up as largely based on one eyewitness’ claim of seeing Mays in the ship’s lower vehicle ramp where the fire broke out, an alleged confession overheard by one brig chaser when Mays was detained a month later and what federal investigators said were Mays’ denigrating comments about the “fleet Navy” during nine hours of interrogation by federal investigators that they concluded was motive for arson.

Haggerty said the government readily dismissed sailors suspected in the Bonhomme Richard fire, including Fireman Elijah McGovern, who was spotted in the lower vehicle deck that morning and who investigators learned had Googled “heat scale” before he went home after standing watch. ATF fire investigator Matthew Beals, who identified Mays as the alleged arsonist, testified that McGovern said the search was part of his research for a collaborative fantasy novel with a friend in Texas that involved fire-breathing dragons.

The government didn’t charge McGovern, who left Bonhomme Richard that morning after standing watch, Haggerty said.

Defense attorneys have sought to question McGovern, who last year was separated from the Navy. Lt. Cmdr. Jordi Torres, the lead defense attorney, told the judge that McGovern had lied about his whereabouts the morning of the fire, and his testimony at trial could “cause doubt to Seaman Mays’ culpability.”

Evidence shows that McGovern could be a suspect, Torres told the judge during the hearing.

But it’s unclear at this point whether McGovern will testify or if the prosecution will location him.

“We are actively looking for him to secure him for trial,” Cmdr. Leah O’Brien, a prosecutor, told the judge. “We’re still looking.”

McGovern, originally from Michigan, separated from the Navy on March 3, 2021 as an E-1 Fireman Recruit, according to his Navy biography obtained by USNI News.

Graffiti Confession

Diagram of the fire aboard Bonhomme RIchard. US Navy Photo

The debate over the relevance of the Essex fire was just one of a half-dozen motions the judge considered this week as the Bonhomme Richard arson case marches toward the start of Mays’ general court-martial on Sept. 19.

Defense attorneys sought to quash inclusion of a handwriting expert’s testimony and information about graffiti found on porta-potties at the pier and aboard Bonhomme Richard, including the words,“Ha ha ha I did it. I set fire to the ship.” Another warned: “1 down 3 to go” – a possible reference to the big-deck amphibious ships home ported at the naval base. Graffiti found aboard the ship likely involved soot from the fire.

Prosecutors submitted images of the graffiti and suspects’ handwriting samples to the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Laboratory (USACIL) at the Defense Forensic Science Center in Georgia. A forensic document examiner, Thomas Murray, testified by phone that it seemed to be a single writer, and analyses of several sailors’ handwriting pointed to another Bonhomme Richard sailor – not Mays – as a likely source.

A handwriting analysis of graffiti that said “1 down 3 to go” appears to be “taunting law enforcement, Torres said, suggesting that it was McGovern who wrote the graffiti.

Prosecutors argued that such graffiti is hearsay and not legitimate confessions and said McGovern denied starting the fire.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Graphic of the suspected Arson site in the Lower “V”

Under O’Brien’s questioning, Murray noted some limitations in analyzing the writing samples and graffiti images he reviewed. The judge hadn’t yet ruled on the graffiti’s admissibility.

Attorneys also argued over Mays’ alleged confession after he was detained at the base for a 10-hour period of questioning by the NCIS and ATF agents in August 2020.

One of the brig chasers, Master at Arms 1st Class Carissa Tubman, testified that she heard a handcuffed Mays mutter, “I’m guilty I guess I did it. It had to be done.”

His attitude, Tubman said, had soured from his earlier more playful and “sarcastic” demeanor as the evening went on, and he complained that he didn’t like working on the ship.

The other two chasers with Tubman did not report hearing Mays’ confession, Torres said. Tubman, in response to a question from the defense attorney, said her hearing is “decent.”

Prosecutors have argued that Mays became resentful at the Navy when he dropped from the Navy SEAL program. He had enlisted with a Navy SEAL contract, but five days into the first phase of the Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL course in Coronado, Calif., which followed several weeks of orientation training, he dropped on request.

Defense attorneys hinted at an ankle sprain that Mays grappled with at the time, and said he hoped to get assigned to another BUD/S class. Why he dropped from BUD/S “is irrelevant,” Haggerty said. But prosecutors and investigators have pointed to his purported disdain for the fleet Navy as the motive for torching his own ship after he failed to become a Navy SEAL.

Work as a deck seaman on the Bonhomme Richard was “beneath him,” said Lt. Shannon Gearhart, another prosecutor. The fact that the junior sailor had to return to living on the ship – it was wrapping up a $249 million shipyard overhaul – had “wore him down.”

Butler, the judge, denied the defense’s request and will allow Tubman’s testimony and statements about Mays’ remarks to be used as evidence in the trial.

Mays, who was assigned to Amphibious Squadron 5 after the fire and demoted to E-1, has not yet decided whether a military jury or just a judge will hear the evidence and decide his fate.

RIMPAC Testing Will Inform the Fate of Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle

The manned-unmanned teaming experimentation currently underway at the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise will help the Navy decide the future of the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle, a service official told reporters on Monday. Speaking to reporters virtually, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, noted that the […]

Medium displacement unmanned surface vessels Seahawk, front, and Sea Hunter launch for the U.S. Pacific Fleet’s Unmanned Systems Integrated Battle Problem 21 (UxS IBP 21), April 20, 2021. US Navy Photo

The manned-unmanned teaming experimentation currently underway at the biennial Rim of the Pacific 2022 exercise will help the Navy decide the future of the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle, a service official told reporters on Monday.

Speaking to reporters virtually, Rear Adm. Casey Moton, the program executive officer for unmanned and small combatants, noted that the Fiscal Year 2023 budget request did not include plans to buy more MUSV prototypes.

“Whether or not we will buy more MUSVs will be certainly informed by what we’re learning at RIMPAC. When we’ll decide that will be kind of when we’re ready to decide that. And I think even the CNO certainly has even commented on publicly about this discussion about what’s the best path in terms of MUSVs or smaller USVs, or those kinds of things, which I believe is a completely healthy conversation,” Moton said, referring to comments Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday made earlier this year.

While L3 Technologies is currently building a MUSV prototype, Gilday in April said the service is rethinking what it needs, including potentially the number of MUSVs, after seeing the experimentation U.S. 5th Fleet has been performing with smaller unmanned systems under the Combined Task Force 59 effort.

The Navy still plans to purchase the first Large Unmanned Surface Vehicle (LUSV) in FY 2025, Moton said on Monday.

“We are maturing all of the systems engineering pillars to get to the right level of technical maturity and we will achieve certification – which will include the senior technical authority – looking at that and our key technology areas: has the specific requirements for the land-based testing, for the machinery plant in particular, and other technical areas. So at its most fundamental level the program office is using this as [is] sort of a piece of its plan to get to those certification points and that transition to LUSV,” Moton said.

With four USV prototypes under the helm of the recently created Unmanned Surface Vessel Division One, the Navy is pairing the platforms with destroyers at RIMPAC to experiment with and better understand how the four USVs all work in conjunction with manned warships. The New USVDIV command will serve as the bridge between the program office and the fleet for that feedback, USNI News previously reported.

The USVs operating at RIMPAC include Ghost Fleet Overlord test ships Nomad and Ranger, which were originally developed by the Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office. Sea Hunter, which was developed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, and its sister ship, Seahawk, are also taking part in the exercise. Sea Hunter and Seahawk are considered medium-sized USVs.

While it’s not the first time the Navy has paired the USVs with manned warships, it’s the first time all four USVs are participating in the same exercise, USNI News previously reported.

A Saildrone Explorer unmanned surface vessel (USV) sails in the Gulf of Aqaba off of Jordan’s coast, Dec. 12, 2021.US Army Photo

“It puts a different level of stress on it though because now I don’t just have one USV and a whole dedicated engineering staff just for that and fleet operators … But it puts a level of stress on not just the systems themselves, but the support behind it, right. So it’s not everyone’s focused on one thing. There’s four different things going on at the same time … and it’s a lot of the same people,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, the principal assistant program manager for USV’s at the Naval Sea Systems Command’s unmanned maritime systems program office, or PMS 406.

Moton described the RIMPAC testing as the “initial step in ramping up the scaling” of USV operations with the fleet.

The exercise paired a single USV with a single destroyer that had a crew embarked aboard to manage the unmanned asset. But the plan is to keep scaling up as the Navy develops the concept of operations for the USVs.

“The CONOPS are not one USV with one surface combatant. It’s multiple USVs with a surface combatant,” Fitzpatrick said.

“That’s a scaling point that we didn’t do at RIMPAC. We had one USV assigned to one surface combatant. But those are steps. And then we’re going to continue to grow that and then continue to put in future exercises we’ll have multiple USVs with one surface combatant, and then maybe multiple USVs tied with multiple surface combatants,” he continued. “So two and two or two and three. Those are things that were in the future CONOPs we’ve identified we need to go to. So we’re going to go do those. But again, steps to scale to where we need to get to.”

During RIMPAC, the Navy had the chance to react in real-time to unplanned events, service officials said. At one point before a planned mission in the exercise, a destroyer had to drop out due to an issue officials declined to detail. That meant control of the USV had to switch to the shore-based unmanned operations center in San Diego, Calif.

Officials did not say which USV nor which destroyer experienced the change in plans, but said it provided the fleet with the change to learn how to react to events it can’t control.

“The other thing that I suspect it probably did is it’s just one more thing to help build trust with the fleet. So if there’s an off nominal condition and we show the ability to take control, to move control off that vessel, to have the [unmanned operations center] perform its role, then that just gives the fleet more confidence in how the platforms going to react, how the USVDIV is going to react. It will give more confidence, frankly probably up to the numbered fleet commander,” Moton said.

Fitzpatrick described the process of switching the controls to the shore-based UOC as “seamless.”

“That is the really the longest part – it’s just the coordination and getting the people there. But again in an operational standpoint, using the common control system … it’s a few clicks on a screen,” he said.
“You have to relinquish control and then gather control over it.”

Large unmanned surface vessel Ranger departs Pearl Harbor to begin the at-sea phase of Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022, July 11., 2022. US Navy Photo

Capt. Scot Searles, the program manager for unmanned maritime systems, described the process as no different from when a manned ship starts reporting to another task group commander.

“It really is nothing more on the ship than making a report to say, ‘I’ve now left that commander and I’m now reporting to the new commander.’ But there’s a whole lot leading up to that … to make that sure everybody’s ready for that, so it’s the coordination piece of it that takes the longest,” Searles said. “But I think from our perspective what we learned is that’s a normal expected off-nominal operation that all ships of the fleet are expected to be able to do seamlessly. And planned or unplanned, we were able to do it.”

The Navy did multiple planned transfers from a ship-based command of the USVs to a shore-based one, in addition to the one or two unplanned transfers, Searles said.

With four payloads at RIMPAC – including electronic warfare and anti-submarine warfare payloads – Fitzpatrick said feedback from the fleet has focused on getting more advanced and an increased quantity of payloads instead of the autonomy side.

“That’s one of the biggest feedbacks we’re getting initially. They’re talking about payloads. They’re talking about capabilities,” he said. “They’re not worried that it’s going to go run into something.”

“They want to take Sea Hunter and an Overlord – which were developed under two different programs and have two different comms suites – and we’re working to bring them together. But they really want to do that. They want to say, ‘we want Sea Hunter and an Overlord with different payloads onboard, to be controlled from the same platform,” Fitzpatrick added.

The payloads have largely come from existing programs that the Office of Naval Research has altered so they could operate from an autonomous or unmanned platform.

“That’s the angle, right, is really trying to use existing technologies and make them work without people. And that’s the angle that allows us to rapidly get newer capabilities out there, to test them on all of the prototypes to inform the future requirements,” Fitzpatrick said.

Meanwhile, the Navy last week announced that its Unmanned Influence Sweep System, or UISS, reached initial operating capability, making it the first USV to hit that acquisition benchmark.

Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned surface vehicle, arrives at Pearl Harbor to participate in the Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) 2022 on June 29, 2022. US Navy Photo

Moton noted that while the mission for UISS – which would pair with a Littoral Combat Ship or potentially other ships for the mine countermeasures mission – is different from that of the USVs the Navy is experimenting with at RIMPAC, it inches the Navy toward the future fleet of manned and unmanned platforms.

“Clearly it’s got a different mission, it’s under sort of local control of that asset that it’s operating from, whether that’s an LCS or a vessel of opportunity, or from the pier. It’s a different autonomy problem. It’s executing a mine warfare mission. It’s kind of going out and executing a traditional mine warfare sort of sweep of the area,” Moton said.

“It’s still the first time a fleet asset is going to be operating, is going to have to have trust in the autonomy, unmanned system trust in how it’s going to handle if there’s something that happens in the mission, whether it’s a mechanical thing or something else. So there are many reasons that it’s important in the broader push to hybrid man-unmanned,” he added.

After declaring IOC, the Navy will next head into the initial operational test and evaluation phase for the MCM mission package system once FY 2023 ends, according to Moton.

“Having [UISS] IOC – which means it’s through test, which means we have numbers fielded which means we have trained crews, which mean we have logistics set up, all of which makes IOC so important – it’s just a huge milestone to get that done for our first surface MCM platform,” Moton said.

Report to Congress on Constellation-class Frigate Program (FFG-62)

The following is the July 15, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Constellation (FFG-62) Class Frigate (Previously FFG[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress. From the report The Navy began procuring Constellation (FFG-62) class frigates (FFGs) in FY2020, and wants to procure a total of 20 FFG-62s. Congress funded the first FFG-62 in FY2020, the […]

The following is the July 15, 2022, Congressional Research Service report, Navy Constellation (FFG-62) Class Frigate (Previously FFG[X]) Program: Background and Issues for Congress.

From the report

The Navy began procuring Constellation (FFG-62) class frigates (FFGs) in FY2020, and wants to procure a total of 20 FFG-62s. Congress funded the first FFG-62 in FY2020, the second in FY2021, and the third in FY2022. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests the procurement of the fourth FFG-62.

The Navy’s FY2023 budget submission estimates the procurement cost of the fourth FFG-62 at $1,091.2 (i.e., about $1.1 billion). The ship has received $6.0 million in prior-year advance procurement (AP) funding. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget requests the remaining $1,085.2 million needed to complete the ship’s estimated procurement cost. The Navy’s proposed FY2023 budget also requests $74.9 million in AP funding for FFG-62s to be procured in future fiscal years.

Four industry teams competed for the FFG-62 program. On April 30, 2020, the Navy announced that it had awarded the FFG-62 contract to the team led by Fincantieri/Marinette Marine (F/MM) of Marinette, WI. F/MM was awarded a fixed-price incentive (firm target) contract for Detail Design and Construction (DD&C) for up to 10 ships in the program—the lead ship plus nine option ships. The other three industry teams reportedly competing for the program were led by Austal USA of Mobile, AL; General Dynamics/Bath Iron Works (GD/BIW) of Bath, ME; and Huntington Ingalls Industries/Ingalls Shipbuilding (HII/Ingalls) of Pascagoula, MS.

As part of its action on the Navy’s FY2020-FY2022 budgets, Congress has passed provisions relating to U.S. content requirements for certain components of each FFG-62 class ship, as well as a provision requiring the Navy to conduct a land-based test program for the FFG-62’s engineering plant (i.e., its propulsion plant and associated machinery).

The FFG-62 program presents several potential oversight issues for Congress, including the following:

  • the Navy’s emerging force-level goal for frigates and other small surface combatants;
  • the reduction in the FFG-62 program’s programmed procurement rate under the Navy’s FY2023 five-year (FY2023-FY2027) shipbuilding plan;
  • the accuracy of the Navy’s estimated unit procurement cost for FFG-62s, particularly when compared to the known unit procurement costs of other recent U.S. surface combatants;
  • whether to build FFG-62s at a single shipyard at any one time (the Navy’s baseline plan), or at two shipyards;
  • whether the Navy has appropriately defined the required capabilities and growth margin for FFG-62s;
  • whether to take any further legislative action regarding U.S. content requirements for the FFG-62 program;
  • technical risk in the FFG-62 program; and
  • the potential industrial-base impacts of the FFG-62 program for shipyards and supplier firms in the context of other Navy and Coast Guard shipbuilding programs.

Download the document here.

Navy Announces Punishments for Bonhomme Richard Fire, SECNAV Censures Former SWO Boss

More than 20 sailors were punished for the four-day fire that led to the loss of the warship Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) in 2020, the Navy announced Friday. The actions ordered by U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Samuel Paparo include letters of reprimand and forfeitures of pay for former commander Bonhomme Richard Capt. Gregory Thoroman and […]

An MH-60S Seahawk helicopter from the “Merlins” of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3, provides aerial firefighting support alongside sailors and civilian fire crews on the ground to fight the fire aboard amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) on July 13, 2020. US Navy Photo

More than 20 sailors were punished for the four-day fire that led to the loss of the warship Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6) in 2020, the Navy announced Friday.

The actions ordered by U.S. Pacific Fleet commander Adm. Samuel Paparo include letters of reprimand and forfeitures of pay for former commander Bonhomme Richard Capt. Gregory Thoroman and executive officer Capt. Michael Ray, as well as a punitive letter of reprimand for the ship’s Command Master Chief Jose Hernandez, according to a statement from the service provided to USNI News.

Paparo served as the consolidated decision authority to oversee accountability actions following the completion of former 3rd Fleet commander Vice Adm. Scott Conn’s command investigation into the fire, which was released in October. He determined the punishments in a series of admiral’s masts December through January, a Navy official told USNI News.

“The disposition decisions included six Nonjudicial Punishments (NJP) with guilty findings, two NJPs with Matter of Interest Filings (MIF) and a Letter of Instruction (LOI), two NJP dismissals with a warning, one additional MIF, five other LOIs, three Non-Punitive Letters of Caution (NPLOC), two letters to former sailors documenting substandard performance, and six no-action determinations,” according to a statement from the service.
“Paparo’s CDA accountability actions were primarily focused on USS Bonhomme Richard’s leadership and the fire response team.”

Paparo also issued letters of instruction to Rear Adm. Scott Brown, U.S. Pacific Fleet director of fleet maintenance and Rear Adm. Eric Ver Hage, commander, Navy Regional Maintenance Center.

The former commander of Southwest Regional Maintenance Center, Capt. David Hart and former commander of Naval Base San Diego Capt. Mark Nieswiadomy both received letters of instruction, a Navy official told USNI News on Friday.

Paparo, “issued a letter of instruction to Capt. Hart for his substandard performance. CDA also submitted a Matter of Interest Filing to Navy Personnel Command for inclusion in Hart’s military record to document his involvement in the loss of Bonhomme Richard,” Pacific Fleet spokesman Capt. William Clinton told USNI News in a Friday statement.

Former Amphibious Squadron 5 commander Capt. Tony Rodriguez who had been in the position less than 30 days, was not punished.

In addition to Paparo’s actions, Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro censured former Naval Surface Forces commander retired Vice Adm. Rich Brown for failing to “oversee ships’ fire safety readiness in maintenance availabilities,” according to a copy of the July 15 letter obtained by USNI News.

Brown was initially not held at fault by Paparo before Del Toro made the decision to censure the retired admiral, according to a defense official. Neither Conn nor Paparo interviewed Brown for the investigation, he told USNI News in an interview last week.

For his part, Brown is contesting the censure, and cited his work in buttressing the surface navy following the fatal collisions in the Western Pacific in 2017, he told USNI News.

“I am extremely disappointed that the Navy, to which I dedicated and devoted 35 years of service, has abandoned me for political expediency,” Brown told USNI News Friday.
“Every officer, commander and leader should now be on notice.”

The announcement of the accountability actions comes nine months after the release of the investigation into the blaze and just over two years after the fire started while the ship was on the pier at Naval Base San Diego, Calif.

“When leaders’ actions or inactions result in the loss of life or capital resources, the senior leadership of the Department of the Navy has a responsibility to determine the root cause and hold those accountable,” Del Toro wrote in a memo to the service on June 2.
“This fire could have been prevented with adequate oversight into the ship’s material condition and the crew’s readiness to combat a fire.”

Prior to Friday’s announcement, Seaman Recruit Ryan Mays, who is accused of starting the fire, was the only person to publicly face consequences for the fire. Mays was held in pre-trial confinement for three months in 2020 before Vice Scott Conn – then commander of 3rd Fleet – decided to not press charges. His predecessor, Vice Adm. Stephen Koehler reversed Conn’s decision and pressed forward with the court martial.

Navy Awards $537M Option for Third Constellation Frigate Chesapeake

The Navy has awarded a $537 million contract option to shipbuilder Fincantieri Marinette Marine for the third Constellation-class frigate, according to a Thursday Pentagon announcement. The contract modification for the detail design and construction of Chesapeake (FFG-64) follows Constellation (FFG-62), awarded in 2020, and Congress (FFG-63), awarded in 2021. Combined with government-furnished equipment, the ship’s […]

A Fincantieri Marinette Marine model of the proposed USS Constellation (FFG-62). USNI News Photo

The Navy has awarded a $537 million contract option to shipbuilder Fincantieri Marinette Marine for the third Constellation-class frigate, according to a Thursday Pentagon announcement.

The contract modification for the detail design and construction of Chesapeake (FFG-64) follows Constellation (FFG-62), awarded in 2020, and Congress (FFG-63), awarded in 2021.

Combined with government-furnished equipment, the ship’s total cost will be about $1.5 billion.

Marinette’s Wisconsin shipyard will build the 7,300-ton frigate, which is based on Fincantieri’s FREMM multi-mission design used by the French and Italian navies.

The award comes as ship designers Gibbs & Cox are working to finalize an approved design for the class that would allow the shipyard to start fabrication of the first ship. Construction was due to start in April, but the design has yet to pass its critical design review, USNI News understands.

The frigate is set to be the Navy’s key anti-submarine warfare platform and a crucial node in the service’s emerging Distributed Maritime Operations concept, officials have told USNI News.

While the new Connies are based on an existing frigate design, the plans have gone through an extensive revision to accommodate new capabilities and meet the Navy’s survivability standards, service officials have told USNI News. That design work has taken longer than initially anticipated.

Earlier this year, the long-delayed Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations bill placed a pause on the Navy seeking a second shipyard to construct more Constellation-class frigates.

“While the [frigate] is based on a proven hull design and mature shipboard technologies, it remains a new class and the Navy and the shipbuilding industrial base have had past production challenges in managing costs, technical concurrency, design changes and schedule of lead ships of a class,” reads language from the FY 2022 appropriations law. “There is concern that prematurely adding a second [frigate] shipyard before the first shipyard has identified and corrected technical and production issues will inject unneeded risk and complexity into the program.”

The service was expected to buy two frigates a year starting in FY 2023, but alternate between one and two awards a year for a total of buying three every two years. 

Over the next five years, the service anticipates buying seven of the FFGs for a total of ten if the Navy exercises all of the contract options, according to its FY 2023 budget submission.

In the latest budget submission, the service asked for one Connie for $1.2 billion.

Navy Issues $8M Modification for Overhaul of Cruiser it Plans to Decommission

The Navy on Wednesday issued an $8 million contract modification for the modernization overhaul of a ship it wants to decommission next year. The service awarded the modification to BAE Systems Ship Repair in Norfolk, Va., “to incorporate a request for a contract change for a 217-day extension for the accomplishment of the growth work” […]

Dry dock flooding begins for the Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruiser USS Vicksburg (CG-69) departure from BAE Systems Ship Repair dry dock pier on June 10, 2021. US Navy Photo

The Navy on Wednesday issued an $8 million contract modification for the modernization overhaul of a ship it wants to decommission next year.

The service awarded the modification to BAE Systems Ship Repair in Norfolk, Va., “to incorporate a request for a contract change for a 217-day extension for the accomplishment of the growth work” on Vicksburg’s modernization overhaul, according to the Defense Department’s contract announcements.

The modification takes the total number of dollars spent on the contract to $214.6 million. The Navy anticipates the work to finish in March of 2023.

Vicksburg, a Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser, is one of 24 ships the Navy hopes to decommission in Fiscal Year 2023.

The award comes as lawmakers consider the Navy’s FY 2023 budget request. Service officials have repeatedly argued the Navy’s money would be better spent on modernization and readiness efforts than on the aging cruiser fleet.

But that argument has not appeared to sway lawmakers, who are concerned that the Navy is decommissioning more ships than it plans to build and that the service is not efficiently managing taxpayer funds.

“Some of these ships – especially the Littoral Combat Ships – are among the newest in the fleet. The Navy claims they don’t have enough sufficient funding to maintain and operate these ships, but that’s not the case. Instead, they’ve mismanaged billions of dollars in maintenance funding. One glaring example of this is the USS Vicksburg, a cruiser up for decommissioning this year,” Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas) said Wednesday at a House Appropriations defense subcommittee hearing.
“At a time when the ship is still in its maintenance period, the Navy is proposing to scrap it. If the Navy experts expect Congress to support its vision for this fleet, it must do a much better job of managing the inventory it has. We will not stand idly by as valuable taxpayer funds are wasted.”

Vicksburg is about 85 percent of the way through the modernization program meant to extend the service life of the ship, Jay Stefany, the principal civilian deputy to the assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, told the House Armed Services seapower and projection forces subcommittee on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for Naval Sea Systems Command told USNI News last month that the modernization overhaul for Vicksburg is slated to finish in the summer of 2023.

In a call with reporters last month, Vice Adm. Scott Conn, the deputy chief of naval operations for warfighting requirements and capabilities (OPNAV N9), expressed skepticism that Vicksburg would finish the maintenance overhaul on time.

“Congress may not be happy, they may push back. There is concern at the waterfront. Having been down and visited Vicksburg last week, and walked that ship and they got a lot of stuff done. And they have a long way to go. So it’s just a part of our ‘get real’ perspective in the Navy in terms of assessing where we are. And is the investment we continue to make on these ships going to give us a return from a warfighting capability perspective?”