Navy officials said it marks the second time in seven months mechanical or maintenance problems have prevented the 21-year-old amphibious assault ship from meeting a commitment at sea, Stars and Stripes reported Wednesday.
The flagship of the forward-deployed Expeditionary Strike Group 7 in Japan had been scheduled to depart several days ago for Cobra Gold 2012, an annual exercise with Thailand.
The Essex is to undergo a hull exchange next month with its sister ship, the USS Bonhomme Richard.
Last summer, the Essex headed back to port because of maintenance issues soon after departing for the biannual exercise Talisman Sabre 2011 with the Australians, Navy officials said.
Many Navy ships have been beset by problems. More than one in five have fallen short of combat readiness in the past two years. And fewer than half the Navy's deployed combat aircraft are ready for their missions at any given time.
In July, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, R-Va., chairman of a House subcommittee that deals with readiness issues, said the Navy faces "glaring deficiencies that are nothing short of alarming."