Bath Iron Works’ core business remains naval shipbuilding, but the company has recently considered diversifying.

In a statement, BIW confirmed interest in building offshore wind equipment, Coast Guard cutters and, with U.S. government approval, warships for Saudi Arabia.

BIW, a General Dynamics subsidiary, said new work must make business sense and not interfere with naval shipbuilding.

“Opportunities that meet these criteria will help to fill gaps in our workload and help to sustain employment levels,” said a statement from BIW. “However, they will never equal the volume of work in a naval surface (warship). Navy shipbuilding is and will remain our core competency.”

With billions in Pentagon budget cuts on the horizon, analysts question the reliability of shipbuilding contracts on which BIW depends.

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation support BIW’s entry into new markets.

“The Navy will definitely be a big part of Bath Iron Works, but it is also my hope that they can diversify,” said Rep. Mike Michaud, D-2nd District.

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, an Armed Services Committee member, is optimistic about BIW’s future as a Navy shipyard, but thinks it should diversify to fill gaps between naval contracts and to maintain a stable work force.

Collins said all of the potential new projects “could help lessen BIW’s reliance on having just one customer,” the Navy.

“It is important that BIW diversify its workload,” she said.

News emerged in 2010 that Saudi Arabia was talking to the Pentagon about buying U.S.-made Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

It’s uncertain whether the Obama administration will approve such a sale, and there is no guarantee the Saudis would choose ships made at Bath.

Also, BIW would likely face competition from both domestic and foreign shipbuilders.

Collins and U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, an Intelligence Committee member, have said they believe the Saudis are increasingly interested in Arleigh Burkes, which have ballistic missile defense capabilities. They say the country is less interested in a smaller ship known as the Littoral Combat Ship, which BIW does not build.

In a statement, BIW said warship sales to other countries are rare: The last ship BIW built for a foreign navy was delivered to the Federal Republic of Germany in 1970.

Still, if a contract is in U.S. interests, the company said it would “look forward to the opportunity to compete for that work.”

BIW also intends to submit a proposal to design a U.S. Coast Guard offshore patrol cutter similar in size to the 453-foot Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates BIW built for the Navy in the 1970s and 1980s.

BIW expects contracts for the ships will be awarded in 2015.

In addition, BIW has interest in building offshore wind platforms, related steel components and service vessels.

“If there are plans for large, steel structures to be installed off the coast of Maine to provide clean energy, we want to be involved,” the statement said.

BIW is a member of the University of Maine’s DeepCwind consortium and, with Pittsfield-based Cianbro Cos., is building a one-third scale floating platform to be deployed off Monhegan Island next year.

But BIW said wind market opportunities are “a number of years downstream.”

“The industry itself remains in a highly developmental state,” the statement said.

Dan Dowling, president of BIW’s Local S6 machinists’ union, expressed doubts. He said BIW hasn’t won bids in recent years for work on smaller vessels, such as the Littoral Combat Ships and a shallow-water transport called the Joint High Speed Vessel.

“It would be nice to get foreign work or Coast Guard work,” he said. “(But) it’s got to be more than in the rumor stage to get us excited.” 

Staff Writer Jonathan Hemmerdinger can be contacted at 791-6316 or at:

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MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

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