WASHINGTON — The Navy must produce more heavy combat ships like the destroyers built at Bath Iron Works to meet the country’s national security needs, said Collins, R-Maine, during a speech to a defense industry trade association today and in an interview afterward.

Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she hopes that President Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, due out in February, will call for building two destroyers a year for decades to come.

That would be an increase over the White House’s current shipbuilding blueprint, which plans for an average of 1½ destroyers a year, at a pace of constructing a single ship one year and a pair the next.

Building two destroyers a year isn’t just about protecting jobs at BIW, which employs about 5,400 people, Collins said.

The defense strategy outlined last week by Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called for increased Navy presence in the Asia-Pacific region to keep a vigilant eye on countries like North Korea and China. And that calls for heavy combat ships like destroyers, said both Collins and an independent analyst.

“What I would like to see is two every year,” Collins said. “That’s what we need, at a minimum. And that’s what we also need for our national security. This isn’t just an industrial base and my desire to see work for Bath Iron Works, though obviously those are great concerns of mine. But it is what our national security needs require.”

Independent defense analyst Loren Thompson said he believes building two destroyers a year is indeed part of the White House’s 2013 budget proposal, and he agreed with Collins that more destroyers are needed to meet the White House’s defense strategy goals in the Asia-Pacific.

“My understanding is that the Navy budget has been robustly funded,” said Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, a think tank based in Arlington, Va.

“The plan that the Navy is on requires at least two destroyers every year for the foreseeable future.”

The 2012 defense bill approved by Congress last year authorized spending $2.5 billion for work on three destroyers at BIW. That assures work there until 2017.

But Jeffrey Geiger, BIW’s CEO who also was at the Surface Navy Association meeting, said unless the Navy commits to two destroyers a year going forward, the pace of work could begin to slow in 2015.

“The workload runs out through about 2017,” Geiger said. “It starts to decrease after about 2014 until new ships as the senator is describing are added.”

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at: jriskind@mainetoday.com Twitter: Twitter.com/MaineTodayDC