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Monday February 13, 2012 | 11:20 AM

The ship building news appears potentially good for Bath Iron Works in President Obama’s 2013 budget being released now.

The Navy Times has reported that the budget will request $3.5 billion in 2013 to build two Arleigh Burke class destroyers, the kind built at BIW. The budget’s plan between 2013-2017 is to build nine of those destroyers. While Obama budget seeks $487 billion in defense cuts over 10 years, the Navy fares relatively well because of a national security emphasis on the Pacific region, and building destroyers appears to be an ongoing priority.

It is not yet clear how many BIW would get. The Maine shipyard, owned by General Dynamics, competes to build the Burkes with a shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss., owned by Huntington Ingalls.

But BIW last year won a $680 million contract for a new Burke and beat out Pascagoula for the right to build the other one authorized last year. BIW builds the ships but not the weapons systems, so the total cost of a Burke is higher than $680 million per ship.

BIW has a work force of about 5,400 employees.

The awards approved last year ensure work at BIW at least until the end of 2017.

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

It isn’t yet clear what the Navy’s long-term, 30-year plan is for ship building under the 2013 budget blueprint. That detail may not be forthcoming for up to a few weeks. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has said she hopes the plan will up the average number of ships built per year from 1.5 to two. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, also have indicated they believe an emphasis on the Pacific and Navy ship building can be a boost for BIW.

Nine over five years would be 1.8 ships a year, but that is through 2017 and doesn’t indicate the 30-year plan. BIW also has been awarded contracts three Zumwalt-class destroyers, larger ships than the Burkes. The Zumwalt program has been limited to a total of three ships by the Navy, with all of them to be built at BIW.

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
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