DEFENSE SECRETARY Chuck Hagel speaks to shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works Thursday.

DEFENSE SECRETARY Chuck Hagel speaks to shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works Thursday.

BATH

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel visited Bath Iron Works and got a tour Thursday of the recently launched USS Zumwalt, the firstin class destroyer built here.

After the tour, Hagel spoke briefly to shipyard workers and answered a couple of workers’ questions about the future of BIW and the yard.

“BIW has a very important place in the future of the Navy,” he told the workers, who cheered.

He commiserated with workers who bear the brunt of the uncertainty in Congress with regard to the budget.

DEFENSE SECRETARY Chuck Hagel, second from left, talks with officials during Thursday’s visit at Bath Iron Works. “BIW has a very important place in the future of the Navy,” he later told shipyard workers.

DEFENSE SECRETARY Chuck Hagel, second from left, talks with officials during Thursday’s visit at Bath Iron Works. “BIW has a very important place in the future of the Navy,” he later told shipyard workers.

“As you know, we don’t have a budget,” he said. “We have a continuing resolution. And I know you’d like to have some answers, so you can make plans … so we can all make plans. But we’ll get through this hard time,” he promised.

Hagel stopped in Bath en route to a security conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia. This morning, he will meet with Canadian Defense Minister Rob Nicholson and participate in a joint news conference. In the afternoon, Hagel will deliver remarks to the Halifax Security Forum before returning to Washington tonight.

Hagel told shipbuilders and sailors on Thursday the Zumwalt — the biggest destroyer ever built for the U.S. Navy — will play an important role in the Pacific Ocean as the U.S. refocuses attention on the region.

With the stealthy-shaped Zumwalt serving as a backdrop, Hagel said the ship’s assignment to San Diego after it joins the fleet in 2016 “sends an important sign” about U.S. commitment to the Pacific region as the military bolsters its presence in response to Asia’s growing economic importance and China’s rise as a military power.

“It represents an important shift in our balance and assets and focus and America’s interest in the Asia- Pacific,” Hagel said. “We’re not retreating from any part of the world.”

Hagel spoke to crew members, shipbuilders and other naval personnel after touring the 610-foot-long Zumwalt, which is due to be christened in the spring at Bath Iron Works.

The Zumwalt, which is far larger and heavier than current destroyers, was designed for shore bombardment and features two 155- mm guns that fire rocketpropelled warheads, along with missiles and other weapons.

Originally envisioned as a “stealth destroyer,” the ship features a composite deckhouse that hides radar and antennas along with sharp angles that deflect radar signals. Its unusual wave-piercing hull was designed to minimize the ship’s wake.

Despite its larger size, the high-tech ship has so much automation that the crew size will be nearly halved from existing destroyers. Its gas turbine generators will produce 78 megawatts of electricity, enough to light up a small city — and to provide a platform for future weapons.

The Zumwalt’s big price tag — more than $3.5 billion — nearly caused the Navy to scuttle the program before reducing the number of ships to just three.

Despite its cost, the program seems to be on time and on budget for the time being, a rarity in an era of routine cost overruns and delays in new military programs.

Capt. James A. Kirk, the ship’s skipper, said afterward that the ship’s big guns and missiles provide a powerful strike capability. He said he’s looking forward to sailing down the Kennebec River and out to sea.

Asked about its ship’s unusual look, Kirk said it’s a “magnificent-looking” vessel.

“It’s unlike anything we’ve ever done,” he said.

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
contributed to this report.


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