Forty four years ago, I left Norfolk on my first deployment – as a pilot in an A-7 Corsair II squadron. The battle group included eight to 10 combatants, many built in Bath.

Learning I was from Maine, my shipmates began commenting on the quality of those Bath-built vessels. I developed great pride in and respect for Bath Iron Works surface combatants built by America’s best shipbuilders who by birthright have a 400-year legacy of shipbuilding excellence.

Much later, I commanded a carrier battle group and subsequently the Sixth Fleet. I came to fully appreciate that “Bath built is best built” meant much more than the geographic location of BIW and bragging rights for a Mainer. It meant first-class craftsmanship, reliable engineering and dependable weapons-system performance. It meant no better platform in which to sail into harm’s way.

Following the modest post-9/11 increases in defense spending, the budget has come under strong downward pressure for several reasons, including the recession of 2008, implementation of the 2011 Budget Control Act, drawdown of forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the Pentagon’s efforts to bring cost discipline to the acquisition process.

The current five-year defense plan has spending on a glide slope toward the lowest level since the pre-World War II/Depression era.

In response, the defense industry has undergone extensive restructuring. To remain competitive in this cost-focused acquisition environment, hundreds of thousands of defense jobs have been eliminated and new processes and procedures implemented to drive down costs and increase efficiency.

There has been strong demand for the BIW work in support of the Zumwalt (DDG-1000) program and the current DDG-51 multiyear contract. BIW is hiring and investing to upgrade its production facilities.

Looking forward, once the three contracted Zumwalts are completed, the Navy will have only two funded surface combatant programs – the LCS/SSC and DDG-51. BIW is not involved in construction of the LCS/SSC.

That leaves only the Navy’s DDG-51 and the Coast Guard’s offshore patrol cutter programs available to secure BIW’s future. Given the Department of Defense’s focus on cost as the determinant in contract awards, BIW must find ways to reduce production costs through increased efficiency.

BIW is on of three shipyards down-selected for the OPC contract competition. The two competitors are nonunion yards located in areas that enjoy significantly lower overhead costs and labor rates. The only way to compete is higher quality delivered more efficiently per unit of labor relative to the competition.

Past generations of Maine shipbuilders have repeatedly been able to do just that. There is no reason why this generation of shipbuilders won’t meet today’s competitive challenges just as their forbears did.

During the 36 years I was privileged to serve in the Navy, my wife, Joy, and I always knew that we would come back home to Maine. I have a strong interest in seeing the state’s economy grow and our citizens prosper.

As a former customer of the superb warships built at BIW, I want to ensure that the Navy and Coast Guard fleets continue to benefit from having Bath-built warships. That’s why I’m keenly interested in seeing the current BIW and International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers District 4/Local S6 discussions come to a constructive conclusion, which will benefit everyone – BIW, its employees, the Coast Guard, the Navy and Maine.

The current BIW shipbuilders deserve job security and the opportunity for future generations to compete for surface combatant programs. The future of Maine’s economy deserves better; and all of our nation’s citizens deserve the most combat-capable Navy and Coast Guard that taxpayers’ dollars can buy.

For the past 131 years, that has meant “Bath built is best built.”

I trust that those currently participating in the discussions will have the courage to make the difficult decisions that will ensure BIW’s future competitiveness and viability.