NAVY SECRETARY RICHARD SPENCER speaks at a news conference as he pays his first visit to Bath Iron Works on Friday. BIW President Dirk Lesko, background left, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, listen to Spencer’s remarks.

NAVY SECRETARY RICHARD SPENCER speaks at a news conference as he pays his first visit to Bath Iron Works on Friday. BIW President Dirk Lesko, background left, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, listen to Spencer’s remarks.

BATH

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer reaffirmed the Trump administration’s commitment to building a larger fleet during Spencer’s first visit to Bath Iron Works on Friday.

While campaigning in Lisbon last year, then-candidate Donald Trump promised to build a 350- ship fleet, which he said would benefit BIW.

“We definitely need a larger Navy,” said Spencer. “Three hundred and fifty-five ships is the number of record, and if I’m not mistaken it’s either law or becoming law that we will have a 355-ship Navy. So that will be the marching orders.”

An amendment to the 2018 Defense Authorization bill required the Navy to maintain a 355-ship fleet. The amendment, however, did not provide the necessary funding to increase the size of the currently 280-ship fleet by about 30 percent.

Part of that ship buildup may include recommissioning older ships, Spencer added. Specifically, the Navy is looking into the Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates, many of which were built in Bath. If the Navy goes that route, BIW could have an opportunity to bid on those contracts.

“We will look for the best supplier, the best person who can react and fill contracts that we have, and the field will be open,” said Spencer.

An Associated Press report stated that Spencer said the Navy needs additional destroyers as it seeks to add more than 50 ships to the fleet in coming years. An additional $5 billion to $5.5 billion in annual spending is needed over 30 years to reach the 355-ship goal, according to the Congressional Research Service.

For the time being, the Navy was not considering restarting the Zumwalt-class series of destroyers, which are built exclusively at BIW. Initially, 32 of the stealth destroyers were to be constructed. Project delays and cost overruns meant only three vessels would be built, along with a restart of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers instead.

Spencer said the Navy is also looking to overhaul its relationship with shipbuilders by working together to both contain costs and to ensure that there’s adequate shipbuilding infrastructure, the AP reported.

Spencer’s visit corresponded with the announcement that two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers had been awarded to BIW.

“I think we have great faith in Bath. Bath-built (is) best built. And we look forward to this relationship growing and even becoming stronger,” said Spencer.

“That demonstrates the Navy’s commitment to BIW, and it’s confidence in its highly skilled workforce,” said Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. “The contracts will help to strengthen our fleet and allow the Navy to promote stability and security in the face of proliferating threats around the globe.”

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Collins was key to securing funding for the additional destroyer.

The first destroyer to be built will be in the Flight IIA configuration of the destroyers currently being built at BIW, and the second will be built in the all new Flight III configuration. Beginning with DDG 116, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers have been built on the basic Flight II design with technology insertions and modernizations. The Flight III configuration will feature new design elements and upgraded technology, including a powerful Raytheon radar.

In July, Reps. Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, and Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, attached an amendment to the 2018 Defense Authorization Act that blocked a requirement that the additional BIW destroyer have the Flight III radar installed.

“Congress shouldn’t be inserting itself into complex contract negotiations like this, especially once they’re underway — doing so unnecessarily threatens the job security of hundreds of hard-working Mainers at Bath Iron Works,” said Pingree in a statement at the time. “I’m proud to support this amendment to block these retroactive changes and protect the flow of work at BIW, whose level of shipbuilding is an incredible asset to our national security and our state’s economy.”

Spencer admitted that the Navy would have preferred the additional ship to be in the Flight III configuration, but was able to work with BIW and accept a Flight IIA configuration instead.

“To be very frank with you, was that our first choice? No. We would really like the Flight III to be number one, but we worked with Bath,” said Spencer. “We said fine. We can accommodate this.”

“These contracts help to stabilize our business and are welcome news,” said BIW President Dirk Lesko in a statement. “We are grateful to Maine’s congressional delegation and Navy Secretary Spencer for their efforts and leadership.”

THE ASSOCIATED PRESS contributed to this report.

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