Bath Iron Works has taken the first step in a competition for a Navy shipbuilding contract that could be worth billions of dollars.

The company, which is owned by General Dynamics, confirmed Wednesday it plans to submit a conceptual design proposal – the submission deadline is Dec. 18 – for the Navy’s new class of guided-missile frigates, the FFG (X). The conceptual design proposal is the first step in a lengthy, competitive process the Navy will use to select one shipyard to build 20 frigates.

Inside Defense, an online news service that covers the Defense Department, reported that BIW is among six companies to express interest in the design contract.

To reduce the time it takes to design, build and deliver the frigates, the Navy is requiring the ships have a so-called ‘parent design’ based on an existing hull form that already has been in active service. BIW’s parent design will be provided by its partner, Navantia, a ship designer based in Madrid, Spain, that specializes in frigate designs.

“Bath Iron Works evaluated many U.S. and foreign designs suited to the FFG (X) requirements and found that the family of frigates designed and built by Navantia is an ideal match,” BIW President Dirk Lesko said in a statement issued Wednesday. “We look forward to continuing the productive relationship we have had with Navantia for nearly 40 years.”

The Navy released the request for proposals for its guided missile frigate replacement program on Nov. 7.

The frigate, which is smaller than a destroyer, is meant to supplement the Navy’s undersea and surface warfare needs, and to support large surface combatants.

Though the Navy has not explicitly stated the contract’s potential value, estimates based on a Nov. 9 report developed by the Congressional Research Service indicate the construction contract could be worth billions of dollars.

According to the CRS report, the Navy wants each frigate to cost no more than $950 million, meaning that if 20 frigates are built, the contract could be worth up to $19 billion.

By comparison, the CRS report says it costs about $1.75 billion to build each DDG-51 class destroyer.

Navy frigates are smaller and less expensive to operate than destroyers and cruisers. Frigates are designed to operate in low-threat areas, but would be capable of air defense operations, anti-surface warfare combat, and electromagnetic or electronic warfare missions.

The CRS report states that the Navy wants the first frigate built in 2020, the second in 2021, with the remaining 18 built at a rate of two per year ending in 2030.

BIW built 26 Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigates for the Navy between the mid-70s and 1987. Since then, the shipyard has focused on building guided missile destroyers.

The Maine shipyard has been working for several years to expand or diversify its workload even as it tries to reduce costs in the face of Navy belt-tightening.

The Bath shipyard currently builds two types of guided-missile destroyers: the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that have been the workhorses of the Navy fleet for decades, and Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers.

After initially planning to build more than 30 of the Zumwalt destroyers, the Navy whittled down the order to just three ships. The first Zumwalt already has been delivered to the Navy, while the second and third ships are currently under construction at BIW.

Last year, BIW was one of three finalists competing to build up to 25 new cutters for the U.S. Coast Guard.

But BIW lost that contract – valued at an estimated $10.5 billion – to a smaller, Gulf Coast shipyard in September 2016 with no history of building military ships but a lower bottom line.

The loss of the Coast Guard contract, combined with the anticipated slow-down in work after the Zumwalt-class ships are complete, raised concerns that BIW may have to shed 1,000 or more jobs in coming years unless additional work is secured.

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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