Political experts agree the Pentagon’s proposed reduced number of destroyers produced for the Navy between 2021 and 2025 likely won’t pass Congress.  Kathleen O’Brien/The Times Record

BATH — A Department of Defense proposal to cut the number of destroyers produced for the Navy over a five-year period — potentially slashing work for Bath Iron Works — will likely be shot down by Congress, according to some political experts.

“Congress is generally skeptical of requests for reduced military spending because such cuts have direct impacts within state and House districts,” said Mark Brewer, a political science professor at the University of Maine. “(Senate) members generally want to increase spending, not decrease it.”

In a memo obtained by industry trade publication Defense News last month, the Department of Defense recommended reducing the number of Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) destroyers built for the Navy between 2021 and 2025 from 12 ships to seven, a shipbuilding budget cut of about $9.4 billion.

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the primary ship class produced and serviced by BIW. The most recent destroyer, the future USS Daniel Inouye, was christened in June making it the 37th ship of its class to be built by the shipyard. This class of guided-missile destroyers is built by only two shipyards: BIW and Mississippi-based Ingalls Shipbuilding.

Andrew Rudalevige, a government professor at Bowdoin College, said he suspects, “a cut to the overall fleet census will not go down well even in the White House, much less in Congress.”

“Congress has the power of the purse and the final say on spending in all areas,” said Rudalevige. “There are plenty of examples over time where legislators have approved more money for different projects than the Pentagon has requested.”

U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, said in a joint statement that the proposal would signify an “abrupt reversal” from the Navy’s previously stated goal of growing its fleet.

“Congress determines the authorization and funding for Navy shipbuilding,” the senators said. “Through our positions on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, we have worked hard to ensure that BIW, (Portsmouth Naval Shipyard), and other defense industry employers in Maine have the resources they need to continue to support our military. That work continues.”

Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat representing Maine’s 2nd District, said cutting the Navy’s fleet would go against President Trump’s campaign pledges.

“The president campaigned on building a strong, 350-ship American Navy, a goal that is necessary for our national security,” the Democrat said. “The White House should do its part to follow through on this commitment to the American people. While these reports from within the administration are concerning, it’s important to remember that Congress, not the White House or the Department of Defense, ultimately sets the nation’s funding priorities.”

Should the Pentagon’s recommendation be approved, the Navy’s warship fleet would shrink to 287 in 2025 from its existing fleet of 293 ships.

Bath Iron Works has ongoing contracts for 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, some of which are under construction.

Jay Korman, a Navy analyst with Avascent Group in Washington, said Congress is often comfortable funding a healthy naval fleet because of the fleet’s use as defense against foreign threats.

“There’s consensus in Congress that the threats from Russia and China are real, and that a robust U.S. Navy presence and warfighting capability is needed to counter some of these threats,” said Korman. “Right or wrong, that often equates to fleet size, so any proposal to reduce overall numbers will likely be viewed with skepticism on (Capitol) Hill.”

The recommended cut from the Pentagon comes days after Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act, which directs how federal funds should or should not be used by the Department of Defense.

The National Defense Authorization Act was passed in tandem with a defense spending bill, which allocates $5.1 billion to build three Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the next year, which BIW can compete for contracts to build. The bill also includes $390 million above the president’s budget request for the Arleigh Burke advanced procurement, which amounts to a down payment for an additional ship next year.

The bill also provides $156 million to fund the completion of the Zumwalt-class (DDG-1000) destroyers, which BIW builds. In the early 2000s, the Navy hoped to build 32 highly advanced Zumwalt-class destroyers, which cost $7 billion per ship and were packed full of the latest technology and a redesigned body that makes them appear much smaller on radar. The Navy later reduced its order to only three due to cost overruns. The last in the class, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson, is now under construction.

BIW is also undergoing a hiring push to help win contracts and build ships for the Navy on schedule. The shipyard currently employs 6,700 and is planning to hire an additional 1,000 workers next year, then add another 600 to 800 workers in 2021, according to Jon Mason, director of human resources for BIW.

John Carr, communications representative for the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, the shipyard’s largest union, said union representatives, “believe it would be premature to speculate or comment. However, representatives at every level remain vigilant, working on behalf of our members who continue building the best ships for the greatest Navy in the world.”

BIW declined to comment.


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