BATH — Bath Iron Works was unable to secure a $5.58 billion contract to build up to 10 guided-missile frigates for the Navy.

The contract was awarded to Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri, which will build its frigate at its Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin, the Navy announced Thursday.

The contract is for detailed design and construction of the lead ship, with an option to buy nine more. The first ship ordered in 2020 is expected to cost $1.28 billion, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service.

“BIW’s [frigate] team — including Raytheon, Navantia and our supplier base — produced an exceptional concept design and put forward the best bid possible,” said David Hench, BIW spokesman. “We look forward to the Navy’s debrief to us.”

In April 2013 the Navy announced BIW was awarded $14.95 million to create a concept design for its new class of guided-missile frigate. BIW’s frigate design was based on a hull used by Navantia, a shipyard in Spain.

Other competitors for the contract included Austal USA of Alabama and Huntington Ingalls of Mississippi.

“I am very proud of the hard work from the requirements, acquisition, and shipbuilder teams that participated in the full and open competition, enabling the Navy to make this important decision today,” said James Geurts, assistant secretary of the Navy for research, development and acquisition, in a news release.  “Throughout this process, the government team and our industry partners have all executed with a sense of urgency and discipline, delivering this contract award three months ahead of schedule.  The team’s intense focus on cost, acquisition, and technical rigor, enabled the government to deliver the best value for our taxpayers as we deliver a highly capable next generation Frigate to our Warfighters.”

The most recent class of frigates operated by the Navy was the Oliver Hazard Perry (FFG-7), of which 51 were built and later decommissioned between 1994 and 2015. BIW was one of the shipyards to manufacture that class of frigate.

The FFG-7s were about 455 feet long and around 4,000 tons, whereas Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the primary type of ship BIW builds for the Navy, are about 510 feet long and weigh in at roughly 9,300 tons. BIW and Ingalls are the only two shipyards manufacturing that class of vessel.

The Navy’s call for frigates, which are generally smaller and have fewer weapons than destroyers, is a drastic change from its now-abandoned push to build a fleet of Zumwalt-class destroyers.

In the early 2000s, the Navy hoped to build 32 highly advanced stealth destroyers, constructed solely at BIW. The Zumwalt-class destroyers measure 610 feet in length, 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.

In 2016, the shipyard lost out on a $10.5 billion contract to build a new generation of cutters for the Coast Guard to Eastern Shipbuilding Group in Panama City, Florida.

With Zumwalt construction wrapping up, the Navy’s Arleigh Burke destroyer program accounts for virtually all of the shipyard’s work.

“We will continue to focus our energy on meeting the needs of the U.S. Navy by delivering [the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson] and the 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers we currently have under contract,” said Hench. “The DDG-51 is a proven design that has shown its ability to evolve and deliver increased capabilities to the fleet. We look forward to seeing our workforce prove that they can deliver these ships on schedule and oversee the maintenance and modernization of destroyers currently deployed in the fleet.”

In early March the Associated Press reported Wisconsin legislators sent a letter to President Donald Trump encouraging him to direct the frigate construction contract to the Marinette shipyard in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rep. John Nygren, who represents Marinette in the state Assembly, persuaded 54 Republican and Democrats from the Assembly and Senate to sign the letter to Trump.

The letter paints Fincantieri Marinette Marine as a vital economic engine in northeastern Wisconsin. The frigate contract would generate another 1,000 jobs for the region, the letter said. If the Navy hands the contract to someone else, however, Fincantieri could end up closing its shipyard, the lawmakers warned.


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