Bath Iron Works is calling for a new multi-year shipbuilding contract to support its business while it waits for the Navy to develop its next type of warship, according to the company’s State of the Business report sent to employees earlier this month.

The company has a backlog of 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and one Zumwalt-class destroyer to build in the six years, eight of which are under construction, BIW President Dirk Lesko wrote in the report. Despite its full schedule, BIW, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, needs additional ships to work on to pad the Navy’s transition to the next generation warship.

“Although planning is underway to transition to a new large surface combatant … that ship is not slated for construction until fiscal year 2027,” Lesko wrote in the report released March 16.

Large surface combatant is a collective term used to describe larger cruisers and destroyers.

Lesko added that “The best way to keep our workforce thriving and capable of performing on that new ship class” is to maintain its rate of construction of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers until the new class of ship is designed and ready for production.

According to a Feb. 11 report from the Congressional Research Service, the next class of ship will most likely be a guided-missile destroyer that replaces the Navy’s aging Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The Navy’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget requested $46.5 million in research and development funding for the program, the report states.

Early forecasts for the new ship imagine it as being larger than a 9,700-ton Arleigh Burke but smaller than a 15,700-ton Zumwalt, according to the report.

Lesko noted that he hoped  BIW and its chief competitor, Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls “will work directly with the Navy” on the design and construction of the new ship.

It’s unclear whether the Navy and BIW have communicated about the project yet.

Earlier this month, Maine’s legislative delegation and four Mississippi lawmakers sent a letter to the newly confirmed secretary and deputy secretary of defense urging them to increase shipbuilding spending.

Sens. Susan Collins, Angus King, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden argued a larger shipbuilding budget would maintain both national security and the country’s industrial base. To bolster the Navy’s current 298-ship fleet, which is far below the country’s ultimate goal, they advocated for a new multi-year contract for at least 15 Arleigh Burkes to “ensure stability and predictably in the (large surface combatant) industrial base.”

“In the era of great-power competition, a stronger U.S. Navy capable of projecting power around the world is necessary to ensure America’s national and economic security during peacetime as well as to defeat our adversaries should deterrence fail,” lawmakers wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks earlier this month. “Due to the long lead times necessary to properly procure and resource a larger fleet, attention must be paid to this critical issue immediately.”

BIW’s last multi-year contract was awarded in September 2018. BIW was award $3.9 billion to build four Arleigh Burkes from 2019 through 2022. Huntington Ingalls received $5.1 billion for six Arleigh Burkes.

Meanwhile, the company has hired nearly 3,000 new employees in the past two years and plans to hire about 2,000 more this year, Lesko wrote. The currently boasts a workforce of about 6,900.

The shipyard is on a hiring streak to both help reverse production delays inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a strike last summer that removed over half of its machinists from the workforce for over two months and help replace retiring workers.

“Performance is improving and we are making progress on our overarching goal of reaching a build rate of two ships per year,” Lesko wrote. “We have committed to reaching a build rate of 1.8 ships per year by the end of this year and have identified shorter-term milestones designed to benchmark our progress.”

The shipyard’s preoutfit department, responsible for welding steel plates into pieces of the ship structure, was operating at a speed 1.52 ships per year as of March 25, according to the company’s website. That’s an improvement from early February when the preoutfit department operated at a speed of 1.25 ships per year, according to the company’s website.

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