Business news service Bloomberg reports the Department of Defense is expected to request a single Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the Biden administration’s next fiscal year budget. The current contract between the Navy and shipyards, including Bath Iron Works, called for two surface combat ships during the next fiscal year.

Bloomberg reported the reduction in destroyers in the Pentagon’s $715 billion budget on Monday.

In response to the Bloomberg report, Maine’s Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King and Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden, wrote to President Biden and issued a statement noting the reduction in ships “would be a significant deviation from the current multiyear contract” between the Navy and the shipyards.

“We are deeply concerned that such a reduction in expected procurement would harm the large surface combatant shipyard industrial base and its talented workforce, which have made great progress working to increase capacity and efficiency over the past several years. Since agreeing to a five-year multiyear procurement contract in 2018, industry had planned for a procurement rate of at least two ships per year through next fiscal year,” the Maine Delegation wrote to the Biden administration. “Stability and predictability are crucial to maintaining a healthy shipbuilding industrial base, which the Navy has identified as a national security imperative that must be steadily supported, and grown, to maintain a skilled workforce.”

Under the Trump Administration and a Congressional mandate, the Navy was to expand the number of surface ships from a little less than 300 to 355, in part, to keep pace with China’s growing navy.

“We are also concerned that such an action would send the wrong message to China and hinder our Navy’s ability to adequately deter Chinese military aggression and economic coercion in the future. As you observed in your first speech to Congress last month, the United States is ‘in a competition with China and other countries to win the 21st Century,’” the delegation wrote. “If the United States is to safeguard its future, we must continue to make vital investments in our military and especially our Navy.”

BIW, along with Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls, is one of two shipyards that make the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer.

In a company report released in March, BIW President Dirk Lesko wrote the shipyard has a backlog of 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers and one Zumwalt-class destroyer to build in the six years.

While this cut in Arleigh Burkes won’t immediately impact BIW due to it’s substantial backlog of ships, Craig Hooper, CEO of Themistocles Advisory Group, a Maryland-based national security advisory firm, said it could indicate the Department of Defense is stepping away from Arleigh Burkes in favor of newer types of ships.

“This is reflecting the interest of the Department of Defense in modernizing the American military,” said Hooper. “The focus is changing from conventional, large warships to a new model, that we don’t quite understand yet, of smaller and potentially unmanned vessels. It’s up to General Dynamics to figure out where the Arleigh Burke fits in that.”

“The destroyers built by the men and women of Bath Iron Works are the most versatile surface combatants in the U.S. Navy and essential components of our national defense,” BIW Spokesman David Hench wrote in a statement Wednesday. “We are hiring and training the next generation of shipbuilders and investing in production facilities to meet the pace of construction required by our contract with the Navy.”

Hooper said he’s frustrated with the Navy for slowly reducing how many Arleigh Burke-class destroyers it asks for rather than telling shipbuilders what’s next so companies like BIW can begin adapting.

“If it is the end of the line for Arleigh Burkes, the Navy needs to say so,” said Hooper. “At some point, programs come to an end and it’s obvious that the end of the road could be in sight for the Arleigh Burke-class. It has been a great run, but it’s time for BIW to start thinking hard about what the alternatives are and what’s next.”

Last week, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said BIW will help produce the next class of warship for the Navy that will succeed the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer. The Navy is “collaborating right now with BIW and other shipbuilders as we work on the initial design” of that next ship class, known colloquially as the DDG-X, he said following a visit to the shipyard.

Despite its stable shipbuilding schedule, BIW needs additional ships to work on to ease the Navy’s transition to the next generation warship, Lesko wrote in March, because it would “keep our workforce thriving and capable of performing on that new ship class.”

To help win new contracts, BIW has been working to recover from production delays exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and a nine-week strike of its largest union last summer all while racing to hire more employees.

Gilday said last week the company is expected to reach its goal of producing two ships per year by the end of the year.

According to the most recent report from BIW’s Joint Schedule Recovery Committee, formed when the strike last summer ended, the shipyard’s pre-outfit department was operating at a pace of 1.33 ships per year as of April 22.

The company also surpassed 7,000 workers as of last week, Collins touted last week, which the company hopes will further help accelerate production.

The shipyard hopes to hire 2,700 employees by the end of this year and have 6,000 manufacturing employees in its arsenal, Director of Human Resources Services Allyson Coombs told The Times Record in March. The company hired and trained nearly 1,800 employees in 2019 and added about 1,000 more last year.


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