Reps. Chellie Pingree (left-right), Joe Courtney, Jared Golden and Bath Iron Works President Dirk Lesko speak after touring BIW facilities Thursday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

Congressman Joe Courtney (D-CT), chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, said his subcommittee is working to restore the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer cut from President Biden’s defense budget proposal released last week.

“This budget is retiring some old large surface combatants in big numbers,” Courtney said after touring Bath Iron Works facilities with Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden on Thursday. “If we’re going to divest older capability ships to free up money to invest in newer capability ships, you have to make sure you do the second part, and this budget doesn’t do that.”

Biden’s military budget request cut the number of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers from the previously planned two to one.

The current multiyear contract between the Navy and shipyards, including Bath Iron Works, called for two surface combat ships during the next fiscal year.

From left, Reps. Chellie Pingree, Jared Golden and Joe Courtney tour BIW training and manufacturing facilities Thursday. Photo courtesy of David Hench

Courtney’s subcommittee is responsible for setting the shipbuilding manufacturing policy included in the National Defense Authorization Act, which directs how federal funds should be used by the Defense Department each year. Golden serves as vice-chairman of the subcommittee next to Courtney.

Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which sets funding policy for the federal government, including for military shipbuilding.

In coming weeks, Courtney said his subcommittee will start the lengthy process of meeting with “the budget office and the department of the navy” to review their concerns.

“The good news is within the first 48 hours of the budget coming out the Navy issued their Unfunded Priorities List — that’s the stuff that fell out of the budget that they feel should be added back in — the number one item on the list is restoring that Arleigh Burke,” said Courtney. “That augurs well for this process.”

BIW is one of only two shipyards in the country that builds Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the other being Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls.

Rep. Jared Golden speaks with a Bath Iron Works employee while touring shipyard facilities Thursday.

“We’re working to push back against the president’s budget request that reduced that two-ship contract,” said Golden after touring BIW’s training facility Thursday. “It’s under contract already, so this would represent a breaking of that, which is not something Congress has often smiled upon. We’ll be working to make sure the workload here remains the same.”

Pingree and Golden, along with Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, opposed the ship cut in a May 27 joint statement, arguing the reduction “would be slowing the Navy’s efforts to reach its target fleet size of 355 ships and hindering our ability to confront China’s military aggression and economic misconduct.”

The country would continue operating 296 warships under Biden’s proposed defense budget.

Nationally, the Maine Delegation wrote the cut would “destabilize our nation’s shipyard industrial base, threaten the skilled workforce that builds these ships, and undermine the long-term health of this important sector of national defense.

Pingree and Golden said maintaining a shipyard’s workload is the key to keeping its workforce strong. BIW has been on a hiring spree in recent years, adding almost 3,000 new employees in 2019 and 2020, with plans to hire at least 2,000 more this year.

“We want to make sure that growth, training and investment that’s going on (at BIW) isn’t lost because there’s not enough work,” said Pingree.

Each of BIW’s new shipbuilders takes between five and seven years to train and reach peak productivity, Golden said.

“You cannot just turn off the spigot today and think you can turn it on tomorrow and have a skilled workforce of men and women like we have at Bath Iron Works,” said Golden.

BIW’s roughly 7,300 shipbuilders have a backlog of 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to build in the six years, BIW President Dirk Lesko wrote in a March report, six of which are under construction. BIW has produced over 30 Arleigh Burkes for the Navy, the most recent of which is the future USS Daniel Inouye, christened in 2019.

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