Rep. Jared Golden (left) and Sen. Angus King (right) spoke outside Bath Iron Works on Wednesday after touring the shipyard with Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record



Sen. Angus King said he expects the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer cut from the president’s proposed defense budget will be regained by Congress because to leave it out would be “both a strategic and financial mistake.”

“The House Appropriations Committee has already added that ship back in, and we’ll be working on that from the Senate side,” King said after visiting Bath Iron Works with Rep. Jared Golden and Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks Wednesday. “I believe it will be added back in. The president proposes, but Congress disposes, so we’ll have the final word on this budget.”

Biden’s military budget request cut the number of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the primary type of ship BIW makes, from the previously planned two to one. Maine delegates set their sights on retrieving the cut destroyer after the proposed budget was released in May.

Last week, the House Appropriations Committee released its draft defense funding bill, which includes money for two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, reversing President Biden’s cut. However, the journey to regain the cut ship is long from over, said Golden.

The House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee, then the full House Appropriations Committee, will markup the defense budget before the House votes on it. Golden warned this could happen any time between late July and early September.

King serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee and Golden is vice-chair of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces. The two committees oversee the authorizations for Navy shipbuilding, including the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer program.

BIW’s Vice President of Operations Michelle Kruger (left) discusses the ships BIW has under construction with Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks (center) and Dan Nadeau, BIW’s Director of Ground Assembly. Photo courtesy of Bath Iron Works

Although they believe the lost destroyer will ultimately be added to the final defense budget, totaling two Arleigh Burkes, King and Golden warned of the possible consequences of not regaining that one ship.

If Congress isn’t able to regain that lost ship, King said the “breach” of that multi-year contract could make General Dynamics, BIW’s parent company, reconsider whether it should continue to invest in the Bath shipyard if work dished out by Congress is inconsistent.

The lawmakers said they invited Hicks to tour BIW because “We want her to understand the importance of replacing that ship.”

“The reason we wanted Kathleen Hicks to come up here is to see what’s going on at the yard,” said King. “I think it’s bound to make an impression.”

Though it’s only a question of regaining one ship that may not be made by BIW, King and Golden emphasized the importance the ship holds, both regionally and nationally.

“The Navy is the heart of our national defense right now, so to slow the production of (Arleigh Burkes) is not strategically sound,” said King. “Because this ship has already been committed, by not building it, the Navy has to pay a $33 million penalty. That’s $33 million of taxpayer money that goes to buy nothing, so we don’t think that makes a lot of sense.”

Kirk Lussier, Director Pre-Outfit at BIW, details elements of the shipbuilding process to Deputy Secretary of Defense Kathleen Hicks. At left is Rep. Jared Golden. Photo courtesy of Bath Iron Works

Golden added that giving work to the country’s shipyards maintains the nation’s industrial base. Without a steady stream of work, Golden previously warned shipyards may be forced to lay off as many as 500 workers at a time when BIW is striving to hire — and train — thousands of new shipbuilders.

“This is a very narrow window of time where we have these experienced shipbuilders here who will retire soon,” said Golden. “To have them working side-by-side with a young workforce is critically important from an institutional knowledge and experience perspective.”

BIW hired almost 3,000 new employees in 2019 and 2020 and plans to hire at least 2,000 more this year. The company now has about 7,300 employees.

Hicks is the latest in a series of visitors invited by Maine lawmakers to tour the shipyard in recent weeks.

Last month, 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 cut Arleigh Burke after touring BIW facilities with Golden and Rep. Chellie Pingree.

The month before, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday visited BIW with King and Sen. Susan Collins. During the visit, Gilday applauded the company’s efforts to increase production and said it is on track to produce two ships per year by the end of 2021.

Hicks was not available for comment Wednesday, but King said he believes visiting BIW helps make the case for adding the destroyer back into the national defense budget.

“They’re impressed, and it helps; there’s no question it helps,” King said of the recent visitors. “It’s one thing to make a decision based upon lines on a piece of paper, but it’s another to come here and see the people first-hand.”

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