Rep. Jared Golden said his amendment to the annual defense bill will likely bring business and stability to the thousands of Mainers working at Bath Iron Works, two things the shipyard needs as it continues hiring in droves and striving to ramp up production speeds.

During the House Armed Forces Seapower Subcommittee markup of next year’s National Defense Authorization Act July 28, Golden proposed an amendment that allows the navy to enter into a multi-year contract for up to 15 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers over five years beginning in 2023. Golden said that amendment was unanimously approved by the subcommittee, of which he is the vice-chair, and added to next year’s National Defense Authorization Act.

The National Defense Authorization Act an annual legislation directing how federal funds are used by the Defense Department. It authorizes a certain amount of funding for military hardware, including ships for the Navy, but doesn’t determine what companies should get those contracts.

“There had been indications from the Navy that they’re interested in this, but they need approval by Congress,” Golden said. “Some people were of the impression that there may be time to do this next year, but getting it done now sends the right signal to shipyards and should smooth the transition from the end of this multi-year procurement to a new one in the next fiscal year.”

The Bath shipyard currently has no contracted work beyond the current contract, which ends next year. Because of this, Golden said his amendment is “a big win” for Bath Iron Works because it will likely bring business to the shipyard.

BIW and its rival, Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls, are the only two shipyards in the country that build Arleigh Burkes and the Navy typically splits the number of ships in multi-year contracts about evenly between the two, according to Golden.

“There’s no guarantee over the course of five years how that work will flow, but it’s deductive reasoning to say about half of the ships will end up at each yard,” Golden said. “Statistically speaking, it would be very difficult for one yard to take on all that work. They wouldn’t be fast enough to keep up with the rate at which the Navy is procuring them.”

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, according to BIW Spokesman David Hench. Huntington Ingalls received $5.1 billion for six Arleigh Burkes.

If the Navy awards ship contracts about the same way, Golden said the consistent and planned work would allow BIW to continue hiring new employees and stay focus on the ships currently under construction instead of wondering whether the company will get enough work to feed its growing workforce.

“Absent a multi-year procurement, Congress would still be weighing whether or not to authorize the purchase of (Arleigh Burkes), but there would be less certainty,” said Golden. “If there was no multi-year contract, BIW would have to wonder every year how many might we expect next year. This way, they’re going to be able to look five years out and know about half of those ships are likely to end up here.”

That foresight is especially important when it takes five to seven years to train a shipbuilder. Because of this, the shipyard can’t lay off shipbuilders when there’s a lull in business and expect them to return, ready to work when they’re needed again.

“I think having that ability to look out five years makes it a lot easier for the yard and union to work together and see how many people they need to hire,” said Golden. “It gives a lot of confidence to those younger shipbuilders coming through the gates to know they have a stable future as they think about the next five years.”

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.

BIW hopes to hire 2,700 employees by the end of this year and have 6,000 manufacturing employees in its arsenal, according to the company. The shipyard hired and trained nearly 1,800 employees in 2019 and added about 1,000 more last year, bringing the shipyard’s total workforce to roughly 7,400 as of Thursday.

Golden’s successful amendment garnered applause from BIW President Dirk Lesko as well as the president of BIW’s largest union, Local S6, and the international machinists union.

“The multi-year procurement is paramount to the future of the shipyard and industrial base, focusing on workforce stability, in which LS6 has collaborated with BIW by supporting investments in recruiting, training, and efficiencies,” Local S6 President Chris Wiers wrote in a press statement released Wednesday. “We are committed to this effort to prepare the next generation of shipbuilders and protecting job security for thousands of our members for years to come.”

Beyond likely supplying work for the next five years, Golden said another multi-year contract would act like a bridge to the next type of warship the Navy is looking to build to modernize the naval fleet and replace aging vessels. That new type of ship hasn’t been designed yet, but officials have hinted that BIW could be involved in the designing and building of that ship, now known colloquially as DDG(X).

After touring the Bath shipyard in May, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said the Navy is “collaborating right now with BIW and other shipbuilders as we work on the initial design” of that next ship class.

“We anticipate that effort, if the funding is there and everything comes together as we hope, would come together around the 2027-2028,” Gilday said in May. “We look forward to another generation of destroyer and certainly Bath is in the future of those kinds of projects.”

While the nation waits for that next ship to be designed, Golden stressed that these next 15 Arleigh Burkes, known as DDG-51 Flight III, are not “placeholders” and necessary for national security because they hold new equipment, including a new radar that can detect ballistic missiles.

“We wouldn’t be asking the navy and the American people to make this investment if we didn’t think the DDG-51 Flight III wasn’t necessary because it is,” he said.

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