Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro with Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins at Bath Iron Works Wednesday. Photo courtesy of Bath Iron Works

Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King said Bath Iron Works and its main competitor are helping the Navy design the warship expected to succeed Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the main type of ship BIW builds.

“The Navy is formalizing the requirements — what that ship will have to do for the Navy,” King said Wednesday during a visit to BIW with Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro. “Both Bath and Ingalls are working with the Navy to try to accelerate that process.”

“I think one thing we’ve learned from the (Zumwalt-class destroyers) is that we need to make sure we know what the requirements for the ships are,” said Collins. “We can’t get into a situation again where we’re building as we’re still designing, and that’s what happened with the Zumwalt line.”

According to a Feb. 11 report from the Congressional Research Service, the next class of ship will most likely be a guided-missile destroyer. Early forecasts for the new ship imagine it as being larger than a 9,700-ton Arleigh Burke-class but smaller than a 15,700-ton advanced Zumwalt-class, according to the report.

Although a new type of ship is in the works, both Collins and King stressed the importance of bolstering the Navy’s budget to fund more Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. Adding more ships to the Navy’s fleet would help grow the Navy to rival foreign adversaries like China, and support the country’s shipbuilders by giving them a steady stream of work.

BIW has been on a hiring spree in recent years to help reverse production delays inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a strike last year that removed over half of its machinists from the workforce for over two months. The shipyard has hired about 1,700 so far this year, King said, for a total of about 7,400 employees. The company hired and trained nearly 1,800 employees in 2019 and added about 1,000 more last year.

“One of the important challenges is to work through the (Arleigh Burke) program then move on to the new ship without a loss of employment or undermining of the industrial base so we can maintain continuity for not only the next three, four or five years, but for the next several decades,” King said.

Collins and King have been working alongside other Maine lawmakers to push back against the president’s call for only one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer next year as opposed to the expected two. However, multiple congressional committees have pushed for more Arleigh Burkes in their versions of an annual defense bill, and King said the Arleigh Burke the president cut from his budget will likely be added back in.

This push for more Arleigh Burkes is especially relevant to BIW because the shipyard is nearing the end of building the Zumwalt class, the only other type of ship BIW builds. The third and final ship in the Zumwalt class, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson returned to the shipyard last week after it “performed particularly well” during its first sea trials, said BIW Program Manager Edward Kenyon. Once that last Zumwalt is completed, BIW will be left with only Arleigh Burkes to build.

“The Navy’s budget has taken a real hit as proposed by the administration,” said Collins. “The secretary (of the Navy) seems very sympathetic to that. His time in the Navy overseeing the construction of an (Arleigh Burke-class) destroyer has equipped him well to understand that this is the workhorse of the Navy and the Navy should be building more of them.”

King and Collins toured BIW with Del Toro Wednesday after attending the groundbreaking of a new drydock at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery. The shipyard stops were King’s first public appearances after testing positive for COVID-19 last month.

“I feel fine,” King said. “I don’t feel like climbing Mount Washington, but I didn’t feel like climbing Mount Washington before.”


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