Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro said during a security conference last week that the Navy will pursue awarding a shipbuilding contract to support Bath Iron Works and its main competitor.

“In the case of Bath, Maine, I’m quite confident we will be seeking a multiyear procurement in the future in support of building our (guided missile destroyer) platform and to support a stable workforce at Bath and also at Pascagoula,” Del Toro, who visited BIW in September, said during the Aspen Security Forum.

Though details, such as the size of the contract and when it might be awarded, have not been announced, the contract will call for multiple ships to be constructed over multiple years.

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, often called the “workhorse of the Navy,” are built by only two shipyards in the country: BIW and its competitor, Mississippi-based Huntington Ingalls. When the Navy has entered into multiyear contracts for several Arleigh Burkes in the past, BIW and Huntington Ingalls have shared the work.

The announcement comes as good news for both the shipyard and Maine lawmakers who have been asking the Navy to give BIW new work, both to support the country’s shipbuilders and to grow the Navy’s fleet, which is now outweighed by China’s.

“Multiyear procurements provide significant taxpayer savings on vital national security needs, and allow shipyards like Bath Iron Works to plan ahead and retain skilled workers,” King wrote in a statement Friday. “I’ve long urged top Navy officials to pursue another round of multiyear procurement, and am pleased to see that they are heading in that direction.”

The future work comes at a time when BIW is almost finished with the third and final Zumwalt-class destroyer, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson. The ship underwent sea trials successfully in late August, signaling it’s nearly ready to hand over to the Navy. Once it has left the shipyard, BIW will build only Arleigh Burke-class destroyers until the Navy designs and calls for the next type of warship.

Initially, the Navy proposed building 32 Zumwalts in Bath, giving the shipyard’s workforce hope for years of work to come. But as the years wore on, the number of ships ordered was reduced repeatedly until ultimately, the Navy ordered just three.

BIW is also on a mission to boost its workforce and ramp up production speeds to make it more competitive. The shipyard now has about 7,400 employees.

In a report to BIW employees released in March, BIW President Dirk Lesko called for a new multi-year shipbuilding contract to support the company while it waits for the Navy to develop its next type of warship.

Lesko added that “The best way to keep our workforce thriving and capable of performing on that new ship class” is to maintain its rate of construction of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers until the new class of ship is designed and ready for production.

“Although planning is underway to transition to a new large surface combatant … that ship is not slated for construction until fiscal year 2027,” Lesko wrote in the report released March 16.

Del Toro’s promised contract would also fall in tandem with additional work included in the draft versions of annual legislation that authorizes defense infrastructure Congress is in the process of finalizing.

The National Defense Authorization Act — or NDAA — is an annual piece of legislation that directs how federal funds should be 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.

The president’s initial draft of the bill called for only one Arleigh Burke instead of the anticipated two ships. The Maine Delegation immediately rebuked the draft and got to to work proposing amendments that reversed the president’s proposal.

In September, U.S. House passed its version of the NDAA, which includes funding for three Arleigh Burkes to be constructed in fiscal year 2022, which runs from Oct. 1, 2021 to Sept. 30, 2022.

In July, Rep. Jared Golden announced he secured an amendment to the NDAA authorizing the Navy to enter into a multiyear contract to build up to 15 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, beginning in the 2023 fiscal year.

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