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Analyst: Pentagon proposal to cut DDG 51 destroyers would 'devastate' BIW

According to a report by Defense News, a DoD memo proposes cutting 5 of 12 planned Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to be built from 2021-2025

BATH, Maine — A defense trade journal reports that the Department of Defense proposes eliminating more than 40 percent of the DDG 51 destroyers scheduled to be built beginning in 2021.

Defense News reports that a Dec. 16 memo obtained from the Office of Management and Budget would also reduce the size of the Navy's fleet by five ships to 287, instead of increasing it to the 355-ship fleet desired by President Donald Trump and written into the 2018 National Defense Authorization Act.

Defense analysts on Thursday told NEWS CENTER Maine that such cuts would be "really devastating" to Bath Iron Works and to Huntington Ingalls Industries, the two shipyards that build Arleigh Burkes.

Bath Iron Works spokesman David Hench said Thursday that BIW would not comment on the report.

Only days after BIW President Dirk Lesko issued an end-of-year video that reported more hiring in 2019 than in 30 years, the memo seems to indicate the Pentagon isn't considering the impact of such a cut on its industrial base, said military analyst Loren Thompson of The Lexington Group.

"This is the sort of thing that would force layoffs at Bath," Thompson said Thursday. "The message here is that nobody in the Pentagon is paying attention to how their decisions impact the industrial base ... The Pentagon talks a good game about protecting its industrial base, but there's no evidence it ever considers how it impacts the industrial base."

Thompson said the Navy "is in a state of turmoil" trying to meet the 355-ship goal, and cutting destroyers moves further from that goal.

Navy analyst Jay Korman of Avascent Group in Washington said that while the common belief is that under Trump, the defense budget will remain "sky high," his administration actually supported cuts in the previous budget "and generally believes the department can do more with less."

Furthermore, he said, "it's clear that the department can't afford its ambitions over the near-term, and that includes shipbuilding ... so something has to give."

As in the past, both say, Maine's Congressional delegation is BIW's best bet to keep those destroyers in the budget.

"For the umpteenth time, Maine will now have to turn to its' Congressional delegation to save BIW from bad decisions in Washington," Thompson said.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

On Dec. 20, Collins announced the Fiscal Year 2019 National Defense Authorization Act had been signed into law, including $5 billion for three DDG 51s.

In a statement Thursday evening, Collins and King referred to that funding and said the reported proposal would be an "abrupt reversal" of the Navy's plans for a 355-ship fleet. They said they would continue to advocate to ensure funding for Navy shipbuilding.

Congress determines the authorization and funding for Navy shipbuilding. Through our positions on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and the Senate Armed Services Committee, we have worked hard to ensure that BIW, PNSY, and other defense industry employers in Maine have the resources they need to continue to support our military. That work continues.

"Just this past week, Congress appropriated $5.1 billion for three DDG-51s, and a $390 million increase in advanced procurement for a down payment on an additional ship next fiscal year, as well as funding for infrastructure investments that will allow the shipyard to prepare for future contracts. BIW is home to the best shipbuilders in the world, and this funding will help them stay competitive far into the future. The President signed this funding into law on December 20," Senators Collins and King said in a statement.

Korman said cuts to programs, in general, are likely, but said, "I have to believe that in the end, cuts to DDG construction will only happen after other options are exhausted, and even then, cuts to DDGs will be less dire than what was just proposed."

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