BATH, Maine — The U.S. Navy is planning another multi-year purchase of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, ships built by only at Bath Iron Works in Maine and Ingalls Shipbuilding in Mississippi.
Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas W. Harker shared the news at a recent hearing held by the U.S. Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense.
A new multi-year buy of Arleigh Burkes would be the fifth following those in 1998, 2002, 2013, and 2018.
The announcement was welcome news at the Bath shipyard, particularly in light of seemingly conflicting information that the Navy's long-range plans show cuts to its fleet of cruisers and destroyers.
According to a June 25, 2021, report prepared for Congress by the Congressional Research Service, among issues Congress must consider are “how the Navy proposes to transition several years from now from procurement of DDG-51s to procurement of a successor destroyer design now in development called the DDG(X).”
And Naval analyst Loren Thompson of The Lexington Institute suggested Thursday that such cuts to the only class of ship BIW continues to build could mean the end of the shipyard.
On June 24, Harker responded to comments by Republican Sen. Richard Shelby of Alabama, ranking member of the subcommittee, who questioned the "seriousness" of the administration's commitment to the military given the "meager" budget proposal.
"You're all very well aware that our adversaries including China and Russia pose new and increasing threats and they will grow," Shelby said. "They're making unprecedented investments in their capability and capacity, investments that this budget does not even come close to matching."
"Multi-year contracts are very important to us," Harker said. "We do intend to sign another multi-year for DDGs starting in '23 through '27 and continue that procurement into the foreseeable future."
Shelby also questioned the Navy's decision to cancel the contract for one of the destroyers in the existing multi-year contract and asked how shipyards could depend on such multi-year buys if the Navy plans to cancel a contract.
"DDG 51 is a very valuable asset for us," Harker responded. "We really struggled with the decision to take that out of this year's budget. It was the hardest decision we made. We would love to have been able to include it.
In a hearing last week of the Subcommittee on Seapower, U.S. Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, questioned Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Michael Gilday, who visited BIW in May, on the consequences of the Navy breaching the multi-year contract, including paying a $33 million penalty.
"You have told me, both in the hearing today and previously, that [eliminating one destroyer from the FY22 budget request] was the toughest decision that you had to face," King said. "The point that I want to make about this is not only the lack of the destroyer but the impact that this decision has on the industrial base, not only in the immediate future, in terms of how many people do you need to build the ships, but also the principle of breaking a multiyear, I would argue, sends a shudder through the industrial base in terms of their investment. If they’re going to make major $100 million investments in shipbuilding capacity and also in training of new shipbuilders, they have to have some confidence that there’s a stream of demand coming."
King told Gilday that with BIW hiring thousands of workers in the past two years in anticipation of future work, breaching the contract would have a "chilling" effect on the workforce.
Bath Iron Works currently has under construction the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Carl M. Levin (DDG 120), John Basilone (DDG 122), Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG 124), Patrick Gallagher (DDG 127), Louis H. Wilson Jr. (DDG 126) and William Charette (DDG 130), in addition to Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG 1002), the third in the Zumwalt class of destroyers.
BIW has an additional four destroyers under contract, BIW spokesman David Hench said in June. "We have committed to reaching a build rate of 1.8 ships per year by the end of the year on our march toward building two ships per year."
BIW hired almost 3,000 new employees in 2019 and 2020 and plans to hire 2,000 more this year.
Maine's Congressional delegation has advocated for the destroyer to be returned to the budget, and on Tuesday, funding for a second ship was included in the House Defense Subcommittee appropriations bill. The bill now goes to the Senate Defense Subcommittee.
NEWS CENTER Maine contacted members of Maine's Congressional delegation on Thursday for comment on a potential new multi-year contract for destroyers and on discussions of ending the Arleigh Burke line.
In response, Collins sent the following comment on behalf of the entire delegation:
“Bath Iron Works produces the best ships in the world for our Navy. Keeping the shipyard strong is essential not only for our national security, but also for the thousands of good-paying jobs it creates. That’s why we have strongly opposed the Administration’s request to cut the procurement of a DDG-51 from the current multiyear contract. We have spoken with top DoD officials, including Defense Secretary Austin, about this issue, and we recently hosted Navy Secretary Harker and Admiral Gilday at BIW so they could see firsthand the critical work being done by the shipyard’s highly skilled employees. DDG-51 destroyers are the workhorses of the Navy, and we will work to restore funding for the Arleigh Burke program during the authorization and appropriations processes.”