Maine senators object to proposed Navy shipbuilding reductions
By DENNIS HOEY | Portland Press Herald | Published: January 7, 2020
(Tribune News Service) — U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King have formally objected to the Navy’s proposal to make significant reductions to its shipbuilding program, a step that could potentially harm future shipbuilding efforts and employment at Bath Iron Works — one of Maine’s largest employers.
The senators’ objections were made public Tuesday in a letter, dated Jan. 6, that was sent to U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper.
In the letter, Collins, a Republican who serves on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and King, an independent who serves on the Intelligence Committee as well as the Senate Committee on Armed Service, refer to media reports indicating the Department of Defense may propose “significant reductions” to planned shipbuilding procurement in fiscal year 2021.
“We write to express our strong support for a 355-ship Navy and to urge continued support from the department for a robust shipbuilding budget,” Collins and King said in the letter.
One of the budget cuts under consideration would reduce by five the number of Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51) destroyers planned for construction over the next five years. The Arleigh Burke line of warships has been a longtime staple for the Bath-based shipyard, which is located on the Kennebec River.
The guided-missile destroyer is regarded as the workhorse of the Navy fleet worldwide. The DDG-51 has been used to conduct freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea, has led maritime security patrols in the North Atlantic and deterred Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf.
Collins and King also point out in their letter to Esper that in 2017, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the national policy of achieving a 355-ship Navy.
“Contrary to this established policy and identified national security need, media reports suggest the Department (of Defense) may propose a budget plan that would actually result in a smaller fleet in 2025 than we have today,” Collins and King wrote.
Political experts predict any effort by the Department of Defense to cut the number of destroyers produced for the Navy will be shot down by Congress.
In a memo from the White House Office of Management and Budget obtained by the Portland Press Herald, the Department of Defense recommended reducing the number of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers built for the Navy between 2021 and 2025 from 12 ships to seven, or a shipbuilding budget cut of about $9.4 billion.
The Navy also indicated it may reduce its shipbuilding budget even further to fund higher priority projects, and said it is considering decommissioning 12 warships to save money. Any reductions have the potential to significantly impact BIW. The shipyard currently employs 6,700 workers and is planning to hire 1,000 additional workers within the next year.
BIW has built 37 guided-missile destroyers. Only one other shipyard in the United States builds Arleigh Burkes: Mississippi-based Ingalls Shipbuilding Industries.
Ultimately, it will be Congress that decides how much money will be spent on Navy shipbuilding.
“We will continue to support a growing fleet in order to protect our national security and ensure our national prosperity as threats around the world continue to grow,” Collins and King told Esper in the letter. “As you continue to develop and finalize the Department’s fiscal year 2021 budget request, we urge you to reverse course from cutbacks to shipbuilding programs that may be under deliberation and to support a 355-ship Navy.”