Navy change may benefit BIW

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PORTLAND (AP) – The Navy is considering a schedule change that would reduce an anticipated workload gap at Bath Iron Works that has raised concern among shipbuilders about their jobs.

Shipbuilders have worried about the gap as Bath Iron Works prepares to move from building Arleigh Burke destroyers to the next-generation Zumwalt “stealth” destroyer, which begins production next year.

The Navy is now looking to ramp up production of the new destoyer at Bath Iron Works more quickly than before.

The move is seen as helpful to both Bath Iron Works by stabilizing its work force as well as to Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi, the other destroyer builder, which has several programs under way while recovering from Hurricane Katrina.

“The Navy is assessing the acquisition strategy for DDG-1000, keeping in mind the importance of maintaining a viable surface combatant shipbuilding industrial base while seeking innovating approaches to controlling costs,” Navy Lt. Cmdr. John Schofield, a Navy spokesman, said Friday from the Pentagon.

The discussion doesn’t change the Navy’s plans to let Bath and Ingalls simultaneously build the lead ships in the program, Schofield said. It’s simply a matter of tweaking the start date at Bath Iron works, he said.

Shofield cautioned that there’s no guarantee that an accelerated schedule for Bath Iron Works will become a reality. It’s still under consideration and there’s no timetable for a final decision.

The Navy already made allowances designed to help Bath Iron Works by allowing both shipyards to be build their first ships at the same time instead of letting Ingalls build the first one, followed by a second ship built in Bath.

The lead ships will cost about $3 billion apiece, and the expense of the ships led the Navy to scale back production to seven. Bath Iron Works continues to look at opportunities to supplement its workload, but the expedited schedule would be a morale boost for shipbuilders, said Mike Keenan, president of Local S-6 of the Machinists Union.

Keenan said the change would benefit the Navy and Bath Iron Works without hurting staffing levels at the Ingalls shipyard.

“This would be a very good thing,” he said. “Each week that you wonder whether you’ll be employed is a weight on your shoulders.”

Shipyard spokesman Jim DeMartini declined to speculate on employment levels under the current scenario or under the new plan under consideration.

“Once the Navy makes their final decision, then we’ll be able to figure out just what that means to us near-term and downstream,” DeMartini said Friday from Bath. “Until then it’s all speculation.”

AP-ES-07-27-07 1414EDT

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