Maine and New Hampshire’s senators are troubled by a classified Navy study that reportedly calls for a reduction in the submarine fleet, a course that would hurt Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

The Boston Globe reported Wednesday that the Navy study proposes reducing the submarine fleet from 55 vessels to as few as 37.

The goal would be accomplished by retiring old Los Angeles-class submarines, which Portsmouth specializes in maintaining. Also, the report proposes buying fewer of the newer Virginia-class submarines.

The attack submarine program accounts for nearly 16,000 jobs in New England, including 4,500 at Portsmouth, according to the Globe.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and a member of the Armed Services Committee, said neither the Pentagon’s 2001 defense review nor the latest budget negotiations covering the next five years proposed a reduction in the submarine fleet.

“While these scenarios are part of the normal process and the Navy continually assesses its force structure needs, this particular scenario is one that I would strongly oppose if it were to ever be considered by the Senate Armed Services Committee,” she said.

Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, said any move to dismantle the fleet would hurt the country’s global war against terror.

“As I have throughout my time in Congress, I will continue to work diligently with the Maine-New Hampshire-Massachusetts congressional delegation to ensure that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is sustained not just for the present, but well into the future,” Snowe said.

Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, said there have been 10 studies about the submarine force in 12 years.

“As far as we know, it’s an internal study and it’s a long way from becoming official policy,” he said.

But he said the congressional delegations would fight to preserve jobs at Portsmouth.

“We’re going to fight for that yard and an adequate submarine force,” Allen said. “If this were adopted as official policy, it would be a huge blow to the Kittery yard. We will oppose it.”

Members of New Hampshire’s congressional delegation said while they had not reviewed the report, they agreed that the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard needs to stay.

“Through the repair and overhaul of Los Angeles Class nuclear submarines, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard’s primary work, the United States’ national security continues to be strengthened and maintained,” Republican Sen. John Sununu said.

Republican Rep. Jeb Bradley said the delegation is drafting a letter to Navy officials “urging them to maintain the minimum force level of 55 submarines, to protect our national interests” as recommended by a 1999 study.

AP-ES-05-13-04 0731EDT

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