BATH – Maine’s congressional delegation is aggressively lobbying the Bush administration following a leaked memo that the Pentagon wants to cut DD(X) funding, which would exacerbate a projected workload gap in the years ahead at Bath Iron Works.

The proposal, which calls for delaying the DD(X) program and building only one ship apiece in 2009 and 2010, comes at a time when the shipyard is already contemplating potential work force reductions down the road as the current destroyer program winds down.

The president’s final budget bill won’t be released until Feb. 7, but Maine lawmakers are already working behind the scenes to obtain full funding for the stealthy DD(X) destroyers.

“I am vehemently opposed to any cuts to the Navy’s shipbuilding budget, most especially as our nation continues to fight a multi-front, global war on terror,” said Sen. Olympia Snowe, who was joined by Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Tom Allen in criticizing the proposed cuts.

The internal memo leaked to reporters earlier this month underscores the defense department’s willingness to cut expensive, high-tech programs because of the budget deficit and mounting costs of keeping troops on the ground in Iraq.

The Navy would be particularly hard hit, with the proposed mothballing of an aircraft carrier and cuts in the next-generation submarine and C-130 aircraft, as well as the DD(X). Other big programs like the advanced fighter jet would see cuts, as well.

Defense analysts say the proposal shows shipbuilding is not a priority, and they suggest the Navy is taking a hard look at excess shipbuilding capacity.

They’re talking openly about whether two shipyards – Bath Iron Works and Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls facility in Mississippi – are needed to build destroyers as the Navy shifts its priorities and rethinks what’s needed to win the war on terror.

“There is a widespread view among senior Navy leaders that having multiple yards for warships is a cost, rather than a benefit, since the ships have to be allocated rather than truly competed,” said Loren B. Thompson from the Lexington Institute, a Washington think tank.

Jay Korman, a naval analyst with DFI International, was even more blunt. “The question that’s being asked is are they willing for a shipyard to go away,” he said.

Navy Secretary Gordon England told reporters at the Surface Navy Association conference last week that the private sector will have to make hard decisions about how many shipyards are needed to meet the Navy’s future demand.

“It’s up to industry. We don’t define the industrial base. It’s up to the market to arrive at those conclusions,” England told reporters.

A spokesman for General Dynamics, Bath’s parent company, declined to comment until the president’s final budget is released. Until then, any talk about destroyers being cut is simply speculation, Kendell Pease said.

“We’ll wait to see what the final budget is before we comment,” Pease said from his office in Falls Church, Va.

As it stands, the workload gap arises at Bath Iron Works when the shipyard shifts from production of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to the DD(X) four years down the road. That’s expected to cause job cuts even under a best-case scenario.

Since Bath can’t control the process, it has been making changes necessary to bring down costs to be more competitive for whatever the Navy has in store. General Dynamics has spent $300 million on improvements since the late 1990s to make the shipyard faster and more efficient.

Maine’s congressional delegation will fight any attempt by the Navy to reduce Bath’s workload too much or to close the yard altogether.

Snowe said she finds it ironic that the Navy is looking to further pare its 289-ship fleet – which is roughly half the peak in the 1980s.

“Although we may have more capable ships and we are using our personnel more efficiently now than ever before, we still must have sufficient numbers of ships to counter the global threats our nation faces,” Snowe said.

Likewise, Collins said the Navy would be going in the wrong direction if it chose to scale back its shipbuilding program.

“Given our reliance on naval assets in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as to deliver humanitarian relief to the tsunami victims, it does not make any sense to cut the shipbuilding budget,” Collins said.

Allen, whose district includes Bath Iron Works, said it’s clear where the DD(X) funding is going: to the war in Iraq. He said the administration is spending $1 billion a week in Iraq, siphoning away money needed for defense programs.

And Allen cautioned that it wouldn’t be easy for the delegation to replace cuts once the president’s budget is released.

“No one should underestimate the difficulty of adding a billion dollars to the defense budget,” he said. “It’s a major challenge.”

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