BATH (AP) – Maine’s congressional delegation is working with fellow lawmakers from Mississippi and other shipbuilding states to try to restore warship funding that President Bush has proposed cutting from the defense budget.

Sen. Susan Collins, who serves on the Armed Services Committee, said she has spoken with Sens. Trent Lott and Thad Cochran from Mississippi, home of Bath Iron Works’ chief competitor, the Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula.

“In the past, we often have not worked closely together because there’s also competition within the shipyard cause. This time, everyone is united,” she said. “This is one where our interest is the same. We need to restore that money.”

Cochran, chairman of the Appropriations Committee, agrees that shipbuilding spending must be restored. “The shipbuilding accounts and the budget should be increased,” he said in a statement. “I will do my part to make that happen.”

Bush has proposed cutting the number of stealthy DD(X) destroyers to be built by Bath and Ingalls from eight ships in last year’s budget to five ships through 2011. The proposal also would cut the submarine budget and mothball an aircraft carrier.

Based on last year’s budget, the American Shipbuilding Association already projected a loss of 14,000 shipbuilding jobs through 2009. “And the 06 budget presents a worse scenario,” said Cynthia Brown, president of the shipbuilding trade group.

In Bath, the proposed cuts would exacerbate a workload gap already anticipated as the shipyard transitions from the current Arleigh Burke destroyer program to the next generation DD(X) destroyer four years down the road.

Unlike Ingalls, Bath has no other work to fall back on. Ingalls, a larger shipyard, builds amphibious ships in addition to destroyers.

Loren Thompson, a defense analyst at the Lexington Institute, said the Navy has privately forecast that the combined work force of Bath Iron Works and Connecticut’s Electric Boat would be reduced by one third. Bath currently employs 6,200 workers.

Bath shipbuilders are putting a lot of faith in Maine’s congressional delegation to restore funding. But congressional leaders from other states are under pressure to restore funding for a number of other big-ticket items that would be slashed.

Bush’s $419 billion defense budget represents a 4.8 percent spending increase, but billions would be cut in programs like the Air Force’s F/A-22 fighter jet and the C130J transport aircraft, as well as from shipbuilding. The budget also calls for mothballing one of the Navy’s 12 aircraft carriers ahead of schedule.

At a Feb. 10 Armed Services hearing, Adm. Vern Clark said the shipbuilding cuts and reduction of the carrier fleet were driven by budget restraints and not the Navy’s needs. Clark testified that the Navy’s need for DD(X) is “somewhere around a dozen ships.”

Collins views that admission as important. “It will help me make the case to the other committee members that our national security still requires us to proceed” with production of eight to 12 ships, she said.

The concern is that if shipyards are cut too deeply, some of them may not survive the lean years while waiting for the Navy to restore money expand the fleet. The Navy has 285 ships, but has said it needs 375.

Some defense analysts says there’s debate with the Navy about whether two shipyards are needed to build destroyers.

The conventional wisdom has always been that competing shipyards are needed to drive down costs. But costs have gone up because the Navy is ordering so few ships, and some view the process as driven by politics, not competition.

“It’s the Navy’s view that because of the role of politics, having two yards isn’t getting much mileage,” Thompson said.

The Navy currently has six major shipyards: Bath and Ingalls for destroyers, Electric Boat and Newport News for submarines; Avondale and National Steel and Shipbuilding for auxiliary ships. Newport News also is the sole builder of aircraft carriers.

In Bath, shipbuilders are aware of the looming problems – some say they’ve been warned of cuts of up to 1,500 to 2,000 workers down the road – but there’s no panic yet. For now, there’s a backlog of 10 Arleigh Burke destroyers in various stages of production.

“Everybody’s getting nervous. That’s only natural,” said Larry Catlin, an electrician from Wales, who supports a family of seven.

“The atmosphere in there – I’d say it’s gloomy,” said James Corriveau, another electrician, from Rumford. “People take it day by day.”

Ralph Linwood Snow, author of “Bath Iron Works: The First Hundred Years,” said the shipyard has survived threats in the past, including the dropoff of work after World War II, and the loss of an all-or-nothing DX contract in the 1960s.

“The rumors of the yard’s death have been frequent and mostly overstated,” Snow said. “We’ve heard about that many times.”



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