When then-candidate Donald Trump came to Lisbon in the closing days of the 2016 presidential campaign, he promised additional work for Bath Iron Works in the form of new ship construction.

“My plan builds the 350-ship Navy we need and everybody requests,” Trump told voters. “And that means a lot more work for – I’m sure you’ve never heard of this place – Bath Iron Works here in Maine.

“The rebuilding of our military will be a nationwide effort from Bath Iron Works to Portsmouth and Norfolk Naval shipyards, to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and all around the country,” he added.

The current size of the Navy fleet is about 290 vessels. The Navy’s plan prior to 2016 was to increase the fleet to 308 vessels.

But now as plans for a 355-ship Navy are being worked out, it’s not at all clear if BIW will see much, if any, increased work.

Earlier this month, Navy officials announced that they would extend the service life of Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the main product built at BIW, to 45 years in order to achieve a 355-ship Navy over the next 30 years. The extension will increase the service life of the DDG-51 destroyers by five to 10 years, depending on the ship. 


“Recently, (Naval Sea Systems Command ) completed the analysis of that class, so we will, in fact, be extending the entire class out to 45 years,” said Vice Adm. William Merz during an April 12 Seapower and Projection Forces subcommittee hearing.

That announcement dampens speculation that the Navy would ramp up production of new ships at BIW and other shipyards to meet the 355 goal.

Machinists union Local S6 President Mike Keenan said the ultimate effects of the service life extension on BIW were difficult to predict.

“It’s hard to say what that’s going to entail in the end,” he said.

Keenan said the shipyard’s focus has to be on winning new work. He pointed to the shipyard’s bid to build up to 20 new frigates for the Navy as an example of growing beyond the Arleigh Burke program.

“We’ve got to diversify,” said Keenan. “We can build far more than just destroyers.”


Still, the service life extension does say one thing about the work being done at BIW.

“Hey, look at it this way: It reflects on the quality we put into our ships. Our ships do last a long time. All the more reason for the Navy to award us more,” said Keenan. “If they can extend the life of them, it just means we’re building them right the first time.”

Congressional Research Services, a public policy branch of the Library of Congress that conducts research for Congress, estimated last year that 23 large combat ships like destroyers would need to be added to the shipbuilding plan to achieve the 355-ship goal. That report noted, however, that service life extensions could lower the number of new ships required to meet the goal.

The current outline for reaching the 355-ship goal doesn’t include a surge of new construction for shipyards like BIW. The currently proposed 30-year shipbuilding plan includes just 10 additional large ship combatants – less than half of what Congressional Research Services anticipated. Even if BIW was awarded half of those ships, it would only be an additional five ships over 30 years.

General Dynamics, parent company of BIW, directed all questions about how the service life extensions would affect the Bath shipyard to the Navy.

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