Maine’s legislative delegation and four Mississippi lawmakers urged the newly confirmed secretary and deputy secretary of defense to increase shipbuilding spending to maintain both national security and the country’s industrial base.

“We write to express our strong support for a robust Navy shipbuilding budget, including funding for the continued procurement of Large Surface Combatants, and urge you to endorse unambiguously the long-standing and congressionally mandated requirement for a larger Navy fleet,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter released Monday.

Although former president Trump touted his 355-ship goal for the Navy during his tenure, President Biden hasn’t yet made his intentions for the size of the naval fleet clear, leaving lawmakers and shipbuilding industries with little assurance.

“While we recognize that the new Administration will likely review the nation’s National Defense Strategy and budgetary priorities, the requirement for a larger Navy has been both established in law and confirmed by numerous Navy and independent studies,” lawmakers wrote to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Deputy Secretary Kathleen Hicks. “In 2017, the national policy of achieving a 355-ship Navy was enacted into law, adopting the fleet size called for in the Navy’s December 2016 Force Structure Assessment. In December 2020, the Department released an updated 30-year shipbuilding plan that called for 405 manned ships by the year 2051.”

Sens. Susan Collins, Angus King, Reps. Chellie Pingree and Jared Golden wrote that the Navy’s current 298-ship fleet is far below the country’s ultimate goal and advocated for an increase in Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the primary type of ship constructed at Bath Iron Works.

“Arleigh Burke-class destroyers represent the most flexible and low-risk platform to meet these needs, with known cost and capability,” BIW sokesman David Hench wrote in a statement Monday. “The steady, consistent workload of another multi-year (Arleigh Burke-class destroyer) contract will make sure that BIW remains ready to build the ships that will be essential to our nation’s security for years to come.”

The Navy took ownership of BIW’s most recent Arleigh Burke destroyer, the future USS Daniel Inouye, last week. Meanwhile, the future Arleigh Burke-class destroyers Carl M. Levin, John Basilone, Harvey C. Barnum, Patrick Gallagher, Louis H. Wilson, Jr. and William Charette remain under construction at the Bath shipyard.

Mississipi-based-Huntington Ingalls is the only other shipyard in the country that builds Arleigh Burke-class destroyers for the Navy.

The 2021 defense appropriations bill provides $23.27 billion for 10 battle force Navy ships, which are ships capable of contributing to combat operations, according to the letter. This included funding for two new Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.

The lawmakers pointed to China’s 350-ship Navy as the foremost threat to the U.S. Navy and wrote they’re “concerned that the (Department of Defense) and the Navy are not keeping pace with China on shipbuilding.”

“In the era of great-power competition, a stronger U.S. Navy capable of projecting power around the world is necessary to ensure America’s national and economic security during peacetime as well as to defeat our adversaries should deterrence fail,” the letter reads. “Due to the long lead times necessary to properly procure and resource a larger fleet, attention must be paid to this critical issue immediately.”

Aside from keeping the country in strong standing against foreign threats, the lawmakers wrote, strong, steady naval funding helps maintain the country’s industrial base of skilled shipbuilders rather than creating lulls between shipbuilding contracts.

BIW is in the midst of a hiring streak to maintain its skilled workforce after a wave of retirements. The company is also working to ramp-up production to recover from recent delays caused by both the COVID-19 and a nine-week strike last summer.

“Bath Iron Works continues to expand our workforce with the next generation of shipbuilders so we, along with the hundreds of vendors and subcontractors needed to build (an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer), are ready to meet the current and future needs of the Navy,” Hench wrote Monday.

The company hired and trained nearly 1,800 employees in 2019 and added about 1,000 more last year, bringing the shipyard’s total workforce to just shy of 6,900, Hench told The Times Record last month. BIW plans to hire another 2,650 employees by the end of this year.


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