Sen. Susan Collins questioned Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin about the proposal to order only one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the Department of Defense’s spending plan. At least two such destroyers were previously projected under the current multiyear contract between the Navy and two large warship shipyards, including Bath Iron Works.

“Secretary [of Defense Lloyd] Austin, the Administration’s budget prioritizes national security and homeland security spending last, relative to seemingly every other area of the budget,” Collins said at an appropriations hearing. “That strikes me as not only unwise, but dangerous, particularly when we look at what the Chinese are doing.

“One of the biggest mistakes in the budget, from my perspective, is the decision to cut a (destroyer) from the current multiyear procurement contract,” Collins continued. “This reflects a broader trend of not making the investments necessary to build anywhere close to a 355 ship Navy that multiple studies have confirmed is needed. China, on the other hand, now has the world’s largest Navy, has about 60 more ships than our own fleet, and has surpassed our own 355 ship goal.”

Austin said his department will order the warship in question in the 2023 fiscal year.

“We only have two yards that build the large surface combatants, and Bath Iron Works in Maine has hired 3,000 additional shipbuilders since 2018,” Collins said. “But if this budget passes, BIW is rushing toward a workload cliff that will lead to loss of jobs, reverse these productivity gains, and weaken the industrial base. So that’s the other point that I would ask that you think about, the importance of bad productivity.”

During a hearing Tuesday of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sen. Angus King cited the China threat as well as Russia.

King said cutting the number of destroyers would break the Navy’s contract with shipyards and cause instability in the nation’s defense industrial base. According to King, the U.S. government would be on the hook for a $33 million penalty if that contracted is breached.

King told Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker that “the principle of breaking a multiyear, I would argue, sends a shudder through the industrial base in terms of their investment. If they’re going to make major $100M investments in ship building capacity and also in training of new shipbuilders, they have to have some confidence that there’s a stream of demand coming.”

King warned Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Michael Gilday of a “chilling effect” on investment and the workforce, adding “… you can’t turn the industrial base off and on. If it goes down, you’re talking about welders going somewhere else. And in this economy, they’re going to go somewhere else. And so, I think that’s the national security challenge involved here.”

Following reports that fiscal year 2022 budget request would propose ordering only one Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the Maine delegation wrote to Biden in opposition.

Biden’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget request seeks a 1.6% increase in defense spending over the prior year, which is a cut in spending when taking into account inflation. The budget requests a 16% increase in non-defense discretionary spending. The Navy has identified the restoration of the Arleigh Burke destroyer cut from the budget as its number one unfunded priority, according to Collins’ office.

According to Collins’ office, that indicates the Navy still believes it requires the ship, but budgetary constraints forced the service to prioritize other programs in its formal budget request. Congress ultimately determines the level of spending and fund allocation within the Navy in its annual appropriations bills and budget resolutions.

The Office of Naval Intelligence estimated that the Chinese Navy had about 360 ships in 2020, and China is expected to have a 400-ship fleet in 2025. Today, the United States Navy has 296 battle force ships, according to Collins’ office.

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