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Politics

U.S. Navy Secretary Visits Bath Iron Works

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Mal Leary
/
Maine Public
Navy Secretary Richard Spencer speaks with reporters at Bath Iron Works Friday.

Navy Secretary Richard Spencer visited Bath Iron Works for the first time Friday, just a day after awarding the yard a contract for building two destroyers. He used the visit to praise the quality of BIW’s work, and to talk about the Navy’s plans to expand its fleet.

The two guided missile destroyers awarded to BIW this week have actually been authorized for some time. One was authorized in 2013 and the other in 2015, but the funding and the contract would take a few years more.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine, who serves on the Senate Armed Services Committee, praised Spencer for his role in getting the contracts finally completed and issued.

“This would not have happened, I don’t think, without this secretary. He took a personal interest in finalizing these arrangements, which had been in discussions and negotiations for many months, and in some cases many years,” he said.

BIW is building four of the Burke class destroyers and two Zumwalt class destroyers, but concerns have been raised that without additional contracts, BIW would face a significant decline in work in a few years. The Navy has raised concerns about the increasing costs of new ships, but Spencer said he’s pleased with the progress BIW has made in reducing costs.

“We have great faith in Bath — Bath built, best built. And we look forward to this relationship growing and even becoming stronger from a base that is historically monumental,” he said.

Spencer told reporters that he has to see that taxpayers get the best bang for the buck, while also making sure that the nation’s shipbuilding infrastructure is capable of meeting the future needs of the Navy.

Only two shipyards, BIW and Ingalls in Mississippi, build destroyers. The Burke class destroyers are considered the workhorse of the fleet, and are deployed worldwide on many different types of missions. Spencer said that is why the Navy needs more ships, and specifically more destroyers.

“We are in combat around the globe, and our uniformed service members and their civilian teammates are fighting on many fronts. These threats, we don’t see diminishing in any way,” he said.

Spencer said the official goal is to increase the size of the Navy from 280 ships to 355, and that BIW would be part of that effort. He also said that no decision has been made yet on where the Bath-built USS John McCain, damaged in a collision this summer, would be repaired, but said that BIW would be considered.

All four members of the state’s congressional delegation accompanied Spencer. King joked that Spencer should feel free to visit again anytime, and to “bring a couple of destroyers with you.”