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Defense secretary: Budget should keep Bath Iron Works busy

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Defense secretary: Budget should keep Bath Iron Works busy

BATH — U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said there should be "plenty of money" in the federal budget to keep Bath Iron Works busy "for a considerable number of years into the future."

Speaking at the shipyard on May 22, alongside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and U.S. Reps. Michael Michaud, D-Maine, and Chellie Pingree, D-Maine, Gates said money is in the federal fiscal 2010 budget to fund a third DDG-1000 destroyer. BIW is expected to build all three of those Zumwalt class vessels, with delivery of the first scheduled in 2013.

"And after that, the anticipation is, at least for some period of time, the shipyard would return to building DDG-51s," Gates said. "As we looked at it, it makes so much more sense to have one builder build all three of the DDG-1000s."

Gates called those ships "critically important" to the military. "People talk about how much this country spends on defense, and if we spend so much on defense, won't that get us more involved around the world," he said. "Well, the truth is, we are involved around the world, and we have interests all over the world, and every one of these ships is a little piece of American sovereign territory wherever they go."

The secretary said the vessels do more than just fight, but also do humanitarian work and training, as well as assisting U.S. partners to improve their own military capabilities. "If they're good," he said, "we won't have to send our troops if there's a problem."

Gates said he had never visited BIW before, and that he was "impressed with the professionalism and pride of the workers here at Bath and the continuing innovation to try and bring the costs down and time out of production."

Collins said BIW and Maine could take pride in Gates' visit. "We're just delighted to have you here so that we can share a great success story," she told the defense secretary. "Whatever the Navy wants, Bath Iron Works is prepared to deliver."

BIW spokesman Jim DeMartini on Wednesday said that "when you think about the myriad items on (Gates') agenda on any given day and then consider that he made time in his schedule to come to see what's going on at BIW, it's an indication that the message we've been sending – about what our work force has done to make our ships more affordable to the Navy – is reaching the highest levels of government."

DeMartini said the shipyard's DDG-1000 construction activities are still in the early stages, but proceeding according to plan. BIW is under contract for only the first of this line of vessels. The first ship, the U.S.S. Zumwalt (DDG-1000), is named for its class.

The second vessel, DDG-1001, is under contract to Northrop Grumman at its Pascagoula, Miss., facility, DeMartini said, although an agreement is expected to transfer that work to BIW.

"If (the budget is) passed as presented, BIW, Northrop Grumman and the Navy will then begin separate talks to do what must be done to bring construction of all three ships to BIW," DeMartini said, pointing out that Northrop Grumman will still provide components such as composite superstructure for all three vessels.

The third vessel has already been partially funded under the current defense bill, while the rest of the money is included in President Obama's fiscal 2010 budget request, which is in the hands of Congress.  

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.