Defense chief, at Bath Iron Works, touts stealth destroyer, Navy’s focus in Pacific

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BATH — Speaking to hundreds of shipbuilders and crew members of the future USS Zumwalt, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said Thursday that the stealth warship is critical to the Navy’s renewed focus on the Pacific.

The Zumwalt, which Hagel toured Thursday, is the first of three new stealth destroyers being built at Bath Iron Works.

The DDG 1000 “represents (an) important part in our Navy’s security. That its first assignment will be in San Diego … represents an important shift of our balance and assets and focus in America’s interest in the Asia-Pacific. We are not retreating from any part of the world,” Hagel said, “… but assigning this new ship to that rebalance is an important signal to the commitment we are making to a part of the world that continues to become more and more important in world affairs, in geopolitical security.”

Hagel’s remarks followed his tour of the first-in-class, nearly $4 billion destroyer, that was launched into the Kennebec River on Oct. 26.

The DDG 1000 destroyer boasts a futuristic design and technology aimed at providing the U.S. Navy with advanced missile and gun support for shallow water and land attacks.

In 2008, the Pentagon curtailed the Zumwalt class due to concerns about high production costs. Before it truncated the line, the Pentagon had agreed to the construction of three ships.

Hagel said that the Zumwalt class “has a rather significant future – recognizing, also, BIW spokesman Jim DeMartini said, that should the Navy restart the DDG 1000 line, “We are absolutely ready to build them.”

But Jay Korman, senior Navy analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm The Avascent Group, said Hagel probably wasn’t hinting that the Navy would reconsider and contract for more Zumwalt-class destroyers. Instead, Korman said Hagel was likely referring to the DDG-1000’s “silver bullet” capability and “what it could do for the ‘Asia pivot.’”

“There’s a big price tag on it,” Korman said. “The Navy would have to recommit to a large additional block purchase … and it’s just hard for me to see where the Navy would find the resources to buy more of those ships. … I think it does have a bright future fighting for the mission, and doing what the Navy needs it to do off the West Coast.

Asked by one BIW employee if the Bath shipyard would continue to be an asset to the Navy, Hagel replied, “A resounding yes.”

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Following a tour of the future USS Zumwalt, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke to shipbuilders and the crew of the DDG 1000 at Bath Iron Works on Thursday.