BRUNSWICK, Maine — The beginning of the end of an era started Wednesday under the arc of a plasma cutter at Bath Iron Works when construction began on the shipyard’s third and final DDG 1000 destroyer.
Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the Navy’s chief of naval operations, who was at BIW on Wednesday with U.S. Sen. Susan Collins to see the shipyard’s process up close, kicked off the ship’s construction with the push of a button while dozens of shipbuilders and reporters at the company’s Hardings Fabrication Facility in Brunswick looked on.
“The importance of this ship to our fleet and our national security is tremendous,” Collins told the workers. “Collectively, you’re known worldwide for your craftsmanship by five simple words: ‘Bath-built is best-built.’ BIW is truly a vital national strategic asset … and the men and women of BIW have always delivered on their promises to the U.S. Navy.”
“It was so obvious as I was shaking hands with you workers, the pride you have in what you do,” he said. “You have an amazing legacy.”
Though DDG 1002, which is slated for completion in 2018, is BIW’s last Zumwalt-class destroyer, Collins and Greenert said they are confident BIW workers will be busy for years to come constructing DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers that have been built in the City of Ships for decades. That program originally was to be replaced by the Zumwalt-class of destroyers, but Congress and the Pentagon have decided to resume the Arleigh Burke program because of cost concerns associated with the newer and more advanced destroyers.
Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said she and others are seeking to bolster BIW’s shipbuilding schedule with an attempt to add an Arleigh Burke to the Pentagon’s plan to build nine of them between 2013 and 2017. Collins also wants to add to long-term shipbuilding plans, with perhaps as many as 67 new destroyers built in the next three decades.
In a March 20 letter to Collins, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wrote that although defense funding is at a premium, the Navy would request pricing for a set of both nine, and 10, Arleigh Burke-class destroyers to see whether adding another ship would lead to significant savings. The Arleigh Burke contracts in the past have been split between BIW and Huntington Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss.
“The Navy believes that this is the most affordable path to meet our surface-combatant requirements while also addressing industrial-base concerns,” Mabus wrote in the letter, which was given to the Bangor Daily News by Collins’ staff. “The Navy looks forward to working with Congress to maximize the number of ships that we buy under these competitive multiyear contracts.”
Greenert said BIW is well-positioned for the future with its emphasis on building destroyers, because of a growing need for military power in Asia and the Pacific Ocean. The multithreat capability of a guided-missile destroyer — particularly the Zumwalt, which incorporates several new technologies — meets those needs well, he said.
“DDG 1000 fits in perfectly with our strategy,” said Greenert. “We like what we’re seeing right now out of Bath Iron Works.”
Bath Iron Works employs 5,400 people.