BATH, Maine — During his first visit to Bath Iron Works, Navy Secretary Richard Spencer on Friday told reporters and shipyard officials, “Bath built is best built,” reinforcing the boost he gave the yard when the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington on Thursday announced funding for two additional Arleigh Burke destroyers to be built at BIW.
Spencer came to Bath at the invitation of Maine’s congressional delegation, and spoke briefly, along with each member of the delegation and shipyard president Dirk Lesko, before touring the yard.
Appearing in a leather-trimmed denim jacket, khakis and hiking shoes, Spencer said, “We have great faith in Bath. … We look forward to this relationship growing and even becoming stronger from a base that is historically monumental.”
Spencer said the Department of Defense is building toward a 355-ship Navy, but said it must understand its industrial capacity and see where the fleet can be expanded.
He said the Navy is working to develop a “symbiotic” partnership with contractors that includes “shared risk and shared benefits,” and said he balances his responsibility to taxpayers and to ensure a stable industrial base.
“We are not at war because that is a technical aspect that Congress has to determine, but I will tell you that we are in combat around the globe and our uniformed service members and their civilian teammates are fighting on many fronts,” Spencer said. “These threats, we don’t see them diminishing in any way, and the Navy and Marine Corps team needs to have these platforms.”
“Any time you want to visit Bath, you’re welcome, and always, now that you’ve established the precedent, bring along a couple of destroyers,” Sen. Angus King said.
On Thursday, the Navy announced funding for the DDG 126, the future USS Louis H. Wilson Jr., the fifth ship awarded as part of a 2013 multiyear procurement. The destroyer will include the Flight III configuration, incorporating SPY-6 Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR), and upgraded electrical power and cooling capability, among other changes, according to a release from the delegation.
The second ship, the DDG 127, was approved by Congress under according to terms of a 2002 memorandum of understanding among the Navy, BIW and Northrop Grumman, then the lead yard for the San Antonio-class amphibious transport dock ship ( LPD-17). The memorandum transferred four LPD-17s scheduled to be built at BIW to Northrop Grumman-owned Ingalls and Avondale shipyards in exchange for four DDG-51 destroyers contracted to Northrop Grumman.
Spencer said his strategic review after deadly collisions involving two U.S. destroyers is going to look at best practices outside the Navy.
He said his review will seek expertise from the civilian maritime community and look at lessons learned from British Petroleum after the Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster.
Spencer’s review is one of two that the Navy is conducting after separate collisions involving the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain that killed 17 sailors.
No decision has been made about where the Bath-built McCain will be repaired, he said, and the secretary was noncommittal about any discussion of restarting the Zumwalt line in light of the recent DDG 51 collisions.
“I really don’t know where that’s going to go right now,” he said.” We do have a couple of the fish on the fire, shall we say, in light of what we have to do with McCain and what we have to do with the build-outs, and that’s consuming a lot of resources.”