The Navy’s senior military officer lauded Bath Iron Works for being on track to produce two ships per year for by the end of this year, hitting a milestone despite suffering significant production delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic and a nine-week strike last summer.
“That’s a very strong trajectory for Bath Iron Works and it’s not without a lot of hard work, during a pandemic, to get to that point,” Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Mike Gilday said after touring the Bath shipyard Monday.
Gilday said the BIW will help produce the next class of warship for the Navy that will succeed the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the primary ship BIW builds for the Navy. The Navy is “collaborating right now with BIW and other shipbuilders as we work on the initial design” of that next ship class, known now as the DDG(x).
“We anticipate that effort, if the funding is there and everything comes together as we hope, would come together around the 2027-2028,” said Gilday. “We look forward to another generation of destroyer and certainly Bath is in the future of those kinds of projects.”
According to a Feb. 11 report from the Congressional Research Service, the next class of ship will most likely be a guided-missile destroyer that replaces the Navy’s aging Ticonderoga-class cruisers. The Navy’s proposed fiscal year 2021 budget requested $46.5 million in research and development funding for the program, the report states.
Early forecasts for the new ship imagine it as being larger than a 9,700-ton Arleigh Burke but smaller than a 15,700-ton Zumwalt, according to the report.
Gilday said the next type of warship is necessary because the (Arleigh Burkes) “have run out of space, power and cooling to put anything else on them.”
“We’ve packed everything possible on a multi-mission ship,” Gilday said. “These ships are like a Swiss army knife.”
While the Navy has its eye on the future of its fleet, Gilday stressed Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are still needed, appreciated and, “we need more of them.”
Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, who joined Gilday on Monday, touted the role BIW plays in producing ships the Navy needs to add to its fleet and deter adversaries like China.
“We have a goal, in law, of building 350 ships,” Collins said. “Right now, we’re at about 296. The Chinese are closer to our goal than we are so it’s so important that we have an adequate budget so that we can continue ensuring we have the best naval fleet in the world.”
To further aid the shipyard’s production rate, the company now boasts a workforce of over 7,000 shipbuilders, according to Collins.
The shipyard hopes to hire 2,700 employees by the end of this year and have 6,000 manufacturing employees in its arsenal, Director of Human Resources Services Allyson Coombs told The Times Record in March. The company hired and trained nearly 1,800 employees in 2019 and added about 1,000 more last year.
The shipyard has been on a hiring streak in recent years to help reverse production delays inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic and a strike last summer that removed over half of its machinists from the workforce for over two months.
A month before workers went on strike, BIW President Dirk Lesko told the Portland Press Herald that the shipyard was already at least six months behind schedule.
By June, members of the Machinists Union Local S6 — the shipyard’s largest union representing 4,300 of a total 6,800 workers — went on strike. Union members returned to work Aug. 24 after finalizing a new contract with the company, but BIW still faced significant production losses during their absence.
In three months, the shipyard fell at least six more months behind schedule. After the strike, the company and Local S6 established the Joint Schedule Recovery Committee to get back on track.
Along with the strike, the shipyard also missed out on a handful of major shipbuilding contracts last year. In July, the company lost an $936 million contract to build an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer while in the midst of the union strike. The Navy awarded the project to BIW’s main competitor, Huntington Ingalls Industries in Mississippi.
BIW and Huntington Ingalls Industries in Mississippi are the only two shipyards that manufacture Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.