Defense Department officials want to scale back purchases of Navy destroyers, it appears, saying the two shipyards that build destroyers — including Bath Iron Works — can’t produce the warships fast enough.
In December, Congress passed an $858 billion defense bill that called for purchasing three Arleigh Burke, or DDG 51-class, destroyers in the 2023 fiscal year, and set up a plan that would allow the Navy to buy 15 destroyers over the next five years. Destroyers are the only vessels BIW produces, and the Bath shipbuilder is one of only two contractors that build the ships, along with Ingalls Shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
But the Pentagon’s top budget official said it plans to buy only two destroyers in the fiscal year starting in September.
“I’m not hating on DDGs — my only point was that last year Congress added a third and the reason we didn’t budget for three is, again, we don’t see the yards being able to produce three a year. We don’t see them being able to produce two a year,” Mike McCord, the Defense Department’s comptroller, said in an interview with an industry publication.
A BIW official said the shipyard relies on a steady flow of work from the Navy to make investments in infrastructure and its workforce, and contracts that call for more ships make both possible.
“A consistent demand signal gives shipyards and suppliers the predictability to make major investments in workforce and facilities, both to expand destroyer production and to ensure that capability remains intact well into the future,” BIW spokesman David Hench said. He said improvements already underway in Bath will result in an improved construction schedule in time for the next multiyear contract to build destroyers.
The Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are over 500-feet long and are considered the workhorses of the Navy. Each warship costs about $2.2 billion to build, and they are procured on the basis of a complex rolling budget. The first was built in 1985 and 92 are in service through this year.
McCord said the industry is only building 1.5 destroyers a year and that asking for more takes away the government’s ability to negotiate on price, the U.S. Naval Institute News reported.
McCord said that asking for more would be good for the shipbuilders’ books, but not for taxpayers.
“As the buyer, are you in the best place you’d like to be with any leverage, or are you actually short of leverage when (you say) ‘you produce on time or you don’t produce on time, it doesn’t matter to me. I’m going to keep writing you checks,’ ” McCord said, according to USNI News.
Congress sets the amount that the Pentagon must spend and the Pentagon doesn’t have the discretion to spend less than what’s appropriated. A spokesman for Maine Sen. Angus King, who is on the Senate’s Armed Services Committee, said the senator has met with Pentagon officials several times to discuss the decision to reduce the number of destroyers it will purchase over the next five years and those discussions will continue.
Sen. Susan Collins said in a statement that the plan to reduce ship purchases runs counter to the Navy’s insistence that it needs more ships.
Collins, the top Republican member of the Senate Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, said the most efficient rate of total production for the two shipyards that build the destroyers is three ships a year, but the Navy “hasn’t provided the consistent, steady demand signal year after year to the large surface combatant shipyards.”
A larger fleet is also needed, she said, to counter China’s large and growing Navy.
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