PENTAGON — Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus and the Maine congressional delegation have thrown their support behind finishing the third Zumwalt-class guided missile destroyer — one that the Department of Defense is studying canceling.
At issue is a Monday report from Bloomberg in which the the wire service reported the Office of the Secretary Defense’s (OSD) Director of Cost Assessment and Program Evaluation (CAPE) would review canceling the third Zumwalt-class destroyer — Lyndon B. Johnson (DDG-1002).
As reported by USNI News in July, General Dynamics Bath Iron Works (BIW) is struggling to efficiently build both the three highly complex Zumwalts and a new crop of Arleigh Burke guided missile destroyers (DDG-51s) at the Maine yard. Delays in the construction of lead ship Zumwalt (DDG-1000) have had, at least in part, a knock-on effect in building the new Burkes, setting construction of the first two planned ships back several months. Canceling Johnson, while not saving the Navy money, could free up capacity at the yard for other work, USNI News understands.
According to Bloomberg, the conversation occurred during an Aug. 25 Defense Acquisition Executive summary meeting that canceling Johnson would “be reviewed in the next few weeks.”
Sources confirmed the pending CAPE review to USNI News on Wednesday.
While the Navy confirmed the meeting, the service would not provide any details from the discussion.
“The internal discussions of this meeting are not publically releasable,” read a Monday statement provided to USNI News by a spokesman for the Navy’s Research, Development & Acquisition (RDA) office.
While OSD is reviewing the fate of Johnson, Mabus told Politico in an interview following the Aug. 25 meeting, the service was still committed to completing the $22.1 billion, three ship program.
“If you were going to make a decision to not all have all three, that decision should have been made a long time ago because now it’s probably as expensive to cancel as it is to build them, just because of the way contracts are written and the way that materials bought and infrastructure’s put in and some other stuff,” according to a partial transcript of the late August interview provided to USNI News.
“You won’t bring any money back into this building.”
Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) issued a joint statement in response to the report throwing their support behind keeping Johnson.
“If Pentagon officials are contemplating the cancellation of this ship at the eleventh hour and when it is already more than 40 percent complete, it would be a policy and financial mistake that would weaken the Navy’s fleet, degrade the manufacturing industrial base upon which our country’s security depends, and would not save money at this stage due to cancellation and other contractual fees,” read the statement provided to USNI News on Wednesday.
“There is no workforce better positioned to build these ships than the talented, highly-skilled men and women of BIW who have a long history of designing, building, and supporting the most advanced ships in the world.”
Collins has long championed BIW and was instrumental in securing construction of the three ships at the yard following the Department of Defense’s truncation of the Zumwalt-class to three ships in 2009.
While Mabus and Collins are committed to a three-ship class, the path forward for BIW, the Navy and OSD on the Zumwalt programs is difficult to ascertain.
For its part, the Navy has been committed to maintaining a strong industrial base — seen as a national security asset — and has taken extensive steps to both preserve competition and provide business to as many U.S. naval yards as possible, as evidenced in the complicated deal it constructed to compete building the third America-class amphibious warship and a new class of fleet oilers.
Almost all of the money for the $22.1 billion program — about the cost of two Ford-class aircraft carriers or ten Burkes — has been authorized and cancelling Johnson will net the service a miniscule amount of money — if any.
However unless BIW, mired in an ongoing labor dispute with its shipyard workers, increases the efficiency in construction of all of its ship lines and drives down overall ship construction costs it would be at risk to winning new work.
In particular, BIW is a finalist to construct the U.S. Coast Guard’s 25-ship $10.5 billion Offshore Patrol Cutter (OPC).
If the yard fails to secure the Coast Guard contract, BIW management has said 1,200 of its 5,700 employees will be let go.
“It’s a must-win for us,” BIW president Fred Harris told Mainebiz in January.
The following is the complete Sept. 16 joint statement from Sens. Collins and King.
“There are always challenges in building a first-of-its-class weapons system, whether it’s an aircraft, ship, or land combat vehicle, particularly one with the cutting-edge technologies of the Zumwalt. There is no workforce better positioned to build these ships than the talented, highly-skilled men and women of BIW who have a long history of designing, building, and supporting the most advanced ships in the world.
“Just last week, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said the Navy is committed to all three ships because of the capabilities they will bring to the fleet, and we take him at his word.
“If Pentagon officials are contemplating the cancellation of this ship at the eleventh hour and when it is already more than 40 percent complete, it would be a policy and financial mistake that would weaken the Navy’s fleet, degrade the manufacturing industrial base upon which our country’s security depends, and would not save money at this stage due to cancellation and other contractual fees.”