Navy scraps newest destroyer

Published 6:20 pm Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Navy has decided to scrap its newest destroyer after the first two are built in shipyards in Maine and Mississippi, Sen. Susan Collins said Tuesday.

Collins, R-Maine, said Navy Secretary Donald Winter called her to alert her of the outcome of a meeting of top brass regarding the future of the DDG-1000 Zumwalt destroyer.

The Zumwalt was originally conceived as a stealth warship with massive firepower to pave the way for Marines to make their way ashore. It features advanced technologies, composite materials, an unconventional wave-piercing hull and a smaller crew than the latest Arleigh Burke destroyers.

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But the warship displaces 14,500 tons, making it 50 percent larger than Arleigh Burke destroyers. And each of the ships will cost twice the $1.3 billion price tag of Arleigh Burkes.

Critics say the Zumwalt is too expensive for the Navy to achieve its goal of a 313-ship fleet. But it’s an important program for Maine’s Bath Iron Works. The Bath shipyard, a General Dynamics subsidiary, is building the lead ship, and Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi is building the second ship.

The Navy had been engaging in an internal debate over whether to build more of the current, and less expensive, Arleigh Burke destroyers. The Navy had no immediate comment its plans, a spokesman said Tuesday night.

Up until recently, the Navy had said it needed the DDG-1000 because it provides unique capabilities it offered. But a Navy spokesman said last week that the termination of the program wouldn’t be a total loss despite $11 billion spent in research, design and construction of the Zumwalt.

“Even if we do not receive funding for the DDG-1000 class beyond the first two ships, the technology embedded will advance the Navy’s future surface combatants,” said Lt. Clayton Doss.

Previously, the Senate authorized funding for the third of a scaled-down program of seven ships. But the House has balked at funding that ship, which would’ve been built in Bath.

Collins, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said the Navy review of the Zumwalt was triggered by a House Armed Services Committee decision to reject funding for the third ship.

She took a swipe at Rep. Tom Allen, her Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, who left the House Armed Services Committee for another assignment. “Unfortunately, Maine currently has no member on the House Armed Services Committee to advocate for programs critical to BIW’s work force,” she said.

Allen said it was “totally misleading” for Collins to suggest that the Navy decision has anything to do with his presence on the committee. He said the Navy’s disaffection with the DDG-1000 was the linked to potential cost overruns and its lack of capability to respond to threats such as missiles targeted at ships.

Regardless of which destroyers are built, Allen said he expects Navy contracts to continue to flow to the Maine shipyard. “Bath will build what the Navy wants to build,” he said, “and we shouldn’t be putting all of our eggs in one basket.”

Collins said Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England told her Tuesday that he’s committed to working to mitigate the impact on Bath Iron Works of the termination of the DDG-1000 program. She said she plans to meet Wednesday with Winter and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Gary Roughead.