Maine lawmakers will oppose effort to cut upgraded destroyer from the fleet

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Maine’s congressional delegation is mobilizing after reports that the Defense Department will ask for only a single new destroyer in the fiscal 2022 Pentagon budget rather than two that had been expected.

The DDG 51 Flight III destroyers will provide “significant progress” toward delivering critical integrated air and missile defense capability to the fleet. Unlike the earlier Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the upgraded versions will be able to simultaneously conduct anti-air warfare and ballistic missile defense, Navy officials said.

The Flight III destroyers will be constructed at Huntington Ingalls’ Ingalls Shipbuilding Division in Pascagoula, Miss. and General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine.

The shipbuilding industry had been planning for a procurement rate of at least two ships per year through the next fiscal year.

“We are deeply concerned that such a reduction in expected procurement would harm the large surface combatant shipyard industrial base and its talented workforce, which have made great progress working to increase capacity and efficiency over the past several years,” the Maine delegation wrote in a letter to President Biden.  

Maine’s congressional delegation has outsized influence among lawmakers on defense matters. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, has a seat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, while Republican Susan Collins sits on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. Rep. Jared Golden, a Democrat, is a member of the House Armed Services Committee and Rep. Chellie Pingree sits on the House Appropriations Committee.

Cutting a destroyer would also send the wrong message to Beijing and hinder the Navy’s ability to deter Chinese military aggression and economic coercion, the delegation wrote.

“China’s Navy has already reached the 355-ship fleet goal set by our own military and the United States Congress while our own fleet disappointingly lingers below 300 ships,” the letter said in part. “Simply put, the United States is not keeping pace with China on shipbuilding and an abrupt and shortsighted proposal to reduce planned large surface combatant procurement would hinder our Navy’s ability to compete for years.”

In their letter, the Maine delegation reminded President Biden that Congress has already backed an increased procurement of the upgraded DDG-51s by including $130 million in the FY 2021 defense bills to buy an additional destroyer in FY 2022, or three ships in total.

“We will continue to advocate for increased procurement of DDG-51s and will oppose any proposal to procure only a single DDG-51 in the upcoming fiscal year,” they wrote.

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