U.S. Navy fleet must be expanded, Collins says

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) recently expressed continued support for a heftier shipbuilding budget at the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD).

“We were deeply concerned to read recent reports that the Department of Defense may propose significant reductions to planned shipbuilding procurement in its fiscal year (FY) 2021 budget request to be submitted to Congress in the coming weeks,” wrote Sen. Collins in a letter sent to Defense Secretary Mark Esper. “We write to express our strong support for a 355-ship Navy and to urge continued support from the Department for a robust shipbuilding budget.”

U.S. Sen. Angus King (I-ME) joined Sen. Collins in signing the letter, in which they urged the DOD Secretary “to reverse course from cutbacks to shipbuilding plans that may be under deliberation and to support a 355-ship Navy.”

“Ultimately, Congress is responsible for annual Department of Defense and Navy appropriations, and we will continue to support a growing fleet in order to protect our national security and ensure our national prosperity as threats around the world continue to grow,” they wrote.

Specifically, the Maine senators expressed concerns about fewer Arleigh Burke-class (DDG-51s) destroyers, which are considered the workhorses of the Navy due to their ongoing critical missions around the globe, according to their letter.

“One of the proposed budget cuts would reportedly reduce by five the number of Arleigh Burke (DDG-51) class destroyers planned for construction over the next five years,” wrote Sens. Collins and King. “The newest Flight III variant, to be delivered to the fleet in the coming years, will significantly improve the anti-air and ballistic missile defense capabilities of the Navy. In short, we need more of these ships in the fleet of the future, not fewer.”

Additionally, the senators said they’re “greatly concerned about the impact to the shipbuilding industrial base should significant cuts actually come to fruition,” particularly for Bath, Maine-based General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, which has delivered more than 425 ships to the world’s naval and commercial fleets since 1884.

The senators also said that FY 2020 appropriations signed into law by the president on Dec. 20, 2019, authorize $5.1 billion for three DDG-51s; provide a $390 million increase in advanced procurement for a down payment on an additional ship; and target funding to shipyard infrastructure projects.

“We expect this congressional support for Navy shipbuilding and DDG-51 procurement to continue in FY 2021 and beyond, and we hope the Department and administration will join us in these efforts,” they wrote.