BY JONATHAN RISKIND

MaineToday Media Washington Bureau Chief

ARLINGTON, Va. — More Bath Iron Works-built destroyers are needed to meet the country’s national security needs, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said Wednesday during a speech to a defense industry trade association.

Collins said she hopes that President Barack Obama’s 2013 budget proposal, due out in February, will call for building two destroyers a year over the next 30 years.

That would be an increase over the administration’s current ship-building blueprint that averages one and a half ships a year — a single ship one year and a pair the next.

“What I would like to see is two every year,” Collins said after speaking at the Surface Navy Association’s annual meeting.

“That’s what we need, at a minimum. And that’s what we also need for our national security,” said Collins, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee. “This isn’t just an industrial base (issue) and my desire to see work for Bath Iron Works, though obviously those are great concerns of mine. But it is what our national security needs require.”

BIW employs about 5,400 people and is one of Maine’s largest employers.

Defense analyst Loren Thompson said in a phone interview that he believes building two destroyers a year will be part of the White House’s 2013 budget proposal and updated long term ship building plan.

“My understanding is that the Navy budget has been robustly funded,” said Thompson, chief operating officer at the Lexington Institute, a Washington think tank.

The defense strategy outlined last week by Obama and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta called for increased Navy presence in the Asia-Pacific region to keep a vigilant watch on countries like North Korea and China. And that should mean building more heavy combat ships like destroyers, she said.

The 2012 defense bill approved by Congress last year authorized spending $2.5 billion for work on three destroyers at BIW. That assures work there until at least the end of 2017.

But BIW President Jeffrey Geiger, who was at the Surface Navy Association meeting, said unless the Navy commits to two destroyers a year, the pace of work at BIW could begin to slow in 2015.

“The (current) work load runs out through about 2017,” Geiger said. “It starts to decrease after about 2014 until new ships as the senator is describing are added.”

Collins said she wants to make sure that the Navy doesn’t try to build up its total fleet size by just adding larger numbers of small ships.

She noted it has been a military axiom over the years that “quantity has a quality all its own,” joking that she developed qualms about the saying once she realized that Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin also espoused that theory.

But building a large number of smaller ships with fewer weapons and defense systems at the expense of increasing the number of larger, more capable ships “is a Pyrrhic victory,” Collins said in her speech.

Defense analyst Thompson agreed.

“Collins’ point is that it doesn’t make a lot of sense to grow the size of the fleet by adding a lot of small ships that won’t be very useful in the western Pacific,” Thompson said. “You are better off having capable ships that can defend themselves and accomplish a wide range of missions.”

BIW, owned by General Dynamics, is one of two manufacturers of DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. The company competes with the Pascagoula, Miss., shipyard of Huntington Ingalls Industries.

Thompson said building two destroyers a year wouldn’t necessarily mean dividing up the work evenly between Bath and Mississippi. He said that the Pascagoula shipyard builds other vessels and that Bath has a better track record building the destroyers.

Jonathan Riskind — 791-6280

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