BATH — Last week a Navy official revealed the Navy could award a contract to build 20 frigates, for which Bath Iron Works is in the running, sooner than expected.

First reported by Defense News, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly told radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he tasked Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition James Geurts to look at accelerating the award of the first ship, which previously was slated for this fall.

“The plan was to try and do it in the latter part of this year,” Modly told Hewitt. “I’ve asked (Geurts) to try and accelerate that earlier, and he’s looking into the possibilities for doing that. But obviously, you know, we have acquisition rules, and we want to make sure that we do this in the proper way.”

The Navy is looking to purchase 20 frigates. The winning contractor will be expected to produce two of the warships per year from 2021 to 2029 at a cost of about $900 million each.

BIW is one of four shipyards vying for the contract, alongside Austal USA of Alabama, Huntington Ingalls of Mississippi and Fincantieri Marinette Marine of Wisconsin.

Earlier this week, the Associated Press reported Wisconsin legislators sent a letter to President Donald Trump encouraging him to direct the frigate construction contract to the Marinette shipyard in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rep. John Nygren, who represents Marinette in the state Assembly, persuaded 54 Republican and Democrats from the Assembly and Senate to sign the letter to Trump.

The letter paints Fincantieri Marinette Marine as a vital economic engine in northeastern Wisconsin. The frigate contract would generate another 1,000 jobs for the region, the letter said. If the Navy hands the contract to someone else, however, Fincantieri could end up closing its shipyard, the lawmakers warned.

In April 2013, the Navy announced BIW was awarded just under $15 million to create a concept design for its new class of guided-missile frigate.

BIW chose to design a frigate based on a hull used by Navantia, a shipyard in Spain.

The first ship ordered in 2020 is expected to cost $1.28 billion, according to budget documents, with the next ship in 2021 dropping to $1.05 billion.

In contrast to cruisers and destroyers, which are designed to operate in higher-threat areas, frigates generally are intended to operate in lower-risk settings. For this reason, they are equipped with fewer weapons and less-advanced radars.

Arleigh Burke-class destroyers are the primary type of ship BIW produces for the Navy. The most recent destroyer, the future USS Daniel Inouye, was christened in June 2019 making it the 37th ship of its class to be built by the shipyard. BIW and Ingalls are the only two shipyards manufacturing that class of vessel.

The Navy’s call for frigates is a drastic change from its now-abandoned push to build a fleet of Zumwalt-class destroyers.

In the early 2000s, the Navy hoped to build 32 highly advanced stealth destroyers, constructed solely at BIW. The Zumwalt-class destroyers, priced at $7 billion per ship, were packed full of the latest technology and a redesigned body that makes them appear much smaller on radar. The Navy later reduced its order to only three due to cost overruns. The last in the class, the future USS Lyndon B. Johnson, is now under construction at BIW.

Should BIW win the frigate contract, it will produce 20 frigates alongside 11 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in the next 10 years.

BIW is in the midst of a hiring push to help win contracts and build ships on schedule. The shipyard currently employs 6,700 and is planning to hire an additional 1,000 workers this year, then add another 600 to 800 workers in 2021, according to Jon Mason, director of human resources for BIW.


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