Robert O’Brien, President Donald Trump’s national security advisor, toured Bath Iron Works Wednesday and spoke with shipyard management about boosting the company’s production. Contributed photo

BATH — Ambassador Robert O’Brien, Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, visited Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and Bath Iron Works Wednesday to tour to the shipyards, speak with shipbuilders and receive briefings from shipyard leadership.

According to a White House press statement, the purpose of O’Brien’s trip is to “underscore the importance of both the Navy’s public shipyards and industry’s private shipyards in building and maintaining the fleet that our nation needs in an era of great power competition.”

O’Brien said he spoke with BIW management about how to recover from significant delays, which were exacerbated by both the COVID-19 pandemic and when the shipyard’s largest union went on strike for over two months, cutting its workforce by over half.

Boosting BIW’s production is essential, O’Brien said, to meeting President Donald Trump’s heavily-touted 355-ship Navy goal.

Trump, who is running an uphill campaign for re-election against former Vice President Joe Biden, has pledged to increase the number of ships to 355 since his first campaign in 2016.

O’Brien has previously advocated for higher defense spending with a focus on boosting the U.S. naval fleet, including in his 2016 book, “While America Slept: Restoring American Leadership to a World in Crisis,” and didn’t stray from that message Wednesday.

“The President is committed to a 355-ship Navy and the Bath Iron Works shipyard is integral to us hitting that 355-ship mark, and that’s what will help keep our country safe from China, Russia and the other great powers that we confront,” O’Brien said.  “We’re a maritime country and we’re going to be challenged in a way that we’ve never been before by the People’s Republic of China and their navy. They’re building a navy that has already surpassed ours in ship count size if not tonnage and we’ve got to be in that game.”

After touring BIW and meeting with shipyard management and workers, O’Brien said BIW “is in very good shape” in part because of the president’s call for a 355-ship naval fleet. Contributed photo

“BIW appreciates the opportunity to show Ambassador O’Brien our shipyard and the high caliber of work being done by BIW shipbuilders,” BIW Spokesman David Hench wrote in a statement Wednesday. “During his visit, the shipyard’s senior leadership discussed BIW’s commitment to increase production to two ships per year and described the aggressive hiring and training of new employees who are critical to the success of that plan.”

The USS Daniel Inouye, christened last summer, likely will be completed this winter. Its delivery date to the Navy was initially scheduled for almost a year ago, according to Hench.

The Navy has 290 ships now, but O’Brien said he expects that will rise to 307 “soon,” in part because of the Navy’s order for 10 guided-missile frigates, which BIW lost the $5.58 billion contract to build in April.

While that contract was awarded to Italian shipbuilding company Fincantieri, which will build its frigate at its Marinette Marine shipyard in Wisconsin, O’Brien said BIW may have another opportunity to help fill the order.

“We think there will be a second shipyard added to that build and I’m pretty certain General Dynamics will become the second supplier for the frigate,” he said.

Although BIW, a subsidiary of global aerospace and defense company General Dynamics, may have more work in its future, O’Brien said the Navy will continue to need Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, the primary type of ship BIW builds, into the mid-2020s.

“It’s a spectacular warship with a proven design,” he said. “It’s the backbone of the entire US Navy fleet. It does everything; it’s the Swiss army knife of warships. … The shipyard is in very good shape and when you combine that with the president’s absolute commitment to build a bigger Navy I think there’s a long future and a very happy future at Bath Iron Works and Maine.”

The most recent Arleigh Burke, the future USS Daniel Inouye, was christened in June of 2019 making it the 37th ship of its class to be built by the shipyard.

Comments are not available on this story.