The first piece of steel for the future USS William Charette, BIW’s lastest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, was cut on Monday. Morneau, Jared N.

BATH — Bath Iron Works started construction of its latest Arleigh Burke-class destroyer, the future USS William Charette, on Monday.

The first piece of steel for the destroyer was cut at the company’s Structural Fabrication Facility, formerly known as the Harding facility, in Brunswick.

The company is in the process of regaining ground on significant production delays, worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic and a nine-week strike launched by its largest union over the summer.

“While COVID-19 has had a significant impact on BIW production schedules in 2020, the men and women at Structural Fabrication along with the entire BIW workforce continue to make progress meeting the production targets within our Three Year Plan for schedule recovery,” said BIW Spokesman David Hench. 

Longtime Randy Bertrand was one of the employees who activated the burning machine to cut the first steel for the ship. Photo courtesy of BIW

Hench said the company is beginning work on the future USS William Charette on schedule because it “has not been affected by any of the issues that have contributed to delays on ships further along in the construction process.”

The ship is named for William Charette, a Navy master chief hospital corpsman, who earned the Medal of Honor during the Korean War. During a battle to retake a strategic hill on March 27, 1953, Charette was treating a wounded Marine when an enemy grenade landed near him. He shielded the wounded Marine with his body, but lost consciousness due to the explosion. When he regained consciousness, he continued to treat Marines despite being temporarily blinded, according to the Navy.

The ship will be the 43rd Arleigh Burke-class destroyer to be made by the shipyard, the primary type of ship the company makes. It’s also the second Flight III Arleigh Burke destroyer to start construction at Bath Iron Works. Flight III destroyers include “advancements in radar and combat systems,” making it “the most technologically advanced surface combatant in the world,” the company wrote in a statement.

In a statement Tuesday, Dirk Lesko, Bath Iron Works president, spoke of the importance of BIW destroyers in the naval fleet.

“The Navy is counting on us to get the shipyard back on schedule and starting construction of DDG 130 is an important step in that direction,” Lesko wrote. “I appreciate the effort everyone is putting into keeping one another safe and healthy as we move forward together.”

Longtime employee Sandy Haley helped activate the burning machine to cut the first steel for the ship. Photo courtesy of BIW

Longtime employees Sandy Haley and Randy Bertrand were selected to activate the burning machine to cut the first steel for the ship.

Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King praised the shipbuilders’ efforts.

“Given the need to grow the size of our fleet, it’s always exciting to see the start of fabrication for a new destroyer at Bath Iron Works,” said Collins, senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee. “I am proud of the hardworking employees at BIW who make invaluable contributions to our national security by building the best ships in the world for our Navy. Once completed, the USS William Charette will be another testament to BIW employees’ skill and will provide our sailors with the highest quality and most technologically advanced destroyer.”

“BIW’s skilled and dedicated workers have produced high-quality ships for generations, earning a worldwide reputation that ‘Bath Built is Best Built,’” said King, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. “I know that legacy will continue with the future USS William Charette, and am deeply grateful to our shipbuilders for their contributions to Maine and to America’s national security.”

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