Maine senators press Esper, Modly on possible shipbuilding cuts

By Mallory Shelbourne / January 7, 2020 at 5:20 PM

Lawmakers from Maine are questioning the Pentagon about possible cuts to Navy shipbuilding, imploring the service to continue pursuing its goal of a 355-ship fleet.

In a Jan. 6 letter to Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Sens. Angus King (I-ME) and Susan Collins (R-ME) expressed concern the cuts to shipbuilding could affect the industrial base.

"As you continue to develop and finalize the Department's [fiscal year] 2021 budget request, we urge you to reverse course from cutbacks to shipbuilding plans that may be under deliberation and to support a 355-ship Navy," the letter reads.

Acting Navy Secretary Thomas Modly and Acting White House Office of Management and Budget Director Russell Vought are both copied on the letter.

The document refers to possible shipbuilding cuts detailed in a back-and-forth memo between the Pentagon and the White House about the FY-2021 budget submission.

The document, obtained last month by Inside Defense, predicts the Navy buying five fewer Arleigh Burke Flight III destroyers than the service projected in its FY-20 future years defense program and 30-year shipbuilding tables.

"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," Collins and King write in the Jan. 6 letter.

"DDG-51s are truly the workhorses of the Navy worldwide, conducting freedom of navigation missions in the South China Sea, leading maritime security patrols in the North Atlantic, and deterring Iranian aggression in the Persian Gulf," the senators continue.

Maine is home to General Dynamics Bath Iron Works, which is one of two contractors building the Flight III vessels.

In the dialogue between the Pentagon and White House, OMB instructed the Defense Department to complete an evaluation of how the cuts to shipbuilding could affect the industrial base.