By Emelie Rutherford

As questions swirl on Capitol Hill about whether the Navy will halt its nascent DDG-1000 destroyer program and build more of the older and cheaper DDG-51s, an outspoken DDG- 1000 backer in the Senate said she is concerned about jobs dipping at Bath Iron Works shipyard if the program is terminated.

Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) said that while Bath builds both the venerable DDG-51 Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and the new Zumwalt-class DDG-1000, she believes the larger number of jobs at Bath, which is in Maine and owned by General Dynamics [GD], would be more secure if the newer destroyer program is continued.

"From my perspective, the best way to meet the Navy’s future needs and to ensure a steady, strong workload for Bath Iron Works is to continue with the DDG-1000," she said Tuesday in a brief interview.

Yet her point of view is not universally shared. Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine)–who is trying to unseat Collins in this November’s election–said from what he has been told it appears the number of jobs at Bath would be similar if the DDG-51 program is continued past its planned shutdown or the new DDG-1000 is given the green light to proceed with five ships beyond the first two.

Still, Collins and Allen, like other lawmakers and officials on both sides of the destroyer debate, acknowledge they do not have irrefutable data on the jobs impact of the proposed shipbuilding change.

That’s because it’s not known, if the Navy opts to continue the DDG-51 production line, how the contracts for the expected 11 ships would be competed and allocated between Bath and Northrop Grumman‘s [NOC] Ingalls shipyard in Pascagoula, Miss. The two yards share the DDG-51 and DDG-1000 efforts.

The Navy said earlier this year that for each of the first two DDG-1000s, the ships would require approximately 2.5 times as much shipyard labor to build as would be required to build a DDG-51, according to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) report updated June 5. However, the report says this 2.5-to-1 ratio would decrease for subsequent ships beyond the first two. CRS still estimates building the DDG-1000 would require roughly twice the labor the DDG-51 would.

"As a general rule of thumb, a DDG-1000 provides between two and two and a half times the number of manhours that a DDG-51, so you would have to have three DDG-51s potentially to compensate for a DDG-1000," Collins said. If the DDG-51 program were continued to build 11 more ships, instead of building five more DDG-1000s, she said she has no way of knowing if Ingalls would receive a greater share of the ship effort.

She also noted the reduced crew size the DDG-1000 would enable, as well as the cost of restarting subcontractor production lines for the DDG-51 that no longer exist.

Allen said Wednesday in an interview that he is neutral over which shipbuilding program the Navy picks, noting at least one school of thought that believes Bath would have roughly the same number of jobs whether the Navy orders five more DDG-1000s or 11 more DDG-51s.

"I think there are plusses and minuses both ways," said the congressman, whose district includes the shipyard. "But if there is going to be a shift back to the [DDG-]51s, then we at Bath need to know when does the shift occur, how many ships will be built, how many will be built by Bath, what is the plan. All of those things have to be worked out."

He said Bath has "done a remarkable job with the [DDG-]51 program," reducing manhours and costs at the end of the program that is winding down. And he acknowledged rising cost estimates for the DDG-1000 that have created anxiety in Congress and the Navy.

"So my concern has really been, Bath needs to build ships," he said. "As these uncertainties have arisen I’ve been worried that decisions should be made sooner rather than later."

The Navy requested $2.5 billion for a third DDG-1000 in FY ’09. The House-passed defense authorization bill calls for pausing procurement of DDG-1000s and directing the Navy to spend $400 million for restarting the DDG-51s–a setup House Armed Services seapower subcommittee Chairman Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) prefers–or for continuing development work on the DDG-1000 program. The Senate Armed Services Committee– on which Collins sits–backs the Navy’s DDG-100 request in its version of the bill, which the Senate is expected to debate in the coming weeks.

Navy and Pentagon leaders are expected to hold a pivotal meeting on the DDG-1000 program’s fate next week. Sources say the Navy is moving toward publicly supporting the House plan to continue DDG-51 production. Navy officials and pundits then are slated to testify before the HASC seapower subcommittee July 31, when observers hope to receive more clarity on the service’s plans (Defense Daily, July 14).

Bath Iron Works "won’t speculate on how the outcome of the current debate may or may not affect us," spokesman Jim DeMartini said in a statement. He noted the compay is focused on delivering the five remaining DDG-51s under contract to the Navy.

The company’s "job is to build the ships the Navy needs, at a price they can afford, at the time when the Navy needs them," he said. "The best way we can do that job is by applying our energies on the work we have in front of us, remain as competitive as we can and be ready to respond when actual decisions are made."

New England lawmakers from both parties and in both chambers have advocated for the DDG-1000 program, in part because Raytheon [RTN] jobs in multiple states would be jeopardized if the DDG-1000 effort is halted (Defense Daily, July 14).

Asked Tuesday about the Raytheon job concerns, Taylor said during a brief interview "that is a factor."

Yet he added: "The biggest factor is building the best ship for our sailors." Building the Navy up to a 313-ship active fleet is also a larger factor, he said.

Taylor noted the possibility of Raytheon garnering work from the DDG-51 program, because of the concept of the destroyer being used as the basis for a future nuclear-powered cruiser. While Taylor sees such a cruiser in the Navy’s future–and the FY ’08 defense authorization bill requires the service’s forthcoming new cruiser be nuclear powered–the sea service has not publicly committed to the nuclear propulsion arrangement.

Taylor is concerned that the DDG-1000, in light of rising cost estimates, will drain the Navy’s finite shipbuilding budget and thwart its 313-ship goal. His district includes the Ingalls shipyard.

The congressman said he hopes Collins and other lawmakers on the opposite side of the destroyer battle attend his panel’s July 31 hearing. Collins said Tuesday she does not plan to attend.

House and Senate appropriators have not yet marked up their FY ’09 defense spending bills.