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U.S. Defense Secretary Tours Maine Shipyard
11/21/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel paid a visit to Bath Iron Works this afternoon, taking a tour of the Navy's newest destroyer and offering brief remarks to several hundred workers. The secretary's visit was at the request of members of Maine's congressional delegation. And as Susan Sharon reports, it comes at a pivotol time for the shipyard.

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Secretary Hagel toured the largest destroyer ever built by the Navy, the Zumwalt DDG-1000 that is currently under construction at the yard, and then gave a 12-minute address to workers gathered outside. He called it "a magnificent ship" that "represents the cutting edge of our Naval capabilities" and an important asset for the nation's security.

The DDG's first assignment will be San Diego when it joins the fleet in 2016. And its territory will be the Asia-Pacific region.

"Assigning this new ship to that rebalance is an important signal to the commitment that we are making to a part of the world that continues to become more and more important to world affairs, geo-political security issues and to our future," Hagel said.

For BIW, the ship represents an engineering, design and production marvel, and the tangible benefit of having a Navy warship tied to a pier. But in a recent written message to workers, outgoing BIW President Jeff Geiger said national and global developments "have driven the shipyard into a new and challenging buisness environment with lower ship acquisition rates and tighter defense budgets."

Geiger wrote that BIW "must continue to find new and better ways to be nimble, adapting to these rapidly changing times and leveraging the power of teamwork..."

One potential bright spot on the horizon could be the Saudi government's expansion of its navy. This week Reuters reported that Saudi Arabian officials are considering an upgrade that could include a multibillion-dollar contract for BIW's DDG-51 destroyer.

"We've been aware of the discussions between the Saudi government and the U.S. government for some time, and continue to stay closely monitoring those discussions," says Jim DiMartini, a spokesman for BIW. "In very simple terms our forte is building surface combatants, and if the Saudi government and the U.S. government come to an agreement on a program we'd be very interested and very ready to become a participant, and pursue that opportunity downstream."

Hagel did not take questions from the press, but he did respond to workers in the audience, including this one:

"The question was: Will Bath Iron Works continue to be an asset to America's future for a long tme to come? Answer is a resounding yes," Hagel said.

Hagel acknowledged that the Defense Department is dealing with a lot of budget uncertainty, trying to plan for the next five years and tryiing to figure out which ships should be rebuilt or replaced. But he told the workers he looks forward to continuing a long relationship with the Bath community and the state of Maine, and he expressed appreciation for the support of Maine's congressional delegation.

Hagel next travels to Nova Scotia for a security conference, which Sen. Susan Collins is also scheduled to attend.


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