March 15, 2023
Watch Senator King’s questioning HERE
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Angus King today shared his insights on how the war in Ukraine has demonstrated the need for stable, long-term support for shipyards like Maine’s Bath Iron Works. In a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC), King asked Nickolas Guertin – nominee for Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Research, Development and Acquisition – whether the Department of Defense (DOD) is making necessary investments in industrial base facilities like shipyards. King also encouraged Guertin to prioritize the seamless transition of production at Bath Iron Works to the next generation of destroyers.
King began his questioning by stressing that the war in Ukraine has shown we need predictable, multi-year contracts for the defense industrial base to maximize taxpayer dollars and have stability for the workforce. Last year, the Senator secured a multi-year contract in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act for the Navy to procure up to fifteen DDG-51s, which Bath Iron Works can compete to build – one of the largest forward commitments of its kind.
“It seems to me that one of the lessons we have from Ukraine, is maintaining the industrial base and being sure that there are consistent demand signals that will allow the private sector to make the investments necessary to have the industrial base ready and able when we need them,” said Senator King. “What do you take from Ukraine?”
“Senator, first of all, watching what's happening in Ukraine is a tragedy, and the rigor and the patriotic fight that the Ukrainian people are putting up against this is amazing. But it’s also amazing is how fast they're burning through munitions, and if we get an opportunity, if we are forced into an opportunity where we have to deny an adversary something we want to be a part of, we're going to have to have deep bunkers,” replied Mr. Guertin. “In order to do that, we're going to have to really ramp up the quantity of weapons that we have available to us. So, if confirmed, I look forward to working with industry to send that strong demand signal, and that extends over time. so they know how to invest and how to position themselves so they could build more affordably and at scale.”
“Well, the term you used is extend over time. Multi-year procurements, it seems to me, is one way to send that demand signal. Do you agree?” Senator King asked.
“Absolutely,” Mr. Guertin concurred. “My current colleague, Dr. LaPlante, Undersecretary for Acquisition and Sustainment, he's been doing some excellent work in this area to take advantage of some of the authorities that Congress has provided in order to get those longer term deals established.”
Continuing his questioning, King urged Guertin to ensure that Bath Iron Works’ transition from current DDGs to next-generation destroyers is seamless and doesn’t result in a production “gap” that would cause layoffs.
“One of the issues that I'm concerned about particularly is the transition from the DDG-class destroyer to whatever the new surface combatant is, to be sure that there's not a trough, if you will, of demand, which would cause us to lose skilled personnel, and it's very difficult in this economy to get them back,” said Senator King. “So, I commend to you close management of that process, so that there's not a gap between the constructions of the DDGS and then moving on to the new surface combatant.”
“Yes, Senator. Absolutely. We want to make sure that we continue that production smoothly from one to the other,” affirmed Mr. Guertin. “My understanding is that right now, the two contractors that are most likely to be in that business are working together with the government, with the Navy, to buy down risk, to improve the understanding of what that design is going to be so they could step right into building them effectively when that time comes.”
During the hearing, King, a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, also urged Ronald Keohane – nominee to be Assistant Secretary of Defense for Manpower and Reserve Affairs – to help improve transition programs for servicemembers transitioning out of the Armed Forces including working closely with state veteran services bureaus. King recently sent a bipartisan letter to the chiefs of each U.S. military service branch expressing concern about a lack of attention to the transition from active duty to veteran status.
“Mr. Keohane, I've been meeting with a lot of veterans lately, and one of the issues in personnel, is the transition out of the military. We have the [Transition Assistance Program], but the consensus I'm getting is that there are gaps, there are problems with it. The suggestion is that the military, the Pentagon, should spend as much time and money and effort on transition out as they do on recruitment in,” urged Senator King. “I hope you'll focus on that issue because the disproportionate number of veteran suicide take place in the first two or three years after separation, and things like notifying the state veteran services that people somebody's coming so they can be literally met at the airport, I hope that's something you'll pay attention to.”
“Yes, sir. Transition assistance in those programs has been something I've paid attention to for years, been very passionate about. I certainly think they've gotten a little bit better, but we need to do a far better job,” agreed Mr. Keohane. “I think that trying to bridge that educational process earlier in than waiting until the last few months of someone's time within the service is certainly helpful. When they return home, perhaps they should be required to go to their local armory and pick up their final paperwork, do a soft handoff when appropriate. I think we need to start thinking a little bit different based on how the world really is today. And if confirmed, I look forward to working with the team and certainly you and your staff as well, Senator, to work on this issue.”
As a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, King has consistently worked to strengthen America’s defense industrial base and ensure facilities like Bath Iron Works have the resources they need to protect the nation and support our communities. Last year, the Senator secured a multi-year contract in the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act for the Navy to procure up to fifteen DDG-51s, which Bath Iron Works can compete to build – one of the largest forward commitments of its kind.
Representing one of the states with the highest rates of veterans per capita, Senator King has been a staunch advocate for America’s servicemembers and veterans. As a member of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee, he has been among the Senate’s most prominent voices on the need to address veterans suicide, and has repeatedly pressed for action from top Department of Defense officials on this issue. Additionally, he recently spearheaded the passage of legislation to better track and study servicemember suicides by job assignment.