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Naval Experts: Building New Destroyer Will Protect Nation, Boost Jobs


April 1, 2010

Zumwalt Class Destroyer

Labor leaders and defense experts who convened in March for talks at the IBEW International Office all agree on two troubling points: the Navy’s current destroyer fleet will be inadequate to protect national security in the future, and the slowed rate of shipbuilding is crippling the industry.

Speaking at a symposium of labor activists, defense specialists from the public and private sectors highlighted the national security reasons why the Navy should move forward with construction of the high-tech, stealth DDG-1000 Zumwalt-class destroyers, and also the implications for the country’s shipbuilding future.

Corky Graham, a shipbuilding expert who worked for Northrop Grumman and has been instrumental in destroyer design for decades, explained the benefits of the Zumwalt for union workers in the shipbuilding industry:

If I were in charge of the people who work in the shipyards, I would want them to be on the cutting edge of technology. I would want to say my electrical workers are working on the most advanced ship in the world, bar none.

The Navy initially ordered 27 Zumwalts in the late ‘90s, but cut that number to three after congressional handwringing over the $10 billion price tag for the pilot vessels. The first Zumwalt is under construction by members of the International Association of Machinists at Bath Iron Works in Maine.

In slashing production of the new warship, the Navy plans to take new technology designed for the Zumwalts and retrofit four of the 10 weapons and navigation systems onto an updated model of the existing destroyer: the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke, a ship that some experts say is not up to current technologies in the modern age of maritime security.

IBEW Government Employees Director Chico McGill said:

The Burke has served us well, but we’re going to get more bang for our buck with the Zumwalt. We need to build more than three of these, as more ships mean more work for our members while adding to national security.

Champions of the Zumwalt say that its construction will save the Navy money in the long run, given the billions of dollars already invested in research and development. The Zumwalt is also significantly larger than the Arleigh Burke, and its production would nearly triple the amount of man hours for union members who would otherwise be building the updated Burkes, including significant job opportunities for Pascagoula, Miss., Local 733 members and New Orleans Metal Trade Council members working at the Ingalls and Avondale Shipyards.

Philip Dur – a highly decorated Navy veteran – said that if America is to be on the forefront of defense and security, the Zumwalt is the military’s sure-fire bet.

We’ve always prided ourselves in building the world’s best surface combatants. And if you’re an electrician, the DDG-1000 is a shipbuilder’s dream. There’s three times the wire in that ship and it has to be carefully strung with very high attention to quality. Construction [of the ship] will help preserve our industrial base.

The speakers signaled the need for unions to be proactive about the Zumwalt’s future. Said McGill:

This symposium is just the first step of an ambitious lobbying effort to tell Congress and the military about the need for the Zumwalts and how constructing the ships can help shore up the industry. Our sleeves are rolled up and we’re ready to go to work.

To read more about the IBEW’s role in ramping up naval defense, click here