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November 9, 2023

Bath Iron Works fires up fabrication for next Navy destroyer

person in hardhat at computer monitor and machinery Courtesy / General Dynamics Bath Iron Works Les Waltz, a 59-year employee of Bath Iron Works, activated the burning machine that cut the first sheet of steel for the future USS John E. Kilmer (DDG 134). Waltz started in structural fabrication and currently is a dispatcher for the transportation team.

Bath Iron Works started construction Wednesday on another U.S. Navy destroyer, the shipyard's 45th Arleigh Burke-class warship, which will become the USS John E. Kilmer (DDG 134).

BIW workers began cutting steel for the ship at the company's fabrication facility in Brunswick. A business unit of Virginia-based defense contractor General Dynamics (NYSE: GD), BIW is headquartered and has its main facility in Bath. It has 6,600 employees.

The vessel is the fourth Burke-class destroyer in the Flight III design variant to start construction at BIW. The design is centered on an air and missile defense radar system, and the Flight III versions are the most technologically advanced surface warships in the world, the company said in a news release.

machine shooting sparks downward
Courtesy / General Dynamics Bath Iron Works
A burning machine within a protective enclosure cuts the first sheet of steel for the future USS John E. Kilmer (DDG 134).

Les Waltz, who has been with BIW for 59 years, activated the burning machine to cut the first steel for the ship. 

BIW President Charles Krugh said the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers under construction there are critical assets for the U.S. Navy in performing its mission. 

“The future USS John E. Kilmer will be an important platform for the Navy to provide for the security of our country and our families,” said Krugh.  

The ship is named for John E. Kilmer, a Navy hospitalman who earned a Medal of Honor during the Korean War for his actions treating wounded Marines. As communist Chinese forces assaulted a hilltop with artillery and mortars on Aug. 13, 1952, Kilmer was injured but continued to tend to the wounded. Under a mounting barrage of enemy fire, Kilmer used his own body to shield a Marine he was treating, but was killed in action. 

Kilmer was chosen to be the namesake of DDG 134 by the Secretary of the Navy in 2019.

Workhorse of the Navy

DDG is a hull designation that signifies a ship is a guided missile destroyer.

Since 1902, there have been 10 classes of U.S. Navy destroyers, according to the Navy’s Naval History and Heritage Command Communication and Outreach Division.

The first U.S. destroyer was commissioned in 1902. Since then, the warships have “evolved from small, fast, close-in surface combatants to multi-mission offensive and defensive warships that can operate independently or as part of strike groups.”

The first version of the destroyer, in 1902, was a class called the Bainbridge, which was equipped with torpedo capabilities.

The sixth class, called the Charles F. Adams class was the first designed specifically as a guided missile destroyer, and served during the Vietnam War era and the quarantine of Cuba in 1962.

The USS Arleigh Burke, a 505-foot ship commissioned in 1991 with hull designation DDG 51, became the first in a class of ships now considered the workhorse of the Navy's fleet.

The class was the Navy's first designed with shaping techniques to reduce the ships' radar cross-section, improving the likelihood of not being targeted by enemy weapons and sensors. 

The Navy's newest destroyer, designed for littoral operations and land attack as a stealth ship, is the 610-foot-long Zumwalt class. Among its features, the Zumwalt class incorporates advanced radar and propulsion.

BIW built three Zumwalts. The third and final one, the Lyndon B. Johnson, sailed away in early 2022, allowing the shipyard to now focus on the Arleigh Burkes.

The Arleigh Burkes, however, have been a staple of BIW’s shipbuilding since the 1980s.

As of late last year, 71 Arleigh Burkes have been delivered to the fleet, with 18 more on contract and 12 ships in various stages of construction.

In addition to the future USS John E. Kilmer, BIW has six Arleigh Burke-class destroyers in production: the John Basilone (DDG 122), the recently christened Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG 124) and Patrick Gallagher (DDG 127), as well as the Flight III ships Louis H. Wilson Jr. (DDG 126), William Charette (DDG 130) and Quentin Walsh (DDG 132).

Earlier this year, the Navy awarded BIW a multiyear contract for construction of three Arleigh Burkes — one each in fiscal 2023, 2024 and 2026. The contract included options for construction of additional Arleigh Burkes, subject to future bidding competitions.

The Navy did not disclose the dollar values associated with the contract, considered “source selection sensitive information,” according to a U.S. Department of Defense news release.

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