MARINETTE – Marinette Marine Corporation's newly appointed president & CEO says the Wisconsin shipbuilder is streamlining its production of U.S. Navy combat ships, ahead of when congressional funding for additional ships is approved.
But the specific ships MMC is building have come under fire.
The Navy originally wanted a total of 52 Littoral Combat Ships – or LCS – meant to operate in shallower, coastal waters. But earlier this year, the secretary of defense cut that number to 32.
Of the 20 ships with funding, ten are coming from Marinette Marine.
"We have a very strong backlog to 2019, so I think it's really important for the yard to be efficient so that we really push forward to be efficient and effective as possible and really deliver that high-quality," said president & CEO Jan Allman.
The original government contract provided funding for four more ships in next year's defense budget, with two to be built in Marinette, the other two in Alabama.
But in June, the House approved funding for just two ships, total.
"I'd like to see our final measure passed this fall contain three ships with advance procurement for a fourth," said Wisconsin Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisconsin, after a tour of the shipyard Tuesday.
MMC and supporting area industries employ about 2,000 people.
"Is your view of the program clouded because it's located in your home state? If these ships were being built in Florida, would you be such a staunch supporter of it?" FOX 11’s Bill Miston asked Baldwin.
"Well, I have to say there are two factors that are very strongly at play for me,” she replied. “Certainly, this incredible workforce that we have is – I think our work ethic in Wisconsin is second-to-none.”
“But in addition to that, I've been convinced that this ship meets the requirements for the Navy," said Baldwin.
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has directed the Navy to consider new ship designs, in the face of criticism from recent government reports.
Lead program ships were plagued by cost overruns, ship survivability concerns in battle, construction and design problems, as well as questions about armament.
"What the Navy asked for was inputs from industry,” said Joe North, vice president of Lockheed Martin Littoral Ship, the defense contractor responsible for the design. “We obviously responded to that."
As well as concerns about the ship's weight. North says its ship has the flexibility to meet any of the changing demands of the government, or war zone.
"So if it's a desire of the Navy to look for something a little bigger, I think it's easy to adapt the ship,” said North.
In a statement to FOX 11, Senator Ron Johnson says he will continue to push for the Navy's full order of 52 ships.
Johnson added he "will also keep the Department of Defense apprised of the cost advantages of a smooth order flow and the risk of escalating costs should that order flow be disrupted."
But says he is skeptical the Senate will debate – let alone pass – a defense appropriations bill.
The Senate is set to take up the matter after the summer recess.