Maine, although a small player in the defense industry, is a mirror of national trends. As defense spending has increased dramatically in recent years, as part of the war on terror, Maine has seen a doubling of military spending and a rise in defense contracts. The work has focused on high-technology equipment made of lighter, stronger materials to fit with the Pentagon’s push for a more agile military.
Two years ago, one of the state’s largest employers, Bath Iron Works, faced an uncertain future as the Navy pushed to build its next generation of destroyers at just one shipyard, Ingalls Shipbuilding in Pascagoula, Miss. After intense lobbying by the congressional delegations from Maine and Mississippi, the Pentagon overruled the Navy. One reason to continue the work at two shipyards was concern that relying on just one yard would leave the Navy vulnerable, in the event of a terrorist attack or a change in plans that called for the
construction of many more vessels.
This decision was a large victory for Maine.
The defense appropriations bill approved by Congress last month includes $3.4 billion for the simultaneous construction of two new destroyers. One will be built at BIW. The defense bill also includes $521 million for construction of smaller vessels, known as Littoral Combat Ships. A team from BIW will do some of this work.
Staff in the office of Sen. Susan Collins, a member of the Armed Services Committee, cautions against reading too much into the numbers and comparing year-to-year. However, the dollar figures in that office’s press releases highlight the trend toward a more agile military and the growing role research and development plays in the state’s economy. This comes through when looking beyond the big-ticket items to smaller projects, many of which have seen steady increases in funding over the years.
Hodgdon Yachts in East Boothbay has long been working with the University of Maine to build a lighter, stronger patrol boat for naval special operations and the Coast Guard. This project combines Hodgdon’s boat-building expertise with the university’s research and development of composite materials. Along with Maine Marine Manufacturing, this effort will get $5 million from the defense spending bill and received $4 million last year.
The university is also working with the Army on lightweight, explosion-resistant panels to go in the walls of tents to protect soldiers inside. The panels have been sent to Iraq and will soon go to Afghanistan for further testing, but already the technology has shown it could save lives. This work gets $3 million in the next military budget, on top of $2 million last year. Funding for sensors, another project involving the university, also continues to receive funding.
Applied Thermal Sciences in Sanford will receive $1.8 million to continue work on high-performance sandwich panels that will reduce the weight and cost of new surface ships, such as the destroyer to be built at BIW. The company received nearly $1.3 million for this work last year.
The bill also includes money for aircraft and weapons systems work in Maine.
The recently passed defense bill builds on Maine’s shipbuilding tradition but moves it in new directions to meet changing military needs.