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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Pence Visits Wisconsin Shipyard That's Competing For More Navy Contracts

Drew Angerer
Getty Images
U.S. Vice President Mike Pence delivers remarks during a naturalization ceremony Sept. 17, 2019 in Washington, D.C.

Updated at 1:43 p.m. CT 

Vice President Mike Pence visited a northeastern Wisconsin shipbuilding company on Wednesday. He went to Fincantieri Marinette Marine, a firm that already has two major deals with the U.S. Navy and is competing for a third. 

Pence told workers at the shipyard that President Donald Trump is working to increase military spending while Democrats are spending all their time on impeaching him. Pence also urged the crowd to pressure Democrats into passing Trump's trade deal with Mexico and Canada, saying it will boost Wisconsin cheese and milk exports.

READ: Pence Touts US-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement

Fincantierihas nearly 2,500 employees in northeast Wisconsin. Fincantieri, an Italy-headquartered company, is getting $31 million from the state of Wisconsin over two years for shipyard upgrades and worker training at Marinette. The federal government this year granted the site $1 million.

But Wisconsin U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin says she's had to fight off proposed Trump administration cuts for shipyard grants and for Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). Those are relatively small surface vessels — some of which, Baldwin notes, are built at Marinette Marine.

"So, we've sort of held even. But it would be great to see a reversal of this administration's repeated attempts to defund major investments in the shipyards," Baldwin told WUWM this week.

In 2016, presidential candidate Donald Trump pledged to expand the number of Navy ships. But since elected to the White House, he's looked at cutting back at some shipbuilding sites to help fund a border wall to Mexico.

Even so, the Trump administration says it's moving ahead on a $19 billion, 10-year program to build a new line of destroyer-like ships called frigates. Marinette Marine is one of a handful of finalists to do some of the work. Baldwin says the company is right in there.

"I think the improvements to the shipyard and expertise gained through the LCS program has made Marinette Marine one of the most competitive bidders for this program," Baldwin said.  

Credit Screenshot / Fincantieri Marinette Marine video
Fincantieri Marinette Marine video
Fincantieri Marinette Marine has two major deals with the U.S. Navy and is competing for a third.

But a writer for The National Interest magazine says before anyone gets too enthused about more work at Marinette, there are questions about the potential design, building and projected use of the frigate. Michael Peck says that's typical with modern Navy vessels.

"Any of these ships have question marks. A lot of these systems haven't been tested in combat. We're still trying to assess the threat these ships will face. Are they going to be fighting in the South China Sea against China? Be fighting against Russia? Or, in the waters of the Persian Gulf against Iran?" Peck said.

He says there were even cost and performance concerns about the LCS ships. But Peck says it's not surprising to see bi-partisan political support for the frigate program.

A decision on where to build those vessels could be announced next year.

Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.

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