In this Oct. 5, 2016, photo released by the U.S. Navy, the Spanish Navy frigate Alvaro de Bazan, right, cruises alongside the destroyer USS Carney, left, off the coast of Rota, Spain, in the Mediterranean Sea. Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine, said in November 2017 it is partnering with the Spanish builder of the Alvaro de Bazan on a new design for up to 20 frigates for the U.S. Navy. Credit: Weston Jones | AP

The U.S. Navy on Friday awarded $15 million conceptual design contracts to five firms, including Bath Iron Works, for a new frigate known as FFG(X), according to the Naval Sea Systems Command.

The contracts will allow the Navy to better understand the cost and capabilities of the design options and inform the final specifications for the vessels’ construction at a cost of no more than $950 million each, the Navy said in a news release.

The construction contract, to be awarded next year, would be worth about $15 billion to the company that wins it.

BIW, which held the lead ship construction contract for the Oliver Hazard Perry class of guided missile frigates, delivered 24 of the vessels between 1973 and 1988. The Maine shipyard is well-positioned to bid for the contract of 20 new frigates, which will be awarded to a single builder, according to a Congressional Research Service report.

Since then, the Bath shipyard has exclusively built destroyers for the Navy. The frigate work would help diversify the yard’s workload, providing workflow security for BIW’s more than 5,700 employees.

In a joint statement, U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, said the awarding of the contract showed the Navy has confidence in BIW’s workforce.

“The design contract awarded [Friday] reflects the Navy’s confidence in the ability of BIW’s skilled employees to deliver high-quality ships that are essential to our national security,” they said.

U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat, said Saturday in a press release that the contract “could lead to enough work to keep the shipyard busy for years.”

The Navy added the FFG(X) program to its fiscal year 2018 budget submission, proposing to procure one each in fiscal years 2020 and 2021, and then two per year from 2022 to 2030, according to a Nov. 9 report from the Congressional Research Service.

BIW will work with Spanish ship designer Navantia on the design. The other companies awarded a contract Friday are: Huntington Ingalls of Newport News, Virginia; Lockheed Martin of Bethesda, Maryland; Fincantieri/Marinette Marine of Marinette, Wisconsin, and Austal USA of Mobile, Alabama.

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