UNDATED (WSAU-Wheeler News) Thousands of jobs in northeast Wisconsin could be at risk after Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced a new military budget yesterday. The 2015 package would reduce the numbers of littoral combat ships built in Marinette and Mobile Alabama from 52-to-32. If approved by Congress, the cuts could put a major dent in Marinette Marine's workforce of 2,000 employees within six years, and eliminate jobs at hundreds of the boat-maker's suppliers.
Marinette has built two of the Navy warships, and is working on four more. They're designed to operate in shallow waters, with speeds approaching 50-miles-an-hour. Questions have been raised about the boats' capabilities. Hagel said the Navy must determine whether the littoral ships have the firepower to survive against more advanced adversaries.
Marinette's congressman, Republican Reid Ribble, said the program's future is far from settled -- and it will have numerous debates on Capitol Hill. The defense package is part of the next federal budget that President Obama will propose to Congress, and it's due to take effect in October.
Hagel says his new defense budget is designed to preserve a technological edge over other nations which are modernizing their militaries. Among other things, the active Army would be cut from 522,000 soldiers to around 450,000 -- its lowest level since 1940.