The age-old tradition of a ship christening provides the opportunity to take pause and consider the expert craftsmanship, engineering prowess and technological skill that are necessary to build submarines in the 21st century.
Around these parts, perhaps it is too easy to take these undersea warships for granted because they have so long been part of the southeastern Connecticut community. Many of our neighbors build these ships and serve on or have served on them. They are a common sight quietly navigating in the Thames River, to and from the Naval Shipyard in Groton.
The submarine christenings, however, provide the chance for a different perspective, with visitors admiring something the locals have grown used to seeing. Such was the case again this past Saturday when 4,200 people gathered at the graving dock at Electric Boat in Groton to celebrate the constructing of the North Dakota (SSN 784).
Built by EB in conjunction with Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, the North Dakota is a Virginia-class, attack submarine powered by a nuclear reactor. These submarines are capable of both deep-ocean submarine warfare and stealth missions in relatively shallow water.
Sailors use a joystick to control the steering and diving of these 377-foot submarines. High-resolution cameras, infrared sensors and laser rangefinders provide a precise visual display and accompanying data that replace and revolutionize the traditional periscope.
Vertical missile launch tubes can unleash 16 Tomahawk cruise missiles in a single, devastating salvo. Alternatively, a Virginia-class submarine can dispatch a mini-submarine to deliver Navy SEALS or Marine special-services units for covert operations.
The construction cost is staggering at $2.6 billion each, but EB and Newport have been delivering these submarines on time and within budget. Design and construction innovations are lowering per-ship costs.
Difficult to locate or track, these submarines act as a deterrent to anyone who would consider challenging U.S. naval superiority.
They are a marvel, a great feat for those who design, engineer and build them. An achievement the region and nation should never take for granted.