Submarines in high demand, officials say, as USS Colorado is commissioned

The crew of the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN 788) bow their heads for the benediction while manning the rails during the commissioning ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., on Saturday, March 17, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
The crew of the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN 788) bow their heads for the benediction while manning the rails during the commissioning ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base New London in Groton, Conn., on Saturday, March 17, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

Groton — The Navy's newest attack submarine, the USS Colorado (SSN 788), was commissioned in a ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base on Saturday, at a time when these warships are in high demand.

The crew has worked to get themselves and the boat seaworthy, "and the labor of your efforts is largely unseen," said ship sponsor Annie Mabus, daughter of former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus. She was seated in the front row for the ceremony. The crew has spent three of the past four months underway, she said, to prepare for "the unknown that awaits her and you at sea."

Mabus gave the crew of 138 sailors, known as "plankowners" since they are the first to serve on the boat, the traditional order to "man the ship and bring her to life." As she did, the crew, dressed in white hats and gloves, medals jingling on their uniforms, ran onto the submarine.

Among the 2,000-plus guests gathered on the blustery, cloudless day were six veterans and two widows of veterans who served aboard the battleship USS Colorado (BB-45), which had a crew of more than 2,000 and saw heavy action in the Pacific theater.

The submarine Colorado, a $2.7 billion Virginia-class attack submarine, is "brimming with leading-edge technology and advanced engineering," said Lt. Cmdr. Steven Col, its executive officer. Though an Xbox controller has been tested on other submarines, the Colorado is the first to have the device on board from the start, which will be used to maneuver the photonics masts, which replaced the traditional periscopes seen on older submarines. Previously, submarine crews used joysticks, but they were costly and difficult to replace.

Able to operate in the far corners of the world's oceans undetected, the Colorado, in addition to anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface ship warfare and counter-mine warfare, will support surveillance, special operations and covert strike missions, Col said.

The Navy plans to build many more of these attack submarines. The service has set an ambitious goal of building up to 355 ships from the 282 it has now, including a new requirement for 66 attack submarines as the Chinese and Russians increase their military activity. Just this past week, U.S. European Command's Gen. Curtis M. Scaparrotti testified in Congress, following a question from U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, that "We've seen activity in the Russian Navy, and particularly undersea in their submarine activity ... that we haven't seen since the '80s."

U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., the keynote speaker for the ceremony, said "whether it be North Korea's nuclear program, Iran's aggression in the Middle East, Russia's violation of state sovereignty in Europe or China's increasing military capabilities and assertiveness, the need for the United States to modernize our force and maintain military superiority could not be more clear."

As for the Colorado, "It is by far the most modern and technically advanced submarine in the world. And if I need to say that again for (Russian President) Vladimir (Putin), I will," Gardner said, to laughter from the crowd.

Built by Electric Boat, which it was announced Saturday now has 16,500 employees, and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, with help from thousands of suppliers, the Colorado is the 15th Virginia-class submarine. The submarine's delivery to the Navy was delayed by about three weeks due to welding issues, testing failures in some cases and the increased workload at EB, and the need to train thousands of new employees to keep up with its work.

The submarine is the fourth ship to be named Colorado. Guests nibbled on bison sliders and beer from the Rocky Mountain State after the ceremony. And members of the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Widefield High School in Colorado Springs, Colo., came all the way to Groton for the traditional presenting of the colors.

The Colorado commissioning committee held a design contest for the submarine's crest, and the winning design was made by Ens. Michael Nielson, a native of Arvada, Colo., who at the time was a student at the Navy's Nuclear Power Training Unit in Ballston Spa, N.Y. Coincidentally, two days after finding out he won the contest, Nielson received orders to report to the USS Colorado.

j.bergman@theday.com

The crew of the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN 788) manning the rails during the commissioning ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Saturday, March 17, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
The crew of the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN 788) manning the rails during the commissioning ceremony at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Saturday, March 17, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Keynote speaker U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, left, ship's sponsor Annie Mabus, center, and commanding officer Cmdr. Reed Koepp, right, applaud one of the speakers during the commissioning ceremony for the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN 788) at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Saturday, March 17, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
Keynote speaker U.S. Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado, left, ship's sponsor Annie Mabus, center, and commanding officer Cmdr. Reed Koepp, right, applaud one of the speakers during the commissioning ceremony for the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN 788) at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Saturday, March 17, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
The audience applauds one of the speakers during the commissioning ceremony for the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN 788) at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Saturday, March 17, 2018.  (Dana Jensen/The Day)
The audience applauds one of the speakers during the commissioning ceremony for the Virginia-class fast attack submarine USS Colorado (SSN 788) at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton on Saturday, March 17, 2018. (Dana Jensen/The Day)

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