Sub base reflects on its 150-year history
Groton — For its first 50 years, the New London Navy Yard in Groton was not of particular importance.
Today, the site is home to the Naval Submarine Base, where 15 of the Navy's 52 attack submarines are based, and holds much more prominence.
The Navy's push to build more attack submarines coupled with the changing role of the submarine have enhanced the strategic value of the base, officials say.
"Today, the Navy is using the agility of stealthy and powerful submarines to project power as they never have before," said Bob Ross, executive director of the state's Office of Military Affairs. "We are seeing a resurgence of submarines from Russia and China, and other places as we seek to maintain our dominance of the undersea domain."
State and local officials gathered Wednesday before the Historic Ship Nautilus outside the Submarine Force Museum to mark a double anniversary: the 150th anniversary, or sesquicentennial, of the deed of gift from the state and the city of New London establishing a naval yard and storage depot on the Thames River, and the 118th birthday of the U.S. Submarine Force.
There wasn't much activity at the naval yard in those early years, as the Navy didn't seem to know what to do with it. It was targeted for closure several times in those days. Officials at the time continued to argue that the base, as the only facility of its kind between New York and Newport, was important for national defense.
Today, it is the only Navy base in New England that still deploys operational forces, noted Ross, whose office was set up to fend off threats to close the base. The base narrowly escaped closure during a 2005 base realignment and closure process known as BRAC. The Pentagon repeatedly has called for another BRAC round but so far Congress has denied those requests.
Still, Ross suggested the base is in a good position if another BRAC round were to happen.
"As the number of submarines in the fleet grows, the Navy will need every certified pier space they have to support strategic homeporting requirements," he said.
He also pointed to quality-of-life issues that can impact decisions regarding the base, such as a committee of local school and military officials who work on school issues related to military children, and the $40 million the state set aside for infrastructure improvements at the base.
"Such investment is humbling and helps assure this installation's vitality and viability in the years ahead," Capt. Paul Whitescarver, the base's commanding officer, said during his remarks.
New London Mayor Michael Passero and Rear Adm. James Pitts, commander of the Undersea Warfighting Development Center at the base, also spoke at the event. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, submitted state and federal resolutions marking the sesquicentennial.
As is true of most events put on by the base, there was cake — two this time, to mark both events.