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    Wednesday, December 07, 2022

    Navy's newest attack submarine is christened as crowd of 6,000 looks on

    Electric Boat hosts the christening ceremony Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, for the future attack submarine Oregon (SSN 793) at its facilities in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Groton — The christening of the future Navy attack submarine Oregon drew about 6,000 people Saturday to Electric Boat's shipyard, which is about to undergo a major expansion to accommodate a buildup in submarine construction.

    Attendees packed the big green construction bay on the Groton waterfront, where five different submarines are under construction, to watch ship sponsor Dana Richardson crack a bottle of sparkling wine from Dayton, Oregon, chilled in a bucket of water from the state's Crater Lake, across the bow of the submarine.

    Richardson, a native of Oregon, is the wife of former chief of naval operations retired Navy Adm. John Richardson, who was in the audience Saturday.

    The Oregon will be the 20th Virginia-class attack submarine to be built. Eleven of these submarines are currently under construction between EB's facilities in Groton and Quonset Point, R.I., and at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, whose President Jennifer Boynton also was at the christening. The two private shipyards build the submarines under a partnership.

    "We are fortunate to have a historic backlog of ships to be built for the U.S. Navy," said new EB President Kevin Graney, just five days into the job.

    That's on top of work that is coming down the pipeline, including a new class of ballistic-missile submarines and a longer version of the Virginia submarines.

    General Dynamics, EB's parent company, is spending $1.7 billion to expand and modernize its facilities in Groton and Quonset Point to take on this work, including construction of a new 200,000-square-foot building in Groton where the ballistic-missile submarines will be assembled.

    "This growth is not without challenges," Graney said. To succeed, he said, EB must scale its operations "while maintaining an unrelenting focus on safety, uncompromising quality and affordability."

    EB faces increasing pressure to deliver submarines on time. While the Virginia program overall has been hailed as a success, it has faced setbacks, including welding issues on the 84-foot section that will be added to the new Virginia submarines.

    A federal lawsuit filed by a whistleblower on Sept. 26, and reported on late last week by the news outlet Task and Purpose, accuses Newport News Shipbuilding of falsifying tests and certifications on the stealth coatings applied to Virginia submarines. A company spokeswoman told Task and Purpose that the company intends to "vigorously defend the lawsuit."

    Submarines are experiencing a resurgence in U.S. national security strategy in response to increased investment and advancement by China and Russia in their undersea fleets.

    In addition to facing "increasing threat" from the Russians and Chinese, "rogue" nations around the world are building their own undersea weapons platforms, also posing challenges to the U.S., said U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

    "We need no more urgent reminder about those challenges than the recent launch (of a ballistic missile) by North Korea," Blumenthal said. "These intensely disturbing, even alarming, events" demonstrate the need for continued investment in the Navy's submarine programs by Congress, he said.

    Congress has appropriated tens of billions of dollars for the Navy's submarine programs the past several years. That's kept EB busy and led the company to hire thousands of new workers in recent years. The company's current workforce of about 17,000 is expected to grow by up to 14,000 more by the mid-2020s. That will include a doubling of the number of employees on the Groton waterfront from 3,000 to 6,000.

    Several hours before the christening ceremony, a large group of workers who belong to the Metal Trades Council stood outside the shipyard to call for a better deal than the tentative agreement reached by the company and union heads on Sept. 27 for a new, four-year contract.

    During the ceremony, Graney singled out five EB employees, whose work experience ranges from two years to 46, including a recent retiree with 36 years of experience, to stand and be recognized for their “extraordinary work.” He said they represent “the collective change our workforce is undergoing — long-serving, highly-skilled shipbuilders are now passing the torch to a very talented next generation of shipbuilders to carry forward the legacy of this very important work.”

    "As construction has ramped up at a steady clip, the state of the growing and changing submarine workforce in this region is constantly under a microscope," said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District.

    Courtney, pointing to recent recognition by the U.S. Department of Labor of a program established in southeastern Connecticut to train and develop workers for jobs in advanced manufacturing, said the program was expected to result in 300 job placements. To date, more than 1,500 people have gone through the program and are now working at EB and other companies across Connecticut.

    Also on hand for Saturday's christening were U.S. Reps. Jim Langevin, a Democrat representing Rhode Island's 2nd Congressional District, and Greg Walden, a Republican representing Oregon's 2nd Congressional District, and Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont.

    Lamont, who started a cable business, said in the technology industry, "if you can stay ahead of competition for a decade or two, you're doing pretty well."

    "Well, Kevin," he said, turning to face Graney, "that's not good enough for the United States of America. Electric Boat and Newport News produce the best submarines in the world, generation in and generation out, and that's what we continue to do to keep America safe."

    j.bergman@theday.com

    Sponsor Dana Richardson, right, reacts Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, after successfully breaking the bottle on the second try with Kevin Graney, president of Electric Boat, looking on during the christening ceremony for the future attack submarine Oregon (SSN 793) at the company's facilities in Groton. Richardson is the wife of retired U.S. Navy Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The crew of the future attack submarine Oregon (SSN 793) enters for the boat's christening ceremony Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, at Electric Boat in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Crew members of the future attack submarine Oregon (SSN 793) listen to one of the speakers Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, during the boat's christening ceremony at Electric Boat in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Electric Boat hosts the christening ceremony Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, for the future attack submarine Oregon (SSN 793) at its facilities in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    Electric Boat employees and their family members listen to one of the speakers Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, during the christening ceremony for the future attack submarine Oregon (SSN 793) at the company's facilities in Groton. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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