Missouri a Symbol of Sub Success
By Jennifer Grogan
December 6, 2009
Vessel christened Saturday on track to be finished under budget, ahead of schedule
Groton - The speakers at the christening of the Virginia-class submarine Missouri Saturday took turns touting the successes of the submarine-building program.
Their comments seemed to be directed at one audience member in particular - Defense Secretary Robert Gates, whose wife, Rebecca Gates, is the ship's sponsor.
The day before the christening of the Missouri, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, sent a letter to Gates signed by more than 30 members of Congress
asking him to fully support a sustained two-a-year procurement rate for Virginia-class submarines beginning in fiscal 2011.
The current plan is to start building two submarines instead of one a year in 2011, but the Undersecretary of the Navy recently said publicly that the Navy may not be able to afford two submarines annually in future years.
Courtney said that Saturday was an opportunity to "pat ourselves on the back for having the most successful shipbuilding program in America."
"We're not going to be bashful about reminding Secretary Gates and all our guests of that fact," Courtney said. "I think we can win this on the merits. If there are any questions raised, or any policy offered that deviates from what we've achieved, we're ready to take it on."
When the Missouri (SSN 780) was put into the water two weeks ago, it was more than 93 percent complete, the most complete of any submarine ever at "float-off," Electric Boat President John P. Casey said at the rainy Saturday ceremony.
Electric Boat will deliver the Missouri to the Navy next year in a construction time of 62 months, which is about two years less than it took to deliver the first of the class, Casey said. Rep. Ike Skelton, D-Mo., called the sped-up schedule "wonderful," and a testament to the hard work of the shipbuilders.
The Missouri is on track to be finished $72 million under budget and well ahead of schedule, said Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion. Electric Boat and its shipbuilding teammate, Northrop Grumman Newport News in Virginia, are cutting costs to support the Navy's goal of increasing submarine production, Casey said.
The submarine will officially become the USS Missouri when it is commissioned next year.
"Meeting this goal will strengthen the shipbuilders, our suppliers, the Submarine Force, and most importantly the security of our nation," Casey said.
Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., said it is important to continue to build a strong industrial base, never take its skilled workers for granted, and continue to make the United States a place that can produce the best submarines in the world, "so that in a generation or two, a new Missouri will be christened with innovations that we cannot imagine."
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus spoke briefly, stating that "each submarine of the Virginia class has consistently been ahead of schedule and on or under budget" and the Missouri "sets the bar even higher."
Mabus praised the effective partnership between the Navy and industry that is keeping costs under control, and will "guarantee that our Submarine Force remains the finest in the world."
It was Mabus' deputy, Robert O. Work, who caused alarm among submarine supporters in the first place.
Work told an audience at the Naval Submarine League's annual symposium in late October that he "can't promise" the Navy will be able to keep to the two-a-year rate because the Navy is "under so much fiscal pressure."
"It's a comment that sort of reverberated through the community," Courtney said.
Going from "two to one to back up to two" submarines would create "constant turmoil" at Electric Boat, Kenneth DelaCruz, president of the Metal Trades Council, said.
"If we have less work, there would be more layoffs," he said in an interview. "It would probably upset the entire apple cart."
Gates did not address the audience, preferring to keep the attention focused on his wife.
Rebecca Gates smashed a bottle of champagne over the Missouri's hull to christen the submarine, the seventh vessel in the Virginia class.
Donald had earlier explained to the audience that when a ship's sponsor breaks the bottle, she imparts her personality onto the ship, which is integral to the ship's success.
"I am humbled that in some way," Gates said, "I will go wherever this submarine sails."