(Original article appears courtesy of the Daily Press)
Sponsor Susan DiMarco needed two swings of a bottle of sparkling wine to christen the Navy’s next attack submarine, the New Jersey.
The first in-person christening of a warship at Newport News Shipbuilding during the pandemic provided a chance to reflect on challenging times — and move through them.ADVERTISING
Christening the vessel, now officially the Virginia-class submarine New Jersey, means it is ready to take to the water — on schedule to be delivered to the Navy next year.
“Let’s remember our shared strength,” DiMarco told the crowd of 1,800 sailors, shipbuilders and folks from New Jersey who gathered on a windy Saturday morning behind Bay 4 of the Module Outfitting Facility to celebrate.
Then, shipyard president Jennifer Boykin called out: “Let’s christen this Jersey girl!”
Christening starts the final sprint for the shipyard and submarine crew, with slightly less than 20% of work still to be completed, along with the extensive testing required before any warship can be commissioned as a “United States ship.”ADVERTISING
“The future USS New Jersey will be a critical, some might say the most critical, arrow in our quiver,” Adm. Mike Mullen, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the crowd.
“We face an adversary we have not seen before,” he said, while “recent events moved us closer to a breaking point” for American democracy than he had ever thought possible.
New Jersey is the 23rd Virginia-class fast-attack submarine, and the 11th boat to be delivered by Newport News Shipbuilding under a unique partnership with General Dynamics Electric Boat shipyard in Connecticut. Newport News builds the bow, stern, sail and nuclear propulsion sections of the boats, while the two yards alternate final assembly.
“I’m glad to see the teaming agreement work so well,” Mullen said, adding that the first days of the pact, now spanning two decades, were difficult.
“Challenging times often feel like time is standing still … but milestones like today remind us that we are moving forward,” said Boykin.
Despite the pandemic, shipbuilders and suppliers “remained laser focused on meeting our commitment to the U.S. Navy — that’s moving forward,” she added. “The first Virginia-class submarine designed for male and female sailors, that’s moving forward,” she said. “New Jersey defines what made in America means.”
New Jersey will move into a floating dry dock to begin its final fitting out in the next few weeks — it’ll take three days for some 56 heavy duty sets of railcar wheels to move the 7,800 ton submarine the 960 feet to the dry dock.
On Friday, Cmdr. Carlos Otero and Master Chief Hamilton Felt did their walk-through of their submarine.
“Last week, there was still scaffolding up, there were tubes and pipes dangling everywhere, like a patient on life support,” said Felt. “Now, she looks like she’s ready to come to life.”
For Felt, seeing New Jersey free itself from its scaffolding and tubes and pipes is a big deal. He’s been at the yard since 2019, watching as 4,000 shipbuilders turned steel into a submarine.
“I’ve seen them put the pieces together to make the bow and stern,” he said. Those are the parts of all Virginia-class submarines that, along with the sail and the nuclear propulsion compartments, Newport News builds as part of its partnership with General Dynamics Electric Boat yard, in Connecticut.
“Then I saw them assemble everything here,” he added. Newport News and Electric Boat alternate assembly of Virginia-class submarines, as part of their unique teaming relationship. The New Jersey is the 11th Virginia-class submarine Newport News assembled.
The Navy and Congress would like to step up the pace of Virginia-class sub output, a five-year production process that delivers two boats a year, and shipyard officials already are eyeing Bay 4 for work on yet another sub.
The bay next to New Jersey is filled by the submarine Massachusetts — in fact, that’s where many of foreman Patrick Veloso’s second-shift crew are already at work.
“It’s a little like an assembly line,” said Veloso, a native of Newark, New Jersey. But it can be years between the time he and his teammates do one particular job on one sub before they have to do it again on the next in line, so it really doesn’t feel that way.
“Every one is different,” the 12-year veteran of submarine construction said. “And I think we get better and better with each one.”
Nuclear testing engineer Nicholas Panagotopulos, who joined the yard just a year ago, working on some of the final complete-systems testing of the nuclear propulsion system, is also concentrating on the Massachusetts these days.
But it was a big deal for the New Jersey native to work on a submarine named for his home state.
“When I was a kid, we used to go to the battleship New Jersey,” he said. “It was such a monumental piece of work. And now, I got to work on another monumental one.”