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(Left) Director, Naval Reactors, Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, Rep. Ike Skelton, (D-Mo.), Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, and Mrs. Rebecca W. Gates, Missouri’s sponsor, stand together on the christening platform while the national anthem is played. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Steven Myers. (Right) Rep. Joseph Courtney (D-Conn.) speaks at the ceremony. Photo by John Narewski.

by Lt. Patrick Evans

With the spray of bubbly from a champagne bottle, PCU Missouri (SSN-780), the newest member of the state-of-the-art Virginia class, was christened on the morning of Dec. 5, 2009 in a ceremony at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn.

Missouri is “a link in the honored chain of ships to bear the name; another chapter in the storied history of the Naval service,” said Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) Ray Mabus. All five Missouris have honored the people of the “Show Me State.”

Amazingly, all five Missouris have represented the state of the art for warships in their time. The first Missouri, a steam frigate propelled by two paddlewheels, entered service in 1842 as the fastest and most powerful ocean-going warship in the U.S. fleet, and perhaps in the world. The second Missouri was one of the revolutionary Civil War ironclads—built by the Confederacy, but later captured and put in service for the Union. The third was one of the U.S. Navy’s earliest steel battleships. The fourth was a member of the World War II Iowa-class, the most advanced fast battleships ever built.

SECNAV and Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates were among the many dignitaries and guests who attended the christening of the fifth Missouri, a member of the Virginia class, the current state of the art for nuclear submarines.

“We gather for this christening with the knowledge that Missouri’s service builds upon a proud lineage of her namesake,” said Senator Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the principal speaker for the event. “We gather in the belief that her service to our country—silent as it may be—will keep Americans safe by deterring would-be aggressors. We also gather today to confidently set the tone for the character of this submarine, which will sail with one foot in her proud past, but with an eye toward the future and all the potential that it holds.”

Becky Gates, the ship’s sponsor and wife of the secretary of defense, broke the traditional champagne bottle against the boat’s sail. Her initials were welded into a plaque inside the boat during last year’s keel-laying ceremony.

“I am humbled that in some way, I will go wherever the submarine sails,” said Becky Gates. “As this, the latest Missouri, moves on to active duty, my thoughts will always be with the dedicated patriots who sail aboard her, and the loved ones who wait for their safe return.”

The christening marks another milestone for the submarine, which is “now 90 percent complete with construction and is on track to finish $72 million under budget and well ahead of scheduled,” according to Director, Naval Reactors, Adm. Kirkland H. Donald.

“This accomplishment is a testament of the leadership on this project. It’s a tribute to each individual tradesman and Sailor represented by this crew that did their job right the first time and kept the environment of success and ownership on track and ever stronger,” said Donald.

The last Missouri, the legendary battleship, saw action not only in World War II, but also in the Korean War and the Persian Gulf War. On its deck, Fleet Adm. Chester Nimitz, Gen. Douglas MacArthur and many other U.S. and Allied military leaders accepted the unconditional Japanese surrender that brought World War II to an end on Sept. 2, 1945.

“This new Missouri will continue the proud history of ships before her. We in Missouri are proud of this ship, we are proud of her crew, we are proud of the shipbuilders who constructed it,” said Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

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Ship’s sponsor Mrs. Rebecca Gates, wife of Secretary of Defense
Robert Gates, breaks a bottle of Missouri champagne to christen the
Virginia-class attack submarine, Missouri (SSN-780).
Photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Kevin S. O’Brien.

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Secretary and Mrs. Gates join Rep. James
Langevin (D-R.I.) at the post-christening reception.
Photo courtesy of General Dynamics Electric Boat.

The seventh Virginia-class submarine, Missouri will excel in anti-submarine warfare; anti-ship warfare; strike warfare; special operations; intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; irregular warfare; and mine warfare missions. Adept at operating in both the world’s shallow littoral regions and deep waters, Missouri will contribute directly to five of the six core capabilities of the Navy’s maritime strategy: sea control, power projection, forward presence, maritime security and deterrence.

“She may patrol the waters of the Western Pacific or the North Atlantic. She may work with the Coast Guard and our international partners to stem the flow of illegal narcotics into our country. She may support our strike groups,” said Mabus. “And she will deploy to answer whatever the unknown challenges of the future, wherever they may be, in support of our Maritime Strategy and our national objectives.”

The 7,800-ton Missouri is being built under a teaming arrangement between General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding–Newport News. She is 377 feet long, has a 34-foot beam and will be able to dive to depths of greater than 800 feet and operate at submerged speeds in excess of 25 knots. Missouri is designed with a nuclear reactor plant that will not require refueling during the planned life of the ship, reducing lifecycle costs while increasing underway time.

The commanding officer of PCU Missouri, Cmdr. Timothy Rexrode, leads a crew of approximately 134 officers and enlisted personnel. The submarine is expected to be delivered to the Navy this year.

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(Left) Rep. Gene Taylor (D-Miss.) walks across the bow during the ceremony. Photo courtesy of General Dynamics Electric Boat. (Right) Rep. Russ Carnahan (D-Mo.) poses with Missouri crewmembers during the post-christening reception. Photo courtesy of General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Lt. Evans is the public affairs officer for Submarine Group TWO.