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Donna Willard, sponsor of California (SSN 781), christens the submarine Nov. 6, 2010. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.

Christening a Submarine for the Godlen State




by Olivia Logan

PCU California (SSN 781), the U.S. Navy's newest attack submarine, was christened on Nov. 6 in a ceremony at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding (now Huntington Ingalls Industries), in Newport News, Va. California is the eighth submarine of the Virginia class and the seventh ship to bear the name of the "Golden State." Her motto is "Silentium Est Aureum," Latin for "Silence is Golden."

Donna Willard, the ship's sponsor and wife of current Commander, U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Robert F. Willard, performed the traditional honor of breaking a bottle of American sparkling wine against the submarine. Jackalyne Pfannenstiel, assistant secretary of the Navy for energy, installations and environment and a former chairman of the State of California Energy Commission, was the keynote speaker.

"To the men and women of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, General Dynamics Electric Boat and the Navy's Virginia-Class Program, congratulations on another world-class submarine," said Pfannenstiel. "With her nuclear power, this sub demonstrates some of our [nation's] finest technical capabilities."

Also participating in the ceremony were U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.); U.S. Rep. Rob Wittman (R-Va.); Adm. Jonathan W. Greenert, vice chief of naval operations; Adm. Kirkland H. Donald, director, naval nuclear propulsion; Rear Adm. David Johnson, program executive officer for submarines; John Casey, president of General Dynamics Electric Boat; and Mike Petters, president of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.

"We know that the work we do is important," said Petters. "We know we are a critical part of the Navy-industry team that produces the most sophisticated and complex ships to keep our nation safe. We know we have to earn our place on that team with each and every weld, with each and every pipe, and with each and every test. We do this by never losing focus on what our founder, Collis P. Huntington, committed to 125 years ago, when he promised, 'Always Good Ships'."

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California is launched on Nov. 13, 2010. Photo courtesy of Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.

California honors the thousands of men and women from California who serve in today's armed forces and the millions of Californian veterans and their families. California is home to major naval and Marine Corps installations, so the selection of the state for a submarine name does not come as a surprise. San Diego has one of the world's largest concentrations of naval bases and facilities. Seven submarines—USS Albuquerque (SSN 706), USS Asheville (SSN 758), USS Hampton (SSN 767), USS Helena (SSN 725), USS Jefferson City (SSN 759), USS San Francisco (SSN 711), and USS Topeka (SSN 754)—are currently homeported in San Diego at Naval Base Point Loma.

Eight days after her christening, California reached a significant construction milestone by successfully launching into the James River at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding. On Nov. 11, shipbuilders used a transfer car system to move the ship out of the construction facility to the floating dry dock. Two days later, the floating dry dock was flooded, leaving the submarine afloat. Tugboats then moved California to the shipyard's submarine pier, where final outfitting and testing will take place.

"Launch is a special milestone in the life of a submarine. This is the first time she's put into water," said Becky Stewart, vice president of submarines and fleet support for Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding-Newport News. "California is 88 percent complete. This event means we're one step closer to delivering the ship well ahead of the contract delivery date."

California is being built under a teaming arrangement between Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding-Newport News and General Dynamics Electric Boat. Her construction began Feb. 15, 2006, with keel authentication occurring May 1, 2009. Most of the remaining construction work is related to compartment completion, pier-side testing and exercising the ship's systems to prepare for sea trials, which are planned for this spring.

California is on schedule to be commissioned this fall. Cmdr. Dana A. Nelson, California's commanding officer, will lead a crew of approximately 134 officers and enlisted personnel.

Olivia Logan is managing editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE magazine.