(Above) Ship sponsor Allison Stiller christens Mississippi by breaking a bottle of sparkling wine against the sub.
(Photo by John Narewski)
by Olivia Logan
Christmas came early for the Navy's newest attack submarine, PCU Mississippi (SSN 782). The ninth submarine of the Virginia class celebrated her christening on Dec. 3, 2011, at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn. Electric Boat President John Casey presided at the late-morning ceremony on Mississippi's deck, with the Thames River gleaming in the background beneath a cloudless late-autumn sky.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus was the principal speaker. A native of Ackerman, Miss., who was elected in 1987 as Mississippi's youngest governor in more than 100 years, Mabus said it is no accident that this is the fifth ship to bear his home state's name. "The long history of naming ships Mississippi is a testament to the state's history in shipbuilding and to the resilience, the patriotism and the strength of the people of Mississippi."
Mississippi began construction on Feb. 18, 2007, with keel authentication occurring June 9, 2010, and pressure hull completion in April 2011. She is the first submarine to be named after the nation's 20th state, which is named after the Mississippi River and known as the "Magnolia state."
"Mississippi" is a Native American word meaning roughly "Father of Waters," certainly an appropriate name for a submarine. The state motto—which is now the ship's motto as well—is equally appropriate: "Virtute et Armis" is Latin for "By Valor and Arms." Vice Adm. John Richardson pointed out that this is "a true warrior salutation; something said before going into battle."
Mississippi will be battle-ready earlier than previous ships of her class. At her christening, she was 97 percent complete and scheduled to be delivered about a year ahead of schedule — and over 50 million dollars below the contracted cost — a testament to the work ethic of the crew, the shipbuilders, and the industrial base. "The ship before you is the product of a team defined by a commitment to innovation, quality and execution excellence," said Casey. "This team is truly a singular group, comprising the most dedicated, capable and talented people I know."
Sailors assigned to PCU Mississippi file off the ship after the conclusion of the christening ceremony. (Photo by John Narewski)
An example of the shipbuilders' innovation is a group of 50 Electric Boat employees, nicknamed the "Steam Team," who used a new technique to test the flow of steam in the engine room before the submarine was in the water. Electric Boat leased a large boiler to create the steam needed to test pipes and valves and run the generators that produce electricity while Mississippi remained on the blocks in the main building shed. This new procedure shortened Mississippi's construction time by a month because it is easier to work on her while she is still on land.
Electric Boat plans to buy the boiler and use it for future submarines, a move that would save the Virginia-class program $24 million. "It's a smart investment," said Rear Adm. David Johnson, Program Executive Officer for Submarines. "We both share in the reduced cost of that ship, and the Submarine Force community gets the ship that much earlier."
Mississippi's sponsor, Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Ship Programs Allison Stiller, broke the traditional bottle of sparkling wine against the submarine. Mississippi is unique in having a sponsor who has worked professionally with submarines since 1985, supporting the Trident, Seawolf and Virginia classes. Mississippi's christening marked the 38th time Stiller has attended a ship christening, proof of her longstanding commitment to Navy shipbuilding.
Rep. Joe Courtney, of Connecticut's 2nd District — known in the submarine and political community as "Two-Subs Joe," for his push for a production rate of two submarines per year — praised Stiller's public service in her current job. "As a member of the House Armed Services Committee, I've had the opportunity to watch Allison perform her duties as deputy assistant secretary of the Navy," he said. "She is smart, knowledgeable, completely ethical, and committed to ensuring that the taxpayer receives the best value for public investment in Navy shipbuilding."
As if Mississippi didn't have enough to celebrate, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert awarded her crew the 2011 Navy Community Service/Project Good Neighbor award in the small sea command category two days prior to her christening.
"I'm so proud of the crew of PCU Mississippi for this important achievement," said the ship's commanding officer, Capt. John McGrath, who leads a crew of about 142 officers and enlisted personnel. "In addition to their shipboard duties, our dedicated volunteers donated over 90 hours of cumulative community service per month since 2010." Capt. McGrath was also celebrating his promotion to captain, which took place Dec. 1.
There is still a lot to accomplish before Mississippi is ready to join the fleet. "We will be loading out the ship with stowage, finishing all of the living spaces, making the ship habitable, and moving the crew aboard," said Harry Haugeto, the Electric Boat manager for Mississippi. "In parallel, we will be finishing up the testing and turning over operational control of the remaining systems to the crew."
(Left) Vice Adm. John Richardson, Commander, Submarine Forces, speaks at PCU Mississippi's christening. (Photo by Olivia Logan). (Right) (from left to right) Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Reiss, Mississippi's Executive Officer, Capt. John McGrath, commanding officer, and Master Chief William Stoiber, chief of the boat, listen to remarks during the boat's christening ceremony. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Virginia K. Schaefer).
Olivia Logan is the managing editor of UNDERSEA WARFARE Magazine.