Our sponsor Mrs. Robb, crew of USS VIRGINIA, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. I can’t begin to tell you how proud I am to be here today as the Commander Naval Submarine Forces.
Last week we celebrated the return home of USS PROVIDENCE and USS AUGUSTA, the last 2 of 12 submarines we deployed directly in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Launching over thirty percent of the 800 Tomahawk Cruise missiles fired, rapidly deploying when we needed them, in some cases having just returned from a 6 month deployment, and remaining deployed for as long as nine months, all of our 12 boats, plus the additional 5 we had deployed outside of the Central Command Region, did a great job. And as soon as they had enough time to load food and weapons, they were ready to go again. America has good reason to be proud of its submarines and submariners.
That pride will increase when VIRGINIA enters the fleet next year. The Submarine Force has waited a long time for this submarine. It’s been six years since we christened our last one, USS CONNECTICUT back in September of 1997. This is in stark contrast to the 3 to 4 christenings per year of Los Angeles class subs in the 1980’s. Now, VIRGINlA should be followed by TEXAS in a year, and others following at a rate of one per year. That is good, but not good enough. We’re on the right course but not the right speed. To have enough submarines to support our country’s future security, we need to be building two Virginia class attack submarines a year.
One of the explanations for this slow build rate is cost.
I suspect most here have heard the discussions surrounding the cost of this submarine. In my opinion, if you want the highest performance, most advanced, and most reliable submarine in the world, and we do, it will never be cheap. In addition to the inherent cost for such a capability, some industrial based decisions that have been made, some inflation estimates that were required to be used and some important acquisition decisions have added substantially to that cost. I will leave a detailed accounting of these issues to others. Speaking for our country’s Undersea Warriors, the bottom line is that we think VIRGINIA is worth every single penny of the taxpayers dollars, we need her and her sister submarines and we need them delivered faster than we are buying them today.
This submarine is superbly suited for the world we live in and for the foreseeable future. Virginia is designed for undersea, surface and near shore dominance across a broad spectrum of missions. With a focus on the littoral battlespace, the shallow coastal areas, VIRGINIA has improved magnetic stealth, sophisticated surveillance capabilities, and unique Special Warfare enhancements. Although externally she may look like a Los Angeles or Seawolf class submarine, she is very different! She is the most flexible and adaptable submarine we’ve ever built, and has revolutionary Combat systems and sensors. All an American submariner needs to do is walk into the control room or the maneuvering room, where we operate the propulsion plant on this boat, and it’s obvious that this is a very different submarine indeed.
With VIRGINIA ‘s christening today, we will mark yet another milestone in the extraordinary history of improvisation, adaptation, experimentation and transformation that is part of who we are as American Submariners.
If you look at our history, in 103 years we’ve gone from:
- Little torpedo boats capable of submerging for short periods of time to nuclear powered submersibles that can stay submerged almost indefinitely and roam all the oceans of the world.
- From land attack capabilities consisting of deck guns, then rockets, to Regulus missiles, Polaris, Poseidon, and now Trident and Tomahawk missiles.
- From being able to surface and land small reconnaissance or sabotage teams, to submarines that launch and recover Special Operations Forces while remaining submerged and supporting Intelligence collection, Surveillance and Reconnaissance in the war on terrorism.
- From boats using relatively simple warfighting technology to submarines that can deliver unmanned vehicles of all kinds and employ Information Operations weapons.
Transformation is familiar to submariners and embraced by them; we are now poised for the first time in history to see nuclear submarines achieve their full potential as stealthy general purpose warships.
The ongoing conversion of four Trident Ballistic Missile submarines to SSGNs (guided missile submarines) capable in the near term of carrying 154 Tomahawk missiles and a 66 man Special Operations Force, bodes well for the future of the VIRGINIA class, as the VIRGINIA class bodes well for SSGN. With 20 times the payload of an attack submarine, SSGNs will deliver unprecedented stealthy firepower and Special Forces capability today, while serving as our foundation for naval unmanned vehicle development tomorrow.
These unmanned systems will have a huge impact on naval warfare. They will certainly change what submarines do, and how they look. At the same time, new technological advancements already conceived which are possible for VIRGINIA will. if funded, have useful applications in the SSGN program.
The United States has, today, a unique, competitive advantage in Undersea Warfare, an advantage we do not have to the same degree on the oceans• surface, on land, or in the air. Among the other nations of the world few can compete with us. The barriers to being competitive in the world of undersea warfare include: advanced and unique technologies, sophisticated engineering skills and disciplines, unique infrastructure and most importantly, experience.
We should use our competitive advantage to confuse, confound, disrupt, disarm, discourage and, if that’s not enough, defeat our adversaries. We should exploit it to its fullest extent not only to command the seas, but to dominate the coasts, littorals, and indeed far inland. This competitive advantage offers the opportunity not for marginal superiority, but for warfighting dominance. It is one of our great military opportunities, in this post-cold war world, to deter or prevent war and enhance stability.
VIRGINIA and her sister ship’s will contribute to our maintaining this competitive advantage and advance our opportunity for dominance.
Ladies and gentlemen, I ask you to pause and think about this ship, her future and all who will sail in her. Captain Kem and this fine crew will do their utmost to finish building her, testing her and taking her to sea for the first years of her service to show all of us what she can do.
Other crews, other submariners will follow and take her through the oceans of the world, fighting the war on terrorism certainly, preparing the battlespace and providing the U.S. and U.S. Navy an important competitive advantage in other wars almost certainly as well.
So, on this 16111 day of August, 2003, the day of the Christening of USS VIRGINIA (SSN 774), it is appropriate for us to reflect upon her future and express our wishes for her and her crews with this verse of the Navy Hymn:
0 Father, King of earth and sea,
We dedicate this ship to thee.
In faith we will send her on her way;
In faith to thee we will humbly pray: 0 hear from heaven our sailor’s cry
And watch and guard her from on high!