Secretary Mabus, thank you for that kind introduction. Governor Nixon, Secretary Gates, Members of Congress, Distinguished Flag Officers, all our friends from the USS Missouri Commissioning Committee and citizens of the great state of Missouri, the crew of MISSOURI, shipbuilders, family and friends, I am truly honored to be with you.
This is a great day – for the Navy, for Missouri, and for America. Today we complete the first stage in the life of this vessel and commission into the battle force fleet of the United States Navy the 5th USS MISSOURI, a 7,800 ton attack submarine of the Virginia class. Her first crew is with us today, and in just a few minutes they will man this vessel and set the first watch. At the direction of the ship’s sponsor, they will bring the ship to life and begin the next chapter of service to the nation from a vessel named MISSOURI.
Since today marks the end of the construction process, I want to thank the dedicated workers who constructed this vessel, those great Americans who have taken raw plate and pipe, cable and valves, and crafted this magnificent warship. They, along with their Navy teammates, should be justifiably proud.
I want to particularly thank this ship’s sponsor, Mrs. Rebecca Gates, and the USS MISSOURI Commissioning Committee, ably led by Sam Bushman, for all their hard work and dedication on behalf of this ship and her crew. We are certainly blessed to have Mrs. Gates serving as sponsor.
The role of the ship’s sponsor is steeped in tradition, including taking part in the keel laying, the christening, and the commissioning ceremonies. But more importantly, the sponsor maintains close contact with her ship and her crews, follows their professional development, and shares in their joys and sorrows. I am very familiar with this role since my late wife Susie was the sponsor of the USS Jefferson City, a submarine of the Los Angeles class. I can tell you it fulfilled her life.
Captain Rexrode, I charge you to frequently info your sponsor about the activities of your ship and crew. I also urge you to pass that charge on to your relief, and he to his.
Mrs. Gates, I am so happy for you. Today you truly begin the most rewarding phase of being a sponsor, watching your ship fulfill her operational missions and following the progress of her crew. I know they will make you, and all of us, very proud.
As you know, there have been other USS MISSOURI’s in our country’s history:
- The first USS MISSOURI was a ten-gun side wheel frigate commissioned in 1842 and was the first American Naval vessel to cross the Atlantic under steam power. Unfortunately, she burned to the water line in the port of Gibraltar and was lost.
- The second MISSOURI was a Confederate side-wheel steamer used to ferry supplies on the Mississippi during the Civil War. She was made of green timber, leaked excessively, and was scrapped by Union forces at the end of hostilities.
- The third USS MISSOURI, a battleship commissioned in 1903, was part of the famous Great White Fleet that sailed around the world from December 1907 to February 1909, a voyage that marked America’s arrival as a global power. In 1918, my father, Seaman Ike Skelton, served as a coal shoveling fireman onboard that historic vessel.
- The last USS MISSOURI, and the most famous, was commissioned in 1944 and earned the nickname Mighty Mo for continuous combat action from her arrival in the Pacific theater until hosting the Japanese surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay that ended World War II. The Mighty Mo also saw action during the Korean conflict and the Persian Gulf War. Today that proud ship serves as a floating museum in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
These are trying times for our country. We face the uncertainty of serious economic challenges, a transforming world power structure, and the resurgence of tactics such as piracy and terrorism. Truly, these issues are matters of great concern to each of us.
However, on occasions such as today’s commissioning, we owe it to ourselves to take stock as to where we are as a nation in the march of history. We have difficulties, this is true, but our country has climbed troubling mountains before. I remember the words of the song from World War II, “We Did It Before, And We Can Do It Again.” This is the time for optimism, because the American can-do spirit has not, and will not, be broken.
There is always, in every generation, a chorus of naysayers who sound the negative drums in the background. We should not heed these cynics. Rather, we should reflect on the greatness of our history and strive to achieve in our generation a legacy worthy of those who have gone before us.
When our country declared independence on July 4, 1776, the thirteen American colonies faced the uncertain outcome of picking a fight with King George the Third and Great Britain, the greatest military power in the world at the time. Fast forward more than 200 years, and we find that those same colonies have grown to be the bastion of freedom on the globe.
Our history and our heritage call for us to shoulder the tasks ahead with the typical American optimism that conquered the wilderness, helped defeat totalitarianism, built the most powerful economy in history, and preserved freedom as no other nation has done.
This ship is a prime example of that American can-do spirit: delivered to the Navy under budget and ahead of schedule. In fact, this Virginia class program is currently the gold standard when compared to other major defense acquisition programs. There is none better.
The can-do spirit adopted by this program met the challenge placed by then-Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Mike Mullen. He wanted to build two of these vessels a year, but was frustrated because the cost prevented him from doing so. He challenged the acquisition community and the shipbuilders to reduce the costs of these ships. The Navy and the shipbuilders made it happen. Together, they improved process and design to meet Admiral Mullen’s goal. They worked as a team, and they did it in the finest tradition of the American can-do attitude.
Of course, Gene Taylor had significant help in this effort.Congress also accepted this chaltenge. Led by Congressman Gene Taylor of Mississippi and Congressman Roscoe Bartlett of Maryland, the Subcommittee on Seapower and Expeditionary Forces of the House Anned Services Committee crafted the necessary legislation to fund long lead material, provide authority for multiple procurement, and most importantly, begin the construction of two submarines per year for fiscal year 2011 and every year thereafter. Of course, Gene Taylor had significant help in this effort. Congressman Joe Courtney has been invaluable due to his expertise in the needs of the shipbuilders. Joe Courtney, whom we affectionately calt Two Sub Joe, along with Norfolk, Virginia area Congressmen Rob Wittman, Glenn Nye, and Randy Forbes, ensured that other Members of Congress fully understood the importance of these vessels to our national security.
Let me tell you a story about the turnaround of the submarine program. Four years ago, the program was struggling. The Navy had not commissioned a fast attack submarine in over I 0 years. The program, at both shipyards, was over budget and struggling to meet schedules. What happened next should be in every acquisition textbook under the heading of “This is the Way to Manage a Program”, because this is true acquisition refonn.
The Navy appointed Rear Admiral William Hilarides as the Program Executive Officer for Submarine Construction. Admiral Hilarides accepted the CNO’s chaltenge. He sat down with his shipyard partners and fonned a coalition of professionals with a common goal. The team, both Navy and shipbuilders, worked together to identify ways to construct these ships more efficiently.
These are amazingly complex machines, and some of the ideas led to redesigning parts of the ship to literally make them easier to build, thus saving time and money. Some of the ideas were about finding better ways to get the job done. In the end, Admiral Hilarides and his shipyard partners John Casey and Matt Mulherin accomplished the impossible. They reduced the cost of these ships by $500 million dollars.
This amazing submarine and the other submarines of this class are vital to our national security. The simple reason is contained in one word: stealth. You see, technology is increasing in all areas of science and engineering faster than most of our military systems can keep pace. Any student of military history can point to key technologies that shaped the face of warfare: steel weapons over bronze; black powder; rifled barrels; modem artillery; the tank; aircraft; the battleship; and the aircraft carrier. The newest technology to reshape the face of high intensity warfare is the advanced conventional missile. At this time in history, we have entered the Age of the Conventional Missile.
In the 1950s, many military thinkers declared the Age of the Missile – that is, the nuclear missile – and declared conventional weapon systems obsolete. And the Age of the Missile did come, but a funny thing happened. Missiles became essential to all of the military services, but tanks and planes and ships didn’t go away. They didn’t go away primarily because nuclear weapons did not end all conflict. The need for conventional weapon systems remained.
Indeed, as the missile age continued, more and more strategic systems, like the Tomahawk missile, were converted to include conventional variants. And as missiles have been increasingly utilized as conventional weapons, the technological improvements in conventional missile systems have significantly challenged the ability to defend against them.
This change in warfare means different problems for each of our armed services. For the Navy, it means that major capital ships, such as aircraft carriers, may soon be vulnerable to very long range precision attack. While we are working closely with the Department of Defense to speed up development of defenses to counter this emerging threat, one ship remains untroubled by this threat. Because of her stealth and the inherent protection of the ocean around her, this submarine is the only platform being built by the United States Navy that is immune to this new threat. As yet, no technological advancement has made the oceans transparent, or allowed for the targeting of our submarines by missiles.
That is why this submarine, and her sister ships, are so valuable to the nation’s security. They will remain free of the threat from the increasing accuracy and availability of advanced conventional missiles and will patrol in areas where quick and precise retaliation will give any potential adversary pause.
The stealth of the submarine is still unchallenged. This amazingly modem warship need fear no missile, for beneath the waves she patrols unseen and unheard. MISSOURI and her sister ships can strike, with pinpoint precision, targets far inland, or engage an enemy’s fleet directly. She can provide real-time reconnaissance and she can provide direct support to special operations forces. Although her main goal is to prevent war, this vessel can in fact win a high intensity conflict once started.
As I stand here today on this magnificent ship, USS MISSOURI, my hopes are simple – may she sail the oceans of the world for decades, keeping her sailors safe from the awesome forces of the sea, may she provide power to our commanders, comfort to our allies, and sleepless nights to our foes.
As a boy, my father taught me the naval saying he learned aboard the USS MISSOURI of his day: “Red sunrise in morning, sailor’s warning; red sunset at night, sailor’s delight”. At the end of every day this ship sails the seas, may she have delightful red sunsets.
It is my fervent hope that this USS MISSOURI is never called upon to unleash her powerful arsenal, but if she is, may her strike be swift and true. In the words of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow,
“Our hearts, our hopes, are all with thee. Our hearts, our hopes, our prayers, our tears, Our faith triumphant o’er our fears, Are all with thee, -are all with thee!”
Thank you and God bless this crew and the future crews of USS MISSOURI.