GROTON, Conn. — With the smash of a champagne bottle, the Navy christened its newest submarine on Saturday as the Mississippi, the ninth member of a new generation of attack subs hailed as the world’s most complex pieces of machinery.
A Navy band struck up “Anchors Aweigh” as the submarine’s sponsor, a deputy assistant Navy secretary, smashed the bottle against its sail. The uniformed crew stood atop the 377-foot-long submarine in a dock at a Groton shipyard as Navy admirals, Congress members from Mississippi and Connecticut and other officials addressed the crowd of roughly 5,500 who turned out for the ceremony.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, said the submarine was designed for flexibility, with the ability to conduct surveillance in shallow waters and deliver Navy SEALs or other special forces without being detected.
“Mississippi is built to excel in traditional submarine areas of warfare: anti-submarine, anti-surface, strike warfare,” Mabus said. “But she is also built to excel in nontraditional ones: special operations, intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, irregular warfare.”
The Mississippi is the latest in the Virginia class of submarines, which are built in partnership between Groton-based Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding at a cost of about $2.6 billion each. They carry torpedoes as well as Tomahawk missiles and have features including a torpedo room that can be refigured to hold Navy SEALs.
The submarine will be commissioned as the USS Mississippi in a June ceremony in Gulfport, Miss.
On behalf of Mississippi’s 3 million residents, Gov. Haley Barbour said he was honored to claim the submarine as their own. He said it would continue the proud legacy of the four other Navy vessels to carry the name Mississippi, including the steam frigate that Commodore William Perry commanded when he opened American trade with Japan in the 1850s.
“The Mississippi will be an incredible platform for defending our shores and projecting our power,” Barbour said.
The 7,800-ton submarine will carry a crew of 132 officers and sailors, led by Navy Capt. John McGrath, on standard deployments of six months. Its nuclear reactor is designed to power the submarine for its service life of 30 years or longer, propelling the sub at speeds exceeding 25 knots submerged.
Mabus said the complexity of the submarine is a testament to the skill and dedication of America’s ship builders.
“When you look at the ship, you know American exceptionalism will not only survive, it will prevail,” he said.
Electric Boat expects to deliver the Mississippi a year ahead of schedule and $50 million below the projected cost.
With the Defense Department facing potentially huge budget cuts as Congress looks to trim the national deficit, Navy officers and elected officials who spoke Saturday praised the Virginia-class program as a model example of how to find efficiencies with contractors. Rep. Joe Courtney and Sen. Richard Blumenthal, both of Connecticut, praised the work of contractors and shipyard employees involved in constructing the Mississippi.
“Its might and magnificence are literally as awe inspiring as the sea itself. It is our steel beneath the sea,” Blumenthal said.
Construction of the Mississippi began in February 2007 and the submarine needs only sea trials, final outfitting and other tests before it is ready for delivery.
The ship’s sponsor, Allison Stiller, held the champagne bottle over her head triumphantly after christening the sub.
“I endow her with my tenacity, compassion and love of family and friends,” said Stiller, the deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for ship programs.