In a ceremony at the Newport News Shipyard last Saturday (March 16), the keel was laid on the U.S.S. John Warner (SSN 785), a Virginia-class fast attack submarine named for Washington and Lee alumnus John Warner, of the Class of 1949.
Naming the boat for Sen. Warner was a major break with tradition. For years, the U.S. has named its two large classes of attack submarines for cities and states. The two exceptions to those traditions are the Los Angeles-class submarine, the U.S.S. Hyman G. Rickover (SSN 709), which was built in the 1980s, and now the John Warner (the ship).
John Warner (the person) was, of course, the second-longest-serving Virginia member of the U.S. Senate when he retired in 2009. A Navy veteran before he entered W&L and a former Secretary of the Navy, he chaired the Senate Armed Services Committee.
In his remarks at the event, the senator said: "This ship and its design and its sister ships are one of the most invulnerable platforms in the entire arsenal of our military. It has in it every single bit of high technology that can be brought to bear by the magnificent manufacturing base, educational base, laboratory base in this country. Nothing has been spared so that the crew of this ship for years and years and decades to come can help preserve our nation's most valued treasure, and that is freedom."
The boat is scheduled for delivery to the Navy in 2015. Warner helped initiate the arrangement under which Newport News Shipbuilding, a unit of Huntington Ingalls Industries, partners with General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn., to build the boats.
John’s wife, Jeanne Warner, is the ship’s sponsor. The two of them chalked their initials onto a metal plate; their initials were then welded onto that plate, which will be permanently affixed to the ship's hull. Putting the ship's sponsor's initials on a ship is a time-honored Navy tradition, but adding the initials of the submarine's namesake's was unique.
In an editorial celebrating the event, the Richmond Times-Dispatch wrote: “Warner’s tenure on the Armed Services Committee reflected his abiding concerns regarding national security. He strove to ensure America’s military pre-eminence but was not a jingoist.”
A video of the entire ceremony is available here, on the Newport News Shipbuilding site.