Lance M. Bacon, Navy Times
17 May 2015
NEWPORT NEWS, Va. – The keel of the 16th Virginia-class attack sub, named after the 16th largest state, was laid May 16 at Newport News Shipyard. She is the third ship to bear the name Indiana, and will be the first in almost 70 years to sail under the national colors with that name.
The ship's sponsor, Diane Donald, is no stranger to the submarine community. The wife of retired Adm. Kirk Donald, a former director of Naval Nuclear Propulsion, she declared the keel "to be truly and fairly laid." Donald authenticated the keel with her initials, which were welded onto a metal plate and permanently affixed to the ship.
The keel laying capped off a week of big wins on Capitol Hill for the submarine force. The House of Representatives on May 15 passed its version of the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal 2016 by a vote of 269 to 151. It included $5.3 billion for the Virginia class – $3.3 billion for two submarines in 2016 and $2 billion for advanced procurement of future attack subs. Congress set the stage to buy two Virginia-class subs annually through fiscal 2020. The House bill also earmarked $1.4 billion for research and development of the Ohio-class replacement, and $168 million for the Virginia Payload Module, which will replace undersea strike capabilities lost when Ohio-class guided-missile submarines retire in the 2020s.
The Senate Arms Services Committee on May 14 approved its version of the NDAA by a vote of 22-4. That committee bumped the administration's $5.3 billion request for Virginia-class submarines by $800 million to buy more advance parts for future attack subs. The full Senate will vote on the bill later this summer, then the two houses will haggle out the differences.
Congress' action "justifies all the hard work and long nights" put into the program, which is ahead of schedule and under budget, said Matt Mulherin, president of Newport News Shipbuilding.
Construction on Indiana, the sixth of eight Block III variants, started in September 2012. The state is known as "the crossroads of America," and its namesake honors that motto well. She carries millions of parts from 5,000 suppliers located in all 50 states. Assembling these parts is what Jim Hughes, vice president for Submarines and Fleet Support, called "one of the biggest orchestras in the world." The symphony carefully played by 4,000 shipbuilders will now unite hull sections into a 377-foot military masterpiece that will crescendo with its 2017 commissioning, then slip into three decades of silent service.
Her missions will be many and multifaceted. The Virginia class has a large lock-in/lock-out chamber, and a reconfigurable torpedo room to accommodate more snake eaters. She will carry roughly three dozen Tomahawk cruise missiles (starting in 2019, Block V variants will include the Virginia Payload Module, which will add four launch tubes and 28 Tomahawks). Traditional periscopes have been replaced by photonics masts with high-resolution cameras and infrared sensors. A fly-by-wire ship control system provides unmatched operation in shallow littoral areas. She can hit 25 knots, dive 800 feet, and stay submerged for three months.
While the Virginia class boasts these and other upgrades in weaponry and other tactical equipment, its biggest edge is in acoustics, said Cmdr. Jesse Zimbauer, the ship's skipper. Among its many advances, the Block III variant vastly improved passive detection by replacing the traditional sonar sphere with the Large Aperture Bow array.
"We are building the future with this submarine," said Zimbauer, who "jumped on the opportunity" to be part of the pre-commissioning unit.
As Indiana's commanding officer, ultimate responsibility and accountability of her future performance "rests squarely on your shoulders," said Vice Adm. Michael Connor, commander of submarine forces. "There is no position in our Navy that exercises more freedom of action, requires more trust, or deserves more respect."
Zimbauer will stay with the boat through construction and commissioning, and get about seven months of sea time before he rotates. In that time, the 18-year vet (not counting his time as a Marine cryptologist) will ensure the crew is combat-capable on Day One. The crew stands at 55 now, but will beef up to about 140 by delivery.
"When this ship first sails down the James River, you will have achieved something few can claim: You've built a ship named Indiana that will sail the seas in defense of our nation for decades to come," Donald said to the gathered crew and shipbuilders. "You have my utmost respect and appreciation for your selfless, unwavering commitment. Please know I will be with you in spirit every day, wishing you the very best."