Commissioning ceremony scheduled for 1 Aug.Hugh Lessig, Newport News Daily Press
11 June 2015
ABOARD THE TUGBOAT CAPT. AMBROSE – From a distance, the Virginia-class submarine rose from the water and cruised smoothly toward Newport News Shipbuilding. Its namesake was there in spirit.
"I would give anything to be on the submarine right now," said John Warner, his voice coming in loud and clear over a speaker phone as tugboats prepared to guide the submarine back to the shipyard.
The submarine that bears Warner's name returned Thursday from its final round of sea trials with Navy inspectors onboard. Next up: a commissioning ceremony scheduled for Aug. 1 at Naval Station Norfolk.
The John Warner will be the Navy's 12th Virginia-class submarine. They are built as part of a teaming arrangement between the shipyard, a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries, and General Dynamics Electric Boat of Groton, Conn. The partnership between these two former rivals has won praise from the Navy for delivering boats ahead of schedule and under cost.
That alliance came about after then-Sen. John Warner became sold on the idea in the late 1990s. He liked having two shipyards with the capability to manufacture nuclear-powered submarines. Today, Newport News and Electric Boat remain the only two U.S. shipyards in the nuclear submarine construction business.
Warner said Thursday he continues to be humbled at the honor of having a Navy submarine named after him. It is rare for the Navy to name a warship for a living person. It has only happened twice before with submarines since the 1970s, with former President Jimmy Carter and Adm. Hyman Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy.
Warner, who has seen the boat through keel-laying, construction and christening, said he was gratified to see it in the water.
"This is the culmination of a long history of activity," he said. "I can only think about the wonderful sailors who are sailing it and the shipyard workers who built it. They are the ones who should celebrate, and we should celebrate with them."
The submarine passed initial sea trials in late May, submerging for the first time and running at high speeds to test its systems. Cmdr. Dan Caldwell, the ship's prospective commanding officer, said at the time that the boat was "in great material condition" and called the trials "a huge success."
There was no immediate word from the shipyard or the Navy on the outcome of the sea trials that ended Thursday. Officials with the Navy's Board of Inspection and Survey were onboard.
Three tugboats escorted the submarine back to the Newport News shipyard and helped it parallel park at Pier 6. Tim Mason, 46, a shipyard employee and tugboat deckhand for 10 years, said he never gets tired of helping bring ships back home.
Thursday's job required fewer tugboats and took less time than bringing in an aircraft carrier, but it was still a good way to spend the day.
"It's just a nice feeling," he said, "knowing that these are going to be delivered to the Navy and me being a part of it – where they're built, where they come from, and knowing one day they could be anywhere in the world."