NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy's newest nuclear-powered attack submarine joined the fleet Saturday, with top Navy officials saying that it couldn't come soon enough with ever-increasing demands from combatant commanders.
The USS John Warner was commissioned in front of several thousand people at a ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk after being delivered to the Navy about two months ahead of schedule. The John Warner is a Virginia-class submarine, which was specifically designed for the post-Cold War era.
The 377-foot long ship is capable of submerged speeds of more than 29 mph and can stay submerged for up to three months at a time. Virginia-class submarines are especially maneuverable in shallow waters, and were designed with plenty of room for special forces and their equipment to come aboard in a reconfigured torpedo room.
"This boat is the latest incarnation of American sea power. It is the most high-tech, it is the most lethal warship pound-for-pound that we have in our inventory," said Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert. "This is a strategic asset for this country. This affords us what we refer to as global access, and it is fundamental to any mission that you ask your military to do."
The submarine is named after John Warner, a five-term U.S. Senator from Virginia who also served as Secretary of the Navy from 1972 to 1974. His wife Jeanne is the ship's sponsor and gave the order for the crew to come aboard and 'bring the ship to life.' The John Warner is the first Virginia-class submarine home ported in Norfolk. All other Virginia-class submarines are home ported in Groton, Connecticut and Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
Virginia-class submarines are capable of launching Tomahawk cruise missiles, delivering special forces and carrying out surveillance over land and sea. Virginia-class submarines are replacing Los Angeles-class submarines, which first joined the fleet in 1976.
"We're glad that you are early, because it's getting busy out there. The demand for important missions that only submarines can do has grown dramatically, resulting in extend tours for some, back-to-back deployments for others and completely unscheduled deployments for others," said Vice Adm. Michael Connor, commander of Submarine Forces. "You will operate far from home with more independence than any other segment of our armed forces."
The U.S. is building two Virginia-class submarines a year, at a cost of about $2.6 billion each. So far, those submarines have been delivered ahead of schedule. The submarines are built in a partnership between Electric Boat in Connecticut and Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.
Warner, whose career began as a petty officer in the Navy, used the occasion to call for greater involvement by U.S. allies.
"America stands tall, but we must call upon our allies to build their navies, to build their armed forces to stand tall with us, because the world cannot say, 'Oh, leave it to America, let them do it by themselves.' So we can only turn back this tide of terrorism united with other countries all over the world," he said to growing applause.
Brock Vergakis can be reached at www.twitter.com/BrockVergakis