A $2.6 billion attack submarine named for the state of South Dakota  officially joined the U.S. Navy fleet at its commissioning ceremony Saturday at the U.S. Naval Submarine Base in Groton, where U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., hailed it as “America’s First Millennial Submarine.”

The 377-foot USS South Dakota is the 17th Virginia-class attack submarine to join the fleet. The contract for the vessel was awarded to Huntington Ingalls Industries in partnership with General Dynamics Electric Boat, and construction began in March 2013. The keel laying was in 2016 at EB’s Quonset facility in Rhode Island.

Courtney, chairman of the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, noted that during the five years of the sub’s construction, EB’s workforce had grown from 11,500 to 17,050.

“Even more striking,” he said, was that the “the proportion of EB employees in Connecticut and Rhode Island between the ages of 22 and 37 has skyrocketed from 30 percent to more than 50 percent. This rise of the millennial generation emerging to lead Electric Boat’s important work for the country is a powerful rebuttal of cynics and naysayers that American manufacturing and technological excellence are a thing of the past. Instead what we are witnessing here is a young, talented workforce that will be a pillar of growth, innovation and prosperity for the economy for years to come.”

 The congressman also noted that the crew of 134 “is populated with a new generation of smart, highly trained sailors and officers operating a submarine that is breaking new ground in its capabilities.”

 Officials have said that the submarine will be the stealthiest vessel patrolling the oceans for the U.S. military, because of coating on its hull to reduce noise and sonar panels to better detect and track other submarines. At the time of the keel laying, with the vessel 65 percent complete, the Navy said that those new modifications represent about $115 million of the cost.

The ceremony on Saturday was also the first commissioning for Connecticut’s new Democratic governor, Ned Lamont, and his wife, Annie. Also in attendance were Jeff Geiger, president of Electrict Boat, Huntington Ingalls CEO Jennifer Boykin; the new governor of South Dakota, Kristi Noem, and other top elected officials from that state and Connecticut;  Vice Adm. Charles Richard, submarine forces commander, and Allison Stiller, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for research development and acquisition.

 The ship’s sponsor, Deanie Dempsey, is the wife of retired Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who was chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff in 20011-15.  Courtney said that “her joyful, spirited presence at the keel laying, christening and today’s commissioning augers well that she will be a loyal and supportive shipmate for South Dakota for years to come.”

 The submarine has been commanded since November by Cmdr. Craig E. Litty. He had previously served with the  Undersea Warfare Development Center Tactical Analysis Group.

 As Courtney remarked,  “Before long, Commander Litty will assume his place as Captain Litty, and he and his crew will go on to do great things for our nation, proudly carrying the name of South Dakota.

History, capabilities

 The Navy accepted delivery of the South Dakota in September. As a Virginia-class Block III submarine, it features a redesigned bow with enhanced payload capabilities, replacing 12 individual vertical launch tubes with two large-diameter Virginia Payload Tubes, each capable of launching six Tomahawk cruise missiles. This, among other design changes, reduced the submarines’ acquisition cost while maintaining their outstanding warfighting capabilities, according to the Navy.

The submarine will be the third U.S. Navy ship to be commissioned with the name South Dakota. The first was a Pennsylvania-class armored cruiser. During World War I, it patrolled the South Atlantic operating from Brazil, and escorted troop transports destined for Europe.

During World War II, the second South Dakota (BB 57) was commissioned as the lead ship in its class. It  served in the Pacific and Atlantic as a carrier escort and patrolled the North Atlantic with the British navy. During the ship’s second tour in the Pacific, the Navy said, it helped to cripple the Japanese navy during the Battle of the Philippine Sea before helping to bombard shore defenses at Okinawa and preparing for an eventual invasion of the Japanese home islands.

Virginia-class submarines are built to operate in the world’s littoral and deep waters while conducting anti-submarine warfare; anti-surface ship warfare; strike warfare; special operations forces support; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; irregular warfare and mine warfare.

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