The crew brings New Mexico to life March 27. (Photos by Lance M. Bacon)
NORFOLK, Va. – The Navy commissioned the world’s most advanced submarine Saturday as the $2.3 billion attack sub New Mexico was brought to life four months ahead of schedule.
Scoop Deck joined the sub’s crew of 134 officers and sailors, as well as nearly 3,000 guests, family members and shipbuilders on Pier 14. Some 100 citizens from the sub’s namesake state also made the journey, and the University of New Mexico ROTC served as color guard.
Rear Adm. Cecil Haney, director of the Submarine Warfare Division, ordered the crew to maintain the proud heritage of the name “New Mexico.” He commented not only on the battleship’s six battle stars but also honored the Navajo code talkers’ legacy and the tireless work done at Los Alamos.
But without question, the most moving moment came when retired CWO-3 George Smith, a World War II veteran who served aboard the battleship New Mexico, set the first watch with a sharp salute.
Somewhere beneath the pomp and circumstance that saturates such a ceremony, there lurked the undeniable understanding that much is riding on the Virginia program. In an era marked by cost overruns and late delays, the Navy now faces a shipbuilding shortfall as many legacy systems retire, and the new ballistic missile submarines look to devour up to half of the budget for a 14-year period.
The Virginia program remains a highlight amid the heartache. Though not without its issues, Northrop Grumman Shipyard in partnership with General Dynamics Electric Boat did produce New Mexico in 381 fewer days than sister ship North Carolina. The program now shifts all ahead full to kick out two subs a year. This will enable the attack sub force to stay above the required 48-ship fleet through 2028 – but there is no room for error.
Vice Adm. John Donnelly, commander of Submarine Forces, spoke of the Navy’s strong legacy of selecting the best people and building the best ships to carry out the mission. He called the Virginia-class sub an “investment by American tax payers in an uncertain world to protect the freedoms we cherish, and the principles and values which define us.”
Turning to Cmdr. Mark A. Prokopius, he said “I expect a great deal of you and your crew. Lead them well.”