NavWeek: Under Pressure


When it comes to the U.S. submarine fleet, even the building of the boats is a stealthy act.

Unlike most other Navy warships, the subs are kept mostly under wraps when they are being constructed and assembled. So a chance to grab a glimpse of one in the womb of a shipyard, even for the final seam of the pressurized hull, is an event worth attending.

Such was the case earlier this month at the Huntington Ingalls Industries yard at Newport News Shipbuilding for the attack submarine SSN-785 Jack Warner.

And when Warner, a former U.S. senator and navy secretary, shows up for the milestone – well, it becomes a MUST attend.

Warner, who designed the teaming deal that combines the efforts of Newport News and General Dynamics’ Electric Boat to build Virginia-class subs like his namesake, arrived to the yard April 4 to the applause of sailors and yard workers. He sported a cap emblazoned with the submarine’s name and number and wore a suit jacket – Navy blue, of course. His sleeve buttons shone gold like those of an admiral’s braid.

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Asked after the ceremony what he felt about sub being named after him, he said, “One word: humility. There are others far more deserving.”

There are quite a few you would respectively disagree, and that would be especially true in Newport News, which benefitted from his sub-building teaming idea.

“The concept worked,” he says.

He also notes – in a booming voice that can be heard over the constant shipyard noise and hum – that it was a different set of lawmakers who put that in motion.

“We did it differently when I was there,” he says. “Most of us were veterans. We knew how to take orders – to be accountable.”

It was his Navy training, he says, that prepared him for such a role.

“I would not be standing here had it not been for a 17-year-old kid joining the U.S. Navy. They made it possible, with their training, in other words -- How to suck it up and get the job done!”

Those should be words to be the current Congress and Senate to live by, especially nowadays as the Navy tries to build more ships with less money for a growing set of missions.

Number one priority now, Warner says, is to “keep the sea lanes free for flow of commerce and the flow of energy.”

He says, "You’ve got to keep those sea lanes open. Only the U.S. Navy can do it, working with our allies. There’s always got to be a strong U.S. Navy.”

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