By Bill Moore
Last week the sponsor and several crew members of the Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) Vermont were welcomed to Montpelier by Gov. Phil Scott, Mayor Watson and a cross-section of leaders from the state. The Vermont (SSN-792) is currently under construction at the Electric Boat shipyard in Groton, Connecticut.
Former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus announced in a September 2014 “Naming Ceremony” in Burlington that Vermont would be the name of a new submarine. “The name USS Vermont has a long history in our Navy,” said Mabus. “In honor of the victories on Lake Champlain, following the War of 1812, the first USS Vermont was laid down and became one of our nation’s largest and most powerful ships. The second USS Vermont was one of our great battleships in the years before World War I, and was one of the ships that led the Great White Fleet around the world.”
It is an honor to have the newest of the Virginia class of submarines named after the Green Mountain State. It is the first time since 1920, when the second USS Vermont was decommissioned, that a ship will bear the name Vermont.
The ship itself will be the second fast-attack submarine in service to the nation with direct ties to the state. The Montpelier (SSN-765) is an older, Los Angeles class ship that was commissioned into service in 1993. Members of the crew of the Montpelier regularly visit the capital city, most recently for the July 4th celebrations.
There was one other submarine with ties to Vermont, the USS Ethan Allen (SSBN-608). Interestingly, this ballistic submarine was sponsored by the great-granddaughter of Ethan Allen, Mrs. Robert H. Hopkins. It was the lead ship in a five-ship class of ballistic submarines built during the Cold War. The only nuclear-armed Polaris missile ever launched was fired by the Ethan Allen. It happened in 1962 during a test while the Ethan Allen was submerged in the Pacific, and its nuclear warhead was detonated over the South Pacific. This is the only known test of a submarine-launched U.S. strategic missile. In light of the ban on atmospheric testing, it is doubtful that another test of this type will ever take place.
The Vermont’s ship’s sponsor is Hon. Gloria L. Valdez, Former Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Secretary Valdez served in that position from June 2015 until her retirement in April of this year. In that capacity, she was responsible for executive oversight of all naval shipbuilding programs, major ship conversions, and the maintenance, modernization and disposal of in-service ships. Secretary Valdez was also responsible for executive oversight of cost, schedule and performance of surface ship, submarine, and Marine Corps combat systems, electronic warfare systems, shipboard radars, and Navy missile defense programs. Secretary Valdez had over 32 years of civilian service with the Department of the Navy and the Department of Homeland Security.
The ship’s sponsor’s role is an important one. She participates in all or some of the milestones in the life of her ship. Among the important events are the Keel Laying, Christening, Commissioning and Decommissioning ceremonies. She is a life-long partner of the crew.
According to the U.S. Navy, “Attack submarines are designed to seek and destroy enemy submarines and surface ships; project power ashore with Tomahawk cruise missiles and Special Operation Forces (SOF); carry out Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions; support battle group operations; and engage in mine warfare.” They are truly a vital component of our nation’s defense.
The Navy points out that, “The Virginia class has several innovations that significantly enhance its warfighting capabilities with an emphasis on littoral operations. Virginia class SSNs have a fly-by-wire ship control system that provides improved shallow-water ship handling. The class has special features to support SOF, including a reconfigurable torpedo room which can accommodate a large number of SOF and all their equipment for prolonged deployments and future off-board payloads. The class also has a large lock-in/lock-out chamber for divers. In Virginia class SSNs, traditional periscopes have been supplanted by two photonics masts that host visible and infrared digital cameras atop telescoping arms.”
The Vermont will be the most technologically advanced submarine in the world. It will bring the total number of fast attack (51) and ballistic submarines (18) in service to 69 when commissioned.
The success of the ship is, of course, totally dependent upon the crew. The crew of the Vermont will consist of 15 officers and 117 enlisted men and women. The crew goes through extensive and intense academic, technical and physical training before graduating from Submarine School. Submariners are among the most elite of our military personnel. Our thanks and appreciation for their service goes out to them and to all of the men and women who serve in defense of our great nation.
Bill Moore is president and CEO of the Central Vermont Chamber of Commerce.