In what may be a historical first, the submarine Delaware (SSN 791) was officially commissioned into service in the United States Navy April 4 while underwater, a top Navy official told reporters Thursday.
“We commissioned USS Delaware in a rare form,” said James “Hondo” Geurts, the service’s top acquisition official. “It’s probably fitting for a submarine named after the first state [that] it was the first commissioning we’ve ever done underwater.
“The crew brought the ship to life while undersea, sounded the klaxon, fired away some water slugs from the torpedo tubes and gave it a ‘full ahead’ order.”
With the covid-19 virus shutting down most public ceremonies, the Navy had to scrap plans for a public commissioning ceremony in Wilmington, Delaware, where ship’s sponsor Jill Biden, wife of former Delaware senator Joe Biden, would have called on the ship’s crew to “bring the ship to life” in a display before invited guests.
Instead, the Navy “administratively commissioned” the ship while at sea, where commanding officer Cmdr. Matthew Horton read his orders and, according to a Navy press release, “transitioned the ship to normal operations.”
Another submarine, the Vermont (SSN 792) is to be commissioned April 18 at its homeport of Groton, Conn., also without a public ceremony.
“We’re hoping to do public ceremonies at a later time,” said Cmdr. Jodie Cornell, spokesperson for commander, Submarine Force in Norfolk.
“This is definitely due to the environment we’re in right now,” Cornell said. “It’s not something that was planned, we had to adjust. The Navy will work with the sponsors to see when we can celebrate bringing the ships to life.”
Geurts noted the commissionings show that despite virus-related shutdowns and restrictions the Navy continues to receive new ships on time.
“The Vermont came out of its [final inspection] as one of the highest-rated submarines in terms of quality, so we’re not sacrificing quality,” Geurts said. “We’re delivering quality ships on time to our sailors.”
The Delaware, homeported in Norfolk, is the last of the Block III Virginia-class submarines funded in fiscal 2013 and was delivered from Huntington Ingalls Industries in Newport News, Va. Vermont, first of the Block IV group, was completed at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton.