Keel-laying ceremony held for new Navy attack submarine

File photo of the USS New Hampshire, one of the Navy's Virginia-class submarines, taken in 2008. (AP Photo/Robert F. Bukaty)

NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) – A keel-laying ceremony was held Saturday morning to mark the start of construction of a new nuclear-powered submarine, the U S S Oregon.

The ceremony continued a long standing tradition of celebrating the laying of the first piece of a ship, or the backbone, known as the keel in a submarine.

Dana Richardson, wife of the Chief of Naval Operations Admiral John Richardson, has been named the ship’s sponsor, and as part of the ceremony she engraved her initials on a steel plate that will be installed in the submarine.

“I promise to uphold and promote her vision and create and maintain a long lasting relationship with her crew and the amazing people who helped build her,” said Richardson at the ceremony.

General Dynamics Electric Boat representatives, Navy officials, and Rhode Island’s Congressional delegation also spoke at the ceremony.

More than 6,000 people attended including employees of General Dynamics Electric Boat who will help complete the U S S Oregon.

“Oregon represents a milestone as the 20th ship of the Virginia Class, the most advanced submarines in the world,” said Jeffrey Geiger, President of General Dynamics Electric Boat.

The Virginia-class submarines are replacing the aging Los Angeles-class submarines that have been in service since the late 1970s. The Virginias are 377 feet long with a crew of 15 officers and 120 enlisted, and carry a variety of missiles and torpedoes. Each costs about $2.6 billion and takes roughly two and a half years to join the fleet after construction is started.

General Dynamics Electric Boat is the primary manufacturer of submarines for the Navy.

“We build here in our small state the most capable and complex vessels ever to sail the seas and we are so proud of all of you,” said Senator Sheldon Whitehouse.