Huntington Ingalls Industries’ (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) division has held a keel authentication ceremony for Virginia-class submarine Arkansas (SSN 800).

The vessel’s sponsors are the six women of Little Rock Nine, a historic group of the first African American students to attend all-white Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas during desegregation.

The ceremony saw NNS honouring all nine members, including three men.

The Little Rock Nine created history in 1957 with their response to the Supreme Court ruling in Brown v Board of Education. They termed racial segregation in public schools as unconstitutional.

NNS president Jennifer Boykin said: “Their courageous spirit will forever inspire Arkansas and her crew. This group forever changed our nation’s history and their submarine will help ensure their legacy continues.

“The bravery and resilience of the Little Rock Nine sparked a fire of change and demonstrated the strength of blending different perspectives and backgrounds. We harness this strength in the shipyard every day. Our diversity allows us to extend beyond our own limits, to reach new heights, and build each boat even better than the one before it. Arkansas will be proof of this power.”

Welders of NNS etched six sets of initials of the Little Rock Nine onto metal plate.

Arkansas is the 27th Virginia-class fast attack submarine being constructed under an agreement with General Dynamics Electric Boat.

Naval Submarine Forces commander Vice Admiral William Houston said: “With advances in sound silencing, acoustic sensors, and weapons delivery systems, Arkansas will traverse the world’s oceans and seas as an apex predator. Representing our asymmetric advantage in the undersea domain, the Arkansas will have no equal.”

The pre-commissioning unit commanding officer commander Adam Kahnke said: “It is an incredible honour for the crew to begin to establish the relationship with our namesake state of Arkansas, as well as with the ship’s sponsors.

“The story of the Little Rock Nine demonstrates the power of perseverance in the face of adversity. I find the relationship with the ship’s sponsors very appropriate due to the fact that perseverance is an essential attribute to success in the art of submarine warfare.”

NNS is a shipyard that can design and constructing nuclear-powered submarines.

The advanced capabilities of Virginia-class submarines will boost firepower, maneuverability and stealth.

This milestone on Arkansas comes after the delivery of USS Montana (SSN 794), the launch of New Jersey (SSN 796), and the progress on Massachusetts (SSN 798) at NNS earlier this year.