A historic convergence of naval officials and maritime tradition took place at HII-Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) on Aug 2, as senior Navy leaders, shipbuilders, and guests gathered for the keel-laying authentication of the Virginia-class submarine, the future USS Oklahoma (SSN 802).

The keel-laying, a step from design to realisation, marks a juncture in the vessel’s journey. The forthcoming USS Oklahoma, the 29th Virginia Class Submarine and the pioneering Block V submarine embody naval and technological capabilities shift. This occasion commemorates a first – the vessel’s namesake hailing from Oklahoma.

The Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarine is an advanced multi-mission submarine for deep ocean anti-submarine warfare and littoral (shallow water) operations. The estimated contract allocation for the program is $73.1 billion (2022–32), with the 2023 budget allocating $7.3 billion to the program, according to GlobalData’s “US Defense Market 2022-2027” report. 

Capt. Mike Hollenbach, Virginia Class Programme Manager, captured the essence of the ceremony, stating, “Today represents a culmination of hard work and skill performed by a talented shipbuilding workforce and a strong foundation for future Sailors who will patrol the deep seas aboard Oklahoma in service of our nation.”

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This year, the US Navy also christened a future Virginia-class submarine, named USS Massachusetts (SSN 798), at Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) Newport News Shipbuilding (NNS) division in Newport News, Virginia.

Amidst the echoes of time-honoured Navy traditions, Ms Mary Slavonic, the submarine’s sponsor, witnessed a spectacle as an NNS welder inscribed her initials onto a ceremonial steel plate. This act is a testament to the bond shared between the sponsor, vessel, and crew.

“I am deeply honoured to be the sponsor for Oklahoma, named in honour of my beloved home state,” Slavonic said. “This milestone marks the beginning of a lifelong bond between my family and Oklahoma, including the incredible shipbuilders constructing her and the brave sailors who will serve aboard this mighty submarine.”

Versatility and vigilance

These vessels redefine stealth, firepower, and manoeuvrability compared to their predecessors, underpinning their reputation as one of the world’s foremost attack submarines. Armed with pinpoint-accurate Tomahawk cruise missile capabilities, they dominate extended covert surveillance of sea forces, littoral waters, and terrestrial targets.

James Marques, aerospace, defence, and security analyst at GlobalData, commented on the Virginia class’s capabilities: “In terms of firepower, they carry the latest torpedos, cruise missiles and anti-ship missiles. “

In embracing a multi-faceted role, these submarines show their versatility through Special Forces operations, minefield analysis, anti-submarine and anti-ship warfare, cementing their contribution to regional stability and peace while upholding the principles of international law.

The keel authentication ceremony encapsulates the fusion of heritage and innovation, symbolising HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding’s commitment to national defence. The forthcoming USS Oklahoma embodies the cumulative dedication of shipbuilders and service personnel.

HII announced second-quarter revenues of $2.8bn in their Q2 2023 results, up 4.7% from the second quarter of 2022, driven primarily by Newport News Shipbuilding and MissionTechnologies growth.

Newport News Shipbuilding revenues for the second quarter of 2023 were $1.5 billion, an increase of $76 million, or 5.3%, from the same period in 2022, primarily driven by higher revenues in submarines and aircraft carriers.