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Fast sub swiftly delivered

The Hawaii, a nuclear vessel, lands in Navy hands before an end-of-year deadline.

December 27, 2006|Eric Gershon | Hartford Courant

GROTON, CONN. — For the Hawaii, the newest Virginia-class fast-attack nuclear submarine, the party was a cheerful bon voyage.

After seven years of construction, the $2.5-billion Hawaii -- Electric Boat's 100th nuclear submarine -- was handed over to the Navy in a chilly dockside ceremony at the company's Groton shipyard last week, beating the end-of-the-year delivery deadline by nine days.

Company officials heralded the early delivery as a sign that increasingly efficient operations would help drive down construction costs and allow the Navy to order more subs each year.

The Navy aims to buy two submarines a year, at $2 billion apiece. For now, Electric Boat's parent company, General Dynamics Corp., and Northrop Grumman Newport News split the work on one sub a year. They take turns delivering them.

Electric Boat continues to pare its workforce. This month the company announced plans to cut 1,000 jobs in 2007, which will bring its total workforce down to 8,500. In 2006, it cut 1,442 jobs.

The Hawaii delivery, however, was a day of celebration for Electric Boat and Navy personnel alike, even for longtime company hands such as Richard Smith, 58, who said he has worked on 55 submarines in 30 years, first as a pipe fitter, more lately as a quality control analyst.

"They're still fun," he said as he munched on cake after Navy and company officials signed the document transferring the sub to the military.

The Hawaii, with a crew of up to 130, isn't expected to begin its assignment to Pearl Harbor until 2008. About another year of sea trials and weapons certification tests lies ahead, as well as final touches back at Electric Boat, said the skipper, Navy Capt. David A. Solms, and company spokesman Bob Hamilton.

Among other things, the Hawaii's crew will test what Solms called the "lockout trunk," a new way for Navy SEALs to exit the submarine while it is submerged, he said.

Designed for near-shore, post-Cold-War operations, Virginia-class subs carry out a variety of missions, including covert mine warfare, surveillance, and battling surface ships and other submarines.

The Hawaii is 377 feet long and 34 feet wide, and it can travel at depths greater than 800 feet and at speeds greater than 25 knots (about 29 mph). It carries Tomahawk missiles, torpedoes and mobile mines. In place of a traditional periscope, it has a "photonics mast," basically a system of pole-mounted cameras that transmits images to a computer display inside the ship's command center.

Senior Chief Matthew Stewart, who manages the Hawaii's information technology department and pilots the sub at sea, must stoop farther than most for a sip from the ship's water fountain, which is near the galley.

At 6-foot-6, he's the tallest member of the crew.

"I know where the head knocks are," he said.

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