Zachary Cohen, CNN
1 May 2016
The U.S. Navy has formally begun construction on its newest Virginia-class submarine, as Jill Biden, wife of Vice President Joe Biden and the sub's sponsor, hosted the keel laying ceremony for the USS Delaware in Newport News, Virginia.
"These ceremonies are always special occasions, but the keel laying for this submarine is particularly meaningful to me," Biden said at the Saturday ceremony. "As a proud military daughter, military mom and Delawarean, I am honored to serve as its sponsor."
Expected to enter service in 2018, the 377-foot USS Delaware will weigh 7,800 tons and be able to operate at roughly 30 miles-per-hour under water.
In addition to the launching, commissioning and decommissioning, the keel laying is one of the four specifically celebrated events in the life of a ship, marking the initial placement of a central steel beam that serves as the submarine's "backbone."
Biden said it has been nearly 100 years since the Navy had a vessel bearing the state of Delaware's name -- the last being a battleship which served from 1909 to 1924 as part of the Atlantic fleet.
That ship was eventually sold and scrapped in 1924 to meet the requirements of the Washington Treaty on arms limits.
"I chose the name Delaware to honor the long-standing relationship between the Navy and our nation's first state," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said last year. "It has been too long since there has been a USS Delaware in the fleet and this submarine will remind future deployed service members and state residents of their strong ties and many shared values for decades to come."
Once construction on the USS Delaware is complete, Jill Biden will break a bottle against the ship during its christening ceremony and call the crew aboard for its commissioning once it is ready to join the fleet.
The USS Delaware's crew is currently made up of 48 sailors and seven officers, led by Cmdr. Brian Hogan.
In January 2013, General Dynamics Electric Boat received a $2.5 billion contract for the construction of USS South Dakota and USS Delaware as part of the Pentagon's plan to build 30 Virginia-class submarines by 2023.