GROTON, Conn. (AP) - The U.S. Navy on Saturday christened its newest attack submarine, a $2.6 billion vessel named North Dakota that can launch cruise missiles, deliver special forces commandos and carry out surveillance over land and sea.
It is the first Navy vessel to carry the name North Dakota in nearly a century. The christening coincides with the 124th anniversary of North Dakota becoming the 39th state of the Union.
"Very nice birthday present, this great submarine," U.S. Sen. John Hoeven said at the ceremony.
With the ship's sponsor, Katie Fowler, smashing a Champagne bottle against its hull, the 377-foot-long nuclear submarine was officially named North Dakota at the Groton shipyard of sub builder Electric Boat. It will become USS North Dakota and officially join the fleet when it is commissioned in May.
The submarine is the 11th in the Virginia class of ships, which have capabilities that allow them to perform better in shallow water than other subs and, among other features, a torpedo room that can be reconfigured to house large numbers of Navy SEALs.
"From the Arabian Sea to the polarized cap, North Dakota will operate in the harshest environments in the planet as her crew protects freedom of the seas and the interests of the United States," submarine forces commander Vice Adm. Michael Connor said at the ceremony.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus said North Dakota was completed more quickly than any other sub in the class.
"The work of the more than 1,000 shipyard craftsmen and engineers who built this boat has helped make the fleet stronger and our nation safer," Mabus said.
The submarine has a crew of 138 men. The senior enlisted sailor, Master Chief Petty Officer Tim Preabt, is the only crew member from North Dakota. But supporters have brought several of its sailors to the state over the past two years to soak up the local culture with ice fishing and tours of North Dakota's booming oil patch.
The crest of the North Dakota features wheat stalks and a pair of crossed revolvers beneath the bow of the sub.
The last ship to bear North Dakota's name was a coal-fired, steam-powered battleship built in 1910. It was decommissioned in 1923 and sold for scrap in 1931.
The christening brought a high-powered North Dakota delegation to Connecticut, including U.S. Sens. Heidi Heitkamp and Hoeven.
"And to all that will serve on USS North Dakota, know that with you goes the prayers of our entire state," Heitkamp said of North Dakota, which has the highest percentage of residents serving in the military of any state. "We take pride in what we do. We take pride in our service and serve at record numbers based on our population."