Biden, First Lady Salute Attack Sub With Russia Tensions High

Biden, First Lady Salute Attack Sub With Russia Tensions High

First lady Jill Biden ceremonially commissioned a nuclear-powered submarine on Saturday, presiding over a display of U.S. naval power with tension between Washington and Moscow at the highest levels since the depths of the Cold War.

The U.S.S. Delaware, commissioned two years ago as the nation’s 18th Virginia-class attack submarine, made a port call in President Joe Biden’s hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, this weekend for a ceremony that was delayed by the pandemic.

The Virginia class is the pillar of the U.S. Navy’s undersea strategy into the second half of the 21st century. The boats can strike underwater and surface targets with torpedoes or attack sea and land-based targets with Tomahawk cruise missiles, while remaining on patrol for months. By 2028, the Navy wants to deploy next-generation hypersonic weapons on the subs.

Biden, First Lady Salute Attack Sub With Russia Tensions High

“This latest ship to carry the USS Delaware -- the name -- is part of a long tradition of serving our nation proudly and strengthening our nation’s security, the security of the United States of America -- not just us, but our allies and partners around the world as well,” the president said during the traditional sendoff ceremony for new naval vessels. “In fact, it’s already been doing that for some time.”

One of the primary missions of U.S. attack submarines like the Delaware is to hunt down and destroy enemy ballistic missile submarines in the event of war. Russian President Vladimir Putin put his nuclear forces on high alert last month after invading Ukraine, in a show of force toward the U.S. and its allies.

The U.S. didn’t reciprocate, choosing not to escalate the hostilities, but the Biden administration and other NATO countries have poured weaponry into Ukraine, including anti-air and anti-tank missiles, to help the Kyiv government fight off the Russian military.

The Navy has had maintenance issues with the $166 billion sub fleet, with more than 1,600 parts swapped between them since 2013 to ease bottlenecks as components of the boats wear out decades earlier than expected. General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Industries Inc. are set to build 48 of the subs.

Congress has persistently pushed the Navy to build the subs faster than its current pace of two per year.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions over the past two years, the sub was “the first warship to be commissioned beneath the waves,” Navy Secretary Carlos del Toro said.

With some 1,100 dignitaries and other guests attending the ceremony at the Port of Wilmington, the first lady concluded by clearing commanders and sailors to board the sub.

“It was a challenge to put our ship in service in the middle of a global pandemic,” she said. “Officers and crew of the USS Delaware, man our ship and bring her to life.”

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