Today is the commissioning of the newest Virginia Class submarine in the United States Navy, USS New Mexico.
A submarine generally goes through four significant ceremonies in its life: keel laying, launching, commissioning and decommissioning. (There are sometimes other ceremonies like a christening or a re-launch after an overhaul, but I digress) Commissioning happens between a year and two years after launching. Between these ceremonies, the submarine is undergoing its sea trials, a series of tests to make sure that the submarine is up to Navy standards.
Until it is a commissioned submarine, it is NOT an official Naval Vessel (this holds true not only for the US Navy, the many navies of the world.) This is why, though the submarine Turtle fought in the Revolutionary War, and the submarine Alligator was going to fight in the Civil War, neither are rightfully considered naval vessels because neither one was ever commissioned. Whether the CSS Hunley could count is an interesting question. I can’t find any evidence that she was formally commissioned, putting her in the same boat as the other two, but let’s face it, at the time, the Hunley was not part of the United States Navy, (she was part of the other side) and she was sunk by the time the two became one again.
The USS New Mexico joins her sisters Virginia, Texas, Hawaii, North Carolina and New Hampshire. These boats are designed not only for war, but a multitude of assignments virtually anywhere in the world. They carry around 135 men, and a lot of their specifications (speed, test depth, capabilities) are top secret. Surprisingly enough, they are not much bigger than their WWII sisters, the Gato/Balao/Tench boats, being only 65 feet longer and 8 feet wider, but they carry three decks instead of two and almost twice the men aboard. Each one is covered in a rubberized paint that helps deflect sound waves from sonar making them harder to find, and has a whole host of variations and possibilities built in.
Two more Virginia Class boats are under construction (the Missouri and California) and the Mississippi,Minnesota, North Dakota, and John Warner have been awarded to their builders and named. A total of 30 Virginia Class submarines are planned and budgeted for, phasing out the Los Angeles Class boats (which have been in commission starting in 1972) completely. This will leave the Ohios, Seawolfs and Virginias the American submarines on the high seas, a total of 51 when all is said and done. (Of course with the addition of the New Mexico, there are approximately 72 submarines in the active Navy right now…)