Mar. 6—The USS Montana submarine, the Big Sky State's namesake Navy vessel, officially launched on Wednesday, according to a press release from shipbuilder Huntington Ingalls Industries.
The nuclear submarine has been under construction in Newport News, Virginia, for about five years, and the ship isn't expected to be commissioned into the Navy until early 2022.
According to Huntington Ingalls, the USS Montana — currently known as SSN 794 — is about 92% complete.
The Virginia class nuclear-powered fast-attack sub is the first submarine in the U.S. Navy to ever bear the Montana name. The only other Navy ship christened "Montana" was an armored cruiser commissioned in 1908.
A replica of the original bell from the first USS Montana will be presented to the current crew when the submarine is commissioned, and some Montanans will get the chance to see the bell up close when the USS Montana Committee travels across the state this year giving presentations about the ship and its mission.
THE TEAM behind the USS Montana had been steadily building toward the submarine's launch into the James River since 2015. According to Huntington Ingalls, it took 10,000 shipbuilders and suppliers from all 50 states to build the Montana.
It's certainly no small feat, since the 7,800-ton, state-of-the-art nuclear vessel is expected to sail the seas for approximately 30 years.
"For our shipbuilders, launching Montana signifies five years of hard work, commitment and dedicated service," said Jason Ward, Newport News' vice president of Virginia-class submarine construction. "We look forward to executing our waterborne test program, and working toward sea trials and delivering the submarine to the Navy."
Footage of the launch is available on Huntington Ingalls' website at https://newsroom.huntingtoningalls.com/releases/montana-ssn-794-launched.
ALTHOUGH THE submarine itself will never make it to Big Sky Country, there's been a concerted effort to connect the ship's crew with local supporters.
Under the guidance of Bigfork resident Bill Whitsitt, the USS Montana Committee has organized support for the ship, such as a state historical display that will be set up on board.
Capt. Michael Delaney and various crew members, including a few who call Montana home, have gone on multiple visits throughout the state.
"Our exceptional young sailors want all Montanans to know that in their training and the fulfilling of their operational responsibilities, they are energized by the support they feel from Big Sky Country," Delaney said. "The same will be true when they are eventually deployed aboard the USS MONTANA in defense of our nation."
"We're all committed to making Montana proud as we work toward taking the state's namesake warship to sea for the first time later this year," Delaney added.
For more information on the USS Montana Committee, or to request a presentation on the future USS MONTANA, visit www.ussmontanacommittee.us.
Reporter Bret Anne Serbin may be reached at (406)-758-4459 or email@example.com.