The first submarine built at Newport News Shipbuilding was only 73 feet long and had retractable wheels so that it could crawl along the ocean floor.
The year was 1904 and the shipyard, under contract to submarine pioneer Simon Lake, built a total of eight submarines. Though a brief foray into underwater sea power, the Lake subs laid the foundation for the shipyard’s long history of building submarines for the silent service.
Four decades passed before the yard again ventured into submarine construction, focusing instead on building the battleships and aircraft carriers the U. S. Navy needed to win the war.
But with the dawn of nuclear power came the shipyard’s re-entry into the submarine business with Shark (SSN 591), launched in 1960 as the yard’s first contracted nuclear vessel. It was followed quickly by contracts to build Polaris missile submarines, of which Newport News built 14 in only six years – a third of the Navy’s Polaris fleet.
Next the company delivered nine Sturgeon-class attack submarines to the Navy in as many years. In 1965, however, the shipyard took the lead by designing the propulsion plant for an entirely new class of submarines — the Los Angeles (LA)-class — which outweighed and outsized the Sturgeon subs. The first was launched in 1974, and the yard built 28 more. The nuclear-powered LA-class grew to be the Nation’s most numerous submarine class with 62 ships built and delivered in a 20-year production run.
But after the shipyard launched its final LA-class submarine, Cheyenne, in 1995, submarine construction at Newport News again went silent.
A decade later, the yard once again jumped out of the starting gate to construct the latest in submarine technology and power, the Virginia-class.
Built in concert with General Dynamics Electric Boat, the partnership aims to produce the most cost-effective submarine construction program to date, with sections of the submarine built at each shipyard and final construction, test and delivery divided between the two. Newport News Shipbuilding delivered its fifth Virginia-class submarine, Minnesota (SSN 783), in 2013 and is in the process of planning or constructing the next block of submarines in the class.
1904: Newport News Shipbuilding builds eight Simon Lake submarines.
1960: The first nuclear-powered ship built by Newport News Shipbuilding, Shark (SSN 591), is launched. It is followed by 14 Polaris submarines.
1965: Newport News Shipbuilding designs the nuclear propulsion plant for Los Angeles-class submarines.
1966 – 1975: The shipyard builds nine Sturgeon-class attack submarines. all nuclear-powered.
1976 – 1996: Newport News shipbuilding builds 29 Los Angeles-class submarines, including USS Los Angeles (SSN 688).
2006 – present: In collaboration with General Dynamics Electric Boat, Newport News Shipbuilding builds Virginia-class submarines.