The Navy will name its newest attack submarine the USS Delaware and Jill Biden, the wife of Vice President Joe Biden, will be the boat's sponsor.
"Wherever the Delaware goes around the world, a piece of my heart goes with her," Jill Biden said at a Pentagon briefing Monday at which the surprise guest was her husband, the longtime Delaware Senator.
The vice president eagerly donned a ballcap offered by Navy Secretary Ray Mabus emblazoned with the name "Delaware" and her hull number, SS-791, to pose for photos with an artist's rendition of the sub.
"You have no idea what a big deal this is to her," Biden said in an aside to reporters about his wife, who has teamed up with First Lady Michelle Obama to advocate for military families.
Mabus said the Delaware will be built jointly by Huntington-Ingalls in Newport News, Va., and General Dynamics' Electric Boat Division in Groton, Conn., with delivery expected in 2018.
The new boat is one of the 377-foot Virginia class of stealthy, fast-attack nuclear subs, with 12 launch tubes for Tomahawk cruise missiles. Delaware will also have pump-jet propulsors rather than traditional bladed propellers to allow for quieter operation. Her speed is classified but listed as plus-25 knots (29 mph).
Mabus said Delaware will be capable of deep water as well as "non-traditional" submarine operations for "gathering intelligence and delivering Navy SEALS" on counter-terror missions.
Mabus, who has the most say in the naming of ships, has tended to favor state names. Delaware was competing with Kansas, Montana, Oregon, and Vermont as the states that had gone the longest without having a ship named for them. The last USS Delaware was a coal-fired battleship that was de-commissioned in 1923.
The size of the Navy became an issue in the presidential campaign, as former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-Mass.) pledged a crash shipbuilding program to build a larger Navy.
Mabus said that when the Obama administration came to office in 2008, the Navy had 278 ships -- 38 fewer than on Sept. 11, 2001. The Navy now has 42 ships under contract and is positioned to have a fleet of 300 before the end of the decade, Mabus said.