BATH, Maine — Retired U.S. Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan got a firsthand look Friday at progress on construction of a massive warship that will one day bear his name.
The former Armed Services Committee chairman praised the Bath Iron Works shipbuilders who are assembling the future USS Carl Levin and thanked former Navy Secretary Ray Mabus for making him a namesake as a tribute to his years of public service.
"I cannot imagine a greater honor that an American citizen can receive than to have a U.S. Navy ship bear his name," Levin told an assembly at the shipyard on Friday that included current Navy Secretary Richard Spencer, the future ship's skipper, Maine's four-member congressional delegation, and several hundred shipbuilders wearing hardhats.
Levin was joined by his three daughters, Kate, Laura and Erica, the ship's sponsors.
Levin told the group that the Navy is especially important at this time in history because of the need to ensure open commerce along sea lanes at a time of increased globalization.
"Accompanying that expanded trade is usually economic competition, which at times leads to physical confrontation as we see in the South China Sea. So our naval strength is essential to deterring threats that can lead to missteps and miscalculation, which in turn can lead to conflict," he said.
Before the ceremony, Spencer met with the shipbuilders outside in the 15-degree weather and praised their work. For those who think the "United States government is broken, there are pockets of bright light," he said, adding that the ship would be one of them.
The keel-laying ceremony harkens back to the days of sailing vessels when construction began with a keel, which represented the ship's foundation.
Warships are no longer built like that. Instead, they're built in massive hull segments that are assembled Lego-style into a ship. Friday's ceremony took place in front of a massive hull segment that alone weighs 4,000 tons.
On Friday, Levin and his daughters donned welder visors and participated in welding their names on a plate that will go in the ship. Looking on was his wife, Barbara, and some grandkids.
The ship is about 44 percent complete and is due to be christened by the daughters in about a year.
The 9,500-ton destroyers in the Arleigh Burke class can easily top 30 knots while simultaneously waging war with enemy ships, submarines, missiles and aircraft.