WASHINGTON — The Navy marked a milestone Friday for the ship named after the famously ornery and uncompromising father of the nuclear-powered Navy, Hyman G. Rickover, as the Navy burns its way through the latest iteration of the Virginia-class attack submarine.

At a ceremony at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Connecticut, the Navy celebrated the laying down of Rickover's keel.

"Adm. Rickover’s gift to our Nation’s defense — safe, reliable, and militarily superior naval nuclear propulsion — is as vital to our warfighting edge today as it was at the beginning of the Naval Nuclear Propulsion Program 70 years ago," said Naval Reactors head Adm. Frank Caldwell, who now holds Rickover's old job. "The U.S. Navy and our nation are proud to honor his achievements and legacy with this submarine."

Rickover is the fourth boat in the 10-ship Virginia-class Block IV, which is primarily designed to reduce by one the number of major overhauls the ship needs in it's lifetime, adding a deployment in the process. The first boat of Block IV, the Vermont, is headed towards it's christening later this fall, according to a release from Naval Sea Systems Command.

The class has generally been a shining star in the Navy's shipbuilding program, but it has seen delays in recent years as it has been beset by supplier issues. The Washington delivered three months late. The Colorado, which was commissioned in March, was three weeks late. And the next boat scheduled to leave Huntington Ingalls Newport News, the Indiana, will be running about three months late.

In a recent interview with Defense News, the Navy's top submarine builder Rear Adm. Michael Jabaley, program executive officer for submarines, said the program should be back on track after that.

"For SSN 790 (South Dakota), we’re working very hard to make sure that she delivers on time," Jabaley said. "Right now, she is scheduled to deliver a little bit early to contract delivery date, which will be in August of this year.

"Then 791 is the last boat of Block III. She’s scheduled to deliver next February and we’re working very closely with the shipbuilders to ensure that we get her out on time as well."

The major priority from the program office will be to drive down construction time from 66 to 60 months as the Navy progresses through Block IV, Jabaley told Defense News.

Next up after Block IV will be a major redesign, the Block V, which will add the Virginia payload module. That will drive construction times back up as the yards adjust to the addition of whole new section of the boat designed to boost the vertical-launch tube capacity of the ship.

David B. Larter was the naval warfare reporter for Defense News.

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