NAVAL STATION NORFOLK, Va. — The Navy welcomed its "most lethal weapon" to the fleet Saturday as the fast-attack submarine John Warner was commissioned before a crowd of 2,500.

The 12th Virginia-class attack submarine, the Warner hasmarks some notable firsts. ItShe is the first of its class to be homeported in Virginia, a. This is a very fitting tribute to its her namesake, a Virginian "who has dedicated his entire life to serving his country — in the Navy and the Marines, as secretary of the Navy, and 30 years in the Senate," said Cmdr. Dan Caldwell, the attack sub’s skipper.

Warner also is the first in class to be named for a person. The previous 11 were named after stateshonored states with their names, as is tradition for Virginia-class fast attack boats. But there are exceptions. The third and final Seawolf attack sub was named for former pPresident Jimmy Carter, who was a bubblehead. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus in January announced plans to name a forthcoming Virginia-class boat after Adm. Hyman G. Rickover, the father of the nuclear Navy.

The submarine honors John Warner, who served as Navy secretary from May 4, 1972, to April 8, 1974, and in the U.S. sSenate from 1979 to 2009. The 88-year-old Warner was also an enlisted sailor during World War II and a Marine captain during the Korean War. Of his many high-profile jobs, Warner told Navy Times, that his first Navy promotion — to petty officer third class radio technician — was undoubtedly "the most important promotion I ever got."

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jon Greenert in his keynote address urged Warner's crew to live up to the legacy of service laid down by the ship's namesake. He called the attack sub "the most lethal weapon we have in our inventory," and with good reason.

At 337 feet and 7,800 tons, Warner and its fellow Virginia-class subs are longer but lighter than the Seawolf class. ItShe can hit speeds greater than 25 knots, dive more than 800 feet, stay submerged for three months, and operate for 33 years without refueling.

The $2.5 billion sub can launch a one dozen Tomahawk missiles from vertical launch system tubes (starting in 2019, Block V variants will include the Virginia Payload Module, which will add four launch tubes and 28 Tomahawks). Mark 48 advanced capability torpedoes are fired from four horizontal tubes. The torpedo room can quickly be reconfigured to launch house unmanned undersea vehicles or a SEAL team. The space was fitted with 23 makeshift racks when Navy Times toured the sub on Aug. 1. The large lock-in/lock-out chamber allows deployment without the need to surface, and a fly-by-wire ship control system provides unmatched operation in shallow littoral areas.

The traditional periscope has been replaced by photonic mast with high-resolution cameras and infrared sensors. By way of a handheld joystick, the operator can conduct 360-degree, high-definition scans from miles away. The image is displayed on large screens that plaster a tight command center. More than half a dozen sonar technicians sit in front of digital screens that line the port and starboard bulkheads; the pilot and co-pilot maintain their perch at the control room's forward edge.

Warner is the second Block III variant, which is marked by the replacement of the traditional sonar sphere with the Large Aperture Bow array. This vastly improves passive detection.

"Once you get it out there and really exercise the full capabilities of the ship, it is truly an amazing platform," said Caldwell, a 22-year sub vet.

Life on this sub is significantly different for Chief Yeoman Chief (SS) Brian Smith, who previously served aboard the ballistic missile submarine Alaska. The attack sub is noticeably smaller and the pace of operations is far more hectic. But the crew’s camaraderie helped to overcome these and other challenges with ease.

The sentiment was echoed by Machinist Mate (Nuclear) 2nd Class (SS) John Praria, who said "the crew is very tight, and really feels like a family." Praria was also happy to join the boat as a plankowner rather than starting off as a "crank" who pays his dues by handsing out drinks inat the crew’s mess.

150801-N-OV434-263 NORFOLK, Va. (Aug. 1, 2015) The Honorable John W. Warner delivers remarks at the commissioning ceremony for the Virginia-class attack submarine USS John Warner (SSN 785). John Warner is the U.S. Navy's 12th Virginia-class submarine and the first submarine in it’s class to be named after a living person. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel N. Garas)
150801-N-OV434-263 NORFOLK, Va. (Aug. 1, 2015) The Honorable John W. Warner delivers remarks at the commissioning ceremony for the Virginia-class attack submarine USS John Warner (SSN 785). John Warner is the U.S. Navy's 12th Virginia-class submarine and the first submarine in it’s class to be named after a living person. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Daniel N. Garas)

John Warner speaks at the Aug. 1 commissioning ceremony for the attack submarine named in his honor. The USS John Warner is Navy's 12th Virginia-class submarine and the first submarine in it's class to be named after a living person.

Photo Credit: MC1 Daniel Garas/Navy

Looking upon these and other crewmembers the day before commissioning, Warner was quick to point out that technology alone cannot make a ship great. He saluted the 135-member crew for having recorded the highest score for readiness of any Virginia-class sub to date, and urged them to maintain the unity and camaraderie that is typical of unique to American fighting men and women.

Warner also paid homage to Rickover, whom he commended as a visionary who helped avert a world war. The Cold War "might have been an entirely different chapter in world history" had it not been for Rickover, said Warner, who as Navy secretary of the Navy worked closely with the legendary officer. Rickover. "The Soviet Union knew our submarines were better than theirs and knew that if any problems started, we had a response time that could come back and inflict on acceptable damages."

Warner reiterated that threat during the commissioning ceremony.

"The Russian Bear is swimming again," he said, speaking of Russia's recent efforts to improve its submarine fleet and reinvigorate its presence in the world's oceans again. "They're coming back quickly — and it's the Virginia class that must fend them off.

"Let them know of your presence and your determination to defend freedom," Warner said. "Defend the sea lanes of the world, which are the very arteries of international commerce. Manned by our submarines, our surface ships, and naval aircraft, we are carefully working to keep those sea lanes open — not just for us but for all."

While an admitted highlight of a storied life that included his being the second-longest serving senator in Virginia history as well as being married to Elizabeth Taylor for six years, Warner took this honor in stride.

"As you work your way through chapters of life, there are times that you never forget," he said. "I tend to treat these chapters in life with gratitude and humility."

In fact, Warner said his wife, Jeanne, who is also the ship's sponsor, "is now referred to as 'chief of the boat,' and I have been relegated to petty officer third class."

"Don't believe it," Jeanne said with a laugh.

Construction on the sub, whose motto is "On a Mission to Defend Freedom," began April 29, 2009. John Warner was christened Sept. 6, 2014, and launched into the James River four days later. It was delivered in late June, three months ahead of schedule. The sub will now return to sea for various tests and trials.

The commissioning of John Warner brings the number of active attack subs to 54, 12 of which are Virginia class.