HII welder Jacob McNulty, far right at podium, traced the initials of former Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell onto a steel plate during a keel-laying ceremony for the future USS Montana this week. The plate will be permanently affixed to the vessel. Photo courtesy of Huntington Ingalls/Facebook
May 18 (UPI) -- Huntington Ingalls laid the keel for the future USS Montana this week, marking a major point of progress in the construction of what will be the U.S. Navy's 21st Virginia-class attack submarine.
The company's work on the vessel is now 46 percent complete, Huntington Ingalls said this week.
After the vessel is delivered, likely in late 2020, the Montana will be a fast-attack submarine carrying tomahawk cruise missiles and other projectiles to be used primarily for anti-sub and anti-surface operations as a member of the Virginia class of submarines.
The vessel's construction began in 2015, the Virginia-based company said.
"This is an important day for us," said Dave Bolcar, vice president of submarine construction at Huntington Ingalls' Newport News Shipbuilding division.
Sally Jewell, who served as secretary of the interior under President Barack Obama, followed U.S. Navy tradition by writing her initials onto a steel plate at the ceremony, which was held in Newport News, Va. Jewell is the ship's sponsor.
Mariah Gladstone, a member of the Blackfeet Nation in Montana, also offered a Native American blessing at the ceremony.
"It's a true honor to meet the commander, crew and shipbuilders who are hard at work shaping this amazing submarine to serve our nation," Jewell said. "We celebrate the tradition of the keel laying and look forward to blessing her, christening her and ensuring that the natural beauty, rich culture and spirit of the great state of Montana accompany the ship and crew throughout her lifetime."