The USS North Dakota, a $2.6-billion attack submarine, is commissioned
Groton — A large crowd and a warm October Saturday morning welcomed the Navy’s most advanced attack submarine, USS North Dakota, and its crew into Navy history.
The commissioning ceremony for the $2.6-billion submarine, currently the most advanced member of the Navy’s fleet, was held at the Naval Submarine Base and lasted about 90 minutes. It featured remarks from politicians, Navy officials and executives, who spoke just feet away from USS Virginia, the first of the Virginia-class submarines, of which USS North Dakota is now a member.
Roughly 2,400 people, more than 500 of whom came from North Dakota, attended the commissioning. Many submarine veterans were also in the crowd. One of those veterans was Alvin G. Kinsall, commander of the U.S. Submarine Veterans Groton Base. “It’s very nice. It brings back a lot of memories. A lot of memories,” he said.
Kinsall was a member of the Navy from 1958 to 1962, and later worked as part of a test crew at Electric Boat. “It was a great opportunity,” he said. “Today is a great opportunity to bring you back to your roots.”
Kinsall has attended about six or seven commissioning ceremonies in total. Of the North Dakota, he said, “This ship is awesome, and it’s superior to any technology that we’ve had or that any other country has, so I’m very proud to be a part of it.”
At one point during the ceremony, there was a standing ovation for World War II veteran George Hayden, who was in the audience. Hayden, speaking with members of the media after the ceremony, said he was taken by surprise, “from this publicity that I don’t really deserve. I was just one of the boys at that time.”
USS North Dakota’s commissioning was the second that Hayden, who is originally from Watford City, N.D., has attended. He was a torpedoman and served on the USS Ling, which was commissioned in 1945.
“I debated even coming, but I’m sure glad I did,” Hayden said.
The Navy buys submarines in “blocks,” and USS North Dakota is the first of the eight-ship group of Virginia-class submarines called Block III. The Block III contract, which was authorized by Congress in 2008, allows for a two-a-year build rate.
“This massive investment in this program would not have been possible without the unmatched skills of our submarine builders and suppliers. It is because of their consistent track record of excellence that it was possible to convince the skeptics in Washington that investing in the Virginia program made sense,” said U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, during his remarks.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said USS North Dakota is one of a series, “that we are committed to make a reality. Our legislative team will continue to fight unceasingly to make sure that they have the tools that they need and weapons they deserve to fight this battle.”
About 150 crew members are assigned to the submarine, including Capt. Douglas Gordon, the ship’s commanding officer, Lt. Cmdr. Kristopher Lancaster, executive officer, and Master Chief Timothy Preabt, chief of the boat. All of the crew members are considered “plankowners,” an unofficial term meaning they are the original sailors of the boat, or members of the commissioning crew.
During his remarks, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joked as he arrived to the podium that the salute he received was a lot better than his wife yelling downstairs, “Is that you?”
Addressing the “folks at Electric Boat,” the governor said, “you are so very important to our economy. I can’t allow a day to go by without thanking you for being in our state and contributing to our welfare.”
On time, under budget
Malloy emphasized that EB delivered USS North Dakota to the Navy on time and under budget, despite issues that pushed back the submarine’s commissioning.
The Navy postponed North Dakota’s commissioning, originally set for the end of May, due to issues related to vendor components and additional design and certification work required on the submarine’s redesigned bow.
An investigation into the vendor began in April and is ongoing. The name of the vendor has not been released.
North Dakota is the first submarine to have a redesigned bow with a new sonar array and two larger payload tubes instead of 12 individual, vertical-launch missile tubes. The submarine will be able to launch Tomahawk cruise missiles, deliver special forces and provide surveillance of land and sea.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert, the ceremony’s keynote speaker, said submarines “can get anywhere in this world that we need them to get, and I have the empirical data on that. ”
North Dakota will join a submarine force that is in high demand today, enabling it to perform a wide spectrum of missions, Greenert said.
During an interview with members of the media after the ceremony, Greenert, said one of the threats that USS North Dakota will have to deal with, naturally, is other submarines.
“There are nations developing underwater capability. China is working on it. Russia is working on it. She’ll sail the world, the Seven Seas, no matter her homeport. Many submarines that leave here, they end up in Central Command in the Arabian Gulf. They move back over into the Mediterranean … so she’ll travel the world over. She’s nuclear powered. There’s no limit to where she can go out except food,” he said.
At the close of the ceremony, Capt. Gordon asked the ship’s sponsor, Katie Fowler, to join him in giving the order to man the ship and bring the ship to life, which is the Navy’s way of saying it is officially a part of its fleet. Moments before, Gordon announced that the USS North Dakota was officially commissioned, and “I am in command.”