N.D. sub to be an improvement in its classNuclear submarines similar to the USS North Dakota have lost chunks of their outer skin after short missions, a problem the North Dakota’s commander said he is confident will not happen when his boat is put into service.
By: By Dale Wetzel , Associated Press, The Jamestown Sun
BISMARCK — Nuclear submarines similar to the USS North Dakota have lost chunks of their outer skin after short missions, a problem the North Dakota’s commander said he is confident will not happen when his boat is put into service.
“They’ve come through a lot of the technological problems that they’ve had with that in the past,” Navy Cmdr. Douglas Gordon said Thursday. “I’m not really concerned with that.”
The North Dakota, which is being built at two East Coast shipyards, is about half finished. Gordon said it is to be commissioned in early 2014.
Gordon spoke Thursday at a news conference hosted by a group that pushed for naming the submarine for the state of North Dakota. It is headed by Robert Wefald, a Navy veteran who is a former North Dakota attorney general and state district judge.
The North Dakota is one of what is called the Virginia class of attack submarines, which can launch cruise missiles, perform reconnaissance missions and carry commando teams. The first sub began service in 2004.
Some of the new subs, including the Virginia and Texas, have had chunks of their hull coatings peel off, Defense Department reports say. The coatings are designed to make the subs harder for underwater sonar to detect.
“Special hull treatment continues to debond from Virginia class submarines during underway periods, often in large sections up to hundreds of square feet,” the Defense Department’s testing director, J. Michael Gilmore, said in a June 2010 memo, referring to periods the submarines are deployed.
Gordon said Thursday he believed the problem would be remedied on the North Dakota.
“They have had some design problems in the past with that coating, but I think they’ve actually wrestled through all those problems, and they’re pretty confident that the North Dakota will not have those problems,” he said.
Sailors and officers who will serve aboard the North Dakota are now reading manuals and taking tests to familiarize themselves with its operations, Gordon said.
The submarine will have 15 officers and 120 enlisted sailors when it is operational. The North Dakota is to be launched in July 2013, undergo testing at sea in November 2013 and be delivered for service in January 2014.
The submarine’s chief of the boat, Tim Preabt, is a graduate of Mandan High School. The chief of the boat is the senior enlisted man on the sub.
Gordon said Preabt asked him to return from his trip to North Dakota with lefse, a traditional Norwegian flatbread made of potatoes. Gordon, in retelling Preabt’s request, had difficulty pronouncing the word (LEF’-suh), to the amusement of spectators.
Preabt has served as chief of the boat on another sub, the USS Key West, Gordon said.
“I’m very pleased and honored to have his experience ... instead of having a new chief of the boat, so I get somebody that has been there and done that,” Gordon said. “He’s a great guy. So far, he’s doing a bang-up job.”
Gordon said the outpouring of North Dakota support for the submarine was heartening to him and his crew.
“I’ve been on several submarines in the past, and we’ve had sponsors, whether it be from Louisiana or Albany, and they’ve done some things for us,” Gordon said. “But, truly, I have not seen the outpour of kindness and generosity from a state so far that I’ve seen with North Dakota.”
The submarine is the second naval vessel to be named for North Dakota. The first, a battleship that was in service during World War I, was decommissioned in 1923 and used afterward for naval target practice. It was sold for scrap in 1931.