BISMARCK -- The nuclear-powered attack submarine USS North Dakota is ready for action.
The 11th Virginia-class sub has completed its sea trials and will be commissioned in a ceremony starting at 10 a.m. CDT Saturday in Groton, Conn.
"This is going to be a great Navy day," said Bob Wefald, a former North Dakota attorney general and judge who has pushed since 1985 to get a U.S. Navy vessel named after the state.
That effort bore fruit in 2008, with pressure from the state's congressional delegation, he said.
"This is our payoff weekend. The commissioning of the USS North Dakota is going to be a great event for all the people of North Dakota," Wefald said. "It's going to be a wonderful advance birthday present for our (state's 125th) birthday on Nov. 2."
The commissioning of the $2.6 billion North Dakota, the second Navy warship to carry the name, will be streamed live online at www.navy.mil. Inforum.com and WDAY.com will link to the online stream of the event as well.
The Navy handles the commissioning ceremony, but the USS North Dakota Committee, headed by Wefald, sponsors the other events leading up to and after Saturday's big event.
Wefald said it's like coordinating a wedding.
"I'm totally keyed up. I'm basically on top of everything ... I think it's going to go well," said Wefald, who served in the Navy from 1955 to 1967.
"No matter what happens, the ship will be commissioned," Wefald said.
He expects 450 to 500 people with ties to North Dakota to attend the event, and an audience of 2,500 to 3,000 at the ceremonies at the pier.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert is the keynote speaker. Other dignitaries include North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Rep Kevin Cramer, R-N.D.
There will be a North Dakota party after the event, Wefald said.
"We're just going to celebrate a great day for the Navy and a great day for North Dakota," he said.
The North Dakota, SSN 784, is the first of eight boats being built as part of redesigned Virginia-class subs that make up the Block III group.
It has a crew of 14 officers and 120 enlisted men and can operate for 33 years without refueling.
The boat's bow was redesigned for a new, highly sensitive sonar array and to accommodate two "six shooter" missile tubes, which carry six Tomahawk cruise missiles each, rather than 12 individual missile tubes.
The design was further tweaked to make the USS North Dakota an even more effective platform to deliver special forces, such as SEALs.
Virginia-class subs are replacing the aging Los Angeles-class attack boats, which have been the workhorse of the U.S. fleet.
The 377-foot North Dakota was supposed to be commissioned in May, but problems with some components required repairs in dry-dock. The redesigned bow also required more certification, the Navy reported.
The North Dakota is commanded by Capt. Douglas V. Gordon. The senior enlisted man, also known as Chief of the Boat, is Electronics Technician Master Chief Tim Preabt.
Preabt was born in Minot, attended much of his schooling in Williston and graduated from Mandan High School.
North Dakota media outlets covering the event include television stations KFYR in Bismarck, KMOT in Minot, KUMV in Williston, and KQCD in Dickinson.
The original USS North Dakota (BB-29) was a 20,000-ton Delaware-class battleship that was in service from 1910 to 1923.
Virginia-class submarines displace 7,800 tons. They can operate at more than 25 knots submerged, which is about 29 mph.