Captain Doug Gordon, the Commanding Officer of PCU/USS NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784), reported on Tuesday, July 1st, that the Secretary of the Navy has officially approved Saturday, October 25, 2014, as the new commissioning date. With this good news we can now start making final plans for great events to celebrate the commissioning of the second ship named for our great State of North Dakota. The commissioning will be held at the US Naval Submarine Base in Groton CT.

On October 25th our boat’s status will change from PCU to USS (Pre Commissioning Unit to United States Ship). As part of the final planning process our travel vendor Satrom Travel & Tour (1-800-833-8787) is working on travel arrangements for the new date. We will post official tour and hotel information on this website as it becomes available soon. Taking advantage of these hotel, air and tour travel arrangements should help mitigate cost for those who plan to attend the commissioning.

As a bonus addition to this post please see this youtube link on U.S. Navy firepower in celebration of the 4th of July.


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Our USS North Dakota Committee is hosting a lunch on May 31st at noon at the Marriott Hotel in Groton/Mystic CT for those people who had made plans for the orginally scheduled May 31st commissioning date and who chose not to change their plans. Quite a few people had made vacation plans with scheduled time off from work as well as having my flight arrangements that would have resulted in $200 per person for cancellation fees.

It will be a nice event hosted by our USSND Committee Vice Chairman Bill Butcher. Our Commanding Officer Captain Doug Gordon and his wife Christine will attend as will the Executive Officer Lieutenant Commander Kris Lancaster and his wife Karen along with Electronics Technician Master Chief Petty Officer Tim Preabt, the Chief of the Boat (COB) and his wife Linda. The guests will be briefed on the status and capabilities of the boat.

USS NORTH DAKOTA’s officers and crew have planned a day of activities including a visit to the “NAUTILUS and Submarine Force Museum” and a tour of our boat.

In the mean time the Navy is working on a new commissioning date.


The following article comes from today’s issue of the Undersea Warfare News, a Navy clipping service that republishes articles of interest to the submarine community. I thought it was a good read.

Opinion/Commentary: Down Periscope

Darryl Manzer, SCVNews.com, May 15

When I tell folks I served on submarines, most of the time I hear, “What was it like?” and “I couldn’t do that; I’m claustrophobic.” Followed soon after by, “Why did you pick submarines?”

I didn’t “pick” the Submarine Service. I enlisted as a musician. I played bassoon. The Navy didn’t want another bassoonist. I also auditioned for clarinet and sax. Passed those auditions, but I didn’t want to play those instruments any longer. I figured I had started on clarinet in third grade at Castaic Union Elementary School and continued it at Peachland. Once at Placerita Junior High, Mr. Downs asked me to play bass clarinet, and in eighth grade I added bassoon. I switched between bass clarinet and bassoon through my senior year at Hart.

But I didn’t want to play a single reed instrument any more, so back at my company in boot camp, following my auditions I asked my company commander, Chief Machinist Mate (SS) Leo Yavarosky, what I should do. His reply was quick and to the point. “Go submarines.”

I did volunteer the next day. I was hooked for 36 years with the Navy and a few more as a contractor. I love the boats.

The Submarine Service isn’t for everyone. I like to think we qualified by flunking our psychological evaluation for the rest of the fleet. You had to be crazy to get on the boats.

Getting on the boats after basic training or, as sailors and Marines say, “boot camp,” was a long process. Schools, schools and more schools. (Even more schools once you were aboard a boat.)

I’ll never forget going aboard my first submarine after that long and sometimes tedious education.

Menhaden (SS377) in the 1960s.

The first submarine is always a special memory. USS Menhaden (SS377) was a modernized submarine built in 1944. I’ll never forget the smell. Diesel fuel. Cooking oils. Perspiration. Cigarette and other tobacco smoke.

Greases, oils and all manner of odors. It got worse if the cooks prepared meals that tended to increase the gases a sailor could produce. My calf barn-cleaning chores in Pico Canyon did much to prepare me for those smells.

I thought when I went to a “nuke boat,” or nuclear-powered submarine, the smells would get better. They really didn’t. I did have a new odor added to all those before: amine. That is a chemical used to remove carbon monoxide and dioxide from the air inside a boat. It leaves its own smell that permeates every article of clothing you take on the boat with you. I’ve got a couple of old uniforms that still have the smell nearly 45 years later.

That first time underway and that first-time dive. Was I scared? You bet. Couldn’t show it, because all of your shipmates would let you know what a “wuss” you were if you did. Plus, you were too busy getting qualified to worry about stuff like a few leaks and weeps.

Imagine a large RV that can go underwater. Depending on the boat, there were 80 to 150 sailors aboard. Crowded? Yes. I was lucky and never had to “hot rack,” meaning I didn’t share the bunk with another sailor. Some guys had to do that. When one was sleeping, the other was awake and on watch or maintaining equipment.

We got fed four meals a day. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and mid-rats. Serving times were 0600, 1200, 1800 and 2400. Up until recently, submariners lived an 18-hour day. Six hours on watch and 12 off to sleep and keep things running. Most boats have now switched to a 24-hour day. I don’t know how that is working out.

Back in the day, we had movies to watch and endless card games of all types. We held “casino nights,” and on long deployments we had “Mid Patrol Follies.” There was always work to do, and when nothing else was going on, we had “field day.” That is the Navy way of saying “housecleaning.” We did that at least weekly.

On the “nuke” boats, on deployment, I spent anywhere from 57 to 87 days underwater at a time. When we got near the surface, we got to look out the periscope at times. Today the periscope camera can be seen all over the boat on flat-screen monitors, but back then we got maybe a minute each to see things … like the surface of the ocean for miles in every direction, and a very special time when we saw Mount Etna, the volcano on Sicily, erupting. That was a great “periscope liberty” time.

Growing up in the Santa Clarita Valley, I could hike or ride up a ridge and see for miles and miles all around. On a submarine, the maximum direct line of sight might be 100 feet in the missile compartment of a ballistic missile boat. So when you get back to port, your eyes have to adjust for distance vision again.

What was it like? I guess I could say it was like being stuck in an RV on a rainy day with a lot of other guys. Now there are women on the boats. Officers. Soon I suspect the enlisted ranks will have women, too. There will be some changes made in berthing assignments and areas and maybe use of the “heads,” or bathrooms, but I don’t see a big problem with women on a boat.

Unless a couple is into some sort of exhibitionism, it won’t be a problem. Surface ships have all kinds of places a couple can get alone. On a submarine, the only place you can be alone is between your own ears.

It is also the only part of the Navy where no matter the size of your ship you still call it a “boat.” Tradition runs deep. Very, very deep.

And for those other questions: Deeper than 800 feet. Faster than 30 knots. Underway as long as there is food. Trash and garbage get compressed in special cans and ejected. Human waste gets pumped overboard via the “sanitary pump.” Oxygen is made on board, and the air is cleaned in any manner of ways. Water is either distilled or made by a reverse osmosis machine.

Even today, we old non-nuke diesel boat sailors like to say: “Every boat still has an emergency diesel generator as a back-up to the nuclear power plant and around 120 tons of battery.”

Gee, my RV has an emergency diesel generator and six batteries, too. Guess that is why I feel so at home in “Billy Bob” – my RV.

Darryl Manzer grew up in the Pico Canyon oil town of Mentryville in the 1960s and attended Hart High School. After a career in the U.S. Navy he returned to live in the Santa Clarita Valley. He can be reached at dmanzer@scvhistory.com and his commentaries, published on Tuesdays and Sundays, are archived at DManzer.com.


This article is taken from this morning’s edition of the Undersea Warfare News, a clipping and republication service for the Navy’s undersea warfare community.  USS [PCU] NORTH DAKOTA (SSN-784) is the first VIRGINIA Class to be equipped with these vertical launch tubes.

Electric Boat Helps Build Huge Tube For Navy

Jennifer McDermott, The Washington Times, May 11

NEWPORT, R.I.  – Inside the “launcher laboratory” at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center, underneath a large hatch, stands a tube 30 feet high.

Eventually the 15-by-15-foot hatch will open and a crane will lower in weapons and sensors – and whatever other new technology defense researchers can dream up – to be launched from the “Virginia Payload Tube.”

The payload tube is identical to the vertical missile launch tubes designed for new Virginia-class submarines. Beginning with the North Dakota, currently under construction, new Virginia-class boats will have two launch tubes, each with a diameter of about 7 feet, instead of 12 smaller ones that each can hold only a single Tomahawk cruise missile.

On submarines with the new, larger tubes, the Navy may eventually want to use Tomahawk missiles that can travel farther because they are bigger than the missiles used today. Or it may want to deploy unmanned aerial or undersea vehicles to collect data, sonar to look for mines, or equipment for several tasks, said Rear Adm. David M. Duryea, the warfare center’s commander.

“Those are the things that are out there in the future,” he said. “I think there will be a lot of excitement, a lot of innovation in that area as we go forward.”

The Navy and Electric Boat are building the tube together. The Navy will test and develop new ways of using the tube at the NUWC lab before putting them on the Virginia-class attack submarines of the future.

Duryea said that after the payload tube is finished this summer he will invite businesses to the facility in Newport to measure it. They may think of new ideas for what could go in it, he added, and later, they could try out their innovations there.

“The Virginia Payload Tube significantly expands the types of payloads that can go onto submarines, and this test site will help us to incorporate sensors, weapons and other equipment that will be essential in the 21st century,” said Kurt A. Hesch, EB’s vice president for the Virginia program. “As a company with a long history of integrating payloads into submarines, we’re looking forward to working with NUWC to provide the Navy what it needs to keep submarines as the ultimate multimission platform.”

The tube is at NUWC, and not at EB, because NUWC already had a building for it, where all of the Navy departments and contractors could use it. And with the initial testing done inside a facility, it frees up a submarine that would otherwise have been needed.

“And everything that goes into the tube needs to be evaluated. That is our core area,” Paul Melancon, the project lead at NUWC, said.

The building that houses the tube is called the Undersea Warfare complex, or launcher laboratory, because it is also home to several torpedo launchers being tested for surface ships and submarines. The roof was raised 30 feet so missiles and vehicles could be lowered into the tube. EB built the 50-ton tube at its Quonset Point facility and a giant crane lowered it through the roof and into the building in November.

The cost to construct the system, modify the building and pay for labor is $22 million, funded primarily through the Navy’s Virginia-class program office.

Even as the Defense Department budget shrinks, Duryea said, the nation continues to invest in undersea warfare “quite a bit” to stay ahead of adversaries and ensure maritime trade routes remain open. The Navy awarded EB a record $17.6 billion contract on April 28 to build two attack submarines per year from fiscal 2014 to 2018.

“I think that says a lot about the value of the submarine force,” Duryea said.

On Wednesday, employees from Electric Boat and NUWC installed piping for the tube.

Some of the EB employees involved in the project had been recalled to work on the North Dakota, said Mark Rodrigues, the department head for platform and payload integration development at the warfare center. The North Dakota’s commissioning recently was postponed, according to the Navy, to allow for more time for additional design and certification work on the redesigned bow and to resolve material issues with vendor-supplied components.

The payload tube project is at least four to eight weeks behind schedule, Rodrigues said. But, he said, the plan is to finish the payload tube at the same time as the North Dakota goes to sea, so they have more time now that the commissioning is delayed.

Rodrigues said the warfare center’s tube will also be used for training and for troubleshooting any issues once the North Dakota and its successors are out in the fleet.

“Those big tubes, by definition, support six Tomahawks. In the future, we have some 50 percent more volume, which can accommodate other future payloads beside Tomahawks,” Rodrigues said. “That’s the real strategic return on investment. It gives us the ability to explore the integration of those payloads. That is the big, future bang for the buck.”

A ribbon cutting is tentatively planned for August. Duryea said the warfare center will have a “great facility to experiment,” where what experiments they do will be determined by “people’s imaginations.”


Here is a link to article today in the Minot Daily News:

Minot Daily News 5.5.2-14



Here is a link to an interesting story abut life on a VIRGINIA Class submarine USS NEW MEXICO.




In his letter to our USS North Dakota Committee of April 16th announcing the postponement of USS NORTH DAKOTA’s scheduled may 31st commissioning date Rear Admiral David Johnson stated:

NORTH DAKOTA is the first of eight VIRGINIA Class Block III ships. Approximately 20 percent of NORTH DAKOTA was redesigned as part of the VIRGINIA Cost Reduction work done to lower acquisition cost and increase operational flexibility. A significant portion of the redesign encompassed inserting large-diameter vertical payload tubes — VIRGINIA Payload Tubes — into the ship’s bow. The build, test, certify and delivery process used for every new submarine highlighted areas of the VIRGINIA Payload Tube design and certification that needed further work to improve reliability and overall safety of the ship. In parallel with this work, a vendor-supplied component quality issue was discovered that must be corrected before I can certify the ship for sea trials and the Navy can accept delivery.

It is very ill-timed to have both these issues arise during the final stages of NORTH DAKOTA’s construction and preparation for her initial sea trials. The Navy and its shipbuilding partners are committed to ensuring that the design, construction, and certification of the ship’s systems and components meet the exacting standards for NORTH DAKOTA and her VIRGINIA Class sister ships. Unfortunately, that assurance will require more time than the seven weeks remaining before commissioning.

I fully expect NORTH DAKOTA to deliver before her contract delivery date of August 31, 2014 and to set a new benchmark for excellence in what is arguably the gold standard for defense acquisition — the VIRGINIA Class Program. When commissioned, USS NORTH DAKOTA will have no peer, establishing the world-standard for mission effectiveness, lethality, flexibility and affordability. I have no doubt that NORTH DAKOTA will be an enduring source of pride for her namesake state.

Some interesting background is found in this 2008 news release/story about the VIRGINIA Class and the Block III submarines:

The Virginia Class Program: “2 for 4 in 12″

SSN-777 Under Construction

SSN 777 costruction
(click to view full)

The SSN-774 Virginia Class external link submarine was introduced in the 1990s as a Clinton-era reform that was intended to take some of the SSN-21 Seawolf Class’ external link key design and technology advances, and place them in a smaller, less heavily-armed, and less expensive platform. The resulting submarine would have learned some of the Seawolf program’s negative procurement lessons external link, while performing capably in land attack, naval attack, special forces, and shallow water roles. In the end, the Seawolf Class became a technology demonstrator program that was canceled at 3 ships, and the Virginia Class became the naval successor to America’s famed SSN-688 Los Angeles Class.

The Virginia Class program was supposed to reach 2 submarines per year by 2002, removing it from the unusual joint construction approach between General Dynamics Electric Boat and Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding – but that goal has been pushed back to 2012 in progressive planning budgets.

In FY 2005 dollars, SSN-21 submarines cost between $3.1-3.5 billion each. According to Congressional Research Service report #RL32418, and the Navy is working toward a goal of shaving FY05$ 400 million from the cost of each Virginia Class boat, and buying 2 boats in FY2012 for combined cost of $4.0 billion in FY 2005 dollars – a goal referred to as “2 for 4 in 12″. In real dollars subject to inflation, that means about $2.6 billion per sub in 2012, and $2.7 billion in 2013. The Navy believes that moving from the current joint construction arrangement will shave FY05$ 200 million from the cost of each submarine, leaving another FY05$ 200 million (about $220 million) to be saved through ship design and related changes.

Block III: The Changes

SSN Virginia Block-III Bow Mods

Block III bow mods
(click to view full)

The most obvious change is the switch from 12 vertical launch tubes, to 12 missiles in 2 tubes that use technology from the Ohio Class special forces/ strike SSGN program. The Virginia’s hull has a smaller cross-section than the converted ballistic missile SSGNs, so the “6-shooters” will be shorter and a bit wider. [Emphasis provided by me about the changed design] Nevertheless, they will share a great deal of common technology, allowing innovations on either platform to be incorporated into the other submarine class during major maintenance milestones. Net savings are about $8 million to program baseline costs.

The other big change you can see in the above diagram is switching from an air-backed sonar sphere to a water-backed Large Aperture Bow (LAB) array. Eliminating the hundreds of SUBSAFE penetrations that help maintain required pressure in the air-backed sonar sphere will save approximately $11 million per hull, and begins with the FY 2012 boats (SSNs 787-788).

The LAB Array has 2 primary components: the passive array, which will provide improved performance, and a medium-frequency active array. It utilizes transducers from the SSN-21 Seawolf Class that are that are designed to last the life of the hull. This is rather par for the course, as the Virginia Class’ was created in the 1990s to incorporate key elements of the $4 billion Seawolf Class submarine technologies into a cheaper boat.

The SUBSAFE eliminations, plus the life-of-the-hull transducers, will help to reduce the submarines’ life cycle costs as well by removing moving parts that require maintenance, eliminating possible points of failure and repair, and removing the need for transducer replacements in drydock.

The bow redesign is not limited to these changes, however, and includes 25 associated redesign efforts. These are estimated to reduce construction costs by another $20 million per hull beginning with the FY 2012 submarine.

With the $19 million ($11 + 8) from the LAB array and Vertical Payload, and the $20 million from the associated changes, General Dynamics is $39 million toward the $200 million baseline costs goal of “2 for 4 in 12″. While the changes themselves will begin with the FY 2009 ship, the savings are targeted at FY 2012 because of the learning curve required as part of the switch. Recent discussions concerning an earlier shift to 2 submarines per year would result in faster production of the Block III submarines, but would be unlikely to make a huge difference to that learning curve.


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