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First Block III Virginia-class Submarine Delivered

North Dakota (SSN 784), delivered ahead of schedule and under budget

General Dynamics Electric Boat delivered North Dakota (SSN 784) the first of the Block III Virginia-class nuclear-powered attack submarines to the U.S. Navy last month, and the boat is on track to be commissioned Oct. 25 in Groton. The North Dakota‘s original May commissioning date was postponed due to quality issues with third party vendor-assembled and delivered components. These issues were serious enough to require an unplanned dry-docking to correct. Additional design certification work was also needed on the submarine’s redesigned bow.

Despite this, North Dakota was delivered on time and more than $30 million below target cost, according to a General Dynamics Electric Boat news release. The submarine was delivered two days before contract requirement, and had completed Alpha, Bravo, and INSURV trials six days previous, according to a NAVSEA PEO Submarines release.

This redesign replaces a sonar sphere with a Large Aperture Bow (LAB) Array and earlier Virginia-class boats’ 12 individual vertical-launch missile tubes with two Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs), which will each initially carry six missiles in multiple all-up round canisters.

North Dakota delivered ahead of schedule and under budget,” said Capt. David Goggins, Virginia Class program manager. “When one considers the scope of design changes, this represents a tremendous achievement.

“Now that certifications are complete, and we’re armed with lessons learned,we can move forward knowing that we are providing our fleet with the most capable, and battle-ready submarine possible,” said Goggins.

North Dakota trials

North Dakota during sea trials Aug. 18. The Block III boat has a new sonar array and bow payload modules derived from SSGN technologies. U.S. Navy photo

North Dakota is the 11th boat of the Virginia class, and is also the first of the eight-ship group of Block III Virginia-class submarines. The Block III boats reflect a Navy and industry commitment to reduce costs without decreasing capabilities through an initiative comprising a multi-year procurement strategy, improvements in construction practices and the Design For Affordability (DFA) program.

The DFA program focuses primarily on the redesign of the submarine’s bow, lowering program costs by $800 million, increasing capability and providing the capacity for additional growth at no additional cost. This redesign replaces a sonar sphere with a Large Aperture Bow (LAB) Array and earlier Virginia-class boats’ 12 individual vertical-launch missile tubes with two Virginia Payload Tubes (VPTs), which will each initially carry six missiles in multiple all-up round canisters.

North Dakota crest

The official crest of the Virginia-class attack submarine Pre-Commissioning Unit (PCU) North Dakota (SSN 784). U.S. Navy photo illustration by Jim Sikora

The new LAB Array eliminates hundreds of hull penetrations and replaces tranducers with lower cost, life-of-the-ship hydrophones. By nearly doubling the payload space available from 1,200 cubic feet with the 12 vertical launch tubes to 2,300 cubic feet, the VPTs will enable Virginia-class ships to deploy a wider variety of payloads.

Seven additional Block III submarines are under construction, while the 10 ships of the recently awarded Block IV contract will continue the two-per-year construction pace through 2018.

“The full range of Block III improvements were successfully tested during North Dakota‘s sea trials,” said Kurt Hesch, vice president and Virginia program manager, noting that the submarine received the highest quality score to date from the Navy Board of Inspection and Survey.

“This is an important accomplishment that reflects the skill and commitment of everyone involved in the Virginia-class submarine program. Maintaining this level of performance helps the Navy attain its shipbuilding goals and ensures our continuing success as a business.”

Electric Boat and Newport News Shipbuilding have delivered 11 Virginia-class submarines to the Navy: USS Virginia (SSN 774), USS Texas (SSN 775), USS Hawaii (SSN 776), USS North Carolina (SSN 777), USS New Hampshire (SSN 778), USS New Mexico (SSN 779), USS Missouri (SSN 780), USS California (SSN 781), USS Mississippi (SSN 782) USS Minnesota (SSN 783) and North Dakota. Seven additional Block III submarines are under construction, while the 10 ships of the recently awarded Block IV contract will continue the two-per-year construction pace through 2018.