Navy Delays Commissioning of Latest Nuclear Attack Submarine

April 17, 2014 10:22 AM - Updated: April 17, 2014 11:14 AM
North Dakota (SSN 784) is rolled out of an indoor shipyard facility at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn. US Navy Photo
North Dakota (SSN 784) is rolled out of an indoor shipyard facility at General Dynamics Electric Boat in Groton, Conn. US Navy Photo

The Navy is delaying the commissioning of the first Block III Virginia-class nuclear attack submarine — North Dakota (SSN-784) — pending an investigation into material from a third party vendor that included material in the bow and stern of the boat as well as additional design and certification work on the boat’s redesigned bow, Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) officials told USNI News Thursday.

The Navy had planned to commission the $2.6 billion attack boat at the end of May.

The service is now investigating 58 components supplied by the third party vendor. Neither Virginia-class prime contractor — General Dynamics Electric Boat — nor NAVSEA would identify the vendor to USNI News.

The components under investigation are “stern planes, rudder rams, retractable bow plane cylinders, hydraulic accumulators, high-pressure air charging manifolds, torpedo tube interlocks and shaft link assemblies and weapons shipping and handling mechanisms,” NAVSEA spokeswoman Colleen O’Rourke told USNI News on Thursday.

The vendor components are primarily contained in the bow and stern sections of the boat — sections built by Electric Boat construction partner Newport News Shipbuilding.

Representatives of Newport News Shipbuilding — a division of Huntington Ingalls Industries — referred comment on the program to NAVSEA.

North Dakota is the 11th Virginia boat and the first of a new block of ships that have significantly redesigned the bow of the boat to make the submarine more affordable.

About 40 percent of the bow was redesigned to include two Multiple All Up Round Canisters (MAC) ahead of the boat’s sail. The so-called MAC tubes — similar to the tubes in the four Ohio-class guided missile submarines — can hold up to six Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles (TLAM).

Artist's conception of the redesigned Block III Virginia-class bow.
Artist’s conception of the redesigned Block III Virginia-class bow.

The bow also includes a Large Aperture Bow (LAB) array that requires fewer parts and less maintenance than previous Virginia sonars.

The new bow was designed by Electric Boat and constructed by Newport News as part of the ongoing teaming agreement between the two yards for the construction of the Virginia class.

The fixes to North Dakota’s bow will be included in the rest of the Block III boats, according to NAVSEA.

Even with the delays North Dakota will likely deliver ahead of the planned 66-month construction schedule, Electric Boat spokesman Robert Hamilton told USNI News. North Dakota was inhabited by its precommissioning crew as of Tuesday, USNI News learned during an unrelated visit to Electric Boat’s Groton, Conn. shipyard.

The current vendor parts issue has been the most significant hiccups in an otherwise stable shipbuilding program free of the manufacturing issues and production delays found in the last several years in the Navy’s surface ship construction efforts.

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone

Sam LaGrone is the editor of USNI News. He has covered legislation, acquisition and operations for the Sea Services since 2009 and spent time underway with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the Canadian Navy.
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