After five years of construction, the newest submarine in the US fleet is ready to set sail. But this Virginia-class sub is not like the others—it's far more deadly and way less expensive to operate.
The USS North Dakota, which was officially commissioned on October 25th at Naval Submarine Base New London, is the first of eight Block III Virginia-class subs. That is, this is the third design iteration of the Virginia-class submarine platform. The North Dakota maintains the same dimensions as earlier iterations—it's 377 feet long with a 37 foot beam and 32 foot draft—and like other Virginias, it can dive to more than 800 feet at 25 knots. What's more, it won't need to refuel until 2047 thanks to its nuclear reactor.
The North Dakota differs from its predecessors in both its sensory and armament payloads. The spherical sonar array that the Navy's used in pretty much every one of its subs since the 1960s has been replaced with a modern, horse-shoe-shaped Large Aperture Bow (LAB) sonar array. The new sub also incorporates a pair of Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes, each packing six missiles; technology borrowed from our Ohio-class subs.
These design changes are meant to improve the submarine's performance and keep the US Navy one stroke ahead of other submersible superpowers. The USS North Dakota is equally well-suited for littoral and deep water operations, regardless of the mission. In fact, the new sub has been cleared for seven core mission types: hunting other subs, hunting surface ships, delivering special ops troops, both strike and irregular warfare, ISR collection, and de-mining operations.
"From the Arabian Sea to the Polar Ice cap, North Dakota will operate undetected in the harshest environments on the planet as her crew protects the freedom of the seas and the interests of the United States," Vice Adm. Michael Connor, Commander, Submarine Forces said during the commissioning ceremony. "Leaders around the world around the world continue to ask for more American submarine presence, because they realize that there are some very important things that must be done that only submarines can do."
The North Dakota and its 134-sailor compliment are expected to be hiding under the high seas by year's end. [US Navy via Defence Talk - Wiki 1, 2]