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James MacPherson, Associated Press, Published January 11 2013

Commander: USS North Dakota 80 percent complete

BISMARCK – Construction of the USS North Dakota nuclear attack submarine is about 80 percent complete, and the ship’s crew has seen an outpouring of support by residents of its namesake state, the sub’s commander said Friday.

Navy Cmdr. Douglas Gordon told North Dakota House and Senate leaders that the $2.6 billion, 377-foot vessel will be “the most capable and technically advanced submarine in the world” when it is commissioned in mid-2014.

The USS North Dakota will have 120 sailors and 15 officers. The Virginia-class attack submarine is designed to launch missiles, carry commando teams, and perform reconnaissance missions.

The nuclear submarine is expected to be in service for 33 years and can operate the entire time without the need to refuel, Gordon said. The sub will be able to dive to depths of 800 feet and cruise at about 30 mph, he said.

Gordon, 44, said the North Dakota is the fourth submarine he has served on during his career. He said North Dakota residents have sent care packages, cookies and cards to crew members. The support, he said, has been outstanding and the best he’s seen.

“The sailors truly feel this,” he told lawmakers.

The submarine, which is being built in Connecticut and Virginia, will be the first Navy vessel to carry North Dakota’s name in more than 90 years. The last ship to bear North Dakota’s name was a coal-fired, steam-powered battleship that was decommissioned in 1923.

Robert Wefald, a Navy veteran, retired North Dakota district judge and former state attorney general, has been a longtime advocate for the new submarine.

“Having a ship named for us – and the most modern vessel in the entire world – is an incredibly big deal,” Wefald said.

Gordon said Master Chief Petty Officer Tim Preabt, a graduate of Mandan (N.D.) High School, is the only sailor from North Dakota assigned to the submarine. Preabt is the senior enlisted sailor on the submarine.

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