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Dave Olson, Published March 17 2014

Admiral touts sub commissioning

MOORHEAD – In the words of U.S. Navy Rear Adm. Richard Breckenridge, the USS North Dakota fast-attack submarine is a big deal.

Breckenridge was in the Fargo-Moorhead area Monday to promote the upcoming commissioning ceremony for the North Dakota, which is only the second U.S. Navy vessel to be named after the state.

The first was a dreadnaught battleship that was decommissioned in the 1920s.

Speaking at a luncheon hosted by the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, Breckenridge said the new submarine is among the most advanced in the world, packed with technology on a par with the space shuttle.

“This is a formidable warship,” he said of the North Dakota, the first Block III Virginia Class submarine.

Breckenridge said among the submarine’s innovations is a new type of periscope that does away with the telescoping tube containing optics and mirrors, and replaces it with a stick topped with a cluster of sophisticated cameras that communicate with the submarine via fiber-optic cable.

Besides making the periscope more invisible to radar designed to detect such things, the new technology allows submarine crews to see in the dark when scanning for threats, something that wasn’t possible in the past.

Breckenridge said images from the new periscope are displayed on a large, flat-panel TV screen.

“Not just one guy (looking) through the soda straw gets to see what he’s looking at, but everybody in the control room can see what you’re panning at,” Breckenridge said.

The North Dakota’s commissioning ceremony is set for May 31 in Groton, Conn., and is now undergoing dock trials, Breckenridge said.

That testing will be followed by fast-cruise trials, designed to gauge how well the ship can respond to onboard emergencies such as fires or leaks.

“That all leads up to this incredible event called sea trials,” Breckenridge said. “There’s no greater feeling than taking a warship to sea for the first time.”

Bob Wefald heads the committee that is raising funds to promote activities surrounding the sub’s commissioning.

The former North Dakota attorney general and retired North Dakota district court judge said the group has raised about $100,000 toward the commissioning effort and he’s confident the remaining $100,000 needed will also be raised.

Breckenridge said the commissioning of a ship is an important time, particularly for the ship’s namesake.

“The reputation of the state is sort of on show,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Dave Olson at (701) 241-5555