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Navy delays submarine commissioning, says more work needed

By Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Navy on Wednesday said it would delay the commissioning of the North Dakota, a new Virginia-class submarine that was due to enter active service on May 31, to carry out more design work and resolve quality problems with certain components.

The submarine, built jointly by General Dynamics Corp and Huntington Ingalls Industries, is returning to drydock for the additional work, according to the submarine's Facebook site. It said no new commissioning date had been set.

Colleen O'Rourke, spokeswoman for Naval Sea Systems Command, said the Navy decided to delay the commissioning because the ship needed additional design and certification work on its redesigned bow, and because of "material issues" with certain vendor-assembled and delivered components.

"The Navy is committed to ensuring the safety of its crews and ships. High quality standards for submarine components are an important part of the overall effort to ensure safety," O'Rourke said. She did not provide details on the faulty parts.

It was not immediately clear who would pay for the additional work, or how soon the ship would be commissioned.

O'Rourke said the lessons learned from work on the North Dakota were already being applied to the other follow-on ships in the next batch of submarines being built.

Bob Hamilton, spokesman for Electric Boat, the General Dynamics unit that serves as the prime contractor for the submarines, said his company still expected to deliver the ship by the original deadline of August 31.

Sources familiar with the submarine program said the Navy was taking a second look at 63 different components, including some used in the ship's stern, rudder and hydraulic systems.

Typically in weapons manufacturing, if quality problems are found with one component, all other components made by the same supplier are also reviewed carefully.

The Congressional Research Service estimates that each Virginia-class submarine costs about $2.7 billion to build. The first of the new class of submarines entered service in 2004.

The North Dakota is the first of eight ships in Block III of the Virginia-class submarines, a new design that is about 40 percent different from the previous submarines.

That means the ship is essentially the first in a new class, and the first ship often has problems associated with a new design.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

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