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Navy prepares to commission USS Minnesota

Sep. 6, 2013 - 01:38PM   |  
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NORFOLK, VA. — The Navy's newest attack submarine will join the fleet on Saturday, becoming the third Navy ship in U.S. history to bear the name USS Minnesota.

The nuclear-powered sub will be commissioned during a pier-side ceremony at Naval Station Norfolk, a short distance away from the harbor where the first USS Minnesota saw action during the Civil War's first battle of the ironclads. Back then, the USS Minnesota was a sailing steam frigate that had to be protected by the USS Monitor from the CSS Virginia.

The Minnesota is part of the most-advanced class of submarines the Navy has ever built. The 377-foot long ship is capable of submerged speeds of more than 29 mph and can stay submerged for up to three months at a time. Virginia class submarines were specifically designed for the post-Cold War era, and the ships are especially maneuverable in shallow waters.

Like other classes of attack submarines, the Minnesota is designed to fight enemy submarines and surface ships and can also fire Tomahawk cruise missiles at targets on shore.

The submarines are known as the silent service, and the Navy typically doesn't advertise their whereabouts like it does with other ships when they go on deployment or come home from one. One of the few exceptions occurs when a submarine joins the fleet, and hundreds of people are expected to attend Saturday's commissioning, which will also be live broadcast by the Navy online.

Capt. John Fancher, who will be the Minnesota's first commanding officer, said the technology aboard the ship is what helps separate it from other classes of submarines he's been on. He said he feels fortunate to have been the ship's leader as it underwent sea trials and became a fully operational ship.

"It's a dream come true. I've been in the Navy for 22 years. I've never been part of this process before, so when I say it's a once in a lifetime opportunity, it certainly is," Fancher said.

Construction on the Minnesota began in Newport News in 2008 and the ship was delivered to the Navy in June, 11 months ahead of schedule. The U.S. is building two Virginia-class submarines a year, at a cost of about $2.6 billion each. The Minnesota is the 10th Virginia-class sub, which meant Navy officials had to scramble to get the ship's crew trained on other submarines before taking control of it.

"A lot of the crew are new to the submarine force, so a lot of what we had do with that was to get them underway time on other submarines to go work on their qualifications and training because we were not put together yet," said Chief of the Boat Randy Reid, the submarine's top enlisted sailor. "That was a key part of it, and it was also a challenging part of it because we had people go as far as Hawaii to go underway on Virginia class submarines, just because there's not a lot of Virginia-class submarines out there."

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