The Story of USS John S. McCain
The Collision that Stopped the US Navy
The USS John S. McCain is an Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56), nicknamed “Big Bad John.” Assigned to destroyer squadron (DESRON) 15, McCain was on patrol in support of security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region before the collision.
The destroyer was involved in a collision with a merchant ship on 21 August 2017 off the coast of Singapore and the Strait of Malacca in the South China Sea, which left 10 Navy sailors missing. The US Department of Defense has since ordered a temporary halt to US Navy operations around the world and a full safety review.
McCain Named After Two US Navy Admirals
USS John S. McCain is named after John S. McCain, Sr., and John S. McCain, Jr., both admirals in the United States Navy. John S. McCain, Sr. commanded the aircraft carrier USS Ranger, and later the Fast Carrier Task Force during the latter stages of World War II. John S. McCain, Jr. commanded the submarines USS Gunnel and USS Dentuda during World War II. He subsequently held a number of posts, rising to Commander-in-Chief of the United States Pacific Command, before retiring in 1972. These men were, respectively, the grandfather and father of retired U.S. Navy Captain, Naval Aviator, and former Vietnam Prisoner of War, Senator John S. McCain III.
Construction and career
John S. McCain’s keel was laid down on 3 September 1991, at the Bath Iron Works in Bath, Maine. The ship was launched on 26 September 1992, sponsored by Cindy McCain, the wife of Senator John McCain. McCain was commissioned on 2 July 1994, at the Bath Iron Works. The former President of the United States, George H. W. Bush, was the ceremony’s principal speaker.
First Assignment to Pearl Harbor
The ship was initially assigned a home port of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii and shifted to a forward-deploy port in Yokosuka, Japan in 1997.
In January 2003, John S. McCain deployed to the Persian Gulf. She launched 39 Tomahawk missiles in support of the invasion of Iraq and was awarded the Navy Unit Commendation for her service. John S. McCain was awarded the Navy Battle E for DESRON 15 in 2003 and again in 2004.
On 16 February 2007, John S. McCain was awarded the 2006 Battle “E” award.
2009 Chinese Submarine Collision
On 11 June 2009, a Chinese submarine reportedly collided with the towed sonar array of John S. McCain near Subic Bay, Philippines. The incident caused damage to the array but was described as an “inadvertent encounter”.
In June 2009, John S. McCain pursued the North Korean cargo ship Kang Nam 1 toward Burma in enforcement of the new United Nations resolution of an arms export embargo against North Korea. The vessel was suspected of carrying arms for the Burmese junta government. Kang Nam 1 returned to North Korea without delivering its cargo to Burma.
In July 2009, the destroyer berthed at Yokohama’s international passenger terminal on a goodwill tour. The ship was opened to the public on 22 July 2009.
In March 2011, in company with the aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan, the ship was deployed off northeastern Honshu, Japan to assist with relief efforts after the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake. During that time, the ship may have been exposed to leaking radiation from the Fukushima I nuclear accidents.
In April 2013, John S. McCain was sent to South Korea during escalating tensions between the Koreas. In June 2014 the destroyer was sent to Subic Bay to perform in CARAT (Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training) exercises.
On 2 October 2016, USS John S. McCain and USS Frank Cable made the first port visit by US Navy ships to Cam Ranh Bay since end of the Vietnam War in 1975.
Field Training Exercise North (FTX-N) and Talisman Saber 17
Talisman Saber is the largest Australia-U.S. bilateral exercise. It provides a realistic and challenging training environment to practice readiness and interoperability between the two nations, while enhancing security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.
FTX-N consisted of several exercises with the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) including: Division Tactics (DIVTACS), Air Defense Exercises (ADEX), and a Force Protection Exercise (FPEX) with the Royal Australian Navy frigates HMAS Ballarat (FFH 155) and HMAS Melbourne (FFG 05).
FPEX consisted of McCain defending against a simulated attack from small surface crafts providing an opportunity for U.S. and RAN forces to conduct operations in a combined, joint and interagency environment.
During the FPEX, Gunner’s Mate Seaman Aaron Aston had the opportunity to be part of the exercise as a gunner stationed at one of the .50 caliber machine gun stations.
“It’s a rare opportunity to participate in a multi-national exercise such as this,” said Aston. “It was one of the most realistic events I’ve ever got to participate in. I really felt like the exercise helped me to be able to respond quickly in the event an actual situation would arise.”
After FPEX, McCain pulled into Darwin, Australia, and hosted local Australian media for a briefing by Capt. Bryan Parker, Exercise Director of FTX-N and Col. Kevin Norton, Commanding Officer of the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 4.
“Exercise Talisman Saber is a major combined exercise, the largest of its type,” said Parker. “It’s an Australian-U.S. exercise that hones our skills in high-end medium intensity warfighting. It provides an excellent platform for us to be able to improve our collective readiness, our combat capability, and interoperability.”
Cmdr. Alfredo Sanchez, McCain’s commanding officer, also hosted the Northern Territories Administrator, Chief Minister, the Mayor of Darwin, and other local government officials and military officers for a ship tour and expressed gratitude in working with the Royal Australian Navy.
“The Australian-U.S. military alliance has been a model of close cooperation and trust,” said Sanchez. “Australian-U.S. forces are a capable ready maritime force standing by to preserve peace and prevent conflicts in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”
Members of the crew assisted with the tour.
“I was proud to show off the ship and what it can do,” said Logistics Specialist 2nd Class Isaia Banaag. “For us to travel across the equator, to come here and show how expansive our area of operations is; showing that we are ready to go anywhere at any time.”
As the tour came to an end, the visitors and crewmembers took a moment to snap a group photo in front of the ship’s 5-inch gun mount before departing to attend a luncheon aboard the HMAS Ballarat.
While in port, Sailors participated in several community relation (COMREL) events, assisting with tours as guides at the Aviation Heritage Center and feeding and moving crocodiles at the Crocodylus Park. Sailors also attended tours through the Wetlands and the Marrakai Plains offered by Moral Welfare and Recreation (MWR).
Collision Leads to Operational Pause for US Navy
The U.S. Navy is promising to take “a much more aggressive stance” as it tries to determine what led to a second collision between a U.S. guided-missile destroyer and a commercial vessel in as many months.
Ten American sailors are missing and five injured, with the USS John S. McCain sustaining “significant damage” as a result of Monday’s collision with a tanker near the Strait of Malacca.
Photos released by the U.S. Navy show a gaping hole, below the waterline, on the John S. McCain’s port side. A statement from the U.S. 7th Fleet said the damage was “significant” and that some sleeping areas and communications rooms flooded as a result.
In response to the incident, the Navy ordered an immediate operational pause across the U.S. fleet.
Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson said the pause, lasting one to two days, will give commanders a chance to evaluate everything from how officers conduct themselves on the bridge to shipwide working conditions.
“There’s something out there that we’re not getting at,” Richardson told Pentagon reporters late Monday while discussing the latest mishap, adding there is no indication so far that anyone intentionally caused the collision.
Richardson has also ordered a broader investigation that will look at potential root causes for what he described as a series of mishaps at sea — from training and operational tempo to equipment and maintenance. He said that effort would bring in experts from outside the Navy to make sure nothing is overlooked.
“We need to get at this, get this done,” he said. “Just heartbroken at having to deal with this again.”
The collision between USS John S. McCain and the Liberian-flagged tanker ship Alnic MC early Monday is the second involving a ship from the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet in the Pacific in two months. Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship hit each other in waters off Japan.
In the case of the USS Fitzgerald, the Navy relieved the captain of his command and other sailors are to be punished after an inquiry found poor seamanship and flaws in keeping watch contributed to the collision.
Two other U.S. Navy ships have also been involved in mishaps this year, one bumping into a fishing boat and the other running aground.
U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told reporters while traveling in Jordan he “fully supports” the Navy’s broader probe that “will look into all related accidents at sea.”
“Once we have those facts, we’ll share them with you,” Mattis said.
Despite the damage, the USS McCain was able to pull into Singapore’s Changi Naval Base under its own power.
Singapore’s Maritime and Port Authority said the Alnic MC also sustained damage, but that there were no injuries among its crew.
Continuing Search-and-Rescue Operations for Missing Sailors
The Singapore military evacuated four of the injured sailors by helicopter to a hospital in Singapore, where they are being treated for injuries that were not life threatening. The fifth sailor did not require medical attention.
The U.S. Navy said it is continuing search-and-rescue operations with the help of local authorities, including the Malaysian and Singaporean navies.
The USS America, an amphibious assault ship that had been in the region, is also on the scene in Singapore to help with search-and-rescue operations, as well as with damage assessment.
U.S. President Donald Trump expressed support on Twitter, writing that his “thoughts and prayers” are with the sailors aboard the McCain.
The USS McCain is named for the father and grandfather of U.S. Senator John McCain, who each served as U.S. Navy admirals. In a statement Monday, Senator McCain agreed with the Navy’s efforts to identify the root problems quickly.
“More forceful action is urgently needed to identify and correct the causes of the recent ship collisions,” he said. “Our sailors who risk their lives every day, in combat and in training, deserve no less.”
Overview of the USS John S. McCain
USS John S. McCain (DDG-56) is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer in the US Navy’s 7th Fleet, part of Destroyer Squadron 15. She has her homeport at the Yokosuka Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan.
Class and type: Arleigh Burke-class destroyer
Displacement: light, approx. 6,800 long tons (6,900 t); full, approx. 8,900 long tons (9,000 t)
Length: 505 ft (154 m)
Beam: 66 ft (20 m)
Draft: 31 ft (9.4 m)
Propulsion: 4 General Electric LM2500-30 gas turbines, two shafts, 100,000 total shaft horsepower (75 MW)
Speed: >30 knots (56 km/h)
Range: 4,400 nautical miles at 20 knots (8,100 km at 37 km/h)
33 commissioned officers
38 chief petty officers
210 enlisted personnel
Sensors and processing systems:
AN/SPY-1D 3D Radar
AN/SPS-67(V)2 Surface Search Radar
AN/SPS-73(V)12 Surface Search Radar
AN/SPG-62 Fire Control Radar
AN/SQS-53C Sonar Array
AN/SQR-19 Tactical Towed Array Sonar
AN/SQQ-28 LAMPS III Shipboard System
Electronic warfare and decoys:
AN/SLQ-32(V)2 Electronic Warfare System
AN/SLQ-25 Nixie Torpedo Countermeasures
MK 36 MOD 12 Decoy Launching System
AN/SLQ-39 CHAFF Buoys
1 × 29 cell, 1 × 61 cell Mk 41 vertical launching systems with 90 × RIM-156 SM-2, BGM-109 Tomahawk or RUM-139 VL-ASROC missiles
2 x Mk 141 Harpoon Missile Launcher SSM
1 × Mark 45 5/54 in (127/54 mm)
2 × 25 mm chain gun
4 × .50 caliber (12.7 mm) guns
2 × 20 mm Phalanx CIWS
2 × Mk 32 triple torpedo tubes
Aircraft carried: 2 Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters can be embarked