YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — The USS John S. McCain arrived Monday at Sasebo Naval Base following damage at sea to the ship’s multi-function towed-array sonar, Navy officials said.
A Navy spokesman would not confirm whether the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer sustained damage after the sonar array collided with a Chinese submarine Thursday, as multiple media outlets reported.
"We do not discuss detailed operational capabilities or locations of our ships," 7th Fleet spokesman Cmdr. Jeff Davis said.
He did say the McCain was operating in international waters and conducting routine operations. The McCain’s home port is Yokosuka Naval Base, about 750 miles by land from Sasebo.
The Associated Press reported that a senior researcher with the People’s Liberation Army’s Navy Equipment Research Center, Yin Zhuo, said the collision was likely an accident. He said the American destroyer appeared to have failed to detect the submarine, while the Chinese vessel set its distance from the McCain assuming it was not carrying sonar arrays, according to the state-run China Daily.
A towed array is a long cable with hydrophones that is trailed behind a ship. It allows sonar technicians on both surface and submarine ships to hear vessels, aquatic life and other sounds within range.
According to a CNN report Friday, an unnamed U.S. military official attributed the array damage to an "inadvertent encounter" with a Chinese submarine.
The submarine did not strike the USS McCain’s hull, according to the CNN report.
Philippine Defense Undersecretary Alberto Valenzuela said the incident occurred about 144 miles from Subic Bay in the northwestern Philippines, outside the country’s territory, The Associated Press reported Monday.
That would place the incident within the South China Sea, which includes a submarine base built in recent years at Hainan Island.
"The base appears large enough to accommodate a mix of attack and ballistic missile submarines and surface combatant ships," according to "Military Power of the People’s Republic of China," a report prepared by the Defense Department for Congress in March.
The base gives the Chinese navy access to important sea lanes and "offers the potential for stealthy deployment of submarines into the South China Sea," according to the report.