Navy Deploys Cyber Security Team to Investigate USS John McCain Collision

Navy has never before deployed its D.C.-based Cyber Command abroad

Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) arrives pier side at Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore following a collision
Guided-missile destroyer USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) arrives pier side at Changi Naval Base, Republic of Singapore following a collision / Getty Images

The U.S. Navy has deployed a team of cyber security experts to join the military's ongoing investigation into the fatal collision of the USS John McCain off the coast of Singapore last month, according to the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare.

Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, who serves as the director of naval intelligence, said Thursday the Navy dispatched to Singapore its Cyber Command 10th Fleet, along with a team of technical experts from Naval Sea Systems Command and Space and Naval Warfare Systems Command, "to confirm that cyber had no role" in the Aug. 21 incident that killed ten U.S. soldiers.

"We have no indications or reason to believe that there was a malicious cyber attack that had an effect on either [USS] Fitzgerald or McCain, but we've assembled a team … to go out on the ground and look for and assess any anomalous activity that may exist onboard John S. McCain," Tighe said at an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C.

The investigation could take weeks-to-months to complete given its unprecedented nature. The Navy has never before deployed its D.C.-based Cyber Command abroad.

The Navy's top admiral last month ordered a fleetwide safety review after the USS McCain collided with a Liberian-flagged oil tanker in the Straits of Malacca and Singapore. The incident followed the June 17 crash of the USS Fitzgerald that drowned seven U.S. sailors in their sleeping quarters, and marked the fourth naval collision in the western Pacific this year.

The Navy has not provided a similar cyber team for the investigation into the USS Fitzgerald collision, according to Tighe.

Hours after the USS McCain crash, Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson told Pentagon reporters the Navy would look at the possibility the electronic defenses on the guided missile destroyer were hacked in a cyber attack, along with all other possibilities.

Tighe said investigative measures involving cyber will likely become a normal step in probing vessel collisions given the enhanced prospect of hackers breaking into U.S. defense systems.

In a nod to the growing threat, President Donald Trump in August elevated Cyber Command to a unified combatant command status, which is typically reserved for geographical commands like Central Command, or CENTCOM.

The investigations into the causes of the USS McCain and Fitzgerald collisions are ongoing. The Navy is also conducting a broader probe into naval procedures and training, which is expected to be completed next month.