Former Flagship for 7th Fleet Sunk in Missile Exercise

Multi-national Naval Forces Put
Ex-USS Oklahoma City at Bottom of Ocean

Lt. Cmdr. Ed Zeigler, Task Force 70 Public Affairs

Sea Sparrow heads toward the OK City during Sink Exercise

An RIM-7M Sea Sparrow surface to air missile leaves its launcher on board USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) during a live fire exercise on Mar. 22, 1999. The Kitty Hawk was then in the Pacific Ocean, participating in Exercise Tandem Thrust, during which the former USS Oklahoma City (CLG-5) was being used as a target.

U.S. Navy photo above by PH3 Christopher D. Howell.[990322-N-7355H-003] 22 Mar 99. Other photos courtesy of John Scott.

Western Pacific, in the vicinity of the Mariana islands -- Naval forces from the United States under the command of Task Force 70 joined naval forces from Singapore, Republic of Korea, Canada, and Australia in a Multi-national Training Exercise 1999. The live-fire missile exercise was held in a naval operating area near the Mariana islands.

Ships, submarines, and numerous tactical and maritime patrol aircraft from the five nations fired Harpoon, Penguin, and Maverick missiles, torpedoes, and shipboard guns at the ex-USS Oklahoma City, a former Seventh Fleet flagship.

Rear Adm. Timothy J. Keating, the commander of Task Force 70 said the training exercise was "a tremendous opportunity for us ... We exercised a great deal of command and control with several nations, and we accomplished our objectives."

Torpedo Hit
A torpedo strikes the Okie Boat broadside

The first day of the exercise began with a NATO Sea Sparrow shoot by USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63). HMAS Perth (DDG 38), HMAS Newcastle (FFG 06), and HMAS Sydney (FFG 03) followed with Standard missiles fired at aircraft launched drones. USS Mobile Bay (CG 53), USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54), and USS Vandegrift (FFG 48) also fired Standard missiles at air launched drones.

Remote radio-controlled targets were used for gunnery exercises on the second day. Several vessels honed their targeting skills while firing at a moving surface target.

On the third day a "fouled range" prevented scheduled Harpoon shots at ex- Oklahoma City. For ship and aircraft safety, the Task Force had to ensure the Harpoon firing range was clear of all vessels in a 10,000-square mile area around the target.

"With all the fishing and pleasure craft, it was tough to clear the range," said Cmdr. Al Elkins, the senior exercise planner for Task Force 70. "Safety is much more important in an exercise environment than getting the shot off. Even with this setback, we were still able to achieve our goals," said Elkins.

Missle Hit
A missile strikes the Okie Boat topside

P-3 aircraft from Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron 40 (based at Misawa Air Base, Japan), and Patrol and Reconnaissance Squadron 4 (from Diego Garcia) launched one Maverick each at ex-Oklahoma City, but the 55-year-old vessel stood firm.

The ship was still afloat on the final day of the exercise. With USS Columbus (SSN 762), Republic of Korea Submarine Lee Chun (SS 062), and several attack aircraft were in position to take another shot at the old vessel.

Lee Chun shot a torpedo, scoring a direct hit. Twenty-five minutes later, at approximately 11:03 a.m., the former Seventh Fleet flagship disappeared below the surface, sinking down in 6,000 feet of water.

Smoke rises
Smoke billows throughout the ship

The preparation for five nations conducting this combined, live-fire exercise, began well in advance of the first shot being fired.

"Planning an exercise of this magnitude takes a great deal of coordination between nations," said Elkins. "You can imagine the danger of a multi-national force, all firing weapons in a confined operating area. Every detail must be reviewed several times," continued Elkins.

Coordination plays a vital role in exercises such as MTX 99, but the key factor when the forces are in close proximity is communication.

"MTX 99 command-and-control used e-mail systems, satellite voice and data communications, and time-proven communications systems, providing operators real-time information for decision making," said Lt. Ed Burns, Task Force 70 communications officer. "We used some of the Navy’s advanced technological communications systems to ensure all nations could talk to each other. We were all operating from the same perspective," Burns added.

Okie heads for the bottom
The old girl heads for the bottom

USS Oklahoma City was commissioned as a light cruiser (CL- 91) in 1944. It participated in the battle of Okinawa prior to being decommissioned in 1947. In 1960, the Oklahoma City was re-commissioned as a guided missile light cruiser (CLG 5).

The ship served in the Vietnam War and made several deployments to the Western Pacific to serve as the Seventh Fleet flagship prior to being decommissioned and stricken from the naval register in 1979.

- USN -