The USS John Hancock (DD-981) was a Spruance-class destroyer in the United States Navy, named in honor of John Hancock, a prominent figure in the American Revolutionary War and the first signatory of the Declaration of Independence.

The Spruance-class destroyers were designed primarily for anti-submarine warfare, but they were also equipped to handle surface warfare and air defense missions.


Design of the USS John Hancock

The USS John Hancock (DD-981), as a part of the Spruance-class destroyers, showcased a distinct structural design optimized for modern naval warfare. Measuring 563 feet in length with a beam of 55 feet, it had a sleek and elongated hull.

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This design philosophy was instrumental in achieving a lower radar cross-section, making the ship less detectable to enemy radar systems. The flush deck design, devoid of superfluous structures, further contributed to this stealth aspect and provided stability in various sea conditions, which was essential for the operations of onboard helicopters.

One of the most significant advancements in the USS John Hancock was its propulsion system. The ship was among the first U.S. Navy vessels to be powered by gas turbines, specifically four General Electric LM2500 engines. This choice marked a departure from the traditional steam turbines.

An aerial view of USS John Hancock on the move in 1983.

The gas turbine engines offered high power-to-weight ratios, operational flexibility, and required fewer personnel for maintenance and operation. This propulsion system enabled the ship to reach speeds exceeding 30 knots, a substantial advantage for rapid deployment and maneuverability in combat situations.

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The onboard facilities for helicopters were a critical component of the USS John Hancock’s design. It featured a spacious flight deck and two hangars, capable of housing two LAMPS helicopters. These helicopters extended the ship’s anti-submarine warfare capabilities, allowing for greater range and effectiveness in detecting and engaging submarine threats.

An anti-submarine Kaman SH-2F Seasprite helicopter on board USS John Hancock in 1986.

They could also be used for search and rescue missions, reconnaissance, and logistic support, making the USS John Hancock a versatile platform in various naval operations.


The USS John Hancock’s initial armament layout was designed to provide a comprehensive range of offensive and defensive capabilities. It included:

  • Mark 45 5-inch/54-caliber lightweight gun: This was the primary surface warfare gun, capable of firing at both surface and air targets.
  • Harpoon missile launchers: The ship was equipped with two quadruple Harpoon missile launchers, which were effective for long-range anti-ship engagements.
  • Mark 29 Sea Sparrow missile system: This system provided the ship with a short-range defensive capability against aircraft and anti-ship missiles.
  • Torpedo Tubes: Two triple Mark 32 torpedo tubes were included for anti-submarine warfare, allowing the ship to engage submarines at a distance.
  • Anti-Submarine Rockets: These were an integral part of the ship’s anti-submarine arsenal.
  • Phalanx CIWS: The Close-In Weapon System was a last-resort defense against incoming missiles and aircraft, capable of automatically detecting and engaging threats.

The USS John Hancock was outfitted with advanced sensor and electronic warfare systems. These included radar systems for surface and air surveillance, sonar systems for anti-submarine operations, and electronic countermeasures to detect and jam enemy radar and communication systems.

The integration of these systems allowed the USS John Hancock to perform various roles, from scouting and surveillance to command and control during joint operations.

Operational History of the USS John Hancock

The USS John Hancock (DD-981) was commissioned in 1979, entering service during a critical period of the Cold War. Its early years were marked by a focus on readiness and deterrence, typical of U.S. naval operations during this era. The destroyer’s capabilities in anti-submarine warfare were particularly relevant, given the ongoing competition with the Soviet Union and its substantial submarine fleet.

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The USS John Hancock patrolled key strategic areas, participated in NATO exercises, and often operated in the North Atlantic and Mediterranean regions, where it played a role in projecting U.S. naval power and ensuring the security of sea lanes.

Beyond its role in Cold War deterrence, the USS John Hancock was actively involved in several operations related to crisis response, particularly in the Middle East. This involvement was part of the U.S. Navy’s broader strategy to maintain stability in a region that was increasingly vital to global oil supplies and geopolitical interests.

The name of the ship was painted mirroring the signature on the Declaration of Independence.

One notable deployment was during Operation Earnest Will in the 1988, where the USS John Hancock escorted Kuwaiti oil tankers reflagged with U.S. colors through the Persian Gulf. This operation was crucial in protecting these vessels from Iranian attacks during the Iran-Iraq War. In fact, during a showing the flag patrol through the Gulf four years earlier, the destroyer was fired upon with an exocet missile from an Iraqi Mirage fighter.

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With the end of the Cold War, the operational focus of the USS John Hancock shifted. The ship was involved in various peacekeeping and humanitarian missions, reflecting the changing nature of global threats and U.S. military priorities. During these missions, the USS John Hancock often worked in coordination with allied navies.


The USS John Hancock (DD-981), after more than two decades of service, was decommissioned on 16 October, 2000 and was scrapped on 29 April, 2007.

The ship waiting to be scrapped, August 2006. Image by Pinemikey CC BY 3.0

The decision to decommission the USS John Hancock was part of the U.S. Navy’s broader strategy of fleet modernization and realignment. This strategy involves retiring older ships, such as those of the Spruance class, to make way for more advanced vessels, like the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers, which offer enhanced capabilities and incorporate more recent technological advancements.