USS Stark incident

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USS Stark incident
Part of the Iran–Iraq War, Tanker War
USS Stark.jpg
USS Stark listing after being struck by two Iraqi Exocet missiles in 1987
Date17 May 1987
Location26°47′00″N 51°55′00″E / 26.78333°N 51.91667°E / 26.78333; 51.91667

Iraqi victory

  • U.S. frigate severely damaged by Iraqi aircraft
 United States  Iraq
Commanders and leaders
Glenn R. Brindel Abdul Rahman
Units involved
USS Stark Iraqi Armed Forces
1 frigate
1 aircraft
1 aircraft[1]
Casualties and losses
37 killed
21 wounded
1 frigate damaged

The USS Stark incident occurred during the Iran–Iraq War on 17 May 1987, when an Iraqi jet aircraft fired two Exocet missiles at the American frigate USS Stark. A total of 37 United States Navy personnel were killed or later died as a result of the attack, and 21 were injured.


Damage to USS Stark's hull and superstructure

USS Stark was part of the Middle East Task Force assigned to patrol off the Saudi Arabian coast near the Iran–Iraq War exclusion boundary. The United States Central Command identified the attacking aircraft as an Iraqi Dassault Mirage F1 fighter.[1] Later reports asserted that the attacking aircraft was a Dassault Falcon 50 business jet which had been modified with a radar and missile hardpoints to carry two AM-39 Exocet missiles for anti-shipping operations. The F1EQ-5 variant of the Mirage F1 operated by Iraq was only capable of carrying one Exocet. Iraq had used modified Falcon jets in civilian markings to conduct covert photographic reconnaissance in the Persian Gulf to avoid attracting suspicion.[2][3][4][5]

Initially not alarmed, at 22:09 Captain Glenn R. Brindel ordered a radioman to send the message: "Unknown aircraft, this is U.S. Navy warship on your 078 (degrees) for twelve miles. Request you identify yourself".[6] The Iraqi pilot did not respond to the message. The ship's captain ordered a second message sent, to which there was no reply. At 22:10 Brindel was informed the Iraqi aircraft had targeted his ship, locking his Cyrano-IV fire-control radar onto Stark. The Iraqi aircraft then fired the first Exocet missile 22 mi (35 km) from the ship and the second Exocet from 15 mi (24 km); the pilot then banked left and began to withdraw.

Stark's search radar, ESM and CIWS systems failed to detect the incoming missiles.[6][1] The first Exocet missile struck the port side of the ship near the bridge. Although it failed to detonate, rocket fuel ignited and caused a large fire that quickly spread throughout the ship's post office, storeroom and the combat operations center (where the ship's weapons are controlled).

The second Exocet also struck the port side, 30 seconds later.[1] This missile detonated, leaving a 10 by 15 ft (3.0 by 4.6 m) hole in the frigate's left side. Electronics for Stark's Standard Missile defense went out and Brindel could not order his men to return fire. An AWACS plane was still in the area and just after witnessing the attack, radioed a nearby Saudi airbase to send aircraft for an interception but the ground controllers did not have the authority to order a sortie and the Iraqi jet left unharmed. The United States Navy (USN) rules of engagement allowed Stark to defend herself after sufficiently warning the hostile aircraft.[7] A total of 37 crew were killed in the attack, 29 from the initial explosion and fire, including two lost at sea. Eight later died from their injuries. Twenty-one others survived their wounds.[8]

Brindel ordered the starboard side flooded to keep the hole on the hull's port side above water. This helped prevent the Stark from sinking. Brindel quickly dispatched a distress call after the first missile hit. It was received by USS Waddell, which was in the area and USS Conyngham with two-thirds of its crew on liberty in Bahrain. Waddell and Conyngham arrived to provide damage control and relief to Stark's crew. According to the Pentagon, an Iranian helicopter joined a Saudi Arabian vessel to aid in rescue operations.[9]


Stark arrived at Bahrain the following day, 18 May 1987. There she was temporarily repaired by the destroyer tender USS Acadia before setting a course for Mayport Naval Station, Florida, the ship's home port. A court of inquiry under Rear Admiral Grant Sharp was formed to investigate the incident and later Captain Brindel was recommended for court-martial but was ultimately only reprimanded and relieved of duty.[10] It was found that Stark was 2 miles (3.2 km) outside the exclusion zone and had not violated neutrality as the Iraqis claimed.[11] Iraq apologized,[12] and Saddam Hussein said that the pilot mistook Stark for an Iranian tanker.

American officials claimed that the Iraqi jet's pilot was not acting under orders from his government and that he was later executed, but an Iraqi Air Force officer later stated that the pilot was not punished and that he was still alive.[11] According to Jean-Louis Bernard, author of "Heroes of Bagdad" T1 (Editions JPO 2017), the pilot, Abdul Rahman, would have received the medal of bravery at the end of a joint Iraqi-American commission of inquiry. His subsequent defection to Iran is not mentioned in this book. Jean-Louis Bernard also confirms the use of a Falcon 50 during this action.[13][page needed]

Iranian Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi called it a "divine blessing" and reiterated the standard Iranian view that the Persian Gulf "is not a safe place for the superpowers and it is in their interest not to enter this quicksand". Iraq Foreign Ministry spokesman said Iraq would never intentionally attack any target in the Gulf unless it was Iranian, and laid the blame on Iran.[12]

Washington used the incident to pressure Iran, which it later blamed for the whole situation. President Ronald Reagan said "We've never considered them [Iraq's military] hostile at all", and "the villain in the piece is Iran".[14][15][16]

The Joint Chiefs of Staff investigation into the incident recommended that Iraq be held accountable, a finding the government of Iraq eventually complied with. Captain Brindel was relieved of duty and retired as a commander for not defending his ship, whilst tactical action officer Lieutenant Basil E. Moncrief resigned.[17]


On 21 June 2011, an agreement was reached between the governments of the United States and Iraq regarding claims of United States citizens against the regime of Saddam Hussein. The Iraqi government established a fund of $400 million to compensate prisoners of war and hostages in the Persian Gulf War, and those killed or injured in the 1987 attack on Stark. The United States Department of State was to establish a mechanism to process applications for compensation.[18][19]


The memorial plaque for the killed American sailors at Mayport, Florida

On 22 May 1987, a eulogy was given by president Ronald Reagan at Mayport Naval Station, Jacksonville, Florida.[20]

A ceremony is held at Mayport Naval Station on 17 May each year to remember the 37 men who died in the incident. The ceremony in 2012 was the 25th anniversary of the attack.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d DOD Letter, 23 July 1987, Subject: Formal investigation into the circumstances surrounding the attack on the USS Stark (GGG) on 17 May 1987 (U)
  2. ^ Garcia, Miguel (2018). Iraqi Mirages in Combat: The story of the F.1EQ in Iraq. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. pp. 118–124. ISBN 978-1717467553.
  3. ^ Leone, Dario (14 July 2019). "How a Modified Iraqi Falcon 50 Business Jet Nearly Destroyed a US Frigate". The National Interest. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  4. ^ de Guillebon, Hugues (February 2020). "L'attaque de la frégate Stark par un "Falcon" 50 irakien le 17 mai 1987". Le Fana de l'Aviation (603): 16–28.
  5. ^ Cooper, Tom (27 July 2016). "In 1987, a Secret Iraqi Warplane Struck an American Frigate and Killed 37 Sailors". War is Boring. Retrieved 1 December 2020.
  6. ^ a b Symonds, Craig L. (23 October 2006). Decision at Sea: Five Naval Battles that Shaped American History. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-975488-5.
  7. ^ Reed, Lt Col Robert M (2000). "Chapter 14—Chariots of fire: Rules of engagement in Operation Deliberate Force". In Owen, Col. Robert C (ed.). Deliberate force a case study in effective air campaigning. p. 391. ISBN 9781428990630. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  8. ^ Mockaitis, Thomas R. (15 August 2013). The Iraq War Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-38063-1.
  9. ^ The Guardian article, 19 May 1987, Title: US navy ordered to hit back after Exocet kills 28
  10. ^ Cushman, John H, Jr. (28 July 1987). "Navy Forgoes Courts-Martial for Officers of Stark". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  11. ^ a b Fisk, Robert (2005). The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. Knopf Publishing. ISBN 9781400041510.
  12. ^ a b Brummer, Alex; Hirst, David (19 May 1987). "US navy ordered to hit back after Exocet kills 28". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  13. ^ Bernard, Jean-Louis (10 September 2020). Les héros de Bagdad: Tome 2, Les débuts du Mirage F1, et l'aventure du Super-Etendard. Editions Jean-Pierre Otelli. ISBN 978-2-37301-131-9.
  14. ^ Doug Rossinow, The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s, Columbia University Press, 2015, ISBN 9780231538657, page 276
  15. ^ "Context of 'May 17, 1987 and After: USS 'Stark' Attacked by Iraqi Warplane, 37 Sailors Die; US Holds Iran Responsible'". Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  16. ^ "Reagan: Iran Is 'Villain' In Persian Gulf Incident". Lexington, NC: The Dispatch. 20 May 1987. p. 6.
  17. ^ Grossman, Mark; Sheikh, R. Alio and Rolin G. Mainuddin (1995). Encyclopedia of the Persian Gulf War. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-87436-684-6.
  18. ^ "Iraq Claims". US State Department Press Release. 21 June 2011. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  19. ^ "Claims Settlement Agreement Between the Government of The United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Iraq". American Society of International Law. 2 September 2010. Archived from the original on 6 May 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2012.
  20. ^ Reagan, Ronald (22 May 1987). "Remarks at a Memorial Service for Crewmembers of the U.S.S. Stark in Jacksonville, Florida". University of Texas. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  21. ^ Browning, William (18 January 2015). "Mayport marks 25th anniversary of Iraqi attack on USS Stark that killed 37 sailors". Florida Times-Union. Retrieved 18 May 2012.


Further reading[edit]