USS Stark incident
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|USS Stark incident|
|Part of the Iran–Iraq War, Tanker War|
USS Stark listing after being struck by two Iraqi Exocet missiles in 1987.
|Commanders and leaders|
|Glenn R. Brindel||Unknown|
|United States Navy||Iraqi Armed Forces|
|Casualties and losses|
1 frigate damaged
The USS Stark incident occurred during the Iran–Iraq War on 17 May, 1987, when an Iraqi jet aircraft fired missiles at the American frigate USS Stark. Thirty-seven United States Navy personnel were killed and twenty-one were injured.
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. An Iraqi pilot attacked USS Stark in a Dassault Falcon 50 modified business jet armed with two Exocet missiles. Even though it did not have the capability at the time, American Intelligence was convinced the attack was made with a Dassault Mirage F1. It took off from the airbase of Shaibah at 20:00 and headed south into the Persian Gulf also along the coast. The aircraft was flying 5,000 feet (1,500 m) above the water at 550 mi (890 km) per hour. An AWACS plane on patrol nearby, with an American and Saudi Arabian crew, first detected the incoming Iraqi jet and informed the Stark, which picked up the aircraft on radar, 200 miles (320 km) out. When it came within view just before 22:00, the attacker was off Stark's port side beam.
Initially not alarmed, at 22:09 Captain 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." The Iraqi Falcon 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 hrs Captain Brindel was informed the Iraqi aircraft had targeted his ship, locking his Cyrano-IV fire-control radar onto Stark. The Falcon 50 then fired the first Exocet missile 22 miles (35 km) from the ship, and the second Exocet from 15 miles (24 km). The pilot then banked left and began to withdraw.
Stark's search radar and ESM systems failed to detect the incoming missiles. Captain Brindel suspected a possible Exocet attack but did not convey this clearly to the crew. He calmly requested a systems check including whether the Phalanx Close-In-Weapon-System (CIWS) system was "live". When the crew reported no issue, he questioned again, however, the crew repeated themselves believing he had simply not heard their first reply. Additionally, due to miscommunication, the Captain believed the CIWS was "live" which the believed meant that it was set to auto-targeting mode, but instead, the crew reported that it was reading as operational (The CIWS was likely set to a passive mode waiting on the ESM.) Reassured falsely in the state of the ship, no further orders or evasive action was taken. It was not until seconds before the first hit that the crew realized they were under fire. The first Exocet missile tracked in a little over 10 feet (3.0 m) above the sea surface, and 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 critical combat operations center (where the ship's weapons are controlled).
The second Exocet also struck the port side. This missile did detonate, leaving a 10 ft (3.0 m) by 15 ft (4.6 m) hole in the frigate's left side. Electronics for Stark's Standard Missile defense went out and Captain Brindel could not order his men to return fire. The 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 USN rules of engagement applicable at the time allowed Stark to defend herself after sufficiently warning the hostile aircraft. A total of 37 crew were killed in the attack, 29 from the initial explosion and fire, including two lost at sea. Eight would later die from their injuries. Twenty-one others survived their wounds.
Throughout the remainder of the night and the following day, Stark's crew, along with sailors from the destroyer USS Conyngham fought the fire, which burned for almost 24 hours. Captain 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 Conyngham with 2⁄3 of its crew on liberty in Bahrain. Waddell and Conyngham arrived to provide damage control and relief to Stark's crew. Temporary Electronics Communications were installed by ETC Perry and team while Conyngham provided an escort for Stark as she slowly made her way to Bahrain.
Stark arrived at Bahrain the following day, 18 May 1987, under her own power. 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. It was found that Stark was 2 miles (3.2 km) outside the exclusion zone and had not violated neutrality as the Iraqis claimed. Iraq apologized, 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. This has been disputed, as an Iraqi Air Force officer later stated that the pilot was not punished and that he was still alive.
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.
Washington used the incident to pressure Iran, which it later blamed for the whole situation. President Reagan said "We’ve never considered them [Iraq's military] hostile at all", and "the villain in the piece is Iran".
Ironically, the Pentagon said that an Iranian helicopter had joined a Saudi Arabian vessel in rescue operations. Furthermore, 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 for not defending his ship and Tactical Action Officer Lieutenant Basil E. Moncrief resigned. Back in the United States, President Ronald Reagan was criticized for putting American sailors in harm's way.
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 US State Department is establishing a mechanism to process applications for compensation.
|USS Stark deaths|
|SN Doran H. Bolduc,
|RMSA Dexter D. Grissett,
|FCCS Robert L. Shippee,
Adams Center, NY
|BM1 Braddi O. Brown,
|FC3 William R. Hansen,
|SMSA Jeffrey C. Sibley,
|FC3 Jeffrey L. Calkins,
Richfield Springs, NY
|GMG3 Daniel Homicki,
|OS3 Lee Stephens,
|SN Mark R. Caouette,
|OSSN Kenneth D. Janusik, Jr.,
|TM2 James R. Stevens,
|SN John A. Ciletta, Jr., †
|OS1 Steven E. Kendall,
|ET3 Martin J. Supple,
North Olmsted, OH
|SR Brian M. Clinefelter,
San Bernardino, CA
|EMCS Stephen Kiser,
|FC1 Gregory L. Tweady,
|OS3 Antonio A. Daniels,
|SM1 Ronnie G. Lockett,
|ET3 Kelly R. Quick,
|ET3 Christopher DeAngelis, †
|GMM1 Thomas J. MacMullen,
|SN Vincent L. Ulmer,
Bay Minette, AL
|IC3 James S. Dunlap,
Osceola Mills, PA
|EW3 Charles T. Moller,
|EW3 Joseph P. Watson,
|STGSN Steven T. Erwin, †
|DS1 Randy E. Pierce,
|ET3 Wayne R. Weaver, II,
New Bethlehem, PA
|RM2 Jerry Boyd Farr,
|SA Jeffrei L. Phelps,
Locust Grove, VA[disambiguation needed]
|OSSN Terrance Weldon,
|QMCS Vernon T. Foster,
|GM3 James Plonsky,
Van Nuys, CA
|IC2 Lloyd A. Wilson,
|SMSN Earl P. Ryals, †
Boca Raton, FL
|† Buried in Arlington National Cemetery|
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.
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- This article incorporates text from the public domain Dictionary of American Naval Fighting Ships.
- Jeffrey L, Levinson, Randy L. Edwards, "Missile Inbound", Annapolis: Naval Institute Press (1997), ISBN 1-55750-517-9.
- RADM Grant Sharp, USN (September 1987). "Formal Investigation into the Circumstances Surrounding the Attack on the USS Stark (FFG-31) on May 17, 1987" (PDF). United States Navy, JAG Office. Retrieved 28 July 2013. (Broken link)
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