USS Stark incident

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 21 were injured.

USS Stark incident
Part of the Iran–Iraq War, Tanker War

USS Stark listing after being struck by two Iraqi Exocet missiles in 1987
Date17 May 1987
Result United States frigate severely damaged by Iraqi aircraft
 United States  Ba'athist Iraq
Commanders and leaders
Glenn R. Brindel Unknown
Units involved
 United States Navy Iraqi Armed Forces
1 frigate
1 aircraft
1 aircraft
Casualties and losses
37 killed
21 wounded
1 frigate damaged


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 Mirage F1 armed with two Exocet missiles.[1]

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." The Iraqi Mirage 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 Mirage F1 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. 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 critical combat operations center (where the ship's weapons are controlled).

The second Exocet also struck the port side. 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 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.[2] 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.

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 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.


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.[3] It was found that Stark was 2 miles (3.2 km) outside the exclusion zone and had not violated neutrality as the Iraqis claimed.[4] Iraq apologized,[5] 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.[4]

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.[5]

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".[6][7][8]

The Pentagon said that an Iranian helicopter had joined a Saudi Arabian vessel in rescue operations.[5] 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 as a Commander for not defending his ship and Tactical Action Officer Lieutenant Basil E. Moncrief resigned.


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 U.S. Department of State is establishing a mechanism to process applications for compensation.[9][10]


On 22 May 1987, a eulogy was given by president Ronald Reagan at Mayport Naval Station, Jacksonville, Florida.[11]

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.[12]

See also


  2. 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. Retrieved 29 August 2012.
  3. Cushman, John H, Jr. (28 July 1987). "Navy Forgoes Courts-Martial for Officers of Stark". The New York Times. Retrieved 5 November 2018.
  4. Fisk, Robert (2005). The Great War For Civilisation: The Conquest of the Middle East. Knopf Publishing.
  5. Brummer, Alex; Hirst, David (19 May 1987). "US navy ordered to hit back after Exocet kills 28". Retrieved 19 September 2016 via The Guardian.
  6. Doug Rossinow, The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s, Columbia University Press, 2015, ISBN 9780231538657, page 276
  7. "Context of 'May 17, 1987 and After: USS 'Stark' Attacked by Iraqi Warplane, 37 Sailors Die; US Holds Iran Responsible'". Retrieved 19 September 2016.
  8. "Reagan: Iran Is 'Villain' In Persian Gulf Incident". Lexington, NC: The Dispatch. 20 May 1987. p. 6.
  9. "Iraq Claims". US State Department Press Release. 21 June 2011. Retrieved 18 January 2015.
  10. "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.
  11. 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.
  12. 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

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