USS Stark FFG-31

USS Stark FFG-31

Posted on Facebook by Frank Gonzales

Remembering a very sad day in our Navy’s recent history:


May 17th 1987 – At 8:00pm local time, a Mirage F-1 fighter jet took off from Iraq’s Shaibah military airport and headed south into the Persian Gulf, flying along the Saudi Arabian coast.

An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane, in the air over Saudi Arabia and manned by a joint American-Saudi crew, detected the aircraft.

Aboard the USS Stark, a Perry-class frigate on duty in the gulf,… radar operators picked up the Mirage when it was some 200 miles away; it was flying at 5,000 feet and traveling at 550 mph.

Captain Glenn Brindel, 43, commander of the Stark, was not particularly alarmed. He knew it was fairly common for Iraqi and Iranian warplanes to fly over the gulf. Earlier in the day, Iraqi jets had fired missiles into a Cypriot tanker, disabling the vessel. But no American vessel had been attacked.

In keeping with standard procedure, Captain Brindel ordered a radio message flashed at 10:09 PM: “Unknown aircraft, this is U.S. Navy warship on your 078 for twelve miles. Request you identify yourself.” There was no reply. A second request was sent. Still no answer. Brindel noted that the aircraft’s pilot had not locked his targeting radar on the Stark, so he expected it to veer away.

At 10:10 PM, the AWACS crew noticed that the Mirage had banked suddenly and then turned northward, as though heading for home. What they failed to detect was the launching by the Iraqi pilot of two Exocet AM39 air-to-surface missiles. The Exocets had a range of 40 miles and each carried a 352 lb. warhead.

For some reason, the sea-skimming missiles were not detected by the Stark’s sophisticated monitoring equipment. A lookout spotted the first Exocet just seconds before the missile struck, tearing a ten-by-fifteen-foot hole in the warship’s steel hull on the port side before ripping through the crew’s quarters. The resulting fire rushed upward into the vessel’s combat information center, disabling the electrical systems. The second missile plowed into the frigate’s superstructure.

A crewman sent a distress signal with a handheld radio that was picked up by the USS Waddell, a destroyer on patrol nearby. Meanwhile, the AWACS crew requested that two airborne Saudi F-15s pursue the Iraqi Mirage. But ground controllers at Dhahran airbase said they lacked the authority to embark on such a mission, and the Mirage was safely back in Iraqi airspace before approval could be obtained.

As fires raged aboard the Stark, Brindel ordered the starboard side Flooded to keep the gaping hole on the port side above the waterline. All through the night the fate of the stricken frigate was in doubt. Once the inferno was finally under control, the Stark limped back to port.

The Navy immediately launched an investigation into an incident that had cost 37 American seamen their lives. The Stark was endowed with an impressive array of defenses — an MK92 fire control system that could intercept incoming aircraft at a range of 90 miles; an OTO gun that could fire three-inch anti-aircraft shells at a rate of 90 per minute; electronic defenses that could produce bogus radar images to deceive attackers; and the Phalanx, a six-barreled gun that could fire 3,000 uranium rounds a minute at incoming missiles. Brindel insisted that his ship’s combat system was fully operational, but Navy technicians in Bahrain said the Stark’s Phalanx system had not been working properly when the frigate put out to sea. (Brindel was relieved of duty and later forced to retire.)


A, C-141/B Starlifter carried 35 flag-draped caskets to the Stark’s home base at Mayport, Florida. (Two of the crewmen were lost at sea during the attack.)

President Reagan and the First Lady were on hand to extend condolences to grieving families.


4 thoughts on “USS Stark FFG-31

  1. Jeffrey Paca says:

    I remember that day! I served on the USS Cole, right after she was attacked and in the yards. Very similar to each other!! I think we as a nation, should have acted each time!! I met some REALLY brave, hurt guys from the Cole incident, that forever will be scarred.


  2. Anthony Dallas says:

    I don’t remember that one particularly but I just retired after 31 years. This is a harsh reminder in my opinion of a good and a bad. The good.. the CO, saved the the ship and many other American lives and brought the ship back. The bad, but this was after he negated so many cues of a Commanding officer especially after the fighter was hailed but never replied to at least set a general quarters. Though I know hind sight is 20/20 innocent American lives were lost and a career was ended.


  3. USS Stark as well as heroes (all crew) are featured in the spring issue of Dispatches, Military Writers Society of America. PDF format. See pg. 1 editor’s comments and table of contents, pgs. 10 into 16. Some boo-boos as editor didn’t use the final copies of the two articles that I sent her. However, pleased that — in advance of the 30th anniversary (May 17, 1987) of the senseless tragedy — that the USS Stark received so much space in this quarterly magazine. Note: More recent research shows that the Iraqi AF plane was not a Mirage. Also note the journey taken by the 36 sailors in transfer cases to reach American soil
    Author: Nancy Yockey Bonar, member, Military Writers Society of America, US Naval Institute, Submarine League, USS COD sub memorial volunteer.

    Liked by 1 person

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