Friday, February 21, 2014

Missile Inbound

ComNavOps occasionally offers a recommendation on a book of naval interest.  Today’s offering is Missile Inbound by Jeffrey Levinson and Randy Edwards (1).  The book describes the Iraqi Exocet missile attack on the USS Stark in May 1987.  Stark was hit by two Exocet missiles, killing 37 crew, and nearly sank.

One of the enduring questions surrounding the incident is why the Stark failed to defend herself.  The ship and command element certainly had every reason to anticipate danger.  As the book notes, in the months prior to the attack, Iraqi aircraft flew around 340 missions, launched 90 or so Exocet missiles and hit around 40 ships.  The Iraqi pilots were not exactly known for their discriminating targeting skills.  Thus, the Stark had ample warning that they were sailing in dangerous waters.

USS Stark

The status of the various sensors and weapons is extensively discussed and documented as well as the mental mindset of the CIC crew. 

The damage control efforts by the crew bordered on miraculous and the events are told in great detail in the form of individual crew member’s stories.  As has been repeatedly stated in this blog, the number one attribute for successful damage control is adequate (meaning excessive) numbers of crew and the book’s descriptions drive that point home.  As noted,

“… the ship did not have enough men to support critical “reflash watches” until the first rescue-and-assistance teams from the Waddell and Conyngham came aboard at approximately 0400.  Consequently, previously extinguished fires would flare up again, creating an unbearable work burden for the crew and threatening the ship.  The crew were bone-weary from fighting the conflagration, and by early morning the intense 100-degree heat and humidity of the Persian Gulf were having a debilitating impact as well.  By midmorning the crew’s effectiveness was rapidly waning as a result of exhaustion.”


The legal aftermath and subsequent investigations are explored in depth and are every bit as fascinating as the attack and saving of the ship.  Rules of Engagement are described and the conflicting requirements of self-defense and politics are spelled out.

In summary, the book is a highly readable and entertaining (if such a word can be used to describe a tragedy) writing.  It paints a compelling picture of a ship operating in a war zone with a peacetime mentality.  The various lessons from the incident should serve as pointed reminders to us, today, as we sail into unfriendly ports (Cole), go eye to eye with China, and design ships that have neither the structural strength nor manning to fight and survive in combat.

I highly recommend this book especially to readers who wish to better understand the reality of combat, ship design, damage control, ROE/politics, and how all these factors relate to our current Navy.


(1) Missile Inbound, Jeffrey Levinson and Randy Edwards, Naval Institute Press, 1997, ISBN 1-55750-517-9

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