CHICAGO (AP) _ Last month's attack on the USS Stark, which killed 37 sailors, might have been prevented by the use of a simple and inexpensive decoy device available since 1970, a published report says.

The Chicago Tribune reported in Sunday's editions that while the Navy is spending tens of billions of dollars researching high-technology defenses against anti-ship missiles, it has failed to deploy the decoy device originally known as ''Rubber Duckie.''

The device is an inflatable rubber boat outfitted with eight pyramid-shaped radar reflectors. It is towed behind a ship to confuse and misdirect radar- guided missiles such as the Exocet that struck the Stark.

Experts told the newspaper that the combined reflections of the ship and the towed decoy give the radar sensors in the nose of the missile the outline of one very large target. Since it is programmed to aim for the center of a target, the missile winds up passing between the ship and the decoy.

''It is the cheapest solution to the Navy's vulnerability problem, and absolutely would have saved the Stark,'' said Tom Amlie, a Pentagon radar expert and the former technical director of the China Lake Naval Weapons Center, where such a decoy was first successfully tested 17 years ago.

When asked why the cheap decoy has yet to be deployed as a defense, a Navy spokesman told the Tribune:

''We're spending $8.5 million in decoy research this year. We're prepared to spend up to $50 million in research and intend to deploy towed decoys aboard every ship.'' The Navy has no deployment timetable, he added.

The Tribune said the British Navy has quietly been purchasing towable decoys recently, and Soviet ships have been seen towing spherical devices believed to contain one or more radar reflectors.