US Officials Puzzled by Weapons Report in Stark Attack
WASHINGTON (AP) _ Pentagon officials were looking for more information today on an Iraqi report that a single plane fired two French-made Exocet missiles at the USS Stark.
U.S. military officials said Thursday that they were under the impression that Iraq’s Mirage F-1 fighters could carry only one operational Exocet at a time.
Iraqi defense officials relayed the two-Exocet account to U.S. Embassy officials, according to military sources who asked not to be identified. The sources said the Defense Department was not sure what to make of the Iraqi report.
″The Iraqis have told one of our people in Baghdad that there were two Exocets. They’ve been saying one plane and one pilot,″ said one source.
″It’s puzzling. (The Pentagon) doesn’t want to come out and say they’ve said two missiles and we believe them.″
Publicly, the Pentagon refused to speculate, saying it won’t prejudge the results of a U.S. military inquiry that began Thursday in Bahrain, where the Stark is now anchored.
″What we have said from the beginning is that there were one or two aircraft and one or two missiles,″ said Robert Sims, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman.
Sims did note, however, that a U.S.-crewed AWACS surveillance plane monitoring the Persian Gulf airspace last Sunday night tracked only one plane.
According to a French defense official interviewed Thursday by The Associated Press, the French-made Iraqi fighters ″absolutely could not″ carry more than one Exocet missile.
ABC News quoted unidentified military sources Thursday as saying that the jet had been modified to carry two Exocet missiles, with one missile placed under each wing and an external fuel tank hung from the fuselage to preserve the plane’s range.
Pentagon sources asked about the report said they did not know if such a modification would be possible.
Pentagon officials originally thought only one missile hit the ship. That theory evaporated Wednesday with the discovery of an unexploded warhead inside the Stark.
But that didn’t answer the question of what type of missiles were used. The reason - according to Sims, the unexploded warhead recovered from the frigate was definitely that of an Exocet.
″That means one of two things,″ said a ranking Pentagon official who asked not to be named. ″Either there really were two fighters, each carrying one Exocet. Or the missile that exploded was not an Exocet.″
The skipper of the Stark, Capt. Glenn R. Brindel, indicated Wednesday his crew had been tracking what it thought was a single Iraqi warplane. Brindel said his ship was struck by two missiles - one about 30 seconds after the other.
The French defense official interviewed Thursday said the Mirage F-1′s sold to Iraq are, in fact, capable of carrying other missiles along with an Exocet.
If only one plane conducted the attack, the French official said, it was more likely that it fired an anti-radar missile along with an Exocet. Such a missile ″homes″ on the radio frequency emissions of radar units on the target.
According to ″Jane’s Weapon Systems,″ an authoritative reference book, the Iraqis are known to have used such ″anti-radiation″ missiles in the past.
″The F-1′s we sold to Iraq are capable of carrying only one Exocet under the fuselage,″ the official added. ″It is not possible to put on a second. Absolutely not possible.″
He explained the F-1 could not fire an Exocet without a special ″center rail″ weapons rack under the fuselage, and the electrical wiring contained in that rack could handle only one missile.
″Hopefully, there will be enough evidence left on board the ship that we can answer these questions,″ one Pentagon official said. ″Or better yet, the Iraqis really will help answer them for us.″