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Stephen Phillips is a PhD Candidate in the Department of War Studies. His research focuses on Operation Earnest Will, the U.S. Navy’s intervention in the Iran-Iraq War.

Steve is an Analyst at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (JHU/APL). He supports Department of Defense (DoD) projects.

Stephen graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1992 with a B.S. in Political Science and from National Intelligence University in 2005 with an M.S. in Strategic Intelligence. Steve joined the NIU faculty and was recognized as the most outstanding Reserve Faculty member in 2008.

During his naval career Steve served as a Diving Officer and Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Technician.  He deployed to Haiti, Somalia, the Persian Gulf, and the Balkans serving in a number of named operations.

An award-winning novelist, Steve’s first work, Proximity, garnered the Military Writers Society of America Gold Medal in 2008. His second novel, The Recipient’s Son, has been used as a tool for honor remediation at the U.S. Naval Academy.

Doctoral Research

A Historical Case Study of Operation Earnest Will

In 1987 the United States Navy found itself enmeshed in the Iran-Iraq War. The conflict shifted to the Persian Gulf as both countries focused on attacking their adversary’s oil trade. Iran attacked Kuwait’s tankers due to support of their northern neighbor.  Kuwait sought the protection of the United States which agreed to safeguard their ships for three reasons. First, despite drawing most of its oil from other nations, the U.S. wanted to ensure a stable market. Second, if the U.S. refused, the Soviet Union would fill the void and increase their presence and influence in the gulf. Finally, Saudi Arabia (supporting its allies Iraq and Kuwait) threatened to dump its holding of U.S. currency thus devaluing the dollar if it balked. The resulting effort was dubbed Operation Earnest Will.

During this operation, the United States Navy conducted escort of maritime shipping, mine warfare, air warfare, and irregular warfare at sea. At a time when the U.S. Navy planning and acquisition strategy focused on carrier battle group operations against the Soviet Navy, surface combatants and minesweepers found themselves in a predominant role against a regional power.

A study of this operation will provide valuable insight to a blue-water Navy that consistently finds itself drawn to the littoral and conducting operations where the aircraft carrier is no longer relevant. Similarly, it will be important to the U.S. Navy and all that continue operations in the Persian Gulf.

Research Interests

Iran-Iraq War, Tanker War, Naval History, Mine Warfare, USS Stark, USS Samuel B. Roberts, USS Vincennes


Professor Andrew Lambert and Dr. Walter Ladwig