#4400808 - 01/18/18 09:01 PM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Updated: CH. 6
Joined: May 2006
Joined: May 2006
When Rodriguez’s shooter declared the electromagnetic catapult operational, word spread through the Rock like Severin had put a post on Twitter. There were currently thirty seven other people serving underground in the base and it seemed all thirty seven of them had some reason to be working in the docks or on the deck somewhere where they had a good view of the Chute. She couldn’t blame them - it was the Rock’s first operational launch in weeks. Until now, they had only had simulations, and then three test flights, before the cat crew had pulled the catapult offline. Tonight they would be putting three drones in the air and seeing how fast they could do it. The target was one machine every three minutes, half a ‘hex’, or three machines, inside ten minutes. She sighed. If they were to be certified combat capable, that’s what it would take, so they may as well start as they meant to finish; but it would strain both her people, and the cantankerous cat.
She looked around the launch bay. When she was down on the ‘flight deck’ or in her trailer up behind the dock for a launch, she wore a yellow Air Boss shirt over her green flight suit with its simple squadron commander gold oak leaf on the shoulder.
Half of her 12 man crew was finalizing preflight checks on the drone, the other one was operating the EMALS and its feeder system. It was supposed to be an almost fully automated system, but something always glitched. Unlike on a carrier, the Fantoms under Little Diomede were originally designed for ‘cartridge launch’ - made to be launched off the back of a truck like an old ICBM, fitted into launch canisters and fired into flight by the a rocket propelled launch arm like a bullet out of a gun. Here under the Rock, they’d modded the canister system and put the canisters on a conveyor belt so that a whole hex could be loaded onto the EMALS and launched one after the other in quick succession. Supposedly, once they were preflighted and loaded into the canisters, it only took one plane handler to lock the drone into the catapult shuttle and a single shooter to operate the launch system. That was the theory anyway.
“You miss being up in pri-fly Boss?” a voice said from behind her. “The grand ballet of colored shirts, smell of jet fuel and Red Bull…” She recognized the voice of Commander Justin Halifax. He was the senior officer on Little Diomede, CO of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station or NCTAMS and therefore her senior officer. He commanded the communications station and dock operations but he wasn’t an aviator, so he left day to day flight operations largely to her.
Nonetheless the lure of a launch had pulled even him down from topside. He had an office and quarters in the radar installation which was the Navy’s cover on Little Diomede, and only took the elevator down to the cavern every few days to check on progress or investigate the frequent hiccups. Rodriguez’s private theory was that he was claustrophobic, but that was OK, because that meant with nearly half of all personnel under the Rock under her command, she had a pretty free hand down here.
“Miss my shooter’s position more to be honest Sir,” she said with a smile, not turning around, “Less ballet, more rock and roll.”
Halifax looked around the cavern, “Everything still on track for launch?” he asked.
“Yes, sir,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve got the EMALS pulling like it should now. We’re good to go.”
“Good,” he nodded. “We have to start ramping up the test flights, Lieutenant Commander. We’re two days behind,” he pointed out.
“Yes sir.” Rodriguez looked over to the trailer parked at the top of the submarine dock, where she knew Bunny O’Hare would be sat at her bank of screens, going through her own pre-flight routine. “We’re still short a pilot Sir.”
Halifax looked annoyed at being reminded, “I know. We’re not exactly top priority down here, with all the #%&*$# going down in Korea right now. I heard they deployed two more squadrons of Fantoms there this week.”
“I've said it before but we didn’t need the pilots based here sir,” Rodriguez said. “You can fly a Fantom from anywhere in the world, Vegas to Guam. My pilots don’t have to have their a**es parked in that trailer.”
“Survivability, Rodriguez,” Halifax explained. “This base is intended to be able to ride out a first strike on airfields in Alaska and enable us to re-establish air superiority. Russians take out our air bases and satellites, they think they’ve taken out our drone command and control. They know they’ve got a numerical advantage in piloted aircraft, so they think our drone comms are our soft underbelly. Which is why we’re putting more and more drones into truck mounted canisters piloted by short range comms, not satellites. And they’re in for a hell of a shock when they suddenly see your airplanes filling their skies, flown out of that trailer over there and steered by a hard wired undersea comms array.”
“If they take out our satellites, the next thing they’ll do is take out your radar dome topside. Wouldn’t it make sense to have some ground to air missile defenses up there?”
“That dome is just one big decoy Boss, you know that. Nothing inside it but a forty year old DEW line AN/FPS-19 search radar blasting out as much radiation as it can, and the elevator to your little cubby hole down here. If we gave the Russians any reason to believe we had put ground to air missiles on Little Diomede, ten miles from the Russian mainland, there would be hell to pay.”
Rodriguez knew the old DEW line long range radar plugged into the NORAD surveillance net didn’t provide much data that wasn’t already available from other ground radar stations in Alaska, or by satellite surveillance, but it still made little sense to her to leave it completely undefended against air attack. Oh well, hers was not to reason why…
From down by the flight deck she saw men in green jackets who had been crouched around the locking bar on the drone stand up, and her yellow jacketed catapult officer spun around and gave her a thumbs up.
“Roger Cat 1. Moving to the Island,” Rodriguez said into her mike. The Island was the nickname they gave the to the drone command trailer, which here served a similar function to primary flight control inside the command island on a carrier. “If you’ll excuse me Sir?” Halifax had told her he wanted to be topside for the launch, standing over the lip of the chute to see how visible the drone was exiting the cave at night. Baffles should mask the exhaust from the naked eye, and Navy had an infrared satellite parked overhead for this test flight, trying to pick up a signature, but he had wanted to see for himself.
“Actually I’ll come with you, I need to talk to O’Hare,” he said.
Rodriguez frowned, but led the way across the dock to the trailer and thumbed the lock on the door to let her and the CO in. The trailer was parked broadside to the flight deck, and had been modified from a standard drone control center, being lengthened by about ten feet with the addition of a stool, extra comms gear and windows to allow Rodriguez to look out on the catapult and recovery dock. Otherwise it was a standard drone trailer, with a bank of screens in front of two chairs, one for the pilot, and the other for the co-pilot or systems operator controlling cameras and targeting systems. That chair was empty, as Rodriguez had pointed out.
“CO on deck,” Rodriguez said as she pulled open the door.
“As you were,” Halifax said before O’Hare could react. She was busy punching data into touch screens in front of her.
“On track for launch 0300 hours sir and ma’am,” Bunny said without taking her eyes off her screens. “Fantom is singing like a bird.” She pointed to data from the drone, streaming across a screen. Rodriguez had no idea what it meant, but Bunny sounded satisfied.
“Good, I have a change of target for you. Requires a new mission profile,” Halifax said. He had a tablet under his arm and held it up then tapped away at it, “Sending to you now.”
He finished sending and handed the tablet to Rodriguez. Now she understood why Halifax had sounded a little mysterious. The original flight plan had called for Bunny’s Fantom to exit the Rock and head east toward the Alaskan coast to the Yukon Delta, test its cameras with some night vision shots of a fishing camp near Dall Lake and get safely home again, hugging the terrain and wave tops to try to stay off radar. Now she could see they were being given some sort of test, to see how Rodriguez and her team performed under pressure. Change the target at the last minute, change the mission profile, stand back and watch the chaos unfold. Well, if Halifax wanted to see her stressed, he’d be disappointed, she’d make damn sure of that.
Bunny opened a dark screen and pulled up the data Halifax had sent her. Now she turned around, a puzzled look on her face. “The target is Eielson Air Base?” she said.
“Correct Lieutenant,” Halifax smiled. “Someone in the Pentagon thought it would be a good test of Air Force early warning systems to see how close you can get one of your drones to Eielson field before they threaten to shoot it down. You have mode 7 crypto IFF on your machines, correct?”
“Yes sir,” Bunny replied, still sounding dubious.
“Then monitor air force comms and keep the IFF off until we pick up an imminent shoot down order,” Halifax said. “The exercise will conclude either when you have simulated a missile launch on Eielson, or when you are forced to light up your IFF.”
Bunny bent to her screens and started punching in the new data.
“If we even get close, this will do wonders for Navy - Air Force relations sir,” Rodriguez said, smiling.
Halifax looked across at her, putting his tablet back under his arm, “Stop grinning Air Boss. The new mission profile calls for an F-47 in ground-attack configuration, not recon.” He glanced down at his watch. “Your people have 23 minutes to pull that Fantom off the deck and reload it with standoff ordnance.”
It was 0120 by the time Bondarev was finished with his staff meetings and felt comfortable preparations were in hand. The first task had been convincing his officers that this was not just an exercise … they were about to conduct the first sanctioned Russian attack on US territory in history. The fact Saint Lawrence Island was only 60 miles from the Russian Chukchi Peninsula was irrelevant. Bondarev and his men knew it might as well be Washington DC, the way the USA would inevitably react to Russian troops on US soil.
Bondarev was third generation Russian Federation military. He didn’t question the orders of his political masters, not in front of his subordinates anyway. But if he was to be part of starting a world war, he wanted to know why, and he knew it wasn’t because some shipping magnate had lost one of his shiny new toys.
Arsharvin’s office was actually two rooms joined by a door. Bondarev walked in to a scene that looked like the one he had just left; tired men poring over maps and screens. It also looked like he had walked in on an argument, but they jumped to attention when they saw him.
“At ease,” Bondarev sighed and pointed at the door to the inner office. “The boss in there?” He didn’t wait for an answer, but walked over and tapped on the door with the neck of the Scotch bottle he was carrying.
“Come in!” Arsharvin boomed, and Bondarev pushed the door open to find his friend leaning back in his chair, boots up on his desk, staring at the ceiling with a telephone to his ear. He smiled at Bondarev and pointed at a chair, then a tray with empty glasses, holding up a finger to show his call was nearly finished.
Bondarev unscrewed the cap of the bottle and poured a generous measure into each glass as Arsharvin put his phone down. He got up, closed the door and then took the bottle Bondarev was holding, nodding appreciatively, “Macallan 25?”
“Might as well enjoy it while we can still get it,” Bondarev said.
“It will be worth twice as much on the black market a week from now,” Arsharvin pointed out to him. “After the US slaps on sanctions.”
“Yeah, but what good is money to a dead man?” Bondarev said, slumping into a chair. “I have a bad feeling about this.”
Arsharvin parked his backside on his desk. He was tall, carrying about 20 lbs. above his fighting weight, but broad shoulders and a square jaw took away any temptation an observer might have to think he was going soft. “I won’t lie,” he said. “You could be on the front line of World War Three in a week’s time. You’re not likely to see your next birthday.”
“Cheers then,” Bondarev said dryly, throwing down his scotch and letting the taste dwell in his mouth before he poured another. “What the hell Ivor?” Bondarev asked. “The polar shipping route is so important we’re willing to risk nuclear annihilation for it?”
“No. This isn’t about ships, shipping routes or international trade my friend,” Arsharvin said.
Arsharvin finished his own shot, reached for the bottle and helped himself, “To answer that, I have to take you back to a meeting I attended a year ago in Vladivostok.”
Bondarev groaned, “You’re going to tell me how you met President Navalny again.”
“Yes and no. I told you I met him, I didn’t tell you why.”
“A briefing on Far East resources I think you said. ‘Pivot to the Pacific’ blah blah blah. Sorry, I probably fell asleep while you were explaining.”
“And you thought the President would travel all the way to Vladi-bloody-vostok for a boring briefing on Far East resources?”
“I don’t recall thinking much at all except how tiresome it was listening to you name dropping about your top secret Far East intelligence committee meetings again.”
“Russia is dying my friend,” Arsharvin said. And he said it with such surety that Bondarev stifled the laugh that was forming in his throat.
He waved his hand dismissively, “Moscow is corrupt yes, but it has always been. Our economic partnership and trade pacts with China mean our economy has not been stronger for a hundred years. Chelyabinsk is now the third biggest city in Russia. Anadyr will soon be bigger than Vladivostok. What do you mean, dying?”
“This is different Yevgeny. I’m not talking about trade, I’m talking pure human survival.” Arsharvin put down his whiskey glass and reached behind him, picking up a bottle of water. He uncapped it and slowly poured himself a glass, then held it out for Bondarev. Bondarev downed his whiskey and held out his glass, confused. Arsharvin filled it, and then clinked his glass against Bondarev’s before drinking the water down. He held his glass up to the light, “Enjoy it. Because it’s soon going to be more precious than your 25 year old whiskey.”
“I don’t get you,” Bondarev admitted.
“Remember at military college, you and I, we used to argue about peak oil?” Arsharvin asked.
“Sure. You said the next world war would be over oil, and I said that renewables would solve the problem before it got that bad,” Bondarev said. “And I was right.”
“You were. But we were arguing about the wrong thing,” Arsharvin said.
“So what’s the right thing if it’s not peak oil?”
. And we passed it ten years ago without the world even knowing it.”
Now Bondarev laughed. He pointed out the window, “Head that way to the coast. You’ll hit the Sea of Japan. East of there is the biggest body of water on the planet, the Pacific Ocean. Follow that far enough, you’ll hit the Atlantic. This planet is 70 percent water Ivor.”
“Salt water my friend. Salt. I am talking about peak freshwater.”
Bondarev reached over and poured some more water into Arsharvin’s glass, before pouring himself another whiskey. “You never heard of desalinization? What do you think you have been drinking the last 20 years? Mountain fresh spring water? Every city lives on desalinated water - Moscow pipes it from Saint Petersburg since Lake Kljasma dried up, but so what?”
“That’s the whole point you fool!” Arsharvin said. “We can supply the big cities, but the smaller cities and towns, they have been living off whatever they can pull out of poisoned rivers and lakes, or suck out of the melting permafrost. The meeting I was at, it had the title, Coming water shortages
Bondarev scoffed, “Since I was a boy there have been water shortages. Then they bring another desal plant online, and everyone relaxes again.”
“Not like this. Within ten years Yevgeny, 40 million Russians will be without water. If we built a new desalination plant every day for the next two years, we couldn’t provide for that many people, and that’s if we had the time and money to build all those plants and pipelines, which we don’t.”
“The pipeline to Scandinavia,” Bondarev said, trying to absorb what Arsharvin was saying. “I thought that…”
“Will buy us five years, and is already accounted for. Plus it puts us at the mercy of Europe, which could bring us to our knees just by turning off a tap. The Middle East is already tearing itself apart over water, did you think we were immune?”
Bondarev was quiet, staring into his glass. Water? Seriously? “Wait, what does the Bering Strait have to do with this? Polar ice or something?”
Now it Arsharvin’s turn to laugh. “Polar ice? What polar ice?” he asked. “It’s melting at an exponential rate. That’s why we can sail the northern route even in winter now. But you aren’t completely wrong.”
“As that ice cap melts, all that beautiful freshwater goes somewhere. Into the sea, most of it, raising the sea level. Some into Canada, a little into our northern territories - not enough of it though, we are too far from the pack ice now. But there is one place where the glaciers reach down from the pole into mountains and valleys and canyons and become huge raging rivers and lakes of pure, fresh water.”
“Not Saint Lawrence Island, I’m guessing,” Bondarev said.
“No, but close. Alaska accounts for more than forty percent of US freshwater reserves. The Yukon River alone delivers 6,000 cubic meters of fresh water into the Barents Sea near Nome every second! That’s close to the flow of the Volga, three times the flow of the Nile River. With a dam on the Yukon feeding our Far East expansion, we could rule the world.”
Bondarev felt his fist tightening on his small glass, and realized he was in danger of crushing it before he relaxed his grip.
Arsharvin saw his white knuckles, “That’s right Yevgeny. We are going to take Alaska.”
Back at his quarters an hour later Bondarev lay in his bed, still wide awake. Were they insane? No matter how weak the backbone of the Americans when it came to intervening in other people’s wars, they would nuke Moscow to glowing green slag before they would let Russia walk into Alaska. The thought made Bondarev see how desperate the Russian leadership must feel. It was the act of a doomed State that had decided it had nothing to lose.
There was a chance, just a small one, that the Russian action would be so swift, so unexpected, that the US would have no time to react. Arsharvin had revealed the strategic broad strokes to him. First they would take Saint Lawrence, which would send the US politicians into apoplectic fits. They would mobilize their reserves, of that there was no doubt. But the bulk of their armed forces were engaged in the Middle East and Asia - so the reserves they could call on at short notice were older, less effectual national guard units. If the American politicians bought the cover story of a crisis over international shipping rights, they would spend most of their energy on pointless diplomacy. By the time they realized they were dealing with an invasion, it would be too late.
Alaska was a barely populated State, with a token military presence. The Russian plan relied on surprise. Using the emergency in the Bering Strait to justify pre-positioning forces and raising its alert level, Russian troops would in short order leapfrog from Saint Lawrence to take US military installations in Alaska and secure the western most city in the USA, Nome. The critical point, the one on which the plan would stand or fall, was the ability of Russian air and sea transport to land sufficient ground troops in Western Alaska to enable them to control events on the ground.
Moscow would not threaten the major Alaskan population centers of Juneau, Fairbanks or Anchorage, it would not use nuclear weapons and it was banking on the weak, indecisive US leadership to blink before resorting to its own nuclear arsenal, both out of moral weakness, but also out of the fear it would be killing its own citizens.
Within a week, perhaps two, Russia would have secured Nome and the vital Yukon River basin and would be negotiating a cease fire.
Bondarev cursed, switched on his bedside lamp, and sat up. He pulled his tablet over and turned it on, calling up the latest report on the disposition of his 6983rd Air Force. On a screen in Moscow, it no doubt looked formidable - under President Navalny the Russian military was as strong as it had been since the cold war. The report in front of him told a slightly different story.
His command comprised eight squadrons, but one was a rotary winged command transport unit, and another was a strategic bomber ‘graveyard’; a parking lot for obsolete Tu-22m Backfire bombers.
Of the other six, one was a group of 48 Okhotnik UCAVs attached to his personal command based at Kurba. The Okhotnik or ‘Hunter’ was a stealth drone based on the same platform as the piloted Su-57 but with an avionics suite optimized for ground attack. In that role it was designed to be operated by ‘near-line-of sight’ communications, in which radio signals from a ground station were relayed to the drones via an orbiting AWACS aircraft. It meant they had an operational radius of only 600 miles from their base, but it also meant their pilots could control them manually with no input lag. Theoretically the drones could be used in air-air combat, or beyond a range of 600 miles if executing an autonomous AI directed attack, but these applications fell outside Russian drone doctrine orthodoxy. The Okhotnik was a close air support platform, and close meant close.
Bondarev had a further 78 ground attack aircraft in the 3rd and 7th Air Regiments, but these were 4th generation Su-34s, lacking in any stealth capability.
His primary air defense units were the aircraft of the 4th and 5th Air Regiments, comprising 30 and 32 Su-57s respectively, and he had just given orders to move these to the new 8th Air Regiment base at Lavrentiya, from where they could cover all of Western Alaska as needed.
The remaining two units were the 6th Air Regiment strategic airlift squadron comprising 12 An-124 transport aircraft and the Beriev A-50W Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft of the 8th Air Regiment.
The reality was that his 6983rd Air Force was designed to fight and support a ground defense of Russia in a time before the current détente with China, and not an operation like LOSOS which would require him primarily to fight his enemy air-to-air. For that, he had only 62 Su-57s, and could press his Okhotniks into an air-air role if needed, but their weapon bays were optimized for air-to-ground ordnance; they could carry only four air-to-air missiles to the Su-57s six.
There was another problem.
While his personal unit of 48 Okhotniks was nominally at full strength, the Russian drones required two men to fly each. Unlike the US drones, several subordinate drones could not be slaved to a master drone flown by a single pilot. Each Okhotnik required one pilot and a weapons and systems officer, flying them from ground based stations. Unlike the weaker command and control system of the US drones, which was over-reliant on vulnerable satellite communications for command inputs, the Russian drones were highly mobile – they could fly off almost any strip of dirt and were transported easily by train or truck - and they used encrypted digital shortwave for communications. His men and aircraft could be dispersed across hundreds of kilometers of front, and yet still be coordinated as a single attacking unit. It was a difference in strategy that had proven itself in combat on multiple occasions - it was easy for Russian forces to find and disable enemy airfields or depots, but almost impossible for their enemy to do the same, so widely dispersed were the Russian pilots and their drones.
If he had the pilots and weapons officers he needed, that is. The 6983rd Hunter Regiment was still in a buildup phase. Its aircraft were all on line, but only 80 percent of its aircrew were. He could use almost any pilot certified for one of the Russian fighter marques, but the weapons and systems used by the new drones were not widely used and the all aspect air-to-air missile system in particular was barely more than a prototype, it’s deployable rotary loading system jamming if deployed at high speeds or high Gs. Too few systems officers had been certified to operate the Okhotnik and training was taking far too long. Too long by peacetime standards, impossibly long if they were going to war. Bondarev had only 38 crewed drones ready for what was to come.
It was why he had asked Lukin if he could call on the resources of Central Command, which he knew numbered at least 80 fighter aircraft, both Su-57s and the newer Mig-41 air superiority fighters only now being delivered into service. As importantly, he wanted access to its 6980th Air Regiment Okhotnik crews.
Bondarev was a realist, not an optimist, and that had served him well in his career so far. He would always try to under promise and over-deliver, ensuring he had more than enough assets at hand for the task he was given. Right now, yes, he had the assets he needed to secure the airspace over Saint Lawrence for a few days. But to achieve air superiority over Western Alaska, if that was the long game?
That thought led him to speculate on the long game, occupying Western Alaska and controlling the Yukon River basin. He could see why Nome was the key, and the strategy for taking Nome included denying the small airfield at Saint Lawrence to the Americans.
Built to service the US communications base at Savoonga, it was capable of landing both fighters and heavy aircraft and one to two squadrons could easily stage out of there. Denying it to the Americans meant they would need to fly out of their Eielson or Elmendorf-Richardson air bases, each 600 miles from Nome. And if the ultimate plan was to knock out Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson, which is what Bondarev would do, then the US fighters would be forced back to mainland USA, with their nearest air force bases 1,800 miles from Nome in Washington State, making it almost impossible for them to contest the airspace over Western Alaska against Russian forces which were flying less than a couple hundred miles to cover the same operations area.
The US might react angrily to events on Saint Lawrence, and Bondarev expected to lose good men as it lashed out. But when Russia moved against Alaska, he had no doubt the American Grizzly would wake from its recent hibernation and strike back with bared claws.
His hand jerked and he nearly dropped the tablet. He closed it down and laid it back down on the bedside table. Sleep. He should sleep while he could.
There would be no time for sleep a few days from now.
Last edited by HeinKill; 01/19/18 07:53 AM.
#4401220 - 01/21/18 04:12 PM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan
Joined: May 2006
Joined: May 2006
THIS IS YOUR WAKEUP CALL
On the deck of a carrier, everyone knew their place, and aircraft were launched amid the roar of jet engines in an elaborate dance of colored shirts, hand-arm gestures and precision movement. Under the Rock, they relied on tightly choreographed commands over their headsets.
Rodriguez stood in the trailer, looking down on the flight deck at her crew crouched around the F-47. “Flaps, slats, panels, pins!” she intoned.
The reply from the deck came immediately, “Green.”
“Man out.” Referring to the hook up petty officer who attached the drone launch bar to the catapult shuttle.
“Man out aye.”
“Thumbs up.” A last visual check to be sure there were no leaks of fuel or hydraulic fluid. Her shooter turned, held his hand in the air, thumb up.
“ELAMS to 520 psi.”
“Cat scan.” Asking her shooter to make a last visual check of the catapult. No foreign objects, foreign object damage or people where they shouldn’t be.
The cavern filled now with the roar of the Fantom’s high-bypass engine.
“Pilot, go burner.”
“Lighting burner, aye,” Bunny replied, spooling up the Scimitar engine and lighting the afterburner.
“Launch launch launch
Rodriguez watched with satisfaction as the big aircraft shot along the deck and down the rails, flung through the chute like a rock from a slingshot. She had started her career as a shooter on huge, roaring steam powered catapults, crouched on the flat top, ducking under the wings of aircraft blasting along the deck. EMALS had had a troubled birth, and had nearly been scrapped. But it was one thing to fire a steam catapult on an open deck in a windswept sea. In the confines of the cave under Little Diomede, it would never have worked. They would have had to find a way to capture the steam or vent it out over the sea without it being visible for miles in the Arctic air. The hugely powerfully magnetos driving the newer catapults didn’t need a steam compressor, but they did suck a ton of power. On a US carrier that power came from the ship’s own nuclear power plant, and nothing less was capable of pushing out the wattage needed. Which was why they had a repurposed Ohio class submarine reactor buried deep under the Pond. Little Diomede was built on kludges.
Rodriguez bit her lip and watched as the flight systems aboard the Fantom stabilized it and it transitioned from kinetic to onboard hydrogen fuel power from its Scimitar engine. This was the moment most prone to disaster. The drones had to kick in full afterburner at the moment of launch or they would simply drop into the sea outside the chute.
Bunny had her hand on the stick and her eye on her simulated cockpit flight screen, but Rodriguez knew for all her bravado about flying her drone out of the chute, she was pretty much a passenger at this point. The drone’s onboard AI could react to its environment and adjust its flight envelope a hundred times faster than Bunny and her redundant flight stick could. By the time she could twitch her stick a millimeter, the drone had already decided it had enough power for a successful launch, and aimed itself at the open air above Little Diomede. But AI could glitch too which was why she had her hand on the stick in case she needed to take back manual control while it was still in range of their undersea transmission array.
Bunny was controlling her Fantom through a VR helmet, with Rodriguez relegated to watching it in 2D on a bank of screens that simulated cockpit views, tactical overviews and heads-up display (HUD) instrument readouts. Flicking her eyes to the forward view screen, Rodriguez saw the hulks of the old fishing fleet flash past underneath the drone and then it began to climb into the night sky. Before she had even exhaled the breath she didn’t realize she was holding, the roar of the drone had died away and the cavern was suddenly empty, and quiet. Until a huge cheer went up from the personnel ringing the dock.
Rodriguez couldn’t help but smile, and heard the relief in Bunny’s voice as she calmly announced, “Fantom 4 successful egress. AI has control. Turning to 150, altitude 100.” She leaned back from her stick, letting it go and flexing her fingers. She pulled up her VR visor, turned to Rodriguez briefly, flashing her a quick thumbs up, before turning and pulling the visor back down.
“EMALS return to launch readiness. Recovery team to standby,” Rodriguez said into her comms, and watched with satisfaction as the members of the red-shirted crash and salvage crew returned to their stations and changed their shirts to green in anticipation of recovering the aircraft after its mission.
The only other person in the trailer was the CO, Halifax. He patted her shoulder. “Nice launch Boss. Almost be a shame when it becomes routine.”
“If shooting 80 million dollars’ worth of warplane through a hole the size of a barn door underneath a billion tons of rock ever becomes routine sir, you can hand me my retirement slip.”
“Now you’ve got that cat working again, you’ll be firing three next time, then six, then twelve Lieutenant Commander. And you’ll be doing it at a pace you never thought possible. Your crews ready for that?”
She watched as Lieutenant Severin, her catapult officer, went around high fiving everyone on the flight deck. “They were born for it sir,” Rodriguez said, sounding as confident as she felt.
The trailer was quiet a moment, as they watched Bunny at work, pulling data from the drone and tweaking its flight path as it settled in for its flight down the Alaska coast, skimming the sea at not much more than wave top height. It would be an hour before it went feet dry over Alaska’s southern coast near Anchorage. Rodriguez had plenty to do outside, giving props to her people for a picture perfect launch.
“Permission to hit the flight deck sir?” she asked Halifax.
“Granted. Lieutenant Commander, before you go?” Halifax asked. “A question?”
“How you and your pilot run this mission is entirely your call, but the coast facing Russia is probably the most watched piece of sky outside of Atlanta International Airport. I know the Fantom is 5th generation stealth, but what radar can’t see, thermal and magnetic imaging satellites can. No disrespect to Lieutenant O’Hare, but I’d like to know you have a plan so that Air Force won’t be laughing their a**es off at us for the next five years.”
Bunny was listening and lifted up her visor to give Rodriguez a wink, then went back to work.
“Well sir, firstly, you have to remember Air Force has been staring at that piece of sky for seventy years, without seeing anything but the occasional lone flight of Russian bombers acting like they accidentally got lost. Stare at nothing long enough, you start seeing nothing.” She held up two fingers, “Plus, I checked and it’s two years since the Pentagon put Eielson through an unannounced exercise like this. Whoever is on duty at this time of night is sitting over there right now, sucking back lukewarm coffee and probably sneak-watching HBO on a tablet. They have no idea what kind of sh*tstorm is about to hit them. Plus, Lieutenant O’Hare there has a cunning plan for not getting my very expensive warplane accidentally shot down. Tell the Commander, O’Hare.”
O’Hare turned around and flipped up her visor. She was busting to tell it, but Halifax tried to prick her balloon, “Let me guess. You’re going to circle south and blast up some river valley or mountain range at Mach 1.5 and treetop height, then pop up within cruise missile launch range, get a GPS lock on the target and call it mission accomplished before you high-tail it south again on afterburner.”
Bunny grinned, “It’s called the Tanana River Valley sir, and maybe that’s the way you’d do it. That’s the way most folks would do it and the radar operators at Eielson would have wargamed that a hundred times. So yeah, I’m going to come at Eielson from the south … or south-south west actually. On the commercial
flight path that goes between Anchorage and Fairbanks. And I’m going to be flying at ten thousand feet, with my landing lights on, wheels and flaps down, at a stately 200 miles an hour. Every long and short range radar and every satellite in the northern hemisphere should be able to see me.”
Halifax looked at Bunny like she had completely lost her marbles, and then at Rodriguez, who couldn’t hide how much she was loving it. And he could see clearly neither of them was going to tell him any more right now.
“With your permission sir,” Rodriguez said to Halifax. “I have work to do.”
“Permission granted Boss,” Halifax said, his frown turning to a slight smile.
Airman E4 Dale Racine first saw the blip on his screen and heard the chime of the audio alarm as the UI aircraft came into the air traffic control zone for Fairbanks, 120 miles south of Eielson airbase. His eyes flicked to his screen as his system analyzed the flight profile of the unidentified object and compared it to civil and military flight plans. By its size, speed and altitude the system identified it as a probable light passenger aircraft but it didn’t match any logged civilian flight plan. Plus it was a heading that would bring it close to Eielson. Had he missed it earlier? He quickly checked the data history for that sector, but it came up empty. Air traffic control at Anchorage should have called it in then handed it off, but there was no record of them having pinged it. He sighed.
“Sir, I have an unidentified aircraft 100 miles out approaching from 185 degrees, altitude ten thousand, speed 226 miles an hour,” Racine called out to the officer of the watch, Staff Sergeant Elmore Bruning. Bruning and the other Airman in the tower at Eielson were busy planning how they were going to land both a C130 and a flight of UCAV-modded F-22s twenty minutes from now with only one functioning runway and one man short up in the tower because Airman E3 Scarlatti had reported sick again the lazy b*stard.
“Who do you have on station?” Bruning asked.
Racine checked his screen, looking for patrolling fighters. “Filial 3 and Filial 4, about twenty minutes from an intercept. Sooner if they light their a**es.”
Bruning looked up from his work, “No rush son, sounds like a civilian flight, probably hunters or trappers that didn’t file a plan.”
Another chime sounded in his ears and Racine looked down at his screen. The unidentified aircraft was descending now, moving through nine thousand nine to nine thousand eight. “It seems to be descending slowly now sir, moving through nine eight zero to nine seven.”
Bruning was tempted to give the guy an earful, but it was only his second week and he needed him sharp and motivated in about an hour when that C130 was coming in. He put on a patient tone, “Do the math Airman. On that heading, at that rate of descent, where might it be landing?”
Racine frowned. It was still a hundred miles out, so it could be making for FAI, the Fairbanks civilian airfield. Racine zoomed his screen out and started looking for commercial airfields on the bearing of the UI aircraft. FAI was the logical destination for sure, but it was too far to the north-east. So he called up national park cabins that had dirt airstrips alongside them. Bam. He put his finger on the screen. “I got the Harding Birch River Cabin strip right about where that glide slope would bottom out Sir,” Racine announced.
“Poachers,” Bruning spat. Bruning was a hunter too, but he was one of the dumb ones who paid his license. “Cheeky b*stards, think they can just sneak in at dawn, bag a moose or bear, get out again at dusk and no one will know. Make me sick.” A thought suddenly crossed his mind. “Those fighters doing anything critical?”
Racine called up the OPORD for Filial 3 and 4. “Night flight instrument checks Sir,” he said.
“Good, let’s give them something to do. Tell them there is an unauthorized civilian flight approaching Eielson and give them an intercept. Once they get eyeballs on it, I want them to scare the sh*t out of whoever is in that plane.”
“Tell them to turn it around Racine,” Bruning explained. “Back to wherever it came from. With prejudice.”
Rodriguez checked her watch. It was go time. There wasn’t anything more she could do to get her people ready to recover the drone when it splashed down, so she walked over to the trailer and opened the door, stepping into a tight atmosphere of sweat and adrenaline. Listening, she soon heard why.
O’Hare wasn’t the one sweating, even though she was flying both as pilot and systems operator. Flying via satellite input created a control input lag of up to a second, which meant leaving most of the actual flying to the drone AI once it was out of ‘line of sight’, but Bunny still had a half dozen screens to watch as they fed her tracking and targeting data and she had to keep a hundred combat software routines at her fingertips ready to feed down the line. It troubled her not at all. She had bandwidth she hadn’t even tapped yet.
“Being painted by long distance ground based radar again sir,” Bunny said.
“Those fighters still closing?” Halifax asked.
“Yes sir. Can’t be precise with passive array yet sir but I’d say 110 to 120 miles out. Still only at cruising speed, they’re not in any hurry. They’ll be in weapons range in ... ten minutes.”
“Damn,” Halifax said.
Rodriguez smiled. Halifax was worried he was about to get 80 million dollars’ worth of drone shot out of the sky but to Rodriguez it sounded like Bunny’s mission was going exactly to plan.
“Light your IFF as soon as those F-35s get into weapons range,” Halifax told Bunny, referring to the Identify Friend or Foe system that told US and NATO aircraft and ground defense systems they were looking at an ally, not an enemy.
“Then we lose, Eielson wins sir,” O’Hare said. “With respect, I got this.”
Halifax ignored her. He was leaning over O’Hare’s shoulder, looking intently at a 2D screen, “One minute ten to HSSW missile launch,” he said.
“Yes sir,” O’Hare replied.
“Those F-35s are two minutes from weapons range,” Halifax said.
“Said I got it sir,” O’Hare said calmly.
“The window is closing, Lieutenant,” Halifax said through gritted teeth. “Pull up your wheels, light your tail and start squawking, this mission is bust.”
“Still seeing daylight Sir,” Bunny said, not at all phased by having a senior officer riding shotgun on her. “I’m entering max range. It will be so much more convincing inside the 90 percent certainty zone.”
“Best leave the pilot to do her work sir,” Rodriguez interjected gently.
Rodriguez could see Halifax wanted to say more, but he bit his lip and turned to Rodriguez, looking worried. “I really wanted this scalp Air Boss.”
Rodriguez nodded Bunny's way, “Fat lady hasn’t sung yet sir.”
Right on cue, Bunny started a running commentary. “GPS and inertial targeting locked. Twenty seconds to HSSW release,” Bunny’s fingers danced across her keyboard like a pianist playing an arpeggio as she cued up the simulated High Speed Strike Weapon. “CUDA Half-RAAMs in passive mode, also locked on targets. Ten seconds.” She moved her hands from her keyboard to her stick and throttle. “Get ready on the comms sir,” she said over her shoulder to Halifax.
Rodriguez noticed for the first time that Halifax had a hand-held comms unit in his hand and he held it up to his mouth. She wouldn’t have been surprised to see it shaking a little, with the amount of tension there was in the room.
“Three-two-one … HSSW away
,” Bunny said coolly, punching some keys. “Initiating egress. Wheels and flaps up, going to Mach speed.” The screen in front of her, her simulated cockpit, was completely dark, no horizon, not even a star showing to help her orient herself. But the ghostly green circle of her heads-up instruments spun giddily as she ordered the drone to come around and pointed it at the incoming fighters.
“Light them up Lieutenant,” Rodriguez ordered, referring to the two F-35s on an intercept course for what they probably still thought was a civilian light plane.
“Yes ma’am, lighting up active targeting radar. I have a lock on two targets. I have tone. Permission to fire?”
“Kill them dead Bunny,” Rodriguez said grimly.
“Fox one through four … CUDAs away
. Bugging out,” O’Hare said. “Turning on IFF. IFF squawking.” On the tactical screens they watched the simulated missiles track and then wink out as they reached their silicon designated targets and kill probabilities were calculated. Bunny couldn’t keep the satisfaction out of her voice as numbers flashed on the screen. “Ground target kill confirmed, air target kills confirmed. All yours sir.” Bunny said to Halifax.
Rodriguez watched Bunny’s screen spin again as she rolled her drone on its back and bullied it down to treetop height at a speed sure to rip the crowns off the trees it was blasting over.
Halifax took a big breath, “Eielson airfield, this is US Navy Commander Justin Halifax of Navy facility NCTAMS-A4. You have just been put through a Pentagon authorized exercise. My F-47 Fantom strike fighter just successfully fired a nuclear armed hypersonic missile at your control tower. You are dead. Everyone within a twenty mile radius of your base is dead. The two pilots wandering through the sky toward an intercept with my Fantom, wondering what the hell just happened, are also dead. I’m terribly sorry Eielson. I have a hard time imagining what s-hole they might post you to that’s worse than Eielson Air Force base, so let’s agree I just did you a favor. Please acknowledge.”
“This is Eielson tower. Message received. Screw you Navy.”
“Confirmed Eielson, my respects to your commanding officer. Rest in Peace. Halifax out.” He grinned and patted Bunny on her shoulder. “Nice job officers. I’m going topside. The fun is just starting.”
Airman Racine, like everyone around him, was staring dumbfounded at the grey dawn sky as if it had answers for him.
He was still trying to process what had happened. It had seemed like everything had happened at once, so trying to remember it was like trying to recreate a crime scene.
First, the screaming warning tone coming out of his command console. He had taken a second to realize what it was, before he half stood and turned to Bruning with a frown. “Missile inbound?” He looked back at his screen. “Simulation, Sir!?”
“Oh sh*t,” Bruning said, going pale. His tablet fell from his fingers.
“Attack Radar!” the voice of the flight leader of the F-35 patrol screamed over the tower audio system. “Eielson we are being actively tracked by radar. Missiles inbound
! Filial 4, deploy countermeasures! Break low!”
Racine bent to his screen, looking for the missile tracks on his monitor. There! “Simulated Sir!” he yelled. “It’s all
Bruning put his hand to his forehead and reached for the comms button at his throat.
On the screen in front of him, nothing made sense to Airman Racine. He watched as the blip designating the civilian light aircraft suddenly changed color and flashed a US Navy IFF code, accelerated to an incredible speed and then… disappeared.
“Filial leader, stand down, repeat stand down, you are seeing simulated launches,” Bruning said. “I repeat, this is Eielson Tower, you have been subjected to a simulated attack.”
“Sir?” Racine asked, looking from Bruning to the other Airman at his console and not seeing any answers. He heard heavy breathing over the tower audio from the fighter pilots as they regained control of their aircraft and their composure. “That civilian flight, it was a Navy…” Racine tried to explain.
“Eielson, you better explain,” came the tight voice of the F-35 flight leader.
Bruning almost spat the words, “Eielson Tower to Filial Leader; an unknown Navy aircraft just simulated firing an air-to-ground missile at us, and then attacked you with air-to-air missiles. Our systems show all launches were executed in simulation mode. That is all I know at this point Captain.”
There was a moment of silence then the voice of the F-35 flight leader came through again, “Give me a vector for an intercept Eielson,” he demanded. “We owe this pr*ck some payback.”
Bruning clicked his fingers at Racine but he just shrugged. “I have nothing sir,” he said. He looked back at his monitor to be sure, but the ghost aircraft was gone. “It launched, flashed a Navy IFF code, went Mach 1 and then disappeared.”
“Eielson tower to Filial leader, no business for you sir,” Bruning said, sitting down at his keyboard and screen. “The attacking aircraft has gone dark. Got nothing on radar. I’m pulling satellite infrared but that will take time.”
They never heard the fighter pilot’s acerbic response because right then a voice came over the encrypted interservice channel.“Eielson airfield, this is US Navy Commander Justin Halifax…”
In their trailer, Rodriguez watched as Bunny used terrain-following radar to pick her way out of the target area and head for the coast. It would soon be light enough for optical satellites to pick her up and track her using high speed motion detection algorithms but she no longer cared. The main reason she was trying to stay low and stealthy was to make sure she didn’t get two extremely pi**ed off Air Force F-35s on her tail. She had nothing on her passive sensors, but she wasn’t taking any chances. She had a suspicion those Air Force jet jockeys could be so mad they would even consider putting a missile up the tailpipe of her drone and claim fog of war later.
Once her kite went ‘feet wet’ south of Anchorage she turned it back up the coast toward Little Diomede and let the AI take full control. She leaned back, pulled up her VR visor and blew air out of her cheeks.
“You are crazy O’Hare, you know that?” Rodriguez said, letting a little admiration leak into her voice.
“Crazy like a shark, ma’am,” O’Hare grinned.
“If the Russians don’t find this base and wipe it out, then the damn Air Force will, you just made sure of that.”
“They can try ma’am,” Bunny said. “But by then you’ll have thirty Fantoms online for me, right?”
Her adrenaline fueled smile was infectious and Rodriguez let her enjoy it. “We’ll do our best to keep up, pilot.”
Bunny reached her arms above her head and cracked her fingers, “Thankyou ma’am. But that was the easy part. I still have to fly that beast through a hole in a cliff the size of a carpark entrance and land it in a Pond smaller than the lake in Central Park. Aint no A.I. alive will fly itself straight at a hole in a wall.”
“My newly won admiration will be sorely tried if you break one of my Fantoms,” Rodriguez warned.
“Define ‘break’ for me Boss,” Bunny quipped.
The recovery was almost as nerve wracking for Rodriguez as the attack had been for Halifax. O’Hare had to use the undersea array to assume manual control of the drone as it made its final approach toward the island. For the last mile the autopilot voice kept intoning, Terrain warning, pull up! Terrain warning, pull up!
“Can’t you shut that off?” Rodriguez asked her.
“You stop hearing it after the first hundred times,” Bunny replied. The visor in front of her eyes had her full focus. Through the nose camera on the drone and the picture it was throwing up on Rodriguez’s 2D tactical screen, the cliff face looked huge, the cave entrance impossibly small.
The engineers had looked at various ways to try to hide the water level cave entrance, but in the end, they decided that as it had been there for hundreds of years, it would arouse more suspicion if it suddenly disappeared. So they had made do with widening the diameter enough that it was two Fantom wingspans, or about 120 feet wide. They had blasted away about four feet of the floor at the mouth of the cave but they were worried about the integrity of the rock above if they went too hard, so the water at the cave entrance was too shallow to take the impact of a Fantom landing on skis.
So what Bunny had to do, what she’d spent all that simulator time practicing and had managed to do for real on only a couple of test flights before the EMALS was taken off line, was to glide the Fantom into the maw of the cave, float it over the rock ledge at the entrance just above a stall, and then drop it hard into the water so that it had almost as much downward velocity as forward, and hope it wouldn’t dig in a ski and go cartwheeling across the Pond to explode in a hydrogen fueled fireball. The drone automatically dropped a small drogue into the water on landing to stop it from yawing and provide extra drag, so if she did it right, the two hundred feet of water in the Pond should be more than enough to pull up in, and she had reverse thrusters if she needed to pull up fast, but they were just as likely to send the Fantom to the bottom if she hit them too hard. If all went well, all her arresting gear officer would have to do was fish out the drogue, get a sling under the drone and lift it off the pond with a crane to be recycled.
You couldn’t program an autopilot for landings like that because it violated too many safety parameters. Which made Bunny just perfect for the job.
As the cave maw loomed closer on Bunny’s simulated cockpit view, Rodriguez knew better than to disturb her again. Even if it did look like she was bringing the Fantom in a little…
“Low and slow dammit,” Bunny said to herself, her left hand pushing forward a little on the throttle. “Come on baby. Time to come home.” She hit a key combination. “Flaps to full. Skis down and locked.”
Rodriguez pulled her eyes away from the screens inside the trailer and fixed them on the grey-white half circle on the other side of the Pond through which the Fantom was about to appear.
It was after dawn now, and the outside light was getting brighter. Inside the cave, they had switched on the low intensity green LED lighting that was used for landing. Anything else caused the cameras on the drone to flare, and the pilot risked losing orientation as they adjusted for white balance. The low luminosity of the green LEDs meant that Bunny saw a brief circle of complete black, and then the green wall lighting of the Pond and the dock sprang into view ahead of her. If all went well.
“That’s it honey,” Bunny was purring to herself now, as though she was coaxing a racehorse into a starting gate. “Don’t be scared of the big ugly cliff. Come to momma.”
Then Rodriguez saw the silhouette of the Fantom framed in the circle of light two hundred feet away and before she could react it was thumping down onto the water, hydraulic cushioned skids jumping as they soaked up the energy of the landing. Bunny popped her air brakes, tapped a key to give the drone just a touch of reverse thrust, and it dipped its nose alarmingly, but not enough that it risked what Bunny called ‘a face plant’.
From the back of the drone, the drogue parachute exploded, acting like the sea anchor on a yacht in a heavy sea and pulling it up so sharply it slowed it to a stop with fifty feet of Pond to spare. Bunny cut the engine, threw up her visor and leaned back in her chair, hands on her head, looking at the Fantom through the trailer windows like she couldn’t actually believe she had really landed it.
As she watched her green shirted crew get the recovery crane and sling rolling to lift the drone off the water and into a recycling bay, Rodriguez could see that every single landing on this base was going to be a balance of art and terror.
“Someone needs to buy me a damn beer,” Bunny said, turning around. “If I do say so myself, ma’am.”
Rodriguez smiled, “How about breakfast, Lieutenant? Once we’ve got that Fantom squared away.”
“You have a deal, Lieutenant Commander,” Bunny said, standing and stretching her compact frame. “Got to stay sober anyway. So I can pull the logs and write up the mission report, doing justice to how totally awesome
(C) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued.
Last edited by HeinKill; 01/21/18 04:37 PM.
#4401340 - 01/22/18 08:24 AM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan
Joined: May 2006
Joined: May 2006
A RUN IN THE SNOW
While Bunny was belly flopping her Fantom onto the Pond, Bondarev was freezing his butt off in the melting snow of a Khabarovsk summer. He’d asked for a few minutes of General Lukin’s time and had been told he could meet with him at 0630 when the General was taking his morning run.
Fifty-eight years old and he was still taking a morning run in the subarctic temperatures of Khabarovsk? Bondarev sincerely hoped he would be dead before he had to even think about keeping up that kind of discipline himself.
He waited outside the General’s quarters in his running gear, hopping from one leg to the other to keep warm. He knew it was dumb at these temperatures to blow warm air into his mittens, because it would condense, turn to water and freeze his fingers. Same for the Balaklava around his face - blowing warm air into the mouth and neck would be as dumb as peeing in his pants to keep warm. There was nothing for it but to keep moving, but he knew Lukin was the type who thought five minutes early was already late, so he wasn’t too worried he’d be kept waiting.
Sure enough, at 0625 he saw the General come thumping down the stairs, fling open the doors from his quarters and take a deep breath. “Bondarev,” was all he said before nodding and pointing up the single road out of the base and then padding off down the road. Once he might have been a high jumper or a hurdler, but Lukin was carrying a few pounds now, thank God. He pounded down the road like a heavyweight boxer and Bondarev jogged by his side, wondering who should speak first. It was a little awkward, because quality time with the most senior officer in the 3rd Command of Air Force and Air Defense was not something he got that often, and spending that time running through the snow in the dark was something he’d never had to do before.
Luckily Lukin broke the silence, “That shifty bugger Arsharvin has brought you into the circle then?”
“Sir?” Bondarev asked, not wanting to throw his friend under the bus.
Lukin was the annoying type who could apparently talk and run without panting. The only sign he was exerting himself was that he timed his words with his inhalations.
“You don’t have to cover for him,” Lukin said. “I know you two served together in Syria. You asked my staff for an urgent meeting with me and I can’t believe it’s because you misunderstood your orders from yesterday. It’s a pretty simple CAP cover role, no matter the context. You take your machines to Saint Lawrence, scare away anyone who gets in the way, and make sure by the end of two days our troops are boiling tea and warming MREs on the ground below you without any American bombs or missiles upsetting their appetites.”
“Yes sir,” Bondarev agreed. “The Saint Lawrence objective is clear. But I have a suspicion that this is just our first move in a larger maneuver.”
suspicion, Sir,” Bondarev said carefully. “But if I’m right, I’d like permission to bring the 6983rd up to full readiness. It’s not the weapons platforms Sir, they are already on trains, moving to Lavrentiya. I’m short of pilots and systems operators.”
They had left the base now, and were headed up a hill to a tree lined horizon, dark on dark. As though to test him, Lukin perversely picked up pace when they began the climb. Bondarev matched his pace, but was glad to see the older man at least begin to breathe more heavily.
“I can’t confirm your ‘suspicions’ Colonel,” he said. “But I am concerned to hear the 6983rd is not at full readiness already. It is intended to be a front-line unit. No one has told me anything about pilot or systems officer shortages.”
Bondarev knew that was not true. He had been warning of the personnel shortages monthly in his reports to the General Staff for nearly 18 months and knew these were read personally by Lukin. He had been told that Russian Aerospace Command was prioritizing combat operations in the Middle East and Africa and that the Eastern Military District was too far down the list for anyone to listen to him. He had accepted that, but hadn’t stopped flagging the shortages in his monthly reports, or in fact, at any opportunity. He had personally had a conversation with Lukin about it six months earlier.
“The Comrade General is not expected to be across such details,” Bondarev panted. “But it is the case that I am currently 20 aircrew short of being able to field my full regiment of 48 Okhotniks.”
He half expected criticism from Lukin for Bondarev not keeping him informed, or at least something about the incompetence of his staff. Instead, he was silent. They jogged side by side, Lukin apparently in thought, Bondarev in stasis, until they crested the hill and began the curving downhill part of the run that would take them through a small village and then back toward the base.
“Twenty crew you say,” Lukin said finally.
“Yes sir. For full operational capability I would require 24 to allow for … rotations.”
Bondarev had hoped that Lukin would ease off his pace as they jogged through the darkened, quiet town. Only one or two houses were lit, with early risers who no doubt had duties somewhere on the military base. A dog barked off in the distance, highlighting to Bondarev how still the early morning was. There was no traffic, neither foot nor wheeled. In his soul, Bondarev hoped to hear at least a cock crow, but he knew that was a thought dredged up from a semi-rural childhood and not likely here in the middle of the icy wind-blasted desolation of Khabarovsk.
“You are not to commit the 6983rd to the operation over Saint Lawrence,” Lukin said finally, as the lights of the base appeared over a rise. “I expect a limited reaction from the Americans. They are weak and indecisive but if the 4th and 5th Air Regiments suffer losses, you will bear them, Colonel.”
If Bondarev had hoped for Lukin to share any of the grand plan with him, he was disappointed. They ran in silence for the rest of the distance back to the base, threading their way through the main gates, around a dead circle of hedge rustling in the early morning Arctic wind and then back to the front door of the General’s quarters.
Bondarev expected a curt dismissal, but was a little surprised as Lukin stopped on his steps, stretched out a leg, and bent over it, warming down. “I am a fighting pilot like you Bondarev,” he said. He was looking at his foot, grabbing the toe as he pulled on his hamstrings.
“Yes sir,” Bondarev said.
“Did you know I am still current on the Yak-130?” he asked pulling in his right leg and stretching out his left, still not looking at Bondarev directly.
Bondarev smiled, of course he knew. The whole of the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command knew that Lukin had his own Ferrari red Yak-130, a two seater light ground attack fighter and trainer that had hard points for weapons and drop tanks. He flew himself from base to base for inspections, to observe exercises and join staff meetings.
“Yes sir,” he replied simply.
“You do your job,” Lukin said. “Keep those skies clear. And I’ll look forward to flying my Yak into that American field at Savoonga. You join me there, we will toast a job well done. Deal?” The General held out his hand, looking directly into Bondarev’s eyes for the first time.
Bondarev tool his hand, “A deal General.”
The General held his hand a moment longer than necessary. The gesture had a feeling of finality about it that unsettled Bondarev. It was as though they were saying goodbye. But Lukin dropped his hand and smiled, “I will see about that personnel shortage, Colonel,” Lukin said. “The fighting in Syria is more or less over now, from what I hear.” He patted Bondarev on the shoulder and pulled open the door to his quarters and Bondarev watched as he bounded upstairs for a shower.
I am already dead, Bondarev was thinking. He knows it, but he can’t say it.
“You don’t know your history,” Arsharvin was telling him. It didn’t quite come out that way though. It was more like, “Youdonknowyourhistry.”
Bondarev was aware of, and he spat upon, the clichéd Western images of Russians as big drinkers. He came from a family of teetotalers, in which he was the first in many generations who had ever taken a drink and recent events aside, it was rare he took two. His grandfather had been head of the entire Russian Air Force and he had never seen him touch a drop, even when he had turned up at a family dinner, pale faced and quiet, clearly shocked over something that had happened that day, or some news he had received. Yevgeny’s mother had plagued her father to tell her what had happened, but he had told her not to worry, it was just a military matter, not something he could share with her. Bondarev remembered once when his 13 year old self had watched the grey haired, box jawed older man sitting at the table, staring into his cold coffee for nearly an hour without moving. A week later they heard an entire Russian airfield and all its personnel had been overrun by Turkish forces after the base was obliterated with American-made ‘city-killer’ conventional weapons. The Turks, who had bought Russian made air defense systems during a period of detente in the early 2010s, had used their experience with the Russian tech to find a way to hack the systems to make them blind; an exploit that resulted in the deaths of several hundred Russian personnel and Syrian civilians.
That was the first, maybe the only time, Bondarev had seen his mother and father take a drink.
They had seen the shocked look on their son’s face and his father had pulled him over to the table as they sat there. “There will be war now, Yevgeny,” his father had said. “Not like you have seen before. I will be recalled, and you will …” he had looked at his wife. “You will do your duty too.”
His father had been right. After several years of providing support and ‘advice’ to the Syrian regime, Russia had declared war on Turkey. Attacking that country from the south in Syria, from the Black Sea, and from airfields in the Caucasus, Russia had one goal. To show the West that it was once again a military power to be reckoned with, to show its allies or those in its shadow that they would need to choose sides for the second part of the 21st Century, as divided loyalties were no longer an option. And, Bondarev realized now, to test the resolve of the United States when it came to meeting its many treaty obligations.
Russia had achieved all of those objectives and more. Turkey alone was never going to be a match for the Russian Navy, Air Force or regular troops. And Turkey was very quickly left alone to deal with Russia. After years of antagonizing its European neighbors and throwing their overtures of friendship back in their faces, it had metaphorically burned all the bridges across the Bosporus leading to Europe. Similarly it had alienated its NATO partners through unbridled aggression against US Kurdish allies on its southern border, succeeding only in getting itself expelled from NATO. When an unfortunate clash between Turkish and Russian ground troops in Syria turned ugly, Turkey called for help from its traditional European and NATO allies and found itself in an echo chamber, facing Russian backed Syrian forces alone.
Bondarev had just earned his fighter wings. Russian overconfidence had seen early victories in Syria and Turkey met with some unfortunate reverses, and a war that planners had foreseen might take one year to 18 months before Turkey was forced to capitulate, was still raging two years later.
The fabled Blue Mosque in Istanbul was shown on Russian television as proof of both the discipline of Russian forces and the precision of its missiles and bombs, as it stood almost unscathed amongst the rubble of Istanbul.
Bondarev’s first combat mission had been in the skies over Istanbul, as he followed his flight in for a strike on anti-aircraft positions along the river dividing the city between Asia and Europe. They had blasted in at sea level, popped up over the first ruined bridge at Besiktas, and loosed their anti-radiation missiles at the targets that had been identified by high flying AWACS aircraft and drones. Yevgeny had not seen the missiles strike. His flight had headed for the nap of the earth again as soon as their missiles were away and were headed back to Sevastopol by the time they detonated. Russia had no need, nor appetite, for losing valuable pilots over enemy territory.
It was also the first time Bondarev had seen Okhotnik drones in action. As he had followed his flight leader away from the release point, he had seen a flight of nine Okhotniks, like small triangular darts, sweep in from his nine o’clock high to deal with the inadequate Turkish air force response to their attack. Turkish air defense satellites and radar had identified Bondarev’s flight as it had popped up, and two outdated but well-armed F-18 Superhornets had been directed to pursue Bondarev’s flight. He was picking up their search radars as they tried to get a lock on the fleeing Russian flight and watched as the Okhotniks flashed past his wing, loosed two AMRAAMs each at the Turkish jets and then immediately transitioned into an impossible full thrust vertical climb that would have turned a human pilot’s brain to mush. Within seconds the entire flight of Okhotniks was gone, surfing the stratosphere and no doubt looking for new targets even as their missiles swiped the Turkish Superhornets from the sky.
Bondarev saw the kills confirmed on one of the screens in his Su-57, and heard a grunt from his flight leader. “This isn’t war,” the man said. “It’s a video game and other side is still in the Nintendo age.”
“That silicon can sure as hell fly and shoot though sir,” Bondarev said.
“You looking for a transfer Bondarev? Your idea of war is sitting on your a** in a trailer in Georgia looking at a video screen, where the worst thing that can happen is you spill your coffee if things get hairy?”
Bondarev had instinctively run his eyes from controls to instruments, across his wing, the sky high and low around him and then back to his controls. A hill was rushing toward them and as one, the flight rose and then fell to avoid it. He checked the position of his wingman and felt the machine respond as he pulled back gently on his stick, felt the pressure of his seat against his back as he slid back into formation, the hill receding quickly behind him. “Not likely sir,” he’d said.
But with a fabled name like Bondarev he wasn’t going to be allowed to live out his days as a simple pilot. And despite their technological superiority, Russian losses were mounting as the second year dragged into a third, and then a fourth. A quick campagn had turned into a problematic, drawn out intervention and occupation facing an asymmetric enemy, with Turkish forces maintaining control of their vital oil reserves and a newly guilt-ridden sympathetic Europe coming in late with support; if not with troops, then at least with weapons. With two air and 15 ground kills against his name Bondarev had been given a Nesterov Air Medal and command of his own Su-57 squadron.
He wasn’t ready for command, but he had learned quickly. Arsharvin had been head of his combat intelligence unit, but to Bondarev, his greatest value wasn’t intelligence about the Turkish enemy. It was his network within the Russian air force, the Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily Rossii or VVS, which had meant there wasn’t a single political maneuver Bondarev wasn’t forewarned about. When Arsharvin had learned about a near insurrection about to erupt in 573rd Army Air Force Base Arsharvin had handed the names of the plotters to Bondarev, and he had taken them to Lukin personally, afraid of trusting the information to anyone else. When the recriminations died down, Lukin had demoted the commander of the 573rd, and put Bondarev in charge. It was an inglorious command, rotary winged transport aircraft mostly, but it was based in Khabarovsk with high visibility. He leveraged his time there to eventually achieve command of the 5th Air Regiment, an elite unit composed of the latest Su-57 and Mig-41 fighters. From there it was just a matter of not screwing up, and he was handed command of the 6983rd Air Base: nine regiments, 200 fighters or attack aircraft, 100 rotary winged attack and support aircraft.
After the heat and dust of Syria, the move to the 6983rd’s base in the Russian Far East had been welcome. Bondarev was no stranger to snow and ice. Loved, in fact, the biting cold of a cloudless night, salt tears in his eyes, lips numb. His mother, dead five years now, had taught him there was no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.
His father had been right about the war coming, but he hadn’t been there to see it end. He had died of an undiagnosed heart problem manning a radar station outside Tbilisi; but he had seen his son decorated and Bondarev remembered he had cried when he saw him wearing his medal. He had held his son by the shoulders and then tapped the medal. “Each one of these is forged with the tears of mothers who have lost their sons and daughters,” his father had said. “Remember that, every time you pin it on.”
“Hey, I’m talking to you,” Arsharvin said, punching his shoulder and bringing him back to the present. Bondarev had just told Arsharvin it was his professional military opinion that Operation LOSOS was going to be just like Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. A fantastic military victory that would guarantee their ultimate defeat.
“Saint Lawrence is not Pearl Harbor,” Arsharvin was insisting, “The US will react to our move on Saint Lawrence, yes. That is the intention - to create a provocation they simply cannot ignore. We will incur losses, inevitably. In fact, we are counting on it. In the face of continued US military aggression we will move on Alaska and declare our intention to secure the west of Alaska as neutral territory, a bulwark between a militant USA and a peaceful Russia. Traditional US lapdogs like Australia, South Korea and Japan may react, but our diplomats assure us NATO will not mobilize.”
“NATO will react when American cruise missiles start to fly,” Bondarev said. “I guarantee you that.”
Arsharvin took another glass, “It won’t come to that. This is a border dispute, nothing more. If we move with overwhelming conventional force, take Alaska quickly, the US will find itself in a hostage negotiation, not a war.”
“They might hesitate to use their nuclear weapons against targets on US soil, I agree,” Bondarev allowed. “But sub-launched tactical nukes aimed at our Far East airfields and ports would be my response. The battle for Alaska would be over before it started.”
“And how would we respond to an attack like that?” Arsharvin asked.
“Massively, and irrationally,” Bondarev sighed. “The sky would rain
ICBMs. We would be looking at the end of all civilization, not just Russia.”
“Yes. Or no. Say the self-absorbed US President and the weak-kneed liberals in power in the US Congress hesitate. The US does not need Alaska. They have one third of the world’s freshwater in the Great Lakes region. Alaskan oil has become irrelevant since the renewable energy revolution. They will fight, yes, but not with nuclear weapons.”
“I’m not buying that, but what makes you think we can even win a conventional war?” Bondarev asked.
“Nothing, but what a righteous cause!” Arsharvin yelled, raising an arm in the air. “Let us toast to it! A fight against a worthy enemy, for the survival of Mother Russia!”
(c) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued...
Last edited by HeinKill; 01/22/18 08:33 AM.
#4401395 - 01/22/18 06:31 PM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan
Joined: May 2006
Joined: May 2006
I'm assuming Canada might have something to say/do if the Soviets "annex" the little chunk of land called Alaska?
Does a moose poop in the woods?
However not too sure they could do much about it. I remember when I lived in Toronto there was a light hearted spat between Canada and Denmark over a 'disputed' island in the Arctichttps://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/08/...denmark-hans-island-whisky-schnapps.html
The Globe and Mail did a similarly light hearted story on the armed forces of the two nations and decided that if it came to war, Denmark would win!
#4401564 - 01/23/18 07:38 PM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan
Joined: Jul 2003
Joined: Jul 2003
Well they do have a small air force (currently I believe about 65-70 operational) Horents currently. In your time line whether they actually got the F-35, went with the Grippen (heck bought SU-29's with the way that's been going), that would of course be up to the author
I would expect Canada to go in heavily on drones. Cheaper, less man power intensive, basing is much less an issue, and long loiter times pretty all make an ideal package for what Canada has repeatedly stated are her Air Forces core goals of border security. So while they may not be able to bring the hate like the US, I'd certainly say they would present a major military consideration for the Russians if they're discussing a land invasion of Alaska.
Drones remove the human equation from the battle (in terms of your own losses). If the US is literally flying drones across the border to replace any Canada looses (with the latest upgrades and tech for free), there isn't a huge down side to "helping repel the unprecedented act of aggression launched against it's staunch ally and close friend the United States." Also the timeline for a full military response from Canada is going to be extended, but unless there has been a big change in US Canadian relationships I'd expect something with a maple leave being in the air flying in support pretty soon after this kicks off. In defense of St. Lawrence Island, eh probably not right away. However the second the Russians start advancing across Alaska, what is the reasonable expectation of the Canadians on where the Russians are going to stop?
Now if the Russian's have been up to some political wrangling, etc, they may be able to neutralize/forestall a Canadian response, but I don't think the characters presented so far would be in the know of that.
So if this is all already plotted, carry on
Oh one additional point, Bunny for a call-sign is pretty stereotypical. How about something like BWAS (pronounces boss). Politely it's Bad-A** With A Stick, though everyone she's flown with knows it's actually B**ch With a Stick due to her penchant for calling people out who screw up.
Overall good fun read, I'm enjoying it!
#4401597 - 01/23/18 10:03 PM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan
Joined: Mar 2001
Scaliwag and Survivor
Scaliwag and Survivor
Joined: Mar 2001
Living with the Trees
Spotted a little error I think HeinKill. In the latest installment:
Superhornets had been directed to pursue Bondarev’s flight. He was picking up their search radars as they tried to get a lock on the fleeing Russian flight and watched as the Okhotniks flashed past his wing, loosed two AMRAAMs each at the Turkish jets
Keep it up mate, loving it.
"I have but one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging of the future but by the past."
Patrick Henry 1775
I personally believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and that deficit spending is sustainable forever. We really do need more Admirals in the Navy than ships and that millions of more poor immigrants will jump start the economy.
"There's a sucker born every minute."
Phineas Taylor Barnum
#4401645 - 01/24/18 08:17 AM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan
Joined: May 2006
Joined: May 2006
However the second the Russians start advancing across Alaska, what is the reasonable expectation of the Canadians on where the Russians are going to stop?...
Oh one additional point, Bunny for a call-sign is pretty stereotypical. How about something like BWAS (pronounces boss). Politely it's Bad-A** With A Stick, though everyone she's flown with knows it's actually B**ch With a Stick due to her penchant for calling people out who screw up.
Overall good fun read, I'm enjoying it!
Thx for the great input! Yes agree Canada would not stand idle if (can't throw spoiler in here) Russia lands troops. And great point about Bunny O'Hare. I like BWAS! Not sure it reads easily though - will try a search replace!
Spotted a little error I think HeinKill. In the latest installment:
Superhornets had been directed to pursue Bondarev’s flight. He was picking up their search radars as they tried to get a lock on the fleeing Russian flight and watched as the Okhotniks flashed past his wing, loosed two AMRAAMs each at the Turkish jets
Keep it up mate, loving it.
Cheers! Next chapter rolling off the presses.
#4401648 - 01/24/18 08:49 AM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 24 Jan
Joined: May 2006
Joined: May 2006
SNOWFLAKES IN THE BREEZE
Sixteen year old Perri Tungyan would rather have been fishing. His father and brother had taken their boat out earlier that morning to try out the new echo locator that had finally arrived from Nome. They already had the best boat in Gambell, probably on the whole of Saint Lawrence for that matter; the 16 footer was swift, with a twin-screw outboard engine that meant it could fly through the tight spaces between floes in pursuit of whale. But the deep sea echo locator, that was the key to them finding new depressions, valleys and rock formations that might be hiding a nice big halibut.
It had been three years since Perri’s brother pulled in a 180lb fish and their father made him throw it back in because anything over 70lb was a female, he said. Since then, the biggest they’d landed was about 40 inches or 30lbs. Still a good sized fish, but nothing like that monster from three years ago.
He looked out from the shed in which he was sheltering from the wind, at the sea beyond the runway at Gambell Airport. He should be out there on the water. Instead he was stuck here, waiting to unload the weekly grocery flight from America. He didn’t do it for the money, the money was peanuts and there was nothing to spend it on here except cigarettes and beer. He did it for the loot. A dropped case of canned peaches here, a missing case of whiskey there. Was it Perri’s fault internet orders had a habit of getting screwed up? He kept his pilfering at a low level though, so no one got too upset at him. Didn’t dip into the cargo every flight, just when he saw a choice shipment; little luxuries his family would never see otherwise.
He clapped cold hands against his chest. He knew there wasn’t much chance of getting fired anyway, when he was the only one stupid enough to waste a great fishing day like this hanging around Gambell’s deserted airport. There was no control tower here, no baggage handlers, no gate agents or ticket offices. Just the long dirt strip sticking out into the Barents sea with water glittering on both sides, and Perri, his four-wheeler and his sled.
When his older brother had worked here, there had at least been an aircraft maintenance engineer hanging around too, to refuel the light planes coming in, restock them with food or water, or attend to any mechanical issues. Pilots brought gossip with them, from Nome, Fairbanks, Anchorage. It had made America seem closer then. Now all the flights were automated, pilotless Amazon freight drones. They landed, he unloaded, plugged them into the grid with a cable that held itself on magnetically and when they were recharged they just took off by themselves as long as he’d shut the cargo bay door properly, he didn’t even need to be there. More reliable, sure (no drunken bush pilots to deal with), but so damn boring.
He looked at the time on his phone and walked out to his ATV bike. The electric engine purred to life on the second press of the starter and he left it ticking over while he checked the connector to the big sled hooked up behind it. All good. He checked the snow plane at the front was also pulled up – it had a habit of dropping into the dirt and sending him head over heels over the handlebars, stupid thing. He should just unbolt it. It was a long time since there was snow on the runway at Gambell this time of year. The last thing he checked was that his rifle was tied securely to the grill at the back of the sled. It had been seven years since bear had been seen on Saint Lawrence, but he didn’t want to be that guy who finally saw one again and wasn’t armed with anything except a mobile phone to take a photo of it. Plus if the drone didn’t show up, he could always set out a few cans along the runway and practice his distance shooting. There were markers every fifty yards along the airstrip so he could measure the distance pretty accurately. His best shot ever was with the rifle he was carrying now, his father’s Winchester XPR .300. A one hundred and fifty yard headshot on a reindeer stag, in a slight crosswind too. Throwing his leg over the saddle, he gunned the bike out of the hangar and out onto the spit holding the runway.
The drones were either on time, or they didn’t turn up at all, there was nothing in between. Weather over Alaska meant they might get cancelled, but no one bothered to tell Gambell about it, so Perri had to go out there every time and just look up at the sky for the telltale small dot to appear high in the sky or drop out of the cloud base and fog. He pulled up halfway down the runway, and shaded his eyes against the sun. Great visibility today, he should be able to see it coming a ways off. You could always see them before you heard them - their small electric turbofan engines were almost silent.
You never knew which direction they would come from, it was something about the wind, but it seemed pretty random to him. He swiveled around, looking east, then west. Yeah, there it was. A tiny speck in the sky about ten miles out, if he had to guess.
No. Two specks. As he watched, the single dot split into two. Then three. What? No one had told him to expect three delivery flights today. That sort of thing only ever happened in holiday season. Except these weren’t delivery flights. The planes were closing way too fast. He leaned forward on his handlebars, eyes glued to the approaching aircraft.
Could be Air Force, he guessed. Since the Air Force had built the radar base up at Savoonga there were occasional overflights by US bombers and fighters who the Air Force said were using the base to test their navigation systems. Transport flights too, the big four engined jets bringing in personnel and equipment occasionally overflew Gambell on their way in and out. But none had ever landed. The runway was probably too short for a jet like that anyway. Whatever these planes were, they were booking. Within a second or two, the dots had grown to small dart shapes and were going to be over Gambell in another second or two.
When the Air Force started appearing over Saint Lawrence again, Perri had quickly learned to identify their aircraft. Seeing one of them in the skies over his village was a welcome break in the monotony. Hard to tell yet, but these had to be F-35 fighters or F-47 UCAVs. His money was on the older F-35s - the specks racing toward him looked a little too big to be the pilotless UCAVs. One, two, three; he had barely finished confirming the count when the machines were blasting over the top of him, so low that the sonic boom nearly blew out his eardrums.
He put his hand up to his ears. Man that hurt! A**holes! That wasn’t funny.
He watched the three jets zoom into a climb, spiraling up into the blue of the sky in perfect formation.
They weren’t F-35s or F-22s. They weren’t F-47s either.
What the hell?
Bondarev pulled his Sukhoi onto its back at the top of his climb then barrel rolled to level flight at 10,000 feet over Gambell with his two wingmen staying in perfect formation behind and slightly above him. His radar warning system was screaming at him as the radiation from the early warning station at Savoonga painted his aircraft. It took all of his self-control not to target one his of Kh-58UShK antiradar missiles at the US installation, but the same NSTsI-V heads-up display that identified the US radar for him was also telling him it was not actively tracking. His threat warning system was silent too.
Which was what he was expecting, since the message had come through while his squadron was in flight saying that Russian special forces had been successful in taking the US radar facility at Savoonga without firing a single shot. Arsharvin had texted him a report saying they had fallen on the sleeping US forces in the night, finding only two dozy sentries, a duty officer and two radar operators awake. The other twenty personnel stationed there had been asleep and woke to find themselves the first prisoners of Operation LOSOS. They had kept the radar station in operation so that NORAD wouldn’t raise an alarm at it going off the air.
He eased his Sukhoi into a lazy racetrack orbit over Gambell. “Swan 1 to Swan 2, I make it one civilian vehicle by the runway at Gambell airstrip, confirm?” The motorbike or buggy down below was too small for his IMA BK air-to-ground radar to pick up, but he pinned it with his optical targeting system. In the town itself, he could see a few people moving around, and something that was probably a pickup truck driving toward the small harbor.
His wingman came on the radio within a couple of seconds. “Confirmed Swan leader, no military vehicles or signals identified.”
Theirs wasn’t a reconnaissance flight. Operation LOSOS was already supported by intensive satellite and UAV surveillance and the whole of Saint Lawrence was being monitored in real time by every eye and ear in the Russian Eastern Military District inventory. But Bondarev hadn’t survived 57 combat sorties over Syria and Turkey by trusting someone or something else to be his eyes and ears.
That was why he was leading this initial sortie himself, and had split his squadron of 12 Su-57s into four sections, sending one over Savoonga in the north, two to the eastern end of the island where they expected the inevitable US response to materialize and he took the remaining element in over Gambell to reassure himself that the US hadn’t moved any mobile air defense assets there to give him a horrible surprise.
Phase I of LOSOS was rolling. As he watched Gambell disappear under his wing for a second time, he cancelled the lock on the small vehicle below, levelled his machine out and pointed it East, toward
Alaska. “Swallow 1, this is Swan 1. Clear skies over the target, you are cleared for ingress.” “Swallow 1 acknowledges, beginning ingress,” came the reply.
Perri was getting a crick in his neck from watching the fast moving jets circle overhead. He was still trying to work out what they were. They’d had an Air Force officer come to Gambell school a couple of years ago, and he had played a game with them, showing them silhouettes of American fighter planes, bombers and drones and having them guess what each of them was from a small recognition chart he had handed out. Perri had won the quiz, and got himself a 712th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron patch to sow on his anorak. You can bet he did; it was one of his coolest possessions - a large hand sewn cloth emblem with an image of a polar bear holding a globe of the world in one paw. He reached absently for his sleeve and fingered it now.
As soon as he turned 17 he was going to enlist. Get himself off this island and see the world. He’d already been sent the papers and filled them out.
As the three aircraft overhead stopped circling and sped away to the East, Perri had convinced himself these planes were not on the recognition chart he had at home. He watched them go. Some new sort of top secret Air Force plane maybe? They could certainly move. In seconds they were gone.
Or had they just circled around and come up behind him again? Damn, that was fast. He heard a sound in the air to the west behind him and swiveled his head. This time he saw a flat line of what looked like five or six large fat flying insects closing on the airstrip. As they got closer, the sound in the air resolved itself into the thud of rotors. A little like the sound made by the Amazon drones as they switched from horizontal to vertical flight for landing. But that was more of a buzzing sound, whereas this was a chest pounding syncopated thump.
There was no doubt in Perri’s mind that these machines were planning to land. They went from a staggered line abreast formation into line astern, each one lined up five hundred yards behind the other, and they snaked toward the airstrip with unmistakable intent. Perri fumbled for his phone. He should call someone. This was too weird. But who the hell should he call? Mayor Pungiwiyi? He was the closest thing Gambell had to a law officer, but the guy was definitely still sleeping off his birthday party from last night. His father? Him and his brother would be well out to sea by now, well out of range of the small cellular bubble around Gambell.
He still had the card for the Air Force officer from Savoonga in his wallet. He’d call them. They’d know what the hell was going on. Fumbling with his wallet and phone in the cold air, he punched in the number and waited. It came back with a busy signal. He dialed again – same thing. It wasn’t unusual, cell coverage between the two towns was often patchy. Damn.
So he put his phone away, bit his lip and stayed glued to the saddle of his ATV. But he turned it on again, kept the engine running. He wasn’t sure why, it just seemed the smart thing to do.
As the fat black insect shapes converged on the airstrip Perri suddenly realized what he was looking at. Just six months ago, one of the men from the village had got into trouble in the seas northwest of Saint Lawrence when his outboard gave up on him. He’d drifted toward the Russian coast and been spotted by a freighter headed south. The ship hadn’t stopped, but he had radioed Russian Coast Guard to report the Yupik fishing boat as a shipping hazard. The man had been plucked from his boat and dropped back on Saint Lawrence by a huge Russian Mi-26 T2V heavy chopper. The whole of Gambell had gone down to look the chopper over, and Russian media had made a huge deal about it on the internet, telling how they had rescued an American citizen because his own Coast Guard hadn’t responded to his call for help. A call he hadn’t actually made of course, but that wasn’t the point.
So Perri pretty quickly worked out the bug like shapes of the choppers now flaring over the runway a hundred yards away were Russian Mi-26s. And he was old enough and quick enough to realize that was Not A Normal Thing. Before the first machine had settled on its wheels and the rear cargo bay doors began opening, Perri had opened the throttle on his ATV and was racing back down the runway toward Gambell.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw men dressed in white and brown camouflage suits come tumbling out of the door of the chopper and fan out before throwing themselves down on the ground, facing out. More men jumped out behind them. Perri cursed. He was halfway along the spit still, because the Amazon drones usually put down midway along the runway. He had his throttle turned all the way back, but the old ATV couldn’t do more than 40 mph, and that was with a good tailwind.
If there was any warning shouted, he couldn’t hear it above the clatter of helicopter rotors and whine of his engine, but there was no mistaking the crack of a heavy rifle and the sideways shove he felt as the round from a Spetsnaz OSV-96 AMR 12.7mm rifle slammed into the rear of his ATV and his engine shat itself. He felt the bike and sled scissoring dangerously, and turned into the skid, trying desperately to avoid flipping over, but even as he tried he could sense the ATV begin to tilt and realized with a lurching stomach it was going over. He launched himself into the air so that he didn’t get two hundred pounds of rolling metal and plastic landing on top of him and he hit the dirt beside the runway in a welter of gravel and rolled with his hands over his head. The ATV flipped twice and stopped, the sled behind it cartwheeling free and flying over Perri’s body to land on the other side of him with a scraping crunch. His first thought as he looked at the wrecked ATV was that he was so, so, busted. Then he saw Russian troops up and running along the runway toward him and realized that was the least of his worries. They had shot at him!
The Russian soldiers were still a hundred yards away, and he saw one of them waving at him to lie down. Or that’s what it seemed like. They all had guns, and at least two were down on one knee with rifles pointed at him, with another laying on his stomach, feet spread wide, a huge long-barreled rifle on a tripod pointed right at him.
Forget this, Perri thought. He scrambled to the sled and threw himself over it, putting it between himself and the Russian troops. The sled was on its back, so he quickly felt underneath it for the rifle wrapped in a sealskin blanket that had been tied to the grill at the back. Thank god, it was still there! He took a quick look over the sled, and saw the nearest soldier was fifty yards away now, and sprinting hard.
The guy had his rifle in his hands, but it was on a strap across his chest, not pointed at Perri.
Perri looked desperately down the runway. It was a hundred yards more of open ground. He knew he wouldn’t make it twenty yards before he was crash tackled, or worse, got himself shot. Looking behind him, Perri saw that the crash of the ATV had thrown him across the ground beside the runway toward the rocks lining the spit. On the other side of them was the bay, and on the other side of that, Gambell township. Perri put a loop of the rope tied around the rifle around his neck.
His thick fur lined jacket was shredded, but it had probably saved him from getting his hide scraped off in the crash. It hung in tatters from one shoulder, so he pulled it off. Without hesitating another second, he rose into a crouch and then sprinted for the sea. He ignored the shouting behind him, shoulder hunched, expected to feel a bullet slam into his back any second, as he jumped from the shore onto one rock, then another, hopping like a demented Arctic fox and then threw himself into the waters of the bay.
Private Zubkov of the 14th Special Purpose Brigade, 282nd Squadron covered his comrades with the anti-material rifle until they gave up chasing the man who jumped into the bay. He had been the one who had fired the shots that had brought it down. When it was clear there was no other target, he had run over to where the man had leapt into the water, and resting his barrel on one of the rocks the man had used to make his escape he sighted down at the figure splashing through the water. The man was a strong swimmer, but he hadn’t made it across the bay yet. It was an easy shot.
A hand pushed up the barrel of his rifle, and he lifted his face away from the sights, to see his commanding officer, Captain Demchenko, standing beside him, also watching the boy swim away.
“Let him go private,” the officer said. “Minimal casualties, either military or civilian, remember?”
“Yes sir,” Zubkov replied, folding up the tripod and slinging the rifle across his back.
Zubkov looked back at the runway. He saw the other men of his unit doubling down the runway in the direction of the road to the village. They had estimated it would take fifteen minutes to reach by foot.
“Permission to rejoin the squadron Sir,” Zubkov asked.
“You won’t catch them,” Demchenko said. He looked back at the ATV. “You made that mess, you can clean it up. Pull that wreck further away from the runway and check the compartment under the seat for anything useful. Papers, maps, whatever you can find.”
Zubkov looked ruefully at the backs of his comrades as they reached the road at the bottom of the runway and wound around to their right and out of sight. “Yes sir,” he said, disappointed to already be out of the fight. Such as it was.
“When you’re finished you can make yourself useful unloading the choppers,” his Captain said, adding insult to injury. He saw the private’s face fall, and clapped him on the shoulder. “Cheer up man. That was a nice take down you made there. If it makes you feel better, I suspect it was the only shot this whole squadron will fire today,” he said.
Bondarev joined his second section at 50,000 feet over Eastern Saint Lawrence and they fell into formation briefly behind him, while he reviewed their dispositions and then ordered three of the six Su57s to set up a combat air patrol to the northeast while he took the southeast, the most likely direction from which enemy fighters would approach. He expected a probing reaction from the Americans at first, giving him time to scale his response.
The leader of his second flight was a combat veteran, but his wingmen were not battle tested. All three men in Bondarev’s flight were veterans of Syria, men who had flown with him for years. He set up a combat air patrol that gave them control of a two hundred mile bubble of airspace, and then contacted the Beriev A-100 early warning aircraft that was coordinating the airspace over Saint Lawrence. Its Active Phased Array Radar (APAR) could detect airborne targets out to 600km and warships out to 400. Although Russia bragged the A-100 was capable of detecting stealth fighters, Bondarev knew from experience that at best it could give a general vector, not a precise lock. The A-100 was supplemented by ground based long range radar and saturation satellite coverage as well though, so Bondarev was not worried they would get jumped without warning.
“Raptor Control, this is Swan 1, we are on station and available for tasking,” Bondarev reported.
“Acknowledged Swan 1, we see you, hold station,” the controller onboard the A-100 responded.
“All quiet here. We are moving to phase II. Out.”
This was war, Bondarev reflected, running his eyes across his instruments and checking them against what his HUD was showing him. Hours of total tedium, interrupted by moments of sheer terror. But his old grandmother had once said to him, “May you never live in exciting times.” Unfortunately, her wish hadn’t come true in the past, but he fervently hoped it would at least hold for today.
“I have Foreign Minister Kelnikov on the line for you Ambassador,” Devlin McCarthy’s assistant said over the phone. McCarthy was in the back of her car, on the way out to a dinner with the Canadian delegation in Moscow.
She sighed. More bluster about that lost ship no doubt, she thought. What they hoped to achieve with it wasn’t clear. “Put him on,” she said. She heard static on the line, and coughing in the background. “Minister Kelnikov,” she said. “How are you?”
“Rather busy I am afraid,” the man said. “I am calling to advise you we have another nautical emergency in the Bering Sea, this time off the coast of your island of Saint Lawrence.”
McCarthy leaned forward in her seat and tapped her aide on the shoulder, motioning him to get the car to pull over. “What emergency Minister?”
“One of our Kazan class submarines has suffered a flash fire and as a precaution, the Captain has chosen to scram the vessel’s reactor. He has brought his vessel to the surface and is assessing the situation. We have mobilized rescue assets from Anadyr and Lavrentiya and air-sea rescue reconnaissance units are over the submarine’s position.”
McCarthy thought quickly, “Are you requesting our assistance?”
Kelnikov grunted, “No Ambassador. We have the matter in hand and have notified your Coast Guard in Alaska. But I am advising you so that you can pass the message up your chain of command, that they should not be alarmed to see Russian military vessels and aircraft in the area of Saint Lawrence while we stabilize this terrible situation.”
“I will advise our military attaché and the Pentagon immediately,” McCarthy said. “But I suggest your President also make contact with my President to open a channel of communication if the situation worsens. There will be concern about the risk of nuclear contamination.”
“He is already doing so I believe,” Kelnikov said. “Our ambassador in Washington is also on his way in to your State Department.”
“We stand ready to assist in any way we can,” McCarthy said. “I imagine a nuclear sub reactor scram is not a small matter Minister. I suspect our military chiefs will want to move emergency response assets to Saint Lawrence just in case they are needed.”
There was a hesitation at the other end. “That may be prudent,” Kelnikov said. “Can you please arrange to give us the contact details for whichever officer you put in charge, so that we can speak with them directly? It would be best to let our two militaries manage this event between themselves so that no confusions arise.”
“I’ll personally see that you receive those details,” McCarthy said. “Was there anything else?”
“No, that will do for now. I will keep you advised as best I can, but I do not expect any new information in the next hour or so. As I said, the Captain of the vessel is assessing the situation and then our military command will decide how to respond.”
“Our thoughts and prayers are with those men,” McCarthy said. “Can I ask what the name of the vessel was? It was a Kazan class submarine you said?”
“That is all I know at this point,” Kelnikov said, clearly dissembling. “Which of our Kazan class vessels is involved, I am sorry I cannot say.”
She hadn’t expected him to identify the vessel, but it was worth a try. ‘Cannot say’ was not the same as ‘do not know’, but in the same situation, US Pacific Fleet Command wouldn’t rush to identify to the Russians which of their nuclear missile capable vessels was in trouble off a foreign coast. It was probably already a breach of about ten different nuclear disarmament treaties that the submarine was even operating in the sea off Alaska.
“I had better start making some phone calls,” McCarthy said. “If you will excuse me Minister.”
“Certainly, goodbye for now.”
She cut the connection and leaned back in her seat. “Get us to the compound, stat,” she told her aide and he pulled up a list of destinations and tapped it in. This wasn’t the sort of thing she could discuss over a cell phone, even an encrypted cell. As the car accelerated into traffic she made a mental list of who she should call and in which order. As she tapped her fingers on the window pane nervously, she bit her lip. You lying sack of dung, she thought. Nuclear sub reactor scram off Saint Lawrence my broad a**
First the Ozempic Tsar, now this. What the hell are you up to?
(c) Fred 'Heinkill' Willimams. To Be Continued
#4401880 - 01/25/18 09:03 PM
Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 26 Jan
Joined: May 2006
Joined: May 2006
Air Boss Alicia Rodriguez was deep asleep, dreaming of lying on a field of warm green grass staring up at a blue sky filled with rolling white clouds. There was someone beside her and they were playing games finding shapes in the clouds.
“That one is an ambulance,” the mystery person beside her was saying. “Or a fire truck. It sounds like a fire truck.”
Sounds like a firetruck? Rodriguez was about to respond in her dream, when she suddenly realized she wasn’t dreaming. There was an emergency siren ringing out through the base. At exactly that moment, the phone charging on her bedside began to buzz.
“Lieutenant Commander, this is Commander Halifax. We have a situation, get down to the flight deck,” he said. “I’ll brief you when you get there. I’m calling all hands to action stations.” He hung up.
Rodriguez stared confused at her handset for a second before her adrenaline kicked in. Within two minutes she had pulled on her flight suit and boots, pulled her black hair into a ponytail and was running at full pelt from the officer’s quarters at the back of the docks and up metal stairs toward her command trailer; her position when action stations were sounded. There were men and women also swarming up the steps and she shouted at them to stand aside and let her through, pulling at a couple of shoulders as she bustled past taking the steps two at a time.
Halifax was already in the trailer when she pulled the door open and jumped inside, and she saw Bunny at her pilot console, punching buttons and bringing her systems on line. Which was kind of pointless since they didn’t have a drone on alert…
“Lieutenant Commander,” Halifax barked. “How quickly can you get a Fantom onto that cat?”
Rodriguez didn’t hesitate. If the station had been at readiness, there would be a Fantom hanging in the loading crane on alert, able to be dropped onto the EMALS with five minutes warning. But it wasn’t She did have a hex of Fantoms pre-flighted and loaded into their cartridges already fueled. They could be fitted with ordnance for a range of mission types from the auto-loading magazines with the tap of a few keys.
“Seventeen minutes Sir,” she said. “Ten to load mission ordnance package, five to get flight systems online, two to verify system status and spool up for launch.”
Halifax looked at her, “You have ten minutes. I want a drone headed out the chute in ten minutes tops and a second Fantom loading as soon as it is away, is that clear?”
“Mission profile from the OPORD sir?” she asked.
“Unarmed reconnaissance,” he replied tersely.
She grabbed a tablet from the rack over her desk and powered it on, bringing up her inventory screen. Unarmed recon meant no weapons other than guns, and a recon pod in the ordnance bay. Immediately she saw a problem – recon pods were not part of the auto-load system, they had to be fitted manually and that would take additional time.
“Sir, is this an exercise?” Bunny asked, pulling on her VR helmet.
“No, Lieutenant,” Halifax said. “A Russian nuclear sub has declared a reactor emergency off the coast of Saint Lawrence Island. Alaska NORAD indicates the sky over the island is swarming with Russian aircraft, and the Russians are actively jamming. The situation with that sub is clearly worse than Ivan is letting on. With all the jamming we can’t get through to our radar station base at Savoonga, so we need eyes over Saint Lawrence an hour ago. NORAD is repositioning satellites, but we can get eyes over Saint Lawrence before before they can.” He looked at Rodriguez. “So we need to launch stat.”
“Then we can either go with the birds I have on alert, which can be launched with a multi-role loadout, or take an extra thirty minutes to fit dedicated recon payloads.”
Halifax considered briefly, “Go with what you have ready.”
“ROE sir?” Bunny asked. “Standing Rules?”
“No,” Halifax said clearly. Standing Rules of Engagement allowed a pilot to fire back if they were fired upon first. “You will not engage Russian aircraft, even if fired upon. That’s why ANR has tasked us – we don’t want to risk piloted aircraft, or create an international incident.”
Rodriguez didn’t need more encouragement. She called up two fighters and authorized them to be delivered on the conveyor belt from the magazine to the catapult bay.
“Permission to go down to the flight deck Sir?” Rodriguez asked, clear that she would need to be close to the action if they were to shave precious seconds off every step of the regimented launch process.
“Granted,” Halifax said.
Her crews were milling around down by the flight deck; aircraft handlers, catapult crew, ground equipment troubleshooters… half of them looking like she felt (tumble dried and freaked out) and the other half just standing around ready to be told what to do. She headed out of the trailer and before she even finished running she was barking orders.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is not an exercise, this facility is now officially open for business!” she said, and couldn’t help grinning. “I’ve dialed up the two alert Fantoms – we’ll launch immediately. You have eight minutes to get the first machine onto that cat, systems online and ready to fire. Five minutes for the machine after that. Questions?”
“Bring two reserve machines into the bays, just in case we get a dead boot ma’am?” one of the crew quickly asked. He was a young, pimply plane captain she’d seen at work on the Trump under one of her aircraft handling officers but in the flat structure they’d adopted under the Rock he had no qualms about speaking up.
“Good idea Collins, I’ll pull two machines into the reserve bays, prepped with recon pods. Now, lock and load people!” She stayed as long as it took for the conveyor belt to deliver the first Fantom and watched as a robot arm lifted it out of its cartridge and dropped it onto the guide rails of the EMALS catapult.
Two crewmen got to work dropping the wings, locking it to front and rear bars and tensioning the launch wire. While they were doing that, two electronics technicians booted up the drone’s A.I. system and began speeding through the pre-flight checklist. There was a ‘fast boot’ mode made for combat environments that gave the A.I. enough resources to get itself in the air, and left it to run its own ‘pre-mission’ checks during the first few minutes of flight. They didn’t have to check with Rodriguez, it was obvious this was the mode they should load given the urgency in her voice.
After five minutes the two cat crew members backed away and each raised an arm in the air. Almost simultaneously, the two electronics techs closed and locked the drone’s system access panel and stepped away from the machine, raising an arm in the air.
“Outstanding!” Rodriguez said into her mike. “Launch stations. Prepare to retrieve cartridge and load Fantom two!”
Crew members a good distance from the deck crouched and turned their backs, while those who had just been working on the drone leapt over blast barriers and put their helmeted heads down.
“Flaps, slats, panels, pins!” she called.
“Man out aye.”
“ELAMS to 520 psi.”
Rodriguez reached for her throat mike, “Light her tail O’Hare,” she said.
She looked at her watch. Eleven minutes. Damn, they had to get faster. A hand tugged at her trousers, “You’re not in the trailer now ma’am, get down please,” Collins said with a grin, pointing to a spot beside him behind one of the blast barriers. The engines of the Fantom began to spool up and blue white fire burst from the rear exhaust.
“Launch launch launch
!” she said, giving ‘Lucky’ Severin, the launch officer, the order to punch the drone out of the rock.
She had just ducked down behind the concrete blast barrier when the Scimitar engine of the Fantom fired in earnest and the delta winged drone rocketed down the catapult, riding the rails to the end of the flight deck and flying straight and true down the chute and out of the cavern. There was no cheering this time. Rodriguez was glad to see two crew members already pulling the used cartridge off the line and putting into the reloading bay, while the loaders got to work again fitting and configuring the second Fantom for launch.
“Bunny, I’m loading your second Fantom, with two more in the queue,” Rodriguez said as she crouched. “We’ll get them in the air, you can decide how to use them.”
“Good thinking ma’am, I’ll add two more machines to the mission package.”
She imagined Bunny in the trailer, playing her keyboards like a concert pianist, punching in coordinates for the drones to follow once they were outside the chute. In a situation like this, she would send the drones away in pairs, not wait for all four to form up.
Rodriguez nodded to Severin, and pointed at herself, then back to the command trailer, indicating he should take over down on the deck while she went back to her real job. Ordinarily she would only come down to the deck if there was an issue, but what the hell … her first operational launch under the Rock?
She wasn’t going to stand up in the island and just hope it went right.
“Five minutes to feet dry,” Bunny said calmly a short while later. “Wedge is data-linked and all birds are singing.”
A six plane formation of Fantoms was a ‘hex’ but a four plane flight was called a ‘wedge’. Rodriguez marveled at how the pilot could control four combat aircraft at once, even if onboard AI was doing the real-time flying. It was a completely new type of combat pilot the Navy needed for drone combat. Bunny had been selected for combat drone duty because she had exactly what it took, excellent Continuous Partial Focus skills. She had the HUD for each of the drones on a separate virtual screen, and flicked between them at will. She didn’t try to control them in real-time at such distances due to the satellite induced communication lag; she could only do that when they were in direct ‘line of sight’ of the undersea comms array buried in the sea floor outside Little Diomede or hot linked via an AWACS aircraft. But she had literally hundreds of offensive, patrol and defensive sub-routines programmed into her keyboard that she had memorized. Combined with the mission waypoints and orders laid out on the tactical screen, which she could also change on the fly, it gave her tactical control of her drones, without having to worry about little things like trying to not flying them into the dirt.
And then there was the force-multiplier that set US and Russian drone doctrine apart. The semiautonomous combat AI. The first Fantom that had launched was Bunny’s LMV or lead mission vehicle, and she had slaved the second Fantom to that one. Fantom 2 was in support mode, providing cover for the primary drone and feeding it with sensor data. The third Fantom was her SMV, or secondary mission vehicle, with orders to join the wedge and hold formation, while the fourth Fantom flew cover for the SMV. All machines were programmed with the ROE, ordered to identify but not engage any potential threats and evade enemy fire if fired upon. In this way, switching from the lead machine in each two plane element to the other, changing their orders on the fly, Bunny flew the four drones with keyboards and a mouse, her head nestled inside a VR helmet, just like a gamer on a console. She could manage up to six drones at once in this way - even when the lead started flying.
“How long to Savoonga?” Halifax asked, for about the third time.
“Seven minutes Sir,” O’Hare replied in a dead pan voice, fingers dancing over the keys. Although on org charts NCTAMS-A4 was listed under Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM), in practice due to its covert nature it was anchored under the Headquarters of Commander, Naval Air Forces (CNAF) with a direct line up to the Navy’s main ‘Air Boss’. Its mission was ‘develop future weapons and tactics for the defense of the Continental United States’. And that meant that today they took their tasking from Alaska Region NORAD, or ANR.
Bunny keyed her mike, reaching out to the controllers at NORAD, “ANR, this is NCTAMS-A4 flight of 4 inbound Saint Lawrence, targeting overflight of Savoonga. I have good feed on passive arrays, I’m seeing six, repeat six Russian fast movers at 50,000 feet over the east coast, three over Savoonga, three over…uh…Gambell. I’m also picking up Russian encrypted radio traffic on ELINT further east, probably also Gambell. Confirm?” The Russians might be trying to jam electronic surveillance of their sub rescue operation, but between satellite mounted synthetic aperture radar and infrared sensors, and the AN/FPS-117 long distance radar at Elmendorf-Richardson Air Force Base, and now the data being fed to them by Bunny’s Fantoms, NORAD should be able to burn through.
“ANR confirming. You are clear to ingress. Get eyes on the prize NCTAMS. We have F-35s en route. They’ll try to pull the Russian fast movers east of Saint Lawrence, give you a window.”
“Roger ANR,” Bunny said. “Starting ingress.”
Bunny was flying nap of the earth, counting on wave and ground clutter to hide her 5th gen stealth aircraft from Russian naval or air radar.
It was the first time in her career Bunny had the chance to face off against real Russian radar and weapons platforms.
She was looking forward to it.
“Raptor Control to Swan leader, we have business for you,” Bondarev heard the voice of the controller on his A-100 say in his helmet. “Sending data to you now.”
Bondarev tightened his hand on this throttle and saw his HUD flicker before it switched into targeting mode. Immediately he saw six arrows on the screen with target identifier icons underneath them. Older F-22s, probably National Guard out ofEielson AFB. They were being tracked either by the AWACS aircraft circling back over the Russian mainland at Providenya, or by satellites overhead. The data lock looked solid, which meant that Bondarev didn’t need to risk confirming his own strength and position and could track the incoming American aircraft with passive systems.
But he had learned over Syria and Turkey to assume that if he could see the enemy, then they could probably see him. He had no faith in Russian electronic countermeasures against sophisticated US weapons systems; they had failed him too often.
“I have them Raptor Control,” Bondarev confirmed. “Orders please.”
“Swan leader, you are to fly within visual range of the bogies but do not cross the Alaska coast. Repeat, you are not to cross the Alaska Coast. Warn the American aircraft to stay outside of a fifty mile diameter around Saint Lawrence Island while our submarine recovery operation is underway. You can tell them this has been agreed personally between the US and Russian Presidents.”
Bondarev smiled. He knew how he would react if he was one of the approaching Americans. He’d think twice before pushing through the Russian perimeter without checking first. It should buy the troops on the ground below some precious minutes, maybe even hours.
“Roger Raptor Control, Swan 1 moving to intercept,” he said. “Raptor Control can you please scramble Eagle flight from Lavrentiya to my current position. I’m going to have to burn some fuel, I want overlapping CAP coverage in case the US pilots do not respect our kind request.”
“Scrambling Eagle flight, roger.”
“Element 1, stay with me, Element 2, top cover please. Element 3, go low and maximize stealth profile. All elements, passive tracking only.”
Bondarev lit his tail and felt his spine sink into the backrest of his seat as he accelerated toward the incoming Americans. He didn’t want them to think they were being attacked, yet, so he kept his wingmen in tight formation and switched his radio to the Guard international communications frequency as soon as his system indicated he should be in range of the Americans, which was about 50 miles and closing rapidly.
“US aircraft approaching Saint Lawrence, this is the commander of Russian air force operations over our rescue zone. We kindly request you to hold station at least 50 miles back from Saint Lawrence Island so as not to compromise our submarine rescue operation,” Bondarev said in slightly accented English. He had learned from a British teacher at the fighter academy, and then polished his language working with Syrian pilots and ground controllers in combat in the Middle East. Not to mention the American girlfriend he’d had when stationed briefly in Moscow, but that was another story.
“Unidentified Russian aircraft,” the American fighter commander immediately replied. “You are ordered to depart US airspace immediately or risk being fired upon.” At that moment, a threat warning sounded in Bondarev’s helmet and his HUD showed that his flight was being tracked with active airborne targeting radar.
“Stay in passive mode,” Bondarev said to his pilots, “But unsafe weapons and prepare to engage on my orders.” The six Russian machines were linked via a data net that coordinated their targeting so that two long range and two short range missiles were allocated to each American aircraft. Satisfied they were bracketed, Bondarev turned his attention back to the radio. The Americans were 20 miles out and within AMRAAM range but he was not seeing missile targeting radar warnings, so they had not armed their missiles yet. They would soon be within short range infrared missile range though - which was the equivalent of airborne knife fighting - and any short range missile launch warnings would give him milliseconds to react.
“US aircraft, we cannot comply. I am advised this safety perimeter has been agreed personally between the Presidents of Russia and the United States. I ask you to check with a senior officer, and to respect the safety perimeter.” Bondarev did not say ‘or else’, but suspected he did not have to.
There was an ominous silence on the Guard frequency as the two flights continued to converge at supersonic speeds. Bondarev’s infrared tracking system suddenly kicked in, picking up the incoming American aircraft before he could see them. They were two thousand feet below him, five miles away and rising to meet him head on.
“Element 1, break left, Element 2, break right, Element 3, hold station, all Elements prepare for defensive maneuvers,” Bondarev ordered, and hauled his three plane element into a sweeping and nonthreatening banking turn that presented their broadside profiles to the incoming Americans. Splitting the formation would force the enemy to do the same though, so it wasn’t a completely defensive move. Bondarev felt his gut tighten as he saw the US squadron split into two flights of three aircraft each, matching heading and speed with the Russian fighters, but staying behind them in a superior firing position.
Bondarev relaxed a little, or as much as was possible with an armed enemy on his tail.
“US flight commander, this is Colonel Ivan Smirnov of the Russian 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command,” Bondarev lied. “I ask again for you to stay with us here, outside the agreed perimeter of rescue operations. You can see I am taking pains to convince you we are not interested in a hostile engagement.”
“Is that right Ivan?” came the drawl of the American behind him. “Then you wouldn’t mind ordering the three plane flight you have low on our six to break away, would you?”
Bondarev chuckled; so the Americans could see his fighters down low and they didn’t like it. Well, let them stay worried about that. “I will happily do so when you confirm that US aircraft will respect the no fly zone agreed between our two Presidents for the duration of this rescue operation.”
There was several minutes silence again. Bondarev pulled his element around slowly in a wide racetrack circle, the US aircraft trailing behind him, staying in a firing position. All it would take was an American with a twitchy trigger finger and he would get a missile up his backside. He checked his fuel state. He could keep this up for another thirty minutes, by which time his second in command leading Eagle flight, a further six Su-57s, should arrive to replace him on station over Saint Lawrence and he would have to withdraw to refuel. The arrival of new Russian aircraft was certain to make the Americans even more nervous.
“Swan 1 from Raptor Control, I am showing another 12 bogies headed for your operations area. Preliminary analysis indicates F-35s. They will be within missile range in 15 minutes.”
Right then the US commander came back on the radio, “I have been authorized to advise, Colonel Smirnov, that we will temporarily
accede to your request. You are currently at the limit of the authorized incursion area, please do not stray closer to US territorial airspace. We will be holding station here until you withdraw.” With that, the US fighter formation throttled back and settled a more comfortable distance behind Bondarev’s fighters - not so close as to provoke any hasty reactions, but still in a perfect firing position if their orders should change. Bondarev also noted they had not switched off their targeting radars.
The submarine ruse had worked, for now. “Acknowledged US aircraft commander,” Bondarev said. “Your cooperation is appreciated.” Bondarev smiled, ignoring the radar warning tone still chiming in his ears. They had the overconfident American pilots exactly where they wanted them.
While Yevgeny Bondarev was managing the first interception of the air war, Perri pulled himself from the freezing water at the opposite side of the bay and threw his rifle up onto the rocks. His fingers were numb and he struggled to get a grip on the rock. All the way across the bay he had expected to hear the crack of rifle fire and feel the thud of a bullet between his shoulder blades. Stroking fast, he couldn’t see where the Russian soldiers who had been doubling down the runway toward Gambell had gone, but he hoped they had better things to do than chase him down. Finally he got his hands working and hauled himself over the sharp rocks to the cover of some old containers that had been dumped there. Pulling open a rusting door, he crawled inside, stripping off his freezing wet clothes. Naked now, he unrolled the sealskin blanket from around his rifle and shook the worst of the water from it. The wrapping had done what it was supposed to - the rifle was dry. Perri turned the blanket inside out and wound it around himself. He let himself shiver inside the blanket, body heat returning to the surface of his skin. After several minutes he gathered up his wet clothes and rung them as dry as he could. August on Saint Lawrence, middle of the morning, it was only about 40-45 degrees out of the wind. He needed to get somewhere warm. Staying outside would mean he could be hit with hypothermia. Wincing, he dropped the blanket, pulled on his wet clothes, then wrapped the blanket around himself again. He began shaking uncontrollably and squatted, letting the tremors settle and pass.
When he felt able, he stood, took up his rifle and slung it over his shoulders. Peering out of the door of the container, he saw nothing unusual. Shouting? He thought he heard some shouting from the center of the village, about two miles away. He looked in the opposite direction. Across the harbor road and a few hundred yards up a slight hill was a deserted filling station. When everyone had finally gone over to hydrogen fuel cells and wind, the old gas station and its diesel generator were stripped bare and abandoned.
It would do, for now.
Private Zubkov wasn’t cold, but he wasn’t much happier than Perri. He knew his comrades were in the village, rousing the small local population out of their houses and into the big village school gymnasium. There were no police, there should be no fighting, he knew that. But that was his mission, not this… salvage duty. Behind him, the Russian military machine ground into action, fat bellied helicopters disgorging the men and materials they would need to secure the airfield. He saw pallets of tents and food being unloaded beside crates of arms and ammunition. From one helicopter, troops in the green overalls of load crews were pulling out crated parts for an anti-aircraft missile system. Down the runway, Zubkov saw two or three crews throwing down sandbags and preparing portable 9K333 Verba-C surface-to-air missiles, but despite their advanced multispectral optical seeker - ultraviolet, near infrared, and mid-infrared - he knew they would offer scant protection against stealth fighters or stealth cruise missiles until the air defense unit got a satellite dish up and networked the Verba into the data feed from longer range airborne radar and satellite surveillance. He heard shouting from the direction of one of the choppers as a crate threatened to tip and fall and men struggled beneath it. Forget that, he was in no hurry to help with the grunt work. He was Spetsnaz dammit.
He looked with equal disinterest at the wrecked ATV. He wondered briefly exactly where he had hit it. He had aimed for the bulbous engine housing behind the man’s legs, and one of his two shots had apparently connected. He looked it over from the side he was standing on, and saw nothing. Then he walked around the ATV and saw with satisfaction the big black hole his bullet had made, leaking some sort of engine fluid. He pulled the machine back upright - no easy task, it felt like it weighed a ton - and did what his commanding officer had ordered him to do, checking the compartment under the seat for maps or papers.
It wasn’t a wasted effort. Inside there were some American cigarettes, a large hunting knife with a razor sharp edge on one side and a serrated saw on the other and a broken fishing reel. The knife had a delicately carved whale bone handle. He hefted it, feeling the balance. A fine souvenir from his first ever ‘kill’ - even if it was only a glorified motorbike he had shot. There was no map in the compartment, nor did he expect there to be. The locals had all grown up on this wind blasted rock in the middle of the Barents Sea and there were no roads between the only two villages anyway, so why would they need a map?
Something flapping off to his right by the overturned sled caught his eye. He hadn’t noticed it before. It looked like a jacket, torn to shreds. The man must have been wearing it when he was thrown from his bike, and cast it off before he jumped into the sea. It occurred to Zubkov there might be something in the pockets; another ‘souvenir’ perhaps, or maybe even some US dollars? He walked over and picked it up, searching it for pockets. There were two deep external pockets which contained only a box of matches and an old piece of candy, stuck to the lining of the pocket. There was an inside pocket, but that was empty. Disappointing.
That was when he noticed the patch on the arm of the jacket. He held it up to his face so he could see it better. A polar bear, holding a globe in its claws. Around it were the words, 712th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron. It looked military. Zubkov felt his heart jump. No wonder the man had fled. He was US military! Their briefing had been clear on this, there was no military presence expected at Gambell, and only a token force manning the early warning station at Savoonga.
Well, the bloody briefing had been wrong! Now there was at least one US serviceman on the loose.
Zubkov looked around for Captain Demchenko, eyes searching among the dozens of men swarming over crates and boxes on the runway as dust and gravel were blown around by the rotors of the transports. His eyes landed on his CO, and he started running.
He knew it, He should have shot the b******d.
(c) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued