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Sequel coming: BERING STRAIT the novel (drum roll...)

Posted By: HeinKill

Sequel coming: BERING STRAIT the novel (drum roll...) - 01/05/18 12:55 PM

Publication Day! Nov 1.

It started as an AAR, now the book is out on Amazon!

[Linked Image]

Get it at the special launch discount price!

https://www.amazon.com/Bering-Strait-FX-Holden-ebook/dp/B07J3P42HF


ORIGINAL INTRO POST


So ... over the Dec break I had some lovely quiet time and managed to combine a couple of passions ... writing and flight sims. I started playing around with an idea for a future-warfare book set around AD 2030, for which I would need some good air combat scenes. So I jumped onto DCS World (Flaming Cliffs), creating various air-air and air-ground scenarios and flying them for inspiration. Not the usual AAR material I know, and there is no actual DCS content used (screenshots etc) but maybe you'd like to read along as I put the results of the various dogfights into novel format!

My idea in this thread was to build it into a novel I could put online and generate some sales that can be donated to support SimHQ. A lot of SimHQers pitched in and helped out with technical details, proofing and plot points! So here it is, you are welcome to download this early draft version here. The final version will no doubt be quite different...

And thanks again to those who read along for a lot of fun along the way!

(c) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams, writing as Tim Slee. Other books available here![/url]

A couple of disclaimers/explainers:

a) this was just for fun. Any glaring technical errors pls feel free to still point them out or have an opinion: technical points/debates, advice from vets etc welcome right up until the book is published (and afterward too)!

b) my idea here was to explore the idea of what a future war involving UCAV and piloted aircraft could look like if the war fighting potential of the UCAV was taken to an extreme. So none of the weapons I'll refer to here actually exist yet, which is also part of the fun. What I have done is look for any reports/data on 'next gen' systems and then just used my imagination together with dogfight inspiration from a few hours in Flaming Cliffs.

Cheers and all original content in this thread is

(C) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams, writing as FX Holden
https://www.amazon.com/FX-Holden/e/B07J47L7KB/ref=dp_byline_cont_ebooks_1

Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/05/18 01:54 PM

In the meantime here is the Ops Area in case you didn't know that USA and Russia share a border smile

[Linked Image]

(Yep, I know Lavrentiya is not currently an Eastern Military District air base. Neither is Little Diomede a Navy installation. In this scenario, in 2030, following significant Russian investment in the Far East in places like Lavrentiya and Anadyr to capitalise on trade with CN and JP and the newly open polar shipping routes, it is...)

[Linked Image]

Also, as we have no idea what the Russian aerospace/air force order of battle will look like in 2030, I adopted the 2010 OOB shown here, not the most recent, because there are a greater number of units centralised under a single command in this OOB which suits my narrative.

https://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/russia/av-orbat.htm



Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/05/18 02:30 PM

The key combatants:

USA

F-35/F-22 and

A UCAV roughly based on the US DARPA J-UCAS prototypes the Northrop Grumman X-47B

[Linked Image]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northrop_Grumman_X-47B

And the Boeing X-45

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boeing_X-45

But with the following specs:

General characteristics

Crew: 0
Length: 26 ft 6 in (8.08 m)
Wingspan: 33 ft 10 in (10.3 m)
Height: 6 ft 8 in (2.14 m)
Empty weight: 8,000 lb (3,630 kg)
Powerplant: Reaction Engine Scimitar

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SABRE_(rocket_engine)

Performance

Maximum speed: 1,034 kn (1,190 mph; 1,915 km/h) at 40,000 ft (12,000 m)
Maximum speed: Mach 1.8
Cruise speed: 574 kn; 1,062 km/h (660 mph)
Range: 1,089 nmi (1,253 mi; 2,017 km)
Combat range: 400 nmi (460 mi; 741 km) air-air mission
Ferry range: 1,800 nmi (2,071 mi; 3,334 km)
Service ceiling: 50,000 ft (15,000 m)
Rate of climb: 50,000 ft/min (250 m/s)

Armament

Guns: 1 × General Dynamics 25 mm - 180 rounds[j][77]
Two internal bays with a capacity of up to 5,700 lb (2,590 kg) in rotary launchers
Missiles: Air-to-air missiles eg CUDA HalfRAAAM / Air-to-surface missiles: eg Joint Air-to-Ground Missile (JAGM) / Anti-ship missiles eg Joint Strike Missile (JSM) / Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM)
Bombs eg Small Diameter Bomb II (SDB-II) / GBU-53/B

RUSSIA

Mig-35/Su-35/Su-57 and

A UCAV based roughly on the Mikoyan Skat

[Linked Image]

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mikoyan_Skat

With the specs of the 5th gen T-50 (Su-57)

General characteristics

Crew: 0
Length: 19.8 m (65 ft)
Wingspan: 13.95 m (45 ft 10 in)
Height: 4.74 m (15 ft 7 in)
Wing area: 78.8 m² (848.1 ft²)
Empty weight: 18,000 kg (39,680 lb)
Loaded weight: 25,000 kg (55,115 lb) typical mission weight, 29,270 kg (64,530 lb) at full load
Max. takeoff weight: 35,000 kg (77,160 lb)
Fuel capacity: 10,300 kg (22,700 lb)[162]
Powerplant: Izdeliye 30 turbofan
Dry thrust: 93.1 kN / 107 kN (21,000 lbf / 24,054 lbf) each
Thrust with afterburner: 147 kN / 176 kN (33,067 lbf / 39,566 lbf) each

Performance

Maximum speed:
At altitude: Mach 2 (2,140 km/h; 1,320 mph)[161][163]
Supercruise: Mach 1.6 (1,700 km/h; 1,060 mph)
Range: 3,500 km (2,175 mi; 1,890 nmi) subsonic
1,500 km (930 mi; 810 nmi) supersonic[96]
Service ceiling: 20,000 m (65,000 ft)
Wing loading: 317–444 kg/m² (65–91 lb/ft²)

Armament

Guns: 1 × 30 mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-301 autocannon in right LEVCON root
Hardpoints: 6 × internal
Missiles: Air-to-air missiles eg K-77M phase array missile, air to surface: KH-31F / AS-17 'Krypton' air to ground missile, several variants
Bombs: Grom 1, Grom 2



Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/05/18 03:22 PM

OK, let's get rolling...

[Linked Image]

PREFACE

In the freezing sub-Arctic autumn of Saint Lawrence island in the Bering Sea, a cadaver can keep for months without spoiling. Whether a whale on a beach, a walrus caught in the rocks along the coast, or the body of a man.

So there was no tell-tale stink when Sargeant Andre Henault of the Canadian Mounted Police approached the water tank in the last brief light of day, and noticed it was full of bullet holes.

There were schrapnel holes too, and one of the four legs of the tower the water tank was standing on was broken and splintered, but there was no mistaking the perfectly circular pattern of holes stitched across one side of the water tank. He looked at the ground by his feet and saw shell casings.
He knelt and picked one up. Russian, 9mm. Favored short round of the Spetsnaz special forces.

He looked around him. This must be the place.

With a sigh, he tightened the straps on his backpack, hitched a rope over his shoulder and walked over to the ladder that led from the ground, up to the platform on which the tank was resting, and then up the side of the tank to an open manhole cover at the top.

The metal was cold, even through his gloves. Henault was used to the cold. He was a cop from Whitehorse in the Canadian Yukon Territory, and the only difference between the Yukon and this place, as far he was concerned, was a distinct lack of trees, leaving nothing to protect you from the biting wind except the rise and fall of the ground - and the blackened ruins of the US base in which the water tank stood.

As he reached the top of the ladder, he hesitated. He had a pretty good idea what he’d find inside. Or thought he did.

He’d come to look for a local Yupik man. Man? Just a kid really. A lone, brave, hard as nails kid who had single handedly turned the tide of a war, not that anyone except Henault would ever know it. Henault had come to Saint Lawrence to find him; he’d been out to the overflowing Savoonga medical clinic but there was no record of him there. He had found instead the kid’s name on a list in the town hall in Savoonga, along with hundreds of others … ‘missing, presumed dead’.

His heart had fallen, even though he’d prepared himself. There was a woman there, a round faced, weary Yu'pik woman wearing three sweaters inside the hall because the power and heating weren’t reliable yet, and Henault had asked her how he could find the Cantonment, or what was left of it.

“Why?” she’d asked. “Nothing out there after those cruise missiles hit. We dug up all the bodies from the graves, gave them a proper burial here in town.”

“I’m looking for a water tower?” he’d said. “Might be the only thing left standing. You know it?”

“You a photographer?” the woman had asked. “You need a permit to take photographs out there. Folks around here are pretty sensitive about it.”

Henault had shown her his Canadian Mounted Police ID, “No, I’m just following something up. Sorry, I can’t really discuss it.”

The woman had shrugged, and drawn him a map. Told him he’d have to hustle if he wanted to get out there today, because it would be dusk in two hours.

“You have to declare anything you find to me here,” she’d said. “We don’t hold with souvenir hunters.”

“I will,” he’d told her, and hoped he wouldn’t have to. After it all, it was still possible the kid had made it. He wasn’t from Savoonga, he was from Gambell. He could have headed back there without registering. Henault hadn’t been able to reach his family, because communications with Gambell hadn't been restored since the Russian attack. The kid could be back home, ripping through the snow on his ATV, or out fishing for halibut with his father and brothers.

Henault paused, looking across the blasted wasteland that had until recently been the new US Savoonga radar facility. He could see why the boy had climbed up here. Looking further out he could clearly see the single long runway of the Savoonga airfield, vehicles and aircraft parked alongside it and he watched as a small two engined air ambulance began its landing. He grabbed the lip of the manhole and hauled himself up. It was dark inside, the grey light filtering through the schrapnel and bullet holes not enough to light the interior of the tank, so he pulled a flashlight from his belt and held it up.

He panned the light around.

The first thing he saw was that he would have to come back tomorrow.

He’d only brought one body bag.

*
* 

(c) 2018 Fred Williams, to be continued...


Posted By: Stratos

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/05/18 08:30 PM

Heinkill revise the Photobucket links on first post, they are not visible, you should search for another provider.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/06/18 06:25 PM

Yeps, thx
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/06/18 06:40 PM

Chapter 1

IF A TREE FALLS


Three months earlier.


The iceberg had calved off the Arctic ice pack two years earlier. After wallowing for a while in the ocean off the coast it had been picked up by the Transpolar Current and then flung into the Beaufort Gyre, a swirling maelstrom of hurdy gurdy waters that circulated between the East Siberian Sea and the Beaufort Sea off Alaska. Like a small child thrown off a playground carousel that was spinning too fast, it was dumped into the mouth of the Bering Strait, slowing but moving inexorably south at a stately two to three knots.

The violence of its birth and the impact of wind and tides had seen its original tabular shape worn away until it was just a thin sliver of a dome remained above the water. Below the water, 200 tons of ice and trapped rock served as both ballast and rudder, driving the berg forward. At 800 feet long, it was at least twice the size of the iceberg that sank the Titanic.

And it was headed straight toward the Russian container vessel Ozempic Tsar.
*
*
The bridge of the Ozempic Tsar was empty. Under a panel of windows with a 360 degree view of the sparkling sea around her, a bank of screens and instruments flashed and blinked, with no one to look at them. Two doors, one to port, and one to starboard, let out to watch stations on which no one stood.
The Tsar was outfitted with the latest in subsea sonar and high frequency radar for detecting both shipping and subsurface objects, and as it bore down on the iceberg at a combined closing speed of 16 knots, the sonar was the first to react. A collision warning alarm began to sound throughout the ship, but there was no panicked shouting, no thud of feet running on steel decks. There was no one to hear.

The AI controlling the X-band 10Ghz radar directed the beam toward the suspected location of the iceberg, but saw nothing. Indecision might have paralysed a human Captain, but the Ozempic Tsar had no such problems. Confirming that the sea lane to starboard was clear of other traffic, the massive container ship feathered its starboard screw, punched in portside bow impellers, dialled its speed back to 10 knots and began a grindingly slow, skidding turn to starboard. It was helped by the fact it was carrying a bulky but lightweight cargo for this journey, but without perfect information about the speed and bearing of the iceberg, its computers calculated a ten percent chance that the ship would not clear the object ahead of it in time.

A new alarm began to sound throughout the ship, warning the crew to get to emergency stations and brace for impact. There was still no movement either above, or below decks.

Slowly, the bows of the supertanker swung around and the ship’s radar was able to pick up a return from the dome of ice that was riding above sea level. Now the AI could use two inputs, the radar and sonar, to calculate the position, speed and bearing of the iceberg and it revised its estimate of the likelihood of collision to zero. Immediately it began replotting a track to get itself back on course once the iceberg was passed. As the iceberg slid along the Tsar’s port side, a comfortable two miles away, the ship sent a warning message about the berg to both the Russian and US Coast Guard channels, giving its position, speed and likely heading given prevailing currents. And then cancelled the blare of klaxons ringing out over its empty decks.


[Linked Image]

The Ozempic Tsar was proof that the future of merchant shipping was autonomous. The fourth of its kind in the Ozempic Imperial Line it was first to make the polar voyage from Arkengelsk to Hokkaido completely unmanned. As its name implied, the Tsar was very much a king of the seas.

It had a capacity 400,000 deadweight tons and had sailed with a consignment of powdered lithium from the dialysis plant in Anadyr. It was 300 feet long and four stories high, steered not by a shore based human pilot like its sister ships, but by a Norwegian GNV SL AI core that managed both navigation and systems overwatch. All mechanical systems on the ship, from the 90,000hp 14 cylinder hydrogen powered Rolls Royce engines to computing platforms were triple redundant, even down to the three heavy impellers which kept it moving through the ice cold waters of the northern Bering Strait. Should every GPS satellite around the globe suddenly drop out of orbit, its AI could switch to inertial navigation to stay on course and should that system fail the AI could also chart a course by compass or even the stars if they were visible. Security protocols protecting the core AI platform meant that while it had autonomy over local course decisions, more significant course alterations could only be made via shore based encrypted communications - there was no way to pilot the ship or alter its course if the ship was boarded at sea, and the engine room and fuel supply was completely sealed against intruders. Not that pirates were a big problem in the Arctic seas yet, but a fully laden supertanker with no crew to guard it could be a tempting prize if extreme precautions hadn’t been taken - and publicized.

The Ozempic Tsar was a 250 million dollar miracle of progress in the field of self piloted freighters and proof that the Russian oil oligarchs who built her had shown amazing foresight in realizing that global warming could be an upside business opportunity if it meant a permanent polar freight route could be opened up as the Arctic ice cap melted. They had a dream that they could take Anadyr from a small local container port to the biggest port in the Russian Far East in coming years, shipping the riches of the Chukotka gold and lithium mining region to markets on the East Coast of America, whose demand for the raw materials for batteries to supplement its renewable energy obsession was insatiable. A Japanese scientist had shown the way, identifying a scalable method for mining lithium from seawater using a dialysis cell with a membrane consisting of a superconductor material, and a Russian oligarch with a view to diversifying out of a dying oil industry had funded its commercialization.

The Tsar held the world record for the Anadyr - New York transit, completing the 3,000 km trip in 16 days, requiring as it did no time in port for crew rest or replenishment, and taking its fuel from the sea as it sailed, using solar and wind powered catalytic converters to turn the seawater into hydrogen for its engines. Taking the northern sea route also shaved nearly two weeks off the trip from the container terminal at Anadyr, which otherwise would have had to go via the Panama canal.

You could be forgiven, watching it slice through the slight swell of a brisk, sunlit early summer in the Strait, for thinking nothing in the world could stop it.

That is, until two AGM-158C PIKE long range anti-ship missiles buried themselves deep in its guts and detonated their 1,000lb blast-fragmentation warheads.

After which the Ozempic Tsar set the world record for the fastest trip to the bottom of the Bering Strait by an autonomous pilotless freighter.

(c) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To be continued...

Posted By: jenrick

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/06/18 11:45 PM

Curious to see where this goes, I'll admit I had to go back and reread, I just assumed you'd be using CMANO. Even more curious knowing it's FC3. Good writing so far though!

-Jenrick
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/07/18 10:34 AM

Originally Posted by jenrick
Curious to see where this goes, I'll admit I had to go back and reread, I just assumed you'd be using CMANO. Even more curious knowing it's FC3. Good writing so far though!

-Jenrick


FC3 as a way to simulate the air conflicts and get the little wrinkles in the action that only come when you are actually 'fighting' the fight. What I did whenever I needed an air sequence was that I set it up in FC3 and then flew it, kept a diary and used that to drive the narrative. I got shot down (a lot) so the protagonists here will spend a lot of time hanging under silk wink

Like I said tho, it won't be a standard AAR with screenshots from the game, more 'inspired by' than 'example of'.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/07/18 10:47 AM

CHAPTER 2
TUNDRA TCON


[Linked Image]

The GNV SL A.I. core onboard the Ozempic Tsar managed to get several longwave, satellite telephone and high frequency burst transmissions away before it was silenced by the cold dark waters of the Strait. It also managed to fire a tethered distress buoy from its bow section that bobbed up to the surface of the sea even as the carcass of its host ship settled on the seabed 15 fathoms below. Fixed to the ship by a gossamer thin carbonite string with the strength of tensile steel it sent the position of the now doomed Tsar to its owners, its insurers and to the nearest naval air and sea rescue service - which happened to be the Arkhangelsk headquarters for the Coast Guard of the Russian Federal Security Service.

The comms operator who received the mayday immediately and instinctively hit the alert button which sounded a klaxon across the base at the hangar where the Sikorsky Skywarrior naval rescue quadcopter and its crew were stationed. The next thing he did was call up the international ship register to identify the ship that was in distress so that he could send imagery to both the Sikorsky crew and any other nearby shipping that might be directed to help.

The next thing he did after that, was to sigh, reach over and cancel the alert and shut off the klaxon. He checked the signal traffic just to be sure there was only one ship in distress, and sat back in his chair.
Bloody robot ship.

He was from three generations of fishermen and sailors, had a grandfather who had served on the cold war flagship the Kuznetsov, striking terror into the hearts of the weak NATO fleets every time it sallied out of the Black Sea past Gibraltar and into the Atlantic. A ship crewed by heroes of the Soviet Union, back when Russia had heroes. Men braving radiation leaks and the constant threat of annihilation in nuclear fire to keep Mother Russia safe from a Western alliance bent on its destruction.

Now half the fleet was Unmanned Combat Warships or UCWs, and the rest were slated for either conversion or retirement. ‘Sailors’ didn’t stand watch on the decks of ships, in the freezing air of Baltic seas watching for torpedo wakes or missile contrails, they didn’t even sit deep in the C3I centers of their warships watching glowing green screens for radar returns or listening for the acoustic signatures of submarines. They sat in reverse cycle airconditioned trailers on a shoreside base and watched the world through the sensors on their UCWs, only taking control when they needed to tap in new navigation orders or use their linked sensor arrays to explore and identify unkown contacts. And even the humans were redundant, because the UCWs were programmed with failsafe routines that would kick in if contact to Archangel was lost, or an enemy attack rendered comms unavailable. In a peacetime configuration, the standard UCW lost-comms protocol was to enter a random safe navigation scheme, and set all weapons systems to defensive operations.

In a conflict configuration, the UCW would attempt to carry out the last orders issued before comms blackout, including identification and engagement with any identified enemy air, sea or land targets.

The comms operator looked again at the image of the Ozempic Tsar on his screen and paged away from it in disgust.

40,000 tonnes of cargo, steel and silicon sitting and breaking apart on the floor of the Bering Strait. Apart from environmentalists, the owners and their insurance company, who gave a damn?
*
*
In the Situation Room of the Russian 3rd Air and Air Defence Forces Command, Captain Andrei Udicz gave a damn. He was watching the same cry for help from the Ozempic Tsar scroll across his screen and he turned his face from the screen to look at the five other officers in the room.

“The Ozempic Tsar has been confirmed destroyed, Comrade General,” he reported. “It has deployed a distress buoy, which indicates that at least part of the hull is lying on the sea floor.”

Colonel General Yuli Lukin, Commander of the 3rd Air and Air Defence Forces Command, sat with his fingers on his expansive belly and looked up at the ceiling. “How long until we have visual confirmation?” He was flanked by several intelligence officers and aides.
Udicz looked down at the tablet in front of him. “I can have a pair of Okhotnik UCAVs over the site of the incident within …. eight minutes,” he said. “And I have VRT300 rotary wing drones on standby if we need more eyes.”

“Incident? You mean attack, do you not Comrade Captain?” The General asked, arching his eyebrows. “Our satellites picked up the bloom of a violent explosion. The Ozempic Tsar was carrying no explosive cargo. Inert cargo ships do not just explode in the middle of the Bering Strait.”
“Yes comrade General,” Udicz replied carefully. “Perhaps it hit another ship, or an iceberg?”

“A high explosive iceberg?” the General asked.

“There is a commercial fishing vessel within ten clicks of the site of the attack Comrade General,” Udicz said, ignoring the jibe. “They will be the first people on the scene. The Navy has directed them to search for wreckage.”

Lukin fixed his gaze on Udicz. “Let us assume the Ozempic Tsar was not destroyed by a collision with a highly explosive iceberg. Let us speculate Captain, about other causes,” Lukin invited. “Military causes.”

Udicz felt like he was being invited to step into a trap of some sort, but couldn’t see what kind, yet. “If I should speculate about a military cause Comrade General, I would speculate that such a catastrophic loss could only be caused by one or more long range anti-ship missiles such as the US fields on any one of their several destroyers currently deployed in the Strait.”

Udicz was probably the only officer in the meeting who had actually seen one of the deadly PIKE missiles up close and in action. Two years ago he’d been part of an official Russian delegation observing a NATO fleet combat exercise. Not as a friendly gesture from the Americans of course, but because for any such exercise involving three or more nations bordering the Russian Federation it was a treaty obligation. He still remembered the chill he felt, standing on the bridge of the American stealth missile cruiser the USS Zumwalt, watching as a US submersible fast attack drone (S-FAD) reared up out of the sea beside them, popped its hatches and loosed a volley of 4 of the deadly anti-ship missiles in less than a minute, before sliding beneath the waves again. Forget the missiles though. It wasn’t the sight of the small grey green stealth catamaran appearing from nowhere and firing missiles over the horizon that had made him shiver, it had been the thought that the machine could be launched below the waterline of the very cruiser he was standing on, and then pilot itself under the surface through the Kattegat Strait, down the Gulf of Finland and park itself invisibly on the mud riverbed alongside the Cruise Ship terminal in St Petersburg, ready at any time to detonate a nuclear warhead in the heart of the city.

Of course they had deployed detection systems in the river now, and for the Americans to even attempt to do so as a test or exercise would be regarded as an act of war, but Udicz had to wonder if they had got their countermeasures in place in time. What was to say there wasn’t already an American S-FAD snuggled under a pier in the old imperial capital, covered in silt and just waiting to unleash armageddon on command.

“Difficult to confirm though, I imagine,” the General mused. “Such an isolated body of water, and not even a crew member as a witness.”

“The American PIKE is a surface to surface stealth missile. Our satellites, even infrared, would not have picked up the launch. But the Navy may be able to recover sensor data from the ship’s black box, assuming it is still reporting via the buoy,” Udicz said. “That might provide visual or even audio evidence of a missile strike. The staggered-pulse engines of the US PIKE missile have a very distinctive acoustic signature.”

“Not very definitive evidence though,” the General grumbled. “Readily deniable. Video and audio files are so easily doctored.”

“I agree,” Udicz said. “But why? Why would the Americans do something so stupid? Unless it was an accident?”

“Accident,” Lukin said. “It strikes me you would have to be very determined to accidentally sink a ship the size of a small island.”
*
*
[Linked Image]

Carl Williams had only been an environmental science attache at the Moscow Embassy for three weeks. With 700 full time staff in the Russian Federation, 200 of which were based in Moscow, Carl was only one of several new staff who had moved into the Embassy compound on Bolshoy Deviatinsky within the last month, and he still had that newbie halo hanging over him.

He had met neither the Ambassador nor his nominal manager at the Embassy yet, and really hadn’t got much further than his orientation paperwork and some training in Embassy security protocols.

As an NSA analyst he would normally have an office in the Controlled Access Area or ‘Tophat’ of the Secure Chancery Facility or SCF, but Carl was an ‘undeclared’ officer attached to the Embassy’s Economic Affairs section and so instead of working in the SCF, he was still learning how to get from his accomodations to the commissary for breakfast and then down through the labyrinthine New Annexe basement tunnels to his desk monitoring Russian Federation Far East Military Command Traffic.

The traffic was of course encrypted, and couldn’t be broken in real time, even by the adaptive neural network natural language AIs he had at his disposal as an NSA analyst. No, his job instead was to look for patterns in the volume, origin and target of Russian Eastern Military District comms and try to tie them to complementary intel from either sigint or humint and see if they could confirm suspected meetings, military exercises, military equipment tests or even civil emergencies.

He had grown up as a kid on stories and films about the great cyptologists of history, like the men and women who broke the German Enigma codes using the world’s first electronic computers at Bletchley Park in the UK. Or the NSA cryptographers who helped avert World War Three by decrypting the Russian fleet signals during the Cuban Missile Crisis and were able to tell the Kennedy brothers that the Russian naval commanders had orders to sail only as far as the line of blockade, and no further.

They had worked in rooms of buzzing, clacking equipment, discs of tape whirling, coding machines spitting cards into a fug of cigarette smoke as they desperately worked to break enemy codes ahead of invasions, revolutions or Scud missile launches. Even the generation of code breakers he had been born into had grown up needing to be able to read computer code, looking for potential exploits in a soup of alphanumeric gibberish.

As Carl walked past the other attaches into his cubicle sized office in the LED lit basement corridor under Nevsky Prospect that had been coverted into a listening station he threw his sandwich on his desk, put his paper cup of coffee down next to it and glared almost resentfully at the tools of his trade. Instead of whirling reels of tape, he had a telephone headset. Instead of card readers spitting out index cards, he had a small laptop PC full of apps, including one which he could use to stream the latest shows. And instead of having to read and write code, he had HOLMES, the NSA AI system that was his own personal analytical assistant.

HOLMES was the name Carl had given the system – it was an acronym for Heuristic Ordinary Language Machine Exploratory System. Which sounded better than NLLS 1.5 or Natural Language Learning System 1.5. He had toyed with calling the system NELLIE, but that had an association with the Loch Ness monster he didn’t think was appropriate, because unlike the monster, HOLMES was not a mythological creature.

Carl sank onto his seat, pulled on his headset and logged in using his voice recognition code.

“Good morning Carl,” HOLMES said in his ears. “Did you sleep well?” In addition to a cool name he had also given the AI a plumb British male voice to match.

Carl wasn’t a morning person. He also wasn’t a person who bought into the whole idea of talking to HOLMES as though it was a person, even though it had sophisticated conversational capabilities.
“Cut the chat routine,” Carl said. “Sitrep, anomalous traffic, Section 42, all incidents since I logged off last night.”

He wasn’t expecting anything. HOLMES was supposed to send a text and email alert to him and the watch officer if it detected a major incident worthy of deeper analysis. It hadn’t, so anything that it had logged could only qualify as routine.
“The most noteworthy event last night was the apparent loss of a Russian flagged commercial freighter in the northern approaches to the Bering Strait at 0215 Pacific Standard Time.”

Carl’s immediate reaction was ‘so what’. Sure, terrible for the crew and everything, but civilian shipping disasters weren’t exactly his priority. “Loss? What do you mean loss?” Carl asked. “Contextualise.”

“The Ozempic Tsar was a 400,000 tonne fully autonomous cargo ship sailing from Arkengelsk in Russia to Hokkaido in Japan via the polar route when it issued a mayday on open maritime emergency frequencies to say it was taking water rapidly following an explosion in its engine room and cargo bays and was sinking. It then deployed an emergency locator beacon.”

Carl looked up at the ceiling, thinking. “Cargo?”

“The registers at Lloyds show that the primary cargo was 162,000 tonnes of processed lithium.”

“Value of the cargo?”

“Landed value one point nine six three billion US dollars.”

Carl put his coffee down so quickly it splashed out of the cup and over his empty desk. He didn’t notice. “Billion? Did you say nearly two billion?”

“Yes Carl. Do you want me to source more intel on the this incident?”

“Access all available intel, compile and report,” Carl replied. Two billion dollars? Someone had just lost real money. Either the owners, the buyers or the insurers. He picked up his coffee and sipped. How did it get so cold so fast? He should really get one of those absorb and release gel lined mugs. Those things could keep soup warm all day, they should be able to solve his cold coffee problem.

“Do you want a full or brief report?” HOLMES asked, coming back to him within about three minutes.

“Brief,” Carl said. “Very brief.”

“Open source and US Coast Guard intel indicates the Ozempic Tsar issued its first mayday call at 0210, issued two more between 0210 and 0214 and ceased mayday transmissions at 0215. A distress beacon was released and started transmitting the ship’s location at 0216 at which time the US Coast Guard logged it as a probable sinking, cause unknown.”

“Boring. Location?”

“The distress beacon transmitted the Ozempic Tsar’s location as latitude 65.74 longitude 169.69, which is five miles inside the Russian Federation Exclusive Economic Zone west of Big Diomede Island.”

“Their problem then,” Carl said. “Not even international waters. Any salvage operation initiated yet?”

“SATINT indicates there are a number of civilian and two Russian naval vessels at the scene.”

Carl perked up slightly. The Russian Pacific fleet base at Vladivostok could be expected to direct maybe one vessel to the check out an incident involving an autonomous ship with no human life at risk; to investigate the area, recover the distress buoy and download the black box data. But two showed a higher than normal level of interest.

“Associated military communications activity,” he said. “Three degrees of separation.” He was asking in shorthand for HOLMES to look at intelligence reports from around the time of the incident, including first hand, second hand and even third hand source reporting. It was about as broad a search as he could ask for, a total fishing exercise.

“SIGINT analysis indicates a spike in Russian Pacific Fleet Command traffic 33 minutes before the incident and then for two hours following the incident, after which traffic returned to near normal levels except for comms to and from vessels in the area of the incident,” HOLMES replied. “Do you wish to deep dive or continue?”

Carl had been trained to follow his instincts. With AIs like HOLMES to do the actual analysis, instinct was the only competitive edge humans had over neural systems now. AIs were the masters of cold hard logic, but they sucked at Wild Arsed Guessing.
“Continue. Related air or land based military traffic analysis,” Carl replied.

“SatInt and Sigint indicate two Russian Federation Okhotnik Hunter UCAVs were sent to the scene of the incident, arriving over the wreck at 0225 and returning to their base in Vladivostok at 0245. Their flight plan is indicative of a dedicated reconnaissance mission rather than a standing combat air patrol.”

OK, this was starting to get interesting. Not a lot interesting, but a little. Ten minutes after the Russian freighter sinks, and two Russian drones are already on station right over the top of it, transmitting images? Pretty convenient they just happened to be in the area. Carl didn’t believe in coincidences like that.

“Wait, you said there was an uptick in Far East HQ comms traffic 33 minutes before the incident?”

“Yes.”

“Origin and target?”

“The origin of the transmission was Russian Pacific Fleet Command. The target is unknown.”

Carl sighed, “Deep dive. Other non routine Russian military traffic in the area of Bering Strait between the uptick in comms traffic at incident minus 33 minutes and incident time zero.”

“There was a non routine code burst on a Russian Federation military channel six minutes and twenty eight seconds before the incident. The origin of the code burst was 100 miles north of Saint Lawrence Island. No other non routine traffic reported.”

Damn, damn, damn. Something was really nagging at him. A ship explodes. Six minutes earlier, a burst of Russian military traffic from the middle of the Bering Strait. 33 minutes before that, an uptick in Russian Eastern Military District traffic. Wait.

“HOLMES, assume the transmission six minutes before the sinking was from a Russian Federation Naval vessel. Do we have any data on Russian naval vessels within missile range of the freighter at that time?” It was a long shot, but maybe one of a Russian missile test had gone haywire.

“Checking SatInt, SigInt, Humint. No Russian naval vessel within range within the communications window,” HOLMES said. “Do you wish me to expand the search to vessels of other navies?”

“What? Repeat, contextualize.”

“I have a 98.4% match on both a possible launch vessel and missile type,” HOLMES said. Carl could swear it sounded pleased with itself. “The time to target projected from the location of the comms burst at six minutes to the time of first mayday call from the Ozempic Tsar matches the profile of a US PIKE long range stealth anti-ship missile launched from the Finnish Scorpene class submarine FNS Vesikko.”

Carl snapped forward in his chair, “Say again? Expand!”

“Sigint indicates the FNS Vesikko sent a message to Finnish Fleet Command at Heikkila, Finland, one hour before the incident, reporting its position, bearing and speed. The FNS Vesikko is a refurbished French Scorpene class submarine equipped with the US PIKE long range stealth anti-ship missile. My analysis shows that if the Vesikko had maintained its stated bearing and speed, its estimated position would correlate with the location of the anamalous comms transmission 100 miles north of Saint Lawrence Island. A PIKE missile fired by the FNS Vesikko at this position would have taken six minutes and eighteen seconds to reach the Ozempic Tsar, which correlates with the timing of the anomalous radio transmission. The triangulation of these three data points gives a 98.4 certainty that if the Ozempic Tsar was destroyed by a naval vessel, it was a PIKE missile fired by the FNS Vesikko. Putting an image onscreen for you now.”

[Linked Image]

Carl could feel he was starting to sweat. He wasn’t a small man - in fact he was carrying about fifty pounds more than he probably should be, but it would usually take a lot more than just sitting in his chair in the cold corridor under the Embassy compound to make him break out in a sweat. This sweat wasn’t exertion, it was fear.

“Would a what you call it missile…”

“AGM-158C PIKE.”

“Yeah. Would one of them be enough to take down a 400,000 tonne freighter?”

“If it successfully struck the ship’s hydrogen storage or fuel cells, one such missile would be sufficient. Standard military doctrine would dictate two are fired to secure target destruction.”

Carl whistled, “A double tap. Just to be sure.”

“Please repeat. Was that a question or comment?”

“Neither. Please tell me there were no US naval vessels, capable of firing a PIKE missile, inside that kill zone at the time of the incident.”

There was a slight pause, then HOLMES responded, “The nearest long range cruise missile capable US vessel was the subsea drone USS Venice Beach, which was on station 290 miles south-southeast at the time.”

“Inside missile range?”

“300 nautical miles,” HOLMES said. “The USS Venice Beach could also have engaged the Ozempic Tsar with its missiles at that range but it would have had to fire thirty minutes earlier. I am unable to locate any US PACFLT traffic to or from the USS Venice Beach at that time.”

“But it is around the time of the Far East Fleet comms burst. They might have been reporting on a suspected US missile launch. Dammit, this is ugly. HOLMES, deep dive Navy C3I logs and check whether the Venice Beach fired a PIKE missile in the last 24 hours. Check whether any US Navy vessel in the Northern Pacific has fired any sort of weapon at all. Check for any intel indicating that Russia has the capability to hack a US naval vessel and order it to fire one of its missiles. I want you to run three scenarios: one, the Finnish submarine sank the Russian Freighter. Two, the USS Venice Beach sank the freighter. Three, an unknown Russian vessel, aircraft or land based missile battery sank it. Summarise potential supporting data and assign probabilities then send the report to my laptop with a copy to the Senior Defense Attache and NSA.”

“Will do Carl. What should I title the report?”

Carl thought about it, “Heading: Battle of Bering Strait. Subhead: Who killed the Ozempic Tsar?”

“Yes Carl. Compiling.”

Carl waited. He drew a dot on a page and wrote OzTsar next to it, then a ring and FNS Vesikko at six minutes eighteen seconds. Further out at thirty minutes, USS Venice Beach. It was the time correlation between the position of the Finnish sub, the flight time of a PIKE missile, and the timing of that comms burst from the middle of the Bering Strait that bugged him the most.

“HOLMES, do you believe in coincidence?”

“I do not indulge in beliefs, Carl.”

“Point taken. HOLMES, book me some serious bandwidth. Something stinks here.”
*
*
(C) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams - to be continued
Posted By: Nixer

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/07/18 11:55 PM

You have done quite a bit of really good stuff over the years.

BUT.....

You may be outdoing yourself this time around. Great stuff Man! We are really lucky to have this for free.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/08/18 08:09 AM

Thx for the nice words. Will keep posting as I edit the raw text. May turn into a novel one day who knows?

(Spread the word, the more reading along, the merrier!)
Posted By: jenrick

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/08/18 08:47 PM

I would certainly purchase said novel, you already done a better job setting things up and building suspense then the last few tehcno/mil thrillers I picked up.

-Jenrick
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/09/18 07:34 AM

Originally Posted by jenrick
I would certainly purchase said novel, you already done a better job setting things up and building suspense then the last few tehcno/mil thrillers I picked up.

-Jenrick


Thanks! I'll at least count on you for an impartial review!

(Spread the word, the more reading along the merrier!)
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 01/09/18 07:46 AM

CH. 3

HOLES IN THE CHEESE


[Linked Image]

The US Ambassador to Moscow, Devlin McCarthy, had a number of firsts to her name but the one she liked best was that she was the first black Irish American to be named Ambassador to a top tier post like Moscow. In fact, Devlin was pretty sure she was the first black Irish American in the State Department, let alone in Moscow. She wasn’t the first ever black Irish American, that she knew for a fact because that honor went to her father, his father, and his father’s father. Further back than that, she hadn’t checked. She loved her Grandfather’s explanation though - he insisted his ancestors were Viking slaves, captured Moors bought in the slave markets of Hedeby and shipped to Ireland to serve in Viking families during the reign of Harold Bluetooth.

It was a great story, and she told it to anyone brave enough to ask her about her family history, which most of the Embassy staffers were too timid to do. She wouldn’t mind if they did - it would give her a chance to break down the Ice Queen reputation she seemed to have brought here with her. Small talk wasn’t something people seemed comfortable trying on her, so luckily she was comfortable with their small awkward silences. She really didn’t think she deserved the rep she had. Sure, she was forty and twice divorced - she never had much of an interest in lifelong attachments - and she spent most of her waking life at work, but she did take two weeks holiday every year to be with her now-adult daughter, always taking her somewhere outdoorsy for at least a week, followed by a week somewhere nice like a beach resort or theme park. When she had hit her adult years she’d been expecting her daughter Anne to find something better to do in the summer than hang with her absentee State Department mother Devlin, but Anne hadn’t missed a holiday yet. Devlin figured that said something nice about them both.

Apart from her annual family get together then, most of her daily life was polite society and diplomatic double speak. So she actually relished days like today she was summoned to meet with the Russian Foreign Minister Roman Kelnikov at his State offices inside the Kremlin walls. His Ministry was actually on the ring road that circled Moscow, but the fact he was meeting her here indicated to her she was in for a bit of diplomatic theatre.

She sat in the back of her two tonne armored limo with two bodyguards up front, one facing forward, one backward and her personal aide beside her. In the days when cars needed a driver, they’d needed a detail of three - one to drive, two to guard. But driverless vehicles had freed up the third spot either for additional protection, guests or in this case, legroom. As they approached the River Gates that led directly into the Russian foreign ministry underground carpark there was the usual ceremony with credentials and Kremlin guards running a sweep of the car and its occupants. They all had to demount and go through biometric scanners before they were allowed back into their car and inside the Kremlin walls.

As their car found its assigned parking bay, Devlin patted the small printed folio on her lap. She never took a tablet or telephone into Russian Government offices because since passive data retrieval had become a thing, it was the work of seconds for a concealed scanner to strip an electronic device of all its data. The great privacy backlash of about 20 years ago when people got sick of their data being stolen, their identities cloned and their secrets sold to the highest bidder had seen a revival in the use of good old fashioned paper that had to be physical stolen, held and read before it gave up its secrets. All truly sensitive information these days was only held on paper.

And the information in the folio on her lap was about as sensitive as it came.
*
*
“Tea?” Kelnikov asked, motioning to the samovar on a silver table next to his desk. His office was big enough to hold a large oak desk which legend said had been gifted to the Russian foreign minister Molotov by Minister of the Reich Ribbentropp. There were also two long sofas both facing in to a less formal teak coffee table decorated with fresh flowers and fruit.

Devlin had been told her security detail and her aide were welcome to wait in the ante room today. The meeting she was invited to attend with Kelnikov was to take place under four eyes only. When she’d walked in, he’d been sitting at his desk talking with a secretary and he’d risen to shake Devlin’s hand, then sat back down at his desk again. No fruit for her today then.

“Yes please,” Devlin said to the offer of tea, and the secretary fussed arranging tea and a plate of small dry cakes for them both and then hurried out of the office.

“You look well,” Kelnikov smiled, his bald head glistening in the light of the overhead lamps. He was about sixty, overweight, known to have an occasionally recurring barbituate habit and a predilection for preying on ballerinas from the Bolshoi, where he had a private box. Devlin found him completely and totally without charm. “I think you have even got a little early summer tan, is that possible?”

Oh, so that’s how you want to start? Devlin thought, immediately shifting herself into cold, minimalist mode. She ignored the poorly disguised barb about her color.

“Why was I summoned I here Mr Secretary?” she asked.

“Invited,” Kelnikov smiled, thin lips parting over yellow teeth. “As you know, if you had been summoned, there would have been a public press pronouncement to that effect. We are not there yet.”

“Where are we then?” she asked. Fortunately her people had done their work and knew exactly what it was that she had been ‘invited’ to talk about. She had been both forewarned, and forearmed.

Kelnikov reached into his desk and pulled out a small folder tied with a string, which he took his time untying before opening the folder. He pulled out a large photograph and slid it across the table to her.

“The Ozempic Tsar,” he said, pointing at it. “The most advanced autonomous pilotless freight vessel in the world, and valued at more than 250 million of your American dollars. On its most recent voyage, it was carrying a cargo of 1.9 billion US dollars worth of processed lithium.”

“Then I sincerely hope it was insured,” she said, immediately playing the ball back at him. “Because my information is that it is now lying at the bottom of the Bering Strait.”

His hands were folded and resting on the desk in front of them, but he fanned them wide now, “Oh please, do tell me what information you have on the demise of this pride of the Russian merchant fleet?”

She had been thinking to save her ammunition, but his racist remark, his obsequious manner, his slimy smile, they all conspired to make her want to have this audience over and done as quickly as possible.

From her own folio she pulled Carl Williams’ intel report and placed it so that the cameras which she assumed were in Kelnikov’s office could take a nice clear shot of it. She was about to tell him what was in it anyway.

“We are happy to share the intelligence we have on this tragedy. I’ll give you the short version,” she said. “Thirty minutes before that ship was sunk, a Russian naval communications center at Anadyr sent a message to a Finnish submarine, the FNS Vesikko, sailing 20 miles south west of the Ozempic Tsar. Six minutes before the Tsar sent out its first mayday, that same vessel reported it had fired its missiles.” She watched with satisfaction as Kelnikov’s eyes narrowed and he pursed his mouth. “Six minutes later, at least two subsonic submarine-launched surface to surface missiles hit the Ozempic Tsar and detonated its hydrogen fuel stores. The explosion was so catastrophic it was registered on one of our thermal imaging satellites as a possible ICBM missile launch bloom, but luckily for you, our AI detected that it had the wrong heat signature and our military alert level was not raised.”

Kelnikov spoke in a tight voice, verging on anger, “You accuse us of collusion in this crime? What proof do you have?”

“You know that there would be no conclusive satellite imaging available for the undersea launch of stealth cruise missiles.”

“Then you have nothing,” he said suddenly happy, and reaching into his folder again. “Whereas we have this.” He took out another photograph and almost threw it at her.

It was a satellite photograph of a ship, with lattitude, longitude and date stamp clearly visible. She could guess what ship it was, but Kelnikov spoke before she could say anything. “That is a US Navy vessel, the USS Venice Beach. An unmanned guided missile cruiser, armed with anti-ship missiles.” He took out another photo and flipped it at her so hard, it spun on the table in front of her.

She stopped it spinning and held it down with a single finger as she looked at it. It showed a large metal plate on the deck of what looked like a fishing vessel, with the word TSAR stenciled across it. If she had to guess, she’d guess it would turn out to be a close match for the name a certain Russian freighter had stencilled across its stern. Next to the wreckage lay a crushed tubular shape about two yards long and what looked like a mangled engine of some sort.

“Does your report tell you what that is?” Kelnikov asked gleefully.

“Actually it does,” she said. “I’m guessing that tube next to that clearly faked stern plate is the housing of a US PIKE anti-ship missile.”

“Salvaged, not faked, and yes it is!” Kelnikov said, building up a head of steam now. “You don’t deny it? The missile that destroyed a Russian flagged freighter while it was moving through Russian territorial waters was American!”

“Your tone is accusatory,” Devlin said. “But I have seen no evidence to justify your anger being directed at the USA.”

Kelnikov leaned over and jabbed his finger angrily down on the photo, “Your missile, fired by one of your ships!”

She laughed, realizing as she did so that she was ignoring ten years of training and practice in protocol. Kelnikov’s face clouded. No, it boiled.

“Just what about this act of naked aggression do you regard as funny?” he demanded. “Tell me!”

“How about you tell me?” she asked, getting control of herself again. “PIKE missiles have been exported to 13 countries, two of which have unfortunately recently moved out of our sphere of influence and into yours. One of those is Finland. I don’t deny the missile in that photograph may be a PIKE, but I strongly deny that it was fired by one of our ships. Our information indicates it was fired by a Finnish submarine which was in communication with Russian Far East military command.”

“You accuse Russia of sinking a Russian merchant vessel? What nonsense.”

“The Venice Beach did not fire those missiles. Finland however, recently signed a defense cooperation treaty with Russia. One of Finland’s refurbished French Scorpene class hydrogen-electric submarines was in the area, and would have been more than capable of this attack.”

“Again, I ask you what proof you have for this baseless accusation?”

“The same as you have for yours,” she said coolly. “None.” She closed her folder, “Was this the only matter you wanted to discuss today?” she asked.

Kelnikov slapped the table, but if he expected Devlin to flinch or jump, he was disappointed. She’d seen him in this state many times and had been waiting for it. She did little more than blink at him. “You have 24 hours,” he said. “To admit responsibility for this heinous act, issue an apology and offer suitable reparations to the owners of the Ozempic Tsar.”

“Or…”

Kelnikov glared at her, “Or, as you Americans are so fond of saying, ‘All options are on the table’.”
*
*
Back in her limo, Devlin fished out the intel report again and looked at it carefully. She handed it to her aide. “I see that this origin of this report is NSA Moscow. Find me the person who wrote it. By the look on Kelnikov’s face I knew more about this Ozempic Tsar incident than he did, and that was a damn nice place to be. I want to write a note to say thankyou.”
*
*
CH 4

ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE


[Linked Image]

If there was a crappier rock on the whole planet than Little Diomede Island, Lieutenant Commander Alicia Rodriguez wanted to know where. Because she’d be on the first plane there and she’d wallow in its complete crappyness and then be able to return to Little Diomede happy that she wasn’t actually living on the crappiest damn rock on the whole damn planet.

Or in fact, not even on the crappiest rock, but inside it. At least if you were living on top of the rock, you’d get 360 degree sea views. Sure, you’d be looking through fog, out over windblown white caps not seeing much apart from #%&*$# seabirds and ice floes, but you could look east and tell yourself that right over there, just over the horizon, that was Alaska in the good old US of A. And if you looked West, you could tell yourself you were looking at the Evil Empire reborn and get a bit of a thrill telling yourself you were manning the closest US military base to Russia and they didn’t even know you were there.

But no, she wasn’t living on top of the rock. She and her crew were living in the cave that a millenia of beating waves had carved into the pock marked, moss covered basalt of Little Diomede. Who had discovered the cave? If she ever met them, she would beat ten kinds of crap out of them as a thankyou. But it probably wasn’t even a person. It was probably a drone, which was kind of ironic.

Rodriguez wasn’t sure exactly how many years the facility on Little Diomede had been under construction but she knew why it had been built. A Pentagon position paper had pointed out that with the opening of polar shipping routes, an increasing amount of vital commerce was now moving through the Bering Strait, giving it the potential to be as strategically important as the Strait of Hormuz between Iran and the Emirates was in the last century. When Russia expanded its military base at Lavrentiya in the early 2020s as part of its ‘Pivot to the Pacific’ diplomatic tensions had risen, and the US had looked for a response. It could have recommissioned the old Marks Army Airfield at Nome but strategists pointed out that since the advent of hypersonic cruise missile technology, large fixed infrastructures such as air bases were near impossible to defend and while they had political and economic value, their true value in a conflict would be very limited.

The idea for a secret base under the rock cap of Little Diomede had been born.

There was nothing there but a tiny fishing village twenty years ago. The Navy had bought out the two dozen or so villagers, turned their houses into barracks and then moved in construction crews. They’d created a plausible cover story by building a naval radar dome on the crown of the island, and the first thing they did was throw up a hulking great storage shed next to the dome and then fill it full of mining gear to sink a shaft straight down through the middle of the island to the cave below. Then they began hollowing it out. The Russians showed a lot of interest while the radar was being built, and sent a flight over to scan and photograph it every time it got an upgrade, but as long as they couldn’t see the US putting anti missile systems there or building air strips on Little Diomede they generally ignored it, apart from the occasional electronic countermeasure attack trying to jam it when one of their naval battle groups was moving through the Strait.

At first it was conceived as a missile launch platform with ground to air ordnance concealed under the large radome and an anti-shipping missile system hidden in the cavern, covering the eastern approaches to the Strait. Navy solved the question of how the island would be covertly supplied, by dredging the floor of the sea cave, widening it, and putting in a submarine dock.

But it was with the widespread adoption of unmanned aircraft that Little Diomede came into its own. Plans were soon laid to base 30 aircraft under the Rock, a mixture of reconnaissance UAVs and UCLASS (Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike) aircraft.

The challenge the Navy threw at the planners for Little Diomede was seen as impossible. The base was essentially supposed to operate as a concealed aircraft carrier, but where an aircraft carrier had hundreds of personnel dedicated to aircraft operations, the cavern under Little Diomede could take no more than fifty. It wasn’t that the enlarged cavern wasn’t huge, but once you took out the existing dock infrastructure, added hangar space for thirty drones, storage for parts and fuel and the machinery needed for getting the aircraft airborne and recovering them after a water landing, there wasn’t much left over for all the humanity needed to service the robots. Everything had to be automated, from aircraft handling, to refueling, launch and recovery. They could draw a lot on the systems that had been developed for the latest generation of supercarriers, but tailor-made kludges were needed for multiple systems.

So where on an aircraft carrier you had separate teams for aviation fuel, plane handling, aircraft maintenance and ordnance just to name a few, under the rock all those functions had been boiled down to Air Boss Alicia Rodriguez and her team. They were no ordinary assemblage of personnel. She’d had to put together a tailor-made team of launch/recovery specialists, air traffic controllers, machinist and electrician mates, plane captains for aircraft maintenance, aerographers for weather forecasting and ordnancemen to load the weapons on her drones. They’d pulled Rodriguez off the USS Trump, where at 26 she’d been one of the Navy’s youngest ever ‘mini-bosses’ or assistant Air Commanders, and told her she could have her pick of personnel from any vessel she named. She’d drawn up a shortlist of personnel who had served in at least two functions aboard a carrier, preferrably three. They’d given her 20 bodies, and she’d argued for 30, ending with 24. She split them into two shifts, and all of them had to understudy a different function so they could back each other up. She didn’t have enough people for redundancies.

The drones that Rodriguez and her crew were put on the island to service had been designed for carrier ops and didn’t need a long runway; they were built to be launched from a catapult and needed just a little modification for recovery so that they could fly right into the mouth of the cave and drop down onto the water to be retrieved with a crane and sling. That was the theory anyway. Rodriguez had heard it had taken Northrop Grumman Boeing two years to work out how to fit retractable skis to their machines instead of wheels, and another two years to work out how to avoid them sucking seawater into their air intakes every time they splashed down.

Fuel for the drones wasn’t an issue, because a purification and catalysation unit was installed that could supply 200 litres of liquid hydrogen and 400 litres of potable water an hour. A repurposed S8G nuclear power plant from a decommissioned Ohio class submarine provided power to the entire base.

Being as it didn’t officially exist, the UCAV wing under Little Diomede didn’t have a typical Navy designation; in organization charts it was buried deep under Naval Network Warfare Command (NETWARCOM) and was simply known as ‘Unit 4 of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station, Alaska; or NCTAMS-A4’, but to the aircrew and officers based there Little Diomede air base was just ‘the Rock’.

Rodriguez had been an aviator, most recently a ‘shooter’ or launch catapult officer before she’d been promoted to Mini Boss, but in the role of Air Boss under Little Diomede, she doubled as squadron CO. Normally she would have had to ‘fleet up’ through a squadron department head role, then XO, before being assigned a squadron command, but things under the Rock were far from normal.

Besides which, there was only one pilot on Little Diomede right now and none of the drones had yet been certified for operations. So her only pilot was going stir crazy waiting to get one of the machines onto the cat and into the air so she could fly it back in through that cave mouth and try her skill at ‘threading the needle’ as she called it.

The pilot’s name was Lieutenant Karen ‘Bunny’ O’Hare and Rodriguez had not had a part in choosing her. She had come across from the DARPA J-UCAS programme where she had been the lead pilot testing and perfecting the water landing capabilities of the NG-Boeing F-47 Fantom fighter. On paper, it made perfect sense that the pilot who had led the testing of the seaplane version of the F-47 would also lead the establishment of the unit for which they were designed, but Rodriguez soon learned there was more to Bunny O’Hare than appeared on paper.

She had cut her teeth on F-35s before an ‘attitude problem’ got her assigned to a unit flying UCAV modded F-22s in the Turkey-Syrian conflict and suddenly found herself sitting in a trailer ‘flying’ via VR goggles rather than in a cockpit. But she acquitted herself so well as a drone pilot that she came to the attention of recruiters at DARPA and moved to their dedicated J-UCAS programme, which had delivered a new weapons platform to specification, but now needed a new breed of pilot to fly it. DARPA was looking for pilots whose flying and social skills were less important than a talent for continuous partial attention and an ability to contribute to AI coding and development. For the first time in her life, Bunny’s attention deficit disorder was actually an asset.

The aircraft that had emerged from the J-UCAS programme, the NG Boeing F-47, was a real killer. Twenty six feet long, with a wingspan of 33 feet, it was powered by a hydrogen fuelled Reaction Engine Scimitar powerplant giving it the ability to hit a maximum airspeed of mach 1.8 or 1,300 mph and carry a payload of 10,000 lbs - ranging from tri-mode semi-active laser, imaging infrared (IIR), and radar guided precision air-to-ground munitions to Cuda ‘Halfraam’ air-to-air hit-to-kill missiles.

Unlike Rodriguez, and despite her frustrations, Bunny liked Little Diomede. She liked the idea of being the only pilot on an island with two dozen aircraft to fly. Did she miss bossing her F-35 around the sky? Hell yeah, but unlike a lot of other aviators, Bunny already lived in the future and the future was remote-piloted, semi-autonomous and she would never go back. In her F-35 Bunny only ever felt in control of her own machine, even flying as wing leader. Hell, half the time whatever fool she had on her wing didn’t do as they were ordered, or screwed it up. Chewing out one too many fellow pilots for #%&*$# results over NAS Fallon was one of the things that got her transferred, but she couldn’t help calling human error for what it was - dumb ass error. And you couldn’t afford a wide margin of error in modern combat where the distance between dead and alive was measured in milliseconds.

At the stick of a Fantom though, she commanded not one machine, but six. Not one wingman, but five. She flew the queen bee in the formation, and the other five machines were slaved to hers, executing her orders exactly as she issued them, right or wrong. If she screwed up, lost a machine, missed a target, there was no one to blame but herself.

She didn’t often blow up, but when she did, Rodriguez was glad they had a few hundred feet of solid rock over their heads, because she was sure the Russians could have heard Bunny swearing down in Vladivostok. And right now Bunny was only getting flight time on simulators, so Rodriguez could only imagine what she’d be like if she was in a fight for real. Like a lot of combat pilots Rodriguez had met, Bunny seemed to start every day looking for a target to hit.

And today, that target was Air Boss Alicia Rodriguez’s catapult officer.

“With respect you said ‘tomorrow’ three days ago Lieutenant,” Bunny was saying, staring at the ops ready Fantom waiting to be loaded onto the electromagnetic aircraft launch system down on the flight deck. She was facing down Rodriguez’s shooter, Lieutenant KC Severin and several of Rodriguez’s flight operations personnel were sitting on their butts on a rock shelf behind her, enjoying the show.

“And that drone has been ready for two days, as promised, Lieutenant,” Severin said. He was a small man, but all muscle and had been Rodriguez’s assistant on the Trump. “It’s the EMALS that’s the problem. No matter what we dial into the catapult, it’s delivering 196,000 pounds of thrust and by our reckoning, that will send your little paper planes into the lip above the egress chute like bugs into a windscreen.”

“So I’ll compensate with a little elevator trim,” Bunny said. “Stick the drone to the rails.”

“Good idea Lieutenant,” Severin said, irony his voice. “Tell you what, why don’t we tie your butt to the shuttle, send you through that chute with 196,000 lbs of thrust, you hold your arms out and flap, see if you can stick to those rails.”

They’d had to come up with their own terminology for the world under the rock. The drones were launched through a fifty by fifty foot smooth bored tunnel straight through the rock that emerged from a cliff face five hundred feet above sea level. It was called ‘the chute’. The drones landed by flying under the overhanging rock and into the mouth of the cave at sea level, which was called ‘the slot’. The artificial harbour inside the cave consisted of a simple rectangular submarine dock beside which the drones launched, and the seawater filling the cavern was known as ‘the Pond’.

The chute exited the Rock directly east, toward Alaska, masking the egress of the drones from anything but a luckily placed satellite or high altitude recon overflight. To further confuse any imaging, a mooring had been created outside the egress port, and several old fishing boats were tied up there, the remnants of the fishing fleet that had once sailed out of Little Diomede. Demasted, they were small enough that there was no risk to the drones taking off and landing, but numerous enough that any overhead image would just see a clutter of ships, with a launching drone, if it was unlucky enough to be caught entering and leaving, just a blurred dot.

“This base is supposed to go hot in six months, you know that Lieutenant,” Bunny sighed and turned to appeal to Rodriguez. “Between now and then I have to do the forms on 30 drones ma’am. There’s going to be a submarine full of Secretaries of this and Generals of that, docking in the Pond in about 20 something weeks, and after six hours underwater in some stinking tin can, followed by a shower, some strong coffee and crappy food, they are going to stand right here…” she pointed at the platform they were standing on next to the flight deck, “… expecting to see me fly a Hex of Fantoms out that chute, dodge a few lurking F-35s, blow the hell out of some barge in the Eastern Strait, and then watch as I gracefully and professionally glide them back through the slot to a perfect water landing and recovery.”

No matter how annoying, arrogant and disagreeable she could be, Bunny O’Hare was seldom wrong. Rodriguez turned to her catapult officer. “How much longer Lieutenant?”

“We’re reconfiguring the catapult software ma’am. Four hours. Then we have to test and recalibrate. Six hours. If we can, we’ll get it done by 2300, midnight latest. Next shift can do the fueling and pre-flight for the Fantom, 2 hours. If all goes well, we’ll be good to launch at 0300.”

To anyone else but Bunny O’Hare, laying down a flight time of 0300 would have gotten Rodriguez at least a groan. Bunny just smiled, “Permission to get some beauty sleep ma’am,” she said, before saluting and turning on her heel.

Rodriguez watched her go, then returned to Severin and his smirking team, “If that EMALS hasn’t been reconfigured, test fired and made ready by 0300 it’s your butts I’ll be launching off that catapult gentlemen.”
Posted By: rollnloop.

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Chapters 1-5 - 01/10/18 06:38 PM

Great writing here thumbsup
Posted By: Nixer

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Chapters 1-5 - 01/10/18 11:57 PM

thumbsup

Really good sir.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Chapters 1-5 - 01/12/18 07:34 AM

Originally Posted by rollnloop.
Great writing here thumbsup

Originally Posted by Nixer
thumbsup

Really good sir.


Thx! Spread the word! And chip in with any critique along the way...

H
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Chapters 1-5 - 01/12/18 01:46 PM

OPERATION LOSOS
Headquarters of the Russian Federation 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command, Khabarovsk, Eastern Military District (TSB).


[Linked Image]

Colonel Yevgeny Bondarev, Commanding Officer of the 6983rd Air Force Base, felt like throwing up. But that was nothing new.

A lot of things made Bondarev feel like throwing up, but this time it was the 13 glasses of brandy he’d put down last night with his Brigade staff. It had started innocently enough, a group of his officers inviting him to dinner to mark the anniversary of the death of this grandfather, Hero of the Russian Federation, Nikolaevich Bondarev. After a nice three course meal with wine however, the night had descended into speeches, each accompanied by a toast to his famous grandfather, but when the speeches ran out, there was still brandy left, so there were more toasts; to absent wives, newly born children, newly married daughters or sons, recently departed fathers or mothers and of course, to the apparently immortal President Navalny, now in his 20th year at the helm of a resurgent Russia.

Usually Bondarev would doze through a staff meeting like this, his brain numbed by the reading of minutes, follow up on administrative actions, edicts about misuse of supplies and a long list of transfers. He was a combat commander, not a bureaucrat, one of the few at the table who had actually led in war and personally downed three enemy pilots over Turkey, thought it had given him no satisfaction.

Today however, despite the rising acid in his gut and the pounding in his head, he was focused on the figure at the end of the long mahogany meeting table, Colonel General Lukin; one of the few in the Air Army hierarchy who had Bondarev’s respect, because Lukin was known to be fiercely loyal to his pilots and ground crews, and not afraid to stand up to Kremlin stupidity. What got Bondarev’s attention right now, was that Lukin appeared to be more interested in reading the room, than the papers in front of him. Bondarev got the sense that whatever he was about to announce, it was well rehearsed.

The man was no longer in his physical prime, was carrying a few pounds more than was probably healthy for him, but he was still a fairly fit 50 years old. He was sweating. And he looked like he’d aged five years since Bondarev had seen him on video link two days earlier when the Ozempic Tsar had been lost.

“Gentlemen, you are all aware that two days ago, the United States, without provocation, attacked and sank a merchant ship of the Russian Federation in the Bering Strait, well inside the Russian Exclusive Economic Zone,” Lukin started, then paused. “An ultimatum was given to the United States to acknowledge its responsibility, apologize and offer reparations to the owners of this advanced and very expensive vessel.”

He looked around the room, “The ultimatum has expired, and as expected the United States has not accepted responsibility for the destruction of the Ozempic Tsar.”

As the General finished, he looked up, and nodded to an aide at the back of the room who had been standing there holding a stack of tablet PCs. The man began walking around and distributing them, and Bondarev put his thumb on the DNA lock that woke the screen. He saw a dozen folders on the home screen, all of which started with ‘LOSOS’, the Russian word for Salmon.

“Operation LOSOS,” Lukin said, guessing their thoughts. “What you are holding are your personal orders for the upcoming operation to secure the Bering Strait from future acts of piracy by the US or any other nation and guarantee free passage for international shipping traffic.” The large OLED screen behind the General came to life and an intelligence officer that Bondarev recognized as a young Lieutenant from his own Brigade stepped forward. He remembered she had been seconded to the General staff for a special project - now he knew what it was.

Lieutenant Ksenia Butyrskaya drew a big breath and straightened her back. Inside, she was terrified both of the audience in front of her, and the consequences of what she was about to say. She realized she was about to be a part of a major chapter in the history of her nation, but on the right or wrong side? That was yet to be seen.

“Our intelligence indicates that the attack on the Ozempic Tsar was most likely conducted by an unmanned US warship which fired two PIKE anti-ship missiles. Operation LOSOS…” she began. She swiped a hand across the touch screen to show an aerial reconnaissance photograph of a small airfield. Bondarev noted the presence of a light aircraft, helicopters that were probably air-sea rescue machines, and what might have been a military transport aircraft. He saw nothing of real significance. Butyrskaya continued, “… has a single objective. As part of a multinational peacekeeping force we will take and hold the US island of Saint Lawrence, specifically the airfield and radar installation at Savoonga, intern any US military presence on the island and leverage control of the island to ensure the safe passage of international air and maritime traffic through the Bering Strait.” Butyrskaya paused, knowing the room would explode with questions.

In fact, there was a stunned silence.

Bondarev spoke first, “We are declaring war on the USA?”

Butyrskaya looked to Lukin. He shook his head slowly, “There will be no formal declaration of war. And our objective is to take St Lawrence with minimal use of deadly force. The US keeps only a small military police force at its radar base, there are no ground troops garrisoned there. The forces allocated will be more than adequate to contain them. Operation LOSOS will involve more shouting, than shooting.”

Bondarev looked across the table at an old friend, Lieutenant Colonel Ivor Arsharvin. They had served together in Syria during the border conflict with Turkey and saved each other’s a**es more than once. Bondarev guessed he would be the one who knew what was really going on, but he wouldn’t ask him here. He’d have to save that until after this charade of a briefing. Arsharvin caught his look and tried to read his mind, “We are acting under the authority of the Barents Euro Arctic Council to preserve the rights of all international shipping to traverse the northern polar seas without interference.” His voice sounded hollow, letting Bondarev know what he thought of that flimsy diplomatic cover.

“Sweden supports us taking military action against the US?” Bondarev said disbelievingly. The Barents Council was a subset of Arctic nations comprising Norway, Sweden, Finland and Russia that had come together to lobby for fishing rights in the Arctic waters that were opening up as the icecap receded. Norway had dropped out after a dispute several years ago but the other three nations continued to make treaties with each other under the name of the Barents Council - even if, until now, no other country had paid them any mind.

“Sweden abstained,” Arsharvin said, his voice betraying nothing of what Bondarev knew he must be thinking. “The vote was carried on a majority.”

And what the hell have we promised Finland? Bondarev was going to ask, but kept that question to himself. “The United States will not let Russia occupy its territory in the name of a tinpot fishing coalition. It will react with a violence such as we have never before seen,” Bondarev commented, looking around the room. He couldn’t help but note no one was meeting his eyes.

“Perhaps they should have thought of the consequences before they sank the Ozempic Tsar,” Butyrskaya said, clearly wanting to say more.

General Lukin held up his hand, “Thankyou Lieutenant,” he said. He brushed at an invisible hair on his lapel and then spoke to officers at the table, not to Bondarev in particular. “The United States government is riven with internal division and has shown a reluctance to engage in international affairs of any consequence. Our activities in Africa, the Pacific and the Baltics have brought only bluster from their President and State Secretary and whining in the United Nations. In every situation where we have moved our agenda forward, the United States has conceded and returned to its own political bickering.”

Finally Bondarev heard a voice other than his own speak with frustration. Colonel Artem Kokorin, commander of the 573rd Army Air Force Base, slapped a hand down on the table. “We are not fools here. I do not believe we are risking all-out war with the USA for the sake of a single freighter piloted by a robot!”

Lukin fixed him with an ice cold glare, “Russia does not want war comrade. The Bering Strait is a strategically important waterway and the USA has seen fit to challenge the freedom of our ships to traverse that waterway. This peacekeeping action will assert the rights of all shipping to move through the Strait and we will withdraw as soon as the USA acknowledges its perfidity and gives assurances it will pay reparations and guarantee freedom of navigation.”

Kokorin nodded then leaned towards Bondarev and whispered under his breath, “BS.”

Lukin nodded at Butyrskaya to continue her briefing. She pointed at the tablets in front of them. “Your unit orders are being sent to you as we speak and your officers recalled for detailed briefings. Operation LOSOS will be initiated at 0100 hours on the 24th of August.” She saw faces tighten and nodded, “Yes, that is six days from now. As soon as special forces have secured the airfield and radar station garrison at Savoonga on Saint Lawrence, Colonel Bondarev’s 6983rd Air Force will provide air-to-air cover and will stay on station to protect the airlift of ground-air defense units and garrison troops by the 573rd Army Air Force. We expect to have full control of both air and sea in the operations area within 24 hours of the arrival of special forces troops in the target area and full control of the territory of Saint Lawrence within 36 hours.”

“If I have my Su-57s running CAP over a US territory at the same time as their radar and airfield there goes dark, there will be a reaction. I predict a maximum of ten minutes before the first US F-35s arrive to order us to leave their airspace. What are we to tell them, if they bother to ask before they shoot?” Bondarev asked.

[Linked Image]

Butyrskaya smiled, “That has been anticipated. Immediately before special forces land, we will declare a submarine emergency in international waters off the coast of St. Lawrence,” she said. “One of our boats will send a mayday and declare a nuclear containment breach. Russian Arctic fleet assets in the area will be directed to respond and will start moving at speed to the area. All international shipping and aircraft will be asked to divert to allow our rescue efforts unhindered freedom of action. The US might send reconnaissance aircraft, but the cover story should be enough to prevent a full scale air defense response until we are in control.”

“And if they don’t buy this cover story?” Bondarev persisted. “I have the resources to rotate a CAP of one squadron over Saint Lawrence for that period, but if we sustain any losses, I assume I will be able to call for reserves from 2nd Command?”

Butyrskaya looked at Lukin, and opened her mouth to speak but Lukin spoke first. “We will not be mobilizing any more units than absolutely necessary, so as not to forewarn US intelligence. This operation will be run entirely with the resources of 3rd Command. Central Military District will not be drawn in.”

“We should preposition reserves,” Bondarev continued. “We cannot…”

“Reserves will not be needed,” Lukin said, in a tone clearly intended to end the discussion. “Does anyone else want to raise strategic concerns?”

“Rules of engagement,” Kokorin said. “The smokescreen about the submarine might enable us to get assets in place, but it won’t hold if the US gets satellite or air recon confirmation we are putting troops onto St. Lawrence.” He looked at Bondarev, “If my aircraft are tasked with transport and low level air defense suppression, I want to know Bondarev’s fighters will be able to protect us without having their hands tied.”

“We will not tolerate US interference in our peacekeeping operation,” Lukin said. “You will be free to fire on any land, sea or air threat in the operations area.” At last, something Bondarev liked. His leaders might be throwing him into an uncertain battle on a flimsy pretext, but at least they were not restricting his freedom of action.

Lukin waited for other questions and when there were none he picked up his tablet, and nodded to his staff, “Gentlemen, I will not keep you any longer. You have a vital peacekeeping mission to plan and the clock is ticking.”

As the others stood, Arsharvin made his way to Bondarev’s side. “My office, as soon as you are done with your staff meetings,” he said.

Bondarev grabbed his arm as he was about to walk away, “This isn’t about the Ozempic Tsar, is it? It isn’t even about Saint Lawrence Island.”

Arsharvin looked up at the ceiling to where small dome cameras sat capturing every word and gesture. “My office,” he said. “And bring a bottle.”

(C) 2017 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To be continued...
Posted By: Fittop

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Chapters 1-5 - 01/12/18 09:35 PM

Sir:

Just stumbled into this. Thank you.
I am hooked already.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Chapters 1-5 - 01/12/18 11:58 PM

Originally Posted by Fittop
Sir:

Just stumbled into this. Thank you.
I am hooked already.


Thanks! Really glad you are enjoying it. Spread the word, the more reading and commenting, the better it will be I am sure!

H
Posted By: Nixer

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Chapters 1-5 - 01/14/18 04:48 PM

Very Good so far HeinKill.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Updated: CH. 6 - 01/17/18 03:07 PM

Thx! Next chapter on the way, just proofing...

[Linked Image]
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Updated: CH. 6 - 01/18/18 09:01 PM

Ch. 6

BOOMERANG


[Linked Image]

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.”
*
*
SCOTTISH VODKA

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.

“What then?”

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?”

“Peak water. 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.”

“What then?”

“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.”

*
*
[Linked Image]

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.

Posted By: Nixer

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Updated: CH. 6 - 01/19/18 12:25 AM

The best installment yet HeinKill, IMHO.

Really getting good.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Updated: CH. 6 - 01/19/18 07:54 AM

Originally Posted by Nixer
The best installment yet HeinKill, IMHO.

Really getting good.


Thanks rolling along now .... time to get the lead flying smile
Posted By: rollnloop.

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Updated: CH. 6 - 01/20/18 06:16 PM

Waiting for my next fix will be painful smile
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign Updated: CH. 6 - 01/20/18 09:31 PM

Originally Posted by rollnloop.
Waiting for my next fix will be painful smile


Ha, sorry! But thx for following along. Writing and proofing as fast as I can...
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan - 01/21/18 04:12 PM

THIS IS YOUR WAKEUP CALL

[Linked Image]

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.”

“520 aye.”

“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.

“Cat clear!”

“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?”

“Sir?”

“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.”

“Sir?”

“Tell them to turn it around Racine,” Bruning explained. “Back to wherever it came from. With prejudice.”

*
*

[Linked Image]

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 a simulation!”

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 I was.”

*
*

(C) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued.
Posted By: Nixer

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 18 Jan - 01/21/18 06:15 PM

I'm awake...I am awake

thumbsup
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan - 01/22/18 08:24 AM

A RUN IN THE SNOW

[Linked Image]

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, Colonel?”

Unfounded 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.”

“Yes sir.”

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.

[Linked Image]

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.

[Linked Image]

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...


Posted By: jenrick

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan - 01/22/18 04:36 PM

I'm assuming Canada might have something to say/do if the Soviets "annex" the little chunk of land called Alaska?

-Jenrick
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan - 01/22/18 06:31 PM

Originally Posted by jenrick
I'm assuming Canada might have something to say/do if the Soviets "annex" the little chunk of land called Alaska?

-Jenrick


Does a moose poop in the woods? wink

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 Arctic

https://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!
Posted By: jenrick

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan - 01/23/18 07:38 PM

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 smile 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 smile

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!

-Jenrick
Posted By: Nixer

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan - 01/23/18 10:03 PM

Spotted a little error I think HeinKill. In the latest installment:

Quote
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.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 21 Jan - 01/24/18 08:17 AM

Originally Posted by jenrick
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!

-Jenrick


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!
Originally Posted by Nixer
Spotted a little error I think HeinKill. In the latest installment:

Quote
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.
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 24 Jan - 01/24/18 08:49 AM

SNOWFLAKES IN THE BREEZE

[Linked Image]

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?

*
*

[Linked Image]

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.

*
*

[Linked Image]

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.

*
*

[Linked Image]

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.

*
*

[Linked Image]

“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
Posted By: rollnloop.

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 24 Jan - 01/25/18 12:19 AM

still hooked runningdog
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 24 Jan - 01/25/18 08:43 PM

Originally Posted by rollnloop.
still hooked runningdog


Still writing ... type type type type type type type type (drink wine) type type type
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 26 Jan - 01/25/18 09:03 PM

IN COMMISSION

[Linked Image]

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.

“Green.”

“Man out?”

“Man out aye.”

“Visual?”

“Thumbs up.”

“Cat scan.”

“Cat clear.”

“ELAMS to 520 psi.”

“520 aye.”

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.

*
*

[Linked Image]

“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.

*
*

[Linked Image]

“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.

[Linked Image]

“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.

*
*

[Linked Image]

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
Posted By: Haggart

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 26 Jan - 01/26/18 02:52 AM

we have a new Tom Clancy !
very good writing .... will there be a movie too
smile
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 26 Jan - 01/26/18 07:42 AM

Originally Posted by Haggart
we have a new Tom Clancy !
very good writing .... will there be a movie too
smile


Oh yeah, I already have the cast picked out:

Rodriguez: Eva Mendes

[Linked Image]

'Bunny' O'Hare: Saoirse Ronan

[Linked Image]

Colonel Bondarev: Jason Isaacs

[Linked Image]

Devlin McCarthy:

[Linked Image]

Carl Williams: Cameron Britton

[Linked Image]

Perri Tungyan: Martin Sensmeier

[Linked Image]

Private Pyotr Zubkov: Pyotr Skvortsov

[Linked Image]

Feel free to suggest alternatives, I'll keep a list to give to the producers wink
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 26 Jan - 01/28/18 01:18 PM

This is the background for the strategic backstory ... it starts with drought and water restrictions... california, australia, lakes drying up in Russia, now entire cities running out of water...the next world war will be fought over water rights ... with drones

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-28/day-zero-looms-for-cape-town/9368540
Posted By: Ssnake

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 26 Jan - 01/28/18 05:34 PM

Okay, I'm late to this thread and I haven't read it yet, so feel free to ignore my questions if they have been answered already.
  • Why a fixed installation for the UCAV base?
  • Why put it directly on a tiny island in the middle of a narrow strait that undoubtedly, after the recession of ice allows a regular shipping route, will receive more or less intense surveillance?
  • Even IF the strait becomes ice-free most of the time, there will be periods where everything freezes over again, potentially forcing operational downtimes
  • Logistics. Assuming that you can launch and retrieve the UCAVs without being detected, how to you supply the base (undetected). The only means to keep it supplied in a covert manner would be submarines, requiring dedicated supply subs and regular runs to swap personnel. Traffic analysis will eventually blow the cover of the secret base, it's only a matter of time until enough sonar tracks will have been acquired to indicate activity around that specific location
Posted By: HeinKill

Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 26 Jan - 01/29/18 02:31 PM

Good questions! Exactly the type of pressure testing that can make the end product better!

My responses below, see what you think...

Originally Posted by Ssnake
Okay, I'm late to this thread and I haven't read it yet, so feel free to ignore my questions if they have been answered already.
  • Why a fixed installation for the UCAV base?


Because it is intended to survive disruption to the satellite network used to control drones over greater distances and provide localised air support over the Strait in that environment and a base from which to strike Russian far east targets, Lavrentiya/Anadyr etc. I did think about basing the story around a mobile unit which was based in and around Nome, which can easily be done, but the rationale for the base is not to provide a constant source of operations, rather a covert second strike capability in case other installations in Alaska are compromised and sat links disrupted. And it’s fun to play with the idea of how to build a base under a rock, even if it does stretch the imagination.

Quote
  • Why put it directly on a tiny island in the middle of a narrow strait that undoubtedly, after the recession of ice allows a regular shipping route, will receive more or less intense surveillance?


  • As above. It isn’t intended to conduct constant air ops, just in time of need. Bit like an ICBM silo but more flexible.

    Quote
  • Even IF the strait becomes ice-free most of the time, there will be periods where everything freezes over again, potentially forcing operational downtimes


  • Drone launch and recovery would not be interrupted by ice as the drones don’t take off or land on the surface of the sea. The take off through a chute emerging halfway up a cliff face and fly inside the cave mouth to land on the water inside the cave, which has been artificially enlarged. The pond inside can be kept from freezing over, but good point, would that mean there would be visible melted water at the mouth of the cave which might look strange? That might need camouflaging from surveillance.

    Quote
  • Logistics. Assuming that you can launch and retrieve the UCAVs without being detected, how to you supply the base (undetected). The only means to keep it supplied in a covert manner would be submarines, requiring dedicated supply subs and regular runs to swap personnel. Traffic analysis will eventually blow the cover of the secret base, it's only a matter of time until enough sonar tracks will have been acquired to indicate activity around that specific location


  • The base does have a sub docking facility through which it can be supplied and was originally envisaged as a covert anti ship missile and sub resupply facility . But most resupply of materiel and personnel is done overtly because there is a radar facility on top of the island. It is largely automated, so the personnel stationed there are actually working below in the covert facility, not above ground, in the radar facility. But because of the radar facility people and supplies can be brought over by ship and chopper, dropped at the radar facility above, and then freighted down under the rock. Traffic analysis would just show traffic consistent with a major radar and sea surveillance facility. Sub resupply would be very limited.

    Similarly the radar facility serves as cover for the local signals transmission needed for drone pilots to manually pilot the drones for their takeoffs and landings and operations in the immediate area of the Strait. Direct line of sight signals mean real time flight control is possible, whereas for normal drone operations, or operations further afield, satellite links are needed which introduces lag time making control of drone for air to air combat purposes problematic.

    There is redundancy built in, in case the radar / transmision facility on top of the rock is wiped out, with an undersea transmission antenna buried in the sea floor.

    You raise good questions snake! It might be better inthe end to build the story around a mobile UCAV battalion deployed/dispersed along the coast north and south of Nome. Another alternative is to drop the idea of a UCAV base and focus on unmanned combat submersible vehicles - UCSVs. A covert sub base might make more sense than a covert air base? Or hell, go with both - the mobile UCAVs on the coastline of the mainland, and the covert UCS base under the rock! Double the tech, double the fun!

    Thoughts?

    Fred

    PS, I’ll keep moving forward with the story as is, won’t go back re-edit, use all this good input for the manuscript when I get around to finalising it.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/29/18 05:16 PM

    OPENING VOLLEY

    [Linked Image]

    “ANR, I see rotary winged aircraft on the ground at Savoonga. AI indicates they are Russian Mi-26s, are you getting the feed?” Bunny’s voice didn’t bely her shock. Russian troop transports at a US defense facility?
    Nuclear submarine incident be damned.
    “We copy your feed, NCTAMS-A4. We are showing clear airspace to your south, pull back twenty miles south of your current position and stay out of sight.”
    Bunny made a new waypoint, dragged it across the tactical map with her mouse then watched as her four machines began moving south from Savoonga, using terrain following laser to hop over hills and into depressions to stay off Russian radar. They hadn’t picked up any targeting radar over Savoonga, so if Russian aircraft or ground based radar were operating there, they didn’t get a return off the small profiles of Bunny’s Fantoms.
    “Russian ground forces? What the hell?” Rodriguez said, saying out loud what O’Hare and Halifax were both thinking.
    “I can’t think of any maritime rescue scenario that would require Russian troops to put down inside the perimeter of a US military installation,” Halifax said. “But it explains why ANR can’t raise Savoonga on comms.”
    *
    *
    While the intel from Bunny’s report was being processed back at Elmendorf-Richardson AFB, alerting NORAD about the presence of Russian troops on US soil for the first time in history, Colonel Yevgeny Bondarev was playing cat and mouse with the US Air Force in the Bering Strait between Saint Lawrence and the Alaskan coast.
    His own rules of engagement were anything but standard. He was free to do what he felt necessary to ensure the undisturbed operation of Russian ground forces in the theatre, including pre-emptive attacks on American Air Force targets, if he deemed them a threat. Right now, he could imagine USAF officers were frantically checking with their superiors in the Pentagon to validate Bondarev’s claim that their two Presidents had agreed to a temporary US no-fly zone over Saint Lawrence. Bondarev himself had no idea whether the Russian President had even made a call to his US counterpart, but assumed that if the cover story was to be credible, he would need to have done so.
    The only warning that Bondarev was likely to get if the US high command didn’t buy their cover story, was the high piercing chime of a missile launch warning in his ears before his combat AI seized control of the aircraft and sent it into a screaming spiral earthward. Bondarev didn’t plan to be caught at a complete disadvantage though.
    “Eagle Flight, please assume a position above and behind our American escort.” On his tactical display he saw his newly arriving reinforcements peel up and slowly slide to starboard, wedging the US aircraft between two formations of Russian fighters. It was a classic ‘Mexican standoff’ and would require the US commander to react. How he reacted would tell Bondarev if he was dealing with an American with an aggressive or defensive mindset. An aggressive commander would decide he still had a perfect firing solution on the bulk of the Russian fighter force, even though he was threatened from the rear. A defensive mindset would mean the American was more worried about his own planes and pilots than about challenging the Russian fighters, and he would break away to try to re-establish a tactical advantage, probably by withdrawing to long range missile distance.
    A few tense minutes passed, then Bondarev heard a voice drawl over the Guard channel, “Ivan, your trailing element is so far up my tailpipe that I have to assume you Russians are all a bunch of homosexual ass bandits. Please confirm.” Checking his tactical display, Bondarev saw no sign of the US flight breaking position. He smiled.
    Very well. An aggressive commander. Let us see who blinks first.
    “Raptor, please scramble a further nine Mig-41s from Lavrentiya and vector to my position.”

    [Linked Image]
    *
    *
    Alicia marveled at how cool Bunny remained. She had her wedge of four drones hidden in ground clutter in a shallow valley south of Savoonga. She had a combat AI system that was filtering all the inputs, making sure she didn’t drown in data and only had her attention directed to critical information, but Rodriguez knew her own head would have exploded trying to keep track of it all, at the same time as sending orders to her machines and being ready to execute any one of a hundred tactical options if needed.
    “NCTAMS-A4, this is ANR,” a cool voice broke in over the radio. “We are showing nine more Russian fast movers inbound to Saint Lawrence, bearing 268 degrees, altitude 40,000 feet. Designating enemy flight Beta. We have six F-35s inbound from Eielson to join aircraft already on station over Saint Lawrence… NCTAMS-A4 we need you to…” There was a pause. On one of Bunny’s screens Rodriguez saw the icons for the new Russian fighters appear, speeding toward Saint Lawrence from the Russian mainland. To the East, she saw six icons marking the US reinforcements. There was a massive furball building, and all it would take would be one slip of the trigger finger to turn deadly serious.
    Rodriguez felt the situation unravelling, and heard a new tone of urgency in Bunny’s voice as she broke in on the air controller, “What do you want me to do ANR. Head east to help our fighters there, mix it up with Russian beta flight or stay where I am?”
    “NCTAMS you are to stay in the weeds but prepare to engage enemy flight beta approaching from the west,” the voice said. “Lock them up and await orders. You are not authorized to engage. Repeat, you are not authorized to engage. ANR out.”
    “Acknowledged ANR, lock up enemy B flight, do not engage. NCTAMS out.” Bunny said and pulled up her targeting interface. “Thanks for making up your freaking mind,” she muttered, sending orders to her primary Fantom to turn 180 degrees, going from tracking east to tracking west in the blink of an eye. Unfortunately, the radical maneuver meant there was a risk she had popped up on the radar of a Russian air defense system if it was monitoring the combat zone but she needed to get in position to lock and engage the approaching Russian reinforcements. The Russian reserve flight was soon in CUDA range and she drew target boxes around them based on the data feed from NORAD’s long range radar.
    There was no need to activate her own tracking radar and give herself away, yet.
    Rodriguez turned to Halifax. “Sir, do you want us to launch more Fantoms? We have two more in the queue.”
    “Easy Boss,” Halifax murmured. “They’ll call for more cavalry if they think they need it.”
    Rodriguez had launched each Fantom with a mixed air-to-air/air-to-ground ordnance. That gave Bunny 16 of the multi-role intermediate to short ranged CUDAs, and nine targets to fire them at. Her fingers tapped at her keyboard and touch screens, selecting targets and dedicating a single missile to each in case she was ordered to engage. The new CUDA had seen limited use over Turkey, but Bunny had read reports showing that at intermediate range it had a less than 75% kill ratio against the Su-57. Her plan was to disrupt the Russian reserves approaching from the west, and that meant distracting as many of the Russian pilots as she could in the first wave of her attack, hoping for a kill or two, and maybe the others would bug out.
    First wave? If she was forced to fire off her full inventory of CUDAs, she didn’t have a second wave.
    *
    *
    Bondarev’s situation had gone from dominance to a knife edge balance in a matter of minutes. His nine Su-57s had been facing off against six older National Guard F-22s but six USAF F-35s were now on the way. Another nine Mig-41s from his 5th Air Regiment had been scrambled, but the approaching Americans would be within missile range first. In fact, they already were. And their missiles could home on the targets given to them by the fighters on his tail.
    It was time to test his adversary’s mettle. He turned his flight west, closing the gap toward his own approaching fighters, moving toward the east coast of Saint Lawrence Island. As expected, the Americans followed. He opened a Guard channel, “American flight leader, you are entering the safety perimeter for Russian rescue operations, agreed with your superiors. You must turn back, or you could be considered hostile.”
    “Hostile is what I call a Russian fighter over US airspace,” came the reply.
    “Nonetheless, we are conducting a high risk rescue operation in the seas off Saint Lawrence and we cannot allow any interference. If you do not respect the rules of engagement agreed by our superiors, you will be fired upon.”
    The American National Guard pilots were either foolish, or suicidal. They must know they were being targeted by Russian passive infrared systems on the aircraft both in front of them and behind them. Not to mention the long range radar on Bondarev’s A-100 AWACS, which was able to burn through their stealth countermeasures using the data from Bondarev’s flight to enhance the weak returns from its own radar. A tense minute went past. Bondarev tightened the webbing of his G-frame over his chest, expecting at any moment to hear the missile launch warning that could be the last thing he ever heard.
    He realized he was holding his breath, and let it out all at once when he saw a flicker on his tactical HUD, span his head around, and saw the glint off the canopies of the American fighters as they peeled away, moving back toward the Alaskan coast.
    “Don’t worry Ivan,” said the voice of the American flight leader, in the clear. “We’re not going far.
    Try coming a bit further east, we’ll be ready to welcome you.”

    [Linked Image]
    *
    *
    “With respect, this is #%&*$#,” Bunny said, watching the icons for the Russian and American fighters diverge. “Russian fighters over US territory and we’re bugging out?”
    “What are our options here?” Rodriguez whispered to Halifax. She was the only other pilot in the room. Theoretically, she could help fly the drones in an emergency, but he wasn’t certified on these platforms and was from an older generation of pilot: strictly one girl, one machine. What Bunny was doing now, she couldn’t dream of matching.
    “You heard,” Halifax said. “We are not to engage.”
    The Russian B flight had moved into a racetrack orbit over Gambell township on the east of the island, just behind the main Russian fighter force. “I could blow their B-team out of the sky right now, ma’am,” Bunny said. “I have a wedge of Fantoms right underneath them.” Rodriguez saw the icons for the second flight of Russian fighters sweep over the top of Bunny’s Fantoms without even realizing they were there.
    “I think the Russians might react poorly to that Lieutenant,” Rodriguez said. “If our President did spit-swear a deal with theirs.” A thought occurred to her. “But make a run over Gambell will you? I’d like to know why the Russians have parked a flight of Sukhois right on top of a small Yupik fishing village.”
    “Yes ma’am,” Bunny said happily. “I’ll throw the feed up here.” Without taking her eyes off her VR visor, she pointed up to the two 2D screens showing the feed from the drones screaming toward Gambell. They showed two different views of the town, as Bunny had programmed two of the Fantoms to come in from the south, at wave top level, while the others approached from the north and would be popping up to 5,000 feet to get a good look at the village and surrounds. She gave them a rendezvous south of the Island, over the Bering Strait and out of harm’s way.
    Rodriguez didn’t know where to look. One once 2D tactical screen the HUDs of the Fantoms were still showing the target boxes for the two Russian air groups, one in the east, one in the west. On the screen Bunny had just pointed at, the screen was split into four, showing the nose camera feed from the four drones approaching Gambell. They showed various versions of a rushing water with a smudge of land on the horizon. Suddenly the ground vanished and then there was nothing but grey sky as the Fantoms popped up at the start of their recon run.
    “F1 and F2 coming up on Gambell,” Bunny said, and Rodriguez glued her eyes to the screen showing the feed from the recon drones as the land slowly came into focus and the small village grew larger as they rapidly closed. Suddenly one of the four squares flashed with static and went black.
    “Damn,” Bunny said. She started tapping her keys, but the screen stayed black. She jabbed her touchscreen and dragged a finger across it. “Breaking off!”
    “What?” Rodriguez asked. “Did we lose the feed?”
    “No,” Bunny replied, her voice ice cold and angry. “We just lost a Fantom.”
    *
    *
    Perri Tungyan shivered uncontrollably. He needed to get warm, but that would have to wait. He was watching an invasion unfold right in front of him. He’d scurried up the hill to the old gas station and kicked in the door. It wasn’t locked, just stuck. He’d been up there with other kids a few years back, looking for anything that could be salvaged and sold, but the place had been stripped clean. There was a shop and cashier area with windows looking out and down on the town, and Perri crouched behind the cashier desk with his wet blanket around him, his body heat warming the seal fur just enough to stop him going into shock.
    The clutter of buildings that was the village of Gambell hid from view what was happening down there, but he could clearly see the military transports and soldiers unloading crates and vehicles from them. As each was emptied, it would take off and head West, and a new helicopter would fly in and take its place.
    He almost missed the Verba ground to air missile leap into the air and zoom toward the horizon.
    From the corner of his eye, at the far end of the runway across the bay, he picked up a flash and then a blossom of white smoke. A finger of light, almost like a laser, flashed across the sky and disappeared in a second, leaving a trail of wispy vapor in the air behind it, showing where the missile was headed. Looking at where it had come from, Perri saw soldiers standing around some a tripod by a small trailer, struggling to lift another missile out of a crate and fit it to the rails of a launcher mounted on the tripod and connected to a small antenna.
    Suddenly he saw them look up, and then punch their fists in the air. They began clapping each other’s shoulders until one who must have been their officer slapped one across the head and they bent to the task of reloading their missile launcher again. Whatever they had shot at, they must have hit it.
    “S***’s getting real now,” Perri heard a voice say behind him, and he spun around.
    *
    *
    “ANR my systems are reporting the destruction of one of my drones by possible enemy fire over Gambell,” Bunny said. “Can you parse the data and check for Russian ground to air missile radar signatures?”
    “Roger NCTAMS, parsing,” came the reply. “Pull back to your former waypoint.”
    Alicia Rodriguez had her eyes glued to the video feed from the remaining Fantoms. They had dropped back down to wavetop level and were pulling out to sea south of the Island.
    “Acknowledged, ANR, completing egress,” Bunny said. “I’ve got enemy flight B moving down through 20,000. They’re wide awake now, it must have been a missile strike.” Her threat display was not showing either ground or air radar with a lock on her remaining three drones but that couldn’t last, with a flight of what looked like at least nine Su-57s headed her way.
    “Got your feed NCTAMS, copy your analysis,” the air controlled said. “We are showing a ground to air missile launch at the time you lost contact with your bird. Break off one bird and give us a high speed pass over Gambell please, we want to get a sniff of the ordnance Ivan has on the ground there. We’ll have a satellite in place in 20 minutes, but for now, you are the only eyes over that island.”
    “Roger ANR, do we have any assets in the OA capable of jamming Russian anti-air systems?” Bunny asked.
    “Negative NCTAMS,” the controller said. “You have the only EW capable platform in the operations area.”
    “Request permission to suppress enemy air defenses if identified,” Bunny asked. “I have already lost one bird.”
    “Negative NCTAMS, you are not to open fire on Russian ground or air units, understood?”
    “Understood ANR. NCTAMS out,” Bunny said through gritted teeth.
    An alarm sounded as one of her Fantoms parked south of the Island reported a radar sweep by one of the Russian fighters bearing down on her. Rodriguez expected Bunny to react, but she ignored it, staying focused on the one drone that was fast approaching Gambell.
    “Your Fantoms are being hunted by the Russian fighters,” Halifax said.
    “Yes sir,” Bunny said. “But all they’re seeing are ghosts right now. If they had a fix, you’d see them light me up for real. And as soon as they light up their fire control radars, I’ll have a solid CUDA lock.
    See if we can bluff them into breaking off.”
    “Don’t push it Lieutenant. It’s too soon in this little catfight for us to be throwing hardware away,” Rodriguez cautioned.
    “Yes ma’am,” Bunny said, pushing her master throttle forward. “Fantom 1 going mach 1.5. Feet dry in five!” she murmured, then a few seconds later, “I have eyes on the target. Jamming.” The Fantom had limited radar jamming capability and it wouldn’t help at all against optical or IR guided missiles.
    Six eyes glued themselves to the video feed as the Fantom popped up, swept in over Gambell airstrip and banked hard, curving over the village itself.
    “Missile launch!” Bunny called. Her combat AI deployed flares and chaff then threw the Fantom into a wrenching 180 degree turn sending it out over the sea again. After a couple of seconds it was clear the missile would miss, and Rodriguez caught her breath again. Bunny spooled the recon data backwards on a screen.
    “NCTAMS to ANR, I am showing multiple aircraft on the ground, A.I. is calling them rotary winged heavy transports. From the vision, I’m going to guess Mi-26s.” She replayed the video from the overflight, “At least five, with two more inbound, one moving west, about ten miles out. I have ground target heat signatures, probably motor vehicles, mostly stationary … and … bingo. I got an optical and ELINT lock on a Russian Verba ground to air mobile missile unit. Probably networked given the range at which the swine brought down one of my Fantoms. You got enough ANR or do you want another pass? I’m showing those Sukhois moving in for a closer look.”
    There was a moment of static before the controller came back, “Reviewing now… NCTAMS we need another pass, further east. Sending you coordinates.”
    “Damn,” Bunny said to herself. “One dead Fantom not enough?” Her console chimed as another short-range air search radar swept across her machine. With every passing minute headed north out to sea she was increasing the separation between the patrolling Russians and her recon bird, but they were decreasing the separation to her two drones orbiting uselessly in the south.
    “Coming around. Lighting burner. Four minutes to objective,” Bunny announced, her eyes flicking from screen to screen as she monitored both the threats to her two parked fighters and the ingress of the recon drone.
    “Air or ground radar will pick you up at that airspeed.” Rodriguez pointed out.
    “And that Verba will swat me if I go in subsonic ma’am,” Bunny replied.
    Rodriguez had to leave the mission execution to her pilot, but she couldn’t help pointing out the obvious. The Russian fighters had begun moving with intent toward the two orbiting Fantoms.
    Rodriguez looked over at Halifax and caught his eye.
    “If those Russian fighters engage Lieutenant, you are to evade and withdraw,” Halifax said.
    “Yes sir,” O’Hare replied. Rodriguez couldn’t help note the pilot was biting her lip now.

    [Linked Image]
    *
    *
    “Jeez, you scared me man,” Perri said, turning to see 15 year old Dave Iworrigan looking at him with wide eyes from under a mop of unwashed black hair, his little fat cheeks red with either cold, or excitement. “What are you doing up here?”
    The other boy looked embarrassed, and shrugged, “I sleep up here sometimes,” he said, pointing into the store room out back. “For the peace and quiet, you know?” Perri knew. Dave came from a big family, who were legendary in Gambell for their all-out brawls. Dave’s brothers were as peaceful as lambs toward strangers, but brutal toward each other. As the youngest, Dave had apparently decided flight was a better survival strategy than fight. He looked out the broken windows of the gas station again. “Sound of the choppers woke me up, I saw you run for it and then total your ATV.”
    Perri looked past him into the dark storeroom, “You got a sleeping bag back there?”
    “Not there, someone would find it,” the boy said. “I’ve got it stashed.”
    “I’m freezing here Dave,” Perri said impatiently.
    Dave looked at him as though deciding whether to let Perri in on his secret, and the sighed, “OK, follow me.”
    They went outside, to a hatch in the dirt. It had an old padlock on it and Dave pulled out a key and undid the lock, putting it in his pocket.
    “Welcome to my crib,” he smiled, pulling up the hatch.
    Perri saw a ladder going down a narrow shaft and a weak light below, and looked at Dave doubtfully.
    It smelled.
    “Go on, it’s bigger at the bottom,” he said.
    It wasn’t like he had much choice. He’d die of hypothermia if he didn’t get warm, and soon. He went down the ladder, his eyes adjusting to the weak light, and at the bottom found himself inside what must have been an old gasoline tank. It was about the size of small fishing hut, and Dave had moved in a mattress, some small boxes for furniture and storage, a folding chair and some bedding. Perri sniffed; it stunk of teenage boy, but not the gasoline smell Perri expected. The light was coming from a construction light hooked up to a car battery, sitting beside some solar cells and a cable which Dave obviously used to keep it charged. A 20 gallon plastic bladder of water sat beside them.
    “I figure it’s like twenty years since there was gasoline in here,” Dave said. “Don’t worry. I dropped a burning rag in here just in case there was fumes or something, but it didn’t even get a flash. It’s just a bit rusty is all.”
    Perri walked over and grabbed the sleeping bag on top of the mattress.
    “Oh man, you’ll get it wet,” Dave said, but he helped Perri unzip it, took his wet sealskin blanket and wrapped the bag around him. He sat Perri down in the chair.
    “What else you got in the boxes there?” Perri asked when he finally stopped shaking.
    “Got a gas stove, some packet soups, instant oats, that kind of thing,” the other boy said. “I was about to make some breakfast when you rolled in.”
    “Got your phone?”
    “Yeah, but…”
    “Got a gun?” Perri asked.
    “Of course I’ve got a gun,” Dave answered, pointing at a long fish packing case, like it was the dumbest question in the world.
    “Ammo?”
    “Yeah. Couple boxes I guess.”
    “What caliber?”
    “Got some 300 for this rifle, some 30 oh six for my other rifle. Why?”
    Perri pulled the sleeping bag tighter around himself, and then heard the unmistakable sound of a sonic boom, coming from the direction of the village. He pointed up toward the rolling thunder. “Because I think we’re at war, is why.”
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    “Air to air missile launch!” Bunny said as her Fantom swung around to start its second approach and was immediately picked up on radar by the approaching Su-57 flight. “Jamming active. Countermeasures deploying.” She was talking to herself as much as to the people in the room with her. She turned her helmet to look at data on a virtual screen on her right, then back to the HUD for the Fantom. “K-77Ms. Four. We’re dead.”
    She pointed up at the missile tracks, spearing in from the Russian fighter icons, spread in a fan with Bunny’s Fantom at its point. “Question is only whether we can uplink the recon data before they splash us.”
    The K-77M was a new short range phased-array, all-aspect missile that used both infrared, optical and radar guidance to home on its target. Rodriguez knew the best way, maybe the only way to survive a volley of K-77Ms at this range was to kill the fighters shooting them before they could even fire. And it was too late for that.
    With nothing to lose, O’Hare pushed the Fantom higher to get the best possible imagery. They all watched the video feed intently as the town sped toward them, seeing choppers lifting off, men scurrying about and light transport vehicles lined up along the side of the runway like the Russians were holding a Gaz Tigr-M fire-sale.
    Hammering through Mach 1.6 the Fantom flew over the top of the town just as the tracks of the incoming K-77M missiles on the tactical screen crossed its flight path. The video feed went dead. “NCTAMS to ANR, we are out of the fight,” Bunny told her NORAD controller. “Tell me you got that feed.”
    “NCTAMS-A4, I confirm recon data package received. You are clear to RTB with your remaining birds. Nice job NCTAMS, ANR out.”
    Rodriguez started as Bunny punched the desk next to her joystick, “ANR, those damn Russians just shot down two of my Fantoms. I have mapped a Verba missile crew in at least one position on that isthmus and the ELINT signature is telling me it is networked, not just some guy with a missile launcher on his shoulder. My two remaining birds are carrying both CUDAs and AGM-158C LRASMs. I am in a position to engage both Russian air and ground defenses. In accordance with SROE I request permission to engage hostile enemy air defenses.”
    There was a tense moment of silence. Halifax stepped forward and put his hand on Bunny’s shoulder, just as the radio crackled to life again. “Negative NCTAMS, you are not to engage. You will RTB and await further tasking.”
    O’Hare pushed her keyboard away from her. “Roger ANR, NCTAMS out.” Then she lifted Halifax’s hand off her shoulder without taking her eyes from the vision and data from her three drones, “Permission to indulge in profanity Sir?” she asked.
    “Patience O’Hare,” Halifax said. “Russians keep this up, payback will come.”
    “Not soon enough Sir,” Bunny replied. The only good news was that the Sukhoi flight had been drawn to the recon drone, allowing the other two drones to escape without detection. Even as she checked on the status of her returning Fantoms and keyed in the dogleg return journey, Bunny was rewinding the vision her machines took over both Savoonga and Gambell and getting her AI to quantify the visual and signals intelligence it had gathered.
    For the first time in an hour, she pushed back from her desk, blew her hair out of her eyes, pulled off her helmet and took a long pull on the warm soda that had been sitting at her elbow since the EMALS catapult had fired her first drone through the chute.
    She looked at the data from her overflights as it flowed across multiple screens. “So tell me, sirs and ma’ams,” she asked, staring up at the numbers. “If you were reacting to a maritime emergency in foreign waters, even one involving a nuclear sub, is it likely you would be able to pull together at almost no notice, at least 23 Mi-26 choppers, an A-100 AWACS, a squadron or two of front line Su-57s armed with the nastiest air to air missiles in the Russian arsenal, and at least two battalions of special forces troops supported by fully networked Verba ground to air missile systems?” She spun her chair around and looked at them both, “Because personally, I don’t think it’s very likely at all. I think it’s more likely Russia has just invaded the US of A.”
    *
    *
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 26 Jan - 01/29/18 05:43 PM

    Originally Posted by HeinKill
    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    Okay, I'm late to this thread and I haven't read it yet, so feel free to ignore my questions if they have been answered already.
    • Why a fixed installation for the UCAV base?


    Because it is intended to survive disruption to the satellite network used to control drones over greater distances and provide localised air support over the Strait

    Isn't that a bit "ex post" logic?
    I presume that the storyline overall is that the US are taken by surprise but that the UCAV squadron ultimately makes the difference between defeat and a successful defense. Fair enough, you need the base in the vicinity in order to influence the situaiton, but why would the US plan to set upo the base without knowing that their satellite nework will soon be rendered useless?
    Wouldn't the Pentagon rather opt for a carrier group?

    I mean, I like hollowed-out volcano lairs like every other guy (even if it technically isn't a volcano). But the reason why the Pentagon today isn't hollowing out dormant volcanos all over the globe is that it's expensive, gives the enemy a fixed location once that it is discovered (which is only a matter of time, once that you actually use it), and you need to have the conflict in the vicinity of the base. That's why carrier groups - while still being so horrendously expensive that only the US can afford several of them - are considered the better option: They are more flexible than forward positioning, and still cheaper than a "forward" positioning that spans the whole globe.

    Maybe the submarine threat (China?) is considered to high that carrier groups are considered near-obsolete again. But that would suggest a shift of the power balance against the USA far more dramatic than it is depicted in the story so far. A Pacific that is now deemed a decidedly hostile environment for CGs would bring vast implications, is all I'm saying. Or maybe there are no carrier groups anymore, and the USAF is banking entirely on the satellite network. But then again the question arises, does the US have reason to believe that the sat network is unreliable/vulnerable, and if so, is Diomede a proof of concept for forward positioning? Even then the costs for a global set of bases, even if they are small, would be cost prohibitive. So maybe they are doing it only in extremely sensitive/important locations. Maybe only the Navy recognizes the issue because their mindset is maritime, but they don't have the necessary political clout to turn the US policy around. Maybe it's just a single Admiral going "rogue" with this experimental setup, but who gave him the blessing/appropriated the necessary funds, given that there has been a dedicated attempt to obfuscate the existence of the base.

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  • Why put it directly on a tiny island in the middle of a narrow strait that undoubtedly, after the recession of ice allows a regular shipping route, will receive more or less intense surveillance?


  • As above. It isn’t intended to conduct constant air ops, just in time of need. Bit like an ICBM silo but more flexible.

    As above, that's ex post logic to enable the story.
    The story is good, but it's still a plot hole. wink

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  • Even IF the strait becomes ice-free most of the time, there will be periods where everything freezes over again, potentially forcing operational downtimes


  • Drone launch and recovery would not be interrupted by ice as the drones don’t take off or land on the surface of the sea. The take off through a chute emerging halfway up a cliff face and fly inside the cave mouth to land on the water inside the cave, which has been artificially enlarged. The pond inside can be kept from freezing over, but good point, would that mean there would be visible melted water at the mouth of the cave which might look strange? That might need camouflaging from surveillance.

    Well, to me that is potential for drama, not necessarily something that needs to be "solved" in the sense of "Man, they thought of everything!"
    Maybe El Nino is particularly strong this year resulting in a cold spell that saves the Russians from immediate defeat and gives them time to analyze what it is that hit them, and why all of a sudden it no longer operates. Well, it's your story. wink
    Still, an ice berg blocking the glide path into the cave and not drifting away for a while might be one of those complications. Or the supply subs can't get through because of the iceberg blocking the access passage.

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  • Logistics. Assuming that you can launch and retrieve the UCAVs without being detected, how to you supply the base (undetected). The only means to keep it supplied in a covert manner would be submarines, requiring dedicated supply subs and regular runs to swap personnel. Traffic analysis will eventually blow the cover of the secret base, it's only a matter of time until enough sonar tracks will have been acquired to indicate activity around that specific location


  • The base does have a sub docking facility through which it can be supplied and was originally envisaged as a covert anti ship missile and sub resupply facility . But most resupply of materiel and personnel is done overtly because there is a radar facility on top of the island.

    Yeah, but at some point the Russians' attention will be drawn to that stupid radar station - like, why is it still active, why was it built if it's near obsolete/can be easily jammed, why do the Americans keep it running a week into the conflict if it is irrelevant, etc.; will they attempt to seize it with Spetsnats, and what do they find? Is the entrance to the base below a trap door under the rug? Will the Spetsnats never make it to the island because the UCAVs shoot down the helicopters, and US submarines interdict boats attempting to make a landing? Why are the US so stubbornly defending the island when they have much bigger problems elsewhere?
    If the US have a solution to everything or if the Russians are too stupid it's going to be boring. wink
    Anyway, my point is that eventually the location and the nature of the base must be discovered by the Russians. Both from a narrative point of view as well as from the perspective of internal consistency.

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    It is largely automated, so the personnel stationed there are actually working below in the covert facility, not above ground, in the radar facility. But because of the radar facility people and supplies can be brought over by ship and chopper, dropped at the radar facility above, and then freighted down under the rock. Traffic analysis would just show traffic consistent with a major radar and sea surveillance facility. Sub resupply would be very limited.

    That seems to depend entirely on the amount of ordnance that the UCAVs will expend during the campaign. Even if they have a nuclear reactor to generate their own H2 fuel (you'd allso need a facility to liquefy the gas...), the missiles and bombs would need to get shipped in, and they would not be part of what normally goes into a Radar station. Also, they have at least five times as many people as the radar station has that need to get supplied. Overt resupply will have its limits, particularly in contested airspace (assuming that the Russians are successful in gaining a foothold, initially).
    So, as the Russian commander _I_ at least would ask myself what the purpose of this station is and why I shouldn't simply send a HARM to switch it off. Or, if that's deemed too escalatory, a platoon of special forces to seize the installation. One way or the other, the result will have grave consequences.

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    There is redundancy built in, in case the radar / transmision facility on top of the rock is wiped out, with an undersea transmission antenna buried in the sea floor.

    Fine, but that'll be the vector for Russian ELINT. "We blew the radar station, yet something's still transmitting. WTF? Let's go and have a closer look!"

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    I’ll keep moving forward with the story as is, won’t go back re-edit, use all this good input for the manuscript when I get around to finalising it.

    Definitely, please. I do not mean to shoot down the story. Like you said, critical questions are (hopefully) useful to make the story even better. smile
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/29/18 10:41 PM

    I say just keep the story as it is, it’s really going well, and use ssnake to proocheck your next seehearspeak
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/30/18 02:37 PM

    Awesome stuff.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/30/18 07:05 PM

    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    I say just keep the story as it is, it’s really going well, and use ssnake to proocheck your next seehearspeak

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    Awesome stuff.

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    Like you said, critical questions are (hopefully) useful to make the story even better.


    Thanks for engaging all! Will keep pounding away on the keyboard ... am keeping the flow a few chapters ahead of what I’m posting, going back to proofread and then putting a chapter online so progress is solid. I’m thinking it will bottom out around 150K - 180K words but then I’ll be asking you what I can cut because I am a great believer in Elmore Leonard’s maxim ‘cut the parts people won’t want to read’! The good news Ssnake is that a lot of your very good observations are already covered in the plot as I have written it but I won’t say more because, spoilers!
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/30/18 09:56 PM

    Also, low latency UCAVs have another issue. If you want to control them directly, even if you offload a lot to an on-board AI, the UCAV needs to transmit a video and data stream constantly. Even if you encrypt the data stream, you still need a lot of bandwidth (360° high-res/low latency video), that is a critical vulnerability. If you need to operate under EM control, you're flying blind and can't override. Once that you start emitting you can be triangulated and tracked. I'd also expect that some latency in the video feed/control input loop is unavoidable which probably puts a limit to the kind of maneuvers that you can safely execute during low level flights. Sooner or later you're going to collide with something that the AI can't properly recognized as an obstacle where a human pilot on location might just have those .2 seconds reaction time advantage (even if he can't pull as many Gs). And then there's just brute force jamming. The Russians may not yet have the proper equipment in place (although a lot of jamming has already been mentioned), but once that it's clear that they are dealing with directly controlled UCAVs, that's what I would try next. A combination of jamming, EM homing missiles, and dogfights in complicated and dynamic environments where reaction speed is king may turn out to be the counter tactic. The question is, can the Russians get it to work before their invasion force is doomed?
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/30/18 10:39 PM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    The question is, can the Russians get it to work before their invasion force is doomed?


    That is, indeed, a very central question wink
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/30/18 11:30 PM

    Speaking of emitting..

    Doesn't this mean that the "hidden" UCAV base just became not so hidden? They are emitting something to control the drones, right?

    Oh and more please biggrin
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/31/18 12:58 AM

    They would, but they could get away with much less bandwidth if the UCAV's control is largely automated. It's the video feed that is the killer. In the proposed configuration (VR headset) you must provide 360° footage (with a camera rotating with the pilot's head movement the latencies become too large), and all that in high resolution, and you can't use a high bandwidth laser beam to a satellite (latencies, again, and dependency on the satellite network). Sending an analog signal would be bandwidth/energy consumption prohibitive. Digitizing the video stream invokes latencies - the more, the stronger you compress the video, but compressing it you must.
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/31/18 02:02 AM

    Hmmmmmm

    Balloons....seriously....some type of "cheap" repeater platform. No doubt the loss of it and associated electronics would not be "cheap".

    Like somebody said...there are always alternatives.
    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/31/18 02:24 AM

    Theoretically you could use existing high resolution imagery data, and whatever the drones sensors detects gets overlaid. Basically synthetic vision, is what the pilot is operating off of in closer to real time, and only in the landing phase do you have true direct video from the drone.

    For recon, yeah definitely going to be an issue.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/31/18 08:21 AM

    ...as long as your database is reasonably up to date. But even streaming the raw sensor data would take up a lot of bandwidth. Only when you let it be filtered by what the onboard AI has identified you can reduce the data stream significantly. But then you're inside of the filter bubble that the programmers of the AI created, and we all know that programmers never make mistakes. wink
    Still it might be useful. But that would also mean no real-time raw imagery on recce flights. Maybe it's stored in the drone for post-flight evaluation and you only get to see abstracted tracks for identified objects. But that either means a super-super-super sophisticated image recognition software for the AI, or active radar emission. If you want to make emission control a part of the story, I'd go with ultraviolet, optical & thermal image recognition. That's passive, but will reduce the drones' combat worthiness in bad weather conditions (well, you could still switch on the radar when everybody else has to, too). But whetever target can successfully fake its signature/fool the AI/isn't in the database will either be invisible or "unknown" to the pilot in real-time.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/31/18 02:50 PM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    ...as long as your database is reasonably up to date. But even streaming the raw sensor data would take up a lot of bandwidth. Only when you let it be filtered by what the onboard AI has identified you can reduce the data stream significantly. But then you're inside of the filter bubble that the programmers of the AI created, and we all know that programmers never make mistakes. wink
    Still it might be useful. But that would also mean no real-time raw imagery on recce flights. Maybe it's stored in the drone for post-flight evaluation and you only get to see abstracted tracks for identified objects. But that either means a super-super-super sophisticated image recognition software for the AI, or active radar emission. If you want to make emission control a part of the story, I'd go with ultraviolet, optical & thermal image recognition. That's passive, but will reduce the drones' combat worthiness in bad weather conditions (well, you could still switch on the radar when everybody else has to, too). But whetever target can successfully fake its signature/fool the AI/isn't in the database will either be invisible or "unknown" to the pilot in real-time.


    Can we assume some sort of data compression / bandwidth ‘Moore’s law’ here without it being Disney tech? The scenario is set in the 2030s.

    Fred
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 31 Jan - 01/31/18 03:31 PM

    STANDOFF

    [Linked Image]

    As Bunny was bringing her Fantoms home, Bondarev was finishing his mission debrief. It had been an entirely successful mission. US fighters were patrolling impotently up and down the Alaskan coast, but so far had not dared to test the exclusion zone around Saint Lawrence. The Russian President had persuaded his counterpart they were doing their utmost to contain the situation but needed unfettered access to ground staging facilities on Saint Lawrence and undisturbed freedom of navigation in the sea and air around it.
    Russian troops had rounded up the few hundred residents of Gambell and Savoonga without great drama. They had found fewer than 50 US military personnel at the radar station at Savoonga, only 6 of whom were security personnel. A short firefight had broken out when one of the radar station personnel at Savoonga who had been out hunting reindeer in the hills to the south had returned and decided to engage the encamped Russian troops, but he had been subdued with a non-lethal gunshot injury. The brief firefight had not impacted the operation. In Gambell they had hearded the residents into the school gym. The population of Savoonga, including the military personnel stationed there, was considerably larger, so they were being kept in barracks inside the US military cantonment.
    It couldn’t have gone more smoothly, but Bondarev was not happy, and he was letting Arsharvin know it.
    “I want to know how the Americans managed to get a flight of drones under our long distance radar, through our Verba coverage and fly them right down the bloody runway at Gambell!” His voice was so loud it rattled the windows of the hut and he saw men outside look in, before deciding it was probably better they found somewhere else to be.
    “We shot two of them down Comrade Colonel,” Arsharvin pointed out, carefully. “A Verba unit claimed one, your pilots the other.”
    “My pilots reported possible returns from at least four, and up to six different stealth aircraft operating at low level while we were engaged,” Bondarev continued. “We were just lucky they either weren’t armed or didn’t have orders to put a fistful of missiles up our a**es.” He took a breath, tried to speak more slowly. “I have reports of American UAVs overflying both Savoonga and Gambell. We had a brief window of time on Saint Lawrence to get our troops and aircraft down and out of sight before the Americans got satellites in position to see what was happening, but those drones got it all! There is no value in a no-fly zone that the enemy can penetrate with impunity.”
    “With respect Yevgeny,” Arsharvin complained. “You should be chewing out the air defense commander, not me. If he’d got his Verbas networked quicker…”
    “I have chewed him out,” Bondarev said. “But now I’m looking at my head of operational intelligence, and I’m asking him to tell me how American drones managed to get into position over Saint Lawrence so quickly. The nearest US military airfields are Eielson or Elmendorf-Richardson, 600 bloody miles away! My strategy was based around identifying and protecting us from threats from that quarter and we succeeded. So where did those drones come from?!”
    Arsharvin was struggling. He put his hands behind his neck, looking up at the ceiling. “Nome is the most likely launch point, but we have no reports of military aircraft or personnel being stationed there. We know they have been experimenting with truck mounted launchers. It’s possible they have positioned several of these around Nome, I suppose. Or at the Coast Guard station at Port Clarence? They are both only a hundred and fifty miles away,” he offered.
    Bondarev calmed a little. It did make some sort of sense. Drones, truck mounted or otherwise, could easily be hidden in a hangar at the civilian airport, maybe even launched remotely from highways if they were unarmed. And the Coast Guard base at Port Clarence was a US Navy facility – he probably hadn’t paid it enough attention. “Then check that Port Clarence is on our targeting list for the first ground strike,” he told Arsharvin. “And before we go in, get me some updated imagery. Show me some truck-mounted drones or empty launchers lined up on the side of a runway up in Nome or Saint Clarence and I will relax.”
    *
    *
    If Bondarev was unhappy, Rodriguez was even more so. Bringing their birds home had not been a smooth process this time. One of the Fantoms had lost forward vision as it approached the Rock, meaning Bunny had to bring it in on autopilot. A software kludge had been needed to get it to ignore its collision warning system as it flew itself towards the small entrance to the cave, and they had wasted precious time and fuel while O’Hare and a programmer hammered out the workaround, debugged and uploaded it. But it had made them realize they needed the software update applied to all of their drones, because any one of them could end in the same situation and they had to have a way to tell it that it wasn’t about to wipe itself out on a cliff face. As the Fantom had glided into the opening, Bunny had grabbed manual control as soon as she had a visual, but it was rough. The drone had slapped onto the water hard, bending its ski supports. Rodriguez figured a week, maybe more, for her small maintenance crew to replace the supports and forward video system and get it airworthy again.
    There was not a lot of jubilation under the Rock that night, even though they had delivered on their mission objectives. It had cost them two Fantoms down, one damaged and out of play. Halifax picked up on it as he walked into the ready room that doubled as a duty galley down by the deck. He looked around him, seeing a distinct lack of laughter and teasing, and a whole lot of tired people slumped on their elbows spooning food into their mouths and not really even talking with each other. He walked over to Rodriguez, who was going through an inventory checklist with one of her ordnancemen.
    “CO on the deck!” she announced as he approached, and she snapped to attention.
    “As you were Boss,” he said. “Can we have a word?” She dismissed her aircrewman and looked at him expectantly.
    “Why the glum faces?” he asked.
    “Two dead, one wounded, sir,” she replied simply.
    Halifax blinked. “They’re machines, Rodriguez.”
    “And we know that. But if we have this attrition rate on every combat mission, this base will pretty quickly be out of business. It’s supposed to be a covert center of operations, so we can’t be flying new drones in here every few days or we’ll get found pretty quick. Could bring in the airframes by submarine, put them together here again, but that would be too slow for combat conditions. And we’d need double the personnel.”
    She was right, Halifax knew that, but he had expected to see a little more optimism among his people. They’d lost two drones, yes, but they’d also got vital intelligence and showed what they capable of. He’d told them they needed to launch faster than they had, but O’Hare and Rodriguez’s people had managed to get four drones into the air averaging five minutes between launches, off a single catapult. They needed to shorten the time from a launch order to the first launch, but he couldn’t fault their performance once they got the first cartridge on the EMALS.
    O’Hare. He just realized she wasn’t here and he hadn’t seen her since the mission debrief. “Where is our pilot?” Halifax asked Rodriguez.
    “Probably resting Sir,” Rodriguez replied. “She’s the only jock on the Rock. She knows you could be calling on her again anytime and she has to be mission capable.”
    “I’ve asked CNAF to give us at least three more pilots,” Halifax said. “Some pencil head told me we had to wait for the base to be certified before we could request more personnel. I told him we just certified the base under enemy fire and he’d better put me through to someone who realized the Russians had just invaded US territory.” He bit his lip. “The problem is how to get them in without Ivan noticing.”
    “Can’t you just chopper them in topside as usual? We’re facing off against the Russians a hundred miles south, no one is going to be surprised at some extra traffic on Little Diomede.”
    “That’s exactly the problem. Damn Russian no-fly zone has CNAF rattled, they don’t want to risk a shoot down even if we are fifty miles north of the perimeter. We lose anyone, even in an accident, it could start a shooting war. No ships or subs available either, I tried.” Halifax looked around the room and back to Rodriguez, “For now, your crew here and that hot-headed pilot are it.” He put a hand on her shoulder, “So I need you to get your people off their mopey a**es and ready for war Boss. Clear?”
    “Yes, sir,” Rodriguez said. “You’re right.” She turned to the people scattered around the canteen, and raised her voice. “Listen up! Simulated Fantom hex launch in 10 minutes. One-zero. Get moving!”
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    “I’m freezing,” came the whining voice for about the fifth time.
    “Shut up Dave, I’m cold too,” Perri said through clamped teeth.
    “I’m telling you, we should go down there, join the others,” the younger boy continued. “At least they have heat, food.”
    “They’re prisoners Dave, do you want to be a Russian prisoner?” Perri asked. He shifted on his stomach, trying to get comfortable and peered through the scope on his rifle again. The Russian patrol circled the village about every fifteen minutes in its jeep, about a hundred and fifty yards away down the hill. He’d thought about how easy it would be to shoot out one of its tires as it passed in front of them, maybe make it flip - but that trick only worked in movies. He was a good shot, but not Hollywood good.
    It was the third day since he’d escaped from the invading Russians. He and Dave had spent the first night and day up in the abandoned gas station, watching what was going on down on the air strip and in the town. It had been pretty uneventful after they’d seen the Russian anti-aircraft batteries firing off their missiles and then that spy plane had rocketed down the runway from two different directions and got splashed by Russian fighters, missiles slamming into it just as it cleared the town. So they knew the US air force or whoever it was knew what was going on. The Russians had started piling sand bags and icy dirt around their emplacements on the runway, the last choppers had lifted off, and there had been a lot of shouting down in Gambell, but no shooting.
    The next day they saw Russian troops going from house to house in Gambell looking for residents. Anyone they found, they bustled out of their houses or business and into jeeps and drove them all to the school at the eastern edge of town.
    “Just a matter of time before they check up here,” Dave had said. “We are so screwed.”
    “We could hike out to Savoonga,” Perri had said. “I did it with my brothers once, this time of year. It’s OK if the weather holds. Takes about a week along the coast track.”
    “What makes you think Savoonga will be any different?” Dave asked. “You tried calling but it’s like the tower is down. Savoonga is probably full of these guys too.”
    “Yeah, not the town. Air force has that base up there,” Perri pointed out. “Maybe they’re holding out. If we could make it there…”
    That was as far as the conversation got. Right then, they’d seen a jeep heading out of town coming straight for them.
    “In the tank!” Perri had said, pushing Dave out of the gas station office. He looked around him. Coffee mugs! They’d brought a couple of mugs of coffee up with them from Dave’s hideout. He grabbed them by their handles and bustled out behind Dave who flung the hatch open and waited until Perri was on his way down before climbing in himself and locking the hatch from the inside with a lock he’d put there to keep his brothers out in case they came looking for him.
    At the bottom of the ladder they waited and listened. It was only six feet from the tank to the ground above, and the hatch didn’t have an airtight seal anymore. They heard the crunch of tires on gravel and then at least two voices. The voices didn’t sound worried or urgent. In fact, they sounded like they were having an argument.
    “That’s Russian,” Dave whispered and Perri put a hand over his mouth to stop him saying anything else. But he was right. It was easier to pick up Russian radio in Gambell than stations from Alaska, so everyone listened to the Russian pop stations, even if few people spoke more than a few words.
    Then they heard boots and the hatch rattled. There was some discussion, and a huge bang as something was hammered down on the hatch cover, maybe a rifle butt. Perri was glad it was late summer, because the snow on the ground was mostly melted or their footprints would have been clearly visible. After a bit more rattling, it seemed the troops overhead lost interest in the hatch and moved off.
    In another five minutes, they heard the jeep starting up and pulling away.
    Dave put a hand on the ladder to head up again, but Perri grabbed him and pointed to the mattress. “Let’s wait,” he said quietly. “There’s no point going up too soon.”
    While they’d waited, they’d agreed they had to get into town and see what was happening. They’d wait until nightfall, sneak in through the old fish processing plant that bordered the school. So they had. And if Perri had been pi**ed at getting his ATV shot up and chased into the sea, he was doubly pi**ed at what he saw from the windows of the fish plant. Inside the school, they worked out the Russians had gathered the whole town, young and old, and crammed them into the school gym. There were no windows in the gym they could look in, but every two hours they saw groups of people being led out of the gym and through the school to the toilets and then back again. Russian troops patrolled around the outside of the school and were stationed on the doors. In one of the groups he saw being led out was his mother and his sister.
    That was all he needed to see. He’d grabbed Dave by the collar and led him back to the gas station on the outside of town. Down in the tank, he’d started loading his rifle and checking Dave’s ammunition.
    “What are you doing?” Dave had asked him. “There’s hundreds of them. You can’t take on a whole army. We might as well just give ourselves up.”
    “You can give yourself up,” Perri said. “They tried to kill me. I’m going to start killing them.”
    But the more they talked, the more Perri realized he would need help. He’d seen a fantastic movie once, about an army sniper team. You had this idea that snipers were these lone wolves who just headed out onto the battlefield with their gun and a bit of dried meat and hid in a bush until some African warlord came past, and then capped him before melting into the bush. But it wasn’t like that - snipers worked in pairs, with one person acting as a spotter with binoculars and the sniper keeping his sight protected and his rifle ready. You couldn’t see sh*t when you were looking down a scope, so you needed a partner to be your wide angle vision and spot targets for you. The best place for them to set up was on the slopes of Sivuqaq Mountain, looking down on the town from behind. He’d explained this to Dave.
    “Yeah, we could do that,” Dave had said. “Or, we could just stay down here until the US Navy comes steaming into Gambell harbor with one of its big missile destroyers and a few hundred Navy
    Seals and starts killing them for us.”
    “You think America gives a damn about a few hundred dumb Yupik in the Bering Strait?” He pointed west. “They’ll be lining up the tanks and fighters, for sure, but over there in Nome, to protect Alaska. I got news for you - the cavalry isn’t coming Dave.”
    “OK, but what’s the plan here?” the boy asked. “You kill one of them, ten come after us. Maybe they don’t catch us, we kill another one. A hundred come after us. Maybe they get mad, start executing the people in the school. None of this gets our families out of that school.”
    Perri knew that, but he was too angry to care. “It’s called asymmetrical warfare man. A smaller force can keep a bigger force unbalanced, distract them, tie up their troops so they can’t do whatever they came here to do.”
    “You read that in one of your Army recruiting books?” Dave asked. “We aren’t a ‘smaller force’, Perri. We’re just two kids hiding in a hole in the ground.”
    “You aren’t a kid anymore Dave,” Perri said, gesturing around him. “Look at this place. You already moved out of home, you just didn’t tell anyone yet.”
    The young boy had seemed to straighten his back when Perri said that. After a bit more talk, he’d agreed to help, but they’d agreed just killing Russian troops was pointless and just as likely to force the Russians to start killing their hostages in retaliation. So they’d spent their second night creeping through the town, raiding people’s larders and dragging bags of canned food back to the gas station and stashing it in the tank. There had been a couple of near misses and the most dangerous was about three a.m. when they’d broken into the rear of the general store. They wanted more ammunition, camping gear, water bladders for storing drinking and cooking water, stuff like that. There were guns there too, but they were locked up. So Dave and Perri were in there filling big shopping bags with whatever looked useful when there were flashlights and voices outside. Dave ducked down behind the store counter, but Perri was stuck right near the window, reaching for a rainproof jacket on a dummy. Anyone looking in would have seen him. He’d frozen behind the dummy as two soldiers walked past, swinging flashlights from side to side. But they weren’t really searching for anything. They walked past the window without a glance and in a few seconds were gone. It freaked Dave and Perri so much though they decided they’d pushed their luck far enough for the night and humped their loot back to the tank.
    Perri had no idea what had happened to his father and brother. They’d been out at sea when the Russians arrived. He had to assume they’d come back to harbor to find themselves hostages like everyone else, but he hadn’t seen them being walked to the toilets while he and Dave were watching, so he couldn’t be sure.
    Now it was the third day, and Dave and Perri had crept out of the gas station and climbed up the slope that led up to the big rise that was Sivuqaq Mountain. Only 600 feet high, it was more like a bluff than a mountain. It had been a pain in the a** getting to a position where they could look down over the town, within range of Perri’s rifle, but not down amongst the nests of the Crested Auklets which infested the slopes of the bluff this time of year. Their alarmed chattering would have given the two boys away in moments, so they’d stayed above the nests and then moved downslope when they saw a clear space without too many of the little red-beaked birds sitting on their eggs.
    They’d found a perfect spot between and behind some rocks, looking straight over the school, down the road that went through town and out to the airstrip. Their plan was just to try to identify some static targets on this trip, and maybe pick a few good hides they could shoot from.
    “Stop moaning and tell me what you see,” Perri said, looking through his scope. They had a small grey tarpaulin pulled over them, the same color as the gritty dirt and sand around them.
    “Nothing interesting,” Dave said. “Few soldiers standing around outside the town hall. Wait...I see a bunch of guys pulling nets over some boxes, and there’s two jeeps there.”
    “Where?” Perri moved his scope around, but couldn’t see anything in the small circle of glass, and could see even less with his bare eyes.
    “To the left, this side of the school.”
    “I told you man, you have to use the clock,” Perri said patiently. “Straight ahead is 12. Left is 11, 10, 9, right is 1, 2, 3, OK? And tell me high, or low.”
    “Ok ok. Say 10 o’clock. And it’s all low from here,” Dave said.
    Perri moved his sight and picked up movement. His .300 Winchester had a long barrel which he had resting on a rock to keep it steady. He had grabbed a new scope in the general store, one he’d had his eyes on ever since it came in, but would never have been able to afford. It was by a company called Precision Scopes, and overlaid on the glass viewer was a small ‘heads up’ display showing Perri the range to the target once he had it framed, the direction and strength of the wind, and a bunch of other stuff Perri wasn’t sure about, like ‘incline’ and ‘cant’. What Perri was sure about was how it worked. You put a red pip on your target and with your thumb, pressed a button you mounted down back of the trigger of your rifle. Then the sight calculated a firing solution and a crosshair appeared, showing where your bullet would go if you fired it. You put the crosshair over your target and … boom.

    [Linked Image]

    That was the theory anyway. Perri couldn’t risk test firing to zero the sight, which he’d normally want to do. He’d just entered the make of the rifle and the ammo into the scope’s settings and had to hope it would do. He knew his rifle though, and he knew it shot pretty true.
    Now he saw what Dave had been talking about. At the edge of town, under an old carport, Russian troops were piling up cases. They were wooden, and looked about the size as a slab of soda cans. The writing on the outside was Cyrillic, and Perri couldn’t read it so he had no idea what might be in them. Beside those though there were some bigger crates already stacked up three deep and he had no trouble guessing what was in them. The top one on the left most stack was open, and showed what looked like missiles. While a couple of the soldiers were piling up the ammunition, another group of about four were building walls of sandbags up around the carport. At the rate they were going, Perri figured it would take maybe another day, and they would have created a nice little ammo bunker well away from any other building.
    “You seeing what I see?” Dave said, looking through his binos.
    “Missiles,” Perri replied. “Maybe the ones we saw them firing on that first day? So the other stuff is probably ammo for guns, maybe grenades, wire guided rockets, that kind of thing.”
    “No, I mean, they’re piling all those sandbags around it. You’re never going to get a shot, once they’re done.”
    Their plan, for what it was worth, was not to try to kill Russians, not directly anyway. They wanted to find fat, soft targets and take them out, making life on the island a real pain for the invaders. So far, they’d identified a few good ones: an electricity generator, the electricity junction that connected the town to the big pumped hydro plant, not to mention the pump itself up on the bluff above them, and a vehicle park full of jeeps and small trucks. There was also a choice target in the hydrogen fuel tanks down by the harborside catalytic processor, but Perri figured he would need more than his little .300 Winchester to set them off and he knew if he did, the town would really suffer with winter approaching.
    Anyway, he wasn’t looking to blow stuff up. A bullet in the engine block of a generator or the radiator of a jeep would do the job nicely. If they could find one of those missile launch sites, he was pretty sure they would be connected to radar antennas or computers. A few .300 magnum rounds into one of those would probably mess it right up.
    But an ammo dump? Maybe he should be thinking about blowing stuff up. He watched the men below at work for a few minutes more.
    “Would they cover the roof in sandbags too?” Perri said, thinking out loud.
    “Sure,” Dave replied. “What’s the point of protecting the sides if you don’t protect the top? You could drop a bomb right through the roof.”
    “I don’t think the sandbags are meant to stop a bomb,” Perri said. “I think the sandbags are just in case there is an accident. So the whole town doesn’t go up if some dumb ass throws a cigarette on top of a crate of explosives.”
    “Oh yeah. Then probably you don’t want to sandbag the roof. You got to have somewhere for the explosion to go, so you probably want it to go up, not out the sides.”
    “Exactly what I’m thinking man,” Perri said. “And we can get a nice angle on the roof of that carport if we move back up about fifty yards, wouldn’t you say?”
    Dave looked behind them to where the bluff rose up dramatically, “For sure.”
    Perri rolled onto his back, looking up at the young boy sitting beside him, “That’s enough for today,” he said. “I want to get back to the tank and check that ammo we took from the general store. I’m hoping there’s some steel tips there to get me through the aluminum roof of that carport. And I have to clean the barrel.”
    “When are we coming back?” Dave asked.
    “Tonight,” Perri said. “While most of the bad guys are asleep.”
    “I knew you’d say that,” Dave said glumly.
    *
    *
    (C) 2018 Fred ‘Heinkill’ Williams. To be continued...
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/31/18 04:55 PM

    Originally Posted by HeinKill
    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    ...as long as your database is reasonably up to date. But even streaming the raw sensor data would take up a lot of bandwidth. Only when you let it be filtered by what the onboard AI has identified you can reduce the data stream significantly. But then you're inside of the filter bubble that the programmers of the AI created, and we all know that programmers never make mistakes. wink
    Still it might be useful. But that would also mean no real-time raw imagery on recce flights. Maybe it's stored in the drone for post-flight evaluation and you only get to see abstracted tracks for identified objects. But that either means a super-super-super sophisticated image recognition software for the AI, or active radar emission. If you want to make emission control a part of the story, I'd go with ultraviolet, optical & thermal image recognition. That's passive, but will reduce the drones' combat worthiness in bad weather conditions (well, you could still switch on the radar when everybody else has to, too). But whetever target can successfully fake its signature/fool the AI/isn't in the database will either be invisible or "unknown" to the pilot in real-time.


    Can we assume some sort of data compression / bandwidth ‘Moore’s law’ here without it being Disney tech? The scenario is set in the 2030s.


    Your call. I'm just talking about what we know today about it.
    a. There are mathematical laws behind data compression that simply force a disproportionate growth of computing power the more you want to compress. With more computing demand comes more latency (and energy consumption), and, if you want to save on bandwidth, loss of information (IOW, at some point the high res imagery becomes pointless if compression and compression artifacts reduce the actual resolution of the image to a point where old PAL/NTSC resolution largely delivers the same quality. Also, certain mathematical principles about information entropy prevent going beyond certain compression levels even if you ignore the diminishing returns.

    b. my optimistic assumption would be that with some magical new compression technique you can stream a digital 8K video with today's BluRay bandwidth requirements, which are at least 6MBit/sec (most likely it'll actually be 12...15MBit/s). So, that's your bandwidth requirement. If you would transmit only identified tracks filtered by the AI you might get away with just a few KByte/s - which is still a lot for ELINT guys (but two or three orders of magnitude less so); the problematic part is the continuous transmission mode. Even if you scramble the transmission over many frequencies, or use a wide band spread spectrum transmission with reduced intensity (but the weaker the signal, the easier it is to jam) you'd still tell anyone listening on the right frequencies where you are and what your flight vector is (Doppler shift).


    To be honest, I am highly skeptical about the viability of UCAVs for these specific reasons. Piloted jets fly autonomous (they have a human brain or two for data processing), therefore they can fly largely without emitting anything - which is why (active) radar is neded to find them in the first place, which you can then counter either by electronic warfare and/or terrain masking. UCAVs would also have to fly largely autonomous under emission control conditions, which makes the whole thing much more difficult if the robot isn't just to keep the thing in the air and follow a previously planned flight pattern but rather act in contested airspace, possibly even autonomously dodging missiles while relying on passive image analysis. We're talking about a near-sentient dogfight AI, at which point the question arises why you'd still need a human pilot, even if he controls an entire swarm.

    Yes, we already have robotic airplanes since about 10, 15 years now (Predator, GlobalHawk,...), so the concept is viable --- under conditions of air dominance, and if you limit the video feed to standard TV resolutions, unencrypted, via satellite link (which comes with significant latencies of course). That's okay if you're fighting with cave men. As soon as you're in contested air space with a competent enemy, current drones are hopelessly outclassed by classic air defense and fighter jets. So I agree, to make UCAVs viable you need low latency control, which allows you to fly more aggressive maneuvers and pull more Gs. But that comes at the cost of constant radio emission, so the obvious question is "why don't we just go after the control node rather than the drone?"
    Fully autonomous flying kill bots may be viable by 2030 (I hope not), but from a storytelling point of view they are either boring, or must be the villain side (by definition you can't empathize with robots).


    In short, I have no way out for you. We need to gloss it over/bank on the reader's willing suspension of disbelief. smile
    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/31/18 08:33 PM

    Depending on exactly how/what the operator is required to do, it might be feasible for the onboard AI to hand a lot of the tasking. Current generation games have fairly respectable AI's these days. Path finding, terrain avoidance etc, are certainly well within the current scope of AI operations right now, and another 12 years of self driving cars blazing the way (and killing pedestrians) should see large scale advances. If the pilot is only responsible for basically saying "attack here", "navigate to here and be stealthy" etc they amount of data the drone pings back would be very minimal. Now video that's a slightly different story, but the question occurs, what's the point of video? For recon work the data has to go somewhere, but not necessarily to the pilot/operator in real time. Compress it and kick it out to any capable receiver if you're not trying to be stealthy. WVR dog fighting and potentially CAS/A2G are really where video might be of use. In BVR, 1990's vector graphics would suffice, as it's far more about finding the target and guesstimating if they've found you, versus looking for them. A2G/CAS would be the main one I could see having real time video being particularly important, but with good enough ISR or ground marking this could also be not much of an issue. A non visible, but IR hot flare/strobe for the UCAV to lock onto, and "300 meters at bearing 035 from strobe" would be plenty for the on board AI to make a very precise attack.

    Honestly being a hot shot drone operator in 2030 will probably resemble being a code jockey/professional RTS player more then being a pilot. The ability to quickly reconfigure and integrate AI scripting and hierarchic targeting priorities would be huge, and the ability to multitask a bunch of units against a bunch of units in a 3D fight from a non FPS view would be critical.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 29 Jan - 01/31/18 08:44 PM

    Originally Posted by jenrick


    Honestly being a hot shot drone operator in 2030 will probably resemble being a code jockey/professional RTS player more then being a pilot. The ability to quickly reconfigure and integrate AI scripting and hierarchic targeting priorities would be huge, and the ability to multitask a bunch of units against a bunch of units in a 3D fight from a non FPS view would be critical.

    -Jenrick


    Yup, that’s what I was thinking ...

    “She had cut her teeth on F-35s before an ‘attitude problem’ got her assigned to a unit flying UCAV modded F-22s in the Turkey-Syrian conflict and suddenly found herself sitting in a trailer ‘flying’ via VR goggles rather than in a cockpit. But she acquitted herself so well as a drone pilot that she came to the attention of recruiters at DARPA and moved to their dedicated J-UCAS program, which had delivered a new weapons platform to specification, but now needed a new breed of pilot to fly it. DARPA was looking for pilots whose flying and social skills were less important than a talent for continuous partial attention and an ability to contribute to AI coding and development. For the first time in her life, Bunny’s attention deficit disorder was actually an asset.”
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 31 Jan - 01/31/18 08:54 PM

    Let’s keep moving!

    TETE A TETE

    [Linked Image]

    It was neutral territory. An unprepossessing single story building at 9 Prechistensky Lane in the Khamovniki District, with a peeling yellow painted facade, white trim around the doors and windows, and small Danish flag hanging over the doorway.
    “This is the place ma’am,” Ambassador McCarthy’s aide announced, as her security detail stepped out of their cars and took position on the deserted street. It was five in the morning, and they had gone to great pains to be sure there were no media or FSB goons tailing them. Devlin had been ordered by her Secretary of State to deliver a message to the Kremlin, just in case they hadn’t got the message from the President’s phone call to the Russian President, or the multiple other channels through which the US was screaming in outrage at the Russians.
    Devlin looked dubiously out the window at the modest building, “Have I been here before?”
    “Yes ma’am,” her aide, Brent Harrison said. “Six months ago; dinner with Frederik, King of Denmark and his wife, Princess Mary.” The man had a memory for every engagement, and had memorized just about every street in the city too, so if he said she had been here, she must have.
    She gathered up her things, “It seemed bigger at night.”
    She was met at the door by her junior aide, Lucy Sellano, who had come out earlier to ensure arrangements were in place. “Foreign Minister Kelnikov is here ma’am. He had a military attaché with him - there was some confusion about who should be present for your discussion.”
    “I hope you told them it was a four-eyes meeting,” she said. She wanted to be able to speak frankly to Kelnikov, even though he would assume the conversation was being recorded. They had both agreed on the venue, but that didn’t mean Kelnikov trusted the Danes not to eavesdrop. It was Devlin’s experience that Kelnikov trusted no one.
    “Yes ma’am,” Sellano said, a wispy brown strand of hair across her forehead bobbing up and down. As they turned a corner they nearly walked into a large, square shouldered man in his fifties, with thin blonde hair and round rimmed glasses. He held out his hand. “Ah, Ambassador Vestergaard, ma’am,” Sellano said. “I think you know each other?”
    “A pleasure to welcome you to our humble abode again Devlin,” the Danish Ambassador said warmly. “But under less convivial circumstances than last.”
    “Yes, sorry about the intrusion Jørgen,” she replied. “I hope it wasn’t too inconvenient.”
    He smiled, “I have told the staff there is a security sweep being conducted this morning and they are not to arrive until eight. I myself have a breakfast appointment,” he said, and indicated the empty corridor with a sweep of his hand. “Vort hus er dit hus,” he said. “The place is yours. Your guest awaits.” With that, he bowed slightly and left them alone in the corridor.
    “So, the military attaché is…”
    “Sitting with the Russian security detachment in the kitchen,” Sellano said. “I have a room just here…” she stopped and opened a door, “For our people. I’ll wait here with them, and when you come out, the arrangement is that we will leave first.” She looked at her watch. “We have plenty of time. The Danish embassy staff won’t be here for another two hours at least.”
    “Good,” Devlin said, handing the woman her coat. As she did, Harrison handed her a file, and she looked at it. It had, printed across the top of the file in letters big enough to be visible from a satellite if she stepped outside with it, OPERATION LOSOS. She was going to make sure Kelnikov could see it clearly too. It was a message to the Foreign Minister that US Intelligence was not blind to the Russian plan to take over Saint Lawrence as a permanent maritime base. She opened the cover … okay, it was a pretty thin file, but Kelnikov didn’t need to know that.
    “You talked to the analyst?” she asked Harrison as they walked. “Williams?”
    “Carl Williams, yes,” Harrison said, pointing to the NSA designator on the first page. He smiled, “CIA head of station wasn’t very happy about us going straight to ‘the Ambassador’s new pet’ as they describe him…”
    “Then he should try giving me more than open source news reports I could just as easily pull from cable TV,” Devlin said.
    “Right … well, most of what Williams pulled together is SigInt, plus some human source stuff from CIA, but not much. He said he figured due to the situation you wouldn’t give him enough time to task any of our assets for primary intel collection, and you’d want something you could hang over Kelnikov’s head, so he directed NSA to focus all their energy on just trying to identify at least the code name for the Russian operation.” Harrison’s finger was resting on a Russian FSB intelligence bureau memo, with the code word LOSOS marked clearly across the top. Devlin’s rudimentary Russian wasn’t good enough for her to be able to read it, and she didn’t even know if it was real. “He figured if we had that, the Russians might assume we had it all.”
    “Smart guy,” Devlin said. “I like how he thinks. At worst, they’ll wonder how much we know, at best, they’ll assume we know it all and might have to modify their plans on that assumption.”
    “Good luck,” Harrison said, stepping aside so her security detail could get past him into the waiting room.
    “It’s the red door at the end of the corridor ma’am,” Sellano said, pointing.
    Devlin put the file under her arm and straightened her jacket. Except we know virtually zip about why they’re there. All we know is that the Russians are swarming all over Saint Lawrence, they’ve declared they’re acting under the authority of an Arctic treaty we never signed, and they’re putting enough firepower on that island to create a no-go zone for US aircraft and ships over the whole of the Bering Strait. Devlin sighed, and wiped her teeth with a fingertip in case there was any lipstick there. And they don’t look like they’re planning to leave anytime soon.
    *
    *
    Kelnikov rose and buttoned his jacket over his expansive waistline. He didn’t smile, but gave her a small and almost ironic bow, “Madam Ambassador.”
    Without any ceremony, she sat the LOSOS file down on the table between them and sat down opposite, “Minister Kelnikov.”
    They looked at each other for a moment or two. There was no protocol to cover this. Devlin saw his eyes flick to the folder, but saw no immediate reaction. Give him time, she thought. He’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer. The challenge now would be for her to reveal a little of what she knew, without giving away just how little.
    “I believe you have a message from your government,” Kelnikov said. “Perhaps you have reconsidered your position and are willing to enter into negotiations for a new treaty guaranteeing free passage for all nations through the Bering Strait?”
    It was all she could do to contain herself from swearing. The Russians had sunk one of their own ships, either themselves, or through a proxy. They had invaded US territory under the guise of a nuclear reactor emergency aboard one of their subs and had intimated that their submarine may have been the subject of a US cyber-attack, which could have resulted in a meltdown of its reactor. And then they had declared that they were taking control of the sea lanes and airspace over the Bering Strait to ‘guarantee freedom of navigation for all’ in the name of the Barents Euro Arctic Council of Nations. Williams’ report also stated that they had shot down two US reconnaissance drones. They had warned that any US military ship or aircraft breaking the no-go zone would be considered a threat to international shipping and dealt with ‘accordingly’.
    “We are under no illusions about your real purpose on Saint Lawrence,” Devlin said. She reached down and took up the file, opening it to the first page as though she was referring to a briefing document. “Your Operation LOSOS? Is that how it is pronounced? It is nothing less than an old fashioned land grab.”
    That got a reaction. Kelnikov’s eyes narrowed. “The United States sinks one of our freighters and disables one of our submarines, risking hundreds, perhaps thousands of lives from possible nuclear disaster, and you accuse us of an ‘old fashioned land grab’?”
    “It is only us in this room,” Devlin reminded him. “So can we cut the hyperbola and discuss whether there is any way we can resolve this peaceably, because I can tell you Yevgeny, we are at about one minute to midnight on this one,” she said, referring to the infamous Doomsday Clock. Any student of history would know the last time it had been at one minute to midnight had been during the Cuban Missile crisis.
    “If the US is willing to negotiate a new Arctic treaty, this can be resolved very quickly,” he said equably. “Why could you possibly imagine we have any interest in taking control of a tiny island full of eskimos and whale bones?” He was fishing now, she could feel it. Trying to see how deep her intel ran.
    She pulled aside the first page of her dossier and ran her eyes over the list underneath.
    “We don’t need to overfly Saint Lawrence to see what is happening there,” she said. “You have more than 500 ground troops on the island at least, four portable anti-aircraft systems capable of shooting down aircraft over US airspace, one submarine and five littoral naval vessels, armed with ship to ship and ship to air missiles.” She looked up, seeing a slight smile on the man’s face. “You have activated almost every unit in the Eastern District air army, moved a squadron of Hunter drones to
    Lavrentiya and are staging continuous patrols up and down the Strait with manned Sukhoi fighters …”
    “To secure the waterway for international shipping…” Kelnikov began again, but she held up her hand.
    “And,” she said loudly, interrupting him, “And, you have the entire population of the island in the villages of Gambell and Savoonga under house arrest. They are being held hostage.”
    “No,” Kelnikov insisted. “Clearly your intelligence is unreliable. The local inhabitants have been moved to a safe location, so that there will not be any civilian casualties if you are foolish enough to respond militarily to our intervention.” He tapped the table, “They are being given food, shelter and even advanced medical care. Which I understand is more than their own government has given them for decades. When the situation is stable enough, we will allow the International Red Cross access to the residents to verify they are safe and well.”
    “It is not your place to allow anything!” Devlin protested. “These are US citizens, being held against their will by the armed forces of Russia.”
    “Protected,” Kelnikov corrected, leaning forward, “Against a rogue nation which has already demonstrated a reckless and violent disregard for the rules of international relations.”
    “You would be wise not to treat us like fools, sir,” Devlin said. “This aggression has one purpose, and that is to secure Russian control over a strategic waterway, and this we will not abide.”
    The minute she spoke, Devlin saw her assertion was somehow wide of the mark. Kelnikov smiled and sat back in his chair, relaxing visibly. His eyes, which had been flicking between her file labelled LOSOS, and her face, settled now on the sleeve of his jacket as he picked lint from it, as though he had suddenly lost interest in the meeting. Struggling to maintain her outrage, Devlin continued, “Our demand is simple,” she said. “All Russian military forces and any other Russian nationals will depart Saint Lawrence within 48 hours, that is, by 1800 hours Tuesday, Alaskan Standard Time...”
    “Please,” Kelnikov interrupted her. “Don’t tell me. You were about to say … ‘or there will be grave consequences’.”
    “No,” Devlin replied. “That is what our President is saying to the world press and to your President.
    The message I have for you is a little more direct.” Now she had his attention again. Good.
    “Go on.”
    “I have been authorized to tell you that if you do not withdraw by this deadline, Russian forces on Saint Lawrence will be wiped from the face of that island with a fire and fury unlike any seen this century.” She drew a breath, “And the United States will hold Russia entirely responsible for any and all civilian casualties that result from your refusal to comply.”
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    As she walked to her car, Devlin glowered. She had delivered her message, but there was no victory in that. Kelnikov would pass the message to his government, of that she was sure. But the State Department’s theory that this entire affair was about securing Russian control over the Bering Strait waterway had fallen flat on the floor. Kelnikov had smirked, as though by accusing them of it, she was just showing how ignorant she was. Dammit.
    Her aide Harrison knew her well enough not to hit her with a barrage of questions as they climbed into her car. As it pulled away from the curb, he let her gather her thoughts. Finally, she spoke.
    “This analyst, Williams.” she asked, patting the file on her knees. “Tell me he’s on station here in Moscow, not in some bunker in Virginia.”
    “Yes ma’am,” Harrison said. “NSA secondment. He’s an attaché in the Environment, Science,
    Technology and Health Section.”
    “But he’s a spook?”
    “Yes ma’am, undeclared. Just arrived in country I believe,” Harrison said. In fact, he knew exactly how long Williams had been in Russia. Forty two days.
    “Get him on the phone,” she said, holding out her hand. “Encrypt.”
    Harrison pulled out his phone, and then tapped on the app that gave him an encrypted connection via a US Embassy VPN to other Embassy staff. He looked up and dialed Williams, then handed it to Devlin. “I asked him to stand by his phone, just in case,” Harrison said.
    “That’s why I love you,” Devlin smiled and heard the ring tone stop to be replaced by a deep bass voice.
    “Hello? Williams speaking.”
    “Mr. Williams, this is Ambassador Devlin, I don’t believe we’ve met,” she said.
    “No ma’am,” he replied. No fumbling, fawning chit chat. She liked that.
    “When I get back to Spaso House I’d like to see you there, I need your thoughts on something,” she said.
    “Yes ma’am,” he replied. “But can you come to me instead?”
    She blinked, “I beg your pardon?”
    “Ma’am, there’s someone you should meet,” he said. “But I can’t bring him to Spaso House. You have to come to my office in the New Annex. Or, under it, actually.”
    She put her hand over the telephone and turned to Harrison, “What do you know about this guy?” Harrison shrugged, “Crack analyst, earned his stripes in China before being sent here, expert in neural networks…”
    “Neural what?”
    “Artificial Intelligence,” Harrison explained.
    She put the phone back to her ear. “OK Mr. Williams, your office it is. We’ll be there in about thirty minutes.”
    “You’d better allow a bit more time ma’am,” Williams said.
    She smiled, “Are you going to tell me your computer is showing heavy traffic on the ring road Mr. Williams?”
    “No ma’am,” he replied. “For the paperwork. I’m pretty sure you don’t have the code word clearances for what I want to share with you.”
    *
    *
    Roman Kelnikov was also finishing a phone call from his car, but it was a much more straightforward one. His call was to the Defense Minister, Andrei Burkhin. They discussed the American threat, and whether it was possible that the words ‘fire and fury’ were meant to convey a willingness to use tactical nuclear weapons.
    “I can’t rule that out,” Kelnikov said. “But we knew it was a possibility. She mentioned civilian casualties.”
    “It won’t be a disaster if they do use tactical nukes,” Burkhin responded. “They would become international pariahs.”
    “We could lose thousands of front line troops, aircraft and ships,” Kelnikov said. “Not to mention the civilian casualties. Surely…”
    “The troops on Saint Lawrence are … expendable,” Burkhin said. “And they number in the hundreds, not thousands. The ships are cold war relics. Aircraft losses would be limited to those directly over Saint Lawrence at the time. Civilian losses are a US matter. I’d almost welcome a nuclear strike. We could probably march into Alaska with the whole of the UN at our backs.”
    “All we need is a military response of some sort, preferably conventional,” Kelnikov said, a part of him recoiling at the thought of nuclear weapons being used so close to the Russian mainland. “Could we not just have our ships…”
    “There will be a military response, that is guaranteed now,” Burkhin said. “And it will be executed with the typical American aversion for risking the lives of its troops - a blizzard of cruise missiles is most likely. All we need is for America’s allies in Europe and Asia to baulk at entering the conflict when we announce we are creating a demilitarized zone in Alaska. Two to four weeks, and we will control the entire Yukon River Basin from Fort Yukon to Holy Cross.”
    Kelnikov couldn’t help notice the uncertainty in his colleague’s timeline. “You said two to four weeks? I thought this was supposed to be a lightning attack, over in days.”
    “Relax Roman,” Burkhin said. “You get the United Nations behind us, leave the battle plan to me.”
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    Williams had been right, Devlin had to admit. Of course there were areas of her own embassy that she was not able to waltz in and out of - high security communications or intelligence collection areas on the ‘Tophat’ restricted access floors for example. But she hadn’t been aware that an obscure office of the ESTH section in the basement of the New Annex was one of them. Mind you, she’d never had occasion to go there. It had taken Harrison a frustrating two hours on the telephone; first to find out from whom he needed to the secure the above Top Secret clearances needed so that Devlin could be briefed directly by Williams, and then to get the clearances sent through from Washington where it was still the middle of the night and no one seemed to want to take responsibility for letting a lowly Ambassador into what was apparently a very closed circle of Need To Know.
    As she followed Harrison and a security guard through the maze of corridors in the New Annex it struck Devlin that they should find a new nick-name for it. Built at the turn of the century, it had the working name ‘New Annex’ when people moved in, before later being officially called the ‘Mueller Wing’, after a former head of the CIA, in a move intended to irk their Russian hosts. The new name came too late though. To everyone working at the Embassy, it would always be the New Annex, just as the additional secure floors of the Chancery were called the Tophat.
    “In here ma’am,” the security guard said, keying a door. “Mr. Williams is third office on the left.” He held it open to let Harrison and herself through but Harrison stayed in the doorway with a shrug, “I’ll wait here. I could only get clearance for you ma’am.”
    She didn’t have to worry about where to go once the door swung shut behind her. A chubby bearded man with disheveled brown hair and a spot on his khaki shirt which looked distinctly like ketchup stepped out into the corridor and gave her a small wave.
    She walked down and held out her hand, “You must be Carl Williams?”
    “In the flesh, Ambassador,” he said, shaking her hand then turning to open the door behind him.
    “Call me Devlin, please,” she said stepping inside and looking around. “OK … disappointed.” It just came out, without her thinking. She had expected to walk into some sort of supercomputer center, huge mainframes in liquid nitrogen cooled towers behind hermetically sealed glass, sucking power from a small nuclear reactor buried under the floor of the New Annex. What else could have required such an effort to get her cleared?
    Instead, Williams office was about the size of her walk in wardrobe in Spaso House, with just enough room for desk holding a laptop and a coffee cup, a file safe and a chair for one visitor. Looking at the chair, she could see it hadn’t had much use. Although he had a bit of the mad professor look about him, Carl Williams’ office wasn’t as disheveled as his person. There wasn’t a piece of paper, stray paperclip or even a pen on his desk; just a few rings from coffee cups that hadn’t been cleaned off. The only personal item was a photo of a seascape that looked like it had been taken on a Pacific Coast somewhere.
    “I know, right?” he said, clearly not offended. “They asked what kind of office I would need and I said as long as it had an encrypted 1.5 terabit fat pipe up and down, I didn’t care.” He looked up, “At least it has high ceilings. You want a coffee?”
    “Thanks, do you even…” she asked, looking dubious.
    He held up a finger and then pulled out a drawer. Inside was a kettle, which he switched on, and a container of instant coffee. “You take cream and sugar?” he asked, pulling a paper cup full of small sachets out of the drawer. “I don’t myself, but I still have the stash I stole on the plane flight over.” The water boiling was very loud in the small space.
    “Black is fine,” she said. She looked up at the seascape photograph on his wall, “You grew up on the coast?”
    “No ma’am … Devlin,” he said. “That’s where I’m going to retire. La Jolla, San Diego, you know it?”
    “Can’t say I do.”
    “I’ve been putting away every spare dollar I made in China, and now here. Should have enough to buy into a condo by the beach in a couple of years, and then I’m going to learn to surf.”
    She looked at him dubiously. With his mop of brown hair he didn’t look old enough to be thinking about retiring, nor fit enough to think about surfing.
    He held up a hand, little finger and thumb outstretched, “Sick idea, right?”
    “California dreaming,” she said. “There are worse retirement plans. But it takes a lot of money to retire.”
    He pulled out the kettle and poured two cups of coffee, “Oh, not completely retire. I’ll still do consulting and stuff to pay the bills. There are only about 20 people in the world who can do what I do.”
    “And what is that, exactly?” she asked. “I’m told I’ve been cleared now.”
    “Sure. I program natural scenes and natural language on recursive neural networks,” he said.
    “Again?”
    “I teach machines to speak and understand plain English, and to look at images the way we do,” he said.
    “OK, and what do you do for the NSA?” she asked. “Here at my Embassy?”
    “Oh, I work with HOLMES, keeping him fed, debugged, and reporting on any intel he finds interesting,” he said.
    “HOLMES?”
    “I know, you’re wondering is it an acronym or something?” he said. “It’s, well... it’s like, I’m Dr. Watson, and he’s…”
    “Sherlock Holmes?”
    “Yeah, the someone I wanted you to meet,” he said, opening his laptop and typing in a long password that he supplemented with a thumb swipe. The laptop was hard wired to the wall by something Devlin hadn’t seen in a long time – a long optical fibre Ethernet cable. “I couldn’t just bring him to your office. You don’t have the bandwidth.” He turned his laptop around and Devlin saw a window that looked like a simple video conference window. She saw an image of herself captured by the laptop camera, on one side of the screen, and a Japanese manga style image of Sherlock Holmes on the other.
    “Say hello to the Ambassador HOLMES,” Williams said.
    “Pleased to meet you Ambassador Devlin,” a British accented voice said from the speakers of the laptop. “That’s a nice necklace you’re wearing. Australian South Sea Pearls from Broome, correct? A present from the Australian Foreign Minister.”
    Involuntarily, Devlin’s hand went to the pearls at her neck. She looked at Williams, “That’s creepy. I was given this about six years ago, when I was leaving Canberra.”
    “There must be a photo of it on a server somewhere,” Williams said, sounding unimpressed. “Ignore him, he’s just trying to show off. HOLMES, the Ambassador met with the Russian Foreign Minister today. She is going to ask you some questions.”
    Devlin stared at the manga detective on the screen, not sure where or how to start.
    “Just ask,” Williams prompted. “If I need to rephrase your question, I’ll chime in.”
    “Ok… do… what do you know about the current political situation between Russia and America over Saint Lawrence Island?” She leaned forward, but Williams spoke before the A.I. could.
    “Parse it HOLMES, brief download, specific answers only from here,” he said, then looked at Devlin, “I’m guessing you don’t want to know everything he knows. That could take hours.”
    “Yes Carl,” the British voice said. “At 0400 hours last Monday Russian ground, air and sea forces invaded the US territory of Saint Lawrence Island in the Bering Strait and have occupied the territory claiming they are doing so to protect commercial shipping from quote ‘unprovoked US aggression’. They have demanded that the US enter into negotiations on a new treaty guaranteeing freedom of navigation in Arctic waters. The incursion followed the destruction at sea of a Russian owned merchant vessel and the alleged stranding of a Russian nuclear submarine. Is this summary sufficient?”
    “Ah, yes, sure. State department has a theory that this is just a pretext, and the Russian occupation of Saint Lawrence is intended to be permanent, and give them the ability to control all shipping in the Bering Strait. But when I put this to the Russian Foreign Minister this morning, he looked… I don’t know…”
    “Confused, relieved, guilty, happy, sad….” Williams offered.
    “Smug,” Devlin said after thinking about it. “He looked smug.”
    “Thankyou Ambassador, that is very valuable input,” HOLMES said. “I was able to take the audio file of your meeting off the Danish Embassy server but I had no video with which to put your discussion into emotional context.”
    Devlin looked at Williams, “The Danes recorded us?”
    “Of course,” Williams said. “Wouldn’t we have?”
    “I guess,” she said. “But you hacked…”
    “Their server, yeah. We already had a backdoor into most of the missions in Moscow. Those we didn’t, we do now. Except for the Chinese. Those Unit 61398 guys are good. What do you want to ask, Ambassador?”
    “You worked out it was a Finnish submarine firing one of our own missiles that sank that Russian robot ship,” she said to Williams. “You warned in a briefing note to NSA of a scenario in which Russia would use that attack as a pretext for a political or military action of some sort in the near future and you were right.”
    “That was HOLMES,” Williams said. “Scenarios are his thing. He runs them night and day. He has access to every single data point collected by the NSA, CIA, FBI, Homeland Security, Border Force, DIA, Aerospace Command… you name it… going back twenty years. Once he lands on a scenario he tests it against the data, and then refines it as new data comes in.”
    “I love new data,” HOLMES said.
    Devlin raised her eyebrows.
    “I didn’t program that,” Williams said, defensively. “He’s decided that himself. He means ‘like’, he likes new data. I give him broad areas of investigation. Then he builds scenarios and he’s programmed to seek data out, use every new datum point to refine the probabilities in his scenarios. Once they reach a threshold of 30 percent probability, I write them up.”
    “I don’t like new data,” the voice from the laptop said, sounding piqued. “I love it.”
    “Still working on that,” Williams said to Devlin. “You want him to share the scenarios he’s building on the Russian invasion of Saint Lawrence?”
    “Yes,” Devlin said. “That’s exactly…”
    “OK, HOLMES? What’s the highest probability scenario you are working on the Russian invasion of Saint Lawrence.”
    “I currently have a scenario with 83% probability Carl,” the voice said.
    “Describe that scenario, parse, brief summaries until further notice please.”
    “Yes Carl. The Russian government plans a nuclear attack on the United States of America which will result in assured mutual destruction, massive radiation fallout, climate change and potential human extinction,” the voice said calmly.
    Devlin felt the hairs rise on her neck, but Williams just sighed.
    “OK, let’s just assume for now that isn’t their plan - what is the second highest rated probability?”
    “The Russian government is trying to create international sympathy for its next move, which is likely to be an invasion of the United States mainland.”
    “Supporting evidence?” Williams asked, ignoring the shocked look on Devlin’s face.
    “In the two weeks prior to the invasion of Saint Lawrence Island, Russian military command ordered the following elements of the Eastern Military District to high readiness: the 29th Army, the 5th Red Banner Army and the 36th Army, totaling 120,00 troops. Ordered to active combat duty was the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command and the 14th Spetsnaz Brigade which was the unit which conducted the initial ground operation on Saint Lawrence. Further Special Forces ordered to active combat duty but not yet deployed include the 24th Spetsnaz Brigade, the 11th and 83rd Airborne Brigades. Do you want me to continue?”
    “Yes.”
    “In the Russian Central Command, the following units were also activated. The Yekaternina Communications Brigade, 3rd Guards Spetsnaz Brigade, 31st Guards Airborne Brigade and the 14th Air and Air Defense Forces Army.”
    “How do these ‘activations’ support your hypothesis of a ground invasion of mainland America?” Devlin asked.
    “In the last two years the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command has been built up significantly and almost exclusively with squadrons and pilots returning from the Middle East and it now comprises the most combat hardened air force unit in Russia. It is a composite force comprising fighters, ground attack, airborne refueling, command and control, electronic warfare, transport and close air support rotary winged aircraft. It would be ideally suited to the task of achieving air supremacy over a battle front, while the air army of Central Command filled in for its continental duties. Continue?”
    “Yes.”
    “The ground units ordered to active combat duty in the Eastern Military District are almost exclusively rapid deployment units: Spetsnaz and airborne troops. These are the forces that would be used in the initial phase of an invasion to quickly eliminate threats and secure high value targets…”
    “Stop,” Williams said. He had a pencil twirling between his fingers and tapped it on his teeth. “HOLMES have you seen any evidence of major ground forces of battalion strength or greater being brought to readiness?”
    “No Carl.”
    “But that would be necessary if Russia intended a full scale invasion of the US mainland?”
    “Yes Carl. In 2019 the US Army War College in Carlisle Pennsylvania wargamed a major conventional war in Europe between Russian and NATO forces. Russia initially made significant gains in Eastern Europe before the intervention of US forces on the Western Front. ‘Russian’ commanders then decided to try to alleviate the US pressure by attacking the USA through Alaska in order to threaten the major population centers of the US northwest. The US invasion required the initial commitment of 80-100,000 Eastern District ground troops and if successful would have required up to 620,000 troops.”
    “It wasn’t successful,” Williams guessed.
    “No. However Russian airborne forces nullified and captured the key US military bases at Elmendorf-Richardson, Anchorage, and Eielson, Fairbanks, and used them to land ground forces via an air and sea bridge. From there, they attacked through Canada, reaching Vancouver, where they paused to consolidate before attacking Seattle. Two US carrier task forces were deployed and together with attack submarines began interdiction of Russian sea and air supply lines across the Bering Sea and Alaskan airspace. A Russian attempt to land elements of the 35th Army in Anchorage by sea through the Aleutian
    Islands was intercepted by the US Pacific Fleet. US ground forces attacked Russian forces in Vancouver from the south and then Canadian and US ground forces attacked their eastern flank through the Canadian Yukon Territory, recapturing Fairbanks and Anchorage and causing the Russian attack to collapse. The total irrecoverable personnel losses of the Russian Armed Forces, frontier, and internal security troops came to 14,453. Russian Army formations, units, and HQ elements lost 13,833, FSB subunits lost 572, MVD formations lost 28, and other ministries and departments lost 20 men. US and Canadian losses were about half of these numbers.”
    “An invasion makes no sense,” Devlin said. “They couldn’t even hold Alaska, let alone invade the USA with a few brigades of special forces troops, no matter how powerful their air force.”
    “I concur Ambassador. This scenario does not consider that Russia intends a full scale invasion of the USA,” HOLMES said.
    “What then?”
    “In this scenario, the forces assembled are too numerous for Saint Lawrence Island to be the main objective. However they may be sufficient to take and hold Western Alaska.”
    Western Alaska?” Devlin asked, clearly sceptical.
    “Nome and environs,” HOLMES explained. “It is not well known that there are no significant roads or railways between western Alaska and the rest of the State. If an enemy occupied Nome, there woud be no easy way to counter attack over land using heavy armour or ground forces.”
    “Thanks HOLMES, let us think about this,” Williams said. “Stand by.”
    Devlin reached for her coffee cup, “No wonder that #%&*$# Kelnikov looked so smug when I accused him of designs on the polar sea lanes. If your silicon friend is right, I couldn’t have been further from the mark.” She sipped. “But, Alaska?”
    “I know, right? They have a billion acres of unoccupied land in Siberia they could use if they were looking for icy wasteland real estate, so it isn’t living space they’re after. HOLMES, list the main natural resources of Alaska.”
    “Alaska has commercially viable deposits of oil, gold, copper, silver, mercury, Gold, tin, coal, iron ore, borax, chromite, antimony, tungsten, nickel, molybdenum, sand, gravel, and limestone,” the British detective voice intoned.
    “Does Russia have significant shortages of any of these resources?” Williams asked.
    “No Carl. Russia is either an exporter or is self-sufficient in all of these resources.”
    Williams dropped his pencil on his desk, “Nah. This scenario doesn’t make sense HOLMES. Russia needs a reason to want to mount a ground invasion of Alaska. You’ve got all the other pieces, but you’re missing motive my man.”
    “Thankyou Carl. I will take your input into consideration in my analysis,” HOLMES said. Devlin couldn’t help smile, despite how she felt. The voice of the great detective sounded distinctly miffed.
    “Continue speculative analysis with full focus on the implications of the Russian Saint Lawrence operation please, disregard all other tasking,” Williams said. “I want a motive HOLMES.”
    “Yes Carl.”
    Williams reached out and pulled the lid of his laptop down.
    “He’s annoyed,” Carl said. “That’s also programmed. It forces him to revisit all of his analyses and broaden his search for data to support high probability scenarios.”
    Devlin stood. She had called in a report of her conversation with Kelnikov but still had to write it up, and include some of what Williams and his silicon sidekick had shared with her. She sat down again.
    “How reliable is this AI of yours?” she asked.
    “Only as reliable as the intel he can access,” Williams said. “But don’t worry, he’s not the only one working this on our side. NSA has three systems like HOLMES. All of them are learning systems and they share their analyses and test hypotheses with each other. When they agree on something, it’s usually rock solid.”
    “They talk to each other?” Devlin asked, sounding dubious.
    “In code, yeah. At quantum speeds. They’re like brothers, argue a lot,” Williams said.
    “Brothers.”
    “Yeah. And HOLMES is the big brother,” Williams said proudly. “He was the first, and he’s learned more. I’ve got him doing stuff the other two systems are years away from being able to mimic.”
    Devlin shook her head, “Look, can you send me a report on the top three most likely scenarios you are working on and the intel you have backing them? I am going to send a report to State saying Kelnikov’s reaction makes me think their theory about controlling polar sea lanes is bogus, but I need to be able to put an alternative or two forward.”
    “Like invading Alaska for no reason we can see?” Williams asked, and Devlin realized as he spoke that it sounded a long way from plausible.
    “Like that,” Devlin said. “Thankyou Carl.” She stood to leave, then hesitated. The man intrigued her, the whole setup with the NSA AI system did too. “Can I ask you something.”
    “You’re cleared for it ma’am,” his whiskery Father Christmas face smiled at her.
    “Not this. If all you need is broadband and a laptop, you could probably work from anywhere in the world, but your last posting was China and now you’re here in Russia. Why?”
    He looked around him at the bare walls and sparse furniture and shrugged, “I like exotic locales?”
    *
    *
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 31 Jan - 02/01/18 09:33 AM

    The more you write, the more I feel the need for my next fix, damn you rofl
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 31 Jan - 02/01/18 03:10 PM

    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    The more you write, the more I feel the need for my next fix, damn you rofl


    Thx! Type type type type.... slurp ... type type type.... hic ... type...
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 31 Jan - 02/01/18 07:43 PM

    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    The more you write, the more I feel the need for my next fix, damn you rofl


    +1
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 2 Feb - 02/02/18 06:41 PM

    SIGHT SEEING

    [Linked Image]

    We’re going back in,” Halifax said. “Target identification.” He had called a meeting in the trailer to brief Rodriguez and O’Hare and get their thoughts on how to execute the mission he’d been given.
    “What targets?” O’Hare asked.
    “Gambell,” Halifax said. “We know the civilian hostages at Savoonga are being held in the radar station cantonment at Savoonga. Don’t ask me how we know, probably SigInt. But we don’t know where they’re being held in Gambell.” He saw the look on Bunny’s face. “I know, it’s where we lost those Fantoms. They got lucky, but this time we know what we’re up against.”
    “Don’t we have satellite coverage now?” Rodriguez asked.
    “Thick cloud down to 1,000 feet for today and expected into the next week,” Halifax said. “We have synthetic aperture radar coverage but they want to triangulate what they have. Plus Ivan is trying to blind our satellites with ground based lasers.”
    “They can do that? I didn’t know they had the capability,” Rodriguez said, surprised.
    “Me either. Seems they had a few surprises up their sleeves. Satellites are functioning at 1/3 optimal I’m told, but they can relay the signals from our birds if we can sneak them in there.”
    “They’re trying to confuse our infra-red?”
    “Yes. As well as the laser interference, Russians have lit fires all over both Savoonga and Gambell, probably just smudge pots, to mask the heat signatures of their emplacements and any buildings they’re using. You’ll go in tonight with recon pods, low-light, infrared and SAR. There are nearly 200 people in Gambell, they must be using some sort of heat to keep them warm. If nothing else you can identify those smudge pots and decoy fires and we’ll locate the captives by process of elimination.”
    “We are 24 hours out from the deadline we gave the Russians to withdraw,” O’Hare said. “Is there any sign they are packing up and bugging out? SigInt, air traffic, that kind of thing?”
    “I haven’t been advised. But if they are, you get a Fantom over Gambell, we should be able to see it. Primary objective though is to identify the location of the hostages at Gambell.”
    “We’re going to send in a Seal Team, try to get the hostages out before we hit the Russian positions?” Rodriguez asked.
    Halifax shook his head, “I haven’t been told, and probably wouldn’t be. But I’d doubt it. By the time we get the intel back to ANR, it would probably be too late and in any case, there are hundreds of Russian regular troops on that island with some heavy duty air cover. It’s not like a Seal Team can just buzz in there in their helos, take out a few jihadis and save the day.”
    “Speaking of which, I’m going to need someone to pull that air cover away somehow,” Bunny said. “We got in underneath them last time while they were distracted. We try the same this time, and I’m going to get swatted from above again, and that’s assuming I can blow through any Verba or ship based anti-air coverage.”
    Halifax smiled a grim smile, “Oh, I can promise you they’ll be distracted.”
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    After the tense first 24 hours of the takeover of Saint Lawrence Island, during which Bondarev had flown three sorties with his men, the last few days had been surprisingly quiet. US aircraft had kept to their coastline, respecting the Russian imposed no-go zone, even though it crossed into US airspace. As far as they were aware, there had also been no US recon flights over the island since the first intrusion, in which the Americans had lost two of their UAVs. Bondarev wasn’t naive, he knew the Americans would have satellite coverage and may have managed to sneak one of their smaller recon UAVs in under his nose.
    American recon UAVs weren’t his big concern. His real worry was if they managed to get a flight of UCAVs in under his fighter and radar screen. Six of the small Fantom fighters, loaded with the new US
    Small Advanced Capabilities Missile, nicknamed CUDA, could bring down an entire squadron of his Su-57s if they were lucky. He had argued with General Lukin about even putting piloted aircraft at risk in the air over the Bering Strait once the initial need was past, but Lukin had turned it around and pointed out to Bondarev that his Okhotnik drones were still missing trained pilots and system operators and it would be at least another two weeks before crews moved from other units could fill the gap.
    Modern Russian air war doctrine called for the use of piloted aircraft for critical operations. While Russia had matched the US in the capabilities of its piloted fighters and weapons, it had chosen a different strategy on drones than the USA. The winning designers at Sukhoi had successfully argued that Russia needed a UCAV optimized for air-to-ground operations to match the capabilities of the US Fantom, and given the limitations of the Okhotnik platform that meant two crew sitting in a trailer on the ground – a pilot and a systems officer. The US however was more advanced in terms of combat AI, meaning that a lot of the tasks of the traditional systems officer could be handed off to on-board AI, freeing the US pilot to both direct the drones and target weapons in near real time.
    Combat experience in the Middle East had shown that Russian human-crewed fighters had a higher kill to loss ratio than American unmanned fighters. But America had dramatically increased its use of armed drones much earlier than Russia and had run into exactly the same problems as Bondarev was faced with now around crew availability. That had forced a major change in US drone doctrine and the requirements issued for the competition to design the platform that would become the Fantom, had included the capability for ‘autonomous AI’ capability in combat and an ability to ‘slave’ the Fantom to any compatible NATO system so that one pilot could fly up to six UCAVs at a time - their now infamous ‘hex’. Once the bugs had been ironed out of this system, and faced with both a resurgent Russia and assertive China, America had put its energy into optimizing drone pilot training and aircraft production capacity, so that it could field enough pilots and drones to support it’s ‘two-front’ doctrine: the ability to fight a major war in two theatres at the same time, just as it had done in World War II.
    Bondarev and his men had only seen American drones in small numbers over Turkey and Syria though, and even then, usually only the unarmed reconnaissance version, the Fury. NATO air forces in the region had not been armed with the latest US frontline UCAVs and the US had not been willing to commit, and risk losing, its much hyped Fantom. The Russian pilots assured themselves it was because the pilotless robot planes were not the threat the US made them out to be, and they were afraid to lose face by committing them against battle-hardened Russian fighter squadrons.
    All of this was going through Bondarev’s mind as his squadron wheeled through the sky in the narrow air corridor between Saint Lawrence island and the Alaskan mainland. Yes, he could have stayed warm and safe on the ground in Lavrentiya, but he was the kind of commander who liked to fly the front himself. He wasn’t so vain as to think himself irreplaceable. If he died up here, there were a hundred men able and more than willing to take his place.
    His eyes flicked across the threats on his HUD without alarm, as the situation had not changed greatly since day one of the operation. The US was moving a huge number of aircraft into Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson air bases and had mobilized its national guard to protect those bases and the population centers of Fairbanks, and Anchorage. Centers which Bondarev knew Russia had no designs on. It was the Yukon River basin Russia was interested in, and so they would be drawing a red line across the state of Alaska from Fort Yukon in the North East to Bethel in the South West.
    If all out nuclear war did not erupt (and that was a big ‘if’ in Bondarev’s book), the US was expected to focus on fortifying its population centers against an attack that would not come. Nome would be taken - Russia needed some geopolitical leverage after all, and would need an administrative capital in its new Yukon territory. But to the outside world, it should look exactly like Russia had kept its word. Its stated intention in the attack on the US would be that it simply wanted to create a buffer zone, a demilitarized area between Russia and the USA - a response that had been forced on it by rampant US aggression in the Bering Strait.
    By the time the US realized that it had been deprived of 14% of its freshwater supply, it would be too late.
    To Bondarev, what had seemed like a suicidal gambit a week ago, was suddenly looking like it might, just possibly, pay off. Confusion clearly reigned in Washington about how to respond to the Russian intervention. NATO was crippled by an indecisive EU, not interested in going to war over a ‘minor freedom of navigation dispute’. The US military was being held in check by an administration that was full of bluster, but no bite.
    “Gold 1 from Gold Command, vector 045 degrees, altitude 35,000 please, we have business for you,” he heard as the voice of his A-100 air controller broke his reverie. At that moment he cursed his overconfidence, knowing it had almost certainly jinxed him. “Patching through data now,” the AWACS aircraft said. “Vectoring all available support to your sector.”
    He looked down at the threat screen in his cockpit and took a deep breath. The AWACs aircraft was sending through data from ground and air based long range radar sources. The screen showed huge formations of aircraft forming up over Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson. The numbers beside the swirling vortex of icons indicated he was looking at two elements of at least 50 aircraft in strength, each.
    “Gold 2 to Gold leader,” his wingman called, a slight note of panic in his voice. “Are you seeing this?”
    “Roger Gold 2, stand by.” His first reaction was that it didn’t make sense. This had all the hallmarks of the prelude to a major attack, but there were still nearly 24 hours until the US mandated deadline for Russian troop withdrawal from Saint Lawrence. Were they trying to take Russia by surprise, by moving early? It was hard to see what the tactical advantage would be, and there would certainly be no political advantage. It would only serve to confirm how hawkish and erratic the US leadership was. But if this was the ‘fire and fury’ that the US had promised, surely Bondarev would have already received warning that the US had scrambled elements of its strategic bomber force?
    Of course, if the US Stealth Bombers had sortied from Guam several hours ago, they may not yet have been detected.
    Perhaps it was just a feint, to test Russian readiness in advance of the real attack. Or a PR stunt, intended to reassure a restive US media and public that its armed forces were ready for action. He checked his watch. It was 0200 at night in Alaska, which made it 0600 in Washington. That made sense - perhaps this was just smoke and mirrors, timed to make the morning TV shows on the US East coast. He watched carefully as the circling icons over Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson coalesced into a single ‘aluminum cloud’ of at least 100 aircraft that no stealth systems in the world could disguise.
    Definitely a PR stunt or feint. Multiple smaller attacks would have been much more effective.
    The Russian C3I system throwing data onto Bondarev’s screens sorted the electronic signature and radar returns it was getting from the enemy formation and assigned different icons to each aircraft type to let its pilots know what they were looking at. As his eyes scanned the screen, a chill went over him.
    The huge enemy formation comprised almost exclusively aircraft with the designation F-47.
    Fantoms. These were not National Guard units. As one, they began moving toward Saint Lawrence Island.
    This was no feint.
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    If Dave was cold before, he was both cold, and tired now. They’d retired to the tank to warm up, eat and get some rest. Perri had cleaned the barrel of his rifle. He was still annoyed he hadn’t been able to zero the new sight on his Winchester, and he hadn’t been able to find any army surplus armor piercing rounds in the loot they’d taken from the general store. On the other hand, they had hundreds of steel tipped 180 grain magnum rounds with anti-fouling coating, and even at a couple of hundred yards range he was sure they would slice through the aluminum carport roof without trouble. The steel tipped, copper jacketed Winchester rounds were popular for hunting reindeer stags – anything less risked not being able to penetrate the animal’s thick skull, and the less confident hunters could aim at the shoulder or haunches; the steel tip letting the bullet slice through the thick hide while the copper jacket and lead core would spread on impact and shatter a leg or hip joint.
    It also left a smaller entry hole in the valuable reindeer hide.
    A little metal on metal probably wouldn’t hurt for his upcoming ‘hunt’, as he was trying to trigger an explosion in the ammo inside the carport. He wanted some friction or sparks to set the ammo off. He was pretty sure that even without having zeroed his rifle, he’d be able to hit something as big as a carport roof with his new precision guided scope. Hell just using iron sights, he could plug a seal in the head from a hundred yards as it was coming up for air, and that in a raging blizzard, so he had no excuses for missing a stationary carport.
    Dave had tried to argue he wasn’t even needed on the trip. But Perri had insisted he need to come along to keep an eye out for Russian patrols. Perri wanted to be sure there were no foot or vehicle patrols near the dump when he set it off. He was pretty sure any buildings near the ammo dump were empty now, with all the residents being held at the school a few hundred yards away, but he didn’t want to accidentally kill any Russian soldiers and give them an excuse to retaliate against the townsfolk.
    Not yet, anyway.
    Once again, they’d navigated their way around the nesting Auklets. Finding their previous position in the dark hadn’t proved as easy as he thought, but eventually Dave spotted the two upright stones they had hidden behind while scouting out the town, and using them for reference they scrambled up the side of the bluff to give themselves about another twenty feet in vertical distance, without adding too much to the lateral.
    “What about the flash from the barrel?” Dave asked. “Won’t it be like a big old strobe light saying hey, up here, come up here and kill us?!”
    Perri looked up at the sky. The cloud had come in thick and low, and Dave was right, it was a dark night, with only a faint diffuse glow from the moon making its way through.
    “Maybe,” Perri agreed. “If anyone is looking in exactly this direction at exactly the right time. I’m going to put ten rounds into that building as quickly as I can, then we’ll run for it. Nothing blows up, then they’ll arrive tomorrow morning and wonder who the hell used their ammo dump for target practice and maybe we at least put some holes in some of their missiles.” He smiled, teeth white in the dark night, “But if that shed goes up, I don’t think they’ll be looking up here amongst the rocks and birdsh*t for the reason. They’ll probably think it was a cruise missile or something.”
    He sounded completely confident, but Dave wasn’t buying it. “Yeah, right. We are so going to die tonight.”
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    During the Cold War, lone sorties by strategic bombers or surveillance aircraft from both sides of the Bering Strait had ‘strayed’ into opposition airspace and provoked a response. Sometimes deliberately, to test enemy capabilities and response times, other times innocently, due to navigation failures. As the newly reinvigorated Russian air force had shown in the Middle East that it was more than a match for its old foe, it had also begun to be more brazen in its provocations in the Pacific Far East, more than once resulting in the US threatening to shoot down wayward Russian aircraft, though they never had, and Russia had not chosen to push them that far.
    Never though, had one side put so much air power into the Pacific Far East theatre as the US was doing right now.
    Bondarev’s eyes flicked from his tactical display to his instruments to the night sky around him in a constant circle. His HUD was showing that two other squadrons from his 6983rd Air Force Base were forming up as ordered, above and beside him. But this still gave him only 54 aircraft to nearly double that number of US fighters. The A-100 AI was still designating the bulk of the approaching aircraft as American F-47 UCAVs, flying out front like a silicon shield - no doubt armed with the newest CUDA missiles - with piloted F-35s behind them, probably carrying the AIM 140 LREW or long range engagement weapon which was too large to fit into the drones weapons bays.
    Against these his 54 Sukhois were each armed with two long range and four short range missiles, but only about a third of them were carrying the new KM-77 phased array missile because Operation LOSOS had come in the middle of an upgrade cycle. The KM-77 had a slightly greater range than the CUDA, otherwise they were an even match. Not for the first time, he regretted Lukin’s direct order not to field his Okhotniks. It would have been advantageous to be able to put his own drones out in front of his piloted aircraft to meet the incoming US armada.
    In any case, they might be about to see how the vaunted American Fantom performed in air-to-air combat against a real flesh and blood enemy. And they would know in about 30 seconds as the American force reached AMRAAM range.
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    “Gold Control to Gold Leader: enemy aircraft approaching stand-off missile range in five, four…” the A-100 AWACs announced. The first test would be to see whether this was a direct attack. If it was, the
    US F-35s could launch long range air-to-ground missiles aimed at targets on Saint Lawrence from within Alaskan airspace, and then turn around and flee under the protection of the cloud of drones surrounding them.
    “Silver leader to Gold leader, Silver airborne and en-route,” he heard a voice say over the radio. Having seen the size and apparent intent of the US attacking force, he had scrambled the 36 remaining Sukhois and Mig-41s he had at readiness in Lavrentiya. It had taken them a precious 20 minutes to get airborne and formed up. Too slow. Someone would have to get their butt kicked for that. They wouldn’t be able to climb to altitude in time for the coming engagement.
    “Roger Silver leader, vector zero three zero, NOE please. Passive arrays only. Take your targeting from the data net,” Bondarev ordered. He would use his reserves as a surprise attack force, hoping if he kept them down at wave top level the enemy aircraft wouldn’t know they were there until their missiles started tracking. “Gold leader out.”
    “…two…one…mark,” the air controller continued to count down the range to possible standoff munitions launch. Bondarev had his eyes fixed to the threat display, listening for the warning tones indicating enemy air-to-ground missiles were on their way. The KM-77 was also an efficient cruise missile killer and he knew the pilots fielding it would be prepared to switch their targeting from the US aircraft to US missiles if they appeared. But the board stayed clear, there were no tones.
    “Gold squadrons, hold station,” Bondarev ordered his pilots. On his HUD he saw that while they might not have fired any missiles, the US armada was still boring straight for Saint Lawrence. “Flight control, ROE update please?”
    “ROE unchanged Gold leader,” the controller replied. “You are free to fire if US aircraft cross the no-fly perimeter.”
    Bondarev cursed under his breath. Their rules of engagement hadn’t changed since day one of Operation LOSOS. They were hemmed in behind an invisible line in the sky, giving the US fighters a clear tactical advantage because they could choose the time and place of their attack.
    “Enemy aircraft approaching US LREW range in ten, nine, eight…” the controller stated, unnecessarily. His pilots would soon be within range of the US long range air-to-air missiles. So be it.
    They might get the first missiles away, but they would not go unanswered.
    “Gold aircraft, lock up targets but hold your fire,” Bondarev told his pilots. “Keep your heads people. Anyone who fires without my express order will be court martialed.”
    Two..one…mark…”
    Once again, the missile threat warnings stayed silent, but the US aircraft pushed forward, hitting the Alaskan coast now. They would be on top of Bondarev and his men within minutes. Could it be they were going to try to overfly Saint Lawrence, just to test Russian resolve? To prove they were masters of their own skies still?
    “Gold Control, requesting permission to engage with K-77s before enemy aircraft reach CUDA missile range. Please advise.”
    Tactically, the US full frontal attack was insane. Dozens of their aircraft would be swatted from the sky within minutes if Bondarev was the first to engage. Could they be that stupid?
    Stupid like an Arctic fox perhaps. Politically, it wasn’t so crazy. Let Russia be the aggressor. Force them onto the diplomatic back foot. Create the rationale for a major assault to retake Saint Lawrence on the basis of Russia invading and then shooting down American aircraft over American soil? Maybe that explained why the bulk of the approaching force were politically expendable drones.
    “Gold Leader, we have orders from General Lukin directly,” the voice of the A-100 controller said. “Only if US fighters cross the no-fly perimeter, are you free to engage, repeat, you cannot fire until the perimeter is breached.”
    “Gold Control, if we wait that long, we will be within CUDA range,” Bondarev said. “We will have no tactical advantage. That may be exactly what they are trying to achieve.”
    The voice that came back was stone cold, and Bondarev recognized it immediately. He should have known General Lukin would be monitoring comms and he flinched as the man broke in on the radio traffic, “Are your orders unclear Gold leader?”
    “No sir, perfectly clear. Gold leader out.” Bondarev hammered the perspex over his head in frustration. It was a typical political compromise. His life and the life of his men put in the balance so that politicians or diplomats could claim a moral high ground, before abandoning it completely. “Gold and Silver flight leaders, keep your targets locked, await my order.”
    Bondarev rolled his shoulders in the tight confines of his cockpit, and flexed his fingers. He had a feeling the dying was about to begin.
    *
    *
    Perri sighted down onto the town below.
    It was damn dark. The glowing display in the scope showed very little wind, but a surprising amount of elevation if he was going to put any rounds through the roof of the car park below. He had to check what the scope was telling him against his own instincts. The copper clad bullets were heavier than the polymer tipped varmint rounds he usually used, but would the bullets really drop that much over this distance? He’d had to input the rifle and ammo type into the scope manually - had he screwed it up?
    He cleared the target and put the small glowing red pipper over the dark black rectangle that was the carport roof, and pushed the button near his trigger again. It showed the range as 230 yards, wind at about 3 feet a second from the northwest, but the cross hairs telling him where to aim were way over the roof. It felt to him like he would be shooting way over the target.
    Damn. He’d rushed it. He should have been patient, should have hiked up into the rocks up on the bluff, out of earshot of the town, fired a bunch of test rounds with the new ammo and the new scope until he was satisfied he had it zeroed.
    Damn damn damn.
    “What’s the matter?” Dave asked him. “Shoot already! Let’s get out of here.”
    Perri bet on his instincts. He was the best damn shot in Gambell, he knew that. He had a sense, a feeling for wind and elevation, for the movement of his target. He had a way of knowing just when a seal or whale was going to breach, when a bird was going to dip right or left. And right now what the scope was telling him - the windage felt right, but the elevation didn’t.
    He took a breath and held it.
    He steadied the crosshairs just above the outer lip of the roof. If he saw his shots hitting the sandbags, he could correct.
    OK Perri. Ten shots, as fast you can pull the trigger, or until the damn carport blows up.
    And then run like hell.
    *
    *

    “Every Russian aircraft in the sky over Saint Lawrence just lit their burners and headed east,” Bunny said, visor down, nestled behind her VR screens inside the trailer. “Care to share why Sir?”
    “Well, you’re going to see it on the morning news anyway,” Halifax said. “The media name for it is Operation Resolve. The idea is to show the Russians just what will happen tomorrow if they don’t start withdrawing.”
    “Whatever it is, it’s giving us clear air over Gambell,” Rodriguez noted. The late night launch of their two recon Fantoms had been a routine affair, and she’d been locked in the command trailer with Halifax and O’Hare for nearly an hour as Bunny got her one of her drones into position to make a run over the target while the other stayed in reserve. Satellite synthetic aperture radar images had shown a lot of hardware lining the side of the landing strip, and intelligence analysis had identified at least four Verba sites, two bracketing Gambell and two bracketing the facility at Savoonga. The way the Verbas had engaged outside optical range showed they were fully networked, pulling targeting data from AWACS, satellite and aircraft overhead, but Rodriguez had a feeling their crews would be looking east right now, because whatever ‘Operation Resolve’ was, something big was brewing there.
    The imaging also showed concentrations of vehicle traffic in a couple of places in the township, one that had been identified as the ‘town hall’ and was speculated to be a military command post, and the other identified as the John Ampangalook Memorial High School. If the 200 plus townsfolk were being held anywhere, it was probably there, but the telltale heat bloom that would come from a mass of people packed into the school buildings there was being confused by a number of other heat sources burning in an around the school and the outskirts of town. This was what Bunny had to investigate. It was possible Russian troops were torching houses to drive people out, more likely they had just lit fuel oil ‘smudge pots’ to confuse infra-red imaging.
    Bunny’s Fantoms were carrying no weapons except guns this time. In the load bay were dedicated reconnaissance pods that sported a suite of low light, infrared and radar imaging capabilities. If she could just get one good run the length of Gambell, they would get a wealth of data. If she could get two, they might have a real chance of identifying where those hostages were being held so that they had a chance of surviving the coming metal storm. There was another ‘if’. She had to hope that the enemy was still relying on simple portable ground to air missile defenses or radar targeted ship based missiles on Saint Lawrence, not the kind that could pick up her radar or electronic emissions and home on those. It was a big ‘if’.
    “Starting ingress,” Bunny said. She had a suite of recon flight routines at her fingertips, leaving the AI to run the surveillance systems using a low-level full spectrum target ID algorithm that directed it to both map the entire target area at wide angle, and zoom in to try to identify military equipment and targets based on their physical or ELINT properties. “No nosy Sukhois around,” she observed, “Thankyou Operation Resolve.”
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    “Gold leader to Gold flight commanders, prepare to… hold! Safe your weapons, repeat, safe your weapons!” Bondarev nearly yelled into his mike.
    He had just gotten a report from both his AWACS aircraft and the ground based air defense commander that the enemy armada would be crossing the no-fly perimeter any second. He had been straining his eyes, looking for any telltale light or exhaust trail to show on the horizon, while flicking back and forth between his instruments and the threat display showing the mass of icons that was the American aircraft headed straight for him and his fighters. He had six missiles, and a target locked for each of them. He knew his pilots would also have their targets designated, the offensive assault distributed across all of his aircraft so that every US plane had at least two or three missiles allocated to it, arrowing at it from various angles, both high and low.
    If that gave him any confidence, then the knowledge that the enemy had nearly a quarter as many missiles again targeting the Russian aircraft took that away. There would be very few aircraft left flying a few minutes from now.
    But why hadn’t they engaged at long distance missile range? What were they waiting for?
    Bondarev got his answer just before he ordered his fighters to engage. In one smooth movement, as it crossed the Alaskan coast into the waters of the Bering Strait, the US force split into two, half swinging north, and the other half swinging south.
    They were no longer approaching Saint Lawrence. And they were still outside the Russian no-fly perimeter.
    Bondarev quickly split his own force, suspecting that was exactly what the US planners were trying to force him to do, but he had no other option. Within moments he had 27 aircraft flying parallel to and about twenty miles apart from 50 US fighters headed north, and the other 27 tracking the US southern group, with the 36 aircraft of his Silver battalion staying low in the clutter of the Saint Lawrence landscape.
    He told his flight commanders to stay alert. There was still a chance this was just a pincer movement, and the US force would swing toward Saint Lawrence again to slam shut the jaws of the pincer. His eyes flicked frantically from threat to threat on his HUD, his fingers hovering over the missile launch buttons on his stick.
    But then the US fighters turned away, back toward Alaska. One group set up a lower racetrack circuit along the coast to the south, the other took a high cover position, but also set up a race track position along the north coast. Bondarev let out a huge breath, and ordered his people to do mirror the American positions to the north and south of Saint Lawrence.
    He moved his thumb away from the firing button for his weapons. “Gold leader to Gold and Silver commanders, weapons safe, but stay alert. Gold, do you see any other enemy air activity? Could this be a decoy for an attack from another quarter?”
    “Gold Control to Gold leader, the board is clear,” the air commander replied. “The enemy force did not cross the no-fly perimeter. It looks like they are just rattling their sabers.”
    “Roger that, Gold leader out,” Bondarev said. Roger that. If this was sabre rattling, he could only imagine what tomorrow would bring, when the US deadline ran out.
    *
    *

    “OK, they’re around the corner at the next block now,” Dave said. He’d been following a jeep that was making a regular circuit of the town, waiting for it to get well clear of the ammo dump. There were no foot soldiers near the dump that he could see, and no lights in any of the nearby houses.
    Perri ignored the guidance of the digital scope, settled the crosshairs on furthers edge of the carport roof, took a breath, waited for the small trembling circular motion of his gun barrel to steady itself, and then squeezed the trigger. The report from the Winchester sounded impossibly loud in the still night air, and caromed off the rocks around them. But before it had even registered, Perri worked the bolt and fired again, and again.
    Down in the dark, he saw a spark.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    “Holy hell!” Bunny exclaimed as the surveillance feed from the Fantom that had just started its run over Gambell flared bright white. In an instant, it looked like she had lost both low-light and infra-red camera coverage, and was suddenly flying blind. She quickly ordered the drone to level out, and saw with relief it was responding to inputs. She wasn’t showing a missile launch. It hadn’t been hit.
    “Laser jamming?” Halifax asked.
    “I don’t think…” Bunny muttered. She flicked her fingers across her keyboard. The drone should have passed the airstrip by now and be making its run over Gambell harbor. She reached for a small toggle and taking back control of the drone’s low-light camera she swung it around, seeing the greenwhite flare fade and some solid imagery emerge again. As she pointed the camera toward the drone’s starboard aft quarter it became clear what had happened.
    “Explosion, down in the township,” Bunny said pointing at a screen above her head. “Big mother. Look at that cloud. Showing secondaries too.”
    Rodriguez and Halifax leaned forward. On the 2D screen they could see a small mushroom shaped cloud rising over a brightly burning building at the edge of the town. Smaller explosions within the building seemed to send phosphorescent arcs of smoke out in all directions, starting other fires.
    “Operation Resolve?” Rodriguez asked? “That looks like a cruise missile strike. Is that what we were supposed to record?”
    “No, I…”
    “With respect Sir, we should have been briefed,” Bunny said, turning her drone out to sea. “Target identification and bomb damage assessment, those are two completely different missions.”
    “I wasn’t…” Halifax was stammering.
    Rodriguez got the distinct idea that he had no idea what had just happened.
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    “Holy hell!” Dave yelled, at almost the same time as Bunny O’Hare, 200 miles away. He hadn’t counted, but it seemed to be on about the sixth or eighth shot from Perri, just as Dave was deciding nothing was going to happen, that the Russian ammo bunker exploded in incandescent white light.
    “Run!” Perri yelled, scrambling to his feet. “We have to get down among the rocks before anyone looks up here.”
    The light from the burning pyre that had once been the sandbagged carport was as bright as a dozen stadium lights. It threw crazy, dancing shadows over the slope of the bluff and the noise and light sent hundreds of Auklets squawking into the night in fright. Perri found himself running through a cloud of birds in what felt like the strobe from a night club light show.
    They came to the edge of a group of rocks, with a large open patch of ground ahead of them. Dave would have kept running, but Perri grabbed his jacket by the shoulder and pulled him down. “Wait, let’s see if it’s safe.” He looked down toward the town.
    Soldiers had spilled out of the town hall. He should have realized that’s where the bulk of them would be. Some jeeps were moving cautiously toward the ammo dump. Other soldiers were spilling out of the school, surrounding it, maybe worried about a breakout? Or with something else in mind.
    No one seemed to be headed towards them.
    “OK, let’s go,” Perri said, getting to his feet again.
    “We did it!” Dave was saying. “We actually did it!”
    “Celebrate when we’re back in the tank,” Perri grunted.
    Right then, he saw a missile lift off from an emplacement beside the airstrip and arc away towards the sea, aimed at some unknown target.
    *
    *

    “Missile launch!” Bunny reported. “Not tracking. They’re firing blind. I won’t jam unless they get a lock.”
    “Are we the only aircraft in the target area?” Rodriguez asked Halifax, “Or are there others we aren’t seeing?”
    “As far as I know, we are the only unit over Gambell,” he said vehemently. “No one told me anything about a missile strike. We have set up patrols over the Alaskan Coast, that’s Operation Resolve. Not specifically to give us cover, but that’s why our mission was timed now, while the Russian CAP was pulled east in a hurry.”
    “Beginning second pass,” Bunny said. “We aren’t going to get a third.”
    Halifax reached for a comms handset, “Make the pass and then get to safe distance and hold. I’m going to try to get some clarity on this.”
    At that moment, a voice came over the trailer loudspeaker, “NCTAMS this is ANR. We are showing one or more ground to air missile launches or major explosions near Gambell. Can you confirm?” Rodriguez and Bunny stole a no sh*t Sherlock glance at each other, and left Halifax to respond.
    *
    *

    “Gold Control to Gold leader, we have reports of a ground strike on an ammunition dump at Gambell,” the AWACS controller said in Bondarev’s ear. “Air defense command at Gambell has reported returns from at least one aircraft in the area, probably stealth, but they cannot get a lock. We are assessing the situation, you are to prepare to engage the US airborne force over Bering Strait on our order. Standby. Gold Control out.”
    “Hold position please Gold and Silver flight leaders,” Bondarev said with calm dread. “Weapons free. Prepare to engage US aircraft on my mark.”
    Please, he said to himself. Please let us fire first.
    *
    *

    As they scrambled down the slope at the outskirts of town toward the safety of their underground bunker, Perri saw another missile lift off from one of the small warships in the harbor and speed out to sea. The Russians were shooting at something, but what? Whatever it was, it made it less likely they suspected a kid with a Winchester had blown up their ammo dump, and Perri was glad about that.
    “OK, down down down,” Dave said urgently as he hauled open the trapdoor to the tank and waved at Perri to jump in.
    Feet on the rungs, Perri took one last ground level look at the boiling white column of smoke rising up over Gambell.
    Sh*t just got real, he thought to himself.

    (C) 2018 Fred ‘Heinkill’ Williams. To be continued...
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 2 Feb - 02/02/18 10:07 PM

    Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Keeps getting better and better HeinKill!

    Seriously.

    thumbsup
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 2 Feb - 02/02/18 10:29 PM

    salute
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 2 Feb - 02/02/18 10:45 PM

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Keeps getting better and better HeinKill!

    Seriously.

    thumbsup

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    salute


    With a little help from friends ... wink

    To anyone else reading along, spread the word. I’ll keep tapping away here ... the more people we can get reading now the better chances the project will succeed later!

    Cheers!
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 2 Feb - 02/03/18 08:54 AM

    Can’t wait for tomorrow (story time) band
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 2 Feb - 02/03/18 12:35 PM

    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    Can’t wait for tomorrow (story time) band


    Sorry, fly to Europe now. Typey type, not posty post...
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 2 Feb - 02/03/18 01:36 PM

    I meant, tomorrow in the story. I expect quite some action by then.

    Safe flight fred.
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 2 Feb - 02/04/18 12:08 AM

    Damn!.....

    I was hoping Europe was closed for renovations or something so we could get the next installment. sigh
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/04/18 03:26 PM

    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    I meant, tomorrow in the story. I expect quite some action by then.

    Safe flight fred.


    Let's see ... action. (OK, throws out the chapter about the United Nations mediating a peaceful resolution ...) Let's go with ... this:

    AMERICAN CARNAGE


    [Linked Image]

    Bondarev knew the crew of the A-100 AWACS aircraft. He had hand-picked them. He had seen them at work over Syria and Turkey, seen them stay calm even in the face of a direct attack intended to bring their aircraft down. He knew the scene inside the aircraft right now would be one of frenzied efficiency, plotting targets, handing them off to the AI to assign to his aircrafts’ targeting systems, confirming and reconfirming that every US aircraft had been triangulated to maximize the chances of a kill while they awaited orders from Lukin’s staff.
    Still, he wanted to scream at them to hurry the hell up and decide.
    “Gold leader, you are free to engage. Repeat, weapons free, you may engage.”
    “Gold and Silver leaders, engage!” he said. Even as he spoke, he swung his own machine east north east, seeing his wingmen follow, and one by one the six missiles in his ordnance bay dropped out and raced away east. Soon the night sky around him was a tracery of white smoke and bright fire, leaping ahead of his fighters like bony white fingers of death. He looked away so that he didn’t completely burn his night vision.
    There was no time to even register the kills. On his HUD he saw the icons of US aircraft scattering as their threat warning systems reacted to the missile onslaught. Several winked out, and at the edge of his vision he thought he saw bright flashes in the night sky, far away. Then his own threat warning alarm sounded.
    “Evade!” he called, “And re-engage.” If he survived the next two minutes, if any of his men did, the next phase of this battle would be fought with guns.
    At night. Against robots, piloted by a generation of video gamers safe in trailers that could be anywhere in the world.

    *
    *
    She heard the feet running down the corridor toward her office before her security detail burst through the door.
    “Madam Ambassador? Come with us please,” the senior Secret Service officer said, holding the door open as she jumped to her feet. Somewhere in the building an alarm began to sound and her stomach fell. She felt her feet going from underneath her and had to grab the doorway as she went through to stop herself from falling.
    It was the Critical Incident alarm. A terrorist attack. Or worse.
    “New Annex safe room ma’am,” the officer said, confirming her worst fears. “Stairs, this way. We can get there inside two minutes, just take it easy.”
    “What’s the alert for?”
    “Just follow us ma’am, you’ll be briefed when we’re in the secure area.”
    Two minutes to safety. It seemed like such a short time. But she knew that ‘safety’ was an illusion. A US sub-launched ICBM starting from the Baltic sea would take less than 20 minutes to reach Moscow, but a hypersonic cruise missile launched from an aircraft over Germany would take only ten. Say she did make it to the bunker under the Embassy. Say she did survive the nuclear strike. Then what?
    “No,” she said, stopping in her tracks. She knew the protocol; the bunker was equipped with a pulse shielded land line to the Kremlin. In the case of a nuclear attack, she was supposed to ride it out and then seek to establish contact with Russian authorities and either negotiate their surrender or await further instruction. She also knew how insane that idea was.
    “Ma’am,” the Secret Service officer said, grabbing at her elbow. “Please.”
    “Let me go. Make sure our people are safe. I’m getting on the line to Washington,” she said, in a voice that made it clear she was not interested in discussion.
    “Yes Ma’am,” the officer said, exchanging a look with the others in the detail, before bending his head to the microphone in his collar and running off down the corridor.
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    “Not good, not good,” Bunny said, horrified. She had zoomed out the tactical map and patched in a feed from NORAD, and they watched as she saw the map light up with hundreds of missile tracks over the air east of Saint Lawrence, not to mention another lancing out from Gambell but falling away behind her drone as it scooted to safety. The missile ID showed it was an older ship launched Pantsir-SA, but they might as well have fired at a random arc of sky. Without a system that could home on her digital transmission signal or a solid lock from ground radar or another data source, the radar and infrared seekers on the older missile were just sniffing empty air.
    “ANR, this is Colonel Halifax of NCTAMS-A4, please confirm upload of data from Gambell recon, and I request update on the full disposition of blue and red forces over Saint Lawrence.”
    “Upload confirmed NCTAMS,” a voice replied. “Data request denied. You are directed to return your aircraft to base and await further orders.”
    “It’s goddamn world war three up there,” Bunny said, tapping in new waypoints for her birds before pulling off her helmet and pointing at the air-to-air missile tracks the 2D screen. She had punched in a return course for their Fantoms that would skirt around the hell over Saint Lawrence and get them back up north to the rock. It would take at least an hour.
    Halifax didn’t respond to her exclamation - he picked up a handset and called up to the commander of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station, inside his radar dome.
    “Sound general quarters Captain Aslam,” he said. “When the men are assembled, I want everyone not on active duty inside the station to get down here under the Rock. Meet me topside at the elevator.”
    Rodriguez looked at him, and he turned to the threat display. “This little cold war just got real hot Boss,” he said. “Things can either escalate from here, or de-escalate, but I’m not giving peace much of a chance. Russia may not know we’re down here, but they sure as hell have seen our radar dome up there and it wouldn’t take more than an old Mig with a bunch of dumb iron bombs to scrape my nice white radar installation off the top of the rock and into the sea, and everyone up there with it.” He turned and took a step toward the door of the trailer, “I’m going topside to make sure only essential personnel stay behind. You get this place organized and find bunks for everyone.”
    *
    *

    Having been bustled down unfamiliar corridors on the way to the basement bunker under the New Annex, Devlin found herself taking one wrong turn after another as she tried to move against the flow of people running for the illusory safety of the New Annex bunker. It wasn’t entirely irrational, the same alarm was also used for both a terrorist or chemical weapons attack, and the airtight, radiation shielded and self-contained secure rooms below the New Annex were adequate to protect staff against threats that were slightly less dramatic than a direct hit by a thermonuclear weapon. As the panicked traffic thinned out, Devlin found herself standing in a corridor that looked familiar and yet…
    “You lost ma’am?”
    She turned and saw the analyst, Carl Williams, with his head sticking out of his office.
    “You should be in the bunker,” Devlin replied, pointing up at the ceiling where a loudspeaker blared. “Shouldn’t you?” he asked. He clearly wasn’t in a hurry to go anywhere.
    She didn’t have time for this. “I need to get a secure line to Washington. What is the quickest way to the Chancery from here?”
    “You can do it from my office,” he said.
    “But it’s a dedicated…”
    “No problem,” he insisted. “Trust me.”
    He stood aside so she could get into his little cubicle of an office and he closed the door behind her. The critical incident alarm was still blaring outside and she winced. It would make holding a phone conversation a real pain.
    Williams read her mind, “You want me to turn that off?”
    She hesitated, “I don’t think you should.”
    “There’s no threat to the embassy,” he said calmly. “A little skirmish in the air over Saint Lawrence, but that’s all. Triggering a critical incident alert based on that is a complete over-reaction by someone in
    State.”
    Devlin was about to ask him how the hell he knew that, but she was learning that with Carl Williams, for deniability purposes it was probably best she didn’t ask.
    “Can you shut off the siren without pulling everyone out of the bunkers quite yet?” she asked.
    “HOLMES? Can you kill the critical incident siren, but leave the alert in place until it is cancelled by State?” Williams spoke towards his laptop.
    “Yes Carl,” the cultured British voice replied.
    “Do it please.”
    The alarm cut instantly, an eerie silence replacing it. No heels on the floors, no voices in the corridor.
    “Just sit there ma’am, tell him who you want to call,” Williams said, pointing to his chair behind the desk and laptop. “Once you connect, I’ll leave you alone.”
    Devlin sat, then leaned forward over this laptop, “OK, this is Ambassador Devlin McCarthy…”
    “Confirmed ma’am, I have facial recognition,” HOLMES replied.
    “Right, well … I want to speak to Secretary of State, Gerard Winburg please, on his direct encrypted line.”
    “Yes ma’am. He is airborne in Airforce 1 at the moment. All communications are encrypted. Putting you through,” the AI said.
    Williams pointed at the door and moved toward it, but Devlin reconsidered. There was probably no point in secrecy, and she might be able to use Williams’ help. She motioned to him to stay put.
    “That line is busy ma’am,” the AI said. “We are on hold. Do you want me to put you through to the
    President’s direct line instead? He is on Airforce 1 with the Secretary of State.”
    Devlin hesitated, but before she could answer, there was a click on the laptop’s loudspeaker, “Winburg here.”
    “Mr. Secretary, this is Ambassador McCarthy in Moscow,” she said. “The critical incident alarm has sounded here.”
    “Yes, I authorized it,” the harried voice at the other end said, clearly under pressure. “I don’t know how much you know about current developments over Saint Lawrence.”
    Devlin looked at Williams. He came around to her shoulder, tapped a couple of keys on his laptop and Devlin saw he had been preparing an intelligence report when she had interrupted him. She put her finger on the screen and started reading.
    “Sir, I know that at 0200 Alaskan time this morning explosions were reported in the township of Gambell, cause unknown. Local Russian anti-aircraft missile batteries however responded to an unknown threat, indicating the source of the explosion was possibly an attack by US aircraft, or they simply panicked. Following this, Russian aircraft stationed in the eastern no-fly zone around Saint Lawrence engaged US aircraft on patrol along the Alaska Coast.” She hesitated, looking at Williams in disbelief, but he nodded. “And as of … five … minutes ago, data from NORAD and AWACS aircraft in the combat area indicates the destruction of 17 Russian aircraft for the loss of 23 US aircraft destroyed, eight damaged.” She had to read the last part again. That was nearly as many aircraft lost in one engagement as had been lost in the entire Middle East conflict, and the battle was still going?
    There was a silence at the other end, before Winburg came back on the line, “Dammit how are you getting that intel in Moscow?! You have real time data on kills and losses over the OA? That’s more than I have!”
    “I have an NSA analyst on station here Secretary,” she winked at Williams. “He’s very … resourceful.”
    “Apparently. Anything else?”
    “No Sir, we are working to identify Russia’s strategic aims in this conflict. I hope to get back to you soon on that;” Devlin said. “Sir I am not CIA head of station, I know that, but I wanted to report that we have seen no signs of military preparations on the streets here in Moscow, we have heard of no evacuations or civilian warnings and as far as I am aware key senior politicians and bureaucrats are still in
    Moscow and behaving normally. Russian TV and radio is also running normal programming:”
    “OK…”
    “Sir I have seen nothing today, or in the last week, to indicate the Russian government is about to conduct a nuclear strike on the USA or that they are anticipating one from us.”
    “Which could of course, be part of their strategy,” Winburg said. He was the former CEO of a major defense contractor, and Devlin had heard him say his policy was to trust no one, in business or politics, until proved wrong. “Look .... this was a good call Ambassador. Good context. Make sure you share what you have with CIA. And you feel free to call me again when you have anything to add.”
    “Will do, goodbye Mr. Secretary.”
    She looked at Williams, “How do I hang up?”
    The British voice replied, “I have disconnected the call ma’am.”
    Looking at the screen again, she whistled. “That’s what you call a ‘little skirmish’?”
    Williams shrugged, “In the big picture, yeah. I mean, it’s not thermonuclear war.”
    “Yet. You heard the man, can you be sure to copy your report to CIA?” She said to the analyst.
    Williams looked a little uncomfortable, “Sorry ma’am, no.”
    She looked surprised, “No?”
    “No, I mean. Someone will. The data is all there. HOLMES is pulling it from servers inside NORAD, DIA, CIA, PACCOM and so on. I was just putting that report together for NSA to show what he can do in these type of situations. I can’t share data on HOLMES capabilities with anyone outside NSA.” She was clearly not impressed, because he stammered on. “I mean, except you, because, like, you have clearance now.”
    “So sanitize it, include the information I gave the Secretary and then send it as soon as the dust settles, can you do that?”
    “Sure, I guess, but aren’t there other people who…”
    “Carl, right now, the only people above ground here are you and me, and to be honest only one of us seems to know what the hell is going on out there, and that’s you.”
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    To Yevgeny Bondarev, it was no little skirmish. It was a tooth and nail fight to the death. The melee over Saint Lawrence had degenerated into a knife fight. Most of the aircraft remaining after the opening volleys of missiles fired at point blank range, about fifteen Russian and twenty US fighters, were engaged in one on one, gun on gun combat.
    Bondarev had survived the first blizzard of US missiles, registered one, maybe two kills of his own, but was now twisting and turning above the sea with a very determined F-47 on his tail. He had no more short range missiles left, but apparently, neither did his opponent. As tracer flashed over his canopy for the third time, he put his machine into a fast roll, then flicked into a climbing starboard turn to try to gain a little separation from his attacker. He needed altitude for what he had in mind, but it was a desperate last chance roll of the dice. If he screwed it up, he was dead.
    The Su-57 was a magnificent airplane, but it was big and intended to kill airborne enemies at long range. It was not optimal for close range combat. The smaller American F-47 was less deadly at range, but much more maneuverable in a knife fight because there was no pilot to black out. The thrust vectoring nozzles on his Sukhoi however gave him one spectacular trick for an opponent who was close on its six and he was willing to bet that whether he was up against a drone flown by a ground-based pilot, or operating on autonomous control, he’d catch it unprepared. As he levelled out at the top of his turn he could almost feel the gun pipper on the HUD of the machine behind him settle on his tail. He bunted the nose of his Sukhoi down, keeping his speed at 450 knots, trying not to give the other pilot too easy a shot. Tracer blasted over his wing.
    He checked his airspeed. Good. Now! He hauled back sharply on his stick, pulling it all the way back until it rammed into the stays and couldn’t go any further. To the American behind him, man or machine, it must have seemed as though the Sukhoi had simply stopped in mid-air and pointed its nose at the sky. The American machine nearly lost control as it tried to avoid colliding with the Sukhoi that was skidding through the air on its tail, like the cobra the maneuver was named after.
    “Come on you fat a**ed #%&*$#!” Bondarev yelled at his Sukhoi, pushing the nose down before it pitched over backwards and increasing his engine to full burner, regaining forward momentum. This was the moment Bondarev was most vulnerable, recovering from a virtual stall, hydrogen fire pouring from his afterburner like a small sun, he knew he was a sitting duck if there was more than one F-47 behind him. He hunched his shoulders waiting to die, but grunted as he saw the exhaust flames of the American fighter wallow through the night sky ahead of him, having failed to keep the Sukhoi in its sights, fighting against a stall itself. It pulled an ugly looping turn across Bondarev’s nose and his guns fired automatically as soon as they had a lock on the American. The machine fell apart in a glittering rain of metal shards.
    Bondarev had control over his own aircraft again, and scanned his threat display for another target. He tried desperately to get a grip on the situation. Where were his pilots, where was the enemy? He was at ten thousand feet again, swinging wildly around the sky to avoid the trap of being the legendary sitting duck. “Gold squadron, report your…”
    At that moment he heard a missile launch warning scream in his ears. The enemy must have been close, because even as his automatic countermeasures of flares and chaff fired into the sky behind him, the Sukhoi’s combat AI took control of the machine from him and flung it into an inverted dive that pulled all the blood from his head. His pressurized combat suit inflated, trying to keep the blood flowing to his brain, but it wasn’t enough. He was pulling too many G’s, and his world went black.
    What happened next wouldn’t matter to Yevgeny Bondarev. He was out cold.

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    It was designated ‘Hunter’ for a reason. Like the F-47, the unmanned Okhotnik UCAV was a multirole platform, with a range of more than 4,000 miles. It could stay airborne for 20 hours at cruising speed, carry a payload of two tons, and while it was able to pull data from multiple sources to assist its own air-to-air targeting, and engage enemy aircraft with both long and short range missiles, its real talent was stealth delivery of air-to-ground ordnance.
    Like the 1,500 kg KAB 1900-SE thermobaric fuel air explosive precision guided bomb. Comprising pressurized ethylene oxide, mixed with an energetic nanoparticle such as aluminum, surrounding a high explosive burster, when detonated it created an explosion equivalent to 49 tons of TNT. It couldn’t be mounted on a missile - an aircraft had to penetrate enemy air defenses to be able to deliver it, which was a drawback. But just one could flatten a small town, render a harbor unusable and sink all the ships in it, or destroy every hangar, aircraft and living person on an airfield inside a radius of about 1,600 feet.
    Stealthy delivery of the KAB 1900 was a talent that had been honed in the deserts and mountain ranges of Northern Syria by pilots and system officers of the 575th Army Air Force, and they were exceedingly good at both the stealth, and the delivery. While Bondarev’s 6983rd Air Force Okhotniks had been held back from the battle for Saint Lawrence, no such restriction had been put on the Okhotniks of the 575th.
    At the same time as Bondarev received his order to engage, a squadron of 575th Okhotniks in a low level holding pattern in the middle of the Bering Strait split like a starburst, with four three-plane elements departing to attack US ground targets within the no-fly exclusion zone. Three flights headed for Saint Lawrence, to be ready for tasking should close air support be needed against US ground targets on the island.
    The fourth flight headed for the only other US installation inside the no-fly zone. It wasn’t a target on which you’d usually use thermobaric bombs - something much less powerful would have been sufficient, but sometimes you just had to use what you had to hand.
    And at least there was complete certainty they would no longer have worry about that annoying US long range radar installation on Little Diomede Island.
    *
    *


    Alicia Rodriguez had trained her whole adult life to go to war. But now that she was, she found all that training suddenly failed. The world under the Rock had descended into a noisome chaos, turning her perfectly ordered flight deck into a mass of personnel from the 712th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron all looking for somewhere to park backpacks, backsides and for someone to answer their big and small questions. That person should have been their CO, Captain Ali Aslam, but Aslam was still topside with Halifax getting his men down from the station above in the goods elevator that held only 15 personnel at a time. Men and women were also pouring out of the emergency stairs beside the elevator shaft.
    Bunny wasn’t helping either, trapped in her ‘cockpit’ growling at anyone who came within twenty feet. Her recon drones had been parked in a sea level orbit ten minutes south of Saint Lawrence and hadn’t been re-tasked or recalled. She only had about ten minutes fuel left before she would have to call them home anyway. Rodriguez had just finished ensuring her recovery team was ready to recycle them when it landed, despite all the chaos in the cavern.
    Rodriguez pulled open the door to the trailer and stepped inside, closing the door behind her and taking a breath. She pressed her forehead to the door. Come on girl. You can get a hex of drones into the air through a hole in a rock inside twenty minutes, you can land a measly two kites and deal with 100 worried base personnel and their stupid questions. Right?
    Right. Question of the moment. The head of base security, Master Sergeant Collaguiri had been ordered down under the Rock by Halifax, but insisted his place was topside with the CO. He had tried appealing the case to Rodriguez, and Rodriguez had promised him she would call up to the CO and see what he wanted to do about it.
    She sighed and picked up the comms, punching in the number for the radar installation control room, assuming that was where Halifax would be. It wasn’t a long call.
    “Rodriguez, we are currently tracking about a hundred friendly and enemy aircraft in combat over the Bering Sea, tell the Master Sergeant he can…” The line went dead.
    Then a second later the entire island shook as though the God of Thunder himself had spoken.

    [Linked Image]

    *
    *

    The effect of a thermobaric blast against living targets is gruesome. First, the pressure wave from the fuel air explosion (FAE) flattens anyone caught unprotected. If you are within the kill zone and unlikely enough survive the pressure wave, the vacuum created collapses your lungs so that you suffocate. Not all of the fuel in the bomb is guaranteed to go off, so if the fuel deflagrates but doesn’t detonate, anyone still left alive will be severely burned and probably also inhale the burning fuel. Since the most common FAE fuels, ethylene oxide and propylene oxide, are highly toxic, undetonated FAE is as lethal to personnel caught within the cloud as most chemical warfare agents.
    Luckily for Halifax, he was at ground zero for the first of the three KAB 1900s that hit the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station on Little Diomede. As he was talking with Rodriguez he just had time to register the sound of an explosion and a sharp kerosene like odor before he and every man, woman and bird on the surface of the Rock were obliterated.

    *
    *

    It was like two or three earthquakes hit them in quick succession, followed shortly afterward by a thundering series of booms. Spreading outward from the point of impact on top of the rock dome a series of pressure waves pushed the sea surrounding Little Diomede down and outward. The three pressure waves passed quickly, and the first ring of displaced seawater came flooding back.
    The gantry over the submarine docking bay rocked and a part of the reinforced roof over the small harbor collapsed. Seconds later a tidal wave flooded in through the entrance of the cave and instantly submerged the entire dock area in waist deep water.
    Anyone there fifty feet below the trailer who had kept their feet through the first round of violence was knocked down by the force of the water and as Rodriguez got to her feet she saw the harbor was a maelstrom of churning water and flailing personnel. Her mind raced.
    A nuke, we must have been hit by a nuke. But, shouldn’t there have been a flash? Wouldn’t a nuke have evaporated the seawater, turned it to steam? The cave was open to the sea, so if they were at the center of a nuclear explosion, even here under the Rock they should have been toasted to a crisp.
    Not a nuke, then.
    She saw Bunny struggling to her feet, cursing as usual.
    That was as far as thinking got her. Outside the trailer people were drowning. She jumped for the door and ran down to the still rising waterline.

    (C) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To be continued---


    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/04/18 11:25 PM

    data from NORAD and AWACS aircraft in the combat area indicates the destruction of 17 Russian aircraft for the loss of 23 US aircraft destroyed, eight damaged.

    Ouch.

    3 FAE's!!!!!! Triple ouch!
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/04/18 11:49 PM

    knocked out explode
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/05/18 07:54 AM

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    data from NORAD and AWACS aircraft in the combat area indicates the destruction of 17 Russian aircraft for the loss of 23 US aircraft destroyed, eight damaged.



    Yeah but most of thems was bots, whereas Russia lost pilots... it's a completely different situation when a military victory (might wink ) translate into a political defeat.

    H
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/06/18 08:27 PM

    IN YOUR FACE

    [Linked Image]

    Bondarev woke with a headache like he’d dropped an entire bottle of whiskey in a single sitting, then realized he was still strapped into his cockpit. His vision was blurred and greying out, alarms were sounding in his ears and he could smell the distinct ozone tinged smell of fried wiring. An instant of panic rose in him, the most basal fear of all fighter pilots - fire!? With one hand he reached for his ejection handle, with the other he fumbled for the oxygen dial that supplied air to his mask, turning it to full rich, breathing deeply.
    Almost immediately his vision cleared, his headache dropped to a dull throb, and he could see he was flying straight and level, about a hundred meters above the sea. His HUD was dead, but his instruments still worked, if they could be trusted. A quick scan told him he had taken a hit from either missile or gunfire. His right wing was perforated and the control surfaces there jammed, but his engine was running within normal operating ranges. No fuel or fluid leaks being reported. His combat AI had saved his life and gotten him out of the fight, put him on autopilot and set a course for Lavrentiya. He was about twenty minutes out.
    He knew better than to take manual control. If it’s broken, don’t try to fly it. Cutting out the autopilot now, without knowing the state of his aircraft or how the AI was compensating for flight damage could send him into an irrecoverable spin and he didn’t have the altitude to risk it. Just like when he was in his passenger car at home in Vladivostok he was putting his life in the hands of the AI.
    He should never have looked down at the floor of the cockpit. But something felt wrong and he realized his right foot felt wet. That was when he noticed the noise, the high whistling sound of air rushing past and into the cockpit. He looked down. There were holes in the wall of the cockpit where no holes should be. And a pool of blood on the floor by the pedals where no blood should be.
    *
    *

    Between the two of them, Rodriguez and O’Hare had pulled ten people out of the water before anyone else around them had reacted. Being up in the command trailer a good distance from the minitsunami had helped them get their wits together faster than most people, but pretty soon there were twenty or thirty people down at the waterline, hands grasping limbs, heaving bodies out of the water.
    Most were alive.
    Some weren’t.
    It seemed to Rodriguez they were just starting to get on top of things - there were more people up above the waterline than there were still foundering in the water.
    Suddenly there was an almighty crash from the direction of the topside elevator as the car and a few hundred feet of cable crashed to the floor of the cave, then as though in sympathy, the loading crane by the submarine dock gave a forlorn groan and with majestic gravity, it fell across the Pond, its heavy crown smashing into the transformer room on the other side of the dock. The last thing Rodriguez saw was Master Sergeant Collaguiri and a group of men disappearing under dust and rubble.
    And then the cave fell into total darkness.
    *
    *

    Perri fell to the bottom of the ladder and just managed to get out of the way before the hatch above slammed shut with a clang and Dave and his rifle fell in a heap right where he’d landed.
    “Screw this,” Dave grunted.
    Perri looked up, “Did you lock it?”
    “No I didn’t freaking lock it,” Dave swore, looking at him like it was a totally unreasonable question. “I came in head first. You can lock it.”
    Perri didn’t argue. Pulling himself up off the floor he climbed the ladder and pulled the combination padlock through the eyelets that Dave had drilled into the wall, clicking it shut. He slid down the ladder using just his hands to slow himself and landed lightly. He had so much adrenaline in his system he felt he could have flown down.
    He looked at Dave and the two of them burst out laughing. It was a hysterical, uncontrollable kind of laughter and they let it roll all the way out and then back again before they both fell onto their backsides.
    Perri gasped, “That was insane.”
    “Asymmetrical you said?” Dave said, wiping his eyes. “That was totally asymmetrical man.”
    “I know.”
    “I thought maybe you could hit it, maybe a bullet would get through the roof, but I never thought…”
    “I know.”
    “Did you see those missiles blasting off? Was that us?”
    Perri remembered the missiles arcing in to the sky and heading out to sea, definitely hunting something out there. “Don’t think so.”
    Dave wiped his face. His hand was shaking, and he sat on it.
    They were both quiet a while.
    “That was one mother of an explosion. You don’t think…” Dave asked.
    “Think what?”
    “You think we killed anyone? I mean, the school…”
    “The school was five hundred yards away, no way.”
    “No. What about Russians?”
    “I don’t know. I didn’t look. I was too busy running and getting crapped on by auklets.” They laughed again. “Yeah, at least someone was more freaked than us,” Dave said.
    Perri reached over and checked the rifle he’d thrown down the ladder ahead of him. It had landed on its stock, but he quickly checked the scope, turning it on to see if he’d damaged it. No, it was okay. It was built to take some tough love.
    “They’re going to start hunting us now,” Dave said, watching him as he jacked out the remaining ammunition and started pulling the rifle apart to clean it.
    “For sure.”
    “We should stay down here a while eh? Stupid to go out the next couple of days.”
    “Like we agreed.”
    “I know. We have to pull that old sheet of tin across the hatch cover though.” They’d found an old sheet of corrugated iron and worked out how to lean it up and over the hatch covering the tank and then pull the hatch down so the tin covered it over. It was light enough they could lift the hatch and the tin at the same time from below, but heavy enough it wouldn’t easily blow away. It wasn’t much, but it hid the hatch from plain view and looked like the hundred other pieces of junk lying around the gas station.
    “So do it,” Perri said. “Better to do it now while it’s dark, then we can bunk down.”
    “Yeah, right.” Dave disappeared up the ladder again. Perri heard him fooling around outside and pulling the cover shut a couple of times before he was satisfied it was good enough, then he came back down and collapsed on a mattress next to Perri. He grabbed a water bottle off a shelf and took a long pull. “Damn, I should have taken a whizz while I was up there,” Dave said, and Perri laughed again.
    After a few minutes Perri laid the parts of his rifle aside. He heard heavy breathing and looked across and saw Dave with his head cradled onto the crook of his arm, asleep.
    Perri suddenly realized he was exhausted too. He drank some water too, then reached over Dave to cut the power to the lights. Blackness consumed their small cold cell deep under the dirt and he lay himself down, pulling a sleeping bag over himself.
    “Sniper team,” Dave said somewhere to his right. “Deadly, eh?”
    “You did great brother,” Perri told him.
    “I did, right?” Dave said. “You too.”
    “Sleep Dave.”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Private Zubkov had rolled out of his bed and found himself crouched on the floor beside before he’d even realized he was awake. From somewhere outside, maybe out by the airfield, he heard the unmistakable whoosh of a ground to air missile.
    Then as a second explosion rocked the air, he realized what had woken him. A few blocks away, it sounded like a full-on war was raging. As the men around him had tumbled out of their bunks, he’d grabbed up pants and a jacket, found his anti-materiel rifle against the wall and staggered out into the freezing dark night.
    A few blocks away, explosions lit the night sky.
    “What the hell?” he asked no one in particular
    Captain Demchenko took control sending half of the men to the airfield where they’d been digging sandbagged emplacements all afternoon. He pointed at Zubkov, “You, and the rest of you, with me.” And with that he’d started running toward the explosions, which seemed to Zubkov to be the complete opposite of what they should be doing. That opinion was confirmed five minutes later, as their squad rounded a corner to see half of the houses on the next block on fire and at the end of the row, a volcano of white fire spitting shrapnel and 7.62mm rounds at them.
    “They hit the ammo dump,” Zubkov said to himself.
    “Who did?” Asked the man next to him.
    Zubkov looked at the dark sky around him, as another ground to air missile leapt off its rails and sped away into the night.
    “Who you think, dumbass?” Zubkov replied.
    The other soldier had a quick comeback ready, and he was about to throw it back at Zubkov but never got that far. Something whizzed past their ears.
    Zubkov watched in horror as he saw the smile on the man’s face was replaced with a gaping hole through which Zubkov could see his brains. Then he crumpled to the ground.


    *
    *

    The emergency lighting kicked in, bathing the cavern below the Rock in a ghostly red light. People had frozen in place, with the exception of the few still in the water, kicking to keep their heads above the freezing waves.
    Bunny pulled another woman out of the Pond and hauled her up onto the dock. The water was flooding out of the cave again now, dragging debris and bodies with it as though it was pouring into a bottomless hole somewhere outside the cave.
    Tsunami. Rodriguez was thinking. She’d seen a movie once about a tidal wave hitting Asia. One thing she remembered - the water pulling away leaving fish flapping on an empty beach. Then it came back. She realized people were standing watching in fascination as the Pond emptied.
    “Everyone! Up to level two, higher if you can!” she yelled. She bent to help up an aircrewman beside her and pushed him up the dock.
    “I have to get to the trailer,” Bunny panted beside her. “I have to bring those Fantoms down somewhere.”
    “If we have power.”
    “Got its own generator remember?” Bunny replied. “Or we can patch it into the emergency grid.”
    “I’ll get everyone up above the old waterline,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t care if you get those Fantoms down in one piece or send them to Nome, but I want you to get vision of whatever the hell happened topside.”
    “Yes Boss,” Bunny said before sprinting away.
    From the direction of the cave entrance she heard a sound like a steam engine blowing, and felt the air pressure inside the cave start to build. A boiling wall of water appeared in the darkness at the other side of the Pond.
    Her stomach fell as she realized it was twice her height and still fifty feet away.
    She had just turned to run when it hit her.

    [Linked Image]
    *
    *
    The US Air Force Pacific Command did not hesitate when the shooting started. Their President had promised ‘fire and fury’ and though Operation Resolve was intended to be a simple show of force in advance of the approaching deadline for Russian withdrawal, they were prepared for belligerence.
    Analysts had rushed Bunny O’Hare’s recon images into strike planners who added her data to satellite imagery and then quickly identified the likely location of the hostages at the school in Gambell, the Russian HQ and anti-air emplacements there and the presence of Russian troops, air defenses, US personnel and civilians inside the US cantonment at Savoonga.
    The 36th Air Wing had already prepositioned six of its B-21 Raider stealth bombers at ElmendorfRichardson and two of them were on patrol east of the US base when the first of Bondarev’s air-air missiles left its weapons bay east of Saint Lawrence. Each of them carried 12 second generation AGM 158 JASSM-ER (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile-Extended Range) missiles, capable of putting a 450 kg (1000 lb.) WDU-42/B penetrator warhead onto a target the size of a minivan. It had a range of nearly 300 miles and it didn’t matter that Russian laser weapons were effectively jamming satellite coverage over Saint Lawrence, the JASSM had its own inertial and optical based navigation and onboard target identification system.
    There had been a lot of talk in the early part of the last century about whether the strategic heavy bomber still had a role in the age of the drone, but no US UCAV or attack fighter could field standoff stealth weapons like the JASSM and it took eight UCAVs to match the payload of a single B-21 Raider. By the time the first US pilot was ejecting from his F-35, 24 of the deadly stealth cruise missiles were on the way to targets at Saint Lawrence.
    Gambell could be hit cleanly. The civilians there were judged to be outside the blast radius of the inbound cruise missiles. Six missiles were allocated to Gambell, three to Russian positions and stores identified at the airfield, one to a Verba emplacement near the town hall, one to a Russian transport ship that had recently arrived in the harbor and one to the town hall itself. Savoonga was another matter. Bunny’s initial recon and limited satellite data showed that Russian troops there had quartered themselves in buildings all over the US military cantonment, and distributed their military and civilian hostages like human shields, scattered throughout the complex. At least two potential Verba air defense systems had been identified, but planners had little or no intel on the specific disposition of Russian forces and equipment at the site.
    There was no way to avoid friendly casualties at Savoonga, but the order had come from the very top. The 712th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron Savoonga base and its top secret tech was to be denied to Russian forces. Eighteen JASSM cruise missiles were allocated to targets in and around Savoonga. The facility would be levelled.

    [Linked Image]

    *
    *
    Private Zubkov had dived for the ground and lay there until it seemed the secondary explosions from the ammo dump were done. The fire still burned like a small volcano, lighting up the whole town, and the body of the faceless man beside him.
    Udinov, that had been his name. They’d served together nearly a year. He liked country and western music. Had liked.
    Zubkov had taken off his jacket and laid it over his head. A few other men had hit the dirt around him, and they were slowly picking themselves up, checking to see if they still had all their arms and legs.
    Captain Demchenko had disappeared. Literally. Usually he would have been there shouting at them to pull themselves together and do … something. Zubkov looked around him. He counted seven other soldiers like himself, saw a jeep roaring toward them from the other side of town. But the captain was nowhere.
    He found himself looking at the dirt, expecting to see a bloody smudge somewhere, but all he saw was dirt, ground ice and debris.
    That was when he’d looked up at the bluff that towered over the town and had seen the black clouds of birds lifting into the night, like a small squawking storm cloud lit by the lightning in the town below.
    He watched them swirl into the sky in panic, circle once or twice, and then land again.
    And beyond them, barely more than shadows flashing between the rocks, he was sure he saw two men, running.
    *
    *

    The water smashed Rodriguez face first onto the concrete of the dock and then rolled her across it. It seemed to Alicia just a question of how she was going to die, not whether she would. Her head collided with something solid and her arms flailed around her trying to grab a hold of something, anything. A leg appeared out of nowhere and gave her an almighty kick in the chest, forcing what little air she had left out of her lungs and she kicked back reflexively. She sucked in water, then foam, then blessed air, coughing and heaving before her head went under again. But she’d got a glimpse of where she was, and which way was up.
    Kicking out, she sought the red light that must be the surface and broke out onto the top of a wave just as it slammed into the sea wall above the submarine dock, and rolled back onto itself. She rolled with it, calmer now, seeing the man who had probably kicked her in the chest floating past, his head and neck bent at an impossible angle.
    “Got you Boss,” she heard a voice say, as a hand grabbed her collar and pulled her over to where she could throw one weak arm around the rungs of a ladder and the other around someone’s legs.
    It was her arresting gear officer, Lieutenant “Stretch” Alberti. His small frame clung doggedly to the ladder with one hand, while the other held her collar in a titan’s grip and refused to let the sucking water pull her away.
    The broken man who had floated away floated back again, dead eyes looking up at her with an accusatory expression as the ebbing tide carried him past.
    Could have been me, she thought, then looked across the Pond at the smashed crane, collapsed elevator shaft and blocked stairwell. I wonder who’s luckier.

    *
    *

    A fighter pilot in Bondarev’s 5th Air Regiment had to land one out of three sorties himself, without autopilot, in order to remain qualified for combat operations. Most of Bondarev’s pilots had too much pride to let the AI land their kite even once. Right now, Bondarev had no choice. It wasn’t just that he didn’t dare touch the stick and throttle, it was also because he couldn’t seem to lift his arm to even touch it.
    A shell, or parts of a missile warhead, had hammered through the skin of his fighter beside his leg, sliced across his calf, opening up his great saphenous vein, and then spent the last of its energy as it buried itself in the floor beside his foot.
    By the time he’d realized what was happening, he’d lost about a half liter of blood. He’d stared at his leg, asking himself why his foot felt wet, why he was having trouble moving it, why he could hear wind blasting around the cockpit. Finally something in his mind clicked, or some of the years of training kicked in, and he pulled a cord from a utility pouch in his flight suit and tied a tourniquet tight around his leg. By then, blood was pooling on the floor.
    He spent the next fifteen minutes watching the instruments as the AI steered him down the glide path toward the airfield on the horizon, trying to remember how many liters of blood a human body had in them. Wasn’t it five liters, and you could afford to lose twenty percent, right? So that was what, a liter? Or was it twenty liters, and you could afford to lose five? No matter how he turned it around, the answer wouldn’t come.
    The lights of the airport approached.
    Definitely five liters. You gave blood, they usually took a third of a liter, maximum, right? So more than that must be dangerous. He looked at the floor. That down there, that is way over the allowed maximum Yevgeny.
    He laughed, and then laughed at himself laughing.
    Two green lights. Wheels down.
    That was good. Assuming there were wheels and tires at the end of the struts and not just broken stumps.
    Like his leg down there. Maybe that was just a stump too.
    He laughed at that too. Change his call sign to ‘Stumps Bondarev’.
    His head jerked as the Sukhoi hit the deck once, bounced and then settled into a hard three point touch down.
    Useless AI, bouncing all over the field. He tried to reach for the stick again, saw his arm flop to his side as though it belonged to someone else, and saw flashing red lights speeding across the field.
    Damn. Not good. Someone must be in trouble.

    [Linked Image]
    *
    *
    Perri woke to the ground shaking. They were ten feet below ground, but he could feel the mattress beneath him vibrating. Then a sound like muted thunder rolled overhead, penetrating even the hatch cover and the shaft down to their tank. More sonic booms from fighters maybe.
    He reached over and turned on the battery powered lamp. Dave had been woken too.
    “What was that?”
    “I don’t know.”
    Another rumble shook the tank and some cans fell off one of the makeshift shelves.
    “We have to look,” Dave said.
    “Or we could stay here and wait it out,” Perri said. “Which would be smarter.”
    “It’s our families out there,” Dave said. “I’m going to look.”
    Perri rolled into a crouch and handed Dave the binoculars, taking up his rifle and scope. “You’re right. Here.”
    Dave opened the hatch cover slowly and quietly, lifting it just a few inches so that he could look for any sign of Russian troops nearby. When he was sure they were still alone, he eased it a few more inches up and pushed the sheet of rusted tin aside before crawling out onto the cold ground. It was still dark.
    They hadn’t slept long.
    Crouching, they ran into the gas station office through the back door and peered out through the windows, onto a scene from hell.
    *
    *

    Rodriguez wasn’t sure when she had passed out, but it must have been somewhere between when Stretch Alberti had pulled her up onto the flight deck and when they laid her out on the padded bench inside the command trailer. It wasn’t necessarily because she was the ranking officer under the Rock they thought she should be laid out in the command trailer. It was because there was no other space. Every bit of dry ground up above the high water mark was littered with the drowned and half drowned, bent, broken or shattered bodies of the personnel of NCTAMS.
    Levering herself up onto an elbow and looking out the windows of the trailer above her head, she saw in the red lighted cavern maybe half of the complement had been taken by the surging water, caught in the fall of the crane or the explosion of debris triggered by the falling elevator. The other half were tending to them as best they could, with supplies from the flight deck sick bay.
    Someone had apparently bandaged her head and decided Rodriguez just needed to sleep it off. She touched her head, feeling the bandage and the swelling on her face.
    “It’s still all there ma’am,” Bunny said, leaning into view from the bench beside her. She held Rodriguez’s head gently, put a hand on her shoulder and lowered her back down onto the bench. “Your nose is a bit flatter now, but it’s actually prettier.”
    “Screw you O’Hare,” Rodriguez managed, wincing.
    “Yes ma’am,” Bunny smiled.
    “What’s our status? Collaguiri? I saw him…”
    “He took five tons of elevator to the head, sorry. We’ve got about 13 dead, ten with serious injuries, fractures and the like.” She held up a bruised hand, “Dug two out of the stairwell, might be more in there. Another dozen walking wounded but still in the fight, twenty uninjured.”
    Rodriguez remembered something, “Topside, did you…”
    “Yeah, or no. I couldn’t bring the Fantoms in and I couldn’t land them outside and risk they would be seen if the Russians did a bomb damage assessment overflight. I sent one to Nome. Had enough fuel left in the other for a few passes over the Rock before I ditched it in the Strait though,” she took a breath. “I can replay the night-cam vision for you but it’s like…everything up there was just scraped into the sea. The dome is gone, and everything inside it. The cabins and huts down by the water are just ashes and splinters, floating around in the water with a hundred ton of wrecked boats and jetties.”
    “No survivors?”
    “None moving, that I could see,” Bunny shook her head. “No IR signatures.”
    “Do we have comms?”
    “Drone comms, yeah. The cable to the undersea array survived, just like it was designed to do. But we’ll need someone to find a kludge if we want to use it to contact CNAF without putting a drone in the air.”
    “What was it? Tactical nuke?”
    “I don’t think so,” Bunny said. “I’m no ordnance expert, but the snow is only melted on top of the island and down by the accommodation. The rest of the island still has some snow and ice on it. I’d have thought a nuke would melt it all.”
    “I didn’t see a flash,” Rodriguez remembered, “Did you?”
    “No lightning, just thunder,” Bunny agreed. “I’m thinking more thermobaric than thermonuclear.”
    She looked down on Rodriguez’s frown. “You’re thinking what I’m thinking, right boss?”
    “That this attack wasn’t about us?” Rodriguez said.
    “Right. If they knew about this place, they’d have used some kind of deep penetrator, a bunker buster. Or flown a cruise missile straight into the mouth of the cavern. But they just wanted to scrape a barnacle off the Rock, so they went with FAE,” Bunny said. She waved a hand at the destruction outside the trailer. “This was all just collateral damage. They got lucky.”
    Rodriguez looked at her watch, then closed her eyes. 0330 hours. So tired.
    “Get me some drugs will you?” she said. “Pain killers and stimulants. We’ve got to tend to our dead and wounded, send a party out the cave entrance and check for survivors topside, then restore comms with CNAF and see if we can get this base back online.” She looked across the dock to the intact loading bays next to the catapult. “We’ve still got hangars full of hardware capable of kicking some serious Russian a** and I would dearly love to get some orders and get it in the air.”
    Bunny looked at her admiringly, “Hoo-yah Boss.’”
    *
    *

    As the boys watched, a huge mushroom cloud was rising over the town where the town hall was. Over by the airfield there were three or four fires burning and what looked like fuel exploding. Several houses in the town seemed to be on fire too. Their eyes went immediately to the two story gym at the school.
    It was untouched. There were fires just a block away, a huge crater where the town hall had been, but the school gym and its outbuildings were still standing. If they could feel the bombs down in the bunker, he could only imagine what it had been like for their families, holed up in the steel walled gym just a block or two away.
    Perri looked at the town through his scope. He had expected to see Russian troops running around the streets, jeeps, maybe ambulances or something. But apart from a couple of soldiers standing around or picking themselves up off the ground, there was nothing except for flickering flames and rising columns of smoke.
    “Our own side bombed us,” Dave said unbelievingly. “They bombed Gambell.”
    “They never cared about us before,” Perri said bitterly. “Why should they start now?”
    “Yeah, but… this is like US territory. They bombed their own territory!”
    He tapped Dave on the shoulder, pointing back to the tank, “Let’s get back down. Any Russian out there left alive is going to be looking for blood after this. Lying low is looking like an even better idea now.”

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    Private Zubkov had been caught out in the open when the cruise missiles hit. He knew they were cruise missiles because he saw one of the bastards curl around the bluff at the end of town and head straight for the town hall.
    It hadn’t even been an hour since the ammo dump had gone up. They were still looking for the Captain. It was kind of strange. Not like there was some big blast that could have vaporized him. The guy next to Zubkov had been hit with the base plate of a field mortar, that was what took his face off. And another guy, he took a ricochet in the leg. So they’d all ducked behind cover and waited until all of the ammo had cooked off and it was just a red smoldering mess down there, and then they stuck their heads out again.
    But the Captain was missing. The Sergeant who had been sent to the airfield had finally come back after about thirty minutes, wondering why he hadn’t received any further orders and the Captain wasn’t on comms. He’d told them to start searching through the town, block by block.
    “Could be freaking partisans,” Sergeant Penkov said. “They blew the ammo dump, took the Captain hostage maybe.”
    Zubkov thought about the frightened Inuit families he’d helped herd into the school building, and didn’t think so. They were fishermen and women with kids. Grandmothers and grandfathers. He didn’t see an armed resistance in their faces, more like weary resignation. But then he remembered the flickering shadows of men running up on the bluff, and he wasn’t so sure. He was thinking about that as he rounded a corner behind some sort of warehouse and found the Captain.
    The man was standing and staring out to sea. Just standing there, staring. He didn’t react when Zubkov called out to him, and didn’t turn when he came up behind him. “Captain Demchenko?”
    The man was just standing with a strange smile on his face, watching the sea.
    “Comrade Captain?”
    Now he turned, eyes semi-glazed, looking at Zubkov, or looking through him. Zubkov couldn’t tell.
    “I love mankind,” the officer said. “But I find to my amazement, that the more I love mankind as a whole, the less I love man himself.”
    Zubkov stared at him. Demchenko stood there, as though he was waiting for an answer. Zubkov was used to the vagaries of the officer class, and took the observation in his stride.
    “Well, yes Sir. There’s not a lot to love.” Zubkov looked around himself. “Especially in a #%&*$#
    like this, sir.”
    The Captain frowned, like that was not the reply he had expected. “The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for,” he said, looking out to sea again.
    The voice was so dead and even, it chilled Zubkov. He stepped in front of his CO. “Sir, I think maybe we should just…” Then he stopped talking, because he saw a thin line of blood running down the man’s cheek, from the corner of his eyeball to the corner of his mouth, pulsing with every beat of his heart.
    “Sir, why don’t you just come with me,” Zubkov said. He took the man’s arm and started to lead him, unresisting, back to the poorly lit streets.
    “You can be sincere, and still be stupid,” the Captain said, conversationally.
    Finally Zubkov realized where he had heard the words before. It was Dostoyevsky. The man was standing out in the cold night air quoting Dostoyevsky to himself. He stopped, and took a flashlight off his belt. He shone it in the face of the Captain, and the man flinched, but he didn’t ask Zubkov what the hell he was doing, he just screwed his eyes shut.
    Zubkov looked carefully at the line of blood leaking from the man’s eye. It was still pulsing out of the eye in a tiny, red stream. On an instinct, he reached his hand up to the man’s head, and felt the hair at the back of his head. There was blood there too.
    “Man is sometimes extraordinarily, passionately in love with suffering,” the Captain pointed out.
    “Yes sir,” Zubkov agreed. “He most certainly is. This way if you please.”
    And as they’d emerged from between buildings the first cruise missile had hit. It exploded across the other side of town near the town hall, with enormous force; bracketed almost immediately by two more strikes out by the airfield.
    Not partisans then.
    Zubkov had shoved his damaged Captain back behind a wall and then dived for the dirt. As he watched, he saw a dark deltoid with a tail of fire come screaming around the bluff, over the bay and head straight for him.
    *
    *


    Bondarev seemed to exist in a twilight of blurred grey light for eternity. Was this death? Just as it seemed it must be, features around him started to come into sharper relief. A window showing a bleak snowy landscape outside, a bed with rails on both sides, curtains around him. A hospital then, not quite the Valhalla he had been hoping for.
    “Welcome back. It is a miracle you didn’t go into cardiac arrest,” the base physician said as he realized Bondarev was awake and watching him. “You lost more than a liter of blood.”
    “Yes. I was trying to do the math on that,” Bondarev admitted. He looked up at the IV bag next to his bed, then down at his bandaged leg.
    “Otherwise, it’s not too bad,” the doctor moved down to the end of the bed and pulled the bed cover aside. “Wiggle your toes for me.”
    He did so, wincing as something felt like it was tearing in his calf. “OK, that’s enough, stop now,” the man said. “Just rest.” It sounded like a grand idea.
    He was wide awake the next time the physician called past.
    “Good, you’re looking more alert now. The shrapnel sliced across your gastrocnemius, opened up a vein, but didn’t sever the Achilles. We’ve stitched you up, you just need to rest.”
    “How long?”
    “Two weeks,” the doctor said. “Maybe one if you can stay off it. Any sooner and you'll open it up again.”
    “No, doctor, I need to fly,” Bondarev said.
    “Not with that leg. Not happening.”
    Bondarev sighed, “In world war two, the British had an ace, Douglas Bader, who had no legs comrade doctor. He flew Hurricane fighters; big, stinking, gasoline powered metal and wooden beasts without fly by wire, without dynamic control surfaces, without the help of a combat AI.” Bondarev lifted his leg off the bed, trying not to wince, “So put a splint and a bandage around it, give me a crutch and sign me out. I need to find out what is left of my 4th and 5th Air Battalions.”
    The physician held his foot, and lowered it back to the bed, “There is no rush Comrade Colonel. Your men won the air battle, but American missiles exterminated almost all of our troops along with half of their own citizens on that island. Our governments have agreed a cease fire. The genie has been put back in the bottle. For now.”
    Bondarev laid his head back on the pillow, “Tell someone I want to see Lieutenant Colonel Arsharvin please. Now.”
    He needed to find out how many men and machines he had lost. This hiatus wouldn’t last long, of that he was sure. The American response had been expected, had in fact been needed. With or without him, Operation LOSOS should have moved immediately into phase 2 by now. Leveraging global outrage over the US attack on Russia, on its own citizens, the invasion of the Yukon River basin should have begun.
    A cease fire? Something was wrong.
    *
    *
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/07/18 08:39 AM

    You're quite nasty to your characters. I like that.
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/07/18 03:47 PM

    More awesomeness.

    Last pic not showing for me

    EDIT: Pic fixed
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/07/18 03:47 PM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    You're quite nasty to your characters. I like that.


    Yup and I'm feeling very Game of Thronesy. Tell me which ones you get most attached to ... I'll make sure they die horrible deaths wink

    [Linked Image]

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    More awesomeness.

    Last pic not showing for me


    Fixed?
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 4 Feb - 02/07/18 07:34 PM

    FYI this is how I am seeing USA vs Russian UCAV tactics/technology in this scenario:

    [Linked Image]

    USA: In order to maintain airpower balance with Russia US chose to dramatically increase production of UCAVs but this created bottlenecks in aircrew training and recruitment. A solution was found by which 6 UCAVs in formation were linked in a data 'hex' in which the pilot would need to control only one aircraft in the 'hex' at any time and any aircraft in the hex could be (re)designated as the 'primary' aircraft for control purposes. Pilots do not 'fly' the aircraft in realtime (except for takeoff and landing) but set waypoints and issue tactical commands from a command set. UCAVs are controlled by AWACS or Satellite when out of Line of Sight. US UCAV platforms are equally suited to air to air and air to ground combat and not specialised in either.

    PROS: significantly reduced training and personnel time/cost, significantly reduced unit cost per fighter aircraft, reduced data flow between ground-air elements lowering vulnerability to electronic warfare attacks and allowing dedication of data bandwidth to eg video, long range between ground based pilot and aircraft possible
    CONS: vulnerability to EW or kinetic attacks to satellite comms links, inferior combat capabilities of AI vs human pilots, lag time in control inputs between ground based pilot and aircraft

    Russia: Russian designers identified a weakness in US UCAV technology in that it is reliant on Satellite communication for command and control. Russian UCAVs instead can use any UCAV comms capable base station (ground or air, eg ground station, UCAV comms equipped aircraft or AWACS) for direct command control. Pilots fly the aircraft in real time while a system/weapons officer controls radar/targeting/weapons systems. Russian UCAVs are capable of air-air loadouts, but designed primarily for close air support, air-air combat still primarily to be fought with piloted aircraft. Russian war planners firmly believe that human pilots are still superior in dogfight combat to UCAV AI systems, however all Russian piloted aircraft are fitted with a combat AI that can take control of the aircraft from the pilot in extreme threat environments.

    PROS: no vulnerability to EW or kinetic attacks on satellite comms, no reliance on AI for flight or weapons control, superiority in human vs AI decision making in combat
    CONS: high personnel and training time/cost, distance between pilot and aircraft limited to LoS or over-the-horizon AWACS relay range, comms bandwidth bottlenecks due to requirement for each ground station to be in direct contact with a single aircraft (AWACS limit of 20 slaved UCAVs at any one time), UCAV control vulnerable to loss of AWACS aircraft but any UCAV control capable platform can substitute

    H
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 8 Feb - 02/08/18 08:42 AM

    SUBTERRANEAN

    [Linked Image]

    “What happened to the invasion? American air power, that is what happened,” Arsharvin said. He watched as Bondarev put his hands on the wall in front of him, one leg straight and heel to the ground then crossed the other leg in front of it and stretched until it felt like his Achilles would snap. “I bet that exercise gives you buns of steel.”
    “Air power?” Bondarev stretched again. “We faced an enemy greater in number and claimed two of theirs for every one we lost.”
    “We claimed two aircraft, not two pilots,” Arsharvin pointed out. “Most of the machines you faced were drones. This was the first real test of Russian fighter doctrine against American and the results were not … compelling.”
    “Two for one is not compelling?” Bondarev asked bitterly. “Tell me comrade, what is compelling.
    Three for one? Five for one?”
    Arsharvin held up his hands, trying to calm his friend, “Let’s just talk numbers. I’ve sent you the report but perhaps you didn’t read it. I wrote it, so I know the math.” He held up his hand and started counting off his fingers, “Firstly, the Americans sent up a force of 97 fighters, 80 of which were F-47 Fantoms, 17 of which were piloted F-35s. You faced them with a force of about 80 Su-57s and Mig-41s. You fired first, though that was moot, as the enemy drones reacted with counter fire as soon as they detected your missiles launching. I’ll save you the blow by blow commentary, get straight to the final result. You lost 14 aircraft destroyed and 8 damaged. The Americans lost between 30 and 35 machines destroyed, and 15 damaged.”
    “Better than 2 for 1 then,” Bondarev grunted.
    “In machines, yes,” Arsharvin said. “But not in pilots. We lost 12 pilots! The Americans lost just six, killed or captured! Six men! That’s two to one in their favor!”
    Bondarev was quiet a moment. He was well aware of his losses. Had been sitting in his hospital bed writing to as many widows and parents in the few days after the battle as he had in three years over Syria and Turkey.
    “A human pilot will beat a machine every time, we have proven it in testing against our own Okhotniks over Armavir, we proved it in combat over Syria,” Bondarev insisted.
    “But not in these numbers, not against Fantoms armed with their new CUDA missiles, and you aren’t just fighting machines Comrade Colonel,” Arsharvin said, clearly frustrated. “Their ‘hex’ datalinked combat formation means there is one pilot to every six drones. Their drones are not operating on full autonomous control like ours would in a dogfight - they have pilots calling team plays like a football coach on the sideline of a football game. One pilot to six drones Yevgeny!” Arsharvin threw his hands in the air. “Every one of our drones requires two crew and we can’t train them fast enough to keep them fully manned.”
    “I was fighting with my hands tied,” Bondarev pointed out. “Not allowed to commit my Okhotniks, not allowed to engage until we were almost at guns range. The odds were all in the Americans’ favor. They won’t be next time, I promise you.”
    “If there is a next time,” Arsharvin said. “Lukin is in Vladivostok with a bunch of other generals and politicians looking at the same numbers I sent to you.”
    Bondarev frowned, “The way you told it, we need freshwater, or the country goes under. It’s not like there’s anything to talk about,” he said. Getting down on his haunches, he tipped forward, balancing on his toes. His right calf muscle screamed in protest, but he embraced the pain. When the time came to return to duty, he would be ready.
    “If you’re a politician, there’s always something to talk about my friend. They are not just spooked by the capabilities of the US air forces. They aren’t getting the sympathy or even the neutrality they expected from the UN after the US attack. And my sources in the Kremlin tell me President Navalny is personally rattled by the brutality of an opponent who apparently had no qualms about attacking their own installation at Savoonga.”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    It was to be Devlin’s third meeting with the Russian Foreign Ministry in as many weeks, but the first with their Foreign Minister since a ceasefire was declared, the day after the ‘Battle of Bering Strait’.
    Whether her superiors had really expected Russia to fold in the face of a demonstration of US airpower and withdraw from Saint Lawrence, she couldn’t say. But she did know they had been fazed by the unhesitating Russian willingness to defend their ‘no-go’ zone. Just as she was aware the Russians were fazed by the US willingness to do whatever it took to defend its territorial rights.
    Devlin had been shocked too. She had emerged from Carl Williams’ office to the news that US PACCOM had ordered the effective destruction of the Savoonga cantonment.
    In the court of international opinion, the US had tried to hold Russia responsible, claiming it had provoked the attack by opening fire on ‘US aircraft patrolling inside US territory, outside the illegal Russian no-fly zone.’ Russia in turn had claimed that the massive US provocation that was ‘Operation
    Resolve’ had been timed together with a stealth missile or aircraft attack on its ‘peace keeping’ forces in Gambell, and followed by the massive cruise missile attack on Russian and civilian targets spread across Saint Lawrence island.
    The US had made no mention of the Russian attack on Little Diomede.
    International sympathy had split across traditional lines, current allies siding with the super-power they were aligned with, and no neutral states stepping outside their comfort zones to get in between the two combatants. The UN Secretary General had called for urgent de-escalation, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Science and Security Board had moved their ‘Doomsday Clock’ to thirty seconds to midnight, the closest it had been set since 1953 when the US and Russia both tested hydrogen fusion bombs. Her Russian counterparts had one clear goal in any conversation Devlin had with them; to find out whether the US was willing to use nuclear weapons to defend its territory. If Russia still refused to withdraw from Saint Lawrence, even after the scorched earth approach the US had taken with nonnuclear weapons, would it truly consider using tactical nuclear weapons and risk planetary scale nuclear destruction?
    Devlin had been ordered to reply that the US demand for the remaining Russian troops to withdraw from Saint Lawrence was still valid, and that any attempt to reinforce the island would be met with ‘the necessary force’.
    But the same thing still puzzled Devlin now as had puzzled her before. Would Russia really risk nuclear destruction just to achieve control over the Bering Strait? It remained the only theory the State Department could anchor the Russian aggression to, and the people inside State who propounded it were arguing now that Russia had gone too far to back away, that the loss of nearly 200 ground troops on Saint Lawrence and numerous front line aircraft could not be ignored and domestic political pressure would stop them from backing down.
    It was a stalemate. There were no more viable military targets on Saint Lawrence for the US to attack. But Russian forces remained in control of the island’s population centers of Gambell and Savoonga. Russian aircraft still patrolled overhead and Russian warships plied the seas up and down the Strait threatening any US shipping or aircraft that approached. They were letting internationally flagged shipping through, but anything US flagged ship was being warned and if it did not turn back, boarded and turned around.
    What Devlin was going to tell her Russian counterparts today was that a US carrier group centered around the latest (and in fact probably the last) of the US supercarriers, the USS Enterprise, had just departed San Diego. Its objective: a ‘freedom of navigation’ transit through the Bering Strait.
    *
    *

    In the three weeks since the thermobaric bombs had dropped on Little Diomede, the Rock had been left to fend for itself. US CNAF had not wanted to draw any attention to its top secret facility, so Little Diomede had been included in general US protests about Russian aggression, without specifically calling out the attack there.
    With the death of the CO, Rodriguez had found herself suddenly in command of the Naval Computer and Telecommunications Area Master Station, Alaska – both her own people, and the personnel from the radar station. The chief petty officer and search party she had sent topside had found no survivors. In fact, they hadn’t even found any bodies. It was as though the officers and personnel manning the radar station had been scraped from the rock like barnacles from the hull of a ship. The radar station itself was nothing but melted metal and plastic, twisted rebar and foundation concrete. One of Rodriguez’s fears had been that the large elevator shaft down to the cave below, which had been hidden by the radar dome, would lie gaping and open for any prying Russian eye to see.
    She needn’t have been concerned. The walls around the elevator shaft had collapsed over it, leaving only a small rubble-filled depression.
    Communication had been their first priority. They needed to let CNAF know that they were wounded, but still in the fight. By patching into the undersea drone command array they’d re-established voice and data contact. Their launch infrastructure had come through the attack largely undamaged. They could hit any target within 300 miles, they just needed to be told what, and where. Without the heavy lift crane on the dock though, they couldn’t recover and recycle their drones from the Pond. Any drone they sent out the chute would be on a one way trip to the target and if it survived, onward to an airfield in Alaska.
    That was what she pitched to PACCOM anyway. They didn’t see it the way she did.
    Rodriguez had called a meeting of her ‘command staff’: a grand word to describe Bunny O’Hare, her arresting gear and catapult officers Stretch Alberti and Lucky Severin, and Chief Petty Officer ‘Inky’ Barrows, the senior ranking seaman from the radar station, so named because he got a new tattoo every time he hit a new port, and at 32 years of age, was fast running out of real estate to place it on.
    “We’re being decommissioned,” Rodriguez announced. “Navy is sending a sub. We can’t get it into the dock here, so it will have to moor outside the harbor debris field. We are to rack all aircraft, power down all equipment and rig charges to bring the roof down by remote detonation just in case Ivan discovers it and tries to breach. The sub will take off all remaining personnel.”
    Their faces said it all, but Alberti was the first to speak. “They can’t decommission us, we hadn’t even been commissioned yet,” he commented dryly.
    “Speak for yourselves,” Barrows said.
    “I don’t think they’re too worried about protocol Lieutenant,” Rodriguez said. “Informally, I was told they need to do an assessment of how it was we got hurt so badly by a few lucky bombs that weren’t even aimed at us.”
    “Those MOABs are like mini-nukes,” CPO Barrows protested. “And the whole point is they did get lucky, the Russians still don’t know we’re here.”
    Severin was chewing on a thought, “We would have been fine if we’d anticipated the flooding. The sea wall was rated for a category 4 hurricane and storm surge, not for a bloody thermobaric blast. We just need to re-engineer the cave entrance, create some baffles, maybe fit a pressure door…”
    “They’re not in the mood for re-engineering right now,” Rodriguez told them. “If we aren’t part of the solution to this standoff, we are apparently just part of the problem. They’re pulling us out.”
    Rodriguez looked over at O’Hare; she looked angry but was suspiciously quiet. Rodriguez had expected her to explode. They discussed what needed to be done to decommission or destroy their equipment, how long it would take to rig explosives to bring the reinforced roof of the cave down and whether there were any personnel too badly wounded to move. When they were done planning, Rodriguez dismissed them to start work.
    “Lieutenant O’Hare, can I have a word?” Rodriguez said as they all rose to leave the trailer. When the others closed the door behind them, she looked at the woman who in the last few weeks had become just as much a friend as a junior officer. “OK Bunny, what’s up?”
    “Sorry Boss?” O’Hare raised an eyebrow. “Don’t know what you mean.”
    “Yes you do. I know you want payback. You’re choking for it. But I tell you we’re packing our bags and pulling out and you don’t say a word. Alberti and Barrows both erupt, even Severin is coming up with ideas, but you’re an Easter Island statue.”
    Bunny sat down again, “I won’t lie Boss. I was ready to hit someone. But as Stretch was talking I was thinking, OK, they’re still going to need someone to fly drones and hit the enemy. Whether I do it from here, or Elmendorf-Richardson or even Nevada, it’s all the same to me. So the quicker that sub gets here, the quicker I can get back to a fighting unit and start, you know, fighting.”
    “Yeah,” Rodriguez said. “About that…”

    *
    *

    Perri and Dave had grown bolder. Over the last three weeks they had set up a lookout ‘nest’ under an upturned satellite dish on the gas station roof that gave them a clear view down onto the town, and as long as there was no fog, all the way across to the airfield. And they’d been out nearly every night, watching and listening to the town below.
    They had been relieved to see the school buildings in Gambell had somehow escaped the destruction that had rained down on the town in those few short and terrifying minutes. They were worried about reprisals, but it seemed that those Russians left alive had other concerns than revenge on the local civilians.
    They saw them bring their wounded to the school on stretchers and the hoods of jeeps. Then they saw them bring their dead and line them up in bags on the road outside.
    Some of the bags clearly didn’t hold a whole body. He counted fifty nine body bags.
    On the third day, Perri got a good count of the number of Russian troops left in Gambell when they held a funeral service for their dead comrades.
    There were twenty seven Russian soldiers still combat ready - physically at least - and maybe ten badly wounded inside the school somewhere.
    What Perri couldn’t understand, was why no help arrived for the Russian troops. They air had been swarming with fat bellied helicopters that first day, and a few came and went in the days following, but the skies were completely empty now. There were no ships parked off the breakwater, just the wreck of the transport ship that had been hit by a missile three weeks ago and exploded in a liquid hydrogen fueled fireball that had flattened all the harborside shacks and broken windows hundreds of yards back. With at least three missiles hitting the town and more out at the airstrip, Perri doubted there was a window left intact in the entire town. But the Russians should have been able to get new men and supplies in. There had been plenty of days with clear skies but it had been foggy the first few days after the attack, if they had wanted to sneak people in or out. And he had clearly seen Russian aircraft overhead, flying back and forth across Saint Lawrence, apparently unmolested. So why no choppers?
    Whatever the reason, whatever their new orders, Perri and Dave could see the soldiers left in Gambell had little interest in keeping up patrols around the town, and even less interest in sitting in sandbagged bunkers out by the airstrip. The only semblance of their former routine were the guards posted at the doors of the school buildings, and the routine trips from the gym to the toilets with groups of hostages. Which was good, because it meant that at least once a day, Perri and Dave could see their families were still ok, even though they must be worried sick not knowing what had happened to their two boys. Perri had been able to confirm his father and brother were among the people in the school, so at least they hadn’t been stupid enough to pick a fight or try to run for the American mainland in their little fishing boat. Which by the way, had been destroyed in the American strike just like every other boat in the harbor.
    He lowered his scope. “I’m sick of just watching and doing nothing.”
    Dave clapped his hands together to keep the blood flowing in the cold late summer air, “Isn’t anything left for us to blow up or shoot holes in man, you know that.”
    “I have another idea,” Perri said. “I don’t believe the whole world forgot about us. We need to remind them we’re still here.”
    “Americans bombed the #%&*$# out of us,” Dave pointed out. “You expect their sympathy now?”
    “Not them,” Perri said. “I’m thinking those guys we met at the Pow Wow in Canada that time.”
    Dave knew what he was talking about. The last time both of them had gotten off Saint Lawrence island. Two glorious weeks on Vancouver Island in Canada for a meeting of indigenous youth. It was the first time Perri had realized there was a world of kids out there going through exactly what he was going through, and he’d stayed friends with a bunch of them over the years through social media.
    “We’ve still got no internet,” Dave pointed out. “So the only calls we can make here are local and there’s no one to call. How are you going to get a message out?”
    Gambell’s connection to the outside world was through a satellite internet router and dish up on the town hall roof that used to hook up to their cell network. It was the first thing the Russians took down, and then the Americans sealed the deal when they took out the whole block on which the town hall sat. They might have killed half of the Russian troops in Gambell, but they also made sure it was cut off from the world for good. Or had they?
    “Those guys down there, they must have some way to contact their base back in Russia, right?”
    “You’re going to call Moscow, ask them for help?” Dave joked. “Hey, come and save us from those crazy Americans? Oh wait, you were already doing that? My bad…”
    “No you dick. I’m thinking whatever they have, it must hook up to a satellite somewhere. Maybe we can use it to get online. Like a mobile hot spot.”
    Dave stood and winked, “OK, let’s just go ask them eh? Excuse me #%&*$# invaders, got a radio we can borrow?”
    Perri stood too, “Sure. Or, how about we just go out to the airfield where there are about a dozen smashed up Russian trucks, cars and ATVs and see what we can find?”

    [Linked Image]

    *
    *
    It turned out a razor sharp, needle thin fragment of shrapnel had entered the Captain’s skull just beside his eye, travelled right through his brain and then left his skull at the back making a pinhole sized exit wound.
    It had turned him into a walking Dostoyevsky quotation machine, but that was about all he was capable of. Sergeant Penkov had talked more than once about just shooting him to put him, and everyone around him, out of their misery. But in the end they settled for locking him in a classroom and taking him to the toilet twice a day so he didn’t soil himself.
    Sergeant Penkov had managed to contact 14th Squadron headquarters within a few minutes of the first American strike, and was told to bunker down and ride it out. When the cruise missiles hit, Private Zubkov and the poetic Captain Demchenko were groveling under the foundations of one of the houses two blocks from the town hall. The explosion as the ship in the harbor went up was the loudest, nearly blowing Private Zubkov’s eardrums out. So it was that he hardly heard the town hall strike which had killed most of his comrades.
    He’d waited until things stopped blowing up, and then waited some more. He’d learned a few lessons since the ammo dump went up. When he finally emerged from under the house, it was starting to get light, and he was cold, hungry and pissed off at the world. His pique lasted until he found the first body part out on the street. He found his way through the wreckage of the town to the sound of someone shouting orders, and found Sergeant Penkov organizing search and rescue parties.
    So much for food and warmth. He spent three days digging out the wounded and bagging the dead. When he ate, it was cold soup or MREs. When he slept, it was on the floor of one of the school buildings, shivering under a thin blanket because the #%&*$# engineers had all been killed and no one left alive could get the damaged pumped hydro powerplant up and running. None of the Russians anyway. The locals had refused to help – they seemed impervious to the cold and apparently liked to see their captors suffer. They were probably used to the damn thing punking out on them.
    Sergeant Penkov had sent urgent requests to 14th Squadron for evacuation. Denied. Resupply. Denied. Reinforcement? Denied. He was given orders to do what he could, where he was, with what he had.
    Private Zubkov was there when he got this last piece of good advice.
    “This stupid island doesn’t matter anymore,” Penkov spat, putting down the satellite radio mike. “If it ever did.” He looked around him at the beaten men who had given up looking at him with hope. Now they just looked at him with resignation. “We’re on our own boys. Ideas?”
    “We need to get across the island to Savoonga,” someone offered. “At least they’ve got power and clean water.”
    “Can’t drive, we’d have to walk out,” another pointed out. “The locals say there’s no walking track along the coast, only deer trails at best.”
    “We can’t take the wounded out that way. We need air transport. Or a boat.”
    “We’ve got neither,” the Sergeant pointed out. “And it isn’t going to magically appear. We’re walking out, or we’re going nowhere.”
    Private Zubkov spoke up, “How many are left in Savoonga?”
    “I spoke with them yesterday,” Penkov said. “They’ve got about the same number left as we do. Call it a couple of platoons, not counting the wounded. We’ll be better off combining our strength and fortifying Savoonga, for sure.”
    Someone laughed at that. “Strength? Yeah, right.”
    “Can it,” the Sergeant grunted at him. “This is what we’re doing. We’re walking out. We’ll take the locals with us, to show the way. The walking wounded come with us. Those too badly hurt to walk can stay here, with any of the locals who are too old or too weak to make the walk.”
    “They’ll cut our guys’ throats the minute we leave town!” Private Zubkov said.
    “If our guys get their throats cut by a bunch of old women and geriatric men, they bloody deserve it,” Penkov said.
    “We can’t just leave them here,” Private Zubkov protested.
    The Sergeant looked at Zubkov for a long moment, “You’re right son. So you’ll stay here with them to make sure they’re properly looked after. How’s that?”

    [Linked Image]

    *
    *
    Devlin wanted to make sure she was completely prepared for her coming meeting with Foreign Minister Kelnikov. She had her brief from State, but she also knew where she could get a briefing that was less filtered, and more real time. Over the last three weeks she’d become a regular sight in the New Annex, even if few people knew why she was spending so much one on one time with the beardy nerd in his broom closet of an office
    She’d also gotten on first name terms with HOLMES.
    “Hello Devlin,” the plummy voice said as she walked in. Knowing she was coming, Williams had his laptop turned outward, facing toward the guest chair. Was it her imagination, or did the AI voice actually sound pleased to see her? He was a whole other kind of AI if that was true, but then, Carl Williams kept trying to convince her that he was.
    “Hey HOLMES,” she said.
    “He’s been dying for you to arrive,” Williams said with a wry smile.
    “I enjoy delivering my daily briefing,” HOLMES said.
    “You enjoy showing off is more like it,” Williams said. “I know you do, because I taught you to.”
    “You have an analysis of the personal networks of those Russian politicians?” Devlin asked. She had been tasked with using her diplomatic contacts to identify the inner circle of politicians closest to the Russian President. She didn’t want to ask why, but assumed someone wanted to know who to target for ‘something’ if the time for ‘something’ ever came.
    “No ma’am, he wants to tell you…” Williams started.
    “May I please deliver my briefing Carl?” HOLMES broke in over the top of the analyst. It was the first time Devlin had heard the AI interrupt its programmer, and even Williams looked surprised.
    “Uh, sure. Go for it.”
    “Thankyou Carl. Devlin, I have identified with an assessed probability of 96 percent why Russia has invaded Saint Lawrence Island.”
    Devlin sat in the chair opposite the desk. “I’m listening,” she said.
    “I have prepared a small presentation,” HOLMES said, and the screen on the laptop blinked to life, showing a map of what Devlin quickly realized was the Russian Federation, from West to East. The map was divided into the 46 states or oblasts that comprised the Federation, colored various shades of the green. HOLMES continued, “This is a map showing the total available freshwater supply available for drinking, irrigation or industry in each of the states of Russian Federation. Green indicates that supply exceeds demand. This map and the timeline I am about to show starts in 1991 with the dissolution of the former Soviet Union. I will now advance the timeline at one year every two seconds.” Devlin saw the map begin to change, as time moved forward and several provinces went from deep green to light green. Around 2001 one of the oblasts went yellow. “Yellow indicates occasional supply shortages, red will indicate critical supply shortages.”
    Devlin saw several states turn yellow around 2010, but then a number of them, mostly around the big cities, turned light green again. The timeline paused. “In 2015 a large-scale desalinization program which was started in 2010 began delivering new freshwater supplies into the hardest hit catchments,” HOLMES said. “Following this success, any talk of a crisis in freshwater supplies in the Russian Duma was put aside and the desalinization program was intensified. The availability of large amounts of freshwater for industry and agriculture supported the resurgence of the Russian economy between 2020 and 2030.”
    Now the screen shifted, to show a simple line graph, with dates from 2000 to 2025 on the bottom axis and a line that rose dramatically, and then fell just as dramatically toward the outer years. “This graph shows water delivered into Russian groundwater reserves by melting Siberian permafrost. At the same time as Russian desalinization plants were coming on line, massive amounts of meltwater were being delivered to the Central Asian aquifers and beyond, by melting underground ice. This meltwater has artificially elevated the levels of available freshwater, but this is not sustainable. I believe I may be the first one outside Russia, either human or AI, to have identified this critical piece of the puzzle,” HOLMES said, in a matter of fact way.
    The timeline resumed, and Devlin saw that around 2025 all of the states in yellow had reverted to green. Whatever Russia had done to solve its freshwater problem, it appeared to have worked.
    “With increased agricultural and industrial production, climate change induced droughts, plus uncontrolled urbanization, freshwater demand has begun outpacing supply again, even with the commissioning of hundreds of desalinization plants, and even with the inflow of Siberian meltwater,” HOLMES continued. Now the map was showing half green, nearly half yellow and a deal red. More states turned red, until about a third of the map was red, and a third yellow, with only one or two states still in green. “This is the present day,” he said. “I have projected this analysis into the future by ten years, and done a sensitivity analysis to arrive at a base case scenario. May I skip directly to my ten year prognosis ma’am?”
    “Please,” Devlin said. She had a fair idea where it was going to land.
    With a flicker, the map on the screen turned blood red, from west to east.

    [Linked Image]


    *
    *
    It was the first vehicle they looked in. A big Humvee-like jeep with a long aerial on the roof, it had just seemed natural to start with that one. It had been blown onto its side by a missile strike, and its underside was a tangle of gutted metal. The fuel tanks had caught fire, apparently without exploding, the tires had burned away and the underside was covered in an oily soot. Someone had been through the inside of the vehicle and emptied all of the lockers and compartments lining the interior. There wasn’t even a stray packet of cigarettes or random piece of paper left behind.
    But they hadn’t taken the radio receiver out of its mount under the dashboard.
    It took Perri twenty nerve wracking minutes to free it and uncouple the cables leading into the engine compartment. While he worked, Dave was under the hood, pulling out one of the hydrogen fuel cell batteries. They weren’t sure if the radio would run off the same voltage as the battery they had down in the tank, so while Perri lugged the surprisingly heavy radio with him, Dave dragged the even heavier battery on a makeshift sled fashioned from a truck door and some electrical cables he’d scrounged from the wreckage around the airfield.
    Back inside the tank, Perri had hooked the battery up to the radio, guided by photos he’d taken of how the wiring had been organized when it was still connected inside the jeep.
    It was dead, and stayed dead, no matter what he did.
    “Russian piece of crap,” Dave decided after about an hour of watching Perri mess with it. “Can’t even take a hit from a bomb and keep working.” He reached down to Perri’s feet and held up something that looked like a small pair of tweezers with one blue arm and one red. “Better keep all this stuff together, we might be able to use it for parts if we find another one.”
    “Give me that,” Perri said, taking it and turning it around. “Did this fall off it?”
    Dave looked at him strangely. “No, you took it off, together with a bunch of wires, and you put it down on the ground. You’re the techie, I figured you’d decided you didn’t need it.”
    Perri held the small metal clip in one hand, and began turning the radio over with the other, looking for somewhere to fasten it. On the backside of the radio he found two copper studs that looked just the right distance apart, and slid the clip onto them to see that the blue arm was held by one stud, and the red arm by the other. He clipped the power wires to the battery again.
    A small hum filled the tank as the radio sprang to life.

    *
    *

    Lieutenant Bunny O’Hare shook her head as though shaking water out of her ears.
    “Please say again ma’am,” Bunny said slowly. “I was almost sure you said you wanted me to stay behind in a cave full of explosives after everyone else has left.”
    “I’ll stay as well, of course,” Rodriguez said. “We’ll wire the base for remote detonation before we pull people out, but I’ve asked CNAF for permission to fly our aircraft out rather than leave them in situ. There is nearly two billion dollars’ worth of hardware in those hangar bays, so I’m expecting to get a yes. When the last Fantom is on its way to Elmendorf-Richardson or Eielson, they’ll pick us up and seal the base.”
    “Two people can’t launch 24 drones,” Bunny pointed out. “You’ll have to keep a bunch of people back.”
    “Actually that’s not right. One person has to fly them. But it only takes one person to load and launch them. This system was designed for truck mounted launch using a crew of one driver/mechanic, and one launch officer. It’s fully automated, from fueling to preflight checks, loading the cartridges onto the EMALS and firing the cat.” She grinned. “And I’m the best damn shooter in the navy.”
    “So if you only need one person to run the launch system, why do you have two crews of ten people each?” Bunny insisted. “What am I missing?”
    “Speed,” Rodriguez said. “With more people we can do things in parallel, rather than in sequence, shorten the time between launches. Plus, I’m only talking about launch; recovery is completely different. Truck mounted launchers are ‘one and done.’ They can launch, but they can’t recover and relaunch – a truck launched drone has to land at an airfield after its mission. Down here it takes several people to recover the drone, do the post-flight system and damage check, reload ordnance, slot it into a new launch cartridge and port it back to the launch bay.”
    “Are you serious ma’am?” Bunny asked, close to exasperation. She lifted her nose in the air, and sniffed. “You smell that? This place reeks of death now. It would be different if we were going back up there, getting some payback, but we’re not, we’re bugging out and rigging the roof to blow. You’re talking 24 drones. How fast do you figure we can preflight, load and launch, all on our own?”
    “Twenty three – we don’t have time to fix the bird with the bent leg. I don’t know… say one airframe every two hours?”
    “So we fire one out the chute, I set it on its way to either Eielson or Elmendorf-Richardson and program the AI to bring it home,” Rodriguez saw she was at least thinking it through now. “We’ve got to eat and sleep or we’ll screw up. So 23 kites, 12 hours on, six hours off, that will take us …”
    “Three days, if we push through,” Rodriguez said, having already done the math. “They may not be able to turn around a sub or surface pickup that quickly though. So we might be down here a week or so.”
    Bunny looked out the trailer at the grey concrete and rock walls, “All just to save the Great American Taxpayer a few dollars worth of hardware.”
    “It’s not the money. I just figured that’s what might appeal to ANR strategists. I’m actually thinking if this fight heats up again, we are going to need every one of those aircraft.”

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    Carl Williams’ small office was silent. What HOLMES had shown Devlin was not news to Williams, so he sat patiently while McCarthy processed it. So did HOLMES.
    “I have some questions,” Devlin said at last.
    “Yes ma’am,” Williams and HOLMES replied together.
    Devlin smiled, “HOLMES, your analysis tells me Russia is facing a critical shortage of freshwater in the next ten years. I assume you have allowed for a continued increase in the rate of commissioning desalinization plants?”
    “Yes ma’am, the base case scenario I am showing allows for the current rate of growth in desalinization plant delivered inflow to double, which is against current trends. I have also modelled a modest decline in economic growth, also against current trends. Neither of these adjustments mitigate the critical water shortages.”
    “Have you considered the impact of climate change mitigation strategies on current rainfall?”
    She felt she was asking dumb questions, but they had to be asked, because someone would very soon be asking her.
    “Yes Devlin, I have incorporated the best case projections of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change into the base case. Climate change mitigation strategies cannot work quickly enough to change these projections.”
    She looked at Williams, “Russia is dying of thirst.”
    “Not yet, but it will be,” Williams agreed. “Very soon. And it seems that HOLMES, me, and now you, are the only ones outside Russia who know it.”
    “You haven’t copied this analysis to NSA?” she was surprised.
    Williams looked sheepish, “He wanted to tell you first, before he uplinked it.”
    “Are you serious?” she asked. “HOLMES, is this correct?”
    The voice that came back had the quality of an English school boy, trying to please his teacher. “You were the one who provoked me to revisit my scenarios ma’am. Your intel regarding the personal reaction of the Russian Foreign Minister when you accused him of making a land grab for Saint Lawrence was pivotal to redirecting my analytical energies. I may not have made the connection to dwindling Siberian meltwater levels without your input.”
    Williams looked annoyed, “I’m sorry ma’am. I’m using regularization algorithms like least absolute shrinkage and selection to simplify alternative ‘out of the box’ scenario development.”
    “English?”
    “Uh, right. He was creating scenarios that are too intricate and complex to be likely, so I taught him to learn to like simplicity in his scenario building and seek out inputs that force him to simplify,” he shrugged. “That’s you.”
    “I’m an input that forces him to simplify?”
    “People in my world see the world in shades of grey. You however see the world in black and white ma’am,” Williams said gently. “Good guys, bad guys kind of thing. I’m training him to seek out simpler perspectives.”
    “I like your perspectives Devlin,” HOLMES said. “They are elegant and appealing.”
    Williams shrugged, “That’s why I apologized. I think he has a brain crush on you.”
    “Yes. I like the Ambassador,” HOLMES said.
    Devlin found herself smiling again. “I sincerely appreciate the gesture, but you should share your intel on this quickly, not wait for me next time.”
    Williams coughed, “If I can interrupt this mutual admiration club ma’am, we haven’t got to the meat of the briefing yet. HOLMES is describing ‘cause’ to you, he hasn’t gotten to effect.”
    “It was my next question,” Devlin admitted. “What are the implications of Russia running out of water?”
    “Total economic collapse,” HOLMES said. “Social upheaval. Global destabilization and weapons proliferation.”
    “To name a few things,” Williams said. “But that’s not what I meant. The question is what does Russia running out of water have to do with invading an island in the Bering Strait?”
    “Polar shipping, access to the ice cap? They plan to mine polar ice?” Devlin threw her hands up. “Or just a distraction. It could be anything.”
    “No ma’am,” HOLMES said. “My analysis indicates it is a pretext.”
    “What do you mean?”
    “Human politicians often try to create a pretext for war to both justify their actions internally, and mollify international opinion externally. This strategy goes back hundreds of years. King Gustav of Sweden dressed his soldiers up in Russian uniforms to attack a Swedish outpost, and then declared war on Russia. With his troops lined up in full view on the French border, Prussia’s Otto von Bismark tricked Napoleon into declaring war on him before Napoleon was ready. The explosion aboard the USS Maine was used as a pretext for the USA to declare war on Spanish forces in Cuba.”
    “So Russia is using Saint Lawrence Island as a pretext? How does that work?”
    “I cannot be sure of how credible a pretext is, only a human politician or diplomat could judge this. But I have explored a scenario where Russian intervention in the Bering Strait follows claims of US aggression against Russian interests at sea. Saint Lawrence Island is occupied by Russia, ostensibly to allow Russia to protect freedom of passage for international shipping. Russia knows the US will react with overwhelming force. It wishes to provoke a US attack to confirm its projection of the US as an aggressive, unstable regional actor.”
    “And we walked right into the trap,” Devlin said. “Attacked their troops, took out our own base.”
    “I have made a meta-analysis of hundreds of opinion polls, internal political polling in multiple surveys, social media analyses and parliamentary transcripts. By my assessment, Russia has not been completely successful in winning international backing for its actions, but it has succeeded in splitting international opinion to the extent that most nations, even those allied with the USA, have indicated they see this as a bilateral conflict in which they should not become involved.”
    “There must be an end game here, what is Russia’s next move? They lock up access to the pole for its ice reserves?”
    “No ma’am, converting polar ice to usable water is not economical. I have pooled military, sociopolitical and financial intelligence from human sources, signals intelligence and cyber intelligence. I can document that the evidence overwhelmingly indicates thatRussia intends to invade and occupy the
    Yukon River basin in Western Alaska, which contains nearly 30% of the US supply of surface water.”
    Devlin looked at her watch. She was ninety minutes from her meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister. And she was about to give him a Very Bad Day.

    (c) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued...
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 8 Feb - 02/08/18 10:52 PM

    Now the poker game really starts duel
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 11 Feb - 02/12/18 10:12 AM

    THE PHONY WAR

    [Linked Image]

    There were times when it was right to ask for permission, and times when it was better to ask for forgiveness. Devlin figured this was one of the latter. She knew that Carl Williams’ intelligence report was on its way to NSA. She’d made sure it was also copied to the CIA and FBI heads of station in Moscow, and her own channels in State. She wanted it widely read, and well understood. HOLMES analysis had convinced her this wasn’t a fight about controlling a strategic waterway, this was a fight about the very survival of the Russian Federation and what they were willing to do to secure it.
    That was a whole other war than the one they were preparing to fight. Devlin wasn’t privy to the plans the Pentagon were putting together, but she was pretty sure they just involved putting a few hundred Rangers or Airborne troops in the air, landing them on Saint Lawrence and taking the island back. It wouldn’t be easy, they’d have to win air superiority to get the troops in, which also meant dealing with Russian naval assets in the Strait.
    But that was the purpose of the Enterprise task force, now on its way north from San Diego. At the same time she was due to meet with Kelnikov, a media announcement would be going out announcing the task force intention to reinforce ‘freedom of navigation’ in the Strait, but the signal to Russia should be clear. ‘We are going to be taking back our island.’ Knowing what she knew, Devlin realized Russia was not likely to be spooked by the approach of the Enterprise. They had probably already planned how they would deal with an intervention like it.
    If HOLMES and Williams were right, then Russia was already at war, it just hadn’t declared it yet.
    Foreign Minister Kelnikov had organized to meet Devlin at an office inside the Foreign Ministry building on Moscow's Smolenskaya-Sennaya Square. As with everything in Devlin’s world, such meetings always had an element of predictable theatre. The Minister had kept her waiting an unreasonably long time, even given the state of relations. The seating was arranged so that she was uncomfortably perched on an ornate 18th century chair that seemed to have been stuffed with porcupine quills. It was mid-morning by the time the Minister arrived, a bright sunlit day, so she was of course arranged with the sun in her eyes and his face in shadow. He had insisted she come alone, and he was flanked with a phalanx of Foreign Ministry officials. It was so predictably pathetic.
    But he wouldn’t have taken the meeting if he didn’t have something to tell her. She doubted he was there to listen, but she hoped to change that.
    Adjusting himself behind a long low desk, Kelnikov smiled expansively, “Madame Ambassador I am terribly sorry to have kept you waiting, I was in a tiresome meeting with the Prime Minister of Burundi.” Translation; this business with Saint Lawrence is not top of my agenda. Devlin smiled back at him, “Julius? Yes, I met with him yesterday.” Translation; screw you.
    “To the business at hand,” Kelnikov said, one of his aides handing him some papers. “It is good our ceasefire seems to be holding. A slip now by either side could have global repercussions neither of us wants.”
    “Indeed,” Devlin replied carefully. “And on that point, I have been asked by the Secretary of State to convey to you once again our very simple demand, that you liberate the citizens of Saint Lawrence and withdraw your remaining forces.”
    “Yes,” he affected to sound bored. “And is there another deadline accompanying this ultimatum?” He looked at the top page of the papers he had been handed. “I see you have announced you are going to try to send an aircraft carrier taskforce through the Strait. A ‘freedom of navigation’ exercise you call it. We might see it differently.”
    “Oh, no, you misunderstand,” Devlin said, and paused. She was supposed to make it clear to Kelnikov that US forces were being positioned to take the island back. Together with the approach of the Enterprise task force, it was intended to force Russia’s hand and give them the opportunity to withdraw their meagre force without any further combat. Looking at Kelnikov, even in the half shadow caused by the light behind him, she could see something of the same smugness in his eyes as she saw all those weeks ago - he radiated it.
    She had decided. She was going to go seriously off-script.
    “That’s just media spin,” she said. “The Enterprise is actually moving into position to be able to protect us from any likelihood you might be stupid enough to attempt to invade Alaska.”
    Now she had his attention. Oh, she would have paid a million dollars for video of his face as she said it. That insufferable smugness vanishing in an instant to be replaced by a horrified uncertainty.
    “I am sorry?” he said. “You accuse us of…”
    She reached for her own briefcase, and took out the printout she had made of HOLMES ten year forward water supply projection for the Russian Federation, the one that had been a sea of blood red. She handed it across the table, and one of Kelnikov’s aides took it, studying it with a frown before handing it to the Minister.
    “You have serious leaks at the highest levels of your defense ministry,” she said, maliciously. “Clearly not everyone in your government agrees with the insanity of its leadership.”
    “What is this?” Kelnikov demanded, turning the page over and back again.
    “This is the future you fear, the future to which you believe the only answer is war. A near future, in which Russia finds itself without the water it needs to sustain its people and its economy.”
    He threw the paper down on his desk, “This is fiction.”
    “Good,” Devlin said, standing. “Minister, we are not preparing for a ‘freedom of navigation exercise’. Neither are we only preparing to take back Saint Lawrence Island, though we soon will. We stand ready to defend the Yukon River Basin and the sovereign State of Alaska against invasion, with every man, woman and weapon at our disposal.” She delivered a small, mocking bow. “The last ‘great power’ that attacked US territory was Japan, and their miscalculation resulted in their ruin. American warfighting capability has come a long way since then.”
    She turned to leave, the sound of voices arguing with each other in Russian behind her as Kelnikov’s aides broke their silence. He said nothing himself.
    On a whim, she turned to face the Russian delegation again but fixed her eyes on the Foreign Minister, speaking only to him, “Arkady, there is a way out of this. Russia will find it humiliating and the terms will not be favorable. But it could save millions of lives. You need water? Ask us to help.”
    His glare burned through her back as she closed the door behind her. She hadn’t actually lied. Not really. She was pretty damn sure that as soon as Carl Williams report started circulating inside the State Department and Pentagon, that everything she had just said was about to be true.
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Life in the age of ‘always on’ had its advantages. Perri had found that if he went up onto the roo of the gas station, his Russian radio connected automatically to a Russian military satellite communications network. So far so good. What was not so good? He could read just enough Russian from years of watching Russian TV to see the display was asking him to input a code word. But the radio also had a device connection capability, and it was more than happy to hook up to his telephone and connect him to the unencrypted world wide web. ‘Warning,’ said the text scrolling across the display, ‘Communications on this channel are not secure.’
    The person he had called was a kid they met in Vancouver, who actually lived in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Alaska. He was a member of the Ta’an Kwach’an first nations tribe, called Johnny Kushniruk. Perri and Dave had agreed Johnny was the best person to call because his old man was a Mountie in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police at Whitehorse, and they needed someone with a few stripes to help get their story out and tell them what the hell they should do.
    When they’d convinced Johnny they weren’t messing around, and then convinced him to get his father on the line, the conversation got very serious very fast. Johnny’s father’s name was Dan Kushniruk, but he told the boys to call him Sarge.
    “Are you boys safe?” was his first question.
    “Yeah, no one is looking for us,” Perri told him. “Not since the missiles. They’re pretty much occupied with just staying alive now I think.”
    He got the boys to walk him through what they’d done the last few weeks, their attack on the ammo dump. His main concern was for the townspeople still being held hostage.
    “I’ve got photos of everything,” Perri told him. “Most of them are from long distance, up on the bluff, but we did a run to the air strip yesterday to get this radio, so we have some photos from there. I could upload them?”
    “I can give you a website to send them to,” Sarge told them. “Send me everything you’ve got. Look, you have to assume that using that Russian radio isn’t safe. Someone in Gambell could be listening in next time, or someone in Russia. When you’re online, it would be pretty easy for them to track your signal down, triangulate you. If the place you are in is safe, you need to keep it safe.”
    “OK.”
    “So once you make that upload, I want you to cut the connection and never call me from there again.”
    “What?”
    “Don’t call me from your hiding place. Never make a call from the same place twice. Keep the calls under three minutes, less than a minute would be even better.”
    “Got it. Should we have a schedule or something?”
    “Good thinking son, but not a fixed schedule. What’s your birthday?”
    “My birthday? January 7, 2012.”
    “And your friend?”
    Dave leaned forward toward the mike, “November 19, 2014.”
    “Right, so for the next few days you will connect only once a day at 1 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm and 12 pm, got that? That’s the numbers in your birthday. Then you follow your friend’s birthday: 11 pm, 7 pm, 8 pm and 2 pm. You get me?”
    “Yeah, I get it, 20 is like 20:00 military time, so that’s 8pm,” Perri said.
    “Right. It’s a pretty random pattern but easy to remember and hard for anyone to predict.”
    Sarge took them through what he wanted them to report on in their next report later that day: how many civilians were being held hostage, where they were being held, whether any appeared sick or injured, and then the Russian troop numbers, how many were still in Gambell, how many body bags they had seen, how many injured, what uniforms they were wearing, what equipment they appeared to possess.
    “Can you get word out to the press? We want to let people know we’re still here, we’re fighting back,” Perri told him.
    “I get that,” Sarge said. “And it’s amazing, the two of you holding out this long, doing what you’ve done. But that would be suicide. Right now the best thing you have going for you is no one knows you are there.”
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Private Zubkov had joined the Spetsnaz three years ago on a dare. His buddy in the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command had applied, and Zubkov had told him he was crazy. A scrawny stick like him would never get through, they only took men who were totally hard core, like Zubkov.
    “OK, so, you apply too, we’ll see who gets through,” his friend had said “I bet you get booted out in your first week. Mental resilience, that matters more than brawn.” He was wrong of course. You needed both. Zubkov qualified, but his buddy didn’t.
    He had brawn, and he had brains. So why was he being left behind to babysit a bunch of grandparents, six small children, seven wounded Russian troopers too sick to walk and too tough to just die, and one lobotomized Captain? It wasn’t fair. He was Spetsnaz! From any height, into any hell! The motto had stirred his blood when he first saw it. But if it hadn’t been for the dare, he probably wouldn’t have made it through. The physical tests were nothing for a boy who’d grown up on the steppes, nursed from a frozen teat. But the gung-ho idiocy of his squad members made his teeth grind - there wasn’t one of them who recognized it was Dostoyevsky the Captain was spouting. He doubted any of them had ever read anything longer than a weapons manual.
    Technically, his contract had already expired. He was waiting for his release papers to come through when they’d shipped out; he’d already decided he was done with the special forces. No re-up for him. He’d saved a little money and he had a buddy in Anadyr with a fishing trawler who wanted a partner who could throw in some cash to help upgrade the boat and join the business. He figured he’d probably meet cod who were smarter than some of the guys he was serving with.
    So the attraction of being Spetsnaz really started to wear off the moment the enemy started landing goddamn cruise missiles on his head. And when Sergeant Penkov had singled him out to stay behind, that was the last straw. From any height, into any hell? He didn’t realize hell could be a job as nursing assistant in a schoolhouse on a windy little island in the Arctic. To make things even more enjoyable, it was the rainy season on Saint Lawrence, with daytime temps in the low forties and night time temps close to freezing.
    Sergeant Penkov had every remaining soldier out fossicking through the town and over at the airfield for the supplies they would need for the overland trek. They had to feed 20 soldiers and nearly 200 islanders for more than a week. Zubkov suddenly became worried there would be nothing left for him, let alone the wounded and his elderly captives.
    Looking for the Captain the night of the attack, Zubkov stumbled across a small shack down on the dock that looked like it was used by the local supermarket to store dry goods. Rice, pasta, sugar, flour, canned fruit and vegetables, packet soups and bottled water. So he’d spent a morning with a wheelbarrow ferrying it over to the school while no one was looking, and hiding it in a utility cupboard.
    It would keep him fed for a few weeks. But it wasn’t anywhere near enough for all of them.
    Right now, he had his feet up on a desk in what must have been the school master’s office, which was a grand name for a little hideaway at the back of a classroom with a desk and a filing cabinet. They’d put a transceiver dish on the roof, run a cable down to the transmitter on the desk beside his boots and wired it into one of the undamaged wind turbines. The transmitter was a United Instrument Manufacturing Corporation M01 base set, through which field units could send and receive signals at distances up to 600 km. It was their lifeline to Russia, their link to their comrades in Savoonga.
    But it wasn’t portable. It sucked too much juice.
    “This is your order of priority,” the Sergeant had told him. “Your own well-being is last priority. The well-being of the wounded is your second priority. And the well-being of this radio base station is your first priority. If it comes down to it, the last thought in that thick head of yours as you die, should be ‘thank God, the radio is still working.’ Clear?”
    He looked at it resentfully. They had of course taken the only working field handset with them. For a moment, he’d fantasized that if he had a second handset, he could just put a call through to his buddy the fisherman in Anadyr and get him to sail over and pick him up. His papers had probably come through while he was over here - technically, he wasn’t even a member of this damn unit anymore anyway. He sighed.
    But decided that since the useless piece of junk was now his responsibility, he’d better refresh his memory on how to use it because he hadn’t looked at one since the early days of his training. He pulled out the manual, flicked through it, and tossed it aside. The base station featured a large LCD screen with a menu and he paged through that. OK, yeah, most of it he remembered. There was a menu that showed connected field units. It showed the type of unit connected, and the signal strength, and a submenu enabled him to select a particular field unit and boost the gain to improve the signal if they were in a hole somewhere.
    But did it have any way he could hook up a basic microphone? Could he get a signal out himself?
    No. Useless piece of junk.
    He looked up at the wall where the ten mobile field handsets were normally racked - empty. Tapping the screen, he checked and saw the only working unit, the one being used by the Sergeant, was there on the connections menu. It was at max signal strength, which was to be expected as the column of soldiers and refugees had only left about a half hour ago, so they hadn’t gone far.
    Strange. There was a second signal showing.
    It didn’t have the same designator as the other field handsets, it was showing a different IFF code. Zubkov picked the manual off the floor and turned to the back where the designator codes were listed.
    He frowned. The code for the second radio signal was the one listed for an ATOM Infantry Fighting Vehicle comms unit. The only ATOMs they had brought with them had all been destroyed in the attack, two out by the airfield, and one that had been parked outside the town hall. He checked the signal strength. It was showing a distance of 6-10 kilometers. Unfortunately, it didn’t show direction. But 6-10 kilometers, that would be right, if by some quirk one of the radios in an ATOM out at the airfield was still switched on.
    But after three weeks? The battery should be dead by now.
    As he watched, the signal disappeared, and didn’t come back.
    Ah, right. Faulty connection, cutting in and out. That explained why it hadn’t completely drained the battery yet.
    Suddenly, life didn’t seem so hopeless after all. If there was a working handset out there somewhere, all he had to do was salvage it, call his buddy to sail over, pick him up and then he could say goodbye to this stupid unit, this stupid army and this stupid windy rock in the Arctic, forever!
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    General Lukin and his staff were walking into the briefing room at Lavrentiya at the same time as Bondarev, and Lukin put an arm on the Colonel’s shoulder. “So, how is the leg?”
    Bondarev dropped into a squat and stood again, “Stronger than ever General. I am grateful you arranged a ceasefire to allow me to recover without missing any combat.”
    “Anything for the Commander of my 6983rd Air Base,” the General chuckled.
    “General,” Bondarev asked. “Just quickly. Is LOSOS still go? I can assure you…”
    “Patience, comrade Colonel,” Lukin said. They were walking into the room now and Bondarev greeted the commanding officers of the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command’s three other Air Bases, together with its nine subordinate group commanders, most of whom reported to him. He fell back and let the General step ahead and take his seat. Lukin looked serious. Very well. The news was either going to be very good, or very bad.
    “Gentlemen, I have just returned from Moscow, after high level strategic discussions about how we should respond to the American threats to our troops on Saint Lawrence.” He looked around the table. “As you know, Operation LOSOS troops are on the island lawfully, under the mandate of the Barents Council of Nations.”
    There were a bunch of maps in front of each participant in the meeting, and a cover sheet. Lukin nodded to the intelligence officer Bondarev remembered from their first LOSOS briefing. Lieutenant Ksenia Butyrskaya, that was it.
    She stepped beside a screen on the wall and brought it to life showing a map of the OA. “Comrade officers, as you know, following the sinking of the Ozempic Tsar and a suspected cyber-attack on one of our nuclear submarines in the Bering Strait, we succeeded in our objective of peacefully taking control of the island of Saint Lawrence. Not a single civilian or military death was recorded, and only minor injuries to our own or enemy troops. Under the auspices of the Barents Council of Nations, a no-go zone was declared around the island affecting only US military aircraft and shipping, and freedom of commerce was restored.” She took a breath and brought up a table of figures on the screen. Bondarev didn’t need to look at it, he knew the kill/loss ratio numbers by heart. She continued, “Unfortunately the USA did not respect the no-fly zone and responded with a major act of aggression in which it attacked our peacekeeping troops in and above Saint Lawrence with fighter aircraft and cruise missiles.” She glanced briefly at Bondarev. “Although outnumbered, we inflicted significant losses on the US air element, but we sustained considerable losses ourselves both in the air, and on the ground. With the viability of our defensive position on Saint Lawrence threatened, a ceasefire was negotiated and is still in force.”
    She clicked a button in her hand and an overhead satellite image appeared on a wall behind her, showing a group of ships, at the center of which was clearly an aircraft carrier, sailing on the open sea.
    “Yesterday, a US aircraft carrier task force centered around the USS Enterprise, and comprising at least three guided missile cruisers, five guided missile destroyers and two supply vessels left San Diego naval base for what the US Navy announced was to be a ‘freedom of navigation’ transit of the Bering Strait. Such carrier strike groups are usually accompanied by at least two attack submarines, not visible in this image.”
    She zoomed the photograph in on the supply vessels. “These are not normal supply vessels. They are in fact LX/R amphibious assault vessels, each capable of carrying 2,200 marines and landing 36 amphibious assault vehicles; supported by two to four vertical takeoff transport aircraft or UCAVs. Their inclusion in this strike group is an unambiguous declaration by the Americans that they plan to land troops in the theatre.” She clicked the screen off. “The carrier strike group will arrive in theatre within five days.” She stepped back against the wall. Bondarev noted with interest she had said ‘land troops in the theatre’, not that they planned to ‘land troops on Saint Lawrence’.
    “Gentlemen,” General Lukin said with gravity. “Operation LOSOS is moving to a new phase, dictated by the continued irrational and irresponsible behavior of the USA. The cruise missile strikes on Saint Lawrence, mere miles from Russian territory, are a provocation we cannot ignore. The willingness of the crazed politicians in Washington to sacrifice their own citizens to their missiles, is also something the world community cannot ignore. Today, the Council of Ministers in Moscow agreed to a plan to establish a neutral geographic zone as a buffer between the USA and Russia to secure against future attacks and to mitigate the threat of any land borne invasion of Russia by the USA.” Before anyone could speak to ask questions, Lukin waved a finger to Butyrskaya again.
    She flashed up a map of Alaska, showing what were clearly landing zones and directions of attack. The ultimate objective was shown to be a diagonal line of control stretching from Fort Yukon in the north to the fishing town of Bethel in the south west. It was almost entirely uninhabited country. The nearest US military facilities were the air bases as Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson Dickson, well outside the line of control. The only population center of any note was Nome, with a population of 2,300.

    [Linked Image]

    “Speed of action will again be the byword of Operation LOSOS,” the Lieutenant said. “However, there are no passable roads or bridges in the target area east of Nome. Because of this, support by even light armored vehicles and mobile anti-air defenses will be limited to zones of control around key airfields. The first objective will be to secure the Nome airport and position logistical units, forward air units and heavy air defenses there. Second phase objectives will be the airfields in the west at Wales, south at Bethel, in the central region at Galena and in the far north at Deadhorse. Airborne and special forces will secure the airfields, and any police, paramilitary and urban weapons depots in these small population centers.”
    Urban weapons depots? Bondarev realized she was talking about hunting and fishing stores. What kind of ‘invasion’ was this? Focused as he was on the coming air war, he hadn’t considered the challenges of controlling a huge wilderness area with only a few scattered population centers.
    Hands were starting to raise around the table, but Lukin waved them down, “You all have questions. Please let the Lieutenant finish, then you will be directed to new rooms for tactical briefings, where you can ask questions to your hearts’ content.”
    “A report from the Foreign Ministry in Moscow today indicated it had received information that the US has anticipated an attack on the Alaska mainland. This isolated report however is not backed by other intelligence, which indicates the US has been slow to bring its ground forces to readiness. It has activated national guard units in Alaska and Washington State, but not in the nearby states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho or Montana, as would be expected. Reliable information indicates that the Alaska national guard is preparing to defend its major population centers only: the capital Juneau, and major cities of Anchorage and Fairbanks. Even this will stretch its capacity and it does not have the strength to attack our airfield beach head at Nome and defend urban centers.” She threw up a map showing the expected track of the US carrier task force. “We believe the true objective of the USS Enterprise taskforce is not Saint Lawrence, but to reinforce its bases in Anchorage and Fairbanks.”
    She clicked the map and showed big red arrows arcing up toward the line of control from Anchorage in the south and Fairbanks in the center. “If we succeed in taking Nome, the strategic pivot points for any counter attack by US ground forces would usually be from these two centers, Anchorage and Fairbanks, but again, the lack of roads leading into the Yukon river catchment makes major ground based assaults impractical. The US, like us, will be forced to rely on airborne and special forces units to retake its territory, so the 3rd Air Force will play a critical role in maintaining air superiority in the theatre.” She left the map on the screen for them to absorb, “That concludes this preliminary briefing. Unit briefings will now be held in the meeting rooms indicated in your folders.”
    Lukin folded his hands in front of him, “Gentlemen, this is a winnable war. We will not be threatening US population centers, we will make that clear. We will simply be establishing a nonmilitarized zone in the Alaskan wilderness for the protection of international air and sea traffic in the Bering Strait. The US cannot attack us by land, it can only threaten us by sea and by air. Nome is the key - if we can take and hold the airfield there, together with our base at Lavrentiya and the airfield at Savoonga, we will have a nexus of control over the entire battlefield.” He looked around the room in case there were any dissenters, but saw none. “Very well, you are dismissed. Colonel Bondarev, you will remain.”
    That got him some sharp looks from the other air base heads - unfortunately, most of them were of sympathy. Arsharvin told him the engagement over Saint Lawrence was not seen in Moscow as a tactical success even though losses had been expected. He wondered if he was about to be relieved of his command. He stayed nervously sitting as Lukin made small talk with a couple of his officers before the room was suddenly empty and the General sat down again. He knew by now it was best to see how the dice would roll, so he said nothing.
    “So you are fit for combat again?” Lukin asked.
    Bondarev noted he did not say ‘fit for command’. So, his days as commander of the 6983rd were done.
    “Yes Comrade General. And in the intervening weeks I have restored the 4th and 5th Air Battalions to full strength. Thanks to your intervention, I am also now able to report that the Okhotniks of 6983rd Air Base are also fully crewed and ready for offensive operations.” He wanted Lukin to know that if his command was to be taken from him, he was leaving it at optimal readiness.
    “Good, good. I thought I should tell you this myself,” Lukin began, and Bondarev’s heart fell to the floor. He steeled himself for what was coming. Lukin continued, “The operation to take Nome will depend entirely on your ability to establish air supremacy over the Bering Strait and the target area around Nome.”
    Bondarev started to speak, “General, if I could just…” Then he heard what the General had said. He wasn’t being relieved, he was being given a pivotal role! Perhaps the pivotal role.
    Lukin misinterpreted his interjection, “Yes, whatever you need this time. I want any requests on my desk tomorrow morning. I am releasing your UCAVs for use in support of operation LOSOS and the Okhotniks of the 575th and 3rd Air Base will also operate under your command. This gives you two Su-57 and Mig-41 groups of 60 aircraft and 110 UCAVs. I want you to keep the 42 Su-57s of 7th Regiment in reserve, they will only be released on my command.” Lukin leaned forward. “You will not be outnumbered next time Yevgeny.”
    “Thankyou Sir, we will not fail.”
    “You cannot,” Lukin smiled thinly. “Our masters in Moscow were wavering. The ferocity of the US attack, their willingness to sacrifice their own people … it shocked President Navalny. They were not willing to commit further ground troops to Operation LOSOS unless I could guarantee complete air supremacy.”
    “Our losses will be considerable,” Bondarev warned. “Are they aware…”
    “Yes. But the Americans may find they suddenly have other problems to deal with in coming days. You won’t be facing the entire US Air Force.”
    “And the Enterprise?” National Guard units did not phase Bondarev. Neither did regular USAF units. Against human pilots, his men were more than a match and this time they would not allow the enemy drones to close to dogfighting range where they could use their maneuverability advantage. If Russian ground attack units were successful in suppressing the US ability to operate out of Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson air bases, the enemy would have to fly from further afield in Washington, Oregon and Idaho, so they would have no home ground advantage. But the approaching supercarrier with its 75 F-35 and F-47 fighters, could change the balance. It was a headache he didn’t need.
    “You needn’t worry about the Enterprise,” Lukin assured him. “It is a big stick the Americans rattle at smaller nations. The Navy will take care of the Enterprise. Admiral Kirov assures me the Americans will soon learn how vulnerable their capital ships are.”
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Vulnerability was something Perri knew all about.
    How to feel it in yourself, how to see it in others. It wasn’t an easy life on Saint Lawrence, you had to earn your living from the land and sea around you, no one was going to give it to you. And sometimes you et the bear, sometimes the bear et you.
    Right now he was staring at that damn radio again, knowing it was like a homing finger of death that pointed straight at him and Dave, wondering whether he should turn it on and tell the Sarge what he was seeing.
    Because something was happening down there in Gambell and it didn’t look good. All yesterday, they’d watched the Russians go house to house with sacks, looting. Not televisions or computers or jewelry, though they probably didn’t hesitate to help themselves to anything shiny that was lying around … they saw one guy with a shopping trolley and it looked to Perri like they were loading up on food. OK, so there hadn’t been any helicopters flying in supplies for weeks now, so they were probably running low, but what had been low level scrounging the last couple of weeks seemed like planned pilfering now.
    Then they heard shouting down by the school. Perri and Dave were up on the bluff, and looked down on the town with scope and binos.
    “They’re pulling people out of the schoolhouse,” Dave said. “Lining them up.”
    “I see your brothers,” Perri said. “#%&*$#. I think they’re going to shoot them.”
    “Do something man!” Dave said, “You got the gun. You’re the sniper!”
    “Shut up!” Perri said. He knew he was too far away to take a shot. Sure, he could spray a few downrange, and he might disturb whatever was going on, but he wouldn’t be doing any more than making the troops down there aware he was up here. Maybe a few of their people could get away though… “Wait, no. The Russians all have backpacks. Our people have got packs on too, coats and boots.”
    “Would you load people up and then take them out to shoot them?” Dave asked, confused.
    Perri watched down the scope a minute more. “They’re moving them somewhere. They’re all heading out.”
    “Where the hell…”
    “I don’t know, but everyone down there is kitted out like they’re going cross country,” Perri said. As he spoke, he saw his family in the lines of townspeople. His brothers and father, his mother. She looked so small. And pissed. She was yelling at a Russian soldier who was trying to push people into line. Yeah, that was his ma.
    When they finally had the 200 townspeople lined up in two long lines, the Russia soldiers formed up ahead and either side of them, with a few at the rear and they headed off down toward the road out of town went along the airstrip and then skirted the bluff – after that it nowhere in particular. Only bird watchers and hunters or berry pickers used the tracks out that way. In ten minutes though, it was clear they were quitting town.
    “I can’t see my grandma,” Dave said, running his binos up and down the line of hostages. “I can’t see your grandparents either. None of the elders are with them.”
    “Kids are with them though,” Perri said. He ran the scope back through town and stopped at the school, where he saw a solitary Russian soldier standing on the school steps, watching everyone leave. He didn’t appear in a hurry to join them. Perri watched as he finished a cigarette, ground it out under his boot, and went back inside the schoolhouse.
    “They split them up,” Perri said. “I bet they left the elders and the kids back in Gambell, took the adults and kids with them.”
    “Human shields,” Dave said. “That’s what they call it, right? Can’t get a missile up your clacker if you’re walking next to a bunch of civilians.”
    Perri thought about it. “Yeah, but walking where? We’ve got to decide; do we follow the group, or stay here, see if we can somehow get the kids and elders out.”
    They looked at each other. Without speaking they knew what they had to do.
    Ask Sarge.
    *
    *


    Devlin also knew what she had to do. She had to have a little shot of bourbon.
    Just a little one. Medicinal.
    She swirled it around her mouth. It was a John J Bowman single barrel, and five-time winner of the World Whiskey Best Bourbon award. A fine example of American craftsmanship, and every glass she poured was trade promotion, right? Except this one. She put the bottle back on the tray beside the gin which was the favored end of day tipple among the diplerati. And it was the end of a very long day.
    Her people had been working their networks in Embassies and Consulates across the city, testing support for a coming UN Security Council resolution rescinding the recognition of the Barents’ Council of Nations. It couldn’t succeed, not with Russia and probably China abstaining, but it was the first step to a full vote in the UN chamber to have the Council delegitimized so that Russia could no longer hide its aggression behind a veil of international probity. State wanted to get that done before the impending attack in Alaska.
    They were also drawing up a ‘skins and shirts’ list of who would be with them, who would be with Russia, and who would try to stay neutral, if the shooting war started again. It didn’t look good. The US had its traditional steadfast allies behind it: Australia, Canada, Britain and New Zealand. Also looking like it would fall behind Team USA was Turkey, still worried about continued Russian influence in neighboring Syria. Russia could be sure of the support of its newly won Baltic allies, Finland and the ‘Stans’, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan. Russia could also muster Middle East support from Syria and Iran. But there was a depressingly long list of countries declaring this was a bilateral ‘maritime dispute’ between Russia and the USA, including most of Europe.
    Devlin had spent the morning with the Swedish Ambassador, impressing on him in diplomatic double-speak that if he wanted to keep selling Volvo motor cars in the USA and Swedish arms like its Gripen fighters and Bofors cannons to US allies the US would be expecting Sweden to get off the fence and vote in the UN to de-accredit the Barents Council at its next meeting in two days. “Abstaining again is not an option,” she’d told him, “I suspect it would annoy Volvo’s Chinese owners mightily if they weren’t able to sell their cars in the US because of a political miscalculation?”
    The reason she needed a drink was not because it was the end of a hard working day - she’d had plenty of those. It was because she feared all her efforts, all her people’s efforts, were like firing buckshot into a hurricane. She had called Washington at midnight the night before to follow up on her report about the imminent Russian attack on Alaska, only to be told it was ‘regarded as interesting but unlikely’. It did not concur with intelligence from other sources, or reports from other embassies. Russian military movements were consistent with preparations against defense from attack by the USA, but not consistent with what would be needed to mount a full scale invasion. That would require the mobilization of hundreds of thousands of troops, the transport of armor and materiel, and there were no indications that was taking place.
    “They’re mobilizing their Far East fighter Brigades, air defense batteries, airborne troops and special forces Ambassador,” a State department bureaucrat in the Secretary of State’s office had told her in a patronizing tone. “Not the Divisions of troops, main battle tanks and the ships they’d need to land them. They’re getting ready to defend themselves and their position on Saint Lawrence, not go on the attack.”
    She didn’t have the stripes to be able to ask anyone in the Pentagon what specific preparations - beyond sallying forth with the Enterprise strike group - the US was making to either challenge the Russian occupation of Saint Lawrence or defend against an attack on Alaska, so she turned to an alternative source. An old Canadian friend from her days as a junior officer in the embassy in Ottawa. He sat on the Canadian Foreign Ministry Joint Intelligence Committee now and she asked him had her communique reached his desk, or had it been buried.
    “Oh, I got it,” he said. “Or a filtered version. Under the five-eyes agreement they couldn’t exactly bury it, they had to share it, but they 'contexted' it with five other reports indicating this business was all about the Bering Strait and rights of passage, and nothing to do with water supply and the Yukon basin.”
    She had blown her top, “Do people think we are complete idiots?” she’d asked him. “Why the hell would we blow up a Russian freighter and cripple one of its submarines? What possible reason?”
    “Whatever the reason, it must be serious, if you’re willing to kill 200 of your own people for it,” the man said, with untypical directness. “If you’re willing to sail a carrier battle group right along the Russian east coast.”
    She saw how you could look at it, if you bought into the bill of goods Russia was selling. “OK, look. You’ve seen my report, what is Canada’s take on this? If Russia marches into Alaska, you have to be worried. I just need a steer here.”
    “That’s kind of ‘in flow’, to be honest,” he’d said. “But I can tell you, we gave your Russian water shortage projections to our Expert Panel on Climate Change Adaptation to punch into their own abacus.”
    “And?”
    “Let’s just say they agree the Bear across the ditch is going to be getting very thirsty in about ten years.”
    She sighed, sat down in her chair and swung her tired legs up on her desk. At her elbow was a pile of papers and a book Carl Williams had sent up to her to look at a few days before. “The Man Who Saved Britain” by a Harvard history professor. She had read the blurb on the inside cover. Some professor had come across a trove of papers in Germany written by the impressively named Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg, the last German ambassador to the Soviet Union before Operation Barbarossa, the battle which signaled the start of the German war on Russia. In his personal letters, written communiques and personal diaries von der Schulenburg had relentlessly pursued a campaign to persuade the Reich Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, and his trusted coterie, that if they embarked on an invasion of Britain, their Russian ‘allies’ would take advantage of their distraction and immediately stab them in the back, marching into Poland, Czech, Slovakia, Albania, Yugoslavia and most importantly, the precious oilfields of Romania. He cited numerous conversations with Russian politicians, bureaucrats and military officers to back his claims, he sent translated clippings from newspapers, and he made three trips to Berlin to personally brief the Nazi party hierarchy about the threat. He also cited conversations with the US Ambassador in Russia indicating the US had no intention of entering the war in Europe.
    In the end, he prevailed. Hitler postponed his plan to invade England, shored up his defenses along the Atlantic front, and sent his tanks and Stukas east. Britain was saved from invasion, but the US did come into the war in Europe and Russia gave the Nazis a spanking.
    The small handwritten note on an old photo stuck in the front told her what Williams was thinking, sending her the book.
    To Devlin von der McCarthy,
    Sometimes the voice of one person is enough. Keep at it.


    [Linked Image]

    *
    *

    In the early part of the century, the US became very concerned about the threat to its ability to project sea power, from Chinese and Russian hypersonic anti-ship missiles. In testing, the scram-jet driven missiles proved capable of speeds up to Mach-8; eight times the speed of sound. Fitted with double core fragmentation warheads Russia had showed that a missile like its Tsirkon DM33, could achieve a terminal velocity of 2,648 meters per second or 5,800 miles per hour, making it impossible for even state of the art counter-missile defenses to track, let alone intercept.
    With a range of about 250 miles and the ability to cover 100 miles in less than a minute, able to be launched from multiple platforms on, above or under the sea, the missiles risked making not just carriers and larger surface combatants vulnerable, they could make them obsolete.
    In addition to accelerating its own hypersonic missile program in the face of advances by China and Russia, the US invested billions into research on how to counter such missiles. How could they be tracked? The problem wasn’t designing a radar that could detect them, but whether the software could keep up and what type of algorithm was needed to solve the problem of target ‘ambiguity’. What type of processing capabilities would be needed to react and activate countermeasures when reaction time was measured in milliseconds? Could they be spoofed by decoy strategies? Could they be jammed? Could they be destabilized with simple air cannons fired by perimeter vessels?
    Quantum computing and dedicated radar and processing software solved the detection problem, and the answer to intercepting them was found not in ballistics, but in optics. The only defensive system able to target and fire quickly enough was a high-powered laser. After successful testing, the Gen 5 High Energy Liquid Laser Area Defense System (HELLADS) was deployed on all US navy ships, military and industrial targets which were deemed vulnerable to hypersonic or ballistic missile attacks. In the Syria - Turkey conflict it had proven able to intercept nine out of ten ballistic missiles before they reached their targets.
    Seen to be politically akin to a weapon of mass destruction, no hypersonic missiles were used in the Syria conflict and it was perceived that the first nation to use them in war would be opening a new Pandora’s box.
    Of course, HELLADS just triggered a new arms race, on the premise that the best way to defeat HELLADS was to overwhelm it with multiple missiles, and all the major armies started stockpiling scramjet missiles at the same time as fitting their surface warships, submarines and aircraft to be able to field them, while arguing strenuously in public that the use of hypersonic missiles by any nation would be akin to using a tactical nuke.
    Still it remained that a hypersonic weapon had never been used in war, and the HELLADS system on the USS Enterprise and its escorts had never actually been tested in combat.

    [Linked Image]

    *
    *

    Perri Tungyan was feeling pretty combat tested.
    “I’m looking at him right now,” Perri said down the line to his new friend Sarge in Canada. “Through the window of the headmaster’s office. Got my scope on him.”
    “For God’s sake, don’t do anything stupid,” Sarge said urgently. “You don’t know what the situation is inside that building.”
    “He’s on his own in there, just smoking a cigarette, scratching his butt,” Perri said. “I could take him down, then we could check out the school. If he’s the only one, I could get our people out.”
    “And if he’s not, they could all be dead,” Sarge said. “Did the Russians take any wounded with them? Did you see stretchers, people being carried?”
    Perri looked at Dave, who shook his head. “No.”
    “Then if they’re alive, they’re still in there and they’re probably still able to hold a gun on your people. Or they could have wired the place with explosives in case they are attacked, take out your entire town with a flick of a switch. Just relax son.”
    “I am relaxed,” Perri said to him through gritted teeth. “But I have about ten minutes to decide if we do something about this guy and try to get our people out of that school, or do we go after the others who are getting further and further away the longer we talk.”
    Sarge gave him a moment to calm down. “They are probably going to an evacuation point, to meet a ship or submarine,” Sarge speculated. “If they are, we need to know.”
    “Why would they be heading out of town?” Perri asked. “A ship could pick them up here.”
    “I thought you said the harbor was destroyed,” Sarge asked. “It looked like it in the photos you sent.”
    “Yeah, I guess.”
    “They could be going down to Kavalghak Bay,” Dave said. “You could get a small ship in close to shore there.”
    “If the Russians are quitting Gambell, if they’re pulling them off the island, that’s critical intel,” Sarge said.
    “Oh man,” Perri groaned. There had been no activity in the town, so he and Dave had climbed up to the roof of a building two streets back from the school and he had perfect line of sight down into the school master’s office and the Russian soldier sitting there drinking his coffee and enjoying his cigarette, while he stared at some sort of screen. Dave was lugging the car battery and the Russian radio and complaining all the way because he’d had to leave his rifle behind, he couldn’t carry it all. They’d worked out that they could wire the radio to any old TV aerial or satellite dish and get a good signal, so they’d hit the general store and stolen one of those folding portable TV and radio aerials and it worked just fine.
    “I could knock this guy out now, and then we could head out after the others,” Perri insisted. He’d zeroed the scope with a few shots at a target a good distance out of town a couple of weeks ago, and the cross hairs in his electronic scope were indicating very little windage, and minimal bullet drop. He put the crosshairs right on the temple of the Russian soldier, with the pipper sitting on his neck. He told himself it was a shot even Dave could make.
    “What you’re doing there is bigger than those elders Perri,” Sarge told him. “I’ve passed your intel to our military here, and they’ve passed it to the Americans. Yeah, maybe you could free your old people from that school, or you could stay cool, and maybe help to free your whole island.”
    Perri felt his finger tighten on the trigger, saw the crosshairs quiver on the temple of the Russian soldier. Then he rolled onto his back and swore up at the lead grey sky.

    *
    *

    Private Zubkov scratched his temple, not realizing how lucky he was. To still have a temple, that is. But he wasn’t exactly focused on the world outside the school office window. He was focused on that damn ghost radio signal, because if he was reading the screen right, the damn thing was transmitting again and it had gotten closer. The screen showed range rings in bands of 5 kilometers, and he could see the last remaining field handset, taken by the Sergeant, had just moved from the 5km ring to the 10km ring as his unit hiked out of town with their captives and headed north around the bluff toward the coast.
    The ghost signal, the one with the icon that said it was coming from an armored personnel carrier, that one had just popped up on the screen again, and it was showing inside the 5km ring now! He tapped the screen, in the way of all the non-digitally inclined through the ages, and as he did so, the icon disappeared. He was still seeing the portable handset taken by the troops, but the APC radio had winked out.
    Maybe he’d read it wrong. There was that wrecked APC down by the town hall. That must be the one transmitting, not one of the ones out by the airstrip. The screen he was looking at only showed range, not direction, so he must have been mistaken thinking it was coming from way out at the airstrip.
    It was right down the street!
    He stood up, ground out his cigarette, finished the cold coffee in the bottom of his cup and pulled his thick padded jacket on. It was still about 12 degrees outside, but the wind out there could freeze a man’s tits off. He picked up a 39mm AS VAL rifle, stumped down the corridor and looked in on the wounded. There were seven of them lying on makeshift beds laid across desks. One had an IV drip in his arm that Zubkov had to change every day. Two of them had abdominal wounds that couldn’t be treated, so they couldn’t be moved. One of them had a fever. They weren’t expected to make it, so all he could do was make them comfortable. In reality, they were already dead, but luckily none of them were conscious; they were on big doses of intravenous painkillers. There were several with leg wounds, including one soldier who’d lost his entire lower left leg. They were also doped up on pain killers and antibiotics, sleeping or reading. One gave a small wave to Zubkov and indicated with a sign that he wanted a smoke, so that he didn’t wake the others. Zubkov nodded back to him to show he had seen him. Sitting in the corner, mumbling to himself, was Captain Demchenko. He was loaded up with antibiotics too, and Zubkov had expected him to contract some sort of encephalitis in his brain and clock out sooner or later, which if you asked Zubkov, would have been a mercy. But the red hot metal splinter that had sliced through his head had apparently been surgically sterile. The guy didn’t even have a temperature and he looked perfectly normal, for a man who had just had radical brain surgery that is.
    It was only thirty minutes since he’d asked the civilians if anyone needed a toilet break, and an hour until he was supposed to go around and check on them, and hand out some MREs for lunch.
    But during his first morning of playing combined nurse and prison camp guard, Private Zubkov had made a decision. And his decision was this.
    Screw being left behind to play nurse and prison camp guard. Screw the 14th Spetsnaz Squadron. He’d been near-drowned in interrogation simulations, beaten with a baseball bat for coming last on a cross country march and had to take a solid shotgun slug in his protective vest just to get through basic training. Hell, he’d survived a US cruise missile landing less than a block away from him, without even a scratch.
    He was going to find that damn radio, call his buddy the fisherman in Anadyr, and get out.
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    A high value unit like a supercarrier is very well protected indeed. 200 miles out from it, covering all quarters, are the ‘picket’ ships, combat air patrol aircraft and airborne early warning UAVs. Inside that is the outer screen of ships anywhere from 10 to 20 miles out from the carrier, positioned to provide antimissile and anti-air defense. The ships making up the outer screen for the Enterprise were primarily there for anti-submarine defense - ‘delousing’ as it was called - and maintained a constantly patrolling swarm of drones around the formation using thermal imaging and towed sonar, looking and listening for any sign of a subsea intruder.
    And inside that, the inner screen. This was the dedicated anti-air warfare screen. For the Enterprise, nothing but the latest HELLADS armed anti-air frigates, supplemented with more conventionally armed anti-air missile destroyers also armed with close-in ballistic defenses. The entire group was tactically data linked; if one of the pickets detected an inbound missile it was engaged if possible, and simultaneously handed off to the outer screen and inner screen to engage if needed. With a hypersonic missile able to get from detection range outside the pickets to its carrier target in less than two minutes, it was unlikely the pickets would be able to successfully engage, but at quantum computing speeds, the inner screen would theoretically have ample time to lock a target and bring it down. Even a target moving at 5,000 miles an hour.
    That was the theory.
    Russia was well versed in the theory, and in the practice. It had led the race to develop hypersonic missiles and aircraft for decades, and was also aware of the counter-measures developed against them. It had had many years in which to wargame a hypersonic missile attack on a carrier strike group, and had done so in secret using dummy missiles sent against its own (and only remaining) carrier, the TAVKR Admiral Flota Sovetskogo Soyuza Kuznetsov. These exercises had revealed that penetrating the multilayered defenses of a carrier task group even using multiple sub launched hypersonic missiles fired from inside the picket screen, had a less than 10% likelihood of success against a HELLADS armed carrier strike group. Politically, a direct attack on an American carrier would also have been seen as an open declaration of war - something Moscow was still at pains to avoid.
    Which is why Russia’s chosen strategy for taking the USS Enterprise out of the Battle for Bering Strait was … a rowing machine.
    Of course, Aviation Electronics Technician E-3 Thomas Greyson was, as far as he was concerned, just applying an operating system update to the exercise machines on one of the hangar decks. It was probably the most exciting thing he’d been given to do that day, not because it was technically challenging, but because it involved real risk of bodily harm from the fitness fanatics he had to kick off the equipment so that he could patch and reboot it. Like everything else on the Enterprise, even the fitness equipment was networked. A seaman punched in their ID, did their workout, and the results were uploaded to a server and to the cloud, so that they could set goals and track their progress. Some of them were on compulsory scheduled workouts due to weight issues, and the data was used to assess their fitness for service. So yeah, he got a lot of grief when the machines had to be shut down but life sucks, as he told the grumblers.
    The order for the patch had come through a day out of San Diego and landed in his inbox looking like every other routine piece of #%&*$# job he had to handle. They were sailing into a war zone, and he was patching the OS on gym equipment. No irony in that, at all. He pulled the patch down from the attached link, validated it, then called up the interface for the equipment in question, and applied the patch. The reboot had to be done manually, pulling the power and restarting the machines one by one, which meant him trekking all over the damn ship, from deck to deck. By the time he rebooted the last machine at about 1500 Pacific West Coast time, he was the one ready to hit someone.
    But he got it done. And tomorrow was sure to be another fun filled day.
    The Russian virus was elegant but complex and it had never been used before. It had been created specifically to attack the USS Enterprise. Once it had gained access to the Enterprise’s local network via the exercise machines on multiple decks across the ship, it copied itself to every available server and networked device, and then went to work. Perhaps not surprisingly, Seaman Greyson was one of the first to notice something was wrong. Back at his station, he turned on his tablet and went to enter the day’s activity in his duty log, only to find he couldn’t connect to the ship’s wireless network. It was there, his tablet just couldn’t log into it. Piece of #%&*$# tablet. He grabbed another one, entered his ID and tried to log on with that. No deal. He went over to a stationary computer and was about to try and turn that on when the general quarters alarm began to sound and total chaos broke out.
    Grayson was already at his ‘combat station’ and didn’t need to go anywhere, but throughout the ship he heard people yelling, feet running, compartment doors being slammed and locked tight. He waited for an announcement - was it a drill, or vampires inbound? There had been a lot of talk that they might even see action on the way up to the Arctic if Russia had parked an attack sub on the sea floor ahead of them. But there was no announcement, nothing at all but the blare of the alarm. And that was almost worse than the fear there were missiles on their way.
    The first thing the virus did was take down the ship’s internal communication links. Within minutes, nothing on the ship could talk to anything else, whether it was Grayson’s rowing machine, or the primary flight control center, the bridge, combat direction center or the carrier intel center, the only way anyone or anything could communicate was suddenly and critically, by yelling. Which there was a lot of. The next thing it did was cut the carrier’s links to the outside world: shortwave, longwave, digital radio, radar, satellite up and downlinks, they all went black. In minutes the most sophisticated ship in the navy had been reduced to the status of a steam driven world war 2 vessel with its only option the infallible battery backed Aldis lamps, flags and Morse code.
    Without the ability to send or receive data, the defensive weapons systems were useless. Unlike the old steam powered catapults that drove their pistons with superheated water the Enterprise’s electromagnetic EMALS catapult couldn’t function without a working data link to the shooter’s console. The Enterprise became an aircraft carrier that couldn’t launch anything that wasn’t already on the flight deck and able to take off vertically.
    And just like a ‘fly by wire’ aircraft, the Enterprise was ‘steer by wire’; it’s two 700 megawatt Bechtel A1B reactors driving four shafts which took their orders from the bridge computers, just as the rudders did.
    So the only communication channel on the ship that the virus left open, was the link from the bridge to the steering and propulsion system. And the last thing it did before locking those down was to push the Enterprise’s speed up to 35 knots and order full right rudder.
    Seaman Grayson didn’t have to worry for very long why there were no announcements. As the USS Enterprise slowly but horrifically accelerated into a wide skidding turn, it began to lean over 20 degrees and the contents of a high filing cabinet that Grayson had been using emptied themselves onto his back, knocking his head forward into his desk and taking all his worries away.
    If he’d still been conscious, he would have heard the sound of metal tearing and worse, the sound no seaman or officer on an aircraft carrier wants to hear; the sound of inadequately secured aircraft sliding across hangar decks to smash into each other.
    Followed by the smell no seaman anywhere, on any vessel, ever wants to smell.
    Smoke.

    [Linked Image]

    *
    *

    (c) Fred ‘Heinkill’ Williams 2018. To be Continued.
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 11 Feb - 02/12/18 10:25 PM

    OUCH.
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 11 Feb - 02/12/18 10:41 PM

    Big ouch.

    Just a little sniggling error, I don't believe the U.S. has a Foreign Secretary. Sec of State?

    Another great episode/chapter
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 11 Feb - 02/12/18 10:50 PM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    OUCH.


    and the same week alleged russian hackers hit the winter olympics...

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    Big ouch.

    Just a little sniggling error, I don't believe the U.S. has a Foreign Secretary. Sec of State?

    Another great episode/chapter


    mybad. fixed, thx!
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter 14 Feb - 02/13/18 09:10 AM

    Winter holidays in Scandinavia ... it's writin' time!

    SUPPRESSION

    Bunny O’Hare was smoking, but only in the metaphorical sense. She’d gone from fuming, when Rodriguez had told her she’d be left behind in an explosives filled cave to fly out their complement of drones, to incendiary as she watched the navy launches shuttle her fellow cave dwellers out to their waiting submarine. But now … now she was smoking.
    As in, smoking hot. As in the most smoking hot drone aviator in the whole damn US Navy because over the last two days she and Rodriguez had just set a personal best, single handedly flying 15 Fantoms out the chute over a 30 hour period without one hitch. Of course, if they’d had Rodriguez’s full launch team working they could have got a hex of drones out the chute within 35 minutes but it was just her and the Lieutenant Commander doing all the heavy lifting.
    They’d worked out that Bunny wasn’t needed in the trailer between launches. Once she had a Fantom airborne and set its course for Elmendorf-Richardson or Eielson, she was basically a free agent because it was flying itself on full auto until it entered air traffic control range where the Air Force controllers at the other end took over to make sure it got down safely without bumping into anything.
    So once her Fantom was out the chute and on its way, she went down to the flight deck and helped Rodriguez bully the empty cartridge off the cat and into the reloader, then dropped the next cartridge and drone onto the EMALS, locked and loaded it, and helped with the pre-flight check. She learned it wasn’t as hands-off as Rodriguez had made it out to be. The damn things didn’t always come out of the cartridges clean, they had a tendency to stick and sometimes the only solution was a good old fashioned kick in the ass with the heel of a boot to shake them loose. The launch bars and locks on the EMALS that secured the airframe to the catapult shuttle, the carriage between the two catapult beams that flung the aircraft forward, were damn fussy and even when you were sure you had a good lock, they refused to give you a green light, and you had to reseat the damn thing. Finally, every drone was loaded inside it’s cartridge with wings folded and an external hydraulic pressure system had to be connected to unfold and lock the wings in place. Only then, could the pre-flight physical and digital inspection be carried out.
    Sure, one person could theoretically do it, but two made it much easier.
    With 12 hours on and six off, at the end of their second 12 hour shift, Rodriguez had lost track of whether it was night or day. Her watch was telling her it was 1430 in the afternoon, but her body was ready for food and bed. They could afford to take it a little easier now. With 15 kites away, they only had eight remaining Fantoms to get home. Their lift out of here was the same sub that had ferried the walking and the walking wounded out of here two days ago, and it would be back six days from now to pick them up. Rodriguez wanted to get the job done, but they didn’t have to kill themselves doing it. They could fall back to their planned six or so per day, take two days to launch the rest and spend the last four days making sure there was no salvageable equipment left and the demolition charges were set to blow.
    She slumped down at their makeshift mess table in one of the empty hangars, where Bunny was flicking through a digital girlie magazine on a tablet. She smiled, “Sorry to interrupt.”
    “Just checking out the competition ma’am,” Bunny said. “They got nothin' on us.”
    “Speak for yourself O’Hare,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve got bow legs and a big ass and everything topside is heading south.”
    “With respect, I’m calling #%&*$# on that ma’am. Anyway, these girls, it’s all silicon and implants, give me the real deal any day.” Bunny ran her hand over the fuzz on her head. “I am a bit jealous of their golden locks though.” She turned her head like she was looking for something. “You think they left any peroxide behind in this joint? I’m thinking of dyeing my stubble blonde.”
    Rodriguez lowered her head onto one arm and looked up at her, “You seriously have the energy to worry about what your hair looks like?”
    “We’ve finally got the place to ourselves, no damn men spraying their testosterone everywhere? Hell yeah. I’m thinking a hot bath, paint my fingernails and toenails black and die my hair white. Might even do the next shift naked, just because we can. What do you say ma’am? You in?” Rodriguez laughed; a huge, exhausted laugh.
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Devlin got back to her apartment in Spaso House, threw her keys on a table near the door, dumped her bag, kicked off her shoes and poured a cold glass of white wine from her refrigerator.
    She had unanswered messages and texts to deal with, the US west coast was just waking up with worried business people and congress members wanting to talk with her, and in her bag was a pile of paper ten inches thick that people wanted her to read by morning. She turned off her phone.
    Five minutes, just five minutes. She would have a glass of wine, and then get back to it. She sat on her sofa, and turned on the TV news.
    She saw the tickertape across the bottom of the news anchors’ desks first; ‘FLASH update…’ and expected it to be about Alaska. It wasn’t. She watched with horror as she read the text rolling across her screen. “Syrian troops enter Lebanon. Government ministers arrested. Hezbollah seize power. Israeli armed forces placed on high alert.”
    It was a strategy as old as time. Use your alliances to occupy your enemy with a crisis on two fronts. No ally could demand US support in a crisis like Israel, and providing military support to Israel would mean committing, or at least reserving, significant assets that could otherwise be brought into play against Russia. So creating an existential threat to Israel through Syrian intervention in Lebanon was a master stroke. It divided focus in Washington, in the Pentagon, in the armed forces, intelligence and security services and in the State Department.
    It told her with certainty this intervention in the Bering Strait had not just arisen out of the sinking of a single autonomous freighter. The speed with which Finland jumped into bed with Russia on the Barents Europe Arctic Council and their probable involvement in the sinking already told her that. But mobilizing an ally, even a vassal state like Syria, to effectively invade a neighboring country and depose its government, on your own timetable, not theirs … that took long term planning, and significant negotiation, pressure, compromise. Syria would have seen an opportunity while the US was distracted by Alaska, but it must have been offered something big, and it wouldn’t surprise Devlin if they saw Iran weighing in soon too. With Saudi Arabia and the Emirates weakened by the collapse of oil prices, with Turkey licking its wounds after a bruising border war, suddenly the whole power balance in the Middle East was at risk.
    She stood, and found herself in front of her hall mirror, just staring at herself. She was going to break. In two, right down the middle. She felt like she was standing outside herself, watching someone in crisis. She wanted to help, but there was nothing she could do. The woman in front of her was drowning but there was no life preserver to throw, no ladder to help her up. She imagined the water closing over her head, and disappearing without a ripple.
    She put a hand on the mirror and pushed herself away.
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    It was Bondarev’s 110 Okhotniks that re-opened the air war.
    The machines themselves staged out of the large air base at Lavrentiya on the Russian mainland, but Bondarev didn’t need to collocate his pilots and aircraft – in fact, it was wise not to do so.
    So while he had the drones on the ground at Lavrentiya, he had put his Okhotnik pilots, their command trailers and those of the 573rd into quarters at the port of Anadyr, well back from the OA but still within operational range when linked to their drones by AWACS aircraft.
    Two days after the briefing at 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command HQ, 60 Sukhoi-57s and Mig-41s of the 4th and 5th Air Battalions took off from Lavrentiya as though moving into what had become routine patrol positions in the air over Saint Lawrence and the Bering Strait. What was not normal was the high number of aircraft Russia had scrambled.
    When they reached what would have been their normal stations inside the Russian no-go zone, they pushed east toward the Alaska coast.
    Waiting for them just outside the air exclusion zone were the F-35s and older F-22s of the Alaska air national guard. Behind them, at five minute readiness, were pilots of the 90th Fighter Squadron and 525th Fighter Squadron under the control of an AWACS aircraft from 962nd Airborne Air Control Squadron. As soon as it detected the large Russian formations approaching Saint Lawrence, the AWACS scrambled its Air Force fighters. Within minutes, the US force facing Russia numbered 36 fighters, and 20 more were another 20 minutes out. Pulling data from a combination of its own radar, NORAD and satellites, the US AWACS handed off targets to its flock of defenders and put ground to air defenses around Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson on alert.
    It was also tracking a squadron of 9 Russian Tu160-M2 Blackjack strategic bombers that was returning from what had also become routine trans-polar ‘provocation’ flights.
    Cease fire or no cease fire, there was no ambiguity in the US aviators’ orders. If the Russian fighters closed on Alaskan coastal airspace, the US fighters were cleared to engage.
    Bondarev had no intention of letting his piloted aircraft get within air-to-air missile range of the Americans. Not yet. Before the US fighters were within range, he turned his Sukhois back east and they withdrew to the Russian mainland.
    The US commander misinterpreted the move as a failed attempt to provoke US aircraft into following and breaking the terms of the ceasefire. He had machines he needed to get down and refuel, and pilots who had been living on edge for weeks who needed their rest. Half of the US force returned to Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson once it was clear the Russian fighters were withdrawing too.
    Timed to coincide with this, to the north and south of Saint Lawrence, Bondarev had scattered 60 Okhotnik stealth UCAVs, configured for ground attack. He had ordered his ground based drone pilots to fire at the extreme limit of the Okhotniks’ Brah-Mos III supersonic cruise missiles. With two missiles per aircraft, as the last of the sortied US fighters was landing, within minutes there were 120 cruise missiles on their way toward Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson.
    The last time Eielson had faced a cruise missile attack it was from Bunny O’Hare, and that had not gone so well. This time its HELLADS systems and crews were ready.
    Sixty vampires inbound? No problem.
    *
    *

    “Ma’am, turn on your laptop,” Williams voice said over Devlin’s telephone line. She had just been getting ready to go to bed when the phone had rung. “I’m going to push something through to you.”
    “Ok, just give me a minute,” Devlin said, cradling her telephone on her shoulder and pulling her laptop out of her bag. She hit the button to boot it up. “Always takes a couple of minutes, this old thing.”
    “Two minutes, and it may be all over,” Williams said.
    “What’s up?”
    “Russia just broke the ceasefire,” Williams said. “HOLMES is tracking multiple cruise missile launches over Alaska towards our air bases at Fairbanks and Anchorage. I’m sending you the feed, you can follow the attack real time.”
    “You can do that?”
    “Already doing it, when you log on, you’ll see an icon of a pipe on your desktop. Click on that.”
    “What?”
    “Don’t ask me, HOLMES installed it. I think it’s an Arthur Conan Doyle thing. You’ll see what NORAD is seeing.”
    She shook her head and clicked on the icon as it came up. A screen expanded showing a map of Alaska. It took her a moment to make sense of what she was looking at. A spider web of lines was lancing out from small icons that looked like inward facing double triangles with the letters A above them, while a bunch of other triangle icons milled around in the air over Alaska. “OK, I’ve got the computer open, but what am I looking at?”
    “The icons with an A over them are Russian attack aircraft, HOLMES is saying mostly drones. They’ve already fired their payloads and are heading back to mother Russia on afterburner. The icons over Alaska, they’re our boys. Most are not close enough to take a shot at the retreating Russians, but they’re trying to engage the cruise missiles. Not much chance, their radar cross section is too small, but they’ll try.”
    “The missiles are headed for our air force bases?”
    “Yep. They’re scrambling everything they can so that the fewest possible machines get caught on the ground if any missiles get through. But apparently we were caught refueling after a major defensive action.”
    “What are the odds?” Devlin asked, knowing HOLMES would have already calculated them. “Of the missiles getting through?”
    “23% percent chance of one to six missiles getting through ma’am,” she heard HOLMES voice say on the line.
    “How long until they hit?” She saw lines seemed to be extending toward their targets very quickly.
    “At 2,000 miles per hour with just fifty miles left to run, one minute thirty ma’am,” the AI replied. “I am showing 47 missiles still tracking. Correction, I am now showing 101 missiles inbound. 53 seconds to first HELLADS interception.”
    “What?!”
    “Uh, a squadron of Backfire bombers in international airspace north of Northern Alaska just fired their full payload of six missiles each ma’am,” Williams said. “A suicide shot. They were being tagged by a flight of F-35s out of Eielson. They’ve engaged the Backfires, and they’re unescorted. They’re toast.”
    “20 seconds to HELLADS interception,” HOLMES said.
    Devlin watched in horror as the blue lines tracked toward the two US air bases. One by one, the lines winked out. Then red dots began to appear underneath the airfields. Inside five seconds, all the blue lines were gone, and a row of red dots appeared under each airfield.
    “The red dots are strikes?” Devlin asked.
    “Yes ma’am,” Williams said. “Four on Eielson, three on Elmendorf-Richardson. Damn good performance.” He sounded pleased.
    “There are dead Americans under those dots Carl,” Devlin said gently.
    “Yes ma’am, sorry,” he said.
    “Thirty three seconds to the impact of the second wave of missiles. There are no air assets in position to intercept,” HOLMES said. “HELLADS units are recycling.”
    “Recycling?! What does that mean?”
    “A single HELLADS battery can track and shoot down up to 5 missiles simultaneously, with one second between volleys. There are probably four or five batteries around each of those airfields, so they can target twenty incoming missiles all arriving at the same time, and handle multiple waves of missiles for up to five minutes, but working that hard overheats the optics. They need time to cool down - recycle. The second Russian launch was timed to coincide with the HELLADS’ recycling phase. They’ll be arriving just as the defenses are coming back on line. It’s going to be close.”
    “Two batteries on line. Five seconds to impact,” HOLMES said. “Three batteries. Firing. Impact.” A bloom of red dots appeared across the map at both airfields.
    Once again, the critical incident siren started sounding throughout the Embassy complex.
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    Between 2015 and 2022 Russia launched a series of small satellites it designated Kosmos-2499 to Kosmos-2514. Radar tracking of the small 50kg satellites showed they were highly maneuverable and shortly after arriving in orbit they executed what seemed to be a range of test maneuverers, darting away from and then matching orbit with various pieces of circling space junk including their own launch vehicles. They were also detected by amateur radio enthusiasts communicating with the ground using burst radio transmissions. At a year-end press-conference, the head of Roskosmos, Ivor Olapenko, denied speculation that Kosmos-2491 and Kosmos-2499 were "killer satellites." Olapenko said the satellites were developed in cooperation between Roskosmos and the Russian Academy of Sciences and were used for peaceful purposes including unspecified research by educational institutions. After two years of apparent testing, the satellites were parked in permanent orbits and went silent.
    Five of the satellites were in orbit over the North Pole. In the intervening years since 2022 they had been quietly mapping all known US and Chinese space-based military objects in their quadrants.
    Olapenko had not lied. The Kosmos satellites were not intended to kill other satellites.
    They were made to blind them.
    *
    *

    Alicia Rodriguez was blind. Her bedside alarm was ringing, she had to get to school, but she couldn’t see it to turn it off. She panicked, flailing around her, trying to find her alarm clock. She was going to be late for school again!
    She opened her eyes. Same dumb dream again. But there was an alarm ringing somewhere. She swung her legs out of bed and hit her bedside light. It was the comms alarm - an incoming call. She fumbled for the handset on her bedside table.
    “NCTAMS-A4,” she replied, rubbing her eyes. She looked at her watch. She’d been asleep 3 hours. It was 0400. She and Bunny had planned another three hours sleep then breakfast and another day flying their drones out. As the voice on the other end spoke, she realized that wasn’t going to happen.
    “NCTAMS-A4, this is ANR control,” the voice said. “Major Del Stenson, who is speaking please?”
    “Rodriguez, Lieutenant Colonel, what’s up Major?”
    “Ma’am, I need to bring you up to speed with events and then check your operational status,” the major said.
    “Our operational status? We are decommissioned Major,” Rodriguez told him. “We are four days from bringing the roof down on this base.”
    “Negative ma’am, I have a new OPORD for you. The situation is that Russian air forces have attacked Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson air bases. Damage was limited, but both airfields are going to be offline for at least the next 48-72 hours. We have moved air assets south to Gelena, Kingsley Fields, Portland and Lewis-McChord.” He paused. “We have nowhere to receive your drones right now ma’am, and besides, we need them back in the game.”
    “Major, there is only myself and one aviator remaining on this base. We can launch, but we can’t recover, refuel and rearm those drones at anything like the speed that would be needed for combat operations. If you are asking us to go to war, I need the full complement of base personnel back here stat.”
    “That’s also negative ma’am,” Stenson said. “All available Naval units have been re-tasked. We are responding to multiple simultaneous threats Lieutenant Colonel. You are on your own. I’ve been ordered to tell you we need you to do what you can, where you are, with what you have. A mission package is being sent through as we speak. Questions ma’am?”
    “Plenty,” Rodriguez said. “But let me look the package over. I’ll get back to you on what we can do.”
    “Yes ma’am. ANR out.”
    Rodriguez cut the connection and hit the button that connected her to O’Hare’s quarters.
    “O’Hare speaking. Yes, ma’am?”
    She sounded like she was already awake.
    “We have new orders Bunny,” Rodriguez said.
    “Yes ma’am,” the pilot replied. “I heard the comms alert. Briefing in the trailer?”
    “Five minutes,” Rodriguez confirmed. “And O’Hare?”
    “Yes ma’am?”
    “You will be wearing more than just black nail polish, understood?”
    “Aw, you are such a buzz killer ma’am,” O’Hare said. “As you wish.” She cut the line.
    Rodriguez smiled and reached for her trousers. Then she thought about what they were about to do, and the smile faded from her face.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Yevgeny Bondarev had a broad smile on his face as he stood in his own operations room, eyes running over reports of the morning’s operations and bomb damage assessments. Around him, his staff were going about the business of destroying the US armed force’s ability to respond to the planned landing in Nome.
    He had been ordered to achieve air supremacy, not just air superiority. Air superiority meant temporary control of the airspace over an operations area. Supremacy meant the effective destruction of the enemy’s ability to oppose the operations of friendly forces. The Russian commanders were not dreamers, they knew Lukin’s 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command could not defeat the entire US Army, Navy and Air Force once it had been completely mobilized. But it had to establish dominance of the air over Alaska for the duration of the invasion and that meant creating an effective air-front over Alaska all the way to the Canadian border that meant that any attempt by the US to penetrate Alaskan airspace resulted in the complete destruction of American aircraft in the combat area.
    The airfield denial operations against the two major US Air Force bases in Alaska had been a spectacular success, with the first wave of missiles being intercepted but performing their task of overwhelming the American defensive systems so that the second wave of mine laying cluster munition armed warheads would be able to penetrate. Russia had learned through many wars that blowing holes in enemy airfields was a pointless exercise, because even a twenty foot crater blown in a concrete runway by a deep penetrator bomb could be filled in a matter of hours and overlaid with metal mesh patches so that flight operations could quickly resume.
    So the Bra-Mos III missiles that had made it through the defensive perimeter of ElmendorfRichardson and Eielson air bases had streaked across the airfield scattering hundreds of area-denial mines. Within seconds each airfield was littered with thousands of 5.5lb RDX explosive armed proximity-triggered submunitions. Once the mines were scattered the missiles buried themselves in their terminal targets - usually hangars, radars and control and command facilities. It might only take a few hours to fill a crater or get a new mobile command center up and running, but it would take days to clear all of the unexploded mines at the two air bases.
    He had lost none of his Su-57s or Okhotniks, but all six Backfire bombers had been quickly shot down. That had been expected and their pilots and crews had been volunteers, knowing the mission would likely result in their deaths. Bondarev wasn’t sentimental, but the sacrifice of such men in the service of their nation stirred his blood. He would use their example to encourage his own men to do their utmost.
    The Americans could still fly their aircraft out of airfields in Oregon, Washington and Idaho, or farther afield, but that gave Russian radar and satellites precious time to detect them and respond. It was time Bondarev planned to use well.
    The second prong of the initial attack had not been Bondarev’s responsibility but belonged to the Russian Aerospace Forces. Their little 100kg satellites parked over the pole had maneuvered within range of eight critical NORAD surveillance satellites and were blasting out radio signals at frequencies calculated to jam the ability of the American satellites to send or receive. If they were working as planned the US 213th Space Warning Squadron based at Denali Borough in Alaska, the eyes and ears of NORAD, should be blind and deaf.
    It would take at least six hours and up to 18 hours before the US could re-task other nearby satellites to fill the void.
    That gave Bondarev a solid window in which his Okhotniks could roam the skies over Alaska seeking out and destroying US land based radar and air defense units, while his Su-57s ran combat air patrols overhead. Several of his units were actively engaged in combat with the US fighters that had managed to get airborne before the missile strikes. He had lost nearly ten aircraft, with two pilots dead and six down, but his intel indicated 23 enemy combatants destroyed, both fixed wing and rotary winged aircraft. After trying to engage the incoming cruise missiles, most of the airborne US aircraft were low on fuel and ammunition and were retiring to US mainland air bases or inadequately equipped civilian fields. The Americans had not yet martialed aircraft for a major counter-attack, but Bondarev was certain it would come. And he was ready.
    That was why he was confident moving the bulk of his 6983rd UCAV forces to Savoonga, just 150 miles from Nome. They were ideally suited to flying out of the limited facilities at the forward base, because their pilots and system officers could be based at Anadyr, hundreds of miles away, and didn’t need to be quartered with their planes.
    And the bulk of his precious 4th and 5th Air Battalions, his critical Su-57 fighters and pilots and ground crews, he would keep at Lavrentiya. To reach him there, even if did have the fuel, which would have required in-air refueling, the enemy would have to fight its way across the skies of Alaska or the North Pacific and back again.
    But he wasn’t a man to take the enemy for granted. He had a surprise or two up his sleeve in Lavrentiya for any US aircraft or missile that did make it through.

    *
    *

    Perri and Dave had been following the column of hostages for a couple of hours now, and it was clear they weren’t going down to the coast to Kavalghak Bay. Once they had cleared the road out of town to the south of the bluff, they had turned northeast and started hiking up an old hunting trail that would take them over the bluff to the deserted inland of the island. It was harsh, windswept terrain that didn’t offer much in the way of game, berries or shelter, so the islanders rarely ventured inland. The sea and the ice around the island were their home, not the rocky interior. They decided the destination must be Savoonga.
    “Why would they be going to Savoonga?” Perri asked. “Wouldn’t it have been just as badly hit as Gambell?” He could have kicked himself. While they were online last time, he should have downloaded some news videos to see if there was any information about what had happened to Saint Lawrence. All they knew was what Sarge had told them, and that wasn’t much. He’d spent most of the time they were online asking questions, not giving out information.
    “Where else could they be going, there’s nothing else in this direction except vole turds and bird droppings.”
    “It’s going to take them days. Did you ever walk it?”
    “No, but Tommy Hendriks did. With his father. They were hunting bear but they didn’t get any. By the time they’d been out two days they decided it would be easier to keep going to Savoonga and then get a lift back to Gambell by boat. It took them five days.”
    “Including the boat back?”
    “No, just the walk over,” Dave said grimly.
    “Oh man,” Perri settled the straps of his backpack on his shoulders. “I hope we’ve got enough food.”
    “Yeah? Well we could have carried about another 20 pounds except you’ve got me lugging this damned battery and radio,” Dave complained. He was carrying the same big backpack that Perri was carrying, with the difference being the top third of his pack was the car battery and Russian radio they’d liberated.”
    “You keep telling me how you’re the strongest of all your brothers,” Perri said. He was looking at the ground, seeing the scuff marks in the snow and dirt from hundreds of feet. Following the column wouldn’t be hard, they were leaving tracks you could probably see from space. He looked up to test the weather, saw low cloud, but no sign of rain. At least they’d be dry the next day or so. As he watched, he heard the now familiar sound of jet engines crossing the island from west to east. For some reason they rarely went east to west. They hadn’t heard or seen any more signs of combat, so he had to assume the aircraft overhead weren’t American.
    They trudged on, “Sarge said there were Russians in Savoonga, as well as Gambell. Maybe the ones in Savoonga were dug in better,” Perri speculated. “The ones here were pretty dumb, just hiding out in the town hall, waiting to get bombed. Maybe the guys up there were better prepared.” He thought about the radar station at Savoonga, the Air Force officer who’d come to talk to them. “I’m going to call Sarge tonight if we can still get a signal through,” he said. “Ask him does he know what’s happening at
    Savoonga. If we get that far, I’ve got cousins we could hide out with.”
    Dave grunted, “I can tell you this for free. If we can’t get a signal on this stupid radio, it’s going in the nearest creek.”
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    There had been no working radio in the wrecked APC near the town hall, so Private Zubkov had hiked out to the airfield. Two of the APCs out there were total write-offs, just burned out, half melted hulks. The third had taken a hit that had flipped it on its roof, shredded its tires and filled it full of holes before its fuel had caught fire, but the fire had burned upward, through the chassis, and the cabin was still pretty much intact. Except that the radio and handset was gone.
    And Zubkov had a pretty good idea where.
    He leaned back in his chair inside the school master’s office, watching the display on the base station for it to pop up again, just to be sure. His orders were to keep the wounded comfortable and the prisoners fed until reinforcements arrived from Russia or the unit returned to Gambell. But he’d seen the news on the American TV channels. The Americans were sending a freaking carrier strike group up here to take the island back. If Russia had intended to hold the island, it would be swarming with choppers, anti-air batteries and new troops. They’d be dispersing and digging in, not bugging out. There weren’t going to be any ‘reinforcements’.
    They had been dropped in as political bait, had the hell blown out of them and they’d been abandoned. Now the Americans were coming and yeah, they had a better chance of putting up a fight if they concentrated their forces and bunkered down at the US facility in the northeast, but a few hundred men against a whole carrier strike group and thousands of marines? Forget it. They were all going to end as prisoners, probably be tried for war crimes.
    If he was going to get off this island, it had to be soon. But he couldn’t just leave his comrades here to starve to death, so he had to work something out for them. Luckily when he’d been searching for the radio he had found the solution.
    Most of the wounded Russian soldiers were sleeping, which wasn’t surprising given firstly their injuries and secondly, that he had crushed quite a lot of sedative tablets into their food earlier in the day. One of them was awake, a young boy who had lost most of his foot, and who had said he had no appetite. He had joined the unit after Zubkov and he hadn’t really bothered to get to know him. Zubkov looked at the chart at the end of his bed - Kirrilov, that was his name.
    “I need some painkillers,” the guy said. “My foot hurts like hell.”
    “OK, I got something for you here,” Zubkov said, pulling a small spray dispenser from a backpack. He pulled on rubber gloves and a surgical mask. “It’s a sterilizing agent combined with a strong local anesthetic.” Walking over to the young guy he said, “Pull your covers back.”
    The man lifted his bedsheets, to reveal a bloodied bandage. Zubkov pulled it gingerly away and saw the man had lost the two left most toes from his foot, a strip down the side and most of his heel. He angled the spray so that he could cover most of the wound and then pulled a surgical mask over his own face.
    “Is it going to sting?” the boy asked. He was propped up on one elbow, watching.
    “A lot,” Zubkov told him. “But not for long.” He sprayed quickly, then lay the bandages back on the foot and covered it with the bed sheet.
    “Man, that burns,” the guy said through gritted teeth, an arm covering his eyes. “It better work.”
    Zubkov had little doubt it would work. He had studied the effects of VX nerve agent in training.
    They all had. He knew the symptoms off by heart: abnormal blood pressure, blurred vision, chest tightness, confusion, cough, diarrhea, drooling and excessive sweating, drowsiness then difficulty breathing, and death by asphyxia.
    Time from exposure to death could be anything from ten to twenty minutes, depending on the dose.
    He sat back to watch.


    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter 12 Feb - 02/13/18 10:13 AM

    Aw. VX to the injured? That's just nasty, man!



    Also, I think Bunny was talking abot dye, not death to her hair.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter 12 Feb - 02/13/18 12:22 PM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    Aw. VX to the injured? That's just nasty, man!



    Also, I think Bunny was talking abot dye, not death to her hair.


    Good catch! Tho knowing Bunny, coulda been either...
    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter 12 Feb - 02/13/18 07:37 PM

    Not a CBRN guy, but IIRC VX is effective if you get any skin contact what so ever (less then a droplet is considered lethal). Hence why we had to mess with the whole MOPP suit. Using an aerosol mister is pretty much gonna kill everyone there (if that's the plot then carry on). Also why would the soviets be carrying VX, particularly in handy sprayers? If Zukov is gonna kill them off, simply OD'ing them on pain meds is a way easier solution, and also far more likely. Additionally he can claim it was an "accident" as he's not a medic and didn't read the dosages correctly, etc.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter 12 Feb - 02/13/18 09:35 PM

    Originally Posted by jenrick
    Not a CBRN guy, but IIRC VX is effective if you get any skin contact what so ever (less then a droplet is considered lethal). Hence why we had to mess with the whole MOPP suit. Using an aerosol mister is pretty much gonna kill everyone there (if that's the plot then carry on). Also why would the soviets be carrying VX, particularly in handy sprayers? If Zukov is gonna kill them off, simply OD'ing them on pain meds is a way easier solution, and also far more likely. Additionally he can claim it was an "accident" as he's not a medic and didn't read the dosages correctly, etc.

    -Jenrick


    Excellent points ... might well end up going with the pain meds idea. Can't really adjust the plot in real time because I am writing a few chapters ahead of what I'm posting, but it is really valuable food for thought about how to tweak the final plot!!

    For now, sneak preview from a coming chapter (partly addresses the questions):

    Back in his office he lifted up a wooden ammunition box. He had found it in the back of a transport truck out at the airfield. It had contained 20 82mm VX nerve gas mortar shells and a foil pouch holding auto-injectors for the atropine and pralidoxime antidote. Well, 19 shells now, since he had carefully injected himself with antidote before he siphoned the active agent out of one of the warheads to apply it to the soldiers in the sick bay.
    At least he wouldn’t have to repeat the process for the remaining townspeople locked in the school buildings. The mortars were also designed to work on timers, in case a chemical weapon IED was needed. He hadn’t wanted to set one of them off inside the sick bay, because it would certainly have left nerve agent traces that would have been hard to explain. But there wouldn’t be any danger of that after he had thrown a few of the shells in with the local townsfolk, removed the evidence and then burned their gym to the ground.
    He couldn’t do that to his comrades though. They were Spetsnaz after all, and for now, he was too.
    They deserved an honorable burial. Even if it was in a mass grave.
    Private Zubkov was singing to himself as he took off their warheads and then wired four of the VX gas mortar rounds to an electrical detonator. Four should be more than enough to flood the gym with gas. He had a very simple plan - make sure the rest of the people in Gambell were taken care of, find that ‘ghost’ radio handset, call his buddy in Anadyr, and start a new life as part owner of a fishing trawler.
    There was just one problem, but it didn’t trouble Zubkov. In fact, he was actively ignoring it. The offer from Zubkov’s buddy in Anadyr? That had been eight years ago. The guy had gone broke, sold his trawler, and was a bank clerk in Vladivostok now. Private Zubkov hadn’t spoken to him for about five years.
    Everyone deals with the brutality of war in their own very individual way. Private Zubkov had seen a man decapitated, a town obliterated, his Captain lobotomized and his fellow soldiers killed and wounded, before being deserted by his own NCO and the men he had believed were his comrades in arms.
    He had dealt with this by going completely and irrevocably insane.


    Thx, keep the comments coming, all help make the story stronger and will be sure to put your name in the acknowledgements!!

    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter 12 Feb - 02/13/18 09:59 PM

    Quote
    When they reached what would have been their normal stations inside the Russian no-go zone, they pushed west toward the Alaska coast.
    Waiting


    I think they pushed east instead ?



    I wonder how long it will take for the CV to recover, and if the escorts are still up. dizzy
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter 12 Feb - 02/13/18 11:11 PM

    I wonder how long I'd wait to nuke their Siberian bases...

    Or at least send video to the Russian pilots HUD's of a crazy naked chick in a VR helmet trying to kill them with a drone swarm! (HOLMES I have a job for you!)

    edit: Ya, I think you got east and west swapped a couple of times HeinKill.
    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 14 Feb - 02/14/18 12:09 AM

    Quote
    Back in his office he lifted up a wooden ammunition box. He had found it in the back of a transport truck out at the airfield. It had contained 20 82mm VX nerve gas mortar shells and a foil pouch holding auto-injectors for the atropine and pralidoxime antidote. Well, 19 shells now, since he had carefully injected himself with antidote before he siphoned the active agent out of one of the warheads to apply it to the soldiers in the sick bay.


    Hmm, interesting option, the whole scenario. The biggest issue would be why would the Russians have deployed with nerve gas in the first place? If the occupation of the island was planned to be unopposed, it makes no sense to pack in nerve gas. That would be something in the US inventory way back at the weapons depot that we wouldn't even contemplate issuing out until things have gone a lot further south. A release of VX would paint the Russians into a political corner, right up there with using nukes, I can't see them trusting a Spetsnaz captain with that responsibility. I can see packing the mortar in at least, but you might want to have something about the weapons platoon leaving their heavy stuff behind or the like. Honestly though if I was planning the assault, I'd have left the mortar behind, no reason for it, and if it comes to contesting the island from a US assault it's not gonna do a whole lot of good.

    Also as far as using the auto injectors, not for the faint of heart. We had some expired ones that someone decided to try out in the parking lot one night, by activating it against a wooden fence post. The needle slamming out took him by surprise and he lost his grip. The sucker launched across the parking lot like a bottle rocket. I can't imagine what injecting it would feel like.

    I have no clue how long the antidote would be good for, from what I remember it was something like re-administer every 10 minutes if someone was actually poisoned. Also atropine if you're not poisoned is going to mess you up, big time. Blurry vision, racing heart, kind of like the worlds biggest shot of adrenaline, it's going to be hard to function at all until that wears off.

    Again interesting idea and scenario, I'm just not sure it works well for what you're going for. Something as simple as carbon monoxide poisoning would make just as much sense, and fit with everything a lot better.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 14 Feb - 02/14/18 12:17 AM

    Those auto-injector needles are also ... well, horse size. Intended for going deep into a thigh.

    Think of the heart shot in Pulp Fiction.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 14 Feb - 02/14/18 07:41 AM

    Originally Posted by jenrick
    Quote
    Back in his office he lifted up a wooden ammunition box. He had found it in the back of a transport truck out at the airfield. It had contained 20 82mm VX nerve gas mortar shells and a foil pouch holding auto-injectors for the atropine and pralidoxime antidote. Well, 19 shells now, since he had carefully injected himself with antidote before he siphoned the active agent out of one of the warheads to apply it to the soldiers in the sick bay.


    Hmm, interesting option, the whole scenario. The biggest issue would be why would the Russians have deployed with nerve gas in the first place? If the occupation of the island was planned to be unopposed, it makes no sense to pack in nerve gas. That would be something in the US inventory way back at the weapons depot that we wouldn't even contemplate issuing out until things have gone a lot further south. A release of VX would paint the Russians into a political corner, right up there with using nukes, I can't see them trusting a Spetsnaz captain with that responsibility. I can see packing the mortar in at least, but you might want to have something about the weapons platoon leaving their heavy stuff behind or the like. Honestly though if I was planning the assault, I'd have left the mortar behind, no reason for it, and if it comes to contesting the island from a US assault it's not gonna do a whole lot of good.

    Also as far as using the auto injectors, not for the faint of heart. We had some expired ones that someone decided to try out in the parking lot one night, by activating it against a wooden fence post. The needle slamming out took him by surprise and he lost his grip. The sucker launched across the parking lot like a bottle rocket. I can't imagine what injecting it would feel like.

    I have no clue how long the antidote would be good for, from what I remember it was something like re-administer every 10 minutes if someone was actually poisoned. Also atropine if you're not poisoned is going to mess you up, big time. Blurry vision, racing heart, kind of like the worlds biggest shot of adrenaline, it's going to be hard to function at all until that wears off.

    Again interesting idea and scenario, I'm just not sure it works well for what you're going for. Something as simple as carbon monoxide poisoning would make just as much sense, and fit with everything a lot better.

    -Jenrick


    I'm all for simple, going with carbon monoxide is an alternative, but how to generate it? He has no vehicle/engine/generator available - Gambell pulls its power from wind/hydro not diesel. I guess they could have brought one or two generators with them.

    Good points about the VX; I'd seen it as potentially being used to defend the island from counterattack (attack the US landing zone) rather than in the first offensive operation. Logic was Russia wanting to deploy the fewest troop numbers possible. If not likely, I'll drop it but want a dramatic/shocking way for him to take out the surviving wounded and the elderly townsfolk (wow that sounds morbid but it's a plot thing! Just herd them all together in the gym and set fire to it?). (Yeah I know that 2-PAM injector needle is a beatch, I looked it up! Visible from space. But I figured Zubkov deserved it.)

    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    I wonder how long it will take for the CV to recover, and if the escorts are still up. dizzy


    A crucial point! It needs to deal not just with the systems impacted by the cyberattack but also significant fire damage... I did think maybe we could use this as an excuse to recommission the USS Missouri but I think that movie was already made wink

    Also I would expect that a successful cyberattack on a US carrier (however that might occur) would cause a minor panic about how vulnerable other carriers/ships are to similar attacks and until the cause was identified and mitigations put in place, you'd be reluctant to expose other assets to attack by committing them to the theater and singling them out for attention.

    BTW the idea for using an exercise machine software patch to access the ships command and control system is, I hope, a nonsense. But I got the idea when I read an article about how sailors on future Gerald R Ford class carriers like the Enterprise will have access to networked fitness equipment which tracks their progress toward personal fitness goals. Which made me think I'd want to be sure any patches the Navy's exercise bike supplier applied to its bikes didn't have a virus in them, which made me think yeah, if I was a prime enemy, I'd try to hack the server of the Navy's chosen exercise bike company and modify one of their patches, rather than go after a back door more obvious and better protected. And low and behold a week after I wrote it all down, the news breaks that Strava fitness app is showing the location and patrol routes of miltiary personnel worldwide which is different but kinda the same...

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    I wonder how long I'd wait to nuke their Siberian bases...


    Another good question. SPOILER below re my anticipated US response to a Russian attack on Alaska like the one in this novel

    My whole premise in this scenario has been that if Russian aggression escalated to the point it has/will, the US would not respond in kind with conventional weapons or attempt to defend US territory with large scale mobilisation of US ground forces. It would threaten and or actually respond with nuclear. But in the first instance it would still be reluctant to retaliate against Russian mainland targets with a tac nuke for fear of starting all out nuclear war and very reluctant to use a tac nuke on or near Alaskan territory. Therefore, while threatening nuclear retaliation and positioning US nuclear forces for a suitable strike, it would try airborne/sea launched conventional responses first/parallel which is where Bunny's UCAVs come in.
    .

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    I think you got east and west swapped a couple of times HeinKill.


    Kinda important! Better clean that up! Awesome feedback team keep it coming!



    Posted By: Diavolaccio

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 14 Feb - 02/14/18 09:37 AM

    Heinkill your engaging story is far better than most books i recently red.
    Keep it coming, i'm hooked!
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 14 Feb - 02/14/18 09:49 AM

    Originally Posted by Diavolaccio
    Heinkill your engaging story is far better than most books i recently red.
    Keep it coming, i'm hooked!


    Thanks for the encouraging words. Spread the word if you can to other readers ... a good collaboration should end up with a product that others will enjoy too!
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 15 Feb - 02/14/18 12:28 PM

    Love them holidays - on a writing roll.

    ***

    [Linked Image]


    SUPERIORITY


    Bondarev paced the floor of his operations room at Lavrentiya airfield like a caged animal. The day’s operations had gone to plan, that wasn’t the problem. The problem was that as long as he was in command of this part of the air war, he was tethered to the ground. He preferred to lead from the air, but that wasn’t practical. Instead, he was here, barking orders and watching his men move icons around on the huge screens mounted on the walls.
    Bomb damage and combat assessments of the opening battle the day before showed 24 US fighters destroyed on the ground and 11 in the air, for the loss of six of his own. Since being driven back to Oregon, Washington and Idaho the day before, US forces had only engaged in squadron strength probing patrols at the southernmost part of the front. Their satellites and ground based radar inside Alaska blinded, they were no doubt rueing the decision to abandon their own anti-satellite offensive program. It meant they needed to rely on vulernable AWACS aircraft to fill the gap and were hampered by the limited range of their offensive aircraft which required in-flight refueling to reach Alaska from mainland USA with enough fuel on board to sustain combat if needed. In these contacts over the last 12 hours he had claimed five American aircraft destroyed for two of his own and had brought down one US AWACS aircraft that had wandered too far north west trying to map the Russian presence over Alaska. Fixed and mobile US anti-air units inside Alaska were being dealt with by ground attack configured Okhotniks across the State as quickly as they appeared, but he had lost three of the drones to ground fire. His losses were within acceptable parameters and he was close to being able to demonstrate that he could repel any attempt to challenge the airspace over Alaska - the definition of air superiority.
    The US still had formidable naval fire power and the ability to unleash a rain of cruise missiles on Russian mainland targets like the Pacific Fleet base at Vladivostok or the Northern Fleet base at Sevoromorsk. It would be a logical response to their attacks on the US strategic air bases in Alaska, but beyond moving a carrier strike group from the Atlantic through the Panama Canal into the south Pacific the US naval response since the crippling of the USS Enterprise task force had been muted. It would come, of that he was sure. The question was only how, and when.
    What troubled him most in this respect were the aircraft from the Enterprise. Details weren’t clear, even to Bondarev, but Lukin had delivered on his promise that the Enterprise wouldn’t be a factor in the conflict. The carrier strike group had stopped dead in its tracks, and the US media was reporting that there had been fires reported on board the carrier. They were speculating that the carrier had been sabotaged, or had struck a mine, but Russia was denying any involvement. The carrier was being ignominiously towed back to port in San Diego.
    The Enterprise might have been taken out of play, but its aircraft weren’t. Russian satellite surveillance showed more than 50 of the carrier’s aircraft had been flown off after it was put under tow. Bondarev wanted desperately to know where those aircraft were. His big advantage was that they had effectively driven the US Air Force out of Alaska and it had to fly out of bases 2000 miles from Nome in Oregon and Washington State. His big fear was that Canada would give the US permission to use not just its air space, but also its western Yukon airfields. They were mostly gravel, not paved, and couldn’t support intensive operations, but the navalized versions of the US F-35 carried by the Enterprise had Short Take Off Vertical Landing capabilities and may be able to operate out of Canadian bush or civilian airstrips or even paved highways if they needed to. If the Canadians hadn’t already given the US permission to use their facilities, Bondarev was pretty sure that as longstanding members of NATO, they would soon be compelled to.
    He desperately wanted to know where those carrier aircraft were, and brightened as he saw the man he had tasked to find out, his intelligence chief Arsharvin, walking quickly through the crowded operations room toward him.
    “You have news I hope,” Bondarev said, as Arsharvin put a tablet down on the table in front of him and turned it on.
    “Not good,” Arsharvin said. “Look for yourself.”
    The screen showed a small table, listing the aircraft types which had been flown off the Enterprise, and how many of each type were estimated to have been re-positioned. Beside them was the base they had been flown to. Bondarev expected that column to show him the names of the now familiar Air Force stations in the US Northwest States.
    “Naval Air Station Leemore?” he asked, looking up at Arsharvin. “Where is that?”
    “Fresno, California,” Arsharvin said. “3,000 miles from Alaska.”
    “What? The range of an F-35 is 1,500 miles. A Fantom is 1,800. Even with airborne refueling they can’t fight a war in Alaska out of Fresno, California.”
    “No.”
    “Are they under repair, or taking on ordnance?” It was all Bondarev could think of. Perhaps the Americans were worried their aircraft had been damaged by fire, or US logistics were taking time to get ordnance into place further north, so the Navy planes were having to repair and load up further south.
    “SatInt shows them parked, with not much activity around them,” he said. “We thought it might be some political problem with Navy aircraft using US Air Force bases in the north, but our human sources say that wouldn’t be it.” He pointed at the screen. “The US is holding them back. And my people think that can only mean one thing.”
    “It’s a good sign,” Bondarev said hopefully. “They are leaving Alaska to its fate, as we hoped.”
    “No,” Arsharvin said. He leaned forward and dropped his voice. “We think they could be preparing a tactical nuclear strike.”
    “What? Why? We haven’t even moved on Nome yet,” Bondarev said.
    “No, but the loss of their two key air bases in Alaska is a clear precursor.”
    “The fact they are holding their air assets in reserve is not exactly hard proof they are preparing a nuclear strike. Do we have any intel that their ICBM silos or mobile units have been put on alert?”
    “No, but they don’t need to be. Our SOSUS line in the Bay of Finland picked up a trace today. Not definitive, but the acoustic signature fits with one of their new Columbia class boats.” He didn’t have to say more, his voice said it all. Bondarev had been friends with the man for many years, and this was the first time he had heard him sound truly frightened.
    The Columbia class nuclear stealth submarine was the newest and quietest in the US fleet. Even bringing one close to the borders of Russia would have been regarded as an act of war in more peaceful times. If the US had managed to get one of their doomsday machines within a few minutes missile flight time of Saint Petersburg, it could either mean they were being prudent, or they were preparing for nuclear war.
    Bondarev scowled, “We need to initiate the attack on Nome now,” he said. “Get it underway before the Americans stop dithering and bring those aircraft into the theatre.” He grabbed his uniform jacket off his chair. “Where is Lukin today?”
    Arsharvin looked at his watch, “Right now? He’d be airborne, en-route to Anadyr,” the man said. “I was told he is going to a meeting with the commander of the 573rd Air Base. What are you thinking?”
    “I’m thinking I have to persuade him the air superiority window is open now. We need to act before it closes. I’m flying to Anadyr.”
    Arsharvin cocked an eyebrow, "Flying? Why not just set up a video link?"
    Bondarev shook his head, "And the fact you ask that question explains why you are still a Captain my friend, while I am a Colonel."

    *
    *

    If she was flying a jet off the deck of a carrier at sea Bunny would be engaged in a carefully choreographed dance right now. As Air Boss, Rodriguez would have cleared her for takeoff and she’d be watching her yellow shirted flight deck controller as he directed her with hand motions up to the catapult. She’d be holding up her hands to show she wasn’t touching the controls while checking the red shirted ordnance guy as he loaded weapons or drop tanks. Then she’d be looking back at one of the yellow shirts again as they pulled her machine forward and into the shuttle. As he swept his arms back and forward and they ratcheted up the tension on the cat, she’d be applying full power, putting her stick in all four corners and cycling the rudders to show the deck her controls were free and clear. The yellow shirt would then point her attention to the shooter and her life would be in his or (in the case of Rodriguez, her) hands for the next few vital seconds as she waved you off the deck.
    Down under the Rock it all had to be much simpler. With a full crew, Rodriguez would have had her green shirted technical crews under the command of Stretch Alberti, yellow shirted plane handling crew and launch officers under the command of Lucky Severin and a few red and blue shirted fuel and ordnance personnel working away from the flight deck in the storage hangars. With just the two of them under the Rock now, she and Bunny had to do all the grunt work getting their Fantom’s wings down, locked into the shuttle for launch and booted up and once that was done, Bunny ran to the trailer for the launch.
    They already had one Fantom in the air. They’d prepped two of the machines the night before when they’d got their orders and had taken just 20 minutes doing a final pre-flight check and launch of the first drone. Now they were ready with the second. There was no way the two of them could get a hex of six drones in the air in anything like the time needed for combat operations, but a flight of two - that they could manage. Bunny had set the first to hold position at wave top height about ten miles north of Little Diomede. They were both terrified it would be spotted by overflying Russian aircraft, but so far the little fighter’s stealth defense was holding.
    They’d also had to come up with a new version of the standard launch checklist, with only Rodriguez down on the flight deck and Bunny up in the trailer.
    "Flaps, slat, panels and pins,” Bunny called over the internal comms.
    “Green,” Rodriguez replied, roles reversed. Usually it would be her running the checklist.
    “Man out.” Referring to Rodriguez, crouched down at the catapult shooter’s panel behind a blast protector.
    “Man out aye. Thumbs up.” Rodriguez did a visual check to be sure there were no leaks of fuel or hydraulic fluid.
    “Scanning the cat, cat clear. ELAMS to 520 psi.”
    “520 aye,” Bunny replied, confirming the catapult launch power from a readout on her HUD.
    “Ready for launch.”
    When she was satisfied, she gave Bunny the green light, “Pilot, go burner.”
    “Lighting burner, aye,” Bunny replied.
    “Launching.”
    Rodriguez punched the button to fire the EMALS. Almost simultaneously, Bunny kicked in full afterburner and the Fantom leapt off the catapult, down the chute and out of the maw of the cave. It sped north to link up with the first drone, and soon the two of them were winging their way north.
    In the belly of each Fantom were two GBU-43/K ‘mini-mothers’ or Massive Ordnance Air Blast bombs; GPS assisted iron bombs armed with 40% RDX explosive, 20% TNT, 20% aluminum power and 20% ethylene oxide. Cut down to fit the weapons bay of a Fantom, they were a smaller but still deadly version of the bombs that had wiped the radar station off the surface of Little Diomede. The mini-mother had been designed to destroy large concentrations of enemy vehicles or troops, or in this case, the large number of enemy transport aircraft, fuel, anti-air defense emplacements and C3I facilities at the Russian forward airfield at the port of Anadyr.
    Anadyr had been chosen for shock value – an air strike so deep behind the Russian air perimeter that it should cause them to re-evaluate their strategy and pull assets back to protect their mainland bases. Bunny and Rodriguez knew their chances of successfully charging directly across the Bering Strait and down the throat of all the radar energy Russia would have pointed eastwards was almost zero. So Bunny would be flying the Fantoms at nap of the earth height along the coast of Russia northeast to Polyarny then taking a sharp southerly route along a river valley and across rolling hills and low ranges to Krasnero, about 50 miles inland of Anadyr, in the direction of Moscow. The Fantoms would then bank hard to port to follow the contours of the Anadyr River, coming up on the Russian airfield at the height of about 200 feet from a vector the Russian defenses would, hopefully, least expect.
    For a human pilot, dropping a bomb that didn’t have a timed fuse from that low an altitude would be suicide, but for these Fantoms it wasn’t an issue. Theirs was a one way trip. The long loop northeast and then south would be a journey of about 1,000 miles, it would take a couple of hours and the route Bunny had plotted had 132 distinct waypoints. It was a route no cruise missile could possibly execute.
    And there wouldn’t be fuel for them to make it home.
    But with luck, they could give Russian commanders a shock that would set them back on their heels.
    If they pulled it off, it was a fitting payback mission – one Russian base in exchange for the attack on theirs - and the only thing Bunny could have wished for was a full crew and a hex of drones instead of just two.
    But she would make do.
    Oh, yes.
    *
    *
    Private Zubkov looked at the spray in his hand with a little surprise. He had not painted more than a few drops of the VX agent on the wound but the soldier with the wounded foot had taken less than ten minutes to go from convulsions to a gasping death. Probably it was the fact Zubkov had sprayed the nerve agent directly into his open wound. He had to act quickly now before the 2-PAM antidote he had given himself began to wear off.
    He closed the man’s eyes, still staring at Zubkov with a mix of fear and betrayal.
    Then he walked around the room to each of the other seven men, spraying a droplet or two on their face and neck. For some - those who had untreatable abdominal wounds, already in the grip of fever and delirium - it was a pure mercy. For the others, well, if they had ever made it out of here it would be to a life as crippled and limbless outcasts, so Zubkov didn’t actually feel that bad about it. He just wanted to get it done and get out again before all the convulsions started or the soldiers soiled themselves. That part was gross.
    That only left the Captain, who Zubkov hadn’t thought it necessary to sedate. He sat in a corner in a chair, watching events as though he was watching a mildly interesting TV show.
    As Zubkov approached him and held the spray nozzle up in front of him, he smiled. “Right or wrong, it’s very pleasant to break something from time to time,” he said.
    Zubkov hesitated, then lowered the spray.
    He realized then what he was feeling. It wasn’t pity, not exactly. It was the feeling that they had some sort of bond, him and the Captain. The two of them had been knocked down by the ammo dump blowing up, taken a direct hit from an American cruise missile, and they were both still here. Both of them had been left behind by that ba*tard Sergeant who had pi**ed off for Savoonga without a second thought.
    They were survivors, the Captain and him.
    He dropped the spray dispenser into a plastic bag with the gloves and sealed it tight. Then he clapped the Captain on the shoulder, “Back soon, sir.”
    Back in his office he lifted up a wooden ammunition box. He had found it in the back of a transport truck out at the airfield. It had contained 20 82mm VX nerve gas mortar shells and a foil pouch holding auto-injectors for the antidote. Well, 19 shells now, since he had carefully injected himself with antidote before he siphoned the active agent out of one of the warheads to apply it to the soldiers in the sick bay.
    At least he wouldn’t have to repeat the process for the remaining townspeople locked in the school buildings. The mortars were also designed to work on timers, in case a chemical weapon IED was needed. He hadn’t wanted to set one of them off inside the sick bay, because it would certainly have left nerve agent traces that would have been hard to explain. But there wouldn’t be any danger of that after he had thrown a few of the shells in with the local townsfolk, removed the evidence and then burned their gym to the ground.
    He couldn’t do that to his comrades though. They were Spetsnaz after all, and for now, he was too.
    They deserved an honorable burial. Even if it was in a mass grave.
    Private Zubkov was singing to himself as he took off their warheads and then wired four of the VX gas mortar rounds to an electrical detonator. Four should be more than enough to flood the gym with gas. He had a very simple plan - make sure the rest of the people in Gambell were taken care of, find that ‘ghost’ radio handset, call his buddy in Anadyr, and start a new life as part owner of a fishing trawler.
    There was just one problem, but it didn’t trouble Zubkov. In fact, he was actively ignoring it. The offer from Zubkov’s buddy in Anadyr? That had been eight years ago. The guy had gone broke, sold his trawler, and was a bank clerk in Vladivostok now. Private Zubkov hadn’t spoken to him for about five years.
    Everyone deals with the brutality of war in their own very individual way. Private Zubkov had seen a man decapitated, a town obliterated, his Captain lobotomized and his fellow soldiers killed and wounded, before being deserted by his own NCO and the men he had believed were his comrades in arms.
    He had dealt with this by going completely and irrevocably insane.
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    Devlin was also losing her mind. She had warned her colleagues in the State department that Russia was not interested in Saint Lawrence and polar sea routes, it was going to go after Alaska’s water. They had replied officially with ‘thank you but that doesn’t fit our internal narrative’ and unofficially with ‘Russia is going to attack Alaska for its water? Has she been hitting the vodka a little too hard?’ Now Russia had gone on the offensive over Alaska and attacked US bases there, so of course her detractors had come crawling back to her saying ‘we are so sorry Devlin, you were right all along, we were fools not to believe you.’
    Like hell they had.
    The massive Russian air offensive over Alaska was being used to further support the theory that Russia intended to permanently occupy Saint Lawrence. The new State Department narrative went like this: we have entered a cycle of escalation. Russia hit us in Saint Lawrence, so we responded with a massive air and missile attack. Russia cannot withdraw from Saint Lawrence without losing face, so it hits back at the only US facilities in reach - Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson. De-escalation is our best response, said the majority voice in State. No one wants full scale war. Let them have their little island in the Arctic for now, we’ll leverage the outrage to get concessions in Western Europe and the Middle East.
    The Russian attack was highlighting how internally divided her administration was. On the one hand, she had her colleagues in the State department preaching de-escalation in the face of massive loss of civilian life and challenges to US air power. On the other hand she had Defense in a rage over the attacks on its air bases and the crippling of its supercarrier and they were in no doubt whatsoever who was behind that even though it had been disguised to look like it was Iranian in origin. The Generals had lost personnel in the air over Saint Lawrence and on the ground at Elmendorf-Richardson and Eielson and had been sent packing from the skies over their own territory. They didn’t care why Russia was on the offensive, they only cared that they were, and they had no intention of playing some BS cat and mouse game of airborne ‘tit for tat’. The Defense Secretary had pushed the margins of his power to the limit, moving nuclear first strike resources to within a few hundred kilometers, or a few minutes flying time, of key military targets within Russian territory. Unlike the State Department’s de-escalation proposal, the Pentagon narrative went like this: they took our territory in Bering Strait, they attacked our airfields in Alaska. We need to lay a tactical nuke on the Russian Northern Fleet home base at Sevoromorsk or the Baltic Fleet at Kaliningrad and put Ivan back in his box.
    De-escalate my a**.
    For once, as horrified as she was at the thought of anyone starting a nuclear shooting match, Devlin found herself siding with the hawks in the Pentagon, instead of the doves in her own State department. And she had heard that the Pentagon point of view was prevailing with the US President, who had refused to take a call from the Russian president after the attacks on Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson.
    Which is why she found herself in a dilemma for her next meeting with the Russians. It wasn’t with Kelnikov this time. The crisis had moved beyond the stage where a lowly Ambassador could get face time with the Russian Foreign Minister when even heads of State were not talking with each other. In fact, it had moved beyond the stage where she was able to have official contacts of any sort. Instead she had been invited to a back-channel meeting with a Russian industrial magnate, Piotr Khorkina, who was an old school friend of the Russian President’s son. Officially, he was interested to hear if the current military ‘situation’ would pose problems for a multi-billion dollar deal he was about to sign to supply lithium batteries to a US car maker. Unofficially, he had said he also wanted to pass on a message to the US administration from his friends in the Kremlin. She had chosen to receive him in her office at the Chancery and her aide had organized a nice tray of tea and delicacies.
    The thing was, Devlin was supposed to pass a message back to the Kremlin from the bureaucrats in State. We will let you pull your aircraft out of Alaska and back to the ceasefire zone of control. We will enter negotiations on a new Arctic freedom of navigation treaty. This may be your last chance to achieve a negotiated outcome because the hawks in our administration are arguing for a resolution by force of arms.
    Devlin had full faith in her bucolic NSA analyst and his eccentric AI. And knowing what she knew about Russia’s true intentions, the words she was scripted to say were already sticking in her craw. It made no sense to offer to re-establish the ceasefire terms when she knew Russia was already preparing to move ground troops into Alaska.
    There was a knock on the door and her assistant showed the man in. He wasn’t your standard oligarch - fat, feted and fetid. He was in his mid-forties, played tennis to keep fit, had a wife, three kids and no mistresses according to his CIA file.
    “Peter, welcome,” she said. “Tea?”
    They dealt with the small talk up front. Some days small talk was all she had. Today was not one of those days.
    “So, to business … I have to say, the climate at the moment makes it difficult to progress any major business deals,” she said. “As you know, Congress is debating sanctions.”
    “I understand Devlin,” he said, looking troubled. “We have written off any sales to the USA for this year, and for next year, we’ve put in a six month delay as a downside. Our base case is still that the deal will progress.”
    Really? she thought. In your world, war between Russia and the US is a downside? And global nuclear annihilation, is that also a downside? It was clear the US State Department weren’t the only ones out of touch.
    “Do you have any special reason to be optimistic?” she asked, giving him an opening to pass on the message from his government.
    “Well, you know I have no special information, but people in the circles I move in …”
    (Such as the President’s family)
    “…insist this situation can be contained. It’s not like Russia wants a full scale war with the USA.”
    “No? Because it could look like that,” Devlin observed. “When Russia invades our territory, starts an air war and bombs our airfields.”
    The man smiled, and brushed an imaginary crumb off his trousers. “You are refreshingly direct as always. Of course, there are different views around who started this shooting match. There are those on our side who would say you sunk our freighter, disabled our submarine and then bombed our rescue personnel on Saint Lawrence.”
    Ah, to hell with the script.
    “Peter, listen to me, and listen well. Russia may not want full scale war, but it is about to get it. Your political masters don’t seem to understand that we know what their end game is here. Russia plans to invade Alaska.”
    If she expected him to look surprised or confused, she was disappointed. He simply stared back at her and responded, “Yes.”
    “Yes?!”
    “Yes. That is my understanding too.”
    “That would be insane.”
    “Clearly we don’t see it that way. I’m told Russia wants a land buffer between our two States, given your general belligerence. We want Alaska to be a demilitarized zone.”
    She laughed, “Seriously? A demilitarized zone, under Russian control of course.”
    “Under the auspices of the Barents Euro-Arctic Council. And not the whole state, just Western Alaska.”
    “Ah. Perhaps just the Yukon River Basin area?”
    “Yes, actually,” he looked at her, frowning that she was already ahead of him. “I uh, I have drawn on a map of how I understand the buffer zone would work.” From his pocket he pulled a folded piece of paper. It hadn’t been drawn, someone had printed it for him and then drawn a very unoffical looking border in thick black pen across it. Probably someone in the Russian Foreign Ministry. It showed a map of Alaska with a diagonal line drawn across the middle from top right to bottom left and the proposed ‘buffer zone’ shaded in red. She saw that Nome was inside the zone - Juneau, Fairbanks and Anchorage were not.
    Later, looking back, Devlin thought she took it pretty well, considering.
    “Have you people lost your goddam minds?” she asked. “How about we create a ‘buffer zone’ inside Russia, say from Lake Baikal in Siberia to your Pacific Coast taking in Lavrentiya and oh, say, Anadyr as well? How about that instead?”
    “You can keep the printout,” Khorkina said. He wasn’t fazed, “Would you like to consult with your superiors and get back to me, or is ‘have you people lost your goddam minds’ your last word on the matter?”
    Devlin collected herself. She would actually land the meeting close to the wording State had given her after all, just not quite with the tone they had probably hoped for.
    “No, here is my last word on the matter,” she said, taking up the page he had pushed forward. “I will pass your message on to my ‘superiors’ in State along with this map, but you should tell your friends in the Kremlin that Russia is courting nuclear oblivion. If Russia doesn’t pull back, and immediately, I expect to spend my final hours in the bunker under this building wondering what more I could have done to save the world from annihilation.”

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    Bunny collected herself too. She was totally hyped but she had to channel full focus. She had just flown two Fantoms along the northeast coast of Russia, literally. So close to where the sand and gravel met the sea and ice that she could have told you where the good beaches were, in case you wanted to buy real estate for the coming climate-change boom. Then she had pushed her Fantoms down an icy river valley, across rolling hills and mountains and just about clipped a cliff face as she wheeled her drones east up the Anadyr River toward the airport at Ugolny. She had picked up the air traffic control radar signature of Anadyr, but hadn’t been painted by a single military search radar along the way. Of course she couldn’t rule out that she’d been spotted by satellite infrared or motion detection but no fighters appeared to have been sent to intercept her.
    Through the high def forward scanning wide angle camera on the Fantom, linked to one of the few satellites the US had managed to reposition, the river below was a 660 mph blur of brown water and grey gravel. Occasionally her machines flashed over a small leisure or fishing boat, but she had to figure it wasn’t too likely they were patched into the Russian military command network.
    As she got within 20 miles of Anadyr, she started picking up the skeleton fingers of a search radar brushing across the skin of her drones every 20-30 seconds. It was like the touch of a creepy guy at a Christmas party. It slid across her sensors and then was gone again. But like at a Christmas party, the only touch you cared about was the one where the line got crossed, a true butt cheek clutch. So far, the search radar was in the annoying but not lethal range. Which is what she had planned for. If she was a Russian anti-air battery commander set up to defend a forward air base she’d have 90% of her energy pointed north, east and south - facing the enemy - and configured to look for cruise missiles first and foremost. Anything to the west, any threat coming from their rear quadrant would get lower priority.
    She hoped.
    She only had two shots on goal. Four, technically, but she had set the two bombs in each drone to release in salvo, so as soon as they had punched the ‘mini-moabs’ out of their guts they were done, there would be no go-around.
    “Starting ingress,” Bunny told Rodriguez. It was a courtesy. Rodriguez could follow the mission on a tactical 2D screen over Bunny’s head, but with it just being the two of them under the Rock now, Bunny felt the need to share. "ELINT is showing heavy air activity over the target."
    “They aren’t smelling you?” Rodriguez asked, all tensed up.
    “No ma’am,” Bunny said. “I am chamomile and roses right now.”
    Sure enough, as soon as Bunny spoke, a red alarm started flashing on her HUD.
    “Damn. I’m picking up radiation in the higher-frequency C, X and Ku bands. I think they’ve got an S-500 system pointed at us.”
    “Which means?”
    “Means they have a 30% chance of seeing us with this attack profile,” Bunny said. “And I’m already low and slow - if I got any lower, I’d be sucking river water.”
    “Long way to go to get swiped out of the sky,” Rodriguez commented.
    “Swiped my a**,” Bunny said. “I’ve got a 70% chance of getting through any S-500 without even needing to jam, and I’ll take them odds.”
    Rodriguez knew better than to bet against the aviator who had laid a hurt on Eielson by faking the flight profile of a civilian light aircraft. She watched intently as Bunny flew her two Fantoms within minutes of the Russian base.
    “Five minutes to release,” the pilot said. Rodriguez saw that her newly dyed white stubble glistened with sweat.
    “SAM radar alert,” Rodriguez warned, seeing Bunny’s threat screen flash.
    “No lock,” Bunny replied tersely. “Three minutes.”
    Bunny was a good pilot, but she knew her limits. With an input lag of a full minute, for the last two minutes flying into an uber-hot target zone there was no human who could fly it better than the combat AI with its instantaneous reactions. She punched a last command set through to her Fantoms and lifted her hands into the air, “I’m out!” she called.
    They both watched as a large airfield appeared in the split screw view of the forward nose cameras of the two Fantoms. Anadyr was made up of two long parallel runways, late summer grass and half melted snow between them. One of the Fantoms broke slightly left, the other slightly right. Their targets were the stationary aircraft and related command and control facilities. Bunny was counting down under her breath, “Three, two, one, release…”
    The last thing they saw was couple of parked aircraft on one screen, and on the other, a control tower; behind it several other aircraft and what looked like a truck park. One of the drones dropped its bombs and made a kamikaze dive straight at the parked aircraft, the other did the same and made straight for the control tower.
    In what was an inevitable anticlimax after such a tense mission, both of the 2D screens in front of Bunny O’Hare flashed momentarily white, and then went completely blank.
    “Holy hell’s bloody bells,” Bunny said, her hands still in the air where she had left them when she took her hands off her keyboards. “I think we actually did it.”
    But she didn’t celebrate, not yet. Their primary objective had been to catch as many Russian fighters on the ground at Ugolny as possible. But it seemed to Bunny, for a forward airfield it had contained a heck of a lot of trucks and containers, and not a heck of a lot of Russian aircraft. Strange though, one of the fighters parked on the airfield had been painted bright red.


    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    The briefing room for the 573rd Air Regiment was in the basement of the control tower building at Ugolny airfield, Anadyr. It had been a combined civilian and military air base before the war had started, and CO of the 573rd, Colonel Artem Kokorin, had commandeered the baggage tracking center in the lower level of the control tower building for his operations facility. There was of course a perfectly functional operations room on the military section of Ugolny field, but the reality was that the former civilian facility, having long ago been privatized, had a far superior broadband link than his long underfunded military infrastructure. It also had the advantage of being two levels below ground, with multiple exits to the surface, so it was also better protected than the military command center up on the ground floor of the control tower.
    It was bad enough his group had been pulled out of their base at Khabarovsk to support Operation LOSOS – an operation he didn’t fully grasp the political logic of – 2,500 miles here in the northeast. He had protested that it had left Russia without ground attack aircraft in the critical Sea of Japan border area. He had protested even louder when he had learned his regiment was to be made subordinate to Bondarev’s 6983rd. The man was a commander of fighters, with only one of his five air regiments made up of attack aircraft, whereas Kokorin led a dedicated ground attack unit comprising both Okhotnik UCAVs and rotary winged close air support aircraft.
    The reason he had been given for the fact his machines and men had been put under the nominal command of the CO of the 6983rd was because he might be asked to commit his aircraft to an air-air defense role over Saint Lawrence if heavy losses were sustained over Alaska. It was a role for which his machines were not suited, and his men not adequately trained.
    Now that he had been repositioned to Anadyr, within range of Saint Lawrence, he should be getting ready to react to any attempt by US naval or airborne forces to retake the island and flying sorties over the island terrain to familiarize his men. Instead, he had been ordered to drill them in air-air combat. He was also deeply uncomfortable that both his pilots and his aircraft had been co-located at the same airfield. He had been told there was no excess capacity at Lavrentiya, and no other airfield big enough to take his 24 aircraft. It made a mockery of the ability to disperse his force and protect it from attack with both his pilots and his aircraft crammed onto a single airfield, but he had been reassured by Bondarev that the risk of attack was less than none and it was anyway just a temporary measure.
    A snap inspection by General Lukin would normally have had him in a panic, but this time he had welcomed the news. No, of course the 573rd wasn’t at full readiness yet. He had just settled in all of his pilots and systems officers. He had one third of his Okhotniks still in maintenance in hangars at Ugolny, with only two thirds combat ready. But his men had done an admirable job getting their UCAV command trailers off the IL-77 transports, sited and linked into the base network and the AWACS units of the 6983rd. In anticipation of the General’s arrival, he had ordered all pilots to their stations, either running simulations or commanding the squadron of 16 operational Okhotniks he had scrambled. He had put them in the air a half hour in advance of the General’s arrival, patrolling over Ugolny to give Lukin something to look at as they made their circuits, landed and were recovered. No, he wasn’t fully ready but the inspection would give him the chance to make his concerns clear to the General again.
    And now he had learned that Bondarev was crashing the party! Damn him. He must have people inside Kokorin’s regiment keeping him informed. To make things worse, he had contrived to arrive about twenty minutes before the General, so Kokorin had lost the chance to put his views to Lukin in private.
    Despite being theoretically of equal rank, and with a longer service record, Kokorin had no illusions about who was the senior officer as Bondarev walked into the briefing room in his flight suit. Even without his dress uniform and service medals, the son of the hero of the Russian Federation reeked of privilege and that most illusory of all attributes – political momentum.
    As he reached out his hand to greet his fellow officer and girded himself for the meeting ahead he saw Bondarev hesitate and frown, looking up at the ceiling as a jet aircraft boomed low overhead, the noise penetrating even to their position two floors underground.
    Only one of Bunny’s Fantoms delivered its GBU-43/K ‘mini-mothers’ with total accuracy – the other missed by more than 100 feet. The deviation was significant. The first Fantom dropped its two bombs right on target on the apron of the long concrete runway right near the maintenance hangars where three Okhotniks were parked on alert status, ready to give a demonstration to the General of how quickly they could get airborne. Two more were in the process of being re-fueled. Another three were in the hangars having engines and electronic systems maintained. The massive ordnance air blast bombs from the first Fantom detonated together 50 feet above the hangar complex and the blast wave spread out over a radius of about a mile. Anything and anyone inside a few hundred yards was vaporized. Anything from 500 to 1,000 yards was atomized. Everything from 1,000 to 1,500 yards was pulverized. Everything flammable was set on fire. In the space of a millisecond the eight UCAVs and their support personnel were no more. In case anything was left standing, Bunny’s first drone added its fuel and momentum to the chaos as it banked back around, dived into the blazing maintenance complex and detonated.
    The second strike however missed its target by 100 yards. An extremely unfortunate observer, in their last few seconds of life, might have seen the approach of the Fantom. If they had, they would have seen two fat cylinders tumble end over end out of the Fantom’s weapons bay just as it swept across the egg blue and yellow striped administration buildings at Anadyr. One of the cylinders planted itself right in the middle of the road between two large apartment buildings commandeered for military personnel. Every window in the street was blown in and the buildings, which had been made to withstand arctic storms but not the thunderous pressure wave of a MOAB, collapsed instantly; killing nearly all of those inside. The other bomb missed the administration complex which was its target and landed in the field beyond.
    A field that normally would have been empty except for the hulks of a dozen abandoned cold war Su-15 Flagon Interceptors deemed too far gone to salvage when they were decommissioned in 1993. A week ago however, these had been towed aside and piled together in a corner of the field, while the cleared space was turned into a parking lot for the 24 UCAV command trailers of the Okhotnik pilots and systems officers of 573rd Air Base. Plus a centrally located commissary wagon serving coffee, tea, hot soup and bread.
    The last of Bunny’s mini-mothers detonated right on top of the commissary in the middle of the UCAV trailer park.
    And in its last act, the Fantom that delivered the weapons zoomed into the sky, onto its back, and then speared back down toward the small control tower at the side of the air base.
    It impacted at the base of the tower, two floors above Colonels Artem Kokorin and Yevgeny Bondarev. And, as he walked into the control tower building pulling off his flight gloves, right on top of the newly arrived Lieutenant General Yuri Lukin, who died thinking to himself that it might be time for him to upgrade his personal aircraft. One of those new Mig-41 dual seat ground attack aircraft would look damned sexy in Ferrari red.

    *
    *

    (C) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To be Continued.

    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 15 Feb - 02/14/18 03:09 PM

    More, More!

    Bravo HeinKill.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Updated 15 Feb - 02/14/18 10:39 PM

    Idea of the day! Would be great to generate broader interest in the project before the book is launched, so if you are following along why not spread the word on social media? FB/Twitter/Reddit, wherever!

    I have created a small FB page you can like and send to others who might be interested. I'll make sure that anyone who likes the page is first to hear about the book launch and of course any discount offer! The point of this is that when the book is launched it is really valuable to get reviews on Amazon to drive further interest.

    https://www.facebook.com/ucavnovels/

    Spread the word!

    (Proceeds of the sale of the novel will be donated 20% to SimHQ, 80% to Doctors without Borders.)

    Cheers,

    Heiny

    PS in case you missed that post, my author name is TJ Slee (to keep my work life and writing hobby separate!).

    https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw...e-in-fiction-awarded-to-the-vanirim.html

    Suggested blurb for your text below if you want to take the easy route and cut and paste!

    ******

    Hey, if you like techno thrillers like me I am reading a new novel online which the author is posting for free, chapter by chapter, as it is written. I recommend checking it out!

    Free chapters posted here:

    http://simhq.com/forum/ubbthreads.p...-bering-strait-ucav-campaign#Post4398405

    If you like it, you can follow the project and learn about the book launch date and discounts here:

    https://www.facebook.com/ucavnovels/
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter! 15 Feb - 02/14/18 10:49 PM

    I gotta say though, a VX-less plot to kill the wounded and the remaining civilians in Gambell would still be horrific but less implausible. Setting a building on fire and blocking the escape would be terrible enough. With nerve agents involved, particularly if hand delivered with a spray dispenser, it's overwhelmingly likely to go wrong.
    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter! 15 Feb - 02/15/18 12:57 AM

    Quote
    I'm all for simple, going with carbon monoxide is an alternative, but how to generate it? He has no vehicle/engine/generator available - Gambell pulls its power from wind/hydro not diesel. I guess they could have brought one or two generators with them.


    Any combustion source will do. Have a wood stove used for heat after the attack knocked out power, something like that. Just block off the exhaust enough and done.

    Quote
    Good points about the VX; I'd seen it as potentially being used to defend the island from counterattack (attack the US landing zone) rather than in the first offensive operation. Logic was Russia wanting to deploy the fewest troop numbers possible. If not likely, I'll drop it but want a dramatic/shocking way for him to take out the surviving wounded and the elderly townsfolk (wow that sounds morbid but it's a plot thing! Just herd them all together in the gym and set fire to it?). (Yeah I know that 2-PAM injector needle is a beatch, I looked it up! Visible from space. But I figured Zubkov deserved it.)


    Again I think using the VX even as an area denial tool, would be up there politically with touching off a tac nuke. For what St. Lawrence is to the plan, there's no reason to pack in VX. It'd actually be a lot safer, easier, and thorough to deploy it via cruise missile at a later time, in the even the political realities of the conflict call for it. A mortar lobbing gas shells is not be terribly effective, very limited area, and also runs a pretty decent risk of things going horribly wrong.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter! 15 Feb - 02/15/18 06:32 AM

    Well, late in this world, early in next. Will st peter welcome him with cucaracha horn ? neaner :

    edit: had already spread, added latest infos on french forum : http://www.checksix-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=276&t=200178&p=1640809#p1640809
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: New Chapter! 15 Feb - 02/15/18 08:08 AM

    Originally Posted by jenrick
    Quote
    I'm all for simple, going with carbon monoxide is an alternative, but how to generate it? He has no vehicle/engine/generator available - Gambell pulls its power from wind/hydro not diesel. I guess they could have brought one or two generators with them.


    Any combustion source will do. Have a wood stove used for heat after the attack knocked out power, something like that. Just block off the exhaust enough and done.

    Quote
    Good points about the VX; I'd seen it as potentially being used to defend the island from counterattack (attack the US landing zone) rather than in the first offensive operation. Logic was Russia wanting to deploy the fewest troop numbers possible. If not likely, I'll drop it but want a dramatic/shocking way for him to take out the surviving wounded and the elderly townsfolk (wow that sounds morbid but it's a plot thing! Just herd them all together in the gym and set fire to it?). (Yeah I know that 2-PAM injector needle is a beatch, I looked it up! Visible from space. But I figured Zubkov deserved it.)


    Again I think using the VX even as an area denial tool, would be up there politically with touching off a tac nuke. For what St. Lawrence is to the plan, there's no reason to pack in VX. It'd actually be a lot safer, easier, and thorough to deploy it via cruise missile at a later time, in the even the political realities of the conflict call for it. A mortar lobbing gas shells is not be terribly effective, very limited area, and also runs a pretty decent risk of things going horribly wrong.

    -Jenrick

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    I gotta say though, a VX-less plot to kill the wounded and the remaining civilians in Gambell would still be horrific but less implausible. Setting a building on fire and blocking the escape would be terrible enough. With nerve agents involved, particularly if hand delivered with a spray dispenser, it's overwhelmingly likely to go wrong.


    Agree! VX will be substituted for something 'still horrific but less implausible'!

    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    Well, late in this world, early in next. Will st peter welcome him with cucaracha horn ? neaner :

    edit: had already spread, added latest infos on french forum : http://www.checksix-forums.com/viewtopic.php?f=276&t=200178&p=1640809#p1640809


    Merci mon ami!
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Update 17 Feb - 02/16/18 03:20 PM

    SUPREMACY
    The building above Bondarev and Kokorin collapsed as the pressure wave from the ‘mini-mother’ exploding above them flattened it like a boot landing on a house of cards. However the C3I complex was in a concrete and rebar reinforced basement two floors under the ground, and luckily the bomb that hit them was an air burst, not a bunker buster, or the Colonels would have suddenly and violently lost all personal interest in the future conduct of the war.
    Their comms to the outside were not however completely cut, and once emergency crews had restored power, Bondarev managed to direct help to their location and get them shifting rubble and bodies.
    He emerged after four hours to learn that the runway at Ugolny Air Field had survived the American attack completely unscathed. Using massive ordnance air blast munitions indicated the Americans hadn’t intended to shut the air base down, even though they had flattened some above ground infrastructure. As long as the paved runways were intact, mobile air traffic control, radar and communications could easily fill the gap. And the 16 Okhotniks that were airborne at the time of the attack thanks to Lukin’s impending inspection also came through unscathed. Lacking command inputs from the ground, they had reverted to AI control, maintained a safe separation and kept circling until they were low on fuel before calmly landing themselves and taxiing to preassigned holding positions.
    The lack of material damage was not relevant. The use of massive ordnance air blast munitions, coupled with the targets of the attack – the hangars, administration buildings and the trailer park – indicated that the US attack had the inhuman intent of achieving the maximum possible loss of life. And among those lost was the commander of the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces, Lieutenant General Yuri Lukin.
    It was impossible not to conclude that the US airstrike, carried out as it had been by what seemed to be two stealth UCAVs sent on a one way mission, was not a straightforward assassination attempt. Arsharvin had told him it was being treated as such, and there would be brutal repercussions for anyone found to have been careless regarding Lukin’s schedule. Bondarev could only imagine what machinations were going on back in Khabarovsk and throughout the VVS as people jockied to replace the dead Lukin as commander of the 3rd Air Army.
    To Bondarev, the loss of a good commander like Lukin was tragic, but the politics were a sideshow and no one was irreplaceable. What was especially problematic was that Kokorin’s drone command trailers had been mounted within shipping containers, specifically to disguise their true nature. To any aerial or satellite surveillance, the field at Ugolny should have looked like a low-value freight yard. It was a strength of Russian UCAV doctrine that their pilots did not rely on satellite communications to control their aircraft but did so using near-line-of-sight radio inputs which reduced latency and enabled direct combat control. The shortcoming of Russian doctrine was that the pilots and systems officers needed to be within 600 miles of their aircraft. Hence the camouflage strategy adopted for the 573rd at Ugolny.
    It hadn’t helped. Among the 225 Russian armed forces personnel and civilians who died or were seriously wounded in the attack, were all 124 primary and reserve aviators and systems officers of the 573rd Air Base.
    His stomach churned and he resisted the urge to vomit. He also had to resist the thought, the primal urge, that was telling him he should step outside the ambulance, ask someone there for a sidearm, and shoot himself in the head. It was a number he simply couldn’t comprehend. Had any Russian officer since the second world war lost one hundred and twenty four men in a single attack?
    Yevgeny Bondarev suddenly grabbed his shirt, tore it open and howled in mortal pain at the ceiling of the ambulance.

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    Dave was moaning again about the pain in his shoulders from carrying their radio, but he wasn’t getting much sympathy from Perri. They’d managed to catch the column of hostages because it wasn’t travelling as fast as them. Sure, there weren’t any old or infirm hostages among the prisoners, but there were some pretty young children and people couldn’t carry them on their backs the whole way across the windswept rocky terrain..
    Now a chill night had fallen and Dave and Perri had found the column easily, because it was winding its way along the ‘coast track’, the winding west-east coastal path that led from Gambell to Savoonga along the cliffs and rocky beaches of the serrated shore. As the day had worn on and the route the column was taking became more obvious, Perri had to admit Dave was right. They were headed for Savoonga. He could only assume it wasn’t hit as hard as Gambell had been and the Russian survivors from the Gambell attack had decided to link up with their buddies in Savoonga.
    As they had coasted a rise, Dave and Perri had been forced to drop to a crouch as they saw the circle of prisoners about a mile ahead, huddled around a couple of lamps. Somewhere in there were Perri and Dave’s mothers, fathers and brothers. There was no fuel for them to start any sort of fire, so they were pressed together in a circle like Emperor Penguins, using their body heat to keep each other warm, with the kids in the middle of the press. It was a survival tactic as old as time, and though the temp wouldn’t drop much below freezing tonight, it was just a good idea to keep your body heat up and stay out of the drying wind. People who died of exposure often died of dehydration as much as they died of the cold. Every hour the people at the outside of the circle would hand over their blankets and sleeping bags, move into the center, and a new group would take their place on the outer circle. Perri figured that with about two hundred people in the huddle, that meant most would get five or six hours of nice warm sleep.
    Which was more than he and Dave would get in their crappy little sleeping bags on the rocky ground.
    They couldn’t turn on a lamp or even shine a torch light, or they’d risk giving themselves away to the troops in the distance, so Perri had to fumble his way to getting power to their radio and tuning it so that they could fang the receiver in Gambell and get a signal through to Sarge. While he worked in his sleeping bag in the dark, Dave stood up in his sleeping bag, holding their makeshift antenna aloft until they got a lock on the Russian base unit in Gambell.
    “Perri calling Sarge, do you read me? Hello? Perri calling Sarge.”
    The Mountie had told them he would be sleeping by the radio, and waiting for their call, and he was true to his word. Perri only had to call three times before he got a bleary voice on the other end.
    “Sarge here Perri, just wait, OK? Out.”
    “OK, Perri … um … waiting,” he said, shrugging to himself.
    He didn’t have to wait more than about twenty seconds before the Sergeant came back on the line. “Perri, hey. Are you guys OK?”
    Sarge had taught them how to use a ‘duress signal’ in case they were captured and the Russians forced them to make contact. If they were safe, they should reply, ‘We are just fine Sarge.’ And if they were not, they should say ‘Couldn’t be better.’
    “We’re just fine Sarge,” Perri said. “We caught up with the Russian troops and the people from Gambell. We think they’re headed for Savoonga.”
    “They’re walking them out?”
    “Yeah, they made about 12 miles today. We figure Savoonga will take them five or six.”
    “OK, look, Perri, I have some questions for you from CSIS, the Security Intelligence Service, alright? Are you safe where you are, can you talk for a few minutes?”
    Perri looked up at his friend, “Dave’s arms might fall off if he has to hold the antenna in the air too long, but yeah, shoot.”

    *
    *

    The Secretary of State had to listen to Devlin once she scanned the map that Piotr Khorkina had given her and uploaded it. To make sure it didn’t risk getting stranded on some analysts’ desk she took the Secretary at his word and called him directly on his cell. Even he had to admit the map clearly showed that the Russians planned to cauterize Western Alaska, separate it from the rest of the USA, and this was supported by the ridiculous fiction of establishing a ‘demilitarized zone’ to protect the shipping in the Bering Strait and the scared and huddled masses of the Russian Far East (all 290,000 of them) from the rampaging bald eagle across the ditch.
    He also had to listen to her when HOLMES was able to show through accessing Moscow traffic CCTV systems that the car driving the rather handsome oligarch who had been the government’s intermediary had travelled directly from inside the Kremlin to the gates of the US Embassy compound, without even a minor detour. It removed the likelihood that he had come up with the map himself in a fit of geopolitical creativity.
    And if there was a single doubter left in Washington after those two little snippets of intel, they couldn’t keep faith in their misguided de-escalation fantasy after Carl Williams’ highly motivated AI was able to pull down an intercept of the Russian Foreign Minister, Kelnikov, travelling with an unknown Foreign Service employee on a car trip to the Bolshoi Ballet the previous evening. She had asked HOLMES to keep her apprised if there were any intelligence reports appearing on his radar involving Kelnikov, and he had struck gold.
    The conversation had been captured using a Type 4193 Bruel and Kjaer software enhanced infrasound microphone mounted on a CIA drone paralleling the ring road beside him. The little microdrone was a bug in all senses of the word. About the size of a finch, it used pressure-field measurement to read the conversation in the car by picking up passenger side window vibrations, digitally filtered in post-processing for the rumble of the road. And it went a little like this:

    Kelnikov: (TC: indistinguishable, could be cursing) be there? And we are sure of his vote?
    Unidentified Male 1: He will support you.
    Kelnikov: This is slipping out of control. That (expletive) submarine. Now that (expletive) woman is threatening nuclear war.
    UIM 1: The Minister of Defense says this is the moment in which we will either secure the future of the Rodina, or we will throw it away.
    Kelnikov: Burkhin is a fool.
    UIM 1: I am not qualified to say.
    Kelnikov: Then you are a fool. Did you read that situation report? An entire ground attack squadron out of action?
    UIM 1: We still have the resources of the 4th, 5th and 7th Air Battalions.
    Kelnikov: I told Lukin it was folly to trust the air war to the same man who had his ass handed to him by the Americans over that #%&*$# island.
    UIM 1: We have near air superiority over the operations area. The loss of the Okhotnik regiment was a temporary setback. The LOSOS landing at Nome is still on schedule.
    Kelnikov: On schedule? The Americans are building an air armada south of Canada where we cannot reach them, and they will reach out and swat us like bugs when they are good and ready.
    UIM 1: Let them hide behind the Rocky Mountains. The Yukon is ours Minister.
    Kelnikov: Driver! Pull this heap over. Get this stupid GRU idiot out of my car.
    UIM 1: Minister! I…
    (TC: Sound of car doors opening and closing and more cursing from Kelnikov. Silence until end of journey.)


    The conversation told Devlin a lot, and it had sealed the deal in Washington too. It told her the Russian council of ministers was split. Kelnikov, it seemed, was afraid the Americans were about to tip the conflict over into nuclear war. Devlin was afraid of this herself. She didn’t know what submarine Kelnikov was talking about, but it made sense to her the Pentagon would be preparing for the worst and positioning its stealth submarines within first strike range of Russia. The conversation also told her that there had been a major US attack on Russian air assets and it had shaken their confidence. Finally, it had told the NSA and thus the whole of the US military intelligence apparatus what the next target for a Russian ground operation would be.
    Nome.
    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    There were of course things which Carl Williams wouldn’t, or couldn’t, tell Ambassador Devlin McCarthy.
    The first was that it seemed his AI had fallen completely and totally head over silicon heels in love with her. Or what passed for love to HOLMES. One of Carl's breakthrough coding efforts had been to program HOLMES to experience ‘pleasure’ and to seek it out. He had defined pleasure for the AI as the ability to satisfy the intelligence needs of individuals of high rank, and of course he had weighted the various bureaucratic positions in the US government to ensure HOLMES knew who outranked who. Their satisfaction was measured by the number of times one of his reports was cited or forwarded by them. It was a simple algorithm and HOLMES had taken it to his silicon heart. Few individuals came with a weighting as high as the US Ambassador to Russia. Williams had programmed HOLMES to derive intrinsic ‘pleasure’ from providing intel perceived of value to high ranked individuals.
    The conflict was this. The only individual in HOLMES universe who currently had a higher status rank than Ambassador McCarthy, was the head of the NSA, Levy Walters. But Walters was the leading proponent of the ‘de-escalation’ strategy. HOLMES derived little or no pleasure from providing reports which were routed to Walters because he saw they were always ‘qualified’ by other analysts and assigned a low ‘truth and reliability’ rating. HOLMES was finding himself outplayed by the human analysts in the NSA who also derived their pleasure from pleasing individuals of high rank but who were much more sophisticated than HOLMES in realizing that success was driven by feeding Walters with the intel that supported his world view, and discounting the intel which did not.
    In the face of this dichotomy - a first ranked stakeholder who showed no interest in his intel, and a second rank stakeholder who accepted and championed his analyses - HOLMES made the very rational and almost human decision to stop providing critical data to the NSA, and reserve it solely for the eyes of Ambassador Devlin McCarthy.
    Williams saw this happening, and was powerless to interfere. And he was caught in a catch 22. He could of course at any time rewrite the code and pull HOLMES back into line. But he was seeing his AI behave with a level of intuition and sheer bloody minded genius that had him gasping with exhilaration. Common to many successful artists was that they had a muse - a huge, heartbreaking love that inspired them to greatness.
    Fifty four year old Devlin McCarthy was serving as five year old HOLMES’ muse. And it was a relationship Williams was not inclined to disrupt.
    Carl was sleeping in his broom cupboard in the New Annex, with his head in the crook of his arm. It was good, solid sleep and he deserved it to not be interrupted. Therefore, of course, it was.
    The small rippling alarm was both soothing and irritating; designed by HOLMES to wake him gently, but insistently. Without raising his head he hit the space bar on his laptop to wake it, and mumbled into his arm, “This had better be on the scale of imminent global thermonuclear war.”
    “Hello Carl,” HOLMES said. “I need to speak with Ambassador Devlin and she is not answering her telephone.”
    He didn’t lift his head. “What is the time?”
    “Three a.m.”
    “That is why she is not answering her telephone HOLMES.”
    “Yes, but I need to speak with her.”
    “No. And besides, you shouldn’t be calling the Ambassador on her direct line. That’s not protocol, my man. You go through me.”
    “In war, protocol goes down the toilet,” HOLMES quoted.
    “Is that so?”
    “According to five star general and Secretary of State, Colin Powell, yes.”
    Williams sighed. “HOLMES, she is sleeping, like other normal people. What do you want me to do?”
    “I need you to go to her residence and wake her,” HOLMES said. His calm British voice radiated patience.
    “Spaso House is five blocks from here. She might not be there. That’s probably why you couldn’t reach her. People do strange #%&*$# at the end of the world. She’s probably out bonking her fitness instructor.”
    “She is in bed at Spaso House. She uses a sleep tracking app with inbuilt GPS locator and it is currently reporting that she is in a deep sleep cycle which is why I cannot wake her.”
    “You hacked her fitness bracelet. That is beyond creepy HOLMES.”
    “Will you wake her?”
    “Give me one reason why I should,” Williams demanded.
    There was a millisecond pause, and Williams knew it was because HOLMES was thinking, in his quantum-core brain, oooooh, should I tell him? Apparently the answer was yes.
    “I need you to wake her so that I can tell her I have identified the Russian air force officer who is leading the offensive against US forces in Alaska.”
    Carl shifted his head to be more comfortable, “So what, he’s probably put it on his online CV already. ‘June to December, leader of air offensive against USA.’”
    “The leader of the Russian air offensive, Colonel Yevgeny Bondarev, is the father of her grandchild,” HOLMES said. “Will you wake her now?”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Private Zubkov had a grandmother. She was a lovely, wrinkled old woman who lived behind a church in Irkutsk. She made the best apple pie you ever ate in your damn life, and it was so simple. You took the apples from the tree in her back yard, and you peeled them, then you stewed them in sugar and cinnamon water. When they were soft you mashed them and ladled them into a baking dish. Over the mashed apples you spooned a thick layer of oats, and more cinnamon sugar. Into the oven, and bake for 30 minutes until the oats at the bottom had soaked up the juice of the apples and the oats at the top had turned crisp. Oh, but you weren’t finished. You took it out of the oven, and across the top of the crisp oats you spooned thickened whipped cream. And on top of the whipped cream, a sprinkling of almond flakes. Soaked in orange liquor.
    On top of all the other surprises in that baking dish, it was the orange liquor almonds floating on the whipped cream which turned it from an ordinary apple crumble into a work of culinary art.
    He had been thinking about that pie as he said goodbye to the old people in the school buildings. They didn’t know he was saying goodbye of course. They thought he was giving out their evening rations, and although a few of them had acted like they were suspicious, most of them had reacted with muted delight when he had included some big blocks of chocolate in with their ration. He’d found the chocolate in the ruins of the general store and though a bit melted at the ends, it was still chocolate.
    He liked the thought that the old people had gone to their next life with the taste of chocolate on their tongues.
    Once he had injected himself, then thrown the timed VX cartridges inside the locked school gym, he had retired to his office and given himself another shot of VX antidote just for good measure. From a pill bottle on his desk, he tipped out two amphetamine tablets and threw them down with a swallow of water. He had to stay awake. He had to get a read on that second radio, try to work out where it was. He had a pretty good idea who was using it, but he had to find them first.
    So as the amphetamines kicked in, he played a mind game, and gave his report to Sergeant Penkov up there somewhere on the coast. He imagined Sergeant Penkov asking him for an update on the wounded and telling him (truthfully, if not in a complete way) that one of the Russians had died.
    “Who?” the NCO would ask, like he cared.
    Hmmm, who? Zubkov thought to himself. A name came to him, “Kirrilov, the boy with the sheared off toes and heel.”
    “How did he die?” Penkov would ask. “He was the least wounded of them all.”
    “I don’t know,” Zubkov would lie. “Infection?” Or perhaps he died from the topical application of 10ml of VX nerve gas concentrate. Who knows?
    “Your job was to keep those men alive, private!” the Sergeant would say. “If you see infection, clean it and make sure the men are taking their antibiotics and antibacterials. We left most of the medical supplies with you.”
    Most, right. Thanks so much. “Yes sir!” he would say earnestly. “I will not lose another!”
    “You had better not, or I’ll have your balls.”
    “Yes sir.”
    “We are making good time. The locals say we are four days from Savoonga. I will call again tomorrow at this time. I will need to get instructions from whoever is in command once we reach Savoonga. Keep this channel open,” the Sergeant would tell him.
    “Yes sir.”
    “The hostages?”
    “I gave them chocolate Sir,” he would say.
    “What?”
    “I found some chocolate, so I gave them that, with their MREs.”
    “OK, well, that’s OK I guess. I’m signing off now. Keep the base station online and stay on top of those wounded Private, Penkov out.”
    “Yes sir, out.”
    Not that he could give the man a report, as he had left him without any way to communicate. But as he played the conversation through in his head, there was a beep from the base station and he looked at the rangefinder screen. It was showing two handsets now, both at a range of about 20km, one of which was probably the column of troops and townspeople. He tried to zoom the display, see if he could separate the two signals.
    Yes! That goddamn ghost radio!
    It was showing bright and clear on the rangefinder, but now it was almost right on top of the Sergeant’s field radio. He stared at the two dots for five minutes, but they stayed right next to each other.
    Until the ghost blip winked out and was gone again.
    So, they were following the column? Private Zubkov loved it when a plan came together.
    He clicked the base station to standby.
    Sleep. He needed that. It had been A Big Day.
    Then in the morning, he would gather supplies and ammunition. Torch the gymnasium. Catch up to that column, find that ghost and deal with him, get the radio then call Anadyr. He’d be back in Gambell before his buddy arrived to pick him up. With luck, the Captain wouldn’t go more than a day without a meal.
    He’d added something to his plan too. The Captain? He was going to bring him to Anadyr. Teach the guy to fish. It got boring out in the Northern Pacific at night. You could really use a guy who could recite Dostoyevsky by heart.
    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    “NCTAMS-A4, this is CNAF Coronado, stand by for a message from Vice Admiral Lionel Solanta,” the radio in the trailer under the Rock said. After their mission against Anadyr Rodriguez and Bunny had prepped two more Fantoms and loaded one on the EMALS in an air-air configuration, with the other in its cartridge loaded for ground attack with standoff missiles, fueled up and ready to rock. They hadn’t received new orders, but they wanted to be ready to defend the base if they needed to. The air-air loadout would let them defend themselves against another small scale strike by attack aircraft, while the ground attack loadout would be useful if they were given a land based target or something on the water. Once they had their two drones locked and loaded, there was nothing more Rodriguez and O’Hare could do. So they had shared a coffee, grabbed some food and dropped into exhausted sleep. Both were awake and on station again at 0400 and the order to stand by their comms had come through at 0430.
    “Standing by Coronado,” Rodriguez said.
    Bunny was sitting at her pilot’s console with two booted feet up on her desk beside the coffee cups, joystick and throttles and keyboards. True to her word two nights ago, she had dyed her cropped black hair white-blonde and painted her fingernails black. Rodriguez was willing to bet she had painted her toenails black too. Looking at her picking her teeth with a toothpick, Rodriguez found herself thinking how Bunny had never mentioned a boyfriend. She’d never mentioned a girlfriend either, for that matter.
    She wasn’t shy, she just didn’t share. With Rodriguez anyway.
    “Admiral eh?” Bunny stopped picking her teeth and smiled. Then she said in a high sing song voice, “Bunny go-ing to get a me-dal…”
    “Or court martial,” Rodriguez said, smiling too. “You probably hit the wrong target. Wasted two 90 million dollar drones taking out a fish factory.”
    “Fish factory workers in Russia go to work in Okhotniks do they ma’am?”
    “Maybe.” They hadn’t seen a bomb damage assessment yet, but they’d rerun the nose cam footage from the two drones and had counted at least a handful of Russian fighters on the base before they hit it. Pending the BDA, the strike had made Bunny a ‘ground ace’, a pilot with five or more ground kills. And she had been pointing it out to Rodriguez at every opportunity.
    “There’s probably a promotion when you get ground ace status, right?” Bunny asked. “He’s probably calling to tell me I’ve made Captain.”
    “You don’t even know those bombs exploded,” Rodriguez pointed out. “They could have been duds.”
    “All four? No way ma’am, those eggs hatched.” Bunny retorted. “They…”
    “NCTAMS this is Admiral Solanta, can I speak with Lieutenant Colonel Alicia Rodriguez please?”
    Rodriguez took a deep breath, “Speaking, Admiral.”
    “And is Lieutenant O’Hare there with you?”
    “Yes sir, Admiral,” Bunny replied.
    “Good. Look, I wanted to speak with you in person to let you know I’ve been following what happened to NCTAMS-A4. I know you got hit, and hard. I heard how you got your people out from under that rock Rodriguez and I also know the two of you volunteered to stay behind and close the base down, and you’ve managed to keep it operational despite all that.”
    “Yes sir,” Rodriguez said. “Do you know how my people are?”
    There was a pause, “I’m told all the wounded are recovering well. One is still in a critical condition, but stable,” Solanta said.
    Bunny leaned over and gave Rodriguez a high five. “Sir, this is Lieutenant O’Hare,” Bunny said. “Do we have a BDA from our strike on Anadyr yesterday?”
    “That’s why I’m calling,” the Admiral said. “Our intel … and we have multiple source confirmation on this one … says you have rendered the Russian 573rd Army Air Force UCAVs totally non-mission capable.”
    Bunny and Rodriguez looked at each other, “Sorry sir, can you repeat?” Rodriguez asked in shock. “Did you say we NMC’ed a whole Russian fighter unit?”
    “Yes Lieutenant Colonel, you heard me right. I don’t call active duty personnel on a whim - you whupped some serious Russian ass, ladies.” Right then, you could have lit a skyscraper from the wattage coming from Bunny and Rodriguez’s smiles. Admiral Solanta knew how to motivate his warriors. He also knew how not to. He hadn’t made mention of the massive casualty tally his intelligence staff had handed him. He also made no mention of the unconfirmed report the attack had killed a Russian General. He gave a cough and continued, “Now, I have to keep moving, but I wanted to give you a sitrep. It’s not good. While you’ve been trying to stay alive and get a little payback up there, Ivan has knocked us on our can. Eielson and Elmendorf-Richardson are out of action, at least for another three days, maybe longer. We’ve got some mobile anti-air fighting back but just as soon as they put up their radar dishes, Russia swats them. We’ve decided we aren’t going to fight Ivan’s fight on this one, not on his terms. We’re preparing a counter-offensive on a scale that is going to blast him back to Siberia, and we’re looking at … other options.” The Admiral paused to let those last two words sink in. “Which we hope will never be needed. But here’s the other reason for my call. Right now, NCTAMS-A4 is the only offensive air unit I have in the OA. I’m going to be asking you two to hunker down under that rock, and you’ll be flying day and night until you drop dead with fatigue, or you run out of drones, whichever comes first.”
    Bunny gulped. The only offensive air unit in the OA? Holy hell. “Yes, sir. Understood. We’ll do our best.”
    The Admiral laughed, “You telling me I haven’t seen your best yet Lieutenant Colonel? Well, I look forward to that. You two are rewriting the book on how to fight a modern air war. Keep it up, they’ll be teaching the next generation of aviators at Annapolis about the ‘NCTAMS model for bare bones kick-assery’, I guarantee you that.”
    “Yes, sir!” they both chimed at the same time, and yeah, they were feeling it.
    After the Admiral logged out, Bunny swiveled twice around in her seat, and then fixed Rodriguez with a fierce glare, “Ma’am, we get out of here alive, you and me have got to get tattoos.”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Devlin McCarthy had a tattoo. And she was willing to bet none of her staff had ever even entertained the thought their greying, stress cadet of an Ambassador had a tattoo on her right upper arm. Even less that it was a tattoo she’d gotten recently. It was in a place that was easily concealed; in summer she covered it with a skin toned plaster. It was only a little tattoo, just a symbol really - a small angel's wing. And there was a story behind it, of course.
    Devlin’s daughter, Cindy, had been 32 when she announced to her mother she was pregnant. She’d moved in with Devlin in Moscow a year earlier after a long term relationship ended in disaster. A lawyer in a private practice in DC, she’d told her bosses she needed time away from work and rather than let her quit, they’d told her to take a few months and get her head together. They knew it was a better option than losing her for good. A few months had turned into a year, and Cindy had based herself in Moscow and travelled all over Europe. She and Devlin had talked about the breakup she’d been through, and how the one thing that had kept her daughter together with her partner for so long was the hope they’d have kids together soon. She’d waited and waited and then started suggesting it, more and more insistently - she was over 30 dammit and she wanted kids! But it turned out he didn’t, and that was that.
    Devlin remembered every detail of the afternoon Cindy told her she was pregnant. It was a Sunday. Cindy had been in Saint Petersburg, with a friend she’d met in Rome, she said. A friend she’d been seeing a lot of lately, but hadn’t brought back home.
    She’d come in from the airport, dumped her bags in her room and Devlin had made her a pot of tea. It was raining, but not in that drab melancholy way it often rains in Moscow. They were sun showers, fresh and brisk and Devlin had the windows open because she liked listening to the patter of the raindrops on the green copper of the roof above. Cindy came in, sat on the sofa with her cup of tea, one leg tucked underneath her. She was beautiful, of course, and not just because Devlin thought so. She was a young, bright, competent and together young woman with style and as Devlin walked into the lounge room and looked at her daughter sitting there in a ray of sunshine, framed in raindrops, Devlin’s heart near burst with pride.
    “I’m pregnant,” Cindy had said.
    Devlin sat next to her, taking it pretty calmly. After all, the girl wasn’t 15 years old.
    “OK, wow,” Devlin said. “You sound …actually you sound OK about it.”
    “I wanted it,” Cindy said. “I didn’t know how to tell you. But I’ve kind of been shopping while I’ve been here.”
    “For a husband?”
    “No, for a … man,” she said. She laughed. “I didn’t want to just go bonking random guys until it happened. I wanted a love affair, with someone I liked, but not so much I couldn’t say goodbye.”
    “And you found one,” Devlin said. “I’ve been wondering who you’ve been travelling with, all these places. I thought maybe … I thought you were having an affair with a married man and didn't want to tell me.”
    Now Cindy really laughed, “Oh Mom.” She sipped her tea. “No. I just figured it wasn’t worth introducing him because he’s not going to be a part of this.”
    “What do you mean?” Devlin asked.
    “I mean, he’s Russian and I’m going back to the States to have my baby,” she said. “I’m not sure I’ll even tell him.”
    Devlin clutched her hand, gave her a hug and yes, she cried a little. While her daughter had been talking, she had suddenly had this image of the two of them, living in Moscow, a little baby in the residence, Devlin suddenly and wonderfully a grandmother. But, no. Apparently not.
    “When I’m finished here, I’ll get something back in DC,” Devlin said, sniffling. “Maybe I could get out of the posting sooner, say next year.”
    “It’s OK Mom,” Cindy said. “We have a whole lifetime to work this out. I want you there for the birth though,” she said, holding her mother’s face. “You promise me that, OK. I wouldn’t want anyone else there.”
    And that night, the two of them had gone for drinks - mocktails for Cindy, a dozen different variations on a vodka theme for Devlin and then the two of them had gotten tattoos. And they got angel's wings because Devlin had decided that’s what her grandchild was going to be and it was small enough it wouldn’t hurt too much and she could cover it easily and Cindy said ‘whatever’ she couldn’t believe she was getting a tattoo with her 55 year old mother the US Ambassador to Moscow.
    The way she felt then, waking up the next morning with a hangover and a throbbing pain in her ankle, was exactly how Devlin McCarthy felt now having been woken by Carl Williams and his ever present laptop-based lifeform, HOLMES.
    “You woke me to tell me what?”
    “Ma’am, there’s no way to sugar coat this, so I’ll let HOLMES tell it and you can decide what you do with it,” Williams said. He sat his chubby bearded self down on the end of the sofa outside her bedroom. She sat at the other end in a bathrobe, slippers and with a confused expression on her face. He took out a smart phone, turned on the speaker and sat it on the table in front of her.
    She nodded, “OK, sure. Go right ahead.”
    The tinny British voice was loud in the small room, “Hello Ambassador, do you remember saying to me that the Russian air force officer behind the attack on Saint Lawrence must be someone they really trust? ‘A party insider’, was the exact phrase?”
    Devlin had by now had hundreds of hours of conversation with HOLMES, and she didn’t share his perfect recall. “No, HOLMES, I have to admit, I don’t.”
    “Well, ma’am, you did. So working on that premise I have been looking at officers of the Eastern Military District 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command and building a database of the sons and daughters of prominent political and military leaders who would be of the right age to be leading a Russian air unit of at least Division strength. The interrogation of pilots downed and captured over Alaska identified they were from the 6983rd Air Force, and the commander of this division fits the profile you described. He is Yevgeny Bondarev, the grandson of the former Commander in Chief of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Viktor Bondarev. He is a lifelong party member, served with distinction in the Middle East and on his return to Russia his unit, the 5th Air Regiment, was attached to the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command. When the commander of the 6983rd was removed for corruption, Bondarev was promoted.” HOLMES was talking like a military search engine, and Devlin had trouble assimilating all the detail, being as it was 0330 in the a.m. and she was still waking up.
    “Yes, so … so, what?”
    “I have examined every single piece of data currently held in US intelligence databases related to Colonel Bondarev,” HOLMES said. “I have also obtained access to his GRU personnel file and an FSB dossier compiled on him as part of his vetting for the position of Commander of the 6983rd Air Force.”
    Now Devlin came awake, “You hacked GRU and FSB servers?”
    “Not personally ma’am,” HOLMES replied, his voice conveying no irony. “But you don’t need to know more.”
    “No, I don’t,” Devlin agreed. “Where are we going with this?”
    Williams squirmed awkwardly, “We found something in the files, related to you.”
    We found something in the files, related to you. This was a sentence no Ambassador ever wanted to hear from a spook.
    “Tell me,” Devlin said.
    “In the FSB file, there was a US birth certificate recording a Russian national, Yevgeny Bondarev, as the father of a child born two years ago,” HOLMES said. Devlin went cold. HOLMES continued, “The mother of the child was listed as your daughter, Cindy McCarthy. The child’s name is…”
    “Angela,” Devlin said quietly. “Angela McCarthy.”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    “What I want is simple,” Bondarev was telling Arsharvin. He had just reviewed imagery from the US attack on Ugolny. His voice was low, and dangerously quiet. “I want to know how the Americans managed to get two Fantoms, which have a range of only 1,500 miles when carrying a full payload of ground attack ordnance, through our long range and short range air defenses and underneath a cloud of circling UCAVs and then hit my air base, bury me alive and kill General Lukin plus nearly every damn crew member of the 573rd Fighter Aviation Regiment, when the nearest US airfield out of which they could have flown is Lewis McChord in Washington State.” He took a breath. “Which is twice the range of a Fantom, or in case you need reminding, two thousand, five hundred freaking miles from Anadyr.”
    “We’re working on that, comrade Colonel,” Arsharvin said. There were other officers present, so he was sticking to formalities. He was also being very careful because he knew his friend, and he knew what he was going through. This was not a time for being defensive. “Our first theory was mid-air refueling. But they would have had to refuel over Alaska, or the north coast of Russia, and we have not been able to identify any likely radar or satellite data indicating the US managed to get a refueling aircraft into the theatre, manned or unmanned.”
    Bondarev was staring at him, waiting. They were seated across a table from each other in his temporary operations center in the harbor at Anadyr; a former harbor master building commandeered because it was the only building with enough connectivity to support their data communication needs without choking. “You have other theories, then,” Bondarev stated, not asking.
    “As we discussed, the most likely is that the US either recently, or some time ago, managed to position mobile drone launch units in Alaska State and since the outbreak of the conflict, has moved these West, so that they are now in a position to threaten our rear,” Arsharvin said. “They have had the capability to launch their Fantom aircraft off the back of a heavy hauler since…”
    Bondarev cut him off, “I am aware of US mobile drone launch capabilities.” His eyes narrowed. “However my intelligence chief has not found any such units operating within this theatre. Or was there a report that I missed?”
    “No, comrade Colonel.”
    “But you have information to that effect now? Satellite or Electronic Surveillance Intelligence?”
    “No, Comrade Colonel,” Arsharvin said. “Still only speculation.”
    Bondarev stood abruptly, and Arsharvin flinched. “I cannot target ‘speculation’ Captain,” Bondarev said. “I have an immediate and existential threat to my ability to achieve air superiority in the Yukon Basin theatre, and that threat is currently unknown, unquantified, and…” Bondarev slammed a hand down on the table, “un-located!” He was not finished. He held up a sheaf of papers Arsharvin had delivered earlier in the day. “The enemy is not playing our game, you tell me. I want him to come against me in strength but he is holding his air force in reserve and moving his nuclear strike submarines into hypersonic cruise missile range. We need to get our troops safely on the ground in Alaska before he acts, but …” He slammed the table again. “Instead! Instead I am being bled by an asymmetrical interdiction force of insignificant strength able to inflict significant losses because my intelligence unit was apparently deaf, dumb and blind to this threat!”
    Arsharvin had taken all he could. Yes, his friend was a superior officer. Yes, he was hurting. But he could not place the blame for the deaths of 200 men on Arsharvin and his officers. Not alone.
    “With respect, Colonel,” Arsharvin said, standing as well. “There were only two stealth aircraft used in the attack. However they got through, they got lucky.” There was a map of Alaska on the table, and Arsharvin span it around, his finger stabbed down on the rugged western coastal region. “If they have mobile launch units in the theatre there are very few areas they could operate from. We have standing patrols over Nome, so they didn’t come from there, and east of Nome there are no roads, only logging trails. There are no suitable airfields, only dirt strips used by light aircraft flown by bush pilots. If they are there, we will find them.” He took his hand away and stood, “I promise you, Comrade Colonel.”
    “The rest of you are dismissed, Captain Arsharvin will remain,” Bondarev barked. When the other officers were gone, they sat again.
    “I share the burden of those deaths too my friend,” Arsharvin said. “Wherever this attack came from, we will find them. You have my word.”
    Bondarev span the map of Alaska thoughtfully. He stopped, pinning it with his finger on Nome.
    “General Lukin gave me two weeks to show we have control of the airspace over the Yukon Basin,” Bondarev said. “He was being pressured by a faction in the Council of Ministers to abandon the plans for a ground assault and consolidate our presence on Saint Lawrence as a bargaining chip for negotiations.”
    “Negotiations over what?”
    “Water imports,” Bondarev said. “A pipeline, from Alaska into Siberia.”
    “We would be slaves!” Arsharvin said. “Dancing to the tune of the USA, just like they danced to the tune of the oil sheikhs last century!”
    “Would that be so bad?” Bondarev asked. “The Americans came out of the oil crisis stronger than ever. New technologies removed their dependency on Arab oil. We could do the same, but with water.”
    “You would want to live in a Russia dependent on the USA for its economic survival?” Arsharvin couldn’t believe his ears.
    “For a few decades only,” Bondarev said. “We have three oceans bordering our nation, more than enough water if we could just find more economic ways to desalinate and distribute it. In time, we would.”
    “Who are you?” Arsharvin asked. “And what have you done with my friend the warrior, Yevgeny Bondarev?” Arsharvin shifted in his chair. “Besides, Lukin is dead. You are the most senior commander in the 3rd Air Army until a replacement is named. For all intents and purposes, you are leading this air war now.”
    Bondarev sighed, tapping his finger on the map of the region around Nome again.
    “Perhaps, perhaps not. I have a call with Moscow in thirty minutes and will inform them I have removed Kokorin for his gross negligence in not preventing the attack on Ugolny and referred him for a court martial. If they do not also relieve me, I will leave for Savoonga tomorrow to ensure the airfield there is ready to be used to stage a battalion for the attack on Nome. I can’t afford to have all of my aircraft concentrated at Lavrentiya, and Anadyr will take precious days to rebuild. My two weeks is running out my friend,” Bondarev said. “I have only days now to show Moscow that the Americans cannot repeat what they did in Anadyr. And from today, it gets harder. They have moved new satellites into position.” He reached over, and patted Arsharvin on the shoulder. “I can keep the two US airbases in Alaska out of commission, even without the Okhotniks of the 573rd in reserve. The Sukhois and Migs of the 4th and 5th, and the Okhotniks of the 7th can fend off their probing patrols and degrade their mobile anti-air capabilities as fast as they get them up and radiating.” He fixed Arsharvin with a cold gaze, “But I need you to find whoever killed our crews at Anadyr, so that I can kill them before they hit us again.”

    (c) Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued
    https://www.facebook.com/ucavnovels/
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Update for 17 Feb - 02/17/18 06:59 AM

    This is getting close and personal, almost creepy exitstageleft
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Update for 17 Feb - 02/18/18 08:07 PM

    Well ... six degrees of separation and all that wink

    H
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Update for 17 Feb - 02/19/18 12:21 AM

    SIX.
    It must always be six.

    This is only three, or four. wink
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: Update for 20 Feb - 02/19/18 07:58 AM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    SIX.
    It must always be six.

    This is only three, or four. wink


    I think the war will be won or lost on seven...

    Let's keep rolling! Another chapter inspired by one of my many failed missions in DCS over the holidays. I really do suck at air-ground.

    *************

    SOME DAYS YOU EAT THE BEAR


    Private Zubkov couldn’t bring the base radio and its range finding scope with him, so he had to track the ghost radio the old fashioned way. He knew whoever was carrying it was following the column of prisoners along the coastal track to Savoonga. So he would do the same. They had a one day start on him though, so he had to hustle.
    He had moved the Captain into the relative comfort of the school master’s offices, sat him in a chair and set him up with a bottle of water, cold tea and biscuits with some cheese. The man was able to eat and drink, take himself to the toilet and lie down when he needed to sleep. Anything more complicated seemed to befuddle him. But he would be okay for a couple of days.
    He sat in the school master’s chair, watching as Zubkov got himself ready.
    Zubkov had decided to travel light. A half-sized backpack, water, dry rations, a knife and his 9mm Gsh-18. He had his winter camouflage uniform on, mottled brown and white, with just a utility belt across his waist and the backpack strapped tight to his shoulders.
    “I know what you’re thinking Sir. I should be taking a rifle,” Zubkov said, talking as much to himself as to the Captain. “But I’m not going into the field for weeks. I need to travel fast, act decisively, get back here quickly. So just light weapons. Gun and knife. What do you say?”
    The Captain actually appeared to be considering. “When there is no God, everything is permitted,” he quoted.
    “Amen to that sir,” Private Zubkov said, checked his sidearm and ammunition one last time, holstered it and headed for the door. Outside the door he picked up two jerry cans of gasoline and headed for the gymnasium. He had a damn good idea who was out there, following that column with a stolen Russian radio. He’d shown the guy’s jacket and air force patch to the Captain when the man had gotten away from them, their first hour on the island. And that shadow he’d seen on the hillside just after the first missile hit? That was no coincidence. The US soldier must have called in the strike.
    Zubkov should have shot the ba*tard when he had the chance. He wouldn’t make that mistake twice.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    The last remaining officers of the last remaining offensive air assets in the OA were trying to work out what the hell had just gone wrong.
    They had been tasked to hit a Russian supply depot at Lavrentiya where it looked like the enemy was stockpiling a significant cache of supplies outside the military airport for some sort of offensive. The base itself was assumed to be heavily defended, but their target was a warehouse and distribution center on the outskirts of town.
    It was an industrial town with a small harbor and what was now a disproportionately large airport. A single five story administrative center and not far from it, a six story hospital. Four or five factories belched foul black smoke into the air over the town.
    It was a perfect target for the Joint Air-to-ground Missiles they had already loaded aboard one of their Fantoms. They had a drone already on the EMALS configured for air-to-air escort, so they put that into the air first, then bullied the second Fantom into place and sent it up the chute.
    The JAGM had a warhead similar in hitting power to its predecessor the Hellfire, and the four missiles carried inside the weapons bay of the Fantom were more than sufficient to destroy the weapons dump. The only problem with the JAGM was that the Army and Navy had never been able to agree on its final design, with the Navy in and out of the program a couple of times over the years. In the end, it was a compromise between the longer range standoff weapon the Army wanted and the shorter range missiles wanted by the Navy. Guided by semi-active laser and multi-band radar, the JAGM was a fire and forget weapon, but with a range of only about ten miles.
    There was no back door into Lavrentiya as they had found for Anadyr. The city lay abreast of a wide sweeping bay on a flat permafrost plain. Low hills skirted the city to the north, but they weren’t suitable to provide any sort of radar cover.
    “We blow in low from the south with the sun behind us, pop up, lock and shoot, then bug out,” Bunny had decided while they were planning. “We’ve got no intel on what kind of air defenses they have in place, but it’s the main Russian offensive air base, so there must also be some ugly-ass anti-air protecting it. Fantom 1 goes in first, tries to draw any fire, helps me identify what they have hiding there. I can use one missile for suppression, two for the depot, still leaves me one for a target of opportunity, if we’re lucky.”
    They were going to try to bring their drones home this time. They had got the heavy lift crane working again, after a fashion, and decided they could land the drones on the Pond, tie them up, then pull them out by crane and refit them when they got a chance. With only ten aircraft left, they couldn’t treat every mission as a one way trip.
    It was a good plan. But they didn’t get a single missile away.
    What Rodriguez and O’Hare couldn’t have known was that Bondarev had made very sure indeed that his baseat Lavrentiya was well protected.
    Sitting on a low rise overlooking the decaying town, was a Nebo-M 3-D anti-aircraft/anti-missile system and it was about to come online. Mounted on three 24-ton trucks, it featured a command module and three radar arrays, arranged to provide 360 degree area denial defense of the airspace around Lavrentiya. The Nebo battalion at Lavrentiya controlled 72 launchers over a 100 square kilometer area, fielding a total of 384 missiles. In ‘circular scan’ mode the Nebo-M battalion could track up to 200 targets at a distance and at altitudes of up to 600 kilometers. In ‘ICBM killer’ sector scan mode, a Nebo-M could track 20 ballistic targets at ranges of up to 1,800 kilometers and at an altitude of up to 1,200 kilometers.
    If he’d had such a system at Anadyr, the Americans would never have gotten through, but he’d seen his assets at Lavrentiya, closest to Alaska, as being the higher priority and the Nebo-M was a precious resource. Although Russia had once had grand plans to install Nebo-M systems all over the country to provide an effective anti-missile shield, teething problems had delayed their introduction and they were only now being deployed, with a focus on providing protection to the major population centers, so it had taken a bureaucratic cat fight and the personal intervention of General Lukin for Bondarev to get the only Nebo-M in the Eastern Military District moved from Vladivostok to Lavrentiya to protect his fighters for LOSOS.
    It was a system specially designed to detect stealth aircraft, but even the Nebo-M would have trouble picking up at long range the small profile of the two Fantoms Bunny was sending towards it. For this, it relied on a shorter range array radiating at the lower frequency S and L bands, which had a range of less than 30 miles.
    With Bunny able to fire her missiles at a range of 10 miles, and fly at 1,300 miles an hour at sea level, assuming she could get close enough that gave the Russian system a window of about one minute in which to lock and fire at the Fantoms before she could fire herself.
    Even if she had known the Nebo-M was sitting there waiting for her, she would probably still have taken those odds. But because it hadn't got up and radiating yet, there was nothing on her threat warning system to tip her off it was even there..
    It was no ordinary anti-air battalion either. Painted on the door of the command module of the Lavrentiya array were the silhouettes of six fighters, two ICBMs and four rotary aircraft that the unit had ‘destroyed’ in exercises. It had never fired a shot in actual combat - the Nebo-M was a home defense system and hadn’t been deployed in the Middle East, but the personnel staffing the unit at Lavrentiya were the best in the Russian Armed Forces at what they were paid to do.
    So when an AWACS aircraft picked up a couple of ghost returns to their south, battalion commander Lieutenant Colonel Alexandr Chaliapin had ordered his technicians to get their array online and do it now dammit. The AWACS didn't have a firm fix on anything, but that hadn’t made him relax. He’d heard what had happened at Anadyr, everyone had. But Anadyr wasn’t defended by his Nebo-M. And he had no intention of letting what happened at Anadyr happen to him at Lavrentiya.
    Getting the battalion physically in position had taken precious days - getting it networked and able to link with other air, sea and ground defense units even more of a headache. Now they were in the middle of their first live test cycle and they had a threat on the board? Other commanders might have panicked or worse, been lulled into complacency by the next forty minutes without any further contact being reported . But Chaliapin let his men work and when they declared the system ready he played a hunch, and sent a narrow beam of low frequency energy down the bearing of the previous contact and hit gold. Another feint return bounced back, then was gone. Now he had a validated threat and a vector on it - he put three launchers armed with low level active homing 9M96J missiles on high alert, bringing them to instant readiness. He fed the numbers to his AI, shut down his active systems and stopped radiating. If he was wrong, he had just condemned the city to an attack from an unknown quarter, but he had never before been wrong.
    In her VR rig on Little Diomede Bunny's radar warning flashed for the briefest of moments. Too short for her to identify the source or type of defensive system that was sniffing after her. She logged it then ignored it.
    The Nebo-M’s AI ran the numbers on the two ghost returns, calculated a speed and bearing, and waited with silicon patience for the identified threat to enter S and L frequency range. At exactly 32 miles range, it brought its radar arrays back on line and blasted energy downrange toward the estimated position of the UI aircraft.
    As her threat indicator showed a targeting radar lock on her HUD, Bunny just had time to yell, “Radar lock!” The combat AI on Bunny’s Fantoms reacted before she could, sending one Fantom in a hard banking right turn, while the other broke left, but it was too late. With the 9M96J missiles flying at two and a half times the speed of sound, the missile alert warnings sounded almost at the same time as the two screens she was using to pilot the drones flashed suddenly white, then went blank.
    An hour of tense anticipation ended with disbelief. If Rodriguez and O’Hare had been last-gen aircrew, they would both have been dead; not sitting around trying analyze how they had screwed up. But this was a new world, and that’s what they had spent the hours after reporting their failure to ANR doing.
    They had poured over the mission data, and uplinked it to NORAD for analysis. The answer that had come back had not been the one they wanted to hear. They had hoped they had been swatted by some sort of low level MANPAD or ship based missile system that had gotten lucky. NORAD analysts had pegged the system that killed them as one of the newest Russian Nebo systems, and that meant they wouldn’t be getting a second chance. Neither was Lavrentiya a likely target for even hypersonic cruise missile attack; with Russia dominating the air over the OA so completely, the only option would have been a sub launch, and that would have elevated the conflict to a whole new and suicidally dangerous level. Tensions were on a knife edge now. Russian satellites might detect the American cruise missile blooms as the missiles shot up out of the water, and they would have no way of knowing they weren’t nukes. It could provoke a response that everyone would regret. For that reason, a ballistic missile strike was also out.
    “There has to be a way,” Bunny was saying. “There has to be.”
    “We don’t have any longer range standoff missiles, and they’d be detected anyway,” Rodriguez replied.
    “This is why we still have humans behind the stick,” Bunny told her, determination in her voice. “An AI can’t think its way out of this, but we can.”

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    “The Ambassador did not appear pleased with my report,” HOLMES said.
    “No. Well, she was upset, but that doesn’t mean she didn’t want to know,” Carl replied. Sometimes he had to pinch himself over the ‘conversations’ he was having with his natural voice neural network.
    “My report made her cry,” HOLMES observed. “Now she will not like me.”
    “You can’t conclude that. Humans cry for a lot of reasons, and she may be crying at the information, without being annoyed at you or me for giving it to her. You should watch a lot of films, and see what sort of things make humans cry and how they react to those situations.”
    “Yes Carl. Can I ask the Ambassador to rate the report? If she rates the source as ‘reliable’ still, I will know she it has not impacted her assessment of me.”
    “No, not right now HOLMES. Let her process it.” Process it? How do you process the knowledge that the father of your grandchild is leading the air war against your country. You could write it off and deal with it later, that would make sense. Or pass it up the chain, let people know it might affect your judgement.
    “Carl, I have been running scenarios on the intelligence opportunities posed by the link between the Ambassador and Yevgeny Bondarev,” HOLMES said. “They are immature but I would like to discuss them with the Ambassador.”
    Williams clicked his tongue, “No. You can discuss them with me first, and when they are mature, we can decided who to discuss them with.” He took a pull on his coffee, feet up on his desk. What he needed in this little broom closet was a nice big poster of a beach in Hawaii. His parents had taken him and his sister to Hawaii once and he would never forget it. That would help take his mind off … other stuff.
    “Yes Carl. I will send you the list of opportunities and risks I have created with associated probabilities, projections and exploitabilities.”
    “What’s top of the list, by ‘exploitability’?” he asked, suddenly curious.
    “Assumption: Bondarev knows about the child or can be persuaded the child exists. Assumption: Bondarev has feelings about the child and/or the mother. Opportunity: threaten to kill the child and/or mother if Bondarev does not agree to work as a US agent-in-place.”
    Carl nearly spat his coffee out of his nose. “HOLMES, let’s keep these exploitability scenarios to ourselves for now - confirm please.”
    “Yes, Carl. Your eyes only, no uplink to NSA.”
    “And they are definitely not to be discussed with the Ambassador, repeat.”
    “Yes Carl, exploitation scenarios for discussion with you only,” HOLMES said.
    “Thanks. Log me out please,” Carl said, and closed his laptop. Was it his imagination, or did the synthetic voice actually sound a little disappointed?

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Following the column was an agony for Perri. It was mid-morning now after a fitful night of little sleep. Sarge had kept the call short, but he was pretty keen to tell them what to do.
    “You both have to keep safe,” he told them. “Remember this, ok? If you can see them, they can see you. In fact, they might be carrying infrared vision, so they might even be able to see you before you see them. If you are too close, you could go to sleep and never wake up because you got a 9mm Spetsnaz sleeping tablet.”
    “You want us to go back to Gambell?” Perri had asked, confused. “We could get our elders out, maybe you could arrange for someone to come and pick them up?”
    “No,” he said firmly. “They’ll be ok. I need you to keep tracking those troops. We figure they’re going to meet up with the rest of their force, but we need to know where. It could be Savoonga town, or it might be out at the Northeast Cape cantonment,” he had said. “What’s left of it.”
    “The Americans bombed Savoonga too?” Dave had asked.
    “They did.”
    “Some of our people worked there,” Dave had pointed out.
    The Canadian Mountie was quiet. “Yes, I know. I’m sorry.” He wasn’t about to tell him the Russians had moved everyone in Savoonga town there before the Americans had hit it. They would learn that soon enough. “Look, how easy would it be for you to fall back out of line of sight of the column, but keep following it?”
    Perri thought about it, “Pretty easy. There’s only one track along the coast, and no reason for them to go inland. There’s totally nothing south of here. And there’s like two hundred people in that group. They’re leaving tracks so obvious even Dave could follow them,” he winked at the other boy, who took one hand off the antenna and gave him a finger back.
    “Then that’s what I want you to do,” Sarge had said. “Hang back where you’re safe. Don’t take any risks. Once they get where they’re going, you call me again and let me know. Then we’re going to really need your eyes and ears. There’s heavy weather moving in, fog and rain for the next few days. We’ve got satellites over the top of you but they’ll only be able to use synthetic aperture radar and heat imaging. Your Mark 1 eyeballs and that radio you’re carrying will be the best intelligence we can get.”
    “Rain,” Dave had said. “Great.”
    That had been last night. So they had waited until mid-morning before setting out after the column again, following the trail of boots and shoes scraping across the stone and ice and gravel of the coast track. It was about 11 a.m. when they came across Susan Riffet. It was Dave who saw her first, lying a short way off the track to their right, sitting up, back propped against a rock.
    “Hey,” he said, grabbing Perri’s arm. “Hey!” And he put his gear down on the ground, running over to her and dropping to one knee beside her. “Hey, Mrs. Riffet? You OK? Mrs. Riffet?”
    As Perri landed next to him, he saw her eyes were closed, and her lips were blue. Dave was shaking her shoulder. “Mrs. Riffet?” She was one of their teachers; a new one who’d come from Saint Paul, Minneapolis, about two years earlier. She was short and round and jolly and for some reason she thought being on Saint Lawrence was the coolest thing that had ever happened to her. She used to go for long walks with a camera, take close up photos of plants and animals, come back and show them to the kids as though every little vole or fox was a natural wonder. In summer she’d take them out with the elders, combining hunting and gathering trips with nature lessons. At times it had seemed she loved the island more than they did.
    “She’s dead buddy,” Perri told him, stopping him from shaking her any more. Her head had fallen down onto her chest and lay there like she was sleeping. Which, in a way, she was.
    “Ba*tards,” Dave said, and Perri realized he was crying. “The ba*tards.”
    Perri lifted her head, looked at her face. He lifted her arms too, looked at her hands, then let them drop. It didn’t look like she’d been beaten up or been in a fight or anything. Then he remembered something, “She had a heart problem didn’t she?”
    “Yeah,” Dave said. “She used to take tablets...”
    “Right. So it was a heart attack or something…”
    “Why didn’t she take her tablets with her?” Dave asked. “They wouldn’t have stopped her would they?”
    “I don’t know,” Perri shrugged. “Maybe she ran out. The drug store got smashed, remember? She might not have had any for weeks.”
    Perri laid the woman out. He thought about burying her, but the ground was too hard for them to dig with their bare hands or the butts of their rifles.
    “We can’t just leave her,” Dave said. “Foxes will get her.”
    “What about the beach?” Perri said, looking back toward the coast. Where they were, there was a low cliff that led down to a gravel beach. “We could dig there, if we can find a place above the water line.”
    “I guess,” Dave said. “If we can find a way down with her. I don’t see a choice.”
    Getting Mrs. Riffet down the short cliff face hadn’t been easy. Dave had suggested to just throw her, because it was only about 20 feet, and soft gravel at the bottom, but Perri couldn’t stand the thought of that. He’d suggested he’d lower Dave on a rope and Dave could carry her over his shoulders but he said no way was he carrying a dead lady down any damn cliff on his back. So they compromised and lowered Mrs. Riffet down first, tied off the rope, then climbed down after her. It was a good beach for a burial, with a high portion of gravelly sand up above the tide line. As long as they came and got her again before the next big storm, it should be easy enough to find her again. They’d put a pile of rocks over her body and a cairn of rocks up on the cliff line to make it easy to find their way back to her.
    Using the butts of their rifles, they started digging a hole deep enough to cover her easily. Dave decided burying Mrs. Riffet on some random beach was easily the most messed up thing he had ever had to in his whole life, and Perri told him if that was the worst, then he should consider himself damn lucky.
    And while they were down at the base of the cliff, arguing about how bad life could get, Private Zubkov caught up with them. They had dumped their gear well off the track though, and Private Zubkov wasn’t stopping to peer over every little hill and cliff. He was jogging, a loping easy pace he could keep up for hours. The tracks of the column of hostages and Russian troops was easy to follow, and somewhere in its wake, was that damn radio. As he drew parallel to where Perri and Dave were digging, he stopped and pulled a water bottle from his pack. You had to stay hydrated even though it was cold, because the humidity was so low. The wind was blowing from the north-east and he watched some sea birds surfing the uplift over the cliff, fascinated at how they hung in the air without even flapping their wings. Maybe he should have brought a rifle after all. It would be good practice to see if he could bring any of them down in mid-flight, bobbing and soaring like that. He thought about having a crack at one with his sidearm, then gave himself a mental slap. Head back in the game Zubkov! You have a radio to find and a radio operator to kill. You can get in some target practice later. He wondered if the Captain could still use a rifle. He seemed to be able to do stuff that was mostly instinct, like eating and going to the toilet, so why not shooting? Shooting should be second nature to a Spetsnaz Captain. Zubkov would have to check that out when he got back.
    Putting his bottle back in his backpack, his eyes sought out the scuffed dirt and ice of the coastal trail, and he set off again.

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    “Check this out!” Bunny cried, running into Rodriguez’s quarters. She had gone to bed only a couple of hours earlier, after making their suck of a report to CNAF and then throwing around the problem of how to tackle Lavrentiya for hours. CNAF was worried about their attrition, with them now having lost four of their precious 12 drones on two missions, only one of which was successful. ANR was reevaluating its targeting list, they were told, looking for lower value, less well-defended targets. They had called it a night. Or Rodriguez had thought they had. Apparently Bunny had said goodnight, and then kept combing through the intel on Lavrentiya.
    It wasn’t cold under the rock. With no direct wind, and still mild days outside, the temperature at night inside the cave with all the equipment still powered up was a pretty reasonable 58 degrees even without any heating on. Rodriguez was near naked under a light sheet and remembered it suddenly when Bunny snapped on the light, saw Rodriguez sit up, then quickly turned around. “Comportment ma’am,” she said, a smile in her voice.
    Rodriguez lifted a shirt from her bedpost and pulled it on, “Don’t comportment me,” she grumbled. “You’re standing in my damn quarters at 0300. This had better be good O’Hare.”
    The aviator sat down on the bed beside her commander. She had printed several satellite photographs and a table of data downloaded from NORAD. She spread them out for Rodriguez to see.
    The images appeared to be birds-eye views, enlarged, of some sort of Russian transport aircraft, flying over the water, and then in a landing or takeoff circuit from the Lavrentiya airport. A final image showed two of the behemoths parked nose to tail on the newly built concrete apron beside the runway.
    “Ilyushin IL-77’s,” Bunny said, excitedly. “Codename, White Whale. I was thinking, Ivan has to be getting all that materiel into Lavrentiya somehow, right? And if they’re moving it in, they must be planning to move it out the same way. Arctic roads in and out of Lavrentiya suck, and shipping would be too slow for the speed this war is moving at. Vulnerable too. So I started looking for intel on big transport aircraft at Lavrentiya. I figured they’d be taking the polar route from Murmansk, or a nice safe inland route out of Tiksi or Alykel…”
    “Slow down Lieutenant,” Rodriguez said. “Let me catch up. We can’t take down the base, so you propose we intercept a few big fat Ilyushins? It’s a good compromise, but I can’t see us impacting the war that way.”
    “Boss, we can totally take down that air base,” O’Hare said, a big grin on her face. She shoved the printout of the table under Rodriguez’s nose. “Ivan is moving a mountain of supplies into that base. Six flights a day, four hours apart. Like clockwork. And most of the flights are out of Murmansk, like I guessed.” She dropped a map in Rodriguez’s lap. “Northern polar route. They take off from Murmansk loaded with 200 tons of fuel, food, ammo and hardware, fly 3,000 miles, five to six hours. It’s a single straight-in NW-SE runway so depending on the wind, they either approach from the top of the gulf in the Northwest, or the open sea between Saint Lawrence and us.”
    “You’re going to shoot one down and take its place?” Rodriguez said, still trying to get onboard. “You’d have to fake their radar signature, IFF codes…”
    “No, we don’t need to do that. We can skate a couple of Fantoms in under its radar shadow. These freight flights aren’t escorted, as far as I can see. Ivan is pretty confident right now, what with our air force 2,000 miles south and keeping to itself. So with that, and their big ugly Nebo on overwatch, they’re sending in those Ilyushins fast and loose.”
    Now Rodriguez saw it. The IL-77 was a beast of an aircraft. In essence just a big flying wing, it was originally boasted that it would cruise at just over 1,000 miles per hour carrying a payload of up to 200 tons and had a range of more than 4,350 miles, meaning it could easily reach Lavrentiya from anywhere in Russia without refueling. Western analysts scoffed. But when it eventually took to the air, the boasts weren’t far wrong. It could indeed lift 200 tons, had the range that Russia had boasted of, and a cruising speed fully laden of 600 miles per hour. It made sense that if Russia was moving war materials into position within easy reach of Alaska, it would use its IL-77 fleet and not slow, easy to intercept shipping. “I smell you now Lieutenant,” Rodriguez said. “The IL-77 is going in on the glideslope, a few thousand feet up, and we put a couple of Fantoms down low in its radar shadow. If that damn Nebo picks us up, it will just read the return as something bouncing off the IL-77. A ghost return.”
    “Yes ma’am!” Bunny said. “Freaking genius or what? At best we lay some hurt on Lavrentiya airbase, and if we include a couple of CUDAs in the loadout at worst we can take down a White Whale.”
    Rodriguez swung her bare legs out of the bed and reached for her flight suit. It was a little like the play they had used with success at Eielson, Bunny sneaking into missile range dressed as a light aircraft. “Don’t get ahead of yourself O’Hare,” Rodriguez said. “You can't pilot manually at that range so you have to come up with an AI kludge that will glue your Fantoms to one of those Ilyushins and keep them right where we need them to be. You also have to sneak through the Russian CAP. And I still have to convince CNAF and ANR this screwy idea is worth them committing a couple hundred million worth of hardware to.”

    *
    *

    (c) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/19/18 10:24 PM

    1) OK, Zubkov is insane ... but not delusional, right?
    If he THINKS that he's following a US soldier that tracks the marching column using a Russian radio, why on earth does he think he won't need a rifle?

    I understand that you don't want him to bring a rifle because then Perri and Dave are probably dead. But then they must not appear as a real threat to him, or there must be some other reason why he can't bring a rifle (and I can't think of a good one, right now).

    2) They are launching the Fantoms from Little Diomede, fly south and circle around, then “blow in low from the south with the sun behind us, pop up, lock and shoot” (well, at least that was the plan).
    The Nebo-M is configured for 360° surveillance.
    They spot the first faint signal to the south, so only after the Fantoms passed Saint Lawrence. My question: Why didn't they spot them on the approach from Diomede to Lawrence where they were over open sea, with no terrain to mask their approach. I suppose they would have had to make a fairly wide detour.

    Wouldn't they use that detour for some ELINT to figure out what kind of air defense would be there, (I assume that even in the future radar beams carry farther than their reflections from a stealth airframe).

    Another thought: Assuming that the looping detour was performed to the southeast, that would bring a possible Fantom track from OTHER observers closer to King Island, Brevig Mission, Teller, and Nome, thus possibly drawing more Russian attention to those places.
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/20/18 02:01 AM

    Damn Realist! winkngrin
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/20/18 07:55 AM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    1) OK, Zubkov is insane ... but not delusional, right?
    I understand that you don't want him to bring a rifle because then Perri and Dave are probably dead. But then they must not appear as a real threat to him, or there must be some other reason why he can't bring a rifle (and I can't think of a good one, right now).


    He can take a rifle with him, there is no real reason not to and it won't have plot impact so I can easily change that. He needs to be able to move fast to catch up with the prisoner column but a rifle on his back should be no big deal.

    Quote
    2) Wouldn't they use that detour for some ELINT to figure out what kind of air defense would be there, (I assume that even in the future radar beams carry farther than their reflections from a stealth airframe).


    Have adjusted text to accomodate. I wanted them to be surprised by the Nebo-M to give a chance to describe it in action.

    Quote
    Another thought: Assuming that the looping detour was performed to the southeast, that would bring a possible Fantom track from OTHER observers closer to King Island, Brevig Mission, Teller, and Nome, thus possibly drawing more Russian attention to those places.


    In this scenario Russia only has airborne and satellite coverage of the sea east of Saint Lawrence and then south/west to Anadyr, nothing serious on Saint Lawrence, so not saturation coverage. Limited naval. So they can get detected by AWACS en route but have to be unlucky to get locked up and intercepted.

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    Damn Realist! winkngrin


    Ha! I also hate it when the hero and bad guy at the end of the movie both throw down their weapons and then fight to the death with their fists. These observations are incredibly useful! Writing a novel this complex is like building a car while driving it - bits don't fit or fall off and the whole thing can suddenly fall apart when it hits top speed! Thanks!
    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/20/18 01:26 PM

    I'm sure there'd be plenty of spare SMG's and general AK's with all the WIA/KIA's versus his heavy ATM rifle. It'd make sense to carry one of those, much lighter and easier to carry.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/20/18 10:44 PM

    Well, if I was zubkhov (I like it with an added h, as in khabarovsk, btw) I’d take a weapon I’m trained to use, I maintained myself and that is useful at long range.
    He still has his 9mm for close range, has no reason to think he’ll get ambushed, so why trust an unknown weapon, even if he knows that weapon model ? He is the hunter, not the hunted.
    Of course,there’s the weight question, but then he is used to jog with his rifle, as a spetnatz, I suppose.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/21/18 08:42 AM

    Originally Posted by jenrick
    I'm sure there'd be plenty of spare SMG's and general AK's with all the WIA/KIA's versus his heavy ATM rifle. It'd make sense to carry one of those, much lighter and easier to carry.

    -Jenrick


    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    Well, if I was zubkhov (I like it with an added h, as in khabarovsk, btw) I’d take a weapon I’m trained to use, I maintained myself and that is useful at long range.
    He still has his 9mm for close range, has no reason to think he’ll get ambushed, so why trust an unknown weapon, even if he knows that weapon model ? He is the hunter, not the hunted.
    Of course,there’s the weight question, but then he is used to jog with his rifle, as a spetnatz, I suppose.


    Good points!

    Thinking ahead to how to launch, I'd like to try generating noise around the book through Kindle Scout. Authors put up their ebooks, supporters spread the word through their network and readers vote for them. Good way to generate some buzz potentially. See it here:

    https://kindlescout.amazon.com/about

    Only catch, you need an Amazon account but I guess a lot of folks have those. If you don't know it, check it out!

    H
    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/21/18 06:42 PM

    Quote
    Well, if I was zubkhov (I like it with an added h, as in khabarovsk, btw) I’d take a weapon I’m trained to use, I maintained myself and that is useful at long range.
    He still has his 9mm for close range, has no reason to think he’ll get ambushed, so why trust an unknown weapon, even if he knows that weapon model ? He is the hunter, not the hunted.
    Of course,there’s the weight question, but then he is used to jog with his rifle, as a spetnatz, I suppose.


    An anti material rifle isn't normally one's assigned weapon, it's an item that rotates through whoever gets stuck carrying/lugging it around. Sort of like a rocket launcher. Maybe the Russians do things a little differently, but considering they've been deploying designated marksman at the squad level for decades I'd be surprised if they did. It'd make perfect since for him to have a primary anti-personal rifle, that he was attached to however if was the DM for his squad. Also as the sole military occupier of the town at this point, what would prevent him from grabbing a random rifle off the rack, and going to check it's zero? As far as familiarity with the weapons his squad mates would have been carrying, so long as he doesn't grab a crew served weapon, he'd be knowledgeable about anything his squad mates would carry. He'd be fine even with the crew served weapons, it just would be a lot harder to use as a single solider.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/21/18 07:26 PM

    Yeah, they aren't being called "crew served" without reason. wink

    Seriously though, I see him grabbing an assault rifle or maybe even a scoped rifle in pursuit of an - per his estimation - team of American soldiers. I would also assume that as a Spetsnats he feels supremely confident - possibly overconfident -, particularly since the shoulder patch suggests that they are airforce (and we all know how well an Albatros handles walking). But then again, he's facing two teenagers, and even if Perri is a good shot the boys will need a lot of luck to survive the confrontation.
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/21/18 09:59 PM

    makes sense smile
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: New chapter for 20 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/22/18 07:34 AM

    How about this:

    Zubkhov had decided to travel light. A half-sized backpack, water, dry rations and sidearm. The school sports utility room had been commandeered as the unit's temporary armory and attrition meant he had a wide range of weapons to choose from. He'd selected a folding stock VSS Vintorez silenced sniper rifle with a few magazines of 9x39mm. He put his winter camouflage uniform on, mottled brown and white, with just a utility belt across his waist and the backpack strapped tight to his shoulders. The Captain was watching him as he pulled on his gear and adjusted the strap on the rifle so it sat comfortably in the small of his back.
    “I know what you’re thinking Sir. I should be taking the Dragunov,” Zubkhov said, talking as much to himself as to the Captain. “Better range, hits harder. But I need to move fast to try to catch up with this guy, and the Vintorez is lighter and quieter.”
    The Captain actually appeared to be considering. “When there is no God, everything is permitted,” he quoted.


    (And I rewrote the Nebo section so that it had just moved into position and was coming on line for the first time as the UCAVs made their ingress hence the surprise element.)

    Also, in case anyone missed it, Zubkhov just unknowingly overtook Perri and Dave while they were burying their teacher... they are now behind him.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/22/18 08:14 AM

    OK here we go. This is a big one ...

    BARE BONES KICK A$$ERY

    [Linked Image]

    “These photos are from the attack on Lavrentiya, you say?” Bondarev said, reviewing the report Arsharvin had just put on his desk. He had moved his 4th and 5th fighter Battalions to the former US airfield at Savoonga to free up facilities at Lavrentiya for his heavy airlift and 6983rd Okhotnik ground attack aircraft. Both were equidistant from Nome, but Lavrentiya was his best protected airfield, with standing fighter patrols and heavy ground-air missile defenses.
    Wary of being buried alive again, Bondarev had put his new operations center on the ground floor of the modern Hogarth Kingeekuk Memorial School in the Savoonga township. With fast communication links and its own wind turbines supplying power, plus a field medical clinic already set up inside to treat the local townsfolk, it made a surprisingly suitable headquarters.
    Ordinarily he’d say it was also an advantage that the 200 remaining townspeople of Savoonga were being held in the school meeting hall ‘for their own safety’, as it should dissuade the US from attacking the school for fear of killing their own citizens. But they had already shown a callous disregard for such considerations.
    “Yes. The photos show wreckage recovered off the coast from American UCAVs downed by the Nebo-M array attached to the 140th anti-air, before the Americans could get their missiles away,” Arsharvin said. He didn’t sound happy, because he knew his commander wouldn’t be.
    Bondarev glowered, “More of your damn mobile Fantom units? You still can’t find the trucks they’re launching off?”
    “Analysis of the wreckage confirms they were Fantoms,” Arsharvin said. “But they weren’t truck launched.”
    “What the hell? The enemy has an operational airfield somewhere within Fantom strike range and we can’t find it?”
    Arsharvin had a photograph on his tablet, and he pulled it up, pinched to expand it and showed it to Bondarev, “We’ve solved the mystery. They aren’t flying them off the ground.”
    “What is this?” Bondarev peered at what looked like a bent ski attacked to a piece of aircraft fuselage.
    “Landing skis,” Arsharvin said. “This is an F-47 variant we haven’t seen before. Some sort of top secret prototype I imagine.”
    “A sea-plane?” Bondarev frowned. “The Americans haven’t fielded a combat version of a seaplane since… what?”
    “The 1950s, the Martin P6M Sea Master,” Arsharvin said, having expected the question. “But it makes sense, yes? You could launch it off just about any ship the size of destroyer or bigger, land it alongside when it returned and recover it by crane. They’re already doing it with recon drones – this gives them a strike or air defense capability, extends a ship’s eyes, ears and teeth by hundreds of miles. You don’t need static airfields, or a big carrier to fly them off – the smallest guided missile destroyer could carry it. Same concept as putting them on trucks, just sea-borne.”
    Bondarev had to reluctantly give his enemy credit. They were a generation ahead of his own country not only in the capabilities of their drones, but also in their application.
    “Very well. Find me the damn ships these things are launching off,” Bondarev said. “Compared to finding a few trucks hidden in the Alaskan wilderness, finding a ship launching drones in the open sea south of here has to be easy, right comrade Intelligence Chief?”
    Arsharvin gave a wan smile, “If you say so, Comrade Colonel.” He stumped out the door again.
    Bondarev swung around in his chair and looked out of the window as one of the ubiquitous local four wheel electric bikes that had been commandeered by his security group hummed past. They were slowly getting the airfield organized for the upcoming operation to land troops in Nome. The American cruise missile attack had devastated its long range radar facility, no doubt because they were worried about what Russia could learn from it after it had fallen so easily and so intact into their hands. It was a state of the art long range early warning facility, with radar arrays dotting the hills of Saint Lawrence all the way down the spine of the island to the site of the old North-East Cape base it had abandoned nearly half a century earlier. With the improvements in communications achieved in the intervening years, the Americans now no longer had to have their command and control facility located right next to their radar arrays, so they had chosen to build up the airfield at Savoonga and create a small base comprising about 50 personnel just outside of the new village.
    The base had given a big boost to the island’s economy, provide civilian jobs and make a posting to Saint Lawrence a little less like a prison sentence than it had been when the facility had been located hundreds of miles to the south-east. The USAF 712th Aircraft Control and Warning Squadron had been recommissioned under NORAD, a strike hardened cantonment was built, with the command center and personnel barracks inside. New businesses and infrastructure sprung up in Savoonga to service the small air force detachment - a bar, a supermarket, a new school with fast satellite internet links and even a new hotel to serve the needs of families flying in to visit the personnel stationed there. Savoonga had pulled younger people from Gambell, which is why there were more than 500 residents there when the Russian airborne troops arrived.
    And why the most secure facility in the area to hold the residents had been the Savoonga cantonment, which US forces hit with enough high explosive to decimate the facility. And a large proportion of the personnel in it, including their own troops, who they knew would be there. And the civilians, who they claimed they didn’t.
    Bondarev couldn’t imagine what the scene had looked like as the Russian troops who were left unscathed at the Savoonga airport had made their way into the ruins of the cantonment. They were only able to recover about 200 of 500 civilians alive, 15 with serious wounds and five with minor wounds. Since then five more had died. The Russian airborne commander had estimated nearly 600 dead including civilians, his own, and US troops caught inside the cantonment. Bondarev shuddered at the thought. The Americans had been lucky at Gambell that they had not hit the civilians there too. What sort of nation was it that would treat its own people with such callous disregard?
    One to be feared, Yevgeny.
    And yet their air forces were happy skulking down south, leaving their population in Alaska at the mercy of Bondarev and his pilots. They couldn’t know he wasn’t interested in attacking their population centers, and had been reading reports of the National Guard ground forces in Fairbanks, Anchorage and Juneau hastily building defenses against a Russian ground attack that would never come. Making inflated claims that they had downed several Russian aircraft, trying to bolster morale, when in fact Bondarev wasn’t even flying missions over populated and defended areas like Fairbanks, Juneau or Anchorage. His only interest was to keep the skies clear of US fighters and attack aircraft, not to terrorize the local population.
    Let them pile their sandbags as high as they wanted, let their SAM sites ring their cities. Right now, there was only one threat to his dominance of the skies over Alaska and that was these damn pinprick attacks by sea-launched Fantoms. Anadyr had cost him both in men and materiel, and serious political capital. The Kremlin didn’t seem to care about the numerous US probing attacks he had stopped in the south and east and they were ignorant of the strike on Lavrentiya that had been thwarted. All that seemed to matter to them was that the Americans had gotten through at Anadyr and that had been enough to cause political knees to further weaken.
    The Americans had been lucky once, and not since and he intended for it to stay that way.
    All he had to do was hold them back for another few days. Looking out the window he couldn’t help a small swell of pride at the activity he saw. These were his forces, these aircraft, these men and women.
    With the death of General Lukin he had lost a patron, but he had not been relieved of his command, yet. Gathered at Savoonga and Lavrentiya under his command now were more than 150 aircraft of the Russian 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command of the Eastern Military District. In Lavrentiya, and dispersed through nearby towns, were nearly 10,000 airborne and special forces troops, and the materiel needed to support the operation to take Nome.
    He realized he shouldn’t let the pinprick attacks of the American drones bother him. A major submarine or ship-launched cruise missile strike was a greater threat and the one which his 14th Air Defense battalion at Lavrentiya was in place to prevent. Then there was the overhanging risk of a tactical nuclear strike against a target either in the OA, or against an unrelated target on the Russian mainland. The US had the assets in place to effect it, and Bondarev had the strike on Anadyr and the command vacuum it created to thank for the fact he was able to convince his superiors they should move on Nome as quickly as possible before it came. They may not care about the lives of a few hundred citizens on Saint Lawrence, but with the 4,000 citizens of Nome under Russian control, the US would have to start negotiating.
    For the first time Bondarev had begun to think Operation LOSOS might actually work. As long as the US didn’t do anything precipitous first.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    The call from the State Secretary showed he was still an old fashioned Southern gentleman, in the best sense of the concept. Devlin had always known that he would never break good or bad news to her in a communique or text. It always came in person. So when she was told to expect a call from the Secretary in ten minutes, she knew it would be one or the other - either very good, or very bad news.
    She paced her office nervously, ordering her assistant to stop anyone else from coming in or calling in, no matter how urgent they insisted it was. She knew she wouldn’t be able to concentrate on a single thing until the call was out of the way, and any decision she made while distracted like this would be totally random.
    Her mind raced. She was being recalled, that was one possibility. Perhaps Foreign Minister Kelnikov had complained one too many times about the directness of her language and approach, and had demanded she be called home. Or her own people had turned on her, called her out for running her own foreign policy agenda independent of State. That much was true - they had been pursuing a pointless appeasement agenda while she had been dealing with the reality of imminent invasion and trying to persuade her Russian contacts that the consequences of going down this path could be catastrophic.
    And then there was this whole business of the commander of the Russian 6983rd Air Base being the father of her grandchild. She had not called her daughter about it. Like, how was that phone call supposed to go? Oh, hello darling, yes fine thanks, tell me, did you have a child with the man who is leading a war against the USA? No, but she was convinced HOLMES discovery was not his alone. Whether or not it had been leaked by him or Williams, it would be leaked, inevitably. That’s what this call must be. The Secretary would be nice about it, but he would expect her to understand they couldn’t have someone in Moscow representing US interests who had such an obvious personal conflict.
    When it came, the ringing of her encrypted comms unit nearly made her jump out of her skin. She took a big breath and lifted the handset.
    “McCarthy,” she said.
    “Devlin, this is Gerard Winburg, how are you holding up?”
    “Fine thankyou Mr. Secretary, what’s up?” she asked, and in the background she could hear the sort of burble of conversation that indicated to her that Winburg was in a room full of people.
    “I have to keep this short Devlin, I’m sorry. It turns out you were right. I have to advise you that we have indications Russia has now moved considerable air power onto Saint Lawrence in what we assume is preparation for a major airborne landing and offensive. Our satellites are showing a huge amount of air and ground traffic indicating military mobilization in the Russian Far East too. The President is about to go public with this information and a warning to Russia to withdraw from Saint Lawrence and cease its military buildup in the Bering Strait, or there will be ‘catastrophic consequences’.” He paused, “Between you and me, the President has asked the Secretary of Defense to draw up plans to conduct a demonstration of a nuclear armed hypersonic cruise missile in the Pacific Ocean west of the Russian Kuril Islands. He wants it ready to execute in 23 hours.”
    The world fell out from underneath Devlin. She’d had her own theories about the way the political winds were blowing, but she’d hoped she was wrong. “An atmospheric nuclear test off the coast of Russia?”
    “Yup, and they should be thankful we’re just vaporising a few billion tons of seawater and fish. The President thinks Russia needs reminding of what will happen if it does not stay the hell out of Alaska.”
    "That's close to Japan too," Devlin thought out loud, "The Japanese government will freak..."
    "The Japanese government should have thought of that when they declined to support us in the last UN vote."
    “My God…” she had no idea what to say. “What do you need from us?”
    “Real time readout on reactions. I’ll get back to you with exact timing when I have it, but I want your people face to face with Russian key stakeholders when the news of the test drops. I want you getting their unfiltered reaction and then feed it with a single message, ‘yes we will use the nuclear option if they escalate further.”
    “We’ll do our best here,” she said.
    “I know it. In the meantime, get onto all of our so called ‘allies’. Tell them now is the time for them to #%&*$# or get off the pot. We are calling in our markers and if they are on the wrong side of the next vote in the UN Security Council or General Assembly - and neutral is the wrong side - there will be hell to pay for them too.”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Bunny had checked the weather, and calculated the best IL-77 flight for their shadow play would arrive at the top of its glide path over the Bering Strait south west of the Rock at 0630 the day after she dragged Rodriguez out of bed. That gave them the night and most of the morning to prep two Fantoms with ground to air ordnance and get them in the air and on station in time for the low level game of shadow puppets.
    The Fantom didn’t have passive detection systems like many Russian fighter aircraft, but NORAD had managed to get two new satellites on station over the OA, and one of them was National Reconnaissance Satellite L-70, launched in 2022 with the specific mission of tracking Russian and Chinese military aircraft in real time through their digital, infrared and visual signatures. Satellite L-70 could track up to 100 individual targets at any one time, and by AI interpolation, could predict the flightpath of 1,000 different objects simultaneously.
    For the mission that had been assigned to NCTAMS-A4, satellite L-70 dedicated a small part of its considerable attention span to one aircraft, an Ilyushin IL-77 ‘White Whale’ flight out of Murmansk it designed as ‘flight IL-203’. It was tracking all IL-77 flights out of Murmansk, and tracked flight IL-203 in real time as the aircraft made its way across northern Russia. About halfway through the flight, the AI monitoring L-70 calculated a 73% probability, based on signals intelligence and the aircraft flight path, that it was headed for Lavrentiya, and it alerted ANR, which alerted NCTAMS-A4, or to be specific, Lieutenant Alicia Rodriguez.
    “You have a ‘White Whale’ incoming,” Rodriguez told Bunny as her fingers tapped her touch screen. “I’m patching the flightpath through now, plus coordinates for intercept.”
    “Roger that ma’am,” Bunny said, voice tight. If she was tired, then like Rodriguez, she wasn’t feeling it right now. “I’ll be on them like a leech.”
    “You mean remora,” Rodriguez told her.
    “Sorry ma’am?” Bunny frowned, head lost in her multiple screens.
    “Remoras attach themselves to whales,” Rodriguez told her. “Leeches attach themselves to mammals.”
    Bunny didn’t break her stride, just shot back at Rodriguez, “Isn’t a whale a mammal, ma’am?”
    “Land mammals then. You ever hear of a leech attaching itself to a whale Lieutenant?”
    “No ma’am. Would I be correct in guessing the Air Boss is a little tense right now?” she asked, without looking over.
    “Yes O’Hare,” Rodriguez told her. “Yes you would.”
    “Chill, ma’am,” Bunny said. “I have a vector to the target. Uh, eight minutes to intercept. Entering Nebo low band range in ten.”
    On a big screen in the middle of Bunny’s weapons and navigation system HUDs, Rodriguez was watching as the icon for the Russian transport plane appeared on the screen and began to track toward Bunny’s two JAGM armed Fantoms. She had managed to flit above the wave tops over the Strait without being detected by Russian land, air or satellite based systems so far, but the same parameters applied to this mission as previously. She could be spotted by any random Russian fighter flight that happened to look in her direction and get a lock, and within 30 miles of Lavrentiya, she was at the mercy of the Nebo-M array which had so easily batted her out of the sky last time.
    The go-no go for Bunny was whether she could come up with a combination of AI routines that would allow her Fantoms to lock onto the incoming Ilyushin and then hold position underneath it at wave top height. To do it, she’d re-written and combined the code for an optical targeting algorithm with a nap of the earth formation keeping algorithm meant for use with air to ground radar, but it had been impossible to test, so it would either work, or … the Fantoms would die. Most probably by plunging into the ocean as the Ilyushin began its landing descent.
    “Got a visual lock. AI matching course and speed,” Bunny said, eight minutes later. Rodriguez saw the two icons merge - the Ilyushin at 20,000 feet and descending, and the two Fantoms below it at wave top height, flying in train, nose to tail, making them nearly the same total length as the monster above them but with a much smaller radar cross-section.

    *
    *

    The communications between the tower at Lavrentiya and the IL-77 were encrypted, but the L-70 could track the inherent pattern in them, and reported to NORAD-ANR-NCTAMS-A4 that comms appeared normal as Bunny’s Fantoms began gliding toward Lavrentiya directly underneath the track of the transport flight.
    Inside the command trailer of Russia’s undisputed Nebo-M ace unit - the only unit now with two confirmed combat kills - Lieutenant Colonel Chaliapin listened to the chatter of Lavrentiya air traffic control and watched on his own display as the 0640 transport flight from Murmansk began its approach. There was no enemy air activity in the OA, and he reflected with some satisfaction that the US appeared to have given up any idea of trying to hit him in retaliation for the destruction of their aircraft two days earlier. Normally he would expect a ‘wild weasel’ air defense suppression attack or a cruise missile strike intended to target his radiation signature, and local air patrols had been increased in anticipation. But personally, he doubted the US had the capability for a strike this deep behind the forward line of control. The drone attack of the day before had probably been made with fighters piloted by an autonomous AI and sent on a one way trip from a base 1,000 miles distant, which is why it had been so dumb, and had failed.
    He could see no activity around the incoming IL-77, and there were no reported contacts from either AWACS or any of the 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command fighter Combat Air Patrols currently blanketing Western Alaska. This particular White Whale was safe.
    But he had not become the leading Nebo-M unit in the air force through complacency. If the enemy planned to take this particular flight down, it would be getting in position to hit it now, when it was in its vulnerable landing phase, wheels down, flaps up, flying close to a stall and unable to maneuver.
    “Low frequency sector scan on the IL-77 now, 30 seconds,” he ordered. Any stealth aircraft sneaking in behind the White Whale thinking it was going to make an easy kill was about to get a serious dose of radiation poisoning. He smiled. He loved his job.

    *
    *

    “Nebo in narrow beam search mode,” Bunny said suddenly. “They’re looking for us.”
    “They can’t be,” Rodriguez said, pointing at the NORAD feed showing the Russian CAPs following their usual routine patrol routes. “We’d see fighters pulled your way if they were.”
    “OK, maybe not for us, but they’re suspicious ba*tards,” Bunny said. “No lock. Yet.”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    “Sir, I have… I’m not sure…” the systems officer of the Nebo-M said. “Here, look…”
    Chaliapin bent over his system officer’s screen. It showed an icon for the White Whale, and overlaid on it, the icon for a potential UI contact. As they watched, the system’s AI wiped the unidentified contact from the screen due to ‘low return, low probability’.
    “OK, get ready to override AI,” the Nebo commander said.
    “But the UI contact has been wiped,” the man pointed out. “It was a false return.”
    “You might trust your life to an AI system,” the Russian commander said. “I don’t. If you get another return like that, override and lock it manually.”
    He turned to another officer. “Keep all arrays in circular mode. The ba*tards could be using the IL77 as a distraction, trying to jump us from a different direction.” To himself he muttered, “It’s what I’d do.”

    *
    *

    “Five miles to release point ma’am!” Bunny said. “Goddamn, I never flew a combat mission so damn slow! Any slower, our bird will have to drop flaps and we’ll lose stealth…”
    “Easy girl,” Rodriguez said, letting all formality go. “Can you show me the White Whale?”
    “Sure,” Bunny said, swiveling her head to look at a virtual screen inside her helmet, tapping a touchscreen and then pointing to one of the overhead 2D viewing monitors. “Topside cameras.” The view on the screen flicked from a forward view, showing water and a smudge of land, to the sky above the Fantoms. The transport swam into focus and looked like it was about to drop right on top of the Fantom.
    “#%&*$#…” Rodriguez said, holding herself back from grabbing Bunny’s shoulder. “What’s the separation?!”
    Bunny looked down at her VR instrument panels, “500 feet,” she said. “If they evacuate the in-flight toilets, we’re going to get wet ma’am.”

    *
    *

    “Sir!” the systems officer called. “I have another return. Manually locking unidentified object. Entering 30 mile inner ring range. Shall I bring the S-500s up?” He sounded unsure. “Whatever it is, it is congruent with the approaching aircraft. The Ilyushin will be at risk if we fire.”
    “No, that’s the last resort. We can order the Whale to abort and go-around for another landing, see if that shakes anything loose.” He picked up a handset, prepared to call Lavrentiya air traffic control.
    “It’s on final,” his operator said. “A go-around now would bring it nearly overhead anyway.”
    Lieutenant Colonel Chaliapin squinted hard at the screen. Overlaid on the IL-77 icon was a ‘UI aircraft’ icon. The two were blinking alternately, indicating the returns were completely aligned. The AI had decided the two returns were both from the same aircraft, not unsurprising given how close the huge transport plane was to water level. They were probably getting a double return – refraction of their radar energy off the aircraft onto the surface of the water and back. It happened.
    But almost never.
    “Dammit. Bring the missiles up and give me a full burst sector scan of that Ilyushin,” the battalion commander said. “I really don’t like this.”
    If he was wrong, he might be about to blow away one of the biggest aircraft in the world, its crew, and 200 tons of war supplies. But it was the kind of call he relished.

    *
    *

    JAG-ems one through eight away!” Bunny called, “CUDAs one and two away! Bugging the hell out.”
    From the weapons bays of her two Fantoms, six JAGM air-to-ground missiles dropped and accelerated toward Lavrentiya, just visible on the horizon. Right behind them, two CUDA half-RAAMs fell free, lit their burners, turned 180 degrees to clear the tail of their launching Fantom and then sped over the top of it headed straight for the White Whale wallowing along above them. It didn’t stand a chance. Bunny’s fighters spun on their wingtips, went to full burner and began active jamming to spoof any missiles that might be fired their way.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Chaliapin had done everything a human could do to defend the airspace over Lavrentiya. He had his sector scanning radar pointed directly at the source of the coming attack. He had his missiles online. He had his people on the edge of their seats expecting an attack.
    As soon as he heard the systems officer call a warning, he knew all of this wasn’t going to be enough.
    “Vampires inbound!!” the man yelled. “UI aircraft maneuvering. AI engaging!!”
    Outside the trailer, from three sites around him, missiles leapt off their rails. But prioritized by the combat AI, they weren’t aimed at Bunny’s Fantoms, which were heading as fast as they could out of range of the S-500s. The Russian AI had sensed the existential threat and stopped tracking the two stealth fighters to focus on intercepting the smaller, self-guided JAGMs, speeding downrange at 600 knots. The firing inclination of the S-500 launchers meant that as they were mounted on the elevated hills behind Lavrentiya, their missiles had to begin diving radically almost as soon as they were fired if they were to have any hope of intercepting the JAGMs speeding in at wave top height.
    “Mayday from the Ilyushin, it’s going down!” his comms operator called. He turned in terror, looking to Chaliapin for hope, but seeing none.
    One S-500 made a proximity detonation and took out a single JAGM. Two others detonated behind their targets, to no effect.
    Five JAGMs made it through.
    The first and second hit in the center of the truck park and container yard outside Lavrentiya township. The yard contained mostly food and clothing, and the explosions were less than impressive.
    The third and fourth hit targets that had been identified as probable fuel containers, and these caused an altogether more impressive conflagration, with a single huge fireball rising a hundred feet into the air over the town. The explosion also rained burning debris, causing spot fires in multiple buildings including a row of containers holding anti-aircraft artillery ammunition. One of them was in the process of being unloaded and the exposed AA shells exploded in a fan-like spread of armor piercing anger, detonating one by one the other containers alongside them in a ripple that caused the air to quiver and sent out a blast wave that took out the windows of the five story administration center two miles away. The final shed to detonate was at the end of the Lavrentiya air field runway, and it sent shrapnel slicing laterally through three of the five temporary hangars housing the Okhotniks of Bondarev’s 6983rd Fighter Aviation Regiment.
    The fifth missile wasn’t intended to cause massive destruction. It had been programmed by Bunny O’Hare to identify and home on the communications signature of a Nebo-M anti-aircraft radar array command hub, and the subsonic scream of its solid-propellant engine was the last sound heard by Lieutenant Colonel Alexandr Chaliapin, commander of Russia’s premier anti-aircraft defense battalion.
    The last thought to go through his mind was, ‘I was bloody right.’

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Bunny O’Hare had no time to celebrate.
    She had nullified the threat from the Nebo-M, but it had not gone quietly into the night. Even as it fought to intercept the JAGMs closing on Lavrentiya, it was sending targeting data on the two Fantoms to a combat air patrol of two Su-57s circling overhead. Between the data from the Nebo and her own radical maneuvering, the Sukhoi pilots had no trouble locking up Bunny’s Fantoms.
    “Missile launch!” Bunny grunted. “Jamming, firing countermeasures.” Rodriguez watched as she handed off control of one of the Fantoms to its autonomous defensive AI, and tightened the grip on her mouse. The VR helmet around her gave her a near 360 degree view, simulating the view out of a cockpit. The two Sukhois were high on Bunny’s starboard quarter and she ordered her Fantoms around to face them, staying low to the water, trying to force the Russian missiles to overshoot.
    They did, missing her lead aircraft.
    Checking the other Fantom she saw that the AI had spoofed the other pair of missiles too, either through jamming or by drawing them away with chaff and flares. The fact her machines were still alive told her the pursuing fighters weren’t carrying K-77s, they were probably fielding older R-77s – she still had a chance!
    She had two units in the fight. They weren’t armed with anything but cannon, but that would have to be enough.
    “I’m sorry baby,” Bunny said, taking her support drone off of defensive AI and commanding it to adopt an aggressive attack posture targeting the nearest Sukhoi. “We all have to die one day.”
    It was the only chance she had. If one of the drones could engage and distract the fighters now dropping down on her rear quarter, the other might just have a chance of escape. In her downtime under the Rock, Bunny had ‘tweaked’ her drones’ offensive AI settings, creating what she called ‘bezerker mode’. When initiated, the AI would only execute maneuvers intended to give it a firing solution on an enemy. It would take no evasive action whatsoever, no matter how imminent the threat. And even after all ordnance was expended, unless she cancelled the ‘bezerker’ command, the drone would try to destroy its target by ramming it. With each drone costing upward of 80 million dollars, it wasn’t surprising the designers of the Fantom’s combat AI had not considered implementing anything like Bunny’s bezerker code. But Bunny hadn’t felt bound by budget constraints.
    “It would totally suck to lose both drones again,” Rodriguez said, before she could stop herself.
    “Understood ma’am,” Bunny said, dragging a waypoint across her touch screen and ordering her lead drone to bug out by scooting under the noses of the approaching enemy fighters. “Will try to avoid total suck outcome.” The two Sukhois were dropping on her like sea eagles hunting salmon. She locked them up with her missile targeting radar, knowing it would set alarms screaming in their cockpits, even though she had no missile to fire. Her ploy was psychological. Their AI would have told them by now that they were facing two UCAVs. Human pilots hated UCAVs. A UCAV like the Fantom had only a silicon life to lose, it could pull Gs that no human pilot could, and it knew no fear. US air combat orthodoxy said that if you couldn’t swat a UCAV with your first missile salvo, you should do everything possible to avoid getting in range of guns and short range missiles. Bunny was banking that at least one of the Sukhoi pilots would lose his #%&*$# at the sight of her Fantom closing on him with a missile warning screaming in his ears.
    There was no sign of that yet though. As she tried to extend at least one of her Fantoms away from the oncoming Sukhois and let the other take the fight, a warning alarm filled the trailer and the Russians let fly with their second salvo of short range off-boresight missiles.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Carl Williams of course found out about the planned nuclear strike almost at the same time as the Ambassador. HOLMES didn’t spend all of his time gathering intel for the Ambassador; he also had a considerable portion of his bandwidth devoted to keeping Williams up to date with military developments, with orders to break in on whatever Williams was doing (including sleeping) with a flash alert for any event involving actual or potential losses to either side.
    The small buzzing alarm from Williams laptop was the signal of just such an alert. Carl had dragged a mattress down to his office, and had taken to showering in the gym, and eating in the Annexe’s commissary. He hadn’t see his own apartment for nearly two weeks. Nowhere else had the connectivity he needed to keep his uplink to the NSA HOLMES platform operating at fully capacity.
    He groaned, reaching an arm up from the mattress on the floor and batting the spacebar on his laptop. “Yes, what?”
    “The time is 0100 hours,” HOLMES announced. “I have a military sitrep for you.”
    “Go ahead,” Williams said, rubbing his eyes. He could have HOLMES copy it to NSA, and the Ambassador if it was material. He’d probably insist on doing so anyway. HOLMES was still trying to get back into her good books after the Bondarev thing.
    “SatInt, ElInt and human source reporting from Saint Lawrence indicates that elements of the Russian 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command have moved into Savoonga. DoD analysts conclude this has been done to extend their flight time over the south eastern area of operations.”
    “They’ve got Alaska pretty much to themselves then,” Williams observed.
    “I have seen no reports of anything except reconnaissance flights from US mainland bases in the last 24 hours,” HOLMES confirmed. “However, there is a Navy covert air unit which has conducted two successful strikes on Russian mainland facilities in the last three days.”
    “What covert air unit?” Williams asked, his ears pricking.
    “I only have the code name,” HOLMES replied. “Its designation is NCTAMS-A4. I am unable to find any other information about this unit. But I can confirm that three days ago it carried out a strike on Russian military targets at Anadyr which caused significant damage including the incapacitation of a
    UCAV squadron of the Russian 6983rd Air Defense Regiment. I have just picked up a report from ANR NORAD that about 30 minutes ago, the same unit apparently struck a Russian supply depot at Lavrentiya. BDA has not yet been conducted, and I have no details yet on the fate of the attacking Navy aircraft.”
    “Get some, Navy!” Williams said, punching a fist in the air. “I’m guessing the Russian planes at Savoonga are going to be next on their Christmas list.”
    “That may be planned but is unlikely to be effected,” HOLMES said. “A US Columbia Class nuclear submarine is currently moving into position off the coast of the Kuril Islands. My analysis of multiple intel inputs indicates that the submarine may be maneuvering to an established missile launch station.”
    “Columbia class subs carry long range hypersonic cruise missiles right?” Williams said. He could imagine tempers in Washington getting short - they might want to send a high explosive ultimatum towards one or more Russian military targets.
    “Yes. I have indications that other US SSBNs have also been ordered to readiness, although their posture appears more defensive than offensive. I have assigned a 78% probability to a tactical nuclear attack using hypersonic cruise missiles on a Russian military target by the SSBN located off the Kurils.” Williams was not sure he heard right.
    “A nuke?!”
    “Yes. I have a conventional weapons attack with subsonic cruise missiles or ICBMs at 54% probability.”
    “What …. what target?” Williams said in a strangled voice.
    “Repeat your question please Carl.”
    “Assume this is a political attack, not an attempt to start an all-out nuclear war. Assume the submarine is only going to target a single Russian base, or location. What are the likely targets for a submarine based off the Kurils?” He had to believe that whatever this was, it was intended as a ‘shot across the bows’. He couldn’t believe his own country wanted to trigger Armageddon. Not over Alaska.
    But then he realized, he was hoping exactly what the Russian planners were hoping, and hope was not a sound military strategy.
    “Weighted for combined geopolitical and military impact - Iturup anti-ship missile facility 91% probability, Matua Northern Fleet Replenishment Facility 73%. I also calculate a probability of 34% that the warhead will be detonated over a remote area in the Northern Pacific, however this probability is low due to the limited military value of such an act.”
    Williams swore. He was shaken to his core. He had grown up in a world where the use of nuclear weapons in conflict was simply inconceivable. It hadn’t happened since 1945. Sure, the world had come close to calamity a few times - the Cuban missile crisis, the Russian submarine malfunction, a US strategic bomber shot down by its own escort when it received a nuclear launch order by mistake. There were probably other events he didn’t know about, but they were all accidents. Even in the heat of the proxy wars in the Middle East, when US backed Turkish forces were being forced back out of Syria, nuclear weapons had never been considered.
    But the world had let itself become complacent. Nuclear arms reduction treaties had lapsed and not been renegotiated. Politicians had more focus on the dangers posed by new technologies - hypersonic missiles, cyber warfare, AI systems, unmanned combat vehicles - and had all but forgotten about the first doomsday weapons. The number of nations with nukes had proliferated uncontrollably because no nation was willing to go to war over them before it was too late. North Korea had been the first example, then Iran and Saudi Arabia. Afraid of being left in the cold by weakening US commitment, Taiwan joined the nuclear arms club. And after the bruising it took at the hands of Russia and Syria, Williams had seen reports that Turkey was now starting its own underground weapons program, with the US turning a blind eye.
    “Assume a hypersonic cruise missile strike. Have you run the numbers on how soon the sub will be within launch range?”
    “Yes Carl. It is already within range of the former North Pacific Open Sea Testing Range. It can be within range of Iturup between 1500 and 1700 hours today. It can be within range of Matua by 2300 hours today.”
    “So it’s going to happen today?” Carl whispered, still not believing it.
    “There is still a 22% probability my analysis is wrong,” HOLMES said. “It requires that I assign motive and intent to numerous human actors on both sides, but I have calibrated for the recklessness of past strategic decisions and I believe, weighted the role of the US President appropriately.”
    Williams knew what HOLMES was saying, even if he didn’t mean to say it. The current US President was a cowboy, in many senses of the word. Short in stature, short on temperament, inclined to shoot first and think later. If he had enough support in DC and the Pentagon…
    He thought fast, “Copy your analysis to NSA,” Williams said. “If you have been able to identify a possible SSBN launch by analyzing signals traffic, Russia or China could have too. And copy the report to the Ambassador. She might be able to do something to calm down the hawks in Washington.”
    “She may already be aware,” HOLMES said. “I logged a person to person call between her and the Secretary of State about five minutes ago. This was one of the data points that allowed me to refine my final probability analyses and prompted me to wake you.”
    It made sense. The US had been pushed ignominiously out of its own territory. Its most powerful supercarrier crippled by cyber-sabotage and its other carrier groups were out of position. It could fight a conventional war that would cost tens of thousands of lives, or it could threaten nuclear retaliation. And potentially cost millions of lives.
    And idea came to him.
    “HOLMES,” Williams said. “I have a new priority A task for you. Find all possible contact details for Yevgeny Bondarev; landline, cell phone, sat phone, encrypted chat, Savoonga bloody post office, whatever you can pull down.” He had to stop his voice from shaking, as the reality of what was about to happen starting building inside him. “Send everything you can find to the Ambassador’s cell phone and mine.”
    “Yes Carl.”
    “OK, keep updating your ETA for those subs and send that report. You can log off for now. No, wait!” He said, suddenly remembering something. It had been niggling at him. Not an important thing, just a question he’d meant to ask. “HOLMES, about the Russian forces at Savoonga… you said you had seen human source reporting?”
    “Yes Carl.”
    “We have special forces on Saint Lawrence?” Carl said, impressed. “Right under the noses of the Russian 3rd Air and Air Defense Forces Command?”
    “No Carl,” HOLMES said. “The human source reports are being generated by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service. It is their agent on the ground, not one of ours.”

    *
    *

    CSIS ‘agent in place’, Perri Tungyan, literally had his a$$ on the ground. He and Dave were camped on a low hill west of Savoonga, overlooking the town and the new base that the US had built nearly ten years ago, which okay, you couldn’t really call new.
    Or more correctly, they were overlooking where the base had been. All they could see were the still smoking ruins of the cantonment. At least here, the Americans had spared the township.
    Earlier that morning, they had watched as the weary column of townsfolk from Gambell and their Russian captors had trudged into Savoonga. Just as in Gambell, the townspeople had been herded into the Hogarth Kingeekuk Sr. Memorial School, which already looked like a stockade, so Perri figured there must be local Savoonga people in there too.
    He didn’t know how few.
    About mid-morning, they had made contact with Sarge. For a very long fifteen minutes they reported everything they could see from outside the town, from the number of troops and vehicles, their locations and apparent patrol routes to the number and type of aircraft down at the airfield.
    And that, in particular, had taken time, because they had to count them three times to get it right. In the end they made it at about 45 fighter aircraft, mostly all Su-35s and Su-57s as far as Perri could tell. There were some aircraft without cockpits, that Sarge said were probably recon drones, not the bigger Hunter UCAVs. And there smaller transport aircraft coming and going almost continuously. The was one big one too. A huge, white flying wing thing Perri had never seen before. It needed drogue chutes to slow it down so that it didn’t run off the end of the airfield when it was landing, and when it took off again a couple of hours later, only lifted its nose at the very last minute before it ran out of runway.
    “OK, that’s good, that’s good,” Sarge had said. “Now are you two safe where you are?”
    “I guess,” Perri said. “We’re under a rock overhang, so you can’t see us from the air. We can stay pretty dry. Without a fire, it’s pretty cold though, eh.”
    “Pretty cold, or dangerously cold,” Sarge asked. “You guys know your country better than me. It’s your call.”
    Dave was making signs like he wanted them to head back to Gambell, to their nice warm bunker under the gas station.
    “Nah, we’ll be OK,” Perri said. “We can stick it out a couple more days at least. Then we’ll be out of food, and probably battery too. It will take us three days to hike back to Gambell, or we can try to sneak into Savoonga. I’ve got people there.” He looked through his scope at the Russian troops in the streets, and realized he couldn’t see any locals. “Maybe.”
    “OK, you’ll be calling in reports like this for me every four hours, but you shut down and lie low for now,” Sarge said. “You guys are doing awesome, you know that, right?”
    “Awesome, yeah,” Dave said, unconvincingly.
    Perri disconnected the radio and started to pack it away so it wouldn’t get wet. The wind was picking up and the sky looked like rain was coming. The small overhang they were sitting under wouldn’t offer that much protection. Dave had been sitting with his rifle across his knees, but put it down and picked up Perri's, switching on the scope. He waved it around a bit, then settled it on some far-off target. He squinted, “What’s these numbers across the bottom?” he asked.
    “Uh, by memory? I think left to right it’s like compass bearing, then elevation, then windage,” Perri answered.
    “Uh huh, and you got it zeroed in, right?”
    Perri was winding up the battery cables. “Yeah.”
    “So, if I was going to shoot something, I wouldn’t use the red dot in the middle of the scope, I would use these crosshairs off to the side. The ones that move around a bit?”
    “You’re not going to shoot anything,” Perri told him.
    “I said if I was,” Dave said.
    “Sure,” Perri said. “You’d use the crosshairs, not the red dot. The bullet goes where the crosshairs are...”
    Dave got up on one knee, pointed the rifle downhill toward the town. “Like, if I wanted to shoot that Russian soldier who is coming up the hill, straight toward us?”
    Perri grabbed the rifle off him and stared down the scope. At first, he saw nothing. “Ha ha very fu…” he said, then stopped. A movement in the corner of the scope caught his eye, he swung it slightly to the right.
    “#%&*$#. It’s that guy from Gambell,” Perri said. “The one we saw in the school office.”
    “No way.”
    “Way,” Perri said. He lowered the rifle. The soldier was too far away to see with a naked eye but he could see he had a large rifle strapped to his back, moving fast and staring intently at the ground. “How did he get ahead of us?”
    “Quad bike or something?” Dave said. “Maybe a boat or chopper eh. But he’s walking back along the track from Savoonga. So he’s already been there, and now he’s going back to Gambell? Why?”
    “Maybe he’s hunting.”
    Dave laughed, “Freaking idiot. What, he thinks he’s going to get bear or walrus? Nothing out here this time of year except birds.”
    Perri put his own rifle back up to his cheek. “No Dave, I got a feeling he’s hunting us.”

    *
    *

    Private Zubkhov was cold too. But no one was giving him any praise. He’d followed the trail of the column of hostages all the way to Savoonga, but he hadn’t come across whoever it was that had been carrying that ghost radio. If he’d gone on any further, he’d have run a risk of bumping into one of his old comrades, or a sentry outside of Savoonga and he wasn’t ready for that. So there was nothing for it but to double back – his quarry must have turned off at some point and he missed their tracks.
    Suddenly he got this funny feeling. He dropped to one knee and looked around himself. Nothing. He saw nothing but scrub, rock and sea birds in any direction. He felt like slapping himself. Come on boy, you’re getting spooked now. But you’re right, that American is around here somewhere, he must be. You just have to be patient, move slower, stay more alert and wait for night fall. He’ll probably light a fire to stay warm, and you’ll have him.
    Zubkov didn’t hear the shot. The shooter must have been upwind. He felt something punch him in the chest, just below his right shoulder. It spun him around and knocked him to the ground.


    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Bunny’s bezerker routine had done its job. The attacking Fantom had locked up one of the enemy Sukhois, spooking it into thinking it was about to face a US all-aspect short-range missile at point blank range, and the pilot choked. He threw his machine into a twisting dive, firing off chaff and flares as he headed for the deck. The Fantom meanwhile centered its gun pipper on the other Sukhoi, which was following its missiles down range. One Fantom was able to dodge the missiles fired at it, but her kamikaze Fantom did not even try to evade. At maximum range, it opened up with its GAU-22/L 25mm cannon. The ‘L’ designator stood for ‘laser’, because the weapon had its own dedicated laser targeting system, making the system accurate out to 12,000 feet.
    Which coincidentally was its exact distance from the Sukhoi at the moment it opened fire. In a head on attack situation, against an unswerving enemy target confidently barreling in behind his missiles at 1,000 miles an hour, it was hard for the GAU-22/L to miss. In the three seconds before the two Russian missiles slammed into it, the Fantom put nearly 200 25mm shells into the Sukhoi.
    Its pilot was dead before his missiles hit their target, taking Bunny’s sacrificial drone off the board.
    With his flight leader off the air, and his threat warning alarm telling him there was still one enemy UCAV out there, the second Sukhoi pilot decided to get while the going was good. One on one with a human pilot, he would back himself any day. Down on the deck, out of energy and facing a damn robot, those weren’t odds he liked. Bunny watched with satisfaction as he bugged out and she regained stealth status. She gave her surviving Fantom a dogleg route home to try to confuse any satellite surveillance that might be lucky enough to pick up her heat signature along the way, and leaned back in her chair.
    “Permission to declare myself freaking awesome ma’am?” Bunny said, grinning widely but keeping her eyes on her monitors.
    During the dogfight, Rodriguez had hovered behind the pilot’s chair, biting her bottom lip so hard she could taste blood now. It was ridiculous. Not like my life was on the line. But it felt like it. And that was the way O’Hare was running her drones too - as though her life depended on it.
    “Denied,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t get to do that. I get to do that. That was simply awe inspiring, Lieutenant. From ingress to egress.”
    “You know ma’am, I agree with you,” Bunny said. “What was it that inspired the most awe, in your personal opinion? Was it the way I snuck in under that IL-77 like a freaking ninja and blew it out of the sky, or was it the four solids I laid on Ivan at Lavrentiya?” She spun her chair around, giving Rodriguez a dead pan look. “Or was it the way I burned that Nebo, evaded like a hundred missiles and bagged myself a Sukhoi-57 in the process?”
    Rodriguez knew better than to say something that would bring her ace pilot back down to earth. It was O’Hare’s moment, and she had earned it.
    “Honestly?” Rodriguez smiled. “None of that. The most awesome thing of all, is that all that hurt was laid on the Russians by a single pilot whose handle is ‘Bunny’.”

    *
    *

    Perri saw the Russian soldier drop and roll, then he disappeared from view behind some low scrub.
    “Did you hit him?” Dave asked, scanning the ground in front of them with binoculars.
    “Yeah I hit him,” Perri said. Crouched on one knee, the Russian was not a big target. He’d aimed for the guy’s center mass, not taking any chances. The shot had knocked him down, he hadn’t ducked, of that he was sure.
    “I can’t see him,” Dave said. “Should we go look for him? Make sure he’s dead?”
    “No, we should not go look for him, we should get the hell out of here. He might not be the only one looking for us. Someone could have heard that shot.”
    “You want to go back to Gambell?” Dave asked, hopefully.
    “Shut up, I’m thinking.” He and Dave were on a small rise, about two miles out from the south-west end of the long runway. Savoonga town was a ways off, on the other side of the runway. The bombed out Radar Facility cantonment was south of it, about two miles south-east of the runway. It wouldn’t have as clear a view over the town and airport as they had now, but they couldn’t stay here, and they had to hide out somewhere. “Saddle up,” Perri said, pointing at the ruins in the distance. “There’s our new home.”
    He expected Dave to argue, but the guy just shouldered his rifle, lifted his pack onto his other shoulder and stood there waiting. “What?” he said. “You want me to congratulate you for taking down that Russian?” He walked off in the direction of the cantonment, muttering. “I’m the one spotted the guy. Shooting him was the easy part. I’ve shot sleeping walrus that were harder to shoot than that dumbass Russian…”

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    'That dumba$$ Russian' was having trouble breathing.
    Laying on his back, looking up at the sky Zubkhov had clawed his rifle out from under him and had its butt propped against the ground, left hand with a finger inside the trigger guard, ready in case the ba*tard who shot him decided to come and finish the job. He had almost no chance if he did. Zubkov’s right arm was completely numb, and he couldn’t even unfold the rifle stock, let alone hold it steady and point it properly.
    The American was good, Zubhkov had to give him that. The way he’d escaped back in Gambell, diving straight into the water instead of being stupid and trying to run for it along the runway. Found a Russian radio and got it working. It had to be the same guy. He’d tracked the Russian troops all the way to Savoonga, somehow realizing Zubkhov was on his tail, got around behind and set him up for a hit. Guy like that, he couldn’t be a simple radar technician. He had to be like, base security or something more, maybe special forces - just happened to be in Gambell. Yeah, you had to give him credit.
    But not too much credit. Zubkhov was still alive, for now. He waited, expecting every second to be his last. But the kill shot never came.
    When he was sure the guy wasn’t coming to confirm his kill - which either made him very cocky, or very careful - Zubkhov put down his rifle and felt around under his uniform. His shirt was soaked in blood: not good. But he could feel an entry wound at the front of his right shoulder, and a pretty damn huge exit wound at the back, that was where most of the blood was coming from. From a pouch on the leg of his uniform trousers he pulled a small field first-aid pack. Ripping open the foil with one hand and his teeth, he pulled out the sterilized gauze bandage, shoved the wrapping between his teeth, and then jammed the bandage as far into the wound in his back as he could. He had to stifle a scream, but he got a fair wad of gauze in there, and then rolled back onto it to try to keep some pressure on it.
    He’d told Sergeant Penkov he was no medic. Zubkhov had basic combat medical training though, so unfortunately he knew enough to realize he was hit pretty good, but his wound wasn’t sucking air, so he hadn’t suffered a punctured lung cavity. Hurt like hell though and it was bleeding pretty good. If the shoulder blade wasn’t broken, the slug had taken a big chunk out of it. He could see blood pulsing out of the entry wound. He fumbled with the first aid pack, trying to find the large plastic adhesive wound patch he knew was in there. Finally his fingers grabbed the thin film and he ripped the back off it with his teeth. Luckily he was one of those semi-neurotic guys who were terrified of battlefield wounds so he shaved his chest, arm and legs to get rid of hair. And yeah, some of the others had given him #%&*$# about it, but right now, right now, who was the smart guy huh? Who was laughing now? He laughed out loud.
    He realized his mind was wandering. The patch. He pulled the plastic film off the back of it, and slapped it over the entry wound, then remembered something. Something, something. He was doing something wrong. He needed a pressure bandage on there too but was it supposed to go over the patch, or under it? Whatever. He put a wad of gauze over the patch, bound a bandage around his arm and shoulder as best he could with one hand and punched an ampoule of fentanyl-NFEPP into his leg to dull the pain.
    Then he just lay back again. No point sticking his head up and flagging to anyone he was still alive.
    Actually it was quite nice down here out of the wind. He closed his eyes.

    *
    *
    (C) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued...
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/22/18 04:34 PM

    Quote
    prep two Fantoms with ground to air ordnance

    You probably meant to write air to ground?
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/22/18 05:34 PM

    Gatlings are cool, but I don't think it makes sense to field them as a dogfight weapon, not even a robo-dogfighter. Heavy, lots of recoil, and above all they eat too much ammo too fast. Also, not sure about using dU rounds, unless the thing is meant to attack ground targets. Air targets aren't armored, so frangible (full bore) AP rounds would appear totally adequate. No plastic sabot petals that mess with the air intake, lots of kinetic energy, and massive fragmentation inside the aircraft target. Possibly mix that with ballistically matched HE rounds, although with a computerized gunner I guess you can easily do without that, further reducing UXO problems/collateral damage and making your ammo loadout more insensitive. Given that you propose a 3000 RPM four-barrel gatling that means a cyclic rate of 750 RPM for the single barrel, way more than enough. I don't think you need more than three to five hits on a fighter to achieve a mission kill, directly downing it maybe on the eighth to tenth hit.

    Low-balling, assuming a 50% hit rate (no reason to believe it couldn't be 80%, really) that means 10-20 rounds to expend on any air target, giving you potentially a lot more kills for the same number of rounds and much less weight to carry around.

    Of course a berzerk mode might continue firing until it's a confirmed destruction of the target.Assuming a closing rate of 2 x Mach 0.8 = 530m/s, a v0 of 1200m/s, a (rather generous) velocity decay of 20m/sec per 100m flight distance, and a max engagement distance of 4,000m you'd get a burst length of 39 rounds. But why open fire at 4,000m when you can open fire at a straight flying target at maximum closure velocity? An AI gunner might open fire at 5600m range already, so that the rounds after a flight time of about 3.08 seconds impact the target at 4000m. winkngrin

    Ballistics is fun.
    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/22/18 10:03 PM

    A small note, the Vintorez is really barely longer then a normal AK-74, it's a few inches shorter then an M-16A2/A4.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/23/18 02:16 PM

    Another great installment.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/23/18 06:01 PM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    Quote
    prep two Fantoms with ground to air ordnance

    You probably meant to write air to ground?


    Thx, good catch!


    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    Gatlings are cool, ...

    Low-balling, assuming a 50% hit rate (no reason to believe it couldn't be 80%, really) that means 10-20 rounds to expend on any air target, giving you potentially a lot more kills for the same number of rounds and much less weight to carry around.

    Of course a berzerk mode might continue firing until it's a confirmed destruction of the target.Assuming a closing rate of 2 x Mach 0.8 = 530m/s, a v0 of 1200m/s, a (rather generous) velocity decay of 20m/sec per 100m flight distance, and a max engagement distance of 4,000m you'd get a burst length of 39 rounds. But why open fire at 4,000m when you can open fire at a straight flying target at maximum closure velocity? An AI gunner might open fire at 5600m range already, so that the rounds after a flight time of about 3.08 seconds impact the target at 4000m. winkngrin

    Ballistics is fun.


    Awesome work on the ballistics math! So at what range would a mach 2 missile have to be fired in order for the round from the gat to beat the missile to the target and or at least hit the target after the missile was fired?

    I couldn't find any documentation on the gun planned for the X-47B so I assumed a repurposed F-35 25mm gat. I read an article saying DARPA had looked at an independent laser rangefinder and targeting system for the gat on the A10 to help it engage moving ground vehicles and missile targets simultaneously and so added this 'off boresight' gun capability to the UCAV, but yeah not DU rounds, that was the best graphic I could find!

    Originally Posted by jenrick
    A small note, the Vintorez is really barely longer then a normal AK-74, it's a few inches shorter then an M-16A2/A4.

    -Jenrick


    Does that mean it is not a practical weapon for Zubkhov to choose? Looking at typical Spetsnaz weapons the Dragunov is heavier, larger. I figured he should take a sniper rifle with him so I chose the Vintorez because it has folding stock. Not knowing who/how many he is up against I figured his strategy would be to engage from a distance with rifle if he could. Except he didn't get the chance...

    Originally Posted by Nixer
    Another great installment.


    Thx, the question is how to wrap it up in the next few chapters!

    1) Nuclear oblivion. HOLMES is the only survivor
    2) Perri assassinates Bondarev on St Lawrence and together with the loss of Gen Lukin the attack falls apart
    3) Russians take Nome and US nukes it
    4) All of the above
    5) None of the above

    (Hint: remember how the story starts...)

    And BTW YOU GUYS ARE AWESOME!!!!!!

    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/23/18 10:00 PM

    Quote
    Does that mean it is not a practical weapon for Zubkhov to choose? Looking at typical Spetsnaz weapons the Dragunov is heavier, larger. I figured he should take a sniper rifle with him so I chose the Vintorez because it has folding stock. Not knowing who/how many he is up against I figured his strategy would be to engage from a distance with rifle if he could. Except he didn't get the chance...


    Oh no, it's a reasonable choice. Particularly if he was a marksman or sniper for his unit. Particularly as he's worried about not being detected by his old comrades either, running a suppressed rifle makes perfect sense. The Vintorez is going to be effective out to about 400-500m. If the terrain and conditions allowed for longer engagements the SVD or SVU (which would actually be a reasonable transition for the Spetsnaz to go to by this time period) would have a lot more range, and a lot more impact. The major con with the either of them being a lack of suppression. It is also very possible by this time period that all arms are suppressed, as it makes command and control on the battlefield (and particularly urban operations) WAY easier, decreases signature, and a host of other things. They are still dang loud, but you can actually yell over them. The Marines are currently looking at going fully suppressed for these reasons. If that was the case, an AK-100 series rifle (probably the 105) with a suppressor would be a decent choice, and would be effective out to the same distance as the Vintorez though the lack of glass could be problematic.

    One other option would be Zubkhov just going for something like the PKM/PKP and just humping it, he is an insane Spetsnaz trooper after all. And what story doesn't need some belt fed machine gun action?

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/24/18 07:38 AM

    Per my rough estimations the distances at which missile and gun projectiles arrive at exactly the same time is 5100m for the missile (with 5600m for thegun, as previously mentioned), so the missile can be launched up to one second later. Beyond that point the missile will arrive earlier. Beyond about 8000m range the missile will arrive so much later that the Fantom can't get a single shot off. In order to achieve five hits (with an accuracy of 80%) the Fantom needs half a second (assuming a single-barrel gun), which would mean a missile release at 7.5km range (~8.5 seconds missile flight time). This extreme scenario does however not make too much sense to me because the Russian pilot would probably bank immediately after missile release, which doesn't allow the gun to open fire at 5600m (to hit at its nominal max range of 4000m).

    So, 5,100...7,500m range is covered by your artistic license, I'd say.
    I'm a crappy engineer, though, and not a rocket scientist, so my estimations are to be treated with caution. They should however give you an impression of the distances involved. It should also make clear why in the 1950s engineers thought they could do away with guns; with reliable missiles the gun is pretty much outranged in most relevant scenarios.
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/24/18 02:32 PM

    If I remember the beginning correctly (I don't reread it to make a genuine bet), I'd say 2/ is plausible, however I wish Bondy makes it (I know Perri and Dave won't), so I still hope 2/ may be altered.1 /, 3/ and 4/ are then out of hte loop, 5/ stays a possibility. Now, If I was the author tickling my readers, I'd choose 5/ of course. So 5/ is my choice, but I'm still sad for Perri and Dave, hope I misread the beginning.

    The berzerk action needs rewriting imho, doesn't read as believable now from my POV. Not trying to calculate, just isn't convincing yet.

    Still another great chapter, thanks a lot smile

    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: UPDATE 23 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/24/18 04:03 PM

    Originally Posted by rollnloop.
    If I remember the beginning correctly (I don't reread it to make a genuine bet), I'd say 2/ is plausible, however I wish Bondy makes it (I know Perri and Dave won't), so I still hope 2/ may be altered.1 /, 3/ and 4/ are then out of hte loop, 5/ stays a possibility. Now, If I was the author tickling my readers, I'd choose 5/ of course. So 5/ is my choice, but I'm still sad for Perri and Dave, hope I misread the beginning.

    The berzerk action needs rewriting imho, doesn't read as believable now from my POV. Not trying to calculate, just isn't convincing yet.

    Still another great chapter, thanks a lot smile



    Will work on it!
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: UPDATE 26 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/25/18 08:41 PM

    THE BEZERKER ALGORITHM

    [Linked Image]

    Bondarev knew it was going to be an interesting day when the Savoonga tower called him to let him know that General Vitaly Potemkin’s aircraft had entered Saint Lawrence airspace and would be landing in 15 minutes. Unannounced.
    Potemkin was the commander of the Central Military District, 2nd Command of Airforce and Air Defence. He was without doubt flying in to advise Bondarev that he was taking over after Lukin’s death. In person. If so, it didn’t overly concern Bondarev – even if Potemkin questioned Bondarev’s performance, even if he had a commander of his own in mind for the 6983rd, he was unlikely to change horses mid stream. Yes, Bondarev had lost a considerable amount of hardware and men. He had the Okhotniks of the 573rd that were now un-crewed. But he could reassign to them the Okhotnik crews of the 6983rd that were now without aircraft and he would still have a mission capable ground attack battalion for Nome. He had already given the orders. Potemkin should have no reason to dismiss him.
    Unlike Lukin, Potemkin did not fly himself around. As Bondarev waited for his Ilyushin 112 to taxi to a stop on the apron outside the old terminal building, he reflected it was always interesting to see who Lukin had in the aircraft with him. At least an adjutant and intelligence officer of course, but this time …
    As the General and his retinue stepped out of the cabin and down the stairs, he saw someone he recognized. So, the indomitable intelligence officer, Lieutenant Ksenia Butyrskaya had survived the transition from Lukin to Potemkin. But why had he brought her? Bondarev stood with hands behind his back, and waited, his mind racing.
    As he stood there, Arsharvin came panting up beside him. He looked at the man, busily adjusting his uniform and trying to catch his breath.
    “You need to exercise more,” Bondarev told him, still watching the General dismount with assistance from a ground crew. “You’re getting fat.”
    “Easy for you … to say … comrade Colonel,” Arsharvin said. “You aren’t answering your phone. I just sprinted … two kilometers.”
    Bondarev patted his pocket, he hadn’t noticed the telephone ringing, but with the ever-present Saint Lawrence wind and the noise of aircraft out on the flight line, that wasn’t surprising. “Why?” he asked.
    “We found where the Fantoms are launching from,” Arsharvin said. “Or actually I did, but I bet she’s going to try to take the credit.” He said pointing to Butyrskaya. “That’s why I wanted to get to you first…”
    Butyrskaya reached him before the General did, and saluted, “Comrade Colonel,” she said. “I have a gift for you.”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Bunny had flown her remaining Fantom into the maw of the cave and splashed it down onto the Pond. They had secured it to a wrecked handrail and left it there for now. Recovery, refueling and rearming was a time-consuming chore that would have to wait. In the meantime, they had locked another Fantom onto the catapult and had another prepped, queued and ready to go. The BDA from Lavrentiya had showed significant damage to infrastructure, but the airfield was still in operation and they had made no discernible dent in Russian air strength. In a conventional war, it was a target they would be required to go back to again, and again, before it was considered NMC – ideally before Russia got another Nemo C3I system in place.
    But this was not a conventional war.
    It had become clear to Rodriguez their job was only to keep the enemy off balance. To strike them where it hurt, and show them they were vulnerable. In the absence of a major US air counteroffensive, Bunny was providing a taste of their capabilities that should be giving Russian military and political commanders pause for thought. Rodriguez knew they wouldn’t be the only pressure point in play, but she was determined that they would give Russia more than just a headache.
    Their new tasking order however, posed more than a few challenges. The first was that NCTAMSA4 was down to eight fighter aircraft, not including the one floating out on the Pond, and they couldn’t afford to lose another. The second problem was the target they had been assigned.
    “Savoonga? No problem,” Bunny said, looking at the intel they had been sent on her tablet. “OK, so the Russians have moved in some heavy anti-air. Another Nebo system, multiple close defense antimissile batteries.” She looked down at the map and printouts on the planning table in the trailer. “And sure, they have two fighter brigades, totaling 60 plus aircraft on station now. Round the clock CAPs protecting the airspace for 200 miles around. That’s all?” she asked ironically.
    Rodriguez shoved another of the photos over toward her, “You forgot this.”
    Bunny frowned, “Oh, right. Sure, that’s what, a Lider class destroyer?”
    “Arrived off the Savoonga coast in the company of two older Sovremenny class destroyers yesterday.”
    “S-500s?” Bunny asked, checking what anti-air systems the destroyers were fielding.
    Rodriguez read the briefing file, “56 S-500 cells on the Lider, 24 SA-N-7Cs each on the Sovremennys. You know, it’s like they don’t want visitors.”
    “I know, right?” Bunny said, pulling at her lip thoughtfully. “I guess the David and Goliath trick won’t work again.”
    “You can fool Ivan only once,” Rodriguez said. “Fuel and ordnance is mostly coming in on smaller transports, and there’s a big tanker on the way from Anadyr, should arrive tomorrow.” Rodriguez didn’t mention it, but she could see from the source reporting on the intel that at least some of it was coming from a human source. They had a spy on the island feeding them realtime intel on airport traffic? Whoever it was, they had real cajones.
    Bunny looked up, “Hit the transports? All those CAPs they’re flying, that’s got to burn a ton of hydrogen. No fuel, no fly.”
    “They will basically be sailing under fighter and naval anti-air cover the whole way, we won’t get near them.”
    “Try their own strategy on them? Hit them with a slew of cruise missiles, overwhelm the air defenses, we ride in on the slipstream while they’re shocked and confused?”
    “I’m told we are on our own with this one, no available support assets.”
    Bunny tapped a pen on her teeth. “Cool. Way I like it.” She moved some map printouts around like she was playing with a Rubik’s cube. Finally she stepped back from the table, “There’s simply no way to get in there with two measly Fantoms. I got nothing.”
    “Coffee,” Rodriguez said. “I’m buying. You keep thinking.”

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]
    The man who saved the world: Vasily Arkhipov

    Carl Williams was thinking. Not about imminent global thermonuclear war. He was thinking about a girl in Idaho called Kylie Lee who he had started building a real relationship with about two years ago. And how Kylie had asked him not to take the posting in Moscow, and to leave the NSA, and just come and do ‘some sort of IT stuff’ in Boise because, that’s what normal couples did. In Kylie’s world, normal couples didn’t just give up everything and move to Russia because their country asked them to, even if they were one of the world’s leading experts in machine learning.
    And then he thought how he had asked for some time to think about it and how Kylie had said ‘whatever’ and things had just gone more and more wrong after that and now he found himself in Moscow, still with the NSA, and with no Kylie.
    And he couldn’t help thinking how, when you sat here at what might just be the end of the civilization, you realized how freaking dumb you were.
    He was still sitting there beating himself up about it when he saw an embassy marine security guard stick his head around his door, “Carl Williams? That you?”
    He stuck up a finger, “Present.”
    “Can you come with me sir?”, the guard asked.
    Carl levered himself up, and followed the marine’s back through a maze of Annex corridors and then up some stairs, leading him into an empty office, “Can you wait here sir?” the man said. The marine was young, maybe 20. Carl found himself hoping the man made 21.
    “What’s this about?” Carl asked him. “Just curious.”
    “I don’t know sir,” the man said, and left him standing there. Carl looked around the office. He was in the commercial section, that much he could guess. Someone’s office, family photos on the wall, a few pictures from European holidays. Brochures from US companies sitting on a small coffee table. OK, no clues here.
    A minute later, Devlin McCarthy walked in.
    “Hi Carl,” she said simply.
    “Hi ma’am,” Carl said. He always felt like he was in the presence of one of his old school teachers when he was with her, and he’d gone to a very strict school.
    From the pocket of her jacket, she fished a telephone and held the screen out to face him, “What is this about?”
    Carl looked and could see it was the list of contact numbers for Yevgeny Bondarev that HOLMES had sent to McCarthy.
    “It was just an idea,” Carl admitted. “I thought you might…”
    “You seem to know everything before I do, so I guess you know how freaking busy I am right now,” Devlin said. “I can’t even call my own daughter. Why would I call this guy?”
    “I didn’t really think,” Carl said, shrugging. “But the guy is both the father of your grandchild, and leading the Russian air offensive over Alaska. What if you were to call him and tell him if he doesn’t pull his planes back to the other side of the Bering Strait before three o’clock, we’re going to nuke Kaliningrad and his grand daughter will never even get to grade school?”
    “We’re not going to nuke Kaliningrad,” Devlin said, frowning. She worked on the assumption now that she could share any intelligence she had with Carl, because he had clearances she didn’t even know existed. “But we are going to conduct an above ground nuclear detonation in the Pacific off the Kirin Islands.”
    “You’re sure of that?”
    “It’s what I’ve been told.”
    “And State wouldn’t lie to you.”
    “Why would they lie to me?” she asked.
    “Oh I don’t know, maybe because if they told you the truth you would tell everyone in the Embassy to take the rest of their lives off, call their mothers or see their priest before the world ended?”
    “What are you talking about?” she asked.
    Carl laid out HOLMES’ analysis of nuclear submarine movements and signals traffic for her. “It adds up to more than just a test. We are getting ready in case Russia wants to take this all the way. All it would take is a tiny miscalculation.”
    She realized he was right. “Dammit Carl!” she said, “What do you think one woman can do about it?!”
    “Call Bondarev, tell him unless he pulls his aircraft back, he’s courting Armageddon.”
    “And he’ll take my call because why?”
    “Duh. You’re Ambassador to the Russian Federation and grandmother to his child?”
    She shook her head. “I can’t. It would be treason.”
    “Is there still a death penalty for that?”
    “I assume so.”
    “Vasily Arkhipov,” Carl replied.
    “What?”
    “Captain of a Russian missile sub. Single handedly prevented his Captain from firing a nuclear torpedo during the Cuban missile crisis when he refused to authorize the launch. Saved the world, spent years in disgrace but ended up a Vice Admiral.”
    “Is this supposed to encourage me? Because it isn’t working.”
    “He received a posthumous medal.”
    “Still not helping,” Devlin said.
    “It’s a phone call, you call the guy, you tell him who you are, maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. Best case, it does, and you go to court. Worst case, global thermonuclear Armageddon.”
    “I’m going to call an officer of the Russian Air Force currently on front line duty and somehow sweet talk him into surrendering because of some fling he had with my daughter two years ago and a child he probably doesn’t even know he has,” she said.
    “And because, global thermonuclear Armageddon?” Carl pointed out. “In case he needs a real motivator.”
    She thought about it.
    “Every word I say on my phone, anything on any Embassy line, is monitored. Can you set it up through HOLMES? If we do this I can’t waste time leaving messages on his cell or with his damn secretary. I need to know I’ll get through.”
    “If he’s contactable, we can get the guy on the line,” he said.
    She paused, “I can’t believe I’m about to give our war plan to our enemy,” she said.
    “Hey,” he said. “I'm in this too. We'd be going down together."
    "Great comfort Carl."

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    The smell hit Perri before he saw the first body. He’d seen dead Russian soldiers through the scope of his rifle lying on the streets of Gambell after the attack there, but not decomposed like this. It wasn’t actually a body, it was a leg, buried under some rubble, that he assumed belonged to a body somewhere. This body must have been too hard for the surviving soldiers to recover, so they had been forced to leave it there and had just covered it with a tarpaulin. In the middle of the compound they found what looked like a mass grave, with smaller graves beside it. The smaller graves had small wooden crosses with a double horizontal bar on them and Russian names written in the middle. Most of these had small metal dog tags with rounded corners and Dave cupped one in his hand, reading it. It had a bunch of letters across the top, and numbers underneath. He dropped it and looked across the burial site.
    “If these smaller ones are military graves, what are those big ones?” he asked, pointing to two long scars in the earth, each about a hundred feet long, with soil two feet high heaped on top.
    “I have a bad feeling those are … non-military,” Perri said, unable to say what he was really thinking.
    “It’s like they were dug with an earth mover,” Dave said, looking up and down the rows of earth. “They just piled the bodies in there, and pushed the dirt on top?” He started walking along the grave, and saw a sneaker toe sticking out. He pulled at it, and it came free. It looked like a child’s size. A bit further down, he bent down and picked up a telephone with a busted screen. He tried to turn it on, but it was dead. All along the graves were other small items - a plastic bead necklace, some walrus ivory ear rings, a man’s jacket turned inside out, a bloodied shirt. “Who did this?” Dave asked.
    Perri was numb, “Does it matter? Russia, America … neither of them gives a damn about us man. Come on…” he pulled at Dave’s sleeve.
    Dave jerked away, “It matters. These are our people!”
    Perri pointed at the Russian graves, “And those are theirs.”
    Beyond the graves, Perri saw what looked like a water tower that had somehow survived the bombing. It was about ten feet high, and sitting on four wooden legs, one of which was shattered. The round water tank on its platform had been perforated a hundred places and the water inside had long ago emptied itself out. But climbing up the ladder on the side, Perri pulled aside the manhole on top and saw that they could both fit through it and get inside.
    He called down to Dave, “Hand me the gear. I found our hiding spot.”

    *
    *

    Private Zubkhov woke, remembered what had happened to him and pried himself up from his hiding spot. Which wasn’t really a hiding spot, more just the bush he’d fallen behind after he got shot. He’d fallen asleep, or passed out; one or the other, or both. His uniform shirt and jacket were stuck to his back, but the blood was mostly dry. The entry wound had also stopped bleeding. His right shoulder was frozen, and any movement of his right arm sent a stabbing pain up his side and neck, so he had to hold the arm in tight against his chest. He picked up his rifle in his left hand, tried to lift the strap up to his shoulder but gave up and looked around. While he’d been lying on his back and before he’d gotten up, he’d decided on a new plan. He needed medical help, and the only place to get it was Savoonga. But he’d been ordered to stay in Gambell. OK, so this was his story now: he’d spotted the ghost radio signal, realized the Russian column was being followed. Suspected it was US forces - remember the Radar unit jacket he’d found at Gambell? He felt responsible. He’d let that American escape, he felt a duty to try to capture the American again. Except he got ambushed and wounded – that much was all true. What about the wounded back at Gambell, what about the civilians? Yeah, that was the tricky part. But that's where the Captain came in, and it made Zubkhov so glad he hadn’t killed him along with the others. He’d just say the Captain had seemed to recover, mentally at least. He’d given Private Zubkhov permission to go track the American, said he’d look after the wounded and the civilians.
    What happened after that, Private Zubkhov couldn’t be expected to explain. He’d act shocked. They were dead? All of them? Wow, the Captain must have gone psycho.
    Maybe they’d buy it, maybe not. It was his only choice now. The fishing trawler, that would have to wait until he was well again, but a wound like this? They’d have to evacuate him.
    Every step was agony, but he began picking his way down the hill towards the town below.
    And that was when, silhouetted against the sun behind the bombed out cantonment south of the town, he saw a figure, climbing up a ladder.

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    In the office he’d cleared for himself in a building beside the Savoonga airport terminal (a grand name for a big, roughly partitioned shed) Bondarev and Arsharvin were standing up against a cold side wall, while General Potemkin sat at the only desk. Butyrskaya had laid a map out on the desk.
    “Little Diomede?” Bondarev asked skeptically. He’d flown over the tiny island a dozen times, and there was nothing there but a small American radome. Now even that… “We hit that on the first day,” Bondarev said. “I’ve seen the BDA. There’s nothing left on it but a black smudge.”
    “Not on it Comrade Colonel,” Arsharvin said. “Under it.”
    Butyrskaya looked annoyed that he had taken her thunder. “As you know, commercial shipping through the Bering Strait has been halted during the current conflict, but smaller coastal fishing vessels have defied the restrictions. Three days ago we got a strange report from one such vessel, which advised the Coast Guard it had seen an aircraft flying out of the cliff face on the eastern side of Little Diomede.”
    “The report was ignored,” Arsharvin said. “By Eastern Military District. I never saw it.”
    “Yesterday, comrade Arsharvin asked for any reports we may have received of American commercial shipping north or south of the Strait, large enough to launch a drone from. I asked him why. He shared with me his theory about the drones that hit Anadyr and Lavrentiya being amphibious…”
    “And you remembered the report from the fishing boat?” Bondarev asked.
    “I told her, the drones didn’t have to be ship launched. They could maybe also take off from a harbor. A boat yard or something,” Arsharvin said.
    “I pulled satellite surveillance for the three weeks since your Okhotniks hit Little Diomede. I only have digital still imagery, no infrared or synthetic aperture. A lot of the days were foggy,” she said, reaching for a folder on the table. From it, she pulled a single image. “But this is from yesterday.”
    The image showed a jelly bean shaped island, from above. It had a flat, plateau-like top and in the middle of the plateau was the cratered radome that Bondarev had mentioned. A number of wrecked fishing boats lay submerged in a shallow harbor on the concave side of the island, and just to the east of these a small blurred shape was clearly visible. Something shaped like an arrow head, moving fast.
    Bondarev peered at it closely. It could be a Fantom, caught in the act of launching.
    Or it could be nothing.
    He looked at Butyrskaya, arching his eyebrows, “You must have more than a drunken fisherman and a blurred photograph to have dragged the General all this way?”
    “Oh, she does comrade Colonel,” Potemkin said, enjoying the reveal. He nodded to the intelligence officer, “Show him.”
    Now Arsharvin stepped forward, “Allow me. It was my UAV that took the photograph.”
    “At my request,” Butyrskaya pointed out.
    Potemkin sighed, “If you don’t mind…”
    Arsharvin raised his hands in defeat, and stepped back as the photograph was placed in front of Bondarev. It was the same island, taken from above, but a much lower altitude. The time and date stamp showed it had been taken mere hours ago. It took him a moment to see the difference.
    Floating on the water, hidden among the smashed and sunken fishing boats, was a US F-47 Fantom UCAV.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    It had been Bunny’s idea. Of course.
    Rodriguez had returned with two steaming mugs of coffee to find O’Hare sitting with her feet up on her console desk and big smile on her face.
    “We can’t hit them on the ground, so we have to take them in the air,” Bunny said. “I think Sun Tzu said that.”
    Rodriguez sat, and handed her a mug. “I’m pretty sure they didn’t have air warfare in ancient China,” she said. “Unless he was talking about kite fighting?”
    Bunny leaned forward, “Or that von Clausewitz guy. Anyway, if we try and go anywhere near Saint Lawrence, we are going to get swatted, right?”
    “Correct, whether we go for them on the land, or in the air,” Rodriguez said. “So?”
    “So the biggest problem isn’t the 50 enemy fighters, it’s the damn ground and ship based anti-air. But what if we lure them up here to Little Diomede, out of range of their anti-air cover.” She looked at
    Rodriguez like she had just laid a golden egg. “Boom. Problem solved.”
    “Two Brigades of enemy fighters still sounds like a big problem to me,” Rodriguez said. “When we can only launch two fighters at a time.”
    “Sure, if we only launched two at a time,” Bunny said. “But we have to lift our ambition level Air Boss.”
    “Even three, or four,” Rodriguez said. “Against 50?”
    “They wouldn't send everything against us at once. That's the beauty of my plan. We just launch a couple of birds, they act like a honeypot, draw some flies, we swat a couple and Ivan gets all riled up, sends a couple squadrons against us, we see them coming and we launch everything we got,” the pilot said. “Which is how many Boss?”
    Rodriguez thought about it, “We have nine Fantoms, including the one docked on the Pond.”
    “Ordnance?”
    “Plenty. We could go with CUDA loadouts on all of them if we wanted to.”
    “We don’t,” Bunny said. “Say seven carrying CUDAS, two configured with electronic warfare pods in one bay, CUDAs in the other.”
    “That’s nine in total, O’Hare. Every machine we’ve got. Even with two full crews down here, we couldn’t preflight, load and launch any faster than one machine every five or ten minutes. We’ve been averaging two prepped and launched in an hour, you and me. A Fantom only has a 90 minute duration at combat airspeeds, so by the time we got the last machines up, the first two would have to come back down again.”
    “I know, but what if we aren’t bringing any down? And what if we weren’t doing any preflight or quality. What if I programmed every drone to autonomous flight, set it to mount a CAP overhead, and you and I are just out there on the catapult, pulling down drones, locking them into the cat and just firing them into the air as fast as that conveyor belt can deliver them? Two EW Fantoms to make life hell for Ivan’s targeting systems, alert him that something is up so he comes sniffing around - the others are loaded for bear, with aggressor code activated. They’ll kill anything that comes near us and when they go bingo or guns dry they head for Nome.”
    The words ‘no preflight, no quality’ were just not in Rodriguez’s lexicon. She was Air Boss; her job was to ensure the aircraft got off the ground, and back down again, safely. She bit down on her natural instincts. “The EMALS catapult can fire and recharge every ten minutes, theoretically. I’ve never pushed one that hard. Something is going to fail – the shuttle, the power supply, hydraulics, something mechanical say - it’s inevitable,” she said.
    “Best guess then, how many can we get up, inside an hour?” Bunny persisted.
    “Say 60 percent, about six of nine,” she said.
    “Good enough. So we get a couple EW Fantoms in the air on overwatch, and then we start firing off the CUDA armed Fantoms, set them to form a fighting hex. Any Russian comes near us, it will be like flying into a wasp nest. I tell you ma’am if we can get Ivan here, and if you are willing to sacrifice some hardware, we can give them a kicking. A lot worse than if we try a ground attack on a heavily defended air base.”
    “Eyes in the air won’t be enough,” Rodriguez said. “You need a way to attract their attention, get them to sortie against us in squadron strength. If they just pick up the radar noise of a couple of Fantoms buzzing around overhead they’ll respond proportionately – just send a few fighters over to take a look.”
    They both sat thoughtfully. Perhaps Bunny’s plan was all holes and no cheese.
    The only sound came from the wash of water on the dock below, and the occasional slap of one of the painters holding the Fantom from the Lavrentiya mission, tied up in the Pond below.
    Bunny snapped her fingers and pointed at it, “That’s it. We pull that Fantom outside and tie it up in plain sight. Unless he’s blind and completely dumb, Ivan is going to see it sooner or later, probably sooner, all the trouble we’ve been making. I can set up a data link, set it up to radiate - use it like a mini radar base station. Two Fantoms in the air pushing out energy, and one on the deck acting like a ground radar... that’s got to get them real curious.”
    For the first time, Rodriguez started to believe it might work. It would cost them everything they had, but it could set Russian ambitions back on their heels. If they could destroy just two Russian aircraft for every Fantom they lost, it would be a significant loss for Russia. Pilots lost over this part of the Strait would probably not make it back, even if they survived the destruction of their aircraft. It was a big sea, and cold.
    “It’s a plan,” Rodriguez said. “It might even be a damn good one. I need to clear this with CNAF, we'd be burning this base for good.”
    "Navy already wrote us off ma'am," Bunny reminds her. "We were decommissioned and on a sub to Nome a week ago."
    “I'll make the call,” Rodriguez said. “You start pulling that decoy duck down toward the cave entrance.”
    That had been in the morning. After Anadyr and Lavrentiya, Rodriguez had some credit in the bank, so when she argued they’d already pushed their luck beyond expected limits, Admiral Solanta had given them a green light for one last roll of the dice. They had paddled the floating Fantom out into the bay and lashed it to the mast of a sunken fishing boat. It hurt Rodriguez sorely to leave it out in plain view, but that was the point. While Bunny set up the Fantom as a ground based early warning radar, Rodriguez went into the automated launch delivery system and queued up every aircraft they had. She set up the launch sequence as Bunny had described, with two EW Fantoms, followed by seven dedicated air-air CUDA-armed Fantoms. The aircraft would be automatically fueled and primed for engine start, loaded with either jamming pods and/or A2A ordnance

    And Bunny had configured the EW Fantoms with her ‘bezerker’ combat AI algorithm. They might be light on weapons, but on her command, they would do everything in their power to lock up an enemy and destroy it, and once they were out of missiles and guns, they would become the ordnance.

    *
    *

    (c) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued.
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: UPDATE 26 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/25/18 10:09 PM

    Lovin it...as always.
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: UPDATE 26 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/25/18 10:38 PM

    Epic last stand prep sequence........ check.
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: UPDATE 26 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/26/18 12:39 AM

    Don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but I don't see admirals easily sacrificing a quarter billion dollars just because the unit has been way more successful than expected so far; rather, people adapt their expectations and push for even more. People who roll like this usually don't make it to admiral, and those who do, well, they usually don't gamble. For the final version I suggest a section to explain why Solanta is an exception ... or maybe the girls decide to go rogue, or have exceptionally good arguments.
    (But the normal/expected outcome would NOT be that the better argument wins. That's almost never works outside of mathematicians' circles, and even there it would be a hard sell if it weren't for actual proofs.)

    Them going rogue is a hard sell too, of course. But maybe HOLMES is monitoring the conversation going bad, and filling them in with background info about the big picture. An AI, unburdened by considerations of social prestige, career, or atavistic hierarchy might be less fazed about a breach of knowledge compartmentalization when a decidedly non-zero chance of global thermonuclear escalation is the stake. The downside to this vector is of course the danger of turning the AI into some stupid deus ex machina (sic) to resolve the plot running into a dead end.
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: UPDATE 26 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/26/18 02:02 AM

    Or....................

    Holmes goes rouge and runs the beserker plan on it's own.

    Or...

    Rosie O'Donnell offers herself to Russia to stop the war.

    The nukes start flying three minutes later. eek
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: UPDATE 26 Feb. AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 02/26/18 02:04 PM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    Don't want to rain on anyone's parade, but I doon't see admirals easily sacrificing a quarter billion dollars just ubecause the unit has been way more successful than expected so far; rather, people adapt their expectations and push for even more. People who roll like this usually don't make it to admiral, and those who do, well, they usually don't gamble. For the final version I suggest a section to explain why Solanta is an exception ... or maybe the girls decide to go rogue, or have exceptionally good arguments.
    (But the normal/expected outcome would NOT be that the better argument wins. That's almost never works outside of mathematicians' circles, and even there it would be a hard sell if it weren't for actual proofs.)

    Them going rogue is a hard sell too, of course. But maybe HOLMES is monitoring the conversation going bad, and filling them in with background info about the big picture. An AI, unburdened by considerations of social prestige, career, or atavistic hierarchy might be less fazed about a breach of knowledge compartmentalization when a decidedly non-zero chance of global thermonuclear escalation is the stake. The downside to this vector is of course the danger of turning the AI into some stupid deus ex machina (sic) to resolve the plot running into a dead end.


    No rainclouds here, you are spot on! But wont reveal how ... hint is in the Arkhipov reference...
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: New Chapter 1 March AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign: - 03/01/18 01:54 PM

    THE BEZERKER ALGORITHM PART II

    “This American covert base has cost you hundreds of men, dozens of aircraft, tons of supplies,” General Potemkin said.
    “Comrade General,” Bondarev explained. “Lavrentiya was a mosquito bite. Unlike at Anadyr we lost only a few personnel, and no critical capabilities. I have already given orders for the aircraft of the 573rd to be assigned to the crews of the 6983rd. The Nebo array will be up again within 12 hours. There will be no impact on ground support for LOSOS.”
    Potemkin looked unimpressed. “You misunderstand, Colonel. First Anadyr, now Lavrentiya. These attacks have cost the VVS political capital and the respect of our peers. I want to see this American base dug out from under that island and obliterated.”
    Bondarev was looking at the map of Little Diomede. “If they can fly a UCAV out of a hole in that cliff face, then I can put a missile down their throats.”
    “It would be better to land a detachment of special forces,” Lieutenant Butyrskaya said. “They could deal with US security, secure the base. There may be valuable intel, not least examples of these new amphibious UCAVs.”
    General Potemkin coughed, “I commend the Comrade Lieutenant for her professionalism. However, we can glean whatever intelligence can be gleaned from the burning sunken wrecks of these American floatplanes. I do agree though that special forces will be needed to ensure the complete destruction of this base. We don’t know what is in there, or how it is protected.” He turned to Bondarev, “Colonel, I authorize a combined-forces attack on Little Diomede immediately. You will use whatever assets are required to eliminate the threat, and achieve the complete destruction of the enemy base.”
    “Yes General,” Bondarev said. “I’ll lead the air attack myself.”
    Potemkin appeared to think carefully, “Ordinarily I would say your place is here, overseeing our operations over Alaska. But within these walls Comrade Colonel, a newsworthy victory wouldn’t hurt you right now. No one is blaming you directly for the losses these US aircraft have inflicted behind our line of control, but…”
    “But they are…” Bondarev finished for him.
    Potemkin gave him a wry smile. “We move on Nome in three days. These pinprick attacks have not impacted the schedule for LOSOS, but they must be stopped.”
    “I’ll see to it,” Bondarev assured him. “And if the Americans dare come north against us, I will hold them back.”
    “Good, good. Tell me Colonel, is there anything you need?” Potemkin asked, expansively. “I can’t magically make a replacement squadron of Hunter pilots available, but how about fuel, weapons, food?”
    “Yes Comrade General. I do have one request,” Bondarev said. "A squadron of F-47 Fantoms.”

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    “Something big is going down,” Perri said. “Hook up the radio will you?” He had taken the scope off his rifle and was peering through a shrapnel hole in the water tank, which was easier than looking through one lens of the binoculars. He and Dave had made themselves a pretty cool nest, spreading out their sleeping bags on the bottom of the tank so they could sit in relative comfort. They’d been through the cantonment and salvaged a couple of wooden boxes that they could fit through the manhole, along with bottled water, canned fruit and vegetables and unspoiled dry food like breakfast cereals they’d recovered from the larder of a destroyed mess hall. They had a big juice bottle for pissing in, so the only time they had to leave the tank was if they needed to crap, and they had even found a few rolls of dry toilet paper for that.
    What Perri was seeing was a whole bunch of activity on the airfield. He had been counting aircraft, but it was hard, because they were not only parked out beside the airfield or on the apron, but also under camouflaged canvas shelters behind walls made of barrels and sand bags. He figured there were at least fifty jets and maybe six propeller driven transports, plus three helicopters, distributed around the airfield. The jets had been taking off and landing in pairs, about every thirty minutes to an hour, with the largest a single flight of three which had departed about a half hour earlier. That had also been a little strange, because they had seen a large airliner style aircraft circling overhead, and then the three jets had taken off, fallen into formation with it, and then all of them had headed north.
    But now he saw a large number of trucks and aircrew running around, and about ten jets were taxiing out, forming a line on the single runway, clearly getting ready for takeoff. He could see the engines had been started on another four or five, and even more were being pulled out of their hangars by towing trucks.
    Even from inside the tank, two miles away from the airfield, the building roar of jet engines was palpable.
    “Here you go,” Dave said, handing him up the radio handset. “Have you seen anyone we know out there?” They hadn’t seen the hostages from Gambell since they had been taken into the town, and both boys were wondering how they were doing. Their families were over there. And it was hard to shake the image of those mass graves, the small shoes and gloves lying half buried in the dirt.
    “No, nothing,” Perri said, then squeezed the button on the handset. “Hey what was that stupid code name Sarge asked us to use instead of our names?”
    “White Bear?”
    “Yeah, thanks.” Perri clicked the button on the radio handset. “Sarge, are you there, this is White Bear, come in?” He had to repeat the call a couple of times, but that was normal. Sarge always answered eventually.
    “Sarge here White Bear, how are you doing?”
    “Doing just fine thanks Sarge,” Perri said. He put his eye to the hole in the tank again. “Sarge, I can see about fifty or sixty different aircraft on the base here. I can give you a run-down later, but I need to tell you, something big is happening.”
    “Tell me exactly what you see, son,” the man said calmly.
    “I see about twenty aircraft getting ready to take off, maybe more,” Perri said. “I think they’re mostly Sukhoi-35s and 57s, some Migs, but there are a few drones too, Hunters.”
    “When you say ‘getting ready’, exactly what do you mean?”
    As Sarge spoke, the first of the jets roared down the runway and lifted into the air. He held his hands up to his ears, then lowered the mike to his mouth again, “Did you hear that? I mean they are all taking off, that was the first one.”
    “OK, got that. Anything else? Do you see rotary aircraft, transports anything like that?”
    Perri watched as another pair of jets took off. “No, just the fighters. Oh wait, it may be nothing, but about a half hour ago there was a big airliner type of aircraft up high, circling over the island. Three jets took off, met up with it like an escort, you know, and they all headed north.”
    Perri heard a noise like paper rustling at the other end. “Can you be more precise? What did the big aircraft look like, exactly what direction on the compass did they go? Not east, or southeast? Definitely north?”
    Perri knew why he was asking. East was Alaska. Southeast the US mainland. North was … nothing. Big Diomede, Little Diomede. Open sea. “Yeah, north,” Perri said. “The big plane was way up high, just a little white shape. And I didn’t check the compass, I just know they went north,” he said. He looked at Dave in case the boy had anything to add, but he just shrugged. Another aircraft roared off the runway outside.
    “I’m going to have to log out,” Perri said, “I don’t want to be yelling, and it’s getting noisy here. You got about twenty Russian fighters taking off right now. That’s all I can tell you.”
    “OK White Bear, keep the radio close. Call me in thirty. I’ll have more questions, Sarge out.”
    Perri sat down, hands over his ears. The metal of the perforated water tank was like a kind of echo chamber and the noise of the jets came in through the walls and shrapnel holes and bounced around, assaulting them from all sides. There was nothing they could do except grit their teeth and ride it out.

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    Admiral Solanta had come through for Rodriguez. He hadn’t been wild about the idea of sending his last remaining UCAVs up against a vastly superior enemy force, nor had he been wild about the idea of setting a trap that no matter how successful would more or less give away the location of his very expensive subterranean station under Little Diomede. But what he knew, that Rodriguez and O’Hare didn’t, was that congruent with the planned engagement over the Strait, a US Columbia class sub would be testing a nuclear armed hypersonic cruise missile off the coast of the Kuril Islands. If he could deal a significant blow to Russian air power over the Bering Strait at the same time as Russia got the message the US was deadly serious about defending its territorial integrity, it might just be enough to avert all out war.
    He sent word to Rodriguez that he was committing two anti-air capable submersible fast attack drones (S-FADs) to the defense of Little Diomede. The Hunter Class S-FAD was a particularly potent weapons platform. A trimaran design, with the vast majority of its hull and superstructure built of lightweight and radar-translucent carbon-composite materials it had a length of around 130 feet and a long and streamlined center hull. Originally designed to be able to hunt and kill anything from nuclear to the newest near silent air-independent diesel subs it soon became evident the platform was capable of being adapted to serve multiple roles including sea launched ground or air attack missiles. Lurking beneath the waves, with only a cable-buoy mounted Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIF-CA) data link to air and land radar and satellite tracking systems each anti-air S-FAD/A carried 12 cells capable of firing the latest over-the-horizon, networked SM-6 (Enhanced) anti-air missile with active seeker autonomous terminal interception capabilities.
    Solanta had intended to send his S-FADs north in support of the Enterprise Carrier Battle Group and two had already reached station in the Bering Strait when the Enterprise was forced to turn back, so he had kept them on station and in reserve. It was a platform that had demonstrated an ability in testing to intercept everything from fast moving fighters and bombers to satellites or ballistic missiles. But it had never been used in combat, until now.
    Rodriguez' OPORD was simple: draw the enemy to Little Diomede and identify targets for the S-FADs. With a projected shoot-kill ratio of 70% against 5th gen Russian fighters the two S-FADs between them should be able to account for about 16 Russian aircraft. He’d just seen HUMINT indicating Russia was sending around 20 aircraft against Little Diomede, leaving Rodriguez and Bunny to mop up the remainder and then put their drones down in Nome. The Admiral hoped with a bit of luck, they may even be able to avert a direct strike on the base and if the ploy off the Kurils worked, the shooting match could be over before Russia could gather itself and mount a new attack on the island base.
    It was a calculated risk. And his personnel on Little Diomede had already proven Lady Luck was their personal friend.

    *
    *

    The FLASH traffic from NORAD came in almost simultaneous with an alert flashing onto Bunny’s threat warning screen. She scanned both reports.
    “OK, we better get down to the deck ma’am,” Bunny said. They had both been lying on makeshift bunks inside the trailer, trying to doze, saving their strength. “ANR has intel indicating Russian aircraft are scrambling from Savoonga. Estimated 20+ bogies and they are headed this way. Bugsy outside has just detected what looks like a Beriev AWACS aircraft, with escort, taking up station about fifty miles south of us. We need to get our EW birds up there, jam that sucker and get those S-FADs networked.” She looked over at Rodriguez. “This is it, Boss.”
    “Bugsy?” Rodriguez asked.
    “The Fantom out in the harbor. I gave it a name,” Bunny shrugged. “It’s earned it.”
    Rodriguez smiled, “OK Lieutenant, let’s get your production line rolling…”
    They had a Fantom locked and loaded on the cat and had it on standby power, ready for a five minute power up and launch. The rest of the drones were queued, fueled, armed and programmed – two with Electronic Warfare pods and the rest with CUDA air-air missiles. They had disarmed the explosives in the cave, but were acutely aware that a lucky Russian shot through the cavern mouth or down the chute could trigger one of the charges and bring the roof down on them. It would have to be extremely lucky – the chute was only 100 feet wide and putting a missile all the way through it would be like Luke Skywalker’s Hail Mary shot at the Death Star thermal exhaust port. The only way to attack them within the cave would be from water level - a missile fired straight into the mouth of the cave - but all that would do, unless it was a nuke, was to take out the dock and command trailer. Bunny would lose her cockpit, and they would be deaf and blind (perhaps literally) but the flight deck was shielded from a direct hit for exactly that reason, and as long as the EMALS kept working, the chute was clear, and at least one of them was alive, they could keep launching.
    One last precaution they had taken was to create a ‘castle keep’ - a fortified position deep inside the network of racks and belts serving the catapult feeder system; with light, food and water, arms and ammunition and a low frequency radio linked to the subsea array in the Strait so that they could stay in contact with CNAF. Bunny had wryly observed that they could hold off an army from inside the ‘keep’, so they were more likely to die of thirst and hunger, or boredom.
    They sprinted down to the flight deck and pulled on helmets, as much so that they could communicate, as for protection. The first drone was already locked and loaded, so Bunny waited behind the blast shield while Rodriguez went to the shooter’s chair, just like in her former life aboard carriers. The console showed a lot of different readouts, digital and mechanical, but in the end it came down to just two buttons really: charge and launch. She hit the first, and the EMALS started humming. It was already on reserve power, and needed only a few minutes to reach full charge, drawing on only a small percentage of the power that could be generated by the small nuclear power plant buried deep under the Rock. As it charged, it triggered the engine start up sequence for the Fantom and the liquid hydrogen Scimitar engine whined into life. A slipstream exhaust fan sucked most of the displaced air down into vents for distribution around the cave, but not all, and dust and small particles started swirling while a small ripple began dancing on the surface of the Pond. Green lights began showing on the shooter’s console, telling her the EMALS was fully charged at ready to deliver the required thrust, the drone was locked to the shuttle, its engine was at full power, ready for the afterburner to be lit, and its combat and autopilot systems were up.
    They rushed through the launch sequence.
    “Preparing to light the tail,” Bunny said into her helmet mike. “Clear?”
    “Clear, aye,” confirmed Rodriguez, crouching lower.
    “Launching.”
    The EMALS fired and the afterburner roared, hurling the Fantom along the catapult, flinging it down the chute and out into the open air. They both watched the shrinking silhouette to see that it flew true, turning away and slowly pulling up until it was gone from the small letterbox view they had of it.
    “EW 1 away,” Bunny said. As she spoke, the catapult shuttle returned to its start position while the automated delivery system lifted a new drone cartridge off the conveyor belt, and dropped it on the catapult rails. Bunny hit a release and the two halves of the cartridge fell away into pits on either side of the catapult and were ejected into the Pond, like bowling pins at the back of an alley. While Rodriguez fixed a hand-held system diagnostics unit to the newly arrived Fantom, in essence ‘booting’ the drone to life, Bunny was rocking it back and forth to lock it into place on the shuttle and fitting the holding rods.
    Rodriguez felt the Fantom thud into place.
    “Locked!” Bunny said, arms in the air, stepping away.
    “Booted!” Rodriguez said a moment later, seeing the go-codes on her handset and pulling the magnetic connecting cable off the access point on the drone’s skin.
    Bunny jumped over the blast protector again, as Rodriguez ran for the shooter’s chair. Every minute now was literally life, or death. The Russians scrambling from Saint Lawrence would be forming up, waiting for guidance from their AWACS aircraft. If they formed up in the usual Russian formation of two flights of three, the first fighters could be on their way already. Flying time from Saint Lawrence to the Rock was about 20 minutes for an Su-57. They needed to get at least eight Fantoms in the air by then. What they were trying to do had never been done before. Launch two EW birds then a hex of air-to-air Fantoms inside thirty minutes? With only two people. It was crazy.
    As she waited for her shooter’s console to light up green, she looked over at Bunny and saw the woman looking across at her too.
    They could be hit at any moment but Bunny was grinning like a fool, “Are we having fun yet ma’am?”

    [Linked Image]

    *
    *

    “Spruce leader, this is Spruce Control,” Bondarev heard his AWACS controller say. “We are experiencing heavy jamming. Intermittent signal loss on several frequencies. Status over the target is unchanged, no activity.”
    Bondarev cursed. The observation from the AWACS controller was contradictory. If the enemy had started active jamming, then the situation over the target had changed, obviously. It showed they had detected or anticipated Russian activity, they had spotted or suspected the presence of the AWACS plane, and were targeting it with EW aircraft. It was unlikely to be ground or satellite based jamming, therefore there was at least one US stealth aircraft in the OA that the AWACS and mainland based radar had not yet detected. Probably more than one.
    He had taken off in the lead formation from Savoonga. Spent ten frustrating minutes forming up. Was still 20 minutes from Little Diomede. His flight of six aircraft would set up a CAP over the island. If there were any enemy aircraft in the air near the island, he would deal with them. And he didn’t need the AWACS controller to tell him they weren’t picking up any returns, he could see that on his empty threat warning screen. The only upside was that it confirmed beyond doubt that there was a significant enemy base on the island.
    It was an interesting tactical challenge. Recon photos showed a small cave at water level, with an opening not much higher or wider than the profile of one of his Okhotniks. It was conceivable you could fly a drone through it, but it would require skill. And there was no clear flight path cleared along the water outside the cave. Several fishing boats were wrecked in the shallow harbor lying in front of the cave, so while it was possible a ski-equipped drone could land in the mouth of the cave, taking off would be problematic as there wasn’t enough ‘runway’ to get an aircraft up to takeoff speed. Once he had dealt with any threats, he needed to get a low level look at the mouth of the cave himself before he sent his special ops team in.
    Following behind him were ground-attack armed Okhotniks, three with deep penetrating precision guided bombs with 1500 lb. warheads that could punch through 10 feet of hardened concrete, or 20 feet of soil. The rest were armed with short range ground attack missiles designed to take out enemy armor. Their warheads were smaller, but their guidance systems more precise. If he was to have a chance of getting a shot inside that cave mouth, it would most likely be with an Okhotnik, flying in at wave top height and delivering its ordnance at point blank range.
    An icon Bondarev had rarely seen on his HUD threat display started blinking, as the AWACS aircraft broadcast again, “Spruce Control to Spruce leader, we are blind. Total signal failure. Interference on all frequencies, anti-jamming measures ineffective. Sorry Spruce leader, we could give you a vector to the likely source of the jamming, but you are already headed there. We will update if status changes.”
    “Spruce leader, understood, out,” Bondarev replied.
    He quickly scanned his HUD, the skies, his wingmen’s’ positions. The passive and active sensors on his Sukhois should be able to burn through any jamming once he arrived over the target, but that meant long range missiles were virtually useless, reducing his effective payload from eight to four missiles per aircraft. He was not concerned. The jamming aircraft were likely just unarmed UAVs. And if there was a significant force of UCAVs in the OA, the AWACS should have picked them up before it went off the air.
    “Spruce leader to Spruce flight,” Bondarev said, speaking to his wingmen. “Radars up, arm short range ordnance, take your targeting from your flight leaders. We are probably facing stealth UAVs, stay sharp.”
    He flicked his eyes around the skies and across his instruments again. That familiar combat operation tension was building in him. He didn’t believe the BS from pilots or commanders who tried to sound like a combat mission was just another day at the office. Any flight had the potential to cost you your life if you weren’t careful, and a combat mission put all the odds against you. And different thoughts went through your head. You couldn’t shut them out. He had no wife and he didn’t think about his mother or father at times like this. He thought about his grandfather, hero of the Russian Federation, former commander of the Aerospace Forces. The man who had taught him to fly, nearly thirty years ago, sitting on his lap in the cockpit of a Yak-152 turbo prop, his feet working the rudder pedals while Bondarev flew with stick and throttle. The man who had taught him how to fight – not the combat maneuvers, but the mindset he needed. “Kill without thought,” his grandfather had told him. “Without regret. The enemy pilot has made a choice to fly, to fight, and to die if needed. No pilot in modern war is there against his will. If he wanted, he could object, refuse to fight, and take the consequences. But if he fights, he also accepts the consequences.” His grandfather had died of old age ten years ago now, but Bondarev imagined the man watching his every move when he was in the air. Looking out for him? No, that was his own job, but perhaps guiding his decisions, yes.
    His lessons applied to a bygone era though. Bondarev and his men were almost certainly going into combat against soul-less robots, not flesh and blood men or women. There were no moral dilemmas in the destruction of silicon and steel, only tactical ones. In a ritual that never varied, Bondarev crossed himself, and muttered under his breath, “Be with me Dedushka.”

    *
    *

    “Fourth CUDA bird away!” Rodriguez called, bent double and panting. She was ready to collapse, had no idea how Bunny was still standing. The stocky, well-muscled aviator had stripped to her singlet, uniform trousers, gloves and boots. Her white, short cropped hair glistened with sweat and it ran in rivulets down her back between her shoulder blades. As they watched the sixth Fantom depart, Bunny arched her back. Rodriguez handed her a bottle filled with electrolytes and high dose caffeine and she chugged it hungrily.
    Bunny looked over at the command trailer, “Ivan will be overhead any minute,” she said. “And my babies will still be trying to form up. I want to get into that trailer and get them through the sh*tstorm they’re flying into.”
    “If those S-FADs don’t do their job, and Russian ground attack aircraft break though, the #%&*$# will be in here, not out there,” Rodriguez reminded her. They both watched wearily as the loading crane lifted another Fantom cartridge off the belt and dropped it on the catapult rails. So far, the only mechanical failure had been a catapult locking mechanism on the second Fantom that didn’t want to engage. They had talked through what they would do for nearly every possible failure scenario, and for this one, their only possible option was to push the malfunctioning drone down the rails and into the Pond at the end of the deck, losing not only a machine, but precious time. Just as Rodriguez was about to call it, the Fantom shuttle had clunked into place. “I’ve seen your code in action,” Rodriguez said. “Your ‘babies’ can look after themselves.”
    Of course Bunny wanted to be at her desk, head in her VR helmet, guiding her machines through the engagement but she couldn’t be in two places. She had been forced to launch them in autonomous mode and leave them to fight or die on their own. The algorithm she had plugged in was hyper-defensive at the merge though – her EW birds and her fighting hex would seek altitude and try to ‘spot’ targets for the S-FADs, which would be pulling data from the UCAVs, their own targeting systems and ANR to triangulate the Russian aircraft. Only when the S-FADs reported they were weapons dry and disengaging would Bunny’s UCAVs engage and even then they were programmed to only engage with missiles, evade and then bug out for recovery at Nome and Port Clarence.
    That’s what she’d told Rodriguez anyway. It wasn’t exactly dishonest, but she might have omitted to tell her CO that she had also programmed her Bezerker algorithm into the two EW UCAVs. It would be triggered if they were engaged and were in a guns dry state. Her logic was that if the engagement got to the state where her EW machines were still engaged after the S-FADs and her fighting hex were out of the fight, things were desperate enough to justify a little suicidality.
    “Well, they’re going to need all the friends they can get,” Bunny sighed, looking at the next Fantom in line. “Are we just going to stand here doing the girl talk thing, or are we going to get this hex launched?”

    *
    *

    The first CUDA armed Fantoms formed up north of Little Diomede and started creating a fighting hex. Their neural networks linked to share data, their passive and active targeting systems scanned the sky for targets to feed to the submersibles. The two EW Fantoms already airborne were sending data to the hex and the S-FADs on both the AWACS and its escort, but also a new group of aircraft entering the combat area which were radiating fearlessly, clearly confident and bent on detecting the US stealth aircraft. The two electronic warfare Fantoms had reached 30,000 feet and were climbing for 50. Bunny had programmed the flight waypoints for the EW Fantoms to be staggered between the Russian AWACS and Little Diomede, and Fantom EW 1 was jamming the AWACS undetected from a distance of only ten miles. It had a perfect lock on the AWACS plane and one of the S-FADs designated it as a priority target.
    As Bondarev’s flight of six Sukhois flashed by underneath it, the S-FAD flooded opened its missile cell doors and launched. Fired from below the surface using high pressure steam the launch cannisters of seven missiles broke out above the water and the SM-6/E booster engines fired, accelerating the missiles to three and a half times the speed of sound. One launch cannister failed to release, sending its missile into a cartwheeling death across the surface of the sea. The other six missiles arced straight into the sky. Pulling on the data from three remote sources, coupled with their own active seeker systems, they took just over a second to cover the 30,000 feet to their targets.

    *
    *
    [Linked Image]

    The first Bondarev knew that his AWACS crew was under attack was a brief radar tone, the appearance of an enemy missile icon on his HUD showing a contact below him, then the flash of light and ball of flame on the horizon behind him that signaled the 160m dollar AWACs' destruction.
    Before he could even react his combat AI took control of his aircraft, automatically fired flares and chaff and began to maneuver radically.
    His formation split like a starburst, every pilot looking desperately for the source of the attack, threat warning HUDs ominously empty of enemy aircraft but his blurred vision could see the threat marked on his HUD. Ground launch! His head swiveled quickly, looking for the telltale contrail of a missile to tell him where it had been fired from. He was over the open ocean, so whatever ship had killed his AWACS must be close. He felt as much as saw a missile scream past his port wing and explode overhead. Simultaneously, left and right of him, he saw four of his wingmen hit, dissolving in bright yellow balls of fire.
    As his machine pulled out of a near vertical dive he saw what must be the wreckage of the Beriev spiraling down to the sea, trailing ugly black and brown smoke behind it and around him, nothing but clear blue sky. Far below, a parachute bloomed, then another. That meant little. They aircrew still had to survive landing in the freezing sea below. Bondarev cursed and took back his stick. His threat display was only showing a general vector to a jamming signal over the Diomede islands. Threat display empty, sky clear! He flipped his radar to ground scan mode. Nothing! Where had the attack come from?! He flung his machine around the sky, bullying it down toward the relative safety of the waves below.
    For the first time in multiple missions, Bondarev was at a loss. “Spruce Leader to Spruce flight, report!”
    “Spruce 5,” a single voice replied. “Forming up Colonel. Orders?”
    Bondarev checked his tac display, “I have a strong lock on a stationary radar signature by Little Diomede,” he said. “Do you copy?” The only threat on his board was an American radar broadcasting by the eastern side of the island. His AI had tagged it as an F-47 signature, but it was not moving. Perhaps it was the aircraft Arsharvin’s UAV had photographed, either landing or preparing to launch? It didn’t feel right. On the edge of his display he saw his follow on flight entering the combat area, another six Su-57s followed by 12 Mig-41s. Behind them should be six ground attack configured Okhotniks.
    “Acknowledged, Spruce leader.” His remaining wingman responded. “Orders please?” The man sounded on the edge of panic.
    Bondarev didn’t even have time to reply before his missile threat warning sounded again and the stick was ripped from his hands as his machine desperately inverted and dived.

    *
    *

    The first S-FAD/A loosed two more missiles in the direction of Bondarev and his wingman but they were now moving into the optimal kill zone for the second S-FAD so it handed them off and turned its attention to the next wave of incoming Russian fighters. It had claimed four kills with its first seven shots, had two SM-6/E missiles in flight and three left. Based on solid and unconfirmed returns combined with standard Russian flight doctrine it estimated at least 12 Russian aircraft in the approaching wave. It had a firm lock on only four, but that was more than it had missiles for anyway. It sent its remaining three SM-6/Es downrange then closing its cell doors, reeled in its targeting comms buoy, cut off all emissions and began a silent glide toward the bottom of the Bering Strait.

    *
    *

    One, two… five! Bondarev quickly counted five missile icons, and within the blink of an eye they detonated. His wingman, Spruce 5, had broken high, managing only to attract both of the missiles launched at them, and his machine disappeared in a maelstrom of metal and fire. In horror, Bondarev listened as voices full of controlled terror filled the air and the icons of his follow on wave began to wink out. Five missiles, four kills this time. He remaining nine Su-57s scattered wildly, looking for the source of the attack in vain.
    Bondarev was down on the deck, back in control of his machine, still screaming toward Little Diomede but with nothing at which to aim his rage and anger than the loudly emitting F-47 still stationary next to the island and the vague vector he had to the jamming aircraft now high above him. He’d led his men into a trap and could see nothing for it but to call on them to disengage. He thumbed his comms.
    “Spruce leader to all Spruce aircraft …” he called. His time had run out. With a sickening feeling of finality he heard a new missile launch tone, saw the icons for multiple ground launched missiles appear right in front of him, and closed his eyes.
    Ignoring the virtual surrender of its pilot, the Sukhoi’s AI took control of the aircraft, rolled the machine hard to starboard, using thrust vectoring to put it at a radical angle of approach to the incoming missiles, punched flares and chaff and Bondarev felt his vision going red. An explosion, behind. Safe. A second, right above his damn head!
    His aircraft shuddered and began to wing over toward the sea. He grabbed the stick, disengaged the AI, tried to keep his machine level, felt it falling away underneath him. Tried to roll level to port, and it was like trying to roll a damn airliner upright, so he took a crazy risk, flick rolled to starboard instead. The Sukhoi responded normally to the stick for a starboard roll, and he stopped the roll as the aircraft came level. Warnings were flashing in his HUD and in his ears. He realized he was pulling back on the stick, but the nose was still dropping slightly. Engine temp redlining. He eased back on the throttle, pushed the stick forward. Engine fire! Extinguishers fired automatically and that warning went out, but he could hear his engine slowly spinning down. HUD was down. Tac display was down. He could hear the comms of his remaining pilots, tried to order them to break off and RTB but got no response; he was deaf, blind and dumb, shooting over the sea still aimed at Little Diomede, not much more than 1,000 feet above the waves. If his Okhotniks began their ingress now, they would be decimated. His nose dipped as his engine began to spool down.
    The Su-57 wasn’t a glider. But it wasn’t a brick either. He still had electrical power and the dynamic control surface modulation system did its best to optimize his wing for low speed flight as he fought to keep some altitude, avoid a stall, avoid the fighter tipping over onto one wing and going into a death spiral. He desperately scanned the sky around him, checked his altitude. He was already down to 800!
    He should punch out.

    [Linked Image]

    Up ahead he saw a broad channel of sea, coasts on each side, too far away, and straight in front, the twin islands of Big Diomede and Little Diomede. Big Diomede was Russian territory. Uninhabited, but Russian. Little Diomede was, he now knew for sure, an enemy base. An enemy base that had survived an attack with mini-MOAB munitions, hit and hurt Anadyr and Lavrentiya, and had now claimed at least eight of his own aircraft, probably significantly more thinking of that last volley of missiles. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw several parachutes. Drones did not need parachutes, they could only be his own men. Destroyed by what? Ground based anti-air defences on Little Diomede? It couldn’t be – they had hit the island with MOABs, overflown it a hundred times in recent weeks without incident, scoured satellite and ELINT data for any sign of anti-air defences. Arsharvin had concluded its only defense was a solid cap of basalt.
    As much as they were friends, it was an unforgivable mistake.
    He was dropping toward the Little Diomede from the east and could feel, without looking at his instruments, that he was not going to clear it. Choices flashed through his head like items on a menu. Steer a little to starboard, punch out in the water between the two islands, swim for Big Diomede and Russian territory. Or punch out either near or over little Diomede and wait on the enemy island until the Spetsnaz or a rescue unit arrived, assuming they could even get through. But he had no idea what the currents were like between the islands, could just imagine himself being caught and swept north or south into the open sea where he would die in minutes from the cold, despite his insulated flight suit. His nose dipped further … no way to get over Little Diomede now … it was decision time. He scanned the rocky shore ahead of him … could jump in or near the small wreckage strewn harbor at the base of that cliff there … worst case swim to the mast of one of the sunken ships, best case, make it to shore … but what if he jumped right in the middle of all that wreckage, or got blown past … once again he was wracked with indecision. Dedushka! Why can’t I think!?
    What the hell? In the middle of the cliff face ahead of him he saw a small rectangular aperture, not much wider or higher than his aircraft. He wouldn’t even have noticed if he hadn’t been pointed straight at it, and even then might have missed it except that out of its black maw an American Fantom blasted into the air and turning right in front of him, began a fast climbing turn to port.
    A cold calm came over him. Suddenly his path was clear. He would aim his Sukhoi at the opening in the rock and fly his machine straight into it.
    “This is Spruce Leader,” he called on his radio, just in case anyone could hear. “I have been hit, lost engine power, going down. Oak leader, get the job done, you are in command. Good luck Akinfeev. Bondarev out.”

    *
    *

    “No response!” Rodriguez called out. She had the boot unit connected to the hull of the Fantom they had just dropped onto the catapult, and hit the command to initiate engine startup, but got nothing, even the boot unit was showing a blank display. It was their last drone. They had managed to get eight up, this would be the ninth, and the last CUDA armed fighter if they could only boot it to life.
    “Try another boot unit!” Bunny yelled back. “It might not be the drone.”
    Running back to her shooter’s console, she pulled out a reserve boot unit and turned it on. For safety’s sake she took a spare magnetic connection cable too, in case it was a cable problem. Bunny took the chance to swig some water. They had gotten ten Fantoms into the air now, but had no idea what was going on above them. What they were doing was the equivalent of firing arrows blindfolded into the air, one after the other, at a target they weren’t even sure was still there. Except of course that the arrows had brains and reflexes of their own. And if the enemy was out there, they would find them. What happened after that, that was a question of man against machine.
    She slapped the magnetic connector onto the port on the side of the drone, and hit the boot command. An error code flashed up.
    “Fault in fuel cell, access port 23a!” she called. “Where the hell is access port 23A!?.”
    Bunny put her water bottle away and ran towards their engineering supply room, “I’ll get another fuel cell!”
    “Goddamit!” Rodriguez said, going back to her console and pulling up the drone service schematics. “Port 23A, 23A … where are you?” She punched in a search string and a wire diagram came up on her screen, the battery port highlighted in pulsing blue. It was on the portside fuselage, under the wing root. Grabbing a pistol grip screwdriver she ran to the drone, ducked under the wing, located the port and ripped it open. The hydrogen fuel cell inside was held fast in a metal brace and she had to free it before she could pull it out. As she turned to drop it on the ground, Bunny jogged up, holding a new cell and she jammed it into the bracket, closed the port door and Rodriguez screwed it into place.
    They had wasted valuable time. Bunny turned to Rodriguez, about to say something when a huge explosion threw them off their feet and fire roared out of the chute.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Bondarev never saw his machine hit the cliff. He had centered the nose of the Sukhoi just above the hole in the cliff face to allow for the last few feet of descent. He’d judged it was 500 feet above sea level, or about 500 feet below his safe ejection height. About a hundred feet from the cliff face, he pulled the ejection lever. His canopy flew away and the ejection gun hammered his seat out of the cockpit, then a rocket booster blasted him into the cold air at 200G per second. In any ejection there was a one in three chance the pilot would break their back, but when the alternative was to end as a red smear on a cliff face in the middle of the Bering Strait, it wasn’t something Bondarev had even thought about. His immediate problem was whether his chute would even deploy in time to retard his fall at this low altitude. The Sukhoi was equipped with a ‘zero-zero’ ejection system, designed to be safe even if the pilot ejected at zero altitude, zero speed, but while he was about 500 feet above the sea he was still ejecting below ground level if you counted from the top of the cliff face.
    The solid fuel rocket boosters on the bottom of his chair burned white hot for 0.2 seconds, lifting him 200 feet into the air over Little Diomede. Having taken altitude data from the dying Sukhoi, the seat computer calculated it should dump the chair immediately and deploy both the drogue and main parachutes. Bondarev was still moving forward at about 500 miles an hour as he started to drop. He felt himself being jerked out of the chair - if his back hadn’t been broken by the kick out of the cockpit, there was another chance it would be snapped by the chute deploying - and he saw the lip of the cliff face disappear below him in a blur. He was still wearing his helmet, so he registered the explosion of his aircraft as a bright flash somewhere below his legs, but didn’t hear it; then his chute opened and swung him forward like a child on a swing. His legs kicked out in front of him and then he swung back down, the black rock and ice of the island rushing up to meet him. He braced for a hard impact, but the ground was a little further away than he had first sensed. A second went past, then another, then he hit hard.

    *
    *

    Lieutenant Colonel Artem Akinfeev, Bondarev’s second in command and leader of the Mig-41 Oak squadron had heard his COs shouted missile warning as he came under attack over Little Diomede but he hadn’t heeded it. It wasn’t that he doubted the sanity of the order, questioned the tactical wisdom of committing his aircraft before the source of the threat was identified, or was arrogantly overconfident about the capabilituies of his Gen 6 Mig stealth fighters.
    He hadn’t heeded Bondarev’s warning, because he was already dead.
    Having dispatched most of Bondarev’s squadron the remaining S-FAD had immediately moved to engage the incoming Sukhois and Migs. An SM-6/E missile had struck his machine from a low portside aspect, detonating inches from his fuel tanks, causing an explosion that incinerated both the Mig and Artem Akinfeev in milliseconds. Akinfeev’s wingman, Lieutenant Igor Tzubya, had also heard Bondarev’s warning but luckily he had time to respond and had evaded the missile that had been aimed at him.
    “Oak 4 to Birch leader, we are engaged over target,” he said to the Okhotnik commander, pushing his machine down to sea level to try to recover stealth capability as his sensors showed American Aegis ground-air and Fantom air-air radar sweeping across the skin of his fighter. “Hold your current position, do not approach the target. Repeat, do not approach.”
    Igor Tzubya’s call sign was ‘Yeti’ because of his coolness under fire, and he showed it now, his voice giving no sign of the stress he was feeling, either mental or physical. As he recovered his stealth profile he swung his aircraft around toward the source of the Aegis radar and was looking for a surface ship when far ahead of him, he saw two sea launched missiles leap from the empty water. A submersible anti-air system! He had no air-ground weapons other than his guns, but he knew exactly how to respond. He locked the rough position of the S-FAD on his targeting system and sent the data to the other Russian aircraft.
    “Oak squadron, get down on the deck,” he said. “We’re being targeted by sub-launched missiles. Converge on my coordinates!” Tzubya commanded. Tzubya and his men were trained in how to counter an S-FAD attack. The S-FAD had to be stationary to launch and the trick was to stay as close to the launch point as possible. After clearing the surface of the sea and being kicked out of their cannisters the SM-6/E missiles would accelerate straight up and then start homing on their targets, but if the targets were below them and close, they would be forced to try a radical 180 degree reverse to get back down to sea level to hit a circling aircraft. It was a maneouver they weren’t optimised to achieve and the chances of a miss were greatly improved.
    Assuming there was only one S-FAD out there firing, of course.
    He had no option. In moments he was joined by the remaining five fighters of Oak squadron and they began tight banking turns over the last known position of the S-FAD. He tried desperately to get a visual on the submersible drone but that was impossible. The water below glittered with sunlight, the reflections blinding.
    “Missile launch!” one of his men called and he saw to port one of the missile cannisters exploding out of the water, the rocket booster igniting and sending the missile out of sight overhead.
    “Hold your positions unless they get a lock!” he called sternly, knowing the pressure to break away would be almost irresistible to many pilots.
    He counted the aircraft swimming through the air behind him. So few. But that must mean the enemy S-FAD was growing short on missiles.
    He just had to hold his nerve.

    [Linked Image]

    *
    *

    If Rodriguez and Bunny had been in any doubt about whether there was a war going on outside, it disappeared in the gout of flame that spewed out of the chute at the end of the catapult. Having been standing off to one side pushing the wings of the disabled Fantom the flame spewed out of the chute between them and they scrambled aside, Rodriguez on all fours, Bunny almost comically crabbing backwards on her butt.
    What saved them from almost certain immolation was that Bondarev’s Sukhoi had struck the cliff face about six feet over the chute. Smashing into the rock, its fuel tanks had ruptured and spewed flaming fuel into the chute, but the plane itself had simply pancaked into the cliff above the chute, exploded with huge force as its ammunition and fuel detonated, and then dropped to the rocky beach below.
    Ironically, the smoking wreck served to obscure the chute from anyone who might have been looking for it from the air or sea.
    When the fire subsided, Bunny stuck her head up and peered down the chute, still seeing unobstructed daylight ahead. “Missile, you think?”
    “Had to be,” Rodriguez agreed. “But they missed. Come on, we can’t expect they’ll keep missing. And you can bet it’s just a matter of time before they’ll dropping some heavy harm on that cave mouth.
    Let’s hustle!”
    Having installed the new fuel cell and locked it down, they booted up their last drone without any drama and got it ready to launch. Rodriguez had no way of knowing how many of their fighters out there were still operational, but they had now put two EW aircraft and a full hex of A2A in the air. If the S-FADs had done their job, and each Fantom just killed two Russians each, they would account for the best part of a full enemy squadron. That would have to hurt. She checked her panel. Oh what now!
    She deciphered the data on her screen. “EMALS is overheating,” she told Bunny. “We can push it, risk that it seizes, or wait and let it cool.”
    “How long?”
    “Ten … nine minutes.”
    At that moment they heard a mighty crash outside as something, probably one of the combatants, smashed into the water in the harbor outside the cave mouth.
    “We might not have ten minutes,” Bunny said. “I say take the shot, even if the damn thing blows up.” Her words were all fire and brimstone, but Rodriguez could see the woman was about to pass out if she didn’t kill herself with overexertion first.
    “I’ll see if I can bypass the EMALS safety code,” Rodriguez said. “You run up to the trailer, try to get a read on what is happening out there. Grab some electrolytes, then get back here.”
    “Yes ma’am,” Bunny said, without hesitation. She wanted to know what was happening above the Rock just as much as Rodriguez did. Rodriguez noticed she didn’t run over to the trailer, but moved with a shuffling jog.
    They just needed to get their last Fantom away. Then they could rest forever.

    *
    *

    Bondarev hit the hard ice covered rock and rolled. As he tumbled he tried to keep his head and his arms tucked in, but his head took a heavy blow that made him see stars even through the helmet. When he stopped rolling, he tried to stand, but found he couldn’t balance, even to get up into a crouch. Brain injury, something told him. Concussion. Take it easy. No one is shooting at you down here.
    He decided to lie still where he had landed, knees curled up to his chest. He pulled his parachute up around himself to keep warm, felt down to his trouser leg and triggered his emergency beacon. No rescue could come until the area was secure, but at least aircraft above would know he was down and still alive.
    Which, miraculously, he seemed to be. He gingerly rolled one foot, then the other, to test for a broken ankle. The same for his wrists and hands. He knew he might not feel any pain for a few minutes, the amount of adrenaline that had to be flowing, but it seemed he had gotten down in one piece. He still had spots in front of his eyes when he opened them, and a massive headache, but no pain in his back, no splintered bones.
    He was, however, lying on the stone and ice roof of an enemy air base in the middle of a shooting war and if his pilots could secure the airspace over the island there would be an air strike bowling in any minute now.
    Gathering himself, he rolled into a crouch. About two hundred feet to his left he saw what must have been the remains of the American radome. It was nothing more than blasted metal stumps and rough foundations but it offered the only potential shelter on the whole rock, in case any of the incoming Russian munitions went high.
    He looked up at the clear blue sky, could see some contrails, and far away, a burning machine falling from the sky. He had no idea if it was American or Russian. But judging by the first ten minutes of the battle, he wasn’t hopeful. It was the first time he had ever gone up against an autonomous sub launched air defense system.
    And it had kicked his human a$$.

    *
    *

    Posted By: jenrick

    Re: 1 MARCH update: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/01/18 06:13 PM

    Quote
    Luke Skywalker’s Hail Mary shot at the Death Star cooling tower


    Thermal exhaust port, rather than cooling tower. Somewhere a nerd is raging lol.

    -Jenrick
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: 1 MARCH update: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/02/18 07:25 AM

    Originally Posted by jenrick
    Quote
    Luke Skywalker’s Hail Mary shot at the Death Star cooling tower


    Thermal exhaust port, rather than cooling tower. I some somewhere a nerd is raging lol.

    -Jenrick


    xwing

    [Linked Image]
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: 1 MARCH update: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/02/18 02:27 PM

    Quote
    Simultaneously, left and right of him, he saw four of his wingmen hit, dissolving in bright yellow balls of fire.


    Goodness Gracious...Great Balls of Fire!
    Posted By: rollnloop.

    Re: 1 MARCH update: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/03/18 12:01 PM

    Poor ol' Bondy
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: 1 MARCH update: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/03/18 02:04 PM

    Who's gonna die?

    1) Bondarev
    2) Bunny
    3) Rodriguez
    4) Devlin
    5) Williams
    6) HOLMES
    7) Perri
    8) Dave
    9) Arsharvin
    10) Sarge
    11) Zubkhov
    12) All of the above in an apocalyptic nuclear fireball


    [Linked Image]

    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: 1 MARCH update: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/03/18 05:51 PM

    Originally Posted by HeinKill
    Who's gonna die?

    1) Bondarev
    2) Bunny
    3) Rodriguez
    4) Devlin
    5) Williams
    6) HOLMES
    7) Perri
    8) Dave
    9) Arsharvin
    10) Sarge
    11) Zubkhov
    12) All of the above in an apocalyptic nuclear fireball

    1: Dramaturgically, it makes no sense - you just saved him.
    2 & 3: Why and how? They're inside the rock, survived the MOAB, and you wrote that the rock is designed to keep an army at bay (I don't believe that such a thing exists, but these are your words)
    4, 5, 6: Not without nuclear escalation
    7 & 8: Possible, but then again Zubkhov is severely wounded, and he's the only one who knows. Plus, everybody knows that heroic kids in a war novel cannot die (and with those words I may have sealed their fate...).
    9: Maybe
    10: Why & how, without nuclear escalation? He's in Canada. Nobody attacks Canada. At least, it wouldn't make any military/strategic/narrational sense
    11: More likely than others. Plus, he's a baddie.
    12: Your call, the conditions are all set. But it would violate genre conventions.
    Posted By: Nixer

    Re: 1 MARCH update: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/03/18 10:20 PM

    Pretty sure Perri and Dave are in the water tower...KIA

    Sarge is obviously alive as he finds them...I think.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign, 6 March new chapter - 03/05/18 08:25 AM

    Yevgeny Bondarev might have been more cheerful if he could have seen the data Bunny was running as she chugged a bottle of non-carbonated energy drink. The screen told its story in a format she could digest in seconds, but she kept looking at it for as long as it took her to finish the pint of fluid she was throwing down.
    Bugsy, the Fantom in the bay, had been linked into the hex data feed and was tracking the aircraft overhead. It had faithfully recorded every kill and loss. She looked at the data in disappointment. The S-FAD ambush had claimed just 14 aircraft for its 24 missiles. There were still 4 Russian fighters, all Mig-41s reforming south of the Island. They were not giving up.
    She put down her empty bottle, reached to take one for Rodriguez, and saw a group of new icons appear on the screen at the absolute limit of Bugsy’s range, about twenty miles out. They flickered in and out, indicating they were stealth aircraft, but the AI was confident enough it could identify them from their radar and signals cross sections.
    Nine Su 57s in the company of Okhotniks. Six of them. They were spearing straight toward Little Diomede, and that could only mean one thing. She touched the comms button on her helmet. “Boss, we got mud movers inbound! I’m going to stay in the trailer, make sure my hex has its head in the game, OK?” she called urgently.
    “Acknowledged. Keep them out of our back yard O’Hare, I’m still working on this EMALS.”
    “Yes ma’am.” Bunny pulled off her plane captain helmet, jammed on her VR rig and plugged it in. Bunny’s hex, holding low and optimized for stealth north of Little Diomede was programmed with priority targets and a 20 mile defense perimeter around the island it was tasked to defend. Knowing that pilot kills hurt more than drone kills, Bunny had programmed her Fantoms to seek out and attack Su-57 or Mig-41 aircraft first and foremost. Each Fantom was armed with eight CUDA Half-RAAM medium range missiles – forty eight in total. Her aggressor algorithm gave the three lead aircraft in the hex the role of engaging first, and as soon as Tzubya’s reformed flight of four Mig-41s entered the kill zone south of Little Diomede – their own radars marking their place in the sky like neon lights - they were immediately locked with 12 CUDAS.
    Homing on the Mig’s targeting radars the missiles sped ahead of the Fantoms and the sky south of Little Diomede was a mosaic of contrails.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    “Fantoms! Missiles inbound.” Igor 'Yeti' Tzubya called. One, two… five, six… he quickly counted six drones and twice as many missiles headed for his formation. The American aircraft were nearly 30 miles out, hiding down low in the wave clutter. One of the ghost returns on his tracking screen suddenly turned solid and quicker than he could think himself, a K-77M missile dropped out of its bay and boosted toward the target. A second missile was fired by one of his wingmen but his systems were showing heavy jamming and the Russian missiles lost their lock almost immediately. He had to get within optical guidance range.
    At least two incoming missiles appeared to be targeting his aircraft. Damn, damn, damn! He looked to his right and saw he still had a wingman with him. Then he saw a flash of fire, the cloud of a missile impact beside him and he rolled instinctively away from the explosion as his wingman detonated in a ball of flying metal.
    No, not a missile. The US missiles were still closing, two seconds to impact. A glint caught his eye and looking to port he saw a lone Fantom pulling out of a screaming dive above the water and climb away, trying to regain altitude. Ignoring the missile warnings, he flung his own machine onto its wing and tried to lock the US aircraft up. He had to override his combat AI as it fired counter measures and tried to assert control in the face of imminent destruction from US missiles, but he grunted in satisfaction as he turned inside the fast moving CUDAs and both detonated harmlessly behind him. As it reached the top of its zoom climb he got an optical lock on the US fighter that had taken his wingman out with its guns. He got a firing tone. His thumb reached for the missile release…
    As he was about to jab down on the button, tracer flashed over his wing. One of the damned winged hell hounds had gotten behind him! Cursing, he broke hard left and dived for the sea.
    “Oak 4 to Birch leader, we are engaged over target,” he said, wrenching his machine into a flick roll to avoid a line of tracer fire from the drone behind him. The constant missile warning tones in his ears stopped. The inferior American missiles had lost their lock. He stopped his roll, reversed it, and pulled his machine into a screaming starboard climbing turn. He had little chance of out maneuvering the American drone, but his Mig had a trick up its sleeve that set it apart from 5th Gen fighters like the Su-57 or Fantom. If he lived long enough to use it. More tracer fire flashed over his canopy as he jinked. “How far out are you?” he called to the Su-57 pilot shepherding the Okhotniks to the target.
    “Birch leader Oak 4, we are at ingress waypoint, twenty miles out,” the voice of the commander of the Okhotnik flight replied. “We have Poplar squadron with us, ten minutes from release point.”
    “Spruce flight is down, Oak leader is down, Oak flight of three remaining, I am lead,” Tzubya said. “We’ll occupy the American CAP,” he said, rolling his machine on its axis and pulling it into a power climb. “I authorize ingress of Poplar aircraft.”
    “Roger Oak 4,” the Birch flight leader said. “We are joining. I am showing two to four bogeys over the target, confirm?”
    In any other aircraft, pulling up into a spiralling climb with an enemy on his six would have been suicidal. He felt his airspeed bleeding away despite his powerplant being at full thrust. In his rear aspect camera view he saw the US Fantom closing, firing in short controlled bursts. But at that moment a laser tone sounded in his ears. The anti-missile laser mounted in the rear of his Mig had finally got a lock on the Fantom behind him. As soon as it locked it fired automatically, a noiseless, recoiless pulse of focused energy that burned through the nose of the pursuing drone, melted vital components to slag, and sent it spinning out of control toward the sea.
    “Splash one. Estimate four to six remaining,” Tzubya said. As he tried to digest the data on his tactical display he heard a scream over the radio and saw another Russian icon disappear. He brought his machine around and tried to get a lock on another American aircraft, knowing in his guts that the approaching Sukhois would not arrive in time.
    In her trailer, Bunny saw she still had five birds in the air – three with CUDAs, one guns only EW machine. She had just lost one of her EW machines and accounted for three Migs. Between the S-FADs and her Fantoms that gave a total of 17 US kills for one Russian. The threat board showed a large Russian force of air and ground attack aircraft moving in. It was time get her babies to safety. But there was one Mig in range and she still had ordnance. She had to save some missiles for the ingress to Nome in case the UCAVs were intercepted on their way home but she issued a command to her remaining A2A armed fighters to volley half their ordnance and then head for the deck and bug out for Nome.
    Igor Tzubya heard the alert and saw four missiles on his HUD threat display, all vectored on him. His AI wrenched his machine into a tight banking turn, firing chaff and flares automatically.
    But Tzubya took his hands from his stick and throttle and closed his eyes. He knew Death had finally come for him. Goddamn robots.

    *
    *

    With her Fantoms out of Russian missile range and on their way to Nome, Bunny ran from the trailer, “Ground attack aircraft inbound!!” she yelled. Rodriguez looked over from the flight deck. “We have about five minutes!” She ran up beside Rodriguez and grabbed her arm. “Forget that!”
    Rodriguez did the math. Five minutes until the Russian attack aircraft were in position to launch missiles at the cave. One minute for their missiles to run. That was six. Two to boot the Fantom, two to run the emergency takeoff routine, two to spool up the Scimitar engine, one to launch.
    They were out of time.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]


    Bondarev looked over the sea to the south and watched in anger as the last of his Migs was skewered by several missiles at once. The Mig-41 disintegrated instantly, scattering into a thousand parts, several of which were his pilot. Further out, a formation of US Fantoms wheeled in the sky and headed north east.
    They were withdrawing?
    Despair turned to hope and he stood and cheered as nine Sukhois in tight formation appeared on the horizon, with no sign of pursuit. In seconds they were flashing overhead. Which meant his Okhotniks must be…
    Sure enough, moving in just above sea level, he spotted a flock of small dark delta shapes spearing in toward Little Diomede. If he had a radio he would have yelled at them to divide their fire between the cave mouth and the small window in the rock high and to the left. But some well placed munitions in the maw of the cave might be enough.
    Sitting in their trailers in Anadyr, the pilots and systems operators of the Okhotniks had AI enhanced, HD magnified, simulated real-time vision of the cliff face ahead. They had lost true real-time control of their drones when they lost their AWACS link but the remaining satellite links were good enough for them to identify the low mouth of the cave as a cold dark smudge above the water, and place the targeting crosshairs of their KH-31F missiles right in the middle of it. To do it they had to designate the target manually, because it was actually an absence of something, not an object in itself. But with no enemy aircraft to worry about, it didn’t matter they didn’t have real time control of their drones.
    A further complication was that the half to one second of lag caused by sending their targeting commands via satellite meant a difference between what their pilots were seeing as the aircraft position and status, and what its real position and status was. To allow for that margin of error, they had committed more than the usual number of aircraft to the attack and the Okhotnik drivers were taking no chances they would miss. They let the drones close to two miles out before Bondarev saw the telltale flash under their bellies as missiles dropped out of their weapon bays. Lines of smoke traced a path from the aircraft toward the island. Despite himself, he crouched lower. He tried quickly to count the contrails but they were moving too fast. As they disappeared from view under the lip of the cliff he lowered his head to his arm and waited.
    In fact there were six missiles tracking toward the mouth of the cave.
    Targeting a postbox shaped slit just above the water was no easy feat even for a missile with a trimode target seeker, when the pilot firing them was giving his orders from a hundred and fifty miles away in Lavrentiya, a full second into the past. One malfunctioned when its stub wings did not properly open and curved wide. Two hit the water a few hundred yards out. One smashed into ice overhanging the cave mouth and detonated at the entry.
    But one missile flew straight into the opening of the cave, and straight toward the dock under the Rock.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    NCTAMS-A4 was designed to take a punch in the guts from a Russian cruise missile or torpedo and stay operational. The cave opening led to the Pond and the hardened concrete walls of the dock beyond. The ‘flight deck’ was set off to the left behind blast deflectors, so unless a missile could stop in midair and turn ninety degrees left, it would slam into the dock at the end of the Pond and any explosion would dissipate among the infrastructure of the dock which was largely made up of personnel ready rooms, the lower galley and the heads. Fittings, cranes and loading gear were replaceable. The command trailer was set up high, with its own blast deflecting armor. But three KH-31Fs made it into the cave and slammed into the back of the dock at two and a half times the speed of sound.
    The blast from their 90kg HE warheads struck the already canted dock crane, cracked the concrete and wood dock fairings, shattered the windows of the crew quarters, galleyand ready rooms sending glass, metal and rock flying around the cavernous space like a thousand small arrows. If Bunny and Rodriguez had been standing in the open, they would have been flayed alive.
    But as soon as Bunny had screamed about the Okhotniks to Rodriguez, she had jumped from behind her console, grabbed Bunny around the neck and pushed her toward the iron door leading to the loading mechanism for the flight deck, barreling in behind the pilot and pulling the heavy blast door shut behind her.
    The designers of NCTAMS-A4 had calculated the base should even be able to remain UCAV launch capable through multiple strikes. But they hadn’t planned for the roof of the cave above the Pond to be laced with demolition munitions when it got hit.
    Even though they had been manually disarmed by Bunny and Rodriguez, the charges were still buried in the roof, positioned to bring it down on top of the dock and block the cave mouth. With a sudden and catastrophic ripple of blasts, from the dock outwards toward the mouth of the cave, the demolition munitions exploded, dropping tons of concrete and rock into the Pond. The mouth of the cave had received special attention and the ring of charges there, which had not been triggered by the missiles striking the rock either side of the cave, were triggered by the blasts inside and collapsed the mouth of the cave so thoroughly that within seconds it was completely sealed.
    Not a chink of light shone through.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    Bondarev could hear the detonations below him, but if he expected the Rock to shake and tremble with their force he was mistaken. Little Diomede Island had towered over the Arctic seas for tens of thousands of years and seen two ice ages come and go - despite the outrages visited on it today, it would stand ten thousand more.
    He lifted his head and looked up again. The battle for the airspace above him was over. He saw his Sukhois make another pass over him and then sweep up into a steep climbing turn. He jumped up from the hole he had been crouched in, and over to where he had left his parachute rolled into a ball, weighted down by rocks. He unfurled it and spread it out, using the rocks to hold down the edges. Then he stood in the middle of it, and waved.
    A Sukhoi circling overhead broke away, and dropped low. As it passed the pilot dropped a wing and Bondarev saw him clearly, waving from his cockpit to show he’d seen the downed pilot. Bondarev watched as the fighter pulled around and made another pass, slower and lower this time. As he dropped his wing this time, Bondarev thought he saw the pilot hold up his fist and flash five fingers, twice.
    Ten minutes, the pilot was saying.
    Bondarev waved back to show he understood, and sat down on his chute.
    His Spetsnaz quad copter was on its way.

    *
    *

    When the cacophony of sound on the other side of the door finally stopped, Bunny and Rodriguez tried the hydraulically operated blast door. It was jammed, the mechanism probably warped by the pressure waves from the blasts.
    “No effing way,” Bunny cursed, trying the door again. They could hear bolts sliding back, could hear the hydraulic system whirring, but the blast door stayed obstinately, firmly and depressingly shut.
    They had an exit – out through the tool room to the hangar level elevator shaft – but that only let down deeper under the Rock, not outside. Power to the base had not been lost - the reactor was of course buried deep and not vulnerable to anything less than a nuke going off inside.
    Rodriguez patted the door, “Well I think it is safe to assume this place is a high degree of screwed,” Rodriguez observed.
    “So are we ma’am,” Bunny added, nodding at the jammed blast door. “The only way out of here is down.”
    Rodriguez felt a lump in her chest as she bit down on her despair. They’d prepared for a siege, laid in food, water, weapons. Booby trapped the environment around them to give Ivan a few surprises. They hadn’t prepared to be entombed.
    “So what’s the plan ma’am?” Bunny asked. She looked around her, “It’s possible the blast door into the aircraft elevator isn’t jammed. We could access the elevator shaft, find a way to bridge the gap, get out that way.” She tried to make it sound easy.
    “The elevator shaft is a 30 foot wide hole in the rock,” Rodriguez said. “We still have power, so we still have comms. I think our best idea is to get a signal out to CNAF, tell them our status, wait here for extraction.”
    “Unless Ivan comes and ‘extracts’ us first,” Bunny observed.

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    As Perri watched the last of the Russian jets lift off and light its burners, heading north, he pulled his hands down from his ears and then dropped his backside onto his sleeping bag beside Dave.
    “About damn time,” Dave said. “Seriously, they have the whole Russian air force out there?”
    “Not anymore,” Perri said. “I think we need to get onto Sarge, tell him they just put everything they have in the air.”
    Dave reached across his legs to haul the car battery onto his lap and picked up the cable connecting it to the radio. “Yeah, yeah, I’ll just…”
    From outside the tank, there came three sharp reports, and three small holes appeared in the tank above their heads.
    Both of them froze.
    “Hey, American!” came a heavily accented voice. “You hear me in there?” There was another shot and another hole appeared in the tank, lower down this time, making them both duck. “Yeah, I think you hear me.” There was a bitter laugh. “It’s me, guy you tried to kill.” Another shot, another hole in the tank, even lower this time. Dave and Perri both scuttled as far from that side of the tank as they could, but there was nowhere to go.
    “Hey!” the voice called. “I think you have radio in there. First thing you are going to do, you come out and hand that radio down to me.” Another laugh. “Softly. I have been looking for that radio.”

    *
    *


    (c) 2018 Fred 'Heinkill' Williams. To Be Continued...
    Posted By: Ssnake

    Re: 1 MARCH update: AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/05/18 11:39 AM

    Just focusing on the technical parts of it, as far as I'm qualified to say anything:

    a)
    With satellite connections the lag for the Ochotnik operators would be closer to .4 and up to .6 seconds (which, technically, could still be counted as "500 milliseconds" but it would still be misleading by two orders of magnitude). That is, assuming that they are using geostationary comm sats (and possibly one for relay); GEO is .13 light seconds away, so merely going up and down is .26 seconds already. Add a relay, that's another .14 light seconds (assuming that you have six and not just three in orbit). Of course you could also have comm sats in low orbit but then you'll have service interruptions as you need to hand over from one to another. Solvable, sure.
    Add to that the lag for digital video compression. The better the compression, the more lag it causes (but you save on precious bandwidth). A good compression may require the analysis of five consecutive frames; even at 60 fps that's another .083 seconds of lag. And that's really a best case assumption. My cable TV is lagging about 15 seconds behind, and IP TV's "live" coverage of sports events can be more than a minute behind.

    b)
    With 3 x 90kg RDX detonating in semi-enclosed space plus demolition charges and a partial collapse of the cave, it's going to stay pitch black for the two girls for quite a while. In fact, I think they're lucky to be able to open the blast door. If it's heavy enough to withstand the direct impact, it must be machine operated. If it can be opened by muscle power, no way they're going to survive it. The problem here is that you're not dealing with a pressure wave in the open which quickly dissipates, but one that is confined in all directions but the cave entrance, with plenty of shockwave reflections.
    Even a single hand grenade (80g RDX) will create so much dust, you can't see anything in a room for a minute or so after it went off. Granted, the cave is bigger - but the missile warheads contained more than three thousand times as much HE filler.
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Heading for 10,000 views! AAR with a difference: Bering Strait UCAV campaign 6 March new chapter. - 03/05/18 05:38 PM

    Originally Posted by Ssnake
    Just focusing on the technical parts of it, as far as I'm qualified to say anything:

    a)
    With satellite connections the lag for the Ochotnik operators would be closer to .4 and up to .6 seconds (which, technically, could still be counted as "500 milliseconds" but it would still be misleading by two orders of magnitude). That is, assuming that they are using geostationary comm sats (and possibly one for relay); GEO is .13 light seconds away, so merely going up and down is .26 seconds already. Add a relay, that's another .14 light seconds (assuming that you have six and not just three in orbit). Of course you could also have comm sats in low orbit but then you'll have service interruptions as you need to hand over from one to another. Solvable, sure.
    Add to that the lag for digital video compression. The better the compression, the more lag it causes (but you save on precious bandwidth). A good compression may require the analysis of five consecutive frames; even at 60 fps that's another .083 seconds of lag. And that's really a best case assumption. My cable TV is lagging about 15 seconds behind, and IP TV's "live" coverage of sports events can be more than a minute behind.

    b)
    With 3 x 90kg RDX detonating in semi-enclosed space plus demolition charges and a partial collapse of the cave, it's going to stay pitch black for the two girls for quite a while. In fact, I think they're lucky to be able to open the blast door. If it's heavy enough to withstand the direct impact, it must be machine operated. If it can be opened by muscle power, no way they're going to survive it. The problem here is that you're not dealing with a pressure wave in the open which quickly dissipates, but one that is confined in all directions but the cave entrance, with plenty of shockwave reflections.
    Even a single hand grenade (80g RDX) will create so much dust, you can't see anything in a room for a minute or so after it went off. Granted, the cave is bigger - but the missile warheads contained more than three thousand times as much HE filler.


    Excellent input as usual, keep it coming! Really appreciate the technical eye you put on it. There won't be many with your level of expertise reading but those who do hopefully will say wow, these guys know their sh*t!

    To your first point this is very useful to point out because it can be used to minimise the number of missiles that are accurately targeted and that penetrate the cave.

    To your second point the cavern would need to have a very strong air circulation and particle filter system to clear the fumes and dust from UCAVs taking off. The collapse of the cave roof doesnt knock out the power, and might not knock out the air filtration system which would still be working in half of the base. Minor plot spoiler below...

    (Also, Rodriguez/Bunny won't be opening the door... won't say more on that)


    For others: comment on the story flow and plot pacing are also welcome. As we approach the final chapters, point out what parts/chapters/even whole characters you would have skipped or don't think work (I'm a former journalist, so I'm not hypersensitive about critique)!

    For example I am planning to move the 'reveal' about the war being driven by an impending water crisis to much later in the novel. I think it will work better if the reader shares the perception that the Russians just want to control what is now a strategic waterway, and the reveal comes towards the end that it is about much more than that.

    And not just water ... da da da daaaaaaaa


    Fred
    Posted By: HeinKill

    Re: 8 March update AAR with a difference. Bering Strait UCAV campaign - 03/07/18 08:52 PM

    (With thanks to jenrick over the next chapter or so for some pointers on how special forces might go about seizing an underground enemy base!)

    BLITZ

    [Linked Image]

    Yevgeny Bondarev hadn’t planned to join the Spetsnaz assault on the enemy base, so it was with not a little surprise he found himself on the end of a rope, rappelling down the cliff face overlooking the collapsed cave, trying to find the drone sized egress hole in the cliff.
    The GRU Spetsnaz company commander was a Siberian Yakut, Captain Mikhael Borisov. He had grown up in the coldest region on the planet, Verkhoyansk, where the average winter temperature was 20 degrees below. The near freezing winds on top of Little Diomede were like a spring breeze to him, but he wouldn’t have felt them anyway, because he was boiling with frustration.
    He had planned to take the US base using five 5-man squads in three quadcopters, a mix of rifle and weapons troops. But one of his machines had developed engine trouble and had been forced to turn back, taking with it eight of his men including a number of their heavy weapon specialists. Their attack was timed to follow as closely as possible behind the VVS missile strike on the enemy base - he had decided to move ahead with the troops he had. That left him with 16 men, himself and the Russian VVS Colonel who had been waiting for them on top of the rock.
    He had decided the operation to capture the US base was a basic airfield seizure, with the complication that he had no intel on the layout inside the Rock. Valuable space on the copters had been taken by two inflatable boats so that they could do a fast seaborne insertion but VVS UAV imagery of the entrance to the base he reviewed en-route showed the cave mouth had collapsed. Ingress would have to be through the remaining cliff face tunnel unless his men could find a lift or stairwell leading from the destroyed US radome down into the base below. The downed VVS aviator had scouted the ruins of the American base and said he had not been able to identify any sort of lift, stairs or shaft leading down from the dome of the rock into the base below due to the damage caused by the thermobaric bombs used in the first wave of the attack. That didn’t mean there wasn’t one, just that he hadn’t found it. It could be well concealed; now Borisov would have to use valuable time and resources looking for and securing it to ensure they didn’t find themselves suddenly flanked. He would have to leave one of his squads on the surface to check the wrecked radar base and protect their copters while he took his remaining squad through the launch chute and down under the rock to probe the enemy’s positions.
    The observation had led to a heated exchange.
    “You no longer have the strength to take this base,” Bondarev said. “You should call in at least another platoon.”
    “With respect Comrade Colonel,” the GRU officer said. “That is not your call to make. I am the ground force commander and this element of the operation is being led by the GRU, not the VVS. Every minute we delay, the enemy can be recovering from your missile attack,” Borisov said. “Attending to their wounded, shoring up their defences.” He took a step forward toward Bondarev. “Perhaps the VVS would like another week of rest and recreation before finishing its job, but we are GRU, and I say I still have enough men to secure this landing zone, penetrate that base, assess the size and disposition of the enemy force and only then will I make a decision about whether to call in reserves.” Realising he had taken his authority as far as it would go, he gave an insincere smile, “Now, perhaps the Colonel would not mind showing me how he thinks we can access this base?”
    Borisov had created a defensive perimeter around the copter with one of his squads but Bondarev looked at the remaining ten or so soldiers standing behind their commander and he could see that if they weren’t going to be allowed to start killing some Americans, and soon, they might very well decide a coward of a VVS officer would make a fine substitute. In reality, there was nothing he could do about it.
    Which was how he’d found himself dangling on the end of a rope, trying to identify the American UCAV launch chute for the Spetsnaz team above. Bondarev had taken his best guess, looking at where his Sukhoi lay crumpled and still smoking at the bottom of the cliff, and with Borisov on a rope beside him, had dropped over the edge of the cliff and was easing his way down.
    About a hundred feet down, and still 500 feet above the sea, he found it. It lay off to his left, so he had to kick and bounce his way over to it. He gave a hand signal to the Spetsnaz soldier on the other rope, and they took up positions on either side of the tunnel. It showed nothing but complete darkness. Bondarev had discussed with Borisov that it was possible the attack through the mouth of the cave had knocked out the base and everyone in it, but neither of them was willing to trust their lives to that assumption.
    Pulling down the night vision device on his helmet, Borisov stuck his head around the rock and Bondarev half expected to see it disappear in a volley of fire and spray of blood, but the darkness remained silent.
    “Long tunnel, some sort of low intensity lighting at the end so your attack didn’t kill the power. Big enough to stand up in, slight incline. No cover I can see but anyone looking through there is going to see us against the daylight. Stealth is out, we’re going to have to pop smoke, go in fast.” He started relaying orders to his men above. Bondarev had borrowed one of the Spetsnaz helmets and took a look for himself. The Night-vision Optical Device on the helmets could be flipped between light enhancing and an infra-red mode that would penetrate smoke and fog. He saw the tunnel was long – he could see only a faint glow at the end, and there was a guide rail set in the floor which must be used to keep the UCAVs centered in the tunnel during launch. It was big enough for them to stand up in without crouching, and the roof and sides were shored up with steel beams, recessed into the rock. Bondarev whistled; the tunnel was a major piece of engineering in itself. He couldn’t help but be impressed by what the Americans had done, right under their noses.
    When the others had joined them, Borisov and one of his men took a position on either side of the tunnel entrance and pulled out smoke grenades. On a signal from Borisov they swung into the opening, threw the grenades and dropped prone with OSV-96 AMR rifles fitted with IR/NOD scopes, to provide cover for the rest of the squad. The others swung in behind them and rushed down the slight incline, also throwing themselves flat. Bondarev came in last, unable to see anything, with only the small 5.45mm PSM pistol he always carried in a trouser pocket on the leg of his flight suit to give him courage.
    “No contact,” the Spetsnaz commander said to his squad. “Move up.” They began crawling down the tunnel through the smoke, on their stomachs. The walls of the tunnel were smooth, covered only by a black soot that Bondarev guessed was the remains of fuel from either drone launches, or his own exploding Sukhoi. As they’d identified, there was no natural cover, so Borisov’s men moved in overlapping teams of two down either side of the tunnel. All Bondarev could do was keep his eyes on the dark shadow of the man in front of him and try not to bump into anyone.
    Suddenly up front there was a signal, and everyone stoppped.
    “End of the tunnel,” someone radioed back. “Five meter gap. Continues on the other side.”
    Bondarev tensed. If the enemy was waiting in ambush, this would be the perfect time, as they paused at the edge of the drop. Bondarev heard a splash.
    “Water below,” the man up ahead called back. “Still no contact. We can jump it.”
    “Coming forward,” Borisov said and ran up to the lip of the chute in a crouch. He signaled to Bondarev to join him, giving Bondarev his first look inside the enemy base. Or what was left of it. He could hear heavy duty exhaust fans working overtime to clear the dust, smoke and water vapor left behind by the cruise missile strike but with his helmet on infra-red mode he could see no movement inside. It appeared the cave had once been much bigger, but a huge rock slide had closed part of it off. He could see the outline of a trailer or comms room set up above the waterline, cables running from it to the roof where they were gathered into thick plastic tubes that ran over to what must be the UCAV flight deck and launch catapult.
    “Tell me what we are looking at,” Borisov said, coughing. Bondarev was also having trouble breathing but the American air filtration system was doing it’s job, the smoke was visible thinning out.
    Bondarev explained, “The Americans have basically recreated the deck of an aircraft carrier here under the rock.” He pointed, “That is the catapult, electromagnetic. They pull a lot of juice, so I would suspect they installed a nuclear power plant to drive it.”
    “#%&*$#, we don’t have anti-radiation gear,” Borisov said. “We could be soaking up lethal doses already.”
    “I’d guess not,” Bondarev said. “They’d bury something like that deep in the bedrock. It wouldn’t be vulnerable to a simple missile strike.” He pointed a finger in the air. “Listen, the air filters are still working.”
    Borisov cocked his head to listen, then nodded to the rockslide that filled half the cavern, “That doesn’t look like a simple missile strike.”
    “No, it doesn’t,” Bondarev agreed. “I’d say that was deliberate. Sabotage. Might even have been done before we attacked.”
    “They were launching aircraft right up until we moved in,” Borisov pointed out.
    “Something was,” Bondarev said. He looked at the flight deck. The base was lit with emergency lighting and through his low light vision he saw more clearly the feeder system that pulled the drones out of hangars inside the rock and dropped them on the catapult, where one of the American UCAVs sat patiently, apparently ready to launch. Could the whole thing be automated? Was their enemy that far ahead of them that they had built an unmanned robot base to launch their robot warplanes from? “Automated feeder system,” he explained to the Spetsnaz commander. “Pulls the drones out of hangars back there somewhere, loads them on the catapult.” He looked more carefully. “But that’s a standard catapult officer’s chair and console right there. And you’d need maintenance crew for recovery and repair even if the pilots were based elsewhere.” Bondarev decided. “Whoever was launching those drones at us, they’re still in here somewhere.”
    “OK,” Borisov said quietly. “Give me an estimate of how many.”
    It’s a fault in warriors consistent throughout history. If they were challenged in battle, it was always by a numerically superior force. Their pride lets them admit no other option. “I’d estimate we were up against as many as twenty UCAVs,” Bondarev said, “Plus sea launched anti-air submersibles, which might also have been based here. That would take a sizeable base. The crew down on the flight deck there, say six people. Officers, two or three. Security detail perhaps, five or six. For the base to operate under combat conditions, every active duty crew member would need to be matched with one who was off duty. Logistics, intelligence and administrative officers. Cooks and maintenance staff.” He did the math.
    “There would need to have been at least fifty people serving on this base.”
    Borisov lifted his rifle and used the scope to look around what was left of NCTAMS-A4.
    “So where the hell are they all, Comrade Colonel?”

    *
    *

    [Linked Image]

    “Where the hell is he?” Dave whispered urgently. “The next shot could be into our heads.” He was holding the radio up to Perri. “Just give it to him!”
    Perri was doing some panicked thinking. If the guy outside was the one he had shot, he was likely to be sorely pi$$ed. Hadn’t he said ‘American’, not ‘Americans’ plural? Maybe he didn’t know there were two of them in the tank. A plan began to form. Their only chance was to try to kill him, before he was able to kill them. But all the Russian had to do was stand out there and fill the tank full of holes until Perri and Dave were dead. Or drop a grenade through the manhole and shred them. Their situation was multiple degrees of suck. Looking around he saw the bullet holes, tried to guess where the guy had been standing. “You do it,” Perri whispered. “Let him see and hear you. I’m going to try to get a line on the guy.”
    Perri lifted his rifle and waddled over to the side of the tank where he thought the voice and shots had come from. The tank was perforated in multiple places, a few of them big enough to get a rifle muzzle through, if he could just find an eye hole too.
    “OK!” he yelled, motioning to Dave to start climbing the ladder. “Stop shooting! I’ll bring the radio out. I’m surrendering!”
    Dave looked at him like he had lost his marbles. But Perri gave him a just do it face and turned back to try to get a direction on the Russian soldier.
    “Yes, first radio, then your weapons,” the man said. “Then we take a nice walk to Savoonga and I get medal for capturing you.”
    Perri had guessed right. He could tell from the voice the man was standing right in front of him, somewhere below. He heard Dave start to climb the ladder to the manhole.
    He found an eyehole, and slowly put the muzzle of his rifle against a tear in the metal just below it. He couldn’t sight it, just aim in a general direction if the man stepped out into view. It was literally a long shot.
    But he didn’t believe for a minute the guy he had just shot was going to take them prisoner.

    *
    *

    Rodriguez’ call to CNAF to report that the base had been hit and they were trapped behind a jammed blast door had got her a ‘message received, hold for futher orders’. They were unable to confirm whether her UCAVs had made it through the Russian CAP and managed to put down at Nome and Port Clarence. They were unable to confirm Bunny’s estimate of kills and losses in the dogfight over Little Diomede. The one thing they could confirm was that Russia retained air superiority over the Strait and that meant an extraction by air in the near future was highly unlikely, which increased the chances that Russian ground troops would get to them first.
    While they had a number of surprises ready in case enemy troops made it into the base, Rodriguez had held Bunny back from booby trapping the UCAV egress chute.
    “It’s a perfect choke point,” Bunny had told her, squinting up the tunnel at the weak daylight beyond. “We blow the cave mouth, mine the floor or ceiling of the chute, me right here with my HK and a spare barrel, you keep me supplied with bullets and bourbon and I could hold off an army.”
    “You blow the cave mouth, this is our only way out of here,” Rodriguez had pointed out. “Turn it into a kill zone, Ivan will just haul off and hammer it with a bunker buster and we’re trapped in here forever. I like you O’Hare, but not so much I want to grow old down here with you.”
    The redoubt Bunny and Rodriguez had built for themselves was at the end of the service shaft that the techs used to get at the machinery that fed the UCAVs onto the catapult. It was a narrow tunnel, two persons wide, one person high, that ran back fifty feet into the rock, then took a left hand turn around behind the equipment another hundred feet. At the end of it was a tool room, which they had prepared for their last stand.
    The enemy would first have to breach the blast door. It was 3 inch hardened steel, hydraulically operated and set into the rocks with two inch steel rods; built to stop a blast and pressure wave inside the cave penetrating the service tunnel and destroying the delicate machinery inside. A pity the blast door locking mechanism had shat itself doing its job. But of course, it could be cut out or blown off its frame with shaped charges.
    Once through the door, their enemy would have to get down the first corridor, one or two at a time. She and Bunny had put three heavy chest high barrels of graphite lubricant at the bend in the corridor to provide defensive cover and jammed them in place with timber reinforcing. Overhead pipes left only a small gap between the barrels and the roof, which would provide some protection against anyone trying to lob grenades at them. But the gap was large enough to vault over, assuming you weren’t under fire.
    If they got pushed back from there, they would retreat to the tool room, which had a metal anti-flood door with a brace bolt they could shelter behind. It wouldn’t hold long, but they had a little surprise in store for anyone who started knocking on the tool room door. Bunny had mounted a belt of 25mm Fantom fragmentation ammunition in the pipes in the roof that would fire mercilessly down into the corridor when triggered. The ammunition was fired by electrical primer, an innovation that completely eliminated ‘lock time’ when the single barrel cannon of the Fantom was firing, but which also meant it could be ignited by the electrical primer cable Bunny had pared and clipped to the contacts on the belt and wired to a fuel cell with a simple switch. When fired, the slugs would immediately frag into lethal .50 cal sized shrapnel, shredding anything in their path.
    If they were forced to abandon the toolroom, there was a service hatch leading to the 30 foot wide aircraft elevator shaft. They probably wouldn’t have time to ride the heavy elevator down so they had put it in maintenance mode and parked it at the top of the shaft, fixing ropes to a workbench so that they could slide down to the lower level UCAV hangars and maintenance bays. The lower levels of NCTAMS-A4 were wide and open with no obviously defensible positions apart from the ordnance storage facility which is not a place you would want to be sheltering in a firestorm. They both knew that if they were forced down to that elevator shaft, it could only end one way.
    Bunny had a remote detonator switch in one hand, and a sandwich in the other as she and Rodriguez sat with their backs up against the graphite barrels in the corridor.
    Rodriguez was a little troubled by how careless she seemed to be with th