On the Line 3.6

by Steve on January 27, 2008

Back to 3.5

The Reagan and her airwing had been tasked with monitoring the no-fly zone over northern Iraq. This meant she launched her jets from the very corner of the Med just north of Cypress and success depended on good diplomatic relations with Turkey and access to Turkish airspace. The route to northern Iraq ran parallel to the Turkish-Syrian border and then turned south once past the northeast corner of Syria. The Syrians were decidedly not happy about this arrangement between the US and Turkey but were powerless to do anything about it unless one of the airplanes crossed the line. They could however, give their air defense controllers plenty of practice tracking the American jets as they made the transit to Iraq. As soon as the jets launched they were picked up by Syrian search radar and the controllers would continue to track the aircraft for the entire transit along their border. Every few minutes they would switch from search mode to target acquisition and target tracking just to piss off the pilots. They knew that each time they changed modes it would generate a new warning threat tone in the cockpits of the American jets. They would never go so far as switching to missile guidance mode because that could be considered a hostile act. Even so they were very skilled at making a nuisance of themselves.

An E-2 Hawkeye fired off the bow followed shortly by an S-3 Viking. Both picked up a northeasterly heading as they climbed away from the sea. A few launches later a flight of two F-14 Tomcats followed the same track. Syrian controllers watched as the series of radar contacts appeared, two singles followed by a flight of two, all headed for Turkish airspace.
Cheryl kept the Viking climbing as the Med gave way to a monochrome world of tan rock and sand. She checked for the third time to be sure that the nav waypoints didn’t violate Syrian air space.

The Viking had enough range to make the round-trip without refueling but the fighters would have to tank both on the outbound leg and on the return trip. If the Air Force was also operating in the area they would have one of their tankers, a KC-135 or KC-10, orbiting in Turkish airspace just north of the Iraqi border. But if the heavy tankers were not flying the fighters would refuel from the S-3 they were assigned to protect and then a second S-3 would launch in time to meet the jets on the way out of Iraq and all three would take on fuel for the return leg. Once clear of Syria the jets would drop down into northern Iraq and monitor electronic signals in order to analyze what type of radars were active and where they were located. This would give the intelligence community an idea of what defense infrastructure had been rebuilt.

As Gambler 705 cruised along at twenty-five thousand feet, Cheryl and Ted gazed out over the desolate mountains that made up this region of the world. LT Alan Flemington and Chief Petty Officer Brian Owens were busy in the back of the cockpit tracking the Syrian emitters on the ESM system. The S-3 had been one of the first planes off the deck to give it a head start over the F-14’s that would be flying cover for the mission. Even though the fighters launched later and had to hit a tanker on the way they would still join up with the Viking well before the Iraqi border. Things were pretty slow and quiet other than the usual harassment from the Syrians.

“How did you end up flying jets for the Navy?” Ted asked to help pass the time.

“My dad flew F14’s. He was lucky I suppose, only had to punch out twice and was picked up immediately both times. I grew up listening to his sea stories. They scared the crap out of my two younger sisters but they fascinated me. I guess I was the son he never had. We did everything together. Rode dirt bikes, went boating and fishing, went to airshows, anything outdoors. Mom taught my sisters how to shop while Dad and I spent most of our time out on the Chesapeake.”

“Did you grow up in Virginia?”

“Typical Navy family but I call Virginia Beach home. He was stationed at NAS Oceana for most of his career.”

“How’d you get tagged with a callsign like Sis?”

“Well, it’s short for Sister, or more accurately Sistah,” Cheryl laughed. “One of my roommates in flight school was black. Brandy from Jackson, Mississippi and she could pour on the accent when she wanted to. She used to drag me out to the clubs to go dancing. It was a great stress release and she taught me all her moves. One Friday a bunch of us were at the O’Club at Milton and one of the guys grabs my arm to pull me out on the dance floor. Well Brandy, being her typical smart-ass self tells him he best watch out ’cause for a white girl she can move like one of the sistuhs. That was it. From that night on it was “Sistuh” Williams. I’m not even going to ask how you got yours, mister superhero.”

“Doesn’t take much imagination to come up with “Flash” Gordon does it?” Allen cut in from the back.

“What about you, Flem? she asked.

“The boring explanation is that it’s simply a shortened version of my last name but my crude friends spell it phlegm.”

“It could have been worse, Sir,” Chief Owens added. They could have pegged you with “Snot” or “Booger” instead.”

“Hmmm. Good point Chief.”

The radio interrupted the cockpit conversation. “705 this is Ripper flight. We’re coming off the tanker headed your way. We’ve got you on radar and should be joined up in a few minutes.”

“Roger, come up on airwing common,” Ted replied.

“Hey Flash, this is Pop in 102. How was the trip in the slow lane?”

“Our friends to the south are doing their usual routine but at least they give us a chance to check out our systems before the actual mission.”

“Yeah, they’re a real pain in the ass. I wish just once we could launch a couple of HARM’s at ’em to shut ’em up for a while.”

“Keep dreaming Pop. Who you got on your wing today?”

“XO and Otis are in dash two.”

“Good deal. You guys got anything planned?” The F-14 crews had quickly become bored flying escort missions protecting targets that never drew any attention so they usually detached and flew low-level missions in the mountains below the S-3’s track. If needed they could rejoin the more vulnerable S-3 within minutes should a threat arise.

“Xo’s got a TaRPs pod on his bird. Figured we’d drop down and zoom some of the old SAM sites to take some pics. See if we can catch any insurgent activity.”

“No problem. You know where we’ll be.”

The Tomcats pulled up on either side of the Viking stepped slightly back and down in a loose tactical formation. Nearing the point where they would make a turn to the south and enter into northern Iraq they checked in with the E-2C Hawkeye orbiting near the border. The Hawkeye could monitor all radar contacts within hundreds of miles with its large dome antenna mounted above the fuselage.

“Gambler flight, 601. You’re cleared into the area. No traffic of significance,  only some commercial traffic transiting well above your altitude block.”

“Copy 601,” Ted replied.

The three jets started a gradual descent from their cruising altitude as they crossed the border. The Viking’s assigned track would take it about one hundred fifty miles into Iraq and then turn east toward Iran paralleling the Turkish border.

“Okay Pop, you guys are cleared to go play. I’ll call you on airwing common if I need you.”


Ted watched as the fighters simultaneously rolled inverted and pulled for the deck rolling out several thousand feet lower, joined in formation dropping into the canyons below. The S-3 continued on at cruise speed with the ESM system detecting and classifying various radars and emitters. Even though the Viking was technically on a combat mission it was a very benign one. Just “listening” and gathering data. These missions had taken on the air of nothing more than a training mission back in the states. The Iraqis hadn’t launched aircraft or missiles in months. Various land-based emitters popped up intermittently and the only airborne signals were associated with datalink tracks designated as friendly. The only military aircraft operating in the area belonged to the US Navy or Air Force.

After thirty minutes of trolling, Cheryl reversed her course and headed back west still monitoring signals. They were still well out of range of the Syrians when a new threat popped up on their scopes. A flashing ESM bearing line popped up on the displays in the cockpit originating from an easterly direction.

Ted keyed the intercom, “Okay Flem, what the hell is that?”

Alan hooked the bearing on his display and pulled up the details associated with the threat. “ESM hit bearing 095 degrees. System’s tagged it as unknown assumed hostile. Based on the frequency and pulse width I’d say it’s a fourth generation fighter targeting radar but I can’t break it out. Could be an F-18, F-16, or a Mig 29. Not enough history to generate a fix yet just a bearing.”

“Any bearing shift?”

“Nope, whoever that is he’s tracking us.”

That observation sent a chill down Ted’s spine. “Great, the one time we need our Tomcats and they’re down playing in the mountains. Flem, I’ll deal with the E-2 on radio one, you get on the back radio with Pop and get them up here.”

“Got it. No bearing shift yet, that guy’s still on us.”

“601, Gambler 705. You got any friendlies working east of our position? Unknown ESM hit bearing 095 degrees designated as contact 214 entered on the net.”

“705, 601. That’s a negative. We have a radar contact that coincides with your ESM hit at one hundred ninety miles down that bearing and closing fast.”

“601, Ripper flight. We’re climbing out for the intercept. Give me an initial steer, we’re keeping our radar in standby until we close the target.”

“Ripper lead, 601. Your steer is 087 for intercept on the bogey. I’m not sure who he is or where he came from so you’re still weapons tight unless fired upon.”

“Ripper lead copies weapons tight.”

Commander Rick Jordon, Executive Officer of the Red Rippers, led his section of Tomcats up out of the mountains clawing for thinner air where they could really stretch out and close the distance to the unknown contact. Both Tomcats had their wings swept back, afterburners trailing white-hot cones of flame. LT Derrick “Otis” Ford was the XO’s RIO, both he and Jones were busy setting up the intercept and making sure they were in the optimum position to press an attack once they brought up their radars.

“Otis how ’bout you guys push out to a mile as soon as Flash passes below us.” By spreading the fighters on either side of the incoming target Jones was insuring that one of them would be lined up on the bogey’s six no matter which way he turned. Jones knew the bogey would turn as soon as he lit him up with the AWG-9 radar. No lone MIG driver wanted to mess with a section of Tomcats. The Libyans had been the last ones to take on that challenge during peacetime and the section of Tomcats that the Libyan pilots had foolishly engaged quickly splashed both MIGs.

“Flash this is Pop. We’re headed your way climbing through Angels twenty. Get down in the mountains in case this guy means business. I’ve got you and your threat on passive systems and the net. We’re holding the AWG-9’s in stand-by until we close this guy.”

“Roger. We’re headed for the deck. Get this guy turned around!”

Jones saw the symbol for the S-3 pass under the F-14’s on the tactical plot displayed in front of him. He strained to one side trying to see the S-3 somewhere below his jet but couldn’t catch sight of it. He did catch a momentary flash probably reflected off the canopy. Play it cool while we hook this guy.

“Let’s light him up, Otis!”

Both RIO’s brought their radars out of stand-by and immediately locked up the incoming bogey.

“Pop, I’ve got him locked at forty miles. Looks like he’s maneuvering, I don’t think he had any idea we were inbound.”

“Roger that, he must have been scope-locked on the Viking thinking he had an easy target. Bet he shit his britches when we lit him up inside Phoenix range.”

Back on the main frequency Jones checked in with the E-2: “601, 102. Both Tomcats have a lock and are closing on the bogey – correction,  were closing on him. Appears he’s turned around and lit the fires.”

“102, 601. That’s affirmative. Your bogey’s buggin’ out. He’s headed back east and at the rate he’s moving now you won’t catch him before he makes the Iranian border. You might as well save the gas. Without visual ID you’re still weapons tight especially with the bogey acting in a defensive manner. Unless he does something really stupid in the next few minutes I’m afraid he’s home free.”

“601, did he ever answer any of your calls on guard frequency.”

“Negative 102. No answer and no response to directed course changes either.”

“Roger, Ripper flight is breaking off.” On the back radio Jones called the Viking crew: “Flash, your six is clear.”

“We’re climbing out already. We followed the action on the control frequency. Any idea who that bogey belonged to?”

“Negative. 601 has him tracking toward Iran but we never got close enough to visually ID the bastard. XO started complaining about a nervous twitch in his trigger finger but he was a good boy. Some BS about job security.”

“You guys good on gas?”

“We’ve got plenty to make it back to the heavy tanker.”

“Roger, we’re outta here. See you back at the boat.”



ManlyDad January 28, 2008 at 21:39

Welcome back! This is a great read. Thanks for the effort.

At the start, I got confused, was thinking Persian Gulf. Cyprus? Oh yeah–that’s the Med. Looked at a map to get a lay of the land. Don’t you mean “and then turned south once past the northeast corner of Syria.” Syria doesn’t really have a corner down south.

Papa Ray January 29, 2008 at 0:48

Good read, clean and keeps interest without being overloaded with too much tecknocrap and details.

I don’t read as much tecknomilitary fiction as I used to and one thing that always bugged me was having to read three or four pages of stuff that might be nice to know, but had little to do with the plot or the point at that time in the story.

Just me I guess.

Keep it up..

Papa Ray

Steve January 29, 2008 at 22:47

Thanks guys.

MD, good catch on the corners! Must have been the sinus meds.

Michelle January 31, 2008 at 0:11

Hey, Steve, it’s been a while!
Good to see you back.

Funny thing, I was thinking along the same lines as Papa Ray. I’ve probably gotten spoiled, reading the likes of Lex, SJS and you but if you were writing for a mass audience of ‘nearmal” people, I think you have to watch not to give too much detail.

Not criticizing though, it’s good stuff! Keep it up. Please. 8)

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