Tombstone grinned. “That debate has been going on since the Falklands

War. That’s when the Navy suddenly realized that a cheap missile could

do big-time damage to a very expensive ship.”

“And there was the Stark in the Persian Gulf,” Pamela pointed out. “Can

you really justify spending billions of dollars on something that can be

blown out of the water by a single Exocet costing, oh, say a few hundred

thousand dollars?”

“In the first place,” Tombstone said slowly, “the Jefferson is not the



“A British DDG, a guided-missile destroyer, sunk by air-launched Exocet

missiles during the Falklands War,” Tombstone explained. “Look at it

this way. Jefferson has over two thousand separate watertight


Sinking her … well, you might as well try to sink a piece of


“That sounds ominously like the argument they used for the unsinkable

Titanic,” Pamela said. Her eyes twinkled. She seemed to enjoy sparring

with him. “In a war, you’d have quite a time hiding a ship this big

from Russian satellites. One nuclear cruise missile and … where would

your styrofoam be then?”

Tombstone crossed his arms. “Look, if Russia and us start tossing nukes

at each other, we’re going to be losing a hell of a lot more than


Jefferson can fight a nuclear war all by herself if she has to, but her

main purpose is as a deterrent … and to give the President some

non-nuclear options in a crisis.”

“Like Wonsan.”

“That’s right.”

“Okay, what about conventional weapons then? You’re still vulnerable.

An Exocet could slip right through this big doorway here, explode in

there among all those airplanes and … whoosh!”

“In combat, these openings are closed off by sliding armor panels. We

keep them open in fair weather and in port to keep the hangar deck aired

out, but we can seal her up tight when we need to. So we won’t have

SSMs bouncing around on our hangar deck.

“Now, look over there.” He pointed aft toward a railed sponson

extending from the hull along the ship’s port quarter. “See that

grouping of six tubes, like mortars? That’s Super RBOC.” He

pronounced it “are-bock.”

“For Rapid-Bloom Offboard Chaff. Anti-ship missiles like Exocet are

guided to their target by radar. When CIC–that’s the ship’s combat

information center–picks up incoming missiles, those tubes fire off

clouds of radar-reflecting fibers called chaff, just like the chaff

dispensers on my Tomcat. The missiles home on the chaff and miss the


“Now, look up there.” He turned around and pointed forward, far up

along the curve of the ship’s hull. “Up there on that forward sponson

… see something that looks like a big, white, dome-topped garbage can?

That’s one of our Mark IS Phalanx systems, or CIWS.” He pronounced the

acronym “sea-whizz.”

“That’s for Close-In Weapons System. It’s a big Gatling gun,

computer-controlled and radar-directed, which can rattle off 20-mm

depleted uranium rounds at the rate of fifty per second. Each slug is

two and a half times denser than steel and is moving at something like

seven hundred miles per hour when it hits. The control and aiming is

precise enough to target an incoming missile and blow it right out of

the air. We have three Mark 5s aboard Jefferson: that one port side

forward, one to starboard below the island, and one aft on the port side

of the fantail.”

The deck handlers had completed maneuvering the Tomcat onto the


A klaxon blasted warning, and then the elevator gave a hard jolt and

began crawling upwards.

“Phalanx,” Pamela said thoughtfully. “Wasn’t that the defense system on

the Stark that was turned off at the wrong time?”

Tombstone met her cool gaze evenly. “Yes, ma’am. It was.”

“But of course, that can’t happen aboard the Jefferson.”

“No ma’am, it can’t.”

The elevator rose level with the flight deck and shuddered to a halt.

From here, it was like standing on a dry land airfield, with the control

tower island rising far across a very large stretch of dark-colored

runway. The aircraft parked along the edge of the four-acre flight

deck, the helo still resting in front of the island, the tiny figures of

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Categories: Keith Douglass