CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

immediately to the Combat Information Centers aboard both the Shiloh and

the Jefferson.

“Shit,” Mickey said. “I wish I could see! It looks like the bogeys are

inside Turkish airspace. Tango Six-one! Do you make some of those bogeys

going feet dry over the coast?”

“Ah, roger that, Two. We’re having a little trouble sorting it out.

Some of those contacts might be Turkish air force.”

“Oh, yeah. Hell, I don’t know what it is I’m seeing up here. It looks to

me like an attack run, though.”

“Roger that.”

What was happening? Dixie wondered. The nearest contact was just one

hundred miles ahead now, invisible to the naked eye but clear enough on

Mickey’s display, despite the jamming interference. Moments before,

Jefferson had alerted the BARCAP flight that a pair of EA-6B Prowlers

were on the way as well. The ECM gear on those babies would be enough to

burn through any jamming, as well as provide electronic cover for the

Tomcats. Four more Tomcats, BARCAP One, and the two aircraft covering

the Prowlers were on the way as well, but BARCAP Two would be in

position to get an ID on the unknowns long before anybody else could

reach the area.

Dixie’s Tomcat was carrying a standard Barrier CAP interception

warload–four AIM-54C Phoenix missiles, two AIM-9M Sidewinders, and a

pair of AIM-120A AMRAAMS. The Sidewinders were strictly for close-in

work, of course, and the radar-guided AMRAAMS had a killing range of

about thirty miles. At one hundred miles, however, the bogeys were

comfortably within kill range of the AIM-54s, which had the astonishing

ability to reach out and touch someone 120 nautical miles away.

But the Americans hadn’t been attacked, yet–were not even being

threatened–and so no “weapons free” had been granted by Ops. They would

need a visual identification first.

Still, Dixie thought, something must have really stirred them up back at

the bird farm, using aviator’s slang for the carrier. BARCAP Two’s

patrol area had been seventy miles southwest of Sevastopol, and about

fifty miles west of the Jefferson, positioned to spot and block any

hostile aircraft approaching from the general direction of Ukraine and

the northwest. BARCAP One, however, Batman and Libbie Bell, had been

patrolling north of the Jeff’s position, just off the Crimean coast.

Their primary mission of Barrier Combat Air Patrol included the

secondary mission of covering Boychenko’s helicopter when he flew from

Yalta to the carrier. If Ops was pulling them out of position, something

really hot must be on.

Something that was a direct threat to the Jefferson, her battle group,

and her mission.

They would know in a few more minutes.

1006 hours (Zulu +3)

Black Leader North of the Bosporus Strait Ivanov brought his Mig higher

and dropped his left wing, staring down at the destruction wrought by

Black Flight’s salvo of missiles. Perfect. .. perfect! Three-quarters of

the center span was gone; he could see pieces of the deck strewn across

the shipping channel like tumbled-down dominoes, and the northern main

suspension cable had parted like a thread, spilling a forest of hanger

cables and unraveling wire rope into the water. The southern halves of

the two towers were still standing, and the suspension cable between

them was still above water, but the northern halves were shattered, one

fallen completely, the other half gone, like a jagged, broken tooth. The

water between the towers was a seething cauldron of dirty foam,

struggling antlike forms, ragged chunks of steel deck segments, and

floating debris. Smaller craft would continue navigating up and down the

Bosporus no doubt, simply by avoiding the center channel, but larger,

deeper-draft vessels–such as the monstrous three-hundred-meter-plus

bulk of an American nuclear aircraft carrier–would be unable to pass

without risking serious damage to screws, shafts, and keel.

“Tower, Tower, this is Black One,” he called over the radio. “Come in!”

“Black One, Tower. Go ahead.”

“Seagull! I say again, Seagull!”

The word was the title of one of Chekhov’s more successful plays and was

the code for the mission’s success.

“We read you,” Tower replied. “Proceed to Uncle Vanya.”

And that code phrase: the title of another well-known Chekhov play, gave

Black Flight and Flashlight permission to engage targets of opportunity.

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