bandit, wings folded back like those of a stooping eagle. Mickey had
five more bandits on radar within twelve miles, closing fast, and plenty
more within a thirty-mile radius. “Hey, Dixie!” he said. “We’ve got
bandits all over the sky! I’m not sure I like these odds!”
“You wanna go to Phoenix, man?”
“Damn, I don’t know.” They had weapons free, but the big Phoenix
missiles were long-range, stand-off weapons, designed to knock down
attackers threatening the battle group. The strategic situation was
still murky; just who was attacking whom here?
“Hey, Mickey! You get a good look at that red bird we passed?”
“Sure did, Dixie. Mig two-seven, no bout a-doubt it.”
“Pass the word to ’em back at the farm, will you? I don’t think they’ll
“I think they’ll believe this one, Dixie. Only question is, was it a
Russki or a Uke?”
“I couldn’t see a rounder or a star, could you?”
“Negative. He was going too fast.”
Damn. It was frustrating to be in combat with someone. .. and to not
even know who it was you were fighting! The assumption back aboard
Jefferson–both in the briefings and in the bull sessions in the
squadron ready room–had been that the likely aggressors today, if
indeed anybody came out to play, would be Ukrainians bent on jumping the
gun on the Russians before Boychenko turned the Crimea over to the UN.
The aggressor aircraft appeared to be forming up in a loose-knit cloud
to the west now, moving in a more or less northerly direction. As Dixie
studied the pattern on his Vertical Display Indicator, he had the
impression that he was looking at essentially a defensive formation,
that the attacks he and Badger had endured had been launched by hostile
barrier forces to keep them from breaking through to the main body.
“BARCAP Two! BARCAP Two! This is Dog House!”
“Yeah! Go ahead, Dog House!”
“We’re reading at least ten bogeys in your vicinity! Break off! Break
off and RTB. Repeat, break off and RTB!”
“First sensible advice I’ve heard all day,” Dixie said over the tactical
channel. “It’s gettin’ too damned crowded out here!”
“Roger that!” Badger’s voice came back.
A warbling tone sounded in his headset. Threat warning!
“Hey, Dixie!” Mickey called from the backseat. “They’ve got us painted!”
“I hear it.” That particular warning chirp–and a red light winking on
the threat display on his instrument panel indicated that a hostile
aircraft had just established a radar lock on their Tomcat.
“Okay, Dixie,” Badger called. “The bandits’ve got missiles inbound at
three-zero-two. .. looks like AA-9s. You got ’em on your scope?”
“We have them,” Mickey replied. “Range. .. two-five miles.”
“Yeah, I think they just popped those things to scare us,” Red Burns
said from Badger’s backseat.
“They’re doing a hell of a job,” Mickey said. “Let’s didi out of here,
“I’m with you, brother.” Dixie brought the stick over again, swinging
the Tomcat into a northeasterly course. .. back toward the Jefferson.
AA-9 Amos was the NATO designation for the Russian equivalent to the
Navy’s AIM-54 Phoenix, a large missile with a range of at least eighty
miles and active radar homing.
“What’s the range on the missiles, Mickey?”
“Nine miles.” The RIO sounded tight, and totally focused on his
rear-seat console display. “Let’s go to burner.”
“Zone five, now!”
The Tomcat’s twin afterburners kicked Dixie hard in the back. The
aircraft’s computer swung the wings all the way back as they passed Mach
1.5. Moments later they slipped past Mach 2; the Tomcat’s maximum speed
at high altitude–say, at forty thousand feet–was Mach 2.34. At their
current altitude of twelve thousand feet, the air was denser and sound
traveled faster; Mach 2 was about the best that they could manage.
The AA-9 had a speed of about Mach 3.5, so there was no outrunning the
thing in the short run. The long run was something else again, however.
At Mach 3.5, the missile would cover nine miles in something like twelve
seconds, but its speed relative to the Tomcat was only Mach 1.5–eleven
hundred miles per hour, give or take a bit, at this altitude. At a
closing speed of eleven hundred miles per hour, the missile would eat up