CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Jefferson an hour earlier. One had cut inland, flying straight north and

crossing the coast near Gurzuf. The other had paralleled the coast,

jamming hard and recording any radar sites careless enough to paint them

and give away their own positions. The first group was code-named

Spoiler, and their job was to literally stir up an enemy response,

attracting missile fire and interceptor squadrons, if possible, in order

to clear the path to Yalta from the sea. The second group, Pouncer,

would provide selective ECM jamming coverage for the rest of the

aircraft, as well as loosing deadly AGM-136A anti-radiation cruise

missiles. These weapons, called Tacit Rainbow, actually patrolled large

sections of sky, detecting and storing the locations of all radar and

radio emitters in the area, until, on command, they were directed

against a selected target–even some minutes after that target had

stopped transmitting. They’d proved themselves superbly effective in the

Gulf War and elsewhere at knocking out hostile radar arrays and

weapons-targeting systems.

“I’ve got two more unknowns at two-zero-eight,” Cat told him. “They’re

up high. Looks like a search sweep.”


He was absolutely dependent on his RIO in a night operation, as

dependent on her for radar information–both that picked up by the

F-14’s AWG-9 radar and that relayed to the squadrons from the E-2C

Hawkeyes orbiting far to the south–as he was dependent on his

instruments now to tell him how high above the water he was flying and

in what direction.

“Way point one,” she announced. “Come right to zero-zero-four.”

“Zero-zero-four,” he echoed as the F-14 tilted sharply to the right.

“Coming around to new heading. .. now.”

“We should have the coast in sight.”

He glanced up, peering past the reflections on his canopy and out into

the darkness. “Got it. Funny. The place is still lit up like Christmas.”

“The Crimean Riviera, remember? They probably don’t shut down for

anything short of a power failure.”

He could see the lights of Yalta ahead, smeared into a gradually

thinning glitter of light inland and cut off sharp and hard by the curve

of the coastline. Triple A–antiaircraft fire–was already floating into

the sky from several points inland, along the mountain chain that pinned

Yalta to the shore.

“Okay,” Cat told him. “We’re going feet dry. Swing us into the racetrack


“Rog.” Lights swept beneath his aircraft. He looked behind and to either

side, trying to spot Badger and Red, flying his wing, but he couldn’t

see their aircraft. They were flying loose wing, perhaps a mile to his

right and slightly behind.

He’d studied maps of the Yalta coastal area thoroughly and knew that the

White Palace where Captain Magruder and a number of other Americans and

UN personnel were trapped was just up the coast to the east. .. just

about there, in fact. The light show was dazzlingly beautiful. .. and

deadly. Some of those slowly drifting globes of light–they looked like

softly glowing tennis balls–seemed to be chasing one another in gently

arcing lines across the sky only a few feet away, close enough for Dixie

to reach out and catch one.

Their distance and their slowness were illusory. They were close, within

a mile or so, but traveling fast enough to punch clean through his wing

if they struck it. Proximity fuses could trigger them to explode within

a set range of several meters, peppering his relatively fragile and

vulnerable aircraft with white-hot shrapnel.

An explosion rocked his Tomcat. .. and another. Once he heard a sharp

ping of metal on metal, but after a heart-stopping moment of scanning

his damage indicators, he decided that it had missed anything vital. The

Tomcat was rocking now with the gentle throb of aerial explosions.

Streams of tracer rounds, green and yellow, floated and arced across the


“So what do you think, Cat?” he asked his RIO. “Are we at war yet?”

She laughed. “I don’t know what Washington has to say about it,” she

said, “but I was at war with those bastards the moment they shot our


“You don’t think it was a terrorist attack, like they’re saying?”

Everybody in the battle group, it seemed, had been watching the ACN

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