her starboard side toward the landing beaches to the west. The shore
party was hooking up the fueling lines now, swaying the ends up to
Jefferson’s starboard fuel ports and locking them home. A Seabee crew
ashore had already identified the storage tanks containing high-octane
aviation gasoline, while Lieutenant Commander Volkwein, senior officer
of V-4, had pronounced the avgas “sweet” and up to Jefferson’s demanding
Now all they had to do was pump nearly three million gallons–about nine
thousand tons–of the highly flammable stuff on board.
All flight deck operations had been suspended, of course, and the
smoking lamp was out throughout the ship. More worrisome, Hadley had
ordered the automatic fire control computers for Jefferson’s three CIWS
defense systems switched to standby mode. If something triggered the
Close-in Weapons System’s radar-linked computer while it was on active,
it would acquire the target and open fire by itself within two seconds,
loosing a stream of depleted uranium shells at a buzz-sawing fifty
rounds per second. .. and possibly ignite the gasoline fumes spilling
from the carrier’s starboard side.
That meant, however, that for the critical thirty minutes or so
necessary for the transfer of fuel from shore to carrier, the Jefferson
would be relying solely on its fighter cover for defense from enemy
Of course, the carrier always relied on her aircraft as her first and
primary line of defense; CIWS, pronounced “sea-whiz” in Navy-speak, was
strictly a last-ditch defense against missiles or aircraft that had
“leaked” through the outer defensive perimeters and approached to within
fifteen hundred yards of the carrier. But this close inshore, this close
to the battle, with a defensive perimeter as tight and as restricted as
this one, they were taking a terrible chance.
Hadley paced the bridge, anxiously watching the sky.
0904 hours (Zulu +3)
Tomcat 216 Over Arsincevo Dixie couldn’t see the enemy plane yet, but he
could follow the symbol marking it on his HUD, shifting from left to
right as the other pilot tried to position himself for a launch.
Tomcat 216 was momentarily alone; Tomboy and Hacker in 207 had dropped
back a few miles, deploying in a “loose goose” formation that gave the
defense maximum flexibility. The attackers, as nearly as Dixie could
tell, weren’t even employing wingman tactics. Possibly, the volley of
Phoenix missiles had so broken up the approaching formations that only
scattered, individual aircraft were left.
“Damn!” Cat said from the backseat. “This bastard’s taking us
head-to-head! Range five miles!”
“Going for Sidewinder,” Dixie said, flipping a selector switch. He still
had two Phoenix missiles left from his original four, but he wanted to
save those for a difficult shot or longer-ranged targets. The AIM-9L was
an all-aspect heat-seeker, meaning he didn’t have to be looking up the
target’s tailpipes in order to get a solid lock. Still, head shots were
risky, and in more ways than one. Since the target gave off far less
heat from its forward aspects than from its tail, it was always easier
to elude an incoming heat-seeker by dropping flares.
“Range three miles!” Cat warned. They were closing rapidly.
He heard the warble in his headset, indicating a heatseeker lock. “I’ve
got him!” Dixie yelled. “Fox two!”
0904 hours (Zulu +3)
Flogger 550 Over Arsincevo Major Yevgenni Sergeivich Ivanov had been
holding his Mig-27M steady, angling toward the oncoming American
aircraft until he saw the flash of its launch, just three miles ahead.
There was no buzzing tone warning of a radar lock, so the incoming
missile had to be a heat-seeker. He held steady for another three beats,
then pulled back sharply on the stick, going into a steep, twisting
climb as he triggered a string of flares. At twelve thousand feet, he
flipped the Mig over onto its back, dropping out of a perfect Immelmann
that put him well above the American, and slightly to the right. From
here, looking down on the enemy, he let his port-side AA-8 Aphid missile
“see” the F-14’s heat plume and triggered the launch.
As soon as the Aphid slid off the launch rail, Ivanov rolled hard to the
left, trading altitude for speed as he plummeted toward the sea far