CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

the screen in front of him, the “waterfall” in submariner’s parlance,

gave a visual signature to the contact frequency by frequency, but

Davies trusted his own ears and brain. His eyes were closed, his

fingertips lightly pressing the headphones against his ears. Sometimes

it was almost as though he could see that other vessel up ahead through

what he was hearing now on Orlando’s passive sonar. Loudest was the

gentle thrum of his prop, a tandem eight-bladed screw. .. but Davies,

like a blind man who’d learned to see with his ears, could distinguish

countless other noises as well, from the hiss of water flowing over the

submarine’s skin to the slight fluttering sound of a minor cavitation

due to one of the screw’s blades being slightly out of alignment to the

intermittent clink of something–a loose cable, perhaps–swinging free

inside the pressure hull and transmitting the sound of each contact with

metal through the water.

They’d picked this sub up only three hours after entering the Black Sea

yesterday, slipping in behind him as he, in turn, slipped into the wake

of the Aegis cruiser Shiloh. It was like a return to the bad old days of

the Cold War, when U.S. and Soviet submarines would play endless games

of tag and double blind man’s bluff, a game that American sub

skippers–and their sonarmen–were especially good at. The Russian’s

signatures–sonar fingerprint unique to each different vessel–was

already in Orlando’s electronic library. He was one of twenty-six

submarines of the class known to the Russians as Project 671 RTM, and to

the West as the Victor III. The oldest class of nuclear-powered attack

submarines still in the Russian arsenal, it was nonetheless reasonably

quiet, capable of making thirty knots submerged, and mounted four 650mm

and two 533mm tubes firing a variety of torpedoes and missiles, with a

total of twenty-four weapons carried aboard. .. and deadly when

skillfully used.

Submarines–even Russian submarines–were not that common inside the

Black Sea. Treaty constraints restricted the number of subs allowed to

pass the Bosporus-Dardanelles waterway each year; more to the point, the

Dardanelles were only meters deep in spots, deep enough to hide a

submerged sub–barely–but with precious little room for error. Subs

trying to pass unobserved through the straits did so with the certain

knowledge that the waterway was thickly laced with sound detector

equipment and other sub-hunting gear. .. not to mention the less

predictable hazards imposed by fishermen’s nets. Since submarines

survived in modern warfare by remaining unobserved, the old Soviet Union

had never added many submarines to its Black Sea Fleet, and the majority

of those stationed there were diesel electric boats out of the secret

pens at Balaklava–Kilos, Tangos, and aging Foxtrots.

There were a few more modern, nuclear-powered boats in the Black Sea,

however, and this Victor III was one. Obviously he’d been deployed to

keep an eye on the CBG, and it was Orlando’s task to keep an eye on him.

Or rather. .. an ear. Davies remained motionless, not straining to hear

so much as he was losing himself in the hissing, churning cascade of

sound coming through his headset.


He looked up, startled. Commander Peter Lang was leaning against the

entrance to the sonar shack. “Yes, Skipper?”

“You’re sure of that heading, son?”

He took a moment more before answering, listening to the churn of the

Russian’s eight-bladed screw. Yes. .. the sound was definitely moving

off to the right now as Orlando continued forward. “Yes, sir. I make it

between one-seven-oh and one-seven-three. He’s on a straight heading

now. It’s not a crazy Ivan.”

Lang ducked out of the compartment long enough to say, “Helm! Come right

to one-seven-one. Gently, now!”

Davies heard the source of the noise drifting back to the left, until it

was coming from directly ahead of Orlando’s bow. “That’s it, Skipper,”

he said after a moment. “We’re still squarely in his baffles.”

That was where they wanted to be in this deadly game–inside the

cone-shaped area astern of the Russian sub where her own wake and

propeller noise made detection of the American sub almost impossible.

“Think we can release a message buoy without him hearing?”

“With all the racket he’s making? Sure thing.”

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