CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

Twice so far in the hunt, Orlando had dropped off astern of the contact,

letting the Russian sub move on ahead so that they could quietly slip

close to the surface in order to radio the carrier group, then

reacquiring the contact later. Releasing a tiny buoy with a radio

transmitter and a canned, coded message, however, would permit the

Orlando to stay on the contact’s tail.

“I don’t want to lose this bastard,” Lang said quietly. “One-seven-one

is going to put him right on the Jefferson.”

Davies looked up, startled. “No shit?”

“No shit,” Lang agreed. He looked up at a clock mounted on the bulkhead

above the waterfall. “Your watch is up in fifteen.”

“Supposed to be.”

“You mind sticking around for a while, son? I want the best ears in the

boat on this one.”

“Hey, no problem, Skipper. I wouldn’t miss this for anything.”

“Good man. If that son of a bitch even twitches toward a weapons

release, I want to know about it. Understand?”

“Yes, sir!”

Lang smiled and nodded. “Keep me posted.”

Davies exchanged glances with Brown after the captain left. “They’re

going after the Jefferson?” the other sonarman said. “Shit!”

“Makes sense,” Davies replied. “They’re gonna want to keep assets close

and ready, just in case another shootin’ war breaks out.”

“What about us?”

“I guess we’ve just got to be closer. .. and readier.”

He closed his eyes, losing himself once again in the dark, swirling roar

of sound from ahead.


Friday, 30 October 1710 hours (Zulu +3)

Bridge, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson The Black Sea The clouds had closed in

completely as Jefferson turned into a freshening wind out of the

northeast, dropping a low, gray ceiling across the sky. The overcast

increased the sense of claustrophobia Tombstone had been feeling since

entering this landlocked sea.

South, some twenty miles away, the northern coast of Anatolia showed as

a streak of green and brown between gray sea and gray sky. Turkey

claimed a six-mile limit on their territorial waters in the Aegean,

which they shared with Greece, but twelve miles in the Med and in the

Black Sea. It had taken Jefferson less than thirty minutes to work her

way north out of Turkish waters, after transferring their pilot to the

Yavuz. They were on their own now, though Turkish naval units continued

to shadow the American force to the south.

“Feeling better, Stoney?” Brandt asked with a chuckle.

“I’m not sure, Captain,” Tombstone replied. He thought a moment. “You

know, sir, when you’re in an F-14 coming in for a trap, a carrier looks

damned small, about the size of a postage stamp. .. especially at night

or in rough weather. Out here, though, I feel just about as small and as

inconspicuous as an elephant in a phone booth.”

“I know what you mean.” Brandt chuckled. “Ain’t hardly enough room out

here to swing a Tomcat.”

Tombstone laughed. He nodded toward the flight deck, where the normal

bustle and excitement of air ops had resumed. “Or a Hawkeye.”

Now that they were out of Turkish territorial waters, Jefferson was

launching aircraft as fast as she could hurl them off her deck. Four

F-14 Tomcats, her Combat Air Patrol, had been first aloft; now, a big

E-2C Hawkeye was being readied on Cat One.

One of the carrier’s four E-2Cs of VAW-130, the gray, twin-engined

turboprop aircraft seemed anachronistic among all of the sleek,

high-powered jets. .. not to mention a bit exotic with its large, flat,

flying-saucer radome mounted on its back. That radome, or rather the

powerful APS-125 radar inside, truly made the Hawkeye the eyes of the

fleet. Its sophisticated electronics were capable of keeping track of

air and surface targets across a circle nearly five hundred nautical

miles in diameter and could control up to twenty-five simultaneous

intercepts, making it an AEW–Airborne Early Warning aircraft–of

awesome sophistication and abilities. Once on station, it would be able

to see everything on and over a good two-thirds of the entire Black Sea

and be able to peer deep into Ukraine and Russia in order to alert the

battle group of gathering hostile aircraft.

On the deck, the launch officer, identifiable by his bright yellow

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