CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

speak–on Chicago or Nashville.

Transposing that one-to-one scale model to the Black Sea gave a rough

idea of how crowded things were going to be here. With the Jefferson

cruising in the western Black Sea just halfway between the Bosporus and

the Crimean Peninsula, her screen of surface ships, at a radius from the

carrier of 150 miles, would be entering the Crimean port of Sevastopol

to the northeast, just exiting the Bosporus to the southwest, or hard

aground on the coasts of Romania to port or Turkey to starboard. Her

submarines would be hunting enemy subs in the Dnieper River somewhere

near Nikopol, while her CAP orbited above Dnepropetrovsk over two

hundred miles north of the Crimea.

And as for that alpha strike, it could be aimed at Kiev or Kharkov, deep

inside Ukraine and two-thirds of the way to Moscow.

Obviously, CBG-14 was going to have to operate on a much smaller scale,

pulling her escorting ships and her patrolling aircraft in close and

tight. That would increase the group’s ability to maneuver somewhat, but

it would sharply cut into its ability to defend in depth. Rather than

intercepting a first wave of incoming enemy aircraft at a range of over

five hundred miles, they might have to set an outer ring of defenses at,

say, three hundred miles … which meant more “leakers” slipping through

the outer ring of defenses and a correspondingly higher chance that the

carrier’s innermost defenses, her Sea Sparrow missiles and CIWS

high-speed guns, would be overwhelmed by the sheer number of incoming


Arguably worse than being pinned down to such a small and landlocked AO

was the fact that half of the encircling coastline belonged either to

the Russian Federation or to former Soviet countries like Ukraine. Quite

frankly, there was no help to be had in there if things got rough, no

place to turn to, no source of supply or repair. Of the other three

nations bordering the Black Sea, Bulgaria, Romania, and Turkey, only

Turkey could be described as anything like an ally. .. and relations

with Ankara had been so strained of late that no one was counting on

help from that quarter.

As just one example, a modern carrier like the Jefferson required at-sea

replenishment of expendables every two to three weeks. She was

nuclear-powered and didn’t require fuel herself, but her aircraft drank

millions of gallons of the stuff. In combat, Jefferson’s onboard

reserves of over three million gallons of JP-5 aviation gasoline

wouldn’t last more than ten days–less with a heavy flight schedule; a

major alpha strike, or an extended, running battle like the one they’d

fought months before off North Cape. Her only sources of resupply were

the UNREP tankers that followed the battle group like a bride’s train

across the sea; if things got tight, if an enemy wanted to pin or

incapacitate the carrier short of actually sinking her, an obvious move

was to hit the choke point on the Jefferson’s supply line, those two

damned narrow slots of waterways, the Dardanelles and the Bosporus.

Hell, the only thing that made this deployment even remotely possible

was the fact that the Russians weren’t likely to add Turkey to the list

of nations that were mad at them right now. In fact, Russia needed

Turkey’s help–as Turkey needed Russia’s–in coordinating operations

against the Armenian nationalists who operated freely on both sides of

the Turkish border. U.S. military intelligence thought that Moscow would

be treading carefully around the Turks. .. and that ruled out

provocations like air strikes against supply ships transiting the


They thought.

Tombstone loved it when the intelligence community made a definite and

unambiguous statement like that. If the Russians decided they needed to

bag a U.S. carrier battle group more than they needed to stop Armenian

gun-runners in the Caucasus, well, Jefferson and her escorts were going

to be flat damned out of luck.

Commander William Jeffries, the carrier’s ops officer, walked onto the

bridge, a computer printout in his hand. “Captain?”

“Whatcha got, Bill?”

“Flash from the Orlando, sir.”

“Shiloh still has a tail, then, I take it?”

“Looks like they’re giving up on the Shiloh, sir, in favor of a fatter

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