CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

this evening, the much-concentrated remnants of a pot put on the hot

plate a long time ago. “Just passing through. What’s the word?”

“We’re on line now with both the Shiloh and Hawk One, sir,” he replied.

The duty officer gestured toward one of the several large computer

display situation boards commanding the entire compartment. Drawn in

zigzagging lines of colored light, crowded with small and cryptic

symbols, each tagged by strings of alphanumerics, it was a condensation

of tactical and map data relayed from several sources–in particular the

Hawkeye’s APS-125 radar and the high-tech array of search and tracking

radars that made up the Shiloh’s electronic sensor suite–but it

included data relayed to the CBG from other ships and aircraft and even

from military satellites as well.

The scale at the moment revealed only a fraction of the display’s reach,

out to about one hundred nautical miles from the Jefferson’s position.

At a glance, Tombstone could see the Turkish coast running southwest to

northeast some fifteen nautical miles south of the carrier. The Turkish

port of Zonguldak was prominent there, ringed by the glowing icons

representing air defense, tracking, and surface scan radar. The various

far-scattered ships and aircraft of the battle group were marked in

green, while yellow symbols represented identified Turkish radar

contacts, mostly military forces shadowing the American force.

One red-lit target stood out on the map display with ominous

clarity–the last known position and track of the presumed Russian

submarine following the Jefferson, closely shadowed by a green icon for

the Orlando. Tombstone pointed at the submarines, which were being paced

by two pairs of green aircraft. “I see you have our tail bracketed.”

Penhall grinned. “Sure do. The word just came through from Top Hat.

We’re gonna give him a concert. A rock concert.”

Top Hat, also known as Alpha Bravo, was the code name for Admiral

Douglas E Tarrant, CO-CBG-14, who was currently running the operation

from the Combat Direction Center aboard Shiloh. Those aircraft,

according to the information appearing next to them on the display, were

a pair of SH-60 Sea King ASW helos, part of Jefferson’s HS-19, plus two

Vikings from VAW-42, the King Fishers. Though belonging to Jefferson’s

contingent, the sub-hunters were operating under the direction of

Shiloh’s CDC now, while the CATCC and Air Ops people aboard Jefferson

simply listened in. The voices coming over the radio speaker were

contact and vectoring information, for the most part, between the ASW

aircraft and Shiloh’s CDC.

“Sounds like a plan to me,” Tombstone said, smiling. “If the guy’s a

classical music lover, maybe he’ll give up and go home.”

Penhall laughed. “With luck, we’ll jangle his sonar and make his

operators’ ears ring. They won’t be able to hear the Jef’s screws from

ten meters off our stern.”

It was in many ways, Tombstone reflected, an operation similar to the

Bear hunts he’d participated in when he’d been a Tomcat driver flying

with VF-95. During the Cold War, the Soviets would routinely test an

American carrier battle group’s readiness and alertness by vectoring one

or more of their big long-range Tu-95 Bear-D reconnaissance planes

toward the CBG. Just as routinely, F-14 Tomcats would deploy to meet the

incoming Bears as far from the carrier as possible–usually several

hundred miles–and force them to change course. The same mock-war

feints, threats, and counters were part of the repertoire of the

carrier’s antisubmarine units as well. The “concert” Penhall had

mentioned would be a special, high-volume broadcast from the Sea Kings,

using their powerful AQS-13 dipping sonars, set to active mode to ping

the Victor III and let him know, in no uncertain terms, that he’d been

spotted. And if the sub’s skipper refused to take the hint, firmer

measures would be applied.

Tombstone continued studying the map display. “Let me see the Sustain

Hope AO,” he told Penhall.

“Yes, sir. Markowitz! Punch up Sierra Two on the main display.”

“Aye, aye, sir.”

The map view shifted, showing now the eastern rim of the Black Sea. The

scale changed as well, covering the entire east shoreline, running from

the Turkish port at Hopa northwest all the way to Kerch at the extreme

east tip of the Crimea and guarding the narrow straits into the Sea of

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