CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

could down a target at 120 miles with an air-to-air Phoenix launch,

something better than Mark One eyeballs was necessary. IFF had been part

of the electronic arsenal of warfare for years and was similar in most

respects to the equipment used in civil aviation to identify aircraft on

air traffic control radars. When an aircraft was touched by friendly

radar, a transponder aboard automatically replied with a string of coded

pulses. Those pulses were picked up by the radar receiver and matched by

computer to a list of known codes; friendlies could instantly be

identified simply by painting them on radar. The transponder codes, of

course, were carefully kept secret, as were the interrogation

frequencies and any other data that might be of use to an enemy in

combat. Codes were changed frequently; the distribution of those codes

among all of the participants in a given mission was an important part

of ops planning.

If the UN flight was transmitting its IFF and Sierra One wasn’t, it was

a good bet that Sierra One was a bad guy on the UN chopper’s tail.

Still, in wartime nothing can be taken for granted. It would be nice if

they could get a positive visual ID on Sierra One as well. It was always

a good idea to know just who or what you were shooting at, especially in

a situation like this one, with tangled politics and the inherent,

bureaucratic confusion of a joint-service, international operation like

this one.

Ahead, the purple-gray smear of the horizon was rapidly taking form and

substance. Mountains, gleaming white in the morning sunlight, rose from

the azure waters of the Black Sea.

“Mal? Better check in with Dog House. Let ’em know what we’re at.”

“I’M on it.” Dog House was the op’s code name for the Jefferson.

A thought occurred to Batman. He opened the channel to the orbiting

Hawkeye. “Watch Dog, this is Bird Dog Leader,” he called. “Is Sierra One

trying for an intercept on UN Two-seven?”

“Ah, that’s hard to say, Bird Dog,” the Hawkeye air controller replied.

“He’s definitely trailing Two-seven and seems to be closing. Looks like

he’s about two miles behind right now. It doesn’t look like a typical

intercept, though. He may just be shadowing the blue-hats. Over.”

“Roger that. We’re going to try to set up an eyeball, over.”

“We copy that. We’ll talk you in.”

“Thank you, Watch Dog. Bird Dog Two, this is One.”

“Bird Dog Two,” Dixie replied. “Go ahead, Batman.”

“Two, I want a visual confirmation on this one. We’ll go in with an

extended formation. You’re the eyeball. We’re the shooter.”

“Aw, shit, Batman. You’re saving all the fun for yourself!”

Like hell I am. “You want to discuss this, son?” He put a growl behind

the words.

“Uh, negative,” Dixie said. “We’ll spot for you.”

The deployment was a common one in fighter combat, especially in

situations where welded wings–wingmen sticking close together–weren’t

necessary. One aircraft, the “eyeball,” was sent several miles ahead of

the second plane, or “shooter.” The eyeball could use his position to

get a positive ID and could also illuminate a target with his radar for

the shooter’s radio-homing Sparrows or AMRAAMS. Batman wasn’t hogging

the fun, as Dixie had suggested. The fact of the matter was that he

didn’t quite trust Dixie yet as shooter; if the kid launched early

because he got excited or because he’d misheard a sighting report, a

friendly aircraft might be downed. On the other hand, Batman trusted Cat

to back up any sighting report that Dixie might call in.

Dixie’s Tomcat accelerated, afterburners glowing briefly as he arrowed

ahead and down, dropping toward the deck.

Batman checked his time display. Zero-eight-twenty. Actually, it was

zero-nine-twenty now, since they’d crossed a time zone on their way to

their patrol station, from GMT plus three to GMT plus four. Air ops were

always conducted in the local time zone of the carrier, however. Combat

was confusing enough without bringing conflicting time zones into it.

“Anything on the scope yet, Mal?” he asked his RIO.

“Negative, Batman. We’re getting the track feed from Watch Dog, but the

bogey’s not on our scope yet. It’s pretty rugged up ahead.”

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