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
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
“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.”