“You got that right.” The mountains were growing larger and sharper
second by second. The Caucasus Mountains followed the Black Sea’s
eastern shoreline from the Sea of Azov southeast to Gagra, then angled
toward the east as the coast bent away toward the south, so the range
appeared nearer and higher to the left. The highest of those peaks
brushed fifteen thousand feet, a rugged stone wall separating Georgia
from its war-torn neighbor to the north.
“Let’s come right a bit, Batman,” his RIO said. “Bring her to
“Bird Dog Two, feet dry,” Cat’s voice called over the radio.
Two-one-eight had just crossed the beach and was over land now.
Seconds later, Batman’s Tomcat was across the coastline as well,
hurtling inland at just below the speed of sound. “And Bird Dog One
going feet dry,” Malibu reported.
They were now over what amounted to Indian territory.
0921 hours (Zulu +3)
Operations, U.S.S. Thomas Jefferson The Black Sea “Commander? There’s
been a new development on the Bird Dog patrol, sir.”
Commander Grant joined Lieutenant Chadwick in front of the large screen
that displayed tactical data relayed from the Hawkeye. Chadwick had just
taken over the watch as Ops duty officer. Though he was the senior
officer present, Grant wasn’t standing watch. He was in OPS this morning
as an observer, part of a crash course in how to carry out his new
assignment as Deputy CAG. Observer or not, however, he’d be drawn into
any situation that might develop this morning, at least until Magruder
arrived and took over.
Coyote Grant had commanded a Tomcat squadron for nearly two years, now,
and he’d been an aviator for a lot longer than that. Making split-second
decisions and taking the responsibility for them was part and parcel of
being an aviator, something you learned to deal with if you wanted to
keep flying. But there was something intimidating about Air ops, about
its myriad display monitors and banks of consoles and Computers, about
the technicians hunched over their screens and speaking in low tones,
about the crackle of static and the radio calls coming over the speaker
system. This was the heart of the whole operation, and he never felt the
pressures of command as keenly as when he was in this place. Sometimes,
when he was standing watch here, Coyote had to tell himself that the
whole compartment was nothing more than a high-tech video arcade. The
technicians, most of them, were kids; the average age of the enlisted
men aboard was something under twenty years. It was easy to imagine them
all as bright-eyed video game fanatics feeding quarters into their
But it wasn’t a game. This time it wasn’t even a simulation.
“What is it, Lieutenant?” he asked Chadwick, his eyes scanning the
monitor. A rough map–drawn all in straight lines and sharp
angles–showed the coast of the Black Sea. Dozens of coded lights marked
radar contacts, known and unknown, scattered up and down the coast.
“Watch Dog picked up an unknown aircraft, probably a low-flying helo,”
Chadwick said crisply. He jabbed a stubby finger at the display monitor.
“Here. .. a few miles northwest of Poti. Bird Dog is deploying for
intercept and requesting instructions.”
Grant leaned forward to study the screen. Bird Dog Two was well ahead of
Bird Dog One now, arrowing across the coast toward the interior. Inland,
one of the IDED blips showed a UN designation. “Flight Two-seven?”
“Right there,” the lieutenant said, pointing again. “He’s showing IFF.
The word from the Marine liaison ashore is that it could have an Army
gunship flying escort.”
“Could have? Does it or doesn’t it?”
“They’re not sure. In any case, we only have the one friendly on the
screen. If there are two helos there, they’re so close together we’re
only getting one return from them.”
Coyote nodded. It was a common phenomenon; often one radar blip would
resolve into two or more, once you closed with the target a bit. And in
rough terrain like that. ..
“It’s this guy a couple-three miles to the southwest we’re worried
about,” Chadwick continued. “He’s not showing IFF. Watch Dog thinks he
could be a local, maybe a helo flying low to avoid the radar. If so. ..”