CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass

forces had been the result of friendly fire, especially when fast-moving

ground support aircraft misidentified vehicles on the ground. The press

had spent a lot of verbiage agonizing over those incidents, of course,

but anyone with combat experience knew they were inevitable. The fog of

war was as real on today’s electronic battlefield as it had been in the

days of Napoleon. .. or Sargon the Great.

He was thinking in particular of an incident hauntingly like this one,

back in 1994, when two U.S. Air Force fighters had engaged and destroyed

two Army helicopters in the no-fly zone established over northern Iraq.

The pilots had been edgy, the AWACS procedures had broken down, the IFF

systems on the choppers had been turned off. And then, as now, someone

had confused the U.S. Army Black Hawk with the Soviet-made Hind. That

time, over twenty men had died.

Murphy’s Law still ruled, especially when men were excited, frightened,

or tired. But there were supposed to be safeguards in place to keep

these things from happening, and Magruder needed to know just what had

gone wrong.

“Sir, I take full responsibility. ..” Batman began.

Magruder cut him off. “You bet you do, Commander,” he said harshly.

“But that’s not much better than “Shit happens’ either! Do you know the

difference between a Hind and a Black Hawk?”

“Yessir,” Batman said quietly.

Mason cleared his throat. “I made the ID, CAG,” he said. “It was my

fault, not the skipper’s.”

“You made the ID,” Magruder said, turning his angry gaze on the younger

man. He let the words hang there for a moment before reaching into his

top desk drawer and extracting a manila folder. Inside were several

photographs, drawn from the files of Jefferson’s OZ Division, the

carrier’s intelligence department.

He spread the photos out on the table, turning them so Mason could see.

“This is a Hind,” he said, tapping one of the photos. “Recognition

features: five-bladed rotor; tapering, anhedral stub wings

shoulder-mounted on the fuselage; separate, stepped pilot’s and gunner’s

cockpits; cannon mounted in a nose turret; five-bladed tail rotor

mounted to the port side of the boom.” He tapped another. “This is a

UH-60 Black Hawk. Recognition features: four-bladed rotor; large, single

cockpit with broad windows; four-bladed tail rotor mounted to starboard

of the tail boom, and canted at twenty degrees to provide additional

lift; large tail planes. Is there anything here you don’t understand?”

“No, sir. I know what a Black Hawk looks like. I know what a Hind looks

like. I only saw the target for a second or two, and from behind, so I

couldn’t see the double cockpit. But I did see the weapons pylons on

either side. I’ve never heard of a Black Hawk with weapons pylons.”

“For your information, son, what you saw was an External Stores Support

System, ESSS.” He looked at Cat. “What about you, Garrity? Did you see


The woman shook her head slowly. “No, CAG,” she said. “My head was down

at the time.”

“Your head was down. So you were the only one who saw it, Mason?”

“Yes, CAG,” Mason said. “I. .. I really thought it was. The aspect was

from the rear and above, and it really looked like a Hind configuration

to me. I honestly thought. ..”

He held up a hand. “We’ve established what you thought you saw.”

“They were being painted by a Gun Dish signal from the ground, CAG,”

Batman said. “Probably a ZSU. I made my decision based on the report of

one of my aviators. I could have ordered a double check of the target,

but thought it would be unwise to risk possible triple-A from the Zoo.

There was also the possibility that the enemy was engaging the UN

flight. Time was critical.”

Tombstone let himself relax a little. “You’re right. You made a mistake.

Wrecked an aircraft that cost the taxpayers something like fifteen mil.

And before any of you points it out to me, I’ll say the rest. It would

also have been a mistake to get confirmation if those Zoos had opened

fire and brought one of you down. And it would have been a mistake if

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