CARRIER 7: AFTERBURN By Keith Douglass


“Never mind.”

The waiters did speak English–or at least the one who served them did.

Most Russian food was actually rather bland, but the Turkish influence

in the Crimea could not be missed. They both had shashlik–chunks of

seasoned lamb grilled on a skewer, like Turkish shish kebab.

Conversation was limited to news topics–the new woman Secretary of

Defense, the UN mission in Georgia, the return of the Russian

submariners to the Crimea.

They stayed away from anything personal, as if by mutual consent.

“So the Russian submarine sailors are all back in Sevastopol?” she asked

him, spearing a chunk of lamb.

“As far as I know. They started ferrying them in from the Jefferson

early this morning and were scheduled to be finished up by now. I

haven’t heard one way or the other, though.”

“And that was really an accident, too? Like the helicopter?”

His fork paused halfway between his plate and his mouth, then completed

the trip. He chewed thoughtfully for a moment before answering. “Kind

of,” he said. “Our sub was acting within its rights, and within the

limits of its orders. Its sonar picked up what sounded like a torpedo


“Wasn’t it already too late, then? Sinking the Russian sub was just

vengeance by that time, wasn’t it?”

“Not really. If it had fired a torpedo at that range, it probably would

have been wire-guided, which meant that sinking the sub would stop the

torpedo. Our people acted exactly right.” He hesitated again, then tried

a disarming grin. “You’re not accusing me of being a warmonger now, are


“No, of course not. But it does make me wonder what the Navy is doing

out here. You chalk up two kills, and both of them are mistakes.”

“Believe me, I’ve been wondering the same thing.”

“You sound bitter.”

“I guess I am. There are people in Washington, our defense secretary

among them, who still want to use the U.S. military for social

experimentation. That’s wrong. They want to loan U.S. troops out to the

UN for humanitarian projects.”

“Like Georgia and the Crimea.”

“Like Georgia and the Crimea. Why don’t they loan us out to the Red

Cross and the Camp Fire Girls as well?”

“What’s wrong with humanitarian programs?”

“Nothing. Except that that’s not what we’re for, not what we’re trained

for. It’s a waste of resources, misusing us this way. It’s also


“Dangerous?” She thought he was exaggerating. “How?”

“Because each warm and fuzzy mission like this one, each make-work

deployment, extends our resources a little farther. Weakens us a bit

more. And because somewhere back in Washington, someone is trying to

hammer our square peg into his round hole. When mission parameters are

vague, when orders are jumbled or self-contradictory, when there’s more

politics involved than fighting, well, that leads to mistakes. Bad


“Like the one that got the helicopter shot down.”

“Exactly. It also means that someday a real crisis is going to come up,

one that only the military can solve. And we won’t be able to do it

because we’re going to be tied down with relief efforts in Mongolia, or

carrying out a UN mission in Uzbekistan, or God knows what else.”

She shook her head. “It won’t get that bad.”

“Won’t it? Reagan wanted to build a fifteen-carrier, six-hundred-ship

Navy. He wasn’t able to, and his successors in office, along with

Congress, managed to gut the Navy building program, especially once the

Soviet Union fell apart and everybody was looking for the so-called

peace dividend.”

“It was decided twelve would be enough.”

“Who decided?” He shrugged. “Congress, I guess. We’ve never had more

than twelve carriers, and with the need to send them in for refit and

modernization every so often, what’s called the SLEP program, we usually

don’t have more than ten on active duty at any one time. Ideally, half

of those carriers are deployed around the world, while the other half

are home-ported, engaged in training exercises, taking on new personnel,

and so on. So we have what, five? Five carriers at any one time to

handle crises from the Med to the North Sea to the Indian Ocean to the

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