Excerpt: 'Strike Group Reagan' -- First Contact
In this excerpt, pilots from the People’s Liberation Army Air Force serving as “volunteer” supporters for an Islamic uprising in Tunisia engage Italian F-104s, and are engaged by Lieutenant Renee Patterson and Commander Marissa O’Malley.
Chin closed in on the Italian fighter. It would be his third kill of the night. He forced himself to remain calm as he waited for radar lock. This had been much easier than he had anticipated. The Americans had not responded yet.
He thumbed the laser range-finder in his IRST, and smiled. He waited for a radar lock. These were hardly worthy opponents for him and his Flanker, but he had to destroy them nonetheless.
Chin took a deep breath, and when the tone signaling he had a radar lock sounded in his earphone, he smiled.
Then he pulled the trigger on his stick.
The J-11 had a single GSh-301 cannon mounted on the right side of its fuselage. The gun fired for two seconds, sending twenty-five rounds towards its target.
Fifteen of the rounds hit, drawing a brief line from the F-104’s starboard wing and into the fuselage of the Italian fighter, causing an explosion as the external tank on the wing exploded, and crippled the aging aircraft.
The fighter now was a sitting duck, unable to make a sharp turn or anything. It began a very slow, wide turn to the east, trying to close the distance to Sicily.
Chin could not allow that.
The pilot struggled to maintain control of the fighter. He looked back. The Su-27 was behind him, closing in like a predator hunting a crippled deer. He didn’t even really go over his failure. He’d have enough time for that after he died.
“Gipper, this is Red One. They’ve torn us apart. Protect the Sentry,” he said. He hoped his aircraft would hold together long enough to allow the Americans to get the bastards who had ripped half his squadron apart…
“Red One, this is Champ 301,” a pilot said. “We’ll be there in two minutes.”
The Italian colonel heard Red Four scream and turned to see the last vestiges of a fireball. He was all that was left, now. Against six Flankers, his life would be measured in seconds – minutes if he was lucky.
“Forget about me. Protect the Sentry,” he ordered. He had to keep leading the enemy away from the E-3. It was all he could do. He’d failed his men, but perhaps, there was a chance he’d carry out his mission of protecting the Sentry after all. It provided him some small comfort as he counted the seconds, knowing he would die…
Renee had seen the battle take place on her display. In the distance, she could see two aircraft, one behind the other. She couldn’t believe it had been that one-sided. But it had, and now, the Sentry was in trouble. The first group of Starfighters had been blown away, and the second group wouldn’t fare any better…
Renee’s ESM system picked up the signals from the Flash Dance radar – it was still not quite able to detect the low-observable F/A-18E. That was good news. The bastards didn’t know the cavalry was that close. Which meant she could take a few of them out and extract some serious payback.
At the same time, she found herself wishing she had a Phoenix to use. But she didn’t, and she could do nothing for another two minutes.
“Red One, break right! Break right!” Renee heard O’Malley yell over the radio. She knew, however, it was not going to make any difference.
OVER THE MED -- NORTH OF TUNISIA
The J-11 had flown into perfect firing position on the Italian fighter, and it didn’t really matter if O’Malley had called out the warning or not.
The AA-11 Archer leapt off the pylon, and closed in rapidly on the crippled aircraft. When it struck, the 7.4-kilogram expanding-rod warhead detonated, causing the on-board fuel to explode. The Italian pilot had no chance to eject before the F-104S became little more than a cloud of debris.
With that done, the Flanker turned to the north, closing in on the E-3, and its group of escorts.
USS RONALD REAGAN
Bradshaw and the controller watched as the Flankers turned north towards the Sentry. The second group of Italian Starfighters fired their Aspide missiles at the Flankers, who responded with missiles of their own.
This exchange was just as one-sided. Three of the blue blips representing the Italian pilots blinked out of existence.
“Champ flight is in range,” the controller said.
“Tell them weapons free and good hunting,” Bradshaw said.
“Yes, sir,” the controller said.
Renee had already locked on one of the Su-27s in the middle of the group. The better to break up the attack, and split off the Flankers. She had radar lock – hoping that the APG-73 would be able to track the target before the Su-27 knew she was there...
She looked over the display and smiled. Perfect lock-on. She pressed the button on her stick.
“Champ 304, Fox One.”
The AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile, known as the AMRAAM, dropped off the pylon. Its rocket motor ignited, quickly sending the missile to Mach 4. In the display, Renee could see O’Malley’s AMRAAM also closing in on its target.
Good, she thought, they had not double-targeted. Of course, it would have been hard given the three-to-one odds Renee and O’Malley were flying against.
With that, she began to maneuver her F/A-18E, and allowed the AMRAAM’s inertial guidance to take over. She was going to have at least one kill tonight. After this slaughter, she wanted more than that.
USS RONALD REAGAN
Bradshaw watched as the F/A-18Es closed in after their first attack.
“What’s the status on the alert fighters?” he asked.
The controller took a brief glance. “We’ve got two F-14s up and on the way. Two S-3s will be up to serve as tankers, and then we’re going to put up four Eighteen-Charlies to cover the E-3.”
Bradshaw nodded, and lit another cigarette, his sixth of the evening. Damn, this was not going to make the flight surgeon happy, he thought.
But that would have to be handled later.
“Fifteen seconds…” the controller said. The Slammers should be going active now, Bradshaw thought.
He hoped that Patterson and O’Malley could take out a couple of those Flankers, and get out with no problems. They were outnumbered, and the F/A-18Es were not stealthy, just low-observable. It meant they could be detected – albeit it would take a shorter range. And their jammers were going at full-tilt boogie, making the task even harder for the enemy fighters.
Chin banked hard right to evade the incoming missile that had just gone active. How had the Americans come this close?
He punched chaff, and dodged. “Dragon Flight! Incoming missiles from the east!”
The good news was that he had not been targeted. The bad news was that both planes that had been targeted were hit and destroyed. Neither of the pilots had any chance to eject.
Damn the Americans! He was getting some contact, but the Americans were proving hard to track with all the jamming. Of course, he told himself, their new Hornets are semi-stealthy. We cannot lock on to them as far away as we could with the Italian planes.
The American fighter radars were back on. But were they the same fighters, or was this another pair of aircraft? Chin did not know, and as a result, he had to assume the worst.
USS RONALD REAGAN
Bradshaw watched the display as two of the Su-27 blips vanished. Two hard kills, he told himself. That’s the first installment of payback.
Still, it was not time to press his luck just yet. He’d already had one nasty surprise this evening, and God only knew what else his opponents planned. It was a lot tougher than he’d expected, although the OPFOR in the JTFEX four months back had been better.
“Tell Champ Flight to pull back,” Bradshaw said. “There’s been enough for one night.”
The controller nodded. He was madder than hell. It was just an evacuation of non-combatants. Civilians, really. And somebody wanted to prevent that from happening. That meant they wanted hostages.
But while anger motivated a desire to strike, he knew that Bradshaw was right. It was time to pull back and to face the enemy on the strike group’s terms, NOT the on IFT’s.
“Champ flight, this is Gipper. Pull back, I repeat, pull back,” he said.
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