Operation Resolute Fury Mission 5
< Date Redacted >, Persian Gulf
In which our hero and his squadron mates have returned to the Reagan, which has now taken station in the Persian Gulf. First up, requalifying for carrier operations after several weeks ashore flying out of Ahmed al Jaber Air Base in Kuwait.
“I swear, I still don’t understand why this ship can’t just have four arresting wires, like every other carrier in the fleet,” Morris complained as we stripped off our flight gear before heading to the ready room for the LSO debrief. We’d just finished our day traps for our carrier requalifications, and if the LSO’s thought we’d done well enough, we’d be finishing up our night traps later that night.
I shrugged my shoulders in reply. “Don’t look at me. I was working eight decks down when they were building this part of the ship.”
We walked into our old familiar Ready Room four and plopped down in a couple of chairs in the front row as we waited for everybody else to come back in. Next in was Lido Flores, followed by Terrence “Token” Hodge. As soon as Lido was in the door, he started up too.
“What the hell is wrong with this ship?! Four wires works just fine for everybody else in the fleet, why not for us?”
I could feel all the eyes in the room resting on me. I looked up from my plane’s yellow sheet and glanced around at the assembled faces looking at me expectantly.
“What? You don’t look at me for the answer,” I said. “When we were building this thing, we joked that Northrop Grumman ran out of parts and sold the Navy on the weight, space, and manpower advantages of leaving a wire off while probably still charging them for it!”
“It’s helping us stay sharp in the pattern,” the aristocratic, arrogant voice of the CAG LSO, Lt. Jason ‘Bird’ Mantelle interjected. All of us nuggets had quickly come to despise that voice.
“If you’re high on the glide slope, you don’t get to count on that training wheel fourth wire to pull you down. You get to take your penalty lap around the Bolter pattern and try again.”
We straightened up as Bird strode up to the podium, his pocket brain holding our landing scores in hand. Pausing for dramatic effect, he looked around at us and cleared his throat before he began.
“I’ll debrief you all individually as soon as we’re done here, but needless to say you’ve all been completed your day requalifications and are cleared to finish your night traps tonight. Congratulations.”
“Talon one five seven, this is Temple approach. You’re at one and three-quarter miles, call the ball.”
I looked ahead towards the mottled collection of lights marking the Reagan, and was able to pick out the yellow and green lights of the IFLOLS on the port side of the landing area.
“Temple approach, talon one five seven, Superhornet, ball, ten point zero,” I called back, informing the controllers below deck in CATCC of my aircraft type and fuel state.
I shifted my scan focus to the drop lights running down the stern and fantail to check my lineup before flicking my eyes back to the ball outside my windscreen and the AOA indicator to the left of the HUD combining glass.
“Lineup, meatball, angle of attack, lineup, meatball angle of attack,” I muttered to myself as I made small corrections with the stick and throttle to maintain my lineup and keep the ball steadied in the between the datum arms.
“One seven five, this is Paddles. You’re a little high,” the voice of the squadron’s LSO, Lt. Steve “Hands” Hall came softly in my ear so as not to break my concentration. I squeezed off a touch of power, almost immediately put it back on to stabilize, and pulled half off again.
“That’s better. Fly the ball, and keep it smooth,” Hands admonished as the ball stabilized in the middle of its track.
I forced myself not to look at the deck as the drop lights disappeared from view below my nose. Half a heartbeat later, I felt the jolt as the main mounts made contact with the deck as I automatically ran the throttles up to full military power in case I bolstered. As I felt myself being thrown forward against my shoulder harness I knew I had a good trap and pulled the throttles back to idle and flicked off the external light master switch with my pinky as I felt the plane start to roll backwards from the wire retracting. Following the signals from the lighted wands in front of me, I picked up the hook and added throttle to start me rolling across the foul line to clear the landing area for the next plane behind me. I was directed further up the deck even with the island, where the plane director gave me the signal to hold brakes while my plane was chained down. Since the whole squadron needed to finish requalifications, we were hotswapping as each pilot finished his or her set.
“Talon one five seven, this is Paddles. Congratulations, you’re qualified.” Hands called to me over the radio.
At the same time the plane director signaled that I was tied down, and I looked out the left side of the canopy to see Papercut Harris waiting for me to deboard. I popped the canopy, and as I unstrapped gathered my helmet bag, Papercut extended the boarding ladder. I climbed down, shook his hand, and quickly briefed him on the minor gripes I had with the plane before holding his bag for him as he climbed up into the plane. With a grin and a wave, he closed the canopy as I retracted the boarding ladder for him and ducked under the nose as I headed for the far side of the island and the catwalk that would take me down to the ready room.
The Skipper, XO, and OpsO were huddled around the briefing map in the ready room as I walked in, my flight suit still damp with sweat. As they noticed me in the room, their heads came up.
“Spence, go on and head down to your room to get some rest- we’ll send you down your landing scores a bit later,” Errol Flynn said as he strode over to where I was standing to hand me a sheet of paper. “You’re on the mission schedule in the afternoon, brief in the Air Wing Intelligence office at 1100. Sleep fast buddy, and good job on the requals.”
“See you all in a year!”
I called cheerily over my shoulder as I walked out the door from Medical back into the passageway. Birth Month Recall was never fun, but one of those things that seemed impossible to avoid- Banks had threatened me with serious bodily harm if I’d continued to dodge the flight surgeon, but I’d woken up earlier than expected, and had a couple of hours to kill before I had to be in my brief.
As I started heading aft on the second deck towards the the JO bunkroom I shared with Lido, Morris, and five others, a sudden idea clicked in my head. I stopped, turned around, and started walking back towards the bow. Taking note of the watchbill posted on a bulkhead on the outboard side of the passageway, I continued farther forward, turned left down a passageway inboard and opened the heavy Ellison door I found myself in front of. A blast of air rushed in from my back to feed the negative ventilation and the smells of metal, paint, and chemicals, the same familiar sensations that had surrounded me for so many years, brought a smile to my face. I walked down two decks, lifted the heavy handle of the watertight door I found myself at, and stepped into the ship’s Central Control room.
“Request to enter Central and speak,” I said to the Engineering Officer of the Watch, a grizzled Engineering Limited Duty Officer (LDO) by the name of Lt. Tom Rigall- I know he didn’t remember now, but he’d been my Electronic Fundamentals and Digital Systems instructor when I’d been in Nuclear Field “A” School, nine years earlier. He looked me up and down critically before he responded.
“And what exactly do you want to speak about?” He asked doubtfully, perhaps wondering if I was lost.
I was about to reply when the voice of the Load Dispatcher behind him spoke up.
“He’s not lost, sir- it wasn’t so many years ago that he was sitting in this chair teaching me everything I know about nuclear power,” the Load Dispatcher (LD), Electrician’s Mate First Class (EM1) Jerry Bennett, one of my former proteges, said with an obviously amused tone of voice. “Although at the time I was a lowly EM3 and he was the pain in the ass EM1.”
“Nice to hear you’re still following my example,” I said with a grin as I walked over to the Engineering Officer of the Watch (EOOW)’s desk and gave my old padawan a hearty handshake. I pulled up the extra chair on the other side of the Load Dispatcher’s side of the desk and sat down between Bennett and Rigall, pausing to look at the various status boards and indicators showing what was going on in both the power plants and throughout the rest of the ship. Footage of current flight operations silently streamed on another large flat screen panel off to one side. We chatted about what had been going on aboard the ship and caught up on old times for a few minutes before I brought up the subject that had brought me down to Central.
:”Hey Jerry, when’s the last time the Watch Supervisor dropped in to review your logs?” I asked as I picked up the clipboard sitting on the desk in front of him.
“Why? Looking for Senior Vetterman?” He asked with a knowing grin as he picked up the J-Dial phone in front of him. “Let me call over to the plant and see if we can get him paged.”
Within a couple of minutes my old friend walked into Central and joined me in front of the status boards.
“What can I do for you, my man?” he asked as he plopped down in the Reactor Officer’s tall, cushy chair behind the EOOW and LD’s seats.
“Just a favor for you and the rest of the old hands if you guys have the time tomorrow night.” I replied, lowering my voice as I leaned in closer to where he was sitting. “I’ll be flying a strike, and if you and some of the other guys want to come up and put some personal messages on our bombs for Mitch, I’ve already cleared it with my CO and the CAG. If you meet me in Flight Deck Control at about 1930 we’ll get you guys on deck before things start getting hectic up top.”
Jim smiled and nodded his head. “Thanks Ted, really. I appreciate it, and I know it’ll mean a lot to the other folks as well.”
I excused myself to head back to the O-3 Level as Jim headed back to his rounds of the plant- it was going to be a long day, and I had paperwork to finish before the briefs started.
The Air Wing section of the 03 level was busier than usual as I walked through on my way to the Intel office- aircrews from other squadrons were walking around in every direction, most in full flight gear. Above my head I could hear the thud of planes recovering on deck, and the crash of the catapult shuttle into its water brake as other planes were launched. Apparently air operations had been going on for some time already today, and from the frequency of the launches and recoveries, it was going to be a busy day.
As I entered the Air Wing intel office I saw that the space was already tightly packed with other aircrews, including six other pilots from my squadron, several of the Fist guys, and two Marine Captains in their tan desert flight suits. As I was trying to figure out where to stand, a buddy of mine from the VAQ squadron, Tank Abrams walked through the door.
“Hey Tank, how’s it going?” I called as I waved him over to where I was standing. “Do you have any idea what’s going on?”
He shook his head, a blank expression on his lined, tanned face.
“No clue whatsoever. All I know is we’ve got two planes getting ready to go up in a couple of hours.”
“Attention on deck!” a loud voice boomed out, and everybody in the small space instantly snapped to attention as the CAG, dressed in full flight gear, strode in through the doors leading from the Air Operations Office, the DCAG only half a step behind.
“At ease, people,” he said as the folks at the front of the room cleared some space around the primary air charts and the main briefing boards. “I know it’s crowded in here, but I wanted to give everybody the rundown before we start the more specific briefings.”
“Now, while several of us in here were enjoying our vacation in the desert for the last month, the Ike and Reagan battle groups have been enforcing the embargo of all Saudi oil shipments with a blockade of all their ports. This afternoon we’re going to be making strikes on oil tankers that have been attempting to run the blockade. Commander Stone, if you’ll take over.”
The first two slides popped up on the main briefing boards as the short, muscular Air Intelligence Officer took in the officers assembled around him before he continued where CAG had left off.
“Before we can launch those air strikes on the tankers and other strategic targets in the area, we do have three bumps in the road to handle first.”
The next slide came up on the screen, showing images of three small, angular ships obviously not of American origin.
“I present to you HMS Al Riyadh, HMS Makkah, and HMS Al Damman. The Saudi Royal Navy moved these ships from their bases in the Red Sea to King Abdul Azziz Naval Base before the shooting started. These Al Riyadh class frigates are based on the French La Fayette class frigates, but with an enhanced anti-air warfare capability, and of course the capacity to carry the Exocet anti-ship missile. I know that most of you are too young to remember what happened to the U.S.S. Stark, but needless to say we cannot safely operate with the impunity this war is going to require until those frigates, and their missiles, are at the bottom of the Persian Gulf.”
Tank raised his hand. “Commander, when you say enhanced anti-air warfare capability, what exactly are we talking about?”
Stone smiled grimly before he replied. “That’s where it starts getting good. In addition to the Arabel radar for the fire control suite, the Saudis had their good friends at Raytheon upgrade AN/SPS-49 radar sets to use for primary search and ranging.”
There were groans and murmured comments from the crowd- all of us were getting sick of running into our own hardware being used against us.
Stone cleared his throat as he continued. “As a result, these frigates will show up on your Radar Warning Receivers as a Perry-class Frigate. In addition, they’re packing the Aster 15 surface to air missile, comparable in range and capability to the SM-1MR.” Commander Stone took a step back, and CAG stepped back up to the front.
“Today’s mission is going to be what we used to call an Alpha Strike. A Division of Superbugs from 115 are going to be the primary strike package to sink those frigates. I’ll be leading four of the Fists as air to air cover while the Cougars will have a Prowler aloft to handle Standoff Jamming in the direction of the frigates. At the same time, another section of Superhornets will be hitting SAM sites in and around King Abdul Azziz Naval Base while the strike birds make their attack run. Because of the extensive network of antiaircraft defenses and the capabilities of the Al Riyadh’s as antiair warfare platforms, we’ll be going in at high altitude to take full advantage of the standoff capacity of our Harpoon, SLAM, and HARM missiles. I’d also like to welcome Captains Wallander and Thomason from VMM-261. They’re parked up top to pick up a few things, and I wanted to invite them down here, since their mission will take them through the same area we’re going to be working in.”
The two Marine Captains waved their hands at the assembled crowd before stepping back in.
CAG continued with the points of the overall brief before the individual squadron elements filtered back to their ready rooms to go over the fine details of each aircraft’s role in the coming mission. I found out I’d be flying in the anti-ship strike with Wrench and Sick Nick as the first section, while the Skipper and Token would be SAM hunting off the left side and below our formation.
Because nobody was sure about how the La Fayette based ships would do against the Harpoons, Wrench and I were also carrying a pair of SLAM’s each; with their higher cruise speed, the smaller missiles might have greater luck getting through any gunfire or other countermeasures. Hopefully the HARM’s we were carrying would be able to knock out the fire control radars of the Al Riyadh’s. In addition, Wrench was carrying a FLIR pod in the hopes that it would help with targeting and keep us from attacking the wrong ship- with the stealthy features built into the ships, they would give off a radar return closer in size to a small yacht or sailboat.
Within an hour we were on deck, waiting for our turn to launch. The Marine MV-22 Osprey ‘picking up a few things’ was being readied for take off directly ahead of me, and at the same time the ungainly looking bird was cleared to take off, CAG’s section of F/A-18C’s screamed past overhead in their holding pattern, waiting for out strike package to lift off.
Finally the Osprey was clear of the ship’s immediate airspace, and the flight deck directors came to life as we were given the clearance for our own launches.
Minutes later I was airborne and joining the rest of the formation above and ahead of me. As I closed into the formation, the other aircraft of the strike tucked in and assumed their places in the formation.
“Ninety nine Badman, this is Badman one,” the CAG came over the radio. “All planes are aboard, form up as briefed and let’s head out.”
Forty five minutes later we started getting the first peeps from the Al Riyadh’s radars on our EW pages and HARM displays. At the same time, Tank announced that his EA-6B was on station jamming.
“Mackerel flight, this is Mackerel one. Emcon off. Let’s see if we can’t find these guys on radar since they’ve already found us.” Wrench called.
I flipped my radar to active, brought up the air to ground master mode, and locked up a target on the SEA mode radar on the second sweep. The target designator diamond in my HUD lined up perfectly with the HARM targeting box already painting the SPS-49 radar from one of the frigates.
“Mackerel One, this is Mackerel three,” I called, “I have one of the frigates locked up on my scope. HARM targeting and radar have the same target painted, range seven eight miles, bearing two eight zero.”
“Copy three,” Wrench called back. “Good idea with the HARM targeting. Mackerel flight, let’s see if we can’t light them up that way.”
I readied my own missiles for the attack as we continued to close the distance. If Wrench and Sick Nick weren’t able to score enough hits with their attack, Horse and I would follow on a second run to finish off any remainders. Suddenly, we popped out of the clouds and I could see the wake trails of the three frigates ahead of us.
“Mackerel three, Mackerel four, this is one,” Wrench called. “We’re in range for our attack run. After we fire our Harpoons, stand by to attack with HARM’s as soon as we’re in range.”
“Three, copy,” I called back, “I’ve got a positive lock on the lead ship, Mackerel seven one, magnum!” I called as I launched one of my HARM’s, switched to another ship, and fired a second one in rapid succession. At the same time, Wrench and Sick Nick broke hard across our noses to get the proper bearing separation on their missile shots.
The Harpoon and SLAM missiles flew true towards their targets, and with the added protection of HARM missiles that had done their job of eliminating the air to air radar capabilities of the frigates, each and every one of the cruise missiles fired homed in on a target, setting the ships afire before they quickly disappeared beneath the waves.
“Mackerel flight, this is Badman. I’m seeing those frigates burning and sinking,” CAG called from his vantage point slightly ahead of us. “Good work, everybody. Let’s form it up and head for home.”
“Mackerel flight copies,” Wrench called in reply, before calling back to the rest of us to return to the formation and start the trip home. Within minutes we were back in friendlier airspace and heading for home. A quick check of everybody’s fuel state showed we had enough to make it back without stopping at the nearby tanker, and before my heartbeat had even gone calmed back down to normal, I was able to make out the distant wake trails of the Reagan and her battle group ahead and below us. We started our descent behind our escorts from the Fists.
We entered the break, separated into the pattern, and one by one, made our approaches and landings.
CAG was all smiles at the debrief as the Intelligence staff processed the data from our planes and collected our after action reports. The strike had been an overwhelming success, with all three of the frigates being completely destroyed with no collateral damage, and most importantly all the planes involved in the strike had come back in one piece.
“I tell you people, that was great flying!” Capt. Lalor said with a grin as he lit a cigar before offering the rest of us his cigar box. “We keep flying like this, and we should have these Saudis whipped by Labor Day Weekend!”
I sank into a chair to finish filling out the paperwork from my flight as the rest of the crews from the strike filtered back in. Tank grabbed a seat next to me, sweat still plastered to his face and hair as well.
“Well, that was a lot easier than I thought it was going to be,” he said with a satisfied grin. “I was expecting us to be shot at a lot more, but they didn’t send a single SAM anywhere near where we were. It was strange- they were obviously watching us, but they only lit up their EW and search stuff.”
“Ever get the feeling you’re being watched?” I asked half-jokingly.
“Only every time I’ve flown a hop since we got on station,” my friend replied with a shake of his head.
The skipper walked up to where we were sitting.
“Good work, Spencer. That was a good idea to compare the HARM targeting to the radar to confirm the frigates. We just found out that Second Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdul Azziz had his private yacht cruising about five miles away from those three frigates. Intel hasn’t been able to confirm if he was onboard or not, but five will get you ten that it was planted there on purpose because they were expecting our attack. We can only hope it wasn’t our own guys that were kidnapped yesterday.”
I felt a shiver run down my back. I’d read accounts of leaders hiding military targets in civilian areas to use them as human shields, but for a father to use one of his sons…
“Get some rest,” Commander Nemeth continued. “Now that we have those frigates out of the way, there’s going to be a lot more fighting and flying to do here soon.”