Read Fortunes of War Online

Authors: Stephen Coonts

Fortunes of War (30 page)

The HUD showed targets everywhere. Unfortunately, the computer displayed the targets' positions in real time, not where they would be after Cassidy pointed his plane so that the targets were within the missile's performance envelope when he managed to get a firing solution. Solving that four-dimensional problem by looking at the computer displays while in danger of losing your life was the art of the supersonic dogfight. Some pilots could do it; others flew transports and helicopters.

Cassidy flipped the weapons selector to “Missiles” while in an eighty-degree bank pulling four G's. A Zero was almost head-on when the aircraft vector dot came rapidly into the missile-capable circle, so he pulled the trigger. An AMRAAM missile roared away in a gout of fire.

The AMRAAM didn't guide!
Of course not, stupid! It can't see the Athena-protected Zero.

Cassidy didn't have time to fret his mistake. Another missile streaked across his nose, not a hundred feet away, from left to right.

He had a target down and to his right, so he rolled hard and pulled toward it. The plane was turning away, so if he could outturn it, he could get a high-percentage stern shot. The G's pressed down on him
and he felt the G suit squeezing viciously. He fought to inhale against the massive weight on his chest.

Now he had Sidewinders selected on the MFD. The enemy fighter was close, almost too close, but when he got a locked-on tone from the missile, Cassidy fired. Two seconds later he saw an explosion out of the corner of his eye.
Did I get him?

He was diving now toward the earth, pulling three G's. He relaxed the G, leveled his wings, reapplied G. Nose coming up, more G, lower the left wing because a Zero was behind and left and high and the missile light on the instrument panel was flashing as the ECM wailed…. Pull, pull, pull!

Another explosion off to the right.

A plane flashed in front, a Zero, and Cassidy slammed the wing down to follow.


Clay Lacy saw the missile that killed him. It was fired by a Zero just two miles away at his four o'clock low, and tracked toward him straight as a laser. Lacy's computer was displaying two possible targets in front of him, recommending the one to the right, when out of the corner of his eye he saw the missile coming. To his surprise, he now realized the Missile warning light was flashing and the aural warning tone wailing at full cry. The missile was less that a second from impact when he saw it, and Clay Lacy knew he had had the stroke.

“Shit,” he said, and pulled into a nine-G grunt.

It wasn't enough. The missile went off just under the belly of the aircraft, blasting shrapnel into the wing fuel tanks and shredding the airplane's belly. Shrapnel coming through the floor of the cockpit killed Clay Lacy less than a second before the aircraft blew up. As the fireball expanded, fed by the aircraft's fuel, two long cylinders—the aircraft's engines—shot out of the explosion and fell in a ballistic trajectory toward the earth five miles below.


The disappearance of one of the three other friendly green fighter symbols from his tac display registered on Bob Cassidy. He was too busy to wonder who had been hit.

He was solidly in the clouds, flying as if he were in the simulator back in Germany.

He rocketed down, doing almost Mach 2, checking the tac display for enemies who might be locking him up for a missile shot. He came out of burner and cracked his speed brakes a few inches to help him slow.

Uh-oh, ten miles off to the right—another Zero, shifting to a high radar PRF (pulse repetition frequency) for a shot.
it was on the display—why hadn't Sky Eye seen the Zeroes when the F-22s were inbound to the base?

He racked the F-22 into a hard right turn, nine G's, over twenty degrees heading change per second at this speed. He saw the streak on the MFD as the enemy fighter launched a missile.

Cassidy flipped his fighter over on its back, pulled the nose thirty degrees down, and lit the afterburners. His plane was automatically pumping out chaff and decoys—they would save him or they wouldn't.

He elected to go under the enemy fighter, too fast for the Zero to get his nose down for another shot.

That was the way it worked out. The enemy's missile didn't guide. Cassidy came out of burner and pulled up to turn in behind the Zero, which was also turning hard to get on his tail, a fatal mistake. Nothing in the sky could turn with a Raptor.

Cassidy selected his gun.

He was going to get a shot, a blind, in-the-cloud shot. He was outturning the Zero. He kept the G on, fought against it as he tried to pull the aircraft vector dot through the target symbol on the HUD so that the two dots would cross at less than a mile.


He squeezed the trigger and held it down. Fire poured from his Gatling gun.


In the Zero, the Japanese pilot had lost the American on his tactical display. He was turning hard, trying to reacquire the F-22 on radar so that he could fire another missile. He never knew what killed him. The first of the cannon shells from the F-22 passed behind the Zero and he never saw them. Then the river of high explosive swept across his plane.

Several of the shells passed through the left horizontal stabilator; then four shells smashed the left engine to bits. Five shells shredded the main fuel cell behind the cockpit. Three of the shells struck the pilot, killing him instantly. Another two shells went through the nose
of the aircraft, smashing the radar. The damage was done in a third of a second; then the stream of shells passed on ahead of the aircraft.

The Zero flew on for three more seconds before fuel hit the hot engine parts and the aircraft exploded.


“Yankees check in.”

“Two's up.” That was Hudek.

“Three.” Dixie.

Four should have sung out here, but he didn't.

“Four, are you there?” Cassidy asked. He was at full throttle, racing west from Zeya.

No answer from Lacy.

“Yankees, stay with me. Lacy, where are you, son?”

“I think he bit the big one, skipper.” That was Hudek.

“Lacy, you flaky bastard, answer me, son. Where are you?”


When they landed back at Chita, night had fallen. The three fighters taxied to their respective revetments and shut down.

In the office they used as a ready room, they put the video discs into the postcombat computer and played the mission again. The computer took the information from all three of the surviving planes, merged it, and presented it as a three-dimensional holograph. They saw the American aircraft and the Zeros, the maneuvering, the missiles flying—all of it was right there for everyone to watch. Every brilliant maneuver and every mistake was there for all to see.

“We fired fifteen missiles and killed six Zeros. One gun kill. We lost a plane and pilot.”

“Too bad about Lacy.”

“God, that's tough.”

“You wasted that AMRAAM when you squirted it at that Zero, Colonel. That Athena gear they have really works.”

“We never picked them up on the ECM. They didn't turn on their radars until we were on top of them.”

“That was their mistake.”

“The satellite never saw these guys until they were on us.”

“Late-afternoon build-ups, lots of thermals…”

“Cost us a man.”

“Lacy screwed up, skipper,” Fur Ball Hudek said flatly. “Look at this sequence.” He pointed at two planes in the holographic display. “This villain passes behind Flake at a right angle, turns hard into him to get a firing solution. Flake is busy chasing these two over here. See that? Flake had target fixation; he lost the bubble. Clay Lacy's dead because he fucked up.”

That was the nub of it. In this business errors were fatal.

“Okay, let's recap. The Zeros got into us before we knew they were around. Lacy screwed up and got hammered. But the Japs screwed up too. If they had sat fifty miles out squirting missiles at us, we couldn't have touched them. They'll learn from this. Just you watch.”

Cassidy got on the satellite telephone to Washington. He wound up with Colonel Eatherly at home. After Cassidy finished explaining the mission, Eatherly said, “We have satellites over that area most of the time. Sometimes they can see airplanes. I can't say more than that. I'll talk to General Tuck tomorrow. Maybe he'll eat some ass. But I can tell you right now, Space Command is doing all they can with the technology.”

“I understand.”

“Sorry about your pilot.”

“If the wizards know Zeros are airborne, maybe they could call us on the sat phone. Back up all this techno-crap. Our duty officer could call out traffic over the base radio.”

“We'll do it.”

Cassidy was exhausted. He had no appetite. He wandered off to the lower bunk he called home.

He lay there staring at the ceiling. He had pulled the trigger repeatedly today. What if one of those Japanese pilots had been Jiro? What would Sabrina say?

If he had killed Jiro…

A wave of revulsion washed over him. He was too tired to sit up, yet he couldn't sleep.

He lay in the bunk with his eyes open, staring into the darkness.

Chapter Nineteen

Pavel Saratov was in
Admiral Kolchak
's control room studying charts of Japanese waters when the XO called down from the sail cockpit.

“Better come up here, Captain, and take a look.”

Saratov put down his pencil and compass and climbed the ladder.

“Look, Captain.” Askold pointed.

On the pier, General Esenin and his troops were milling smartly around a truck carrying four metal containers. A crowd of civilians was unloading welding equipment from another truck.

“What is this, Captain?”

“I don't know.”

“Those look like jet-engine shipping containers. Doesn't make sense.”


“Those are the sloppiest naval infantrymen I've ever seen,” Askold grumped. “They don't wear their uniforms properly. They don't know how to care for their equipment. They have little respect for superior officers….” He trailed off when he saw that Saratov had no intention of replying.

After a few minutes, Esenin came across the gangway and called up to the officers on the bridge. “Come down, Captain, please.”

Saratov descended the ladder. Askold was right behind him.

“I need your technical expertise, Captain Saratov. I wish to weld these four containers to the submarine. Where would you suggest?”

Saratov was dumbfounded. “Outside the pressure hull? Our speed will be drastically affected.”

“No doubt.”

“Worse, the water swirling around the containers will make noise.”

Esenin frowned.

“What is in the containers, anyway?”

“We will discuss that later. Suffice it to say, I have been ordered to
attach these containers to the hull of this ship and I intend to do so. The only question is where.”

“They are going to be in place when we submerge? While we are underwater?”


“The noise—”

“Explain.” Esenin flicked his eyes across Saratov's face.

“The more noise we make underwater, the easier we are to detect.”

“The easier we are to detect,” Askold added, “the easier we are to kill.”

Esenin shot Askold a withering look. “Don't patronize me, little man. My bite is worse than my bark.”

“What is in the containers, General?” Saratov asked again.

“Each contains a nuclear weapon. They have been carefully waterproofed, packed, and so on. The job was cleverly done, believe me. The containers allow water to flow in and out so they will not be crushed when the submarine goes deep. Our job is to deliver these weapons.”

“Deliver?” Saratov murmured, his voice a mere whisper.

“These are old warheads from ICBMs, from the days when our missiles were not very accurate. To ensure the target would be destroyed even if the missile missed by a few miles, the designers heavily enriched the warheads. Each of these weapons yields one hundred megatons.”

“One hundred million tons of TNT equivalent…” said Askold, staring at the containers.

Saratov scrutinized the general's face. The man was mad. Or a damned fool.

“You have never been on a diesel/electric submarine, have you?”

“No,” Esenin admitted.

“Any submarine?” Saratov bored in. “Have you ever been on any submarine?”


Saratov tried to collect his thoughts. “General, I don't know who made this decision, but it was misinformed. A diesel/electric submarine is an anachronism, an artifact from a bygone age. Every decision the captain makes, all of them, revolves around keeping the battery charged.”

Esenin looked unimpressed.

“These boats don't really go anywhere,” Saratov explained. “They merely occupy a position. They can hide, but they can't run. When
discovered, they are so immobile that they can easily be destroyed. Do you understand that?”

“You made it to Tokyo Bay.”

“Indeed. And a heroic feat it was! All the Japanese antisubmarine forces were on the other side of the island, in the Sea of Japan.”

“We will have to be smarter than the Japanese.”

“Smarter? When this boat runs at three knots, it must snorkel one hour out of every twenty-four. At six knots, it must snorkel eight hours out of twenty-four. If we cannot get the snorkel up, we are down to one or two knots, just steerageway.” Saratov felt his voice rise. “I have been pinned before by American ASW forces. In peacetime. You cannot imagine what it is like, knowing they have you, knowing they can kill you if they wish, anytime they wish. My God, man! I've had dummy depth charges knock tiles off the sub's skin.”

“I think you are a coward.”

Saratov took two deep breaths. “That may be the case, sir. But coward or not, I think you are a fool.”

“This boat is the only submarine we have in the Pacific,” Esenin said, shrugging. “It will have to do.”

“We are on a fool's errand, a suicide mission. A competent antisubmarine force will quickly locate and kill us.” Pavel Saratov pointed at the deck. “Don't you understand? This steel tube will be your coffin.”

“This boat will have to do.”

Saratov couldn't believe it. “Why don't you go alone, in a rowboat? You will have the same chance of success, and sixty other men won't die with you.”

“Enough of this,” Esenin snarled.

“So if by some miracle we get to Tokyo, we find an empty pier and tie up alongside. Your men steal a truck and you haul the warheads over to the rotunda of the Diet?”

The corner of Esenin's mouth twitched.

“Better weld them to the deck, here in front of the sail,” Saratov said. He walked forward to the open hatch leading into the torpedo room. The men were loading torpedoes this morning. Four were already in. He stood with his back to Esenin, watching the men work the hoist and manhandle the ungainly fish.


The morning was warm, with little wind. Last year's autumn leaves were crunchy underfoot.

Janos Ilin stood on a small hill amid the trees smoking a cigarette. His suit coat was open. Leaning against a tree was a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher. At the foot of the hill, thirty meters from where Ilin stood, was a paved road.

The road was one of the feeders into the Lenin Hills, north of Moscow. Aleksandr Kalugin had a dacha three kilometers farther north. He would be coming along this road soon, as he did every morning, on his way to the Kremlin with his bodyguards. Kalugin had an apartment in the Kremlin, of course, which he used whenever he did not wish to spend an evening at home with his wife. For reasons unknown to Ilin, last night Kalugin had gone home. He was there now.

Kalugin's armored Mercedes would soon be along. Two other vehicles would accompany it, both large black Mercedes, one in front of Kalugin's vehicle, one behind. Each of the guard cars contained five heavily armed bodyguards who normally wore bulletproof vests. These men were competent, ruthless, and very dangerous. Janos Ilin had but himself and four other men. He intended to kill the bodyguards before they could get out of their cars. If he failed, the bodyguards would kill him.

Ilin had picked this spot with care.

Only a short stretch of road was visible here. The cars would come around a curve fifty meters away. The road was banked and wooded on either side here, so the cars could not leave the road. If the road was blocked, the cars would be trapped.

This whole setup gave Ilin a bad feeling, but he could not afford to spend time finding a better one. Unfortunately, Kalugin was paranoid—with good reason one had to admit—and his security force was top-notch. So far, the president's loyal ones had not caught wind of Ilin's intentions, a situation that could not last forever. Ilin was well aware of the security dynamics: he must strike soon or not at all.

Smoking the cigarette and enjoying the warmth of the morning air, Ilin wished he had more men. He had considered asking Marshal Stolypin for a few, then decided the gain would not be worth the risk. He had spent five years with the men he had now; trust was something that did not grow overnight. And trustworthy or not, every additional person admitted to the conspiracy increased the likelihood that it would be discovered. Janos Ilin, spymaster, well knew about conspiracies, the building blocks of Russian history.

The day before, he had gone to see Marshal Stolypin with a cassette
player and a tape. On the tape was a conversation between Kalugin and one of his lieutenants, who at the time was in Gorky.

Stolypin had said nothing as he listened to the two men discussing the nuclear destruction of Tokyo. They debated the American response, discussed the probability that the Japanese might retaliate, and then got down to it.

“Unless we use extraordinary measures, Japan will inevitably win the war,” Kalugin told his confederate. “Our nation is too poor to finance the effort it will take to win with a conventional army and air force. The gap is too great.”

“You must seize absolute power. Destroy all who oppose you.”

“That would take time, and there is many a pitfall along the way. I have thought long about Russia. No one can take Russia back to where it used to be. No one. And if we try, the deputies will rescind their grants of power. Either the government will fall or Russia will face civil war again.”

“I, too, hear these things.”

defeat the Japanese,” Kalugin said. “Victory or death—those are our alternatives. You understand?”

“I do. Have you seen the genuine affection the people have for Captain Saratov? Crowds chanting his name, resolutions demanding that he be promoted, decorated, his picture plastered all over Moscow…”

Stolypin listened to the rest of it, then shoved the cassette recorder back across the table toward Ilin.

“If we want our country, we will have to fight for it,” Ilin said. “Again.”

The old man rubbed his hair with a hand, looking at nothing.

“He is sending a submarine to Tokyo. Nuclear weapons will be aboard. The plan is to put the weapons in a fault on the seafloor. There is a fanatic aboard, a man named Esenin. He swore an oath to Kalugin. If threatened with destruction, he will detonate the weapons in the mouth of Tokyo Bay.”

“Will he do it?”

“By reputation, he is a patriotic zealot. He was an assassin for the GRU.”

“Yuri Esenin?”

“That's right.”

“I thought he was dead.”

This morning Janos Ilin finished another cigarette without tasting it, then glanced at his watch. It was a few minutes past seven. He stamped his feet impatiently.

The radio came to life. “Car.”

Fifteen seconds later, a black Mercedes came around the curve and into view. Nope. One of the ministers. Three of them lived near Kalugin along this road. After the car passed the small knoll where Ilin stood, it went by a truck with a high-lift basket and another truck carrying a power pole, then went around the next curve. In the fully extended lift, a man was working on a transformer mounted near the top of a pole. A flagman stood on the road near the lift truck.

“Here they come. Three cars.”

Ilin crushed out his new cigarette on a tree as the second truck, the one with the power pole on it, pulled completely across the road, blocking it. The man in the cab jumped down. He had an assault rifle in his hands.

Janos Ilin knelt. He picked up the rocket-propelled grenade launcher and flicked the safety off.

The first car came around the curve and braked as the flagman waved his red flag. The second and third cars were right behind. Kalugin was in the second car. The first and third cars were full of loyal ones.

Ilin leveled the grenade launcher at the first car, which was now almost stopped, exhaled, and pulled the trigger.

of the rocket was loud.

The grenade impacted the first car at the passenger's side door. The car jumped forward, a dead foot on the accelerator, the engine roaring. It crashed into the side of the truck blocking the road. Although the car was jammed firmly against the truck, the engine revved higher and higher as the tires squalled and smoked against the pavement.

As Ilin worked feverishly to reload the launcher, the driver of the second car slewed the rear end of his car around in a power slide. Smoke poured from the tires. Over the screeching of the tires, Ilin could hear a machine gun hammering.

Ilin got his grenade loaded as the third car slid to a complete stop. The doors of the car were opening as he pulled the trigger. The rocket struck the engine compartment and the shaped charge exploded inward. Men leaping from the car were cut down by machine-gun bullets, which were being fired from the lift basket above.

Meanwhile, Kalugin's car had completed its turn. At least one of
Ilin's men was pouring bullets at it. The bullets made tiny sparks, flashes, where they struck the armor and were deflected.

Kalugin's car shot by the third car on the far side with its tires squalling madly as Ilin slammed another grenade into the launcher. He pointed the weapon at the rapidly accelerating car and pulled the trigger.

The grenade smacked into a tree trunk thirty feet in front of Ilin. The charge severed the trunk and the tree began to topple.

Ilin grabbed his radio. “He's coming back north.”

“I can't get the goddamn engine started.” The man there was supposed to drive another power-line repair truck across the road.

“Shoot at the tires! Shoot at the tires! Don't let him get away.”

With the grenade launcher in one hand and the radio in the other, Ilin ran down the hill and sprinted for the curve. He heard three short bursts of automatic-weapon fire, then silence. As he rounded the curve, he saw Kalugin's car rounding the far curve, three hundred meters on.

Ilin turned and walked back to the ambush site. One of the men lying on the road by the closest car, the trailer, was still moaning. Ilin drew a pistol and shot him in the head as he went by. The other four men who had been in the car were lying on the pavement in various positions, perforated by machine-gun bullets.

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