Authors: Stephen Coonts
“Get the Japanese ambassador into your office and ask him to his face. Ask him if his country plans to invade Russia. Ask him!”
Kalugin pointed toward the door. Danilov went.
What if the Japanese did invade? The event would ignite a wildfire of patriotism. Business as usual would come to a rapid halt.
Kalugin began to mull the possibilities. It seemed to him that if the Japanese invaded Siberia, an extraordinary window of political opportunity would open for a man fast enough and bold enough to seize the moment. If a man played his cards rightâ¦
Inadvertantly, Kalugin's eyes went to Stalin's portrait, which he kept on the wall even though the dictator was out of fashion in most quarters these days. For a moment, Kalugin fancied that he could see a gleam in the eye of the old assassin.
Bob Cassidy got a room in a hotel in Crystal City, one of those modern buildings with glass walls. By some quirk, his room had a good view of downtown Washington even though the desk clerk assured him he was only being charged the military rate.
He couldn't really get to sleep. The room wasn't dark: light from the city leaked in around the curtains. He dozed at times, and dreamed of being aloft in a cockpit. He was in and out of clouds, the missile warning flashing and sounding in his ears, telling him of invisible missiles racing toward him at twice the speed of sound. He was trying desperately to escape, but he couldn't. The missiles were streaking inâ¦.
He awoke each time sweating profusely, his mouth dry, his skin itching.
Finally, he fixed himself a drink from the wet bar and drank it quickly. The alcohol didn't help.
He pulled the drapes back and sat looking at the lights. He could just see the capitol dome and the Washington Monument.
A war was coming and all these people were oblivious. Even if they knew, they wouldn't careâas long as the bombs didn't fall here.
General Tuck would want to know his decision in a few hours.
Maybe he should ask about after the war. If he survived, could he get back into the Air Force?
Would he want back in?
F-22s versus Zeros. Jiro Kimura was flying a Zero.
My God, he might end up shooting at Jiro.
He finally dozed off in the chair. The flying dream didn't return. In the new dream, he was young again, just a boy in Kansas, watching clouds adrift on a summer wind in an infinite blue sky.
He awoke for good at 3:00
It was hopeless. There was no more sleep in him. He took a shower and put on a uniform.
Could the F-22 survive against the Zero? The Raptor was very stealthy, but with Athena, the Zero was invisible, or so Jiro said. How do you fight a supersonic enemy that you cannot locate on radar?
“Taking a squadron of F-22s to Siberia will be a challenge, General,” Bob Cassidy told Stanford Tuck the next morning. The general was sitting behind his desk in his shirtsleeves, drinking coffee. His jacket hung on a hook near the door.
“Logistics will make or break the operation,” Cassidy continued. He sketched out the problems he saw with basing, logistics, early warning, and keeping his people healthy and flying. “Even the food will have to come from the States.”
“Siberia,” the general muttered, just to hear the sound of the word.
“The logistics problem would be easier if we were taking a squadron to Antarctica.”
The general punched a button on the telephone. In seconds, a door opened and the general's aide appeared.
“This is Colonel Eatherly. I want you to go over everything you've talked about in greater detail with him. He'll take notes and brief me on what he thinks. The president wants to make a powerful political statement against armed aggression. He doesn't want to embroil the United States in World War Three. Yet if we commit a dozen planes to combat in Russia, they must have at least a fighting chance of accomplishing their mission. If the Japanese sweep them from the skyâfor whatever reasonâwe will be worse off than if we did nothing. Offering hors d'oeuvres to a hungry lion is bad policy.”
Tuck loosened his tie and rolled up his sleeves.
Bob Cassidy took a deep breath. He appreciated the stakes involved, but he knew what trained pilots could do with the F-22.
“Subject to the qualifiers we discussed, sir, I think a Raptor squadron
could go toe-to-toe with the new Zero. With the right pilots, we can give them a hell of a fight.”
“A dozen planes is all we can give you,” Stanford Tuck said, “so you are going to be outnumbered by a bunch.” He laid both hands flat on his desk.
“You may as well hear all of it,” the general said. “We cannot give you the new, long-range missiles. The politicians refused. You can take AMRAAMs and Sidewinders, but nothing that has technology we don't want the Japanese or Russians to see.” AMRAAM stood for advanced medium-range anti-aircraft missile; it was also known as the AIM-120C.
“No. The thinking is that if foreign powers learn how good Sky Eye is, they will target our satellites in any future conflict.”
“Our satellites are already targets.”
Tuck raised a hand. “I'm not here to argue. I didn't make that decision. We have to live with it.”
“Why the hell buy it if we can't use it?” Cassidy asked with some irritation.
“This country's future isn't on the come line just now,” Tuck said with his eyes half-closed. He seemed to be trying to measure Cassidy. “You and I are on the same side.”
“I'm sorry, sir. I didn't meanâ”
“Go talk to Eatherly.”
As Eatherly led Cassidy from the room, he stuck out his hand. “My friends call me John. Did you get along okay with the old man?”
“I think so.”
In his office, Eatherly pulled a chair around for Cassidy and got out a legal pad.
“Does the general really think an F-22 squadron in Siberia has a chance?”
Eatherly looked surprised. “What are you saying?”
Cassidy frowned. “Or does he want me to give him reasons to say no?”
“I believe he was hoping you could show him how this proposal could be made to work,” Eatherly replied thoughtfully. “If you think it can.”
Cassidy rubbed his face hard. “Iâ”
are going to be leading this parade, Colonel. The tender, quivering ass on the plate this time is yours.”
Bob Cassidy sat lost in thought for a long moment. Then he said, “My source in Japan says the Zeros are invisible to radar. He says the Japanese acquiredâstoleâan American project called Athena.”
Eatherly nodded. “There was a black American project with that name. I checked when I saw your report on the Zero. The American project died years ago.”
“How did it work?”
“It was active ECM. When the signal from an enemy radar was detected, the raw data was put through a superconductive computer, which then used other antennas buried in the aircraft's skin to emit an out-of-sync wave that effectively canceled the enemy radar signal.”
“But what about scatter effect? Radar A transmits a signal, but B receives it?”
“The computer knows the scatter characteristics of the airplane it is protecting, so it emits the proper amount of energy in all directions. That was the heart of it.”
“Why didn't we develop it?”
Eatherly shrugged. “Ran out of money.”
“The F-22 is very stealthy,” Eatherly mused. “With your radar off, you might escape detection until you are into visual range.”
“It isn't that stealthy,” Bob Cassidy replied. “And the human eyeball isn't that good. What we're going to need is Sky Eye. The satellites are going to have to find these guys and tell us where they are.”
“I'll talk to the National Security people.”
“And we're going to need something to protect our bases. We won't have the planes to stay airborne around the clock. We need an equalizer.”
“Sentinel,” John said, and wrote the word on his legal pad.
“Sentinel is an automated weaponâhighly classified, of course. You deliver it to a site, turn it on, and leave it. When it detects electromagnetic energy on a preset frequency, it launches a small, solid-fuel, antiradiation missile that seeks out the emitter. The missiles have some memory capability, so they can track targets that cease emissionsâthe capability of these new computer chips is really amazing. Anyway, as I recall, Sentinel has a magazine capacity of forty-eight missiles. The missiles have a range of about sixteen miles.”
“Electrical power will be a big problem in Siberia.”
“Sentinel has rechargable solar cells. All you have to do is reload the magazine occasionally.”
“So Zero pilots are going to be down to their Mach I, Mod Zero eyeballs.”
“Sentinel will definitely encourage them to leave their radars turned off.”
“Nasty.” Cassidy grinned.
“Doesn't the F-22 have the new camouflage skin that changes colors based on the background?” Eatherly asked after they discussed logistics for several minutes.
“The newest ones do,” Cassidy told him. “Active skin camouflage, or smart skin. The skin has to be installed on the assembly line.”
“How good is it?”
“It really works. Against any kind of neutral background, such as clouds or ocean or haze, the plane is extremely difficult to locate visually when it's more than a couple hundred yards away. Some people can pick it up with their peripheral vision, sometimes. Occasionally you see movement out of the corner of your eye, you know it's there, and yet when you look directly at it, you can't pick it up. It's scary.”
Eatherly made a note. “Talk to me about maintenance. How many people, how many spares?”
After a morning of this, John Eatherly and Cassidy went back into the chairman's office for lunch. As they ate bean soup and corn bread, Eatherly briefed the general. He ran through proposed solutions to every major problem: personnel, logistics, maintenance, weapons and fuel supply, early warning.
“So what is your recommendation?” the general asked Cassidy when Eatherly was finished.
“Isn't there any way to prevent this war from happening, sir?” Cassidy was staring into the bean soup. He had no appetite.
“The politicos say no.” Stanford Tuck shrugged. “War happens because a whole society screws itself up to itâit isn't just the fault of the politicians at the top. That society will quit only when the vast majority believes their cause is hopeless.”
“So the F-22 outfit is supposed to help convince them. Show them the error of their ways.”
“I want you to nibble at 'em, worry 'em, shoot down a Zero occa
sionally, target their air transports, convince the Japanese that they've bitten off more than they can chew.”
“Sir, the Japanese have active ECM that makes their plane invisible. Athena. They will blow us from the sky unless we use the satellites to find the Zeros and point them out to us.”
“The White House says no.”
“I am not taking Americans to Russia to be slaughtered. Without Sky Eye, there is no way. I want no part of it.”
Stanford Tuck helped himself to another spoonful of soup, then put the spoon down beside the bowl. “You've been in the military for twenty-some years, Cassidy. There's not much I could tell you about this business that you don't already know. I will try to get authorization to use the satellites.”
“I'll be lucky to bring half of them home.”
“I'll do the best I can. That's all I can promise.”
“Those who do come homeâcan we get back into the Armed Forces?”
“I'll get a letter to that effect from the president. I'm sure he'll sign it.”
Then Tuck added softly, “Is there anything else you want to tell me, Colonel?”
“I know one of the Zero pilots pretty well, General.”
Stanford Tuck glanced at Eatherly, then cleared his throat. “After spending a year in Japan, I'd be surprised if you didn't know several,” he said. “I hate to press you like this, but time is running out. Can you do this job?”
“I can do it, General. My comment about the Zero pilot is personal. The job you are offering is professional, in the best interests of the United States. I know the difference. I just pray to God my friend lives through all this.”
“I understand.” Tuck's head moved a tenth of an inch. It was a tiny bow, Cassidy noted, startled.
“Colonel Eatherly will help you get the ball rolling,” the general said. “Let's see what we can make happen.”
“Yes, sir,” Cassidy managed to say as Stanford Tuck stuck out his hand to shake.
Tuck held his hand firmly and looked him in the eye. “Check six, Colonel. And remember what the Good Book says: When you're in the valley, fear no evil.”
The first people in Siberia to discover something amiss were the radar operators at the Vladivostok airport, a facility the military shared with the occasional civil transports that had flown the length of Siberia or over the Pole. There weren't many of those anymore. Fuel was expensive, money to maintain aircraft in short supply, and the navigation aids in the middle of the continent were not regularly maintained. Anything or anyone that really had to get to Vladivostok came by rail or sea. Still, the radars that searched the oceans to the east and south were in working order and operators were on duty, even at two o'clock in the morning, near the end of another short summer night.
In Russia change occurred because the government agency responsible ceased paying the bills and, to survive, the people who had lived on that trickle of money wandered on to something else. Money to make the radars work still dribbled in occasionally from Moscow. The task of safeguarding Mother Russia was too sacred for any politician to touch.
The only operator actually watching the screens was also perusing a card game that the other members of the watch section were playing. Occasionally, he remembered to glance at the screens. It was on one of these periscope sweeps that he saw the blip, to the south. Three minutes later, when the blip was still there, and closer, he called the supervisor to look. The supervisor put down his cards reluctantly.
There were no aircraft scheduled to arrive from that directionâthere were no aircraft at all scheduled to arrive in Vladivostok until the next afternoonâand repeated queries on the radio went unanswered. As the blip got closer, it separated into many smaller blips, apparently a flight of aircraft.
The radar supervisor called the air defense watch officer on the other side of the base and reported the inbound flight, which would penetrate Russian airspace in about twelve minutes if it maintained the same course and speed.
Two Sukhoi Su-27 fighters were in the usual alert status, which
meant each was fully fueled and armed with four AA-10 Alamo missiles and a belt of shells for its 30-mm cannon. The ground crews were asleep in a nearby hut. The pilots, wearing flight suits, were playing chess in another nearby shack. Usually at this time of night, the alert pilots would be asleep, but these two had attended a wedding dinner earlier in the evening and weren't sleepy.
When the duty officer telephoned, ordering a scramble, they dropped everything and ran for their planes as they shouted to awaken the ground crews. One of the pilots opened the door to the ground crew's shack and turned on the light.
At the aircraft, the pilots donned their flight gear as the ground crewmen came stumbling across the mat.
The Sukhois rolled onto the runway eight minutes later, lit their afterburners, and accelerated. The mighty roar washed over the sleepy base like thunder.
After a modest run, the wheels lifted from the concrete and the pilots sucked up gear and flaps. With the afterburners still engaged, the two fighters moved closer together. The pilots then pulled into a steep climb and punched up through the overcast as the leader checked in with the ground control intercept (GCI) controller, who was the same man who had seen the incoming blips, for what was originally one blip had now separated into five, sometimes six, individual targets. The supervisor and most of the watch section were now gathered behind him, watching the scope over his shoulder.
The blips were doing about 250 knots. Probably turboprop aircraft. But whose? Why were so many aircraft coming from the southeast? Why hadn't Moscow transmitted a copy of their flight plans?
The tops of the lower layer of stratus clouds were at fifteen thousand feet tonight. Another cloud layer far above blocked out most of the glow of the high-latitude sky. As they climbed above the lower layer of stratus clouds, the Sukhoi pilots eased their throttles back out of burner and spread out into a loose combat formation. They then killed their wingtip lights, so only the dim formation lights on the sides of the planes enlivened the darkness.
When the fighters were level at twenty thousand feet, the GCI controller turned them to a course to intercept the large formation heading toward Vladivostok.
The leader's attention was inside his cockpit. Although the Su-27 had a HUD, the pilot wasn't using it. Even if he had been, he would probably have died anyway.
He concentrated on flying his aircraft on instruments, and on adjusting the gain and brightness of his radar screen. The task took several seconds. As he examined the scope, he glanced at his electronic countermeasures panel, which was silent. Yes, the switches were on.
A shout on the radio. He automatically raised his gaze, scanned outside.
At eleven o'clock, slightly high, a bright lightâ¦brilliant!
The thought registered on his brain and automatically he slammed the stick sideways to roll left, away from his wingman, and pulled.
The responsive fighter flicked over obediently into 220 degrees of bank. The missile arrived a second and a half after the pilot first spotted the exhaust plume: The fighter's nose had come down no more than ten degrees.
The missile missed the Sukhoi by about six inches. The proximity fuse detonated the warhead immediately under the cockpit area. The shrapnel punched hundreds of holes in the belly of the plane. In less than a second, fuel from punctured fuel lines sprayed into the engine compartment, starting a fire. A half second later, the aircraft exploded, killing the pilot instantly.
The wingman had instinctively rolled rightâaway from his leaderâwhen he spotted the inbound missile. He also shouted into his radio mike, which was contained within his oxygen mask. It was this warning that the leader heard.
The wingman only rolled about seventy degrees, however, so he could keep the oncoming missile in sight. Still he laid on six G's. He saw the missile streak in out of the corner of his eye and saw the flash as it detonated under the leader's plane.
The flash temporarily blinded him.
Blinking mightily, he slammed the stick back left and pulled while he looked to see if his leader had successfully avoided the missile. He keyed his radio mike, opened his mouth to call.
The wingman never saw the second missile, which impacted his plane in the area of the left wing root and detonated. The explosion severed the wing spar, so the wing collapsed. The hot metal of the warhead ignited fuel spewing under pressure from the ruptured wing
tank. Then all the fuel still in the wing exploded. The sequence was over in a few thousandths of a second. The pilot died without even knowing there had been a second missile.
The blossoming fireballs from the two Sukhois were visible for twenty miles in this dark universe.
The pilots of the four Japanese ZerosâWhite Flightâcruising at max conserve took their thumbs off the fire buttons on their sticks, where they had been hovering in case further missiles were necessary. The leader had been the only plane to fire.
Now White Leader began a gentle left turn to carry the flight back in the direction of Vladivostok. He hoped to orbit in this area to the east of the city in a racetrack pattern, ready to shoot down any other aircraft coming out of Vlad or the bases on Sakhalin Island to harass Japanese aircraft delivering paratroops.
Flying as number three, Jiro Kimura checked the location of the other aircraft in the formation on his computer presentation. The planes used pencil-thin laser beams to keep track of one another. No external lights were illuminated; consequently, the airplanes were invisible in the darkness.
Confident that all four planes were where they were supposed to be, Jiro's thoughts moved on. He banked to keep the leader in position.
Why did he not feel elated? The first two victories of the war had just been won. The Athena devices on the Zeros made them invisible to Russian radar, so the GCI controllers had no clue whatsoever that the Zeros were even airborne. They had launched the Sukhois to investigate the incoming transports. The Sukhoi pilots had been ambushed without warningâ¦without mercy, without a chance in hell. They were executed.
That was the truth of it.
Jiro felt no pity or remorse, only a tiredness, a lethargy, and a sense of profound sadness.
Flash, flash, two explosions seventeen miles away in the night skyâ¦and two men were dead. Presumably. Jiro thought the odds of surviving explosions like that must be very slim.
Just like thatâtwo men dead.
That was the way he would die, too. The revelation came to him now in his cockpit as he sat there tired, hungry, thirsty, and very much alone. He would die in this cockpit someday just as those two Russians
had, without warning, without luck, without a moment to reflect, without an opportunity to make his peace with the universe.
And he had chosen this destiny! Just last evening, his commanding officer had sent for him, showed him a message from the Japanese Intelligence Agency demanding a loyalty investigation. “You telephoned an American Air Force officer?”
“I attended the American Air Force Academy, sir, as you are aware. I know many Americans. I have kept up my contacts with several of them through the years.”
“Of course,” his CO said. “These bureaucratic spy fools have not looked at your record. But you see how it is, Kimura. You see how easy it is to compromise yourself. Be more careful in the future.” With that admonition, the CO tossed the message in a pile of paperwork that a clerk was placing in boxes for storage.
“I called this American toâ”
His commanding officer didn't want to hear it. He cut him off. “Kimura, we are going to have a war. You and I will both be in combat within twenty-four hours. I have better things to do just now than write letters to bureaucrats. An investigation, they want. If we are both alive a month from now, I shall write them a letter saying that you are a loyal soldier of Japan. If you are dead, I shall tell them how gloriously you died. Like cherry blossoms fallingâisn't that the way the old poems go? If I am deadâ¦”
The CO had shooed him out.
Now the Russian GCI controller came on the air, calling to his dead pilots. He didn't know they were dead, of course, but they had disappeared from his radar scope, so he was calling, albeit futilely.
Jiro could not understand the words, but he could hear the concern and frustration in the controller's voice.
Jiro kept a wary eye on his electronic warfare (EW) warning indicationsâthey were comfortably silentâmonitored the tactical display, and concentrated on staying in proper position in his formation as the controller called and called to men who would never answer.
The ten aircraft approaching Vladivostok were C-130 Hercules, J-models, the most advanced version of the late-twentieth-century military transportation workhorse. Each aircraft was crammed with troops.
The first flight of four aircraft began descending seventy miles from
the city. They dropped into a trail formation by alternately dropping gear and flaps. The pilot of the lead plane delayed his dirty-up the longestâhe dropped his gear just as he intercepted the instrument landing system (ILS) glide path. He couldn't yet see the runway since the visibility was only three or four miles in this gentle rain.
The ILS was working fine, which was amazing considering how little money the Russians had devoted to their airways system over the last few years. Even if the ILS had been disabled, he would have flown exactly the same approach using the GPS equipment and computers in his cockpit. Still, the flight leader was delighted the ILS was operating. Had it been off, he would have had to worry about how much warning the Russians had had and whether or not the runway was blocked. Since the ILS was functioning, he felt confident the runway would be clear. Just to be on the safe side, however, he compared the ILS indications he was receiving with the computer presentation derived from GPS and the onboard inertial. All the instruments agreed.
The copilot chortled merrily, as did the leader of the paratroops, who stood behind the pilot looking over his shoulder.
The second flight of four C-130s kept their speed up as they dropped toward the city. Level at three thousand feet, in the overcast, the crews opened the rear cargo doors. The paratroopers lined up and connected their static lines.
The planes continued descending toward the city in trail, three miles apart, the paratroopers waiting. Many of the soldiers stood with eyes closed, lips moving as they prayed to their gods and their ancestors. A night parachute jump was hazardous enough, but the Russians had antiaircraft missile batteries and artillery spotted around the city; if they opened fire the C-130s were going to fall like ruptured ducks. And the city was on a peninsula, with water on three sides. Paratroopers hated water. When the chart was unveiled, revealing the location, several gasps were heard as the men saw all that water.
The guns and missile batteries remained silent. The Hercs swept in at 200 knots, slowing to 150 as they dropped lower and lower toward city lights glowing in the cloudy, rainy darkness.
Two of the planes dropped their paratroopers over the old closed Vlad airport, which was being rebuilt.
The other two planes dropped their men north of the wharves along Golden Horn Bay. The first planeload of these troops landed mainly on the streets and small grassy areas, but a gust of wind seemed to catch the last several dozen men of the second stick. The men hanging
in their parachutes drifted toward the black water of the bay lying immediately to their right.
Silently, without a cry or shout, the soldiers dropped into the oily waters of the bay and went under. Each man was wearing almost a hundred pounds of gear and weapons, so they had no chance. They were the first Japanese to die invading Siberia.
In the airport tower, the supervisor was unable to establish communications with the approaching aircraft. He spoke into the microphone only in Russian. Trying to communicate with the incoming planes in English, the universal language of international aviation, never once occurred to him.