The Russian Federation submarine Gepard hovered just below the layer, her towed array was trailing just above which allowed the sonar operator to detect the sound coming from what had to be a surface ship. Or ships.
"Comrade Captain, I have multiple surface contacts from 043 to 045, strongest signal is somewhere between those bearings."
The Russian captain watched as the combat display began showing the lines of bearing to this group of contacts. After a few minutes, he ordered a slow turn to the left. Hoping that the changes in bearing might give him an idea of the range to this contact. Or contacts as the case might be.
The latest intel they had received before sailing from Vladivostok suggested that an American carrier strike group would be operating in the seas east of Hokkaido, in Gepard's patrol area. Tensions in the region were high, were the Yankees rattling their sabers by having this strike group so near Primorye? Or were they in transit?
USS John Basilone, DDG-122, altered course to port and the OOD rang up turns for "Dead Slow Ahead." As the ship's towed array settled, down in the sonar shack, STG3 Barrow saw a slight "wiggle" on his waterfall display. Something was out there.
|Waterfall display, passive sonar. (Source)|
Lieutenant (JG) Beth Gibbons looked to her LPO, who just nodded. While she was new to the Navy, she'd earned high marks in Anti-Submarine Warfare school. Her LPO, STG1 Jack Balfour liked the young Academy grad, she was strict but she knew her business and was willing to listen. Looking over the shoulder of the sailor manning the stack, she didn't see anything at first. Then, there it was, something. STG3 Barrow marked it with a grease pencil. The Lieutenant got on the box to Combat.
"Combat, Sonar. We have a possible contact bearing two-niner-fife. Evaluating at this time. Do we have a helo up?"
"Sonar, TAO, Churchill's helo is up but he's not that close to that bearing. I can get him over there in fifteen. Your call."
STG1 Balfour was on the adjacent stack next to Barrow's watching the same possible contact. Having donned his headsets to listen to the raw noise, he was fiddling with his controls. At about the same time as the computer answered his queries, he was convinced.
"LT, I evaluate contact at two-niner-fife as a submarine, freq is right for a Russian or a Chinese boat. Designating this contact as Sierra-Two Seven."
"Combat, Sonar. Positive submerged contact, not an American, bearing two-niner-six at this time. Let's get Churchill's helo over there."
"Roger that Sonar."
"Comrade Captain! Low frequency contact bearing three-six-three, possible helicopter!"
"Yevgenny Petrovich, all ahead dead slow!"
"Our tail will drop below the layer Captain!"
"Bring it in, slowly. We should be able to re-acquire on the bow array, but I want to be able to move quickly if I need to!"
"Towed array coming in Captain!"
"Right rudder 30 degrees!"
"Roger Grandmaster Two Fife, continue on your current course for two mikes, then start dipping."
"Grandmaster Two Fife, copy."
Two minutes later, the Churchill's helicopter, callsign "Grandmaster 25" went into a hover and lowered his dipping sonar into the water. The AQS-22 Airborne Low Frequency System (ALFS) almost immediately detected a contact.
"Manila John, Grandmaster Two Fife, submerged contact range 5,000 yards, bearing two-seven-three. Transmitting data NOW!"
"Yevgenny Petrovich!" the Russian captain hissed at his XO, "take her down, slowly. That bastard helo may have detected us."
"Da Comrade Captain!"
As the Russian sub sought the anonymity of the deep, on board USS Enterprise, Rear Admiral Clayton Reynolds was handed a top priority "eyes only" message. Tearing it open he quickly read through the succinct missive from USPACFLT back at Pearl Harbor.
"Shit!" the admiral exclaimed as he handed the message flimsy to his aide.
"Smitty," the admiral said to Captain LeRoy Smith, captain of the Enterprise, "we've got a regiment of Chinese H-6Ks lifting out of Shenyang. Satellite photos indicate they're loaded for bear. And we're the damned bear. Get the CAP up and let's get the hell back out to sea."
"Admiral, what about that submerged contact that Churchill and Basilone are working?"
The admiral paused briefly, chewing on his lower lip. In the next half hour he could start World War III, or he could lose his carrier. Which in all likelihood would probably start World War III anyway. Just later and after the deaths of thousands of American sailors.
Sighing, the admiral looked at the overhead, then turned to Captain Smith. "Sink it. My authority. We can't be messing with that pig boat and trying to fight off bombers and cruise missiles at the same time. Sink the sumbitch. On my authority."
Lieutenant Commander Paul Chang only hesitated the briefest of moments, then over the radio he contacted the Churchill's helo.
"Grandmaster Two-Fife, Big E. Launch on the submerged contact, I say again, launch on the submerged contact. Manila John, Winnie, set up for ASROC launch. Be ready if Grandmaster misses."
Aboard the Gepard the Russian sonar operator couldn't believe his ears. It sounded like the Yankee helo had dropped something in the water. Had his dipping sonar broached and then dropped back in?
As he listened, he heard a sound that froze his blood.
"Comrade Captain, high speed screw sounds close aboard! I think the American dropped..."
From the bridge of the Basilone, it looked as if the surface of the sea rose up several feet, followed moments later by a tall, dirty looking column of water and, the lookouts claimed, what appeared to be debris.
As what was left of the Gepard slowly spiraled to the depths, the few survivors aft in the reactor spaces wondered just what had killed them. Then the sea crushed the fragile hull, the remaining atmosphere on the boat became incandescent because of the huge increase in pressure inside the hull. Mercifully, the reactor crew felt almost nothing as they were instantly immolated.
Aboard Enterprise, the first of 12 F-35s were in the air in short order. As soon as they were aloft, the carrier strike group turned out to sea. The escorts, now on high alert and monitoring all passive detection systems spread out around their carrier.
At 100 miles off the coast of China, the lead F-35 was already receiving satellite imagery of the Chinese bombers. As the CAG ordered his group to "arm 'em up," an encoded burst transmission from Enterprise came in. His onboard computers swiftly decoded the message and put it on his HUD.
It was a recall message. Scrub the mission.
At the same time, fresh satellite imagery showed that the Chinese were turning back. Other than those poor bastards in that sub, nobody else was going to die, looked like there wasn't going to be a war. At least not today.
As the CAG turned his bird back towards the boat, he paused to wonder, just whose submarine was that?
High tech weapons and sensors. A small enough area of the world where if things go bad, they can go bad very quickly. Men and women in harm's way, relying on each other to stay alive, hoping that those in charge make the right call.
Even still. Sometimes it's possible to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Let's hope everyone keeps their cool out there. While this little tale is set at some time in the indeterminate future, this scenario could happen today.
I pray otherwise.
I know there's a lot of jargon in this post, here's some of it explained, if I missed anything, ask. I'll answer.
ASROC = Anti-submarine rocket. A rocket boosted torpedo.
ASWO = Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer
Big E = nickname for USS Enterprise CVN-65. CVN-80 has been named Enterprise. Whether she keeps the same nickname, I don't know.
CAG = Commander, Aircraft Group. While the ranking aviator on a carrier actually commands an air wing, the WWII term persists. Because it's cool.
CAP = Combat Air Patrol
freq = frequency.
Grandmaster = callsign of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron (HSM) 46,
HUD = Heads Up Display. Symbology projected onto a combining glass where the pilot can see it and not look down into the cockpit.
Lieutenant (JG) = Lieutenant, Junior Grade, one step above Ensign
LPO = Leading Petty Officer, usually a 1st Class Petty Officer.
LT = Lieutenant
Manila John = Marine Gunnery Sergeant and Medal of Honor holder John Basilone's nickname from his time in the Army. DDG-122 has been named in his honor.
OOD = Officer of the Deck
Sierra = NATO phonetic code for the letter "S". Submerged contacts are designated Sierra and a number. The number, so I'm told, is the next in sequence. So if 10 contacts had already been "seen" the next would be Sierra 11.
stack = Sonar equipment
STG1 = Sonar Technician (surface) 1st Class
STG3 = Sonar Technician (surface) 3rd Class
tail = sonar system towed behind a warship, submarine or surface.
TAO = Tactical Action Officer
two-niner-fife = in radio speak, nine is pronounced "niner" and five is pronounced "fife" - or so I'm told. (For clarity.)
USPACFLT = United States Pacific Fleet command.
Winnie = the nickname I assume for the USS Winston Churchill