Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What If?

"Comrade Captain! Possible surface contact bearing 045!"

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)
"ASWO, I got something. It's way out there but it's gotta be manmade. One second nothing, the next I got something, right here on the 50 hertz line. Bearing two-niner-fife."

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!"
"Manila John, this is Grandmaster Two Fife. Where do you want me?"

"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."
The pilot of Grandmaster 25, glanced at his co-pilot. Then he keyed his mike, "You heard the man Cajun, drop on that bastard."

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


  1. Channeling Tom Clancy now are we? Good stuff. Scary stuff, but good stuff.

    1. Odd that you'd mention Tom Clancy. While at the book store last weekend I saw two volumes marked in big letters "TOM CLANCY" - of course, Mr Clancy is gone, now a fellow name of Mark Greaney is writing under the Clancy brand name if you will. He also collaborated with (actually wrote) some of the books credited to Tom Clancy not long before he died. None were up to the mark of Clancy's earlier work.

      While I did glance at both books, they were in the bargain rack, I had no desire to read them. I paged through one of them, the quality of Clancy's work just wasn't there. So I left them in the store.

      Maybe that's why I channeled my inner Clancy today.

      Anyhoo, thanks for the compliment. Now if I could just sustain that for an entire book maybe then I could "quit my day job."


    2. Greaney may not be up to par with his master, but I still like his Campus novels. I think he's slightly better than the guy who took over for Vince Flynn, and much better than Brad Thor, although I read them all.

    3. Yeah, I just read an article from a guy praising Greaney's work. I need to revisit perhaps?

    4. I really liked The Hunt for Red October and enjoyed Red Storm Rising. Good vignette you got there!

    5. Both of my copies have been re-read many times.

      Thanks Cap'n.

  2. I agree with Tuna, good stuff. Did you write that or is that from a book I've missed?

    1. I just read your response to Tuna and I have to say well done, that's Clancy quality writing!! I'll
      buy the first book!

    2. Many books have inspired me in the past and are sometimes reflected in my writing. Clancy, Dale Brown, Harold Coyle, Stephen Coonts to name but a few.

    3. Now I just need to write that book. Ive been trying for a couple of years. Writing is hard, writing a book is mind-numbingly hard. Or so it seems.

    4. I agree, writing is very hard. Occasionally something will surface within me that I feel I need to
      write but even the little that I do I agonize over and rewrite many times before I let it go. That's
      why I so enjoy reading your blog with the posts by you, Juvat and Tuna. You are each scribes at heart.
      And as I said, I will buy your first book!!

  3. Well done...and yes, concerning.

  4. Well, I thought I'd missed a Clancy.
    Somewhere, amongst the books I have divested over the years, was a series of non-fiction.
    In each of the ones I had there were scenarios similar in every way to your opening gambit.
    Well done.

    1. I forgot to mention that I'm somewhat familiar with the waters east of, and north of Hokkaido.
      The Russians have always been pretty touchy about how the "Yankees" steam there.
      The get to be pretty protective and keep a close watch.

    2. I can imagine. Much like we'd react to Russian ships off Cape Code.

  5. Chilling, to say the least. Making those decisions sans benefit of a crystal ball is something I wouldn't want on my shoulders. Having chased a few submerged Russkies in the wayback when I wonder how close we've come to a similar scenario in days past?

    I'm envious of your writing talents. I'll be in line for the first book. Get crackin'... :)

    1. Like I said to Russ, I'm still working on it. Maybe in a couple of years?

      Nice to know I have a couple of buyers. ;-)

    2. More than a couple Sarge. :)

  6. Well done. And yes, I would pay to read the novel. Let me know when you need some old retired squid for the Beta reading.

    Remember Richard Widmark's film The Bedford Incident? This is from IMDB, (Internet Movie Database)

    [after Finlander orders an anti-submarine rocket armed]
    Commodore Schrepke: This is insane!
    Captain Finlander: Now don't worry, Commodore. The Bedford'll never fire first. But if he fires one, I'll fire one.
    Ensign Ralston: [launching the rocket] Fire One!

    1. Yes it was. I was a jr in college when I saw it at the old Varsity Theater just off campus at LSU. (It's a bar and restaurant now..)

  7. Thought provoking. I read Red Storm Rising on deployment just after it came out. We had a workup WASEX where we took AS-12's in the wires and CIC. Later we did a lot of work with Foch and had her F-8FN's aboard. There were a lot of Rooskies in the Med back then, including most of the lineup from the novel. Interesting times. I hope the CinC doesn't feel the need to grab anybody by the, er, nether regions.

    1. I've lost count of how many times I read that book. When it came out I was finishing up my college days before proceeding to my next assignment. (Said assignment ending in abject failure which I may, or may not, talk about some day. I regret nothing, but I may have been a bit hasty.)

      My morale is up a bit after hearing about the Chinese turning back the NORK coal ships. Seems they might want Bad Haircut to dial back his nonsense. Let the Chicoms spank him I say.

  8. We've gotten pretty close to that 'situation' a time or two over the years... Just sayin...

    1. And yes, the callsign "Cajun" was carefully chosen. I figured you'd been close to that kind of thing. No doubt too close.

  9. I would agree with letting the Chicoms administer punishment to North Korea and I promise to come up with couch change to buy a copy of your first book. I'm sure that over the years you have met, worked with/over/under folks who were "real characters", and that you have seen scenarios that had to potential to go very badly, or very well, or could have been different than they did come out. Throw it all in the blender, mix it up and see what comes out. Some folks who read here know editors who could always help out with grammar and proper flow of the story, etc. Come up with a rough outline and go from there. :)

  10. Skipper to OOD "If he [the Russian submarine] fires one, I'll fire one."
    Bridge phone talker to ASW team "FIRE ONE!"

    "The Bedford Incident", A MOVIE IN 1965.

    1. GREAT movie, btw. I was a college undergrad when I saw it.

    2. Thanks Suz, I'll work on it.

  11. As with so many good movies, The Bedford Incident started as a good book by Mark Rascovich. I read it in high school, IIRC. Never saw the movie....

    1. Hollywood and original thought, the two don't play together well.

  12. This one has some decent sub launch and aerial sequences:
    Unintended Consequences

    But I'm biased

  13. This excellent vignette reminds me of a treatment done by Richard Fernandez for an unreleased book, about how "accidents can drive history":


    1. Now there's a book that needs to be published. I'd buy it!


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