Chapter 13 - Spiral
Bobby and Ronny watched as the helicopter taking their friends lifted off into the star filled night sky. Bobby looked at his brother and saw that he was shaking. He put his arm over his shoulder and said, “Chill out dude. It’s over. Come on inside.”
They went into the den and sat down on the sofa. Ronny started sobbing and said, “I killed somebody tonight.”
Bobby put his arm around his brothers shoulder and said, “So did I. If I remember right, the guy you shot was aiming a rocket launcher at us so you probably saved both of our lives.”
Ronny sighed. He knew that what his brother had said was true. Every time that he closed his eyes, he could see a man with a rocket launcher aiming it at his brother. He could see his enemies head down the iron sights of the rifle. He could see the man’s head turn into a cloud of pink mist and the headless corpse slump lifelessly to the ground with sickening spastic movements. It was like the scene was burned into his eyes and it was playing over and over in his head. He grabbed his head with his hands with his elbows on his knees and said, “I can’t get it out of my head.”
Bobby nodded in tearful acknowledgement. They both knew without saying a word that it was going to be a long time before either of them found peace with what had happened. Bobby wasn’t immune to those feelings but he knew how sensitive Ronny was. Bobby was the pragmatist of the two: stronger, more assertive and able to reconcile the ideals and beliefs handed down to them by their mother with the real world.
Ronny was the idealist and, as a person aspiring to a career in medicine, that ideal was life. Killing anything was so against his nature that it boggled his mind. When they had first arrived, Ronny could barely touch a gun. Now, a week later, he had killed at least one man and maybe more.
All Bobby could think of to do was hold onto his brother and let him cry it out. No one deserved to be alone with the kind of feelings and darkness that they were both facing.
Eventually Ronny was calmer and Bobby said softly, “Ronny, just remember what it was for. If it was just us, we could have hidden. If it was just this place we could have gone in the basement and locked everybody out. It was about more than just protecting ourselves and our friends. It was about protecting the root node of the Air Quality Monitor network for Colorado. It was about protecting everybody we know and care about. It was about stopping a bunch of thugs that killed a whole town.”
Ronny nodded. Intellectually he understood that they had done what they had to do. It was making his heart understand that was going to take some time.
The two brothers had their coping mechanisms. They got busy in the kitchen and used busy work to keep their hands and their minds occupied. It had been their way to block out their doubts and fears ever since their mother had left on a cold winter night four long years before.
By first light the twins were feeding eggs, sausage and biscuits to the National Guard soldiers in shifts of five. Master Sergeant Ray Barlow, the senior Guardsman on site, ate breakfast with the last group and stayed after his men were done.
When his men had departed, Barlow said, “I have a couple of messages for you guys. Your friends are fine. All three will be back before noon.”
Ronny said, “That’s good to hear. Tom and Jimmy both looked like hell when they came out of the barn.”
Barlow said, “I looked around the barn where they were hit and they were very lucky. That barn isn’t made out of standard sheet metal. It’s layered over a hard steel core. The walls stopped most of it. Jimmy had cover behind boxes and Tom was far enough away to miss the worst of it. The second message I’ve got for you: your father will be visiting when the chopper brings your friends back. He’s been working with our field hospitals.”
This instantly brought the twins out of their funk. Bobby said, “We’ll be glad to see him. We haven’t seen our Dad since this all started.”
Barlow said, “I’m sure he’s proud of you kids. I saw you on CNN Sunday night and this thing with the raiders: I did two tours in Iraq and that’s the best ambush I’ve ever seen.”
Ronny cast his eyes down. Bobby said, “Yeah well, we’re paying for it now.”
Barlow said, “All of my soldiers are a good bit older than you but I’ve seen this happen over and over. It hits everybody in one way or another. Only psychos like to kill. I wouldn’t want a man in my outfit like that. Those feelings that you are having: they are what make you different for those guys that we’ve got outside. We’ve been talking to the Sheriffs Offices over five counties and those mutts have over fifty victims to their credit and you can bet your last dollar that they didn’t give it a second thought.”
“You kids have earned something here that no one can ever take away from you.”
Ronny asked quietly, “What is that.”
Barlow answered, “The respect and gratitude of thousands of people and the satisfaction of knowing that you stopped it here.”
Ronny would never be a soldier but he was beginning to understand.
USS Seadragon The Philippine Sea
16˚ 10’ N 135˚30’ E
The two Chinese boomers began to slow down in the deep water of the Philippine Sea far off of most commercial shipping lanes.
Captain Summers ordered the Seadragon to slow to 12 knots and extend the sub’s towed array sonar and waited for his sonar man to listen carefully to all the traffic in the area.
The deep water of the Philippine Sea in the area ran between 14 and 18 thousand feet in a series of underwater hills and ridges. The Philippine plate forms the bottom of the sea which subducts under the Eurasian Plate forming the Philippine archipelago. The intersection of the two plates forms the Philippine trench on the Western side of the Philippine Sea. On the Eastern side of the Philippine Sea are the Marianas Islands and the Marianas Trench the deepest water on the planet and home to all sorts of seismic activity. If the Chinese boomers were looking to hide, they were heading into one of the biggest haystacks on the planet.
Summers stepped up behind the Sonar station and asked, “Mr. Kyle, what’s out there.”
“Captain I’m developing a number of new contacts: one on the surface, high performance screws 25 thousand meters 090 making about 20 knots intermittent active sonar. I have one submerged contact I classify as a diesel submarine at 220 degrees near the surface snorting to replenish her batteries. I am developing two more submerged contacts possibly nukes on bearings 033 and 142 degrees.”
Summers said, “Good job Mr. Kyle. Work up those contacts. We need to know what we are up against.”
Kyle said, “It doesn’t make sense sir. The computer says the acoustic profiles of the two submerged contacts are a match for Akula-II class Russian attack subs.”
Summers said, “Dawson, do we have anything on Russian sales of Akula class boats to the Chinese?”
Dawson replied, “They sold some to India but I haven’t heard of any sales to China.”
Kyle said, “We know that the Chinese produce and fly SU-27 Flankers that they build under license from the Russians. Maybe they made the same deal with the Akula boats. We know the Russians are very hungry for hard currency.”
Summers said, “It may not even be a sanctioned. Some former Soviet Admiral in a lousy apartment and a starvation pension could have handed the Chinese everything they needed. This could get ugly fast.”
Dawson said, “What about that surface contact?”
Kyle said, “It is destroyer sized and probably carries a helicopter. Give me a few minutes to gather more data and I should be able to give you her class and capabilities.”
Dawson said, “We know that the Chinese don’t like to fly their helicopters at night unless it is absolutely necessary. They’ve had too many accidents. We need to nail her before she launches her birds.”
Summers said, “Remember the mission: the boomers are our primary target. Everything else is just in the way.”
Kyle said, “Got it Captain: it’s a Russian Sovremenny II class destroyer. The Chinese have four, upgraded and modified with their own equipment and operate with a Ka-27k Helix ASW chopper.”
“Kyle: keep tracking those contacts”, Summers ordered. “Dawson, You and I need to speak with our weapons officer.”
During the day Boudreaux watched as the North Korean trains pass from a carefully concealed position in the rocks. The trains had changed from a few days ago. Most were now loaded with munitions, fuel tank cars or supplies.
The munitions were being carried on flat cars and covered by canvas. He speculated that they were loaded on palates to make loading and unloading easier.
Most of the flat cars were clear of guards with five or six large blocks of boxes. The first few cars behind the engine of several trains had less cargo but were loaded with guards in NBC suits— a very bad sign.
As the shadows began to lengthen, Boudreaux checked his gear and began to prepare.
Guam- Andersen Air Force Base
As darkness fell over Guam, preparations for Operation Spiral took on a feverish pace.
Lt. Morrow’s team had four more of the modified cruise missiles to load when the B1-B flight crews manned their aircraft, the hanger doors opened and 4-wheel drive aircraft tractors began towing the first of the bombers out onto the runways. Morrow’s crew quickly completed their task. They were clear just as the last aircraft was linked up to its tractor to be towed to its ready position.
Morrow and his crew members went outside to watch the show. The first aircraft to take off were a fleet of KC-45 and KC-135 tankers. An E-8c, two E-3 Sentries took off and another was readied on the tarmac. The B1-B bombers then began taking off in groups of six. Finally squadron after squadron of F-15 Eagles and F-22 Raptors with full combat loads took off.
* * *
Admiral Simpson and Air Force General Phillips and their staffs settled in aboard an E-8c JSTARS aircraft call sign WIZZARD serving as the airborne command post for Operation Spiral. There were a total of thirty-six Air Force and Naval officers, two ROC liaison officers and specialists aboard in addition to the flight crew.
Major Brian Lee was serving aboard WIZZARD as a communications specialist to link the systems on the JSTARS aircraft with their counterparts in the Republic of China. It was no small feat. Interfacing the most secure military analog and digital systems between two nations that didn’t regularly exercise together was a bit like meeting aliens from outer space, figuring out their language and carrying out a useful dialogue. Theoretically it was possible. Practically it was a feat worthy of titans. It kept the entire technical staff aboard WIZZARD occupied for the entire duration of their flight to a loiter area off the northeastern coast of Taiwan. In addition to the technical difficulties, the Air Force and Navy staff officers had to manage several required rounds of mid-air refueling.
With each new connection that Lee established, the more ominous the picture became. The ROC air radar defense network showed all sort of probing activity. The ROC surface naval surveillance radar showed PRC patrol vessels just outside of their territorial waters.
The ROC navy was at sea on the eastern side of the island. The force was composed of four Kidd class destroyers, six French Lafayette class frigates, six Knox and six Perry Class frigates. All of the ships were dated but well maintained and competently manned.
An American surface action group was making flank speed and would join the ROC Task Force within the hour. It was composed of the AEGIS cruiser Vella Gulf and four Arleigh Burke class destroyers: the McCampbell, Chafee, Lassen and O’Kane. It was impressive fleet but the air power that the PRC could bring to bear was overwhelming. Without a lot of help, that fleet was doomed.
Even more daunting were the satellite images of the bases in the PRC that were staging the attacks. It was clear the People’s Liberation Army Navy and the People’s Liberation Army Air Force were mounting their largest mobilization ever. The PRC had over a hundred ships forming up in three task groups: two strike groups and an invasion force.
Major Lee knew that it was going to start very soon and when it did they would be fighting one of the largest air and sea battles in history.
At 11:00am local time the plan began to unfold.
The President’s calendar was cleared and his press secretary held a brief press conference stating that the President’s father’s health had taken a turn for the worse and the family was going home to Montana aboard Air Force One.
In Montana, the Secret Service whisked away the President’s parents and a double was placed in the hospital under Secret Service Guard. The press and any inquiries all met with an icy stone wall.
President McMahan waved to the White House press corps as he and his family crossed the Rose Garden and boarded Marine One for the flight to Dulles Air Port. Aboard Marine One the President issued the order to go to DEFCON 2 and execute code word URGENT AUTHORITY: the covert implementation US Government’s Continuity of Government plan.
Within minutes all the House and Senate members in DC were on their way to Raven Rock Mountain Complex near Waynesboro, Pennsylvania. The Federal Emergency Management headquarters at Mount Weather near Berryville, Virginia was activated.
When Marine One touched down at Dulles, it landed immediately adjacent to Air Force One. President McMahan’s family was hustled aboard by the Secret Service and immediately took off and headed for Camp David.
Marine One took off and headed to Andrews Air Force Base where the President, Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs boarded a Boeing E-4 codenamed NIGHTWATCH. The big airborne command post took off with a pair of F-15e Eagles flying escort and flew west.
US Coast Guard Cutter Dauntless
12 miles off Houston, Texas
Despite quarantine warnings by radio and being buzzed by several Coast Guard aircraft the small German flagged merchant Marta, 2 weeks out of Spain with machine parts, continued her slow relentless advance toward Houston. The Coast Guard cutter Dauntless out of Galveston was dispatched to intercept the freighter and turn her around.
Dauntless approached the Marta and gave the order to heave to and prepare to be boarded. Her Hezbollah crew opened fire on the cutter with AK-47s and Rocket Propelled Grenades. Dauntless returned fire with her 25mm heavy machine gun, two 50 caliber machine gun and small arms.
After a short, sharp fire fight, the Marta’s commander decided that his ship would get no closer to Houston. He shouted Allah Akbar and triggered the detonator of the 700 kilo-ton deuterium enriched warhead welded between bulkheads of the ship.
United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)
Offutt Air Force Base
The transition from DEFCON 3 to 2 took no one by surprise at USSTRATCOM. General Peterson’s command had been on high alert ever since the crisis began and was briefed on the unfolding nature of the conflict.
Suddenly an alarm went off and a red circle appeared in the waters off Houston. A voice over the intercom announced, “Nuclear detonation detected at sea off Houston.”
General Peterson ran to the Duty Officer’s station, “What is the call sign for the Coast Guard station at Galveston?
The Duty Officer answered, “That’s LONESTAR. I’ve got a priority call into their operations center now.”
A video link opened up on the main board and a Coast Guard officer appeared. “This is LONESTAR. Go ahead STRATCOM.”
Peterson said, “What’s going on down there?”
“A ship started to approach Houston and we couldn’t raise them on the radio. We sent a cutter out to enforce our quarantine. When our cutter got close to the ship, they opened fire. After a short fire fight, there was a nuclear explosion and we lost contact with our cutter.”
Peterson said, “Thank you LONESTAR. We’re keeping a line open to your command center.”
“OK people, get on the horn to the Navy and the Coast Guard. If we have any more ships approaching our ports on either coast, shoot first. I’ve got to talk to the President.”
“STRATCOM, this is LONESTAR, there is another ship on the same profile approaching New Orleans. They’ve entered the channel near the mouth of the Mississippi River.”
Peterson yelled, “Tell the Coast Guard to get their people away from that ship! Get NAS Pensacola on the horn. Get some F-18s up and blow that SOB out of the water.”
Naval Air Station Pensacola
In less than twenty seconds after receiving the order a pair of alert surface strike F-18 Super Hornets, call sign TOP HAT 1 and 2, took off on afterburner and following the Gulf Coast. It only took about three minutes at supersonic speed to get into a firing position on the slow moving freighter moving up the Mississippi River Channel.
At a point 30 miles southwest of Picayune, Mississippi Top Hat 1 keyed his mike and said, “Target acquired, request instructions.”
“NAS Pensacola to Top Hat flight you are clear to engage.”
“Roger that Pensacola, we’re going hot. Weapons are locked. Fox-2.”
“Top Hat 2, Fox-2.”
“Pensacola, this is Top Hat 1, we are Bingo and declaring a fuel emergency.”
“Roger that Top Hat flight, come right to 030 and enter the pattern to land at Kessler Air Force Base. Handing you off to Air Force control.”
The two AGM-84 Harpoon missiles turned on their turbofan engines as soon as they were released and computed a terrain following course to their target. At 600 miles per hour they covered the distance to the little freighter in less than a minute.
The first missile struck the port fantail of the ship at six hundred miles per hour. It drove itself into the engine room where its 500 pound warhead opened up the stern of the ship like a can of tuna.
The second Harpoon slammed into the ship above the waterline along the starboard side below the conning tower. It puncturing her fuel tanks and starting a huge fire. The ship immediately began to settle by the stern and rolled over onto her starboard side.
Boudreaux leaped into the dark and landed between two palettes on the flat rail cars.
With the racket that the old train was making, no one could have possibly heard the thump of his landing. He was mindful that the clock was running. If he missed his window of escape, he would probably never get out of North Korea alive or dead.
He raised the canvas covering and was disgusted to find boxes of mortar rounds. The next pile was full of light caliber artillery rounds. As he moved down the flat car he finally found what he was looking for: 150 Millimeter artillery rounds. He moved under the canvas and went to work. He pulled one of the cases out of the pile and exposed the nose of the artillery shell. Very carefully he unscrewed the fuse, pulled it away and cut the two ignition wires. He placed the small, timed explosive charge into the shell and screwed the fuse back on. He replaced the shell into the crate and put things back exactly as he had found them.
He looked at his watch and knew that it was now or never. He slipped out from under the canvas and saw that the train was just going out across a long rail-road trestle. Below he could hear and smell a fast flowing river but he couldn’t see it. He put on his oxygen mask, steeled his nerve and jumped toward the fast moving river below.
United States Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM)
Offutt Air Force Base
There was a cheer at STRATCOM as they watched the Harpoons destroy the freighter via a real-time satellite feed.
Peterson yelled, “Quiet! This isn’t over by a long shot. Alert all Navy and Coast Guard Commands that any ship attempting to break quarantine is to be considered hostile and destroyed on sight.”
He stepped into his office and picked up the red phone and waited for a connection.
“Mr. President, it’s my opinion that this is misdirection- a side-show if you will. It was probably set up as part of the joint operation months ago and survived the collapse of the Ayatollah’s Government.’
President McMahan said, “They got way too close to destroying two major cities and over eighty percent of our refinery capacity. Keep your eyes open General Peterson. We just dodged a bullet.”
Another alarm went off. “Mr.
President- I’ve got to see what’s going on.”
McMahan said, “Peterson- I’m giving you a hunting license with no bag limit. Do you understand me?”
Peterson said, “Yes Mr. President.”
He left his office and went back out to the war room and asked, “What’s going on?”
Captain Kensey sitting at the Space Command desk said, “Sir, we have unusual satellite activity out of several classified Chinese birds.”
Captain Randle of Systems Command said, “We’re undergoing an attack on all our firewalls. It’s the mother of all cyber-attacks.”
Peterson said, “Get STARSHIP F-15s out of Edwards in the air with their ASAT missiles in case we need them and have LONG BOW standing by.” STARSHIP was a squadron of F-15 Eagles equipped to carry Anti-satellite missiles- something the US was not supposed to have but had been quietly resurrected by every President since Reagan. LONG BOW was an air-launched missile designed to intercept ballistic missiles. A squadron of F-16s out of Nellis had been tasked with the LONG BOW mission.
“Send out the order for all commands to switch over to the RAPID PROGRESS network. The last thing we need right now is to get hacked.”
RAPID PROGRESS was a dedicated, encrypted redundant voice, data and video communications network that had its beginnings during the Cold War and had been designed for just such an emergency.
USS Seadragon, The Philippine Sea
Captain Summers began his final approach on the Chinese boomers. He was moving in very deep and would attack them at knife point range. He called for General Quarters and had the ship buttoned up and standing at battle stations.
The two Akula attack subs patrolled to their north and south of their position at a range of between twelve and fourteen miles. On their way into the Chinese “box”, they passed a Kilo class diesel boat so close they could have thrown rocks at her.
When they were within five thousand yards of their quarry, Summers ordered, “What is the status of our torpedo tubes?”
The Weapons officer Ensign Marlow answered, “Tubes one through four are ready and loaded with Mark 48 ADCAP torpedoes and are ready in all respects.”
Summers ordered, “Firing point procedures. Plot solutions from the Torpedo Data Computer on Goblin-331 for torpedoes one and two and lock. Plot solutions on target Goblin-332 and feed the data to torpedoes three and four.”
“Prepare to immediately reload tubes one through four as soon as our shots are away.”
Marlow relayed the Captain’s order to the torpedo room. “The torpedo room is standing by for crash reload.”
The Bridge was silent and tense as Summers said, “Prepare to fire torpedoes in sequence 1-3-2 and 4 on my mark.”
Summers pulled out a silver pocket watch that had once belonged to his grandfather who served as the Executive Officer on the Bowfin during World War II.
He marked the time and ordered, “Fire 1.”
There was a hiss of compressed air and Marlow said, “Torpedo 1 is away.”
Summers waited ten seconds by the watch and said, “Fire 3.”
There was another hiss of compressed air and Marlow said, “Torpedo 3 is away.”
Again Summers waited 10 seconds, “Fire 2.”
Again there was another hiss of compressed air as the torpedo left the tube and Marlow acknowledged the launch.
Finally Summers ordered, “Fire 4.”
As the last torpedo left the tube, Summers ordered, “Begin crash reload of all tubes. Sonar, what is the status our targets?”
Kyle answered, “Unchanged sir but that won’t last long. All our fish are running hot, straight and true. Give our torpedoes two minutes to get inside their detection envelope.”
Summers said, “We’ll be in for it shortly. What’s our run time Mr. Dawson?”
Dawson said, “Our torpedoes will be on target in five minutes twenty seconds. It’s going to get real hot, real fast here sir. Should I ready a decoy sir?”
Summers said with as much calm as he could muster, “Patience Mr. Dawson.”