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Authors: Patrick Robinson

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BOOK: Nimitz Class
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“Short,”
yelled Adams, then seconds later,
“Ramp!”
—and Mike Morley flew the
Jefferson
’s battle-line quarterback fifteen feet above the stern, then hard into the deck, poised to open the throttle as the wheels slammed in, but hauling it closed as he felt the hook grab and the speed drop from 100 knots to zero in under three seconds. The scream of the engines drowned out the spontaneous roar of applause which broke out from several corners of the flight deck. There were beads of sweat on the forehead of Mike Morley, and he would never admit his heart rate to anyone. “Came in pretty good,” he drawled in his deep Southern voice, as he walked away from the Hawkeye. “Y’all did a real fine job gettin’ me down. Thanks, guys.”

171430JUN02. 26N, 48E.
Course 040. Speed 8.

“You sure we go outside the big island, Ben? Gets real rough out there.”

“Not, I assure you, as rough as it would get if we got caught between the island and the mainland. The Pacific Fleet patrols those waters these days. I do not think there is overhead surveillance, but I cannot risk being spotted by a U.S. warship. They are extremely jumpy at best. If they did see us, they would be very curious.”

“Yankee mother fuckers, hah? We stay away from them.”

“Yes, Georgy. For the time being we stay away from them—and everyone else for that matter.”

“What about next refuel? Under half left.”

“Well, this thing will go well over 7,000 miles at this speed. We’re around 1,750 from the Carlsberg Ridge. Then another 250 to our final refueling point. We’re fine, Georgy.”

“Okay, what’s that, another ten days before we look for tanker?”

“Exactly. Are the crew all right?”

“Not bad. It long and boring, but we change that soon, eh?”

“Remember your chaps, all fifty of them, understand they are conducting a critical mission on behalf of Mother Russia. You should perhaps remind them of that.”

“High risk though, Ben. I don’t think I ever see home again. Either way.”

“Maybe not home. But you will have a new one in another place. We will take care of everything.”

261200JUN02. 21N, 64E. Course 005. Speed 10.
On board the
Thomas Jefferson
.

Three weeks into their on-station time, Admiral Carson’s Battle Group was four hundred miles southwest of Karachi and six hundred miles southeast of the Strait of Hormuz, home of the Iranian Naval base of Bandar Abbas. To the west lay the coast of Oman, to the north, the deeply sinister mountain ranges which reach down to the coast of Baluchistan.

On the direct instructions of the admiral, Captain Baldridge had called a conference of the main warfare departmental chiefs. They were all there, sitting around the boardroom-sized table in the admiral’s ops room—the key operators from the Combat Information Center, the senior Tactical Action Officer, the Anti-Submarine Warfare Officer, the Anti-Air Warfare Officer, the Submarine Element Commander, Captain Rheinegen, the master of the carrier itself, Commander Bob Hulton, the Air Boss. From the rest of the group,
there were six senior commanders, including Captain Art Barry, of the guided missile cruiser
Arkansas
, New York Yankees fan and buddy of Jack Baldridge. He had flown thirty miles, from the western outer edge of the group.

For several of them it was a first tour of duty in the Arabian Sea, and Zack Carson considered it important to let them all understand why they were there, and to impress upon their various staff officers the critical nature of this particular assignment. “Now I know it’s real hot out here, and there doesn’t appear to be that much going on,” he said.

“But I’m here to tell you guys that this is an extremely serious place to be right now. The tensions in the Middle East have never been a whole hell of a lot worse, not since 1990. And as usual ownership of the oil is at the bottom of it all—and I don’t need to tell you that every last barrel of the stuff comes right out past here—Jesus, there’s more tankers than fish around here as I expect you’ve noticed.

“The policy of the State Department is pretty simple. As long as we are sitting right here, high, wide, and handsome, no one is going to cause much of an uproar, no one’s going to monkey around with the free movement of the oil in and out of the Gulf. However, should we not show a U.S. presence in these waters, all hell could break loose.

“The Iranians hate the Iraqis and vice versa. The Israelis hate the Iraqis worse than the Iranians. The Iraqis are plenty crazy enough to take another shot at the Kuwaitis. The Saudis, for all their size and wealth, are damned badly organized, and they control the most important oil field on earth—the one brother Saddam was really after in 1990.

“I guess I don’t need to tell you how dangerous it would be for world peace if anything happened to take that big oil field out of the free market. I can tell you the consequences if you like—the United States and Great Britain and France and Germany and Japan would be obliged to join hands and go to war over that oil, even if we had to take the whole damned lot away from the Arab nations. And that would be kinda disruptive. I expect you recall that in 1991 the USA sent five Carrier Battle Groups into the area, enough to conquer, if necessary, the entire Arabian Peninsula.

“But, gentlemen, while we are here parked right offshore, and making the occasional visit inside the straits, no one, but no one, is going to try anything hasty. And if they should be so foolish as to make any kind of aggressive move, I may be obliged to remind them, on behalf of our Commander-in-Chief, that for two red cents we might be inclined to take the fuckers off the map. Last time I heard a direct quote from the President on this subject, he told the CJC he wanted no bullshit from any of the goddamned towelheads, whichever tribe they represented.

“Our task is to make sure that these areas of water where we are operating are clean, that the air and sea around us are sanitized. No threat, not from anyone. Not to anyone. That’s why Hawkeye stays on patrol almost the entire time. That’s why we keep an eye in the sky twenty-four hours a day, why the satellites keep watch, why we must ensure the surface and air plots are, at all times, clean and clear of unknowns, and hostiles.

“Because this, gentlemen, is real. Without us, the whole goddamned shooting match could dissolve. And our leaders would not like that—and, worse yet, they’ll blame us without hesitation. In short, gentlemen, we are making a major contribution to the maintenance of peace in this rathole. So let’s stay right on top of our game, ready at all times to deliver whatever punch may be necessary. The President expects it of us. The Chiefs of Staff expect it of us. And I expect it of you.

“I consider you guys to be the best team I ever worked with. So let’s stay very sharp. Watch every move anyone makes in this area. And go home in six weeks’ time with our heads high. I know a lot of people will never understand what we do. But we understand, and in the end, that’s what matters. Thank you, gentlemen, and now I’d be real grateful if you’d all come and have some lunch with me, ordered some steaks.”

 

Each of the men at the admiral’s table understood, perfectly, all of the political ramifications of the Middle East. And the potential danger to all American servicemen in the area. But they still required,
occasionally, some personal confirmation of their prominent positions in the grand scheme of things. Which, given their relatively modest financial rewards, was not a hell of a lot to ask. And Zack Carson’s hard-edged, aw-shucks way of delivering that confirmation made him a towering hero among all of those who served under his command. Not most. All.

271500JUN02. 5N, 68E.
Course 355. Speed 3.

“I can hold this position three hours, Ben. But I sure hope tanker shows up soon. Fuel’s low, and crew know it. Not too good, hah? They get worried.”

“Not so worried as if they knew our precise mission, eh, Georgy? Tell ’em not to worry. The tanker will arrive inside four hours and she’ll show up right on our starboard bow—she must have cleared the Eight-Degree Channel early this morning, making a steady twelve knots. We’ll be full by 2100 and on our way north.”

280935JUN02. 21N, 62E.
Course 005. Speed 10. Ops Room.
Thomas Jefferson
.

“Anyone checked the COD from DG? It’s supposed to have a ‘mission critical’ spare on board for the mirror landing sight.”

“I checked at 0600, but I’ll do it again before he takes off. They used another spare last night. It was the last one.”

281130JUN02. 9N, 67E.
Course 355. Speed 8.
200 miles from refueling point.

Officer of the Watch: “Captain in the control room.”

Georgy’s voice: “What is it?”

“Just spotted twin-engined aircraft, around thirty thousand feet—probably turboprop. Identical course to our own. I’m guessing U.S. Navy. He’s no threat. But you say secret journey.”

“Well done, Lieutenant. I come and look…

“…Hi, Ben, just taking a look at aircraft—he very high and going north, but my Officer of Watch thinks it U.S. Navy, and he probably right. That’s an American military turboprop for sure.”

“Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“Me? Nothing, Ben. That pilot just a truck driver. No threat to us.”

“That is the advice, Georgy, of a man whose nation has never fought a war in submarines. I’m going to tell you something, which I do not want you to forget. Ever. At least, not as long as you are working for me.

“It was taught to me by my Teacher…in this game, every man’s hand is against you. Assume every contact, however distant, has spotted you. Assume they will send someone after you. Usually sooner than you expect. Particularly if you are dealing with the Americans.”

“Let me take quick look again, Ben.”

“Do nothing of the kind.
I already assume we have been sniffed by a U.S. Navy aircraft.
We must now clear the datum.
We take no chances. Georgy, come right to zero-five-zero. We’re going northeast toward the coast of India. Then, if they catch us again in the next couple of days, they will see our track headed for Bombay, and designate us Indian, therefore neutral, as opposed to unknown, possibly hostile.

“This detour will cost us one and a half days. But we’ll still be in business. Hold this course until I order a change.”

281400JUN02. 21N, 64E.
The
Thomas Jefferson
.

On patrol in the Arabian Sea, the Battle Group is spread out loosely in a fifty-mile radius. Up on the stern, one of the LSO’s is talking down an incoming aircraft, the COD from the base at Diego
Garcia. It contains mail for all of the ships, plus a couple of sizable spare parts for one of the missile radar systems, plus two spares for the mirror landing sight. The pilot is an ex-Phantom aviator, and the veteran of three hundred carrier landings.

With an unusually light wind, calm sea, and perfect visibility, Lieutenant Joe Farrell from Pennsylvania thumped his aircraft down onto the deck and barely looked interested as the hook grabbed and held.

They towed her into a waiting berth beneath the island, and opened up the hold, while Lieutenant Farrell headed for a quick debrief, and some lunch after his four-hour flight. Right at the bulkhead, he heard a yell: “Hey, Joe, how ya been?”

Turning, he saw the grinning face of Lieutenant Rick Evans, the LSO who had talked him in. “Hey, Ricky, old buddy, how ya doin’—come and have a cup of coffee, it’s been a while—they made you an admiral yet?”

“Next week, so I hear,” chuckled the lieutenant. He and Farrell went back a long way, to the flight training school at Pensacola, seventeen years previously.

The two aviators strolled down toward the briefing room, and, as they did so, almost collided with Lieutenant William R. Howell, who was walking backward at the time sharing a joke with Captain Baldridge. “Hiya, Ricky,” said Billy-Ray. “We about done for today?”

“Just about. Hey, you know Lieutenant Joe Farrell, just arrived from DG with the mail and a couple of radar parts?”

“I think we met before,” said Billy-Ray cheerfully.

“Sure did,” replied Farrell. “I was at your wedding with the rest of the United States Navy.”

Everyone laughed, and Captain Baldridge stuck out his hand and said, “Glad to meet you, Lieutenant. I’m the Group Operations Officer, Jack Baldridge. Have a good flight up here?”

“Yessir. A lotta low monsoon cloud back to the south, but some long clear areas as well, no problems. Ton of tankers below.”

“Well, I’ll leave you guys to shoot the breeze…catch you later…”

“Oh, just one thing, sir,” said Farrell suddenly. “Would you think
it odd if I told you I saw—or at least I thought I saw—a submarine—about a thousand miles back, somewhere west of the Maldives?”

Captain Baldridge swiveled around, his smile gone. “Which way was it heading?”

“North, sir, same way as I was.”

“Why do you think it was a submarine?”

“Well, I’m not certain, sir. I just happened to notice a short white scar in the water. But there was no ship, just the wake. I only guessed I was looking at the ‘feather’ of a submarine. I couldn’t really be sure.”

“Pakistani I would guess,” replied Captain Baldridge. “Probably about to swing over to Karachi. But you’re right. You don’t often see a submarine in these waters—unless it’s ours, which this one plainly wasn’t.”

“Anyway, sir. Hope you didn’t mind my mentioning it.”

“Not at all, Lieutenant. Sharp-eyed aviators have a major place in this Navy. I’m grateful to you.”

“One thing more sir…I thought it disappeared, but then about coupla minutes later, just before I overflew it, I noticed it again. I suppose it could have been a big whale.”

“Yes. Possibly. But thank you anyway, Lieutenant,” said the captain. “Before you have lunch, put a message into the ops room and give your precise position when you spotted her, will you? You say she was heading slowly due north?”

BOOK: Nimitz Class
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