© 2019 CR Britting
Well, it’s almost time.
With a frown, I lean back in my seat and study the air search radar display. He’s still out there, like an unwanted guest at a party; peeking in through the window, but afraid to come inside. Probably just as well, too, ‘cause if he comes any closer, I’ll make him pay.
I call him Joe, for lack of a better name, but it’s really a plane, a Russian Bear-D reconnaissance plane to be exact. The big four-engine turboprop is just sitting out there, right on the edge of the scope. Not doing much of anything, just flying around in lazy circles. I can almost feel him thumbing his nose at me, ‘cause he knows as well as I do that there isn’t a blasted thing I can do about it.
Every once in a while we can hear Joe on the radio, telling his friends back home and God knows who else exactly where we are and which way we’re headed. So much for trying to hide in a big ocean.
Joe’s been at it for hours, and pretty soon I expect that some of his friends will be coming to crash the party. These friends won’t be bringing water balloons or baseball bats, they’ll have guided missiles and torpedoes. A whole boatload of them, if you’ll forgive the pun.
Me? Oh, yeah. Sorry. I’m ComEscort. That’s naval jargon for Commander, Escort Forces. My name’s Joshua Benten. In the ship’s log they have me down as a Rear Admiral, which basically means that I’ll carry the can if things go wrong. Ever hear of Murphy’s Law?
When Joe’s friends come calling, they are going to try to bite me with some sharp teeth. Yeah. Well, as it happens, I have some teeth of my own. Hold on, let me punch up the surface radar display.
Ah, there we are. My Responsibility. The Convoy. Nineteen merchant ships, steaming in three columns. All kinds of ships; freighters, tankers, ammunition ships, even three ships full of armored vehicles. We’re heading from the east coast of the U.S. over to Europe.
Why, you ask? Well, seems like there was a coup in the former Soviet Union a while back. The hardliners returned to power with a vengeance. Three weeks ago, Russian tanks rolled west. Taken by surprise, the good guys are making a fight of it, but now they are running out of supplies. That’s why my orders are specific: Make all possible speed, and deliver the convoy intact.
That means that I have to keep Joe’s friends from sinking their teeth into my convoy. To do that, I have five warships under my command. Take a look at the scope. See that blip way out front? Yeah, that’s the frigate Rueben James, our early warning picket. Now check out those two blips to either side. Those are Spruance and Caron. Those big destroyers are starting to show their age now, but they’re still very capable submarine hunters. And down there at the bottom of the scope is Elrod. She’s also a frigate, and she’ll keep a lookout for stragglers and any subs that try to sneak in.
And right there in the middle of the formation is my pride and joy, my flagship, the guided missile cruiser, Port Royal. She’ll provide area air defense. The mere fact that I have a billion dollar ship like her, normally assigned as an escort to an aircraft carrier, says a lot about the importance of the convoy.
Uh, oh, there’s a warning horn. Excuse me, folks, it’s time to get down to business. Radar’s detected a whole mess of enemy aircraft heading this way. That’s about what I expected. The only question is: What kind and how many?
"Designate aircraft as Raid 1," the intercom reports. "Twenty-four Backfire bombers, range 275 miles and closing."
Oh, boy. That’s pretty bad. Each of those planes will carry two or three antiship missiles. Yeah, and they’ll launch them from 200 miles out, too. I’ll never get a shot at those planes. Blast!
"Reuben James reports submarine contact directly ahead of the convoy," comes the voice from the intercom speaker. "Warning: Torpedoes have been fired."
Well, I guess them Backfires have got some underwater friends as well.
"We have breakaway! Radar now reports 48 inbound missiles. Range 190 miles, speed 1200 knots. Enemy aircraft have turned for home."
Just at that moment, the horizon outside my viewpoint glows a brilliant orange.
"Tanker Texan Star hit by two torpedoes. Crew abandoning ship."
Somewhere in my consciousness a voice is calling me. I tune it out. Can’t you see I’m busy giving orders to counter the missile attack?
"Spruance reports sinking enemy submarine on the port side of the convoy. Missiles now 100 miles and closing, speed 1200 knots."
"Sir," my executive officer calls. "Recommend we activate Aegis on full automatic."
I agree. In full automatic, the ship's weapons systems will be taken over completely by a computer, the so-called "Armageddon Mode." When those missiles get within thirty miles, the computer will starting shooting our own weapons at them, one every four seconds, until all the enemy targets are destroyed.
Theoretically, Aegis it can track and shoot at 100 targets at the same time, but it’s never been tested in combat against a large-scale attack. Now it looks like I’m the one at the sharp end of the stick. Now we’ll find out if the thing works as advertised.
"Torpedoes! Torpedoes approaching! Target is Port Royal!"
"What the...?" Where did they come from?
Somehow a submarine must have gotten inside the screen. Now things are going get downright dicey.
"Torpedoes closing! Range 1000 yards! Range 500 yards! Range 250 yards."
Suddenly there’s a flash. I can hear an explosion and all my displays go dark. I can almost smell the smoke and hear the crackle of the flames.
"Josh!" The strange voice intrudes once again on my consciousness. "Josh! Your supper's getting cold."
Well, nuts. I better get downstairs or mom will ring my fifteen-year-old neck.
I reluctantly turn off the computer. But not before I see the hated words again:
"Game Over. Better luck next time, Admiral."