“Goldie, how many times have I told you guys that I don’t want no horsin’ around on the airplane?” The words came from B-52 Aircraft Commander Major Kong in the dark movie Dr. Strangelove in response to being apprised by Lt. Goldie, his radio operator, that Wing Attack Plan R for Romeo was in effect. Nuclear war with the Rooskies.
Slim Pickens (Major Kong) and his crew get ready to go toe to toe with nukes. And before they can be recalled the CRM 114 radio that should receive the message calling off the attack destroys itself, and Major Kong’s crew becomes the opening act to World War III.
I don’t propose at all that I am an expert on the CRM 114, in fact it doesn’t exist. It was made up for the movie, although we all know there has to be some device or devices like it out there.
The A-6 carried a real comm device called the KY-28, a voice encryption system, and it was designed for communications between the good guys. To use the system the crew simply flipped the switch on the control unit from the “plain” to the “cipher” mode and transmitted in plain English whatever needed to be transmitted. The good guys who needed to hear the message naturally had to have a KY-28 receiver as well. The voice transmission was broadcast over the air in digital gibberish and should the bad guys be eavesdropping all they would get is garbage. However, the good guys on the receiving end with a KY-28 would have the voice unscrambled and hear exactly what was said.
Pretty good system, although there was a little bit of a delay built in while the system coded and decoded your words. In a battle situation the KY-28 could be viewed as an asset or a liability.
Which do you prefer, an in the clear radio warning “Bogey on your tail at 6 o’clock!” quickly, or a several second delay but a secure transmission of “Bogey on your tail at 6 o’clock…oops too late.”
On the other hand, if you were to be launched on a nuke strike mission (yes, the A-6 had that capability and we trained for it) anybody with a military radio could tell you the mission was a go or a no go. Figuring out the truth from fiction was a problem. Ergo, the KY-28 had an important function should things get to the I-can’t-believe-we-are-going-to-do-this stage.
Naturally, the system had to be checked on a regular basis. The routine while airborne was to call War Chief (that was the call sign of the USS Constellation) on a discrete frequency and request a secure voice check. Both parties activated the KY-28 and did a quick voice check. It was quick and easy. Routine.
Until the day I flew with a B/N who was the son of Polish immigrants.
A B/N with a sense of humor that was finely honed.
The Rouj (that’s not his real name, but it will do) was a senior LCDR, really good at his job, a very good B/N, and a pleasure to fly with. The kinda man you’d want with you when the going got tough. And sometimes the kinda guy who could break the tension on a dark and rainy night with just the right encouragement.
On this particular day we had launched off the Connie and gone about our daily business of tripping the light fantastic across the puffy clouds in the western Pacific Ocean. Can’t remember what we did, might have done some practice strike on a lone island somewhere or bombed the spar towed behind the ship, or made like an incoming missile for the destroyer screen to hone their intercept skills with the defensive systems. Might be we played with the big boys in the F-14’s toward the end of the flight, trying to catch one with low enough fuel that he couldn’t use his afterburners. That almost gave an A-6 an advantage once in a while.
Anyway, we get to the end of all the games we can play and it is time to get the secure radio check out of the way before we get back into the stack overhead the ship for recovery.
Did I tell you that for weeks our daily intel briefing included the warning to “Be on the lookout, there are reported Bears in the area.”?
Not Polar bears, gummy bears, or teddy bears, but Russian Bears, the long range recon and bomber turboprop Bears. The big Russians have an incredible range and could show up unannounced at any time. Somebody was always looking for the Bears.
The Rouj had this information in his brain when he looked at me and said, “It’s time to do the secure radio check.” I should have known something was up when he smiled at me before donning his oxygen mask. He dialed up War Chief and requested a secure radio check, got an acknowledgement, put the transmit switch to cipher and then said something very much like this: “Idzie rak, Nieborak. Jak ugryzie, Będzie znak.”
At least I think that’s what he said. War Chief was silent, there was no response.
The Rouj took off his mask and smiled at me once again. “What was that?” I asked.
“Nothing,” he said, “Just a Polish nursery rhyme.”
“Sure sounded Russian to me,” I said.
“I know,” said The Rouj. “That ought to keep CIC busy for a while.”
We then got back to the real business at hand, getting back to the ship, finding our place in the overhead stack, letting down in the proper sequence, and trapping aboard. Without any radio transmissions at all. We returned to the ready room and after debrief and stowing our gear The Rouj mentioned he might stop by CIC (Combat Information Center) for a moment and see what was going on. The Rooj was an admin guy, he knew his way around the Center. He was curious about what the gurus in the center were thinking about the Polish nursery rhyme.
Some time later The Rouj reappeared in the ready room with a wry smile on his face.
“So what’s going on in CIC?” I asked.
“It was interesting,” said The Rouj. “When I walked in the duty officer was composing a flash message to CincPacFleet and things were very busy.”
“Really?” says I, “What was all the hubbub about?”
“Well,” says The Rouj, “It seems that there is a serious security breach in WestPac and the Command Staff was making sure it was reported immediately.”
The Rouj continued on. “I asked what the breach was and the Comm Officer said something about one of the Rooskies, probably a Bear working in the area, owning a secure comm device and broadcasting on it.”
“Yes, they received a Russian transmission over the KY-28.” The Rouj smiled a little more.
“I asked them if they were sure it was Russian,” he continued. “Then I asked if the broadcast sounded something like ‘Idzie rak, Nieborak. Jak ugryzie, Będzie znak’?”
I started to laugh, this was too good. “So what happened next?” I asked.
“CIC isn’t sending the message to CincPacFleet,” said The Rouj. Then he paused, reflected on his little joke, and then said, “And I don’t think I’m welcome in CIC any more.”