The lieutenant thinks, “If he shoots me, I die. If he’s inside min range, once we close I can easily handle him.” Upon a moment’s reflection, he calls his wingman back into the fight, just in case. The throttles are already parked in the northwest quadrant, delivering full combat rated power, so the lieutenant urges his fighter forward with small thrusts of his hips like a horseman, trying to close the distance. He looks at his armament panel, sees that he is still in simulation mode, reaches up and re-arms the jet:
“There,” he thinks. “If I’m going to have to die today, at least I’ll have company.”
On board the air defense cruiser, the Force Tactical Action Officer hesitates at his watch console – the fighters are obviously busy out to the west and he’s loth to disturb them with questions, especially with the Iranian fighter now headed back towards Iran. Now that he’s headed away from the strike group, all of the air defenders can breathe a little easier, sit back in their chairs and await further developments. Still, he’s responsible not just for this intercept, but for maintaining the air defense grid for as long as there’s a threat airborne. He’d really like to know the status of the Hornet’s fuel – he knows that fighters can run through the gas at an amazing rate in an engagement.
No – best not to ask them directly. Their voices seemed strained, their comms brittle. This is no place to inject himself. Still, it couldn’t hurt to vector the alert tanker over in the direction of the fight. Make it that much simpler to get the defensive counter air two-ship back on the step. “Ace 112, vector 060 for customers, Hobo 404, Fist 302. Hot Dog Red at 35 miles.” He listens for the tanker pilot to read back his instructions, and satisfied, pushes back from his console to watch the fun.
The lieutenant’s wingman finishes her turn, hot to the fight, her hands almost automatically playing the “HOTAS piccolo” as her fingers race through the hands-on-thottle-and-stick buttonology to set her fighter up for rapid, short range radar acquisition. She is rewarded by the full picture in two sweeps of her radar’s B-trace: In front of her at eight miles is a receding target – beyond that is one heading towards her. The further target’s range corresponds to the air-to-air distance measuring equipment displayed in the HUD – the nearer one is therefore the Iranian bogey. “Cool,” she thinks, “I’m bread, lead’s bread, he’s meat. We’ve got us a sandwich.” She he allows herself a hard smile inside her mask. It’s always better to be the hammer than the nail.
Inside the lead Hornet, the lieutenant grimaces as the range counts down – he checks the distance displayed on his HUD – two miles: Now or never. Three seconds later he’s at a mile, not yet targeted and starting to relax just a little – if it was going to happen, it would have happened already. He decides to set up for a left-to-left pass with the Phantom. Thinking on it, he decides to pass by him close aboard – dust him off, like. Announce his presence with authority: He twitches the fighter to the left just a bit more. There.
The Phantom grows rapidly in his windscreen – no bearing drift. Thinks, “Holy crap, that crazy son of a bitch, I’m going to hit him!” Pulls away hard to the right and down, closes his eyes, shrinks from the expected blow, trying to become small in his cockpit. Waits. Peeks out: The merge is passed.
The lieutenant curses, throws the jet up on its left wing, checks six: There – the F-4 still receding, he didn’t turn. Still cursing, he starts a hard left turn to follow, shaking his head at the Iranian’s audacity, not yet reflecting that the F-4 pilot had chosen the same tactic for the lieutenant that the lieutenant had chosen for him. Too close, by God. What a screwed up fight!
He ends up behind the F-4 at three miles, the shoot light flashing on his canopy bow as the shrill song of the Sidewinder missile fills his headset, its seeker head falling madly in love with the infrared energy of the Phantom’s tailpipes, begging for release, a union devoutly to be wished. The lieutenant strokes the trigger on his stick gently… so easy.
His reverie is interrupted by the E-2 ACO’s voice: “Hobo 404, Hot Dog Red east, five miles, recommend a turn to the west.”
“Hobo,” the lieutenant answers in prime. On aux, he asks his wingman, “Status?”
“Six miles, tied on, visual.”
“Copy – Hobo 1 is track west, keep the F-4 lit up until I call your turn.” Might as well keep him honest, the lieutenant thinks. Her radar lock will prevent the Phantom guy from getting brassy and re-engaging as he himself turns away. He can call the wingman to join him as they merge. It’d be almost like they planned it or something. What a freaking goat rope.
His wingman thinks, “Oh. It was an F-4,” as the target continues to the east, back into Iranian territorial airspace, evincing no apparent desire to come out and play again.
In the E-2, the ACO purses his lips, and shakes his head slightly, a small gesture of negation. Not precisely according to Hoyle, he thinks. Should be an “interesting” debrief. He can’t wait to hear how the fighters explain all of this.
In TFCC the Battle Watch Captain turns to the admiral and says, “Well, that seemed to go pretty well.”
“Just about textbook,” the admiral concurs.
In Combat, the third class operations specialist looks at his relief with a gimlet eye, passes down the status of the air systems, threat and weapons posture. Turns the console over and walks away without saying good-bye. Port and starboard watch – he’ll see the guy again in six hours. Hungry. Hungry and tired. Wonders which one he’ll work on first. Maybe a bite to eat.
On the bridge, the Captain calls down to Air Ops: “Where the hell are those alert fighters and the E-2? Sure would be nice to have them on deck so that we can finish the re-spot.”
In a squadron ready room, the executive officer concludes his briefing, releasing the close air support crews to do their individual and crew briefs on their own. They’ll walk in 30 minutes.
It’s going to be a hot day…
—> Part XIV Recovering the alert