The weekend is always better with a little Command. Therefore...
FEB 16 – FIRST AFTERNOON
Ships courses are laid in according to the plan, aircraft loadouts are adjusted, and events get underway. Tankers launch out of Sigonella, heading east for distant Cyprus, and as the pass the Eisenhower all the F-14s (except the few remaining behind as CAP) form up to follow them on their path. The Italian carrier turns back to help in the Adriatic, and leaves our command for the moment. As the other ships settle down on their new routes, P-3s start patrolling the lane they are expected to pass through, and one of them gets a VLAD contact on an SSN of some sort. It turns out to be a newer Victor, patrolling in the path of the Foch group, and the P-3 swiftly sinks it with a couple of torpedoes. Other than that, my western forces proceed uneventfully for the moment.
Things are much more exciting in the east, where Syrian MiG-25s make an immediate dash to try and pick off my AWACS, but fortunately my fighters are able to cut it off before it can make the intercept. Radar reports from the excited AWACS crew suggest that the main Russian fleet seems to be sticking very close to its base in Latakia, with several units stationary in the port itself, presumably for missile replenishment. Combining the point defences of the fleet with the area SAMs in Latakia means this will be a very tough target. The AWACS crew also report that the fighter patrols in the area match the pattern from previous days, with Russian MiG-23MLDs over the ocean, and a combined patrol of Syrian MiG-21/23/29s a few miles inland. The jammer Fencers are back too. The ESM operators are also reporting surveillance radar emissions from multiple SA-5s. The Syrians seem to have the long-range part of their air-defence net up and operating now, which is forcing my large slow support aircraft to stay well back from the coast. Even my fighters will have to be careful of the long-range shots as they approach the mainland.
While the AWACS is keeping track of things in the upper world, my three SSNs begin closing in on Latakia, taking the time to make a careful sonar survey below the waves. The Torbay has the good fortune to make a sonar detection of a distant SSK, which is somewhat of a surprise given how quiet those targets can be. Over the next couple of hours it cautiously stalks its quiet target (which fortunately is travelling away, so the Torbay is in its baffles to begin with) and sinks the Kilo with a single torpedo.
ATTACK ON JORDAN
My forces include the recently allied Jordanians, and I had assumed their role in the conflict would be a minor part, primarily bombing some of the older and more vulnerable Syrian SAM sites. The Syrians disagreed however, and Jordanian radar began to detect a large strike force forming up near the Jordanian border, starting with a large number of MiG-29s, and then an alarming number of slow moving attack planes, headed for the H5 airbase. Fortunately, the size of the strike meant it took a while to form up, so the Jordanians had time to scramble their entire Mirage fleet, as well as the majority of their AAM-armed F-5s, and poise them to attack. The Mirages met the incoming raid and directed all their long range missiles (R530s) at the leading Fulcrums, managing to down enough of them and ruin the attacks of others, so the encounter went largely in our favour, and the F-5s could plunge into the mass of incoming Albatros attack planes. Normally F-5s with front-aspect missiles should absolutely dominate that engagement, but Jordanian cadets suck! They may be well intentioned, but between fumbling for switches and getting settings wrong, it took them forever to make engagements, and they'd often go hurtling past their ‘victims’ before they could get a missile off. In many cases the Mirages had to circle back around and come in from the rear with their old rear-aspect Magics in order to make the interceptions for the cadets. Fortunately, the slow-moving Albatrosses gave the Jordanians enough time to recover from their fumbles.
What the pilots couldn’t see was the flock of Scud missiles passing far overhead, towards their airbase in the rear. National assets had flashed launch warnings to high command shortly after the missiles had launched from central Syria, but the Jordanians had no effective defence against the incoming missiles. I foolishly ordered a scramble of a few more F-5s, hoping to get them into the air before the Scuds arrived, but they were still on the runway access point as the warheads started to impact, and four of them were destroyed by the fragments hurled by the massive blasts. Most of the missiles fell among the hardened shelters at the north-west end of the airport, but none of them took a direct hit, and the aircraft inside the sturdy structures remained completely unharmed. I should simply have ridden out the attack in the shelters. A second wave of missiles a few minutes later threw more dirt around, but did no damage to essential infrastructure. A few missiles landed near HAWK sites, but their inaccuracy meant no damage happened there either. Fortunately, the Syrians don’t seem to have targeted the airbase runway, or worse yet, one of the airfields on Cyprus. Those have no hardened shelters, and aircraft damage there would have been severe.
In the aftermath of the attack the Jordanians hurried back to base, since everything except bomb-armed planes had been launched to defend against the attack. As the last couple of planes circled to land, one of my HAWK batteries suddenly reported a visual contact on low-flying planes only a few miles away. The HAWKs had briefly turned on their radars during the incoming strike, but hadn’t engaged anything, so their radars had been shut off again, which is why they didn’t spot the attackers further out. Frantically hurrying to reactivate the radar, the HAWK crew managed to shoot down a pair of attackers at extremely close range, just before the Fitters overflew them with a roar. The crew cringed, awaiting the blast, but there were no bomb bursts, so the crew shot down the remaining attackers as they flew away. Later, analysis of the wreckage showed that the Fitters had been carrying AS-9 ARMs, but by the time my crew had the radar back on again they were inside the minimum launch range, and couldn't attack. A lucky break!
With that attack over, a number of skirmishing actions begin around the edges of Syria, as my pilots start trying to attrite the Syrian air force.
My AMRAAM armed F-16s out of Incirlik make a concerted effort to engage the Russian MiG-23MLDs based out of Latakia, flying in low and bagging two dozen of them, as well as making a good score against the MiG-29s patrolling in NE Syria. The Turkish F-16s also do very well against the MiG-21s in the Syrian rear, running away from the occasional MiG-25s which try to spoil their fun. The MiG-25s make several more attempts to get at the AWACS, and my AEW helicopter over Cyprus. After being chased for a second time the AWACS takes to bravely hiding behind the Patriot, so hopefully it’s fairly secure for the moment.
A few Osas venture out of the security of their SAM umbrella, heading in the direction of Tarsus. A Harrier from Cyprus gets one of them with a Sea Eagle, while his other missile fails to light its motor and falls harmlessly into the sea, and the remaining Osas turn about and head back home.
I’m not the only one shooting at Syrians, and the Israelis use their SAMs to take some shots at Syrian fighters which get too close to the border. Every plane is a help, but I hope this doesn’t lead to a wider conflict.
ATTACK ON CYPRUS
The Syrians aren’t content to skirmish, and AWACS starts reporting another big strike forming up out of Tiyas. We’re seeing the radar emissions of at least 8 MiG-23MLs, and there are over 40 attack planes with them, all headed for Larnaca. They aren’t plodding along like Albatrosses either. These Fitters are 140 knots faster in cruise alone, and I’ll have less time to catch them as a result. I’ve got a small hodgepodge of fighters on Cyprus, and I start launching all the ready birds I still have, but that clearly won’t be enough to stop a strike of this size.
Fortunately, the cavalry is here. The Eisenhower’s F-14s have just arrived, having tanked west of Cyprus, and they hurry in to join the fight. This isn’t why they’re here (they’re supposed to be hunting support aircraft and high-end fighters), but they’ll do just fine. The flight boss orders them to preserve Phoenixes wherever possible, but fortunately they have good long range Sparrows too, and by working with all the Cypriot planes, they manage to put down the incoming attack after heavy fighting. This is a success, but after the fighting’s over I only have one ready Tornado on Cyprus, and a pair of Harriers on the retiring Kearsarge group. For the next few hours, Cyprus won’t be able to defend itself from anything big.
Meanwhile, the F-14s regroup and advance, targeting the Badgers operating out of Damascus, and the jammer Fencers near Latakia, hitting them with Phoenixes from outside the effective SAM belt. They have to stay low, to keep out of the SA-5 radar, which eats fuel rapidly, and once the support planes are gone they head back to Cyprus to refuel. There are about a dozen Phoenixes left between them, so they return to the fight once more, hoping to pick on MiG-29s this time. They’re in a slightly peculiar situation, since they have very powerful missiles on board, but they don’t want to use them against the nimble MiG-21s which come up to challenge them, and their smaller missiles were already used defeating the Fitter raid. Observers now get to watch mighty F-14s running away from ancient MiG-21s, in order to get help from a pair of Harriers which still have dogfighting missiles on board. Having been rescued by their lowly brethren, the F-14s return to engage the MiG-29s, getting several good kills. After that, it’s back to Cyprus for a final tankup, before the long trip back to the carrier in the deepening dusk. The tankers depart too, heading for Heraklion, rather than Sigonella, where they will ready to support tonight's attack.
In their wake, the Syrians seem to have lost all their Badger and Fencer jammers, as well as many of their ASW and targeting helicopters. Unless they’ve got another radar plane on delayed activation, they should be blind to my ships’ more distant movements later tonight.
ATTACK ON TURKEY
In the middle of the F-14s' back-and-forth raiding, the Syrians launch their third big strike. This one forms up out of Abu ad Dahur, and heads north towards the Malatya airbase in Turkey with a cloud of Albatros attackers escorted by MiG-23s.
Normally the Turks would be well placed to handle this on their own, since Malatya is the home of the F-4s that did such excellent air-to-air service in MF #2, but they're still switching back from bombs to AAMs. By my calculations, the strike will arrive 11 minutes before the first of the fighters are ready! I do have one ready flight of F-4s on intercept duty, but there's a MiG-25 lurking nearby, and I don't want to take off under his guns. So F-16s come rushing in from the east (with Sidewinders) and the west (with AMRAAM) to tackle the strike.
AMRAAMs outclass Apex, and the inbound attack is stopped before it can reach the target, but I'm starting to feel the logistical pressure. The F-16s at Incirlik are using up their AMRAAMs rapidly, and by the time dusk rolls around I’ve only got five left in my magazines, plus those already on my planes. I feel I’ve spent the missiles in high-odds shots on high-value targets, so hopefully the expenditure will pay off.
It's night now, and the F-14s are passing Crete as they head back to the carrier, where strike planes are readying for a night attack on the Russian fleet. The French carrier is doing the same, as are forces at Incirlik and down in Egypt. It should be quite a party...
< Message edited by AndrewJ -- 3/21/2019 2:16:09 AM >