INITIAL RECONAISSANCE AND PROBES
As my AWACS and ELINT planes spread out and arrive on station they start reporting numerous MiG-23s patrolling over the mainland, usually staying 15 to 20 miles inland, over the outer airbases (Bodo, Andoya, and Tromso). There’s also a flight of Flankers up over Bardufoss in the center, and three jammer patrols, and a Mainstay lurking further inland over northern Norway. It looks like our target area is heavily defended on the northern side, but Bodo is far enough south of it that there seems to be a gap there.
The CAG evaluates the situation, and decides to send a sweep of F-18s in the general direction of Bodo and our target, to try and provoke a response. The first thing they learn is that Bodo’s got Su-27s, not just the MiG-23s intelligence reported, and they’re covered by an SA-10 too. The Flankers come out to fight, and three are shot down, but the patrolling Floggers refuse to come out of their SAM cover, giving us the hairy Russian finger as they orbit in safety.
Meanwhile, my northern assets start reporting Badger jammers over the ocean north of Norway, along with MiG-31 radars half-way to Svaalbard. Is this a signal that the Russians are going to be forming up a bomber strike after all? A flight of F-14s is diverted north, finding and killing a Badger, before bumping into four Foxhounds, killing two of them, and then running away. AWACs starts reporting other large aircraft in the area, heading west into the passage between Svalbard and Greenland. Whatever the Soviets are up to, they’re devoting some significant assets to it.
Operating on the general principle that if the enemy thinks it’s worth doing, then we think it’s worth breaking, more flights of F-14s are sent north, with S-3 tankers to help them along. This leads to a series of engagements with MiG-31s, Tu-22 recce planes, and Badger jammers. My pilots start taking to heading far north, radar off and out of enemy radar cover, and trying to pick on the Badgers as they get to their furthest points. This can have its downside, as one F-14 finds out when it turns on its radar to Sparrow an approaching Badger, and finds there’s a pair of angry MiGs another 30 miles behind it…
I start to wonder if I really need to be up here at all. Am I maybe bumping into the edges of the Russian strategic bastion defences? If that’s true, then I don’t need to worry about attack from this direction. After several hours the air activity seems to taper off just before dawn, and I discontinue the patrols for the moment.
Back down South
Plenty has been happening in the south during the northern fighting.
As my fighter sweeps move about, into and towards our target area, and up along the coast, they start getting a better look at the defences. There’s at least one SA-10 covering the target zone, plus a surveillance radar that generally goes with an SA-11 (not counting the one covering Andoya), and when the SA-10 starts pitching missiles at me, it becomes clear that they’re alert and angry.
My strike planes are mostly loaded with penetrator weapons at the moment, but the two hardened targets are the ones that are closest to the SAMs, and I don’t think I can get there safely. I could probably get at the softer transportation targets in the south, but I don’t want to waste my limited supply of penetrator warheads on them. Therefore, a decision is made to stand down the strike and re-arm. The A-6s will load up with LGBs using conventional Mk84 warheads, for maximum destructive effect on docks and roads. The F-18s will almost entirely load up with HARMs, to tackle the SAMs, and a few SLAMs and Mavericks will be brought along for contingency targets. This re-org will take another six hours, which puts the strike launch time at approximately 03:00 hrs local.
As the reloading commences, more fighter sweeps along the coast get a few MiG-23s, but then a pair of MiG-31s pops up out of Bardufoss, which is the general signal to run away and holler for the F-14s. The Foxhounds are on a high-Mach afterburner charge, and plotting their courses shows they’re headed straight for two of my AEW planes, who immediately start diverting everyone to their defence. Phoenix shots manage to cut the corner, and the Foxhounds are downed before they can get into range.
More probes towards Bardufoss prompt several more sets of MiG-31s to come out, as well as some isolated MiG-25s, repeatedly pushing me back, and preventing me from getting at the MiG-23s which are annoyingly provocative near Andoya. I usually manage to kill the big MiGs, but the occasional appearance of Su-27s from Bardufoss is a tougher target, and they often get away safely, scraping me off on their SAM defences as they retire. (I suppose I should have let them come further out to sea.)
The Soviets are also making some noise at sea, where the Boston briefly picks up a distant CZ target, but loses it almost immediately. About an hour later the Boston hears it again. It’s very deep, and its moved about thirty knots (assuming it went in a straight line), and is already south of the Boston, headed in the general direction of the carrier group. This is probably an Alfa, and there’s no way the Boston can catch it, so the Boston comes to periscope depth, sticks up a mast, and calls the P-3s. When the P-3s arrive, they confirm that it’s an Alfa dashing at a full 42 knots (they can nearly hear it in the airplane), but it’s too deep for their torpedoes. They finally have to call in a Nimrod, which manages to get a hit after the third head-on BOL drop. At those depths, one hit is enough, and the little sub makes the long dive to the ocean floor.
FIRST ATTACK 03:00 HRS LOCAL
There’s some more air-to-air fighting along the coast, but by the small hours of the morning most of my planes are on their way back to the carrier.
The strike begins launching shortly after 03:00 local, and it’s massive, taking all my strike aircraft and most of my fighters and jammers. Leading fighters start skirmishing with the enemy, holding off a succession of MiG-23s that start pouring out of Bodo in the south, while the main strike angles in towards the transport targets. It looks like most of the Foxbats and Foxhounds from Bardufoss are already dead, thank heavens, but some of the Su-27s are still active. Two come charging in at my stream of HARM-carrying F-18s, forcing my Tomcat pilots to brave the wrath of the CNO and engage them with Phoenixes, downing them before they can engage.
As the F-18s approach they fire some exploratory HARM shots at the surveillance radar near the SA-10, and then things really start to happen. Not only does the SA-10 open fire at my approaching planes, it turns out there isn’t just one SA-11 in the area, there are actually three of them, and one of them is close enough to cover the dock targets. The Hornets fire the bulk of their HARMs at the SA-10, then a salvo of six at the closest SA-11, and a couple more at the other batteries. The closest battery dies, as does the surveillance radar, the SA-10 is wounded, losing both its radars, and the other two SA-11s are left largely intact.
While my A-6s close in on their targets, a pair of MiG-23 leakers from Bodo force them to briefly haul off from the road targets, until some F-18s can dash in and shoot them down. After that, the strikes proceed in fine form, as the 2,000 lb LGBs smash the piers and collapse the road tunnels, and the A-6s turn for home at low altitude. Moments later a pair of F-18s with Mavericks and night vision pods pass down the length of the ferry channel, looking for local defences, before the next set of A-6s fly in and lay a string of mines in the water.
Now that the major SAM defences are down, some A-6s press further north to fire SLAMs at the radio mast and telephone exchange, while F-18s fire SLAMs at the two SA-11s, hoping to eliminate them while most of their missiles have been used. The communications targets are completely destroyed and the SAMs take hits, but they aren’t entirely eliminated. It turns out there are more point defence SAMs down there than I had spotted, and it takes some risky Maverick shots to get rid of the second SA-11.
In all the commotion, some of my F-18s push through to the eastern edge of the mountains, and head north, savaging the unarmed Su-24s and MiG-25s on jammer and ELINT duty. For a moment it looks like they might have a clear path to the Mainstay that’s been lurking in the background, but then ESM picks up MiG-25 fighter radars launching out of Banak ahead of them, and they prudently decide to turn around. (Back on deck the CAG congratulates them on their initiative, and asks, oh, by the way, did you realize you were violating the territorial integrity of the neutral state of Sweden? The shamefaced pilots admit they missed that small detail, blaming the fading border lines on their map, and volunteer for internment in the land of striking blonde women. The CAG is not impressed…)
Once the strike aircraft are finished, they head back for the carrier, but the heavy fighter screen remains in the area to pick on targets of opportunity. They still can’t get at most of the northern CAP, in its protective SAM umbrella, but some planes do try and come out to intercept, and my pilots use their numerical superiority to good advantage. Some of the MiG-23s seem to have chaff made of ground horseshoes and pixie-dust (one decoys 7 Sparrows), but numbers tell in the end.
Once the skies look clear, the fighters turn for home, and by 06:00 local they are back on the carrier, and making their reports.
The strike successfully destroyed its targets, but it also revealed an imposing number of SAM systems in the area.
I need to get at the two hardened bunker targets to the east of Evenes airbase, but there’s an SA-10 and an SA-12 and something medium ranged (SA-6? SA-4?) only 15 to 20 miles to the north, so high altitude approaches are out of the question. HARM barrages might do the trick, but I’ve already used a large number of them. Going in low seems to be the natural alternative, following the fjord right to the targets, but that would take me past the two SA-8s and the SA-15 (and the wounded SA-11) that were found at Evenes. Who knows what we didn’t find?
The planners plan while the ordnance guys reload, and the pilots try and grab some rest. The next strike starts at noon.