The fight continues…
MiG-25s are hurtling in towards the hapless Japanese P-3 as it flees east towards the straits, and F-16s from Misawa dash in on afterburner, but they’re still over 50 miles away when the MiGs reach the plane – and fly right past, ignoring it. They’re going for my S-3 which is patrolling the straits; the buggers in the P-3 have led the enemy right to me! Fortunately, the extra distance is just enough for the F-16s to make it in, and they manage to knock down the enemy before they can do any damage.
Meanwhile, the ASW aircraft in the area are starting to report submerged contacts in the straits. So far they all seem to be false, but this would be a really bad place to bump into a sub, so we keep looking for more.
ADVANCE OF THE BOMBERS
While the fighters slash at each other, the radar operators on the E-2s and E-3s start seeing coordinated movements among the enemy aircraft. The main bomber strike, well over 30 of them, is leaving its marshalling area over Vladivostok, and seems to be headed due east for Hokkaido. There’s also a group of eight headed further south, plus a couple of groups of five or six smaller contacts between them. They’re screened by numerous MiG-25s in the north, and MiG-31s in the center, along with a mix of Su-27s and MiG-23s.
My fighters in the center struggle against the MiG-31s, but we’re almost completely out of planes, and for the moment we can’t make any headway towards the incoming southern bombers. Backfires are still doing land attack strikes. In the south F-18s from Iwakuni almost catch them in the act, but they launch moments before the fighters arrive, and Iwakuni gets rocked by a series of impacts as the supersonic cruise missiles detonate throughout the base. Meanwhile, another heavy anti-shipping missile speeds in from somewhere in the confusion and sinks the last of the northern Japanese destroyers. (I’m glad the Jarrett, my Perry on the far side of the straits, is steaming east to meet the tanker, instead of hanging around for the bombers to arrive.)
The few planes I can scrape up keep trying to get at the bombers. Some F-16s from Misawa dive into the pack up north, which seem to be forming up off the coast of Hokkaido, and they manage to get some of the Badgers, and even a couple of Backfires, before the perpetual interference of the MiG-25s drives my pilots away again. The heavy Russian fighters pursue us south, forcing all my ASW and AEW planes to flee, until the Nike battery on Hokkaido manages to shoot them down. The last of the carrier-based F-18s and F-14s keep trying to get at the bombers in the center, and they finally get a break when some Hornets from Iwakuni distract the MiG-31s, leading them away to the south-west. That doesn’t go perfectly for the F-18s, but my other fighters manage to maul the 8 Badgers in the center, shooting some down and sending the others home with damage.
CONFUSION AMONG THE BOMBERS
Suddenly, we get radar reports that the small groups of half a dozen planes (now assessed to be Su-24s – possibly ARM carriers?) are turning back towards their to bases. A few minutes later a stream of contacts is seen leaving the loitering northern bombers. The Backfires are retreating without firing a shot!
The admiral decides that this is a crucial turning point. The carrier group is currently fleeing south for the shelter of the Komatsu airbase, which is only 43 miles away now. But if the Su-24s are retiring, the central bombers are gone, and the northern Backfires are already on the way home, then the threat is effectively over. The moment of decision has come. The carrier group is ordered to turn NE and head for the straits at full speed!
The problem is, the admiral has got it wrong. What he’s seeing in the north are a stream of unidentified Su-24s going home, not Backfires. The Backfires are still there. They’ve finally got the go-code, and all the Badgers and Backfires turn south to attack. The admiral is steaming directly towards them.
CHARGE OF THE HEAVY BRIGADE
The bombers advance, 12 Backfires on the east, and 8 Badgers on the west. The Backfires are coming right down the coast, well within range of the Nike battery, but it doesn’t shoot. It’s hurriedly reloading its heavy missiles after engaging MiG-25s earlier, but nothing is on the rails now, and the bombers fly past unmolested. The bomber crews are confident, knowing they’ve got half a dozen MiG-25s ready to guard them, and they press on southwards.
Unfortunately for them, the MiG-25s are distracted, and are chasing away the remains of my previous attacks. Four fresh F-16s arrive on afterburner from Misawa, and tear into the bombers unopposed. The carnage is fearful. Most are shot down outright, and only four survive to stagger home with wounds and gashes in their airframes.
The Badgers press on, and this time I’ve got almost nothing to oppose them. A few tired F-14s make it in with only a Sidewinder or two left, and one F-16 manages to get a couple of hits with AMRAAMs, but then the shame-faced MiG-25s get back on station, and none of my planes can get past them. The bombers survive to launch six missiles at the carrier group.
These missiles are big and fast, but unlike the missiles from the Oscars, these are high-altitude weapons, and my SAM operators can see them coming. The Leahy starts opening fire while they’re still 100 miles away, and the deliberate SAM fire gradually knocks them down. None of them make it to the group, but it takes another 19 of my SAMs to do it, and that’s an expenditure I’d rather not have made.
THE OTHER SIDE OF JAPAN
Things are not going so well on the other side of the islands, where the Brewton, a Knox-class frigate, is escorting the tanker USNS Pacos towards Japan. They’re all feeling a lot more confident, now that the Badger that was trailing them has been shot down, and the Brewton is sprinting and drifting ahead, banging away on its active sonar in case there are any SSs lurking in their path. That’s when a pair of anti-ship missiles erupt out of the first convergence zone in a pillar of smoke, and start heading in at 600 knots.
The ready chopper scrambles immediately, dashing towards the smoke plume at full throttle, while the ASROC fires a futile BOL shot towards the enemy in the faint hope of distracting him or making him turn away. Both ships turn to port, accelerating to the tanker’s top speed, hoping to dodge the missiles somehow, but it doesn’t work. The Brewton opens fire with its main gun, and then the CIWS starts roaring, and in a hail of bullets manages to shoot down both incoming missiles.
A second pair of missiles bursts out of the ocean, and this time it looks like the enemy captain has misjudged his shot. Both missiles pass slightly ahead of the ships and fly off into the darkness, leaving us completely unscathed. The third pair follows shortly after that, but this time they’re on target, and both of them lock on to the Brewton. The main gun fires valiantly, but the silent CIWS is out of ammunition. The pilot on the Brewton’s Seasprite helicopter sees the skies light up with a horrible flash as the missiles tear the stern off their ship, and send it plunging to the seafloor.
They don’t have time to think about what’s happened, and moments later their first sonobuoys are dropping around the location of the missile launches. The contact is immediate, and the torpedo drops perfectly on the shallow contact. There’s a muffled thump, the sea heaves, and the Charlie joins the shattered Brewton on its voyage to the abyssal mud below.
A frigate for an SSGN? Probably a roughly even trade, but one I’d prefer not to make. The helicopter lands on the Pacos, which sets course for the rendezvous again. It’s a long way to go alone. There’s a P-3 already en-route to patrol ahead of the Pacos, and my Perry is ordered to go to flank speed to escort the tanker as soon as possible. Of course, that’s when someone tries to torpedo the Perry…
‘Counterfire!’ yells the captain, and a spread of two Mk46s is launched down the torpedo bearing, while the ship heels over in a maximum performance turn away from the threat. The helicopter’s leaping off the deck, and as it thunders away the Perry turns again, hoping that the enemy sub has turned away to dodge our torps, and thus lost contact. It works, and the torpedoes continue blindly on their path and away from the ship. The helicopter is on station almost immediately, and quickly picks up the sound of the SSN running north away from our shots. He can probably outrun them, but he can’t outrun the helicopter, and two torpedoes add a Victor to the ocean floor.
The F-15s which set out from Kadena start arriving over Japan by this point, and soon refuel and start engaging the Su-27s, which form the majority of the enemy fighter screen now. As their patrols get forced back my pilots are able to kill a few more recce planes, which is a relief. Best progress is made in the western half of the theatre, and some of my planes even manage to work their way up the Korean coast and pick off a couple of the jammers before running away from SAMs. It doesn’t all go perfectly; one Eagle pilot confidently makes a head-on attack on a silent ESM Badger, only to find it’s an ESM Fencer. He only has time to gape briefly before the Aphid rips off his wingtip, but fortunately Aphids are small, Eagles are tough, and he manages to limp home safely.
Out at sea, the Japanese SSK Harushio has actually managed to get brief a CZ contact on the northern Oscar. (The Sturgeon, also headed for the area, doesn’t have a clue.) Unfortunately, he’s also flattened his battery, forcing him to snorkel. That’s probably what brings a May out from the safety of its SAM umbrella, so I send out a pair of F-14s, escorted by F-18s, to try and reach past nearby fighters and shoot it down. Before they can get there, however, a passing F-15 manages to sneak through a gap and snipe their kill. Go Air Force!
LOGISTICAL ITEMS AND PLANNING
My Eagles are going to base out of Iwakuni, for the moment, but I’m actually going to send my plane-load of AMRAAMs from Guam up to Misawa instead. The F-16s there have no more AMRAAMs in the magazines at all, so they need them more urgently than the planes at Iwakuni. The plane should arrive in about three and a half hours, so we need to be careful until then.
The carrier’s also starting to feel the pinch too. We’ve actually got plenty of Phoenixes in storage, but only 21 Sparrows left. This will start putting limits on operations if there’s another heavy strike before we can resupply.
Given the ready time for heavy bombers, I don’t expect a return visit from them before I get to the straits. (Unless they have another squadron or two which hasn’t launched yet.) The Su-24s could be a problem sooner, especially as we move closer to the straits where the distance to the mainland is shorter. The carrier group will stay reasonably close to the shore as it moves north, keeping a careful eye out for submarines. As we get to the straits the Perry will transition to the lead, and try to use its mine-avoidance sonar to check for hidden hazards.
I’m also concerned by civilian traffic. My ESM operators have pointed out some anomalies in their radar transmissions, so I’ll try to stay away from ships with more powerful radars. Unfortunately, there are some right in the straits. Paranoia? Perhaps. Let’s call it ‘justifiable caution’ instead.