Authors: David Poyer
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On the far side of the earth
You were our walls, steel and flesh,
Against the barbarisms of our century.
Yours was a strange war, a half-war, shadowy and constrained.
This novel is dedicated to all those who serve in what we call peaceâthough it isn't.
But especially for the officers, men, and families of U.S.S.
Samuel B. Roberts,
For the other sailors, marines, and support personnel of the Middle East Force and the Indian Ocean Battle Group,
And for all those who made the last sacrifice for what they believed was right.
Ex nihilo nihil fit.
For this work of fiction I owe much to James Allen, Park Balevre, Eric Berryman, Jean-Philippe Cadoret, Daniel Flynn, Kelly Fisher, Wayne Fuller, Vince Goodrich, John Gorton, Frank and Amy Green, Paul Golubovs, Lenore Hart, Robert Kelly, Chuck Key, Carl Kilhoffer, Sid Perryman, Art Riccio, Ervin Tate, Tim Taylor, William and Fran Schubert, Jim Sullivan, Nemat Tokmachi, C. T. Walters, George Witte, and many others who gave generously of their time to contribute or criticize. All errors and deficiencies are my own.
Shake off this fever of ignorance. Stop hoping for worldly rewards.â¦ Be free from the sense of ego. Dedicate all your actions to Me. Then go forward and fight.
âThe Bhagavad Gita, III
The Persian Gulf: U.S.S.
THE forward lookout, a twenty-year-old seaman from Chula Vista, was lighting his fifteenth Winston of the morning when he saw the incoming missile.
He had been straining his eyes against the sand-colored sky for hours since dawn and at first he did not recognize it. It was only a far-off wisp of smoke, not unlike the smoke from the flareoff towers that dotted this upper part of the Gulf between Kuwait and the Iranian-declared Exclusion Zone.
A moment later, he lifted his head from his cupped hands, frowning back at that same chunk of horizon. The moving haze was already noticeably nearer, and over the tan sea, stirred by the faint hot breath of a dying
he could make out something dark inside it.
He forgot the cigarette. The lighter clattered on the deck as he jammed down the button on his phones and shouted, “Missile! Incoming! Bearing one-two-zero!”
“Say again, Butt Kit,” said a bored voice in his ear. “An' make it in English this time, okay?”
“Jesus Christ, listen up! I said there is a fucking mee-sel comin' at us, you dipshit!”
At that moment, two decks above, the destroyer's captainâthirty-eight years old, from Kansas Cityâwas reading the morning's radio traffic. Perched in his chair on the bridge wing, where it was slightly cooler than the oven the pilothouse became at twenty-eight degrees latitude, he was not so absorbed that he missed the sudden frantic gesture of the man on the bow. His glance followed the pointed arm.
“Oh, no,” he whispered. Then, instantly and in the same breath, shouted through the open door, “OOD! Cruise missile incoming, starboard! Come right, notify CIC, fire chaff. Sound general quarters!”
As the alarm began, the officer of the deck, a lieutenant from St. Cloud, Minnesota, shouted rapidly, “Right hard rudder, ahead flank emergency. Fire the chaff. Fire it now, God damn it!”
He turned and put his glasses on the incoming weapon. In the twin circles of the 7X50s he could see it clearly. It was nose-on to him. It gleamed in the sun ahead of a twisting haze of exhaust. It was very low, no more than a hundred feet off the chop.
“Rudder hard right, sir!” The scared voice of the seaman apprentice behind the helm.
The captain shouted over his shoulder, “Steady up short, keep the launcher unmasked.”
“Aye, sir. Steady zero-eight-zero.”
Crump. Crump. Crump.
Behind them, dulled by the steel doors the bo's'n had just slammed and dogged, they heard the chaff mortars fire. Given ten seconds, their bloom of thousands of foil shreds would present the missile's radar with six or eight false
Given twelve, their flares would ignite, pinpoint sources of intense heat to decoy away an infrared homer.
Through the glasses, the lieutenant could make out stubby fins.
There might not be twelve seconds.
In the Combat Information Center, aft and below the bridge, six men were already at radarscopes and weapons consoles. Sliding back into the chair he'd left to use the head, the electronic-warfare petty officer, a twenty-five-year-old from Sheboygan, froze as he recognized the pattern on his screen. Then he began punching buttons. He had twelve Soviet-bloc threat profiles in the computer. What he saw matched none of them.
“Cruise missile, unknown type!” he shouted, bracing with one hand against the sudden heel. “I-band altimeter, H-band seeker, radar homer, bearing one-one-five, threat close!”
“Jam it!” shouted the captain, appearing at the bottom of the ladder from the bridge. “Rossetti! Sea Sparrow, two-round engagement, now!”
“Point defense, locked on!” shouted a chief.
The tactical-action officer lifted a red cover and stabbed the button beneath it. Through the muffled whine of turbines climbing to full power came a sudden, deafening roar. “Missile away,” shouted the chief. Two seconds later, another roar shuddered the plates and dwindled away.
The captain said rapidly, “Mitch, do a three-sixty search. Look for the launching platform. Get me a range and bearing.” He reached for a handset and began barking at the gunnery officer. On the radar, a first-class OS from Baltimore leaned to watch two pulses of light move away from the center of the screen, so rapidly they jumped outward with each sweep.
The lead one reached the incoming missile.
“CIC, Bridge: Warhead detonation to starboard, looked close. Wait a secondâno, he just came out of the smoke. Target's still incoming.”
The TAO reached instantly for the
button, but before his hand reached it, the chief said: “Six thousand yards, sir. It's inside minimum range.”
“Second round interceptsâ
The GQ bell stopped ringing. The metallic voice of the announcing system said, all over the ship, “General quarters, general quarters. No drill. Missile incoming, starboard side.”
“Terminal seeker, locked on,” said the twenty-five-year-old, his eyes blasted wide as he stared into the green flicker on his screen. He turned up the speaker and the high-pitched whine of the lock-on jerked everyone's head toward it.
“CIC, Bridge,” said the suddenly empty voice of the lieutenant, above them. “Our second round went right by it. Still boosting. Couldn't have been twenty feet apart. But no burst. It's coming right down our throat.”
The captain barked into the phone, “What's the problem with the fucking five-inch?”
“We've got ammo at the transfer tray nowâmaybe fifteen, twenty more seconds, sirâ”
The captain stopped thinking. He put out his hand to the bulkhead and bent his knees slightly. There was nothing else left to do.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The thirteen-foot-long missile's starboard wing root had been punctured by the expanding-rod warhead of the first antiaircraft round. This slowed it from .89 to .80 Mach, but the guidance computer trimmed to correct for the off-center drag, and it steadied again.
Now, in the last seconds of its flight, its discrimination circuits evaluated and then disregarded the still-expanding chaff clouds. It had picked up the ship's radar and homed on it for four seconds, but now it ignored that, too, and for the last mile locked on the plume of heat blasting out of the frigate's stack.
It tilted its rear fins slightly, arched up and over in a graceful snap dive, and hit the still-turning ship on the main deck, starboard side, frame 103.
This was the boat deck, and the missile, traveling at six hundred miles an hour, passed beneath the motor whaleboat and squarely between two steel davits. They sheared off its stub wings. The warhead and fuselage, with several hundred pounds of fuel remaining, penetrated the quarter-inch aluminum skin of the superstructure at a thirty-degree down angle.
The outer plating hardly slowed the airframe, but it sliced dozens of rents in the fuselage. Fire leapt from the still-burning engine.
The first set of compartments it entered were the starboard potable-water station, a firemain jumper station, and the executive officer's stateroom. The executive officer and a damage controlman died instantly. Continuing downward and to port, the missile entered the main-deck passageway, shedding parts. So far, a fiftieth of a second had passed since impact.