Copyright 2010 Kerry Plowright.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored
in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means,
electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the
prior permission of the author.
31 Highland Drive, Terranora NSW 2486, Australia
The right of Kerry Plowright to be identified as the author of this work
has been asserted in accordance with sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright,
Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All the characters in the book are fictitious, and any resemblance to
actual persons living or dead, is purely coincidental.
interested in aviation, featured in this book is RAAF F-111 A8-272 - aka
the Bone Yard Wrangler and A8-277 nick named Double Trouble. They both
served with the 380th Bomb Wing SAC Plattsburg AFB before being sent to an
Arizona boneyard. In 1994 they were rescued by the RAAF and soldiered on
until 2010 mostly out of Amberely in Queensland. Once again they were
retired and supposedly cut up for scrap (So everyone thought). What
actually happened is a different story. Several airframes did become gate
post decorations and many were scrapped, but not all of them. Wrangler,
Double Trouble and a handful of other airframes went somewhere else.
The Seeds of Armageddon
Conflict and subjugation are attracted by weakness, not strength.
southern continent is home to more than 70 lakes that exist thousands of
feet under the surface of the continental ice sheet, including one under
the South Pole itself. Lake Vostok, beneath Russia's Vostok Station, is
one of the largest of these sub glacial lakes hidden beneath 12,000 feet
of ice. The Lake, a body of water the size of Lake Ontario, is over 155
miles long, 31 miles wide, and contains around 1250 cubic miles of water,
a good match for Lake Superior.
There are more
than 145 other lakes trapped under the ice. Vostok's two largest
neighbours are referred to as 900E (named after the longitude) and the
other Sovetskaya, named after the Russian research station coincidentally
built above it. Like Lake Vostok, their icy waters have been sealed off
from the surface for over 35 million years. The 900E Lake has a surface
area of 2,000km2, which is about the size of Rhode Island, and is second
only to Lake Vostok's 14,000km2 surface area. Sovetskaya Lake was
calculated to be about 1,600 km2. Both are sealed beneath more than two
miles of ice. The lake depths, estimated to be at least 900 meters, were
calculated from gravity data taken during aerial surveys in 2000 and 2001.
Antarctica. 16 Miles North of Vostok Station
Sunday Dec 30 2010. The gunman pressed the end of the barrel hard
into the back of the other man's neck squeezing the trigger at the same
time. The sound of the gunshot was partly muffled by the heavily padded
hood of the victim's parka, the rest of it snatched away in the blizzard
of wind and ice that swept over the two lone figures. The large calibre
round entered the man's lower neck and exited through the other side of
his skull, taking most of his face with it and spraying sizable chunks of
bone and brains over the white surface.
Feng's dead body collapsed like a wet sack. The killer knelt
next to the body quickly going through the dead mans pockets. He found
what he was looking for and carefully examined it. It was a cylindrical
piece of ice that with the exception of the black globules near its centre
was crystal clear. He retrieved a small plastic container from his own
jacket and dropped the sample inside, sealing the lid.
The gunman stood for a moment, holstering the weapon and
replacing the outer glove back on his gun hand. He watched with
satisfaction as the drifting snow quickly covered the bloody evidence
staining the ice. The body was also collecting snow and would be covered
in minutes. In 70,000 years, as the ice floe continued its steady march
north; they might find it at the other end of the lake. The man with the
gun grunted and returned to the waiting snow tractor, climbing into the
warmth of the cab.
The driver waited until he was seated then shifted the snow
machine roughly into gear without looking up. "Wet feet?" he asked.
"Big fucking mouth," the gunman said, Frozen feet now.
"You think Feng knew you were going to kill him?"
The gunman thought about the exit wound, "didn't show in his
face." He said, at least what was left of it. Hong Liu squirmed himself
comfortably into the trucks seat. He worked for the Second Bureau of the
Chinese Ministry for State Security, the Foreign Bureau, the one
responsible for operations abroad.
"What about Hamilton?" The driver asked.
"If he sniffs around here again kill him." He looked through
the windscreen into the blinding snow, the wipers scraped back and forth
furiously in an almost futile attempt to maintain some visibility. But he
wasn’t thinking about the snow, he was thinking about the Australian.
Hamilton was a risk, too great a risk to leave walking and talking. He
pulled his gloves off, checking his pocket for the cylinder. "Hamilton was
talking to Feng,” He continued, “when the time is right..." Hong left the
sentence hanging because he was really talking to himself, he knew if
anyone were to find out about the ice core sample, China’s future would be
The driver nodded. "We have agents in Australia, why not have
them do it?”
"No,” Hong Liu said, a little troubled by the other mans
complacence. “This I need to do myself.” What they were undertaking now
would take many years to come to fruition and could turn the world and the
balances of power upside down.
The driver had no idea what was in Hong’s pocket or what they
were doing here. He didn’t want to know; in this case ignorance was bliss.
Like Shultz in Hogans Heroes, his chances of survival were much better if
he ‘knew nothing!’ anyone in the PLA could tell you that. He replayed the
German accent in his head, he wasn’t about to try it out loud.
"Durnovo is preparing the drill site," Hong said shivering a
little, but not from the cold. "We don't need any
more complications like Feng." He looked at the driver. “Or we might join
The driver inwardly shrank and looked away. Yes, the least
said the better; Hong seemed to have an unusual degree of latitude with
Beijing. He didn’t want to be Hongs next job. What ever they were doing
was clearly worth killing for, not that that had ever been a problem.
He looked up and for a fleeting moment and saw the squashed
orange pumpkin shape of the moon between the racing clouds of blowing
snow. The flattened shape was due to atmospheric bending of light or
refraction - an effect which is more severe closer to the horizon,
something poor old Feng would never see again he thought, but something
the driver wanted to see many more times.
On the way back to camp the driver tracked the moons path
until it sank below the horizon, fearful now thinking somehow his fate and
the moons presence were somehow entwined. Strangely, the driver was right.
Thousands of miles away someone else was looking at the same moon at the
exact same moment. This person was scouring its surface looking for
something left behind from decades before and had a far better view than
the Chinese snow cat driver enjoyed. Fate was drawing their paths
together. A set of events had just been set in motion that bound them all
together in a struggle that would pit them against each other, see two of
them dead along with thousands of others and a planet on the brink of
The Taurus-Littrow valley Mare
(The Moon) NASA Goddard Flight Control Centre
GREENBELT MD USA. The man
whose life was now entwined with that of the two Chinese operatives was
sitting in the Goddard NASA Control Centre. It was 3:09AM in the morning
and as the Chinese snow cat driver watched the moon submerge beneath the
ice in Antarctica, in the control centre the moon was still in exactly the
same spot it had been for most of the night, close-up on the main view
There were no major missions underway and just a handful of
staff inhabited the large room watching machines that watched and
monitored other machines. Just like on the movie Appollo Thirteen, several
big view screens looked down on the room taking up the entire front wall.
Swimming across them were real time high resolution images of the lunar
surface. Managing that process was NASA Aerospace Technician David
Stringer, an imaging specialist. Stringer had the plum job for the
evening, something he had been anticipating for some time. He could feel
the excitement in his fingertips as he tapped his keyboard feeding the
command sequences into the computer. For the next ninety minutes he was in
control of several billion dollars worth of cutting edge space technology
orbiting the moon. He checked the time again, these were priceless minutes
and he had planned each one of them.
What he didn’t know was that he was about make a profound
discovery. But that was still a few minutes away. The billions of dollars
of space hardware he commanded was a brand new Lunar Reconnaissance
Orbiter or LRO which closely orbited the moon. The satellite, called
MoonSat1 enjoyed the best optical and digital imaging ever sent off the
planet. After Stringer completed a scheduled set of unit tests he steered
the cameras on board MoonSat1 to look at the lunar objective he had
dreamed of visiting since a child.
After that he would test the LRO’s image servos – the little
gizmos that oriented and moved the cameras and then the lunar orbiters
reaction flywheels. The flywheels controlled the LRO’s pitch and attitude.
Each reaction wheel had a flywheel. When the flywheel spun up in one
direction, the spacecraft would start to spin very slowly in the opposite
direction. Putting a few reaction wheels on the LRO enabled control on all
While these mechanisms had already been tested many times,
even more tests had been scheduled for that night. The LRO team were now
nearing the end of a long series of such tests that once completed would
make the LRO officially operational. They were leaving nothing to chance.
After that the lunar satellite would be such a hot ticket that even the
President would have a problem getting a few seconds of eye ball time. But
the scheduled tests would have to wait a few minutes, right now the LRO
was about to fly over Stringers target area and this would probably be his
only chance to examine it.
The large crisp display of the moving lunar landscape had
already captured the attention of most of the technicians left in the
“What are we looking at?” One of them asked.
“Not much at the moment, but watch this.” Stringer smiled,
they would love this. After quickly loading the telemetry copied from his
work sheet, the images on the big screens blurred out of focus. There was
a short wait because the signal data still had to traverse a lot of space,
approximately 385,000 km. After several seconds the image cleared and
focused. It was worth the wait.
The room drew a collective breath. Stringer smiled, standing
behind his control module he held out his arms to his small audience.
“That my friends, is the Apollo 17 Lunar Module, Challenger.” He savoured
The image was the best resolution ever taken of the Lander. A
previous LRO had taken images, but not as close and as detailed as these.
Even the Hubble had problems in obtaining a clear image. With its 2.4
meter diameter mirror, the smallest object the Hubble could resolve at the
Moons distance (400,000km) was 80 metres across, about 30 to 40 times less
than what was needed.
The new Faint Object Camera with superb resolution of about
0.0072 arc-seconds couldn’t see it either. The MoonSat however was much,
much closer to the target; it was almost like standing there. The monitors
showed the Lunar module sitting amongst a field debris ejected after the
escape module had blasted off. David knew he would only have minutes of
eye ball time before the satellite rolled over the horizon again. He used
those minutes to explore the site in detail. Just as he was about to
rotate the cameras away he noticed something very unusual, something out
of place, something that shouldn’t be there.
The Persian Gulf and Middle East
Gonzo Station, the Gulf of Oman 100km south of Chah Bahar, Iran - Carrier
Task Force (CTF) 150. USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) Strike Group (JCSSG)
The narrow Strait of Hormuz is considered one of the most, if not the most
strategic strait of water on the planet. Through a small sea space less
than 40 miles wide moves the better part of the worlds oil needs. This
stretch of water bordered by Iran, Oman's Musandam Peninsula and the
United Arab Emirates is a magnet for trouble.
Call sign ‘Buckshot’ side number 402 approached the
nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76) from dead
astern at an altitude of 1,200 feet and a distance of eight miles. The
pilot, temporarily assigned to the naval attack squadron the Fists,
VFA-25, eased his F/A-18C Hornet fighter to starboard, aligning it on his
final heading for a straight-in night landing.
The USS Ronald Ragan was into the wind, the small island of
Bahrain to her stern and the gulf on her bow. An approach controller in (CATCC),
the Carrier Air Traffic Control Centre, called out radar updates during
the final minutes of Hamilton's mission. Radio chatter was held to a
CATCC: "Four Zero Two, on glide path, on course."
An F/A-18C Hornet from
VFA-25, the ‘Fists of the fleet’ high over the Gulf
Buckshot: "Four Zero Two."
CATCC: "Four Zero Two, on glide path, on course, three-
quarter miles. Call the ball."
Buckshot: "Four Zero Two, ball. 5-3." Buckshot confirmed his
visual sighting of the ball, his position relative to the beam of amber
light, the location of the "needles" on the cockpit display of his
automatic carrier landing system, and his remaining fuel available.
Paddles: "Roger, ball." The landing signal officer (LSO) or
‘paddles’ as some called him, confirmed Hamilton's radio transmission. The
LSO monitored all carrier landings from a platform on the port side of the
flight deck near the ship's stern, radioing instructions as necessary.
Eighteen seconds after his final radio transmission,
Buckshot's FA/-18C Hornet slammed down on the Reagan’s flight deck. As his
aircraft's tail hook reached for one of the four arresting cables spanning
the flight deck, Buckshot applied full power to the Hornet's two General
Electric turbofan engines. In the event he missed grabbing a wire owing to
a hook skip or landed past the wires, Buckshot would "bolter" and make an
immediate takeoff on the carrier's angled flight deck.
Only when a safe arrested landing was assured (on a "number
three wire") and the flight deck officer's lighted wands signalled him to
reduce power did Buckshot pull his engine throttles back to idle and
follow the directions of yellow-shirted aircraft handlers to taxi to his
parking spot on the busy flight deck.
After a brief post flight inspection, the temporary naval
aviator that was really an RAAF Flight Lieutenant on TDY, went to the
maintenance-control office to report the status of his aircraft followed
by a debriefing of his mission and landing in the squadron ready room.
(The LSO grades and critiques every landing on the ship as part of a
continuing process of self-improvement).
As the RAAF pilot signed his aircraft's maintenance forms to
close out the mission his Squadron CO appeared, leaning through the hatch
and propping himself up against the bulkhead.
“You are Ready Five.” The Fists Commander Chris McKay looked
at his watch. “In six hours?”
The Commanding Officer of VFA-25 looked at the Australian.
The Aussie was what they called a Hot Runner – someone who consistently
performed well, better still; he wasn’t pretentious about it or full of
the usual cock and bull. His mate Horde, the other Aussie exchange officer
was pretty good as well. “You’re both short. Looks like we have to give
you back soon huh?”
Buckshot looked up from the paperwork and smiled. “Fraid so
sir, nine days and a wakeup.” He paused, “Frankly I’d like to stay a
little longer, was hoping to see some action.” The road to qualifying for
active flying duty on board one of the world’s most powerful ships had not
been easy and being able to put that training to practice would have been
gratifying – so long as only the bad guys got hurt of course.
Buckshot had trained at NAS Pensacola completing over 140
carrier-landing practices in all types of weather conditions day and
night, before he even saw a carrier deck. When he finally did, it was
flying a T-45 Goshawk trainer on and off an Aviation Landing Training Ship
(AVT) before participating in fleet replacement squadron carrier
After all that and despite his significant hours in the air
force flying Hornets and Pigs, he still joined VFA-147 as a nugget. But
this was a rare opportunity; he and Horde would be the only
carrier-qualified pilots in the Australian Defence Force. But their tenure
was drawing to a close and he didn’t want to leave without just a little
bit of excitement.
The CO of the Fists laughed, slapping the bulkhead as he
straightened up to leave. “Well, you never know
your bad luck! Just make sure you and Horde don’t stain your almost
flawless records before you go.” He was referring to landings and other
instruments of measurement they used to weigh pilot skills.
“What do you mean ‘almost’” Buckshot half shouted down the
passageway after the retreating figure of the CO.
The Commander turned and smiled. “Just keep your god dam noses clean,
don’t screw the pooch.” He disappeared past another bulkhead his voice
trailing off with “See you after the sweat.” He meant the often hot and
boring job of sitting in the cockpit as an alert aircraft pilot, waiting
for a launch order that most often didn’t happen.
“Aye, aye sir.” Buckshot replied. The RAAF pilot had only
just got used to saying ‘Aye, aye’, a habit he would have to drop.
USS Ronald Reagan (CVN 76)
steams through the Gulf of Oman.
At the due time
and after some quick zees, Buckshot was back on the flight deck. The red
shirted ordies were working to get his jet ready, loading AMRAAM’s,
Harpoons and 20-millimeter ammo. After checking the maintenance book and
signing the white acceptance sheet for the aircraft, Buckshot dropped off
the weight sheet in Flight Deck Control followed by a quick precautionary
wizz in the head before walking back to his bird. The plastic bug as some
called her was parked in Fly One, the flight deck area in front of the
Island. The plane captain, ordnance man and yellow shirt waited for him in
preparation to get the jet started.
Buckshot checked the boarding ladder and climbed up to the
cockpit to inspect the ejection seat, checking that the SAFE/ARM handle
was in the SAFE position before looking over the rest of the seat. He then
checked all the switches were in the proper positions and dropped his
kneeboard on the seat and stowed his paper charts. The paper was only for
emergencies. After completing that detail he climbed back down and
beginning from the left hand side of the fuselage commenced his exterior
inspection, walking around the fuselage in a clockwise direction. He
checked for loose doors, fasteners, hydraulic leaks, dents or anything out
of place finishing off with an inspection of the ordnance. The two-wingtip
stations carried sidewinders. In addition to these each wing featured
three stations. The very inboard stations carried Harpoons, the two outer
stations and two nacelle stations loaded with AIM-120 AMRAAM.
He gave ‘a thumbs up’ to the plane captain then climbed up
and strapped in.
The air boss turned on the green launch lights and with that
cue the yellow shirts started the engines. Once started up Buckshot
punched in the pre-determined tactical frequency. His deck handler then
signalled him and he eased the jet forwards following him towards the
Ready Five position. The term Ready Five or Alert Five, as in the movie
Top Gun, is a condition of high alert for aircraft crews on the flight
deck in which they must be ready to launch within five minutes. Fighter
aircraft are placed on the steam catapult complete with flight crew,
armament, and fuel, ready to go.
Buckshot dreaded being assigned Ready Five, because he could
be there for what seemed hours on end. He taxied the jet following the
plane handler up to the zipper track that led him into the launch box.
When the nose wheel was just behind the shuttle, the towbar was lowered
into a slot on the shuttle, the Jet Blast Deflector (JBD) just aft of the
plane was raised and the Hornets permanent ‘holdback’ attached to its
station. With everything ready they gave Buckshot the signal to kill both
engines and waited. They waited and sweated.
Calling it a ‘sweat’ was an understatement. It was stifling.
The sun beat through the canopy, the sea was calm as a millpond and
everything seemed to be going in slow motion. This wasn’t flying it was a
steam bath. He waited. The minutes dragged by. He kept looking at the
island hoping for the call. The minutes kept dragging by. With just a few
minutes to go he let himself relax a little, relief was on the way. This
of course is when it always happens.
“Launch Alert Five!” The order blared out from the flight
decks loud speakers.
The RAAF pilot sat bolt upright. The engines were started
again and he and the deck crew quickly ran through the launch procedures.
Once everything was satisfied he placed his right hand on the throttles
and ran them to the stops. With his other hand he snapped a salute and
grabbed the upper left hand hold bracing for the shot. He wouldn’t grab
the stick again until after becoming airborne.
Within the space of a few seconds he was fired off the bow,
pulling out of afterburner, heading for the tanker and then where ever it
is he was supposed to be going. Twenty minutes later he was being vectored
to the targets Skunk Delta and Echo, two surface contacts. The second
alert aircraft, call sign Gunner, formed on his right wing.
Buckshots radar had picked up both the surface contacts
before refuelling, they looked like ‘small boys’, maybe FFG’s. He talked
to Gunner over the tactical frequency, “Gunner, I’ll take the small boy
north, you take the one south.” Two clicks on the transmit button located
on the throttles of Gunners Hornet acknowledged the request.
Buckshot dropped down to one hundred feet at a speed of three hundred and
fifty knots rolling the two ‘loud levers’ forward turning more kerosene
into even more noise. He was used to flying F111’s, and down and dirty was
his profession, he loved this stuff.
Buckshot quickly came up on the stern of Skunk Delta and he
pulled the fighter into the vertical. It looked like a minelayer, a
converted Iranian navy LST that looked busy somewhere it shouldn’t be,
just north east of the disputed Island of Abu Musa. As far as Buckshot
could tell they were at least ten miles outside of Iran’s territorial
waters, which extended twelve miles into the Persian Gulf. He
double-checked his main MFD, which displayed a detailed moving map. On the
back half of his loop he picked up a 30-degree dive and rolled back in the
direction of the target, to his surprise angry red tracers raced up to
meet him. He stabbed the left pedal, gave his bird some left stick before
pulling it back and punching in the burners. The Hornet flicked into a
heavy gee turn, standing on its wing. He quickly reversed, pushed the nose
down hard and flattened the Hornet to the deck as he escaped the
fusillade. He felt several thuds run through the airframe from canon
strikes but the bug seemed to shake them off without any affect. The
Threat Warning System (TWS) started blaring; he jinked hard punching chaff
for all it was worth. The TWS stopped and he pulled a hard Immelman to
head back in to Skunk Delta, he didn’t like being shot at.
The ROE were clear. If fired upon he could respond in kind.
Staying low, just feet off the deck, he approached the target from the
beam. From his left hand multifunctional display screen he selected the
Harpoons and hit his master arm switch to ARM and started his attack run
in. The targeting information came up on the HUD. Tracking and target lock
were almost instantaneous, both missiles dropped from the rails knifing
ahead, leaving long plumes of rocket exhaust behind them.
The normal procedure was to bug out, but with no other
threats to worry about, Buckshot followed the Harpoons. Ahead of him the
minelayer suddenly exploded under the double whammy missile strike, the
hull heaving from the water as she was split in half. Buckshot pulled up
and rolled the aircraft into a turn, looking over his shoulder at the same
time. He could see the boat had almost broken in two, fire erupting from
the hull amidst numerous secondary explosions. Was it a boat or a ship he
thought? He would have to check later. He circled the kill noticing the
Iranian flag fluttering on the stern, seemingly impervious to the carnage
in front. Moments later it slipped beneath the water. Was this a good day?
He tried not to think about the crew and thought about heading back to the
chicken ranch when the Local Air Controller (LAC) called in, there were
five bogeys hauling ass out of Bandar Beheshti inbound to his position.
“402 you have five bogeys inbound moving at 450 knots, 80
miles out.” There was a hesitation. ‘Make that five bandits, they look
like Air Guards.” The LAC added, upgrading the bogey dope.
Buckshot picked them up as they got feet wet and called
‘Judy’. This signified that he had radar contact on the bandits and could
complete the intercept without further assistance from the Hawkeye. He was
smack in the middle of the Strait of Hormuz, right at the apex just a few
miles south of the Iranian Island of Jazireh-ye Larak. Call sign Horde
then checked in merging to his starboard. Gunner was far to the north
tangling with the other mine layer, so it looked like it was just the two
of them in the welcoming committee that day. Horde had a bloodhound’s nose
for trouble and Buckshot wondered how the hell he had got himself out
there. Good thing though, two against five was better than one.
The inbound aircraft were F-7MP Air Guards, an advanced
Chinese made version of the famous MiG-21 FISHBED. It was fast and
manoeuvrable and similar to the F16; the Iranian version packed 30mm canon
and R550 Magic Missiles. Its pulse doppler radar system could track a thin
beam to 15km in missile mode and 5km in guns with a minimum height of
150m. Buckshot and Horde turned into towards the bandits, Horde following
Buckshot’s jet down to the deck. Too much altitude as they approached the
coast could easily place them in range of shore based SAM systems.
Airguard. Iranian version is the (J-7II)
Max Speed: 1,175 kt / 1,350 mph
Max Range: 600 km / 373 miles
Dimensions: span 7.154 m / 23 ft 5.625 in length 13.945 m / 45 ft 9
in height 4.103 m / 13 ft 5.5 in
Weight: empty 5275 kg / 11,629 lb normal take-off 7531 kg / 16,603
Powerplant: one Liyang (LMC) Wopen WP-7B(BM) rated at 43.15 kN
(9.700 Ib st) dry and 59.82 kN (13,448 Ib st) with afterburning. This is
derived from the TumanskiiR-1 IF-300
Armament: Two internal 30 mm Type 30-1 cannon or One 23 mm Type
23-3 cannon AIM-9L Sidewinder; PL-2, PL-5, bombs; rockets
Hornet – carrier based, multi-role fighter
Powerplant: Two General Electric F404-GE-402 afterburning engines,
producing 18,000 lbs. thrust each
Wingspan: 37 ft., 6 in. (11.43 m)
Length: 56 ft. (17.07 m)
Height: 15 ft., 3.5 in. (4.7 m)
Wing area: 400 sq. ft. (37.16 m2)
Weight 23,050 lb. empty
Max T/O wt 56,000 lb
Max speed: 1,360 mph, Mach 1.8
Ceiling: 50,000 ft
Combat radius: +500 N miles
Range – 2,000 miles
Climb rate – 45,000 ft. per minute
Armament – One 20 mm M61A1 Vulcan six-barrel cannon with 570 round
up to 13,700 pounds of external ordnance, including Sidewinder, AMRAAM,
Sparrow missiles, bombs, rockets, and drop tanks on nine external points.
the Iranians were obviously a little ticked off about their boats being
sunk. Or was that ships again? Any hoot, someone had seen them earlier on,
maybe the search radar from the new Tor M1 Air Defence Systems that they
just received from the Ruskis? It was this latter thought that made him
mindful of his distance to the coast and altitude. The Tor M1
surface-to-air missile system was a fast tracked mobile platform which
could set up in three minutes, had eight missiles ready to shoot and took
just five seconds to launch from target detection. It had a range of 25km,
could track 48 targets and shoot two at once with a kill probability
ranging from 0.6 to 0.9. He did NOT want to test that last part.
He turned southwest to head further down the Strait. The tiny
Island of As Salamah slipped past his starboard wing with the Musandam
Peninsula on the other. To try and manoeuvre here would be like trying to
fly in a fish bowl, the Strait of Hormuz that separated Oman and Iran was
just tens of kilometres wide at this point, which meant anywhere in the
strait was potentially within range of Iranian missiles. The wide-open
spaces of the Gulf of Oman lay in front him and within seconds he was due
east of Hisn Diba.
Once Buckshot felt like there was enough sea space between
himself and the possible missile batteries he set-up an intercept that
would bring them up behind the Air Guards. For some crazy reason they had
extended out into the Gulf.
There was of course the small issue of the ROE Buckshot
reminded himself. While the minelayer had fired at him, the Air Guards had
not. At the same time the word from the top down was to vigorously
exercise freedom of navigation and not to be intimidated by Iranian
aggression. Did the hostile action with the minelayer mean that any overt
response by the other side, in or about the same place and time, be
perceived as the same action?
Fortunately that question was decided quickly. Some one had
fired a missile at the Hawkeye. Gunner, who was closer to the Hawkeye, had
taken care of it, no damage done. The ATCC, more than a little rattled and
pissed off, gave them weapons free. Buckshot followed the Remotely Fed
Radar (RFR) track painted by the Hawkeye, avoiding the use of his own
radar that might alert the bandits to his position. A little more than a
minute later he and Horde were behind the Iranians in a tail chase.
Once in position they ballooned off the deck and illuminated
the bad guys, the JF-17’s were closer than Buckshot had thought. He
performed a low yoyo to reduce closure, the two bugs almost overshooting
and now too close for missiles. Ass end Charlie of the flight of five
bandits spotted him quickly and broke to port; the other aircraft picked
up the call and broke in all directions. Buckshot stuck with Charlie,
Horde sticking close to his wing as they began yanking and banking. The
Iranian pilot was no match for Buckshot. Within seconds Buckshot hit him
with guns, twenty millimetre canon shells ripping holes in the Iranian jet
which began to burn before rolling on its back and smashing into the
ocean. Just then Horde came under canon fire from behind. He warned
Shotgun and executed a hard right turn plugging in the burners and keeping
his eye on the lone Air Guard, rolling his Bug high and wide trying to
separate and get him with a missile shot.
At the same time Buckshot acquired two firm missile queues
and wasted little time in allocating and shooting them BVR. The AMRAAMS
sped off the rails towards their targets. Thirty seconds later one of the
targets disappeared off screen. Buckshot spoke to the Hawkeye over the Tac
wondering what had happened to the other guy he missed when bitching Betty
blared. He dumped everything to the left and pushed the noisemakers to the
wall again; he saw a bandit blow past his starboard and without turning
into him targeted him with his helmet queue, firing off an AIM-9
sidewinder. After leaving the wingtip rail the AIM did a smart one eighty
and chased the bad guy, just like the Raytheon brochure said it would,
Buckshot was impressed. The TWS stopped, that was three bogies down.
Buckshot wondered how Horde was doing and went looking for him. Hawkeye
than called informing him another five bad guys were hot, heavy and
Buckshot’s adrenalin was pumping, he snapped the Hornet on
its back, rolled one eighty degrees and set-up a head on pass. He knew the
other guys didn’t have helmet or off bore sight queueing. As they crossed
he locked his remaining AIM-9 on the lead jet. The missile raced off the
rails and he turned and burned to follow the other jets. He quickly found
himself overtaking one of them and hit the guy with canon. Chunks fell of
the jet whipping past his canopy, smoke poured from the tail pipe and the
pilot punched out. That was four, if the other AIM was on target maybe
five. Out of ammo and running on chicken fuel, Buckshot ran the jet out
over the water towards the carrier as fast as he could, followed by Horde.
As far as a fighter pilot went Buckshot knew it didn’t get much better
than this. But he also knew it wasn’t just fuel he was running out of, he
was sure he had just cashed in a years worth of luck as well.
The whole encounter had taken just minutes. Buckshot had
four, maybe five and Horde was down for two and Gunner had one as well.
The Iranians were running out of Airguards. After Hawkeye told them the
coast was clear (Literally), the two jets formed up and then landed on the
carrier. Air to air engagements are rare, so it was with some
good-humoured envy that the carriers wing of pilots welcomed back the
Australians. None of the carrier’s pilots assumed for a minute that they
would not have done as well as Buckshot in the same circumstance;
otherwise they wouldn’t be combat pilots. It was that attitude that made
them the best. But it was time to pay homage which they did in grand
style; after all, Buckshot was the first ace of the new century, Hawkeye
had confirmed the AIM shot splashed its target.
While Buckshot appreciated the compliments, he knew as well
as everyone else on the ship, that if the Iranians had not been so afraid
to risk their new Sukhoi’s, the story might have been a lot different.
Luck had been on his side. The story was also not going to be told. The
Iranians embarrassed by the flogging they had taken said it never
happened. Keen to keep hostilities in the region down and because two
Australians were involved in the flying knife fight, the US Navy also
decided discretion was called for. Buckshot’s fame would remain in the
At 2300HRS local time that night, Buckshot and Horde excused
themselves from the celebrations. They were exhausted. Buckshot also knew
he had ops the following day and wanted to be fresh to the task. While
becoming an ace, Buckshot was thankful it had eventuated without his ass
being shot off. He did not however want alcohol-jaded reflexes to give
some other bad guy a chance to take his scalp the next day. Little did he
know how prophetic that thought was going to be, less than a thousand
miles away something was already happening that before the next day was
out, would see him fighting for his life in a way no one could have
The Feather Men,
The Aboriginal elders called the SAS "Feather men". In the old times
Aboriginal warriors used to kill an Emu and coat their feet with the fat
and feathers from the bird. This allowed them to walk across the desert
sands without leaving a footprint. The term "Feather men" was a compliment
with a dark connotation. The only prey in the outback that required a
hunter to cover his tracks was another man.
You may have the watches, but we have the time - Taliban Saying
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN. Captain Nick Jansen RAN placed his mobile phone
on the desk next to his laptop. He stared for a moment at the large map on
the wall before referring back to the screen. He was reading a DIO
(Defence Intelligence Organization) report that had just arrived in his
inbox. Jansen was the senior Defence Liaison Officer with the ADF National
Command Element (NCE) in Afghanistan, part of Operation Slipper. After
reading and digesting the report he called Special Operations Task Group (SOTG)
head quartered in Tarin Kowt. The Australian SAS Operations Commander
Colonel David Morel answered the phone.
“We just received some Intel on Rasputin.” Jansen said
without any preliminary. Rasputin was the code name for a senior
Indonesian Mujahedeen working with the Taliban.
“Here?” Morel was as equally straight to the point; neither
man was a time waster.
“Here as in Afghanistan yes, but specifically Paktya. DIO
think he’s the Taliban’s main tier-two guy operating out of Gujarghuna
right on the border there, supposed to be pretty close to bungeye.” He was
referring to the ‘Emir’, the one-eyed mullah Omar. Taliban meant ‘Gods
“Jaji.” Morel said.
“Jaji, it’s a small town inside the Afghanistan border, not
far from the crossing. We used to operate there in 2006; it’s where they
ship all the opium through and right now its poppy season. You want us to
take a gecko?”
“That’s the general idea.” Somebody was putting turns on the
two thousand mile screw driver. “They have a guide.”
“A guide?” This didn’t sound good.
“DIO reckons this guy will take us...you, to Rasputin.”
Morel wasn’t convinced, but the screw was in. He knew
Rasputin was believed to be working with Baluchi drug lords across the
border, protecting their opium and getting it across the border in
exchange for money and arms. According to DOI’s intelligence assessment
Islamic extremists from Chechnya had joined Rasputin’s small army and were
taking part in attacks on Australian troops in the Paktya, Lowgar and
Knowst provinces. These attacks were motivated by Rasputin’s desire to
secure greater control of the local opium trade that provided much of
their funding. The Chechen fighters, radicalised and battle-hardened by
years of war in their homeland were fighters to be reckoned with.
Rasputin was also getting other help, SOTG had uncovered
intelligence that proved Iran was supplying logistical support and
tactical guidance to his Taliban forces in the region. This had resulted
in an increase in attacks with improvised explosive devices, heavy
weapons, and indirect fire weapons. Several Australians had been killed by
IED’s in the last few days alone. SOTG knew Rasputin’s focus was to keep
control of the narco-trafficking trade and to stop the Poppy Eradication
Force (PEP) destroying poppy crops and distributing wheat seed to the
farmers instead. Ninety two per cent of the world's opium crop was grown
in Afganistan and the Baluchi drug lords wanted to keep it that way.
Rasputin had a long rap sheet with DOI. He had already been
linked to several terrorist attacks, including those in Bali, long before
he appeared in Afghanistan. Hammer time Colonel Morel thought.
KUZA KHERMANA, PAKTIA PROVINCE. Colonel David Morel tasked 1
Squadron SASR with the job of looking for Rasputin. The Squadron’s vehicle
troop was then ordered to patrol the area around Ali Kheyl before
inserting a patrol near a key border crossing which they suspected the
Indonesian cleric was using. After weeks of fruitlessly searching the
valley and near the end of the patrol the Vehicle Troop was suddenly given
another tasking, a particularly unpopular one. To accommodate the new
request the Troops vehicles were pulled up into a half wagon wheel a few
miles out of the village of Kuza Khermana. It was too dangerous to stop in
the village which would have exposed the column to hidden fire from its
numerous structures and compounds. The ever changing loyalties of the
village clans meant you never knew who to trust. The single road running
through the valley system could take them from a staunchly pro government
village to an opium warlord’s in the space of a kilometre – all part of
the Taliban ratline.
The Troop had stopped to secure a location ahead of an RV
with a unit from the local Reconstruction Task Force (RTF5). Within
fifteen minutes the RTF5 unit arrived. Made up of 6RAR Bushmaster IMVs;
the RTF5 Diggers immediately dismounted taking up positions to form a
perimeter. Once this was completed the ‘package’ as they referred to it,
was told it was okay to go over and meet her new travelling companions.
From his position in the gunner’s seat of a Nary Special
Operations Vehicle (SOV), Sergeant Gary Fulham watched with more than a
little appreciation the package move towards them. The fine form of ABC
correspondent Natasha Braithewaite was the best looking thing he had ever
seen exit a Bush Master.
Fulham tapped the gun rail talking to the man seated in front
of the vehicle. “Was that in bed with us or imbed?”
Hamilton looked up from what he was doing to see what Fulham
was on about. Oh shit, that was unexpected. “They sent a fucking woman!”
“I hope so.” Fulham replied.
“Bloody nuts.” Hamilton closed his note book stowing it in
the door tray as climbed out of the vehicle.
“Yess...bloody nuts.” Fulham said, simply repeating the
Hammer because the rest of his brain cells were focused else where.
Hamilton looked back and up, raising his eyebrows. “You know
god dam well what I mean, stop drooling and get your ass out of there.”
“Yes sir, absolutely.” Fulham crawled out from beneath the
Nary Special Operations
Vehicle – ADF version of the Supacat
“Now walk with me inconspicuously to the back of the truck.” Hamilton
Fulham followed his boss but could barely take his eyes off
the apparition still advancing towards them. Gary was no perve, but his
infatuation was pretty understandable. For six months he had been sharing
tents and holes in the ground with a troop of hairy smelly obnoxious
ozzies. All the women where they operated wore Hijaab, head to toe robes
and veils and the SAS men imagined many of them to be just as hairy
beneath it. This woman was a major dish...and the way she moved.
Braithewaite could feel the eyes on her, something she was
getting used to in this part of the world. She opened the A5 sized
notebook she carried and checked the photograph. The man staring back at
her from the picture looked a little like Hugh Jackman but with sandy
coloured hair and startling blue eyes. Captain B.E. (Hammer) Hamilton,
DFC, Troop Commander 1 Sabre Squadron SASR. She had written on the corner
‘Hammer’. That was his nickname; she would have to find out why they
called him that. Did it have something to do with the big bounty the
Taliban had put on his head? Out of everyone here why had they singled him
out? Rumour had it that whoever got him, ideally alive, would receive a
huge reward for themselves and their family. They then planned to skin him
alive and broadcast it on YouTube. Perhaps she thought, it wasn’t exactly
a good idea to be anywhere near this guy, anywhere else was probably much
safer. This guy was a Taliban celebrity, except the Taliban paparazzi had
Looking at the bearded faces around her, she had no doubt the
men here would have preferred she was somewhere else as well, but for
different reasons. It was clear from the moment she had stepped out of the
Bushmaster she was as welcome as a Rabbi in a Mosque. There was no
welcoming committee, no lending hand. The men crewing the special ops
vehicles opposite seemed intent on making this difficult for her. The
vehicles looked as mean as the men.
The Nary 4x4 had recently replaced the troops Land Rovers.
The Nary was an "all terrain pit-bull", and offered significantly
increased mobility, protection and agility over the Land Rover WMIKS.
Powered by a Cummins 5.9 litre turbo-diesel engine it was capable of
speeds of over 80 mph on roads and 40 mph across the desert. The vehicles
crewed three and were armed with a .50 calibre machine gun, automatic
grenade launcher or 7.62 General Purpose Machine Gun (GPMG) with a second
7.62 GPMG for the Commander.
Braithewaite would have been surprised to know her assessment
of the welcome committee, or lack of it, was in fact wrong. Like Fulham,
all the men were a just little shell shocked with a woman being dropped in
their midst when they least expected it – especially one that looked like
her. They had been informed to expect a correspondent, and naturally
assumed a man. Out here in the bad ass land of special operations it was
men’s business. GI Jane was just in the movies. Beret qualification in the
Australian SAS required extreme, almost super human physical strength,
something no women had come even close to. But they were welcome to try.
Hamilton, hiding behind the truck wanted a few moments to
think. He would have felt better equipped if a bomb had been thrown at
them; this was going to be awkward. He knew the correspondent was to be
embedded with his vehicle mounted patrol for a few days, timed to occur
near the end of their current tasking. To someone in the Russell offices
in Canberra this must have sounded like a great idea, but they had never
smelt an Australian SF Patrol returning from an extended time in the
field. That might have even seemed okay if it was a bloke...but a woman,
well that was different.
As Braithewaite walked towards the patrol group she took a
moment to look around her. Despite the horror that was Afghanistan, it
could be incredibly beautiful. A lot of it looked like Mars with splashes
of white and spectacular mountains draped in snow framed against clear
blue skies. At night the sky was even brighter than she remembered in the
bush at home. Yes, Mars she thought...with a bit more snow. She looked
back towards her new hosts and scrutinised the faces. The men were all
filthy. They were cammed up, mostly bearded with a mixture of head dresses
that ranged from turbans to base ball caps. Weapons, ammunition and other
equipment fought for space around their bodies. With desert goggles or
glasses covering what little spare face one might have seen, they looked
every bit as menacing as the legend that surrounded them.
She scanned the vehicles and men again. Hamilton could have
been any one of them. She caught one of them looking directly at her and
headed towards him.
“Inbound.” Hammer said flatly moving around the truck.
Fulham cursed, he couldn’t help himself. Two firm
unstabilised rounds, wobbling ever so slightly, were already on their way.
There was no escape now; he tried to look busy but the two projectiles
were locked onto target. They stopped just short of him, their owner
looking over the top of her dark sunglasses at him. She smiled offering
“Natasha Braithewaite, ABC News.” Fulham took her hand
shaking it gently as if it would break. Or were his hands just shaking, he
wondered – even the Taliban hadn’t been as nerve wracking as this. He
tried to think of something to say.
“Gary, nice to meet you.” Phew, least he didn’t make an ass
“Captain Hamilton, you know where he went?” She asked.
Fulham gestured towards Hammer but his hands gestured to empty space. Son
of a bitch, he was gone. The woman was still looking at him. He tried to
look everywhere else but at her tightly packed ammunition locker right in
front of him
“He was just here.” He could feel her main armament still
pinning him to the spot just inches away. “Let me go find him for you.”
“Thank you, is there somewhere I can stow my stuff?”
Fulham pointed into the back of the Nary. Normally over
flowing with supplies, most of them had been consumed during their three
weeks in the field.
Finally the two large calibre devices turned away releasing
Fulham who fled the encounter looking for his chicken shit boss who had
abandoned him in action. He found the boss in another truck on the phone
trying to find out how come a woman had landed in their laps. Captain
Brian Hamilton looked like he wanted to kill someone. Some desk jockey
jerk wanting a good news bite had obviously dreamed this one up. He rang
up Morel. The Colonel to his credit knew nothing about it, a few minutes
later Morel had spoken to Jansen and Jansen was on the phone back to
Canberra. The signal that related to this ABC correspondent, which he had
only just uncovered, came from some senior civil ‘grade one’ ass wipe in
“Jack?..hang on let me try.” There was a pause and a few
clicks on the line. The operator came back on. “sorry, looks like he’s
gone for the day.”
Jansen just about lost it. “Gone for the day!” Well we
haven’t, we are all still here you fucking idiot! He put a call in to the
Operations Commander in Kandahar. When the General came back after about
ten minutes chasing the problem down, he said he was sympathetic but they
would have to live with it. Jansen passed on the message.
Hamilton swore again. At least he had her details now. He
wasn’t at all happy about this but like the General had said, had to live
with it. He went back to meet her, hopefully she would stay out of the way
and not be a nuisance.
As far as Braithwaite was concerned this was an ignominious
beginning. The Troop Commander had not bothered to meet her, leaving her
to stand by his truck waiting for him. He finally turns up some fifteen
minutes later with no apology. With his glasses on he was impossible to
tell apart from the rest of the troop.
Like the others he was close to the colour of the terrain
that surrounded him. The landscape seemed almost to be absorbing them,
sand and dirt covered his clothes. The talcum powder like sand of the
desert had mixed in with camo and sweat forming a greasy crust on his face
He took his glasses off to talk to her and it was this moment
that took her by surprise. The photo never gave them (The eyes) justice;
they were startling, almost luminescent when framed by the dark of his
face. She completely forgot what she was going to say and had difficulty
refocusing to listen to what he was saying. Before she knew it, he had
replaced the glasses and had handed her off to one of the troopers and was
gone. That was the last she saw of him.
31 December 1325 HRS.
Australian digger in
MOUNT SIKARAM, AFGHANISTAN. The elevation was 2365 meters, the
location; a ridge line on the northwestern slope of Mount Sikaram
southeast of the Kabul River.
It was beginning to snow again. The wind had increased and
the temperature had plummeted way below zero. Winter had been unusually
late, but it seemed to be back with a vengeance. A Pashtun tribesman
stopped to adjust his turban. Pashtuns tended to leave one end of their
turbans hanging which the tribesman used to cover his face from the bitter
cold wind. His name was Abu, behind him followed Callsign Nightmare,
Captain Brian Hamilton and Sargeant Gary Fulham SASR.
The Squadron’s Op Ord had been to insert a two man patrol to
observe a crossing point on the Pakistan border. The only way to get there
was to dismount at a place called Bar Belawut and walk to the objective,
once there to set up a hide and observe. From satellite imagery of the
border crossing, the best position they could see to observe this from was
a rock out crop on the opposite wall of the valley. It was the end of the
patrol of most of the Squadron, so after he and Fulham had been dropped
off the rest of the vehicle troop had headed back to the Gardez FOB still
several days away, for a well deserved shower, cold beer and hot food – at
least that’s the order he would have done it in…maybe the beer while
having a shower. They were probably enjoying that right now he thought. He
watched as the guide Abu quickly resumed his break neck pace up the
mountain trail. He didn’t trust that guy.
Through the falling snow Hamilton surveyed the harsh
forbidding slopes that towered all around them. They vanished into heavy
grey clouds chased along by a bone-chilling cold. Fingers of wind
penetrated the GORE-TEX pants he wore and right through the camouflage
gear underneath. He checked his GPS heading; they were coming up on
waypoint five. It was 0400 Zulu time (Greenwich Mean Time), which was
8:30am locally in eastern Afghanistan, so far so good, these were big ass
mountains and they had been covertly scouting them now for days. It was
hard going; he and Fulham were each weighed down by over sixty kilograms
of equipment. It was steep and the contour lines on the operations map
looked like they had been squeezed together and now he knew why.
Like Braithewaite he marvelled at the beauty of the mountains
and landscape, but he thought, they were as beautiful as they could be
deadly. He knew the geology here well. Millions of years ago, the slow but
unstoppable movement of the alpine crust near Afghanistan’s eastern border
had collided with the rigid peninsular block of India, causing the earths
crust to buckle, pushing up rock to create the mountainous highlands he
now stood on that formed Afghanistan’s eastern frontier.
The invisible track that Abu followed ran onto a ridgeline
known as the Safed Koh or White Mountains. The Safed Koh were the most
impressive mountains in Afghanistan straddling the Pakistan-Afghanistan
border near the Kabul River, culminating at its highest point, Mount
Sikaram. Gneiss and hard granite rock shouldered this imposing mountain
peak to over 15,620ft (4,761 m). The lower slopes and ridge spurs of
Sikaram which the reconnaissance team climbed were barren and made up of
bare lime stones and sandstones. Where pine and deodar had once grown, the
slopes were today desolate. In the mid-1980s this was the primary transit
point for anti-Soviet mujihadeen fighters.
It was now being used for launching violent attacks against
U.S. and Afghan forces, which is why Hamilton thought, he was risking his
neck out here on such a nice day, a nice day in almost any other place
except here. But it wasn’t the weather that was the big worry; it was
Abu’s relatives. The people that lived here belonged to at least a dozen
ever-warring tribes who spoke Pushtu and whose political fragmentation
mimicked the extremely broken terrain. This place was deep in
Afghanistan’s badlands only a few miles east of the Tora Bora cave complex
where coalition forces had fought many bitter and bloody battles in
pursuit of Osama bin laden.
Here medieval madness prevailed. In these tribal areas,
disloyal elders were beheaded in the public square and thieves hanged in
the streets with money stuffed in their gaping mouths for all to see.
The tribal areas straddled the border. Just over the other side of the
border in Pakistan were the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA).
Though it appeared there was little if any federal administration of any
sort going on, just a land dominated by Jihadists. The bad guys would come
over the border, past seemingly oblivious Pakistani guards, ambush NATO
forces and other Afghan or coalition troops, and then run back over the
border into the sanctuary of their tribal areas in Pakistan. The Taliban
that NATO was fighting was now run by international Islamic extremists led
from Quetta, a hot blooded Pakistani City further south. But despite NATO
knowing where the primary threat was coming from, they could do little
about it. The Pakistan government forbade any border incursions. “Any
action without our knowledge and without our clearance and approval and
without our dictation is not acceptable to Pakistan.” So a small group of
just thirteen old men sent their senior commanders, all hardbitten
ideologues over the border to do their worst.
Just seven days previously a NATO surveillance drone had
observed one of these men, bin Mohammed bin wali al-Haqq code named
Rasputin, enter a mosque in the tribal area just inside the Pakistan
border. He had delivered a sermon and had then smugly walked out with his
entourage. Permission to fire a precision missile or to pursue al-Haqq had
been denied. The small drone had circled the mosque in futility. As al-Haqq
had left the building he had smirked and waved at the camera, he knew the
infidel commanders would be really pissed when they saw that.
These tribal areas were a terrorist breeding ground. The
Pakistan government denied that it harboured al Qaeda or Taliban -
declaring that al Qaeda's leadership was hiding in Afghanistan. On the
ground the fact was there were lots of foreign fighters and what SOTG
called Tier One Taliban. These were the more fanatical element of the
insurgents; the movement's ideological hardcore who were heavily
influenced by al-Qaeda and were irreconcilable. Pakistani President Asif
Ali Zardari capitulation to pro-Taliban cleric Sufi Mohammad in the Swat
Valley a little further north, allowing him to impose Sharia law had
greatly emboldened the enemy and had provided sanctuary to the militants.
The double game played by Pakistan’s military and ISI of
supporting the Taliban forces while assuring the US they were cracking
down on terrorists was becoming more transparent. Now, as the internal
divisions in the country widened and extremism spread it was becoming
increasingly harder from preventing the Taliban contagion from invading
NATO ISR and ISTAR patrols were launched regularly to try and
catch these Pakistan based fighters as they crossed into Afghanistan and
destroy them before they were able to return. What Hamilton was unaware of
was that Rasputin was at that moment preparing a trap that both he and
Fulham were walking into. It was near the end of the day before Call Sign
Nightmare finally arrived at the observation point and setup. They would
wait and watch now. If anything really interesting arrived they would
bring in some fire and blow it up. Otherwise they would just report the
movements and someone else in the rear could decide what to do. This was a
great plan and would have worked out well if the other side hadn’t been
aware of exactly what they were doing.
Bin Mohammed bin wali al-Haqq, the Arab trained Indonesian faithful called
Rasputin by his enemies, was a close study of the parangay, farangay
dzhagérra (foreign fighting) tactics. While lacking his enemies technology
he still had many ears within their camp, from those working in military
kitchens to tradesmen in government offices, even some acting as faithful
guides for the NATO forces. He paid them all handsomely, far more in a
week than most Afghans earned in many months. The poppy trade was his
source of money. He protected that illicit trade. In return he received
money and even more knowledge of the movements of his enemy.
Today, he had just received word that two more badstérgey
(Shameless) unbelievers were headed towards the border crossing to meet
Allahs justice. Apparently one of them was the one they had placed a
bounty on. This was excellent news; the enemy would try even harder to
save this one. He could use this to lure even more parangay, farangay urdu
troops to their deaths. Al-Haqq watched as his men climed into the waiting
vehicles. Once the last man was mounted he climbed into the cab of the old
truck leading the small convoy and motioned the driver forwards. They
headed towards the border just a few miles away. Knowing Abu he thought,
the two infidel soldiers would be at the right place at the right time,
the man was a walking compass and clock.
The truck bounced hard along the pot holed rocky surface,
grinding its gears as it navigated the tight and winding road to the
border post. The road was rough, all the roads were rough. The Indonesian
Jihadi in the front passenger’s seat adjusted his Chitrali, this
distinctive headdress was very popular among mujaheddin fighters and he
wore it like a badge of honour. He was proud of what he was doing. But his
purpose in Pakistan was not just to help his Muslim brothers in
Afghanistan fight off the invaders. He knew his experience here would help
build his image as a holy warrior and leader, something he could take home
to lead his people to the true light of Islam.
The warrior cleric was already legend. Among Islams holy
warriors and to his men he was a man of great stature, a lion in battle
without mercy for the wicked. Like the humble and holy martyrs Amrozi,
Mukhlas and Sumadra, he was a man without fear. Barely five and half feet
tall with a slim build and deep flecked brown eyes, Rasputin sported a
long thick beard that made him appear wise and imposing as against
Amrozi’s poor excuse for manhood that looked more like sparse, withered
and dead grass dangling from his chin.
Al Haqq cradled his weapon across his lap. He wore brown
fatigues and Russian style webbing and cut an imposing figure. There was
something important about today, he was sure God was telling him
something, leading him to something. God willing it would be of great
A few minutes later the old Jiefeng CA30 utility truck he sat
in lumbered up to the thinly guarded Pakistani border. The truck was a
Chinese copy of the old Soviet ZIL-157 and towed an equally old Soviet
ZU-23-2. Despite its age the ZU-23-2 was a very capable gun made up of two
Afanasyev-Yakushev 23mm autocannons. They pulled up next to the Pakistan
guard hut at the border post crossing.
A figure emerged from the guard hut as the truck stopped, it
wasn’t the guard. “khéezhem pettéezzem” al-Haqq ordered, telling the man
to climb in the rear and stay hidden. The Pakistani soldier on duty paid
no attention. Bin Mohammed bin wali al-Haqq looked through the small rear
window into the back of the canvas-covered truck. Seated in the rear of
this and the other trucks behind were his fighters, mostly foreign jihadis:
Asians, Arabs and especially Pakistanis. These were idealists, mostly
products of strict religious madrasas in northern and western Pakistan. It
would take these men less than a minute once they arrived to set-up and
start firing the gun. His sipah fighters were more than enough to deal
with the two infidel soldiers he had been told of. More would follow to
In the back next to the gun he could see the man who had
jumped in at the guard post. He was nervously talking to the others. The
man was Abu, he was his jāsūs or spy, and if they successfully killed the
two feringhee NATO soldiers he might still be useful as a spy. He saw Abu
suddenly stand and bang the roof. They had barely travelled one hundred
meters past the border post. The truck stopped and the fighters
dismounted, their Kalashnikovs, rocket-propelled grenades and light
machine-guns in hand. With practiced skill they prepared the cannon, the
toptshi or gunner quickly climbing into his seat, the other five members
of the gun crew taking their places. The Pakistani border guard looked on
Al-Haqq climbed from the cab and walked to the rear of the
Jiefeng to talk to Abu. After a brief discussion he turned to the gun crew
and gestured for them to proceed, “Wélem” He ordered his toptshi (gunner).
The toptshi lined up his target and squeezed the trigger mechanism.
With an effective range of over 2.5km and cyclic rate of 2000
rounds per minute, the ZU-23 despite its age was still a nasty piece of
works. The gunner, using an optical-mechanical sight had carefully laid
the sights on the position Abu had pointed out. As he pressed the trigger,
23mm cannon shells, each weighing 178 grams left the barrels at over
970m/s. There were two immediate results, the first being noise, the bone
chilling silence of the high mountain air shattered with the violent crash
of gunfire. The second result was the impact of the rounds with solid
objects. In the line of fire two Special Forces troopers suddenly realised
with a great deal of discomfort they were well and truly compromised.
Heavy calibre shells smashed into the rock overhanging the two men. Deadly
chips of stone sprayed everywhere. Thud…thud…thud.
Hamilton and Fulham quickly hunkered down behind a boulder
outcrop, their minds instantly switching from thoughts of Gardez FOB and a
cold can of VB into survival mode as the canon belched fire. They had
watched the old truck cross the border and stop. They had had then watched
with incredulity the Taliban dismount and train the towed gun in their
direction. How was that possible?
The ZU-23 made a fast steady beat as the rounds left the
barrels. The truck and towed gun were situated on the opposite side of a
steep gorge and slightly below them. The two SASR soldiers could see the
Taliban spreading out, heading quickly towards them. The valley floor
below was strewn with boulders. These had accumulated there over the last
few millions of years deposited by the crawling bellies of glaciers long
since gone. The Taliban traversed the dry rocky stream in just minutes and
began the climb towards them.
“I guess that answers the question of whether there are AQ
using this route.” Hamilton said, he wondered whether these guys were any
of Rasputin’s lot. The real question though was, had they found him or had
he found them. Callsign Nightmare was now keenly aware the tables were
definitely turned and the odds not in their favour. At nearly seven
thousand feet, with dark rapidly approaching, poor to zero visibility and
hostile fire, there was little chance of an immediate exfil by helicopter.
It was also cold; there was no vegetation, just a hellish rocky brown
landscape pock marked with snow. Somewhere behind the depressing cloud
cover the sun had already disappeared behind towering peaks, the valley
succumbing to darkness.
“I bet the other guys are enjoying a shower right now.”
Captain Brian (Hammer) Hamilton 2nd Sabre Squadron,
Australian Army Special Air Service Regiment (SASR) nodded. He looked at
the other man, his sun burned face sported a few days of grimy growth
covered with several layers of light coloured dirt that was cracked and
creased where the wearer had attempted to smile or frown. Hamilton
imagined they both looked like twins. Both were the same height, slightly
shy of six feet, broad shouldered and well muscled. They both wore the
same field dress topped off by unruly hair and half grown beards. While
Hamilton’s hair was blond and Fulham’s black, the desert and mountain had
given them both the Afghanistan makeover. This had a knack of making
everyone look the same, even some of the women. It was Hamilton’s eyes
that stood out. Especially when framed in the dirt and dust. But with
their goggles on you could only tell them apart by the weapons they
carried. The SASR officer was about to say something when a heavy burst of
canon fire made a really good attempt at crawling into their hidy hole. He
went back to checking his kit; he was officially getting the shits now;
becoming truly annoyed.
The ancient gun below kept hammering without letup, the shots smashing
into stone and dirt all around shrouding him and Fulham in dust. The gun
might be old Hamilton thought, but it was still frigging lethal and was
making him a bloody sight older with every shot. Smaller rounds joined in
the effort, ricocheting off the rocks all around. “I hate being shot at.”
He yelled out over the din.
Sergeant Gary Fulham smiled. Hamilton always said that when
they were being shot at. “Me too! Can we go home now?” he replied, looking
with feigned innocence at his boss but with a wicked smile.
“We were set up.” Hamilton said flatly, reloading a magazine
into his weapon.
“How do you know?”
Fulham looked around. There was no Abu to be seen. He had
buggered off before the truck appeared, to recon the path ahead he had
said. “Yes, I see what you mean.” He ducked as dust and dirt exploded
between them. Gary risked a peek over the top of the boulder, ducking back
as the rock was peppered with a volley of small calibre rounds. He wiped
the crud out of his eyes and mouth, which had unfortunately been open at
“How many?” Hamilton asked
“Fifteen, not counting anymore in the truck.”
Hamilton ventured a quick look over the boulder and was greeted the same
way as Fulham. Another truck had arrived followed by a beaten up Technical
mounted with another ZU-23. Men from the first truck were yelling
excitedly to the gunner pointing in their direction, one of them looked
suspiciously like Abu. He now brandished an RPD 7.62millimetre machine gun
and 150-round drum magazine. Seconds later the new gun joined in with the
first one, the volume of fire increasing dramatically, churning the rock
and dirt to more dust.
Fulham looked at Hamilton in surprise. “What did you do to
“Obviously didn’t like the way I looked. But make that count
forty five turbans.” He added. “Another truck and SUV rolled up.”
“Oh great.” Fulham sounded exactly like Marvin, the manically
depressed robot out of Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy.
The SAS Captain couldn’t help but smile; Fulham was really
good at that. “Air?” Hamilton asked, referring to air support.
“On it!” Fulham replied setting up a tactical satellite (tacsat)
communication to attempt to source some fire power overhead.
Two explosions ripped into the ground to their immediate front. The
ubiquitous RPG Hamilton thought, you wouldn’t even know you were in
Afghanistan if you didn’t get a few of those fired at you. He looked up at
the darkening murky grey soup swirling above their heads. The weather was
closing in, the snowfall heavier. He made some rapid calculations. The ACM
guys would be on them in less than three, there was no time to wait for
air support, they had to move.
“Skip the air Gaz, we have to take out those guns and slow
the AQ down and then get the hell out of here.”
Hammer was right. Air support would take too long; they had
but minutes to act. Fulham lifted his AICW (Advanced Individual Combat
Weapon) to his shoulder. He had been hoping he might get the opportunity
to use the weapon. He would have preferred less pressure though, like not
being shot at. He patted the weapon; it was his idea to bring it along.
“Australian ingenuity.” He said with his trademark smile.
The Advanced Individual Combat Weapon (AICW) was an evolved 5.56mm Styr
AUG with an over barrel tube-fed 40mm rapid-fire grenade launcher. (This
is military talk that just means the grenade barrel sits on top of the
weapons barrel) The 40mm grenades had built-in microchips so that the
AICW’s internal fire control system could accurately calculate their
detonation time and point. Developed by Metalstorm, the 40mm barrel could
fire three rounds before re-loading is required. Firing was all
electronically initiated, with no mechanical mechanism other than
reloading prepacked munition tubes. Effectively, the only parts that moved
were the projectiles contained within the barrels. The rates of fire were
programmable from single shots to ultra-rapid rates.
This all sounds great, but in order to fire the weapon,
Fulham still had to use the Mark I eyeball to physically sight the target.
This required him to pop up from behind the rock like a clay pigeon
target. This is where Hamilton’s barrel mounted M203 40mm grenade launcher
came in handy. From behind their protective rock, now their new best
friend, the SAS Captain made a rough estimation of distance to target. He
leaned back and with experienced judgement angled his SCAR (SOF Combat
Assault Rifle) and fired off a grenade; he then quickly reloaded and fired
again. As the first grenade detonated, Fulham went into action. He carried
four reloads of three rounds each.
The AICW sighting mechanism was a computerised target
acquisition and fire control system. It automatically displayed a
corrected aiming point and elevation for accurate lobbing of munitions and
set the individual time delay fuse for each grenade. In the first volley
Fulham had gone for airburst. He rapidly fired the HE stack on top of the
approaching troops. He then reloaded the next cylinder stack and while the
confused ACM troops were recovering fired towards the trucks. It was 400
meters; he missed with the first round but found his mark with the other
two. The troop carrier with the gun blew first. There was an almost
instant secondary explosion, which meant it must have had munitions on
board. Bodies and what looked like bits and pieces of the same blew out of
the back onto the road. While that was happening, Fulham’s third round hit
the SUV, which heaved into the air under the impact, throwing the ragged
broken body of the gunner and his pals into the rocks of the dry stream
bed below. The third truck started to back up, but before Fulham could
reload and shoot at it, the trucks windscreen disintegrated under a hail
of bullets. He glanced at
Hamilton who obviously hadn’t been sitting on his ass. While
Fulham had been lobbing rounds, Hamilton had stood up straight, hoping
like hell the ACM were still keeping their heads down. He had his target
in mind, a frozen image from when he had looked over the rock. Now he
stood there exposed, his eye to the sights, it seemed to take eternity,
but between the clouds of rolling smoke that billowed from the burning
vehicles, he spotted the last truck reversing. Through the riflescope he
could see the driver yelling excitedly. He took him in one shot and then
pumped the truck cab full of lead and the canvass covered rear. The SCARS
7.62mm rounds cut through the thin metal, flesh and bone like butter. He
sat back down, blowing out air. He had been holding his breath the whole
With the driver shot to pieces and his dead foot holding down
the accelerator, the rear truck backed straight over the side of the road
plunging into the gorge and exploding in a very satisfactory fireball.
All this activity attracted the attention of the ACM boys
climbing the hill; they turned around in unison to see their rides home
burning furiously, now they would have to walk. The leader of the group,
bin Mohammed bin wali al-Haqq, looked back up the hill towards the enemy’s
position. He was told there were only two, but it seemed like a small
army. “Werdzem, khéezhem, wázhnem badstérgey” He yelled over the din,
signalling his men to keep moving, loosing a volley of shots towards the
Australian’s position at the same time.
Unlike their turban-powered friends who carried just their
weapons and belief, the two Australians packed enough equipment, food and
munitions to sustain them for another week in the field. They were trained
to go without food or to make do with very little for long periods of
time. After a few days a biscuit with a little imagination and a sip of
water felt like a gourmet meal with a classic Hunter Valley Red. Hammer
and Fulham had supplemented their Ozzie rat packs with some American Meals
Ready to Eat (MRE’s) or as some used to say, meals rejected in Ethiopia.
That would all have to be dumped.
They knew a race to escape up the mountain while carrying
that extra weight would risk them being run down by the tough but light
and nimble mountain fighters below. While that would help, it was the
communication equipment, weapons and ammunition that really loaded them
down. None of which they could really leave either. Without hesitation
Hamilton pulled his field laptop they had used as a data link and smashed
it under the butt of his rifle. He then extracted the ram and hard drive
from the remains pouring a small vial of magnetic acid on them. There were
other ways to communicate. In fact they were really a walking field
experiment in networked warfare. Aside from the now defunct laptop they
both had a computerised data link via AICW scopes on their weapons. Brian
also carried Viper, a proven small portable system with laser range
finder, digital map display and GPS receiver-blue force tracker, not to
mention the radios and IR zoom laser illuminator/designator.
This sounds like a lot of kit, but it was the beginning of
the new age and the only way to find out if something actually worked, was
to try it out. Hamilton thought it was all pretty good stuff, but at the
moment the sum weight of the gear was too heavy, hence the laptop got the
The SAS Captains own weapon was the MK16 Mod SCAR. It
featured the AICW scope, but with less integration to the weapon itself.
The scope featured a neat little head up display, GPS, digital compass,
laser and IR pointer and of course night vision capability. Hamilton had
wanted the scope for forward observation and its ability to broadcast
video and data drawn from its laser and IR sensors directly into the
Global Information Grid (GIG). Or was that the Standardized Tactical Entry
Point (STEP) he wondered, or maybe the DISA-operated Defense Information
System Network (DISN) that punched into the Global Command and Control
System (GCCS). Nope, maybe it went through the Joint Network Node (JNN),
it all kept changing and the biggest output seemed to be new acronyms, but
he had to admit, the end capability was worth all that confusion and more.
What seemed ancient compared to all this, but becoming more important with
each minute was another important data link via his ALST-5 SATCOM radio.
This patched into the Enhanced Mobile Satellite Service (EMSS) and
permitted instantaneous communications regardless of where he was or what
the weather conditions was doing. Of course, that was before Murphy and
Murphy ’s Law was quite clear - radios will fail as soon as you need fire
support desperately. And yes, the SATCOM radio was damaged and they had no
time to stop and try to fix it. To make matters worse Fulham said that
nearly all the TAC frequencies were now jammed. There was now no way to
tell Squadron HQ what was going on.
It was getting dark. The snow was falling heavily and the
wind had increased. Hamilton hated the cold as much as he hated being shot
at. Why did gun fights always happen in extreme conditions? Why couldn’t
someone start a war in a nice place with pleasant ambient temperatures and
low humidity? Flat would be good too, no hills and soft ground to dig
holes to hide in. The thoughts fled through his mind as he considered the
next move, quickly explaining them to Fulham. The SAS trooper nodded his
The first part of the ‘get out and dodge’ plan required the
two men to pin the ACM fighters down to the ground with a concentrated
volley of grenades and then to move and fire. If they killed some that was
bonus. Wasting no time they got into position and started firing at the
same time. Fulham’s airbursts had them on the deck in seconds; a few
screams indicated some were at least hit. Hamilton’s rounds followed and
landed neatly among the ACM group throwing deadly shrapnel in all
directions. The two men then picked up and ran, moving fast, as fast as
every sinew in their bodies would carry them.
They continued to fire alternately on the move, heading up
the mountain. After a few minutes they stopped for the briefest of
moments. Hamilton surveyed the slope through his AICW rifle site. The men
below him knew the mountains like the back of their hand. From the map he
knew that beyond the crest they now climbed; lay another gorge that led
onto a small plateau, an ideal LZ. They moved again, the adrenalin
powering through their systems super charging what were already peak
operating systems. But they were not supermen, just flesh and blood. It
was rough going and both men were already breathing hard. The air was thin
and their chests heaved as their lungs burned in demand of oxygen. After
another hour they stopped and listened. It was now pitch black, the heavy
clouds obscuring any moonlight. They attached night vision goggles and
While the Nightmare team interrogated the night, at a coalition forward
operating base (FOB) the command and control centre was becoming fixated
on an exfil that had rapidly transitioned into a major fire fight, the
centre point of the conflict being the Nightmare team. Via the GPS tracker
they were able to isolate Nightmares position but because of what appeared
to be equipment damage, bad weather and jamming they were unable to talk
to them. The GPS worked because its signal frequency of about 1575 MHz was
chosen expressly because it was a ‘window’ in the weather as far as signal
propagation went. That wasn’t the case for the TAC frequencies that
Nightmare used. The frustrating part was that they knew within two feet of
where the two guys were, but were unable to do anything about it.
The suspected jamming came from the ACM who had deployed a
low energy radio frequency jammer (LERF). This managed to jam all the
radio spectrum with the exception of a few narrow pre-determined "windows"
of RF spectrum utilized by the ACM. In a bazaar twist of fate this jamming
also masked something else that was contributing to the noisy
electromagnetic radiation in the area that neither side were aware of.
Near the mountains summit, unseen by those below, an intense
electrical storm had developed. At its epicentre a blinding explosion of
light lit up Sikiram’s peak. From the centre of the event a heavy metal
rod fell to the hard granite surface, bouncing off the unyielding rock and
plummeting thousands of feet below, burying itself in the snow. A pulse of
EMP propagated from the site blinding radio communications for miles.
The effect was immediate. Hamilton stopped to try the radio
again but he got nothing but static. There was also another problem, out
of the corner of his eye he saw Gary sway. He looked at his partner
through his goggles noticing a bright patch on Fulham’s shoulder. The
bright patch was warm blood glowing in the IR display, which meant not
only was Fulham wounded was still bleeding.
Damn it. Hamilton took a glove off and felt around the entry
area. Fulham didn’t flinch. The SAS Captain was a little pissed that
Fulham hadn’t said anything. At this height and temperature, any bleeding
was bad. But, he thought, in their escape there was nothing that could
have been done anyway. Obviously Fulham had thought of that and said
nothing. Now he was clearly groggy. During the extreme exertion his
partner had lost a lot of blood. He was amazed the man had made it this
far; he wondered whether he would have had that fortitude. His thoughts
were suddenly broken by the sounds of voices, he listened intently.
From somewhere in the dark below, the sound of excited
guttural Pushtu carried up the steep valley walls. He quickly plugged and
bound the other troopers wound. He pulled off Fulham’s pack and his own,
dropping both packs on the ground splitting and spreading some of the food
packages, he smashed the PRC set and then took the scope off the MK16 and
shouldered the AICW, clipping the remaining ammunition packs on his combat
suit. He kept the Rhino GPS tracker and radio.
He then removed a single hand grenade, pulled the pin and
carefully placed one pack partly on the other with the grenade in between,
making sure to make the two packs look haphazard and dropped in panic.
There was no time for anything flash.
He couldn’t drag Fulham. It was very likely despite the
falling snow that the heavy drag marks left by the boots of the
unconscious SAS trooper would still be found, which gave him an idea.
Under his spare arm he lifted the now almost unconscious trooper and as
quickly as he could, dragged the one hundred kilo load uphill. After two
hundred metres he shouldered the SAS Sergeant and doubled back. He figured
the Taliban would assume they would go for the LZ site and take the bait.
Every muscle in his body screamed. The voices from below came
closer; he tracked sideways down the hill flanking them. Somehow he
slipped past them. A few minutes later he heard the explosion. They had
found the packs. It would not be long before they figured out what he had
done and would turn to pursue him. The turban heads were tough men. They
wouldn’t quit. He kept going. Every fifteen minutes he would stop. Each
time he bent to pick up the trooper it was becoming harder to lift him.
His legs trembled from the effort. He kept going. The walking stints
became ten minutes and then five. He heaved his murderous load throughout
the night. His back and thighs quivered, strained by the debilitating
burden, the pain dissolving into sheer numbness through lack of
Behind Hamilton, the explosion and blinding flash of light
from the Australians hasty booby trap had caught the Indonesian Jihadi and
his men by surprise. “khataaist!” bin Mohammed bin wali al-Haqq shouted in
anger, they had been deceived. He had warned his men of the treachery of
the infidels. Allah’s patience was thin with those that did not listen.
The two men who had overturned the packs lay injured in the snow. He had
no time for fools. He casually placed the barrel of his weapon against
each of their heads and shot them, a blessed and quick end.
I n the dark he then followed the tracks in the snow up
the mountain, following the likely path to the LZ before realising he had
once again been tricked again. He stopped, his quarry was khatarnaak
garranday, meaning – dangerous, fast and strong. This man he grudgingly
admitted was resourceful and courageous. Never the less, it was just a
matter of time. He turned his lightly equipped warriors about and quickly
began to reel in the distance between themselves and their target.
Early next morning Hamilton was calculating his next move. Daylight had
stripped back the security blanket that the dark of night had provided
them. The terrain was changing and the ground had a solid layer of snow.
Juniper trees flanked the hill sides and valley floor. He knew the ACM
guys had to be close behind him and would be vulnerable to air attack. But
to bring in air support you needed to see the target and either mark it,
or accurately communicate the target position to the attacking aircraft.
You also needed time to make it all work. At that very moment Hamilton
knew that if he stopped moving he was dead. Besides, he couldn’t even see
the enemy, but he knew they were not far behind. The only escape option
was by air and that just wasn’t going to be possible until he could get
himself in a position to pull in air support fire.
Hamilton was right, the ACM were on his heels. As light had
broken over the peaks, al-Haqq had caught up to the two SAS troopers. He
could see the bent over figure of Hamilton struggling with the weight of
his companion. Despite his dislike of these infidels, he was impressed.
The man had performed an almost super human effort. Indeed he had almost
escaped. It would be an honour to kill this one. He had killed many
before, men, women and children, mostly in Iraq before coming to
Afghanistan to serve with his brothers. It was Gods will; otherwise he
would not be here.
Al-Haqq motioned for his men to stop. He estimated the range
to the NATO soldier to be a little over 1000 meters. He passed his AK-47
to one of his men and was handed his favourite weapon for such moments.
This was a Snayperskaya Vintovka Dragunova SVD, a Russian snipers rifle,
the world's first purpose-built military precision marksman's rifle.
Manufactured in 1963 it was the snipers version of the ubiquitous AK-47.
It took a rimmed 7.62mm round, a steel jacketed projectile with an air
pocket, steel core, and a lead knocker in the base for maximum terminal
effect with a muzzle velocity of about 830 meters per second.
The cleric loaded a round into the chamber and lifted the
weapon to his shoulder. He looked through the scope and using the built in
reticule was able to calculate the distance based on the average height of
a human (The Soviets reckoned this was 1.7m tall). As he applied pressure
to the trigger, his target stopped, gently dropping his load and turning
to face him.
Hamilton could sense the danger but his body was all but
finished. It took all his energy to just stand. He turned to look at his
back trail and spotted his pursuers in the distance. They had not given
up. One man was holding a rifle, a snipers rifle he thought, he wondered
if the weapon or its owner was any good.
Al-Haqq had the soldiers head firmly in his sights. The
soldier was looking directly at him, his face grimy and despite the cold,
sweaty. It was a face without emotion. Even at this distance the eyes
looked defiant, a startling blue in colour, unafraid. He completed the
pull feeling the recoil but keeping his scope on target. Blood spurted
from the side of the targets head, but the soldier barely moved. Instead
he stared back at him before recovering his load and moving again. Balls
Haqq thought, no God, but he had big balls. Al-Haqq knew he would need to
get three hundred meters closer to ensure a kill; this infidel was not
going to go easily.
Hamilton felt the sting of the bullet. He felt the warm blood
splash down the side of his face and onto his chest and shoulder. But he
was still standing, he had to keep moving, the shock of the bullet
stinging him into action.
For another hour the uneven contest continued, Hamilton
draining the very last of his reserves. Behind him, rounding the top of a
spur, the Jihadi leader saw at last that the infidel was within range,
there would be no escape this time. The infidel was struggling up the
opposite ridge, 600m according to the scope, al-Haqq prepared for his next
shot. The staggering figure of the soldier and his load swam back into his
sites. He squeezed the trigger. There was the satisfactory recoil and the
target in his sights dropped as if hit by a lead weight. Actually, al-Haqq
thought, that’s exactly what happened. He smiled.
Behind him his men stood up, eager to rush to the kill. But
al-Haqq had other ideas. He held his hand up stopping them in their
tracks. “Pettéezzem!” Get hidden he said. They would wait he thought. They
would wait for the rescue that would surely arrive. The invading
oppressors were so predictable. They would come looking for their men.
“Raaghwáarrem radio.” He called the boy in his group that would be a
warrior. No more than thirteen, the young Jihadi’s job was to carry al-Haqq’s
radio set. The radio still didn’t work, but unlike the enemy they were
used to operating with little technical support. Earlier in the evening he
had dispatched a runner to bring in support, they would not be far away.
The insurgent leader, a friend and devoted follower of bin-Laden and
Mullah Mohammad Omar smiled again, the enemy would still come looking.
Indeed this was a good day and it was just the beginning, it was his turn
to teerbáasem, or mislead the enemy; it was time for a SAMbush.
Using the boy as a runner, al-Haqq repositioned his forces. Sixty minutes
later al-Haqq could see his target was still down. As expected and had
waited for, he could hear the faint moan of jet engines filter through the
valley. “Preewézem” He ordered his men to lie down.
Callsign Red Rider was what you call a slow mover FAC
(Forward Air Controller). He had been watching the movements of Hamilton
and the ACM for several hours via the infra red sensors that equipped his
aircraft. But the weather, the tight valleys and continually moving
combatants on the ground had made it impossible to mount a strike on the
pursuing ACM. Everyone from himself to command was getting frustrated. He
knew that if Nightmare had been able to, they would have already called in
combat air support. But they were on the run, had been suffering from
jamming, and obviously had not had the opportunity. The data link he was
expecting with Nightmare was down, which meant it was probably tits up or
destroyed. He guessed correctly that Nightmare had ditched all the heavy
stuff and was probably just carrying the UHF radio. He brought him up
again on the preset tactical frequency for the mission but there was no
response. Maybe he was dead, but the bodies on the screen were still warm,
assuming that was them.
He had lots of what the air force called playtime,
substantial loiter. He directed in the first fast mover.
An A10 Warthog firing its
The ‘arif’ or enemy jet roll into the valley slashing past at great speed,
canon fire pummelled the mountain side. He watched as some of his jihad
warriors were torn to pieces by the weight of 4200 rounds per minute of
depleted uranium. But this was a price he was prepared to pay in order to
hurt his enemy even more. These dzhangyaalay, his brave fighting men, were
just a small part of large group, these men were true martyrs and had met
a glorious martyr’s death in the cause of Islam. He hoped that he too
would join Allah or khwdaay in such a way. These men would be greeted at
the gates of heaven and given virgins. Blessed be their sacrifice. But now
this price had been paid, it was time for the infidels to die.
While these thoughts raced through the mind of the
Indonesian, the attacking warthog pilot was still marching the cone of his
gattling gun across the target. The bodies of the insurgents literally
burst, disintegrating from hundreds of rounds, each heavy enough to punch
through armour plating. It was a massacre, and all too easy he was
thinking as he started his pull up.
He was right, from the mountainsides that surrounded him,
three missiles raced out to claim him. Two missed, the other struck the
starboard engine, flipped the jet on its back plunging it into the valley
wall. It all happened within a heartbeat.
Hamilton still lay unconscious where he had fallen, Fulham
slumped over his back, the two covered by fresh snow. Hamilton was
finished, he had walked until his body had totally failed, brain and
muscle tissue completely starved of oxygen and energy. Hypothermia and
death was closing in.
The massive concussion of the warthog and its unspent
munitions exploding hit him with a thump. He crawled unwillingly out of
unconsciousness and struggled out from under Fulham’s body, trying
desperately to think straight. His instinct was to survive; the first
thing he saw was the burning wreckage of the Warthog, which had crashed
just a few hundred meters away. There was obviously enemy SAM around and
probably a whole lot else he thought. This was an ambush and they had used
him as bait, the guilt was another yoke on already exhausted shoulders.
What he didn’t know was that his escape dash had drawn al Haqq’s men miles
away from their well prepared hill side fortifications, forcing them to
fight from hastily dug in positions, but they were close and had waited
for the coalition cavalry in order to take more infidel lives. He knew
with that last shot he should be dead, probably the same guy shooting he
thought. This guy was also probably the insurgent leader of the bunch
chasing him and had deliberately left him out here as bait, the Hog pilot
was the first catch of the day. Was it Rasputin?
He checked Gary’s pulse; it was weak but still regular. Using
the scope he had pulled from his own weapon, Hamilton looked across the
valley. The Viper Multi Purpose Rifle Scope could paint targets. Now that
friendlies were near, the unit could also communicate directly to aircraft
and via them into the command and control network. He knew as he scanned
the terrain, that some one in Washington DC (If they were at all
interested or bothered, which he doubted), could now see through his scope
as well. With the small digital handset he carried in his top pocket, he
dialled in the local TAC frequency and hoped like hell the jamming was
gone and someone was listening. But before he could check in, the growl of
jet engines invaded the valley again, another Warthog coming in.
His radio chirped into life. “Red Rider Pig Hunt, Roger, see
the target now.”
That must be the Hog pilot talking to his controller he
thought, there was no time to waste so he didn’t bother with the usual
introductions; the Hog was flying into a death trap. “Pig Hunt, Pig Hunt,
this is Hammer, abort, abort, abort!”
The incoming hog was attentive, he immediately snapped into a
knife-edge turn pulling hard gees and jinking. Hamilton held his breath as
the hog pulled up into an Immelman reversing course. A missile snaked out
from the other side of the valley, chasing the jet. The aircrafts missile
defence system kicked in punching chaff and flares. Fired at extreme range
the missile wandered then locked onto a flare and exploded.
While all that was happening Hamilton heard an urgent,
“Buster, buster” broadcasted over the tactical frequency.
Other NATO fighters on the allied network had heard the same
call. High above, the pilot of the specialised orbiting FAC and attack
aircraft, call sign Red Rider pondered the rapidly developing situation.
Red Rider enjoyed the latest and greatest in networked communications; his
aircrafts electronic data link automatically fed the battlefield
communications into the GIG. That combined with other data links meant the
growing firefight was being witnessed in real time by Command and Control
based at Bagram Air Base.
Several hundred kilometres away from the action in the NATO
Command and Control Centre the duty staff had watched the shoot down of
the Hog. They could see via an overhead display a live map with the
positions of friendlies and enemy and could listen to all the battlefield
chitchat that followed. Like Hamilton the duty officers in the centre were
quick to recognise the SAMbush. The ‘buster buster’ Hamilton heard was
meant for two black hawks inbound to his position to extract him.
On receipt of the buster call the two Black Hawks just ten
miles out from Hamilton pulled up hard. Standing their birds almost
vertically on their tails the pilots rotated their aircraft sharply to the
right pulling back up at the same time into a reverse heading. They knew
something had gone wrong and their LZ was now too hot.
The hog pilot Hamilton had just warned off looked at the fireball to his
eight o’clock and smiled, the small pieces of decoy and missile falling
away. “Hammer this is Pig Hunt, nice call.”
Hamilton sagged, the small adrenalin shot dissipated.
“Anytime Pig Hunt.” He barely got the words out; he was finding it
difficult to breath.
The hog pilot almost winced. The voice was forced, pain and
exhaustion etched in every word. Pig Hunt knew that who ever it was down
there had clearly mustered a big effort to save his ass from certain
extinction and he was extremely grateful.
He wasn’t the only one thinking that. Everyone from Red Rider to the
senior command on the listening end of the combat network was glued to the
drama as it unfolded.
Despite that the man on the ground and the centre of
attention was oblivious to the spreading interest of his predicament.
Hamilton looked through his scope at the enemy missile sites on the
opposite spur and other side of the valley. The choppers were called off,
there was no cavalry for the moment and he was all out of plans. The
turbans were moving, they were not stupid and they would shoot and move.
He watched them hustle to the next position. He looked further up the hill
and caught his breath; there were turban heads everywhere.
BAGRAM COMMAND AND CONTROL CENTRE
“What have we got?” The question was asked
by a fast walking US Marine Corps General who was still shaking the
cobwebs of sleep from his head.
“Hot extraction; South West flank of Sikiram, 6000 feet….Lots
of bad guys around, we have lost one Hog and have called off two birds
inbound for an exfil.” The Op Centres Duty Officer answered, he had to
walk quickly to keep up to the big two star officer as he marched down the
General George Perelli, the Commander of the Combined Special
Forces Operations in Afghanistan nodded in confirmation before powering
through big double doors straight into the Ops room. Two guards jumped to
keep out of the Generals way, he was a big boy and you didn’t want to get
knocked down by him. The General immediately took in the topographic and
asset allocations displayed on the overhead screens, all the while
striding towards his post. “Who is it?” He asked.
The General stopped in his tracks. “Hammer Hamilton?”
The operations centre was unusually quiet. The General looked
around the room. Hammer was in trouble he thought. The General would have
moved hell and earth for any of his men in trouble. But Hammer Hamilton
wasn’t just any ordinary bloke, not even in the world of Special Forces.
He knew him, and he knew why.
“Keep going,” he said to the DO.
“There are two to exfil, call sign Nightmare, but we have
several hundred bad guys on the other side of the valley and it looks like
a whole lot of Man Pads.”
“Did you say several hundred?”
“Excellent.” The general said.
Back near the fight, Red Rider circled the combat zone just outside of the
ACM’s missile envelope. He still had loads of fuel and if need be, stuff
that went bang when it hit the ground. Red Rider was thinking; there was
no way to bring in ground forces fast enough and no way to bring in
choppers safely. A simple exfil was now something much larger. The enemy
were trying to sucker them to bring helicopters and aircraft into the
tight valley and their nest of guns and rockets. The guy on the ground was
clearly bait, but the bait seemed pretty damned smart and had already
saved one ass today. Hammer, he was pretty sure that was Nightmares lead
call sign, still had the ability to paint targets and from the data feed
was using a networked sighting device.
Red Rider, sat back, sipped his coffee and drew deeply on his
cigarette. Red Rider was the pilot of an MQ-9 Reaper UAV, an attack
capable unmanned aircraft operated by the 17th Reconnaissance Squadron. He
was seated behind the pilots console in what looked like a shipping
container, a thirty foot trailer called a Ground Control Station (GCS)
temporarily located in the middle of nowhere flying an aircraft nearly
100km away. He glanced sideways at the payload operator. The PO as they
called him, sat at a console on the opposite side of the room that
mirrored his own and looked after the UAV’s numerous electronic systems
Red Rider was a little unusual. He was also an imaging
specialist, intelligence analyst and for the moment the designated air
controller. He cued two F15’s orbiting at 40,000 feet and over 50km away
to stay on station and ready for release. He then tried to talk to Hammer.
There was no answer. David Stringer, Red Rider One, tried again.
feel his fingers or feet. They were numb. Extreme pain shot up his arms
and legs. While all that seemed bad, he knew up until now they been lucky.
But that luck ended when one of the bad guys looked away from the air show
and saw him move. Bullets began to thrash the earth around him. Gripping
Fulham’s straps he slowly heaved him over the fresh snow towards the
protection of some trees and large rocks. The same sort of rocks the
turban forces had used to their favour for years. More and more rounds
splashed into the snow. They were at extreme or beyond range; at least he
thought that until a 50-calibre gun joined in from somewhere. That did
make an impression and improved his motivation skills. Once behind some
rocks he dropped Gazza and fell with his back against his protector, the
mountain, one minute trying to kill him, the next protecting him. He could
hear the radio squawking but his fingers were having real problems working
anything. Someone was trying to reach him.
Stringer tried again, he could see Hammer had just moved but
couldn’t raise him on the radio. Obviously the guy had some problems;
there was only one course of action left. Stringer took the risk and sent
his expensive aircraft into the hornet’s nest. Stringer had flown her for
nearly six months and had become somewhat affectionate to her. The
aircraft had rarely ever complained, and had performed every mission
flawlessly. But she was not worth as much as the men on the ground. He
knew exactly where Hammer was and from the MPRS where the last known
positions of enemy was. He flew Red Rider One down the valley corridor,
stood the aircraft on its wing and emptied the hell fire missiles into the
area cued on the target designator.
This provocation was all too for the turbaned warriors below
who opened up with everything they had. Red Rider One was hit multiple
times and crashed into the valley walls.
From his position on the other side of the valley, Hamilton
with clumsy fingers quickly designated the enemies firing positions as
they revealed themselves. Orbiting F15’s picked up the link to Hammer
after Red Rider went off the air and fed them into the system. From over
40km out they punched off almost their entire war load.
After losing his own aircraft Stringer still had the uplink
from the F15’s and was able to watch whatever Hamilton was looking at
through his sights. What he saw was a horror movie. As the trapped SAS
trooper moved around with his data linked sights, Stringer could see
visuals of the other man down and blood on the snow. The man carrying the
sight frequently fell over, the sight burying itself in snow time and
again before being roughly brushed off. The movements were jerky. But
every time Hammer fell over, he got up. Stringer was quietly cheering the
guy. Little did he know so were many others that day. Finally Hammer
pointed the sights back across the valley. This was a guy that didn’t quit
Stringer thought. Stringer had tracked Hamilton’s SATCOM signal all night,
watching in frustration as the bad guys pursued him. Continual satellite
infrared imagery had homed on Hamilton’s SATCOM signal to paint moment by
moment the picture of a relentless chase that neither he or anyone else at
that time could do anything about.
From where he stood Hammer was dead meat. There had to be
something else he could do. He lit another cigarette, he could think
better when he smoked. Of the small contingent of four manning the
trailer, they all smoked, small blessings in a place that truly sucked in
every respect. Watching a mixture of satellite imagery and global hawk
feeds, the impacts of the F15 war loads were very impressive. Stringer
drew deeply on his Peter Stuyvesent, unless death was close he would smoke
He looked into the GRID, the VIPER network. He logged out and
then logged back in using his commander’s username and password to regain
access, his boss would truly be pissed about this, most likely cost him
(Stringer) his job, if not a prison sentence. But he wasn’t going to let
that one tough fighting son of bitch Hammer or his mate die on the
Under the CO’s login he could interrogate and commit a
greater range of assets. He quickly found what he was looking for, an
Osprey and Talon. He gave them the vectors and then looked for some more
fast movers. The F15’s were gone but he picked up some Hornets over the
Arabian Sea and made the call.
Buck Shot One - the Arabian Sea
60 miles south of Gwadar, Pakistan Coastline
USS RONALD REAGAN. Buckshot was still feeling a little hung over
from the previous days excitement, probably the most he would experience
for some time, if ever again. Little did he know how wrong he was. He was
high over the Gulf just South of Pakistan when he got the call.
“One Two Zero LAC”
“Four Zero Two”
“One two zero confirm you have iron over?
“Four Zero Two Rog.”
The LAC’s aircraft commander verified Four Zero Two’s bomb
sheet. In real time he was able to view all the aircraft under his control
including personnel, fuel and weapon states. “One two zero, LAC new
vector” The LAC gave the Australian the new co-ordinates.
Long flight Buckshot thought, it must be important. He
tankered again and steered into the first waypoint of the new heading. The
Gulf of Oman slipped from underneath the aircraft replaced by the rapidly
changing landscapes of Pakistan. Fortunately Pakistan, despite being
wanting in other areas, was still providing much needed overflight
permission for U.S. and coalition forces. Within forty minutes after
skirting the Iranian border he had crossed Pakistan and was over
Afghanistan. Someone called Red Rider picked him up on the tactical.
“Four Zero Two this is Red Rider, copy over.”
“Four Zero Two copy.”
“Red Rider, Four Zero Two steer one one three angels
“Steering one one three.” He replied, rolling the Hornet into
the new heading and pushing the nose down. The mountains were now at the
same height as he was. The target information was displayed on his MFD.
Red Rider was talking him into the target when all of a sudden he got an
abort call from someone else on the same tac frequency.
“Abort, abort” The abort call seemed to come from the guys on
the ground. Buckshot had been listening to the radio chatter all the way
in. Call sign Nightmare, snake eaters like his brother by the sounds of
it, were down on the ground and in deep shit.
“Say again?” Buckshot asked.
“This is Nightmare to approaching aircraft Four Zero Two, I
say again abort, abort, it’s a no go.” There was some static and a lot of
noise in the background that sounded a lot like gunfire.
Buckshot decided to ignore the abort, all it meant was that
the guy on the ground telling him to bug out needed more help than ever.
Buckshot already had all the dope he needed off Red Rider and flicked the
Hornet on its back, shoving the throttles forward and pulling the stick
back into his crutch, the heavy gees almost blacking him out. He was in.
The valley quickly surrounded him, the walls closing in. Where, where,
where? Missiles raced out from the mountainsides chasing him, he punched
the burners, pulled up hard over the top and rolled back out over the
mountains before reversing and heading back into the valley. Now he knew
where some of the bad bastards were at least.
Captain Brian Hamilton watched the approaching jet with an almost detached
attitude. Crazy bastard he thought. The last one died doing that. He saw
it pull up hard in its first ingress as missiles began to chase it, the
pilot punching chaff and pulling out of the attack run, told you so.
But less than a minute later the jet came back, this time
much lower and looking all business.
FLT LT Lance (Buckshot) Hamilton had the throttles to the
wall. The position of the two grunts on the ground, call sign Nightmare
were locked via their GPS signature into his system. Somehow, somewhere
along the track the individual call sign of Hammer had seemed to take
over. It seemed like every one knew Hammer. Targeting information from
Hammer and an infrared visual were fed to Buckshots jet via a highflying
On the ground the situation was deteriorating as more and
more rounds thumped into the snow around the two Special Forces troopers.
The odds were growing narrower by the minute. Not that they had ever been
On the ridge opposite Hammer, Al Haqq and his men had been
jubilant about the Warthog kill, the trap had been successfully sprung.
Amongst all this excitement he was alerted to the fact his other quarry
had come back to life, the trooper. He cursed. He lifted the sniper rifle
again. Unbelievably the infidel bastard was moving again. He cursed again,
the anger getting the better of him. He pumped off several rounds without
effect. This man refused to die; Al Haqq felt he knew this man well now.
He would die before giving up on his friend and that was his weakness. He
would kill this invading infidel, but he admired that loyalty. Truly, the
infidel if converted would make a great Muslim. Such a waste, he would
have liked to have met this man in other times, such a powerful spirit
only ever seen and tested under such extreme conditions as now.
Al Haqq pondered for a moment. While his men were prepared to
die for Allah, this man on the other ridge was different. He defied death,
did not want to die, but was not afraid to stand in its path. Surely that
was braver than one who gave up life so easily? Al Haqq would remember
this death more than any other.
Rolling in from the west, Buckshot's Bug was unloading kerosene as fast as
he could burn it. FLT LT Lance Hamilton ground his teeth as he centred his
bird along the attack heading. Geez Louise here we go again he thought as
he thundered back into the lower pass of the valley. He had the two
friendlies showing up on the main Multi Functional Display (MFD), as well
as the attacking forces. He watched as they quickly closed together. Here
we go, tracer fire erupted from both sides of the valley, the missile
threat warning system was bitching like hell telling him there were
several ‘lock ons’. He kept going. Using the helmet missile cue, he
designated his targets and munitions, and pulled back up into a climb. He
felt the jolt as the weapons released, the onboard computer calculating
release point and trajectories. As the bombs punched off the pylons, a
release lanyard pulled open a canister in the tail assembly of the bombs,
releasing a ballute (combination balloon and parachute); this quickly
slowed the bombs allowing Buckshot's aircraft to escape the blast pattern
as they headed towards their target.
As the bombs headed earthwards, Buckshot's missile threat
warning system was still bitching like hell, the sudden explosion in the
rear and the failure of the port engine suggested to Hamilton that
something was seriously wrong. The left engine warning light flashed
followed by the voice alert. Buckshot immediately pressed the warning
light, which closed the engine. He then pressed the ready discharge light
activating the one shot fire extinguishing system in the left engine bay.
The right engine looked okay, he was still flying and the jet was still
As Buckshot struggled with the crippled jet, his load of MK83
500 pound bombs weapons smashed into their target. The unguided bombs were
designed for maximum blast and explosive effect. They flew faithfully;
landing in a wide spread that completely enveloped the Afghan fighters
that had almost reached Hammer.
Al Haqq had seen the Hornet fly low up the valley and over
their heads. Then with great satisfaction he saw the aircraft hit with a
missile, his trap was working again. He turned around just in time to see
the drag chutes deploy behind the inbound 500-pound bombs. Then it all
Buckshot set an emergency squawk of 7700 and started going
through his emergency procedures. The first thing to catch his attention
was the fuel state. He looked over his shoulder and could see a long plume
of vapour streaming from the starboard wing. ‘Shit!’ he was bleeding fuel.
He checked the readouts; they were going down faster than his bank
account. Craparoozie, he was still over the badlands. He didn’t trust the
Pakistani military to look after him. They were all too sympathetic to the
buggers he was just shooting at and considered Bin Laden a poster child.
Hamilton nursed the sick bird to 25,000 feet when the
remaining engine died of fuel starvation. With no fuel to power the APU
for electrics, this meant all the controls; ECS and instruments were
running off the battery, which had twenty minutes power at tops, assuming
nothing was wrong with it. He trimmed the aircraft for the best glide he
could manage. It was time to think quickly while he had the height. He
called into ATC, the instructions were to eject over the coast. Just when
he thought things couldn’t get worse the master-caution light illuminated
once again and all of the aircraft’s displays, including the heads-up
display (HUD), which is the primary attitude indicator, flashed briefly.
He hoped it was just a simple one off glitch, ‘stray trons.’ This was a
term for random, unexplained electrical hiccups.
A few seconds later the ailing jet told him it was no hiccup,
every cockpit display suddenly disappeared and Buckshot was left
referencing the backup steam gauges. His bird had suffered a complete
electrical failure, both flight control computers were dead and the
control stick suddenly felt like it was welded to the floor. The jet
instantly began a left turning skid, the nose pitched high and the
airframe buffeted on the beginning of a stall. He quickly switched to the
Backup Mechanical System. This provided automatic connection of a direct
mechanical link from the stick to the differential stabilator servo
actuators giving Buckshot limited pitch and roll control. He also decided
to pull the emergency-oxygen green ring, just in case. With the ECS dead,
the inside of the cockpit was also getting noticeably colder. Buckshot
‘punched the clock’ as they say, he didn’t want to be OBE, meaning
overcome by events and eaten by snakes in the cockpit, a victim of task
saturation. Aviate, navigate, communicate he was thinking. He slowed
himself down and reset the emergency squawk, via the backup IFF control
and pulled out the NATOPS pocket checklist (PCL) to try and accurately
diagnose the problem. This was made more difficult because he had no idea
what sort of battle damage had been inflicted on his jet.
Buckshot's situation was being closely followed on the Reagan.
“Captain, we’ve have lost comms with Buckshot, but still have
him on radar,” There was a pause, the operator was rechecking the display,
“He’s still on the same glide slope and direction.”
The Captain of the USS Ronald Reagan grimaced, had Buckshot
punched out? Or was he flying a dead duck with no engines and no
electrics. If that were the case he had no choice. He crossed his arms and
looked over the flight deck. He had heard the whole exchange between the
guys on the ground and the support aircraft. Someone on the ground called
Hammer had clearly called an ‘abort’ to Buckshots aircraft in bound for
the target. The whole drama was heard complete with the canon fire in the
background by almost everyone on the Bridge. That bloody Australian had
still gone into that valley. Now his jet was shot up, his engines were out
and to cap it all off he had the audacity to ask for tanker support,
tanker support for a dead jet. All the brownie points this Aussie had
earned yesterday were quickly going into the red. He looked around the
ships bridge. Everyone was busy, but he knew each and every one of them
was still listening to the unfolding drama.
“McKay?” The skipper snapped. The man he asked for appeared
miraculously on his shoulder. He had no doubt in his mind McKay was just
waiting for this. Indeed why did he have to even explain. “Damn it McKay,
go!” See if you can turn shit pie into cherry pie he thought. He already
had a tanker in the air, but he knew McKay would want to be there.
From the high perch of the Islands Bridge, The skipper of the
Reagan looked back across the deck. He knew Buckshot was aggressive; he
wouldn’t quit till he had to, unfortunately way beyond the normal
Moments later walking quickly across the deck below, the
Commander of VFA-25 pulled his helmet on. He had watched this whole
episode unfold ever since 402 had left the deck, He knew if Buckshot was
pushed he would shove that envelope as far as it would go, which is why he
was prepared. The Double Nuts (side number four zero zero), the CAG’s
personal Super Hornet was on the deck at ready ten. He had promised not to
even scratch her. Two large tanks were slung under the wings. Providence
he thought, for some strange reason he had asked CAG for this bird to be
tasked for refuel, she carried more than the standard FA/18. Buddy, buddy
refuelling they call it. Bloody hurry was the reality. Somewhere out there
his best pilot was gliding a dead stick, probably just seconds separating
possible death and disaster, so every one of those seconds really counted
right now. Within one minute he was airborne, sucking up the undercarriage
and holding the after burners in while he climbed the jet as hard as she
would go. He had gas to spare. He picked up Buckshot on radar a few
minutes out from the ship and switched to the emergency frequency,
steering an intersect that brought him up behind Buckshot's stricken
aircraft to pass down the port side.
“Four One Zero this is Sundog” Chris McKay said over the
radio, he sounded relaxed but didn’t feel it. ‘One Two Zero I have you at
twelve thousand.” He paused for a quick check outside the office. “I am on
your eleven, and climbing through nine to ten thousand feet.” He took
another breath. “You there Buckshot?” Sundog had climbed through ten
thousand and had executed a reverse turn to head downhill past the dead
jet slipping in to have a closer look. Buckshots jet looked like a sieve.
There were large holes in both the tails. The exhaust of the port engine
was completely gone. He dropped below the jet to check its belly. That was
Buckshot had picked McKay’s aircraft climbing up hard to his
port before wheeling in behind, nosing around his damaged jet and pulling
alongside. The bigger super hornet pulled in tight alongside. Buckshot
gave a big shrug and held his hands up.
No Joy obviously McKay thought, meaning no radio contact.
McKay mimicked holding his nose and pulling the chain.
Punch out? Buckshot considered his situation, no choice now.
He nodded and gave him thumbs up. He reached for the ejection handle
smacking the dash with his fist in annoyance. That was when inexplicably
all the lights came back on. He sat up straight. PFM – Pure Fucking Magic,
he didn’t care why that happened just that it did.
McKay had pulled away and in front to give Buckshot room to Punch Elvis
but nothing happened. He was just wondering if there was another problem
when the emergency radio suddenly came to life.
“Hey Sundog, is this service station self serve or do I have
to get out?”
McKay shook his head, the SOB’s electrics were obviously back
online. “Negative Buckshot, sit tight.” His pucker factor shot up again.
Buckshot came back, “I’m still on the Backup Mechanical
System. Haven’t got much control here and I’m worried if I try something I
might kill the system again.” Buckshot wanted to save his dodgy electric
backup to start the APU and then the remaining engine. Time was running
Sundog streamed the drogue chute, they were now both at nine thousand and
winding down. In-air refuelling is a tricky procedure at the best of times
and involved guiding the F-18's retractable refuelling probe into the
drogue chute which was streamed 100-feet behind the tanker aircraft, in
this case the Super Hornet. This time however, Sundog literally had to
back the drogue shoot onto Buckshot's refuelling probe. This was
incredibly precise flying.
“Five feet looks good.” Buckshot called
Sundog responded by pressing the mike. He was concentrating
on lining up the drogue. They were already down to seven thousand feet
when the skipper called in strongly suggesting Buckshot to punch out.
Buckshot ignored the call and stayed in the cockpit; he simply would not
quit and as far as Sundog was concerned, neither would he. Sundog would
hold the hose out as long as it took to get some fuel onto Buckshot's
Buckshot called again. “That’s a ‘connect’ and I can confirm
fuel transfer.” Buckshot immediately began running through his engine
start procedures. The airframe was so noisy now it was difficult to hear
if anything was even turning over.
At three thousand feet Sundog was getting real worried. “Get
out!” Hamilton refused. He went through the start up procedure once again.
Lance had managed to suck some fuel from Sundog’s drogue, taking it on
board slightly faster than it was going out the back, but the engine still
refused to start. The two aircraft slipped to two thousand, then one
thousand. At that point Sundog had his own crew and airplane to worry
about. He gave Hamilton the warning, disengaged and pulled up. Hamilton’s
jet continued towards the deck.
At 750 feet Hamilton reluctantly gripped the ejection handle
again. At the same instant there was a slight vibration that ran through
the airframe, turbines he thought? This was the point of no return. If he
didn’t eject now, he would ride the bird into the water, almost certain
death. His hesitation decided the action, he knew he was committed. The
water was awful close. The vibration he felt turned into noise that grew
louder and louder, the familiar whining of fast moving fan blades turning
jet fuel into noise invaded the cockpit with hope. But was it too little
too late? He was desperate; the water was coming up to meet him fast, but
feeding juice to the remaining engine too early might stall it. He held
out as long as was possible. At just three hundred feet he gently fed the
power to the engine and it responded smoothly. One was better than none.
But the jet had a sink rate that was not going to vanish in moment. He was
going to hit the water. Against all his best instincts he shoved the
throttle into full after burner. He had no idea if there was any damage to
that engine, dumping raw fuel into a frail engine and damaged tail pipe
could mean an explosion.
The first waves came up to meet him. He could feel the
airframe buffet from the turbulent air spoiling over the big waves and
onto the wings. The cockpit was immediately smeared in salt spray. Even in
his favourite Pig with both engines he had never dared to go this low. The
single remaining engine behind him kicked. He held the stick neutral,
there were loud noises and the whole aircraft shuddered and thumped, was
he hitting water? As the last wave came up to meet him, to engulf him, the
kick in his back turned to a thump. Not as good as two engines coming off
the deck, but good enough. The sink rate evaporated, but water was
everywhere, he couldn’t see. He nursed the stick fearful of pushing the
aircraft into a stall, he was flying blind, he was sure he was going to
die, death now measured in inches and fractions of time. The airframe felt
like it was beating itself to death anyway. But there was still that
steady pressure against his back. You tough little bitch he thought. He
held the throttles as he headed to the sea, thanking his airplane for
giving the best it could. It might not be enough this time, but damn it,
she was good.
Suddenly the noise and vibration stopped, the aircraft was
accelerating and he was gaining altitude. Salty tasting sweat trickled
into the corner of his mouth, it could just as easily have been seawater
he thought. He nursed the crippled aircraft back to 5,000 feet before the
engine stopped again.
“Plug and tug.” he said. Sundog pulled up in front him and
plugged back in, the two jets staying in those positions all the way back
to the carrier.
On the deck of the John C. Stennis, everybody from the brake
rider to the chock walkers were helping clear the flight line ready for
Sundog towed Buckshot's jet almost all the way down to the
boat. Half a mile from the stern he pulled away almost drained dry.
Buckshot called the ball and prayed the electrics wouldn’t do a dance at
the worst possible moment. He knew if he failed to catch the wire he would
probably end up nose down in the water. Not many survived those accidents.
Buckshot brought the jet in for a perfect trap. With the sun
behind it, the holes in the badly beaten up F18/C glowed, the jet stopped
and he rapidly shut down the systems in case of any fires, the fire crews
surrounding the jet ready for any emergency. There was a loud bang on the
deck and the jet shuddered. He wondered what that was. Everybody on the
deck stood motionless, mouths open. After being hastily unstrapped and
helped from the cockpit he found out. The port engine exhaust; tail and
stabiliser had fallen off the ass end and lay in an untidy mess on the
deck. ‘Go figure that’ he was thinking, what the hell was holding that
stuff together? It was one TFOA (Things Falling Off Aircraft) that
Buckshot wouldn’t forget for some time. He felt an awful cold shiver run
through his spine. Maybe next time he might punch out.
Callsign Nightmare- bringing down
LOWER MOUNT SIKIRAM. While Buckshot had been nursing his crippled
jet back to the Reagan, his older brother was having his body pulverised
from the inside out, a unique experience to be avoided at all costs. If
you have never been near a major explosion you have no idea of the
intensity of the shock to your body. They are so powerful, that while you
are still lucid, you wonder if your body is already damaged beyond repair.
People die with little evidence of any injury, simply shattered from
within, the cellular structure that used to sustain you turned to mush.
This was a situation that ‘Hammer’ Hamilton had been close to
far too often; it made him wonder about long-term effects, if he was lucky
enough to enjoy those. The tidal waves of bomb concussions rolled over the
Nightmare team as they hugged the ground, pounding their innards. Their
eyeballs rattled inside their sockets, their brains threatening to turn
into stew as they thrashed violently inside the cranial cavity. The good
part he thought as this continued, was that the bad guys were closer. He
also knew that if they survived this moment, it might be the break they
had been looking for. This was a well-dropped package of hell from heaven.
He was hoping the guys with the coffee cups back in the rear were ready to
The senior coffee cup guy in the rear was General George
Pirelli. He had decided to personally take over the rescue mission. He
thanked Red Rider who had done a great job so far. Stringer, he would
remember that name. But the fight had now extended beyond an exfil. It was
now a battle and a chance to kill some of these ass holes in greater
So, while Hammer and Fulham were still shaking their heads
from the explosive effect of multiple 500lb bomb blasts delivered by
Buckshots bug, Pirelli was ordering more firepower, over whelming
firepower. The 500-pound bombs dropped by the navy Hornet had been
incredibly effective and had brought crucial time, but the hillsides were
still crawling with Taliban and al-Qaeda. This was an opportunity to kill
bad guys, which was Pirelli’s job. Pirelli would get the Nightmare team
out and make the ACM bastards pay for a bad tactical error - don’t under
estimate your enemy.
Pirelli noted the Talon and the Ospreys were inbound and
close. From what he had seen, Hammer, despite some real problems, was
still operational and designating targets. Like most of the SOF guys he
was JTAC qualified to perform terminal attack control and terminal
guidance to weapons. Pirelli was betting that Hammer despite his overnight
ordeal would still have his UHF, IR or Laser GPS designator. Time to
wiggle the beam Hammer he thought.
Hammer realised the Hornet strike had given them a minor but much needed
reprieve. But even as he looked from his position, ACM forces were moving
towards them like cockroaches. It was still danger close for air combat
support. The hills were still alive, not from music, but from hundreds of
Taliban. The radio squawked. Someone called Hog 11 came up on the Tactical
Air Direction (TAD) Net, checking in as fragged. They were two Harrier
GR9As operating from 1 (F) RAF Squadron sortied from Kandahar Airfield and
in bound to the fight.
“Hog 11, this is Nightmare, Type 2 in effect, advise when
ready for 9-line”
“A3C, Hog 11 ready to copy” The Harrier pilot replied. He
knew it was Hammer. They all knew that now.
Hamilton read the nine-liner statement that advised attack
headings and target details.
“450, NB 865427, Final attack heading 300-345” The Harrier
“Read back Correct. Report IP inbound, TOT 3 minutes”
“Roger, TOT 3 minutes” The Harrier pilot said validating the
“Hog 11 IP INBOUND”
“Hog 11 continue” Hammer came back.
“Hog 11 one minute, SNAKE”
“Sparkle” Hammer replied. At the same time he wiggled his
LPL-30 over the target area.
“Contact, Hog 11’s IN north”
“Danger close, CLEARED HOT”
Hammer was using a small ground commander’s pointer (GCP) and
IR zoom laser illuminator/designator. To the pilots this looked like a big
flash light beam on the ground when they used their IR imaging devices to
view it. By doing this Hamilton was able to designate to the Harrier
pilots the target and his position, which was the non-moving end of the
pointer and the place NOT to drop the bombs on.
Another call sign came up on the net. The coffee drinker in
the rear was really getting some big hitters in. Hammer was quick to bring
the new guns to bare.
“Dragonfire this is Nightmare, fire mission over,”
“Nightmare, Dragonfire read you loud and clear over,”
“My position GRID 234970 marked by SPARKLE over,”
“Nightmare, Dragonfire Contact,”
“Nightmare 278 degrees, 350 meters, troops in the open,
cleared danger close.”
“Dragonfire cleared in danger close.” There was a pause and
in a voice that was almost a whisper but everyone could hear. “Hold your
head down Hammer; we are coming to get you.”
Dragonfire was an AC-130U Spooky gunship fitted with all
weather sensors and strike radar. Dragonfire, now orbiting at 15,000 feet
above the combat zone was tasked with suppressing enemy fire allowing the
inbound Osprey to get in and out.
Once on target Dragonfire unloaded fire from the sky. Twin
20-mm Vulcan rotary cannons spewed 7,200 rounds per minute towards the
ground, a 40-mm Bofors gun opened up firing 100 rounds per minute, and a
big 105-mm howitzer joined in firing over ten rounds a minute.
At the same time the two RAF Harriers called in by Hammer had already
dropped and were outbound, red tracers following their exit.
The combined effect of the Harrier war loads and the Spooky
gunship impacting almost at the same moment were mind numbing. The
mountainsides exploded. On the ground the ACM had suddenly turned from
ambusher to cornered prey. After so many were killed in the first
explosions from the Harrier drop, the Spooky followed through marching its
crushing weight of firepower across the hillsides, passing the Nightmare
team within just metres. Hammer truly wondered how even a bug would
survive that onslaught.
The Taliban, what remained of them, broke and fled. They fled
back to the border, crossing a man made line that gave them protection
from the death that rained from above. They loaded onto trucks and drove a
few hundred yards over the border, past the oblivious guard and into the
safety and sanctuary of Pakistan. Hundreds of Taliban, and Al-Qaeda or ACM
fighters, slipped away to refit, rearm, and plan for more attacks
unmolested in the lawless western border region of Pakistan. But they left
behind an almost equal number. As far as they were concerned this was a
victory. The two Special Forces soldiers were dead and at least two jets
were shot down. It was indeed a great day.
As the enemy slipped away and the sound of the gunfire faded,
the smoke of the battlefield still lingered, drifting through the valley
carrying with it the fresh smell of death, the smell of burned bodies,
cordite and the rich after taste of high explosive you could taste on your
Hamilton propped up Fulham, they were getting out of here.
That was his last thought.
Moments later Lizard landed. Lizard was a Marine tilt rotor
Osprey with a full section of marines. After touching down, the Marines
exited the rear ramp and sprinted to Nightmares position. When they found
the Nightmare team they all stopped. Both of the men they were supposed to
be rescuing looked dead. There was blood everywhere. The Lizard team
leader called it in, Pirelli would not be happy. But that wasn’t the least
of their problems. Somehow, despite the massive aerial bombardment, there
was still a lot of incoming fire.
Carried on litters the two SF men were quickly loaded onto
the aircraft, Hamilton thinking for a moment it was all over. As the
Osprey lifted off she was raked from stem to stern, smoke pouring from one
of her engines. The marines tried to occupy the smallest piece of space
they could as holes rapidly appeared along the fuselage, several were hit.
Five minutes out from base the Osprey lost the port engine.
The remaining engine groaning under full power took the load. A
transmission interconnect shaft coupled the two huge propellers for just
this emergency and was able to keep both massive props spinning and the
Osprey airborne. But she was crippled badly and the pilots had a whole
bunch of control problems.
US Marine Tilt Rotor Osprey
FOB Tillman – Crash and
FORWARD OPERATING BASE TILLMAN, AFGHANISTAN. Standing on a rocky
dirt track, ringed by 6,000-foot, snow-dappled ridges, Natasha Braithwaite
looked anxiously up the valley in the direction she expected the aircraft
to return from. Braithwaite was posting cameras on the small height to
capture the dramatic return of the Combat Search and Rescue everyone had
been talking about.
The rumour mill had been cranking all morning underscored by
an unusual amount of air movements. Something big was going on. From her
position three miles away, she could see the LZ was already looking very
busy. It was time to get back to the main stage. She motioned the driver
and rest of the crew to start up and get moving. Braithwaite unzipped her
hood thankful to be out of the freezing weather.
The atmosphere on the LZ was different than she had expected.
People were looking at each other all the time, but not much said. What
the hell was this all about? Obviously everyone was waiting, but there was
a collective breath held for something clearly very important. The scene
was almost mesmerising.
Thirty seconds out of Tillman’s landing pattern the Ospreys
remaining engine spat the dummy. The pilot of the Osprey wrestled with the
controls. He called in the latest emergency. His once beloved bird was
flying like a wingless chicken with lead weights. Worse still, there was
no prescribed method to land safely. No one ever got to practice an
auto-rotate or emergency landing all the way to the ground in one of these
things. The simple reason was it was too dangerous. So the training
objective had been to ‘minimize the possibility of such disastrous
occurrences’ which was now too late.
Speed is your friend the pilot thought. He needed to build
the kinetic energy in the props and at the last second he would
auto-rotate hoping to flare the aircraft into a controlled crash - that
was the theory anyway. He pushed the nose down, kept the gear up and
rotated the engine nacelles down to build up the energy in the big props.
He crossed the threshold at over 150 knots, pulling the nose up slightly
and rotating the nacelles into the vertical. The Osprey rapidly slowed
before hitting the dirt at a little over 50kph skidding along the side of
the main runway. It was all going real well until they hit the mine and
the aircraft exploded.
Braithwaite watched the skidding fireball in horror, eyes
wide, hand over her mouth.
“Shit.” Someone said.
She looked quickly sideways to see if the camera was
recording the action. It was and she immediately felt guilty, they were
watching people die, two of them her own countrymen. That was when she she
heard some one say Hammer. She felt her stomach lurch, this was the man
she had met only a few days ago, Captain Brian Hamilton.
Within 24 hours of her witnessing the incident, the images were being
played all around the world via Fox News, CNN and every other major news
SIKIRAM MOUNTAIN, AFGHANISTAN. While the western media eagerly
consumed the latest bad news from the war, from high up on the slopes of
Sikiram, al-Haqq scrutinised the scene of the previous days battle. His
head still throbbed. Far below he could see coalition troops still combing
through the aftermath of the fighting. It had been a great victory. But
there were many more battles to be fought before they removed these
invaders. But his time here had come to an end. He was needed for the
fight back home. He took one last look over the majestic landscape,
committing it to memory. As he turned to leave he noticed a metal rod
protruding from the snow.