Amazed at the visceral hatred in Shakhar's voice, Yegor Pavlinsky remained expressionless.
Over The Gulf of Oman
After extending the Tomcat's refueling probe, Commander Garner Stockwell inched the throttles forward as he carefully maneuvered the sinister-looking F-14 closer to the KC-10 tanker. With his eyes riveted on the refueling hose and drogue, Stockwell concentrated on flying while his radar intercept officer, Lieutenant Alan "Skeeter" Jeffcoat, scanned the skies for other traffic.
After stabilizing the airplane behind the drogue, Stockwell eased the sleek fighter toward the basket. Adding a touch of power, the commanding officer of the VF-32 "Swordsmen" gently guided the airplane forward until the probe smoothly plugged into the refueling receptacle. Once the nozzle was mated with the drogue, Stockwell carefully maintained his position directly behind the tanker.
"You're takin' gas," the sergeant in the boom operator's station radioed in his deep whiskey voice.
"That's what we like to hear," Stockwell drawled.
"Commander," an urgent voice interrupted, "this is Major Labrowski."
Instinctively, Stockwell and Jeffcoat tensed. Labrowski was the aircraft commander of the KC-10 Extender.
"What's up, Ski?"
"Sir, the AWACS that was scheduled to rendezvous with you just had an engine problem," Labrowski said, then paused to listen to an air traffic controller who was communicating with the Boeing E-3 AWACS crew. "They're headed back to the base, and the spare bird won't be up for another thirty to forth-five minutes."
Shit! Stockwell swore to himself. This mission is a White House priority, a request directly from the President. I sure as hell don't want to be the one who scrubs it. "Stand by."
With the SR-71 Blackbird downed by a line-item veto, and the venerable U-2 "Dragon Ladies" temporarily grounded after a mysterious crash, the carrier-based F-14 Tomcat had been called on to provide war-ready strategic reconnaissance for the White House and the Pentagon.
Countering the effects of the turbulent air, Stockwell deftly worked the control stick while he quickly analyzed the situation. Although the Airborne Warning and Control aircraft wouldn't be available to provide advance notice of hostile aircraft and missiles, Stockwell remained confident about flying over the denied area.
The Tomcat carried the latest technology in Electronic Counter Measures equipment. Recently released from the "black world," the highly sophisticated defensive system could electronically jam enemy early-warning radars and missile sites, making it almost impossible to obtain a firing solution on the TARPS-equipped fighter.
The Tactical Airborne Reconnaissance Pod System with a digital imagery (DI) camera would image the targets and transmit the information to the Joint Task Force-Southwest Asia headquarters in Saudi Arabia for positive identification and analysis. Forty minutes later, the President of the United States and his Secretary of Defense would have the recce photographs in their hands.
The near real-time imagery of the TARPS-equipped Tomcats expanded the reconnaissance role of the F-14 during crisis situations. The aircraft delivered aerial photos so incredibly clear that you could read street signs and license plates. Although "national systems," Pentagonese for spy satellites and intelligence gathering aircraft such as the U-2 and Rivet Joint, were excellent platforms for gathering vital information, they occasionally malfunctioned or were not in a proper position to spy.
When time is critical, a call to an aircraft carrier in the vicinity of a potential target allows the President the luxury of assessing the threat in a matter of minutes or hours. In addition, with aerial refueling, the manned Tomcat could provide increased flexibility for the Commander in Chief and his military advisers.
Copyright Joe Weber 1999. All rights reserved.
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