A Lock On: Modern Air Combat Mission Report
Hello, my friends! I am honoured again today by my selection once again to help the Americans prepare themselves for missions in our operating area. Very few of us are so trusted. In addition to the A-10s of Col. Martin, over the last several weeks a detachment of the 27th Fighter Squadron has rotated in-theater and is now under the tactical command of the 586th. This is not a normal procedure for the Americans; they are loath to allow foreign militaries to control U.S. assets in the field. I do not know why, but these seven crews, and eight of the marvelous F-15C Eagles, are now with our Regiment. I have been temporarily detailed to them. I was originally tasked to support this squadron at the beginning of the war, but many other problems intervened. However, I was able to check out in the marvelous F-15C, which is not so very different from the F-16 with which I am familiar. And as luck would have it, one of my Red Flag instructors is the checkout pilot for the 27th Squadron! He is Captain Troy Barker, who for some reason the Americans call “Slapshot.” I do not know whythis is; it is one of the customs of Western air forces to give their pilots strange names to use as call-signs. They paint them on the canopy rails of their fighters. I think this is a morale-booster, but it is odd how often these names come from a mistake or gaffe the pilot made, no? It is your American sense of humour?
We are briefed in my Commander’s office, with Major Kelly of the 27th, who is shadowing the Commander, there. Unlike my sojurn with the A-10 squadron, the F-15s are integrated into our own Regiment, and therefore the mission planning is primarily ours, though the Americans are now with us in every step. They are in great case our advisors, a strange role for former enemies, no? But my grandfather, who fought in the Great Patriotic War before he flew the Soldier’s Aircraft — the MiG-15-in Korea, would tell you that we should be friends with the Americans. He was saddened by having to fight his former comrades over Korea. And now, we are friends again, with a common enemy.
The Turks have withdrawn from Georgia for now, leaving Muqtadeh without air cover. After the destruction of the supply train at Tkvarcheli and the loss of two more F-16s, the Turkish government fell! They are proceeding with new elections and the Turkish mullahs are in for a fight to retain power. But still, they are committed to their jihad against us; they have joined with Iran in providing Muqtadeh munitions on the sly. For now, this will be all the help he gets! But we have uncontested air superiority, and I am hoping to go to the Su-25 squadron of the Regiment next, or back to the A-10s, to get back into the action.
Today, the plan is familiarizing. Me, with the F-15 again. For Troy, we will show him the IRLF headquarters at Sukhumi airbase. The rumours abound that Muqtadeh is receiving MiG-29 aircraft and air-defense equipment from Saddam Hussein’s old stocks, confiscated by the Iranians after the Americans took Iraq. We will do an armed reconnaissance to see if these rumours have any substance.
We each pick our own loadouts for this mission. For me, a mix of two AMRAAM, four of the excellent AIM-7, and two Sidewinders along with a fuel tank. Troy chooses six of the excellent “Slammer,” and two Sidewinders along with a fuel tank. We have painted the F-15s with bright candy-cane stripes on their noses and wings, and put the American national insignia in full colour. This is to ensure that our antiaircraft gunners see them clearly, and recognize them as friendly and not Turkish; though the Turks have no Eagles, they are unfamiliar to our people and clearly not of Russian origin.
We go to see the meteorological officer. For Troy’s benefit, we conduct the briefing in English. This is strange for him, our ways are much more informal than he is used to. The Americans generally do not take their weather report over tall glasses of tea! As I always do, I munch on slices of cucumber as I listen.
“There is not a cloud in the sky, Sacha. Today, a high-pressure area is over the Black Sea west of us. It will be at least 25 degrees at noon, when you fly. However, clear-air turbulence is predicted. One meter per second at sea level, and rising as you gain altitude. Over 8000 meters… about 30,000 feet, for you, Captain, it should be smooth sailing.”
“What is the visibility, Kolya?”
“It will be somewhat hazy. Sixty kilometers… roughly 35 or 40 nautical miles, I think.”
Troy muses at that information.
“Sidewinders ought to be dead on, then. No problems with IR missile firing, if we get into any bandits. If we have to get in that close, anyway. Don’t hose one off vertical, if you can help it. No need to lose one in the sun.”
I took a sip of tea.
“In the mountains around Sukhumi, ground clutter may make radar locks at anything outside visual range difficult.”
“At least we know the Turkish air force isn’t in the area.”
“Da. But we do not know if the IRLF has their own air force. We will find out, yes?”
“Hell, yeah. If they’re dumb enough to stick their heads up, we’ll chop ’em right off!”
The GAZ jeep is waiting for us, its enlisted driver looking bored. We clamber in over the sides and chat quietly as he drives us to the flight line. As Kolya said, the weather is marvelously warm and clear. The F-15s await us at the flight line, their onboard power units whining in the late morning haze. I find mine, AF82-711, and walk around with its crew chief. I have come to know these Americans well over the past weeks and this goes smoothly. They trust me with their airplane. I climb into the cockpit and begin strapping in with her help, then close the canopy and wait for the signal to start engines. It is hot in all this gear! I get the signal and punch the start for the left engine. This enables me to turn on the cool air, at last! The crew chief motions me through the preflight dance and I start my right engine. A snappy salute to the crew chief, and I am off to the runway, with Troy in tow. Today, I am flight lead, Enfield 1-1.