Have you missed me, my friends?
It does seem like a long time indeed since I took to the skies, to bring justice to the mujahid, no? Ah, you see! I take myself too seriously after all, for it has been too long since we spoke. We have been busy here at Sochi, you know. I have had a chance to fly a new jet for the Rodina, and you will find out all about it. And I am a captain, now, as is Vasily! Our promotions were long overdue. After all, I have been six years out of Academy now and it is five since Ethiopia, my first combat assignment, soon after which I was promoted Senior Lieutenant. So I am now Sniper Pilot, Captain Alexandra Andreeva! But we have been busy, and our armed forces have gone through a time of great turmoil these past few years.
You know, of course, that we have been fighting over Abkhazia, which in Soviet times was an autonomous region within the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic. And the fight goes on. It is autumn now in Russia, and when you see the pictures Vasily took on our mission you will see a subtle difference in the color of the land, not the verdant green of summer anymore. We have spent these last several weeks training on the new aircraft brought to us by our masters in Moscow, the Su-25T. No, no, my friends, we will not be converting to the Rook, after all we are an IAP, a fighter regiment. What we are doing, however, is obtaining mission-specific aircraft to handle those missions our MiG fighters are not good at, such as precision strikes, and anti-radar missions. And a detachment of our sister regiment, the 588th OShAP, known as the “Night Witches,” is here too and we will fly with them from time to time. The Rook’s tank-killer version has such capability, thanks to its Shkval video system and the Fantasmagoriya ETS pod. Our 9-13 MiGs are not capable of using these advanced targeting systems.
And our Commander had another surprise for Vasily and I, as we sipped bitter Turkish arrack in his office last afternoon. The V-VS high command fears the return of Iranian aircraft to the theater. In a recent mission by the 503rd, Alexei and Dmitri apparently tangled with another of the Mirages. The 9-13 is a wonderful aircraft, but for serious interceptor work one must turn either to the American Eagle, or our own Crane. There are only five Eagles with us now, and they cannot be everywhere. They have been largely detailed to protect Captain Scarlet, our eye in the sky from the NATO powers. So, Vasily, the Commander, myself, and another of our pilots will soon go to the storage at Sevastopol and retrieve our Cranes from there for use in air patrols! I am joyous at this, I miss my old friend greatly. He was built in 1987, one of the first Su-27S models the V-VS received, and I have flown him since I trained the Ethiopians, you see. His N-001 radar is old and has not the two-target engagement capability that the post Batch-18 Cranes have, but it is yet strong and if well used, he is dangerous still. You will see. But not today.
The Commander brought me back to Earth in a hurry, passing over a clipboard with a dark and foreboding look in his grey eyes. I read, and swallowed, for it indeed held dark portents.
“A new outrage has been perpetrated by Muqtadeh and his cronies. Look here.”
The Commander pulled down the hanging map on his wall and picked up a laser pointer.
“You see here the tactical situation. The 41st Guards Tank Division and the Georgian forces hold northern Abkhazia, more or less from the Gumista river north. Gudauta city is well-garrisoned, but these motherless fiends mingle with the population and set off bombs, and fire mortars at random. They have made Gudauta airbase untenable, and for this reason 433 Squadron is now based with us, here at Sochi, and the Georgian Su-25s have been moved to Tbilisi. A battalion of Georgian marines now holds the airbase, to keep the field open for use as a divert airstrip, but for our safety and the aircraft as well, we will operate from Sochi, on Russian soil.”
The Commander paused to light a cigarette. He drew deeply, thinking for a moment.
“Now, as you have read on that communiqué we received this morning, the mujahids, curse them, have taken this as a sign and are celebrating by declaring a new emirate, the Islamic Emirate of Abkhazia. And they have closed the north-south highway at the Gumista river bridge, here. Near the airbase. We will not let that stand, Sacha, Vasily. The road must be opened. We will open it.”