The Commander handed a sheaf of photographs to Vasily, who leafed through them and passed them to me. “It seems simple enough, sir. This is a roadside checkpoint. We will bomb it?”
“Da. But as always when dealing with the IRLF dogs, there is more. Our friends from Iran and Syria are ever active in stirring up trouble and smuggling in arms. They get in despite our best efforts, we think through Azerbaijan for the vehicles. The Georgians do not wish our help in sealing their porous borders; our soldiers in Abkhazia have them nervous enough. And so the IRLF have yet another of the ZSU-23/4 mobile guns, that seem to fall upon them like the manna that Orthodox priests say fell upon the Israelites.”
The Commander’s lean, ascetic face wore a most sarcastic expression. Like my father, he too secretly longs for the old Soviet Union.
I broke in, placing the photo of the checkpoint on the Commander’s coffee table.
“But they are too overconfident, sir! See here, how the ZSU gun is parked inside this courtyard, closely surrounded by the checkpoint’s buildings. For maintenance? We should advantage ourselves of this.”
Vasily, ever the air-to-ground specialist, nodded.
“I agree, sir. We should use the new Rooks for this. And attack first with the Shkval, using either optical or laser weapons. Not the Vikhr, but larger weapons, to demolish the buildings as well as immobilize the gun platform. We will do what Colonel Martin calls the “Shock and Awe” approach. See, this BTR-70 also has a large 14.5mm gun, and we can expect our foes to have infrared SAMs as well, from the old Iraqi stocks looted by the Shi’ites during the Iraq invasion.”
“There is one more thing,” said the Commander, nodding in approval.
“Look at this. Here, across the Gumista, is an IRLF supply point. It is the place where their convoys have been going in this region, Sacha, you bombed one coming from there some weeks ago, when you and Vasily struck the local radio station. Two large bunkers, and a communications center of some kind, are here. These will be your secondary targets; once the AA gun and the checkpoint are finished, strike these. If either holds ammunition, the explosion will be… ‘satisfying’.”
We drove to the meteorologist’s office to receive our briefing, and Kolya as usual was all smiles, as sunny as the day outside. We would have good weather, with minimal turbulence and clouds in the sky to hide us from observation on the ground, if we chose to use them. We went to the flight-line from there, to pick our armament. At the depot, we had the good fortune to meet Alexei and Dmitri from the 503rd, as I discussed our armament choices with Gennedy, who often works the ammunition section when he is not arming Alexei and Dmitri for their missions. Of course, I had a hug for Alexei, and we chatted a bit before he carried on with his mission. They showed me their modified Su-33 last week, and it is marvelous! I missed my faithful Su-27 even more after that and I am glad he will be home soon. We will have dinner tonight together, when Vasily and I get back from Abkhazia again.
“If I did not know better, I would think something was still going on with you and your peacock there, Sacha.”
“Are you still jealous, Vasily Ivanovich?” I could not help but giggle. “Your eyes are green…”
“Nyet.” Vasily made a dismissive gesture and tossed his flight bag into the GAZ jeep. “They are fine pilots, indeed, but I think he trifles with your affections. I wrote to Sergei…”
I interrupted at that. “You and Sergei have been trying to run my life since Komsomol! When Pavel and I were close, you remember? You should be more concerned for Alexei!”
Vasily slid in and punched the starter button. “Just so. You are too impetuous, Sacha. You need a stable influence in your life, Sergei Dimitrievich and I, we agree on this.”
“You, perhaps? Ha!” I turn in mock severity. This is an old game with us. My brother and Vasily were schoolmates. We were in Komsomol, the Soviet youth organization, before the Party lost control of our country. I am a little older than they, and for a time in grade school I was close with another of our friends, Pavel, who is a tank gunner now with Sergei in Yugoslavia. We joke that Pavel was my first boyfriend, though at that age I had other things on my mind; though, we were involved for a time later, before I went to the air force academy in St. Petersburg. Vasily was jealous then, too, I bet…I hope Pavel and Sergei are well.
On the flight-line, I surveyed the aircraft. This Su-25T is to us what the American A-10 is to the Western powers. His prowess in the air to ground battle is unsurpassed. He has the Sukhogruz infrared jammer in his tail, which will fox the IRLF shoulder-fired SAMS, and his Shkval laser/optical targeting system is combat-proven all over the world. He can carry all our latest munitions. I have chosen a mixed loadout for this flight. I will carry two Zvezda Kh-29T optical-guided missiles, a pair of S-25L 280mm laser-guided rockets, and free-fall munitions-two 100kg bombs and two of the unifed containers of small loads-the KMGU-2, loaded with PTAB bomblets to scatter over the Sheikh’s men like deadly rain. To protect myself from the ZSU’s radar, I will load the MPS-410 twin jammer. I would prefer the SPS-141 for this application, as it only takes one station, but Vasily recommended the newer system. I also select two R-73 missiles in case we are bounced, as the Americans say, by Muqtadeh’s Iranian allies.