A Lock On: Flaming Cliffs Mission Report
I have a new call-sign!
I have before remarked on the Americans’ habit of changing their call-signs so often and that they use them to commemorate embarrassing incidents. This is the American sense of humor. And I appear to have met this tradition head-on! This, I blame on my new wingman.
Her name is Shaniqua Deitz, who the Americans all call “Sugar.” She is from Birmingham, Alabama. If that raises your eyebrows, that I now have an American’s wing, I suppose that is because you do not know that I have taken up my liaison duties to the 27th Fighter Squadron again, for a time. There are few of the “Fighting Eagles” from the Langley Air Force Base here at Sochi with us. Their number has in the past fluctuated between four and seven. Their primary duty has been the safety of Captain Scarlet, the E-3A that the NATO powers have sent to us to watch the skies. Now, with the Germans here with their F-4 and MiG-29 9-12 aircraft that duty is rotating among the interceptor units here. As the Eagles are now going to be in missions over the Sheikh’s fledgling Emirate, I returned to help them.
Their color schemes have changed. Now that the 41st Division’s SAM gunners are used to seeing the F-15 and have the Americans programmed into their IFF systems, they have had their candy-stripes taken off and all are back in the strange grey over light grey air camouflage that the Americans favor. My 82-711 that I flew last year is still with them. The Americans still do not totally trust me and of course this aircraft has now had sensitive, highly classified equipment like the Link 16 taken out. Of course, we do know about your Western JTIDS and other wonderful equipment and we have an equivalent in our own aircraft. Fortunately, the Americans I fly with have access to the AWACS’ data feed and so this is not a problem. I have been thoroughly drilled by my own air force in working with the air controllers without the aid of such technology, so I will not be seriously handicapped by the JTIDS’ absence.
After I re-familiarized myself with your wonderful American Eagle aircraft, I began to fly missions with Shaniqua over the Emirate. We will maintain air superiority. We have not seen more of the Mirage aircraft, but Iran and Syria continue to smuggle in MiG fighters to the IRLF force at Suhumi and this is a problem. I am continually amazed that the Georgians cannot stop the enemy aircraft from getting here! To get to Abkhazia, surely they have to fly over Georgia. We do have a tense relationship with the Georgians, though; they fear our influence in this region nearly as much as they fear the Sheikh.
Today, the mission is a new one for me! I have not flown dedicated combat air patrol in quite some time. Our mission in the 586th has been close-air support and precision strikes on ground targets for the most part. The Eagles have a briefing room set up in their building here at the Sochi-Adler international airport. It has a screen on the wall for Power Point presentations and rows of desks, like those we had in school. They do mission briefings here. My own Commander usually attends, though for the present I report to Major Curtis, who is the 27th Squadron’s detachment commander.
For this flight, we had two of the Hornet pilots from 433 Squadron with us and some of the higher leaders in the coalition force. Among them is a new friend, Lt. Commander Mark Mitchell of the American Navy. Mark works with the headquarters staff as a tactical officer and liaison for the U.S. Navy forces in our region and is on loan from the “Valions,” one of the Navy Hornet squadrons. Do you know that I correspond with a U.S. Naval aviator? He is with the VFA-103, fighting in Iran even now and commands a squadron of your new Super Hornets. Mark knows him and both of them are most interested in how 433 Squadron employs its Hornets here. Mark had a most smug expression on his face as we gathered and when I asked him about it he almost broke into laughter! When I asked him what was funny, he could only look over my shoulder at the Canadian pilots getting cups of coffee and shake his head.
A general officer of the staff entered and someone called us all to strict attention. This would be our briefer for this mission. He gave us leave to be seated and the lights dimmed as he started paging through the Power Point. This apparently was a much anticipated mission!
“Okay. You all know that we got run out of the Gudauta airbase last month by IRLF rocket artillery. We’ve been looking for some payback ever since and now, our Canadian partners are going to be the ones to deliver the mail.”
A change of slide, to a photo of the BM-21 “Grad,” a truck carrying a multiple rocket launcher.
“This is your target. A platoon of BM-21 122mm launcher vehicles. They’re set up in a tree line, couple klicks south of the Gumista river. The coordinates of this site are in your brief. Simple mission: Search and destroy.”
The next slide showed an overhead view of the target site.
“You’ll ingress from the north, at low altitude. Be on the lookout for MANPADS in the area. The IRLF are known to carry the SA-16 man-portable missile system. You don’t want anything coming to you from Russia, with love.”
That provoked a tense chuckle from this captive audience and the general winced, then looked at me.
“No offense, Captain Andreeva.”
“I take none, sir!”
“Okay. 433 Squadron will be covered by F-15 Charlies from the 27th, Andreeva and Deitz, right?”
Major Curtis nodded and the briefing continued.
“You two need to be on your toes for bandits out of Suhumi. Intel has it that more MiGs are there, Syrian again and Iranian. They’ll be inside 25 nautical miles of you at wheels-up if they scramble, so you won’t be BVR long if that happens. Make the most of what you’ve got — the far better aircraft and missiles. God knows how they’re managing to split their air force like this with the hell the Navy’s giving them down in Iran right now.”
That brought a smile to the general’s shadowed face.
“Indeed so, Commander Mitchell. All right, people. You’re burning daylight.”