Major Nikolai Somansky
VVS ACES — INTEGRATED 6TH NAVY FIGHTER DIVISION
0748R hours 25 MAY 2028CE
EAST CHINA SEA. SOUTHEAST OF TAIWAN.
Come on, you bastard.
I see you.
You killed my friend, and now what have I to lose?
We’re out of BVR missiles. I know this, because you would’ve killed me by now otherwise, with your ‘stealth’ and your ‘technology’. But that can’t substitute for skill.
And there is honor in skill.
So we’ll see what you have.
I select my R-73s. You call them AA-11s. The ‘Archer’.
Let me show you what they can do.
I approach my target, at first just a tiny blip on the horizon, but now a clear planform of American origin. Radar finally picks it up around 40km, occasionally losing it as he cranks from side to side.
He expects a sneaky missile, perhaps a R-27ET, a mid-range infrared homing type that would give him no warning of a launch. It’s how I’ve killed in the past. Honorless, but necessary. Easy against untrained fools, but not so much against Americans.
I expect this fight to be tough.
The fight neither of us want, the knife battle now our figurative guns are out of ammunition, our long-range missiles expended in the middle of the fight. I have to make it back to the carrier, but you, my friend, are in my way.
Fuel. I need to conserve my fuel, so I manage my closure.
I dial in towards him, slight left rudder, just enough to point my nose his way. I need him within 40 degrees of my nose cone, where I can lock him with the helmet cueing reticle and fire.
Come on. What kind of aircraft are you?
F-22? Please be you. I want to see the legend, the same aircraft that slaughtered my Chinese friends. I know they were in front of us before, early in the morning during our attack. Their intelligence was wrong. Those were no F-16s or F-15s. The plan to knock out Kadena with DF-21s apparently not successful enough to kill the Raptors.
So we will deal with them, the Russian way.
I am an ‘advisor’, a technical specialist, or mercenary for hire, well-versed and fluent in mandarin. We all are. Sent to be the thorn in their pompous, self-righteous sides. I hate politics, but I understand the goal here.
They do not control the world.
They never will, and I’m here to ensure that they know.
I see him crank again, rolling defensively, pulling hard before reversing back again.
Shit! The fuselage is stubby, and fat. I see little wings.
That’s no F-22. Instead, I’ve found its little brother.
F-35. Within visual range.
I wonder how many others have seen this.
Or, am I the first?
Deep inhale. Deep exhale. We’re going to merge.
So now I think: Is it true what they say?
That you’re not supposed to dogfight with a Lightning?
Aren’t they cold rocks in BFM?
We’re head on now. I see no external pylons. I’m surprised he hasn’t fired at me, but I know they hold heat seekers inside their bellies. He only has two.
And he has honor. No cheap shots. No head on gun bursts.
Salute, my friend. Let’s dance in this duel.
I hope to make this short, so I disable the alpha limiter, allowing me to override the flight computer’s tendency to keep my nose and airspeed in check. This will give me one good turn, but that’s all I need. Keep him away from the sun. Don’t lose sight of him.
Come on, Nikolai. This is what we do.
Shit. Here we go!
He’s off, over the top of me. I push the throttles forward, clicking through the afterburner detents, rolling my jet right, inverting to place the ground above me, then full backward stick!
Shit, the gee! My eyes have spots. I tense my legs, ignoring the overstress alarm in the cockpit, hoping the wings don’t rip off from their mounts. This won’t take long!
Just give me one good turn!
And there, my vision returns. I see him, right over the fucking rising sun. Shit. I flip the toggle to the alpha limiter, turning it back on, righting my nose up to greet him. My helmet mounted reticule shows an X over the sighting circle, forcing me to wait for a better difference between him and the giant sun behind his jet, the split seconds as agonizing as dental work.
Then, the X vanishes. I see the circle flashing. I hear the tone.
Missile away! Straight for him as he flares.
But—shit! He’s fired too, his nose still 50 degrees displaced from me! Fucking Americans. I see one, a Sidewinder tracking towards me. Flares! Flares!
I duck high, pulling the nose up, swearing as I see his Sidewinder flash by beneath me. I’m still alive, yet so is he. My R-73 pulls for his flares, meeting the center of their group before exploding.
In this duel, we both survived the first shot, but now we’re much too close. We’re outside of each other’s WEZ, the weapon engagement zone, our heat-seekers unable to track until we’re further away.
But that’s the chance.
That’s the Russian Roulette.
Stay close to your foe, but not too close. I stay ready to select the gun, but for now I hold clean.
I see the American, rolling his wings towards me, his beautiful dark gray fantasy machine crossing beneath my Sukhoi, only to reverse position test our will. We tumble together, our aircraft buffeting on the edge of stall, the warning buzzer chiming in the background as I keep my eyes locked onto him.
Oh, come on! Give me a good fight!
Show me that you’re not a fucking coward that killed my friend without any skill or honor!
I kick the right rudder. He does too.
We cycle in our spiral, and I watch him drift away, and then back towards me, and then away, each time growing perilously closer, our separation perhaps a hundred meters or less. The buffeting grows violent, I hear the stall warning but I resist pointing the nose down.
Max rudder! Spin the nose to the right! Afterburners!
Then, I see the plume of his afterburner, the single engine attempting to push the stubby jet forward. I see the American. He sees me. Our eyes meet, through our visors, our planes hanging in midair, nearly in suspended animation, no airspeed, no change in vertical offset. I hope he’s as scared as I am, no closer to home than me, no easier way out of this than through me.
But I have a plan.
So I wait, pulling back the stick, flipping the alpha limiter off once again to hold my nose up.
I know gravity very well. It wants to pull us down, and with that as pilots, when low on speed we want to point our noses down—useful in normal circumstances, but fatal in a close combat knife fight like this.
We know the rules, don’t we my American friend?
The first pilot to nose down loses, exposing his back to his foe, exposing any heat seeking missile to unhidable heat from the engine nozzle locked into afterburner. Too bad for him.
Too bad he cannot match the Suhkoi’s thrust.
And he begins to fall, and I see him struggle, his elevators pitched upward to their maximum, all before he knows how this will end. Finally, he disappears beneath the canopy, first his nose, then his wings, and at last, his tails.
That’s the queue.
I’m in freefall, but at nearly zero angle. He’s pitched down thirty to forty degrees, so he falls faster, our separation growing so high now that I’m safe to nose down.
So I do, twisting my neck to get the visor target reticle on his position, but—SHIT.
He’s fired! Flare! Flare!
Ah, no use. The missile flies straight away, its seeker so confused that it doesn’t attempt to track me. He’s two hundred meters below, his nose almost perpendicular to me. No way he had a lock. That was desperation.
His last heat seeker.
Oh, my poor American friend.
Thank you for the good fight.
My nose pitches down, and finally, the reticle blinks, the shrieking tone so telling. What a sweet, sweet sound.
I hear the burst, seeing a heat seeker shoot away, curling down towards the Lightning, ignoring its stealth, his high-powered computers, and all of its defenses.
Look at it, all useless!
The prox fuse detonates, the shrapnel spreading forward, tearing through the expensive and exotic skin piece by piece, rupturing the fuel tanks, blasting through the engine, ripping away the wings, the tails, and finally it all ceases with one large and incredible explosion.
Holy shit. I did it.
He is down.
I level out, slowly dialing back up to speed.
In the distance, I watch the debris fall.
Saddened, I count another kill.
Godspeed, my friend. You put up a great fight.
I hope to meet more of your friends soon.
I meet with two more Flankers, fresh from the hunt.
We mourn our losses, but revel in the success.
Today, we fought against the greatest air force in the world, and the result? We cleared the airspace. There are no more of them.
It’s just us, three Su-35s, VVS ACES.
Per directive, we speak perfect Mandrin on coms.
“Reaper 8?” inquires my friend.
“Down.” I say lowly. “AMRAAM got him.”
“The same for 10 and 14?”
Dammit. Don’t mention him! I try to be strong, but I can’t.
I feel it in my stomach. It hurts. Reaper 14. I’m so sorry, Leonid. I couldn’t help you when you needed it.
I would give anything to see you again.
“Yes. Unfortunately. All down, hit by one aircraft. F-22 Raptor.”
“The Raptor took down two?”
“Three, from what was reported. Reaper 14 was the last. He went into a gunfight.”
“No signs of the Raptor?” asks my other wingman.
“No.” I snip. “He wouldn’t have the fuel for that. I doubt he made it back.”
“How many kills for you?”
“I believe four.” I don’t want to boast. This is not the time or place. “F-35 was the last.”
“He almost had me. I barely made it.”
“Thank god we did, comrade.”
Ah! 44-D! There is the last beacon.
I turn right, heading 015 to come back to the north. I’m low on fuel, only 985 kilos left, but I can stretch this. Ten minutes pass, until Reaper 3 spots a hit on IRST.
“Target! 30 kilometers!”
I check the flight paths. It has to be one of ours. No American would make it this far without tankers.
Good things we shot them down.
I push away from my wingmen, ten kilometers separation to cover in case of hostiles. I scan the encrypted channels, and finally I hear a timid young Chinese voice. He’s on the edge, poor kid. I need to calm him down.
“Star Five, this is Reaper Two.” I say. “Star Five, this is Reaper Two. Is that you off my 9-o-clock? 20 kilometers?”
He answers, “Confirm. It’s me, Star Five, sir.”
I remember him. Ping Xi Liu. Great kid.
“You made it.” I can’t help but smile.
“Yes, I did.”
“Good.” I say, snapping out of it. I must remain strong. “Rendezvous fourth beacon. We will join Reaper Three and Five there.”
I don’t know what to say to him.
“What’s your fuel?” I ask.
Shit. We may not make it back, and even if we do, there is no room for error during landing. At this rate, I doubt we’ll have more than one good pass at the carrier.
“Keep distance.” I say to him. “10 kilometers. Conserve your fuel.” and then I am honest, “I want one of you to make it back alive. We will need good pilots, now more than ever.”
Central Command broadcasts the “CLEAR” code.
Radios are back. The controller guides us for the final approach.
Jiangong is ahead now.
Would’ve made a great carrier for Russia.
Tail hook down.
Flaps. Landing gear.
Keep the trim steady, watch the turbulence.
“Nice to see you back, sir!” a crewmember greets me, helping me climb down the latter from the cockpit. “You have done an excellent job! China is forever grateful for your service!”
I can only nod, walking away to look back at my aircraft.
Only minor damage. Some surface abrasions. Nothing serious.
So, I watch my wingmen land. Reaper Three and Reaper Five.
Together, we help guide the kid down.
In all, I don’t know why the Chinese are cheering. I don’t understand the celebration. Yes, they have won the victory, but at what cost?
I look around at a mostly empty deck.
My stomach is in knots.
All of the applause and jubilation, when out of all their division, Star Five is the only one to make it back to the ship—out of twenty pilots.
Is this victory?
We debrief, the Admiral barely able to contain his joy at a surprise victory. No one thought they would stand up against the Americans, and win.
The aircraft would be replaced.
Thirteen days he says. That’s plenty of time as the PLAAF gathers to retake Taiwan. There is nothing the American’s can do now, their bases wrecked to oblivion, and their West Coast resupply ports heavily damaged from submarine hypersonics.
We accept our awards, given personally by staff in Beijing, and Moscow. Afterward, we have a nice dinner.
The food is excellent. Even the cooks treat us like gods.
But Ping is lost. I can see it in his face.
Later, below deck, I catch the kid crying.
“Don’t tell anyone.” he pleads. “Please!”
“I won’t.” I pat his back. “You’re a hero, Ping.”
“Am I?” his eyes are sharp. “But what about my friends? What about them? What do I do now?” he sobs. “Admiral says he’ll have ‘replacements’ in thirteen days. I mean, why does he say it like that? Like they’re just something that can be replaced?!”
There is no way to avoid the truth.
“We are numbers, Ping.” I say. “And this is war. Welcome to it.”
His eyes brighten, “War? Do you really think it will be an all-out war? We are only reunifying China! We want nothing to do with America.”
“You hit their homeland.” I warn.
“We took the airspace from them. It is ours now. The China Sea belongs to us.”
“Okay. But do you think for one moment, after all that happened today, they will just go home?”
He stares, blankly into the distance. Then, his head drops.
“You need to get rest.” I advise.
“I won’t be able to sleep.”
“Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it.”
He nods, forcing a smile. I pat his back.
“Until next time,” I salute, “my friend.”
“Until next time, sir.”
But I am the one who cannot sleep.
I know they are out there somewhere, lurking, planning, scheming a way back. Before, they were unsure. I saw their politicians, their protests, their social media raging with arguments about the buildup. Half of America didn’t like their own arrogance, and with that internal resistance, they only showed but a small hand of their arsenal.
They did it to save face, to show the world that their empire wasn’t waning, and then they were taken by surprise. Their egotism left them unprepared, so yes, the Chinese overran them today.
Thirteen days to replenish the ship?
I’d bet the Americans are plotting a way to sink it before then. Yet, I lay awake tonight, knowing that this isn’t the end.
We’ll be back in the sky, fighting again soon enough.
How many aircraft will they bring?
How far are they willing to push this?
I drift away, until I am awakened by a loud rumble in the ship. I sit up, just to feel another, this time so powerful that it throws me from the bed.
WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP!
“Battlestations! All hands! Battlestations!”
Shit. Maybe I spoke too soon.
This is a work of fiction. All characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are creations stemming from the author’s imagination. Any events and locations are used fictitiously.
Copyright © 2021 Bryan James Williams
Artwork developed and flown in DCS World, and stylized by me
Aircraft Images come from the wonderful community at shipbucket.com
Tac Maps are created by me in CMANO – Edited in Photoshop © Matrix Games