FOB Pinglin | Taiwan
1816R hours 5 June 2028CE
Air raid sirens blare again.
Aegis Ashore SPY-6 radars pick up incoming vampires.
“The secret is out!” says someone as the alarms sound.
Cracks of AAA fire outside make their way through the ground like muffled thunderclaps. Taiwan has been under heavy barrage for days, ballistic missiles raining down like volcano ejecta, but their command and control is undeterred.
“You’ll need nuclear weapons to penetrate here.” says one ROC leader, smiling in the midst of the bombardment, running closely to an American counterpart as they reach the end of a hallway.
But he’s hoping they never use them, his nervousness rising and falling with each thunderous boom from another hypersonic warhead. Any moment there could be a flash, the vaporization, the end.
Yet it doesn’t happen. None of the warheads ever do more damage than knocking picture frames off the walls. They are protected for now, as long as they can stave off the amphibious assault and ground invasion.
Deep inside the recess of Xueshan Range lies FOB Pinglin, once a highway and tunnel system, but now one of the ROC’s most capable forward operating bases.
They were advised to turn themselves into porcupines against overwhelming force, and they did. Untold billions were spent in secret, the large surpluses of its rapidly developing economy paying for public works projects that hid fully functional bases inside of mountains.
To the outside world, they were building highways, tunnels, and roads. Inside their upper ranks, these were quickly converted into runways, hangars, and staging areas.
Thousands of troops of all types convene in them.
Waiting. Staging. Departing.
Leaders meet in a sound-proofed control room, looking over the railing at the command floor below. The mood is tense, the fight raging through endless days and nights. Caffeine is the only thing keeping them awake, the adrenaline now little more than a side dish to never-ending action.
They are wondering why the bombardment is so intense this time, the relentlessness of staging unseen since the opening morning.
“Attention!” shouts someone.
“Okay.” says another. “What’s the situation?”
An ROC leader steps forward, painting a live picture fed in by the island’s expansive air defense systems. The tac-map renders plainly, showing the ROC units verses enemy contacts.
Expectedly, they’re all to the west.
“Tactical update.” says the ROC leader, zooming the map out to give a wider view of the situation. He points to the strait, “We have another major attack inbound. Ballistic missile barrage like last night, most of the launchers are based out of somewhere outside of Fuzhou. But this time,” he winces, watching the more and more contacts render, “we’re seeing a much larger and more concentrated force.”
Groups of little aircraft figurines move little by little, inching forward with each refresh of the radar and C4I system. In reference to the screen, they are gradually moving to the right—westbound, and splitting into individual groups.
He continues, “So far we have eight groups,” he zooms in for clarity, “but here in the middle of the larger ones, we’re seeing big radar returns. They are jamming us, of course, but the SPY-6 network is still holding. For us at FOB Pinglin, we think the basis of the five groups to the north of the strait is the spearhead of a SEAD strike.”
There is tense silence.
An American steps forward, “Are we thinking H-6 bomber groups?”
“Yes. Probably H-6N variant.”
“Ballistic and cruise missile carriers.” he looks at the smaller radar contacts surrounding them. “J-10s and J-11s for escort.”
“We have forty-four in total in those two groups.” the ROC leader says before pointing to the others. “Twenty-nine, sixteen, and eighteen in the two to the north.”
“Holy shit.” the American grumbles. “Five groups headed our way. 107 aircraft. Dammit, we’re going to have to scramble everything we have.”
The ROC leader nods, “They are approaching the Chinese coast now. Pinglin, Jianshi, and other FOBs to the south are launching alert fighters right now. All the ones we can spare,” his head dips as he looks at his fellow ROC officers, none of them too pleased, “but we will have to limit our numbers, hoping the air defense can hold up. Our SAM network doesn’t have much issue with their aircraft, which is why they haven’t tried an amphibious assault” he zooms into faint contacts heading to the northern tip of Taiwan, “but these low observable units are ones we haven’t seen much. I am worried about them.”
“J-31s or J-57s maybe.” the American nods. “Carrying external stores and cruise missiles. Definitely on SEAD. They’ll have J-20s running top cover too, so we can’t get any altitude above the mountains. Goddammit.”
“Yes. The Chinese version of the Russian Suhkoi Su-57. Since they got friendly in 2020, we estimate they have at least 65 of them in service. Snuck up on us.”
“We have no good way to intercept besides the SAMs. With over one-hundred targets in just the north—this is tough to say.”
The American points to the flashing orbs placed in a zig-zag pattern throughout the western map of Taiwan, “They’re saturating us. They’ll push until our SAMs fire, and then fall back out of range.”
“Then,” the ROC leader agreed, “once we panic, they’ll push to take out the radars and blind us.”
Now leaders from both ROC and American sides weigh in.
“The truck mobile Patriots have helped us. We move them at random, repositioning every 45 minutes. It keeps the PLARF guessing, but our magazines are running low.”
“We are nearing 68% as of this morning.”
“Make sure we conserve our fire. Keep the radars on random switching.” meaning teams coordinated switching their radars off and on periodically to avoid being killed by sneaky missiles looking for radiation. “Any way we can spoof them?”
“Give their aircraft false missile warning tones,” the American motions with his hands, “to force them to turn and evade, and burn up fuel. Combine that with radar jamming.”
“Yes, we can run with that idea. Relay to the Patriot batteries to only fire SAMs at targets well within range.”
“Sir,” an ROC field commander intervenes, “but that pushes our effective engagement range back ten, maybe even twenty miles.”
“You will have to do your best.”
“And our fighter jets? Over the straight to defend us? Against a hundred aircraft?”
“They will have to do their best as well.”
And that is their point. The Chinese are playing the slow game, knowing they will out attrite the ROC if given enough time. Making big pushes forces the use of valuable missiles, many of which will never hit their target.
The ballistic missiles keep everyone guessing and on edge, flying high and on a steep trajectory to bleed as much energy from the SM-6 missiles fired by the Aegis System.
Again, forcing the waste of such units is pivotal to success.
But both the ROC and their American friends fully understand this. Both sides sit and watch their screens, trying their best to estimate how many rounds are left.
All of this, just a giant game of chicken.
The base jumbles and rocks, the lights intermittently flickering from the hypersonic impacts.
“They can’t have more than a few hundred of the DF-21 and 26 in total.” the American is in disbelief. “They have to be running low. They have to be!”
Suddenly a series of loud claxons blare.
“Vampire! Vampire! Vampire!” shouts a mission operator, standing up from his terminal. “Multiple launches detected. Heavy ballistic. Ten. No, twelve! Climbing now!”
“Nuclear or non?”
“Fucking get everyone downstairs! Now!”
VX-33 “Predators” AIR TEST & EVALUATION SQUADRON
Republic of China Air Force (ROCAF) — 34th Black Cat Squadron
1125R hours 5 June 2028CE
TAIWAN STRAIT||”FLANKER ALLEY”
Well fuck me.
Color me surprised that they insisted I remain ‘multi-qualified’ for Test & Evaluation. I never wanted to pull the card, but being a woman in this gig means that I have to pull far more than weight. Not that it was difficult, but I happen to qualify on every teen series jet save for the Tomcat.
God, I’d love to get my hands on one of those.
So, rewind to a few days ago, when I’m sitting on my hospital bed, pulling the gauze wraps off and a fucking DF-16 blows the roof off, cooks the hallways and sends me flying into the stairwell. Wasn’t bad enough to have burns all up and down my legs, so I guess the PLARF expedited a structural beam through my left thigh.
Oh, and let’s not forget the broken ribs.
And the broken nose. And the busted skull.
I have a headache that won’t go away, but that’s the least of my concerns. None of this keeps me from flying an aircraft, and in this case after Commander Miles debriefed me, I just wanted something to get back in the air.
Okay, so I’m crazy. I admit that.
But what use am I as a sitting duck on the ground?
We are at war. I watched my friends die. I watched as my country was hit by hypersonic weapons.
To say the least, my talk the other day with the Commander was shocking. I can’t believe I made it.
“Well, Lieutenant Bartlett,” he said, watching me intently during the debrief, him and his pals eyeing how fucked up I am. Left side of my face swollen, lips looking like purple balloons, giant trails of stitches in my head, “you look like hell.”
What the hell did he want me to say to that? “I’ve had better weeks. Comes with the job, I suppose, sir.”
“Made it out of your Super Rhino that was on fire. Killed four Chinese Coast Guard sailors that tried capturing you. Called in an anti-ship strike.” he read the list. “But on top of all that, the thing I want to talk most with you about is the fact that you are one of the first pilots in the world to meet the Chengdu J-20, in combat.”
“Can’t be the only one, sir.”
“In a fourth generation aircraft? Yes,” he said directly, “you are the only one who lived to tell about it.”
Holy shit. Holy shit.
I saved face, “I consider myself fortunate, sir.”
“Well, as ‘fortunate’ as you may or may not be, we obviously can’t find your data recorders. You downed four of them.”
“From my recollection, sir, yes.”
“So that begs the biggest question of all.”
And then he looked at me, leaning in, two other Navy guys behind him, a little portable camera with a blinking red light recording me. “How?” he asked. “How the hell did you do it?”
They all seemed tense, but not me.
Though I wish I could explain it, pull out a 3D diagram and simulation of how I mapped out my decisions, I couldn’t. I don’t remember. Only bits and pieces come up when I think about it, but hell guys, it was luck.
I had terrific Fox Threes. And by ‘terrific’, I mean the best missile in the field at the time. There was a reason I was part of the development program. I helped field those AIM-260s. I was the closest thing to an expert that they had anywhere on the island.
And then factor in altitude, spead, heading, etcetera.
I was lucky. I’m not fucking special.
I’m no Chuck Yaeger. I’m no Red Baron.
But Commander didn’t like the silence, “Lieutenant, I know you’ve been through a lot over the past few days.”
“Everyone has, sir.” I said, finally.
“Yes, but not everyone shot down four J-20s with an F/A-18.”
“It was luck sir.”
“That’s bullshit.” he snipped. “Or else you’re the luckiest person alive.”
“It got me this far, sir.”
“Lieutenant.” he grumbled, already tired of me. “We’re fucking hurting out there. Six days in and we’re burning through our resources. ROCAF is on track to lose half of their pre-war air force in two days.”
I had to know, “And Washington, sir?”
“They’re trying to decide what’s next.”
It must’ve been the look I gave him, so he got detailed, “Sure, we all read about the Chinese Air Force. We knew well ahead of time about the J-20, but we never expected it to be that effective in combat against us. We can’t get our legacy units anywhere near them. Put plainly: without F-22s on patrol, we stand very little chance operating north of Taiwan in the East China Sea.”
This made no sense, at least initially, “Where are the Raptors?”
“DF-21 and 24s pummeled Kadena AB and Anderson in Guam. As you know, ferry ranges beyond that put tankers, pilots, and the aircraft at risk. We don’t have enough of them to go around, and Washington felt as if we were losing too many. What we have on this island in terms of inventory, is basically it.”
“They’ve cut us off.” I nodded. The bastards.
“Sir, you’re telling me that we’re literally stuck here, in Taiwan.”
“Well, we do control all airspace to the east.”
“What about their carriers? Did we sink them?”
“Destroyed their air wings. Put a torpedo in both. They limped back to port.”
“Holding them east of Guam.” he hated to admit. “PLARF fired a DF-21 at the Teddy Roosevelt Battle Group, armed it with dummy MIRV nuclear warheads, and it appears as if they deliberately missed. Proves they can target us. Accurately. Somehow without satellites.”
“Holy shit.” was all I can say.
All those billions of dollars, just to put the big guns away when the shooting starts.
“So, please.” Commander said. “We need to understand the tactics you used for success. You are part of VX-33. We know you specialize in this.”
“I’ll have to think about it.” I said, trying to sound sincere. “If you want detail, I will have to remember it all and write it down. Sir, it was a textbook trident split. We did mid-low-high, sixty degrees separation between me and Captain Hillard. Uh, I believe Lieutenant Dan was 85 degrees for the flank. He fired first, forcing the J-20s towards me. I Fox Three’d, maybe four times. Couldn’t get a lock, but I switched to Home On Jammer. The AIM-260s tracked extremely well, sir. I mean, I figured they weren’t going to hit!”
“But they did.”
“And, sir, it was luck!” I pled. “I’m telling you, there is nothing special about me!”
“Well,” he said, “I hope that changes soon. Because right now, you’re all we got.”
“Excuse me, sir?”
“ROCAF has lost the majority of their front line pilots. They are flying the rookie squads, and to be honest, they have more aircraft than qualified pilots. So I will give you this option:”
“You are wounded. Severely. We can evac you back behind the front lines. Or, you can stay here with us, as a tactical advisor. To train the ROCAF. Give them a quick runaround on the jets. Teach them the tactics.”
“Sir, that requires years of training.”
“You’d have a few weeks. Maximum.” he then leaned forward, sizing me up like a snake. “But with all due respect Lieutenant, from the looks of you, you don’t seem like the kind of woman that runs away with her tail tucked between her legs.”
“I’d say that’s a correct assum—”
There, at that moment, I remember the loud boom, the feeling of searing heat against my skin, the doors flying off their hinges, the walls splitting into bits and pieces that tore through bodies, machinery, and anything standing in their way.
I woke up, flat on my back, ears ringing, my fucking head pounding like someone ran it over with a truck. There was an arm atop of me. I reached to lift it, but was attached to thin air. I recognized the watch, one of the Commander’s side guys.
When I rolled over, I saw his torso laying in the rubble.
We never found the rest of him, but what I did find is a structural beam of a Taiwanese field hospital sticking through my left thigh. A few medics arrived. I saw lots of soldiers, all scrambling, scared, watching me scream but I couldn’t hear myself.
I couldn’t hear anything but ringing.
My throat hurt. I was parched.
My eyes worked. My hands worked. My feet worked.
Fuck, my leg hurt. I tried to stand, but the beam was stuck in the floor. A medic offered me morphine, but I denied. Can’t fly with that shit in me. I’m no good drugged up.
They gave me a book to bite down on.
We counted to three, and they yanked, but it didn’t free up with the first try. If I was screaming, I bet they could hear it in South America. The one asshole started prying back and forth. I swore to god I’d choke him as soon as I could get up, but it took one more good group effort to pull it out.
They cauterized it.
The one guy was fucking smiling.
“Lucky! Lucky!” he said.
Yeah, it missed my femoral artery, main nerves, tendons, and all by just an inch. My leg is still usable. They stitched me up and tried to put me back on a bed.
Fuck that. Air raid sirens blared
I saw rockets blasting into the air. SAMs. Patriots, or whatever the ROCAF equivalent is. AAA artillery fired blinding into the sky.
What the fuck are they shooting at?
I hobbled down the hallway. Maybe my leg wasn’t so bad. I could see just fine, and everything else worked. US Air Force guys ran about in front of me, so I followed them. They were dawning flight suits, next to them were a group of Taiwanese kids doing the same. They couldn’t be that old. One kid was shaking so bad I assume he was already blown.
“Flight suit!” I shouted. “I need a flight suit!”
Then there was a hand on my shoulder. I turned around. It was the Commander. Now look who was all jacked up.
“Lieutenant!” he said. “You’re in no shape to fly!”
“I beg to differ, sir.” I paid him no regard, popping a few 800mg Ibuprofen instead of opiates. “ROCAF staff says we got Vipers downstairs in the basement. I intend on flying one.”
“Well,” he said, “I see you’re not going to listen to me.”
“Depends on the order, sir. No, I will not sit on a bed.”
“Understood.” he saluted. “Anything else you need?”
“Yes, sir.” I said, raising my shoulders. “Another fucking plane.”
And that, I guess, kind of made me a legend around here.
But I don’t want to be a legend. I want to go home.
So now I stand here days later, my hands shaking, my heart racing, and my stomach curdling—just waiting for my time to go up in the sky and die.
The air raid sirens sound again. We get the scramble call seconds later. Here we go, just fighting to stay alive as long as we can, hoping to god that Washington can get us reinforcements before it’s too late.
“We have to buy some time, Lieutenant.” says Commander Miles. “That’s it. I know it’s easier said than done, but help is on the way. Trust me. They won’t leave us here to die. We need a few more days.”
I can’t tell whether or not he truly believes what he’s saying.
“Yes sir.” I say anyways.
Just like a robot. Be a good girl, Dorothy.
Keep your fucking head in it.
Yeah, until some Chinese missile blows my head off. God help us.
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
Title Image is a still frame from “Battle: Los Angeles” © Columbia Pictures
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