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WESTERN PACIFIC USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT Night was falling over the Western Pacific as USS Theodore Roo­se­velt surged through dark green ­waters, headed into a brisk wind. Seated in the Captain’s chair on the Bridge of his Nimitz class aircraft carrier, Captain Rich Tilghman observed two F/A-18E Super Hornets locked into the bow catapults, their engines glowing reddish orange in the twilight. In a few seconds, both aircraft would head out to relieve fighters in Roo­se­velt’s combat air patrol, as the carrier strike group cruised several hundred miles off the coast of China, just beyond range of China’s DF-21 missile, nicknamed carrier-­killer. A few months ago, that’s exactly what the Chinese missiles had done. The war between China and the United States was short, but devastating. ­There had been no declaration of war by e­ ither country or a formal cease-­fire; the combat had halted once the outcome became clear. Although Amer­i­ca prevailed, the cost was high. Four heavi­ly damaged aircraft carriers w ­ ere in shipyards being repaired, while a fifth rested on the bottom of the Pacific Ocean, leaving USS Ronald Reagan as the sole operational Pacific Fleet carrier. Submarine losses had been heavy, with the opposing sides virtually wiping each other out, and U.S. surface ship losses had been high as well. What remained of the U.S. Pacific Fleet had been augmented with ­Atlantic Fleet units shifted to the Pacific, joining USS Ronald Reagan. Not far to the south, the Reagan strike group was also on deployment, with the United States choosing to keep two carrier strike groups off China’s coast at all times.

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Captain Tilghman’s attention returned to the two Super Hornets as the bow catapults fired. The aircraft streaked across the Flight Deck, then rocketed upward, their paths marked by the white-­hot glow of their afterburners against the darkening sky. Not long thereafter, the first of the ­returning aircraft landed, announced by the squeal of tires hitting the deck and the hydraulic hum of arresting wire motors as the Super Hornet’s tailhook snagged number three wire. The F/A-18 was soon headed to the nearest elevator for a trip to the H ­ angar Deck, while a second aircraft landed. Tilghman pushed himself to his feet and left the Bridge for a short tour of his ship before calling it a night. So far this deployment, it had been all quiet on the western front.

K-456 VILYUCHINSK

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Captain First Rank Dmitri Pavlov stood at the back of the Central Command Post aboard his Antey class guided missile submarine, called Oscar II by NATO, surveying his men at their watch stations as they shadowed an American carrier strike group to the west. The crew’s ­orders and reports ­were calm and professional, reflecting the proficiency a crew gains ­after several months at sea. Vilyuchinsk’s Watch Officer, Captain Lieutenant Dolinski, monitored the submarine’s depth, steady at seventy meters, occasionally checking the status of their communications, verifying they ­were copying the broadcast on the floating wire antenna trailing several hundred meters ­behind the submarine. The Communications Post was downloading the latest round of naval messages, and nothing seemed out of the ordinary u ­ ntil the speakers near Pavlov energized. “Command Post, Communications. Have received a Commanding Officer Only message.” Pavlov acknowledged and entered the Communications Post, stopping by the two printers. “Ready.” The radioman hit the print button and a message slid from the left printer. Pavlov read the directive, then read it again. He took the message to the Central Command Post, addressing one of

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the two Messengers. “Request the First Officer’s presence in the Command Post.” The se­nior seaman acknowledged and departed in search of the submarine’s second-­in-­command, and a moment l­ater Captain Second Rank Mikhail Evanoff arrived. Pavlov motioned Evanoff to join him by the navigation ­table, also requesting the Watch Officer’s presence. When the two men approached, Pavlov slid the message across the ­table. “Read.” Pavlov waited while the two men read the directive, then, like him, read it again. Confused and then concerned expressions worked across their ­faces, and the two men exchanged glances before Pavlov’s First Officer spoke. “This cannot be correct,” he said. “We have been directed to fire upon the American strike group, targeting their aircraft carrier. Surely ­there has been a m ­ istake. An errant message from a training scenario, perhaps.” Pavlov’s Watch Officer studied the message as the First Officer spoke, searching for formatting irregularities. But the message was properly formatted, with the required weapon release authorization. Dolinski looked up. “We should request verification. We ­aren’t at war with the United States, but this might start one. We must be certain this directive is properly authorized.” Pavlov answered, “It’s au­then­tic. And expected. I met with Fleet Admiral Lipovsky before our deployment. He informed me that we might receive this message.” “Why would we be directed to fire upon the Americans?” his First Officer asked. “He did not elaborate,” Pavlov answered. A ­ fter a slight pause, he said, “Do you have any additional questions or reservations?” When neither man replied, Pavlov ordered his crew to full readiness. “Man Combat Stations. Proceed to periscope depth.”

USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT Three levels below the Flight Deck, in the aircraft carrier’s Combat Direction Center, Captain Dolores Gonzalez settled into her watch routine as the

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CDC Operations Officer. She examined the Video Wall, a collection of two eight-­by-­ten-­foot displays mounted beside each other, with a half-­dozen smaller monitors on each side. ­After failing to note anything unusual, she shifted her thoughts to the combat air patrol to the west. They ­were keeping eight Super Hornets airborne at all times, along with an E-2C Hawkeye at twenty-­five thousand feet, its radar searching the skies for hostile aircraft and missiles. Two of the F/A-18 fighters w ­ ere approaching bingo fuel and would return to the carrier shortly. Her eyes shifted to the Flight Deck display; two more Super Hornets ­were moving ­toward the bow catapults and would be on their way out to relieve the returning fighters in a few minutes. That was the daily routine, with days turning into weeks, then months. Across the Combat Direction Center from Gonzalez, the strike controllers ­were idle, as was the Tactical Action Officer who supervised them, with no inbound targets to engage and no outbound strike sorties. The bow catapults fired, launching the Super Hornets, and it ­wouldn’t be long before the two fighters approaching bingo fuel returned. Gonzalez settled in for what would be a long but hopefully boring night on watch.

K-456 VILYUCHINSK

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Vilyuchinsk tilted upward, rising t­ oward periscope depth. The submarine’s Watch Officer kept his face pressed to the attack periscope, the aft of the submarine’s two scopes. Despite the crowded Central Command Post, now at full manning, it was quiet while the submarine ­rose from the deep. Dolinski announced, “Periscope clear,” and started turning the scope swiftly, completing several sweeps in search of nearby contacts. Vilyuchinsk settled out at periscope depth and Dolinski declared, “No close contacts!” Conversation resumed now that t­ here was no threat of collision or detection by surface contacts, and Dolinski completed a more detailed scan of the ocean and sky, searching for distant ships or aircraft. “Hold no contacts.” Pavlov ordered, “Raise primary communication antenna.” One of Vilyuchinsk’s antennas, able to communicate with satellites, slid upward. Although Pavlov knew the American carrier strike group was to the west, he needed a detailed tactical picture to ensure he was targeting the correct ship. Vilyuchinsk was beyond visual range and c­ ouldn’t use its radar ­either, as that would give away the submarine’s presence. Instead,

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Pavlov would rely on the tactical summary from the broadcast, containing all warships and merchants at sea and updated ­every five minutes. The Communication Party leader’s voice came across the speakers. “Command Post, Communications. In sync with the broadcast.” A moment ­later, the two fire control displays updated with the current tactical picture, and Pavlov and his First Officer, along with Vilyuchinsk’s Missile Officer, gathered ­behind the men at their consoles. As Pavlov studied the display, he realized the tactical situation c­ ouldn’t have been better. The American carrier strike group was arranged with ­every surface ship escort except one positioned between the aircraft carrier and China, leaving only one destroyer on the back side between Vilyuchinsk and its target. It was a loose formation, which meant ­there would be ­little chance their missiles would lock on to the incorrect target. The only question was—­ how many of Vilyuchinsk’s missiles would make it past the destroyer and the aircraft carrier’s defense systems. Pavlov announced, “Set contact eight-­five-­one as the target of interest. Prepare to fire, full missile salvo.” The Missile Officer acknowledged and prepared to launch all twenty-­ four of Vilyuchinsk’s P-700 Granit surface attack missiles, each one armed with a warhead weighing almost one ton. “All missiles are energized,” reported a watchstander seated at one of the fire control consoles. A moment l­ater, he said, “All missiles have accepted target coordinates.” Captain Lieutenant Dolinski initiated the next step. “Open all missile hatches.” The hatches lining the submarine’s port and starboard sides retracted. “All missile hatches are open,” the Missile Officer reported. “Ready to fire, full missile salvo.” Pavlov surveyed the tactical situation and the readiness of his submarine one final time, then gave the order. “Fire.”

USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT Inside Roo­se­velt’s Combat Direction Center, a wave of yellow symbols appeared on Captain Gonzalez’s display. Surprisingly, they ­were to the east

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of the carrier strike group instead of the west. A few seconds ­later, each yellow icon switched to a red symbol with a sharp point, representing hostile surface-­to-­surface missiles. Gonzalez picked up the handset and punched the Bridge button on the communications panel. “Bridge, CDC. Have twenty-­four inbound bogies from the east, classified surface attack missiles. Request permission to set General Quarters.” “Set General Quarters.” Gonzalez gave the order, and the gong-­gong-­gong of the ship’s General Alarm reverberated in CDC, followed by the announcement, General Quarters, General Quarters. All hands man your B ­ attle Stations. Move up and forward on the starboard side, down and aft on port. As the announcement faded, Gonzalez focused on shooting down the incoming missiles. Roo­se­velt’s defense would fall primarily on the shoulders of USS Stockdale, an Arleigh Burke class guided missile destroyer, outfitted with the Aegis Warfare System and SM-2 Standard missiles. However, air defense of the carrier strike group rested with the Air Warfare Commander, stationed aboard the Ticonderoga class cruiser, USS Port Royal. His voice came across the speakers in CDC. “All units, this is Alpha Whiskey. Shift Aegis Warfare Systems to auto. You are Weapons ­Free.” Gonzalez watched as the computer aboard USS Stockdale began “hooking” contacts, assigning them to missiles in the ship’s vertical launchers. A few seconds l­ater, missiles streaked skyward from the destroyer. On her display, a stream of blue icons headed out ­toward the red ones. The incoming missiles had been fired at close range; ­there would be insufficient time to launch a second round if Stockdale’s SM-2 missiles d ­ idn’t destroy the inbound bogies. Gonzalez watched the display as first one, then another SM-2 intercepted their targets. But not all. Six missiles continued inbound, targeting Roo­se­velt. It was time for the self-­defense phase. Gonzalez turned to her Tactical Action ­Officer. “Shift SSDS to auto.” The TAO acknowledged, then shifted Roo­se­velt’s SSDS—­Ship Self ­Defense System—to automatic. He called out, “Missiles inbound. All hands brace for shock!” Gonzalez reached up and grabbed on to an I-­beam, watching as the

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SSDS targeted the inbound bogies. Sea Sparrow and Rolling Airframe missiles ­were launched in succession, taking out three inbound missiles, and the CIWS engaged next, taking out another. Two missiles made it through and Gonzalez felt the deck shudder as the missiles detonated. On the aircraft carrier’s damage control status board, red symbols illuminated the H ­ angar Deck and the carrier’s Island superstructure, where the Bridge was located. Roo­se­velt’s deck trembled again, more violently, and a loud explosion rumbled through CDC. On the damage control status board, red symbols radiated outward from the ­middle ­hangar bay. Some of the ordnance staged in the bay had detonated. Assessing the damage, Gonzalez surveyed the Video Wall. The destruction was more severe than expected. The Island superstructure was a mangled mess of twisted metal, while orange flames leapt skyward from a massive hole in the Flight Deck, the edges peeled upward from the explosion in the ­hangar bay below. Gonzalez studied the red symbols on the status board, her eyes shifting uneasily ­toward amidships, where the nearest ammunition magazine was located. If the fires reached the magazine, it’d be all over. Damage reports flooded into CDC, and it w ­ asn’t long before Gonzalez realized Roo­se­velt was incapable of continuing flight operations. Turning to her Tactical Action Officer, Gonzalez ordered, “Bingo all airborne aircraft to Reagan.” The two missiles had inflicted significant damage, but Roo­se­velt had survived. As damage control parties fought the fires, focused on preventing them from spreading ­toward the ship’s ammunition magazines, Gonzalez’s thoughts shifted to what­ever had launched the missiles. Th ­ ere ­were no air or surface contacts to the east, which meant the missiles w ­ ere submarine launched. It was time to deal with that.

K-456 VILYUCHINSK Minutes earlier, Captain First Rank Dmitri Pavlov had ordered the missile hatches shut and his submarine down from periscope depth. The Americans would identify the launch point and it ­wouldn’t be long before Vilyuchinsk had com­pany, and not the friendly kind. However, when the Americans

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arrived at the launch datum, Pavlov intended to be long gone. Once clear of the area and their safety assured, he would return to periscope depth and download the latest tactical information, plus satellite photo­graphs for a visual assessment of their mission. In the meantime, he would order his submarine deeper and faster. “Watch Officer. Increase depth to two hundred meters. Ahead full. Set Ultra-­Quiet mode.” Captain Lieutenant Dolinski acknowledged and gave the requisite ­orders. Vilyuchinsk tilted downward, increasing speed. It was time to decide on a course. With American strike groups to the west and south, that left east or north. Heading farther east offered the possibility that any pursuing American submarine would reach the edge of its operating area. The area could be adjusted, of course, but that would take time and a trip to periscope depth to send the request and receive the authorization. To the east it was. “Watch Officer. Come to course zero-­nine-­zero.” Dolinski acknowledged and relayed the order to the Steersman. As his submarine turned east and settled out at two hundred meters, Pavlov reviewed what his crew had done. A plan had been put in motion, and he hoped it ­wouldn’t be long before he understood its goal and the part Vilyuchinsk would play in the ­future. Assuming, of course, Vilyuchinsk slipped away from the Americans. Pavlov listened as the Watch Officer ordered, “Hydroacoustic, Command Post. Report all contacts.”

USS THEODORE ROOSEVELT

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Captain Dolores Gonzalez monitored the damage reports streaming into Damage Control Central. The fires amidships, initially spreading out from the ­Hangar Deck, had been contained, but casualties in the Island superstructure w ­ ere high, with the ship’s Captain wounded. To what extent Dolores ­didn’t know, ­until Captain Rich Tilghman arrived in CDC, his arm in a sling and his face covered in soot. Dolores saw the rage on his face, even though it was covered in grime and tinted blue from the CDC displays. Tilghman’s first order had been to hunt down what­ever had launched the missiles.

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Gonzalez had vectored two Super Hornets to the east for a visual, just in case ­there was a surface contact they ­weren’t detecting for some reason, but the report was negative. The TAO was conferring with the SUBOPAUTH—­the Submarine Operating Authority—­aboard Roo­se­velt. ­There w ­ ere two fast attack submarines assigned to the Roo­se­velt strike group, USS California to the west and USS Mississippi to the east. The missile launch datum placed the location of the ­enemy submarine inside Mississippi’s assigned waterspace, which meant the carrier strike group was Weapons Tight; they could not attack a submerged contact in that operating area for fear of sinking their own submarine. Hunting down the e­ nemy submarine would instead be Mississippi’s responsibility. The TAO announced, “Request a bell-­ringer for Mississippi. I have a flash out­going message.”

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Twenty miles from the Roo­se­velt strike group, USS Mississippi was already headed east at ahead full. Moments earlier, they had detected missile launch transients bearing zero-­eight-­t wo, and w ­ ere proceeding to investigate. The submarine’s Commanding Officer, Commander Brad Waller, was seated in the Captain’s chair in front of the navigation t­ able, assessing the tactical situation while his crew manned ­Battle Stations. The launch transient was faint, which meant it was distant, but exactly how far was unknown. The only datum they had was the bearing. They needed more information, which meant they would proceed to periscope depth when ­Battle Stations ­were manned. The submarine’s Officer of the Deck, Lieutenant George Skeens, sat at the tactical workstation near the front of the Control Room, shifting his attention between the left monitor, selected to the narrowband sonar display, and the right screen, showing the geographic display. The Navy’s Common Operational Picture reported the positions of the Roo­se­velt strike group to the west, although their locations ­were several hours old. ­There ­were no contacts to the east, in the direction of the launch transient. But ­there was definitely something ­there. Perhaps a contact would appear when their Common Operational Picture was updated during their next trip to periscope depth. Seated in front of Lieutenant Skeens, the Co-­Pilot reported, “Officer of the Deck, B ­ attle Stations are manned.” Skeens acknowledged and passed the report to Commander Waller, who announced, “This is the Captain. I have the Conn. Lieutenant Skeens retains the Deck,” which meant Waller would manage the tactical situation

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and control the submarine’s movements, while Lieutenant Skeens would monitor the navigation picture and ­handle routine ship evolutions. “Pi­lot. Ahead two-­thirds,” Waller ordered. “Make your depth two hundred feet. All stations, make preparations to proceed to periscope depth.” Mississippi tilted upward, leveling off at two hundred feet while the ­sonar technicians scoured the surrounding ­water for surfaced and submerged contacts. Skeens was cycling through the vari­ous sonar displays on the left screen of his workstation when the Sonar Supervisor, standing only a few feet away ­behind the Broadband Operator, spoke into his ­headset. “Conn, Sonar. Receiving a bell-­ringer.” Waller acknowledged the report. The small explosive charges dropped into the w ­ ater nearby directed Mississippi to establish communications with the Roo­se­velt carrier strike group. Since they w ­ ere already preparing for a trip to periscope depth, ­there was nothing e­ lse to do. ­A fter giving the sonar technicians a few minutes to complete their search, Waller ordered, “Sonar, Conn. Report all contacts.” “Conn, Sonar,” the Sonar Supervisor replied. “Hold no contacts.” “Pi­lot, come to course one-­eight-­zero.” Waller ordered a turn in case ­there w ­ ere contacts hidden in the submarine’s baffles ­behind them. The Pi­lot tapped the ordered course on the Ship Control Station display, and Mississippi’s computer adjusted the rudder to the optimal ­angle, turning the submarine to starboard. A ­ fter steadying on the new course and waiting a few minutes for the towed array to stabilize, Waller ordered, “Sonar, Conn. Report all contacts.” The Sonar Supervisor again reported no contacts, which ­wasn’t surprising this far off China’s coast and far from the shipping lanes. However, it also meant they h ­ adn’t closed the gap on their adversary. Waller ordered, “Co-­Pilot, raise Number Two Photonics Mast. Pi­lot, ahead one-­third. Make your depth six-­t wo feet.” Mississippi tilted upward, beginning its ascent. The fast attack submarine leveled off with the top of its sail four feet below the ocean surface, and the receiver mounted atop the photonics mast downloaded the latest round of naval messages and tactical updates. Waller watched the geographic display on the Officer of the Deck’s workstation

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update with the current positions of the Roo­se­velt strike group, accompanied by a white, scalloped symbol ten miles east of Mississippi. The launch datum. As Waller studied the geographic display, the Quartermaster reported a GPS navigation fix had been received, then Radio followed. “Conn, Radio. In receipt of a flash message.” Waller replied, “Radio, Conn. Bring the message to Control.” A radioman arrived a moment ­later, message clipboard in hand. Waller read the directive. A missile salvo had been fired at USS Roo­se­velt, with two missiles making it through, damaging the aircraft carrier and terminating flight operations. Mississippi had been directed to track down and sink what­ever launched the missiles. They ­were Weapons ­Free. Waller handed the clipboard back to the radioman, then ordered, “Pi­lot, make your depth four hundred feet, increase speed to ahead full.” Turning to the Quartermaster, he said, “Report bearing to launch datum.” “Bearing zero-­nine-­three,” the Quartermaster announced. “Pi­lot, come to course zero-­nine-­three.” The Pi­lot entered the new course, and Mississippi turned back to the east, surging ­toward the launch datum.

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Thirty minutes l­ ater, with Mississippi closing on the launch point, Commander Waller ordered Mississippi to slow ahead two-­thirds, reducing the flow of turbulent ­water across the bow, flank, and towed array hydrophones, extending the range of the submarine’s acoustic sensors. It had been an hour since they detected the launch transient, and what­ever created it surely ­hadn’t loitered in the area. Assuming a transit speed of twenty knots, the evading submarine would be twenty nautical miles away by now, beyond the range of Mississippi’s sensors, assuming it was a quiet fourth-­ generation submarine. Waller waited for the report nonetheless, which the Sonar Supervisor delivered moments ­later. “Conn, Sonar. Hold no contacts.” It was a guessing game now, attempting to determine which direction the target had headed. Mississippi was near the eastern edge of its operating area and would have to request additional ­water if Waller deci­ded to head east. The Reagan strike group was to the south, which meant it was

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unlikely the target had headed that way. The north seemed most probable, skirting around the top of the Roo­se­velt strike group, headed home to China. Assuming, of course, the submarine was Chinese. Waller was sure the Office of Naval Intelligence was already working on it, evaluating the flight par­ameters of the missiles, as well as having Roo­se­velt’s crew scavenge the carrier for missile pieces. Hopefully, enough would be gleaned to determine the perpetrator, which would lead to the next question. Why? Someone e­ lse would answer that question. Waller had been tasked with sinking their adversary. But he had to find it first. “Pi­lot, come to course north. Ahead full.” Mississippi swung to port, increasing speed.

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