Category Archives: Fiction

Maritime and naval fiction.

The Great Pacific War: Requiem in 2030

Fiction Topic Week

By Walker D. Mills

            The admiral stood on the bridge of the first of Type 003 aircraft carrier, the Sichuan. She was the pride of the People’s Liberation Army Navy fleet, advertised as a domestic design, her plans were largely based on the Gerald R. Ford Class schematics and the aircraft that she tended were remarkably similar to the F-35. Beijing had staged an attack on some Chinese tourists on the islands and publicly clamored for a United Nations response to end the violence. Conveniently, the PLAN amphibious group had been exercising in the nearby Scarborough Shoal and was tasked by Beijing with ‘evacuating all Chinese nationals.’ Of course they would need to use the airport for this. And their evacuation aircraft would need security in the form of ground troops. He knew the Philippines wouldn’t resist. His intelligence officers said the Americans had sent one of their new Marine battalions but he wasn’t worried. He had missed the fleet action in the in the Great Pacific War. But on the way home from Sri Lanka his ship had caught the Marine Ospreys over the open ocean sortieing from Okinawa. He had given the order not to stop for survivors.

            Major Charles Elrod climbed out of the UTV II, an electric version of the Polaris MRZR with a mission module on the back. In this case a launcher for the new anti-ship missile. The company had about two-dozen launchers and laser batteries that could be fired from the UTVs or set up to fire dismounted.  They had left their heavier missiles, mounted on JLTVs behind. He looked out to sea – Good weather. Perfect for a landing. They’re more afraid of a typhoon than they are of us.  This matched the Defense Battalion’s S-2 estimate. He looked down at his tablet – all of his launchers glowed green. A good sign, they haven’t been able to find and disrupt our network yet. Regardless, his wiremen had already laid the cables that connected launchers to the G/ATOR radars in case the network failed. The missiles could be fired at any grid in a 200km range and search for their own targets with a combination of LIDAR and radar, but it helped if someone found the targets first. He could even see the minefield the Naval Detachment had laid. I’m not sure if you can call them mines if they can lay themselves and hunt for their own targets.

            He was anxious, this would be the first time one of the new Marine Defense Battalions saw combat. It would be the first time U.S. forces would fight the Chinese after the disaster that was the Great Pacific War in 2025. Everyone thought the new Chinese Islands would be the flashpoint – but it was the subsea cables. America’s military had been humiliated by the Chinese and ceded any pretense of control over the South China Sea in the Manila Accords. The Navy bore most of the fallout – and saw the largest culling of their senior officer corps since World War II. Hopefully it was enough. Those guys were still wide-eyed during the Congressional inquiries. The Marine Corps had largely sat on the sidelines after giving tactical control of its fighter aircraft to the sister service. All of 3rd Marine Division just sitting there waiting. What a waste. Until the Marines made a hasty, 11th hour heliborne assault from Okinawa. They retired their colors. Should have given the Colonel a posthumous court martial instead of a Medal of Honor. The Corps’ new Expeditionary Advanced Base Doctrine was air-centric, problematic for a force that built itself around squads and platoons of riflemen. They had all but abrogated their Title 10 mission to prepare for the “seizure or defense of advanced naval bases,” consistently prioritizing the small wars of the Middle East over the Pacific. We got lots of training on IEDs but none on cyber or EW.

The loss… not that anyone called it that…  had spurred a sweeping reorganization in the service. After scrapping the failed Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations concept they went back to their roots and reorganized eight infantry battalions into Marine Defense Battalions, an old concept from the first half of the 20th Century. The goal of the Defense Battalion was to free up the fleet for action elsewhere – if it had to dedicate its resources to protecting bases it had less to dedicate to fleet action. Made up of Air, Sea and Land Defense Companies with Sensor & Network Company, they were a marriage of the best missile technology available, a remote and autonomous sensing capability, and interoperability with Naval and Air Force sensing and strike capability shepherded by a distributed anti-access, area denial doctrine. Similar concepts like ‘warbot companies’ had been discussed for years never adopted. After the war the generals picked a small group of junior officers and tasked them with reforming the Corps. Eschewing the tyranny of Quantico they worked out of an office in San Francisco. They drew on long forgotten letters by Pete Ellis about the defense of advanced bases and base denial and they visited engineering labs in Silicon Valley and Mountain View before sending fresh requirements to Raytheon and Boeing for a new generation of anti-air and anti-ship missiles. I’m still surprised those companies survived telling Congress that they couldn’t meet the missile orders. I guess they figured it out. 

            The new weapons had come just in time. Elrod’s men had been practicing in California with the old Stinger I missiles until a month ago when the new Stinger II missiles arrived. A transfer from the Marine Corps’ Low Altitude Air Defense community, Major Elrod had been skeptical of the new weapons. Man portable, but not man launched? Lasers? But the drills on San Clemente Island had him convinced. He needed half as many men as his old LAAD unit, and after setting up the launchers and networking them with the radars up he didn’t need any. They could track and fire on the Chinese autonomously. He cringed when he thought about the debates over autonomous weapons. We were debating the morality while our enemies were testing these weapons in Syria and Sri Lanka. We gave them a ten-year head start.

            His tablet pinged. One of the MUX drones had found a Chinese Coast Guard cutter. Probably a picket for the amphibs. Worth sinking? The MUX thought so. Elrod watched his tablet as the MUX sent orders to three of the new Fast Combat Vessels hiding out in a cove. It was able to use the new light-based LOS communication suite to transmit nearly instantaneously, and it was un-jammable. The egg-heads said it worked just like fiber optic cable – but without the cable. They sortied and quickly and raced to their separate launch points at over 90 knots. The boats were a hybrid American/Swedish design. The MUX had picked three different points for them to fire their missiles that were just beyond the radar range of the ship. The separate firing points would send the missiles in a way they would approach the Chinese ship from three different directions and overwhelm its close defense gun and leave the amphibs wondering where the missiles came from. Damn, those drones are smart. He looked up for a second before he realized all of the action would be well beyond the horizon. The most potent new weapon fielded by the Marines wasn’t organic to the Defense Battalion. It was the MUX drone flow by VMU-9 in support of the battalion. The MUX, without any weapons of its own, is the eyes and ears of the Defense Battalion. Sortieing hundreds of kilometers off the coast to identify and track targets for the battalion to prosecute with their own fires or fires from sister services.

            Elrod remembered when the Corps had reestablished up the small boat units that it used in Iraq. Oh how the Navy had fought to keep the Marines out of the boat business. The services had finally fought to a draw – it became a joint program with Sailors driving and Marines manning the guns. The boats, without the new missiles, had already proven themselves when the Marines deployed to help Indonesian security forces fight a resurgent Islamic State in South East Asia. Damn that was a nasty war, and still not over. But Elrod had watched that conflict from the sidelines – choosing to specialize in the larger anti-aircraft missiles over the smaller gun and directed energy air-defense platforms that the Corps deployed to counter the UAS threat. He was ready for his chance at combat after watching his buddies in the drone defense units deploy on back-to-back tours. The battalion’s focus was on destroying connectors – whether seaborne or airborne. Killing whatever has the soldiers on it. And the Navy focused on the capital vessels.

            The sun was beginning to set, and Elrod sat down and leaned against the UTV. His Chief Programmer, Chief Warrant Officer Two Alexa Abbas, a 22-year old MIT graduate, was still typing away, finishing the last inputs to the parameters for the missiles.  When she was done Major Elrod would set the system to be fully autonomous, otherwise the system would still need his permission to fire. She had volunteered for a direct accession into the Marines as a Warrant Officer under a new program that targeted people with critical skills, allowing them to move laterally into the force and skip some or all of the normal training pipeline. She was the senior programmer in the company, responsible for making sure all of the software worked as is was supposed to and that the Marines’ network was secure from the Chinese. The Great Pacific War had taught the Marines how vulnerable their networks were – on the first day only 10 percent of the F-35s in Japan were free from cyber intrusion. But many of the pilots decided to fly anyway. Most didn’t live to repeat that mistake. It was the civilian networks that suffered the worst. San Diego was without power for all 12 days of the war and the loss of cell phone service to military bases meant that their response to the crisis was in slow motion. All that talk about the ‘Ghost Fleet’ in Suisun Bay – there  was never time.

            The driver, Lance Corporal Alan Gomez, ran through his checks of the communications equipment again. He had been 14 when the last war started. He remembered getting out of school early and waiting for his mom to pick him up. It was late evening before she came because all of the traffic lights were out in LA. But mostly he remembered the riots that started the next day. He had enlisted with his parent’s permission at 17. He wanted to go into the infantry but he didn’t have the scores required for one of the new Assault Battalions. But he did qualify for the Defense Battalion. He was surprised to find out the training pipeline was 18 months long for the new infantry. He would attend training for driving, communications, and field medicine training before he would go to the six-month basic infantry skills course.

            It was around 4am when the island lit up. Major Elrod awoke with a start. Is this what it feels like to get bombed? But he quickly realized the ordnance was outgoing. He looked skyward, joining his driver and Chief Programmer. Hundreds of missiles streaked skyward, lighting up the dark night. There were more missiles firing from over the horizon. Must be from the Navy. He looked at his tablet. The MUX drones had identified the Chinese fleet earlier, but they waited until the Navy’s subsurface drones made sure they found all of the Chinese submarines before they fired. The Navy was still stinging from the losses they had suffered in the last war at the hands of cheap diesel electric submarines. They were just waiting for us. How did we not see? He watched the tablet, imagining the Chinese sailors react to the hundreds of missiles streaking toward them. Many would be shot down – first by other missiles and then by the close-in defense guns. More would be absorbed by the merchant and fishing vessels sailing with the fleet. But the Marine missiles carried countermeasures of their own. And they would fly together in formations, coordinating their flight paths to optimize their effects on target and confuse the Chinese defenses. Inevitably some would make it through, and then others would exploit the gaps in the fleet defenses to strike the ships at the center of the formation.

            The enemy ship indicators on the tablet started to disappear. Elrod could now see the dim glow over the horizon of the burning fleet. This is for the John C. Stennis and the John F. Kennedy. After two decades of fait accompli aggression the president outlined a new policy of preemption and escalation in a speech at Annapolis, new weapons alone could not effectively counter aggression. The Chinese fleet ostensibly sailing to evacuate Chinese citizens was the first victim. The president had decided that 15,000 Chinese soldiers weren’t needed to protect a few dozen tourists and he wouldn’t wait until after it was a clear act of aggression. So he sent in the Marines.

1stLt Walker D. Mills is a Marine Corps infantry officer. He is currently a student at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California.

Featured Image: “Ready for War” by FranzowaR.

Carthage

Fiction Topic Week

By Chris O’Connor

“Anyone sitting here?”

“It’s all yours. Guy just left a few minutes ago to catch a flight.”

“Cool. I like coming to these retro bars; human bartenders, social and facial recognition blocking. My profile is not being constantly scanned… nice to have a little bit of privacy.”

“Yet you are talking to me.”

“Doesn’t mean I’m not going to be personable. Nice arm, by the way.”

“Are you hitting on me?”

“Nope. I’m honestly complementing you on your arm.”

“It’s pretty hard to hide when I am charging it. Even though this is an old-school place, I can charge it on the bar top while it has an OS update. The glowing thumbnail kind of gives it away. Nice face.”

“Thanks. I know, it’s pretty obvious that half of it has been regrown when it doesn’t show any stubble on the right side. My wife wanted me to grow a retirement beard when I got out. Now I am doomed to shave the rest of my life or look like a jigsaw puzzle.”

“At least you have a face.”

“I can hardly complain if you put it that way.”

“I’ll tell you what- I have an hour to burn. You tell the story how you got that face, and I’ll tell you about how I got my arm. Which I technically don’t own, it’s a long-term VA lease from a medtech company.”

“Sure, I have time. My spot on the hyperloop to Denver isn’t for another hour. I think I’ll have the IPA.”

 “An IPA? Are you my Dad?”

“Look, I’m ordering a retro beer in a retro bar. At least I don’t have to pay in cash.”

“What are we, savages?”

 “I’m going to assume we are both former Navy. We are in a bar in San Diego Airport and we are telling tales to each other. My wife says Navy people don’t have conversations, we just take turns with sea stories.”

“A true statement. Former Surface Warfare Officer, you?”

“Expeditionary Supply Chain Officer.”

“Our stories should be pretty different, then. I’m sure they both start when the Curtain dropped.”

 “Indeed. Great. Here’s my beer.”

 


 

Our forward logistics site was hidden among a few on-demand manufacturing sites outside of town in what used to be suburbs. Some of our neighbors were forge sites for large multinationals that you are familiar with; distributors or express logistics companies in the last century that have since blended their services so much that you can’t tell who does what anymore.

The pattern of life at our location was no different than the others. Drop drones of various sizes coming and going on a random basis, manufacturing and movement bots moving between the buildings and the central landing pad. Even the structure configuration was the same as the others, designed with a workflow algorithm for maximum efficiency – north and south storage warehouses, two forges with two build units in each to the northwest and southeast, a landing pad, and personnel housing out of the way of the MM bot flow path to the east.

AA1 Garcia and I were the only humans working there. I never walked around in a mil-standard exosuit, and AA1 wore heavy load-bearing civilian one as part of her role, but nothing out of the ordinary for a forge site. Our suit management AIs and comms were military, but externally there was no difference. Our visors were standard augmented safety glasses. If our pattern of life looked “too military” to the VULCAN logistics AI managing the site, it would tell us to do something random, or hide for a while in the housing when it seemed we were getting too much attention on the nets.

Internally, the forges were different than corporate ones. Most of the manufacturing capabilities were more than what our neighbors would need for order fulfillment. We could build to more specific tolerances, add propellants and explosives to what we built, and integrate electronics better than most other small forges. A micro UAS with graphene skin and a metal-augmented shaped charge is usually not built by Amazon. To make sure our things were built properly, the AIs resident in each of the four units would check each other’s work. This was not the HomeBuild machine you probably have in your garage that does everything except replace its own filament cartridges. Hence the presence of AA1 Garcia. She was Additive Artisan with AI and unmanned systems training. With her coding language pay she had a higher paycheck than I did as an LT.

The Navy called the units Augmented Builders, AB for short. Rumor has it a Marine general wanted to call them Awesome Boxes, and that’s where the “AB” acronym came from, but a more official sounding title had to be created.

As for security, we had a standard razor-wire topped concrete wall. Our gate opened to an access road. Down that road was the industrial park’s gate to the four-lane highway leading to the town miles distant and lined by a sprawl of worn-down concrete structures. Security was a few unarmed dog bots, two C-UAS systems, and a tethered drone that kept aerial watch. The TD scanned traffic patterns on the roads and monitored the EM spectrum in the area. All were civilian versions, not visibly different than our neighbors – corporations had to protect themselves against intrusions and sabotage just like we did.

I guess I expected more warning for when the shooting was going to start. Something from the logistics task force, the Marines nearby, or a threat trend on social media. Maybe some sort of drone activity or unusual traffic pattern outside. 

It was a humid afternoon, after lunch. Every time I think of this day, I can taste that lunch, a tropical-variant microbiome bar. A civilian company had air-delivered a cargo pod filled with containers of build materials; graphene canisters, titanium cartridges, and polymer spools. 

The supplies had come from a nearby MALS det. The Marines there always had a sense of humor, and had taped a note that said, “DEER NAVEE, MAK THIS INTOO FUN THINGZ. LUV, MARINZ” to one of the containers. They were so committed to the joke that the writing was in purple crayon.

AA1 and the MMs had just offloaded the cargo pod when the Curtain dropped. Our ‘shades went dark, no AR or VR feeds. No comms at all. VULCAN’s feeds went offline, never to return. We didn’t hear a peep from JANUS, and when the cybernetwork AI is silent, it’s a bad sign. My suit shut down, but I was still able to move my arms, so I clenched my fists behind my back to restart everything. I saw AA1 do the same over by the landing pad. The TD fell from the sky like a box of rocks, narrowly missing its base station, but smashing two of its lift fans. The security dogs stopped in their tracks, as did the MMs.

“What the hell?” AA1 mouthed. The words appeared in my shades.

“We need to get the bots and the security systems up.” I mouthed back.

AA1 restarted the MMs. They were not receiving any VULCAN instruction anymore, so she took local control and sent them to turn the dogs and the anti-drone systems back on. I slapped two new fans on the TD and sent it back up. The site security system was completely off the net. The dog bots and C-UAS couldn’t be revived. My stomach dropped. Their programming was completely erased.

On our visors, a black cloud of attack drones appeared over downtown to our south, rising from rooftops, back gardens, and parking lots. Thousands of them. The ones that look like crabs, definitely more than were in the enemy’s arsenal. I changed modes of the TD’s sensors – they all said the same thing.

“Don’t trust the TD any more. Suit up!” I shouted, running towards the south storage building. My suit took the hint and began assisting my legs, moving me faster than I could on my own. AA1 ran to the north warehouse. One of the walk-in lockers in the warehouse was a go-to-war or, GTW, locker. It opened after scanning my retina and testing my breath. I had practiced for this occasion, so I had the armor panels on my suit and helmet on my head in no time. In the back of the locker was a weapons release panel. I hit the energizing switch and grabbed my rifle on the way out.   

After suiting up, Garcia’s heavier suit had the same level of armor, but had a larger battery pack and could last longer in high-intensity situations. Either way, we were not in exos even close to what the SEALs or Marines had. We lacked heavy armor, EW systems, auto-injectors, and heavy weapons.

We used the entrance doors of the north warehouse for cover so we could see what was approaching from the south while not being in the open. Hopefully, there could be nothing on its way and our video was just being spoofed.

When they did get to us, it was not what we expected. It seemed that every household, toy, and hobby drone in a five-mile radius was co-opted to attack us. Two large ones shaped like a starship collided with the TD, knocking it from the sky. It was surreal to see flying Hello Kitties and unicorns ram the dog bots and MMs until they were a pile of components. 

As this happened, the smaller members of the swarm set upon on us. We raised our rifles and pulled the triggers. The weapons chose based off of our targets how to fire. Some of the drones only got short EM bursts from us, others burst-fused 6.8mm rounds. There was too many of them, even though we had a good lane of fire. The smaller family cambots and airnannies would probably not hurt us in a collision, but they could distract us until a larger drone rammed into us. I had no intention of going out by being impaled by a 5-foot Star Destroyer, so I unleashed the PD guns. Until then they were hidden in the roof of the storage warehouses, but AA1 and I had activated them with the release panel in the GTW locker. 

Up to this point, we could have been a PMC or security company, but the guns were obviously military. 20mm single-barrel point defense systems with laser and high-power microwave. The swarm of civilian drones was sent to bring out our true colors. Communicating with our suits’ sensors and each other, the PDs made quick work of the swarm. It was a sight to see. After a few minutes, the ground was littered with small commercial package drones, toy combat planes, and the like. Some with fried electronics, others with smoldering laser damage. The PDs had refrained from using the 20mm to avoid collateral damage.

I personally took out one of those stupidly-expensive VR broadcasters. I’m glad the bad guys couldn’t get access our suits with one of those, since they were designed to send a reality skin to an entire crowd. Fighting off zombies, dragons, or aliens is fun in my spare time, but it would have been a waste of ammunition shooting at false targets.

For good measure, PDs then fried any surveillance drone within range, even over the neighboring manufacturing sites. I’m sure that really pissed off our neighbors. Couldn’t be certain if the enemy was using their feeds. No host nation security or military UAS were to be seen. Strange in its own right, but it meant we didn’t have to worry about making the decision to neutralize them for protection.

The PDs could protect us from the air, at least for a short while, but a ground attack was another matter, and we had no idea what was moving out there. Since the Curtain dropped, we had no feeds to any assets outside our gates – cameras or other sensors, the town’s traffic system or even civilian mapping apps. Luckily, the ABs built just what we needed. We had just made some deliveries, so most of our stock was gone, but we had six discontinued quadcopters that we hadn’t retrograded. Garcia found them in the north warehouse and sent them airborne. Their sensors weren’t as good as the TD, but at least we had eyes again. 

The real coup was the half-dozen Bulldog LAMs we had in the southwest forge building. We were in the middle of fulfilling an order to a nearby Warbot company when the Curtain dropped. The AIs in the AB units came back up, but were not trusting any of their design files, which could be corrupted after the network attack. We couldn’t build anything else.

I had only used Loitering Aerial Munitions in sims. Luckily for us, AA1 was deployed during the Malay insurgency and had experience with them. She grabbed the 300-pound case of munitions and put them on the ground beside the forge. She got to work checking their programming and giving them combat decision guidelines. There was a lot of mumbling and gesticulating with her hands. 

While she was engrossed in that, I took in what our new eyes were observing. The road traffic was at a standstill. All of the cars out there were shut off. There were a lot of annoyed people milling around the four-lane between us and town. Unwilling to sit in their hot cars, but unable to go anywhere.

Then some of the cars started to move. Starting at a defunct charging stop halfway between us and town, they began to part. Down the middle, like an invisible zipper opening the two center lanes, heading our direction. This was not with their passengers’ or drivers’ permission, mind you. They were caught by surprise. Some trapped in moving cars, the others hit by cars that moved with no regard for humans.

There was something driving down the center that our quadcopters could not see. The people could see it and were shouting at it. The irony is if I was looking at it with unaided binoculars, I would be able to see it plain as day.

“Garcia, how are the Bulldogs?” I mouthed. “Something’s coming.”

“What do you mean ‘something?’ ” She said aloud, still occupied in prepping the munitions. “Can’t see it?”

“Either our new drones are now compromised, or there is a vehicle out there that is proximity hacking cars… I’m guessing it has adversarial network skin.”

“Oh, shit.” She said, seeing the feed. “Good thing Bulldogs can use their transfer cases as launchers.”

She stepped back as all six Bulldogs kicked themselves into the air from the case and began orbiting. Immediately they began talking to each other and our suit information AIs. But the Bulldogs still couldn’t see what was opening up the highway. You could see them trying their multimode sensors for a target lock. A pair of vehicle tracks appeared in the multispectral light mode, driving up the center of the road, pushing the cars aside.

Based off shape and depth of the tracks, the Bulldogs classified it as a Scarab fighting vehicle. This was the first time Scarabs had been encountered in combat, so we had to learn about them as we went… and they were wicked.

After given permission from AA1, one of the Bulldogs dived onto the moving head of the tracks. And then disappeared. There was no shot fired from the invisible vehicle, no active armor response. It was disarmed by the Scarab somehow.

I saw Garcia modify the fuse settings on another Bulldog. She set it for antipersonnel shrapnel burst, turned off its seeker head, and set an aimpoint on the road in the path of the Scarab, about a half mile from the main gate to the industrial park. At this point, the people on the road had run away in panic, so there were not a lot of civilians there.

“Let’s see how thick this skin is.” She mouthed.

The Bulldog detonated above the Scarab. Instantly, the vehicle appeared in our visor feed. It lived up to its name. It looked like a beetle, low to the ground, with protrusions for weapons and sensors. The skin appeared to be flashing randomly, part of an AN pattern that was now incomplete in patches. AA1 released another Bulldog at it. As it dove, its warhead fused into a dual-charge skeet that punched through the top of the armored vehicle, stopping it in its tracks and setting it alight.

“If they have Scarabs out there, they could have attacked us with guided mortars from the beginning. They want the ABs intact. And we don’t have enough Bulldogs to keep this up!” I shouted.

As if on cue, a pack of four autonomous semis, two in a line in each cleared lane, pulled out into the highway and picked up speed.

“Carthage, Carthage, Carthage.” I said aloud. AA1 and I each sprinted to the forges. The AB AIs refused to believe my destruct command over the net, so we had to do it locally.

The local command panel verified my identity the same way as the GTW lockers. Then a door behind the power terminal opened. The button was red, but sadly not large enough to smash dramatically. It clicked quietly as I pushed it.

This action overrode the AB AIs. The first thing that happened in the sequence was a massive EM discharge in the server banks- wiping out the AIs and all memory inside. I was already out and running to the south warehouse for cover, so my suit’s systems were spared. Then an excessive amount of metal build powder was pumped into the AB’s main chamber. When it got to the right concentration, the electron beam was turned on for the last time. The suicidal explosions leveled the forge buildings.  

The first two autonomous semis pushed the burning Scarab out of the way and kept plowing to the front gate, giving a clear path for the follow-on two. They smashed into that gate at 100 miles per hour and collided with our gate, running out of inertia as they punched through, too damaged to continue.

A Scarab charged through after them, skin flashing to my naked eye, but invisible to the drones. Two Bulldogs knew what to do, a frag burst followed by shaped charge. At least our gate was now blocked by a burning armored vehicle.

Almost immediately, the remaining Bulldog was blasted out of the sky by the south PD. The scarab had got to the gun. I took manual control of the north PD and took the south one out with a burst of 20mm, even though I was still in the warehouse below it. Shrapnel punched through the thin roof and pelted my armor, which held. It was the ammo cooking off that got me. The blast knocked me off my feet and scorched the right side of my body. Only the right side of my partially uncovered face was burned. Nothing on the right side of my suit worked anymore. I could still get visual feeds my left eye.

It goes without saying that I was in a lot of pain. I laid on my back, immobile, waiting for the explosive materiel lockers to go up and finish me off. It seemed to be an eternity passed when I was lifted up into the air. AA1 threw me over her shoulder like a rag doll. Her suit could easily sling a 280-pound man and suit combo around. She ran to a low ditch near the housing and threw me in it with little ceremony.

The enemy knew now that the ABs were gone, and decided it was time to finish us off. Our remaining eyes in the sky winked out. Back on auto engage, the remaining PD stopped waves of incoming projectiles and drones, but it was going to run out of ammo soon. When I could open my left eye through the pain, I saw the ammo status steadily dropping. Garcia still had her rifle attached to her suit, but it wasn’t going to help in this onslaught.

Just as the PD ammo status reached less than 10 percent, a Wasp titfan in the armed recon configuration made a low pass overhead, firing at targets to the south. Text appeared in our visors: “CARGO POD. MOVE IT OR LOSE IT. LUV, MARINZ.” It was the first communications we had received from the outside world since the Curtain. The cargo pod, still sitting on the pad, unmolested save a few shrapnel holes, was going to be our way out.

“Let’s go LT.” AA1 said as she slung me over her shoulder again and charged to the pad. A Wasp cleared the north wall by inches and landed on the cargo pod. 

AA1 threw me in and climbed in after me. We sat in the cargo case cradles and grabbed onto whatever we could. Garcia wrapped my right arm and leg in cargo straps. The Wasp linked with our suits and immediately began feeding us aircraft information. It let us look through its optical sensors, giving us the ability to see “through” the aircraft.

Just as we were lifting off, a Scarab blew a hole in the west wall and charged in, patterns flashing across its skin. Our north PD slewed toward our Wasp – it was no longer friendly. The Wasp gunned it, but we were still an easy target. I held my breath, ready to be shot out of the sky, when a finger of God landed on the north warehouse. It was an incoming railgun round, the first of many. Within seconds, our logistics site and everything in it was gone. The Wasp struggled to stay in the air as the shockwaves from the rail rounds threw us around inside the pod. I slammed headfirst into the roof and blacked out.

When I woke, I was in the medical space of a frigate, the Rochester. I had a ringing headache, and my mouth felt like it was filled with metal shavings. I reached up and touched my face. Its right side, eye included, was encased in hardened burn foam.

Garcia was sitting next to me, annoyingly uninjured from our ordeal.

“How?” I managed.

“The Wasp was told to take us here…,” she said

“Rail strike?” I choked.

“The higher ups thought we were goners. In place of a Carthage destruct, they called in a fire mission from the LBJ. The nearby Marines detected our activity and sent the Wasps.”

I attempted to show relief on my face.

“How are you feeling?” She added, cheerily. “Are you hungry? It’s Taco Tuesday!”

 


 

“That’s right! They did start the war on Taco Tuesday, didn’t they? The bastards.”

“So that was it. About fifteen minutes of action, followed by months of rehab while I got used to a newly grown face. Your story now.”

“Sure, I could do with another drink, anyway. I prefer being sedated when I take suborbital flights.”

 


 

I was the CO of a Lake-class corvette flotilla. There were four of us and a few Fiberclad USVs, spread out and trying to hide in the margin clutter of a Seafarm. It was a massive operation – kelp and mussels. Solar buoys as far as the eye could see. I was onboard the USS Wayne P. Hughes. They have to name at least one ship in a class after a person, right?

Just after the Curtain dropped, the Seneca was snapped in half by an underwater explosion. She was in autonomous mode. Hughes was the only ship of the four with live bodies on it. We went Empty Quiver –it was obvious the bad guys knew where we were, but we had a bead on them, too. We had tapped into the data feed of the farm…”

Chris O’Connor is a Supply Corps officer in the United States Navy and a member of the CIMSEC Board of Directors. 

Featured Image: “Drone arriving at base” by Karl Thiart

A Captain’s Revenge

Fiction Topic Week

By Duncan Kellogg

The soft blue glow of the sonar terminal washed over Lieutenant Ahmadi’s tired face. He rubbed his eyes, trying in vain to stave off the waves of fatigue washing over him as he entered his thirteenth hour on watch.

“How has it come to this?” Ahmadi asked himself.

Truthfully, it didn’t matter. No one knew who had fired first and, at this point, no one cared. The Iranian government claimed that it was the Saudi Navy, the Saudis claimed that it had been an Iranian patrol boat. However, as soon as the bow of the Saudi Badr-class corvette slipped beneath the waves of the Persian Gulf, discussion of which side did what and when they did it became irrelevant.

The Saudis had been quick to engage, firing a salvo of American-supplied cruise missiles into the Iranian naval facilities at Hushehr and Larak, decimating a major portion of the IRGC swarm boat fleet which was in port following a major exercise. Simultaneously, Saudi air assets quickly sunk a pair of Iranian patrol vessels that were forward deployed in the Red Sea. Iran responded to the attacks in kind, launching anti-ship missiles against Saudi surface assets and saturating the Saudi city of Dammam with low-grade unguided rockets. Since then, the Persian Gulf had devolved into a churn of maritime rocket fire, missile launches, and air strikes. It had only been two days since the first attacks, and already Ahmadi hoped for an end.

“Lieutenant,” Ahmadi’s commanding officer said from behind him, “any new contacts?”

Ahmadi regained his focus and snapped his eyes back to the screen. The captain was a strict and harsh man, any daydreaming on the job would get him relieved of duty.

“Negative, Captain.” He responded, “Nothing on the scopes, but the American Ticonderoga-class moving away from us and a few merchant vessels.”

“Any indication that the American detected us?” The Captain asked.

“No, sir. He remains on bearing 337 at 18 knots.”

“Likely headed to Bahrain to meet up with their comrades. Cowards.”

Lieutenant Ahmadi tried not to show his concern at his superior’s attitude. Regardless of the Captains opinions of them, the Americans had not yet fired a shot. The new U.S. President had run on a platform of disengaging from the Middle East and, as such, seemed far more interested in resuming regular trade practices in the region rather than fighting a hot war over the Persian Gulf. American naval assets had been consolidated in Bahrain after the strikes began and a public announcement was made by the U.S. Navy that no U.S. vessel would fire unless fired upon. Ahmadi had even heard a rumor through one of the intelligence officer’s back on shore that the American president was planning on announcing that they would cancel all arms shipments to Saudi Arabia and sanction both the Kingdom and Iran until they ceased hostilities. Granted, that was just a rumor.

“Hopefully the order will come soon,” the Captain said, returning to his post on the other side of the cramped Fateh-class submarine, “inshallah.”

Ahmadi cringed at the Captain’s attitude. He knew that the Captain’s family was from the town of Chogadak near one of the naval bases the Saudis had destroyed. Saudi rocket attacks had been imprecise at best, and a handful of Iranian civilians were killed by the strikes. The Captain’s family, according to the shoreside rumors, had been among them. Ahmadi knew the Captain to be a stoic man, but he had become increasingly agitated in the days since the attacks. 

The days, if one can call them that, since the sinking of the Saudi corvette had been grueling. Ahmadi had been called to his post at the Bandar Abbas Navy Base early on a Wednesday morning. By that evening, his submarine was already at sea with orders to quietly patrol the littoral areas off the coast of Iran and track, analyze, and categorize American and Saudi vessels as they rounded the Strait of Hormuz. The deployment of the Fateh had been rushed following the Saudi strikes on Hushehr, so the dockhands had only managed to pack enough supplies on board to last the submarine a week and a half. It likely wouldn’t matter though, Ahmadi thought, as the widely publicized five week submerged endurance of the new Fateh-class was simply propaganda from the IRGC. Ahmadi himself had never been submerged on the boat for more than two weeks, and even that was pushing the boat’s limits.

As he sat in silence, Ahmadi felt the faint vibration of the submarines diesel-electric engines increase. He watched his console readout as the Fateh ascended two meters and began crawling north along a series of rocky outcroppings, hugging the sandy seafloor. While the Captain was an aggressive man, he was not without caution. The Fateh had been slowly moving from point to point off the Iranian coast in order to remain undetected while it scanned American and Saudi vessels. To Ahmadi’s surprise, he had not yet seen any indication that the Americans had even the faintest idea that they were there. Just as this thought left his mind, Ahmadi saw a new contact appear on his passive sonar display.

            “Captain, new contact directly ahead.” Ahmadi called across the central control room of the submarine, “Loose transient, sounds like a submerged vessel.”

            “Finally,” The captain responded with a smirk, “engines, all stop.”

            Ahmadi verified that the sound signature of the new contact matched that of an American nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarine, likely one of the converted guided-missile variants that the Americans referred to as SSGNs.

            “It’s the Georgia,” The weapons operator sitting next to Ahmadi stated “I tracked it once before. Sounds exactly the same as it did then.”

            Ahmadi raised an eyebrow, hesitating to protect his jurisdiction in case the weapons officer was right. As he did so, a loud metallic ping reverberated around the Fateh’s interior.

            “Captain, active sonar ping from the submarine, likely American.”

            A second ping.

            “Scratch that,” Ahmadi said, “definitely American.”

            The weapons operator chuckled. The Yankees loved to toss their weight around.

            “Understood, Lieutenant.” The captain responded stoically from across the cramped control room and looked towards the weapons officer. “Ready the weapon.”

            The entire crew inhaled sharply and Ahmed’s head snapped up as silence cocooned the vessel. The Captain was referring to one of the only operational models of Iran’s new Hoot supercavitating torpedo. Rather than using propellers to drive the torpedo through the water, the Hoot used rocket engines to propel a warhead towards its target. Small valves in the nose of the torpedo created a small pocket of air for the weapon to travel through, greatly increasing its speed. The Hoot had been publicly tested a few years earlier, much to the chagrin of American intelligence analysts, but had been shrouded in secrecy ever since. In truth, the weapon was one of Iran’s most valuable assets should conflict erupt with the United States. The weapon was simply too fast for American countermeasures, and both sides knew it.

            “Sir?” The weapons officer said, his voice trembling in surprise and apprehension.

            “You heard me.”

            A brief moment of hesitation in the control room told the Captain all he needed to know. He cleared his throat and loudly addressed his crew.

            “Men, you are sailors of the Artesh Navy. Your job is to protect the Islamic Republic and you will do so.” The Captain looked towards the weapons officer. “Ready the weapon.”

            The weapons officer picked up a small headset which had been fastened to the bulkhead to his left. He spoke into it, instructing the sailors in the torpedo room to remove the rocket plugs and valve protectors for the Hoot torpedo. As he spoke into the headset, a third sonar ping echoed around the Fateh’s interior.

            “Captain,” Ahmadi said, “the American is likely signaling for us to leave the area. I suspect he is clearing a path for a surface vessel.”

“That is exactly what he is doing, Ahmadi.” The Captain responded, “Likely one of their aircraft carriers.”

“Should we comply, sir?” Ahmadi asked, hoping the Captain would see what Ahmadi was trying to say. “We do not want to provoke the Americans, sir. We are too valu-”

“Do not instruct me on how to command my vessel, Lieutenant.” The Captain cut Ahmadi off as he spoke, his dark brown eyes boring a hole into Ahmadi’s.

“Of course, sir.” Ahmadi said apologetically.
            Ahmadi turned back towards his console, hoping the entire situation would deescalate and the captain would see reason. It was clear to Ahmadi that the American submarine knew exactly where the Fateh was and it was suggesting that Iranian vacate the area. Ahmadi didn’t want to know what would happen if the American felt threatened. The Captain, however, appeared more interested in defying the Americans than maintaining their vessel’s survivability should fighting break out.

“The weapon is ready, sir.” The weapons officer reported.

“Good.” The Captain responded, “We may have to use it soon.”

Ahmadi held his tongue. He felt the need to object, as the American had not proven himself to be a threat, but he knew he would be berated for insolence. A fourth ping reverberated throughout the vessel. As it did so, Ahmadi felt the tension on board the Fateh increase again. The submarine’s executive officer spoke up.

“Sir,” the XO said, “it would perhaps be wise to move to a more favorable location, the Americans have not yet crossed into our waters.”

After a few seconds of tense silence, the Captain responded.

“You are correct, move us to grid reference 34 by 13.” The Captain pointed to a chart on the bulkhead of the submarine and the submarine’s helmsman replied, turning the ship towards his intended destination.

Ahmadi caught a flash of motion on his passive sonar readout, a new contact had just arrived within the submarines sensor range. It was a massive surface vessel, escorted by two smaller vessels. Ahmadi had seen this moment coming, but he had hoped that the Fateh would have complied with the American submarine’s suggestion before his friends arrived.

“Captain,” Ahmadi called out apprehensively, “we have a new contact. American surface group bearing 210, likely an aircraft carrier and escorts.”

The Captain acknowledged Ahmadi and turned towards the navigator. He held a up chart and pointed to a small rocky shoal just north of their current position.

“You are to make your speed eleven knots and traverse toward this location.” The Captain instructed, “Upon arrival, turn and face the American invaders bearing 210.”

The XO winced at the Captain referring to the Americans as invaders.

“Sir,” the XO said calmly, “is your intent to set a trap for the Americans? Even if it is not, they will see it as such.”

“How the American’s interpret our action is their business,” the Captain said sharply, “we will act as gatekeepers, remaining within Iranian claimed waters and allowing their fleet to pass into the Persian Gulf on our terms.”

“Your tactics are wise, Captain,” the XO responded, “though I fear the American submarine will see our loitering as a threat.”

The Captain gave a small grunt of understanding, though he did not issue further orders.

Ahmadi lost contact with the Americans as the Fateh turned, the baffles of the diesel electric obscuring any clear sensor image. He watched the Captain’s reflection in his sonar panel as he paced around the control room.

For the next twenty minutes, the Fateh remained on steady course toward its destination. Hardly a word was said as the crew aimed to avoid the ire of an increasingly agitated Captain. Ahmadi could hear the Captain mumbling Qur’an verses under his breath. As they approached their next patrol point, the navigator called out.

“Navigation point reached, sir” he said, “coming about.”

The submarine turned back towards the Americans and Ahmadi regained contact with the American submarine.”

“The Americans followed in suit, sir.” Ahmadi reported, “They are now 2,000 meters off the port bow. Currently tracking four vessels, one submerged, three surface. The surface contacts appear to match the signatures of a Gerald R. Ford-class aircraft carrier and two Arleigh Burke-class destroyers.”

“Understood.” the Captain responded, “engage active sonar towards the Americans.”

Ahmadi begrudgingly complied, firing loud acoustic pings toward the American submarine. The Americans responded in kind, pounding the Fateh with active sonar. As they did so, the American submarine adjusted course, coming about to directly face the Fateh and holding still 1500 meters off the bow. Ahmadi reported this development to the Captain.

“Maintain position, disengage active sonar.” The Captain ordered, “The American knows we are here. We will now let them pass into the Gulf.”

The American waited momentarily, and then advanced a quarter mile. It again engaged active sonar in a screening operation for the carrier and a clear request for the Iranian to leave the area.

“Sir,” the XO said, “this could be seen as threatening. The American carrier is approaching.”

“We are in Iranian waters.” The Captain responded coldly.

The Americans continued their advance, making their way toward the mouth of the Persian Gulf.

“How far is the carrier?” The Captain asked Ahmadi.

“Three kilometers, Captain.” Ahmadi responded, “It remains behind the submerged contact.”

The American submarine inched closer, maintaining its sonar harassment of the Fateh.

“Sir-” the XO tried to speak but the Captain quickly cut him off.

“Quiet, Mohammed.”

Ahmadi’s mouth dropped open as he watched his sensor display.

“Sir, the American is opening his torpedo tube doors.” He told the Captain.

“We will do the same. We are in Iranian waters, we will not move.”

The XO tried again to interject, “Sir, we must vacate. We are not at war with the America-”
            “You are relieved, Mohammed.” The Captain said coldly.

As he spoke, the Fateh opened its torpedo tubes.

“Plot a targeting solution for the Hoot,” the Captain instructed, “target the carrier.”
            The weapons officer complied, quickly entering the correct settings into the supercavitating torpedo.

“Solution plotted.” He reported.

Ahmadi reported that the American submarine was moving closer again, increasing its sonar harassment. As the Fateh failed to vacate, Ahmadi feared what came next.

“Sir! The American has released a torpedo!”

“FIRE THE HOOT!” The Captain yelled, slamming his hand onto the table in front of him.

The submarine was soon washed with the sound of rocket engines as the supercavitating torpedo rocketed out of its tube and toward the American carrier. Ahmadi held his head in his hands, knowing what came next.

Duncan Kellogg is a developing naval analyst studying nuclear defense posture and maritime security at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. Duncan has been writing about the intersection of deterrence theory and maritime security since 2015. He lives in Washington, D.C. with his fish Maverick.

Featured Image: “Submarine” by INS Kim

Spasibo

Fiction Topic Week

By Evan D’Alessandro

The containers arrived at Norfolk early in the morning, with the snow a powdered sugar-like dusting on the trucks as they moved through the port. The darkness failed to hide their arrival from the Russians watching them through the hijacked security cameras. Another shipment in the cold weather of nondescript containers, their true propose not yet revealed. The containers had traveled for 36 hours to arrive on time and be loaded onto the requisitioned container ship MV Lt. Lyle J. Bouck. The watching Russians marked the containers as convoy supplies without a second thought, oblivious to what they had just missed.

Days before the containers were moved an AI had considered each ship’s cargo carefully. It speed, tonnage, fuel, acoustic signature, and survivability from a number of threats were all variables in the calculation. Ultimately, the AI decided that this convoy was not worth protecting. The cargo was all non-personnel, and the ships were old and only the commander’s ship was manned. The Navy had been stretched thin even with the Royal Canadian Navy and the Coast Guard ships that had been pressed into convoy duty. No ships would be assigned to protect them. They would be listed as unprotected, having to use the winter storms to shield themselves from satellites, as they attempted to dash across the Atlantic, praying for the best.

Vasily Sokolov read the report gleaned from a backdoor purchased off the Dark Web, checked the box for ‘no escort’ and moved on. He scrolled through the supply manifest slowly and then pulled up the satellite imagery for the ships, a satellite composite only four hours old.  The only visible armaments on the ships was the M109 Paladin, undoubtedly with its hypervelocity projectiles for air and missile defense. It sat atop a stack of red and blue containers, moored to them by large metallic brackets. A bulky cable snaked its way back to the superstructure of the ship, terminating in its dark underbelly. Vasily checked the ‘3D’ box and turned the ship, revealing a short ugly dome perched atop the superstructure, the predictive software pulling from known ship plans and previous satellite imagery. Quickly checking the projected dimensions on the dome against shipment records, Vasily confirmed that it contained the fire control radar that had been bolted on by techs the day before. With three of the ships in the convoy carrying a Paladin, it was hoped there would be some protection from hypersonic missiles. Vasily chuckled, as if missiles would be wasted on these low-value ships. A quick look at the aft decks of the ships confirmed that each was carrying two ‘Grasshoppers,’ the ASW drone that the Americans used. As he moused his way through the other ships, he could see Paladins emplaced onboard the other convoy ships, and prefabricated hangers being assembled on the back decks for the Grasshoppers. The tiny dots of technicians on his computer screen would be working through the night to get them finished in time to depart on their dangerous voyage.

The convoy sailed at 0800, picking up a low-pressure front that the predictive weather AI’s expected to turn to rain in the next 16 hours. The winter storms of the Atlantic were notorious, but the front seemed destined only for continual, dismal rain. The Grasshoppers went to work immediately, making sure that they weren’t picking up a tail when they exited the anti-drone net across the mouth of the harbor. The cycle of one hour on, two hours charging would continue as long as the weather permitted.

At 2100, in the darkness of the cloudy night, the containers were opened. Large cylinders were wheeled out and quickly put underneath the superstructure and covered in canvas. In the morning, they would be unseen by any satellite that managed to catch the convoy, and the Russians would be none the wiser. The convoy’s secret weapon, two Mk. 2 Autonomous Underwater Combat Vehicles (AUCVs) were prepared for battle. As their last restraint was being tightened the rain began, cloaking the convoy in its misty hold; the convoy would hide under this front for the rest of its journey.

Vasily Sokolov looked at the computer screen and leaned back. He stifled a yawn, and longed to go back to bed, but, no, there was a war going on, and his job needed to be done. His eyes ran down to the last box simply titled ‘Recommendations.’ Once again he paused, the convoy was equipped to deal with hypersonics, but not torpedo carriers, so that’s what he would recommend. One should be enough for an unarmed convoy, no, two for safety. Better safe than sorry his father had always said. Give them torpedo interceptors? No, the convoy wouldn’t be able to fight back, they only had 12 Grasshoppers. Better to load as many torpedoes as possible. His mind made up, Vasily Sokolov cracked his fingers and began to type.

The rain had begun to lessen in the middle of the Atlantic as the Captain arrived on the bridge from her all too short sleep. The USNR had called her up, and assigned her to what she considered to be little more than a oversized bathtub with propellers. The Captain’s voice echoed out across the bridge as she put on her VR display. “What does the report say?” The Tech looked out at the whitecaped waves as the threat report started to print out.

“Report for 41°37’41.5″N 31°33’22.5″W. Two Type 34 Autonomous Torpedo Carriers detected, no other threats at this time.”

 “Two Mother Hens” the Tech called out, “both are probably carrying a full load of eggs, no interceptors, the Autonomous Acoustic Monitoring AI predicts them to be here, but no one’s sure.” The Captain grumbled, she had never been comfortable with the idea of the football-sized drones floating through the water replicating SOSUS, but it was undoubtedly effective. “They went silent 4 or 5 hours ago, switched over to electric,” the Tech continued. “Any idea on what type of eggs?” the Captain asked with her light southern drawl. “Nope, the report has nothing on the torps,” the Tech replied wearily once again staring back out at the waves. The captain sighed as she stripped off the VR display, and went off to make up for her lack of coffee. For a brief moment her eyes gazed across the overcast rain and the Grasshoppers doing their job. There was nothing else she could do.

Ten miles out the Mother Hens were studying the acoustic signatures of the convoy. The onboard AI’s knew everything that Russian Naval Intelligence had gleaned about the convoy and were locked in deliberations. After a few minutes, they decided on a simultaneous pincer movement from the front and back as their plan of attack, and both slowly set off to get into attack position.

Grasshopper 4 was completing a set of passive dips on the north side of the convoy as droplets of rain pinged off its aluminum body. It had just popped up and moved 300 feet further north, covering the left flank of the convoy, and lowered its sonar when something unexpected happened. Imperceptible to the human ear, but detectable to the computer was a slight rumble. The computer reached a decision in seconds, deciding to stay put in the cold, grey rain, and requested Grasshopper 7 to immediately move into the area. Onboard the Bouck, a track popped up on the freshly-caffeinated Captain’s VR display, simply reading ‘possible threat.’ Beneath the waves of the Atlantic, the Mother Hen continued on its way oblivious to the threat above. Grasshopper 4 asked for permission to go to active sonar but the Captain denied it as  Grasshopper 7 sped its way towards Grasshopper 4, and the Bouck’s own Grasshopper 9 lifted off. The active could wait. As Grasshopper 4 waited it compared the rumble to previously recorded signatures in the Grasshoppers’ database, the VR display showing a rapidly increasing chance that the contact was a Mother Hen.  Calmly, the Captain watched the hostile track as the probability reached 60 percent, and then gave the order to fire.

Across the waves, Grasshopper 4 dropped the lower part of its body. The dull-grey, square casing discarded from the torpedo as it fell into the black water below, and the torpedo immediately went active. The Mother Hen detected the crash of debris ahead, and within milliseconds of hearing the first ‘ping,’ let off its own countermeasures. On the Bouck’s bridge the Captain looked on at the command map. Three of the four-noisemaker patterns were known, having been stolen from Russian firms under cyber espionage, and the torpedo immediately ignored them. The fourth noisemaker was unknown, and the Captain watched as the torpedo waivered for a heart-stopping second, then turned to chase the first Mother Hen.

The first Mother Hen had made it far too close to the convoy, nearly guaranteeing a hit with its torpedoes. The onboard AI considered trying to run but discarded the idea instantly. With an air of sadness, the first Mother Hen turned in towards the convoy and the oncoming torpedo, and unceremoniously fired all of its ‘eggs.’  A wave of  torpedoes lanced out in a spread: the Hen’s final gamble. As the torpedoes left, the two canisters on the Mother Hen’s back were blown upwards in a silver stream of bubbles towards the surface. One immediately broadcast the position of the convoy and the fate of the doomed Mother Hen. The second one popped out, and with an eruption of fire flew after Grasshopper 4. With little formality the missile closed, as Grasshopper 4 tried to hug the dark ocean for safety, before being turned into a bright ball of flame. The sorrow that was felt upon the loss of Grasshopper 4 was immediately overshadowed by the churning sea that signaled the death of the Mother Hen. Grasshopper 7 dipped into the cold waters and went active, ensuring that the Mother Hen was not playing dead. No return on the sonar. A confirmed kill.

Onboard the Bouck, the VR display changed to ‘threat destroyed.’ On the bridge, the Captain had already ordered a hard turn to starboard, turning parallel to the torpedoes and minimizing the convoy’s cross section. With the threat of incoming torpedoes and the possibility of a second Hen, the Captain unveiled her trump card. With an unceremonious crash into the Atlantic, the two carefully hidden Mk. 2 AUCV’s dropped into the waves, their long grey forms diving into the depths. All available Grasshoppers simultaneously rose from their charging ports in a frenzy of activity, as they moved across the convoy seeking out their enemies.

One of the Mk. 2’s now sat underneath the hull of the Bouck, trying to hide the fact that two were now in the water. The other Mk.2 assessed the incoming torpedo spread. The Mk.2’s AI pulled information from Grasshopper 7 and its own sensors, overlaying the convoy’s turn, and projecting forward. Three threats, the Mk.2 AI decided, and it dived and launched. Six ‘Silverfish’ torpedo interceptors raced out from the Mk. 2, closing in on the inbound torpedoes. The Captain looked on from the bridge. By the way the Mother Hen’s torpedoes were dodging, it was obvious they were outdated; clearly the Russians had underestimated the convoy’s defenses.

The Silverfish jabbered the whole way there, determining the Mother Hen’s torpedoes’ type and patterns. The first torpedo went left when it should have gone right, meeting its end in a mess of debris. The second torpedo dodged the first Silverfish, slipping through by diving at just the proper time, only to be met by the second Silverfish. The third torpedo dodged left, then right, the first Silverfish missing by mere inches, shortly followed by the second Silverfish mistaking a feint for a move and shooting underneath the torpedo.

The Mk. 2 looked on impassively, quickly calculating the chance of hitting the third torpedo, and launched a further three Silverfish. The torpedo was within 1000 feet and closing as the Silverfish streaked towards it, separated by mere seconds. The torpedo danced left, right, up, and down in an attempt to throw off the Silverfish gaining on it. But in the end it was not successful, the second Silverfish tearing its engines to pieces leaving it dead in the water. The Captain looked up coolly from the command map, only to hear klaxons blare.

The second Mother Hen had made it much closer to the convoy, slipping in through the convoy’s baffles while they were distracted, and finding itself a wolf among a flock of sheep. Sitting under the hull of one of its prey, it reached its decision and cut its engines, drifting slowly back, unseen in the darkness of the Atlantic.

The Captain sat up in shock as the VR display squealed an alarm, ‘FISH IN THE WATER! FISH IN THE WATER!’ and twisted around to see the tracks of four torpedoes from the second Mother Hen heading towards the Bouck and her sister ship the Sgt. William L. Slape. Behind her the Mk. 2 that had dealt with the initial torpedo barrage spit out the last of its 12 Silverfish at the new incoming wave, hoping that the interceptors would overtake the torpedoes before they hit. A Grasshopper also dropped down behind the convoy and went active, trying to acquire the threat. Within a second, another barrage of torpedoes from the second Mother Hen headed towards two other ships in the convoy, traveling underneath the water, preparing to pop up and hit the ship’s hulls perpendicularly.

The Captain waved her hand and the VR display stopped its alarms and calmly showed the tracks towards her convoy. Below her the fresh Mk. 2 was considering its options. It could try to destroy the torpedoes targeting the Bouck and the Slape, or it could go after the torpedoes targeting the ships farther forward. Grasshopper 5 noticed a lack of sound as one of the torpedoes targeting the Bouck stopped accelerating; it was now unguided and slowing as its propeller stopped, the watertight seals failing and the engine being swamped. The tracks of the Silverfish from the first Mk. 2 glowed green on the VR display, but it was more than clear that they would not stop the torpedoes in time.

The fresh Mk. 2 made its decision, and started to flip 180 degrees. Halfway through its turn it launched all 12 of its onboard Silverfish towardsthe torpedoes planning to pop-up, and brought its motors onto full. The Captain watched as her Mk. 2 launched its Silverfish, and her VR display show a 94 percent kill chance on the torpedoes targeting the ships farther down the line. The fresh Mk. 2 dropped both its torpedoes on the now acquired Mother Hen and pushed its engines to full, accelerating towards the torpedo.

The VR display shuddered as the rear end of the Bouck was lifted six inches from the water and its rear decks were covered in a spray as the Mk.2 met the oncoming torpedo. The torpedo tried to fight until the end, but the Mk. 2 imposed its bulk between the torpedo and the Bouck. An explosion was seen in the distance, the death of the second Mother Hen that had attacked. There was a second of calm then the Slape lifted several feet in the air as she too was hit. Two great spouts of water shot up from the side of the Slape as the torpedoes impacted just below the waterline. The VR display made an all-clear noise as the Silverfish intercepted and destroyed the remaining torpedoes, overtaking them and shattering them into a thousand pieces. Damage reports flooded in from the dying Slape. Like stricken rats, the Slape’s Grasshoppers, recharging from their last shift, fled the ship as it filled with water quickly shuttling to open charging ports on other convoy ships. The VR display marked the Slape as a loss, with a bright red outline, as the Grasshoppers buzzed, diligently searching for more enemies.

Behind the convoy a beacon popped up transmitting the location and death of the second Mother Hen. The Captain watched its progress as the noise of the fight slowly faded from her ears. Slowly the Mother Hen’s beacon was swallowed into the Atlantic, along with the shattered wreck of the Slape. The rain slowly picked back up in intensity as it covered the convoy with its grey cloak.

Vasily looked once more at his computer screen as it displayed the fate of the Mother Hens. “Spasibo”, he said to himself as a wry smile grew on his face, “Thank you for showing me your countermeasures.” He perched a cigarette between his smiling lips, reached out, and began to type, “To all AI Anti-Shipping Deployments….”

Evan D’Alessandro is a student at Luther College studying astrobiology, data science, and international relations. He enjoys military history and policy debate, and aspires to become a naval intelligence officer in the future. He can be contacted at evan.dalessandro@gmail.com.

Featured Image: Torpedo Exexutor, concept art by Markus Biegholdt, 3D art by Miroslaw Cichon.