Authors: Joe Buff
The whole point of the next big surprise attack against America is that it really will come as a total surprise—not just as to where and when, but especially as to
The boldest measures are the safest.
—Admiral Horatio Nelson,
one of the greatest and most beloved
naval commanders of all time
ubmarines rank among the most sophisticated weapons systems, and among the most impressive benchmarks of technology and engineering, ever achieved by the human race. Stunning feats of courage by their crews, of sacrifice and endurance, loom large on the pages of history. Since the end of the Cold War, a whole new generation of submarine classes, with astonishing sensors, weapons, off-board vehicles, and stealth, has been conceived and is under construction by the United States Navy.
The world’s oceans are the world’s highways for the transport of goods and the conduct of commerce. Continued mastery of undersea warfare is vital, because whoever controls the ocean’s depths controls its surface, and thus protects much of the world. Sea power, strongly employed, is key to upholding peaceful societies everywhere.
But do America and our allies take our free access through international waters too much for granted? Advanced submarine technology is proliferating among countries who haven’t always been our friends. Nuclear weapons are also spreading at an alarming pace, with transnational conspiracies, shrewdly hidden for years, only recently being unmasked. What mortal threats to freedom still remain hidden?
The enemy you don’t see coming, because of your own blind spots and preconceived notions, is the one who’ll get you every time. The 9/11 Commission Report warned us all of “failures of imagination” and “unprepared mind-sets.” Beyond the global war on terror, what shape might the twenty-first century’s almost inevitable eventual major worldwide armed conflict take? When faced with so many dangerous future unknowns, the Navy wargames what-if scenarios to learn everything it can; “not implausible” worst cases are very educational. As an award-winning military commentator and seasoned risk analyst, my extreme action-adventure novels aim to do the same thing, based on a firm foundation of nonfiction research. Perhaps the only certainty is that heroic submariners and special operations forces will play a key role in deterring that Next Big War, or in winning it.
July 20, 2005
Dutchess County, New York
y the middle of 2011, the global war on terror had flared up and died down repeatedly, with serious losses in damage and blood. Personal freedoms in many countries had also been eroded, while international friendships more and more were a thing of the past. All this was the cost, and the legacy, inflicted or triggered by those whose highest goals were senseless destruction and death. Then, just as the worst of terrorism seemed to have been contained, that struggle was eclipsed by a shocking new conflict of much greater magnitude.
In July 2011, Boer-led reactionaries seized control of the government in South Africa, which was in the midst of social chaos, and restored apartheid. In response to a UN trade embargo, the Boer regime began sinking U.S. and British merchant ships. U.S.-led coalition forces mobilized, but Germany and Russia held back. Troops and tanks drained from the rest of Europe and North America, and a joint task force set sail for Africa—into a giant, coordinated trap.
There was another coup, in Berlin. Ultranationalists, exploiting American unpreparedness for such all-out war, would give Germany her “place in the sun” at last. A secret military-industrial conspiracy had planned it all for years, brutal opportunists who hated the cross-border mixing and feuding of the European Union as much as they resented what to them was seen as America’s arrogance and bullying. Big off-the-books loans from Swiss and German banks, collateralized by wealth to be plundered from the losers, funded the stealthy buildup in a perverse but effective form of voodoo-economics bootstrapping and accounting fraud. Coercion by the noose won over citizens not swayed by patriotism or the sheer onrush of events.
This Berlin-Boer Axis had covertly built tactical atomic weapons, the great equalizers in what would otherwise have been a most uneven fight—and once again America’s intelligence community was clueless. Compact, energy-efficient, very-low-signature dual-laser isotope separation techniques let the conspirators purify uranium into weapons-grade in total privacy.
The new Axis, seeking a global empire all their own, used low-yield A-bombs to ambush the Allied naval task force under way, then destroyed Warsaw and Tripoli. Those decades of Cold War division, by the overbearing superpowers, into East Germany and West Germany—armed camps in a tinderbox face-off pitting brother against brother—in hindsight debunked the postreunification fairy tale of German pacifism. The most warlike nation in modern history was on the warpath again.
France, stunned, followed NATO’s recognized nuclear strategy option of preemptive capitulation, surrendering at once. Continental Europe was overrun. Germany won a strong beachhead in North Africa, while the South African army drove hard toward them to link up. The battered Allied task force put ashore near the Congo Basin, in a last-ditch attempt to hold the Germans and well-equipped Boers apart. In both Europe and Africa the fascist conquest trapped countless Allied civilians, who were herded into internment camps next to major Axis bases, factories, and transport nodes, to be held as hostages and human shields.
It was unthinkable for the Allies to retaliate against Axis tactical nuclear weapons, used primarily at sea, by launching ICBMs loaded with hydrogen bombs into the heart of Western Europe, especially when the murderous fallout of H-bombs dropped on land obeyed no nation’s overflight restrictions. The Axis shrewdly avoided acquiring hydrogen bombs of their own. The United States and the United Kingdom thus were handcuffed, forced to fight on Axis terms on ground of Axis choosing: the mid-ocean, with A-bomb-tipped cruise missiles and torpedoes. Information-warfare hacking of the Global Positioning System satellites, and ingenious jamming of smart-bomb homing sensors, made Allied precision-guided high-explosive munitions much less precise. Advanced radar methods in the FM radio band—pioneered by Russia—removed the invisibility of America’s finest stealth aircraft.
Thoroughly relentless, Germany grabbed nuclear subs from the French, and hypermodern diesel subs that Germany herself had exported to other countries. The Russian Federation, supposedly neutral yet long a believer in the practicality of limited tactical nuclear war, sold weapons, oil, and natural gas to the Axis. Autocratic and ambitious, Russia was more than glad to take on America by proxy once more—this time she’d let the Germans and Boers do her dirty work. Most of the rest of the world, including China, stayed on the sidelines, biding their time out of fear or greed or both.
American convoys to starving Great Britain are being decimated by the modern U-boat threat, in another bloody Battle of the Atlantic. On land, in theaters of combat and intrigue ranging from the South Pacific to South America, to Central Africa and the Middle East, the Axis have waged campaigns of calculated daring and astonishing callousness, based on razor-thin margins between success and atomic holocaust.
In early summer 2012—almost a full year into the fighting—U.S. and other Allied personnel and their equipment are exhausted. Russia helps Germany and South Africa recover and reequip after each battle. Such biased trading by a neutral with only one side in a clash of belligerents is perfectly legal under international law. Repeated American diplomatic efforts to sway the Kremlin have failed completely.
With so many atom bombs set off at sea by both sides, and the oil slicks from many wrecked ships, oceanic environmental damage is rapidly growing severe. The repeated, ever-closer brushes with Armageddon have themselves become an intentional tool in the Axis’ war-fighting doctrine, a weapon of psychological terror like none ever seen before.
Then a destabilizing wild card was unmasked by surprise during combat: a whole new class of nuclear subs, with many breakthrough technologies, is being custom-built covertly in Russia exclusively for German use. This latest treacherous move by a coldly manipulative Moscow could tip the balance of power decisively. Allowing it to continue is militarily unacceptable in Washington. Something must be done to force the Russians to back off, and undermine Imperial Germany at her core—before the entire planet goes up in a forest of mushroom clouds and then freezes in a nuclear winter.
In this terrible new world war, with the mid-ocean’s surface a killing zone and elite commando teams sometimes more effective than whole armies, America’s last, best hope for enduring freedom lies with a special breed of fearless undersea warriors. . . .
Late June 2012
ar isn’t hell, it’s worse than hell,
Commander Jeffrey Fuller told himself. He sat alone in his captain’s stateroom on USS
, whose ceramic composite hull helped her to be America’s most capable nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine. Jeffrey’s many successes, during tactical atomic combat at sea in a war that the Berlin-Boer Axis had started a year earlier, had made him one of the most highly decorated submariners in U.S. Navy history. But his Medal of Honor, his two Navy Crosses, his Defense Distinguished Service Medal, and his crew’s receipt of a Presidential Unit Citation all put together couldn’t dispel Jeffrey’s present dark mood.
was five days outbound from Pearl Harbor, deeply submerged and steaming due north, already past the Aleutian Islands chain that stretched between mainland Alaska and Siberia. She was bound for the New London submarine base, on Connecticut’s Thames River, having been sent by the shortest possible route: through the narrow Bering Strait choke point looming a few hundred miles ahead, separating the easternmost tip of pseudo-neutral Russia from Alaska’s desolate Cape Prince of Wales. Jeffrey would sail past Alaska and Arctic Canada. Then he’d sneak through the shallow waters between Canada and Greenland, into the Atlantic, to arrive at home port in two weeks for a reception he already dreaded.
There’d been no medals awaiting Jeffrey or his people at Pearl to recognize their newest accomplishments, despite an earlier message implying there would be. No one was allowed to go ashore.
had been told to hide underwater, off Honolulu, taking on minimal supplies and spare parts via minisub. No admirals came to shake hands, no squadron commodore gave any pats on the back. And Jeffrey was sure he knew why.
He’d broken too many unwritten rules—too many even for him—on his latest mission spanning half the globe. He’d stepped on too many toes, made too many well-placed political enemies in Washington, while exercising initiative that had seemed to make sense at the time. In something that verged on a shouting match, he’d quashed an onboard CIA expert whose advice he was supposed to respect. On his own accord he’d clandestinely violated a crucial ally’s sovereignty, planting seeds for what could still become a disastrous diplomatic incident. Worst, while obeying ironclad orders to preserve his own ship’s stealth at all cost, he and everyone else on
had had to listen, horrified, doing nothing but flee the fight while dozens of good men—friends and colleagues—died under Axis attack in the Med on another American submarine.
had arrived in Australia for crew leave, one of his star performers, Lieutenant Kathy Milgrom of the UK’s Royal Navy, who’d served as
’s sonar officer on the ship’s most vital missions, had been summarily detached. Jumped two ranks to commander, she was now on the Allied naval staff in Sydney. This was terrific for Milgrom, Jeffrey felt delighted for her, but he’d been disturbed that he found out about it only after she got the orders directly and then told him; the way it was handled by the powers-that-be violated correct protocol.
Jeffrey listened to the steady rushing sound that came from the air-circulation vents in the overhead of his stateroom. The air inside the forward parts of
was always cool, to keep the electronics from overheating. Jeffrey was used to it, but this evening for some strange reason he felt chilled. He looked up for a moment at the bluish glare of fluorescent fixtures, like plant grow lights to keep submariners healthy when deprived of sun for weeks on end. He glanced at the grayish flameproof linoleum squares that covered his stateroom deck, then gazed around at the fake-wood wainscoting veneer, and bright stainless steel, lining the four bulkheads of his tiny world.
Outside his shut door, in the narrow passageway, he heard crewmen hurrying about, headed to different stations to perform the myriad tasks that helped the ship run smoothly every second of every minute of every single day. There was no margin for error on a nuclear submarine. Jeffrey dearly loved this endless pressure, much as he’d grown accustomed to the constant, potentially killing squeeze of the ocean surrounding
He sighed. On his last mission, it appeared, he’d gone too far in some ways, and not far enough in others. There’d be whispers in the corridors of the Pentagon that he was an uncontrollable cowboy, a commander who risked others’ lives to gain personal glory. Jeffrey knew he’d done the right thing at every stage of that mind-twisting mission, but what he knew inside didn’t count. He had to assume that he was bound now for some shore job far from the action. Soon another man would sit at this little fold-down desk, sleep in this austere rack, put up photos of wife and children, assert his own personality and habits onto the crew.
would have a different captain, because Jeffrey’s run of luck as captain had finally run out.
Someone knocked. “Come in!”
His executive officer entered, Lieutenant Commander Jackson Jefferson Bell. A few inches taller than Jeffrey, but less naturally muscular, Bell was happily married and had a six-month-old son to look forward to seeing again. Cautious in his tactical thinking when Jeffrey was superaggressive, Bell complemented Jeffrey in the control room during combat. Often he’d played devil’s advocate in engagements where split seconds mattered, when the waters thundered outside the hull and Challenger shook from stem to stern as if tossed by an angry sea monster—and Jeffrey’s crew looked to him to somehow, some way, keep them alive, while an Axis skipper did his damnedest to smash their ship to pieces and slaughter every person aboard. That hair’s-breadth survival, so many times, brought Jeffrey and Bell very close.
Jeffrey grimaced to himself.
Soon Bell will have a new boss.
Bell had arrived to give his regular 2000—8
—report as XO to his captain. Bell’s words about the ship’s status held no surprises. He wrapped up crisply and left, pulling the door shut behind him.
Jeffrey picked up his intercom handset for the control room. The messenger of the watch answered, one of the youngest and least experienced crewmen aboard. Jeffrey knew he was working hard to earn his silver dolphins, the coveted badge of a full-fledged enlisted submariner; officers wore gold. Jeffrey wondered if the messenger would survive this horrendous war or not—assuming civilization and humanity survived.
“Give me the Navigator, please.” Jeffrey kept his tone as even as he could.
“Wait one, sir,” the still-boyish voice of the teenage messenger said.
“Navigator here, Captain,” Jeffrey heard in his earpiece. Despite himself, he smiled. Lieutenant Richard Sessions was one of the most unflappable people he’d ever met, inside or outside the military. From a small town in Nebraska, Sessions was the type of guy whose hair and clothes were always a little sloppy, no matter what he did. But his indispensable work as head of the ship’s navigating department was without fail beautifully organized and precise.
“Nav, when do we pass through five-five north, one-seven-five west?” In mid-Bering Sea, on the way up to the strait. It was at that point, and only then, that Jeffrey was to open the sealed orders in his safe, containing the recognition signals and other data he’d need to complete his final trip without becoming a victim of friendly fire.
Sessions had the answer for Jeffrey quickly. “At local time zero-three-twenty tomorrow, sir.” The wee hours of the coming morning.
“Okay. Thanks, Nav.” Jeffrey hung up.
Aw, what the heck.
As a small act of defiance against those seniors who’d used him, drained him, and cast him aside when the going got too rough, Jeffrey stood and opened his safe.
He withdrew the bulky envelope. It contained an incendiary self-destruct charge, to cremate the classified contents in case of unauthorized tampering. This precaution was normal for submarine captains’ order pouches in this war. As Jeffrey knew well, subs could be sunk during battle. And just as the U.S. had done more than once to derelict Soviet submarines, Axis salvage divers or robotic probes could rifle through
’s wreckage if something went wrong, compromising priceless secrets.
Jeffrey very carefully entered the combination on the big envelope’s keypad, to disarm the self-destruct. The last thing he wanted was to set it off by accident. The envelope opened safely; he emptied it onto his desk. His heart began to pound.
Among the papers and data disks, and another, inner, sealed envelope, were two metal uniform-collar insignia—silver eagles, which meant the rank of Captain, United States Navy, the rank above commander. The actual
of captain, not just the courtesy title that every warship’s skipper received. Jeffrey snatched the hard-copy orders and read as fast as he could.
His entire demeanor changed. He realized that his mind had been playing nasty tricks, in the vacuum of feedback from above, running toward doldrums that were probably a symptom of his own lingering reactions to the traumatic events in the Med.
’s trip to the U.S. East Coast was a cover story. Five mysterious passengers, embarked at Pearl, belonged to a Seabee Engineer Reconnaissance Team; SERTs were elite shadow warriors from among the Navy’s mobile combat construction battalions. They gathered unusual intel and did mind-boggling tasks at the forward edge of the battle area.
Jeffrey was hereby promoted to the rank of Navy captain. He was awarded a second Medal of Honor, though this award was classified. There’d be no bright gold star, for the blue ribbon with small white stars already adorning his dressier uniforms, to denote the second Medal. But the selection boards for rear admiral, Jeffrey reminded himself, would certainly know about it when the time came.
’s whole crew had been awarded another Presidential Unit Citation, although this was also top secret outside the ship.
Excellent. Morale will skyrocket.
Once through the Bering Strait, gateway to the Chukchi Sea, he still would turn toward Canada. In the ice-choked, storm-tossed Beaufort Sea, above the Arctic Circle,
would rendezvous with USS
was an ultrafast and deep-diving steel-hulled sub of the
class, uniquely modified with an extra hundred feet of hull length. This gave her room to support large special operations commando raids, plus garage space for oversized weapons and off-board probes.
Bell was being promoted to full commander. He’d take over
from Jeffrey, who from now on was commanding officer of an undersea strike group consisting of
’s captain would be his subordinates. To avoid confusion between these different roles and ranks, Jeffrey was granted the courtesy title of commodore.
Jeffrey read further into his orders, more slowly now to absorb every detail. Crucial portions of the mission required that two submarines be involved, but there was much more to it than
together having greater firepower while covering each other’s backs. This piqued Jeffrey’s curiosity; no explanation was given of what it meant. Even more cryptically, Jeffrey was told to brush up on the Russian he’d studied in college, and to practice his poker face. The SERT passengers would help him on both counts, starting right away. His eyebrows rose, involuntarily, as he took this in.
After the rendezvous and a joint briefing to be held aboard
, he would lead his two-ship strike group westward, into the East Siberian Sea—Russian home waters. His assignment, the orders warned, was to do something draconian, and utterly Machiavellian, that would decisively force Russia to stop supporting the Axis against America while Moscow outwardly kept claiming legal neutrality. Specifics were inside that inner envelope, to be opened only once the rendezvous was made.
This was exactly the sort of high-stakes mission his command personality needed and craved. Revealing the whole plan in stages, for security, was something he’d gotten used to.
Yet one thing puzzled Jeffrey. For this mission, he came under the control of Commander, U.S. Strategic Command, an Air Force four-star general. In the present wartime military organization, that general oversaw the readiness and possible use of America’s thermonuclear weapons—hydrogen bombs.
carried no H-bombs, and never had. Her nuclear torpedoes bore very low yields, a single kiloton maximum. H-bombs had destructive power a thousand times as large, and their vastly greater radioactive fallout drifted globally.
The Axis, shrewdly, owned no hydrogen bombs and made sure the whole world knew it. This kept America from escalating past tactical atomic fission devices set off only at sea—not that anyone sane in the U.S. would want to further escalate this war.
Jeffrey began to suffer a rising unease.
Why am I suddenly reporting to Commander, U.S. Strategic Command?