(Part V here)
Steeljaw 602 â€“ airborne 270 nm East of Curacao
â€œStill tracking XOâ€
The report came from the RO (Radar Operator) who sat to the XOâ€™s right in the back of the E-2C.Â Normally there would be a full complement of three NFOâ€™s in the CIC compartment and all three would be busily engaged in the Hawkeyeâ€™s mission of AEW/battle management.Â For the counter-drug missions though, the squadron had taken to flying with just two to allow greater schedule flexibility for alerts and such.
â€œCopyâ€ came the reply from the XO, who was the CICO, or mission commander for this flight.
â€œPanther.Â Steeljaw.Â Steeljaw track 1612 tracking north, feet wet, non-squawking at angels 19.Â Any word on Omaha 32?â€
The reply was short in coming â€œSteeljaw, Panther.Â Copy all track 1612.Â Omaha 32 unavailable tonight.Â Vipers airborne in 5 minutes for your controlâ€
â€œSteeljaw, roger, out.â€
The CICO stifled a yawn while trying to stretch in the tight confines of the E-2 â€“ it had been a long day already topped by a long flight with only one possible contact of interest and soon heâ€™d be handing it off to 601.Â No â€œslickâ€ P-3 tonightÂ (the Customs P-3 used as a long-range interceptor â€“ the â€œdomeâ€ or AEW variant was hard down for an engine change in Roosey) so theyâ€™d have Air Guard F-16â€™s (â€˜who was it this month?Â Oh yeah, Montanaâ€¦â€™) instead out of Roosey.
â€œ602, 601 up common â€“ letâ€™s go secure for turnoverâ€
â€˜That would be the Skipperâ€™ he thought â€˜a little early, but thatâ€™s OK by meâ€¦â€™
Setting up the radios, he selected SECURE on KY-2 and made his call after the synchronization tones.
â€œ601, 602 up secure â€“ advise when ready to copyâ€
â€œGo ahead 602â€
â€œRoger.Â We have one bogey, track 1612.Â Vipers are to be airborne in the next couple of minutes and will be checking in on button 5 for VID of 1612.Â No customs aircraft available tonight and no over flight clearance yet â€“ Panther passes they are still working on it.â€
â€œCopy all, weâ€™re holding both your remote track and skin on 1612 and will take over reporting it.Â Howâ€™s SATCOM tonight?â€
â€œFrom our station coverage seems to be good solid comms with Panther all night.Â Link-11 has been spotty, but thatâ€™s nothing newâ€
â€œOK KT, weâ€™ve got it â€“ see you back on deck in the AM.â€
â€œRoger Skipper â€“ good huntingâ€
On the SATCOM he heard 601 checking in with Panther and reporting on station and â€˜Mike Alfaâ€™ â€“ all systems up.
â€œPanther, Steeljaw 602 is offstation and RTBâ€
â€œFlight, CICO, letâ€™s head for the barnâ€ And now he could luxuriate in a prolonged yawn and stretch, anticipating their arrival on deck shortly.
Steeljaw 602 â€“ airborne Northeast of Curacao
â€œFlight, CICO.Â Letâ€™s come north some more â€“ take a heading of 015 so we can close the distance to the Vipersâ€
With the acknowledgement from the cockpit on the ICS, the CICO turned to his RO and ensured he had full situational awareness.
â€œOK, youâ€™ve got the fighters and any other aircraft that come up for our control tonight.Â UHF-2 and KY-2 are yours to use.Â After you get initial contact I want them with their IFF off and radar in standby â€“ run them in completely quiet and letâ€™s see what we get from this contact.Â I donâ€™t want to spook himâ€¦â€
â€œGot it Skipperâ€ the young LTJG replied.Â This was his first real deployment since joining the squadron fresh from the FRS 6 months ago.Â In that time heâ€™d been working on building his qualifications for ACO (Air Control Officer, the next step up from RO and prepatory for mission commander) with as much fighter control time as he could manage.Â â€œI wish weâ€™d have a couple of Tomcats or Hornets instead so we could link up and let them work the intercept that wayâ€ he noted somewhat wistfully.
Chuckling softly and remembering his own time as a junior controller dealing with F-4s as well as F-14â€™s and the relief aÂ good 2-way Link-4 intercept provided, the Skipper replied that if it was easy it wouldnâ€™t be fun.
â€œStillâ€¦â€ the RO didnâ€™t finish the thought as the Vipers were checking in
â€œSteeljaw, Viper, flight of 2 checking in, heading 165, angels 25, 120 at 55 from homeplate, lead squawking 4121â€
Two F-16â€™s, one a single seat and the other a two-seater, both configured for NVG interception were checking in with the Hawkeye.Â They were fifty-five southeast of the air station at NAVSTA Roosevelt Roads, heading south at 25,000 ft and indicating 4121 on their Mode III IFF.
â€œVipers, Steeljaw.Â Radar contact.Â Continue heading 170, expect cutoff vector in 5 mikes.Â Strangle Parrot and primaryâ€ The RO had positive control of the fighters and the intercept now, telling the fighters to secure their IFF and radar to avoid possible detection.
The CICO watched approvingly as the intercept developed.Â By the nature of the beast it would turn into a tail chase or pursuit intercept to bring the fighters up behind the target and allow them to visually ID the type and registration number of the aircraft for Panther to run against the database of known smugglers.
â€œVipers, 50 miles, lightsâ€
The RO was telling the F-16s to ensure all external lighting was secured â€“ all reference was now via the night vision goggles they were employing.Â It is a challenging condition to try and maintain formation using NVGs as depth perception is severely constrained.Â To be good (and by implication, good meant not running into your lead) required lots of practice.Â The Air Guard had always gotten a bad rap from the regulars, and, the CICO thought, somewhat undeservedly.Â It may not be Bear hunting in the North Atlantic or nailing Serb ground forces, but these intercepts were anything but a milk run.Â Besides, these guys tended to be more like our fighters in their attitudes and interactions with the squadron.Â The regular AF types, the few times theyâ€™d been tasked with the CD mission, tended to be a bit standoffish â€“ and then there was that whole F-15 vs F-16 manhood deal too, not unlike the Tomcats and Hornetsâ€¦
â€œOn your nose, ten miles, estimating angels 19 at 270 knotsâ€
Two mike clicks were the response â€“ trying to find the bogey without overrunning him was a complex and trying job.
â€œTalley â€“ Viper Two is closing for the ID”
The wait seemed like hours when it was but a few minutes.
â€œSteeljaw, Viper, letâ€™s go secureâ€
â€œOK Steeljaw, Viper 2.Â Contact is a Beech King Air, either a 200 or 300, lights out.Â Registration is YV-411.Â At least two occupants canâ€™t tell if anyone is in the cabin section or not.Â Weâ€™re dropping back to 1 mile in trail.â€
No sooner had the F-16 made the contact report than the CICO repeated it to Panther via the SATCOM.
The response was not long in comingâ€¦
â€œSteeljaw, Panther.Â Mark target as suspect â€“ the registration number belongs to a DC-3 that is on the ground in Miami.Â OPBAT team is scrambling from Martinique for your control.Â Detach and RTB Vipers at your discretion.â€
â€œPanther, Steeljaw.Â Roger, weâ€™re detaching Vipers now.â€
And with that the RO gave the F-16â€™s their return vector while starting to look for the helicopters coming out of Martinique.
â€˜Looks like we have a live one tonight after allâ€™ the CICO thought to himself, and started making plans with the front end for extending their possible stationing time in case a drop ensued further north.Â As it turned out, that wasnâ€™t necessary.
â€œSkipper, target is descending â€“ now showing 10,000 ft and droppingâ€
â€œOK, look for a small surface target in that area â€“ that will probably be his drop pointâ€ the CICO replied, all the while wondering where the helicopters were.
â€œSteeljaw, Omaha 21 and 22 checking inâ€
â€œOmaha 21, roger, your steer 270 for 28 miles.Â Single surface contact that vicinity. Suspect aircraft is below cherubs 9 and orbiting that area.Â Busterâ€
The RO had picked up the two Customs Blackhawk helos that would now try to intercept what was probably a go-fast in the process of picking bales out of the water.Â His last command, â€œbusterâ€ indicated they were to proceed with all haste.
â€œSteeljaw, Omaha â€“ we have a tally on the suspect vessel and aircraft and are inboundâ€
To be continuedâ€¦
Article Series - Reflections: Smuggler's Blues
- Reflections: Smugglerâ€™s Blues (I)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (II)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (III)
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (IV) – The Pilot
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (V) – The Squadron CO
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VI) – The Pilot
- Reflections: Smuggler’s Blues (VII) – The Squadron CO
- Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (VIII)-Convergence
- Reflections: Smuggle’s Blues (IX)-Conclusion