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Russian President Yuri Kalinin entered the Kremlin conference room, joining his advisors seated around the table. The six men stood, then returned to their chairs after the president took his position at the head of the table. To the president’s right sat Defense Minister Anton Nechayev and Foreign Minister Andrei Lavrov. On the other side of the table were four military officers: Chief of the General Staff Sergei Andropov, joined by the commanders of the Russian Ground Forces, Aerospace Forces, and Navy.
Kalinin had assembled his senior civilian and military advisors to review the results of their disastrous initiative—Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and Lithuania, along with their blackmail attempt to prevent NATO from intervening. Their effort had failed, however. The Americans had soundly defeated the Russian Navy and NATO had begun preparing a counterattack into Lithuania and Ukraine. Russia had withdrawn its troops and peace now prevailed across Europe, but the sting of Russia’s failure remained.
Diplomatic relations had returned to normal and it was time to discuss the way forward. Kalinin turned first to his new minister of defense. “Proceed.”
Nechayev began with his prepared summary. “The Navy has finished its assessment. The water depth where the battle occurred is too deep to raise the sunken ships; they are a complete loss. Fortunately, the battle cruiser Pyotr Velikiy and aircraft carrier Kuznetsov remained afloat after the battle. Both restored propulsion and have arrived at our nearest shipyard. However, they are heavily damaged and it will take at least two years to return them to service.”
Now that the bad news had been delivered, Nechayev shifted gears. “Our submarine fleet remains a viable asset, especially in light of the American losses during their war with China and the additional casualties they suffered at our hands. Although we lost most of our guided missile submarines, we still have thirty-five diesel and nuclear-powered attack submarines, while America has only eighteen fast attack submarines remaining in service. However, the United States raised twenty-seven of the submarines lost during their war with China, and the first of those will begin exiting the shipyards within the year. Our submarine advantage will not last long.
“We are in an even better situation regarding our land and air forces. The army suffered only minor losses in Ukraine, so we are in excellent shape on the ground. In the air, we lost all tactical fighters assigned to the Middle East, but the bulk of our Aerospace Force remains intact. After factoring in our anti-air assets, we can deny any NATO attempt to achieve air superiority.”
With his update complete, Nechayev sat back, letting Kalinin absorb the information.
General Andropov, Kalinin’s senior military advisor, joined the discussion. “Our basic strategy was sound. NATO cannot defeat our land and air forces without the United States. What failed was our strategy to keep the United States from intervening. If we fix that, we will succeed next time.”
“Next time?” Kalinin asked.
Andropov’s eyes narrowed. “America humiliated us. The images of our warships adrift and on fire have been shown repeatedly on the news, and public support for your administration is at an all-time low. If you want to be reelected next year, you’ll have to make a bold move.”
Kalinin replied, “It was the bold move you and Defense Minister Chernov recommended that created this situation. The plan failed, and I shouldn’t have to remind you that Minister Chernov was assassinated by the Americans.” He eyed his new defense minister, who shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“It was a flawed plan,” Andropov insisted. “We were supposed to blackmail the United States, keeping them from entering the conflict, but they blackmailed us instead. If we correct this flaw, we will prevail next time. The Zolotov option is finally ready to implement, and if the updates to the Alexander submarine class are adequate, America won’t dare risk intervening.”
Turning back to his new defense minister, Kalinin asked, “What is the status of the Zolotov option and the Alexander class?”
Nechayev responded, “As General Andropov mentioned, the Zolotov option can now be fully implemented. But, as you know, it is a high-risk, high-reward plan. Regarding the Alexander class, the equipment aboard Alexander has been upgraded and is scheduled for another test this afternoon. If it performs as intended, I’d have to agree with General Andropov. The American fleet would be at our mercy. Even if they chose to intercede in Europe, they couldn’t risk transporting their troops or equipment by sea. Any effort to oppose us would be seriously hampered.”
“Alexander’s test is this afternoon?”
Nechayev nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“We will meet again tomorrow,” Kalinin said, “and then I will decide.”
Standing in the Central Command Post of his Yasen class attack submarine, Captain Second Rank Anatoly Mikhailov surveyed his crew. They were at Combat Stations, tracking Hydroacoustic two-one, a submerged contact lurking off Kazan’s starboard beam in the Barents Sea. It was quiet in the command post as Mikhailov stood near one of the two lowered periscopes, occasionally glancing at the admiral beside him. Admiral Leonid Shimko, commander of Russia’s Northern Fleet, displayed no hint of what he was thinking as he watched Kazan’s crew prepare to attack.
Captain Third Rank Erik Fedorov, Kazan’s First Officer, stood behind two fire control consoles, peering over the shoulders of the two operators, each wearing the rank of michman on their uniform. He tapped one michman on the shoulder. “Set as Primary.” The michman complied and Fedorov announced, “Captain, I have a firing solution.”
Mikhailov examined the target parameters. The enemy submarine was six kilometers off Kazan’s starboard beam, headed west at ten knots. It was mirroring Kazan.
“Prepare to fire,” Mikhailov announced, “Hydroacoustic two-one, tube One.”
“Solution updated,” Fedorov called out.
“Torpedo ready,” the Weapons Officer reported.
“Countermeasures armed,” the Watch Officer announced.
Mikhailov examined the target solution again. Satisfied it was accurate and all torpedo search settings were optimal, he gave the order.
“Fire tube One.”
The torpedo was impulsed from the tube, and Mikhailov’s ears popped when the impulse tanks were vented, refilling them to supply water for another shot. He moved behind his Weapons Officer, monitoring the status of their outgoing torpedo as it descended to the estimated target depth of 150 meters. The torpedo closed on its target, and at the predetermined range, went active.
“Torpedo One has enabled,” the Weapons Officer announced,
The torpedo began pinging, and not long thereafter the Weapons Officer reported, “Detect!”
The next report arrived seconds later, once the torpedo verified the detected contact was indeed a submarine.
On the Weapon Launch Console, the parameters updated as the torpedo increased speed.
Mikhailov’s eyes shifted to the nearest fire control console, looking for indication their target had begun maneuvering. The contact remained steady on course and speed. This, of course, was expected. The contact they had fired at was Kazan’s sister ship Alexander, a modified Yasen class, built and launched in secrecy from the Sevmash shipyard in the White Sea.
The torpedo Kazan had fired was an exercise version, its warhead explosive replaced with inert material. This was the fourth time Kazan had tested its torpedoes against Alexander, and Mikhailov wondered whether leadership suspected there was a problem with their torpedo inventory. After launch, the torpedo’s artificial intelligence controlled every aspect of target prosecution. It wouldn’t be the first time a software bug had rendered their torpedoes ineffective in some way. Thus far, however, Kazan’s torpedoes had performed as designed. This one appeared to be functioning properly as well.
“Exploder armed,” the Weapons Officer announced.
The exploder had rotated into the firing position, preparing to detonate the warhead. This torpedo wouldn’t explode, however, since the explosive had been removed.
Mikhailov watched the torpedo close the remaining distance to Alexander, then the Weapons Officer made the expected report. “Exploder has fired!”
There was no explosion, though. Instead, Hydroacoustic reported, “Weapon impact.”
Normal exercise torpedoes had a turn-away feature or depth interlocks so the torpedo didn’t impact the submarine and break into pieces, or even worse, damage the submarine’s propulsor or screw during a shot from astern. However, the torpedo Mikhailov had fired against Alexander ran to termination, smashing into the submarine’s hull.
The result was anticlimactic. The torpedo had operated perfectly. When Mikhailov turned to Admiral Shimko, he was surprised to see a frown on the admiral’s face.
“Return to port immediately,” Shimko ordered.
Copyright © 2019 by Rick Campbell