The deadly game of cat and mouse between Indian and Chinese submarines had been going on and on for hours. Nothing unusual about that. The crew had been in similar situation for much longer periods of time before. But currently, stakes were much higher. Not only their own lives, but lives of possible billions of people could be destroyed or changed unalterably by any mistake on their part. This was making them nervous. Captain of Indian Akula was aware of the fact and was doing every thing in his capacity to help his crew deal with the tension in his own stern way. The way was to keep every crew member so busy that he simply wouldn't have any time to be scared. The trick was working but even he knew that there was a limit to it. He prayed feverishly that the situation will be sorted much before the snapping point was reached.
Sitting in his chair, he was poring over the constant stream of data flowing over his console. The two Chineses submarines, one attack and another missile carrier had been advancing very slowly towards Indian coast. Former was drifting slowly east around 23000 m in front of Akula and the other around followed it a 1000 meters behind. Some of the major Indian coastal cities and A&N islands were already under the range of their missiles and they has not shown any inclination to launch their missiles. Indians could guess following two reasons for this behaviour,
1) They didn't had authorisation for launch
2) In case they had authorisation, they were trying to make sure that the area was clear of any Indian anti-submarine assets before launch.
Of the two possibilities, Chinese had already been beaten on the 2nd..
Although he had upper hand in the second, he still preferred that it'd rather be first. Chances were slim but a man always has hope, sometimes the greatest power, at others the greatest illusion. To make things worse he had no way to make sure until Chinese made a move. Silently, he cursed the Chinese one more time and wished them to make a move. Even hostile, so that the unbearable tension and suspense could break.
Probably a mischievous God listened to his prayer and granted his wish. Chinese made a move, but in a totally unexpected way. It happened when sound of a fairly loud sonar ping startled the hell out of every crew member on bridge.
Sonarman announced excitedly, “Sir, we are being pinged by a submarine at a distance of 21000 m from Bandit 3 and 4. “
“Is it one of ours ?”
“No sir. Based on it's acoustic signature, it doesn't sound like ours or even Chinese.”
Captain arched his eyebrows at the slightly nervous sonar operator, “Then ?”
Clearing his throat he replied, “It seems to be American.”
Akula's Commander exclaimed“ An American submarine ? Why will those idiots get involved here ? That too in this manner announcing their presence to everyone ? “
Captain reprimanded his junior officer at once, “We can discuss how and whys of American involvement later, if it's indeed an American submarine. Right now, concentrate on the task at hand. Designate the new contact as Delta 1. Give me an update on Bandits .”
“Bandit 4 is turning towards Delta 1. 4 showing no change. No indication of any hostile intentions yet.”
“ It's highly unlikely that our presence is a secret anymore from either.” Commander remarked ruefully.
Captain nodded gravely, "I agree. Turning to his weapons officer he asked, “ I presume that Delta 1 is still out of range of our torpedoes ?”
He replied with a nod, “Aye captain.”
Commander again exclaimed with surprise , “We aren't thinking of engaging the Americans at this stage..are we ?”
Captain grimaced inwardly at his 2nd-in command officer. “If push comes to shove, then maybe we'll have to. But right now, it's Chinese reaction that's more vital.”
He didn't have to wait long for the Chinese reaction. Before he had finished speaking, Bandit 4 had completed turning towards Delta 1's direction and started gaining speed.
“What the hell they think they are doing ?”
Weapon's officer spoke up tentatively, “ Chinese are within American's torpedo range while Americans are not. I think Bandit 4 is trying to get within firing range of Delta 1.”
No one else on bridge had any better idea. In spite of it's obvious craziness, that was the only thing that could explain Chinese action. Captain nodded and said simply,”We'll know soon enough.”
At that instant Delta 1 responded to the Chinese charge by letting out another ping. Within seconds, sonar man announced, “ Sir, Bandit 3 is turning in our direction and gaining speed. It's still out of our torpedo range though.”
Almost immediately another update came, “ It seems like Delta 1 has flooded it's torpedo tubes. I believe that they have a firing solution on both Bandits.”
Captain gripped the arm rests of his chair tightly, “ What's the status of Bandit 3 ?”
“It's still heading in the same direction constantly gaining speed. Current speed is 11 knots and increasing.”
A lot of thoughts were currently passing through Indian Captain's mind. What were Americans doing there ? If their intention was to sink the Chinese submarines, they could have probably done that much before Chinese knew what hit them. Even after Bandit 3 started it's charge, they possibly tried to warn it off by firing off a sonar ping rather than a torpedo. Could it be possible that they were on Indian side or were they just trying to break up the fight ? Announcing their presence by pinging in possible hostile waters had no logic. It had also made the Chinese aware of Akula's presence which they were not, as was the most likely scenario before. But considering the distance between them, it was highly unlikely that American's had been aware of Akula's presence either.
Shaking his head in frustration he again turned to his weapon's officer, “Be ready to fire on Bandit 3 on my order.” to which he replied eagerly, “Aye captain.”
Sonar man made another announcement, “I hear splashes. Bandit 4 has launched 2 torpedoes.” Without pausing, he spoke again, “Delta 1 has launched 2 torpedoes too.”
Captain muttered under his breath, “Just what the doctor ordered.”. Then to his weapon's officer, “ Is Bandit 3 in our range yet?”
“At current speed, in less than three minutes.”
Captain took a deep breath and ordered, “Fire tubes 1 & 2 at Bandit 3 as soon as it's in range.”
“Tubes 1 & 2 ready for Bandit 3, aye.”
In the meanwhile, Bandit 4 and Delta 1 were locked in a deadly duel. Although seemingly brave, Bandit 4 was less than a match for Delta 1. Americans were more than a generation ahead of Chinese in naval warfare. Their torpedoes not only had longer range and higher speed, but also much better terminal guidance. Therefore, even when Chinese had launched first, it was the American Mk48s, which found a terminal lock on their target first. Once they acquired the targets, their guiding wires were cut and Delta 4 immediately made a sharp turn and launched decoys. Chinese on the other hand were forced to cut wires and disengage a little earlier than required. Superior quality of American equipment was again obvious as neither of Chinese torpedoes could lock on to their target and were instead drawn away from Delta 1 by it's decoys. One of American torpedoes was neutralized in similar way, but the other found it's mark with deadly result for the Chinese. The torpedo tore through the hull of submarine and it sunk within minutes.
For Indians , although the technology gap was not as stark, it was comfortable enough for them to sink Bandit 3 without much trouble.
Tuesday, April 19, 2011