…behind the vault-like doors of the carrier intelligence center, or CVIC, a first class intelligence specialist monitoring a chat room in the Multi-Source Integration cell reads a few lines of text and sits bolt upright. “Sir,” he says, calling to one of the targeteers, “I think you’d better have a look at this.”
The targeteer, an intelligence officer with the rank of lieutenant lets out a low whistle, beckons for a runner, “We need to convene the TST cell.” He then picks up a red radio handset, keys the mike and says, “COPS, MSI – stand by for words on a time sensitive target.”
On the bridge, in his sacred chair on the port side, the carrier CO sits watching the pewter sea run under his freeboard impassively. He’s tired of course, he’s always tired – on four to five hours of interrupted sleep for weeks on end, you’d be tired too. It’s just that he’s used to it, the furry brown buzz in the back of his head – he knows that his time in command this great warship is finite, that someday this will be over. He knows that another opportunity to command, at the flag rank perhaps, while possible is by no means assured. The pyramid gets pretty small towards the top.
He hears the voice of his Tactical Action Officer on the ship’s announcing system, the 1MC: “This is the TAO – Brickbat, Brickbat: Now convene the TST cell. TST personnel report to CVIC – Brickbat.” The carrier CO blinks twice, rapidly. A time sensitive strike – could be interesting – he checks his watch, looks at the airplan, notes that there is just time to go below and watch the effort, if he can find someone to cover for him on the 1500 launch. The Navigator is sleeping, catching up from the morning refuel. He purses his lips, thinks for a moment, reaches for the phone and calls the ship’s Operations Officer. He’d be glad to spot the CO for half an hour? Thanks. Thought he might. Hustle on up.
A flurry of activity down in CVIC as intelligence officers, targeteers and pilots swirl around the target verification console – the target coordinates delivered from the beach are quickly entered into the high-tech target mensuration system and collateral damage rings are plotted against weapons effects circles. Chins are pulled, glances exchanged and the clock is ticking – time is of the essence, but lives are at stake. They must be sure.
All of this work has been done ashore of course, at the Joint Force Air Combat Commander’s TST cell, but it will all be checked again aboard the carrier: While the JFACC, an Air Force general officer, “owns” the Navy aircraft once “feet dry,” the weapons to be delivered are Navy weapons, and the hole in the ground will be a Navy hole. The responsibility for getting everything right in the last detail must not be minimized. In the next few moments, the targeteer reflected, people are going to die, maybe even a lot of them. Every effort must made to ensure that those doing the dying deserve their fate. Everyone associated with the strike wants their conscience to be as clear as their duty.
The senior targeteer looks up to the air wing intelligence officer, speaks: “Close I think, for a JDAM. There’s this structure over to the east that’s just outside the CDE ring. The LGB would have a smaller footprint, but the risk of target misidentification is greater. It is within limits for JDAM, and it’s a suitable target by construction.”
The air wing intelligence officer nods, purses his lips. He picks up a red phone, speaks into it: “Admiral, we recommend a go on the TST. No objections.” He pauses, listening. “Aye-aye, sir.”
Picking up another handset, the intel officer calls the current operations cell, “COPS, CVIC: Hammer time.”
“COPS, roger, out.”
Over western Bagdhad, the squadron XO hears the E-2 relay the word: “Hammer time,” and thinks, well here we are – here we go.
They’d gotten the first heads up that something was in the works ten minutes ago, no more. They were switched first to off the Direct Air Support Center’s freq to the Air Force ASOC, an event that while unusual, was not entirely unheard of – cross-boundary coordination was an acquired skill. What raised the XO’s eyebrows under his visor was the further shift to callsign “Assassin” on a secure frequency. Using a secure freq for a TST was something he hadn’t experienced before. Intrigued, but trying not to show it, the XO checked in with the Joint Terminal Area Controller, or JTAC reporting their weapons loads. The JTAC replied, “Standby,” in a whispered voice that initially made the XO grin – he remembered a time during work-ups in the SoCal operating areas – the ship had been conducting flight operations under radio silence, known in the fleet as emissions control, or EMCON. At one point, just before the recovery, a nervous team of LSO’s had checked their radios with the Air Boss, whispering and the Air Boss had whispered back in response. The XO had remembered sitting on deck in a turning fighter, and laughing out loud – the whole point of EMCON was to maintain radio silence: If someone was going to triangulate upon your radio signal, it wouldn’t matter if you shouted or if you whispered – just that you keyed the mike.
Thinking that the JTAC was being equally foolish with his whispered radio communications, the XO grinned in his mask until comprehension dawned and the smile suddenly faded -while radio signals were the source of vulnerability in warfare at sea, where opponents grapple for situational awareness over great distances, things might well be different ashore. In a ground fight, with a murderous but low-tech enemy close at hand, a man might not worry so much about intercepted radio transmissions. But a man might worry about being heard, might have to whisper, if the enemy was very close. The XO sat up slightly in his seat.