This is the second Fighter Ops bit of linked fiction. This is the first one.
“It’s an electronic cigarette”, Sir Percy Wallington told the MOD civil servant who gave him a very funny look when he pulled the white tube out of his pocket, “That means I can smoke it indoors. Now calm down, there’s a good chap”.
He’d almost snapped at the guy, which wouldn’t have been fair. It wasn’t his fault that Sir Percy, Chief of the Air Staff and professional head of the RAF, was feeling like hitting someone. Possibly the PM. Or for the matter, the Chief of the Defence Staff.
Something was rotten in the state of Denmark – or more technically in the state of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. He’d picked up wind from his sources (and he had many) that this surprise attack on Iran by Israel had been not so much of a surprise to certain people. Namely the Americans, who had turned two carrier groups and a few of their subs about 48 hours beforehand to put them nearer to the Gulf to handle any ‘fallout’ – and not the scattering of radioactive material around Natanz. If the special relationship wasn’t completely dead, then the British had to have been informed of this.
Then why wasn’t I told until late on Saturday evening when the strike planes were on their way home? He thought as he took a puff and allowed the nicotine to enter his body. He’d been trying to give up smoking for years and this allowed him the nicotine without the tar. His wife still insisted on him going to the shed to do it, but that was life.
As he sat deep in thought, another senior officer came down the stair case. A large, built like a tank man, he was dressed in the uniform of a British Army Major General. As neither was “covered”, they didn’t salute – in fact they were personal friends and members of the same club – the Drake Club in Mayfair.
“Penny for them, Walls?” asked Major General Daniel Brooks-Thornton, commander of 3rd (United Kingdom) Division, as he sat down on the bench.
Sir Percy smiled.
“We’ve been caught on the hop. Again. I don’t like it. Just for once I’d like a conflict we’ve been properly prepared for…”
“Never had one, Walls”, Brooks-Thornton said, “We weren’t ready in 1939. We weren’t ready in 1982. We weren’t even ready for Telic and we started that…”
“You were in the Falklands weren’t you, Daniel?”
Sir Percy didn’t need to ask him that – the South Atlantic Medal on his uniform confirmed the Major General had spent at least one day in theatre – but there were degrees of involvement in any war.
“Yep, Welsh Guards. Scared 22 year old with wet boots walking my way across that godforsaken piece of sheep-filled rock… If they hadn’t got Atlantic Conveyor… You weren’t in that, were you?”
“Nope – still on the Tornado OCU… My first war was Granby, as I’m sure you remember…”
Sir Percy would never forget Operation Granby, the 1991 Gulf War. IX Squadron’s Tornadoes had been tasked with low-level anti-runway attacks against Iraqi airfields – a hairy prospect. He still had nightmares about one particular close shave, although they’d gotten a bit weird over time.
“It may sound utterly perverse to say it, but I wish we’d been there for that one – and I wish we’d kicked him out then. Would have saved us a lot of hassle later”.
Sir Percy nodded, but before he could continue, his Blackberry pinged with a message. Pulling it out of his pocket, he took a look at the message and wondered what further piece of intelligence was going to ruin his day:
Need you at VC – now. C.
Forty minutes later, Sir Percy Wallington and his aide-de-camp were standing in the office of the Director-General of the Secret Intelligence Service, known as ‘C’. Another knight of the realm, Sir Percy had met the spymaster on a few formal occasions, but he had the career military man’s distrust of civilian spooks; who had a marked tendency to be able to tell you what was happening, but woefully miss what was going to happen. If anyone had any idea of what was going to go down in Libya in 2011…
“Afternoon, Sir Percy”, C said as he entered the office with a large folder, “Going to pass this to JIC, but I really thought you should see these first, so you can pass them on to your boys and girls. Some of this stuff is game-changing and you really need to know it”.
He pulled out a satellite photograph of somewhere in central Iran. It showed a large metal structure – with a missile next to it.
“We’ve found out what those mysterious structures were that popped up over the last few months. They’re missile gantries”.
Percy nodded. He’d suspected that for a while and had never bought the official Iranian claim they were observation towers. It was clear from the construction of the gantries – all by roads or laybys – that they probably wouldn’t stand up to the strain of a missile launch. Didn’t really matter though – the missile would be away and the 3,000 of these dotted around Iran would give him a lot of targeting headaches – especially those that were in civilian areas.
“Thought they might be, but that’s not game-changing, C”.
C pulled out a photograph of a blonde-haired woman in US Navy uniform. The shot was a standard head and shoulders one, so he couldn’t make out her rank, but he could see some of her decorations and a name tag that said “MONROE”.
“You’ve heard of Detachment 3 of the 53rd Test and Evaluation Group of the US Air Force?”
“Of course I have”, Sir Percy snapped, “I don’t spend 35 years in this business without hearing about the Americans’ secret MiG unit”.
“Det 3” was the successor to the 4477th Test and Evaluation Squadron (the “Red Eagles”), who had flown MiG-17s, MiG-21s and MiG-23s against US pilots in training exercises in the 1980s in a now declassified programme codenamed CONSTANT PEG. While the RAF had never gone against the group (despite Sir Percy trying to arrange this), the data that they and other various exploitations of foreign military technology over the years had accrued regularly crossed his desk – it had certainly helped the electronic warfare exercises that the force ran in the Spadeadam range up in Cumbria.
“This woman was involved in Det 3 – one Lieutenant Commander Megan Monroe”.
Sir Percy could have sat and listened to this ‘exposition’ all day, but C wasn’t a pretty girl in an US crime drama, so he cut straight through.
“There’s a point to this spiel, right?” he said.
“Yes, Sir Percy. I’ll give you the briefing package on the way back, but this photograph will sum things up nicely”.
He handed the Air Chief Marshal an A4 blow-up of a photograph clearly taken from a covert camera. It showed the same woman dressed in a flight suit, clambering out of a MiG-29. A MiG-29 with Iranian markings.
Sir Percy said something very Anglo-Saxon indeed and C nodded.
“Hotshot US naval pilot with knowledge of how to fight MiGs properly, presumed murdered by her husband - who conveniently died in a gaol fight - is in fact alive, well and working for Iran. As my nephew likes to say, put that in your pipe and smoke it”.