War Under the Ice
Argentinean Attack Submersible SSN-11 Malvinas
300 Meters beneath the Bay of Whales
Near the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica
December 14, 2084 0728 GMT
Capitan de Navio Arturo Javier Delgado of the Armada de la Republica Argentina submarine Malvinas stood in front of the view screen that dominated one side of the Malvinas' command bridge. The order didn't involve pushing a tube with mirrors in it up to the surface, decades had passed since an attack sub had last done that. Instead a fiber-optic cable would be floated to the surface to deploy a drone. The foot-long aircraft made of radar absorbing plastics would take to the sky on its battery powered propellor and gossamer wings. Images from the drone returned via tight beam laser and the ship's computers made sense of the image coming through the bird's fish-eye lens.
Deep beneath the waves at a touch over 7,000 tons, the A.R.A. Malvinas was a man-made shark of ceramics, titanium, and de-gaussed steel. Her flattened ovoid hull was coated with material that mimicked the background noise of the ocean and contained an arsenal of torpedo tubes and hypersonic sea-skimmers, computers, advanced sensors and a small fleet of outrider RSVs. Her heart was a fusion reactor powering the twin MHD jets that gave her a top speed of 40 knots without a noise making moving part to betray her presence. With her flanking outriders to probe the water in front of her, and carrying a full suite of active countermeasures, the Malvinas was a silent and deadly hole in the water designed to strike her victims from ambush and vanish into the depths of the sea.
An image lit the screen and stabilized into two Australian frigates escorting a single transport vessel. The escorts were close to their charge, holdings positions slightly forward to either side while they entered the iceberg restricted waters off of Scott Research Station. The Malvinas had gotten lucky. Coming out from the iceshelf she'd been hiding under for eight days, Captain Delgado had maneuvered his boat to a position perpendicular to the convoy's base course and had even managed to spot the sub-hunting VTOL one of the frigates had patrolling in their area. That and the Australian crews unfamiliarity with the thermal layers in the area were the only reasons Captain Delgado had managed to get this close without being detected. That would all change very soon.
"Estevan," said Captain Delgado to his XO, "it appears you were right -- good work. We'll proceed as planned."
"Yes Sir." Estevan Guzman, Malvinas First Officer, turned to the fire-control officer and issued a few final orders.
"Now Estevan," Captain Delgado said to his XO and a sly grin lit across his face for the first time in eight days, "don't forget to take out that VTOL, eh?"
"Lucky thing we spotted her when we did."
"Not at all. This is the logical place for a submarine to wait in ambush, is it not?"
Estevan grinned good-naturedly at the joke and continued with his task. A spate of chuckles and grins swept across rest of the bridge. The crew looked at each other knowingly and shared a moment of ease. Then it was time.
Finished, Commandante Guzman looked to his captain and nodded.
Captain Delgado spoke one word: "Fire."
They'd decided the magic number was 30. The first salvo of six missiles shot out of their tubes with a blast of compressed air and the autoloaders began to cycle. They were joined by six more missiles from the external ordinance racks set flush to the hull and four anti-aircraft missiles from the dorsal launch cells on the submarine's fin. The four smaller missiles immediately shot to the surface and once free of their pressure shells, tracked the unsuspecting VTOL, lit their solid-boosters and blew the VTOL into a fireball from which there were no survivors. The larger ship-killers waited instead to be joined by the missiles from three more launch cycles. The wait was a calculated risk, once the defending escorts picked up the transient noises of missiles ejected into the water they'd scramble to their battle stations. The question was how fast they could bring their defense systems fully on-line versus how fast the Malvinas could assemble a massive enough salvo with which to overwhelm those very defenses.
The torpedo crews finished their jobs and 30 sea-skimmers began their attack. They broke through the surface and took to flight, breaking Mach and jinking from side to side in random patterns as they closed the sixteen kilometers to their target. Their course was a dog-leg 45" off-axis east of the convoy, then turn west at 7.2 kms. Designed to place the large transport in front of one of the escorts and block its direct fire anti-missile systems it would also allow them to build up speed. Solid strap-on boosters gave them an initial acceleration of 8Gs for 8 seconds. The turbo-ram sustainers would provide a steady 3Gs the rest of the way. Time to target: 26.6 seconds.
Aboard the defending escorts, automated sensors detected the incoming missiles and activated the ship's defenses. While alarms sounded throughout the ships and their crews scrambled to their action stations, the core computers fought the openning stages of the battle. Blocked by the transport, the PAS Brisbane could not engage directly but her radar, decoys and counter-missiles meant she wasn't out of the fight. Bursts of high speed transmitions datalinked her systems with those aboard the PAS Vampire on her quarter. Together, using their radars to triangulate on the missiles, they negated much of those missiles ECM. The towed array 500 meters behind the Brisbane began to mimic the signature of the transport it was task to protect. Her counter-missiles began to errupt from her forward VLS rack in rapid-fire hand-off mode to the Vampire's fire control while in the meantime an antenna deployed and squirted a message into orbit requesting emergency imagery from any available satellite.
Aboard the PAS Vampire events unfolded with inhuman speed. The railguns fore and aft traversed to port and began firing. At 20,000 rounds a minute each they filled the air with flechettes of depleted uranium. They worked in tandem, laying down patterns braketting the zig-zagging missiles. Where they connected with one of the bandits, there was the flash of an explosion big enough to engulf a ship. Shrapnel laced the nearby sea and the water itself seemed cratered before the blast subsided and the sea flowed back in. The port side interceptor battery added volleys of sprintfire missiles to the projectiles already in the air while, as with Brisbane, the Vampire's towed array drew off more of them. Her electronic jamming antennas struck out at the missiles guidance systems trying to throw them off course. Rocket-deployed decoys, flares and chaff canninsters filled the air while at the very rear of the ship a Y-rack lobbed self-propelled sonobouys to either side of the ship. They would hit the water and start an active sonar search for any submarines or torpedoes using the top attack as a distraction. But the real anti-missile system was the 50-megawatt Sea-Born Laser amidship. Without the railgun's recoil it had greater precise and range than those weapons. A lightspeed weapon, it lacked the missile's inherent delays. Fusion powered, the megawatt bursts of coherent light were like cracks of lightning that left tracks in the air ionized by their passage.
Malvinas' missiles flew into these defenses still accelerating from their initial launch.
Immediately they began to fall prey to the frigates. The first missile was destroyed 3.8 seconds into the attack, a laser burst that blew it in half before it could reach mach just 4 seconds into it's flight. The strap-on boosters survived the main explosion and cartwheeled into the sea. However, once the other missiles built up speed they were at their best advantage: they were far away and where the transport's shadow was at its largest giving them room to maneuver. Only one more was destroyed before the boosters burned themselves out. By then they were already travelling at 1400 mph and had covered 2.5 kilometers.
The missiles continued to accelerate into the turn. 14 seconds into their flight, they deployed their airfoils and slewed 70 degrees west to come on course to their target. A web of laser-comms tied them together into one coordinated attack. Enemy jammers and decoys would be less effective as the missiles AI could poll each other as to a given contact's validity. Each missile would know the others location and designated missiles could cover the rest with their decoys and the flares to make the most of their limited supply.
By the time the formation turned to make its final run 14 seconds into the attack, it was down to 26 missiles travelling at 1830 mph at a range of 12 kilometers. The Pan Pac Frigates need to kill on average better than one missile a second to win, yet thus far they'd killed only four. As the range closed this would improve, a dozen missiles from the Brisbane were already in the air plunging downwards at 12 Gs and the Vampire's interceptors had still to come on-line.
With so many interceptors in the air, six missiles carrying electronic jammers instead of warheads powered their systems and threw broadband static at their enemy's antennas. Until now the Vampire's laser had been intent on breaking the incoming missile's data-net, predictive algorithms trying to identify key nodes in the network. The laser tracked to these new priority targets and one of the missiles prompty blew apart under its coherent beam.
Deep inside PAS Vampire's hull the pilot of the ship's VTOL ran down the central corridor while he struggled with his helmet. The attack was all of 20 seconds old.
The railguns openned up at the 10km mark. The speed of the shells would require two and a half seconds to travel that distance but the incoming missiles speed meant they'd impact in two. In the first two seconds the railguns engaged three targets. At the end of the next two seconds, the railguns hit one of them, the laser blew another jammer missile out of the sky and the twelve missiles of the Brisbane's first counter-missiles salvo struck. One of Malvinas' missiles tried to fly through a cloud of ball bearings the counter-missiles threw in it's way and disintegrated. Two more missiles suffered similiar fates.
One missile took a burst of depleted uranium slugs that sheared its nose clean off. At 2,000 mph structural failure was total. Ruptured fuel tanks threw out a mist of propellant which was promptly ignited by the still hot engine. An instant later, the main warhead added its energy to the blast. The blast blocked sensors in the area for a good half second and another missile 600 meters behind used the opportunity to alter its course, throwing off the frigates trajectory predictions.
The sprintfire launcher on Vampire was now fully up and counter-missiles erupted from her racks. The Malvinas' missiles threw chaff and flares into the air, the lead missiles covering for those behind until it was destroyed and another took its place. A third jammer missile died as the range came down to 6,000 meters. Another jammer jinked upwards and a burst of energy passed through the space it had just occupied. It decoyed a sprintfire and dodged a counter-missile from the Brisbane but fell prey to a wall of slugs fired from the railguns. At 5,000 meters two isolated missiles veered off towards the towed array, and another was struck by counter-missiles.
As the range continued to decrease the room within the transport shadow the missiles had to maneuver in began to constrict their movement. One missile near the top of the box decided to test if the far escort would risk firing directly over the superstructure of the transport. It dispatched a decoy and when there was no response followed 0.7 seconds later. A flash of light and Brisbane's laser scored its one kill of the battle.
At 3,000 meters the railguns went to independent fire. Two missiles simulteneously blew apart at 2,400 meters as the railguns found them. They were joined by the fifth jammer, dead at the hands of the laser. Another fell to Brisbane's counter-missiles, and yet another to sprintfires launched from the Vampire.
The last moments of the battle were an orgy of fire and counter-measures. Eight missiles were still left travelling at 2,500 mph. Ignoring the warships the missiles homed in on the vulnerable transport. Some were drawn off, most of them were blown out of the sky. The laser killed the last jammer which cleared the air and point blank sprint missile fire promptly downed two more. Another exploded prematurely when it struck a decoy. It was a battle that no human mind could follow as the tide turned back and forth over a period of time measured in milliseconds. Two missiles were still left when the frigate's AI noticed its mistake. One of the missiles it thought drawn off by its towed array flew right over it and kept going. It altered course to bear on the transport and redlined its turbo-ram tapping it for every last shred of speed.
AI's do not panic. A decision tree threw power to the aft railgun. It threatened to burn out the mount but it had less than a second left to track and fire. A strategic evaluation function tripped a threshold value and safeties that prevented firing on fellow ships disengaged. The railgun went to rapid fire, its hypersonic shells trying for the missile. Missed shots tore into the transport but the railgun kept firing. It almost worked.
The ship-killer missile struck the unarmoured transport at a terminal velocity of 2600 mph. The main warhead was a 500kg directional explosive augmented by self-forging armour-piercing projectiles. The blast was concentrated along a verticle axis that cut the transport open like a knife to well below her waterline. An instant later the twenty shaped-charge sub-munnitions scattered by the missile half a second ago engulfed the transport in fire. The blasts tore at her wound and turned her whole flank to ruin. Sshe began to take on water. Within five minutes she would capsize. A minute later there would be no trace that she'd ever existed.
On board Vampire, the VTOL pilot reached the open hanger bay to find his small aircraft waiting for him and the battle all but over. He stood at the edge of the ramp as the cold antarctic air fogged his breath and drove cold needles into his face.The sea stretched out blue and placid but the sky was criss-crossed by contrails. The transport lay in ruins, still in the water a kilometer away. Smoke enshrouded her, staining the sky around her black and the pilot watched as secondary explosions errupted deep inside her hull. The sight hit him like a physical blow. Dumbstruck he could do nothing but watch as the ship burned and sank.
But the battle wasn't -- quite -- over yet.
Vampire and Brisbane fired their own ASW weapons at the spot where radar showed Malvinas' missiles had emerged but she wasn't there anymore. At full power she was more than a kilometer away under a thermal layer towards the ice shelf and safety. The first missiles to splash down carried specialized sensors instead of explosives: a sono-bouy attached by fiber to a float which relayed it's findings to the fleet. The noise-makers and remote torpedoes were waiting for them. But the Pan Pacific vessels also laid a ring of sensors for two kilometers around the area and one of these got a partial reading on the Malvinas before she throtled back on her engines. The second wave of ASW torpedoes entered the water at that point and began their search. The Malvinas carried interceptor torpedoes and the AI's knew it. They moved slowly, cautiously probing the water without giving their own positions away, trying to get a general location on their quarry before deciding which of them would flush the prey into the arms of their waiting bretheren. War beneath the waves was a more sedate affair than on the surface and the game of cat-and-mouse dragged on for more than five minutes with Captain Delgado constantly working his way towards the ice. The torpedo AI's suspected what he was doing which meant the game couldn't last.