The Japanese should have looked East

Saturday, December 14th, 2019

In Ghost Fleet, the Americans should have looked up. The Japanese should have looked East:

The U.S.-Japanese combined air-defense network was designed for a threat from China, to the west. And east was where Denisov and his twenty-two other fighter-bombers had launched from the Admiral Kuznetsov.

The Russian aircraft carrier was believed to be on exercises in the North Pacific, out of range of Chinese airstrikes. In fact, it had waited for a gap in satellite coverage and darted south at thirty knots for eight hours, moving just within the strike package’s range.

The MiGs flew in fast and low, and, once they were over Japan, they popped up to mimic the flight paths that commuter jets took from Narita Airport.


Denisov’s radio picked up the frantic calls of the air traffic controller. He hit the button and a digital recording began to play. It sounded like gibberish to him, but the FSB officer back on the Kuznetsov had been clear about the need to play it at just this moment.

To the air traffic controller on the ground, it sounded like the pilot of one of Sony’s executive jets was having a heart attack.

As the MiGs passed Miyazaki and turned again toward the Ryukyu Islands, it was clear that the defenses were finally onto them. Denisov’s radar scope showed four Japan Air Self-Defense Force F-15s were vectoring as fast as they could, but they wouldn’t get there in time. The ruse had bought Denisov only a few minutes, but it should be enough.


He expected losses today, but also success. His latest imagery of one of his targets showed just eleven U.S. aircraft parked inside their hardened hangars. Dozens remained out in the open, as usual.

The MiGs dove to low altitude and pushed forward to their full sea-level velocity of nearly fifteen hundred kilometers per hour, well over the speed of sound. The new MiG-35Ks were called fourth-generation-plus fighters by the Americans. They weren’t fully stealthy, but they had a significantly reduced radar signature.

Each second counted now. When the jets neared Okinawa, Denisov’s radar-warning receiver lit with a pulsing red icon. The Patriot IV missile batteries that the Japanese had acquired from the Americans were tracking his low-flying fighter. They had him in their sights and could knock him down at will.

This was a crucial component of the plan. He took a deep breath and waited, telling himself that the missiles were threats only if someone pushed the launch button. Japan’s Air Self-Defense Forces, however, were not authorized to fire on targets without permission from that country’s civilian leadership. The gamble was that permission wouldn’t come in time. Two decades of near-daily airspace incursions by Chinese aircraft would have desensitized the Japanese, plus their communications networks were supposed to have been knocked offline by cyber-attacks. At least, that was the plan.


The only sounds on the radio this time were digital recordings of the voices of American F-22 Raptor pilots copied by a surveillance ship that had monitored the RIMPAC war games held each year off Hawaii. Anything to create uncertainty and delay the Japanese and American response by just a few more seconds.

The silent progress of an icon in his jet’s heads-up display told him he had arrived: Kadena Air Base. His war started here.

A flash of movement caught Denisov’s eye as four dark gray darts raced ahead of his squadron. It was a volley of Sokols (Falcons)29 fired by his second flight. A sort of miniaturized cruise missile, the electromagnetic weapon used pulses of directed energy to knock out air-defense and communications systems. Following a preprogrammed course, the flight of Falcon missiles separated, each leaving a swatch of electronic dead zone behind it.

If his flight’s opening shots were silent, the next wave of destruction would be deafening. Denisov released four RBK-500 cluster bombs30 over the unprotected U.S. Air Force planes parked near the base’s three-and-a-half-kilometer-long runway. As he banked his MiG, he caught a glimpse of an F-35A Lightning II31 being towed out of its hangar in a rush to confront him. His MiG was designed to be a match for the F-35, and the pilots of both had always wondered how the planes would actually stack up against each other. It would have to wait for some other time. The RBK canisters opened up behind Denisov’s plane, releasing hundreds of cluster bomblets, each the size of a beer can. Tiny parachutes deployed and the cans drifted toward the ground.

When proximity fuses detected that they were ten meters from the ground, the cans exploded, one after another. Hundreds of explosions ripped across the air base, blowing open scores of the U.S. Air Force’s most advanced fighters.

Denisov’s wingman made the next run and dropped three penetrating anti-runway bombs. The hardened tips of the massive bombs buried themselves almost five meters into the runway’s concrete and then detonated with more than fifteen hundred kilograms’ worth of explosives. While the limited number of American jets protected in hardened hangars might survive Denisov’s bombs, none would be taking off from the biggest U.S. air base in the Pacific for days, if not weeks.

Six kilometers away, the flight’s two trailing MiG-35Ks split past each other and then banked back hard as they raced toward the center of an imaginary X. That X was located in the middle of the largest U.S. Marine Corps base in Japan.


At the imaginary point of their crossing lines, the MiGs dropped four KAB-1500S thermobaric bombs, each weighing just over thirteen hundred kilograms. The bombs opened to release a massive cloud of explosive vapor, which was then ignited by a separate charge. It was the largest explosion Japan had experienced since Nagasaki, and it left a similar mushroom cloud of smoke and dust hanging over the base as the jets flew away.


He wasn’t sure the Americans would appreciate the irony of the Russians following the same plan of attack the Americans had used on the Japanese some eighty years earlier, but Plan Doolittle had worked.


That was the other part they’d copied from the raid the Americans had pulled back in the early months of their previous war in the Pacific: by coming in from an unexpected approach and making it a one-direction flight, they could strike at twice the range the enemy believed possible.

The Russian navy had held up its end; now it had to trust that the Chinese aerial refueling tankers would be there as promised.

T. Greer recently asked, At what point is defending Japan no longer worth it?


  1. Kirk says:

    I always have problems with these Tom Clancy-esque little wankfests that these guys come up with. They rarely ever reflect any form of military reality that I’ve personally experienced.

    For example–Russian carriers? It is to fucking laugh. Does nobody have an appreciation for the complexity of simply getting aircraft off the deck, or noticed the complete lack of a functioning carrier in Russian hands, these days?

    The Russians can’t even keep a fucking drydock afloat; they nearly sunk the Admiral Kuznetsov when that went down, and only by the grace of a humorous God did they not lose the carrier–Which they recently set on fire.

    The Russians ain’t pulling off no Pearl Harbor attack. You want to posit a realistic threat to world welfare coming off the Russians, you’d best be thinking more along the lines of Chernobyl or what happened at Sayano-Shushenskaya, where Russian competence managed to create the conditions for a hydroelectric dam to catastrophically self-disassemble it’s turbine hall.

    Russia is not going to ever pull off something like Pearl Harbor or the Port Arthur attacks. They lack the essential competence to do anything like that, down where it matters, where you have to have a thousand different guys operating in unity and competence. You want a metaphor for Russia, look no further than Tsushima, Chernobyl, or that piece of shit they swindled the Indians into buying. The only thing that allows the Russians to win their wars is their massive capacity to suffer, which they have to have due to their own incompetence and essential inability to cope with anything requiring self-discipline and self-respect. I love Russians, but I hate their culture of self-destruction; WWII should never have happened the way it did, but the pathologies of the Russian soul made it the charnel house it was. It’s unimaginable that any other nation would have tolerated the crap Stalin put them through, but there you are: Russian self-abuse always wins. It’s pathologic, and entirely disturbing to anyone with the remotest respect for human dignity and self-respect. You observe the Russian in their native habitat, and you almost have to conclude that they’re natural serfs, unable to break the mental chains first laid on them by the Tatars and then the Tsars. As such, they’ll never break free and become the competent self-actuating agents that the fantastic ideas of this piece would require. There are reasons that the Soviet air defense network was configured the way it was, with massive investment and reliance on ground control: They couldn’t trust the pilots to act in accordance with the intent of the commanders.

    Compare and contrast the aerial war against ground targets in the East, and then in the West, during WWII: You simply did not see the Soviets doing what the US and British air forces did, with massive self-organized and flexible air-ground operations. When the Soviets went up, it was all to a plan, with little recognition that the plan fails once it contacts reality. You won’t find the massively effective fighter sweeps that destroyed the German railway system happening in the East, and the reason is that the Soviets did not and could not trust their men to have initiative or freedom of operation.

    It’s also why Socialism resonates so strongly with the Russians; being natural slaves, they are more comfortable in that sort of system than in one where they have to fend for themselves. They want Daddy to take care of them, always and forever, and are perfectly willing to submit to the knout in order to achieve that state.

  2. Alistair Morley says:


    I feel exactly the same way about them. Technonerds playing at war.

    It doesn’t help that they get a lot of their precious technology crushingly wrong too.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    I’m inclined to cut the writers of hard SF and techno-thrillers a lot of slack. Call it artistic license. It’s not like anyone’s going to make policy decisions of the basis of their yarns.

    And if it inspires the young-uns to go into STEM, all the better.

  4. Alistair says:

    On the subject of Russian carriers, I note the Kuznetsov has caught fire, again.

    With Russian ass-clownery dialed to maximum, Denisov would be lucky to make it off the deck, IRL.

  5. Graham says:

    When I was a kid in the 70s and early 80s, my dad commented a couple of times about how many fatalities the Soviet space program had had compared with America’s only 3, using it as distilled example of superior American and Western technical competence and professionalism. I think it came up again when he took me to see The Right Stuff. In about 1981.

    Similarly, to the extent these things made the news back then, it was vaguely clear that the Russians had had [as still] a lot more problems with submarine reactors and lost subs in general than the US.

    Kirk (IIRC) made some comments about Russian dam engineering a while back.

    It’s all very convincing, and I have absorbed the Russian incompetence/get-everything-by-stealing paradigm as much as anyone.

    So I also assume that the higher tech the problem and required solution, the more they would f it up. And that technothriller writers really overegg the pudding.

    And yet.

    They can make a lot work when they need to, as much as they need to. They’ve even come up with stuff in the past.

    It’s not that I really think of them as comparable to Germans or Japanese. But consider the other recent threads here and their implications.

    We in Angloworld have often paid the price for this sort of thing:

    France: bunch of effeminate dancing masters. [A distillation once offered by Derbyshire.]

    Germany: stiff necked Prussians with no imagination.

    Japan: sandal-wearing goldfish tenders. [Montgomery Burns].

    Englishmen or Americans have paid a high price for these sorts of assumptions, even in wars those countries ultimately did win.

    So with this, I can’t quite decide where the line is between careless assumption and the reality that it is, after all, still Russia.

    I read Cdr Salamander regularly. I doubt anyone there thinks the US navy has fallen to the level of the Soviet navy, let alone the current Russian navy, but there’s a lot of concern about massive procurement blind alleys over decades, process failures, maintenance standards, manning, training, and crashing ships into things more frequently than in the past.

    They might be in worse physical readiness now than they were on December 6 1941, though perhaps not yet as complacent.

  6. Kirk says:


    I’m not sure I’d want to compare casualties across the Soviet/Russian space program with the US one, these days. After two shuttle disasters, mostly brought on by sheer hubris, and when you examine that Apollo 1 accident… It’s not clear who’s got the better safety record.

    I really ought to clarify the things I say about Soviet/Russian engineering. Some of what they do is damn good, but… There’s a cultural syndrome going on with them that’s clearly there, a disregard for caution and due care, a certain insouciance in the face of Murphy. Chernobyl couldn’t have happened to anyone else, the way it went down. I can’t imagine a bunch of Germans doing that sort of slipshod crap. They’d have an accident, all right, but I lay long odds on their version of Chernobyl happening because they built an overly complicated reactor that went out of control because of a symphony of failures caused by that over-sophistication.

    Culture informs all endeavors. Chernobyl wouldn’t happen anywhere but the Soviet Union, but that doesn’t mean that atomic reactor accidents are solely a Soviet phenomenon. It’s just that that particular failure mode is uniquely Soviet…

    I am pretty sure that I could have you erase all markings on a set of weapons, have you show them to me, and I’d be able to identify pretty damn closely where they came from, based on the quirks of design, and what choices were made. Same-same with the internals on a car, although that’s gotten way more generic and universal. I can still see clear design differences between major sources, though. A German car will still show clear philosophical differences between a Japanese one, in terms of who did the design work, once you’re under the skin. Simple and robust? Probably Japanese. Overly complicated, with scads of specialized tools? German.

  7. Graham says:


    Yes, I think that’s a very convincing set of additions to the issue.

    The Russian failure mode as being able to make things but not caring enough about consequences.

    The Germans as overengineering.

    The US failure mode has a bit of the overengineering too, especially now, but it seems ultimately that the stuff mostly does work very well, the cultural failure mode is to assume it will always be there and cannot be subverted.

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