Days of Burning, Days of Wrath – Snippet 25
This morning, a two-man Condor sat on the deck, with eleven more resting behind it. The gliders sat on lightweight rolling frames. The frames might be recovered, when the gliders launched, but they were just as likely to go into the sea. No matter; they were cheap and easily replaced.
The Condors were highly stealthy auxiliary propelled gliders developed by the Legion’s Obras Zorilleras. Stealthiness, in this case, was not achieved with precision manufacture, based on advanced engineering, itself derived from complex calculations. No; stealth here was acquired randomly.
Of the three normal primary factors that affect an aircraft’s radar cross section, size, materials, and shape, the Condor made little deliberate use of the first and the last. True, they were not large, and that helped. It was also true that they had no sharp edges and no flat surfaces. These, however, were incidental. For size, although it is the least important factor, if two aircraft have exactly the same materials and shape, but are of different size, the larger will have a greater radar cross section. For shape, the important things are to have no sharp edges, no flat surfaces pointed toward the radar. These things, however, accrued to the design by virtue of them being gliders, and had little deliberate stealth to them.
Instead, it was in something of a perversion of the normal rules for materials that the Condors acquired their stealthiness. The short version as that they were built, at core, of a radar absorbing carbon fiber and resin shell, around which had been built up a thick layer of decreasingly dense foam in which were suspended hundreds of thousands of tiny, radar-scattering concave-convex chips. The shell, being “lossy,” absorbed incoming radar and converted it to heat. The chips either scattered incoming radar or concentrated and then scattered it. Very, very small percentages of the radar energy would ever return to the sender.
So far, whether in scouting or bombing the tactical enemies, carrying messengers and senior leaders, bombing the Tauran Union on their home turf, bombing Cienfuegos, killing foreign dignitaries and even chiefs of state, delivering a nuclear weapon, or, indeed, scouting the United Earth Peace Fleet’s Atlantis Base, the amount of radar returned had never yet been enough to permit detection. Moreover, since the process of applying the foam was random, every Condor was tested for radar return and then assigned to a particular duty based on mission, with the most stealthy being used for the most important missions, and the least as throwaways for less important ones. A lot of very expensive missiles could be expended on birds before a first-class Condor was identified and engaged.
It didn’t go without saying, because it had never been so much as whispered outside of the most secure facility in Balboa, or aboard a ship, that the twenty-four crew and four stand-bys selected from the Fourteenth Cazador Tercio for the mission were among the most capable, more determined, gutsiest men in Balboa. Moreover, they’d been preparing for years.
Awaiting launch, two of those men sat in the lead Condor; Tribune Cherensa, the mission commander and one of the oldest still active Cazadors in the Legion, plus the pilot, Cazador Sergeant Leon. Both wore combination intercom and oxygen masks.
The launch method had been a subject of much thought, as had the payload. For the latter, it had been argued that two five-hundred-pound bombs would have been more effective against a block in the UEPF’s perimeter defenses than three hundred pounds of men and two hundred of equipment and ordnance. The question had never gone up to Carrera. Instead, Omar Fernandez and the legate of Fourteenth Cazador had decided, together, that a bomb was good for one place and one time, if everything went right, but that men, good men, were flexible enough to deal with anything.
To amuse himself while waiting, Cherensa mentally recited the Legion’s definition of Special Operations: “Special operations are those small unit actions, the geopolitical, strategic, or operational importance of which, and the price for failure in which, are so high that they justify the early identification and special training of extraordinary human material and the continuing expenditure of relatively lavish levels of money and materiel.”
Well, thought the tribune, this being the first blow in the “First Interstellar War,” it probably counts as special enough.
Cherensa’s reveries were interrupted by one of the deck crew, holding out an inquisitorial thumbs up, head half turned away. The pilot, sitting up front, returned it. The deck crewman made a kind of “after you, Madam,” bow. The Condor began to thrum and vibrate as Leon started the small jet engine and fed it fuel. The engine also gave off a whine that Cherensa found distinctly annoying.
The Condor also began to move, slowly at first, and then picking up speed. Still, it was all very gentle. Between the wind coming from the bow, half natural and half from the forward movement of the ship, it seemed to be mere seconds before Cherensa felt the thing lift off the cradle. He didn’t have the chance to see deck crew race out to drag the cradle out of the way.
The ship wasn’t pointed quite at the target, so almost immediately after takeoff, Leon had to veer a bit to keep the glider between the island, and any thermal detecting defenses it might have, and the engine.
“Is number two behind us, yes?” Leon asked.
Cherensa turned to look. A curse died unspoken as he saw the other glider rise to take up position behind and to the right of his own. “They’re in place,” he answered.
“Okay, increasing speed, sir. Please let me know if they start to fall behind. Also, if you can tell me about number three?”
Leon kept track of altitude as the Condor arose. At twelve thousand feet he reached over and turned a dial to provide one liter of oxygen per minute to each mask. Cherensa didn’t consciously notice any change.
Shortly after turning on the oxygen, Leon announced, “Sixteen thousand feet, sir; I’m killing the jet and leveling off.”
After the long climb, leveling off felt like falling to the tribune. “Roger,” he said, then asked, “how long before the engine gets cool enough to retract?”
“No more than twenty minutes, but I’ll give it thirty to be safe.”
“Good. I like safe.”
“Me, too, boss; me, too. Is number two conforming? Number three?”
Again Cherensa twisted about and watched the trail gliders for a few moments before reporting, “Yes.”
Condors, especially when purely gliding, were slow. They were also, absent turbulence, extraordinarily smooth riding. In other words they were…
Boring, boring, boring, thought Cherensa. I’d probably go to sleep except that we have essentially no idea of what’s waiting.
Cherensa pulled out the target folder from its pocket on the front of his silk and liquid metal lorica, the legions’ standard torso armor. He turned a page and looked at a map on the left and a photo on the right thinking, Defenses. All strategic recon could figure out was that there were domes around the perimeter of Atlantis Base. They’re well positioned to be defenses, but we don’t know what kind, or even if they are. Fernandez’s best guess – and I agree with him – is that they’re probably anti-aircraft and anti-missile defense, mostly with the Federated States in mind.
The next page was labeled “Landing Field Conditions.” Sadly, it was blank except for a photo that was too fuzzy to be remotely useful.
He turned another page and scanned for the umpteenth time for “Enemy Personnel. Not like it’s going to have changed since last night. Vehicles were spotted carrying people to and fro, but what they did there or how many were stationed there…no clue. We could make an educated guess about how many might be stationed on the single visible floors below the domes – maybe six or seven, not more than that – but we don’t have a clue how many floors deep down into the ground they go. We don’t know how well trained they are. We don’t know how they’re armed. We don’t know if they have defenses for poison gas. We have an idea of how long it will take to reinforce them, because we think there are company-sized barracks, maybe five kilometers away from the four we’re going after.
On the other hand, if we and the other three mission packages succeed in taking out the defenses, those reinforcements won’t matter, because the ALTA is going to pour missiles through the gap and obliterate anything that looks like a possible defense or barracks within minutes of our reporting in.
But, for that to happen…
Cherensa’s thoughts were interrupted by a clank and a shudder.
“Tell me, Leon, that that was just the jet being retracted.”
“Yes, Tribune, just that.”
“Great. In the future, let me know, okay?”
“Yes, centurion. Sorry, centurion.”
“How long until we hit now?”
After a brief delay, Leon answered, “About an hour and ten minutes.”