Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Dark Waves - Chapter 6 - First Skirmish

Captain gave a very quick salute to Arvind and told him of a level-1 security breach, his immediate presence was awaited on the bridge, the operations center of Aircraft Carrier, in less than ninety seconds. Arvind knew that it was not the time to ask questions, he found himself running towards op center. All crew members on the deck looked into his direction and they ran towards alert positions, that were assigned to each sailor on the carrier. At that very second, an alert siren started blaring with red lights flashing all over the carrier, same scene was being replicated across all five escorts as well. As Arvind entered the bridge, he saw Kunal, the Aircraft Carrier's XO, (Xecutive Officer) second in command shouting orders to bring the Carrier and all her escorts to offensive positions. But there was no reply from any of the escorts, something or someone has jammed their communication with the Carrier.

Arvind did not interrupt his XO, he zipped past him and went straight to navigations unit, where most of the activity was happening. Commander Navigations saw him coming and without wasting any second, he started with the briefing of the situation. Navigations Unit has intercepted a sub-surface vessel which has breached the outer security perimeter around the Carrier and since then they have not been able to communicate to any of the escorts. Intruder vessel has not responded to any communication they had tried from their end, it was moving towards the carrier with triple the fastest speed of any known submerged vessel. Soviet submarine of Papa Class. K-162 was known to have clocked the fastest speed till date, 50 Knots. It was in 1969. Since, then no submerged vessel could even come close to K-162. However, this intruder was clocking more than 170 Knots and it was still accelerating.

Just then, a dead console came to life and there was a blip in it, someone was trying to communicate with the Carrier through ultra-secured comms channel via satellite. It was INS Shakti, protecting the carrier from sub-surface vessel, which at this point of time was this fast moving intruder. It was the most pleasant voice, Arvind ever wanted to hear at this point of time, it was Lubin, Commanding Officer of nuclear-attack submarine INS Shakti. Arvind came to the comms console as Lubin filled the bridge with the information about the intruder vessel. It was a 1000 ton submarine, now clocking almost 180 knots and refusing to identify itself, it was all silent except that vociferous speed with which it was approaching the CSG. Its radar signature did not match with any active submarine from any of the major navies of the world. Lubin was now running a scan through second-fiddle navies around the globe, and then a match came on the display. This match showed the intruder vessel with same radar signature, as an obsolete whiskey class submarine from erstwhile Soviet Union. The only navy in the world which still operated this obsolete submarine was North Korea. But it was impossible for a vintage whiskey class submarine to achieve such a phenomenal speed; neither North Korea nor whiskey class had the capability to do this. Nothing was making sense to this under-water chaos.

As the intruder vessel breached the inner-most security perimeter of CSG, Lubin ordered for the strike. Immediately, two wake homing torpedoes were fired towards the intruder, five seconds later two more torpedoes were fired. Lubin expected the intruder to retaliate but he was surprised to see that intruder vessel had changed its course and was now rushing away from the CSG. Lubin knew that every action from the intruder, right from the very beginning was intentional and calculated. He fired some orders to his comms unit and a minute later a console was connected to GAGAN, GPS Aided Geo Augmented Navigation, Indian version of GPS and GLONASS. Unfortunately for intruder vessel, though its speed was too high for INS Shakti to follow it but its depth from the sea-surface was not deep-enough for an eye-in-the-sky. An encrypted message sent from INS Shakti has caused a movement in one of the satellite from GAGAN constellation. In less than three minutes, image of intruder vessel was visible on the console. She was moving with the same high speed, however, interestingly it was moving away from North Korea, into the open Indian Ocean.

Lubin made a comms to INS Vikrant's bridge and Arvind came online. After a quick discussion, two Kamov's were made airborne to the co-ordinates sent by GAGAN. At the same time, four other comms consoles came back to life, INS Vikrant was now again connected to its four surface escorts, its comms unit has reset the communication channels, which had been jammed by the intruder vessel. Guided Missile Frigate INS Shivalik was asked to follow the same co-ordinates, and provide support to two Kamov's, which were already on their way.

Hundreds of knots away, deep in Indian ocean, a naval ship was floating idle. It was a 25,000 ton Kunlun Shan, an amphibious vessel of PLA Navy of China. North Korean submarine Najin was heading towards Kunlun Shan, to a definite head-on collision.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dark Waves - Chapter 5

Arvind was enjoying his tea all alone, each and every person around knew how much he loved this after-noon tea, almost all communications, unofficially, used to wait until the tea-party was over. Often, he preferred to have his tea alone, walking by himself from one end to the other, distance was around 260 metres. Gently swaying surface under him was the most pleasing aspect of this evening walk, though, most of the common people would term the feeling as sea-sickness, he would always laugh at this term. As a Commanding Officer of INS Vikrant, he was from the rare breed of those who felt more comfortable in the ocean, rather than on dry land. INS Vikrant, the lead ship of Vikrant Class Aircraft Carriers was a 50,000 ton behemoth, the acres of Indian Sovereign Territory roaming freely across international waters keeping a close watch on enemies of the state. At any point of time, her deck was glistening from a squadron each of Mig-29K and Tejas, supported by 10 Kamov-31 submarine hunting helicopters. Though, she had number of defensive options to protect herself from hostile forces, however, with four armed-to-teeth escorts around her, it was not a good idea to come near her with hostile intentions. Out of four escorts, two were project 15A destroyers, INS Kolkata and INS Kochi, with 7000 tons of displacement, equipped with Brahmos cruise missile; this was a missile which could send chill across the spine of an adversary. It was the only super-sonic cruise missile which had been deployed, that too on just one class of naval ships around the globe, that was Kolkata Class of Guided Missile Destroyers. Other two escorts were project 17 Guided Missile Frigates, INS Shivalik and INS Sahyadri, the specialist of ASW ( anti-submarine warfare ), while destroyers were more focussed to neutralise air-threats, frigates had another responsibility, look for sub-surface threats, the enemy submarines.These 5,000 ton vessels were unique for their stealth features; they were meticulously designed to avoid detection by radars and sonars of enemy submarines. This was a CSG (Carrier-Strike-Group) of Southern Naval Command.

Most of the Vikrant Carrier-Strike-Group was home-ported at Kochi, it was Southern Naval Command. Out of seven vessels of the CSG, five had Kochi as their home-port. From the two remaining vessels, INS Aditya was a 35,000 ton Naval Tanker, home-ported at Karwar on west coast .It was an integral part of the CSG, as it provided fuel, replenishments along with maintenance to this CSG. However, the last and the seventh vessel of the CSG was not dependent on INS Aditya for its fuel supply because it was a nuclear-powered attack submarine, INS Shakti, the lead vessel of Shakti Class. It was a 5000 ton silent hunter killer submarine responsible for elimination of sub-surface threats to CSG. She was home-ported to Rambilli on east coast.

The area of operations for this CSG from southern naval command was spread across an arc starting from Madagascar to Sri Lanka, where lies-in-between, the nations of Mauritius, Seychelles and Maldives. Anything in Arabian Sea was the head-ache of CSG with INS Vikramaditya as its flag-ship, while for the Bay of Bengal it was CSG with INS Viraat, sister ship of INS Vikrant, as its flag-ship. These two fleets, Arabian Fleet and Bengal Fleet were heavily focussed towards the two major adversaries, Pakistan and China. At any given point of time, at least three CSGs remained battle ready, while one Aircraft Carrier went in refit, as right now INS Vinayak was in dry-docks for a routine six-month refit at Karwar. In actual terms, CSG with INS Vikrant was the actual ocean going blue-water fleet; it was provider of maritime security across vast expanse of Indian Ocean, a very important constituent of Indian diplomacy for its look-east policy targeted towards countries of south east Asia. However, there was one other major task of this CSG and that was intelligence gathering and surveillance, keeping a close watch on enemy naval ships and submarines, passing through Indian Ocean.

At a distant, Arvind could see another flotilla of Indian Navy with a giant vessel at the center, but it was not an aircraft carrier, it was INS Airavat, a 28,000 ton Amphibious Carrier moving with its ASG (Amphibious Strike Group). As per the communications last night, after conclusion of an exercise with Russian Navy, this ASG was moving back from Andaman Nicobar Islands to its deployment region of Lakshadweep. With two Delhi class destroyers and two Talwar class frigates, even this ASG was a formidable one. Further, it was not without air cover, it had six Sea-Harriers VSTOL aircrafts on its deck to provide air cover to itself. However, the role of ASG was different than CSG, it was used for invasion of enemy territory by dropping the soldiers on their territory, either by troop-carrier helicopters or landing crafts. The Sea-Harrier aircrafts, INS Airavat carried was not for strike purpose, but they were for the defence of the ASG from enemy aircrafts.

At one point, INS Airavat was so close to INS Vikrant that Arvind was able to wave to Sunil Kamath, the Commanding Officer of INS Airavat. Arvind raised his cup of tea, in reply Sunil raised his vodka bottle, it was not his fault, sun was already on its down-course. Moreover, the stressful exercise Sunil had with Russian Heavy Cruiser Pyotr Velikyy has drained him of his energy. In the exercise Russian Cruiser had managed to sink half of his ASG but at the very end, two of the Sea-Harriers managed to score four direct-hits to the Cruiser. Russians were so annoyed to lose at the last-minute of the exercise and that had brought a huge respite to Sunil. Before, the two Sea-Harriers could land on INS Airavat, Sunil was done writing recommendations for those two pilots. He was a battle-hardened marine, not to take a defeat that easily, a bottle of pure Russian vodka presented to him by young Russian crew was must after the conclusion of such a stressful exercise.

As Sunil's ASG moved away from Arvind's CSG, a captain came running towards Arvind, it was still two sips left in his mug. As Captain came close, Arvind noticed that captain's face had gone white, he was sweating heavily. However, this sweat was not because of his running across the deck, it was because of a fear that has spread all over his face. Something was wrong somewhere, and it was very very wrong.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Dark Waves - Chapter 4

It was a regular day at Skylark, four customers had checked out and one customer had checked in by the lunch time. Akshay was feeling little tired today as he has stretched himself a little more on his regular morning jog alongside a canal which was at a stones throwaway from the hotel. Though it has been more than a year when he was thrown out of SFF but he was still in a pretty good shape, he has been regular at a small and the only gymnasium in town.

It was just past midnight, as he was busy going through the occupancy register, through the corner of his eyes, he noticed that there was a movement at the end of the gallery. It was nothing usual to have movement in the gallery at this hour of night, except it was at the door of the last room. The most luxurious room by the hotel standard, which was not available for any guest, it always remained booked. Arshad told him so and that was the end of the discussion, he did not ask more, Arshad did not tell more. But today, there was a movement, someone has gone into that room. Akshay's SFF training made him recall all the people who has crossed the reception desk in past 60 seconds. It was just two people, one was the guard of the hotel and the other person has been a middle-aged man with casual clothing, he was dressed so as not to draw any unwanted attention to himself.

First feeling that came was to ignore any happenings related to the room, as Arshad has requested. But Akshay's instinct were telling him that something was wrong. With a flash he removed his shoes and made a silent walk towards the end of the gallery. Once he reached at the end, he stood close to the door, stretching himself as if he was just taking a casual walk out of bore-dom. But his ears were active, aimed towards that door, trying to hear something, anything. He waited for a minute, nothing, its just when he started to move, he heard a muffled cry. A cry coming from a gagged mouth of a female. He sprung back like a cat, in a flash master key was inside the door knob, exact 2 seconds later he was in the room.

A woman was sitting on the bed, her mouth gagged, hands tied behind her back. A man was standing in front of him, with a semi-automatic, a Type 54. He was a man of chinese origin, at most in his thirties. Both of them were suprised by this sudden entry. A moment later the initial suprise of Akshay's entry into the room was over. Without any inhibition man pulled the trigger on him in a flash, a reflexive dive behind a wooden sofa saved Akshay. With a lightening speed, Akshay took the metal ash-tray from a table beside the sofa and sent it flying towards man's forehead. As man took an evasive measure to save himself from the ash-tray, the woman hit the chinese man's knee cap from her boot with her full force. Chinese man groaned hard before hitting the floor, it was not just a kick, it was a well calculated kick to break the knee cap. Chinese man now sprawled on the floor, aimed his Type 54 towards the woman, but a fist came thundering to his temple and his semi-auto went flying. Akshay quickly grabbed the pistol and as he turned back just in time, he saw that Chinese has taken out another Type 54 from his jacket and was about to shoot the woman. Akshay, who was now back to his full reflexes, pulled the trigger twice before Chinese could take the next breath. There was no sound, neither from semi-auto nor from Chinese, Type 54 with silencer has silenced the Chinese. Akshay's brain was working over-time, he was trying to comprehend all the happenings of past few minutes, he expected a volcano to burst at this place but not anything like this, he has just witnessed. It was such a small town with bare minimum facilities, nothing of a strategic value was there within 100 kms of radius. But then this is what made this town an ideal place, if you want to lie low for sometime either after fireworks or in a more chilling possibility, before fireworks, it was a place to be. Akshay recalled, that in his last minute, chinese aimed for that woman and not Akshay, even when Akshay had the pistol aimed towards chinese, that means only one thing, this woman was a very high target to someone, who has marked her.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dark Waves - Chapter 3

BSF Jeep came to a rude hault at Udhampur Railway Station. His luggage was thrown out of the Jeep and one BSF Jawaan spoke in his loud voice, as if he was addressing the gathered crowd which was surprised to see how an officers luggage was thrown out by his subordinates. Jawaan humiliated Akshay in front of the crowd, marking him as a traitor to his country and as the unofficial protocol, took out his knife and ripped apart an official SFF uniform, which till few days back belonged to Akshay Rajput.

This was starting of a nightmarish life for Akshay. He was shoved by the crowd, not allowed to board the train. it was just a beginning. He travelled by road, hitching rides across numerous modes of transport and took a week to reach his home town. As soon as he reached his home town at Saharanpur, a crowd of youngsters seem to be waiting at his home entrance, abuses were hurled, garbage was thrown on him and front of his house had been blackened and with red paint a single word was shining - Traitor. Akshay found himself walking away from his home, his only shelter at the moment. He was chased by some teenagers who still continued to throw garbage on him, he kept walking. For hours, he was now walking, walking to nowhere.

It has been 30 kms, he has been walking down the road, it was a state highway connecting Saharanpur city to New Delhi, capital of India. He had been running without food and water for days now, finally his body gave up and he collapsed. Three hours had passed when he opened his eyes again, he found himself in a small room, he was lying on a twin-bed. As he tried to grasp where he was, he sensed he was in a small room, small but neat and tidy. As he sat up in the bed, a man came in, he was a middle-aged man, may be 35, before Akshay could ask anything, he started. He said his name was Arshad and he was the owner of a small hotel, Skylark. He found Akshay lying on the road, he brought him to his hotel and he has been attended by a Doctor, who has given him some medication. Its been 3 hours and he was in Nanauta. A small town 30 kms from Saharanpur.

Akshay thanked Arshad for all his help, he started to get up but there was not enough strength in him, may be the lack of rest, or may be that sheer trauma he was going through since last week. Arshad helped him lie down and informed that Doctor has advised at least one week rest. Akshay told him that he is penniless and would not be able to pay even a single rupee towards the hotel expenses. Arshad smiled and told him that he can not leave the hotel until he recovers completely. As for the expenses, they will be taken care of. It was Holy month of Ramzan.

Once Akshay recovered completely, he asked Arshad if he can help him to get a job. Arshad offered him a job at front desk so that he can use his language skills to speak to customers in english. Though, Akshay did not come across any customer who came to Skylark and wanted to speak in english.

Eight months went by, Akshay Rajput who was once a Naval Fighter Pilot and then a Commanding Officer of Special Frontier Forces was now contented with his life at front desk of Skylark.
However, little did he know that his life was not contented with him.