Tuesday, May 9, 2023

Roger Thompson's Anti-Clancy Quest.

And I support this quest by the extraordinary Canadian author of a number of very influential military books, such as his, now legendary and prescient: 

Roger asked me to endorse this book, which I was privileged to do--you can read about Roger and his endorsements, including from such people as no less late Admiral Elmo Zumwalt at Thompson's blog. Now, he graciously allowed me to repost his yet another excellent observation from his site at Linkedin. Here it is. 

Tom Clancy Never Talked About Belgian Fighters Attacking the USS John F. Kennedy - But I will!

I'm a research fellow at Dalhousie University, an acclaimed former NDHQ researcher, an author, a Star Trek professor and a record-breaking part-time freelance writer seeking full-time freelance writing projects.

By Roger Thompson

When most American militarists think of allies like Belgium, if they ever do, beyond the fact that NATO has its HQ in Brussels, they probably think of it as a supposedly weak European welfare state, with little to no military capability, and dependent on US protection. At the same time, when they think of the US Navy’s supercarriers, they most likely talk like Tom Clancy, who said in 1999, “Naval forces generally provide presence. Carrier groups, though, dominate an area for hundreds of miles/ kilometers in every direction, including near-earth space. While a frigate or destroyer impresses everyone who sees it, a carrier group can change the balance of military and political power of an entire region.” (Kindle Locations 283-285).

I am here to tell you neither is really true, and the reason I know this is because I just read the 2017 book F-4 Phantom: A Pilot’s Story by former RAF pilot Robert Prest. Early in the book, Prest describes an exercise in the early 1970s involving the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy. He was providing protection for the carrier in his Phantom and was contacted by the ship to investigate an incoming contact that might be a threat. He put it like this: “‘Four-three … er … we have a contact … er … bearing 060, eighty miles, suspected faker, request you ident, over’.” He acknowledged, and the story continued “The voice comes from deep in the bowels of United States carrier John F. Kennedy, flagship of the task force that is making its way south down the English Channel to rendezvous with another convoy of warships before the final battle. It is a big juicy target for any marauding Bear pilot and his Kangaroo missile. That is why I am here; to guard and protect. Our squadron will maintain a twenty-four-hour CAP for the three days it takes the fleet to transit our Air Defence territory. This is part and parcel of our main role, maritime air defence. Now those few words from the controller in the bowels of the JFK, that little green blip on his smokey radar tube, spells trouble approaching for the ships.” (p. 16)

Upon investigation and identification, a flight of Belgian Air Force F-104 Starfighters were headed directly for the carrier. He contacted the Kennedy and reported: “‘Hey, we’ve got ten … no, twelve of them heading straight for you!’ The controller wasted no time. ‘Okay, hold them off, we’ll send you everything we’ve got! All Buzzard aircraft vector 070 and buster, bogeys twelve-strong heading inbound …’ I only half hear this because I am busy fighting for my life. I have loosed off two Sparrows at two 104s that drifted into my gunsight before a startled squawk from the rear seat sends me into a 5-G break. These guys are no fools. They have stationed two of their number in three-mile trail and well spread to cater for just such an attack, and now these two are homing in fast and smoking.” (p. 19)

In moments, the defenders tried to deal with the attacking aircraft from Belgium, but were not successful. “So now Phantoms wearing the colours of RAF, US Marines, US Navy, are all joined as one in hot pursuit of the enemy, all with ‘burners blazing as we weave and duck, zoom and dive back down. We penetrate the carrier’s Missile Engagement Zone and the controller is frantically calling on his fighters to haul off or suffer at the hands of his trigger-happy gun and missile crews, but this is peace-time, a war game, and so we ignore him. The Belgians (for that is who they are) are bent on laying their bombs on the carrier and we are bent on harassing them as long as possible to upset their aim, and so in one great gaggle we burn towards the carrier standing out fortress-like in the sea. We are at deck height, easing up slightly to avoid the parked aircraft and weaving madly either side of the aerial studded island. The last impression as we race over is of a huge deck littered with aircraft equipment and at sea of upturned faces gazing up at this aerial madness of a battle rushing past a few feet above their heads, deafening, thrilling. On the other side, the enemy, their attack completed, all turn port and arc skywards in a left-handed zoom for the sanctuary of the clouds now at 10,000 feet above the carrier.” (pp. 19-20)

The Belgians had flown in at low altitude, 300 feet, and they caused a genuine panic and probably would have sunk the carrier had they been at war. Luckily this was a peace-time exercise, but it demonstrates that Clancy was wrong, that carriers are vulnerable, and that the Belgian Air Force should be respected. Goliaths should respect the capabilities of the Davids in the world and not let hubris and the belief that they are superior to others cloud their judgment because, sometimes, the little guy wins.


Tom Clancy. Carrier: A Guided Tour of an Aircraft Carrier. Berkley Books. Kindle Edition. 

Robert Prest. F-4 Phantom: A Pilot's Story. Silvertail Books. Kindle Edition.

Remarkably, this piece by Roger very well fits with what I say in my latest video today on Victory Day. War IS NOT Hollywood, nor is it an amateurish belletristic writing hellbent on masturbating on military technology. No, war is a horrifying and deadly business as latest events demonstrated so well. That is why Russian military professionals laughed when reading late Clancy's fantasies completely detached from understanding operational and strategic matters. I will post my video later today, but for now enjoy Roger Thompson's excellent writing.

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