The Tenacious groaned and heaved as the engines beat to life several decks beneath Nengyi’s feet. He could tell by the sound and the vibrations what power was being applied to the engines to turn the screws: two-thirds, as the captain had ordered. “All tracks showing the fleet is underway, Captain,” Nengyi heard one of his colleagues at the surface monitoring station report over the radio. A minute later he overheard the crewman say into the radio, “Captain, we have an underwater disturbance reported by USS Detroit at four to nine kilometers, bearing approximately 160.”
At first Nengyi thought what lucky guys at surface monitoring; they have something to look at other than a few boxes and triangles on the Herakles; even if it was just an echo from all of the ships starting up at once, or some school of fish getting spooked out by the sudden activation of the fleet’s engines.
“Lieutenant, I have an air contact at 155 degrees, high speed bearing 300 degrees, shifting between two and ten meters above sea level,” the Herakles monitoring sergeant said to Nengyi.
“What’s its speed, Mr. James?”
“Still calculating…1100 kilometers per hour!”
Nengyi immediately ordered all air defense systems activated and reported the high-speed contact to the bridge.
“HMCS Bangor is attempting to engage with RIMs!” the missile crewman reported hastily. Nengy was already on the interphone with the bridge, yelling into it and hoping someone would acknowledge and issue the order to fire. The Executive Officer received the report, but only after several attempts as the second-in-command struggled to comprehend all of the reports pouring in simultaneously from throughout the ship and the fleet. His voice choked with a sense of overwhelming panic.
There looked to be several puffs of water and fire towards Batam, and then Myolie saw a small flash on one of the ships. Then a second, and another ship beyond it had a white and yellow flash erupt its deck. The water around the two ships seemed to smooth out in an expanding circle, turning the jagged waves into a shallow bowl. Seconds later, as the black smoke began to rise from the ships, she heard a low snap and thunder.
The mystery objects that Myolie had observed, like a deer might stare at a sparkling rifle scope reflecting the dawn sunlight, were YJ-8 anti-ship missiles launched out of the torpedo tubes of a People’s Republic of China’s Army Navy Type 039A diesel submarine. The PLAN SSK Yuan-class submarine, the Yunnan, had traveled from its port in Hainan several weeks before and had laid silently on the seabed, crammed with food, water, and oxygen tanks in a seabed crevice near the north shore of Batam Island, Indonesia. The Yunnan had slipped into the Strait amongst several commercial container ships before the Strait had been closed to merchant traffic – and before the ASW net had been established. Unmoving, with no nuclear reactor’s cooling system to give away its position, the submarine blended in with the seabed. Final orders had come from Beijing just hours before: Terracotta warriors arise! It was the coded message for the Yunnan to attack the South Pacific Fleet. Enthusiastically obeying orders, the submarine spat out one after another of its six-meter long anti-ship missiles as well as Yu-7 torpedoes.
On the MBS, some people screamed, while others just ooohed in curiosity. The boy asked his uncle what was happened. “Just some test, I bet,” he said, but his forced words pushed through an unbreathing mouth which belied a deeper anxiety. “God, let it be just a test,” he mumbled again while pulling the boy close.
“HMS Bangor and HMCS Winnipeg have been hit!” an enlisted communications operator yelled out in the CIC. Alarms sounded over the intercom while the captain’s voice called all hands to general quarters. The engines rose in pitch as they were pushed to full power.
“Torpedoes in the water!” a sonar operator cried out. The calm of the CIC had been shredded by over a dozen voices yelling out alerts, alarms, bearings, speeds, altitudes, warnings, and fear.
“Lieutenant,” one of the weapons operators called, “I have multiple fast-moving sea-skimming missiles headed in our direction.” The chief weapons officer was a few meters away looking at the Bangor and Winnipeg on the surface radar, so it was up to Nengy to make a decision. Unlike many of the other ships in the fleet, the RSS Tenacious did not have a close-in weapon system such as the Rolling Airframe Missile or the CIWS Phalanx gun, and its only defense was the French Aster 30 long-range missile intended for targets much farther away. Still, it was better to fire than to sit like a sleeping duck, and the Tenacious’ fleet assignment was air defense.
“Launch two Asters and fire smoke, chaff and flares!” Nengy ordered. His job was air defense; a different Lieutenant would have to deal with the torpedoes.
The ship rocked as two of the 4.9 meter missiles left their vertical launch tubes from the ship’s bow and shot straight into the air, turning and descending as they corrected their trajectory to intercept the anti-ship missiles. The air around the ship exploded with smoke and flame, as canisters released aluminum foil to confuse the Chinese anti-ship missiles’ seeker radars, with smoke and flares added to the mix to confuse anyone trying to track the ship visually through a periscope or on shore with binoculars. The ship shook again, but this time much more vigorously – so much so that Nengy’s body lurched forward and he only prevented himself from falling by grabbing onto one of his subordinate’s chairs. His ring clacked against the chair and his coffee cup that had been sitting next to a console keyboard fell to the ground, its ceramic smashing and the drink spilling all over the floor. The neon red lights flickered several times so that the CIC was only lit by its many LCD’s. The room turned into an alternate world of digital blue uniforms bathed in occasional red glow, with faces colorfully lit up by lines and letters from the dozens of tactical screens.
“Torpedo impact, stern!” a voice hollered several times over the intercom. “Fire control team to the engine room!”
“Should we evacuate, Lieutenant Yew?” one of the missile operators asked, standing up and aiming himself towards the hatch.
“Have you heard the order to abandon ship, sailor? No? Good, then keep your eyes on the scope and your hands on the missile controls!”