The Trident Deception is the debut thriller from Rick Campbell about a nuclear submarine that unknowingly receives orders to prepare for missile launch from a rogue organization (available March 11, 2014).
The USS Kentucky—a Trident ballistic missile submarine carrying a full complement of 192 nuclear warheads—is about to go on a routine patrol. Not long after it reaches the open sea, however, the Kentucky receives a launch order. After receiving that launch order, it is cut off from all counter-orders and disappears into the Pacific while it makes the eight-day transit to the launch site. What the Kentucky’s crew doesn’t know is that those launch orders haven’t actually come from the U.S. government.
Rogue elements within the Mossad have learned that Iran has developed its first nuclear weapon and, in ten days, will detonate it—and the target is Israel. The suspected weapon complex is too far underground for conventional weapons to harm it, and the only choice is a pre-emptive nuclear strike. With limited time, this rogue group initiates a long-planned operation called the Trident Deception. They’ll transmit false orders and use a U.S. nuclear submarine to launch the attack.
In this thriller from Rick Campbell, with only 8 days before the Kentucky is in launch range and with the submarine cut off from any outside communication, one senior officer, the father of one of the officers aboard the submarine, must assemble and lead a team of attack submarines to find, intercept and neutralize the Kentucky before it can unknowingly unleash a devastating nuclear attack.
Under normal circumstances, the thirteen men and women seated in the conference room would have been dressed in formal attire, the men wearing crisp business suits, the women turned out in silk blouses and coordinating skirts. They would have struck up lively conversations, attempting to persuade their colleagues to accept one proposal or another, their animated faces reflecting off the room’s varnished chestnut paneling. But tonight, pulled away from their evening activities, they wore sports slacks and shirts, their hair wet and windblown, their faces grim as they sat quietly in their seats, eyes fixed on the man at the head of the U-shaped conference table.
Beads of rain clung to Levi Rosenfeld’s Windbreaker, left there by a spring storm that had settled over the Middle East, expending itself in unbridled fury, sheets of rain descending in cascading torrents. Prime Minister Rosenfeld, flanked by all twelve members of Israel’s National Security Council, fumed silently in his seat as he awaited details of an unprecedented threat to his country’s existence. He wondered how such critical information could have been discovered so late. At the far left of the conference table sat Barak Kogen, Israel’s intelligence minister. Although Kogen was not a member of the Security Council, Rosenfeld had directed him to attend tonight’s meeting to explain the Mossad’s failure.
At the front of the room, a man stood before a large flat-screen monitor. Thin and short, wearing round wire-rimmed glasses, Ehud Rabin’s physical presence failed to reflect the power he wielded as the leader of Israel’s second-strongest political party and as Israel’s defense minister. Ehud waited for Rosenfeld’s permission to begin.
Rosenfeld nodded in his direction.
Pushing his glasses onto the bridge of his nose, Ehud stated what everyone in the room already knew. “The Mossad reports Iran will complete assembly of its first nuclear weapon in ten days.” The lights in the conference room flickered, thunder rumbling in the distance as if on cue.
Rosenfeld looked at his intelligence minister. “Why did we discover this just now, only days before they complete assembly?”
Kogen shifted uncomfortably in his seat, his eyes scanning each member of the Security Council before coming to rest on Rosenfeld. “I apologize, Prime Minister. Nothing is more important than preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. But Iran has deceived us and the rest of the world. We were fortunate to discover the true extent of their progress in time. We will be more vigilant in the future.”
There was something about Kogen’s quick apology rather than stout defense of his Mossad that gave Rosenfeld the impression he was hiding something. But perhaps the evening’s tension was clouding his intuition. He turned back to Ehud. “What are our options?”
Ehud pressed a remote control in his hand, stepping aside as the monitor flickered to life, displaying a map of Iran. “Weapon assembly is occurring at the Natanz nuclear complex.” A flashing red circle appeared two hundred kilometers south of Tehran. “Uranium for additional weapons is being enriched at Isfahan, and plutonium is being produced at their heavy-water plant near Arak.” Two more red circles appeared in central Iran. “Eliminating the facilities at Arak and Isfahan will be easy, but destruction of their weapon assembly complex at Natanz will be impossible with a conventional strike.” The map zoomed in on the Natanz facility, a sprawling collection of innocuous-looking buildings. “Iran has built a hardened complex beneath the Karkas mountains, connected to the main facility by tunnels. While a conventional strike will collapse the tunnels, it cannot destroy the weapon assembly complex.”
“So how do we destroy this facility?”
“Since the complex cannot be destroyed with conventional weapons, that leaves one option.”
Rosenfeld leaned forward in his chair. “What are you proposing?”
Ehud glared at the prime minister. “You know exactly what needs to be done here, Levi. We have a responsibility to protect the citizens of our country. There is no question this weapon will be used against us, either directly or indirectly. We must destroy this facility before Iran completes assembly of this bomb, even if that means we have to employ one of our nuclear weapons.”
The conference room erupted. Some council members passionately agreed with Ehud while others chastised him for proposing such an egregious break in policy. Rosenfeld slammed his fist on the table, silencing the room. “Out of the question! We will not use nuclear weapons unless they are used against us first.”
Ehud’s eyes narrowed. “Then millions of our people will die, because Iran will use this weapon against us. We can either strike now, before our men, women, and children are murdered, or afterward. If we do not strike first, their deaths will be on your conscience.”
The defense minister’s assertion hung in the air as Rosenfeld surveyed his council members, some of them staring back, others with their eyes to the table. Whether they agreed with Ehud or not, they could not avoid the underlying truth.
If Iran assembled this weapon, it would eventually be used against Israel. That was something Israel could not allow. But a nuclear first strike! Although the prime minister and his Security Council had the authority to authorize the use of nuclear weapons, morally …
Rosenfeld looked down one side of the conference table and then the other, examining the faces of the men and women seated around him, eventually returning his attention to Ehud. “Are there are no conventional weapons capable of destroying this complex? Not even in the American arsenal?”
Ehud’s lips drew thin. “The Americans have the necessary weapons. But they will not provide them to us while they engage in discussions with Iran.” Ehud’s voice dripped with disdain as he mentioned America’s attempt to convince Iran to abandon its nuclear ambitions with mere words.
“Do not discount our ally so easily,” Rosenfeld replied. “I will meet with the American ambassador tomorrow and explain the situation.”
“You are blind, Levi.” Ehud’s face tightened. “The Americans have abandoned us, and you fail to recognize it.”
“That’s enough, Ehud! Provide me with the information on the weapons we need, and I will broach this with the United States.”
Ehud nodded tersely.
Rosenfeld stood. “Unless there is more to discuss, I’ll see you tomorrow morning.”
The council members filed out of the conference room, until only Rosenfeld and Kogen remained.
Turning to Rosenfeld, Kogen said, “Prime Minister, may I have a word with you, privately?”
“Of course. What would you like to discuss?”
“It’s best we not talk here.”
* * *
Footsteps echoed off the gray terrazzo floor as the two men, each lost in his own thoughts, walked down the Hall of Advisers toward Rosenfeld’s office. On their right, paintings of Israel’s prime ministers hung in shallow alcoves, beginning with the image of their country’s first premier, David Ben-Gurion, who guided Israel through its War of Independence. At the far end of the hallway, a conspicuous bare spot on the wall marked the location where Rosenfeld’s portrait would someday hang.
Glancing at the shorter and heavier man walking beside him, Kogen thought Rosenfeld had aged more than could be attributed to the normal passage of time. But that was easily explained. Shortly after his election six years ago, the prime minister had weathered a three-year intifada. Then there was the personal loss he had endured, compounded by his dual responsibilities as father and prime minister. Yet despite the toll of his years in office, the older man walked with a determined pace and slightly forward lean, as if barreling through unseen obstacles in his path. The brisk pace was his only exercise; workouts were always something to be scheduled in the not too distant future. As a result, he had steadily added padding to his midsection. But Kogen knew Rosenfeld considered his weight acceptable as long as the circumference of his waist remained smaller than the width of his shoulders. Fortunately, Rosenfeld had broad shoulders.
Kogen, on the other hand, had retained his youthful physique, lean and muscular. The taller man, always impeccably dressed, he projected an air of competence and confidence. To the uninformed, Kogen was the more ideal image of a prime minister. But his service had been limited to the military and Israel’s intelligence service; he’d been appointed intelligence minister shortly after Rosenfeld’s election as prime minister.
Reaching the end of the hallway, Rosenfeld and Kogen passed through a metal detector and into the Aquarium, the security guard’s eyes displaying no hint of curiosity about their arrival so late on a Monday evening. The Aquarium section of the PMO, the Prime Minister’s Office building, where foreign leaders visited their Israeli counterparts, contained a plush, well-appointed lobby, offices for Rosenfeld and his closest aides, and a communications center that allowed for minute-by-minute contact with the Israel Defense Forces. Kogen reflected on the many decisions Rosenfeld and previous prime ministers had made in that small room, guiding Israel through its turbulent history; decisions that paled in importance to the one that would be made tonight.
* * *
Following the prime minister into his office, Kogen sat stiffly in the chair across from Rosenfeld’s desk, scanning the content of the modestly furnished room as he collected his thoughts. The furniture was spartan and utilitarian, the desk and chairs made from natural unstained maple, unadorned with intricate carvings. The shelf behind Rosenfeld was filled with books arranged in no particular order. The office, with its indecipherable filing system and simple furnishings, reflected the prime minister perfectly—it was difficult to gauge his reaction to complex issues, yet straightforward once a decision was made. Although Kogen had known Rosenfeld his entire adult life, he could not predict his friend’s response. Rosenfeld’s decision would determine whether four years of painstaking preparation had been in vain.
Heavy drops of rain pelted the prime minister’s windows as Rosenfeld waited for Kogen to speak. As impatience gathered in Rosenfeld’s eyes, Kogen steeled himself. He cleared his throat, then began. “We must destroy Natanz, Levi. You know better than anyone the sacrifice we will endure as a nation if Iran is allowed to develop nuclear weapons.”
Rosenfeld glanced at the framed portrait of his family, still sitting on his desk. “You’re not telling me anything I don’t already know, Barak.”
Lowering his voice, Kogen continued, “Iran is a cesspool of contempt for Israel, intent on exterminating our people. Natanz must be destroyed before this weapon is assembled. We do not have the necessary conventional weapons. Therefore it must be destroyed with a nuclear strike.”
There was a long silence as Rosenfeld contemplated Kogen’s assertion. Finally, Rosenfeld spoke. “I will not authorize the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. From a political and moral standpoint, that is something we cannot do.”
Kogen leaned back in his chair, a sly smile emerging on his lips. “I never said Israel would launch the nuclear strike.”
Rosenfeld blinked, not comprehending Kogen’s statement. “Then who?”
The younger man’s smile widened. “America.”
A puzzled expression worked its way across Rosenfeld’s face. “America? The president would never authorize this.”
Kogen hesitated a moment before continuing. It was finally time to reveal the Mossad’s most closely held secret. “The president’s authorization isn’t required, Prime Minister. Only yours. The Mossad stands ready to initiate an operation that will result in America destroying Natanz. Your authorization is the only step remaining.”
Rosenfeld stared at Kogen for a long moment, then his eyes went to the portrait of his family again. No one understood better what was at stake than Rosenfeld, and Kogen knew he was struggling. Iran didn’t have an army massed on Israel’s border. They didn’t have a nuclear arsenal in the process of being launched. Yet the threat Iran posed was severe. It had to be dealt with, and deceiving America into employing one of its nuclear weapons was the perfect solution.
It didn’t take long for Rosenfeld to come to a decision.
Frustration boiled inside Kogen. Still, he harbored hope Rosenfeld would eventually come to the proper decision. The Mossad plan was a radical proposal, and the prime minister would need time to accept it. After a few days of reflection, Rosenfeld would see the wisdom in Kogen’s solution.
Showing no outward sign of his frustration, Kogen stood. Before turning to leave, he said, “In ten days, Prime Minister, Iran will complete assembly of this weapon. You have until then to decide.”
BALLISTIC MISSILE SUBMARINE—USS KENTUCKY
Just off the south shore of Oahu, as the sun began its climb into a clear blue sky, the USS Kentucky surged through dark green water, the seas spilling over the bow before rolling down the sides of the long black ship. Standing on the Bridge in the submarine’s tall conning tower, Lieutenant Tom Wilson, on watch as Officer of the Deck, assessed a large gray warship crossing the submarine’s path ahead. The ship’s Captain, Commander Brad Malone, stood next to Tom, binoculars to his eyes, likewise studying the U.S. Navy cruiser four thousand yards ahead, inbound to Pearl Harbor. Standing behind them atop the conning tower, or sail, as it was commonly called, the Lookout scanned the horizon for additional contacts. But the cruiser just off the port bow was the most pressing concern, and Tom decided to alter the Kentucky’s course to maintain a safe distance.
Pressing the microphone in his hand, the lieutenant passed his order to the Control Room below. “Helm, left full rudder, steady course two-six-zero.” Tom turned aft to verify the order was properly executed, watching the top of the rudder, poking above the ocean’s surface, rotate left. Behind the ship, the submarine’s powerful propeller churned a frothy white wake as the Kentucky began its slow arc to port.
Tom knew the Kentucky would not turn quickly due to its tremendous size, which could not be appreciated while the submarine was underway or alongside a pier. Like an iceberg, most of the ship was underwater. Only in dry dock was the immensity of the submarine apparent—almost two football fields long, wide as a three-lane highway, and seven stories tall from the keel to the top of the sail. A tenth of a mile long, the submarine did not maneuver easily. But that hadn’t been a factor in the tense weeklong exercise the crew had just completed.
Two weeks earlier, the Kentucky had slipped from the quiet waters of Hood Canal in Washington State, passed Port Ludlow and the Twin Spits into the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, and entered the Pacific Ocean en route to her patrol area. Less than a day after getting under way, however, they were diverted to the Hawaiian operating areas for an unexpected week of training. The Kentucky had performed well during the exercise and had just offloaded a group of students onto a tug outside the entrance to Pearl Harbor. Finally, after months of training in port and the unscheduled diversion at sea, the Kentucky was heading out to relieve another Trident ballistic missile submarine on patrol.
The submarine’s rudder returned to amidships, and the young Officer of the Deck turned his attention to the submarine’s new course: westerly toward its patrol area.
Commander Malone dropped the binoculars from his eyes. “It’s good to be back at sea, isn’t it, Tom?”
Tom turned to the ship’s Commanding Officer.
Several weeks ago, as the crew prepared for another two-and-a-half-month long patrol, the tension between Tom and his wife had escalated. Nancy’s disillusion with Navy life had grown sharper with each deployment, and now that she’d given birth to twin girls, the stress of his pending departure had sparked an explosive confrontation. Tom had finally agreed to submit his resignation when he returned from sea. This would be his last patrol.
Malone stared at him, and Tom realized he hadn’t answered the Captain’s question. “Yes, sir. It’s good to be under way again.”
The older man smiled, placing his hand on the young officer’s shoulder. “You don’t have to lie to me, Tom. I know it’s not easy.”
A report from below echoed from the Bridge communications box. “Bridge, Nav. Passing the one-hundred-fathom curve outbound.” Tom acknowledged the report, then glanced at the Bridge Display Unit, checking the Kentucky’s progress toward the Dive Point.
“Shift the watch belowdecks,” Malone ordered. “Prepare to dive.”
Tom acknowledged the Captain’s order as Malone ducked down into the ship’s sail, descending the ladder into Control. Tom squinted up at the sun; it’d be two long months before he saw it again. Two months of fluorescent lighting and artificially controlled days and nights. Two months before the Kentucky returned home, the crew greeting their wives and children waiting on the pier. As much as he enjoyed his job, it paled in comparison to the joyful reunion with his wife, and now his two young daughters, at the end of each long patrol.
With his thoughts lingering on his family, Tom dropped his gaze to the horizon, then flipped the switch on the Bridge box, shifting the microphone in his hand over to the shipwide 1-MC announcing circuit.
“Shift the watch belowdecks,” Tom ordered. “Prepare to dive.”
* * *
Twenty minutes later, Tom descended the ladder into Control, stopping five rungs from the bottom. He pulled the heavy Lower Bridge hatch shut, spinning the handle until the hatch lugs engaged.
“Last man down, hatch secure,” he announced to the new Officer of the Deck stationed on the Conn, a one-foot-high platform in the center of Control, surrounding the two periscopes. Tom signed the Rig for Dive book, then reviewed the status of the rest of the submarine’s compartments. He turned to Commander Malone, standing next to the Officer of the Deck. “Captain, the ship is rigged for Dive.”
Malone nodded thoughtfully. “Since this is your last patrol, why don’t you take her down?”
How did he know?
Neither Tom nor Nancy had told anyone, but Tom wasn’t surprised. Malone seemed to know everything about his ship and the crew that manned it.
He grinned. “I’d love to, sir.” After receiving a quick update on the ship’s status, he relieved as OOD, this time in Control instead of on the Bridge above, informing Malone once the turnover was complete. “Sir, I have relieved as Officer of the Deck.”
“Very well. Submerge the ship.”
“Submerge the ship, aye, sir.”
Before submerging, Tom surveyed his watch section in Control. Fire control technicians manned two of the four combat control consoles on the starboard side of the ship, calculating the course, speed, and range of contacts held on the ship’s sensors. The Quartermaster, responsible for determining the ship’s position and monitoring water depth, was bent over the chart table near the Conn. In front of Tom sat the ship’s Diving Officer, supervising the two planesmen—the Outboard watchstander, who operated the submarine’s diving control surfaces on the stern, and the Inboard watchstander, or Helm, who operated both the rudder and the depth-control surfaces on the submarine’s sail. On the left side of the Diving Officer sat the Chief of the Watch, who was responsible for adjusting the ship’s buoyancy, both overall and fore-to-aft, and operated the submarine’s masts and antennas.
After carefully reviewing the status of his watch section, Tom announced loudly, “All stations, Conn. Prepare to submerge.”
The Quartermaster examined the ship’s Fathometer, announcing, “Two hundred fathoms beneath the keel,” and the Chief of the Watch reported, “Straight board, sir. All hull penetrations sealed.”
Satisfied his watch section was ready, Tom approached the port periscope, which was already raised, turned the scope until it looked forward, then pressed his face against the eyepiece, peering through the scope with his right eye. “Dive, submerge the ship to one-six-zero feet.”
The Diving Officer nodded to the Chief of the Watch, who announced, “Dive, dive,” on the 1-MC, then activated the ship’s diving alarm. The characteristic oooggh-aaahh resounded throughout the submarine, followed by “Dive, dive,” again on the 1-MC. The Chief of the Watch opened the vents on top of the main ballast tanks, letting water flood up through grates in the ship’s keel, and the Kentucky gradually sank into the ocean as it lost buoyancy. As the waves passed over the submarine’s bow, the escaping air rushing out of the main ballast tank vents shot geysers of water mist high above the Kentucky’s sail.
“Forward tanks venting.” Tom swung the scope around, looking back over the ship’s stern. “Aft tanks venting.”
The Kentucky gradually sank into the ocean, and soon only the submarine’s sail was visible above the surface, the waves now passing over the top of the Missile Compartment deck.
The Kentucky continued its descent, the top of the submarine’s sail disappearing into the ocean as the Diving Officer announced, “Passing eight-zero feet.” Waves began breaking over the top of the periscope, increasing in frequency as the Kentucky slipped into the depths of the Pacific Ocean.
Returning the periscope to a forward view, Tom folded the handles and reached up, rotating the periscope locking ring counterclockwise, lowering the scope into its well. The Control Room was quiet, except for occasional reports and orders between watchstanders. Tom listened closely to the Diving Officer and the Chief of the Watch as they monitored the submarine’s buoyancy, determining whether they needed to flood water into or pump water out of the variable ballast tanks.
“Shutting main ballast tank vents,” the Chief of the Watch reported, sealing the tanks in case the ship was grossly overweight and an Emergency Blow was required to restore buoyancy.
The submarine gradually slowed its descent until it leveled off at 160 feet. “On ordered depth,” the Diving Officer announced. The Kentucky had submerged without a hitch, the evolution executed flawlessly.
“Well done, Tom,” Malone said. “Get relieved and meet me in Nav Center with the XO and department heads.”
* * *
In the Navigation Center behind Control, Tom joined Malone beside the chart table, along with the ship’s Executive Officer and the submarine’s four department heads. On the right of the ship’s Commanding Officer stood the Executive Officer, or XO. Responsible for all administrative issues and the daily execution of the ship’s activities, Lieutenant Commander Bruce Fay was the submarine’s second in command. Beneath the CO and XO in the military hierarchy stood the submarine’s four department heads, all on their second submarine tour with the exception of the ship’s Supply Officer, the only non-nuclear-trained officer aboard.
The most senior department head, Lieutenant Commander John Hinves, standing to Malone’s left, was the ship’s Engineering Officer, or Eng, responsible for the nuclear reactor and propulsion plant, as well as all basic mechanical and electrical systems throughout the ship. The other three department heads were all senior lieutenants. Pete Manning was the Weapons Officer, or Weps; Alan Tyler was the Navigation Officer, or Nav; and Jeff Quimby was the submarine’s Supply Officer, or Suppo, although many had not yet broken the habit of referring to the man responsible for serving the pork and beans as the Chop. Tom, one of nine junior officers aboard the submarine for their first three-year sea tour, was the only JO in Nav Center because of his assignment as Assistant Weapons Officer, responsible for the more detailed aspects of the submarine’s tactical and strategic weapon systems.
As the six other men waited quietly around the chart table, Malone opened a sealed manila envelope stamped TOP SECRET in orange letters, retrieving a single-page document containing the ship’s patrol orders. Until this moment, no one aboard the Kentucky knew their assigned operating area, where they would lurk for the duration of their patrol. Malone skimmed the document, pausing to read aloud the pertinent information.
“‘Transit through operating area Sapphire, then commence Alert Patrol in Emerald.’” Malone turned to the ship’s Navigator. “How long to Emerald?”
Tyler measured off the distance on the chart between the Kentucky’s current position and the entrance to Emerald.
“Ten days, sir.”
Copyright © 2014 by Rick Campbell.
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