400 Kilometers to the west, in the hilly inland country stretching from Shantou to
Fushou, the Dong Feng ballistic missiles were up as well, their red tipped noses rising to meet the dawn. In the year 1232, the Chinese repelled Mongol invaders during the battle of
Kai-Keng by using the primitive rockets powered by gunpowder, the first known use of that seemingly magical black powder as a weapon of war. The ‘arrows of flying fire’ had
come a long way since then.
600 DF-11s were available for the overture, about 50 improved to extend their
range to 825 kilometers. These could strike any target on the Taiwanese mainland, though the bulk of the inventory with shorter 300 kilometer ranges would be used against targets on the
eastern shores of the wayward island republic. The DF-11s were largely carried by mobile launch trucks, their engines growling on the coastal hills of mainland China that morning as one
battery after another signaled armed and ready. 300 were available for launch with in twenty minutes of the order to fire, and the order had finally come.
The first batteries began to launch a little after 07:00 hours on the morning of
September 25, the first day of the Great War that the world had nervously been awaiting. All that came before in the contentious waters of the Diaoyutai Islands and the turbulent black
seas of the Gulf of Mexico were but foreshocks. The Chinese missile launch against two American satellites overflying their territory was deemed to be a defensive measure, but this was
something else entirely. The Dragon had finally opened its maw and spewed fire and anger at its wayward son. The East Wind of its hot breath was blowing in a hard rain of steel, with
missiles roaring from their mobile launch pads and streaking up into the clear morning sky.
The US built PAVE PAWS Phased Array Warning System on the high peaks of
Taiwan’s rugged mountains east of Hsinchu City were the first to see the threat, and orders were flashed to SAM batteries all over the island. US built Patriot battery radars could
range out only about 170 kilometers, not enough to see the missiles in their initial launch and boost phase, but the Phased Array system gave them six precious minutes to deploy and arm
their systems for intercept operations. There were ten Patriot batteries in all, three assigned to Taipei, three to the Taichung region and the remaining four to cities in the southern
reaches of the island. They were each capable of firing either four PAC-2/GEM or sixteen PAC-3 missiles per launcher, and each battery had eight launchers. That put 32 active PAC-2/GEMs
or as many as 128 PAC-3s in a battery, a formidable missile defense if they could perform as advertised.
Elsewhere in the region, the Japanese watched with increasing concern and quietly
deployed Patriot missile interceptor units at the Defense Ministry's headquarters in Ichigaya in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, at the Ground Self-Defense Force's Camp Asaka in
Tokyo's Nerima Ward, and at Camp Narashino. Thankfully they were not in the crosshairs at the moment, but they were taking no chances.
150 missiles were up in the first Chinese launch. The world had not see anything
like it since the MLRS rocket artillery barrage that had preceded the first Gulf War. Five minutes later a second barrage of 150 missiles were darkening the skies as the East Wind began
to blow in earnest. Soon the deadly duel of Patriot versus ballistic missile began, and no one really knew what the likely percentage of successful intercepts would be. One of the first
targets was the sole PAVE PAWS Radar that had spotted and announced the incoming strike, defended by a single Patriot battery. Thirty missiles were assigned to this one target alone, and
though the Patriots were good, and scored many stunning intercepts and kills, they did not get them all. Twelve got through the defense, slamming into the hilltop and sending huge columns
of black smoke and fire into the sky as their 800kg warheads exploded on impact. Three of the twelve were close enough to the main radar itself to do serious damage—enough to
blacken the stations capabilities and put it out of the battle for the foreseeable future.
Lieutenant Peter Tang heard the scramble alert and he and his men were up and rushing to their planes. His ready group was on
the black tarmac and juiced for action, and within minutes he was leading a section of four planes out onto the main runway for
takeoff. The tails spewed their white fire as the engines hurtled the nimble fighters aloft. Tang looked out to see the first of the
Patriot Batteries north of the base beginning to fire, the thin white contrails of the missiles scoring the sky. He knew the air
defense crews in the Skyguard and Antelope short range SAM defense batteries would be busy soon as well. As he banked
right, climbing past 15,000 feet he saw what the Patriots were firing at. Missile trails seemed to be coming down from heaven
itself, and he knew the base was being hit by a heavy salvo of Dong Fengs. There were two spectacular intercepts by patriots
that set his pilots to cheering before the first of the range modified DF-11s exploded just north of the field. They couldn’t even
hit the damn runway, he thought, and then the colossal explosion at the north end of the main airstrip gave him a hard kick as he
remembered the aviation fuel depot there—fourteen big tanks loaded with fuel and lubricant oils, and two DF-11’s had plowed
right into them, sending an enormous pillar of fire and oily black smoke erupting skyward.
While Taiwanese Air Defense crews were heartened by their initial kill ratio, with PAVE PAWS off line they could no longer
see the second wave of 150 missiles as they reached apogee and tipped over to make their blistering descent towards their
targets. A minute later the Patriots began to acquire and fire, but two more waves of DF-11s were ready to join battle if
deemed necessary. The second wave saw successful intercepts reduce considerably from a little over 50% to just under 40%,
which meant that about seventy missiles found targets in the first wave, and another eighty-two blasted home in the second
wave. The damage these big warheads were inflicting was considerable.
You never get them all, he thought. Some of the damn missiles always get through. They got through in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem
when Israel and Iran traded blows in a brief, bloody exchange in 2014, and they’re going to get through here. They have more
missiles and planes than we have SAMs! It was a sobering thought as the voice of his buddy Alex Wu, or ‘Alley Ho’ as he called him, came over his headset.
“You up there for the show, Pete?”
“Seeing more than I wished,” Tang called back. “They hit the fuel depot!”
“Going to be thirsty this afternoon then, Tang. So don’t pull any high G barrel rolls up here.”
“Not unless I have a J-20 on my ass,” Tang called back. “See you upstairs, Alley Ho.” He wondered if he would have a
functioning base to return to in the hours ahead. His Falcon was not known for its endurance, though he knew tankers would be
up in the next hour in the seas east of the island—if they could make it off the airfields in one piece.
Air fields on Taiwan took the brunt of the missile barrages, a deliberate and methodical interdiction intended to prepare the way
for things Peter Tang and his mates would soon be contending with in the skies over the island. There were a hundred and fifty
F-16s and another 56 Mirage 2000 fighters, most well overdue for the scrap yards by 2021. Taiwan had hoped to buy better
F-16Ds from the US, but a skittish congress and budget problems never saw the planned purchase go through. So the old
Falcons would form the bulk of the air defense, supported by 126 of the indigenous F-CK-1A/B fighter interceptors, dubbed
“the little fuckers” by US pilots that had trained with them over the years due to the obvious missing letter in their designation.
The alert ready squadrons climbed up into the angry sky to take up their defensive patrol stations while their brothers behind
them would have to deal with the cratered runways when the DF-11s began to hit home.
It soon became clear that this initial barrage was largely aimed at military installations, ports and airfields, and that China’s
primary strategy was to try and defeat Taiwan’s defenses before the United States could intervene. An hour after the first
massive barrage of 300 missiles, another 300 were being deployed and ready to strike in three waves of 100 each.
Unwilling to stand simply on defense, Taiwan immediately ordered up some bad weather of its own—the Hsiung Feng cruise
missile, or Brave Wind with a 600 kilometer range, and the more dangerous Yunfeng with an extended range of up to 2000
kilometers. While only fifty of these longer range missiles had been produced, they would be able to strike a range of targets in
mainland China, including Air Force Regional headquarters, Naval bases, fighter and bomber divisions, even as far away as
Beijing and Shanghai. Taiwan could deliver one good shock to her adversary, because even though the Chinese had a very
robust SAM umbrella themselves, Tang had been correct—you never get them all. It would be enough to save face and rattle
the nerves of the people in heavily populated cities when the missiles came in, but not enough to seriously degrade China’s
military capability. The Brave Wind was just that, an audacious reprisal intended to inflict short term pain, but it was one the
PLA would answer in spades. The East Wind was a storm of serious hurt, and it carried more than ballistic missiles.
The DF-11’s were just the opening round. By the time the second series of 300 missiles had concluded their barrages, there
had been over 200 that hit home on or very near their intended targets. The port at the off shore archipelago of Makung was hit
with quays blasted, fuel and ammunition storage bungers in flames and one of the three frigates that had been berthed there
shredded with heavy shrapnel from a very near miss at her berthing. The Chi Yang, a Knox class Frigate, was the first ship of
the Taiwan Navy to feel the Dragon’s bite. Two other frigates berthed there, the Fong Yang and Fen Yang were quickly
hauling anchors and racing out to sea. Airfields at Hualien, Tainan, Chiayi and Taitung had all been hit, but the cities near them were assiduously spared.
It was then that Lt. Peter Tang saw the threat vector data feed from the E-2C AWACS now coordinating long range
surveillance. Enemy fighters were inbound at high altitude, and Tang called to his squadron mates to rally them for the battle
ahead. The pilots were brave and well trained, but the odds they would soon be facing were very steep. The Chinese had
learned a hard lesson when they scrambled older J-10 and J-11 fighters in their recent duel with Japan over the Diaoyutai Islands.
This time they were sending their best, the one plane Tang was really worried about, the formidable J-20. These were the
planes Lt. Matt Eden had warned about when he said the ‘Bats’ were redeploying to coastal airfields days ago, and the same
planes defense expert Reed had called ‘Vampires’ when he tried to explain them to the White House Chief of Staff. They were
Chinas A game, their premier fifth generation stealth fighter, and they trumped any older legacy fighter the Air Force of Taiwan could put in front of them.
It had taken the Chinese some time to get the planes fully wired and ramped up for mass production. Problems related to thrust
vectoring, sensor fusion and their new AESA radars were all daunting at the outset. Once the biggest hurtle was surmounted,
the addition of a reliable engine capable of producing sustained supercruise speeds, the plane finally lived up to the early hype
that accompanied its debut in 2012. By 2021 the plane was a fully integrated and well tested strike fighter and China had built
120 for front line deployment. They were being flown by an elite if limited corps of highly skilled pilots, the very best graduates from the flight schools and military training programs.
The J-20s formed up in three heavy strike squadrons of twenty planes each, half the available inventory. They would be
accompanied by some other very capable friends, for China had also produced several squadrons of J-16 ‘Silent Flankers’ in
response to similar programs mounted by the US with their ‘Silent Eagle.’ Only thirty-two in number, the J-16 was really a
modified J-11B that incorporated rudimentary stealth features. It took a very good plane and made it better, and thirty were
aloft in the vanguard, leading in the J-20s. To either side of this central formation of ninety planes were two groups composed
of J-10 and J-11 fighters, thirty each. The first major air strike against the beleaguered island would therefore come from 150 planes.
The attack was aimed at the air defense gap between Hsinchu and Taichung, preceded by a wave of truck launched CJ-10
Long Sword cruise missiles aimed at two key targets in the breakthrough zone. One was the coastal radar site at Houlong, and
the other was the single HAWK battery near Miaoli City. If it was taken down the overlapping circles of SAM coverage would
lapse in this one area, and leave a gap in the defense. While those two cities deployed robust SAM defenses, the gap between
them was more sparsely defended. Their aim was to break through this HAWK battery and streak in high over the central
highlands and then sweep north to the big naval base at Suao. Others would come in at Taipei from the south, though a few groups had some very special missions.
They were targeted at the big dam facilities that held in the Shimen Reservoir supplying water to more than three million people
in northern Taiwan. Other dams controlling water flowing from the bigger FeiTs’ui / Feicui Reservoir would also be targeted
and within thirty minutes of their destruction an uncontrolled cascade of water would come surging down the two major rivers flowing from the highlands down into the capitol of TaiPei.
The heart of the formation came in very high while flights of J-10s and J-11s peeled off at lower altitudes, bait for the HAWKs
armed with strike missiles to engage the SAM batteries. They would try to forge a way through the defenses that had already
been heavily saturated by 600 Dong Feng 11s. The cutting edge of the SAM defenses were the ten Patriot batteries, but its
backbone was a much older system of the older HAWK SAMs that were slowly being phased out and replaced by the Sky
Bow II systems. While many of the better systems had been tasked to take on the Don Feng missile barrages, the HAWKs
were still vital links in the defense to face the threat from aircraft. There was only one small problem, the flight ceiling of the
missiles was about 45,000 feet, and so while the J-10s and J-11s swooped in to engage, the J-20s were about to demonstrate
one of those often neglected statistics that would make them so deadly, a service ceiling exceeding 65,000 feet. In effect the
plane could out fly the missiles that were supposed to shoot it down.
The Vampires were flying high that morning, out from their hidden caves in the hills of the homeland. When the Chinese strike
group broke through the coastal defense network, the F-16s were immediately vectored in to close the gap. They had a good
idea where the enemy was coming in high with their main strike package, but the F-16s were straining for altitude as they
climbed to meet the enemy. The Chinese J-20 was not easy to find and track. Their returns were not solid on radar, and they
came and went. None of the F-16s could seem to hold a steady signal lock and it was coming down to that nebulous line in BVR combat where you either fire or die.
Tang elected to fire. His subflight of four falcons were the first to callout out the NATO brevity code “Fox Three” as their AIM
-120C missiles were sent into battle. An active radar seeker, this version of the missile had a good range of 105 kilometers, and
could switch to passive homing if jammed. Tang was hoping his missiles could get some of the high flying Chinese fighters “in the
basket” of their active radar search sweep where they had a chance to lock on. While capable of receiving in-flight data to
assist in a course correction to find the enemy target, Tang’s fighters weren’t going to be able to send anything. They were
about to have some very troublesome company in the skies over the central highlands.
High above, some 15,000 feet beyond the service ceiling of the F-16, the J-20s had a long range missile of their own to send
into battle. They had easily seen, tracked and targeted the climbing F-16s and had already fired China’s latest long range lance
in the deadly game of air to air missile combat—the the P-21 Thunderbolt. By the time Lieutenants Peter Tang, Alex Wu and
Kevin Lo detected the radar lock it was already too late. Alex Wu heard his mate call out ‘Fox Three’ and followed suit to fire
his missiles, but it was going to be a very busy morning that day, and for all of them it would be their last...