At 0556 EDT an ASM-135 Anti-Satellite missile launched from a US Air Force F-15A Eagle destroyed a Soviet Radar Ocean Reconnaissance Satellite (RORSAT) in low-earth orbit over the Labrador coast. The successful intercept would create a twelve hour hole in Soviet satellite coverage over the North Atlantic. The mission had been timed, planned, and undertaken to bring about a coverage gap that would allow SACLANT the additional freedom to maneuver his carrier battle groups in the Atlantic. Strike Fleet Atlantic was completely formed and ready to head north. Taking out the approaching RORSAT would hopefully give the carrier groups a much-needed head start.
The French carrier Foch, and her escorts, had joined the assemblage overnight. That the French Navy had offered up her single remaining aircraft carrier spoke volumes about the mood and intentions of not only the French military, but the nation as a whole. France was in a vengeful mood. The Clemenceau disaster in the opening hours of the war continued to weigh heavily on France. Handing Foch to Strike Fleet Atlantic provided SACLANT with an additional flight deck and airwing.
Strike Fleet Atlantic’s purpose for existence was to seize control of the Norwegian Sea and bring the war directly to the Soviet homeland. Once the NATO carrier groups had control of the waters around Norway, airstrikes would be launched against Soviet airbases and other military targets on the Kola Peninsula. Although the main threat to the North Atlantic sea lanes came from submarines for now, in a short time that was expected to change. Northern Norway was entirely neutralized. That morning Soviet ground forces began crossing the frontier, and there were unconfirmed reports of an amphibious landing at Andoya coming into SACLANT headquarters. Whether or not Andoya in Soviet hands was immaterial for the time being. The Backfires and Badgers had a wide air corridor in place across northern Norway, giving them a straight shot at Iceland, and the convoys now crossing the Atlantic. Worse yet, the Soviets were expected to begin basing fighters at captured NATO airfields in the north at any time. If Andoya had fallen, that would only make the situation more grim.
SACLANT couldn’t afford to wait longer to send his carriers into the Norwegian Sea and northern effort. If the bombers, and subs weren’t enough of a threat to his carriers and ultimately his convoys, the Red Banner Northern Fleet was heavily deployed in the Norwegian Sea. Before even thinking about the effort against Kola, Strike Fleet Atlantic faced the prospect of having to fight a sea battle first.
In Norfolk that morning, there was much speculation and debate over the intentions of the Red Banner Northern Fleet. SACLANT’s battle staff was divided on the possibilities. Over half of the officers expected the Soviet surface groups to hunker down in the Norwegian Sea under the cover of land-based air and wait for the NATO carrier groups to come to them, as per their doctrine. A smaller, but more vociferous group expected the Northern Fleet to attempt a breakout into the waters of the North Atlantic to interdict the sea lanes. That was the nightmare scenario for SACLANT, and if it did happen, the combination of Russian bombers, attack subs, and surface groups might be enough to shut down the Atlantic. The debate continued even as SACLANT transmitted orders to COMSTRIKFLTLANT to start moving north.
At 1100 EDT news reached Norfolk that HMS Invincible had been heavily damaged in the North Sea. A Charlie II-class SSGN had managed to penetrate the outer perimeter of Invincible’s escort screen and lofted four SS-N-9 Sirens at the baby carrier from fairly close-in. Broadsword’s Sea Wolf missiles destroyed two, and Invincible’s own CIWS knocked down a third, but a fourth Siren leaked through the defenses and struck Vince just aft of the bridge causing heavy damage. She was dead in the water now with propulsion and electronics knocked out according to reports. Damage control efforts were underway, however, it was questionable whether or not she could be saved.