Radar-guided and heat-seeking missiles joined the fray next as the four Forrestal Tomcats engaged. With each second that passed, the air battle became even more chaotic. The Soviet raid commander was now fully cognizant his aircraft—and crews—were suffering heavy losses. Once the US Navy fighters moved in to make use of their Sidewinders. In the mind of more than one Tomcat crewman the engagement looked to be on the verge of becoming a full-blown turkey shoot. There were no MiGs to contend with and the Badgers, carrying two AS-6 Kingfish missiles each, were not about to rely on speed and maneuverability to escape. But the Soviet bombers were not completely defenseless. Each aircraft was equipped with 23mm tail cannons and kindly reminded their American opponents of this. Two rounds impacted on the port wing of an F-14 Tomcat, forcing the pilot to break off his attack and head back to the carrier.
Time and distances were becoming a critical factor by now. The Hawkeye’s senior controller ordered the CAP F-14s to disengage and break off at once. The second group of Tomcats from Eisenhower were lining up for their initial missile shots. As the CAP fighters broke off and ran south, a wave of Phoenix missiles was launched. This coincided with the arrival of the first Soviet bombers at the launch point for the Kingfish missiles. Eight Badgers survived the Tomcats and launched their ordnance. Each bomber carried two Kingfish and of the sixteen missiles fired, two malfunctioned and dropped into the sea. The F-14s closed with the incoming Kingfish and volleyed off a final salvo of Phoenixes that killed four Soviet anti-ship missiles. The next line of defense would come from Eisenhower’s escorts. Specifically, the two guided-missile cruisers sailing in accompaniment.
The Aegis cruiser Thomas Gates commenced firing. The first salvo of SM-2s left her fore and aft Mk-26 launchers. South Carolina, equipped with a pair of single-arm launchers, joined in soon after. The two cruisers kept pumping out SAMs as the Kingfish ate up the distance to the carrier group. Eight more missiles were hit by Standards and destroyed. The ninth fell victim to the frigate Elmer Montgomery’s Phalanx and the final Kingfish was confused by chaff, exploding in the sea five miles away from the a guided-missile destroyer. The engagement was short, violent and completely in favor of the US Navy.
With the skies cleared of bandits and vampires, Eisenhower started recovering F-14s and Hawkeyes while the other carriers of Strike Fleet Atlantic launched their own fighters and E-2s to replace them. On board USS Mount Whitney, the decision was made to delay the coming airstrikes against the Kola and transform the posture of the fleet to one centered on air defense. The first bomber raid of the day was no more than an precursor. The Soviets would be back in greater numbers soon and the next attack would likely consist of Backfires, as well as Badgers.