The Dragon Breathes its Fire....
As this volume opens, the war that erupted in November of 2025 is now 100 days old, and Part I presents a brief recap of the action seen to date, setting the stage to continue
operations in the Sulu Sea. There the US Carrier Strike Group Washington has been struggling to control that sea and support Marine ARG’s reinforcing Puerto Princesa on the long barrier island of Palawan.
Before that action goes full bore, the narrative diverts to Iraq in Part III entitled “Baghdad
Blues,” where we again ride with Sergeant King and company, (1/7th Recon), as they are tasked with leading an operation into the sprawling concrete jungle of Sadr City. CIA operative Colonel
Jason Dunn rides along and calls the tune on objectives. He obviously wants to pay a visit to the Iraqi Defense Intelligence compound, but then throws Sergeant King a curve with orders to get him to
the National Museum of Iraq. Dunn is obviously on a treasure hunt of some kind, and we get some clues as to what it might be about as the light recon troops fight their way towards downtown Baghdad.
Unfortunately, the museum is on the other side of the river, and what started as a sweep of Sadr City becomes a major push into
the heart of the teeming city, where chaos reigns as the Iraqi military is trying to escape to better climes. This three chapter segment gives us some resolution on the war in Iraq, as US and
coalition forces close on the city from all directions to complete their mission.
Then Part IV takes us back to the Sulu Sea, and the naval air action that has been the heart of this
season. China’s Admiral Zheng Bao has assumed command of the South Seas Fleet, and we are taken deeper into his plans and strategies as he now confronts not one, but three US Carrier Strike
Groups. Relentless and methodical, the USN begins a campaign of reducing the outlying Chinese bases in Borneo and on the reef island bases that are so controversial today as potential flash points
between the USN and PLAN. In these scenes, we go deeper into the command structure that prevails in the Chinese Navy, not a triangular system like the USN with the Captain at the top, and his XO and
Command Master Chief on the two corners below, but a square, where every fleet, division, squadron and ship has a Party Political Officer (or Commissar) installed with co-equal authority to that of
the Admiral or Captain.
From the height of Naval HQs at PACOM in Pearl Harbor and the Chinese Naval Theater Command in Hong Kong,
we stand like a junior officer at the back of the room, privy to all discussions, strategy decisions, and the rationale behind orders issued to the respective fleets. Driven from the Indian Ocean
back into their home waters, China is now desperate for the victory that Admiral Wu Jinlong was unable to deliver, and here the new Admiral Zheng Bao fights with quiet efficient skill, in spite of
his irascible associate, the fiery Admiral Sun Wei.
As the action unfolds we see two entirely different methods of warfighting, largely resting on the
structure of the navies both sides built before the war, and the weapons they carry. China has excellent new destroyers, but lacks real strength in its carrier arm, because its 4th Generation J-15
strike fighter is simply too vulnerable in contested airspace. This forces Zheng Bao to use his carriers in defensive roles as he struggles to preserve the valuable reef island bases, and hold the
Palawan barrier intact, while looking for any opportunity he can find to put harm on his enemy. The more restricted waters here make it more difficult for the US carriers to abide by “Standing
Order-1,” the dictum that they must never operate inside the 300 mile range marker, because doing so brings China’s deadly YJ-18 Strike Eagle missiles into play, doubling their
fleet’s offensive power.
By contrast, the power of the USN clearly resides in the tremendous versatility of its Carrier Strike
Groups. The long arm of the US Tomahawk missile is used to reduce enemy bases, and the carrier air wings have no equal in the world when it comes to the dizzying array of weapons they can put on an
enemy target. Before the war, would-be pundits proclaimed the USN was woefully outranged by the Chinese Navy, pointing out the much longer ranges of the YJ-18 and YJ-100 strike missiles compared to
America’s largely obsolete Cold War era missile, the Harpoon. Yet in this history, the Harpoon isn’t even deployed, and the USN fights with weapons that are now being rushed into
development in our world, like the LRASM which is slated for deployment on the destroyers, and the modified maritime Tomahawk, also called the “Multi Mission Tomahawk,” which has a range
of 1500 nautical miles, almost four times longer than China’s YJ-100’s 400 mile range.
Authors of those articles inveigh on the fact that China’s destroyers completely outrange those of
the USN while forgetting that these weapons are in the pipeline and coming soon as the USN rediscovers the art of surface warfare. The so called experts also forget that, despite all the recent talk
about “Distributed Lethality,” the Navy doesn’t fight wars with its destroyers in one, twos, and threes. In war, a US destroyer will never be far from a big deck fleet carrier, and
that strike group is how America fights to win at sea. Of course, China knows that, which is why they have designed an array of hypersonic ballistic missiles capable of targeting ships at sea. Thus
far the US missile shield has held firm, but as the war comes close to mainland China, the PLAN fights with renewed energy and strength, like the great Firedrake its is now rapidly becoming in our
The heart of this novel is therefore the intensifying struggle for the Sulu and South China Seas, 18
consecutive chapters that pit the wily new Chinese Admiral Zheng Bao against the three US carrier Captains and Admiral Cook. The Chinese Fire Dragon is putting up a furious defense, realizing that
the stakes now are extremely high, and that they simply must find a way to stop the relentless advance of the US Navy. In the midst of it all, Karpov, Fedorov and company take a prominent role, as
they push for the Palawan Gap. Kirov and Kazan must get through if they are to get back to the Pacific and head north as planned, but along the way, they encounter a derelict ship that suddenly sends the story off in a most unexpected direction.
Long time series readers know that the real meat and potatoes of the saga has always been about Kirov’s movement in time, taking the ship and crew across far horizons and into troubled and dangerous waters at every turn. This season, the temporal instability of Kirov has already taken us on one ride to a distant, bleak, and perilous future in the last volume. This evolution is something quite more.
The author devotes the last nine chapters of this volume to the ship and crew of Kirov as they face another
bewildering series of events after the discovery of the derelict, and finally realize what they are now facing. Behind it all, both Fedorov and Karpov can sense, feel, and finally know that the
shadow that seems to darken their path is being cast by their arch nemesis—Ivan Volkov. It is a segment very much like the chapters presented in the 2021 war, where Kirov and crew got a glimpse of the war just getting started in 2025, but on the Meridian they helped build with their interventions in WWII. Now, in this volume, the machinations of Ivan Volkov take a frightening new shape.
Loaded with naval air action at its heart, and twisted with mystery at the end,
Firedrake’s pounding narrative leads us into the most decisive battles of the war in 2026. It will be followed with equal vengeance and furor in the next volume, Alpha Strike, as the USN
and PLAN clash like two armored gladiators in the arena of the South China Sea. The author plans to take the war in 2026 to its conclusion by the end of this season in volume 56, but in this book,
those last nine chapters give is a riveting preview of what will follow this season—the war against Ivan Volkov that will take the long saga to its final tumultuous and fiery end. In the
meantime, hang on to your seats!