Book review of
Arctic Gambit
by Larry Bond & Chris Carlson

Flag Flag As a Commodore, veteran Submarine skipper Jerry Mitchell has moved passed the days of commanding an individual submarine. But as the hero of several novels, that doesn’t keep him out of the action. In an alternative near-future where a new Russian President determined to recreate the motherland of his father’s time, the world is threatened by a new type of nuclear warfare. A covert mission is required to save the world and the only boat for the mission is the US Navy’s specialist spy sub USS Jimmy Carter.

This book is of special interest because the story centers on a new Russian first strike weapon based on the Poseidon (Status-6 / Skif / KANYON) nuclear-armed nuclear-powered intercontinental torpedo. And if that isn’t reason enough to read this book, then the plot and writing style should be.

The storyline places emphasis on the intelligence picture, taking the reader through carefully laid out analysis to build up the threat and inevitable submarine mission. Authors Larry Bond and Chris Carlson know the intelligence world and they know submarine warfare. This creates suspense and regains a Cold War feel that hasn’t been experienced since President Reagan read Tom Clancy novels in the 1980s.

Submarines in the arctic is suddenly a popular plotline. The new book comes at the same time as the trailer release of the upcoming Hollywood movie Hunter Killer. The two plots share a modicum of commonality, but the emphasis couldn’t be more different. And while the movie saves the world from nuclear annihilation by working with the Russian President, Arctic Gambit settles for good old-fashioned submarine combat.

Except that the submarine combat in Arctic Gambit is anything but old fashioned. Bond & Carlson use their expert knowledge to explore scenarios where unmanned vehicles (UUVs) and submarines act in unison. Although dramatic, the tactics described may hint at real possibilities for cutting-edge near-future sea combat.

The cover shows the Project. 885M Yasen-M (NATO: SEVERODVINSK) Class submarine Kazan which plays a key part in the story. The Yasen Class boats are the most modern and potent attack submarines in the Russian Navy and makes the ideal counterpart to the US Navy’s Seawolf Class boat.

The submarines, weapons and even sensor networks described in the book are carefully routed in real world systems. The level of insight into such a little-understood domain are extremely rare even in techno-thrillers.

This puts it in sharp contrast to the Hollywood treatment that Hunter Killer has received. In the film trailer the captain shouts “Fire” to launch a torpedo. In the book the command, walked through as an evolution (process) is “Shoot”. The difference shouldn’t be subtle – fire is not a welcome word on any boat, especially in the confined space of a submarine where smoke can kill very quickly. Naturally the book gets the lingo right.

In the book, submarines face down deadly Russian PMK-2 propelled mines which launch torpedoes at any target which passes too close. A very real weapon. In the film, the submarine is shown passing contact mines bobbing too deep to threaten surface ships. Ok, watch the action movie also (I haven’t read Firing Point by George Wallace, which the movie is based on), but for a deep techno-thriller, read Arctic Gambit.

Five stars, highly recomended.

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