- "How realistic a test is this for the Fleet? Is this anything more than a scripted performance?"
"It is as realistic as possible. This is an operational readiness exercise, not a simulation. It is true that the Fleet is opposed only by battle drones and computer sims. But I can assure you that the defense team takes pride and pleasure in constructing a difficult problem for the Fleet tacticians."
- ―Senator Tolik Yar and Admiral Ackbar
Operation Hammerblow was the New Republic Fifth Fleet's live-fire operational readiness exercise. The construction of the Fifth Fleet had been authorized by the New Republic Senate on Supreme Commander Admiral Gial Ackbar's assurances that it was needed to continue the war against the remnants of the Galactic Empire. The Dornean, General Etahn A'baht, was placed in command of the Fifth, and he oversaw the training of the fleet. The final test was a live fire exercise against a simulated target. Although the Fifth would only face drones and computers simulations, the danger to the participating personnel was very real. The planet Bessimir, located fifteen parsecs from Coruscant was chosen as the target, and General A'baht devised an assault plan.
The proceedings were observed by high ranking members of the New Republic in the New Republic Defense Force headquarters on Coruscant, including Admiral Ackbar, Chief of State Leia Organa Solo, and the Defense Council. The Fifth engaged the defenses of Bessimir; A'baht effectively used the ships and resources under his command to neutralize the enemy targets. The main weapon used in the defense, a massive hypervelocity cannon capable of firing one hundred and twenty slugs per minute, was taken out by a squadron of new Koensayr Manufacturing BTL-S8 K-wing assault starfighters. The operation was successful, but not without casualties. Despite the loss of one ship, the Ahazi, the Fifth was declared operational following the exercise.
- "The defense of Bessimir was designed in accord with our existing threat profiles. Operation Hammerblow represents a likely scenario for the use of the Fifth Fleet."
- ―Admiral Ackbar to Senator Tig Peramis during the debriefing session of Operation Hammerblow
Operation Hammerblow was conceived as the final operational test for the New Republic Fifth Fleet. The Fifth Fleet was the latest naval formation authorized by the New Republic Senate, and was created to give the New Republic the ability to confront and defeat even the most heavily-defended Imperial worlds. Admiral Gial Ackbar, Supreme Commander of the New Republic Defense Force, personally lobbied for the creation of the Fifth, giving assurances and testimony toward the need for it.
The Fifth Fleet was comprised entirely of New Class vessels, and enjoyed a uniformity that other New Republic fleets—many of which still retained ships that had served the Rebel Alliance—did not. General Etahn A'baht, former commander of the Dornean Navy and veteran of the Battle of Endor, was appointed to command the Fifth. His appointment was met with criticism; although he had participated in the victory at Endor, he had only been a member of the Defense Force for two standard years. Many within the Senate felt that he had not earned such a prestigious position and that a veteran of the Rebel Alliance should have taken command. However, Admiral Ackbar countered this by saying that, while the veterans of the Rebellion were well versed in the tactics needed to wage insurgency-style warfare, they were ill-suited to command forces in conventional warfare. A'baht, through his experiences with the Dornean Navy, provided the much needed experience that the New Republic required to continue its campaign against the Imperial Remnant.
The Fifth's live-fire operational readiness exercise was directed against the planet Bessimir, located fifteen parsecs from Coruscant, the New Republic capital. Although the Fifth would only be facing drone targets and computer simulations, the tactical planners prided themselves on making the exercise as realistic as possible in terms of tactics and responses. A'baht planned the operation personally, and his plan was approved. Observers—including Ackbar, Chief of State Leia Organa Solo and the Senate Defense Council—would watch the execution of the battle plan from inside the New Republic Defense Force headquarters on Coruscant.
- "Penetration phase complete. Deployment complete. Assault leader is approaching wave-off failsafe and requests final authorization."
- ―Bridge lieutenant aboard the Intrepid, flagship of the Fifth Fleet
Under General A'baht's command, the Fifth executed a hyperspace jump to Bessimir in combat formation. Emerging from hyperspace, the fleet's Nebula-class Star Destroyers moved to guard the Endurance-class fleet carriers, while the Defender-class assault carriers took point. Hyperspace-capable starfighters, which had traveled to Bessimir under their own power, formed a defensive perimeter around the fleet, while dozens of supplemental fighters, bombers and gunboats launched from the massed armada. One ship, however, overshot its jump mark. The Hajen-class fleet tender Ahazi came out of hyperspace too close to Bessimir for its crew to react in time. The support vessel burned up in Bessimir's upper atmosphere, claiming the lives of six young men.
As General A'baht oversaw his forces, battle management assigned a reserve tender to fill the Ahazi's spot in the formation. When confirmation that the Fifth had successfully emerged from hyperspace and had deployed in battle formation was reported, A'baht gave authorization for a trio of assault carriers and their complement of BTL-S8 K-wing assault starfighters to start their attack run. The trio of vessels and their starfighter support surged ahead of the main fleet, looping under Bessimir's south pole to reach their target—the planet's alpha moon, which housed the main starfighter base, primary defense weapons, and a massive hypervelocity gun. The moon was on the far side of the planet from the Fifth's entry point.
At the same time, pairs of A-wing fighters began to target Bessimir's communications and sensor satellites. Their attack drew a counter assault from Bessimir; surface ion cannons began attempting to defend the orbiting satellites, which in turn revealed the location of the batteries to the Fifth Fleet. The lead assault carriers painted the targets with lasers, while the pulse cannons mounted on the fleet's Star Destroyers systemically destroyed the ground emplacements. The Republic's only casualty in the exchange was the loss of an A-wing from Blackfire Flight, which picked up a sleeper mine on its starboard wing during a recon pass.
As the trio of assault carriers approached the alpha moon, drone fighters began launching from concealed launch bunkers. The carriers deployed penetration bombs before veering off from the moon, drawing the drone fighters with them. The penetration bombs fell toward the surface of the moon using their own inertia, before activating tail thrusters that drove the bombs deep into the ground. Antiship batteries attempted to stop the incoming projectiles, but most slipped through the screening fire. Having been driven twice their length into the moon's surface, the bombs exploded simultaneously. The resulting concussion shockwave shattered the underground launch hangars, collapsing the structure in on itself, and silenced the antiship batteries. Deprived of a higher command and control, the drone fighters that had already launched followed their internal combat programming, targeting the assault carriers. The Republic ships made short work of the threat.
Following the assault carriers were the eighteen K-wing bombers of the 24th Bombardment Squadron, led by Red Leader Esege Tuketu. Operating under comm silence, the 24th had been given the assignment of knocking out the hypervelocity gun before it could be brought to bear on the ships of the Fifth Fleet. The weapon was capable of firing at a rate of one hundred and twenty slugs per minute, although New Republic Intelligence had noted that the weapon rarely fired for more than ten seconds at a time. Protected by both particle and ray shields, the firing control for the weapon was synchronized with the shield control. When the weapon fired, the particle shielding would drop to allow the slugs to fire without hindrance. The battle plan required the K-wings—many of which were configured as penetrators, carrying only slug cannons and flechétte missiles—to destroy the gun by timing their attack and releasing their load of projectiles just as the weapon's shields dropped as it fired. Breaking into six three-fighter flights, the K-wings skimmed the surface of the alpha moon, heading in different compass directions with the intention of converging over the weapon at the same time.
However, the hypervelocity gun still had to drop its shields to allow the K-wing's weapons to do their job. General A'baht did not want to risk the fleet, so tasked the Nebula-class Star Destroyer Resolve to act as bait. Outfitted with multiple shields, the Resolve dropped out of hyperspace in front of the hypervelocity gun. As the weapon opened fire on the Republic ship, Tuketu's flight slipped several projectiles through the shield gaps and destroyed the generator. Stripped of its shields, the hypervelocity gun began firing non-stop at the Resolve. Commander Syub Snunb gave the order to begin a withdrawal, hoping that the 24th would destroy the weapon before it destroyed the Star Destroyer. Tuketu's K-wings converged over the target, dropping lob bombs on the gun and destroying it while it still had a few shells in the barrel. Black Leader Hodo dropped the ordnance that finished off the weapon, which was confirmed by both Green Leader and the Resolve.
As the Fifth Fleet attained domination of local space, the Warrior-class gunships began to clear a corridor to Bessimir's surface by exposing themselves to ground based defensive emplacements in order for other ships to locate them and destroy them. By clearing a section of emplacements, the fleet created a breach that would allow Republic ships to transit to the surface, and deploy ground troops for an invasion. Satisfied by the fleet's performance, General A'baht reported that the exercise was a success to observers watching the proceeding in the New Republic Defense Force headquarters on Coruscant, and recommended that the Fifth be declared operational.
- "Etahn A'baht, reporting to Fleet Ops, Coruscant with copy to president of the Senate. Live-fire exercise Hammerblow satisfactorily concluded. Detailed report on casualties, deficiencies, and the performance of individual commands to follow. Recommend that the Fifth Defense Task Force be considered operational this date."
- ―General Etahn A'baht
The result of the operation met with mixed reactions. While members of the Defense Council—such as Senator Cian Marook—still questioned the wisdom in placing A'baht in command, one other wondered at what the Fifth Fleet was to be used for. Senator Tig Peramis accused Organa Solo of creating a tool of oppression, citing that the test was conducted against a planet without a planetary shield. Despite Ackbar's proclamation that any planet with a powerful shield would be subject to an initial commando raid to disable it, Peramis believed that the Fifth would be used to invade underdeveloped worlds, or to enforce New Republic edicts amongst its own members. In disgust, Peramis resigned from the Defense Council.
With the operation considered a success, the Fifth Fleet was declared operational, and slated to patrol the Seventh Security Zone. However, when word reached the New Republic that the secretive and xenophobic Yevetha had initiated a purge on planets throughout the Koornacht Cluster, the Fifth was retasked to protect New Republic interests near the Cluster.
Behind the scenes
Operation Hammerblow was featured in Before the Storm, the first novel in The Black Fleet Crisis trilogy, written by Michael P. Kube-McDowell and published in 1996. It served to introduce one of the new characters of the trilogy, Dornean General Etahn A'baht, as well as the New Republic Fifth Fleet, which would be a major part of the series.
- Before the Storm (First appearance)
Notes and references