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The following was written for the “Mad Scientist Science Fiction Writing Contest 2019.”
The text that follows is solely my invention to explore and expand upon the scenario as given. Enjoy!
First things first: I am not a Mad Scientist - I am an Angry Engineer! I’ve been in the business of analyzing systems for decades, as active duty military, DoD systems engineer, intelligence analyst, and more. And yes, I’ve been a REMF (look it up if you don’t already know it, please refer to pages 9-11 for explanation of all the other acronyms and terms used in this report) the entire time because I enjoy not being shot at while I work. Enough of my background, my task here is to provide an End-To-End Analysis and lessons learned from the April Fools’ Day battle for Otso fought mainly between Donovia and the United States.
Background: Donovia Precipitates a Crisis
2030 started with continually escalating pressure from Donovia to get Otso under its control. The US pledge to support Otso’s independence kept most of Donovia’s aggression hidden until the most fateful St. Patrick’s Day of our generation. Automated US NTM systems watched the buildup of Donovian air, sea, and land units in what its algorithms determined to be just a show of force. On March 17 that belief was shattered with a demonstration of how effective a 21st century Blitzkrieg can be when overwhelming a less capable defense. Donovia’s assault started with a cyber-attack that either took control of or disabled Otso’s command & communications systems. At the same time, multiple ‘news’ reports were spread over public media regarding chaos in Otso’s streets and the slaughter of ethnic Donovians. Critical Otso defenders were then destroyed during Donovia’s first strike of hypersonic precision-guided weapons, with many of those remaining captured in place by the time they figured out they were surrounded by Donovian invaders. Donovia’s public statement was that they were forced to occupy Otso for humanitarian reasons to prevent further killings and restore public order. Their ‘humanitarian’ propaganda was made much weaker when live social-media feeds were broadcast showing the brutal effectiveness of Donovian crowd control using microwave projectors to disperse civilian Otso protesters. These did not actually kill, but the pain was so intense that few people ever protested more than once.
For the US, March 18 began with debate about what to do about the one-day occupation of Otso. No US forces had been in Otso, so the discussion became just how far we were willing to go to protect an ally. The repeated US assurances in the months prior made this situation critical to the President and Congress regarding US world standing. Most UN members condemned Donovia’s violation of Otso but were unwilling to take the lead in opposition to it. It was decided to mobilize the US military immediately in order to keep all options open even as the public political debate went on, and countries bordering Otso were more than willing to allow US forces to deploy within their borders to deter further Donovian aggression.
The US military has been the unmatched master of logistics ever since WW2, and it lived up to its reputation again with the rapid deployment of air, sea, and land assets within striking range of Otso.
US politics concluded with an ultimatum levied by the US on March 24 upon Donovia to remove its illegal occupying forces by March 31. Donovia vetoed a similar resolution from the UN two days later, but condemnation of Donovia’s illegal invasion and blatant distortion of the facts was worldwide.
The Combat Forces
By March 30 almost all the US rapid positioning assets were in place, including the USS Ronald Reagan carrier Task Force that sailed to the very edge of Otso’s territorial waters, which were being garrisoned by a Donovian flotilla of 3 cruisers, 7 destroyers, and an unknown number of submarines. On the ground, Donovia had an entrenched division, including an extra artillery battalion, plus several reinforcement divisions available within adjacent Donovia itself. The US and its allies had put together the equivalent of three divisions worth of land forces, including the 82nd Airborne and several SOF units. The number of fighters, bombers, helicopters, and support aircraft were roughly equal, but the US believed it had the upper hand due to its superior 5th-generation F-22 and F-35 aircraft. There was no sign of Donovian retreat, and it was time to choose which of the myriad operational alternatives to put into action. No one was looking to start a world war, but a fine line would have to be walked to not stumble into one.
Since Donovia had already initiated combat cyber warfare on Otso, the US decided to start by giving them a taste of their own medicine. Predawn on April 1, US cyber and electronic warfare assets started by jamming, infecting, and even taking control of some of Donovia’s battlefield electronics. Near-simultaneous airstrikes were coordinated to take full advantage of the planned disruption and destroy as much of Donovia’s anti-aircraft capability within Otso as possible while minimizing casualties. The plan was to paralyze Donovia’s command & control, give them a bloody nose, and gain air superiority to give the US the upper hand.
US cyber weapons proved more capable than Donovia’s, but the effectiveness of US ECM and communications disruptions had some unexpected consequences. One of which was Donovian loss of control of their Lurker UUVs. Four of these stealth underwater drones were within range of US ships when their AIs incorrectly determined their parent vessels had been destroyed. Then they started to maneuver into position to take their robotic revenge.
The US used hypersonic missiles and naval fire to effectively destroy about half of Donovia’s anti-aircraft capability within Otso before dawn. A squadron of UCAV-controlling F-35s was sent in to finish the job and establish air supremacy over Otso. They received a nasty surprise with 3 of the F-35s and 5 of their UCAVs being shot down by Donovian lasers before the rest disengaged. The Donovian investment in quantum radar had paid off by being unjammable and proving it could defeat conventional stealth techniques by integrating offset radar sources. Once this was realized, the US prioritized the destruction of any radar source as rapidly as possible. Equally disturbing was the crash of an aircraft, killing its entire crew, but no immediate cause could be determined. F-22s were on patrol, but never needed to enter Otso’s airspace since manned Donovian aircraft never challenged them. F-22 combat time was mostly spent tracking down and destroying Donovian drones, which proved more numerous, stealthy, and dangerous than had been anticipated.
One of the three F-35 pilots shot down died instantly, but the other two were able to eject and land between US and Donovian ground troops. The decision to retrieve them was immediate, despite the proximity of the enemy. An 82nd Airborne recon unit outfitted with Lockheed Martin’s latest full-body Exoskeletons was almost to the first pilot’s position when the situation escalated rapidly.
The first Lurker successfully evaded detection and fired its 200-knot torpedo at the US Carrier. These torpedoes were initially mocked because they were straight-line unguidable weapons, but no countermeasure had been developed, and for a target as large as a carrier a straight-line trajectory was all that was needed. The Reagan was struck amidships and badly damaged. This attack was immediately answered by the rest of the US task force, which fired on all ten Donovian warships in Otso’s waters. The Donovian ships destroyed most of the incoming missiles, but it only took a few to get through combined with unstoppable hypervelocity US naval fire to sink 1 cruiser and 2 destroyers. The rest of the Donovian warships sustained enough damage to make them disengage. On the US side their laser point defense systems were more effective, with only one destroyer being disabled by incoming Donovian missiles. Another US destroyer was cut in two by another lurker’s torpedo before their stealth profiles were identified and the remaining two UUVs destroyed before they could attack. The US admiral broke off the pursuit once the Donovians retreated out of Otso’s waters.
The communications confusion caused by this sea battle heightened the tensions on land considerably. The regular army Donovian commanders did not have expensive quantum communications gear like their integrated air defense and strategic nuclear forces, so the information they received from their HQ was spotty at best. The brigade commander nearest to the first pilot did not know that a rescue operation was in progress but could see a US force advancing on his position, knew of an active sea battle in progress, had no clear orders from HQ, and could only surmise the Americans were hell bent on starting a war. He was a product of his training and responded in kind by directing his command to fire on the Americans as soon as they came in optimal range. Following the sequence of events in order is nearly impossible at this point because so many actions occurred nearly simultaneously. What started on the ground as an American pilot rescue attempt quickly escalated into a full-frontal firefight, with no winners.
The modern weaponry on both sides of the battlefield proved very lethal. This was the first combat debut of Lockheed Martin’s matter laser air defense network, and it proved to be much more effective than Donovia’s laser battery based anti-artillery defenses. US staging areas were practically invulnerable to Donovian long-range artillery and mortars, but that protection did not extend all the way to the troops advancing towards the Donovian lines. Those recon units took heavy casualties before they reached the pilots they were trying to rescue, were pinned in place, and radioed for reinforcements. A company of 12 US tanks was the next to engage, with their upgraded reactive armor providing an effective defense at first, but they could only deflect so many shots before getting overwhelmed. They were only in combat for a few minutes, but the surviving crew reported that it felt like hours, as it became a battle of attrition between them and their more numerous Donovian counterparts. Five of those crews were KIA while providing cover for the recon group to reach the downed pilot and retreat towards the relative safety of the US lines. The second downed pilot was not as fortunate and was killed in the crossfire during a ground battle that continued to escalate for hours.
Donovian strategic planners were well-aware of US dependence on GPS guidance, both for targeting weapons and battlefield maneuver. From their POV, they surmised the best way to lessen US combat power was to rapidly take out as much GPS capability as they could. They had prepared for this possibility by prepositioning fragmentation kamikaze satellites into orbits that could rapidly intersect parts of the GPS constellation. Donovian ground-based strategic lasers were also tasked to take out as many US military satellites as quickly as possible.
Donovian killer satellites were commanded to start their maneuvers shortly after the naval battle broke out, were immediately detected by NORAD, and threats were levied by both sides for escalating a situation that they could see was spiraling out of control. By noon in Otso the battle had engaged most of the forces on both sides and the Donovian generals gave the order to take out US space assets to attempt to blind the forces and weapons that depended upon it for navigation and precision strikes. Over the course of the next two hours about half the GPS satellites and several communications satellites were either disabled or destroyed. The Donovian generals were dismayed that for every US satellite they attacked, they lost one of their own, even the satellites they thought the US did not know contained military capabilities.
Donovia decided to hit the US where they believed it to be weakest, attacking the US infrastructure that Americans are so dependent upon for their daily routine. The US power grid, financial system, and civilian communications were much less protected from cyber warfare than the US military, and by the afternoon of the battle much of it was shut down and would not recover for weeks. Donovia had thought their country was not as vulnerable due to its state-controlled internet, but they learned just as quickly that US cyber warfare had advanced since the days of Stuxnet. Cyber weapons are notoriously hard to control once released however, and power grids, banking systems, and communications networks for most of the world were affected by the end of the day.
The leaders of both sides realized they were rapidly heading toward a nuclear exchange and urgent communications were sent from their respective commands to take a strictly defensive posture immediately. Unfortunately, some of the commanders in Otso (on both sides) had broader definitions of ‘defense’ including “a good offense” and it wasn’t until dusk that combat operations finally ceased.
Thousands of combatants died on both sides, mostly on ships, hundreds more were wounded, primarily from the land battle, and an unverifiable number of casualties occurred worldwide due to the sabotage of power grids and other infrastructure. An accurate civilian count was impossible in the chaos of reestablishing power, computer, and financial systems worldwide. No determination will ever be made of each death that was due to a hospital being without power, each injury that would not have otherwise happened, or which people would not have starved if their flow of food had not been cut off.
Although US forces were considered to have ‘won’ tactically, no significant change in control of territory resulted from the battle. Both sides’ weaponry was very lethal and very fast. Overall this worked in the defender’s favor because attacking forces were too exposed, detectable, and vulnerable to last very long on today’s battlefield. Stealth AI drones (both airborne and undersea) were the only systems that lasted very long in combat, and only as long as they remained undetected. Even an airborne drone with the signature of a small bird would be shot down quickly if it could be tracked long enough by speed-of-light energy weapons. With no strategic victor and government leadership on both sides accurately fearful of starting World War 3, an uneasy military standoff continued for several weeks.
Post-combat analysis provided another surprise. Autopsies of the pilots concluded they had been permanently blinded by lasers, which were later determined to have come from Donovian drones. This violation of the United Nations was made public and added to the fury of the international community against Donovia.
In space, a mini Syndrome took place, with over a dozen more commercial and scientific satellites being destroyed by the growing amount of debris spreading from the destruction of the targeted satellites. Space analysts counted us lucky that it did not keep on propagating to destroy more than it did, but it will take many years before those orbits will be considered safe to launch into again.
The world is still recovering from the financial toll of this conflict. The billions of dollars destroyed on the battlefield were overshadowed by the trillions lost globally. The inadvertent spread of the 2017 NOTPETYA malware was estimated to have cost $10 Billion globally. The cyber weapons of 2030 destroyed hard to replace infrastructure like transformers, pipelines, and port facilities. There were hundreds of deaths at sea before AI-controlled commercial and civilian ships could be brought back under manual control. Dozens of more deaths were blamed on ship operators that were too inexperienced in using manual control during the emergency as well. There may never be an accurate tally of how many road accident deaths were caused by the indiscriminate hacking of AI-controlled vehicles. The disruption of global commerce was staggering. Several famines resulted from the reduced flow of food. Not since the great depression of the 1930s had the world suffered so great an economic impact, which was generally agreed to tally into the hundreds of trillions of dollars.
The Otso incident was an international wake-up call of unprecedented scale, and the reaction was angry and swift. Donovia was accurately depicted as creating this crisis that brought the world to edge of Armageddon. Condemnation was universal, even from Donovia’s usual allies. The reckless disregard with which Donovia inflicted death, destruction, and disruption upon the world demanded a determined response. As expected, Donovia used its UN Veto power to prevent that organization from taking effective action, but it could not prevent all those nations from signing a treaty imposing an embargo on all Donovian trade until Otso’s independence was reestablished. Not since the Paris Agreement to mitigate human-caused climate change had there been such strong international unity.
Donovia thought that winning on the ground was worth any cost, but they could not withstand the cost of the world’s combined economic pressure. Globalism proved stronger than nationalism when Donovia was compelled to retreat from Otso in June. Donovia’s strategic blunder also had another effect that its leaders did not want, in that the world once again looked to the US for global leadership.
24 Lessons Learned (LL)
LL1: History repeated itself in that no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy. The unforeseen consequences of reliance on automation and the resulting escalations almost lead to World War 3. No matter how sophisticated our systems become, it will always be important to keep human decision making in the OODA (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) loop.
LL2: Donovia was able to launch a ‘surprise’ attack on Otso because US human intelligence analysis grew too dependent on their automated tools. The NTM software identified the Donovia troop movements as something it had seen many times before, labelled them as routine, and therefore the analysts reported them as routine as well.
LL3: Directed microwave and other weapons performed within accepted parameters. The 20th century legacy electronic systems were rendered completely useless when overwhelmed with more energy than they could handle.
LL4: Differences in assumptions is what lead to the escalations on April 1st. The US model of AI weaponry was to always require human authorization before firing a weapon. Donovia’s paradigm was that if an AI had its ‘secure’ communications severed, then that meant engage the enemy ASAP. Donovia’s Lurker UUVs had their communications severed with their parent vessels in a way that was interpreted by its on-board AI as the destruction of its parent vessel. At that point it located the highest value target in range, maneuvered into position, and fired its torpedo into the USS Ronald Reagan, inflicting crippling damage leading to the deaths of over 1,000 of its crew.
LL5: There is still no effective defense versus a supercavitating torpedo once launched. Any platform capable of carrying one must be considered a threat and dealt with accordingly. Therefore, research into better detection of all stealth platforms is critical to the future of US Naval dominance.
LL6: Stealth technology cannot be relied upon to keep pilots safe. Modern stealth aircraft are very effective at diverting radar energy away from its source, but that same aircraft becomes very detectable when a radar source is synchronized with a separately located radar receiver. All that is required is a significant offset angle between the radar source, the target aircraft, and the radar-receiving sensor.
LL7: The “Four-ship” concept of each F-35 controlling three UCAVs in combat is still considered the most effective way to employ these aircraft, but the piloted F-35 may need to control its UCAVs without coming into LOS of sophisticated enemy air defenses. The alternatives are to allow the UCAVs to perform combat missions completely independently once in flight, accept the risks of controlling UCAVs remotely with the possibility of communications loss, or even to risk those UCAVs being taken over by the enemy.
LL8: Evaluation of Donovia’s long-range stealth UCAV’s capabilities were incomplete. They were correctly analyzed to be too small to deliver a significant missile or bomb load, so they were incorrectly surmised to be of little threat as just another reconnaissance drone. US intelligence intercepts of incorporating low power lasers on them assumed that this would be used for designation of targets for separately launched laser-guided weaponry. The truth that they were designed to blind the pilots of aircraft deep within enemy airspace was not realized until after the loss of an AWACS aircraft. The only current defense against this is to wear headgear designed to instantly darken when encountering a nuclear flash, which many pilots did not wear, until now.
LL9: Stealth UCAVs proved to dominate the airspace, unless they could be shot down with energy weapons. Their combat capabilities were superior to much larger piloted vehicles due to not being hampered by human limitations. They instantly followed their programming regardless of how long they were airborne, could maneuver at much higher gees than piloted fighters, and cost less to deploy.
LL10: Lockheed Martin’s Matter Lasers were much more effective at destroying incoming artillery and mortar shells than Donovia’s more conventional laser defenses. It vindicated all the effort and expense that was undertaken to transform Patent US9502202 from a research project into the most effective air defense system on Earth. By delivering an energy density thousands of times stronger than conventional lasers, it destroyed each incoming round hundreds of times faster.
LL11: Donovia’s standard laser point defenses also proved capable of destroying incoming missiles and artillery, but they were relatively easy to overwhelm since they took much longer to eliminate each incoming threat. Their lasers proved to be useless at intercepting US naval hypervelocity railgun rounds.
LL12: The US was not as reliant of GPS guidance as Donovia assumed. The deployment of advanced inertial guidance systems rivalling GPS accuracy had come just in time to prevent the loss of high-precision GPS from being a crippling blow to US combat capabilities.
LL13: The Expanded Advanced Battle Management System (EABMS) multi-service network was critical to the US forces being able to effectively coordinate their efforts even while exposed to Donovian electronic warfare. EABMS proved that integrated warfighters can still perform their missions even after several parts of the network were destroyed or disabled.
LL14: The Exoskeleton enhancements of the first pilot’s rescue team were deemed to be crucial to his successful retrieval. Their greater strength, endurance, and body armor helped them to safely return to US lines. Perhaps even more valuable than the physical aspects of their equipment were their augmented reality displays that allowed them superior battlefield awareness and the ability to see through camouflage as if it was not even there. It is recommended that the US continue development of the next generation of Lockheed Martin’s military ONYX full-body powered exoskeletons.
LL15: The performance of US fast-attack hovercraft was disappointing. Their battlefield speed advantage was offset by their vulnerability. Even minor damage to their air-cushion skirts would degrade their maneuverability so much that they suffered twice the casualty rate as their wheeled and tracked counterparts.
LL16: Most of US wounded soldiers (WIA) from the battlefield suffered from burn-like damage. The same Donovian non-lethal microwave projectors used for crowd control had a high-power capability to inflict severe skin damage through cloth armor.
LL17: US medical triage was greatly aided by medical sensors woven directly into its soldiers’ uniforms. This led to faster diagnosis, treatment, and recovery of casualties than in any previous conflict.
LL18: Mines remain the scourge of the battlefield, with AI-controlled mines being particularly insidious. Some were even programmed to let several combatants pass by before detonating in the middle of a formation of troops that thought the area had already been cleared.
LL19: The fledgling industry of orbital cleanup services (satellites designed to collect and/or dispose of other inactive satellites) received a major inadvertent boost from renewed concerns over orbital debris.
LL20: The chaos of the space battle allowed capture and return to Earth of a few chosen Donovian high-interest military satellites. US analysts were surprised by several aspects of Donovian design, but those results have no further need for discussion in this review of the conflict over Otso.
LL21: There was speculation of possible Donovian deployment of tailored genetically engineered bioweapons, but these were not supported by any confirmable evidence. On tactical timescales, bioweapons are still deemed ineffective. The ability to inflict casualties on an enemy with bioweapons while trying to limit the damage to your own personnel is still an unresolved strategic issue.
LL22: The reports of Donovia having anti-personnel weapons that used nanites were also unsupported. This technology is just starting to be used industrially, and nanite-based weapons are considered to be at least a decade away from being ready for battlefield use.
LL23: There were also reports on social media of Donovian atrocities towards Otso’s civilians, but no supporting evidence has been found for these numerous dubious claims.
LL24: This conflict resulted in most nations looking back to the US in a leadership role in a way that completely healed the damage to US prestige that occurred from its involvement in decades of middle-eastern warfare.
Acronyms & Terms
AI = Artificial Intelligence. The use of sophisticated computer programming to control technology without the need for direct human intervention. Donovian AI-controlled weapons were much more independent than the relatively conservative US designs, which required human authorization before an AI-controlled device could deliver lethal force.
= Airborne Early Warning and Control. Aircraft used to coordinate military operations.
DARPA = Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. US organization capable of funding high-risk research until it’s ready for use.
DoD = Department of Defense. The HQ organization with primary responsibility for preparing US military forces to meet and defeat all potential threats to US national interests.
Donovia = A wealthy nation that is a near-peer competitor to the US.
EABMS = Expanded Advanced Battle Management System. A US systems-of-systems concept that distributes surveillance and battle management command and control roles among all combatants in the battlespace to help speed decisions and enable our warfighters to quickly act on them. Developed by integrating Lockheed Martin’s ™ DoD open architecture with the USAF’s already mature Advanced Battle Management System ( ).
ECM = Electronic Counter Measures. A catch-all term referring to the ability to blind, deceive, or otherwise defeat the ability of enemy systems from performing their functions.
= Electromagnetic Pulse. Induced electrical energy which can overwhelm electronic components. It’s relatively easy to temporarily incapacitate or permanently destroy civilian equipment, usually requiring larger amounts of power and/or more sophisticated delivery to do the same to ‘hardened’ military equipment.
GPS = Global Positioning System. Generically used to refer to any such navigation or precision guidance system, not just the US constellation which utilizes over 30 satellites in various orbits.
HARM = High-speed Anti-Radiation Missile. These weapons are specially designed to home in on radar-emitting threats as rapidly as possible but are themselves vulnerable to directed energy defenses.
HQ = Headquarters. Any group of people and/or equipment that controls the decisions of several other military units.
KIA = Killed In Action. Term used to refer to all combatant deaths, regardless of cause.
LL# = Lessons Learned. Analysis which tries to prevent future mistakes by explaining why and how the observed results occurred, such as inadequate long-term thinking.
LOS = Line of Sight. Usually referenced because most sensors and directed energy weapons must have no obstructions between them and their target(s).
Lurker = Code name given to Donovian UUVs which are stealthy slow-moving mines armed with a one-shot torpedo. Very difficult to detect with passive sonar techniques.
Nanites = Generic term referring to machines. The context used here refers to machines too small to be seen, but capable of harming living things and/or being able to damage machinery. These are just starting to be utilized for medical and industrial purposes and are not believed to be ready for tactical or strategic military deployment, yet.
NORAD = North American Aerospace Defense Command. The HQ organization with primary responsibility for securing US space assets & capabilities and tracking potential threats to those.
NTM = National Technical Means. Any of the many systems used to gather imagery, signals, and other information for analysis and possible use by US warfighters and our allies.
OODA = Observe, Orient, Decide, Act. Shortening this timeline is one of the highest priorities for all military actions, since intelligent rapid response is the best means to defeat adversaries.
Otso = A close ally of the US which neighbors Donovia.
SOF = Special Operating Forces. A term usually reserved for SEAL Teams, Rangers, and other elite units given the best equipment, training, and support possible.
= An extremely sophisticated computer worm that exploited multiple previously unknown Windows zero-day vulnerabilities in 2010 to infect computers and spread. Its purpose was not just to infect computers but to cause real-world physical damage.
TBD = To Be Determined. A catch-all phase for when an issue has no solution and there’s no clear path to resolve it.
TBR = To Be Resolved. An issue that is better understood than a TBD, usually with a number that just needs to be refined from a placeholder value, such as in a system requirement.
UCAV = Unmanned Combat Air Vehicle. Donovian designs were considered slightly inferior to US models, but both are capable of performing various air missions either independently using advanced AI or being remotely controlled by a human.
US//MS = United States//Mad Scientist. The ‘Classification’ used to label this fictional account.
UUV = Unmanned Underwater Vehicle. These robotic subs can perform most of the functions that a crewed submarine can, usually with a much smaller vehicle.
WIA = Wounded In Action. Term used to refer to all wounded combatants, regardless of cause.
WW2 = World War Two. The second “war to end all wars”, which set the standard by which all wars since have been judged. The US emerged from it as the world’s leading superpower.
= US spaceplane-like asset.