Small Wars Journal

Thirty Minutes In Otso: Competition Is Conflict

Fri, 06/28/2019 - 6:30am

Thirty Minutes In Otso: Competition Is Conflict

Nick Bono, Tyler Horan, Branden Quintana, Brett Reichert and Garrett Carr

The Mad Scientist team executed its 2019 Science Fiction Writing Contest to glean insights about the future fight with a near-peer competitor in 2030. We received 77 submissions from both within and outside of the DoD. This story was one of our semi-finalists and features a futuristic look at warfare and its featured technologies.


Figure 1. Otso Conflict Zone Map, March 2030

THE PENTAGON, 17 MARCH 2030, 2000 ZULU / 1600 EST

How did we get here? Ten minutes ago was a tactical miscalculation. Ten days ago was the latest round of protests. Ten years ago I argued we were already in a fight – in danger if not under fire.

 First it was debt trap diplomacy under the Prosperous Path Initiative, and gunboat diplomacy with forward basing and training exercises. The infrastructure investments had strings attached - binding agreements for shared communication networks and data centers.  The military presence came with security, “safe city” programs complete with thousands of closed-circuit cameras, and policies that censored speech and controlled the media narrative.

We paid lip service to the ‘Gray Zone’ and ignored their ‘Three Warfares’ even as we spoke of taking a stand in the name of competition.

And we did compete! But our FONOPs didn’t stop them from seizing Salay Port over unpaid debt. I see it more clearly now, but I didn’t then and I guess Otso didn’t either.  So here we are, supplanted and exploited by our own system.  A whole-of-government approach.

It’s ironic that the United States doesn’t understand the political power of the people, or what influences them. Losing Otso means losing Asia.  Maybe more.  But keeping it requires more than operators, a Crisis Response Force, and a carrier can provide. Not more tools – there’s not a thing this side of the computer we can’t handle – I need more options.

“Chairman, the Secretary’s en route,” his Executive Assistant said.

“Thanks, Joe,” replied General Nittick.  “Alexa, read Sun Tzu - ‘subdue the enemy,’” he said as he reached for his jacket to leave the suite and meet the Secretary of Defense.

“If sovereign and subject are in accord, put divisions between them. Subdue the enemy without fighting.”

An early version of Philip II’s ‘Divide and Conquer.’ Of course, Philip’s son was poisoned after conquering the world. Maybe he should’ve read more Sun Tzu. Maybe we all should.

 “...that’s what the viral footage is showing, Hailee,” chimed the voice of CNN broadcaster Matt McCallen. “We’re seeing what looks like a confrontation between Donovian and US forces in Otso, and what clearly appears to be a US rocket fired at a Donovian Navy ship.  What more can you tell us?”

“Joe, give me a second.  I want to see this...” the Chairman said as he stopped in front of his office television.

“That’s right, Matt,” Hailee Thompson replied. She was CNN’s senior defense correspondent, reporting from her set in the press hall of the Pentagon. “The Southeast Asian nation of Otso appears to be the stage for what could escalate into a war between the U.S. and Donovia.  We’re expecting a joint statement from Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Nittick and Secretary of Defense Lewis shortly.”

“Right now, all we can do is piece together various social media reactions from Otso.  And even that has been sporadic. The whole island is in a 5G blackout,” Hailee continued.

“The footage you're seeing now was captured by an Otsoan fishing boat. The smoke trail you see is a U.S. rocket fired from their base outside Salay. We are hearing from locals that it was shot at a Donovian ship in the bay. It is unclear whether the rocket detonated in mid-air or if the Donovian ship was able to shoot it down.  The answer to that may determine what happens next,” she stated matter of factly. 

McCallan interjected, “Hailee, was there any indication the US forces were provoked?  Why would they fire the first shot?” McCallen questioned with his trademark pensive stare.

“Matt, we’re seeing several videos that tagged US and Donovian soldiers in territory controlled by the Otso Liberation Front, known as the OLF, but those feeds cut out seconds before the rocket was fired.  It’s important to remember that tensions have been high between the US and Donovia for years, and this incident may bring the relationship to a head,” Hailee said. 

“This is a potentially game-changing escalation and just the latest incident here. Two weeks ago, after Donovia sent additional troops to their Salay base, the OLF ambushed one of their logistics convoys.  Donovia responded with an increased naval presence to secure their supply lines.”

“The Otsoans claimed that violated the South Donovian Sea Code of Conduct, and the US considers the move a breach of Otsoian sovereignty,” she continued.

“And Matt, the Otsoan government is caught in the middle.  Popular support waned after a Donovian Coast Guard vessel was accused of ramming and sinking an Otsoan fishing boat last fall. But Otso is hesitant to speak out because of their ties to Donovia’s Prosperous Path Initiative, that has financed major infrastructure projects like the Salay Port and Otso’s entire 5G network.  The US has warned about this practice, and protested Donovia’s ‘Safe City’ program, saying both compromise host nation datasets and cloud architectures,” Hailee commented.

“As we follow this situation, remember the US and Otso are bound by a mutual defense treaty, likely to be invoked as all parties consider their next move in Otso. One thing is certain: the next hour will be crucial in determining whether we are at war with Donovia. Back to you, Matt.”

OTSO, 17 MARCH 2030, 1927 ZULU / 0327 Local

“Three minutes out,” Ghost yelled.  He was hand-selected to field test the SB-1 Defiant medium lift aircraft.

“Roger,” replied Mike. “Three minutes. Turn on your IHPS and confirm when you’re up,” he relayed to his team.

Mike dawned his Integrated Head Protection System, flipped it to transmit, and confirmed his Datalink at full strength. “Doc, everyone’s vitals displaying?” he asked. “Got ‘em,” Doc replied.

Mike and his team were issued the most advanced full face IHPS systems. They looked like a team of Starship Troopers. Each helmet had a display outfitted with augmented reality, advanced night optics, and real-time voice translation.

Mike toggled through presets and set his mask to display the Scout feed. He checked that each member of his team was transmitting on his common graphic overlay, and gave a final voice command before stepping off the helicopter.

“Scout 98, fire four rounds of electro-pulse and two close-target sensors.” The voice command transmitted through the tactical cloud network for the operation - ‘the enclave’ in operational terms. - and was processed by a pilot sitting in an operations center miles away.

The unmanned semi-autonomous helicopter gained altitude and fired the electro-pulse rounds before diving toward the target. It slowed its decent and air-launched two small unmanned quadcopters before returning to its position behind the treeline.

The electro-pulse rounds floated under small parachutes jamming the OLF signals within the target area. The quadcopters - “quads” for short - stabilized mid-launch and identified the target compound. 

“Alexa, scan the compound.” Mike ordered. Using the “quads,” Alexa, the same voice assistant used by civilians for nearly two decades, began constructing 3D model of the target building that the team could view through their helmets.

Task Force (TF) 134 was comprised of twelve Americans and twelve Otsoan commandos. Each Otsoan partner wore a nano-beacon transmitting their geo-location. They also had full face masks, but without the augmented reality package. 

The group was comfortable after operating together over the past eight months, primarily tasked with countering the OLF extremist group.

Tonight was different.

Tonight, TF 134 was tasked to capture Objective Zeus - a machine learning algorithm built by the criminal-cyber network Anonymous. The OLF purchased Zeus a year ago to strip data from Otso government servers and conduct predictive analytics to determine their most vulnerable nodes.  Since its employment, the Otsoan government has been burdened with an overwhelming number of malware attacks, which has provided freedom of maneuver for the OLF across the government-controlled networks.

Anonymous credited Zeus with a recent cyber attack on the SCADA system controlling the Otso petroleum pipeline supplying to US and Donovian bases, and so Task Force 134 was ordered to seize it.

“Mike, target mapping is complete,” Alexa said. “Cole, you have the “quads,” Mike ordered. “Roger that,” Cole replied. “Alexa, send one quad for close-target overwatch and the other to scan a three kilometer perimeter,” he directed.

“Ok, Cole,” Alexa replied. The “quads” moved into position and began scanning. Alexa would alert the team to abnormal activity.

The team moved quietly through the jungle north of the target. “Cole, I’m in visual range of the breach point,” Glen said.

“Roger.  Glen, help me get the Otsoans in place while Cole launches Firefly,” Mike said.

Mike waved his Otsoan counterpart into position. When the two were within a few meters of one another their helmets synced and automatically triggered the translation application.

“Sir, the target is two-hundred meters from our position. We are going to deploy our Firefly recon kit. Ten micro-drones will fly into the building and each will observe seperate rooms. We’ll see through the walls,” Mike explained.

“We haven’t used this capability yet, so if it doesn't work we’ll conduct a standard assault,” he continued. His words were automatically translated into Otsoan and transmitted by Alexa across the helmets.

 “Magandang pumunta.” Major Ocampo replied. Alexa’s voice spoke into Mike’s ear-piece, “Good to go.”

“134, this is Lightning 31. I am a flight one F-35 with two XQ-58Bs as my loyal wingmen. We are carrying twelve small precision glide bombs and a SHiELD laser protection package.”

The F-35 was not the typical enabler, but since OLF started attacking Donovian patrols a few weeks ago a lot had changed. The Donovian force posture dramatically increased. They used the attack to justify sending expeditionary forces and additional naval assets to Otso.  The US matched it with F-35s aboard the USS Essex.

“Cole, how we lookin’?”  Mike asked.

“One of the quads is locked on three personnel in the courtyard. Firefly is deployed, broadcasting seven of the ten feeds. Glen will lead us through the breach and is primary for observation of Firefly. I will trail and be primary for quads. Mike you have Scout and Lightning,” Cole reported.

“Lightning 31, this is 134. Our infil was covered by our PRSM - Precision Strike Missile - Battery. Have you pulled them into your tactical cloud enclave?” Mike asked.

“Linking now,” Lightning 31 replied.

When the ground-based missile battery is incorporated into the same tactical network enclave as the F-35, the two systems feed one-another targeting data automatically. The Merlin algorithm in Lightning 31’s targeting pod was now continuously feeding target data to the battery.

“Task Force, this is Lightning 31. We’re registered with PRSM 17. And we got an alert from Scout 98 reporting intermittent jamming seven kilometers south of your position.”

“Lightning 31, roger,” Mike transmitted. “What are the Donovians up tonight?”

As Mike was transmitting his helmet lens flashed amber and displayed an alert from Scout 98 reading, “OPS CHANNEL JAMMED, MOVING TO LOITER POSITION CHARLIE.”

“Lightning 31, Scout 98 is repositioning. I need you to cover our southern flank until we can identify the origin of this jamming,” Mike said.

“Cole, recover the quads. Scout 98, evade jamming and reposition on the exfil zone. If compromised, return to base,” Mike said.

“Lightning, we are going to need some help. Scout just got pushed out of position. I’m getting a feeling we’re not alone. Push your feed onto our tactical enclave. I don’t want to lose our eyes,” Mike said.

“Acknowledged, linking now. We are getting warning indicators up here of passive radar signatures from the Donovian cruiser. I’ll keep the XQs in armed overwatch south of your position,” Lightning 31 replied.

“Glen, breach now!” Mike ordered. “We need to get off this target. There’s some weird stuff going on and I don't want to be here to find out why,” Mike said.

“Roger,” Glen replied.

Just as the words left his mouth all graphics in his helmet disappeared.

CJTF-O JOC: OTSO, 17 MARCH 2030, 1943 ZULU / 0343 Local

“What the hell just happened?” demanded LTC Mackenzie Jackson, Chief of Operations for the US-led Combined Joint Task Force based in Otso (CJTF-O), as she stormed out of her office onto the floor of the Joint Operations Center, or JOC. She was waving a tablet and glaring at her Battle Captain, MAJ Logan Black, awaiting an answer.

“Ma’am, Task Force just went dark on objective and we lost link with AUTOLOG,” Logan said, using short-hand for the new autonomous logistics package.  It was conducting a resupply mission to the General Otso Petroleum Corporation station that provided fuel for all military forces in the country.

“We can still relay to 134 through Lightning 31 on UHF but comms are spotty ‘cause they jammed the target area before breach. We’re pulling a feed from Lightning on the screen but the ARCOP will be frozen until we’re linked back in,” Logan explained, referencing the acronym for the Augmented Reality Common Operating Picture.

The ARCOP was a feed displayed on a large screen in the JOC and broadcast to any linked device. Until a few minutes ago, LTC Jackson’s tablet was alive with real-time satellite video of Otso. She had zoomed in to watch the progress of TF 134 and the AUTOLOG while using Alexa to analyze Otsoan movements outside the normal pattern of life. Displayed beneath the video were TF 134’s vital signs. She had ordered Alexa to determine the source of the jamming reported by Scout 98 when the feed froze.

LTC Jackson now glanced at the lagging video from the F-35s and stared hopelessly at the frozen ARCOP. Seeing her look, Logan added, “Reminds me of Syria. Hard to imagine we ever fought wars without a 5G link.”

“Right,”, she said.  She outranked him, but he had been in the Army much longer. Identified for early promotion because of her organizational leadership skills, LTC Jackson moved from CPT to LTC almost overnight. It never bothered Black; Jackson was better at this, and he knew it. Plus, he found his niche. The Army would let him be Battle Captain as long as he wanted.

“What’s the impact to AUTOLOG?” she asked.

“It’s stalled halfway to the station, Ma’am.  It’s follower drone is overhead for situational awareness.”

“Ok – start manually populating the ARCOP.  Pull grids from the feeds and spin up the reserve force to recover AUTOLOG. The satellite imagery is cached, so use it.” she ordered. 

“Roger that, Ma’am.” With a grin, he turned to one of the JOC’s Radio Telephone Operators (RTO). The RTO was staring at him in abject terror. “Oh come on, it’s touch screen! Better than the stylus we used to use. Get to work.”

LTC Jackson turned to the rest of the staff monitoring the status of this operation.  The communications, electronic warfare, and cyber officers made a motley bunch at this hour.  The cyber officer, known to most as “Boris” – he had a penchant for classic James Bond flicks – was excitedly talking tech jargon to no one in particular.

“Talk to me, guys. Where’s my link? And don’t tell me it’s the weather.”

The Electronic Warfare Officer, an Air Force Major by the name of Joe Armstrong whose call sign was “Stretch,” replied first. “Ma’am, looks like our satellites are being dazzled by the Donovians. They’re the only ones with that capability here.”

“Really? Have you seen this before? How long can it last?”

“I haven’t but -”

“I have,” Boris interrupted, “but this is crazy, even for them. I think they’re trying to disrupt AUTOLOG.  We’ve been monitoring attacks on the vehicles’ network all night. My guess is the autonomous thing’s got them spooked. Seems like they found a way to stop them.”

Stretch continued, “I don’t think this will last more than five minutes or so. It’ll be difficult to keep up and it’s risky. They’ll be worried we’ll retaliate.”

“There’s nothing we can do?” LTC Jackson asked.

“Not with what we’ve got on-ground, Ma’am. We’ll have to wait.”

Logan interrupted the conversation. “Ma’am, we’ve got an unidentified element moving in vicinity of 134. You can see it on Lightning’s feed.”

“What? Who?” she asked.

He continued, “I think it’s a Donovian force..”

The radio crackled, “Spartan JOC this is Lightning 31. I’ve got 14 individuals moving north toward the objective area with one vehicle in trail and three drones overhead. Break.” The old UHF radio fell silent before she continued transmitting, “Looks like it’s armed with a Silent Hunter anti-UAV laser.”

The lucky RTO manning the radio keyed the microphone to reply. “Lightning 31, Spartan JOC, acknowledge all, we see them. Relay to Task Force.”

“Spartan JOC, Lightning 31. 134 is broken and barely readable but should have eyes-on with organic assets.”

“Not without the link they won’t,” LTC Jackson said as she turned to MAJ Black. “Alright. Launch the reserve now. Notify me when they’ve reached the AUTOLOG. Get confirmation from 134 that they’re tracking the Donovian element. Remind Lighting 31 who’s calling the shots – 134’s not pulling any feed with that link down. I have to brief the commander and get the Donovians on the line before this turns into a circus.”

“Roger, Ma’am,” Logan replied.

LTC Jackson turned to walk back to her office.


Lightning’s feed flashed with tracers and infrared lasers. “Spartan JOC, Lightning 31 – troops in contact on objective.”

Mike’s voice suddenly broke through on the enclave. “Spartan JOC, this is 134 on link! Contact!”

The frozen screens in the JOC came to life as the link was restored. All graphic control measures – phase lines, objective area, route names – populated on the ARCOP. Recognizing the word ‘contact,’ Alexa highlighted the engaged area on the ARCOP and sent an initial report detailing time, location, and suspected enemy composition to all organizations in the CJTF-O enclave. Any feed of the affected area or augmented reality headset looking in that direction would see blue and red boxes around the units.

“Logan, get me—,” LTC Jackson started to say.

“Attention in the JOC!” the JOC NCO yelled. “Troops in contact in vicinity of…”

“Spartan JOC, Unit 134. We’re in contact with Donovian personnel. We have seven enemy KIA and three friendly WIA!”

The JOC already knew about the casualties. Alexa had analyzed Unit 134’s vitals and determined three personnel were wounded. Before any human could react, Alexa generated a medical evacuation request detailing the location, number of wounded, and potential landing zones, and broadcast it to all units in the CJTF-O enclave. In the past, this type of report could take minutes to submit over a traditional radio, even if the RTO on the other end was able to hear and record all of the information on the first try.

 “Dustoff’s tracking!” The medical officer reported. “Alexa told us those vitals spiked.” 

The three possible landing zones appeared on the ARCOP and TF 134’s headsets.

“134, JOC. Pick an LZ and…”

“Black, send a runner for the Com—”

“MAJ Black!” The JOC NCO interrupted, “Reserve force is moving.”

“Recall them, AUTOLOG is moving. I’m sorry, Ma’am—”

“Mackenzie. SITREP.” LTC Jackson spun around. It was the Joint Task Force Commander, COL Liam Jacques.

“Sir, troops in contact...” she began.

“JOC, Lightning 31, I’m being painted from the bay.”

“…with a Donovian element…”

“Dustoff wheels-up!” reported the medical officer.

“...three friendly WIA—”

SFC Smith interrupted her. “Ma’am! We have a launch from Bravo Battery!”

“What?! Drop it!”  At the click of a button, SFC Smith turned the variable-yield rocket into a telephone pole-sized bullet.

COL Jacques sighed. “Mackenzie,” he paused. “I have to call the Combatant Commander.”

At that moment, the JOC went dark.

THE PENTAGON, 17 MARCH 2030, 2004 ZULU / 1604 EST

“What the hell is going on in Otso?” Defense Secretary Lewis asked.

Just before entering the Tank and being exposed to the blue light of the screens, scrolling tickers, interactive charts, and graphics that visualized data from across Merlin’s interface, the Secretary and Chairman passed by a painting of General Bradley in the Pentagon’s E-ring.

I wonder if he would have understood what it was like to be in a World War that never ended?

The faces of the combatant commanders were already projecting on the augmented reality walls, and followed the movement of the Secretary to her seat as the Chairman escorted her into the room.

“Ma’am, we have an update and will present options before we dial into the Situation Room, ” Chairman Nittick replied.

It was exactly four minutes since the missile detonated just short of the Donovian cruiser.

The Joint Staff Operations Director began the update: “Ma’am, several events led to this current stand-off.  TF 134 executed an operation to capture Objective Zeus.  We assess they were engaged by Donovian forces when all forward elements lost Datalink. We think Donovia dazzled our satellite constellation - probably testing the AUTOLOG for vulnerabilities.”

“When they re-established link, the F-35 flying in support of TF 134 was radarlocked from a Donovian cruiser - DV057.  The radarlock automatically triggered PrSM to fire a single rocket in self-defense. The JOC rendered the munition inert before impact, but we don’t know if the Donovians are aware of that. Intelligence indicates they simultaneously engaged the rocket with a directed-energy weapon and destroyed it in flight.”

The instant update was thanks to Merlin, the “smart system” that fused foundational intelligence data with the real-time feeds from various sensors.  The entire defense enterprise was working off of a single, integrated network.  Teams of algorithms passed alerts to reasoning algorithms forming “initial assessments” that were instantly transmitted through the same interface used by the JOC commander- all the way up to the President. A decade earlier, the Chairman would have waited hours or days for analysts to generate PowerPoint slides telling the same story.

“Secretary of State Rosales is on with Foreign Minister Wei now,” the Secretary said, “so we don’t have a lot of time before the Chairman and I need to dial into the situation room.  We all know the Donovians are working through this problem set with the same data.”

The three miles from the Pentagon to the White House was now an impossible distance to cover considering the speed of operations.  The thought of President Obama and his security team huddled around a TV following the Bin Laden raid in real time is as obsolete as Lincoln writing letters to Grant during the Civil War.  Nothing could wait that long in the current “zero latency” national security environment.

“We’re working on the link right now, Madam Secretary,” GEN Hurion, the SPACECOM Commander said.  “In response to this incident, I authorized a SeeMe package launched from Guam for additional coverage. These satellites will remain viable for 90 days.  On the comms side, this month we began the transition from our military satellites to the new WGS/HTS mesh network. CENTCOM was first in the chute to prioritize Iran, but we’ve redirected that effort to update INDOPACOM’s software.  That patch will go through tonight, and the new configuration should give us the redundancy to support this contingency.”

The INDOPACOM Commander, ADM Moore, interjected, “Sir, based on that timeline, I’m going to give you a few data points before I make a recommendation,” as he toggled to the Otso Task Force secure enclave and filtered activity - which amounted to dozens of algorithms processing thousands of sensor feeds - to display only the assessments surrounding the Donovian reaction to the strike against its cruiser.

“Go ahead,” Chairman Nittick advised.

“Focus on the upper left quadrant...”  The wall flashed with regional alerts.  Algorithms were highlighting anomalies, and call-out boxes provided context.  “Donovia’s carrier, the Pingyang II, has already turned off course, and these yellow comms nodes on the mainland are now active,” ADM Moore noted as he highlighted four network integration centers in Donovia’s Eastern Military District. “That’s unusual outside of their annual exercise schedule.  We believe they’re mobilizing for a fight.”

“Alexa, pull up our force flow models...” Screens transformed, zooming out on GoogleEarth to highlight the component-level nodes identified in the contingency plan. Simulated pieces of the Joint Force began moving unobstructed across the globe.

“Otso will honor the mutual defense treaty,” ADM Moore continued.  “If there’s any Donovian aggression, we can build a coalition across ASEAN.  I’d like you to authorize us to execute OPLAN 2088 as written.”

Right on cue, Gen Hawthorne, the TRANSCOM Commander began speaking, “If we flow forces from the West Coast, we’ll be contested.  Infrastructure at our commercial ports is extremely vulnerable in cyberspace and largely out of our control. We’re looking at additional days to weeks.  2088 also requires airborne collection assets, and portions 5th Fleet from the Middle East.  But, with the Donovian Bowan Fleet now based in Khalifa - there's no guarantee we get through the Straits of Hormuz uncontested.”

A collective pause followed as the group compared the simulated timeline against the reality of how quickly Donovia might react.

“Sir, if the intent is to prevent Donovia from reinforcing Otso, we don’t have to wait,” declared GEN Tundle, from Special Operations Command. “Task Force 134 has Merlin running scenarios for a raid on Donovia’s mobile data center as we speak.  That data center is key terrain.  Without it, Donovia is forced to process data ‘off prem’, at which point we’ll hand it back over to CYBERCOM and NSA for Counter-Cloud Ops.” I also recommend invoking Section 5467 authorities to take over the ‘Safe City’ television network.”

“Let’s take a tactical pause.” The Chairman weighed in for the first time. “The branch plan isn’t even ready - look at the model,” the Chairman commanded as he pointed to the ticker scrolling below the force flow projection.  “In a full mobilization, we have a 64% chance of reinforcing current basing, and that’s only if we commit 135% of the Joint Force. Yes, we’ll array forces to maintain regional parity if their posture shifts but Donovia is doing a lot more than moving a carrier and activating a couple units. And they have been for years.” He paused, choosing his words carefully.

“I think we’re getting this wrong. We didn’t get to this point because Donovia attacked Otso. We got here because Donovia invaded Otso without firing a shot. I’m not sure they’re mobilizing for war so much as capitalizing on miscalculation to divide us and Otso and try to remove us without a fight. We can move steel and sling lead all over the world but we haven’t figured out how to maneuver in the gray zone - they have. I need near-term options that won’t spark World War III.”

GEN Nittick took a breath. The room was silent until Gen Jamie Yung, Commander of Strategic Command, began speaking.

“Chairman, I concur. Donovia doesn’t need guns in Otso and they’d suffer unacceptable losses in a fight. Their influence operations are the most powerful weapons they have and this strike handed them an opportunity. The data visualization doesn’t do justice to how fast they jumped on the victim narrative."

“Really? We already confirmed the cruiser had a lock on my F-35!” ADM Moore interrupted.

Alexa, show me Otsoan sentiment analysis,” commanded Gen Yung. The screen presented data aggregated from social media that showed the US was overwhelmingly perceived as the aggressor. “The Donovians are anchoring world opinion to their narrative.”

He paused before continuing. ADM Moore stayed silent. “Our social media scrubbers report a spike in anti-American sentiment. 20% are Donovian deep fakes, but it’s working.  The media is running footage of injured Otsoan soldiers and our strike.  You heard CNN - Donovian sound bites are being mimicked here, too.”

“I’m worried our counter-narrative won’t reach critical mass without help.  It’s not just Otso; our regional allies in ASEAN are PPI signatories.  Their telecom networks are joint ventures with Donovia, and they’ve been censoring media from negative Donovian coverage.  Our partners’ silence is going to be seen as consent.” He stopped, letting his words sink in.

“Mr. Chairman, we’ve seen a lot of cyber activity as well,” began Gen Avagyan, the CYBERCOM Commander, “and if this escalates kinetically, the cyber domain will see a similar impact - exactly where they think they can maintain escalation dominance.”

He continued, “DHS has already seen a spike in malicious activity across critical infrastructure. No effects yet, but Donovia is signalling their access and resolve. We don’t think they’ll touch the financial market, but just about everything else is on the table: electricity, water, and transportation.”

“What about defense department infrastructure?” Chairman Nittick interrupted.

Gen Avagyan continued, “Right now, our ViolentWinnow program is processing IPs, routers, and switches - from both military and commercial carriers - and should form a baseline defensive solution. By the end of the day, we’ll have a target bank of critical assets, their dependencies, and the cyber terrain that needs defending.”

“Bottom line is we will be able to defend our nets,” declared Gen Avagyan, “but I’m concerned about what happens off-DoDIN. If this escalates, we can expect large-scale disruption.”

Gen Avagyan went on, “I recommend opening the menu of pre-approved options.  If we want the world to hear our narrative and keep Donovia from pressing theirs, we can do that.  If we want them to understand there’s a red line that’s not physical, we can do that, too, but we have to act now.”

THE PENTAGON, 17 MARCH 2030, 2012 ZULU / 1620 EST

Secretary Lewis stood up from her chair, “Losing Otso means losing Asia. We won’t start World War III but we also won’t sit idle as forces move against us: Secretary Rosales texted me; opposition leaders in the Otsoan parliament will draft a resolution condemning us. A similar proposal will be introduced at the UN. I see a Donovian hand in all of this.”  She paused, considering her words.  “Send a message. We will be heard.”

Categories: Mad Scientist

About the Author(s)

Brett Reichert is an active duty Army captain serving as an Army Fellow assigned to the Joint Staff.  As an infantry officer, CPT Reichert has commanded and deployed in support of multiple named operations.  CPT Reichert commissioned through ROTC at the University of Kentucky and is a graduate of Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy. 

Tyler Horan is an active duty Army major serving as an Army Fellow assigned to the Joint Staff.  As an infantry officer, MAJ Horan has commanded and deployed in support of multiple named operations.  MAJ Horan commissioned through OCS and is a graduate of Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.

Garrett Carr is an active duty Army major serving as an Army Fellow assigned to the Joint Staff.  As a military intelligence officer with prior enlisted experience, MAJ Carr has commanded and deployed in support of multiple named operations.  MAJ Carr commissioned through OCS and is a graduate of Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.

Dominic (Nick) Bono is an active duty Army captain serving as an Army Fellow assigned to the Office of the Secretary of Defense.  As a military intelligence officer, CPT Bono has commanded and deployed in support of multiple named operations.  CPT Bono commissioned through OCS and is a graduate of the University of Tulsa College of Law and Georgetown University's McCourt School of Public Policy.