Exploring the Multi-Spectrum: A Treatise on the American-Donovian War of 2030 and The Prosecution of Multi-Spectrum Warfare
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.
In retrospect, the conflict between the United States and Donovia that began in March, 2030 introduced the world to multi-domain warfare. For the first time in nearly a century, the United States engaged in conflict with a near-peer opponent. The conflict secured its place in history for not just being the biggest since World War II but also being the first conflict to utilize drones, cyber-warfare and artificial intelligence on a massive scale.
In particular, the conflict brought the concept of “Multi-Domain Warfare” into the common lexicon. According to Gen. David E. Perkins, Commanding General of U.S. Training and Doctrine Command, the concept “requires the ability to maneuver and deliver effects across all domains in order to develop and exploit battlefield opportunities across a much larger operational framework. It must include whole-of-government approaches and solutions to military problems and address the use of multinational partner capabilities and capacity.”
The concept was reflected in the numerous battles that took place not just in the air, sea and on land but also in space and in cyberspace. Sadly, American civilian and military leaders were woefully unprepared for the challenges that lay before them. As it was the case during the Second World War, the military and civilian leadership of the United States were subject to very painful and costly lessons along the way to develop a successful response that allowed American forces to triumph and ultimately establish a favorable peace agreement with the Donovians.
Reflecting on the war has yielded extremely painful lessons. For example, one was that the United States Navy alone lost five out of its eleven pre-war carriers during the conflict, one of them sunk along with the rest of its escorts with all hands lost due to the “spoofing” of the navigation systems onboard the ships of the strike group. The GPS capabilities of both military and civilian networks were compromised for significant periods of time, and even the networks that provide internet and mobile data capabilities for 250 million Americans were lost for nearly a month.
The power grids of New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Washington D.C. were also hit by cyber-attacks by Donovian forces, resulting in numerous blackouts. The air traffic control system of Washington D.C. was disrupted, resulting in one of the deadliest accidents in aviation history. These cyber-attacks were complimented by social media campaigns that disseminated false information and sewed domestic chaos and discord to a degree that the suspension of habeas corpus was considered.
But the most important lesson was that it was clear that the last thirty years and the focus on counter-insurgency had made American forces complacent and not ready to respond to threats such as the one posed by the Donovians.
A Subtle Concert
Donovian strategy emphasized a “hybrid warfare” concept, which meant as much application of traditional hard military power as well as a new and different type of “soft power”. Besides the formidable conventional striking power of the Donovians, they invested heavily in military robotics, space-based weapons and biotechnology. But the trump card of the Donovians was a significant cyber-warfare and cyber-espionage network driven by a very formidable suite of artificial intelligence constructs.
The “Pearl Harbor” moment of the 21st century did not consist of one event, but several in subtle concert with one another.
The Donovians utilized AI constructs in a number of functions, such as disinformation campaigns on social media or to hack sensitive military databases and networks. The Donovians also effectively used these systems to disrupt enemy morale, such as the case when Donovian intelligence compiled dating site information and other intimate information on American military personnel and shared it on numerous social sharing sites and databases worldwide. It was said that a “sizable portion” of the entire U.S. Army found their dating profile along with intimate pictures and conversations, past or present, on various sites worldwide.
Nude pictures in particular were utilized in a blackmail scheme for a cryptocurrency ransom by an anonymous poster, more often than not a Donovian intelligence officer or an AI construct. After the ransom was paid, the information was publicly released anyway.
Standard operating procedure for Donovian intelligence and Donovian media would include mockery on worldwide social media through their “social bot” network of American servicemembers for their debauchery, recklessness and lack of foresight. The Donovians even constructed a special AI to scan public records for divorce proceedings as a result of the hack and attach the divorce documents to the picture of the service member in the proceedings, or produce a video out of it.
Donovian intelligence referred to this operation as “Operation Tinder Box”. The ensuing scandal disrupted morale enough that social media use was eventually forbidden for all active duty U.S. service members.
Early in the conflict, Donovian AI constructs were utilized to penetrate the networks of the New York Stock Exchange, the National Aeronautics & Space Administration and the power supply networks for the cities of New York, Houston, Los Angeles and Washington D.C. The cyber-attack orchestrated Donovian AI constructs not only defeated any human counter-measures but also disrupted the network to a degree that the power supply for each of those cities were disrupted for nearly a month.
Later, as America recovered from the first cyberattack, a larger and more disruptive cyberattack disrupted data and mobile communication networks that served some 250 million Americans. This attack, cynically designated “Operation Black Friday” as the attack took place on the day commemorating the 1987 stock market crash, disrupted social media sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Reddit and Snapchat. These sites had broadcast Donovian propaganda and false information before shutting down completely. As a result of the attack Verizon, T-Mobile and Sprint/AT&T had their networks ultimately disrupted for nearly three weeks, while NBC in particular was co-opted by a Donovian AI construct that broadcast Donovian propaganda for several hours in the Atlantic Northeast.
The attack also caused two airliners to collide and crash at Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. due to the lack of air traffic control. Nearly 650 people lost their lives in the incident, which led to the shutdown of all air travel in the U.S. for a month. Commerce across the country was disrupted along with the logistics chain and most importantly, the food supply. Riots started to break out as stores nationwide ran dry of food, fuel and sundries. Such was the effectiveness of the Donovian disinformation campaign that leaders nationwide contemplated suspending habeas corpus and declaring martial law.
The American response was also hampered by a number of external factors. One significant factor could be referred to as a “goodwill hangover” leftover from previous generations of American leadership. Traditional allies were slow to respond to requests for assistance due to perceived slights and Donovian influence. The unforeseen consequences of Britain’s Brexit had robbed America of a key ally as Britain could not effectively field an allied force while traditional NATO allies could neither afford nor really wanted to tag along after their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Donovian AI constructs also ran an effective misinformation campaign not just in America but also in other allied countries, which influenced public opinion both among their politicians and citizenry. Donovian propaganda was particularly effective in exploiting domestic sentiment reflecting an attitude of a “rich man’s war, poor man’s fight” due to the issue of income and wealth inequality and several high profile corruption scandals in the U.S. and other countries.
The Battle of the Bots
Initially, American defense contractors could not provide solutions that were cost efficient nor effective against this kind of warfare. Subsequent recruiting efforts found that those who signed up could not pass physical induction requirements. Needless to say, the “Arsenal of Democracy” found itself deficient in several key areas.
As the conflict wore on however, the more that the conflict was better known as the “Battle of the Bots” due to the widespread automation of numerous combat and support functions.
Different classes of unmanned vehicles on air, sea and land were prevalent throughout the conflict on both sides. These ranged in size to vehicle-sized drones that performed full fire support functions to insect-sized drones that performed reconnaissance work and would also disable both vehicles and personnel. Whether it was armed drones, digital assistants or AI-powered codebreakers, the battlefield became digitized and automated to a degree never before seen in history.
With the battlefield becoming more digitized and integrated, survival and victory counted as much on superior training as much as it did on superior software and more reliable technology. These elements also allowed human operators to have a more effective interface with their unmanned units in combat. One post-war analysis study showed that American forces had a three second response time advantage over their Donovian counterparts, which ultimately proved decisive.
Among one of the key technologies to emerge during the war were “Theater Management Systems”. Although introduced by the Air Force prior to the start of the conflict, it was during the war that this technology evolved into its role as intended. This role was originally assigned to E-8 JSTARS aircraft, but the fleet was worn down due to retirement and, when re-activated, combat attrition. Given that one single aircraft was handling all battle management functions, the loss of the aircraft would undoubtedly prove a grave problem.
However, it was decided that the JSTARS system itself would have to be spread among a network of drones to avoid disruption. The single JSTARS planes evolved into the JUSTI (Joint Unified Strategic Theater, Integrated) drone system. Utilizing swarms of hundreds if not thousands of cheap, fast and stealthy drones, the JUSTIprovided real-time data and decision making ability to local commanders. The JUSTIs were unique in that the drones acted as a sensor relay network, like a swarm of locusts dispersed amongst an area. Utilizing an artificial pheromone as a biochemical marker to “talk” to one another, the drones acted as a modern day “code talker” that Donovian AI constructs could not duplicate. The markers acted as a transmission medium for a type of binary code that would be interpreted as data and then translated into real-time information.
A significant part of Donovian battle doctrine focused on space based weapons and area denial to American space assets. As a result, American forces found themselves without the GPS system for a significant period of time. Much of this was due to Anti-Satellite weapons such as weapons and drones but also due to the overall lack of survivability of the satellites themselves against space debris. One of the key innovations of the conflict was the use of “smart” satellites. These satellites were not only significantly smaller but also more secure and reliable than their predecessors.
With more than a fair number of satellite and other space weaponry losses on both sides attributed to space junk and debris, better countermeasures were needed. American forces in conjunction with NASA and several other international space agencies developed countermeasures that either captured space junk or induced it into deep space or reentry.
Large carbon-nanotube based “nets” were deployed around satellites in order to protect them. But the advent of smart “satellite drones”, miniature drones that acted as satellites below geosynchronous orbit was a game changer. Deployed from suborbital craft, they were launched into low orbit, constantly changing position and refueled from tender drones that acted as both security and maintenance for the network.
Eventually, American forces took the lead in space with not only a protected satellite network but a backup of very high altitude “zeppelins” that acted as a mothership for a network of thousands of miniature command and control drones that provided real-time data through a biochemical reaction. This reaction would be interpreted as data for AI constructs to translate it as readable information for commanders.
However, this paled in comparison to the use of bots and drones carried aboard military vehicles and aircraft. When GPS or other command systems could not be relied upon, such as with operations carried deep within Donovia itself, the “Battlefield Assistant Direct Interface”, or BUDI drone would step in to perform many different tasks. Taking inspiration from the famous “R2D2” of “Star Wars” fame, the BUDI drones performed everything from celestial navigation functions to anti-AI and cybersecurity functions to simple repairs in the manner of a roadside mechanic. BUDI drones eventually evolved that they could be found in every military specialty. BUDIs acted as couriers, mechanics, intelligence officers, medics and even direct fire support, when a Marine regiment rigged a BUDI drone with two Mark 48 machine guns and adapting a Mark 19 grenade launcher upon an improvised rigging to overcome a heavy Donovian attack.
An interesting observation from the conflict was that both American and Donovian forces were found to treat their drones like companions, like a dog or cat. As AI became more evolved, this evolved into avatars and a full interactive experience, eventually evolving into an attachment resembling that of a loved one. This bond evolved from basic training into demobilization or retirement when soldiers took their demilitarized AI assistants home with them.
One important evolution of the conflict was the expansion of American civil-military cooperation, especially in the cyberwarfare and cybersecurity world. Civil-military hackathon contests were significant in that this is where the development of some of the important personal assistant and logistics management AI constructs used by American forces took place.
These hackathons also produced the human-drone user interfaces utilized by American forces. One significant advantage that the Americans enjoyed over Donovian forces was the superior user interface software utilized by human operators allowing them to work with their drones more effectively. AI constructs throughout the war constantly evolved both in abilities and complexity on both sides.
But perhaps the biggest and yet unexpected political coup undertaken by the Americans was the “Civil Defense and Monetary Repatriation Act”. This act was undertaken by the legislative branch to raise funding for the war effort. Reforms to the U.S. tax code were undertaken in order to close tax loopholes and allow companies to repatriate their funds from overseas at a favorable tax rate if these assets were to be used for military research and development or domestic private/public partnerships.
Much of these assets not only allowed for middle class tax relief but also a significant bump in military budgets. Universities and companies alike benefited from research grants and defense contracts, which kept the wartime economy on a positive trajectory and public opinion positive.
Sustainability Means Service
American battle doctrine also changed in that American forces became more self-sustainable and more efficient in the battlefield. The one-two punch of Donovian cyber-attacks and strong conventional strikes had severely hampered the logistics lines of American forces early on. In particular, the sinking of the carrier John C. Stennis and the rest of her carrier battle group was the rude awakening to the new realities of the conflict for the U.S.
The board of inquiry found that the group was attacked by what was later found to be an experimental Donovian AI construct and a team of crack Donovian hackers who hacked the navigation system and the signal feed to the battle group. Many of the crews were found to be deficient in celestial navigation techniques and by the time the navigation systems aboard these vessels were rebooted, installed Donovian malware that fed false navigation coordinates and other telemetrics to the hapless crews. Following the false data, the strike group was led into a waiting Donovian ambush with “kamikaze” drone weapons, supersonic torpedoes from conventional submarines and hypersonic munitions from maritime strike aircraft, resulting in the loss of all hands in the group.
In certain instances, American vehicles also found themselves literally running out of fuel and ammunition, relying on borrowed supplies from NATO members, albeit covertly as not to run afoul of the Donovians. This sent a clear message to both American military and civilian leaders that the “easy logistics” that U.S. forces have enjoyed for nearly a century was no longer a reality.
The lessons of the John C. Stennis strike group spurned a threefold response. The first lesson was that the age of the supercarrier was at an end. The question of who would win between a large 100,000 ton target and supersonic torpedoes and hypersonic kinetic weapons was simply a no brainer. Losing nearly 10,000 irreplaceable personnel in the span of fifty minutes also compounded the message that times had changed.
As a result, subsequent U.S. carriers became smaller, smarter and more survivable against both cyber and conventional threats. It also allowed more carriers to be built. The second lesson was that training for personnel was revamped to allow less reliance on GPS and other digital tools and returned to utilizing paper maps and celestial navigation. Eventually, a team of BUDI drones working together as a self-contained mainframe computers onboard U.S. ships eventually rivaled real-time satellite feeds.
The self-sustainability of American forces also reflected in the Marine Corps and Seabees units who were pioneers of 3-D printing construction during the conflict. They constructed firebases and installations along with other crucial infrastructure such as pipes for fuel and drinking water. All this could be produced from bio-engineered concrete that could be made cheaply and quickly .
Bio-engineering also became a key to American victory. Bioengineered fuels helped sustain hybrid tanks and vehicles when conventional fuels were not readily available, while Donovian submarines and ships found themselves tangling with bioengineered shrimp and barnacles that would attached themselves to their hulls. Dubbed the “SHRIMPUS” Line, these miniature shrimp and barnacles would “Illuminate” the hulls of Donovian submarines and act as a homing beacon for American guided munitions.
The Lessons of Evolution
Although the war was costly, the lessons learned from the conflict illustrated several key points. American forces were caught unprepared for a foe that fought through both conventional and unconventional means. The onslaught of coordinated digital attacks shows not just how dependent America is on its digital infrastructure but the lack of security available for it.
The multi-pronged initial digital attack utilized by the Donovians showed that the nature of warfare has changed forever. American commanders and policymakers did not appreciate the gravity of the situation until it was too late. The actions necessary to secure American infrastructure should have taken place before the war, not during it.
Another key takeaway was that civil-military cooperation was instrumental in securing American victory. By expanding the grant pool available to universities and research centers, new technology was developed that brought about a decisive victory.
The conflict more than anything showed that an open, integrated, digital economy and society are inherently vulnerable. The impact of disinformation upon the public has shown that it can be easily swayed. It also goes to show that vigilance is often the most effective defense mechanism for both military and civilian alike.