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Smart Steel and Flesh: Real-time Narrative/News Clips/After Action Assessments of the Otso/Donovia Conflict of 2030/03

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Smart Steel and Flesh: Real-time Narrative/News Clips/After Action Assessments of the Otso/Donovia Conflict of 2030/03

Joel Aud

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.

19:00 GMTT 2030/03/10 - Staging Areas in Otso and into Donovian Airspace

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Figure 1 - ODF-A (Regular) Shoulder Patch

Otso meteorologists issue a warning for heavy coastal fog with a high possibility of inland fog for low-lying areas. It is the conditions for which the Otsovian Defense Force – Alternative (ODF-A) has been hoping. The ODF-A is comprised of retired military, volunteers, and teenage youth. The force includes both active and reservist elements, with activities directed by the Otsovian Defense Force (ODF) Command. Although not intended for direct combat, they are a low-cost deft hand to be played in parallel to the efforts of conventional forces. Derived from the Swiss self-defense model and the do-it-yourself (DIY) community, the ODF-A combines the experience of “graybeards” and the cutting-edge technology of youth. They are the product of a shrinking defense budget and an aggressive neighbor, and they are a resource of Otso’s NATO allies that has not been integrated into combat planning, protocols, or thinking.

It is Sunday night, but there is an immediate recall of all ODF-A members. Most recalls are virtual, with ODF-A teams linking their tablets, phones, and desktops into fiber optic-based VPNs in their neighborhoods and communities with subsequent links to ODF central command. A few of the staff report to railyards, air fields, and truck depots to activate ODF-A resources. The resources are disguised as standard HL-UAV delivery vehicles and other devices.

For six months the ODF-A have been flying Combat artificial intelligence (AI) directed micro-UAV sorties to scout the deployment of Donovian forces on the Otso border and deeper into Donovia. From the continual flights, they have gained knowledge of the DDF deployments at a staggering level of granularity. Their data is fed to the AI via a smartphone-based after-action report app with images, geospatial references, and voice-to-text commentary. Like the other AIs within the ODF, the Combat AI is a “Centaur” – an artificial intelligence mesh of processors, sensors, and human analysts informing/shaping decisions. The hardware is a self-healing meshed network loosely grouped into overlapping areas of combat, logistics, and intelligence, and the AIs are at the core of ODF strategies and tactics.

The deep-penetrating micro-UAVs, “little birds” or “Kropys” are lifted to several thousand meters altitude and released to glide deep into Donovian airspace. They are designed to fly in and perch in positions of overwatch in trees, on water towers, or buildings, and form a self-defining/healing mesh with other AI surveillance assets.

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Figure 2 - Kropy "Little Bird"

Powered by solar cells, the Kropys observe in visible/IR and record anything triggered by motion, electromagnetic emission (EM), or heat. The Kropys transmit with directional encrypted IR lasers and/or radios to tethered UAV 1,500-meter “towers” that briefly “bloom” on the Otso border.

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Figure 3 - DDF Shoulder Patch

The process of launching the Kropys from the UAV “towers” and gathering the signal from the Kropys in perch positions using the tethered UAV “towers” has evolved into a cat-and-mouse game with the Donovian Defense Force (DDF). The DDF has been running multiple daily flights of border-tracing UAVs with occasional incursions into Otsovian airspace. The border tracing/incursion flights have broadcast AM/FM propaganda, jammed civilian cellular and GPS services. The broadcast messages are linked tightly with DDF social media postings blaming the loss of cell and GPS service on Otsovian censorship. Some of the social media postings include cartoon-embedded QR codes carrying disruptive malware, sabotage instructions, and/or pornography featuring Otsovian leadership.

In increased aggression, the DDF UAV incursion flights have been followed by precision strikes on the minutes-old locations of the tethered UAV “towers.” The strikes leave no trace of explosive residue and ODF intelligence has circulated a brief to the ODF-A that the strikes may be satellite-based. The delay behind the incursion flights and the lack of residue point to a low-orbit, satellite-launched kinetic weapon. The ODF intel brief notes that other than a “shoot-scoot” protocol there is no real defense. The ODF-A takes the advice to heart and achieves new records in launching and recovering the tethered UAVs.

When it Absolutely Has to Be Destroyed Overnight

With “little-bird”-gathered intelligence and the cover of fog, the ODF-A are ready to increase their own tempo of cross-border activities. Lightly modified civilian hybrid-powered gas-electric heavy-lift delivery UAVs (HL-UAVs) climb to altitude along known delivery routes. The birds are painted with an approximation of the livery of a commercial delivery service, and conveniently, it is a dark flat brown. The ODF-A version includes a nano-coating to cancel or reduce reflected radar energy. Power from the gas turbine engine drives a dynamo for the VTOL electric engines. Above terrain avoidance altitude, the VTOL engines are feathered, and the gas power plant drives a pusher prop allowing the UAV to translate to conventional horizontal flight.

On this mission, at 8,000m altitude, an HL-UAV releases a small UAV carrying the HL-UAV’s IFF beacon. As the small IFF-bearing UAV continues the normal route, the HL-UAV begins a five-part “delivery” made possible by the platform’s 1,000kg payload capability. The long wings that allow for a low-noise signature in civilian airspace will allow a silent, gliding low-noise/IR flight deep into Donovian airspace. Gliding on an energy-conserving serpentine path, the HL-UAV begins to dispense “Slime-Balls,” “Bastard-Nuggets,” and “Bad-Busters” along Donovian road and rail lines.

The ordinances are self-guiding monocopters steered by a thumbnail-sized COTS 256-bit quad-core 61st generation Arduino platform. The spinning maple leaf-shaped devices warp their single wing with 3D-printed piezo-electric actuators to guide themselves to their designated target. As the monocopters spin in decent, an internal flywheel stores the kinetic energy, and upon landing the devices shear their wing and lock the flywheel to the hull. This process propels the tennis ball-sized devices 20 to 30 meters along the ground.

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Figure 4 - Monocopter Delivery Devices (“Bastard-Nuggets, “Slime-Balls,” and “Bad-Busters.”)

In the case of the Slime-balls, a black-green-gray foaming Slime is dispensed from the ball. Within the Slime are embedded conductive nanofibers, solar-charging/storing filaments, and “Brilliant-Beads.” Powered by the solar filaments and controlled by the Beads, the conductive nanofibers function as both sensors and antennas. The Slime can detect seismic activity and radio frequencies, and by the brilliant-beads, retransmit echoes of the radio signals or the data. Able to communicate with the Kropys AI mesh for signal relay, the Slime is sticky and looks organic, but can function as sensors, jammers, and a rebroadcast platform of enemy low-powered signals. It also clings to tires, treads, and boots.

The “Bastard-Nuggets” also shear their wings on landing and race madly along roads and rails dispensing IR-storing dust, reflective radar grit, and conductive carbon fibers. The IR dust collects photon energy and then reradiates the energy as IR over hours and days. The carbon fibers are positively/negatively biased and capable of forming circuits on electrical devices. In combination, the compounds coat road/rail/air traffic with an IR glow-in-the-dark and radar-reflecting coating and cause nightmares for all manner of electric circuits.

Lightened of part of the payload, the HL-UAV restarts its gas engine and begins a series of very low-level flights along rail and road lines releasing more “Bad-Busters.” These monocopters seek out bridges, rail junctions, power transformers, cell towers, and trestles, attaching themselves like bats. Camouflaged to resemble dirty rags or plastic litter, they hang on the structures and join the “Kropys” AI mesh.

Continuing the low-level mission in the cloak of fog, the HL-UAV then heads for the most dangerous part of its mission. Flying along the roads approaching the logistics, rally points, and air fields of the DDF, more Slime-balls and bastard-nuggets are dispersed, then flying the centerline of the main airstrips, the HL-UAV discharges a mix of IR dust, radar-reflecting grit, carbon fiber, and corrosive pellets. The pea-sized pellets are coated in rubber paint to match the runway and shield against rain. They contain a mix of mercury and potassium hydroxide. When the pellets are crushed by landing aircraft tires, the mix is slung into the bare aluminum wheel wells of the aircraft. The reaction causes an instant, catalyzed, destructive corrosion to any unprotected aluminum.

The Hl-UAV on this mission is named “Mehera” and is being monitored/managed by a 17-year-old female art student and a 79-year-old wheelchair-bound, cigar-chewing veteran. They receive micro updates from the “Kropys” meshed architecture, and, in parallel, the ODF combat AI tracks their updates, plotting where assets have been placed. “Mehera” is one of 20 launched into the fog and one of the 19 that made it home safely.

The 20th bird’s on-board AI detects an imminent failure in the primary power system and runs 400+ possible mission scenarios before selecting the suicide option of crashing into a Donovian electrical power substation. It is the highest value target within glide range calculated against remaining fuel/payload, altitude, and prevalent winds. Its semi-sentient AI transmitted, “Dying good death now.” At the report of the loss, the 64-year-old matron managing the bird and her two teenage granddaughters begin plans for building their next HL-UAV.[i] It will be named “Phoenixen.” Noting the loss, the ODF combat AI watches through the Slime and the “Kropys” how the DDF responds. That data is used to inform and modify scenarios and predictions.

1:00 GMTT 2030/03/14

Rude Gestures and Surprises

Slime sensors detect seismic activity significantly removed from any known DDF facility or marshalling center, but not in an area covered by a Kropys little bird surveillance asset. Combat AI recommends a manned team to do the reconnaissance. It is a measure of the anomalous nature of the seismic activity that AI will risk humans for reconnaissance/surveillance. A 16-man mixed force of NATO/ODF troops are prepped for insertion into Donovian territory. The team wear augmented reality (AR) displays, surface-shifting, reactive-liquid armor and carry both conventional and electromagnetic needle weapons.

The AR displays can display remote and local sensor data, weapon sights views, and data from other team members including bio status. Controlled by peel-and-stick throat mics, five-button controls on glove fingers and chest panels, and/or by eye tracking, the AI of the display adapts instantly to the use of weapons, sensor data, and/or posture of the wearer. Simple finger-tracked gestures are echoed across the team’s AR displays. Frequently they are crude and/or funny, but most reflect minimalistic small-team instructions. They negate the need for the automatic voice translations for the AR displays of the non-Otso NATO soldiers.

On the body armor, multiple coiled piezo-electric foil/fiber petal layers automatically match background colors and disrupt the visual and IR signatures of the solders. If the liquid armor is impacted above an energy threshold, it stiffens and distributes the kinetic energy across a larger area of the armor. For the solders, the motto is, “Better to bruise than bleed.” Because they are not carrying heavy rucks, they have foregone using powered exoskeletons.

Although they carry conventional firepower, for the insertion/disruption missions the needle guns are the weapons of choice. Fired by a micro-magnetic rail, the magnetic-based plastic needle rounds telescope linearly on impact and detonate their binary-explosive cores. Each nearly-silent needle weapon carries 400 rounds and can be fired manually or with AI-enhanced targeting (AIET). In AIET mode the weapon can be swept across an area firing a needle round into every identified target automatically. This allows remote firing from concealment, on the run, and/or from unstable platforms. The binary explosives in each needle can rip a fist-sized hole in flesh and/or penetrate most light armor. The small size and low end-on kinetic signature defeat both reactive vehicle armor and reactive liquid body armor.

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Figure 5 - Needle Round

Slung horizontally beneath four ODF HL-UAVs the NATO/Otso team flies below treetop height with the UAV’s on-board AI maneuvering between the trees. Forward-looking passive multi-spectrum sensors ensure the safe way forward. Within a kilometer of the site pinpointed by the Slime sensors, the team is dropped, and the UAVs go to ground. In on-the-ground mode, the ODF HL-UAVs have a vertical profile of less than a meter. Like the body armor of the troops, they have surface-shifting camouflage. As needed, the HL-UAVs can each launch free-flight or tethered micro-UAVs for surveillance and/or communication links. For close-in support and in-flight defense, the HL-UAVs also carry a remotely-targetable belt-fed 37mm grenade launcher firing anti-personnel or anti-armor rounds on the ground, and/or flares and chaff in flight.

From their position, the team achieves overwatch with one of the micro-UAVs and is amazed. The seismic Slime sensors are triggering on massed trucks and busses at a Bohican refugee camp. The refugee camp is one of several housing the Bohican ethnic minority in Donovia. Estimates put the population of the camps at over 80,000, representing just 10% of the worldwide robot/automation-displaced refugee population. As best the team can determine, the camp is evacuated by the buses and the trucks. They release several “Kropys” to perch in overwatch positions, and then, slung below the HL-UAVs, they exfiltrate without detection. Whatever the rationale for the movement of the camp, it does not seem to pose an immediate threat to the security of Otso. They are horribly wrong.

4:00 – 6:00 GMTT 2030/03/14

As the team of Otso/NATO solders crosses the border back into Otso airspace, they watch the lights of entire cities and towns go dark. A DDF combined cyber, IoT, and physical attack has shut down multiple power plants in Otso and the US. In addition, the attacks have hit most of the banking and welfare/EBT (electronic balance transfer/food stamps) support infrastructure. The seven US EBT facilities in the US and the three similar sites in Otso are destroyed with low-orbit, satellite-launched kinetic devices. The damage is massive, and restoration is estimated to take weeks or months. Within hours of the strikes, EBT-redeeming food vendors or stores in the US, and the equivalent in Otso, become flashpoints for protests and violence.

The largely intact cellular systems are being leveraged against the government of Otso and the US. Synchronized social media posts blame multiple parties and/or nations. In parallel, false promises of food and medicine at US and Otso Defense Forces (ODF) facilities are posted resulting in clogged roads and city streets, and in some places, riots. Initially, logistics slow to a crawl.

11:00 GMTT 2030/03/14 – Otso Defense ODF Logistics Command

An Invasion

As the AI of the ODF Logistic Command struggles to compensate for the reports of riots and blocked routes, sensor data and text reports begin to flood in from the Otso/Donovia border. Large masses of Bohican refugees are crossing from Donovia into Otso. At manned locations, they are overwhelming border control resources, and at fenced but unmanned locations they are using heavy wire cutters and other tools to cut through the fencing. In some places, ODF troops fire on the refugees. Social media is swamped with images of dead Bohican women and children.

First reports say the Bohicans have been warned by the Donovian Defense Force (DDF) that they are no longer safe in Donovia, but the Otso people have shelters and reception centers for them. DDF-provided maps show the promised shelters, and predictably the shelters are clustered at ODF logistic/marshalling centers. There are further reports of refugees referencing and/or displaying on their phones a video of the Otso Prime Minister and US President assuring the Bohicans they will be safe in Otso, and transportation will be provided to the camps. The quality is excellent and far too believable.

17:00 GMTT 2030/03/14 – Along the Otso/Donovian Border

Requested by the Otso government, non-government organizations (NGOs) are mobilized to address the massive refugee problem, but their efforts are divided between the refugee issues and the food and medicine crisis caused by the cyber/physical attacks of the early morning. Staff at the NGO camps are reporting the refugees were fed, transported to the Otso/Donovian border by DDF vehicles, and inoculated in advance of the evacuation from the camps. The NGO staff are grateful for the humanitarian efforts of the Donovian Defense Forces, even as tensions continue to rise on the border. Social media is filled with the humanitarian efforts of the DDF.

6:00 GMTT 2030/03/15 – NGO ad-hoc Camps in Otso

CNC/MSCMS News: Bohican refugees face hardship as they enter Otso. Bohican refugee camps are reporting mumps, what is believed to be a virulent type of measles, and possibly another disease that produces symptoms of high fever and violent coughing. Blood samples have been promised to the Otso National Health Service and the US CDC, but the lack of power, the glut of refugees, and the riots have made delivery of the samples problematic. A med-courier UAV has been requested, but other missions are reportedly taking priority.

2030/03/15 – Across Much of Otso and Parts of the US

Minor acts of sabotage are reported across much of Otso and in the US. Attacks include petrol stations, railyards, shipyards, and road signals. They also target ethnic-specific facilities and/or symbolic locations including schools, places of worship, national monuments, and cemeteries. In parallel, social media is filled with accusations of Bohicans causing the sabotage and carrying diseases. A captured saboteur admits to entering Otso with Bohican refugees. Hours after his interrogation, his interviewers fall ill to the unidentified coughing illness seen in the refugee camps. In the process of their treatment, the disease is finally identified as a variant of Yersinia-pestis, AKA plague. The NGOs managing the camps are informed, and some medical staff members desert the camps. Food riots are triggering martial law declarations across Otso and parts of the US, a social media-based plague scare closes the Atlanta airport. An anonymous posting from a CDC staffer is blamed.

2030/03/15 – Otso Defense Forces (ODF) Logistics Command

Turtles/Toads

After running over 60,000 force-on-force scenarios and predictions in a few minutes, the AI ODF Logistics Command has begun routing material and fighting vehicles to the Otso/Donovia border along the cleared ground beneath high-tension lines, beside pipeline rights-of-way, and secondary routes. It has also designated alternative rally/marshalling points, and fuel dumps based on the recalculated logistical demands. By 18:00 over 89% of the positioning/capability estimated possible under normal conditions has been achieved.

As a secondary benefit, the ability for DDF-manned aircraft or UAVs to attack the new sites is limited by powerlines and tree-cover along secondary routes. With AI Centaur guidance, the logistic algorithms and logic-sets are tuned to leverage the benefits, and ODF fully-automated/autonomous “Cherepkhas” (Turtles) and “Zhabas” (Toads) begin moving to their assigned positions via the new routes.

The Turtles are autonomous carry-and-load vehicles with all-terrain and amphibious capability. The on-board AI in the Turtle uses an articulated arm to load cargo as prepackaged units and/or in palletized loads and can autonomously reload and refuel vehicles. The Toads are autonomous auto-loading, low-profile direct-fire and/or indirect-fire 105-howitzers. Like many of the weapons systems of the ODF, they are hybrid diesel-electric, covered with shape-shifting foil camouflage, and equipped with one or more tethered surveillance/targeting/communication micro-UAVs. The Turtles and Toads share a COTS-based chassis/drivetrain. Although requiring no staff or personnel, and capable of engaging enemy forces with AI-driven protocols, on this move to the border both the Turtles and the Toads are carrying bivouac “Khatynas” (Huts). The Huts carry and provide bivouac space for up to 20 soldiers in “sling” seats. In this deployment, the soldiers will be the infantry supporting, and supported by, the Turtles and Toads.

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Figure 6 - Turtle and Toad with Huts

2030/03/16 – NGO ad-hoc Camps in Otso

CNC/MSCMS News: Infection rates from mumps, measles, and plague have reached epidemic level in the camps, and the old, the young, and the weak are beginning to die. The Otso government has called for blocking social media reports from the camps, but the requests have been ignored.

2030/03/16 – Donovian Capital

CNC/MSCMS News: The Righteous Liberation Force of Donovia, denounces the Otso “death camps” and pleads for the DDF to intercede on behalf of the dying Bohican refugees. In parallel, across social media, videos of Otso atrocities in the Bohican camps are broadcast, and a plea is made to the UN to join in the salvation of the Bohican people.

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Figure 7 – Artist’s Rendering of Low-Orbit Ordinance Delivery Device

01:00 GMT 2030/03/17 – Across Much of Otso

Very high-altitude or low-orbit, satellite-based strikes hit power stations, water plants, and wastewater treatment plants. Simultaneously, prepositioned mixed manned and autonomous armored vehicle columns move across the Otso/Donovian border into Otso, and both rotary and fixed-wing aircraft flights with flanking autonomous strike-and-decoy aircraft begin bombing and ground attacks across Otso. Having ignored AI derived warnings, most of the manned fixed-wing Otso aircraft fleet, and many of the manned rotary-wing aircraft, are destroyed. There are also multiple hits to the ODF AI centers, but as the system uses a meshed communication and massively parallel databases and computation engines, there is only a minor loss in performance. It could be worse, with DDF air strikes are less than 40% of what was anticipated. A significant number of their aircraft have been lost to corrosion-related failures of landing gear with subsequent significant runway damage. DDF leadership questions the level of maintenance being provided the aircraft.

02:00 GMT 2030/03/17 – Otso Command Bunker

War

The Otso leadership declares war on Donovia. With the declaration of war, NATO Article 5 is debated in the US and Europe, and the ODF launches a response to Donovian aggression. Across Donovia, under railroad trestles and bridges, and on rail switches, “Bad-Busters” begin to spray combustible and corrosive spray. Ignition of the spray accelerates the corrosion, and on wooden rail trestles, fires quickly engulf the structures. After a switch-triggered derailment of a troops and supply train, DDF logistics elements are forced to run UAV surveillance flights in advance along the routes of the trains to ensure safe passage. All trains are delayed, and most are rerouted hundreds of kilometers out of their way.

As the DDF armored forces advance, their radios become less reliable, with many of their signals echoing in increasing feedback loops. Technicians scramble to isolate the signal origins, but the signal analysis is lost in the echoing radio chatter. Further, in certain areas, radio systems seem to fail altogether, and the problem becomes chronic on the most-traveled routes. The self-aligning carbon fiber circuits are clinging to the antennas and fittings of the DDF equipment while the Slimes receive and transmit back their signals.

06:00 GMT 2030/03/17 – Across Multiple Blocking Positions Facing the DDF Invasion

Guided by the ODF logistics AI, the Turtles and the Toads take position with their flanks and approaches covered by the soldiers who ride on them into battle. In close rallying points behind them, both ODF and ODF-A HL-UAVs are being marshalled near the front. The UAVs are loaded with smart Arduino-guided anti-armor and anti-personnel ordinance.

On command from the ODF combat AI mesh, they begin a climb to their maximum altitude, but the first to launch carry no munitions. As they climb, they drop a cloud of aluminum chaff to create a barrier impenetrable to DDF radar. Behind the barrier, the remaining UAVs climb to altitude safe from anti-aircraft efforts. Soldiers watch the first UAVs climb and the fading light glint off the chaff. It is beautiful and a bit frightening.

Swallows

Detected by the Slime in Donovian territory and rebroadcast by the Kropys little birds, the number and routes of the DDF armor and mechanized infantry were predicted to a high level of granularity by the ODF combat AI mesh, and the HL-UAVs are leveraging that intelligence. Each of the 250 HL-UAVs carries 360 glide rounds. The glide rounds use a conventional in-inventory NATO 60mm mortar warhead equipped with foil glide wings and a micro-Arduino guidance/fuse system informed, configured, and targeted by the combat AI mesh. Because of their swooping glide descents, they are called “Swallows.”

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Figure 8 - Tethered-Released Glide Munitions (Swallows)

Silently released from 4,000m altitude and capable of an 18:1 glide ratio, the Swallows have a range of over 72km and no IR signature. The combined release of the glide munitions totals 90,000 rounds, and they swoop through the radar-blocking chaff cloud with each round intent on a specific hunting area. The anti-personnel glide rounds are fused for air burst and key on clusters of soldiers. The anti-armor rounds recognize either the top-down or side profiles of DDF vehicles and target in a hierarchy of tanks first, armored personnel carriers second, artillery third, and trucks fourth. That most of the vehicles and soldiers are covered in an IR-emitting, radar-reflecting patina of dust contributes to the targeting accuracy.

With a small profile and approaching from almost directly overhead, it is difficult for the DDF radar to detect the rounds or deploy countermeasures. The accuracy and AI of the glide munitions is such that some rounds enter the open hatch of the tank commanders’ positions on the tank turrets. Others punch through the top engine covers immobilizing the vehicles, and for the armored personnel carriers and trucks, the mortar rounds are even more devastating. The proximity-fused air-burst rounds detonate over infantry groups, artillery positions, and other assets without warning and with massive lethality. Of the estimated 2,700+ DDF vehicles that crossed into Otso territory, 1,621 (60%) are destroyed or rendered combat-ineffective in the first wave of glide-delivered ordinance. Of the DDF infantry, artillery, and support units, some suffer over 80% casualties with most soldiers dead before they hear the detonation of the rounds.

As the HL-UAVs descend behind the drifting chaff cloud, the ODF Toads tethered surveillance/targeting UAVs run immediate assessments on the effectiveness of the strike. At an altitude of 1,000m, their visibility horizon is 112km, and smoke from the burning DDF vehicles aids in the assessment. Data is passed down the tether from the UAVs to the Toads and the ODF combat AI mesh. Within seconds, the Toads and their flanking support infantry are provided targeting information.

06:15 GMT 2030/03/17 – Across Multiple Blocking Positions Facing the DDF Invasion

Within milliseconds of each other, the Toads begin firing 105mm rounds. The rounds are a mix of high explosives targeting the remaining vehicle assets and air-burst anti-personnel needle rounds. The goal is to empty the 10-round drum feeds of the Toads and have the Toads and Turtles move to a reload point to frustrate counter-battery fire. Again, the tethered UAVs provide targeting and assessment as the Toads move to the reload position. After four cycles of fire-scoot-reload, the Combat AI judges Toads have exhausted all meaningful targets in the immediate area of the DDF incursion.

As reports of the losses reach DDF command, they attempt to respond with air strikes and by advancing reserve armor and infantry units to support the attack, but reliability of aircraft and availability of runways remains problematic, and rail lines are compromised. Road transport is not recommended by the DDF combat AI but is overridden by DDF command with the hope that the cover of darkness will aid in the concealment of the road march. Guided by historic DDF actions, it is a scenario predicted by the ODF combat AI 87% of the time.

03:00 GMT 2030/03/18 – Multiple Blocking Positions Facing the DDF Invasion

ODF infantry units with the support of Toad armored units advance on the devastated and stalled DDF positions. Guided by tethered UAVs flying over the toads, 105mm 5,000-count needle canister rounds shred the DDF positions. Calculated impact density of the exploding binary needle rounds exceeds a needle for every 0.25 square meters. Infantry casualties are nearly total, and Otso forces move through the DDF positions with little opposition. Based upon reports from the Slime and the Kropys little birds, the expended ordinance, and the calculated possible scenarios, the ODF combat AI orders the infantry and Toads/Turtles to assume defensive positions at a line approximating the Otso/Donovia border. ODF leadership debate if the Centaur AI is weighing a Donovian nuclear strike as too plausible.

While they debate the command to assume defensive positions, the ODF combat AI orders a massed HL-UAV strike on approaching DDF assets and air facilities. Flying at treetop height and releasing 1,000kg per bird of dumb cluster munitions, they destroy most of the approaching assets, the fixed- and rotary-winged DFF aircraft, and render the roads and runways unusable. Two HL-UAVs (“Tito” and “Hot Momma”) are destroyed in the low-level attacks, but the DDF has lost any semblance of combat effectiveness across the entire Otso/Donovian border.

03:00 GMT 2030/03/18 –The Otso/Donovian Theater of Combat

CNC/MSCMS News: The UN has called for a temporary cessation of fighting, and both sides have agreed, with fighting to stop at 05:00 GMT. Most NATO nations have suffered little, if any, impact, but both Otso and the US continue to struggle to restore food and other services. In the Bohican refugee camp, deaths from plague and other diseases are reported to approach 82%. The camps are quarantined, and NGOs continue to attempt to provide support.

22:00 GMT 2030/03/18 – Otso

Smart Steel and Flesh

US and NATO “fast-response” infantry, armor, and support resources begin landing at major airports. NATO commanders question the effectiveness of the ODF-A units and the validity of the data from the Slime and the Kropys. In response, the Otso command organizes a tour of several battle sites. Witnessing the carnage, NATO Commander, General William Paden remarks simply, “As WW I was a war of flesh and steel, this has been a war of smart steel and flesh. God help us.”

The Butcher’s Bill

UN Report on Otso/Donovia Crisis - DDF report over 32,420 KIA and an additional 18,214 wounded. ODF report 470 KIA and 265 wounded, but with over 2,291 civilian casualties. Greatest casualties are in the NGO ad-hoc Bohican refugee camps, with over 78,000 deaths. In the US, losses to low-orbit satellite ordinance exceed 170 billion USD with an additional 37 billion USD estimated losses from lost revenue and riots, and over 149 deaths attributed to ordinances.

End Note


[i] Like most elements of the ODF-A, the HL-UAVs are built by ODF-A members from government-supplied kits and equipped with government-supplied munitions and sensors.

Categories: Mad Scientist

About the Author(s)

Joel Aud works in cyber/physical security, combined threats, and risk assessments/mitigations. He holds advanced degrees in technical ethics and cyber security, and international certifications in cyber security and counterterrorism. In the US, Europe, Asia, and the Middle East his pragmatic designs have received national and international awards for excellence in technical innovation, produced effective results on time/under budget, and frightened bureaucrats. He dwells near Austin as an unrepentant bookaholic, chili cook, tree planter, and new idea addict.