Sunday, October 4, 2015

World War III – & Questions Raised

Review by Bill Doughty

Is war with China possible? If it were to occur, how would it likely be fought and where?

These questions are posed in a work of fiction by P.W. Singer and August Cole, working in the big shadow left by Tom Clancy but with some cyber-subversiveness inspired by William Gibson ("Neuromancer").

"Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War" (an Eamon Dolan Book, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015) says the war would be fought largely by the U.S. Navy, centered in Hawaii. 

Understandably, the book opens with a disclaimer: "The following was inspired by real-world trends and technologies. But ultimately, it is a work of fiction, not prediction."

But as unbelievable the action and scenarios seem, the technology is real, according to the authors: rail guns, lasers, cyber, drones, and a "metal storm" swarm of weapons.

Singer and Cole paint in bright colors on a wide canvas.
QM3 N. Wylie launches PUMA II UAV aboard USS Gonzalez
(DDG 66) Sept. 3, 2015. (Photo by MC2 D. C. Ortega)
"Captain Jamie Simmons stood in the lee of the helicopter bay and scanned the blue sky. Even with the chill that grew as they moved farther north, the rhythmic rise and fall of the following Pacific swell made the moment wholly pleasant. It was the kind of beauty that unexpectedly wormed its way into the experience of war."
Their book opens "243 miles above the earth's surface" then plunges 2 miles below sea level in Mariana Trench before ultimately centering on Hawaii.

There are some weird moments: Alice Cooper pirates, psychosexual spies, "Battle of Kamehameha Highway," air war over Kaneohe, boarding party in space, and Walmart warfighters. But most of the book is straight ahead techno-thriller – with riveting descriptions of surface naval warfare aboard USS Zumwalt (DDG 1000), the physics of air battles, the cool effectiveness of Navy SEALs and what the future might be for unmanned vehicles in combat.

Richly developed characters act out strong themes of honor, courage and commitment, with a complicated father-son relationship and an accurate description of the sacrifices of military families. Throughout – the influence of Mahan and especially Sun Tzu.

This Sun Tzu quote opens Part 1: "You can fight a war for a long time or you can make your nation strong. You cannot do both."

Lieutenants Ken Taylor and George Welch, U.S. Army Air Corps, 1941. 
History is remembered, especially in the primary setting for this novel, Hawaii. The authors describe the heroics of two young U.S. Army Air Corps pilots at Wheeler airfield during the attack on Oahu of December 7, 1941:
"Ignoring the usual pre-takeoff checklists, each pilot climbed into a P-40 Warhawk fighter plane and took off down the airstrip. Only once they were in the air did they figure out they were about to take on over three hundred enemy aircraft. Undeterred, Welch and Taylor plowed straight into the second wave of of the Japanese attack. They didn't stop the attack, but they did manage to shoot down six planes before they ran out of ammunition. More important, the two pilots put up enough of a fight that Japanese planners assumed there were far more defenders in the air. They decided against sending in a final, third attack wave designed to pummel Pearl Harbor's fuel storage, maintenance, and dry-dock repair yards, an attack that would have set back the American war effort at least another year."
Static display of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), Sept. 9, 2015. (Photo by MCC James E. Foehl)
No question that Adm. (Ret.) James Stavridis enjoyed this book. The endorsement by the former supreme allied commander of NATO, now dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, reads, in part: "...Singer and Cole lay out a plausible, frightening, and pitch-perfect vision of what such a war could look like. This page-turning marvel is the best source of high-tech geopolitical visioneering since Tom Clancy's 'Red Storm Rising' and Sir John Hackett's 'The Third World War.' A startling blueprint for the wars of the future that needs to be read now."

The ultimate questions generated by "Ghost Fleet" are these: Can our idealism, morality and ethics catch up with advances in technology? Can we evolve beyond our natural tendencies to act out of greed, violence and mistrust? Can we remain vigilant and ready?

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