Ghost Fleet On The Hill

In the past, readers toted a novel to the beach, shaking grains of sand out from between the pages on the commute to work the following Monday. With books on phones and tablets, people can bring fiction with to enjoy even while they might look like they are conducting serious business. Not that fiction isn’t serious. It is, and increasingly so. Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War featured this week during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the future of war. Joining the esteemed witnesses for the hearing, chaired by Sen. John McCain, was P.W. Singer, my co-writer. Ghost Fleet is fiction, but it is useful fiction, as the hearing shows. It also must be a first for a novelist to get a chance to showcase their fiction before the SASC.

From autonomous systems to cyber, the assembled experts provided an insightful walk-through of technologies, actors and trends shaping the future of war. To actually “see” what that future might look like, you can crack open the book. Serious indeed.

Watch the hearing featuring P.W. Singer: http://www.armed-services.senate.gov/hearings/15-11-03-future-of-warfare

Allies Forever?

If China and the U.S. came to blows in the Pacific over a disputed reef, two ships trading paint or a more serious confrontation, what role would America’s European allies play?

Strategically, the NATO alliance would be put in a difficult position. A European military response in support of the U.S. would be an operational, and political, challenge not seen since World War II. Economically, the European Union is China’s biggest trading partner, which could make caution win the day. Geography presents its own challenges in getting the right aircraft or ships to the region in enough time to make a difference or offer a deterrent force in hopes of heading off a collision of two world powers. Many of the US weapons systems vulnerable to Chinese cyber operations are also in use with NATO forces and are sure to be similarly hacked.

The time ask this question is not during a crisis, but before, when there is time and attention to spare.

Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War is available in the U.K. at Amazon.co.uk, where it is currently on sale this month for 99p.

Games theory

It has been more than 30 years since China began to open up to the rest of the world yet there are still glaringly off-limits areas where censorship and foreign involvement are taboo. Video games don’t usually make that list. That is why it is a big deal to more than just teens that the Chinese government is going to allow sales of Microsoft’s Xbox One video game consoles. Video games are a global force to be reckoned with in terms of dollars, worth up to $18 billion annually in China according to Bloomberg. Hardware is one thing, but the increasing cultural relevance of the games themselves are the story here.

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The high ground: space

During the Cold War, Americans looked to the heavens and grappled with near-existential questions about our country’s pursuit of technical superiority over its primary foe, the Soviet Union. The emerging space domain was, to use the phrase later popularized by the Star Trek series, the final frontier. The Soviet Sputnik satellite launch in 1957 jolted the American political consciousness and dented a sense of inevitable technological advantage in the post-war world. Space quickly became the high ground, militarily, technologically and morally speaking, for the United States to take back.

Space remains the strategic high ground. After more than a decade of war in the Middle East and Central Asia it is important to acknowledge the direct tactical connections to America’s armed forces. As remotely piloted aircraft become a staple of U.S. military and intelligence operations, their links to pilots thousands of miles away depend on satellite technology. That is just another indicator that as America navigates a post-war period, U.S. power cannot be measured in the 21st Century without accounting for the safety and security of our military space access.

See the American Security Project white papers National Security and America’s Space Challenge and The Next Space Race: Competition.

The U.S. is not alone in seeing the importance of space in its national narrative. China’s President Xi Jinping reportedly told air force officers that he wants the People’s Liberation Army to have a more robust space role. Read more at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.

Debt fight reveals strategic vulnerabilities

During the past month, great harm has been done at home and abroad to American competitiveness, and by extension U.S. national security. It will take the better part of the next decade to repair. This winter, when Congress takes up the budget and debt ceiling debate yet  again there will be plenty of hope that this time will be different. In the meantime, most observers will start to look for renewed signs of confidence in the country among the halls of Congress or within the Oval Office. But the place to watch is across the Pacific.

Read more at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.

Medium: Contractors on defense

The Industrial Age’s creations defined much of the thinking about 20th Century warfare. In the opening decades of the 21st Century, the influence of highly metabolic personal technology and electronic media is already unmistakable. Until recently, shipyards and aircraft production lines defined usable national power. Aircraft carriers and fighter still matter but they must share intellectual, and doctrinal, room with hackers and social media campaigns. A new era is upon Washington and the companies that supply the American defense and intelligence community. Power, and its suppliers, must change.

I’ve put up a new essay at Medium.com about the growth of the intelligence business and what the Edward Snowden case means for its future.

“During the Cold War, the heart of the aerospace and defense industry was in Southern California, where Jet Age engineers began remaking the American arsenal. The public kept pace with the change with one eye on the heavens. Overhead, they could look with pride at gleaming jetliners sharing the skies with bombers capable of striking targets inside the Soviet Union.

Since 2001, America’s defense companies evolved to take on new roles that followed an unprecedented increase in spending on private-sector defense services. The cutting edge of the defense business, focusing on the budget-rich intelligence world, has been out of sight for much of the country. The public gets glimpses of this reality, perhaps with an incongruous airplane-maker’s logo in a stale office park in suburban Virginia near the CIA. Amid the shadow wars and the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the narrative of conflict and American business became intertwined in the formation of a new era for the defense industry.

Until, in an instant, a super-empowered defense contractor, Edward Snowden, opened a new window into the more than $50 billion world of intelligence contracting.”

Read the rest of the essay at Medium.com

Medium: The view from Beijing

In polite company, sex or politics or religion are generally not to be brought up at the dinner table. For world leaders, that would not leave much else to talk about. But there are taboo topics still, particularly between President Barack Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping: cybersecurity.

Here is an excerpt from an essay of mine at Medium, a new Web site that gives writers both a community and a platform.

“As President Obama and Chinese president Xi Jinping get together this weekend in California for a much anticipated summit, the two men were expected to have a tough exchange over the future of another economically critical and formidable expanse of territory: cyberspace.

In confronting President Xi over Chinese hacking of defense targets, President Obama was no doubt prepared to use the moral high ground staked out by the U.S. His case was buttressed by recently leaked reports that laid bare the dozens of frontline American weapons programs and technologies penetrated by Chinese cyberspies.

Then came revelations this week in The Guardian and The Washington Post that revealed the extent of U.S. government surveillance of Internet activities around the world. From Skype calls to e-mails to texts, all is apparently fair game through what has been reportedly described as direct access to the servers of leading online service providers and technology giants such as Google and Microsoft, among others.

It is an unprecedented level of government monitoring that may even surprise, or regrettably impress, President Xi. It will certainly be familiar to him as Chinese citizens already live in a world where the wonderful spontaneity of electronic communication carries an undercurrent of potentially devastating liability.

For Americans it is a disappointing coda to a decade of wartime. America’s defense and intelligence bureaucracy, which began to drown in data during the 1990s, is so big that simply collecting more information is an operational and organizational goal in and of itself.”

Read the rest of the essay at Medium.

A common language

One of the best benefits of learning a new language is you begin to understand your own a lot better.

With that in mind, it is worth looking at China for an important window into how a country that some expect will become the world’s largest economy in a few years is wrestling with a political system and a leadership class struggling to stay connected to the nation’s wider population.

For example, lavish personal spending by officials, fueled by a cocktail of bribes and the state’s coffers, is no longer being tolerated. The New York Times found that everything from an official’s choice of wristwatch to the menus at bureaucrat haunts are being toned down at the behest of President Xi Jinping. Austerity has its own flavor in China.

The wielding of power in a functional political system during times of political and economic transition is critical to a nation’s competitiveness. Corruption, self-dealing and factionalism are liabilities that undermine any country seeking a leading role on the global stage. That is true in the private sector just as it is in government. When both realms are riddled with such flaws a country’s leaders are effectively selling their future to buy advantages today. Just as America wants to improve its own competitive position, other nations such as China are doing the same.

Read more at the American Security Project’s Flashpoint blog.