Category Archives: Fiction

Maritime and naval fiction.

Locate, Close With, Destroy

Transforming the Marine Corps Topic Week

By Ian Brown 


“—unprecedented chain of events culminated today in his early resignation only three months into his second nominated term. Citing the well-publicized campaign against his reforms, he noted that his person had become a distraction from the Service’s ability to fulfill its mandated functions. As he stepped away from the microphone, our Pentagon correspondent heard him comment that ‘never was so much so misunderstood by so many,’ but she could not get him to elaborate. While his successor awaits Senate confirmation, sources already report that the rapid recapitalization of divested weapons systems will be a top priority for the new—”


             “You’re fucking kidding me,” spat Colonel Sara Hård, though she knew the general was, sadly, serious. The general’s fleeting smirk confirmed her suspicions.

            “Come now, colonel,” responded Brigadier General Paolo Ricci. “We all have our roles. This is just what your little science experiment was designed for, right?” Hård bit her tongue until she could taste blood. It was that, or say something that would see her leave the room stripped of her already tenuous command. Truly, there are none so blind as those who will not fucking see…

            “Sir,” she said, working to keep her tone neutral, “I don’t dispute that this assignment is one of the many possible missions my regiment was constructed to execute, but I strongly believe that a more mutually supportive deployment—”

            “Enough.” The smirk was gone. “Let me be clear, colonel. I’ll use your band of littoral misfits because this crisis is here, and so are you. And as it happens, your reason for being happily aligns with this specific request of the Norwegian government. Who knows, this could be the perfect chance for the Marine Littoral Regiment to finally show its quality.” A ghost of the smirk reappeared. “So you will plant your space experts and cyber warriors and influencers and missileers on those islands, and make noises if any Soviets get too close—which they won’t. We will handle anything that comes down the road.”

            And there it was. General Ricci, poster child of the old guard, wanted his refurbished tanks and artillery tubes to have a public knife fight upon which he could slap the bumper sticker of “locate, close with, and destroy,” because that’s what the old guard wanted. Her “influencers”—linguistic trend analysis among their skills, not that Ricci cared—were screaming that this conflict would unfold another way. They want an amphibious win against us, her influencers said, they’ll come by sea, the road is just a distraction—but Ricci clung to his vision.

            “Captain Rhys, please have the duty driver return Colonel Hård to the airfield,” he said nonchalantly. Hård rose and wordlessly followed the captain out of the room. She could feel Ricci’s eyes mocking her as she left.

            Hård sat in silence on the drive back to Kirkenes Lufthavn. She had known this eleventh-hour plea with the MAGTF commander was likely fruitless regardless of the moment’s urgency. The Russian Federation had collapsed following its army’s expulsion from Ukraine and subsequent economic free fall. The chaos had forced NATO to contend with more than a dozen new breakaway regimes all fighting each other, with the violence regularly spilling over NATO borders. The New Murmansk Soviet had been quiet thus far, until a few days ago when its Chairman broke his silence.

            The Chairman’s exact words—rights under the Svalbard Treaty, a litany of historical injustices, the protection of Russian-language speakers—were largely irrelevant. Only two things mattered. The Soviet’s military forces were among the most potent of the breakaway states and  the Northern Rotational MAGTF was in a position to do something about it.

            Hård had hoped this meant the Marine Littoral Regiment’s turn had finally come after the long months of being shunted aside. Facing the pending Soviet offensive, she thought her argument was strong: the MLR, along with Ricci’s conventional forces, should redeploy to Bear Island and Svalbard together to oppose Soviet landings and threaten their naval forces seeking to break into the Atlantic. Ricci gave one of his smirks and assessed Soviet amphibious and naval capability as “low.” But since the Norwegian government shared her concern, her MLR would cover the islands. Away from the “real” land fight in Hesseng he wants, and the cameras.

A knock on the car window pulled Hård back from her dark thoughts. She was at Kirkenes Lufthavn. Giving the waiting driver a tight smile and small nod for his forbearance, she got out. The MV-22 Osprey that had brought her here was already spinning a short distance away, and a shadow in front the aircraft’s silhouette walked toward her. She recognized her assistant operations officer, Major Travis Cuomo, who raised a hand holding a cranial to her in greeting.

“I’m guessing we’ll be in Longyearbyen a bit longer?” he asked as she strapped her cranial on.

“Yes,” she replied, continuing toward the Osprey. “I’ll have some orders to transmit once we’re airborne. Weather update?”

“Low pressure system’s growing. Pilot’s gonna have to buster to get us back before the skies close.” Cuomo paused. “With aviation grounded, we’ll be awfully lonely out there.” Hård smiled tightly.

“Nonsense,” she said with forced lightness. “It’s just an opportunity to grow where we’re planted.” Cuomo quietly nodded as they approached the Osprey’s tail ramp. After the Osprey lifted, Hård plugged her cranial into the aircraft’s communications system and started sending orders into the ether. The lights of Kirkenes faded behind them. Far to the west, lightning danced on the horizon.


            “Dog Three Six confirms the Pyotr Velikiy is destroyed.” Hård nodded thanks at the corporal who had delivered the message.

“Good,” replied Hård. “Tell Captain Garard and the Influence cell to launch their packages in 20 minutes. I don’t need to review it.” The corporal nodded in return, and went back to his corner of the hotel dining room. Outside, the arctic storm swirled, an angry contrast to the unnatural calm of her Marines inside the Blu Polar Hotel. Turning away from storm, Hård headed to a different corner to watch the Influence cell at work.

Captain Garard was quietly guiding the editing process for the latest information packages. The work was a microcosm of what her “misfits” brought to the table. Her Space Marine liaison team had received commercial satellite cuing for the Soviet Northern Fleet flagship Pyotr Velikiy a few hours ago. The satellites fed targeting information to the Maritime Strike Tomahawk battery with the Lava Dogs on Bear Island, which then—with the satellites watching and her Influence cell listening—launched a missile salvo.

Hård observed the strike playback as Garard’s team massaged it. Two missiles struck the ship, one detonating the vessel’s magazine to break its back. She listened as the radio transmissions from the Pyotr Velikiy changed from bored reports to screams. Radio silence followed as the two pieces of the Pyotr Velikiy’s hull slid beneath the storm-frothed waves.

Of the Influence cell’s information packages, the first was for public consumption, highlighting a straightforward message: we are winning. It showed the video but omitted the screams, instead dubbing over a patriotic Norwegian rock ballad that had gone viral when the New Murmansk Soviet announced its intentions. This package would go to Norwegian news outlets, Russian social media, even Ricci’s COMMSTRAT Marines—not that the latter would do anything with it.

The second package also had a straightforward message: we are going to kill you, and you can’t stop us. It swapped out music for the dying crew’s screams. This one would go out across Soviet naval military channels to sow pure fear. Similar packages had gone out following each strike, and her Marines had been gratified to watch some of the Soviet ships turn back after receiving the Influence cell’s transmissions. It was maneuver warfare at work—space and influence domains joined with long-range fires assets to create a combined arms effect that had significantly shrunk the Soviet threat to the archipelago. Things were going pretty well. Except…

The amphibs were missing. There were four Project 23900-class amphibious assault ships in the Soviet Northern Fleet, and when that Fleet had met the front edge of the storm southeast of Svalbard, satellites lost track of them. Her Space Marine liaisons had worked to recover the tracks scattered by the storm—but despite reacquiring many lucrative targets, the amphibs remained ghosts. That meant thousands of Soviet naval infantry were out there, location unknown, plowing toward them—

“Ma’am?” A hand touched her shoulder; it was Captain Garard. “We’ve launched the packages,” said the captain. “Just wanted you to know before we start breaking things down to displace.”

“Thanks,” Hård replied with a small smile. “I guess that means I should be getting myself ready to move too, doesn’t it?” Garard gave an agreeable nod as the room’s calm turned to flurried activity. In moments, her Marines had packed up the command post and were hauling their Pelican cases into the rain toward their next location under the displacement plan that kept them ahead of the Soviet targeting cycle. Hård gave herself another small smile. The rain seemed to be slackening; that would make it all the easier to find the amphibs. Things were indeed going well.


            “Riptide Six, launch the barn.” Hård pushed the “end” button and tossed down the handheld. So much for things going well. A sharp crack overhead caught her attention. From her latest command post high above Isfjorden, she looked up through the camouflage netting to see pieces of burning debris floating in the dark sky. It was the latest casualty in the air battle raging above them.

            They’d found the amphibs; or, rather, the amphibs had found them. Under cover of the storm, the Soviets had reached the Isfjorden undetected. Her regiment’s coastal radars picked up faint returns, called it in, and then came the missiles and loitering munitions as the line of Project 23900 ships brazenly pushed toward Longyearbyen. But once the initial surprise had worn off, her Marines stung back.

            Explosions and flaming debris filled the air in the battle between her Stinger and MADIS gunners, and Soviet missiles and drones. The Soviet drones came in increasing numbers, intended to soak up as much ground-based air defense as they could, but she’d trained her Marines to be ready for this. A new sound thrummed through the airspace, and she again looked skyward to watch the results.

            “Launching the barn” was a contingency she’d kept in the back of her mind for unconventional employment of her MLR’s excess tactical ISR drones. Now those drones would add their rotors and propellers to the air battle. New flashes lit up the night sky as her drone operators sent their unmanned platforms against the cloud of Soviet drones in kamikaze runs. They plunged down from above to cut their Soviet counterparts in half, or drove into Soviet rotors and propellers to send them spinning to the ground. The frequency of the flashes slackened after a few minutes, and Hård knew that her Marines had cleared the airspace for the battle’s next phase. She picked up her handheld, scrolled to a different contact, and pressed the “call” icon.

            “Go for Dog One Six,” came the reply.

            “This is Actual,” Hård said. “Ghost them, and be ready for leakers.”

            “Yes ma’am,” the voice responded. “Everyone goes swimming.” Hård felt a small measure of sympathy toward the Soviet amphibs for the hard time about to unfold. She looked through her binocular NVGs, saw a flash and bloom of light on the flight deck of the rear-most amphib, and then the rest of the Ghosts came.

            The Ghost drone—its predecessor first tested in Ukraine but later dismissed by the old guard as lacking the spirit of true combined arms—was silent, low-profile, and launchable from almost anywhere. Hård swept her NVGs across the dark sky, the darker-than-dark silhouettes of the Ghosts barely visible as they converged from a hundred launch points around the island, and then plunged into the amphibs.

            The rear-most ship took three hits to the bridge in quick succession, and as its course drifted slowly to starboard it became clear the helm was beyond human control. The next ship in line suddenly spewed flames from virtually all of its openings. Fuel tanks ruptured, and we know they have poor damage control. Jesus. As she watched, some of the flames fell down to the water rather than rise in the air, and she knew those flames were wrapped around people. She shifted her gaze to the right—

            —to be blinded by a searing white light from up the fjord. Hård ripped her NVGs off, blinking away painful spots. When her vision cleared, she looked down the fjord and saw a sheet of fire spreading across the water where the lead amphib had been. A Ghost had hit its magazine, and the ship was simply gone. Need to work up an award for whoever flew that drone, she thought, just as a tall black shape cut in front of the pool of flame. It was the last amphib, burning in more places than she could count, but clearly still under control and just as clearly, its captain was sprinting to shore to give the embarked naval infantry a fighting chance. Hård put her NVGs back on in time to see smaller black shapes speeding from the ship’s stern. In an act of true desperation, the Soviets were launching their landing ships while the amphib was still at flank speed.

            Then the Marines’ next defensive layer opened up. Carl Gustavs lanced across the water, Javelins arced up and then back down. More flames blossomed across the landing flotilla until it looked like fire had replaced water within the fjord. The last amphib charged toward the shore without slowing, and Hård guessed that it was no longer under human control either—this collision would kill or cripple anyone left alive on board that inferno. From her distant post, the sound of the warship crunching into rock sounded like a thousand empty oils drums being tossed around in a giant’s dryer. Then the ship simply sat, and burned. Just like that, it was over.

            Her handheld vibrated. Hård looked at the screen. The number combination indicated it was a valid contact in the MAGTF C2 network, but she didn’t recognize it. She swiped to answer.

            “Colonel Hård?” The voice was a faint quaver. “Colonel Hard? Ma’am?” Hård had to say “yes” several times before the answer finally registered with the caller. When it did, the caller muttered something indistinguishable, and Hård finally placed the voice.

            “Captain Rhys? Why the hell are you calling me directly—“

            “They’re all dead, ma’am,” Rhys replied softly. “They’re all dead, and we need you back here, and they’re all dead…”

            It was several minutes before Hård could get Rhys to say anything else.


             Hesseng and Kirkenes Lufthavn were smoldering heaps, though at least the airport had enough unbroken tarmac for an Osprey to land. Hård waited for the aircraft to shut down before stepping off the tail ramp, dreading the revelations to come. She walked toward the pitifully small field hospital the Norwegians had erected for survivors on the far side of the airfield.

            Rhys’ bed was close to the door flap. Hård pulled up a folding chair and sat down. They looked wordlessly at each other for a few moments, with Hård finally breaking the silence.

            “What happened?”

            “The general got his close fight,” Rhys said softly. “He thought their air would be grounded by the storm, and they would have to come up the highway into Hesseng. Our artillery would pound them on the way in, and then we’d have the urban tank battle that…” Rhys trailed off.

            “That would prove Ricci right,” Hård finished. Rhys nodded.

            “They killed our guns with rockets first. BM-30s and Tornados.” Rhys half-sobbed. “The Soviets know this ground, they live next to it. They know where you can put towed artillery and where you can’t. We were too far away to shoot back and too slow to move out of the way. Then they moved closer and did the same to Hesseng. They didn’t kill many of our tanks, just destroyed all the buildings so we couldn’t move. And when the weather broke, Tu-22s put cluster bombs on everything still standing.” Rhys paused again. “Then they came up the highway. Not many, but enough to…make their point. They drove right up to our stuck tanks and the rubble on our fighting positions, and pulled those Marines out who were still alive and…you saw the YouTube videos?” Hård nodded silently. She’d watched them on the flight over. The crew chiefs had kindly loaned her a rag to wipe up the vomit afterward. Ricci had gotten the close fight he wanted; close enough, as the Soviet videos showed, to put bullets in the back of Marines’ heads.

Rhys was silently weeping now. Hård stayed with the captain until weeping gave way to exhausted sleep, and then stood up to leave. On tables at the back of the field hospital were a number of body bags awaiting temporary burial. One lay on a separate table, a strip of bright yellow tape stuck to its side, with “Ricci” scrawled on it in black letters. Hård did not look at it on the way out.


            “—retired generals expected at today’s hearings on the recent skirmish in the High North. Viewers might recall that yesterday’s hearings were interrupted by protestors, several of whom were later identified as family members of Marines executed by Soviet forces in the Norwegian town of Hesseng. Protestors displayed several of the horrifying images we have seen of shell-shocked Marines being shot at point-blank range by the Soviets, and, well, listen to the replay here as the protestors were removed: ‘Was that close enough, general? The Soviets got close and my son is dead, was that close enough, are you happy now—’”

Major Ian T. Brown currently serves as the operations officer at the Brute Krulak Center for Innovation and Future Warfare at Marine Corps University, Quantico. He is a contributor to previous CIMSEC Fiction Weeks, and has also discussed military fiction and wargaming on the Sea Control podcast. The views expressed here are in a personal capacity and do not reflect the views of the Krulak Center, Marine Corps University, the United States Marine Corps, or any other agency of the U.S. Government.

Featured Image: “War Ship” by Romain Laforet via Artstation.

The Past and Future Wars of Fiction

By Hal Wilson

Bodies are strewn across the rolling, sunlit fields — each one clad in the scarlet tunics and bearskins of British Guardsmen — each one “marking the line of their victorious advance.”But their victory is a brief one. Hostile reinforcements are pouring in, quickly mounting a flank attack of their own. Chaos follows, and with it a desperate retreat. By morning, the corps commander is dead, the household cavalry is broken, and a battalion of 500 British soldiers is reduced to 180 men.2

But this military disaster is not in some far-flung corner of a foreign land; the British Army is retreating from the southern English town of Dorking, with the German Army hot on its heels. Having swept the Royal Navy aside with decisive new weaponry, the Germans have now also broken the back of Britain’s ill-prepared Army. Almost overnight, Britain loses its Empire and dignity alike.

At least, that is how Colonel Sir George Tomkyns Chesney thought events would occur.

Writing in 1871, Chesney serialized his thought experiments in Blackwood’s Magazine; the result was The Battle of Dorking: Reminiscences of a Volunteer. The story reflected Chesney’s abiding fear that “if serious military reform was not undertaken and the Germans ever got across the channel, England was doomed.”3 While overshadowed by a better-loved cousin — The War of the Worlds, for the writing of which H.G. Wells borrowed directly from Chesney’s earlier work4 — Dorking defined an entire genre: future-war fiction.5

The Battle of Dorking, by Colonel Sir George Tomkyns Chesney, originally published in 1871.

As for Blackwood’s? Chesney’s story “was the best business they had ever had.”6

And it is easy to understand why. “Humans connect over a story,”7 explain authors Peter Singer and August Cole, the writers of 2015’s Ghost Fleet: a Novel of the Next World War. Or, as explained by Max Brooks, author of the 2006 novel World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War: “The best way to educate is to entertain.”8 Fiction offers a direct line to the imagination and the interest of countless ordinary readers. Such was the scale of Chesney’s appeal that his work attracted the personal denunciation of then-Prime Minister William Gladstone, whose ministry was determined to avoid further defense spending.9 Now ask yourself, how many Prime Ministers have been compelled to denounce the House of Commons’ Defense Committee reports?

Singer and Cole’s Ghost Fleet — inspired partly by Brooks’ zombie epic10 — depicts Sino-U.S. warfare from the beaches of Hawaii to low-earth-orbit. Moreover, it illustrates the power of stories as a vehicle to educate and inspire. Ghost Fleet popularized a tidal-wave of what co-author Cole terms ‘FICINT,’ which is fiction writing grounded in reality.11 Military organizations from the U.S. Naval Institute12 to West Point’s Modern War Institute13 now host regular FICINT initiatives, while the French Defense Innovation Agency recently hired sci-fi authors to identify future threats.14 Ghost Fleet itself quickly landed on the reading lists of the Chief of the Air Staff of the Royal Air Force;15 the U.S. Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations,16 and the U.S. Marine Corps War College.17 Not to be outdone, Admiral James Stavridis, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe, recently made his own contribution to the genre.18

So much for the appeal — but what use is science fiction in an age of flat or declining defense budgets? History offers some pertinent clues.

Writing in 1925, a former MI5 agent called Hector Bywater released The Great Pacific War: A History of the American-Japanese Campaign of 1931–33. Bywater not only predicted World War Two’s famous American island-hopping strategy, but directly shaped it by prompting a rewrite of War Plan ORANGE — the American inter-war plan for a possible Japanese conflict.19 Likewise, in 1978, General Sir John Hackett released The Third World War. Hackett, who jumped into Arnhem at the head of 4th Parachute Brigade, wrote for reasons that echoed Chesney’s from over a century before: namely, to warn that if “we wish to avoid a nuclear war we must be prepared for a conventional one.”20 And even if Tom Clancy’s later novel, Red Storm Rising, has since come to define the fictional vision of hard-bitten Cold War combat, it was The Third World War — with over three million copies sold — that helped to drive the substantial reforms for which Hackett had argued.21

The western militaries of yesteryear were no strangers to sweeping changes in technology, nor the daunting threat of war with advanced, capable opponents. And now that their successors grapple with mounting threats ranging from the Baltics22 to Taiwan,23 they too are leveraging the power of fiction to educate and inspire — to reveal risks and opportunities. Not long ago, in the nineties and early millennium, the results were often fanciful. Whether in visions of U.S. armored divisions rolling across Siberia to crush Chinese troops wholesale,24 or laser-armed B-52s picking off Russian nuclear bombers,25 it is all too easy to find the hallmarks of that heady, hubristic era — back when Fukuyama called time on history and President Bush declared Mission Accomplished. And while some recent fiction on future warfare is overtly pompous and politicized — consider Omar El Akkad’s American War — a body of far greater work is growing — see, for example, Captain Dale Rielage’s award-winning How We Lost the Great Pacific War,26 which captures a trend of material that is at once both engaging and often deeply sobering.

And so it should be. Just as Wells’ anonymous narrator recounts of the Martian aftermath — that it robbed the world “of that serene confidence in the future which is the most fruitful source of decadence”27 — it is not a moment too soon that we leave behind the comforting anachronisms of yesteryear.

But if Western defense communities accept this already, what about the rest of us? Whether British politicians defending ties to China,28 Disney executives dismissing the Uyghur genocide,29 or EU negotiators overlooking slave labor,30 many elites need a hard dose of fiction to find their way back to reality. Closing the Battle of Dorking with a portrait of a desolate, occupied Britain, Chesney leaves his readers with the observation that “a nation too selfish to defend its liberty could not have been fit to retain it.”31 150 years may have passed, but Chesney’s fictional warning remains as pertinent as ever.

Hal Wilson is a member of the Military Writers’ Guild who specializes in using fiction to explore future conflict. His published stories include finalist contest entries with the U.S. Naval Institute, War on the Rocks, and the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare Project. He lives in the United Kingdom, where he works in defense. He can be found on Twitter at @HalWilson_


[1] George Chesney, The Battle of Dorking, p.15.

[2] Ibid. p. 17

[3] Richard J. Norton, ‘Through a Mirror Darkly: The Face of Future War, 1871-2005’, Naval War College Review, Vol. 62, No.1 (2009), pp. 123-140, p. 126.

[4] Denis Gailor, ‘”Well’s ’War of the Worlds,” the ‘Invasion Story’ and Victorian moralism’, Critical Survey, Vol. 8, No.3 (1996), pp. 270-276, p. 271.

[5] A. Michael Matin, ‘Scrutinising “The Battle of Dorking”: The Royal United Service Institution and the mid-Victorian Invasion Controversy,’ Victorian Literature and Culture, Vol. 39, No.2 (2011), pp. 385-407, p. 388.

[6] I.F. Clarke, ‘Before and After “The Battle of Dorking”, Science Fiction Studies, Vol. 24, No.1 (1997), pp. 33-46, p. 33.

[7] August Cole & PW Singer, Thinking the Unthinkable with Useful Fiction, p. 4.

[8]Hadley Freeman, ‘Max Brooks; ‘Pandemics come in predictable cycles. If I’m the smartest guy in the room, we’re in big trouble’, The Guardian, (06.06.2020).

[9] Matin, ‘Scrutinising “The Battle of Dorking”’, p. 390.

[10] Sharon Weinberger, ‘Ghost Fleet: Welcome to the World of Post-Snowden Techno-Thrillers’ The Intercept, (04.07.2015).


[12] Hal Wilson, ‘Letter of Marque’, U.S. Naval Institute, (01.12.20).

[13] Hal Wilson, ‘Jonathan Roper: Travelling Consultant’, Modern War Institute at West Point, (21.05.19).

[14] Sebastian Sprenger, ‘French sci-fi writers set out to ‘scare’ the military establishment’, Defense News, (30.04.21).

[15] ‘CAS’ Reading List 2016’, The Royal Air Force Centre for Air Power Studies.

[16] CNO Professional Reading Program.

[17] U.S. Marine Corps War College Reading List.

[18] 2034: A Novel of the Next World War, by Elliot Ackerman and Admiral James Stavridis, USN.

[19] Norton, ‘Through a Mirror Darkly’, p.131.

[20] General Sir John Hackett, The Third World War: The Untold Story (Sidgwick and Jackson Limited, London, 1982), p.431.

[21] Norton, ‘Through a Mirror Darkly,’ p.133.

[22] Sandor Fabian, ‘Are the Baltics Really Defensible?’, Royal United Services Institute.

[23] Valerie Insinna, ‘A US Air Force war game shows what the service needs to hold off – or win against – China in 2030’, (12.04.21).

[24] Bruce Fretts, ‘Book Review: ‘The Bear and the Dragon’, Entertainment Weekly, (01.09.2000).

[25] ‘Plan of Attack’, Publisher’s Weekly, (19.04.08).

[26] Captain Dale Rielage, ‘How We Lost the Great Pacific War’, USNI, (05.2018).

[27] H.G. Wells, The War of the Worlds, (Penguin Books, London, 2005[1898]), p.179.

[28] Stefan Boscia, ‘George Osborne hits out at Tory ‘hotheads’ who want UK-China ‘Cold War’, CityAM, (17.03.21).

[29] Rebecca Davis, ‘Disney CFO Admits Filming ‘Mulan’ in Xinjiang Has ‘Generated a Lot of Issues’ (10.11.2020).

[30] Jacob Hanke Vela, Eleanor Mears and David M. Herszenhorn, ‘EU nears China trade deal despite slave labour fears’ (19.12.2020).

[31] Chesney, The Battle of Dorking, p.22.

Featured Image: Original drawings by Henrique Alvim Corrêa for the 1906 edition of HG Wells’ The War of the Worlds.

Violent Peace: Coming to Washington

The following excerpt is from David Poyer’s latest novel,  Violent Peace: The War with China: Aftermath of Armageddon, and is republished with permission.

By David Poyer

In the event, he had to get another dose of vaccine, a shot this time, since the version Homeland had given him hadn’t been approved by DoD. Then he had to cool his heels for two hours before he got to see the CNO’s flag secretary.

She was new, and didn’t seem to have any idea who he was. And of course since he was in a rumpled, oil-stained uniform, and probably stank of exhaust and sweat and too many days sleeping rough, he had to explain. Looking skeptical, she’d gone in to notify her boss.

And come out smiling. “He’ll be with you shortly, Admiral. I’m so sorry. I should have recognized your name. Task Force 91, right? Operation Rupture Plus?”

“That’s me.”

“I wish I could have been there. But some of us had to hold the fort here in DC.”

“I understand completely.” Dan forced a smile and got up, but staggered as a wave of dizziness rushed over him. From the dual vaccinations, probably.

“Are you all right, sir? Should I call—”

“Yeah. I’m fine. Just been . . . I’m fine.” He braced a finger against the bulkhead until the vertigo passed, then followed her into Niles’s office.

His old mentor, then enemy, then reluctant rabbi again, had lost a shocking amount of weight. Barry “Nick” Niles’s service dress blouse sagged loosely on a once-massive frame. His shirt collar gaped around his neck. His color seemed less that of a healthy African American than the hue and texture of gray wax. And he’d apparently gone to the shaved-head look. But his first words, from behind his desk, were robust. “Where the hell have you been, Lenson?” he boomed, just like the old Niles.

Dan came to an awkward attention. “I had leave, Admiral.”

“That doesn’t mean you drop off the face of the planet. Where were you?” Niles squinted. Sniffed the air. “Do you smell gasoline?”

“I bought a motorcycle. My daughter was kidnapped. So I . . . I was trying to pick up her trail across country.” The CNO nodded. “And did you?”

Dan swallowed, fighting a tickle in his throat and a sudden desire to weep. The dizziness peaked, then receded again, like a tide. He blinked rapidly, looking toward the shatterproof windows. “No. No, sir. I lost track of her in Wyoming. No telling where they went after that, or . . . what they did with her. There’s a body in Nebraska that . . . is . . . that may be her. I couldn’t make a positive identification.”

The CNO nodded heavily. Grunted. Muttered, after a moment, “Sorry to hear. I know it doesn’t help to hear it, but a lot of other people are missing relatives, friends, kids . . . two of my nephews, working oil out west, not a word since the laydown.”

“Things are confused out there, sir. They could just be in one of the camps.”

Niles waved his hope away and picked up a piece of paper. Seemed to remember Dan was standing, and pointed to a chair. No offer of an Atomic Fireball, as in the old days. The bowl was empty. Maybe they’d stopped making them during the war.

He sagged gratefully into the armchair. Cleared his throat, and tried to focus as Niles set the paper aside.

“You been home? Seen Blair yet?”

“No sir. Came straight here.”

“Uh-huh . . . uh-huh. Well, good work out there with Rupture, Dan. If I haven’t made that clear. If you hadn’t stopped the clock to build up your ammo and fuel reserves, then kept shoving when the going got rough, we’d have gotten kicked back into the China Sea.”

“Yes sir. Resistance was a lot heavier than I expected.”

“Than anyone expected. Including our intel and our AI. That took a lot of moxie, to keep driving ahead when you were looking at casualty reports of twenty, thirty percent.” Niles tented his fingers. “Of course, if that’d been the wrong decision, we would have hung you by the balls.”

Dan figured that for a rhetorical statement, so simply nodded. And waited for the other boot to drop.

Niles searched through what was apparently Dan’s personnel file, though it seemed odd that it was printed out. He rumbled to himself, as if musing, then said a bit louder, “Your stars may be permanent.”

“Oh. Is that right, sir?” It didn’t seem that important, but he tried to look gratified.

“At least you’re on the postwar list for Senate confirmation. Nothing’s guaranteed these days.” He sighed, sat back, glanced out the window. “We’re having to fight for every flag billet. There’s a lot of pushback about anything to do with the Pacific. We need to pull two carriers back for core replacement and overhaul. That’s going to be a major fight in the next budget. There are already calls to scrap them, rather than refuel.”

“Then, thank you, sir. For the nomination, at least.”

Niles shrugged and rolled his eyes, and Dan added, “I saw something new on the way in here. Something called a Homeland Battalion.”

“Uh-huh. In black uniforms?”

“Yes sir.”

“Uh-huh.” Niles tilted a massive head. “Homeland Security’s amalgamating loyal Guard units and militias into Blackies. Also known as Special Action Forces. And they want new general billets for them. They’re not DoD formations, they’re DHS, but they count against our general and flag authorized strengths.”

“That doesn’t sound exactly . . . fair, Admiral.”

Niles’s eyelids flickered. “There’s worse coming over the horizon. Posse Comitatus may be suspended. To fight the unrest in the cities, and out west. And the closer we get to the elections . . . the slogan’s ‘Forward as one,’ but the reality may be that we’re headed for one-party rule.”

Niles looked away. “Some of us are determined not to let that happen. At least, not if we can prevent it.”

Dan weighed that last sentence. Then, despite himself, glanced around the office.

The admiral caught his reaction, and waved a large hand. “You can speak freely. This room’s a SCIF. Noise suppressors on the walls, and we sweep it every morning. One island we keep as sane as we can. The Joint Chiefs, I mean. Just don’t face the windows if you’re discussing anything you don’t want overheard.”

“Yes sir.” He wanted to know more, but decided he’d better digest what had just been intimated first. Because Niles’s words could be construed, in the wrong hands, into something close to treason.

Niles reached for the empty candy container, but halted his hand halfway. He rumbled, “I’m going to be stepping down pretty soon, Dan. We won, if you can call losing ten million lives a win. And I’m tired.”

“Ten million,” Dan repeated blankly, horrified. This was the first he’d heard of any round figure. Most of the deaths must have taken place within the areas he’d routed around in his trek east. Plus fallout effects, carried by the wind. Radiation, looting, revolt, disease . . . so the dying wasn’t over yet. He straightened his shoulders. “You’re punching out, sir? Retiring?”

Niles rubbed a palm over his bare scalp. His smile resembled a sardonic jack’o lantern’s. “I have pancreatic cancer, Dan. They’re treating it, but as you can see, it’s a losing battle. I’d rather not die walled up in this fucking office. Scenic as the view is.”

“No sir. Of course not. I don’t—I’m very sorry to hear that.”

A tap at the door, and the aide stuck her head in. “Five minutes, Admiral.”

Niles sighed. He stood from behind the desk. Dan, rising too, saw anew how shrunken his old senior’s body was beneath the now nearly tent-like blues. Niles shrugged again. “That’s the cookie . . . Anyway, you’ll want to know what’s next for you. It’s still up in the air. Jung Min Jun called. He wants you as ambassador to reunited Korea. I told him that was a nonstarter. No way the administration would go for it, and you weren’t a fucking diplomat anyway.”

Dan nodded, not chagrined. Dealing with Jung could be stressful, and he wasn’t eager to leave home again. “Yes sir. So what were you thinking?”

The CNO waved the question away. “Let’s talk about that next time you come in. For now, go home. Take a shower. See Blair. Get some sleep. We all need a rest. Still got that boat of yours? Go sail it. Come back in when you feel up to it. Three, four days or so. Tell Marla to give you a District pass and a ration card.”

Niles looked at the papers again, a contemplative, lingering glance. Then shoved the chair back and came around the desk. He didn’t move like a lumbering bear anymore. His steps seemed tentative, cautious. His grip, though, was still strong as he pincered Dan’s shoulder. “We go back a long ways, Lenson. All the way to Crystal City and the JCMPO. I’ve been hard on you at times, I guess.”

Dan forced a smile. “No more than I deserved, sir.”

“But I fought for you too, when you needed it. The way I hear you do for your own people.”

“Your example, Admiral.”

“An officer who knows when to take a risk, even dares to disobey, for the good of the service—that’s a rare thing. We were headed for a zero-risk Navy for a long time, before this war. I tried to fight that, whenever I could.” Niles held out his hand. “I guess after all these years you’d better make it Nick. In private, at least.”

Dan’s eyes stung. At the Academy, spooning—a senior’s giving a junior permission to use a first name—was a time-honored tradition. One never given lightly. He cleared his throat and took the proffered hand. “Yes sir. I mean, Nick.”

“Sir?” said the aide, from the door. “Before you leave. Legal wants a word.”

“Legal? Hell. Well, make it short,” Niles said, turning away, letting go Dan’s hand, clearly annoyed.

A tall woman in blues introduced herself. She carried a red striped folder. “I heard Admiral Lenson was in the building.”

“Get to it,” Niles growled.

She turned to Dan. “The notification by the ICJ. Admiral, has anyone discussed this with you?”

The International Court of Justice. “Uh, my wife mentioned it.”

“Blair Titus,” Niles clarified. “Undersecretary of defense.”

The legal officer nodded. “Yes sir. I thought as long as he was here, we could go over the administration’s stand. That no US citizen will be judged.”

Dan said, “But doesn’t that mean the Chinese won’t attend either?”

Niles shook his head. “They’re trying to take that position. But they signed the treaty. Giving up war criminals was one of the stipulations.”

“That’s actually a political question, Admiral.” The attorney clasped her hands primly in front of her, elbows out. “It goes to war guilt, if we still want to align ourselves with that concept. But if we do, the ICJ may indict Americans as well. As they may with Mr. Lenson, here.”

Niles said irritably, “Forget it. He’s not responding.”

“What happens if I don’t?” Dan said, accepting that he probably wasn’t going to, but also curious as to what would happen if he didn’t.

“You wouldn’t be able to travel to Europe, probably,” the advisor said. “At least to Europe, the UK, the other standing members of the court. If you did, you’d be subject to arrest, extradition, and trial.”

Niles patted his arm. “Don’t lose any sleep over this, Dan. This’ll all get settled way above our pay grades.”

He nodded to the aide, who stepped aside to let them both pass.


DAN stopped by Blair’s office, but her people said she was overseas, in Singapore. “Oh, yeah,” he muttered. “The peace conference.” He stopped in at the cafeteria and put a lunch on his new ration card.

Next stop: home, in Arlington. And just about time; the bike was down to a top speed of forty, and its smoke trail was like a burning bomber’s.

He shut the engine down and rolled the last few feet down the driveway.

The house looked . . . deserted. Desiccated pine needles carpeted the roof, with patches of green moss. One of the gutters had come loose and hung down like a torn hem. The shingles needed attention. The lawn had grown two feet high, and Virginia creeper and the red hairy cables of poison ivy twisted through the undergrowth and up the trunks of the pines, clinging and strangling. He’d have to take a machete to them.

Around back, he found the spare key under a brick in the patio. Let himself in to first quiet, then alarmed mewing. He scooped Blair’s cat up and cradled it, ruffling its fur. “Hey, Jimbo.” Remembering suddenly how he’d cradled his daughter the same way, so many years ago.

The house smelled musty. No wonder; the windows were taped over, as if for a hurricane, and duct-taped shut, no doubt as a preparation against fallout, though it hadn’t reached this far east. He fed the cat, then let himself down the narrow steps to the basement. Here, in his study, it smelled even worse, as if the books were moldering. He went back up and checked the air-conditioning. But a crimson sticker sealed the breaker in the off position: Save Energy for Victory.

So he went around untaping and opening the windows and sliding down the screens. Not much of a breeze, but it might cool the house a bit. He checked the refrigerator: empty. The panty was bare too, except for a few staples: olive oil, beans, rice, canned stuff, bottles of wine. Blair must have been getting her meals at work.

He stood at the window, watching squirrels squabble and play in the pines. Feeling suddenly . . . aimless. Apprehensive.

Fuck that! He should feel relieved, right? The war was over.

And the US had “won.”

Yet he’d lost too much to feel relieved, or happy, or even curious about what came next. An indictment? He couldn’t muster concern for that, either. Like the legal beagle had suggested, maybe the whole concept of “war guilt” was a thing of the past. Quaint, like honor, or virtue, or truth, or the idea noncombatants weren’t legitimate targets.

He just felt . . . empty. Peculiar, out of place, as if this were some uncanny, alternate world he’d never expected to inhabit. And guilty, too, as if by surviving he’d betrayed those who had not.

The wine, in the pantry. He could uncork it. Forget all this. Blot it out, if only for a few hours.

No. He’d been sober for too many years. The craving faded. It wouldn’t help. When he woke up tomorrow, his daughter would still be dead.

He’d have to learn to live with that. Somehow. Like millions of others, all across the US. Across China. Pakistan. India. Indonesia. Iran. Vietnam. In all the countries this war had wrecked, trampled, and poisoned. Remember that, he told himself. You’re not the only one. He looked at the coffeemaker, but decided Niles was right. He needed a shower, a good long sleep more.

Upstairs, to a rumpled bed. The comforter was pulled up haphazardly, as if his wife had left in a hurry. Stooping to the pillow, he could smell her. Her lotions and emollients stood lined up in the bathroom. He peed, got a quick shower, then lay down. Blinked at the ceiling.

He didn’t bother to set the alarm.

David Poyer’s sea career included service in the Atlantic, Mediterranean, Arctic, Caribbean, and Pacific. He’s the author of nearly fifty novels and works of nonfiction, including the Dan Lenson War with China series: Tipping Point, Onslaught, Hunter Killer, Deep War, and Overthrow. His next book, Violent Peace, will be published this December. Poyer’s work has been required reading in the Literature of the Sea course at the U.S. Naval Academy, along with that of Joseph Conrad and Herman Melville. He lives on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (March 26, 2008) An unarmed Trident II D5 missile launches from the Ohio-class ballistic missile submarine USS Nebraska (SSBN 739) off the coast of California. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Ronald Gutridge/Released)

Unexpected Victory

By Ryan Hilger

            Excerpted from the forthcoming Unexpected Victory: The U.S. Navy in the Sino-American War, 2034-2036 by Fred Goures, to be published by Random House in December 2039.

            …Several Chinese admirals agreed to speak on the condition of anonymity on the following question, among others: “What surprised you most about the war?” Their answers were remarkably similar: the Yukon-class corvettes. Named after American rivers, the Navy built and deployed more than 60 Yukons in three years from 2033-2036. One Chinese admiral’s remarks are typical:

Admiral [redacted]: The Yukons caught me and the PLA leadership completely by surprise. When we started the war in October 2034, we thought we would have the American Navy sunk in a few weeks. We knew the submarine threat would take time, but we did not consider their surface forces much of a threat.

Goures: Why was that?

Admiral [redacted]: It was clear from decades of industrial espionage and intelligence collection that the American Navy had not managed to introduce much in the way of new technologies in decades, despite the focus on innovation. Thus, the introduction of the Yukons did not draw much attention from us.

Goures: Why not?

Admiral [redacted]: They were much smaller and seemed simpler than the American mainstay, the Arleigh Burke-class. We did not see how they could have posed much of a threat to us. We were very wrong on this.

Goures: How so? What made the Yukons different?

Admiral [redacted]: In retrospect, their simplicity was pure elegance. The Americans seemed to be able to upgrade and repair them so rapidly, even while at sea. We never seemed to fight the same ship twice. It may have been the same hull, but each encounter demonstrated new capabilities that we did not anticipate, usually without the ship ever pulling into a port. We could not keep up…


                       Admiral Peter Malone, the Program Executive Officer (PEO) for Ships in 2031, recalled sitting in a meeting with senior Navy leadership when the idea of what would become the Yukon class was born:

Things were not going well at all. The Large Surface Combatant program had not panned out in the 2020s like we thought. Apparently, we did not learn the lessons of the Zumwalt or Littoral Combat Ship programs sufficiently, because we repeated many of the same mistakes. After the fourth year of Congressional cuts to the program and reductions in planned numbers of hulls, the Secretary of the Navy called for a meeting to discuss options.

I had only been in the PEO Ships job for a few months, but I did not see how we could recover. My mind drifted from the conversation to the problems the Navy overcame to deliver both a ballistic missile submarine and a submarine-launched ballistic missile in less than five years in the 1950s – and with an immense amount of new technology to boot. I wondered how we had managed to drift so far from such incredible origins.

I snapped back from my daydream and saw the Chief of Naval Operations glaring at me. “Do you have any ideas, Pete?” I nodded and thought for a moment, but I already knew what I needed to say.

“Kill the program.” There were a lot of shocked expressions.

“Clearly what we have done in the past has not been working. Let’s throw out the playbook and try something completely new. I’ve got some ideas on ship construction, digital engineering, and how to develop products differently. Give me six months and I will come back to you with a proposal for a new ship class and how we will deliver them to the fleet.”

After a few moments of incredulous silence, he looked at Admiral Higgs, the Commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, “Dan, what do you think?”

“Well, I don’t see anything to lose from this. Most of my requested capabilities were dropped in last year’s budget cuts anyway. This at least may get me more ships sooner, which is really what I need to balance against China.”

The CNO let the tension hang in the air before replying. “We have everything to lose if we fail this time. Let’s get it right.” Off we went.


                     The Yukon-class had a very interesting beginning. It was the first government-designed and built ship in decades. Many questioned the government’s sanity in taking on the challenge of designing a ship after contractors had done it for so many years, but the government was left with little choice. Captain Lucius Walker, the Program Manager of the LSC program, recalls the day their hand was forced. On May 25, 2031, Captain Walker and his team held an Industry Day to discuss the radical new ideas they had.

We thought we had a really awesome set of ideas for industry. My team had spent a lot of time doing futuring exercises, talking with operators, looking at the case studies of Fitzgerald and John McCain from a damage control perspective, reviewing the failures of the Littoral Combat Ship program, and culling the new technologies to see what could meet the mission needs in the threat environment of the 2030s and beyond. The environment was very missile-centric, which amounted to a huge departure from traditional gun damage-tolerant designs. Those had not changed much since World War II.

The shock came right away. Both Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics said that we could not do what our Industry Day proposal requested. Too much of it relied on proprietary information and lead integrator efforts and products. We had a heated discussion in the Gooding Center on the [Washington Navy] Yard, but they weren’t going to budge. I could understand their position. They had spent decades cultivating an integrated set of systems; you simply could not break them apart the way we were talking about. It was then that I knew we had to bring the design in-house.


            After the collapse of the Industry Day in May 2031, Captain Walker’s Ship Design Manager, Austin Corleone, spoke with Captain Walker outside the Gooding Center:

I decided to go for it. “Do you have a few minutes, Captain?”

“Sure, why not? I don’t really want to go back in there at the moment.”

“Ever since we finalized the Industry Day proposal, I’ve been thinking about different ways to bring the ideas into a ship.”


“I think we can design a simple ship in-house.”

“Come again?”

“Bear with me. It doesn’t have to be complex. We can design the hull and space allocations for all the major systems: radars, combat systems, weapons, etc. We work with other program offices to deliver those subsystems to the strict interfaces that we provide. Remember in 2002 when Amazon forced their internal programs to communicate only through certain interfaces or be fired? We don’t need to design the entire ship, just require programs to provide models to fit into the spaces and interfaces we give them. We make the mechanical and electrical systems very simple and easy to replace—no more rats’ nests of cables everywhere. In that way, we can use the digital models to see how all the parts fit together into a coherent whole. Software standards in industry have moved to the extreme in terms of modularity with service mesh architectures, and I see no reason why we can’t do the same with ship designs.”

“You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Absolutely. I’ve got a few friends who think along the same lines in other program offices that think it would be feasible. What do you think?”

“Can you get your friends together at our office tomorrow to map out what this might look like? I’m curious.”

“I’ll get it set up.”

            The Yukon program office exploited the fast, inexpensive, restrained, and elegant criteria to the letter in designing the ships. The use of model-based engineering techniques stemming from the Digital Engineering Strategy combined with a confederation of program offices allowed the Yukon program to design a ship in record time. They approached allowed individual program offices to be the experts in their area, freeing the Yukon team to design an overmatch of hull, mechanical, and electrical services for the programs to use. The result was a simple, elegant ship that was easy to build, upgrade, repair, and operate.


            The Yukon program embraced its new role as a lead systems integrator. Once the hull design and its associated services had been finalized, they contracted to start hull construction, without any of the major subsystems ready. Captain Walker made the key decision to revert to a historical norm: outfitting at the pier. The Navy had gotten away from it as ship designs increased in complexity, but it briefly resurfaced with the Zumwalt-class, though more by accident than planning. Designing the ship for ease of access allowed the pier-side outfitting to be conducted rapidly by both sailors and contractor teams. Ships were commissioned at an unheard of rate with the latest gear that the confederation of program offices could deliver.

            As the ships deployed, the various program offices continued to support the ships by providing for over-the-air delivery of software to give the ships the maximum capability possible against the adversaries. The independence of hardware and software allowed designers to consider sensors in fundamentally new ways, and the surface fleet saw radically new capabilities from the same hardware as a result. The independent, digitally-engineered design allowed for rapid upgrades to the ships while deployed, in some cases with new hardware even being delivered via small drones in the South China Sea. The seamless integration that digital engineering and DevSecOps created allowed the programs supporting Yukons to achieve update and repair speeds that were orders of magnitude faster than the Navy had ever thought possible. As a result of these design decisions, the ships performed remarkably well in combat, earning rave reviews from the sailors operating them to the adversaries fighting against them.

Lieutenant Commander Ryan Hilger is a Navy Engineering Duty Officer stationed in Washington D.C. He has served onboard USS Maine (SSBN 741), as Chief Engineer of USS Springfield (SSN 761), and ashore at the CNO Strategic Studies Group XXXIII and OPNAV N97. He holds a Masters Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the Naval Postgraduate School. His views are his own and do not represent the official views or policies of the Department of Defense or the Department of the Navy.

Featured Image: “Dreadnought 2050” by Rob McPherson (via Artstation)