war on the rocks

Are You Ready for the Next World War?

July 1, 2015

P.W. Singer and August Cole, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2015).

 

For hundreds of years, armies have used wargame simulations and map exercises to test strategies and tactics without the expense and effort of actually putting troops in the field. In more recent times, military leaders and technologists have also found inspiration in science fiction stories which explore the possibilities and implications of advanced technologies. A new novel by P.W. Singer and August Cole blends the two in a single book that should be required reading for the entire Pentagon and would be equally at home in anyone’s beach bag this summer.

Ghost Fleet tells of a near-future world war, using a large and diverse cast of well-developed characters. The action flows from occupied Hawaii to a lecture hall at the University of Wisconsin, from the bottom of the Mariana Trench 10,000 meters below the ocean surface to the International Space Station orbiting 243 miles above the earth. No niche or corner of human endeavor is left untouched as the fires of war spread. Cyberspace plays an especially prominent role, and much of the action revolves around how the flow of ones and zeros affects strategy and operations.

The authors’ rigorous research lends an air of credibility to the genuinely entertaining story. Even the most unexpected developments and plot twists are based on real-world trends and technologies, as are the bases, ships, jets, and organizations at the story’s heart. The final 22 pages provide more than 370 source citations, ranging from Defense Department fact sheets to an online Klingon pocket dictionary to a mention of the first time Brad Pitt appeared on the cover of People magazine. Casual readers can easily ignore these endnotes, but for professional military readers, these may be the most important pages in the book.

A fascinating and engaging story, Ghost Fleet is full of action and geopolitical intrigue. Technology also plays a central role. Readers get a look inside the cockpits of advanced fighter jets and on the bridges of experimental naval ships. As in real life, cutting-edge equipment is only part of the story. One of the key players is an insurgent assassin whose weapon of choice is a simple blade — a weapon that is literally a cutting edge.

Good writing entertains, educates or engages the reader, and most authors hope to do one of these three things well. Cole and Singer achieved the rare triple play and hit each target dead center. The result is a stimulating story and a provocative wargame scenario that should inform future political and military decision-making — and should also be immediately optioned by Hollywood for a summer blockbuster. So whether you are involved in shaping defense strategy, building military technology, or simply catching some rays on a leisurely vacation, reading Ghost Fleet is time very well spent. Read it now, before it all comes true tomorrow.

 

Lt Col Dan Ward (USAF, ret) is the author of The Simplicity Cycle and FIRE: How Fast, Inexpensive, Restrained, and Elegant Methods Ignite Innovation. He is a military technology expert and holds three engineering degrees as well as several acquisition certifications.

 

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Cncplayer (adapted by WOTR)