For Whom the Bell Tolls, pt. 1

book at funeral for whom the bell tolls cyberpunk

Believe it or not, it took me decades to get to this novel.

I thought it was, good.

Maybe I missed something, but it was just good.

I enjoyed it, but it didn’t do much for me.

Maybe I’m jaded.

Here’s a line that hit, though:

In him, too, was despair from the sorrow that soldiers turn to hatred in order that they may continue to be soldiers.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Gaming as #FICINT

a reaper shooting a laser

We are often accused of preparing for “the last war.” I think that’s a bit unfair. When you actually look at it, we’re mostly trying to figure out how to adequately train for the wars we’re fighting now while keeping an eye on what might be out there lurking.

We dominate in Gulf War I, and we turn towards the Revolution in Military Affairs. We get bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, and we triple-down on training counter-insurgency, trying to eke out a win.

Now, in the era of ‘Great Power Competition,’ we’re thinking of Multi-Domain Operations and Large Scale Combat Operations. 

For the majority of the serving force, combat experience is limited to the counter-insurgency operations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Thinking about what war might look like against a different foe in a different environment requires looking further back into the past, when the equipment, technology, and tactics employed were also very different.

Or, if we’re willing, we can look to the future.

And if we’re really brave, we can look to fiction.

I’ve been thinking a lot about fictional intelligence, or ‘FICINT,’ lately. While it’s a new term to me, it’s one that I’ve learned I’m already very familiar with.

FICINT is the idea of looking at fiction for inspiration. And in a military context, as “intelligence” to prepare for future conflict. The term was coined by Peter Singer and August Cole – authors of Ghost Fleet. 

For the uninitiated, Ghost Fleet is a novel set in the near-future that depicts a future war between the United States and China. It includes anti-satellite warfare, total annihilation of troop formations, biologically enhanced super-soldiers, entrepreneurs at war, and more. 

It’s a terrifying look at what a true “peer-to-peer” war might look like. 

While terrifying, it is also inspiring. It’s a call to do the work now.

If we keep doing what we’ve done, we will eventually be out-innovated. It’s only a matter of time. Using FICINT to imagine some of these seemingly absurd challenges can prepare us for them. 

Which brings me to the rub. Military thought leaders and senior officials are getting comfortable with FICINT as a concept. Books like Ghost Fleet and 2034 are finding spots on military reading lists across the force. 

Now what would be truly disruptive? 

Gaming as FICINT.

Open the aperture a bit and look at what gaming has to offer in terms of FICINT. Gaming has exploded over the past thirty years – and the narrative, development, and seriousness of the genre has professionalized and matured. 

I’d argue (and I do) that games are better for FICINT than television, film, and literature. Why? Gaming allows for more, and with fewer restrictions. Films, at the most, last a few hours. Television shows can last multiple seasons, but there are studio limits to what gets packed in. Books, arguably, can go on forever and can pack it all in. But, while I know you read, as an art form, reading is in decline.

Games are also limited, but not to the same extent. AAA games regularly clock in at over 100 hours to fully explore the world. These games are dense. Cyberpunk 2077, for example, features a script that includes over 100,000 lines of dialogue.

While I have explored filmtelevision, and books for FICINT before, I’ve spent most of my efforts with games. 

Over the years I’ve written a number of pieces pulling directly from games as a way to think about mental healthstolen valorsuicide (and here), the military’s role in a zombie apocalypse, the RPG elements of military service, the importance of “staying alive,” military deception, the absurdity of war, soldiers vs. warriorsdecision makinggrand strategy, and toxic mentorship.

Still, I always get the sense that when I write about gaming or use it as an anchor for some other idea, I am met with a too-critical eye – that this is still the stuff of adolescence. Many individual leaders still don’t want to take it seriously – despite the fact that it is pervasive and dominating other markets, including the movie industry.

Institutionally, the services get it. The Army, Navy, and Air Force have stood up eSports teams as another way to aid in recruiting. Most people game, so it makes sense to go where the people are.

It should not be that challenging a jump to turn to the genre for inspiration.

Our future might depend on it.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

Should platoons have a designated “hacker” assigned?

girl sitting at computer terminal cyberpunk hacker

Still catching up, so here we are.

Episode 53 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast was right on target.

In Episode 53 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, we consider how cyber tools and weapons are used at the tactical level within irregular warfare.

DIGITAL IRREGULAR WARFARE: CYBER AT THE TACTICAL LEVEL

A smart and nuanced conversation that touches just about everything in this orbit – cyber, information warfare, psychological warfare, authorities, and more.

Reminds me of this episode: Should platoon’s have a designated “hacker” assigned?

Some choice excerpts below.

Being ‘afraid’ of information warfare.

In Army doctrine, we are afraid to introduce the phrase ‘information warfare.’ So, what can cyber contribute to irregular warfare? We’re going to limit ourselves if we only are allowed to talk about that in the context of creating technical effects, or using technology to create kinetic effects. I think there is a lot more possibility in the information warfare space, but we don’t have an organizational structure or an authorities structure, or a set of policies, or even a national strategy, or even a service strategy – we’re just missing all of the other stuff that allows us to execute that.

Sally White, ~14:00

I agree completely with the first part – fear of the phrase information warfare and limiting ourselves by thinking about cyber only in the context of tech. But I disagree with the second part, on being limited in our ability to operate because we’re “missing” something.

This is something that is discussed all the time – including right here. “If only” we had some mega-command or a special policy that allowed us to “do” the things we want to do. We also fail when we focus on the whiz-bang aspects of information warfare, instead of the hard work of navigating real bureaucracy.

At the end of the podcast Sally makes some important points that gets to the core of where it seems our issues lay.

There is a need for adjustment when it comes to the intersection of cyberspace as a physcial domain and the cognitive informational realm that frankly is also the primary purpose of cyberspace when it comes to how we’re operating with the human element and populations. When it comes to things like cyber-enabled information operations, or the information warfare question… I think we should probably devote a bit more time and intellectual energy to thinking through what is the actual problem that we need to solve, and are we limiting ourselves by keeping things separate in their distinct bins of cyber, of psychological operations, of information operations, et cetera. Are they [these distinctions] inhibiting our ability to be effective in the broader information environment of which cyberspace is a part?

Remember lumping vs splitting?

Cyber is not IO. Cyber is not PSYOP. There are terms (and everything that comes with it) that should be lumped, and there are some that should be split.

But, I tend to agree with Sally that anyone who is in this realm does themselves a disservice by playing too close to their own specialty. This stuff has to be a team effort.

A lot of this could be solved if we stopped thinking of information warfare as the “bits and bytes” or the “nouns and verbs” and instead focused on the actions we take. Everything else comes after that.

Lastly, I love this question posed as an area of needed research.

How can we come up with an integrated theory of information that encompasses both the physical and cogntive realms?

There’s a lot more in this episode, including some really good reasons for why we don’t push some of these capabilities down to the platoon level. Worth the listen.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

“If you have a phone, you can be a resistance fighter.”

cyberpunk reaper mural art

Episode 50 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast.

In Episode 50 of the Irregular Warfare Podcast, our guests discuss the history of technological innovation, examples of current and burgeoning technologies that will impact future warfare, and how governments can (and sometimes cannot) regulate the development and distribution of potentially dangerous technologies to malign actors.

Power to the people.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

The Non-Kill Chain

shadowrun decker on snes

Spoiler alert: It’s PSYOP, but that’s a post for another time.

Recently finished ep. 46 of the IWI podcast with the very ominous title THE KILL CHAIN: WHY AMERICA FACES THE PROSPECT OF DEFEAT.

I haven’t read Christian Brose’s book yet (it’s on the list) but from the description, I think I get what he’s talking about.

America must build a battle network of systems that enables people to rapidly understand threats, make decisions, and take military actions, the process known as “the kill chain.”

The Kill Chain (Amazon)

A couple of things struck me in the episode. The first is the role of offensive cyber operations (OCO) at the tactical level. There was a good back and forth on where that capability ought to be. And if you’ve listened to Andy Milburn on other podcasts (which you should), you know that this is one of his chief interests.

Is OCO something that needs to get “pushed down” to the Brigade or below level?

Should platoon’s have a designated “hacker” assigned?

I’m getting serious Cyberpunk / Shadowrun vibes.

The second thing that struck me was the way that Christian closed out the episode. Really, everything from ~47:00 on is great but I want to focus on the below, where he is honing our attention on what actually matters if we want to be successful.

What are the things that we actually want our military to do? What are the things we’re prepared to fight for? What are the actual ends of strategy? What are we trying to accomplish?

Competition is interesting, but it’s not an end in itself.

This is exactly right.

One of the toughest things for military leaders to grapple with is the fact that if the ends are not clearly defined by the most senior leaders (military and civilian) then all of the thrashing done at echelons below add up to nothing.

It’s being sent overseas to divide by zero.

It’s how you get the GWOT effect.

Matt Armstrong argues the same when it comes to “information warfare” (a term he wouldn’t use). It’s not about the tactics or getting the right words and images together. All that is about as interesting as deciding to flank left or right.

No – instead, it is about having a clear vision, a direction we are headed, or a commander’s intent. Then, eveyrone below can march in step.

And what we’re talking about is political warfare.

How does the military fit into that?

To quote David Maxwell: “Irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to poltical warfare.”

It all starts to fit together if you can take a breath for a moment and let it sink in.

Lastly, this piece by Colonel Steven Heffington takes the strategy argument even further. He argues that what is needed is a “theory of success.”

…a theory of success, when clear, explicit, and well considered, is the strategic version of commander’s intent. It provides subordinate or lateral actors and institutions a strategy heuristic, allowing them to make decisions about the development of their own innovative, timely, and tailored responses to the evolving context. Simultaneously, a theory of success helps limit the play of operational and strategic creativity to the logic path set forth in the founding strategy, which facilitates rapid, tailored responses and iterative evolution of strategy while reducing the likelihood of line-of-effort or iteration fratricide.

CHANNELING THE LEGACY OF KENNAN: THEORY OF SUCCESS IN GREAT POWER COMPETITION

All good. I’m on board.

Here’s the rub. Leaders – at every level – have a responsibility to ask for that intent. To demand it.

Ask for that theory of success. If it isn’t clear, if doesn’t make sense, or if it is non-existent, it must be clarified.

Otherwise, we’re not going anywhere.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

FICINT: Imagining our own destruction

two female soldiers from mass effect

This blog is becoming a shill for great podcasts.

During this episode, Mr. August Cole discusses fictional intelligence (or FICINT) and how it can help leaders understand emerging concepts such as the cognitive warfighting domain. August observes that plausible fictionalized future scenarios which are rooted in academic research communicate to leaders and decision makers better than do white papers and powerpoint slides. He also emphasizes the importance of experimentation and stress testing ideas. One of August’s primary goals with his writing is to use FICINT and narrative to prevent strategic surprise.

The Cognitive Crucible Episode #33 Cole on FICINT and the Cognitive Warfighting Domain

When I read Ghost Fleet, it scared me. Future war is terrifying.

But it also motivated me to work, and to keep working to get ahead of some of the challenges it prophesizes.

Ghost Fleet is a work of “FICINT” or “fictional intelligence,” a play on the other “INTs” of the intelligence community (SIGINT, HUMINT, etc.).

One of the key findings of the 9/11 Commission Report is that we suffered from a failure of imagination. FICINT offers a way to imagine future threats, and then, hopefully, prepare for them.

This was a great episode. Things that stuck out below:

On writing about a “Crimea-like” unconventional warfare campaign waged by the US (Underbelly).

“What rules would US and allied forces break in wartime? When you go back in history, it’s quite clear that norms and rules are broken in every single conflict, like unrestricted submarine warfare in the 20th century – so what’s the equivalent of the 21st century? Is it going to be breaking down all the barriers of data access?”

Returning to the idea of “what rules are we going to break,” Cole empahsises the point that we can use FICINT to start thinking through these problems now.

“The more time we can invest in understanding the ethical, legal, operational, and doctrinal implications now, the better chance we have to make those decisions as carefully as a country like ours needs to during a large scale conflict.”

The podcast wraps up with Cole recommending listeners read Agency by William Gibson. Gibson, for the uninitiated is the author of Neuromancer, which is the inspiration for much of the “cyberpunk” genre of fiction.

I haven’t read either (yet), but Cyberpunk 2077 is up next.


Enjoy these posts? Enter your email below to join the monthly newsletter.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.