WASHINGTON: A surprise attack on Pearl Harbor has captivated Pentagon brass in recent months.
Not the infamous Japanese assault of 1941, but rather a fictional account that opens “Ghost Fleet,” a novel that envisions a future conflict pitting America against China and Russia.
Several senior US military officials have told their troops to read the novel, published last year and written by August Cole and P.W. Singer.
The higher-ups say they have enjoyed the depiction of near-future warfare, with drones, super-computers, laser guns and even space pirates.
“This novel, about future war, challenges some sacred assumptions about the composition of our armed forces, the strengths of our new systems, and even the way we fight,” said Admiral Harry Harris, who is based in Hawaii and heads the US military’s Pacific Command.
In the Pearl Harbor attack described in “Ghost fleet,” it is the Chinese army that hits Hawaii, bursting out of seemingly peaceful commercial boats.
Once again, the United States is blindsided, and Chinese tanks go on to take the Pacific islands.
The offensive has been ordered by the “directorate,” a group of Chinese billionaires and military brass who have taken power in Beijing and want to secure access to the Pacific Ocean’s enormous energy resources.
Like the Japanese army in 1941, the “directorate” seeks to overwhelm US forces by striking the military heart of the Pacific.
All-out cyber war
But the biggest element of the surprise attack comes in the hours before the action in Hawaii — in space and cyberspace.
The reliance of modern militaries on satellite technology — either for communications or GPS positioning — is well-known.
In “Ghost Fleet,” China takes out this key capability using a combination of space-fired lasers and hacking, hobbling the US military.
“The very real thing that we have to prepare for (is) the ability to make a strategic decision without the kind of information we are accustomed to having,” co-author August Cole told AFP.
US F-35 stealth fighters, rigged with the latest high-end circuitry, are hacked and become useless and unable to deploy weapons.
Military leaders are deprived of their super-sophisticated information systems.
“This is why Hawaii presents such a wicked problem for the US, because for the first time in decades, it is faced with not being able to see what is happening in another part of the world,” Cole said.
But “Ghost Fleet” ends well for the Americans.
After recovering from its initial shock, the United States fights back, employing an army of young hackers, the assistance of an eccentric Silicon Valley billionaire — and the Walmart supply chain.
And the book describes how the USS Zumwalt — a modern-day marvel that one day could carry electromagnetic railguns — plays a key role in pushing the Chinese out of Hawaii.
In the novel, the Zumwalt has been retired early by a strapped Navy, so the Chinese have not counted on its stealth capabilities and advanced weaponry.
Cole said he would have liked to have more room to describe what the impact of war would be on 21st century America.
“It’s a fascinating question to unpack, particularly in light of the political divisions and economic divisions that you are seeing come through, most recently in the presidential election,” he said.