No safe place in next war: The army’s expanded battlefield

What if the next war starts, not with a gunshot, but with a tweet? As tensions rise, US troops discover their families’ names, faces, and home addresses have been posted on social media as they prepare to deploy, along with exhortations to kill the fascists/imperialists/infidels (pick one). Trolls call them late at night with death threats, a mentally ill lone wolf runs over a soldier’s children, fake news claims the military is covering up more deaths, and official social media accounts are hacked to post falsehoods. The whole force is distracted and demoralized.

Meanwhile, defense contractors discover the networks they use to deliver supplies to the military have been penetrated. Vital spare parts go missing without ever leaving the warehouse because the serial number saying which crate they’re in has been scrambled in the database. As railways and seaports prepare to transport heavy equipment, they discover key railroad switches, loading cranes, and other equipment – civilian-owned but vital to the military operation – now malfunction unpredictably, forcing prolonged safety inspections.

US forces finally cut through this cyber thicket and begin to deploy abroad by air and sea – but now the shooting starts. A thousand miles from enemy territory, submarines sink transport ships with torpedoes, cruise missiles and covertly laid mines. A few hundred miles out, long-range anti-aircraft missiles blunt the US air offensive. While stealth fighters can penetrate the defenses, the lumbering fuel tankers that let them cover long distances cannot. Transport planes must unload the troops at airfields well outside the danger zone, while transport ships must unload at distant ports.

US forces face a long road march just to reach the ally they’re supposed to be defending. The whole way, they must fight through attacks by everything from surface-to-surface missiles to local malcontents stirred up by social media. By the time the Americans arrive, their ally’s territory is not only occupied but thoroughly defended by dug-in enemies.

Rather than risk reenacting the Battle of the Somme with smart bombs, US leaders decide to negotiate. Surely the independence of one little ally isn’t worth so many American lives? Surely countries can’t expect America to honor its treaties with them when they don’t pay their fair share for the common defense?

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