back to article Defense boffins take notes from sci-fi writers on the future of warfare

As the arch-nerd hangout of the web, we love a bit of sci-fi here at The Register, so imagine our surprise when we heard that the UK Ministry of Defence has tapped the writing talents of sometime collaborators PW Singer and August Cole. It's true that politicians are often lacking in the imagination department. Even so, for …

  1. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Don't bomb it, buy it.

    What do aggressors in wars want? The short answer is to occupy, to own and to subjugate. One most disadvantageous side effect of war is that it tends to destroy much of what one side wants to conquer, and what the other wants to retain.

    Surely a better way to grow an aspiring conqueror's empire is through acquisition rather than fighting? It takes longer, but the target remains intact.

    For example, the americans bought Alaska from Russia in 1867 for $7.2 million - about $145 million in 2023 dollars. Compare that with the $750 billion spent on bombing the crap out of Iraq.

    While countries or territories are rarely up for sale, they are not generally what is valued. That would be the things on the land, or under it (resources). And those can be bought for much cheaper than the cost of even a small war.

    1. Roland6 Silver badge

      Re: Don't bomb it, buy it.

      US foreign policy that emerged from the Nixon era, encouraged the likes of McD’s to set up in Russia and China.

      It does seem that Trump and his allies actually want to go back to pre-Nixon times with respect to trade and relations with Russia and China.

      1. Paul Kinsler

        Re: Don't bomb it, buy it.

        On the other hand, Germany thought that increasing economic interdependence with Russia would help encourage mutual security.

        Which isn't necessarily untrue, but the idea only works if both sides share that same viewpoint.

  2. Gerlad Dreisewerd

    Look up David Drake's "Hammers Slammers"

    This is not a particularly new idea. Davis Drake's "Hammers Slammers" has been quietly driving development in the defense industry decades. Some things are plainly fanciful but a lot is readily achievable.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Look up David Drake's "Hammers Slammers"

      I prefer the mechanized infantry from Starship Troopers (As outlined in the book, not the moronic films.)

      If any Reg staff want a sci-fi novel, DM me with the numbers wanted and a mailing address. Happy to gift a few paperbacks of my latest.

      1. Kane
        Trollface

        Re: Look up David Drake's "Hammers Slammers"

        "If any Reg staff want a sci-fi novel, DM me with the numbers wanted and a mailing address. Happy to gift a few paperbacks of my latest."

        Was that a shameless self-promotion? Because that looked like a shameless self-promotion.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: Look up David Drake's "Hammers Slammers"

          "Was that a shameless self-promotion? Because that looked like a shameless self-promotion."

          Posted as AC without title or author name so how is that self-promotion?

          I said the offer was open to Reg staff as they appreciate Sci-Fi. I write Sci-fi and they are welcome to a free copy. My intention was to pay back the Reg staffers for amusing me on multiple occasions. The offer isn't for anyone else.

          Thank you.

    2. Arthur the cat Silver badge

      Re: Look up David Drake's "Hammers Slammers"

      Davis Drake's "Hammers Slammers" has been quietly driving development in the defense industry [for?] decades.

      I did look it up. From Wikipedia:

      Reception

      Dave Langford reviewed Hammer's Slammers for White Dwarf #67, and stated that "Such are the lauded military virtues of the Slammers that (fearful that chicken-heartedness will prejudice their future contracts) they nobly disobey their own horrified employers' orders to stop slaughtering people and detonating irreplaceable shrines. If you like chainsaw massacres you'll love this.

      Defence industry developments are based on this? $DEITY help us all.

    3. juice

      Re: Look up David Drake's "Hammers Slammers"

      > This is not a particularly new idea

      You can go even further back than than Drake or Heinlein; EE Doc Smith's Lensman series was written in the 1930s. and contained a lot of battles between vast fleets of spaceships; his writings had a direct influence on US WW2 battleship design.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E._E._Smith

      An inarguable influence was described in a June 11, 1947, letter[77] to Smith from John W. Campbell (the editor of Astounding, where much of the Lensman series was originally published). In it, Campbell relayed Captain Cal Laning's[78] acknowledgment that he had used Smith's ideas for displaying the battlespace situation (called the "tank" in the stories) in the design of the United States Navy's ships' Combat Information Centers. "The entire set-up was taken specifically, directly, and consciously from the Directrix. In your story, you reached the situation the Navy was in—more communication channels than integration techniques to handle it. You proposed such an integrating technique and proved how advantageous it could be. You, sir, were 100% right. As the Japanese Navy—not the hypothetical Boskonian fleet—learned at an appalling cost."

      One thing which he perhaps hasn't been given quite as much credit for, is the concept of using large numbers of unmanned/robotic spaceships to act as the first line of defence and/or soak up enemy fire during an assault. Which is something which we're arguably starting to move towards, with the increasing use of drone technology...

  3. Arthur the cat Silver badge

    "It's true that politicians are often lacking in the imagination department."

    I'd disagree. A lot of them seem to have very vivid imaginations combined with an utter failure to grasp reality.

    See also: back doors in encrypted communications only available to "good" guys.

    1. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

      Re: "It's true that politicians are often lacking in the imagination department."

      See also: Brexshit.

  4. Fr. Ted Crilly Silver badge

    united Kingdom's very own

    'Dreamer Fithp' threat team eh...

    'they're the only experts we have.'

    1. Peter2 Silver badge

      Re: united Kingdom's very own

      'they're the only experts we have.'

      We actually have a staggering variety of experts. The problem is that any group of people who've done something for their entire career tend to get locked into various patterns of thought (groupthink) and an outside view occasionally challenging things that have been "settled" leads to new thought in various directions.

      1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        Re: united Kingdom's very own

        And even a "Chief Science Advisor" with special skills in Maths and Biology is likely to be so overwhelmed by her own field, it's probably difficult to advise on anything else. Hopefully she's fully capable of knowing who to ask. Science seems to be very compartmentalised at the more rarefied levels of real experts. So much to learn and know in ever more specialised fields that there's not much time left to have any expertise in other fields. Chief Science Advisor needs to be a science aware administrator or, as per the articles, a jack of all trades science or SF writer who knows who to ask for help.

    2. John Brown (no body) Silver badge
      Mushroom

      Re: united Kingdom's very own

      "Dreamer Fithp' threat team eh..."

      YES! That was the first thing that came to mind on reading the headline. Prior art by Niven and Pournelle in Footfall :-)

  5. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Singer and Cole, both American

    ...so the new Niven & Pournelle then?

    "More bombs, Dame Angela?"

    "Don't mind if I do!"

  6. anonymous boring coward Silver badge

    What, the Tory politicians need a vision? Something to actually strive for, other than making money for themselves and their buddies?

    I suppose they will go for a typical dystopian one then, which seems to be what they most enjoy.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      They are on track then as DSTL uses taxpayers money to research and create concepts and then they sell it to someone and keep the profits, so if anything a very tory attitude.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The Zap Gun

    Philip K. Dick: 'nuff said.

    1. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
      Boffin

      Re: The Zap Gun

      I was thinking of Superiority: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superiority_(short_story)

      1. Anonymous Anti-ANC South African Coward Bronze badge
        Thumb Up

        Superiority by Arthur C Clarke.

        Snap. I was about to post the same.

        Excellent short story, and a must read.

  8. steelpillow Silver badge
    Gimp

    Somebody has to protect the ISS from space invaders (TM). Go patent Robert Heinlein's gropener now, before the enemy do.

  9. Uncle Slacky Silver badge
    Boffin

    Used to be all about SF movies

    I recall a TV documentary from around the time DERA was split into Qinetiq and DSTL, where much was made of basing research into 3D cockpit displays on the ones from the lander in "Aliens" - I wonder if anything came of it?

    1. Dave 126

      Re: Used to be all about SF movies

      For all HUD display and AR-adjacent optical technology testing and comment, I go to Kguttag.com.

      3D display stuff has been in development for decades, financed by military and automotive industries. It is far from being mature.

      Also from 'Aliens' is a most excellent 2D UI - a tabletop display that Ripley and Bishop use to pan and zoom around a plan of the power station.

  10. Throatwarbler Mangrove Silver badge
    Mushroom

    The Ultimate Weapon

    The MoD just needs to create the Lazy Gun from Iain M. Banks's Against a Dark Background, although I suppose that's really more of DARPA endeavor. Alternately, they can investigate the technology from Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World.

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: The Ultimate Weapon

      There's the weapon from O'Donnell's War of Omission. Pro: Tends not to invite a counter-attack, since the enemy won't know you used it. Con: You don't know you used it, either. Or whether anyone else did.

  11. ChrisElvidge

    Rail gun

    I have recently read the Doc Savage stories (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doc_Savage) written in the 1930s/40s. In one of those a silent gun was used. Description was of a projectile fired by electromagnetic means.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Back to the Future (Pt 2)

    "In a recent lecture, Dr. Igor Sikorsky discussed a hypothetical nuclear powered helicopter with the passengers suspended a few hundred feet below the helicopter in a cabin. The pilot in the cabin would direct the helicopter by remote control. Dr Sikorsky, the helicopter pioneer delivered the Clayton Lecture at the General Meeting of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers in London, England, on April 29. He received that society's James Watt International Medal"

    - Electronic Design, June 1955.

  13. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    A Persistent ACTive Cyber Threat Vector which may be an Unsuitable Case for Treatment

    The MoD and Dame Angela McLean and the Advanced Research and Invention Agency (ARIA) and Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, to name but just a few likely candidates, would first need to sort out/fix this Advanced Persistent Threat in order for anyone on planet Earth to think them in any way sincere and take them seriously, before surprisingly adept AI and IT boffins cause its myriad linked systems and defences to both implode and explode.

    Avoid dealing with it at your never-ending peril.

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