Strengthening the intellectual foundation for our profession of arms.

Fiction vs History: Enduring Features of the Future Fight

May 22nd, 2016 by Jamie Martin


A properly schooled officer never arrives on a battlefield for the first time, even if he has never actually trod the ground, if that officer has read wisely to acquire the wisdom of those who have experienced war in times past.

LTGEN P.K. Van Riper

What role should War Fiction play in helping us think about the Future Fight? Does it sit alongside Military History as a valid tool within the profession of arms? Is it useful in shaping our thinking on the character of future conflict? Or is it just a way to sensationalise international geopolitical tension – and sell books?

Both fiction and history have a place; however, the most important aspect about the Future Fight for the professional commander is to understand what is enduring. No matter what technology you have at your disposal, the new ways your enemy fights, or the complexities of command relationships, the fact remains that a commander must be able to think. This thinking – grounded on a disciplined knowledge base – is demonstrated by a honed ability to grasp a situation, understand where to seek the critical aspects of information, and make a decision that is effectively communicated. This is the greatest weapon a commander can bring to the Future Fight, and the key to success on the battlefield.

As the quote by the legendary Marine Corps General, Paul Van Riper suggests, an understanding of military history and how to apply it, is a key enabler for success as a commander. This is particularly true if it is targeted at the essential unchanging nature of war, and then tailored towards the characteristics of the conflict about to be entered into – the essence of applied military history. Fiction can also play a role, but it should be compared to history to show where it draws its ideas from, and what aspects are congruent.


Ghost Fleet is a great read – especially so if you understand why Peter Singer and August Cole wrote it. They were trying to spark thinking and debate in the military, political and intelligence communities about the priority for technological development, and funding to support future warfare challenges. The storyline provides ideas on how (future concept) technology-driven capabilities may work in a Future Fight. Ideas like directed energy weapons engaging satellites, unmanned air-to-air combat aircraft, maned-unmanned teaming, small drones for close combat swarming, and elements of what we consider today to be Hybrid Warfare.

In the book however, they also challenge enduring questions that have been asked throughout the history of military conflict. These include:

  1. How resilient is your force when technology fails?
  2. How do you understand what your enemy’s objectives are when you are in an information vacuum?
  3. What does the effective functioning of your force rely upon?
  4. Where does the commander need to position themselves to effectively lead the force?

And it is in the process of dealing with these questions and subsequently re-shaping the force that the ‘allies’ are able to … well, read Ghost Fleet and you’ll see what happens.

Ghost Fleet demonstrated to me that success is the interplay between innovation and leadership. It is understanding what aspects of technology are going to be effectively wielded against the enemy by commanders to create advantage, and what parts of the force are better served without it. It is the ability to learn and adapt faster than the enemy, harnessed by effective leadership to create a military advantage. It is out-thinking the enemy that achieves victory.

About the author

MAJ Jamie Martin is an Aviation Officer and Tiger Pilot who is passionate about encouraging critical thinking and promoting Professional Mastery. He is currently studying at the Australian Command and Staff College and is a member of the DEF Australia.


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5 Comments on "Fiction vs History: Enduring Features of the Future Fight"

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Darren Bentley

Interesting article Jamie, I’ve only just started Ghost Fleet, so far do good.

C. Barrett

May I suggest you read and review Michael Kearns excellent “Broken” future tech novel? Kearns is a dual citizen U.S./Australia and retired intelligence officer from both the USAF and the RAAF. His novel is timely and relevant.

Thanks for the suggestion!