As a consultant for both the Pentagon and the best-selling video game Call of Duty, P.W. Singer ’97 runs simulations that imagine some of the most threatening situations that could face the American military. Now, he has written about an especially harrowing scenario in Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War.
Written with journalist August Cole, the novel imagines World War III as a battle in which Russia and China are fighting against the United States. When China launches a devastating round of cyber-attacks against the U.S. military, the Americans are forced to fall back on a low-tech option known as the “ghost fleet:” older Navy ships that are less susceptible to hacking. Jamie Simmons, who takes command of one such ship, must work to defend the United States while encountering technological challenges that present strategic and ethical dilemmas. World War III involves Silicon Valley billionaires mobilizing for a cyberwar while fighter pilots duel with stealth drones.
Singer says that, to many, the premise may seem far-fetched, but he sees it differently. “The idea of a brewing cold war among the U.S., Russia, and China suddenly turning hot may seem like fiction, but I do believe it is a potential risk of the 21th century,” Singer says. “Russia is making land grabs. China’s rise is huge.”
The storyline is fictional, but the technology described in the novel is real. More than 300 endnotes detail the research Singer and Cole conducted to uncover the latest military technology being developed around the world. Singer, who loves novelists Tom Clancy and George R.R. Martin, wanted the book to be “a mash-up of two genres — the techno thriller and the nonfiction, current affairs book. In some ways, I wrote it to scratch an itch: I wanted to write the kind of book that I love to read.”