The Old and the New

“Now belatedly obsessed with hardware attacks, the Navy had ordered the Zumwalt to have any suspect prewar systems removed and destroyed. That the Z and the other ships in the Ghost Fleet had not received the past few years of upgrades had suddenly become one of their strengths. It’s all about making the old the new gear blend together.” Ghost Fleet p. 109

Of the lessons conceptualized in Ghost Fleetmaking the “old and new blend together” is the most powerful. The theme weaves throughout the novel covering a wide spectrum of concepts. Retired personnel, outdated weapons systems, and ancient stratagem mix with the employment of modern combined arms throughout multiple domains. Warfighters leverage the latest of technologies and human performance enhancements while exercising primitive tactics in the World War III scenario. As the main characters move from the depths of the Mariana Trench to advanced space stations, it is clear the future battlefield will encompass terrain foreign to battles of the past century. Ghost Fleet forces the reader to consider the current path of our service, and question if we are  prepared to operate effectively in this future environment.  

The nature of war as an act of force to compel an adversary to our will endures, but the character of warfare is evolving. This delta is where the historical nature of war mixes with the modernization of armed conflict. The relevant question becomes–how does the Marine Corps appropriately mix the old and new in order to meet the requirements of the future battlefields as described in Ghost Fleet?  

The Commandants Planning Guidance (CPG) is the pathway to prepare for the evolving character of war. Although the CPG is a full encompassing document, the call for the limiting of signatures, the emplacement of low grade sensors and employment of long range unmanned systems, along with a broad array of stand-in forces highlights the need for progress in leveraging the 3d offset capabilities of Automated Intelligence (AI) and sensing in the information environment. These advanced technologies combined with the requirement to conduct command and control in a contested cyber environment necessitates new forms of expertise. Advancing such capabilities does not occur simply for the sake of using technology, otherwise to support Marines effectively conducting Distributed Operations and the spectrum of Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations inside the enemy weapons engagement zone. 

Success in the modern way of warfare described in the CPG however, is very much rooted in the fundamental principles of old. Distributed Operations require independent and creative subordinate commanders operating on mission type orders. Increased sensing capabilities elevate the importance of good intelligence to drive collection and consequently operations. Limiting signatures forces a reexamination of the way and the amount of communication that is conducted in a combat zone. Such concepts; mission command, full spectrum reconnaissance, covered communications, and broadcasting in silence are as old as warfare itself. Only the devices change. 

Ultimately Ghost Fleet is a story of the triumph of man over machine. While technologies evolve, it will always be the individual behind the weapon, the joystick, the computer screen, or sitting in the Commanders seat ultimately making the difference between success and defeat in battle. This axiom was not altered with the invention of gunpowder, artillery, airplanes, nuclear weapons, or precision guided munitions. It will additionally not be changed with the militarization of the information domain. As always, it will be the lethal implementation of all available technologies that will bend the enemy to our will and lead to ultimate victory in war.

—Lt Col Bradley Fultz