Military planning is a complicated endeavour, calling upon experts in logistics and infrastructure to predict resource availability and technological advancements. Long-range military planning, deciding what to invest in now to prepare armed forces for the world in thirty years’ time, is even more difficult.
One of the most interesting tools for thinking about future defence technology isn’t big data forecasting and the use of synthetic training environments, but narrative and imagination. And we get this from science fiction.
That might sound fanciful, but many militaries are already engaging with the genre. The US military and the French army use science fiction writers to generate future threat scenarios. The Australian Defence College advocates for the reading of science fiction and, in Germany, Project Cassandra uses novels to predict the world’s next conflict. The Sigma Forum, a science fiction think tank, has been offering forecasting services to US officials for years.
But while science fiction provides military planners with a tantalising glimpse of future weaponry, from exoskeletons to mind-machine interfaces, the genre is always about more than flashy new gadgets. It’s about anticipating the unforeseen ways in which these technologies could affect humans and society – and this extra context is often overlooked by the officials deciding which technologies to invest in for future conflicts.