The U.S. Military Is Turning to Science Fiction to Shape the Future of War

How the military is growing a cottage industry of sci-fi writer consultants to help it predict the nature of tomorrow’s conflicts

Andrew Liptak
Published in
10 min readJul 29, 2020


Photo illustration, sources: David H. Wells, Coneyl Jay/Getty Images

In 2030, a severe drought triggers a refugee crisis, which in turn sparks a war between two African nations. The UN steps in, deploying U.S. and French soldiers to keep the borders secure. An information warfare specialist is sent in when a disinformation campaign depicts U.S. forces destroying religious sites and infecting refugees with tainted vaccines and moves to help mitigate attacks from state actors looking to destabilize the region. Just as support for intervention in the conflict erodes in the United States, violence begins to rise, and the team is forced to work quickly to prevent the crisis from growing into a larger conflict.

It may sound like it could be the plot of a new Netflix series, but it’s actually one of the U.S. Army’s “science fiction prototypes,” a teaching tool designed to imagine what the near future of warfare might look like and to prompt military personnel to think creatively about conflicts they might end up fighting. This one takes the form of a 71-page graphic novel called Invisible Force: Information Warfare and the Future of Conflict, produced by the Army Cyber Institute at West Point and Arizona State University’s Threatcasting Lab.

As digital technologies and robotics have opened up the kinds of futures once imagined by pulp science fiction writers, a loose network of national security professionals, military officers, and training organizations are working to try to predict the future of war — by generating science fiction stories of their own.

These stories aim to address some of the biggest questions about the fast-changing nature of modern warfare: How will artificial intelligence change how decisions are made on the battlefield? What does the introduction of UAVs and autonomous robotic systems mean for the rules of engagement? These problems are difficult to test in the real world. So, in the past decade, various groups within or adjacent to the military have increasingly turned to science fiction, using anthologies, graphic novels, and books to visualize the…