Editor’s note: This two-part story is based on the work of the 2014 cohort of fellows of the chief of staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group, which examined future operation environments, particularly large urban areas—megacities. The story is entirely fictional, and does not represent the position of the chief of staff of the Army, the Departments of the Army or Defense, or the US government.

Read Part I here.


Spec. Garcia was born in Mexico City and moved to New York City on a work visa when he was sixteen. At the end of his two-year visa he was contacted by the Army recruiters who kept track of the work visa population for the Accelerated Citizenship Program. He decided to see if he measured up, so he took some tests. Then he took some more tests. And then some more, and finally he accepted the Army’s offer for US citizenship upon completion of a six-year tour in the Army. While he wasn’t outstanding at any one thing, the recruiters told him, he was good at learning new things and he adapted well to new and challenging environments. He exhibited a high degree of fluid intelligence in his ability to adapt, make sound decisions on the fly, and “apply pattern recognition at large and small scales and, not only infer, but distinguish between correlation and causation between seemingly disparate events.” It took Garcia a while to figure out all of that was a good thing. They could have just told him he was street smart. It was too good to pass up: a free associate’s degree, six years of steady pay and medical benefits, and citizenship when he successfully completed his term? Yeah, he thought, six years. No sweat. He might even apply to serve four more years as a career corporal and get out in ten, or maybe he’d apply for advancement up the noncommissioned officer ranks like Sgt. Davis or Staff Sgt. Parker and stay in for the long haul. He’d have to see what the cadre at the Team Sergeants School said. Either way it was nice to have options—even if he had been really, really wrong about the “no sweat” part. For now, he had a job to do.

* * *

Garcia tagged behind Quarshi. The constable pushed a little farther down the wall and left a spot for Garcia on the far side of the target doorway. Garcia pulled the breaching lance off his back again and checked the pressure sensor. He had enough air for three good hits at around 1100 psi each. He looked up at his team leader. The hallway was eerily quiet. From somewhere else in the building music chattered from a radio and a baby cried, but both sounds were muted in the hot, stagnant air.

At the back of the stack, Staff Sgt. Parker fought to control his breathing. He could run a sub-twelve minute two-mile, but each breath now filled his whole chest. Parker could feel his pulse hammering away in his temples. The hairs on the back of his neck were standing straight up and he could feel his legs twitching slightly. He clenched his teeth. Parker was sweating profusely and he radiated heat. The overpressure system pushing air into his helmet kept his visor clear, but did nothing to cool him down. The whole team looked like race horses ready to charge out of the gates as they hummed with adrenaline. “Go time,” Parker thought, just as Sgt. Davis gave Garcia a thumbs up.

Garcia swept the door with his hand and then pressed the lance between the door knob and the door jamb. He leaned hard into the lance and thumbed its trigger. The lance’s pneumatic bolt slammed into the door’s plunger assembly with over a ton of force. The impact was enough to buckle half the door out of its frame and drive what was left of it slamming inwards.

Spec. Stevens and Pfc. Velasquez immediately pitched their Storm Cloud grenades into the room beyond. From inside the apartment they heard the pop and rush of chemical smoke discharging and filling the room. They waited for four pregnant seconds that seemed more like four minutes for the smoke to fill the room.

“All right Stevens, cook ‘em,” Davis ordered.

Stevens pumped the coaxial shotgun mounted below the barrel of his assault rifle and launched the electrostatic discharge initiator into the plume. The effect was instantaneous and spectacular. As the EDI struck, it fired a pulsed current of over 5,000 volts, which was conducted throughout the room by the conductive, microscopic crystals in the smoke. They were, after all, called Storm Clouds for a reason. The pulse burst out with a blinding flash, temporarily disrupting any electronic devices in the room as it passed through anyone caught in the cloud with the force of a cattle prod. The pulse cooked off the smoke and Davis squeezed Velasquez’s shoulder, giving the order to move. The team silently flowed into the room with Stevens in front.

The room was laid out exactly like the one directly below it; except the furniture (what there was of it) was in different places. Stevens moved through the room along the wall. As he navigated around an old couch he saw a man, older than him, hunched over on the floor, still reeling from the effect of the stun grenade. An older-style submachine gun lay in front of him on the floor. He’d clearly been hiding behind the couch, using it as a makeshift barricade—which was about as effective as hiding behind cotton candy. The man let out a groan and reached for his weapon. He lived his last seconds trying to get a shot off at Stevens.

As soon as Stevens saw the man’s hands come up, he fired two shots into his head. The seven-millimeter round was caseless and subsonic. Like a .45 pistol cartridge, it traveled slow enough to impart almost all the kinetic energy of the frangible round’s impact. It was designed for urban combat in that it could kill without over penetrating. The result was massive hydrostatic shock which took most of the man’s head off above the nose, killing him instantly—without going through the wall behind him.

Stevens kept moving. He stepped past his initial target and was about to stop at the doorway to the apartment’s kitchen when a hand holding a machine pistol appeared around the corner and began spraying the room with nine-millimeter ball ammunition. Stevens took a round in the shoulder and dropped to one knee. As he slumped down the wall, a second round grazed off his chest plate and tore into his thigh.

Garcia watched his battle buddy get hit and go down on the opposite side of the room. Garcia popped off a single round, which caught the second shooter in the left shoulder at an oblique angle, spinning him backwards. Garcia knew the squad was there to take prisoners if they could, so he didn’t bother with another live round; instead he transitioned to his under-barrel shotgun mount and fired an EDI which caught the man square in the throat. The second shooter’s body went immediately rigid as he fell backwards. It looked like a trust fall gone horribly wrong—or in this case, horribly right.

The team took turns calling, “Clear!” as they moved through the rest of the rooms and found them empty. Once the all-clear was given, the team began volunteering their status. When Stevens didn’t sound off, Garcia ran over to check his teammate. “Stevens has been hit, one enemy down, and one enemy KIA,” he called.

Davis and Velasquez moved on the man in the kitchen who had shot Stevens. Davis dropped a knee into the man’s groin and pinned him to the floor. The man let out a noise like a deflating tire. Davis angled his helmet camera to get a good shot of the man’s face so they could get a positive ID on their target back to the company S-2. He recognized the shooter’s profile immediately. His CPC’s link to his headset confirmed it. The shooter was the squad’s primary target, Ali al Mussani, their mid-level Lashkar-e-Fatah cell leader. AKA: Jazz 7. Davis’s helmet visor displayed a green halo over the man’s face and then it flashed red. Company headquarters sent back a note over the battalion net informing everyone of the interdiction of yet another LeF cell leader. “Jazz 7: Jackpot!” Davis rolled Mussani over so Velasquez could see beneath him. “Clear!” she called out—no booby traps.

Davis patted Mussani down and rolled him over. He pulled Mussani up to his knees with his arms pinned behind him. Velasquez slung her rifle and moved in to handcuff their target. Davis stayed on top of Mussani and called out their code word, “Jazz 7: Hog tied!” to let the squad know their target was secured and ready for transport.

* * *

Garcia gave Stevens a cursory check, but the injuries were obvious. The wound to the shoulder was largely superficial, but the one to his thigh needed immediate attention. “I got you brother,” Garcia said. Stevens moaned as he lapsed in and out of consciousness. The hit was in the midpoint of Stevens’s thigh, dangerously close to the femoral artery. Garcia worked fast. He laid his friend out on his back and pulled Stevens’s trauma kit off the front of his armored chest. “Hey bro, I’m gonna have to stuff it and tie a bow on it. This is gonna hurt really bad at first, okay?” Garcia ratcheted a tourniquet onto Stevens’ leg which elicited a short scream from Stevens. “Sorry man.” Garcia grabbed a multi-colored tube from the trauma kit and pulled off one of its end caps, exposing a syringe. He unceremoniously jammed the needle into Stevens’s leg and the auto-injector dumped broad-spectrum antibiotics and localized analgesics into the leg. Stevens’s breathing slowed from its frenetic pace to a relieved regularity as the drugs took effect, and his eyes became glassy and placid. Garcia took his safety cutter to Stevens’s pant leg to expose the wound site. The blood was hot and everywhere. Garcia’s hands were still trembling as he flipped the tube over and uncapped the other end. He bent the auto injector until he heard the audible snap of the capsule inside. He shook the injector to ensure the binary chemicals mixed thoroughly. He tried to focus as he kneeled in a pool of his friend’s blood. He wiped the sweat from his eyes and realized he’d just smeared blood all over his face. The copper smell mingled with the smell of chemical smoke residue, curry from the apartment’s kitchen, and the smell of brains and excrement from the man Stevens had shot. It hit him all at once in the stagnant air of the tight apartment and he wretched behind the couch.

Garcia caught his breath and wiped his eyes again. He focused. His hands felt numb as he found the bullet hole in Stevens’s leg and inserted the auto injector. Instead of a syringe, this end had a small nozzle. When Garcia pressed down on the neck of the tube, the coagulant foam shot out into the wound and expanded like pink shaving cream. He watched it drain from the tube until it was almost empty and then pulled the tube out and checked to make sure he’d have enough foam to harden the vacuum dressing. Garcia removed the gel-filled dressing from the trauma kit and wrapped it around Stevens’s leg, covering the entry and exit wounds. He opened the port on the dressing, plugged in the trauma tube, and emptied some of the remaining foam into the bladder-like dressing. The foam began reacting with the gel immediately and stiffened like epoxy in seconds, applying both pressure and support.

Garcia tended briefly to the shoulder wound, which only needed a little foam and no vacuum dressing. Garcia clipped Stevens’s rifle to the wounded man’s back and dragged him out into the hall where he rested him, lying down, against the wall. Garcia moved the rescue carabiner from Stevens’s belt to the drag handle on Stevens’s vest between his shoulder blades. Garcia’s hands fumbled numbly as he made sure Stevens’s helmet was on tight. He looked Stevens over to make sure none of his gear would fall off of him or cut his retrieval line during transport.

“How is he?” Parker asked.

Garcia didn’t answer.

“Garcia!” Parker barked, causing him to jump a little.

“Gunshot wounds to the shoulder and thigh, Sergeant. The thigh is serious. I think he needs a MEDEVAC. I’ve prepped him for the flight already . . .” He trailed off as he gazed down at the blood on his hands.

“HEY!” Parker snapped. “Focus, alright? We’re not done here yet. He’s going to make it if we can get him out of here and I need you for that. Understand?”

Garcia flinched back into the present moment. “Roger, Sergeant.”

“Good. You and Velasquez, get him ready for the ride upstairs.”

“Roger, Sergeant. Hey V! Give me a hand!”

Parker went over to where Sgt. Davis knelt by Stevens, who was barely conscious. Parker placed a hand behind the young man’s head as he double checked Garcia’s handiwork.

“We’ll get you out of here in just a sec. We got our guy,” Parker said.  Stevens tried to mumble something but passed out mid-sentence.

“Sergeant Davis, I’m going to finish sweeping the apartment and get this clown out of here.” He motioned to their detainee, Mussani. “You got the MEDEVAC. We’ll get Stevens out then we’ll have to wait ‘till ATTACK SIX can send another bird to get the target out. It might take a little while longer than we wanted to.” Since the UAV fleet was a company asset, the company commander, call sign ATTACK SIX, would have to detail the extra aircraft to them.

“I’m on it, Sergeant.”

“And keep an eye on Garcia.” Parker said quietly. “He’s tight with Stevens and it’s messing with him. Keep him busy. Keep him focused.”

“Roger Sergeant.” Davis said as he pulled out Stevens’s Combat Personal Computer and toggled the MEDEVAC beacon. The CPC’s screen began flashing red. The MEDEVAC beacon put a call out over a separate communications net requesting evacuation as it sent Stevens’s vitals to the battalion trauma center. A Shoshone UAV was dispatched immediately, homing in on Stevens’s CPC beacon. Parker checked his map and saw the icon begin moving in the squad’s direction. He could tell because of its call sign, Amy, it was designated for his squad.

Parker got on the company net while Davis gave Bravo Team the update. Parker called in a separate UAV to pick up their target and Sgt. Bristol dispatched Pfc. Kwon and Pfc. Ambuje to help move the target to the roof. Bristol and Spec. Bryant could handle the evac stairwell. Once they got their casualty and target airlifted off the roof, the rest of the squad would collapse down to the lobby, hop on the Spiders and head back through the outer cordon to their integrated operating base at the Saddar Police Station.

* * *

Parker moved back into the apartment and did a sweep for Mussani’s personal electronics. He checked the laptop and three phones he found and dumped them into a blackout bag, which would block them from sending or receiving any signals. Technicians at the battalion headquarters would come back with the local police and conduct a more detailed search of the apartment. They would also exploit the devices for their data and push scrubbed versions of it to the isolation net for forensic analysis. Parker grabbed what looked like a ruggedized hard drive. He felt a surge of adrenaline; it was one of the LeF’s VoIP spoofers. This dirty little box had made finding the LeF almost impossible. Finding one that appeared to be intact was a gold mine. Parker recalled the training his squad had gotten on sensitive site exploitation. He inspected it where it lay, took some video of it, bagged it, and then sent the video through the platoon channel, back to company and battalion headquarters with the codeword “Treasure.” The spoofer went into its own private blackout bag with no small amount of reverent satisfaction.

Within seconds he got word back from his company commander: Jazz 7 was now designated a priority-one High Value Target. Guess they want to talk to him about this magic rock, Parker thought. This was good news, and not so good news. The good news was that they had caught a pretty big fish. The bad news was his squad would now be doing a MEDEVAC and detainee extraction at the same time. This wasn’t a battle drill either, he thought, but whatever. Unexpected things like this were going to happen. As far as Parker was concerned, if he couldn’t handle a wrinkle like this and adapt to a new situation midstride, he had no business leading a squad.

Kwon and Ambuje moved past him into the apartment. Kwon had out an aerial extraction harness, lovingly referred to as an “idiot leash,” ready to secure Mussani for his ride off the roof and over to the JTF detention center. Davis watched as Garcia and Velasquez readied Stevens for his evacuation. They pulled Stevens’s water bottle–sized “happy mat” sleep pad from his pack and hooked the inflation tube into Velasquez’s overpressure pack. The thin rubberized matt unfolded and became rigid. Garcia and Velasquez gingerly rolled Stevens onto the mat, which would now serve double duty as a stretcher. They checked the security of Stevens’s faceplate, lifted him up, and moved back to the entrance of the attack staircase. Stevens in his full gear weighed over two hundred pounds.

Davis told the two to hold fast. They’d have to hoist Stevens upstairs when his ride got here. “Specialist Garcia, hang here with Stevens. Private Velasquez, hustle upstairs and get the retrieval kit off the bird when it comes in. Get it set up and get the tether down to us.”

“Roger Sergeant,” Velasquez said and she bounded up the stairs to where Kwon and Ambuje waited on either side of Mussani. Velasquez followed Parker out onto the roof. Once on the roof, she found an open spot and recalled the Bird Eye drone from its orbit. The tiny drone flew towards them and its rotors brought it to a hover overhead. The Bird Eye lowered itself to the ground and shut off. Velasquez quickly packed it into her assault pack. The two Shoshone UAVs arrived on station from two different directions and went into a whispered hover pattern thirty feet above them as their rotor wash buffeted the roof.

* * *

Parker caught a flash of movement out of the corner of his eye. Across the street on the roof of the other building, a red flare shot straight into the sky and descended slowly. That’s not good, Parker thought. Just then, an HN-8B Chinese-made, man-portable, surface-to-air missile streaked towards the hovering UAVs from the rooftop of the building they’d mortared with the Bee Hive earlier. The missile struck one of the Shoshones in the fuselage. It was a good hit. Amy dropped straight to the street below, trailing black smoke, and landing smack in the middle of Doodarmar Street. The impact barely missed evacuees from the target building who’d stayed to watch the show from a “safe” distance. Parker tried to process what just happened and was shaken back into reality by the crack of bullets streaking past his head. It was then he became aware of his squadmates shouting for him to take cover.

* * *

The noise from the impact caught the remainder of the squad in the lobby by surprise. Having made it downstairs with Constable Quarshi, Sgt. Bristol saw the “build your own UAV kit” out in the street and immediately put the Spiders to work. He moved Louie and Thelo into security positions around the wreckage. This wasn’t one of their battle drills, but Bristol had heard the exchange of gunfire on the roof above and figured the squad would be improvising some stuff. Bristol radioed Parker and let him know he was already moving on the wreckage as he exited the front door of the apartment building. As the crowd began to move towards the downed UAV Louie turned on his caution lights and broadcast a warning to the crowd in Urdu to please stay back for their safety. When the crowd ignored that, Louie asked to turn on its microwave emitters. Bristol obliged. The crowd quickly winced and moved away. The spotlight-sized emitter mounted next to the 30-mm cannon pulsed directed microwave energy into the crowd. The effect was temporary, but felt like sunburn. It was enough to dissuade and disperse the persistently curious. Quarshi had made it out into the street and was on his loud speaker working the crowd as well. The flames went out almost as soon as the unmanned helicopter hit the stone street so Quarshi didn’t bother calling the local fire brigade. It was quite a mess, though. They’d have to get this wreck out themselves.

* * *

As their rooftop strongpoint was peppered with small-arms fire from across the street, Parker almost admired the discipline it must have taken for the LeF to wait this long. The LeF had watched their comrades get blown up in a mortar attack, and then a raid, yet did nothing. They must have been in the stairwell; otherwise the Bird Eye would have seen them on the roof. They’d been waiting to hit the squad as it left the target building. They let their cell leader get balled up and they did nothing. And that flare must have been a signal for reinforcements—so they knew or guessed their cell phones would be jammed. As their sergeant major had warned them, this marching band has some brass buttons. The sergeant major would’ve known, too; he’d grown up here.

Parker popped off a Storm Cloud to obscure them on the roof. Velasquez did likewise. The smoke would mostly get blown off by the Shoshone’s prop blast as it lowered but for now the cloud hung to the roof like dense fog. Nina, the remaining Shoshone, spun around and requested permission to engage targets moving on the roof. Parker authorized it, “Nina, guns only—engage hostile targets moving on rooftop. Execute!”

Nina went to work. Its sensors identified three armed targets on the roof, barricaded behind a box-shaped cement dormer. The computer selected its onboard machine gun and servos chambered the .50-caliber sabot rounds. The gun on the Shoshone was much smaller than what the Spiders carried, but it tore the three LeF combatants to shreds with short bursts. The tungsten flechettes cracked right through the cement dormer and into the men using it for cover. When it had made its gun run, the semi-autonomous UAV took Amy’s place and began recovery operations, independently transitioning missions from target pickup to MEDEVAC.

Nina opened its cargo sled and lowered it to the roof. Velasquez unplugged the suitcase-sized recovery winch system from the sled and ran it back to the doorway. She unfolded its support legs and braced them into the roof exit’s door jamb.  She then unspooled the Kevlar tether from the winch system and ran it downstairs to Sgt. Davis who hooked Stevens into it with his rescue carabiner. Davis hit the “recover” button on the control collar of the tether and the recovery system began pulling Stevens up the stairs. Garcia and Velasquez guided the stretcher around the staircase landings and up to the roof. Stevens, happy mat and all, was pulled right onto the roof.  From there Garcia and Velasquez muscled Stevens onto Nina’s cargo sled as Davis stabilized it. Velasquez collapsed and replaced the recovery system. Once Davis was certain Stevens was securely locked in place, he hit the auto-retract button on Nina’s sled. Stevens was hoisted up, right into the UAV’s belly—his feet were protruding a little out the back, but he was secure. Once the sled was locked in place, Nina peeled off towards the trauma center like a bullet.

Parker called up the platoon net and let them know what he was sure the UAV had already told them. He poked his head over the side of the building and took some video feeds of the crash site. They’d been on the block for fifteen minutes, so they only had another fifteen before the evening call to prayer. They had to get their target out and clear the wreckage before then. Parker wasn’t sure if there’d be another Shoshone available to send his way and he wasn’t sure he wanted to wait for it if there was. Nevertheless, he was sure he didn’t want to try and drive his prisoner out on a Spider while they were conducting a hasty recovery operation.

Parker had to do something and waiting to decide wasn’t going to make things any better. He called back to the platoon and asked for another extraction bird. Thankfully they dispatched a bird from the company’s orbiting constellation, assigned it call sign Ella, and moved it out on high priority; he should expect it in about seven minutes. It would be close.

Parker called to Pfc. Kwon and Pfc. Ambuje, “Get him ready to move.” The two prepared to move Mussani from their sanctuary in the stairwell to the makeshift pick-up point they used to hoist Stevens. Parker looked over the roof again and looked at the street below. It was getting crowded again. There’s been a firefight and a UAV crash and people are still out in the street, Parker thought, shaking his head.  He knew a lot about Karachi, but he was always amazed at the way this place could just keep going.  He checked the map on his CPC again and toggled the traffic overlay. There was a blank circle around his location that wasn’t reporting any traffic data—this was because the cyber jamming was still active. Outside their jamming radius the traffic was still moving but starting to clog in a few places. They had to hurry. Parker didn’t want to get caught in the crowds going to prayer and then find the squad stuck the middle of a traffic jam. The flare the LeF had set off might also mean reinforcements were on the way.

Ella showed on station and lowered its retrieval basket when Parker activated the beacon on the idiot leash Mussani wore. Mussani was flanked by Kwon and Ambuje, who put him on his knees facing away from the basket. Velasquez brought the basket to the ground and began unrolling its cargo harnesses to receive its new passenger.  They laid Mussani back onto the basket, cuffed and secured in his harness. Parker checked the restraints, secured the harness’s rescue carabiner to the basket, and hit the auto-retract button. Mussani’s eyes were wide as he was hoisted up. As soon as the basket connected, Ella spun and zipped off in the opposite direction Nina had. The lack of noise was a little stunning at first.

Parker turned to the other four soldiers. “Clear the roof, get downstairs, and prepare to mount up—Execute!” The group made their way down. Parker set off EDIs on the roof and at the bottom of the stairwell to cook off the remaining chemical smoke from the Storm Clouds. Out in the street Sgt. Bristol and Sgt. Davis had already hooked up Amy’s wreckage to Thelo using the tow straps from its recovery kit. They were getting ready to strap Louie in to assist when the pickup truck came careening around the corner at the north end of Adamjee Street.

Louie was the first to notice the movement. Its LIDAR sensor arrays picked up the truck speeding towards them. The Toyota Hilux smashed through a fruit stand at the end of the street, killing the vendor instantly. There were four armed men in the truck bed with Kalashnikov assault rifles and an old M240B American-made medium machine gun. The gunfire fire started before the truck had made it halfway down the street. The indiscriminate LeF gunfire scattered the crowd on the street in all directions. The street became a stampede of screaming people punctuated by the sounds of gunfire. Louie spun in place, crouched into its gun fighting stance, and zeroed in on the truck as it screeched to a halt. Louie practically read Parker’s mind and requested permission to engage. Parker gave the command, “Louie, engage designated hostile truck to my front—Execute!” Parker snapped his rifle up to his shoulder and locked his targeting laser onto the truck as the men inside scrambled to disembark.

The noise of the 30-mm cannon concussively echoed off the stone walls of the dense street. Dust kicked up all around Louie as it fired off a three-round burst from its onboard cannon. The explosive rounds all hammered into the engine block and detonated on impact, taking the driver and his passenger with it. The LeF operatives died standing in the truck bed when they were cut in half by the resulting blast.

The street was once again eerily quiet after the echoes from the blast subsided. The truck burned in the center of the street. This time Constable Quarshi did call the fire brigade. Kwon and Ambuje ran up the street, their steps crunching broken glass and debris. They slowed to check the burning Hilux as they passed it—just to be sure—and ran to the man the LeF vehicle had run over. He lay motionless. Kwon checked him, but he was obviously dead. Kwon gently covered the man with the sleeping mat from his assault pack while Quarshi and Ambuje marked off a perimeter around the body with white and yellow marking tape.

Quarshi told Parker he would see them back at the Integrated Operating Base. He’d stay at the site to help manage the scene when the fire brigade got there. “Good hit, my friend.” He added with another forearm bump and a grin. “Get moving.” Parker nodded in agreement.

* * *

The squad finished hooking up Amy to Thelo and Louie, who dragged the down aircraft back in the direction from which the squad had come. Thelo drove backwards again, covering the rear of the squad as they bounded by teams up the narrow street on foot. Parker called in the contact and passed a status update to the platoon headquarters as they made their way towards the outer cordon, which was collapsing as they moved. Parker sipped some water from the bladder canteen on his back and checked his map again. Traffic barely skipped a beat and now that the jamming had stopped all the local services had been restored. The sentiment map showed some good feedback; people were annoyed at the power and phone outages, as well as having to be evacuated, but were already back to chatting about football or whatever. The jamming had allowed Parker to control the tempo of the engagement. With two different LeF ambushes, Parker didn’t think he would have been as successful otherwise. The destroyed truck was all over the local internet but, more importantly, so was the reverent display of Pfc. Kwon covering the body of a random victim of LeF violence.

As the fire brigade’s sirens echoed towards them, mixed with the call to evening prayer, the team leaders and their squad leader exchanged a look as they linked up with their police escort. Jazz 7 was secure. It had been a long thirty minutes.

* * *


This narrative shows the potential of an Army tailored to its mission and environment by foresight, doing what only the Army can do. It is an Army which understands strategic victory can begin with a handshake and that the finesse of trust is a powerful force multiplier. This Army is in some ways is familiar to our Army of today; the bond between the team, sergeants leading from the front, and the deeply personal interaction that is close combat are all experienced through the characters’ eyes. In other ways, this Army is profoundly different. The formations imagined here show an Army which boldly negotiates the protection and lethality trade space to capitalize on speed and agility, with a critical eye towards discriminate precision in an unprecedentedly complex environment. This Army is a study in economy and effectiveness. These formations are as decisive as they are discreet, employing “just enough” lethality, automation, and information. These capabilities are deftly employed by trained and educated soldiers who can translate tactical action into strategic success by ensuring the method is worthy of the moment. In this Army, the focus is technology that can provide on-demand capabilities and options to a unit of action in contact, to preserve the unit’s decision space without slowing it down. Most of the technologies illustrated in this story, like micro-UAVs, semi-autonomous vehicles, social network monitoring, and facial recognition software are real today; they only require refinement to reach the military potential described here. Other technologies, like the soldiers’ medical kits and the obscurants they employed, are fictional, but could be real with investment. Here the soldier’s equipment is multifunctional and designed to offer tactic-enhancing options, while eliminating, as much as possible, the need to carry multiple, sole-purpose, disparate systems. The tactical agility depicted in the story enables the soldiers to flow through their environment rather than be consumed by it. The soldiers in this Army are not natives, but while the environment is foreign, it is not alien. They have been trained and educated to understand their surroundings and the implications of the actions they take. In this way, they are strategic landpower.


Sgt. Maj. (Ret) Rick Russo is an intelligence and operations consultant, recently retired following twenty-four years of service as a US Army intelligence analyst. He served a Military Fellow in the Chief of Staff of the Army’s Strategic Studies Group. This team was tasked with exploring the complexities of megacities in the deep future and developing ways to help the Army prepare for this emerging environment. This story is a work of fiction and does not reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.


Image credit: Mishari Muqbil (adapted by MWI)