Tom Clancy and the Future

Tom Clancy

Few writers have been so universally recognized as being prescient about the future than Tom Clancy. Even years after his untimely death in 2013, fans and observers all over the world still marvel at his ability to see more clearly into the future than most of us could ever hope to. He had a knack.

Tom Clancy’s complex, adrenaline-fueled military novels spawned a new genre of thrillers and made him one of the world’s best-known and best-selling authors. When Clancy died in October 2013, one of the most celebrated authors of our generation no longer walked among us.

Many people had – and continue to have – diverse options about Tom Clancy. However, most agree, above all else, he was prescient about the future of geopolitics, intelligence, military operations and emerging technology and weaponry. In his own words:

I hang my hat on getting as many things right as I can. I’ve made up stuff that’s turned out to be real — that’s the spooky part.

Tom Clancy also left a gift for aspiring writers with words that are as important today as when he said them years ago He said none of his success came easily, and he would remind aspiring writers of that when he spoke to them:

I tell them you learn to write the same way you learn to play golf. You do it, and keep doing it until you get it right. A lot of people think something mystical happens to you, that maybe the muse kisses you on the ear. But writing isn’t divinely inspired — it’s hard work.



Earlier this month we posted a national security blog focused on Tectonic Shifts impacting the world in the decades ahead. Like mega-trends these shifts represent long-term trends that we can be reasonably sure will happen if forces already in motion continue on their current paths. These are the fundamental underpinnings regarding how the intelligence community – the IC – looks at the future, based on, to borrow a phrase from former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, “known-knowns.”

But what about, again borrowing from Rumsfeld, the “known-unknowns?” GT2030 has identified six potential “game-changers,” events that we cannot say will happen, but that could happen under certain sets of conditions.

Although these megatrends and tectonic shifts are expected to shape the world out to 2030, GT2030 acknowledges that these critical game-changers have the potential to largely determine “what kind of transformed world will be inhabited in 2030.” These game-changers are questions regarding:

  • The health of the international economy
  • Global governance
  • Conflict
  • Regional instability
  • Technological breakthroughs
  • The role of the United States

How important – and potentially impactful – are these potential game-changers? “Global Trends 2030” dedicates 70 pages of this 160-page report to them. This fact, in and of itself, tells us that they bear watching. This link to “Global Trends 2030” will enable you to look at these potential game-changers in detail.

Read more here on the Defense Media Network website:

The World’s Next Flashpoint

The South China Sea

If there is one place on earth where the ambitions of the United States and China collide, it is the South China Sea. This body of water all-but-dominates the news weekly, with China making increasingly aggressive claims to this crucial body of water. Is it any wonder that many think World War III could well start there. We wrote about this in the U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings. Here is part of what we shared:

Whether it is the intelligence community, the military, industry, or just individuals attempting to get some notion of what the future holds, extrapolating current trends to determine likely outcomes in years “downstream” is absolutely essential to stay one step ahead of any current – or future – adversaries.  This is the work of military and intelligence analysts and is more essential today than ever before.

Access and use of the global commons, particularly the sea and the air space, is a core element of U.S. military and commercial power. In times of war, control of the commons may be ensured by military means. In peacetime it is sought through international law and diplomacy and through limited military responses when the rules governing use of the commons are breached. In some cases, a peacetime incident may quickly result in a reaffirmation of traditional freedoms of the sea. In others, a more concerted effort, combining diplomacy with demonstration, is needed to return to adherence to international norms. This latter combination appears to be the case regarding China and the South China Sea. As noted recently by Patrick Cronin and Paul Giarra:

Chinese assertiveness over its region is growing as fast as China’s wealth and perceived power trajectory. Beijing’s unwelcome intent appears to give notice that China is opting out of the Global Commons.

Though not a new phenomenon, China’s increasingly assertive activities in the South China Sea are drawing concern that the country is seeking regional hegemony at the expense of its neighbors in Southeast Asia as well as the United States, Japan, and South Korea.

You can read this entire article here:

Tectonic Shifts Impacting Our World


Last month, I blogged on looking to the future and offered the third installment of a series I wrote for the Defense Media Network. That post in talked about how the National Intelligence Council’s capstone publication, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds peered into the future and looked at Megatrends that would impact our future world. Those Megatrends lead directly to the Tectonic Shifts that will rock our world over the next fifteen years. When we mine the world-class work the of the sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies comprising the National Intelligence Council, these Tectonic Shifts become clear.

Among the projections of the Tectonic Shifts that will impact the world in the ensuing decades: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds lists these four:

These tectonic shifts represent concrete, visible, and important changes we will see in our world along the road to 2030. Some people, especially those in affected countries, will notice one or the other, or perhaps several of these trends, but only in “Global Trends 2030” do we see them compiled and connected.

There are seven major tectonic shifts, stemming from the factors noted above, that will manifest themselves over the next two decades:

  • Growth of the Global Middle Class: Middle classes most everywhere in the developing world are poised to expand substantially in terms of both absolute numbers and the percentage of the population that can claim middle-class status during the next 15 to 20 years.
  • Wider Access to Lethal and Disruptive Technologies: A wider spectrum of instruments of war – especially precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bioterror weaponry – will become readily accessible. Individuals and small groups will have the ability to perpetrate large-scale violence and disruption – a capability formerly the monopoly of nations.
  • Definitive Shift of Economic Power to the East and South: The U.S., European, and Japanese share of global income is projected to fall from 56 percent today to well under half by 2030. In 2008, China overtook the United States as the world’s largest saver; by 2020, emerging markets’ share of financial assets is projected to almost double.
  • Unprecedented and Widespread Aging: Whereas in 2012 only Japan and Germany have matured beyond a median age of 45 years, most European countries, South Korea, and Taiwan will have entered the post-mature age category by 2030. Migration will become more globalized as both rich and developing countries suffer from workforce shortages.
  • Urbanization: Today’s roughly 50-percent urban population will climb to nearly 60 percent, or 4.9 billion people, in 2030. Africa will gradually replace Asia as the region with the highest urbanization growth rate. Urban centers are estimated to generate 80 percent of economic growth; the potential exists to apply modern technologies and infrastructure, promoting better use of scarce resources.
  • Food and Water Pressures: Demand for food is expected to rise at least 35 percent by 2030, while demand for water is expected to rise by 40 percent. Nearly half of the world’s population will live in areas experiencing severe water stress. Fragile states in Africa and the Middle East are most at risk of experiencing food and water shortages, but China and India are also vulnerable.
  • U.S. Energy Independence: With shale gas, the United States will have sufficient natural gas to meet domestic needs and generate potential global exports for decades to come. Increased oil production from difficult-to-access oil deposits would result in a substantial reduction in the U.S. net trade balance and faster economic expansion. Global spare capacity may exceed over eight million barrels, at which point OPEC would lose price control and crude oil prices would collapse, causing a major negative impact on oil-export economies.

Read more about Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds and the TECTONIC SHIFTS impacting our world on the Defense Media Network Website.

Read this fourth article of the series here:

The Future is Autonomous

Global Hawk flying environmental mapping missions in Latin America, Caribbean

In his best-selling book, War Made New, military historian Max Boot notes: “My view is that technology sets the parameters of the possible; it creates the potential for a military revolution.”

One only has to read a few lines of defense media reports of autonomous systems development or industry advertisements regarding a particular air, ground, surface or subsurface unmanned systems to come away with the impression that autonomous systems represent completely new technology, an artifact of the 21st Century, or perhaps the late 20th Century.  But in fact, autonomous systems have been around for over a century.

As a naval analyst looking at major military trends, one of the most cutting-edge and intriguing technologies out there is in the area of autonomous systems.  But are we really leveraging this awesome technology in the most effective way.  Maybe not. We discuss this in our U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings article, “More Brains, Less Brawn.” An excerpt:

The future for autonomous vehicles is virtually unlimited.  Indeed, concepts for new missions, such as using autonomous aerial vehicles to detect approaching ballistic missiles are being generated by visionaries who have seized on the enormous potential of these systems.  But while their ability to deliver revolutionary change to the Navy-after-Next is real; this process is not without challenges.

This vision must be supported by both a commitment of the top levels of naval leadership and also by leadership and stewardship at the programmatic level – from acquisition professionals, to requirements officers, to scientists and engineers in the Navy and industry imagining, designing, developing, modeling, testing, and fielding these systems.  If the Navy does this well, autonomous vehicles will continue to change the tactics of today’s Navy, the operational concepts of tomorrow’s Navy, and will usher in a strategic shift for the Navy-after-Next.

You can read this entire article here:

Megatrends Impacting Our World


Earlier this month, I blogged on looking to the future and offered the second installment of a series I wrote for the Defense Media Network. That post in talked about how the National Intelligence Council’s capstone publication, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds peered into the future. I suggested that you don’t have to be as prescient as the late Tom Clancy to have a clearer window on the future. You need only mine the world-class work the of the sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies comprising the National Intelligence Council.

Among the projections of the Megatrends that will impact the world in the ensuing decades: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds lists these four:

  • Individual Empowerment: Individual empowerment will accelerate owing to poverty reduction, growth of the global middle class, greater educational attainment, widespread use of new communications and manufacturing technologies, and health care advances.
  • Diffusion of Power: By 2030 there will not be any hegemonic power. Rather, power will shift to networks and coalitions in a multipolar world. Multipolarity is a trend that is closely related to individual empowerment.
  • Demographic Patterns: The demographic arc of instability will narrow. Economic growth might well decline in “aging” countries. Up to 60 percent of the world’s population will live in urbanized areas and that migration will increase.
  • Food, Water, and Energy: Demand for these resources will grow substantially owing to an increase in the global population. Importantly, tackling problems pertaining to one commodity will be linked to supply and demand for the others.

These trends, which are virtually certain, exist today, but GT2030 suggests that during the next 15-20 years they will gain much greater momentum, becoming the governing trends that change our world and shape it as we move toward 2030 – and beyond.

Read more about Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds and the MEGATRENDS impacting our world on the Defense Media Network Website Read this third article of the series here:

Will World War III Start Here?

The South China Sea

Last year, I placed an article in Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter that talked about the South China Sea.  While it would be too much of a stretch to say World War III will start there, it is beyond argument that the tensions in the South China Sea (SCS) have been a source of extreme friction that has escalated into conflict between China and her smaller neighbors.  Five years ago, few people paid attention to the SCS.  Now they are – and for good reason.

Stretching from the mouth of the Pearl River in China to the north, to the tip of Indonesia’s Natuna Island in the south, the South China Sea comprises a stretch of roughly 3,500,000 square kilometers in the Pacific Ocean that encompasses an area from the Singapore and Malacca Straits to the Strait of Taiwan, spanning west of the Philippines, north of Indonesia, and east of Vietnam. Put in perspective, the South China Sea would encompass the entire land area of India – and then some. Over $5 trillion in trade passes through the South China Sea every year. Two thirds of South Korea’s energy supplies, 60 per cent of Taiwan and Japan’s energy and 80 per cent of China’s crude imports all go through the South China Sea.  Indeed, as much as 50 percent of global oil tanker shipments pass through the South China Sea, which sees three times more tanker traffic than the Suez Canal and over five times that of the Panama Canal, making the waters one of the world’s busiest international sea lanes. More than half of the world’s top ten shipping ports are also located in and around the South China Sea. As intra-ASEAN trade has markedly increased—from 29 percent of total ASEAN trade in 1980 to 41 percent in 2009—maintaining freedom of navigation has become of paramount importance for the region.

In the main, the nations of the Indo-Pacific region have managed to increase their economic output and improve the lives of their people through peaceful means. No land army in the region has invaded its neighbor in recent times and disagreements are usually settled peacefully. The one notable exception to this is where land and sea meet, in those areas where numerous islands dot the seascape and trade passes and where mineral and fishing rights are contested. In an increasing number of cases there is contention and even conflict. Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the area of the South China Sea. However, with many nations asserting opposing rights in this sea, there is vastly more heat than light on the issues causing this friction.

You can read this entire article: “The South China Sea: The World’s Most Important Body of Water?” in the November, 2014 issue of Asia Pacific Defense Reporter at this link:


Peering into the Future with the U.S. Intelligence Community


Earlier this month, I blogged on looking to the future and offered the first installment of a series I wrote for the Defense Media Network. That post introduced the National Intelligence Council’s capstone publication, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds. I suggested there – and offer the same idea again – that you don’t have to be as prescient as the late Tom Clancy to have a clearer window on the future. You need only mine the world-class work the of the sixteen U.S. intelligence agencies comprising the National Intelligence Council – the NIC as it is more commonly called.

Among the projections in its groundbreaking report: Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds:

  • China’s economy is set to overtake that of the United States in the 2020s, but China will not challenge the United States’ preeminence or the international order;
  • Asia will become more powerful than both North America and Europe combined (based on population, GDP, military spending, and technological investment);
  • The United States will achieve energy independence with shale gas, and;
  • Wider access to disruptive technologies – including precision-strike capabilities, cyber instruments, and bio-terror weaponry – could increase the risk of large-scale violence and disruption.

Read more about Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds and looking to the future on the Defense Media Network Website Read this second article of the series here:

The Pros from Dover


Earlier this month, we blogged on looking to the future – it is a subject that interests all of us, whatever our walk of life. We looked at “life imitating art” in the sense of fiction writers – and especially science fiction writers – having a unique knack for looking into the future. Many of you who follow this website or my tweets have asked, “Does our government do this – look into the future?” The answer is a resounding yes!

The National Intelligence Council (NIC) has been in existence for over three decades and represents the primary way the U.S. intelligence community (IC) communicates in the unclassified realm.  Initially a “wholly-owned subsidiary” of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), the NIC now works directly for the Director of National Intelligence and presents the collective research and analysis of the entire IC, an enterprise comprising 16 agencies with a combined budget of over $80 billion.  In a sentence: There is no more comprehensive analysis of future trends available anywhere, at any price. Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the latest edition of its analysis. It’s not an overstatement to say this 160-page document represents the most definitive analytical look at the future security environment.


The comprehensive quadrennial report forecasting global trends that have a major impact on our world, Global Trends 2030: Alternative Worlds is the definitive U.S. Government document that looks to the future.  In shorthand it is GT2030. Global Trends 2030 helps us have an informed and well-nuanced view of the future. This is not as easy as it sounds, for, as John Maynard Keynes famously said in 1937: “The idea of the future being different from the present is so repugnant to our conventional modes of thought and behavior that we, most of us, offer a great resistance to acting on it in practice.”

I’ve reported on Global Trends 2030 on the Defense Media Network website. Read the first article of the series here:

The U.S. Navy’s Troubled Ship


Late last year, one of the U.S. Navy’s newest and most-modern ships, the Freedom-Class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), USS Milwaukee, suffered a major engineering casualty. One of the most-controversial ships the Navy has ever built, the LCS has had bright – and not so bright – spots in its brief history.

Here is what the U.S. Naval Institute, the premier professional journal of the United States Sea Services, said about this incident:

The Navy’s newest Littoral Combat Ship – USS Milwaukee (LCS-5) – could be sidelined for weeks to repair an engine casualty that occurred last week during an Atlantic Ocean transit. Lockheed Martin and the service are currently working through the total scope of the repair package for the gearings that connect the ship’s main engines to its water jets.

More here from the U.S. Naval Institute website:

When Dick Couch and I rebooted the best-selling Tom Clancy Op-Center series, our first geographical focus was the Mideast, and the second was Northeast Asia, with the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) featured prominently. We wrote that second book, Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire in 2013 and had the LCS in our sights. Here is how we introduced USS Milwaukee in that book:

And there was the LCS itself, the Milwaukee. The critics of the U.S. Navy’s LCS program, both in congress and within the naval establishment, were right in their assessment of the ship’s shortcomings. The LCS was basically defenseless. She was a sitting duck for any ship or small craft with a surface-to-surface missile capability. Her single gun, the Mark 110, Mod 0 57mm BAE Systems cannon was capable of 200 rounds per minute with 240 rounds in ready-service availability. It could be deadly to small craft that came within five miles, but most of the world’s navies, including that of North Korea, had small craft with accurate surface-to-surface missiles that could be fired well outside that range. And they would be operating well within the arc of North Korean land-based air. Milwaukee’s RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missile system was compact and effective against both flow-flying aircraft and surface-to-surface cruise missiles. But there was an interface flaw. The RIM-116 had no built-in acquisition capability; it had to be carefully aimed along the axis of the incoming threat. The system that aimed the missiles was the AN/SWY-2 Ship Defense Surface Missile System. When the two systems worked, they worked well. But they didn’t always work well. In Bigelow’s experience, they produced a missile launch and a missile kill only about half the time.

into-the-fireNow life imitates art. Read more about the Littoral Combat Ship, USS Milwaukee and about Commander Kate Bigelow’s efforts to save her ship and her crew in a snippet from Tom Clancy’s Op-Center: Into the Fire here: