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Brig. Gen. J.D. Alford, commanding general, Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory/Futures Directorate, talks with Science Fiction Writer's Workshop participants Feb. 4.

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Narrative of the future developed at Science Fiction Futures workshop

11 Feb 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

The Marine Corps of 2035 will fight in megacities in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, deploying from an arid United States that has retreated to a defensive posture and directs little funding to the military.

The enemies of the future will be internal terrorists from both the extreme right and left, international mega-corporations that control the desalination of water, the Chinese mafia, and other established states with stable governments protecting their interests.

The weapons and equipment of the future will be autonomous robots, miniature electromagnetic pulse weapons, powered exosuits, and a proliferation of area denial weapons that limit access to trade routes.

But while the future Marines will be fighting in a different place, against a different enemy, and with different technology than they do now, they’ll still have a “boots on the ground” element and will still have to be flexible and think outside the box. And even in 2035, they’ll probably still be using masks from 2022.

These scenarios and vignettes came out of a Science Fiction Futures Workshop hosted Feb. 3 by the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab (MCWL) and the Atlantic Council’s Art of Future Warfare Project. The workshop brought together three successful writers of Science Fiction — Max Brooks, author of World War Z; August Cole, author of Ghost Fleet; and Charles E. Gannon, author of Fire with Fire and Trial by Fire — and 18 service members with demonstrated writing skills.

“Many organizations that do futures work have science fiction writers on their staff, but, to my knowledge, we are the first service to hold a collaborative workshop like this with professional authors and uniformed service member writers,” said Lt. Col. Patrick Kirchner, strategic foresight analyst for MCWL’s Futures Assessment Division.

Twelve Marines — three officers, three staff noncommissioned officers, three NCOs, and three lance corporals — were chosen for the workshop along with four sailors and one Coast Guardsman. They were selected from 72 applications.

The group was tasked with coming up with a series of short stories, based on future environments described in the 2015 Marine Corps Security Environment Forecast (MCESF), that will be published in a supplement to the MCESF this summer.

“The stories developed in the workshop, and ultimately published in the MCSEF supplement, will be used to create scenarios which will inform future concept development, wargames, experimentation, and force structure decisions,” Kirchner said.

The workshop was divided into three groups, each led by one of the published authors. One group, steered by Gannon, imagined the baseline — what the world might be like in 2030-2045. The others outlined stories based on two specified environments.

Kirchner said the workshop was “an unmitigated success.”

“The writers were excited to be here and have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to sit down and collaborate with some pretty notable authors of the genre,” he said.

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