We are pleased to welcome back Mick Ryan with the second instalment of his short story AugoStrat Awakenings. You can find the first part of this story here.

The bright lights and screens of the room hurt her eyes as she opened them after a short nap. The chair was pretty comfortable, but she would have to do something about the supposedly ‘eye-friendly’ lighting in the room. Less than frequent visits to the gym were also creating hell with her back muscles.

I need to do something about that this week, knowing instantly it would be an empty promise to herself. The workload here at the moment was crushing, and she was down two augo-strat assistants. Hopefully, the next intake would fix that.  She made a quick note to speak with Jason about it.

“Harden up”, she then thought to herself. No point whining about something that can’t be changed in the next five minutes.

Kathy leaned forward in her chair and checked in with her augo-strat network. The Cog-Link network was closed, highly secure, and inaccessible to non-augmented personnel. It was also fantastic for streaming movies.

A bright yellow message flashed at the top right of her vision. It was only visible to her – her augmentation, linking to her eyes, had pushed the message in the past two nanoseconds:

THANK YOU FOR USING THE COG-LINKTM NETWORK. IT IS CURRENTLY EXPERIENCING DEGRADED PERFORMANCE.

COG-LINKTM TECHNICIANS ARE INVESTIGATING THIS ISSUE. YOU MAY NOTICE SOME LATENCY ISSUES; HOWEVER, ALL NETWORK LINKAGES REMAIN SECURE.

MORE UPDATES IN 5 MINUTES. THANK YOU FOR USING COG-LINKTM.

“Weird.  I haven’t seen that before…” And then the first contact in her morning call list appeared.

As always, this was the augo-strat adviser to the commander of the strategic strike force. Befitting the national importance of the commander and organisation in which he served, he was one of the first generation augo-strats. A little older, Carl was perhaps a little too fond of country and western music. But he was nonetheless a fine mentor for many of the junior augo-strat officers that were dispersed around the defence force.

A unmanned loyal wingman; an important element of the joint force.

The strange update on the augo-strat network performance was forgotten as they commenced their regular check-in. No words were spoken by either; their Cog-Link allowed them to rapidly communicate in a way that was imperceptible to non-augmented humans. It also took place at a speed that would be incomprehensible to them.

However, it was all recorded and uploaded on central servers, and available for review by human ethics inspectors in the Inspector Generals’ Department, as well as the neurotech-ethics board. Nothing that the augo-strat corps did was outside their remit.

“Good morning, youngling!”

“Morning, you old fart”.

This had been a standard greeting between the two since Kathy had started her current appointment two years before. Down to business.

“The mobile intermediate-range fleet are all up and good for tasking. Same with the responsive orbital launch and strike fleet.”

This had not changed for the entire time Kathy had been working with Carl. Thank goodness. These two fleets of missiles represented an enormous investment of technology, people and national treasure. A fleet of land-based intermediate range strike missiles had been developed and deployed in the past decade. Mounted on truck and trains, a significant proportion of this force constantly moved to reduce its detectability. Those that were not deployed underwent constant upgrades to enhance their stealth, range and lethality.

The space response fleet represented an even larger investment. Helped out by US and Indian space launch companies, the rapid launch capability could quickly replace destroyed or aged satellites. It was also highly capable of doing some destroying itself. Different variants of their fleet could target objects in both low earth and geosynchronous orbits. Generally, destruction was achieved through EMP rather than kinetic obliteration. No point contributing the massive amount of orbital debris already polluting the immediate space around earth. Or being the nation that finally sets the theorised Kessler Syndrome in motion.

In a nano-second, Kathy pondered the importance and political sensitivity of this part of the defence force. Political leaders were always keen to ensure they were getting value for money with their missiles and associated targeting infrastructure. Any time these two particular fleets experienced reliability issues was a particularly uncomfortable time for the senior leaders upstairs.

“You didn’t mention the maritime strike and info-war strike capabilities.” Not good.

There was an unusually long delay before Carl replied. For an augo-strat, a microsecond gap in a conversation is a long time.

“Degraded availability and network assurance issues.” OK, he was finally getting to the point. Again, not good.

“Our augmented technicians and network assurance algorithms detected some anomalies in the last 5 minutes. I would have come straight to you, but there was not much I could tell you until my most recent update a few seconds ago.” This was NOT looking like a good start to the day.

“We have detected a highly advanced attack algorithm. Our human and algorithmic technicians haven’t seen anything like it. I think we have almost quarantined it, but it is of a sophistication and aggressiveness that we haven’t seen before.”

Kathy probed further, hoping for at least some light at the end of the tunnel. “How long until we have the fleet fully back online?”

Carl, as always, was succinct. He was not a conversationalist.

“15 minutes”. Not quite an eternity but a significant gap in coverage for the strategic strike force.

“OK, I will get back to you shortly.” Kathy closed down the link. The entire exchange had taken under a minute. She rapidly pinged her priority two contact.

“Hey Kathy, how’s strat ops?” Isobel ‘Izzy’ Cohen was from Kathy’s augo-strat intake. They had bonded quickly despite their different professional backgrounds. Izzy had been Army and had been a Type 20 tank task force leader who had joined the program after a training accident. Despite Kathy’s non-military background, they had formed a close friendship over the long nights of study, conversations on strategy, war, economics, philosophy and ethics, as well as the many head surgeries that were just one element of being a new recruit to the augo-strat program.

“All good here. How is the joint strike force?”

They exchanged updates. Nothing out of the ordinary was occurring in the largest component of the defence force.

Formed in the wake of the Manus disaster, the joint strike force comprised a series of rapidly deployable joint, cross-domain formations. The old defence force structures and ways of thinking of the 2000s were as foreign to this contemporary strike force as knights in armour were to the armoured forces in Kuwait in 1991.

Especially how it thought. After decades of focussing almost exclusively on the equipment ‘hardware’ of the force, a significant investment had been made in its human ‘software’. Different warfighting and strategic competition concepts had been the result of new methods of education and wargaming at all levels of policy, strategy and operations.

A huge investment had also been made in their low-signature deployment capabilities as well as unmanned land, air and maritime elements over the decade. They were capable of quickly deploying very lethal, accurate forces anywhere in the region. A mix of information operations, land, maritime, air capabilities with links into space, cyber and missile forces, they were a potent form of national influence in the region.

Not every deployment of this force involved humans leaving their home station. Some of their recent operations had been undertaken as entirely unmanned joint task forces. While the demography of the nation still remained healthy with a large number of people suitable for military service, only the influx of several hundred thousand drones had provided the mass and potency that allowed the defence force to pose a lethal conventional deterrent to some rather aggressive and totalitarian actors around the globe.

And one that had proven its worth over the past several years.

“Great to hear, Izzy. I think…” Another bright yellow alert appeared in her vision. It was Carl.

KATHY. TROUBLE. ADVERSARY ALGORITHM HAS BROKEN OUT OF QUARANTINE. IT IS EVOLVING AT A SPEED WE HAVE NEVER SEEN. STRATEGIC STRIKE FORCE AVAILABILITY ASSURANCE NOW CLASSIFIED AS MEDIUM. WE HAVE MOVED ASSURED STRIKE CAPABILITIES OFFNET AND TO HIGH READINESS. MY BOSS IS SPEAKING WITH THE CHIEF NOW. I AM…

It looked like the full message had been interrupted mid-transmission.

Dammit. So now this is bad.

Mick Ryan is an Australian Army officer. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the USMC Staff College and School of Advanced Warfare, he is a passionate advocate of professional education and lifelong learning. He is an aspiring (but very average) writer. In January 2018, he assumed command of the Australian Defence College in Canberra, Australia. The opinions expressed are his alone, and do not represent the view of the Australian Army, the Australian Defence Force, or the Australian Government.