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Arctic Night

Arctic Night

. 20 min read

I forbindelse med prosjektet Hæren mot 2040 har forfatteren August Cole skrevet en fortelling om en mulig fremtidig konflikt med Russland i Finnmark. Stratagem har fått tilatelse til å republisere teksten som kan leses i sin helhet nedenfor. Vi har også bedt 3 teknologiinteresserte offiserer i Hæren om å gi sin kommentar på Arctic Night.

Langhelle: Realistisk eller Utopi?
Geiner: Kan Science Fiction ha militær nytteverdi?
TBC


HAMMERSKJOLD HOLIDAY CENTER, TROMSØ

They never, ever should have put the rocket batteries by the kiddie pool, she thought.

Ingrid Torlund sighed at the boxy wheeled weapons, articulating quad launchers at each corner. They looked like giant upside-down tables kicked over by an ill-tempered god. No, the Vulkan systems were too exposed here. They should have gone behind the arrival center on the southern perimeter, under the cover of the bus loading bays. There, they could be wheeled quickly in and out of what could easily work as makeshift revetments.

She walked up to the nearest Vulkan. She placed an artificial hand on its sun- warmed grey and green ceramic armor, feeling the organic-looking bumps and ridges of the sensors and antennae. A faint hum tickled the pads of her mechanical fingers. She knew how fragile brutes like this really were.

Torlund was going to say something to the Norwegian Army major enthusiastically converting this 5,000-acre four-star summer resort into a depot for the thousands of small battle bots that would form one of the main lines of the Finnmark Denial Zone (FDZ). But he might recognize the “Lionness of Vilnius,” and the highly decorated former FSK Jegertroppen master sergeant was a little embarrassed by her mundane civilian job. She worked as a seasonal host for some of the hundreds of thousands of wealthy Chinese tourists who beat the heat of Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu by summering in Norway’s relatively cool climes. Her job was to know the guests not by name, but by the bounty of data they each produced. With the help of the resort’s AIs, she could foresee what they needed before they knew. Torlund took to it naturally, just as she had teaming with military AIs on the close-in targeting missions that made her a wartime legend.

Her 8,321 guests were finally evacuated 18 hours ago, farther north to the larger and (if she was honest) less prestigious Northern Lights Golf Resort outside of Tromsø. The guests were getting quite an unexpected holiday, having gone from Hammarskjold Holiday Center’s well-appointed multistory villas to camping throughout the other resort’s 16 golf courses. From what their feeds showed, the affluent Chinese tourists were bearing the fast- fabbed tents and rationed gro-food very well. How many people could they ultimately shelter at Northern Lights? 30,000 people? And for how long? She didn’t know exactly. But if they were all in one place it would be easier for the Chinese government to evacuate them—and for Beijing to rally rage online against the Russian paramilitary takeover of the SinoPort facilities in Kirkenes. The rest of Norway south of the Finnmark region should be safe, as the FDZ strategy used legions of autonomous military systems and coordinated cognitive campaigns to contain the risk of any incursion.

She wasn’t sure why the Russian government had moved on the Arctic port now, but her instincts told her this operation was not actually about Norway at all. Russia had tried patient, subtle, nonmilitary methods to establish de facto control of the narrow borderlands between Russia and Norway—and repeatedly failed. That was more than a decade ago, though, when NATO was still a viable alliance that could give Moscow pause. But the botched European response to the Kaliningrad Crisis five years prior fractured NATO once and for all. While the establishment of a Russian land bridge between Kaliningrad and Belorussia through Lithuania triggered NATO’s Article V,
only a patchwork force of American, Polish, Norwegian, and Baltic elements had been able to rapidly respond. The savage fighting decimated many Western units and cost Torlund her arms. The sacrifices were enough to eventually thwart the Russian armored divisions. Yet those losses caused such a breakdown of political support that the security partnership did not reach its tenth decade.

So NATO was no longer a factor, but China was, and if anything, it posed an even bigger strategic problem for Moscow. China’s indomitable economic and cultural might was pressing Russia in the Arctic, throughout the Pacific, from the south, and now to the west in Europe. For its part, Norway, like its former NATO partners, had quickly rearmed in the wake of the alliance’s collapse. But even as it shrank the human ranks of its armed forces—as other European nations had done—unlike those states, Norway’s government developed and acquired formidable air, land, and sea robotic forces that could lay dormant for years then muster for a crisis at a moment’s notice. Yet, those systems still had not deterred the clear violation of Norwegian sovereignty by Russian forces.

This kind of strategic context always interested Torlund, but she conceded to herself there were too many narratives in play anyway for her to influence from her position. Especially as a civilian.

No. Think like the soldier you were. The soldier you are. “Every moment is decisive,” she used to drill into new operators on her teams. Norway may be a small nation but it need not act like one.

Another sigh. Time to go find that major, after all. Maybe she could talk to AESIR.

The wedge-shaped wheeled scout vehicle was concealed in an observation post on the backside of the eastern crest of the fjord.

NORTH OF LANABUKT, KIRKENES

“It was Hannibal,” said Norwegian Army Corporal Per Lund. “Preparing to execute dig.”

“Confirm, dig. No, it was Sun Tzu. You attack at dawn. Or dusk. That’s it. Anything else is suicide,” responded Specialist Anita Raabe. One of the Army’s 800 reservists, she had been recalled to duty just 18 hours ago because she was one of the closest to the crisis.

“But in summer, when there’s only day?”

“Russians just make their own night, wherever they go. Anyway, they seized the SinoPort terminals at 2300.”

“There’d be a couple hundred thousand less Chinese tourists here if they had waited until summer was over.”

“Moscow likes it complicated.”
“Bet you 50 NorKoin it’s Hannibal who said it.”
“This wouldn’t even be an argument if we could just look it up.” “Eat rockets just to be right? Not today. You want the bet, or not?” “Hold dig,” said Lund. “Seeing this?”

He halted the vehicle’s burrowing into the hillside and waved his hand to highlight two targets on the shared virtual-reality operating system managed by AESIR. The AI was capable of managing their entire area of operations on its own or functioning as a subordinate to the Norwegian Defense Ministry’s larger general artificial intelligences in Oslo and Bodø.

“Registering ... Russian Navy landing craft. Likely reinforcements that will move overland to the port at Kirkenes. Pushing a dozen Gulls with EW payloads,” responded Raabe, making a gesture that looked like a wave.

Raabe and Lund reclined in the front seats of the armored Snomus. The wedge-shaped wheeled scout vehicle was concealed in an observation post on the backside of the eastern crest of the fjord. While they could not see with their own eyes the pair of 52-meter Russian ekranoplanes racing into the fjord, thousands of biodegradable sensors scattered throughout the area assembled for them a mosaic of the dart-like craft attempting to land. From submerged boxes in the steely water, the Gull drones lifted off and spiraled into the air to disable, but not destroy, the Russian Navy vessels.

“AESIR indicating 60 mech-infantry, 16 artillery robota formations, and three wings of Vlad copters aboard. They haven’t detected us,” said Lund. He swiped through a series of social- and bio-media posts by Russian marines on the ZRu network.

“Yet,” said Raabe.

“Once they land, they can reach the SinoPort compound in 90 minutes. The robota and Vlads will cause problems for everybody. AESIR reporting similar landings underway all over. They must figure at least one is going to
get through.”

“Not if we—”

Then it was as if the inside of the vehicle flooded with ink. Immediately, the temperature started to rise as the Snomus’ power cut out.

“They found us,” Lund muttered, knocking his helmet against the vehicle bulkhead twice as if the jolts might reset his link to the AESIR system. Nothing.

“Egressing,” said Raabe.

She exited after the left-side hatch scissored open vertically, pressed as it was against the earth and rock. Lund’s hatch swung open laterally, as the fighting hole’s ceiling closed in on his side. Dig or die, as they learned in boot camp, especially when it came to the Russians.

“Let’s get AESIR’s eyes on, no way to know if those Gulls hit their targets either.”

Whatever energy or electronic weapon hit them likely would have downed the small amphibious attack drones, too. With AESIR offline, they would not be able to manage non-line-of-sight connections to the Norwegian constellation of book-sized satellites or the pebble-like sensors nearby, let alone legacy Norwegian military platforms like the F-35s and P-8s patrolling to the south. The FDZ was key to defending the rest of Norway should. Should the conflict escalate further. Lund sprinted up the hill, taking extra breaths until his fighting suit administered Ventolin and adrenaline. His suit pulsed, a gentle squeeze in his lower back, to let him know AESIR was back online.

“AESIR says that was a Chinese energy weapon that hit us,” said Lund. “Why? They want the Russians to come?” asked Raabe.

The autonomous ekranoplanes raced toward the mouth of the fjord.

SINOPORT, KIRKENES

Wei Ling blinked twice to measure the distance one more time. The rangefinder in his ocular implants confirmed it: 113 meters from the Russian automata air-defense vehicles to the No. 5 crane. Perched atop the sturdy boom were half a dozen crab-like jammer drones. Each repositioned every few minutes—precisely 2.6 minutes, by his count. Critical targeting information, the kind he hoped would be necessary very soon.

Footsteps. A quick blink and he shut off the encrypted stream of images and video to his private WeChat channel. He shoved his hands into the kangaroo pocket of his orange overalls.

The Russian fighter spoke in Norwegian, the electronic translator on his helmet converting barked questions into a delicate query.

Palms up to signal confusion, Wei smiled harmlessly. The Russian cursed Wei’s mother, and tried again in Mandarin.

“Why are you not with the other prisoners?”

Whether the Russian was actually a soldier, a mercenary, or just a gangster outfitted for war, Wei had no idea. It was so hard to tell these days.

“It is my office. I just came back to find something to eat,” he said. He pulled a gold foil-wrapped energy bar from his pocket and waved it at the Russian. Before Wei could put it back, one of the coiling tentacles on the Russian’s exosuit snatched it out of the Chinese engineer’s hand.

OK. Maybe he was a real soldier.

“Back down below. Do this again and I’ll carve your eyes out. We can always find somebody else to update the codes.” Another of the coiling and writhing tentacles snapped at him with a bullwhip’s crack as its blade sliced through the air.

Wei flinched, then shuffled out of the room with hunched shoulders. A faint metallic clunk made him snatch a quick glance; the Russian had tossed some kind of device—a mine? A surveillance feed?—onto the dark blue and grey chevron-patterned carpet.

These Russians commandos had arrived 26 hours before and seized the
main port operations center. They did not enter the town itself, remaining within the SinoPort facility. The local Norwegian Army garrison deployed immediately but had remained outside, their light tanks reinforcing the police presence like cops cornering bank robbers in an old American crime movie.

Wei knew he was a hostage. So was the entire facility. As the senior engineer responsible for the largely automated port’s locally hosted AI systems, he knew time was running out. Elsewhere in the server building, a team of Russians and at least two Chinese nationals were trying to crack the SinoPort AIs so they could take over the entire operation. Once that was done, they would own the port entirely and be able to control it until the next time somebody decided to raid the facility like they had.

Yes, he was hungry, but he needed to be in his office for a more important reason. Once in the room, he accessed the wireless charging mesh network for his ocular implants. Those implants literally gave the Ministry of State Security officers at the Chinese consulate in Tromsø eyes on the developing situation, a possibility any Chinese citizen with upgraded eyes knew could happen. Wei was glad for it right now. That he had any connectivity was due to the manned and autonomous Norwegian Army electronic warfare teams deployed nearby.

A signature tactic of regular and irregular Russian forces was to knock out and then control network traffic in the area for everything from targeting information to social media. The Norwegian countermeasure was to develop units that specialized in ensuring bandwidth was available to any user, civilian or military. That reflected the values laid out in the UN’s designation of connectivity as a basic human right—and had tactical relevance for Norwegian forces at home and abroad.

Wei returned to the cafeteria a few minutes later, sitting alone at one of the Italian polished aluminum tables, watching the standoff on his ocular feed from the perspective of a CNN drone a few kilometers away.

Descending among the trees was a lifter, a six-rotor design with a bumblebee-like rounded fuselage. 

NORTH OF LANABUKT, KIRKENES

The autonomous ekranoplanes raced toward the mouth of the fjord and safety of Russian waters when they erupted in flames.

“AESIR indicates a Hai took them out. It’s still around, but moved to deeper waters to rejoin its pod,” said Lund. About the length of a coastal patrol boat, the Hai-class was a Norwegian Navy unmanned submersible armed with torpedoes and surface-to-air missiles. It was based on a British design built during the rapid post-NATO rearmament, but the onboard AI was domestically trained.

“Should have hit them on the way in,” said Raabe.

“Querying. Nope. We’re still following Standing Order 2028. ROEs allow us to engage any foreign unmanned autonomous or remote-operated system that’s a threat but no targeting humans until there is a demonstrated threat to Norwegian lives.”

“What about Chinese lives? These Russian marines get too close to the SinoPort and ... we have a war on.”

“AESIR says we need to move, an LZ that’s 500 meters to the south.” “Where we going after that?”
“Not sure. Maybe it doesn’t know yet.”

Using AESIR, Raabe scanned the sensor feeds in the area, and found a forestry drone perched atop a tree. From that point of view, she took another look at the Russian marines and their autonomous missile batteries speeding along the narrow highway. They were not trying to hide their presence. She tagged the imagery for the AI as useful and the source as trusted, and then jogged down the slope to a clearing.

Descending among the trees was a lifter, a six-rotor design with a bumblebee-like rounded fuselage. The windowless autonomous air-cargo vehicle touched down on its skids, the jolt causing its mimetic green-and- grey-brushstroke camouflage to flicker back to the yellow-and-red livery of the Norwegian express delivery company that owned it. It was a reminder that the military depended on the sharing economy as much as any civilian. And with civilian autonomous technology reliability at or surpassing military standards, it allowed investment where it mattered: in algorithms and autonomous strike or defensive capabilities, not commodity platforms.

With Raabe and Lund aboard, the lifter skimmed away at treetop height, shadowed by a four-ship formation of motorcycle-sized dagger-winged attack drones.

Inside the cargo vehicle, Lund took off his helmet to charge it from a bulkhead port. He swallowed a long drink of water from the fighting suit’s bladder. The form-fitting suit looked like a hockey goalie’s gear that had been slimmed down for a cross-country ski race. Powered by the wearer’s movement and a distributed set of conformable capacitators, it used haptic feedback and an integrated connection with the wearer’s military and civilian AR/VR feeds. The line between official and unofficial information was blurred because with the boundless data available, unnecessarily restricting or slowing access to information of any kind created tactical, if not strategic, vulnerabilities.

“We’re heading to the SinoPort. Linking up with the 16th Mech Regiment, supported by Border Guards and local police.”

“You know, when I got the call up, I was picking out what to wear for a final job interview at NorKoin,” said Raabe. “I actually want to work.”

No Norwegian had to work, unless they wanted to. That made military service even more desirable and competitive than it had been a generation ago.

“You in a hurry to go tend to servers in the North Sea?”

After the global oil and gas market’s collapse in the early 2030s, Norway’s sprawling offshore infrastructure repurposed itself for the post-EU and China- driven global market. With computers powered by ocean- and wind-driven turbines and cooled by frigid seawater, Norway sustainably produced what was becoming one of the world’s only reserve cryptocurrencies, the NorKoin.

“DevOps, c’mon,” she said. “I’m top of my class in CompBio at UiT Narvik.”

The lifter lurched and dropped like a theme-park ride, before pivoting on its axis to flare for a combat landing. Lund hurriedly buckled his helmet back up and nodded toward the rear doors.

“Make it through the rest of the day, and I expect they’ll be more than happy to hold a job for you.”

Dozens of flying Chinese drones breached and attacked the sheltered Russians with flechette munitions. 

SINOPORT, KIRKENES

It sounded like a Chinese New Year’s street-corner celebration, a ripping series of nearly simultaneous sharp firecracker pops. Wei blinked three times to ensure his lenses were online and slowly stood up from the cafeteria floor where he had been sleeping under the watch of the Russian soldiers. Grimacing with the stiffness, he stood. As he tried to look out the large windows overlooking the port, Wei flinched and ducked. He stared into three blood-red eyes, lenses on the dancing snakehead attached to a Russian soldier’s exosuit tentacle. The sensor flicked back across the room, disappearing as the Russian soldier took cover behind a portable ballistic shelter. Wei ducked back down, hearing shouts in Russian and the clacking sound of rounds slamming into metal. Then a resonant buzzing that made the window panes vibrate brought him to his feet again to scan the area outside.

A half dozen shipping containers throughout the complex had opened like shoe boxes, wreathed in black and grey clouds of swarming bots. Six-legged nightmares the size of large dogs climbed spiderlike atop the shipping containers, their clawed arms gouging silver streaks in the rusty metal as they positioned for clear shots at the Russian soldiers. Their jerky movements looked angry, a savage energy that betrayed their long confinement inside those shipping containers. They lacked the almost joyful grace of the hundreds of bug- and bird-sized bots swirling above them.

Wei ducked then crawled as far from the Russians sheltering in the center of the room as he could. He knew what was going to happen next.

The first drones smacked against the windows without breaking them, a damped thud like an errant bird crashing into the stormproof glass. But it was deliberate, a probing of the Russian’s countermeasures set up in the
main buildings.

The pop and crackle of close combat outside suddenly ceased. As did the thumping against the glass. A pause in the fighting, Wei wondered, or
the end?

An instant later, glass shards sprayed the room. Dozens of flying Chinese drones breached and attacked the sheltered Russians with flechette munitions. Whining peals of gunfire and fearful shouts competed with straining electric motors. Exploding batteries sizzled, as man-portable Russian drone-defense systems fired off thousands of small-caliber caseless munitions in seconds. Smoke, burning plastic, and particles of shredded office furniture filled the air.

Wei crawled for the exit and what he hoped was safety.

HAMMERSKJOLD HOLIDAY CENTER, TROMSØ

“So, I guess we need to find a way to use you, Master Sergeant Torlund,” said the Army major. “That’s what AESIR wants.”

It was the first full sentence he had said in the 20 minutes Ingrid Torlund had been sitting across from him in the presidential suite. The room was so overwrought with wood and brass detailing that she imagined this must be how a mouse felt sitting inside a church organ.

When she first sat down, she requested to confer with AESIR. He immediately denied her. Was it because, at first, he didn’t know who she was?

“Yes, sir.”

She was losing him again. He started to get the far-off look of somebody transfixed by his AR glasses then tilted his head back up at her. “It’s an honor to meet you. AESIR says you’re still on rapid-reserve status. Can you confirm?”

A warm summer breeze drifted through the open bay windows that overlooked the interior courtyard, and a detachment of Hauk antidrone batteries. Torlund nodded slowly.

“Yes, my clearances and access are current.” And she trained all winter like she was still active-duty.

In the background, the major’s staff conferred around a mix of overlapping rainbow-hued holos, remotely moving military hardware throughout the battlespace with pinches and twists of their control gloves. Others sat in canvas chairs wearing VR rigs attached to their combat helmets.

She ran a hand over her hair, which was pulled back into a tight ponytail, missing the sense of omnipotence she had when she wore her combat rig.

“What was it you wanted to share?”

She looked down at her hands, folded in her lap. She played with the ceramic black memoriam rings she wore on her right mechanical hand for the four team members she lost on the beaches of Kaliningrad a decade ago.

He filled the silence.

“We’re setting out our dynamic defensive positions along the FDZ, as we’re staging point for the second ring. First ring is in Kirkenes, right outside the SinoPort. We may get Swedish and other SSP reinforcements in the next hour, but we’re waiting for some political matters on their end to resolve.”

The Scandinavian Security Partnership never had been reliable, with domestic politics in Sweden, Denmark, and Finland proving to be no exception to the popular volatility and sparks of extremism everywhere else. Each European nation had to be prepared to defend itself, for all the risk that carried.

“Actually, I have some ideas for our positions here. That, and a suggestion for the cog-strat efforts at Northern Lights, which if you look at bio-media posts from the Chinese guests there you’ll see that —”

The major stiffened. “Our?” Then he looked away, tossing his AR glasses down and roughly putting on his VR combat helmet.

“Incoming!” somebody shouted.

She glanced out the open window at the humming batteries and whining servos that whipped through the air as the Hauk systems prepared a volley of defensive fire.

“Chinese hyper-drop, mech detachments targeting us and Northern Lights. They’re boxing us in.”

“Are they?” she said. She snatched the major’s AR glasses off the desktop
and stole out of the room at a sprint, moving toward the central courtyard. There was no protection, but that was what she wanted. She wanted as clear a connection as possible to AESIR.

Dashing across the soft synthetic grass, she took shelter under a gazebo, sitting down on a freshly painted teak bench. This was not a strike mission, she figured immediately. If it were, they would already be dead. It may have felt like that to the major, responsible for this critical lynchpin of the defense of southern Norway. But if the Norwegian defenses opened fire on the autonomous Chinese battle systems being dropped from high altitude then it would likely result in a futile shooting engagement that could not be won.

“Hurry,” she whispered under her breath as the AR glasses scanned her eyes to allow her access.

The AESIR interactive display appeared a moment later. She looked up, through the gazebo’s shingled roof, and could see the trajectory of the drop forces gliding toward the coast of Norway at Mach 5. By now, the Chinese transport vehicles were already back out of range of Russian and Norwegian weapons and safe from any threats.

She designated the Vulkan rocket batteries and directed them inside the underground loading bays. They were no use right now.

A soldier didn’t exactly speak to AESIR. It was more like a subvocalization
of commands and queries. Next, she inquired what it knew of the Chinese strategic messaging out of the Northern Light resort and other areas. According to Chinese state media, the vacationers had been clamoring for rescue, citing Russian threats. That wasn’t true, she knew, but it gave Beijing a pretext to air assault into sovereign Norwegian territory. Anywhere Chinese citizens were—or where strategic economic activity took place—was a sovereign interest. These Chinese PLA bots were not an invasion force but a rescue force, deployed as much for domestic political reasons as international strategy, she surmised. She said as much to AESIR, and waited. She was just one voice among many, but she believed AESIR would listen to her. An earlier generation of the AI had during the Baltic conflict, and it might again.

AESIR interface ordered them to defend a nearby aerial drone charging point on the rooftop of a senior-housing apartment building. 

DOWNTOWN KIRKENES

The town of Kirkenes was supposed to have been evacuated, but it didn’t feel deserted to Corporal Lund. The residents were gone, as autonomous ground and air vehicles surged to speed them out of harm’s way. But in their place were hundreds of Norwegian military bots that had emerged from hardened cave complexes throughout the country. They moved in tight packs of wheeled and legged mechs, coursing quickly through narrow streets, perching carefully atop the roofs of two- and three-story homes, or loitering in lazy swarms above the steel-blue harbor waters.

A few minutes before, Lund and Raabe had stepped off their lifter in a grocery store parking lot on the outskirts of town, before the machine dashed off to the southwest. Soon after leaving the ground, it shifted out of its military livery back into the bright colors of the freight company that owned it.

“Something’s going on in the port, but AESIR isn’t saying exactly what,” said Lund.

“Check out this feed, from inside,” Raabe responded, pushing Wei’s video of the decimation of the Russian commandos to Raabe. “Pretty obvious to me.”

Whether this would resolve the situation was unclear. And they still did not know exactly where they were supposed to be going, even though the journey through the town was well marked by arrows set out by AESIR in their visual overlays.

“Hey, I think I know,” said Raabe. “It wasn’t either Sun Tzu or Hannibal.”

“What?” said Lund.

“Attacking at dawn. Nobody seems to know who said it first because everybody says it.”

“Day. Night. Does that even exist anymore if you’re one of these things?” he asked, pointing to a passing train of low-slung Kuger tracked swarm launchers. “They just need data.”

“That’s what I was trying to say—‘the Russians make their own night.’ Jam. Spoof. Lie. Whatever their forces can do for cognitive dominance. I’ll spell it out more clearly next time for you,” Raabe said.

Their conversation ended abruptly when their AESIR interface ordered them to stop walking and defend a nearby aerial drone charging point on the rooftop of a senior-housing apartment building. The large grey charging panels covered the ground, allowing a menagerie of strike and reconnaissance drones to zip in and out while they drew directly from the city’s electrical power lines. These machines can take care of themselves, and we’re too exposed up here, Lund thought, but at least the view is excellent.

HAMMERSKJOLD HOLIDAY CENTER, TROMSØ

Torlund sat out in the afternoon sun atop one of the Vulkans, which occupied one of the azure-colored wading pools. She played with her black memoriam rings absentmindedly and wondered if the distracted Army major was disappointed. The resort was quiet, but it was a tense silence, the kind that follows narrowly avoided calamity.

For her part, she was glad the Vulkans and other autonomous weapons never fired a shot. They did not need to, which she had seen immediately. Of course she was just one of thousands of inputs AESIR and the other military and government AIs received, but she liked to think hers mattered a bit more than most others.

When the Chinese forces dropped in, the sight of hundreds of bots dangling beneath wing-like shock-chutes floating down to the Northern Lights resort looked like an apocalyptic air show. Once they landed, the People’s Liberation Army autonomous weapons bounded, rolled, and flew throughout the encampments in a show of force. Not a single human soldier was deployed. The PLA mechanized forces were there to protect Chinese citizens, not seize Norwegian territory.

After the insertion, the FDZ strategy simply adjusted accordingly, expanding the containment circle to give the machines free reign within a defined area. Most important, from a strategic point of view, every person in that camp was riveted to the arrival of China’s latest military systems, a first deployment in Europe to protect Chinese nationals. Those heroic images almost instantaneously reached billions of AR and VR feeds around the world, inside China in particular. The Russian marines and robotic forces rushing toward Kirkenes turned back toward the safety of their own sovereign territory. This tactical resolution was a greater victory in Beijing’s global cognitive strategic campaigning than if those retreating Russian forces had been blasted to nothing more than pools of melted plastic and shards of metal.

Strength and restraint, the bywords of the PLA’s global footprint during the past decade, had just entered a new phase in the Arctic. One thing was sure, though, Torlund thought as she climbed down off the bot, careful to avoid the water. My guests will be back soon. She had better get ready. For anything.


Illustrasjoner av Mikael Noguchi


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