The following story was written by Saku. This piece is a featured entry from the Art of Future Warfare project’s “Great War” war-art challenge that called for a fictional front-page style dispatch from the outbreak of the next major global conflict.
Updated From Correspondents and Pool Reporters: 12/27/22
VANDENBERG AFB – The “shot heard ’round the world,” which triggered the Pacific war, destroyed its target in total silence two mornings ago 23,000 miles above the Pacific Ocean in the vacuum of space. A single point of light reached up into the heavens from central China and rendezvoused with a celestial object – an American communication satellite, snuffing it out in a spray of metallic debris over the Pacific and signaling a new period of global darkness.
The COMSAT’s destruction, the first of almost a dozen US and allied high- and low-earth orbit satellites destroyed or disrupted in the last two days, was the culmination of a week of rapidly increasing combat as each side reacted to tit-for-tat escalations, all played out live on global TV.
The coordinated ASAT attack was the opening gambit in an audacious trans-Pacific Chinese offensive that took the United States by surprise in its scope and scale. The ASAT attacks were coordinated with missile strikes on US facilities across the Pacific, PRC Special Forces destroying sub-sea cables, and extensive strikes against the Taiwanese and Japanese mainlands
Satellite jamming and crippling cyber attacks on space, military communications, banking, electrical grids and transportation systems complimented the missile strikes and left global communication and transportation nodes from Tibet to Tacoma shattered.
As one senior administration official put it, “We were prepared to deal with [area denial] efforts in the Western Pacific, but nobody anticipated them reaching beyond the second island chain into the homeland, and as heavily into space as they did.”
The Pentagon acknowledged the effectiveness of the space campaign and Admiral K, the Pentagon spokesman, warned of “grave consequences” if attacks continued to target national reconnaissance assets. Admiral K also warned any effort to target early warning satellites would be assessed as the first stage of a PRC nuclear strike and would trigger an immediate counterattack.
Multiple PRC systems have subsequently been disrupted, de-orbited or destroyed by unknown means, indicating the US is engaged in its own space-based counter offensive. The Pentagon refused to comment.
DARWIN, AUSTRALIA – On the horizon lists the shattered hulk of one of the greatest ships ever built. What had started two months ago as the “War of the Fleas,” pitting China in deadly skirmishes against an increasing number of rival claimants in the South China Sea: Vietnam, Malaysia, and the Philippines, escalated ten days ago into a more serious conflict after PRC and Taiwanese forces clashed. Multiple unplanned confrontations between military forces quickly resulted, snowballing into a regional conflict faster than diplomats could contain the crisis.
Events came to a head in a two day naval battle in the South China Sea being called the Battle of Second Thomas Shoal, centered around the George Washington Battle Group, which was sent to push the Chinese to the negotiating table. Instead the GW, with additional Japanese and Taiwanese escorts, was attacked by three PRC surface action groups and waves of aircraft, cruise missiles and anti-ship ballistic missiles. The battle resulted in devastating losses on all sides. The GW, punctured by four ASBM warheads, limped south to Australia in a running battle under the cover of remaining American and Japanese Aegis ships which decimated PRC aviation elements bent on their destruction.
PEARL HARBOR, HI – War once again returned to Pearl Harbor in an attack as infamous as its forbearer. As part of the coordinated offensive across the Pacific, what appeared to be at least five conventional ballistic missile warheads struck the Nimitz-MacArthur Pacific Command Center, effectively destroying the above ground facility.
Hundreds were killed or wounded. Hospitals are flooded. Amateur video shows several explosions high in the sky to the West of Pearl, possibly from hits by missile defense interceptors. Naval forces surged out of the harbor after the strike for the safety of the open sea. Checkpoints have been set up. Civilians are emptying grocery stores in panic. Rumors abound of Chinese paratroopers behind every hedge.
The FAA’s Western-Pacific Region Airports Division office has published a NOTAM indicating several diversion airfields, used as emergency landing sites for commercial airliners, were now off limits. These include Guan, Saipan, Kwajalein, Wake Island and Henderson Field on Midway. All of the airfields are likely military dispersal sites. A civilian on a satellite phone reported multiple missiles struck the runway on Kwajalein.
Social media in Guam reported missile strikes on Anderson AFB before the transatlantic cables were lost. Global Network News, citing their island affiliate and various iReports, report significant damage to military facilities, but not before several B-52 and B-2 bombers scrambled and escaped. Saipan’s main runway was hit by at least three missiles. Ham radio operators report local officials are asking for donors to give blood. Small arms fire was heard at the base.
PANAMA CITY, PANAMA – In the latest developments, the spokesman for the Palacio de las Garzas reported the PRC Ambassador has been called to the foreign ministry to demand the removal of Chinese Special Forces from the Pedro Miguel locks and Centennial Bridge where they have already scuttled a ship and placed explosive charges on the lock doors. It seems the forces may have been staged on the container ship since it departed from China ten days ago on a regularly scheduled trip. Panamanian Defense Forces have cordoned off the area and journalists are banned from entering the restricted zone. Shipping is at a standstill. Government radio is ordering an 11 PM curfew. Eyewitnesses tonight claim that American transports were seen flying into Panama Pacific International Airport outside Panama City after dark.
WASHINGTON, DC – The President has returned to Washington after the dramatic helicopter middle-of-the-night evacuation to Air Force One, but the Vice President remains at an undisclosed location. Multiple government officials confirm the government is implementing continuity of government operations to protect against nuclear strikes. For the first time since the Cold War, Global Strike Command is organizing ad-hoc continuous bomber patrols staged over the Eastern Pacific and has placed additional strategic bombers on strip alert, with some B-52s dispersed to regional airports across the West.
BRUSSELS, BELGIUM – NATO countries are still debating in a marathon North Atlantic Council meeting whether to ratify the Article 5 request from the United States. Many of the southern and Mediterranean countries are balking, claiming the United States intervened in a conflict as a third party and therefore initiated hostilities, while the UK and newer eastern partners are advocating ratification. No decision is expected until tomorrow at the earliest.
SEOUL, KOREA – In the last 24 hours, artillery shelling has increased on both sides of the DMZ, with NK long range artillery targeting central Seoul. Blue House reports South Korean air forces are conducting strikes north of the DMZ and into the East China Sea, where they are engaged against PRC and NK forces. South Korean ground forces are deploying into the field, expecting a North Korean attack at any time. There is no report on the status of US forces. Blue House also reports several naval engagements with NK and PRC forces following the South’s deliberate violation of the newly declared East China Sea exclusion zone while PRC military activities in the Senkaku’s were underway.
LONDON, UK – In this financial capital of Europe chaos reigns. Markets are tanking across the globe as war between the two largest economic powerhouses becomes a reality. Stocks are being abandoned in every market but money is not flowing into US Treasuries, normally the world’s safety mattress, based on the New York Fed’s comments this morning. There has been four trillion in global value wiped out in the last 48 hours. Gold prices have increased by a third.
In the boardrooms of The City, part of what appears to be American pre-planned financial counter-moves against China are taking shape as the US pressures its NATO allies to freeze Chinese sovereign wealth funds and block the PRC from the SWIFT banking consortium. If successful, China will be largely cut off from international finance.
NEW YORK, NY – Is the Fed bluffing? That is what everyone is asking and if not what it meant for the world’s economy. The New York Fed Chairman, often the Federal Reserve official that takes the lead on important issues, suggested in an interview earlier today on Business News Channel that the terms for insurance on US Treasuries, the dreaded credit default swaps of the Great Recession, had an obscure clause that government lawyers were reviewing to determine if the Treasury could selectively declare “non-payment” on bonds held by countries at war with the United States without triggering a default. China is the world’s largest bond holder, with over 1.2 trillion hard currency reserves in Treasuries.
POCATELLO, IDAHO – People are scared. Food distribution has been disrupted due to transportation system glitches blamed on cyber attacks. Nobody is completely out of food but items are lacking. Toilet paper can’t be found – it is being hoarded and stores are limiting sales to one roll at a time. The power has gone off twice. Every streetlight that malfunctions is being blamed on the Chinese.
The large PRC student community has mostly stopped going to classes at the local university for fear of being attacked – there have been three reported assaults in the last 24 hours, with one student sent to the hospital. Gun stores and bulk discounters are doing a brisk business. Some people are digging bomb shelters in their yards due to the B-52 bombers suddenly parked at the airport. Many are holding candle light vigils. Nobody really knows what to do in a war that surprisingly was able to reach directly into the homeland. America’s sense of safety in the homeland has been pierced for the second time since 9/11.
TOKYO, JAPAN – Japanese forces continue to defend the home islands even as the government has fallen after two parties defected from the ruling coalition’s declaration of war brought to the Diet. Six PRC ships are reported sunk and over 30 PRC aircraft shot down over the last three days. Japanese naval losses are not being reported but are rumored to be heavy. US facilities across the home islands and Okinawa are being singled out for heavy attacks. Japanese land forces are struggling to deploy as many active duty personnel and reservists refuse to report. It appears the PRC has tenuous control of the Senkaku Islands, and PRC civilians in the “honor flotilla” which sailed to the islands amid live TV coverage in China have reportedly landed and planted the Chinese flag.
MOSCOW, RUSSIA – Russia announced today it is raising the alert level of its conventional and strategic forces.
SHANGHAI, CHINA – The lights went out in China today as the full military wrath of the United States was unleashed in its initial counter-stroke. Images from the International Space Station confirm the extent of the power outages reported by thousands of social media reports, cable news networks and hundreds of reports from people calling relatives overseas. The United States apparently targeted power plants, transformers and transmission lines in a stunning series of attacks designed to crush the Chinese electrical grid.
This was no easily repairable surgical strike said one official, it was a massive effort against a modern industrialized state to deeply hurt them for the long term. “This isn’t Iraq, this is a foe with a population three times our size. This conflict will not be quick. We need to strike fast and hard with everything we have if we want to level the playing field in case this lasts months or years.”
Power appears to be cut to over 400 million Chinese along the eastern coast. Shanghai and Beijing are dark. Background briefings by US officials revealed several hundred cruise missiles were used in the strike, launched from SSGNs and SSNs that had covertly deployed forward of the first island chain, along with ALCM armed bombers, and tactical aircraft from regional bases with stand-off weapons. Railroad hump yards, major road and rail bridges, satellite control stations, coastal radar systems and major oil refinery and storage facilities were also struck.
OMAHA, NEBRASKA – Reports from plane spotters and frequency monitors suggest B-2s were involved in the initial night’s strikes against mainland China, in addition to B-52 and B1-Bs launching ALCMs. B-2s are designed to penetrate air defenses and attack critical targets like strategic weapons, and enemy leadership. There is no confirmation from the military of their involvement.
UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK – The UN Security Council has been meeting near continuously for four days with reports of several members attempting to open informal lines of communications between the various belligerents before the conflict escalates further.
STRAIT OF MALACCA – The notices to seamen and airmen are written in dry bureaucratic language but the meaning is clear – blockade! Aircraft flying to China will be intercepted and ships sailing to China under any flag will be seized and potentially sunk if they enter the blockade zone. The notices seem largely symbolic at this point – it is unclear how the US military will be able to enforce the air and sea blockade in areas such as the South China Sea. But this vital choke point is a good place to start, as evident by the three American warships from the Singapore squadron lurking just offshore.
Demonstrating the vital importance sea borne shipping has to China, one of the first diplomatic moves the US State Department made after the PRC attack was to pressure the UK and Lloyd’s of London to strip insurance coverage from any tanker carrying oil or LNG to China. Ships have returned to ports around the world by orders from their owners without a shot being fired. It is unknown how long China’s oil reserves can last, but it is doubtful overland transfers can make up what was just lost with the stroke of a pen.
FORT HOOD, TX – Somebody kicked over an anthill. America’s largest military base is preparing for deployment to the West Coast. Heavy armor was being loaded today onto rail cars at marshaling yards.
Reserve and national guard units are being called to active duty. The Civil Reserve Air Fleet, despite massive protests from the airlines, is being activated for the first time in 30+ years. Shipping is being marshaled in ports on both coasts – a difficult thing when most American owned ships fly third-country flags. America is reacting and mobilizing with an anger not seen since 1941.
There is already a resolution filed in Congress to reinstate the draft, although support is currently lacking. More will become clear at 7 PM tonight when the President speaks and requests a formal declaration of war against China to a joint session of Congress. The text of the speech has already been leaked to the press.
Image: U.S. Air Force / Caitlin Kenney