As I have described in previous articles, military operations in the Transhuman Space-era often involve relatively small numbers of personnel, often tasked with an operational or strategic-level mission.
In contemporary parlance, these units would often be described as “special forces”, although “covert forces” is more accurate. In the THS-era, however, special forces have undergone a number of changes. Covert operations may be conducted by units that are not part of the regular military.
Rise of the Cybershell Commando
Missions such as special reconnaissance or direct-action raiding are what might be termed “uniformed” special forces tasks. In the 20th and early 21st century these missions were trusted to highly trained soldiers. For Fifth Wave nations, such tasks are usually the province of selected and correctly programmed cybershells. A special reconnaissance force will often be a variety of small robots reporting to a comms crab. A raiding force might be a unit of jump-RATS inserted by a stealth glide-bomb.
A consequence of this is that the responsibility for such missions has diversified. It is understandable that a marine brigade would want to invest in cybershells suited to underwater beach reconnaissance and other amphibious operations. Likewise, airborne brigades and other expeditionary forces have contingents of RATS suited to stealth and airborne insertion. Once such establishments have the tools to conduct special operations, it is not long before they begin to seek such assignments. In many Fifth Wave nations, special reconnaissance or small unit direct action has now become the province of more conventional forces such as the marines or airborne.
In the more conservative militaries, this trend has been resisted and the special forces have tried to keep their monopoly on this responsibility.
In the USA, the Green Berets, SEALs, Delta and numerous other similar seeming but distinct special operations forces still exist, many operating under the aegis of Unified Combat Applications Group (UCAG). However, the USMC has always been keen to justify its independent existence by adopting new roles. A significant proportion of American special operations have been conducted with USMC RATS rather than those of traditional SOF units. Some observers expect this trend to extend to the 82nd Spaceborne and 75th Rangers.
A similar trend for the increased use of cybershells is seen in the field of counter-terrorism, which some perceive as a special forces responsibility. Police departments and non-military organisations have been enthusiastic customers for cybershells capable of SWAT and hostage rescue operations. In the USA this trend has been stimulated by the Great American Insurgency
8th Special Forces Group (C-WMD)
Not all special forces have become covert groups. Many SOF specialize in other fields.
The UCAG includes the 8th Special Forces Group, which is tasked with the location and neutralization of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and their production facilities, be they Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, Nanno or Ecological (CBRNNE).
A relatively traditional, semi-overt “uniformed” special forces unit, 8th SFG uses specialized cybershells and battlesuits with advanced CBRNNE and hazmat protection.
8th SFG(A) was reactivated in its new role after the Pacific War as 8th SFG(C-WMD). 8th SFG(C-WMD) is garrisoned in Panama and Fort Bragg but may be deployed globally or provide advisors for off-world operations.
Special Becomes Covert
The second trend that has reshaped Fifth Wave special operations is that many more operations are covert (“Wasn't us!”) or clandestine (“Never happened!”) in nature.
The result of this is that many offensive operations have been conducted directly under the aegis of intelligence agencies rather than that of the uniformed military. Some of these operations have been conducted by cybershells.
Many nations or organizations have a stock of generic reconnaissance or combat cybershells, devoid of distinctive markings. Such “sterile” cybershells are “throwaways”, the ideal expendable asset. When the mission is over or the system is likely to be captured, the controller simply severs the radio connection and activates thermite destruction charges.
Covert or clandestine operations often take place in populated areas where military cybershells would be conspicuous. Civilian cybershells are used for some missions.
Some missions are better conducted by human/parahuman/bioroid operatives. The use of such operatives may take several forms.
Most intelligence agencies prefer to use “local assets” for their activities. The majority of these lack military training and/or cannot be relied on for covert military/paramilitary operations.
One solution to this is to use proxies such as mercenaries, criminals or dissident groups. The competence and reliability of such units is variable, and many will have their own agendas.
Consequently, some intelligence or espionage agencies have formed and trained their own units for covert and clandestine military operations. These covert combat forces may be totally independent of the military. Some established military special forces units have partially or fully converted into covert forces.
Such covert combat teams are known by a variety of often euphemistic terms. For simplicity, I will call them “Covert Action Teams” and their members as “Covert Military Operators” (CMOs)” or “Covert Action Team Operators” (CATOs).
A tradition in some special forces is to refer to their personnel as “operators” rather “operatives”. Operatives are “other” espionage personnel.
In some respects, the trend of special forces becoming covert forces can be seen as a full circle. Many 20th century special forces originated from the wartime activities of the British SOE. The American equivalent of the SOE, the OSS, evolved into the CIA. which would eventually include SAC/SOG. The inspiration for the SOE was itself taken from the 1920s IRA.
The motto of SAC is Tertia Optio, (“Third Option”), reflecting that covert action is considered an alternative to diplomatic or military action.
Covert Action Teams in THS vary considerably, but some generalizations can be made.
CMOs that operate on their own are rare. CMOs are generally fielded as an established team of between three and nine members. Like similar-sized formations in more conventional military forces, the members of a team tend to be tight-knit and familiar to each other. For security purposes such teams are effectively “cells” and may have no contact with other agents unless necessary.
In many services, the members of a team are selected for similar apparent ethnicity and language skills. For example, a team might all appear to be of Latin ancestry and speak fluent Spanish. Such a team would often be deployed in South America. A team of Orientals who spoke Mandarin would be likely to see missions in Asia or on Mars.
For nations with a relatively homogenous population, forming teams that do not look out of place can be a problem. Chinese intelligence has very few Caucasian operatives it can draw upon. To create non-asian covert teams it must rely upon recruited foreigners, cosmetic surgery or specially created bioroids.
CMOs often operate at close range. Operations in locations where the carrying of weapons is restricted are also likely.
CMOs are well-versed in the use of improvised weapons and know that any workshop, kitchen or hardware store can provide them with implements to club, cut and stab. Many items of clothing can serve as effective garrottes. CMOs are also well-trained in unarmed combat techniques and may have biomods to assist in this.
More advanced weapons can be produced by a minifac, delivered by stealth glide bomb, be captured, or be stolen.
It is in a CMO’s interest to blend in and not seem conspicuous. Visible bio-mods will be in tune with those common in the area of operations. A CMO in a polar area or on Mars may have fur just like many of the locals.
In actuality, a CMO may have many less obvious but more drastic biomodifications. Some of these will be combat or survival orientated or be designed to assist the user’s mission in other ways. An example of the latter is the “thief light”, a switchable patch of bioluminescent skin with a light output similar to a candle.
Many CMOs cultivate a distinctly unmilitary appearance. Some teams appear to be family groups, troupes of entertainers or various other inventive covers. At least one team has the cover of a fashion photographer and his models. The “children” in a family may in fact be highly capable combat bioroids.