Operatives for Conflicts

In the last blog, I suggested some of the mechanisms that would be available to an aggressor during a conflict on THS Earth. Many of these would be termed “unconventional warfare” in modern terminology.
“Unconventional warfare” is one of those phrases that is often thrown around but is often rather vague in its definition. The circular US military definition given on Wikipedia certainly does not describe many of the attack techniques described in the previous blog: “UW” is conducted by USSOF, and SOF are forces that conduct unconventional warfare.
A more useful definition is that unconventional warfare is warfare that is not conducted by “conventional” military forces. The definition of what is conventional in military circles does change over time, of course.
GURPS 3e Special Ops (2nd Ed) gives a more limited and specific definition: “Unconventional warfare missions involve organizing, training, equipping and leading indigenous resistance to occupying enemy forces.”
GURPS Espionage tells us UW is “All fighting other than maneuver combat by organized army units. UW usually indicates guerrilla warfare or psychological subversion.” 
The previous example of a conflict between two corporations illustrates several things. The first is that many forms of conflict can be conducted without military action.
Direct action might be more effectively achieved by native or professional agents operating in a covert or clandestine manner. Many aggressive operations can be non-violent or unconventional in nature.
When military action is used, it is as a precise application of force, probably involving a small but well-equipped and well-trained group.
These modes of action are as applicable to a nation as they are to a corporation. The enemy in this case need not be another nation. It is just as likely to be a domestic or foreign faction, criminal organisation or even a corporation.
Many enemies are ideological in the nature of their opposition, so manipulation of perception and memetic warfare is at least as important as physical destruction. For profit-orientated enemies, economic warfare may be most decisive. Many battles may be won or lost in the stock market. The final part of the novel “Hardwired” by Walter Jon Williams gives a good example of military action used for stock manipulation to achieve political power over an enemy.
Operations such as those described in the last blog are likely to require a mixture of specialists, and here we will consider some.

Data Gathering

The foundation of any operation is good information. On THS Earth a lot of information is readily available on the net, the real task being to process it.
Intelligence agencies will have hackers and data miners who spend their time attempting to access restricted on-line data, or simply locating unrestricted data (OSINT) in the vastness of the net. In the movies, agency hackers are often “poachers turned gamekeepers”. By 2100 many of these may have been replaced by software and AIs that can be relied upon to be more disciplined and politically reliable.
Several forms of data-collection are of particular note:
Although “spy” satellites are widely used, air reconnaissance and surveillance will remain important. In a major war, many satellites are likely to be destroyed in the first few minutes. The orbit of satellites is also predictable, and enemies may tailor their operations to avoid them or time them for when known or suspected satellites are not overhead.
The spy planes of 2100 are unmanned and autonomous rather than remotely-controlled. They come in a wide variety of forms, some of them the size and shape of birds or smaller. Some use solar power to stay aloft for days. Other spy planes fly at very high altitudes. Supersonic spy planes are less stealthy and rarer, but have their uses. 
Ground reconnaissance was a task that in the past was often allocated to special forces or similar highly trained units. In 2100 many of these operations are performed by a variety of small flying, crawling and swimming cybershells and swarmbots. Many of these are similar to the myriad machines being used to explore other planets and moons. If human personnel are used they are just one component of a variety of systems being employed. In many instances a deployment of recon-bots will be used without any nearby human support.


Clandestine or covert acquisition of information may still require a human element.
Most spies are “natives”. They will often be long-term members of the organisation of interest. There is little point training someone to pass as a Burmese engineer when it is easier to recruit some actual Burmese engineers.
GURPS Espionage: “Technically, an 'agent' is a criminal, usually a foreign national who does the 'dirty work' of an intelligence organization. Legitimate employees of the CIA, etc., call themselves 'Officers.'” Transhuman Space has the potential for some interesting variations of this theme.
A person’s companion AI could be reprogrammed to act as a spy. The wearer may have no idea that their AI is recording and reporting everything they see or hear.
A step up from this is the use of a puppet implant or even a cloned or necromorph bioshell (THS 3e p.126). The victim may steal secrets or perform acts of sabotage without their consent or knowledge.


Recruiting and controlling local spies and agents (“assets”) is the task of an Intelligence Officer, “broker” or “handler”. Possibly by 2100, a certain proportion of this activity can be performed on-line. The nature of these activities will often still require a personal interaction.
Handlers need to be well versed in psychology, local languages and customs. and a variety of other fields. Good handlers often are persuasive and charismatic individuals.
It is likely handlers will be equipped with high-level AI companions to assist and advise them, effectively becoming a human-AI handler team. Handlers may have cosmetic and pheromonal biomods designed to make them more acceptable to assets.


Data is of little use unless it can be processed into meaningful information. Seemingly unrelated facts can be highly significant if brought together and placed in correct context.
In 2100 the massive amounts of data available to intelligence agencies is processed and correlated by state of the art AI systems. It is possible a small number of human intelligence analysts are still employed to assist the AIs in their interpretations and conclusions.

Special Agents

Whereas the majority of intelligence agents are natives, many agencies may have a small number of “professional” field operatives. Many of these are technicians or other specialists in fields such as burglary or safe-cracking.
True “Special” operatives are a rare breed and are used for covert operations as well as espionage. Relatively few special operatives on THS Earth are former special forces. A good special operative does not appear to be a threat or even worthy of notice. The biomods that many Fourth or Fifth Wave military men have make them too conspicuous, and many serving special forces troops may in fact be bioroids that cannot pass as humans.
A special operative will often operate without weapons or gadgets so will be well-versed in unarmed killing techniques and using everyday objects as weapons (Likely skills/techniques: Lethal strike; Neck snap; Choke; Garrotte).
If biomods are present, they will be subtle devices such as polykeratin blades, poison sacs and specially tailored gut flora. In Bruce Sterling’s story “Spook”, the agent has a schizophrenia-causing toxin in his sinuses and emotional hormones in his sweat. Shaking hands with the agent would cause the victim to become depressed and suicidal within a few hours!
Corporations, criminal organizations and security companies will often have their own equivalent to the special agent or troubleshooter. The triad equivalent, for example, would probably be well-armed and more inclined to public demonstrations of power rather than covert operations.


When direct action is needed, the implement of choice is often a small unit that can make a low-profile infiltration. For most nations this will take the form of covert or special operations forces (SOF).
They may be used on their own or in coordination with other system such as an airstrike. Missions are often designed to facilitate other measures such as political, economic or memetic actions.
SOF units are numerically quite small but receive a generous allocation of resources and the best equipment and personnel available. A result of this is that many Third Wave militaries may have special forces of Fourth or Fifth Wave level.
In many SOF units, a large proportion of the enlisted ranks will be specialised bioroids or cybershells. and the officers parahumans or biomodded humans.
A raid may be conducted entirely by cybershells and the nature of such operations will mean these may be “sterile”, with no distinguishing markings or identifiable serial numbers. Generic or foreign models of cybershell may be used to deliberately mislead an enemy.
Cybershell raiders may very well be considered expendable. This means there may be no plan to extract them once their mission is over. After eliminating everyone in their objective, they may self-destruct or they may become dormant, ready to ambush reinforcements or hapless explorers.
The increasing number of aquatic communities in 2100 means that most SOF contingents include a unit optimized for underwater operations
Radical factions may have equivalent units to special forces, as may some corporations. Other corporations may hire mercenaries to perform such missions. Individuals with the necessary skills may be black-mailed or coerced into taking part in an operation. 


I use the term “airstrike” here in the broadest sense, referring also to orbital bombardments and weapons fired from the land or sea.
Where the main objective of an operation is destruction of a target, the airstrike is generally the preferred means, minimising friendly casualties or compromising evidence. A SOF/raider force might be positioned to mop up after a strike, however.
Such attacks are usually delivered by autonomous UCAVs, which often resemble stealthy, reusable cruise missiles. Supersonic ballistic missiles are also utilized.
Most nations have a variety of UCAV and missile designs intended for deep strike but because they are used so seldom the size of the “bomber” fleet is often relatively modest. A more detailed discussion of such systems will appear in a future blog.
An obvious attack by a missile or UCAV can sometimes be too overt an act of aggression. The covert reprogramming of a commercial aircraft to crash into a target might be considered by some organizations.

Expeditionary Forces

For more overt and conventional military operations, nations will have expeditionary forces designed for rapid deployment outside of a nation’s borders. In many nations they will be derived from airborne forces and marines/naval infantry. Such forces are often equipped with air-droppable or amphibious armoured vehicles.
One of the roles of expeditionary forces is to support SOF units. SOF operations often involve small, low profile units that can take an objective but cannot hold it.
Expeditionary forces can be used to reinforce such operations. In some militaries the expeditionary forces also include light/mechanized infantry and support units intended for longer duration missions, peacekeeping and disaster relief.
For a Fifth Wave nation, expeditionary forces will include a large number of cybershells. For airborne operations these are often delivered by glide bomb. Obviously such technology can be combined with the bomb-dropping UCAVs described earlier under airstrikes.

Security and Homeland Defence

As can be seen from the above passages, a nation or other organization on THS Earth faces a variety of threats.
The defence of a nation falls to a variety of forces.
Smart artillery and air defences can make large scale attacks a very costly proposition. These will be supplemented by mobile forces in the form of airmobile and armoured brigades supported by close-support UCAVs.
The analyst AIs of the intelligence agencies will also direct investigative and counter-espionage forces against possible espionage and covert actions.
Specialist military, police or government units handle missions such as bomb disposal, hostage rescue and counter-terrorism.
The result of these threats is a significant proportion of many militaries will be structured for internal security duties as a defence against enemy small unit raiding and sabotage operations.
Such forces include “light” infantry but also a wide assortment of specialized patrol cybershells ranging from UAVs to sniffer swarms.
Security system specialists will become an important element of THS military and private organizations.
Many of the above types of operative in some form or another will also be encountered in non-nation organizations such as corporations.
Roles such as security may be contracted to other organizations. A corporation may not have military assets but it will probably know where to hire some when it needs them. Such interactions will doubtless fall to the corporation’s equivalent of a handler.