Behind the Scenes:
Book Five of The War Planners Series
By Andrew Watts
One of the questions I get asked a lot is how I come up with book ideas.
OVERWHELMING FORCE was my seventh book. This time around, I tried to document my process and save some of my research. Here I'll give you a sneak peek at my creative process and offer a few comments on the plot.
Another question I get all the time is "Is that really real? Does the US/Chinese military really have that?" I'm very careful about what I put into the books. I never include any classified information (obviously). Most of my ideas are derived from articles I've read or ideas that I had based on my past military and work experience. For example, when I flew helicopters in the US Navy, I performed a lot of anti-submarine warfare training. After the Navy I went to work for Procter & Gamble, where I helped to develop future products. Technological innovation and disruptive innovation were my areas of expertise. Now that I write novels, I try to apply what I learned in both fields. As in—how could we disrupt the current way of conducting anti-submarine warfare? My goal is to transform my research and ideas into one hell of a thriller plot. Hopefully you agree!
So where do I get my ideas? Part of the answer comes from my military and work background. But another big part of the answer is that I read. A lot.
I read a lot of thriller novels. I also read a lot of articles on future technology and military applications. Some of the ideas I put in my book are pretty conventional. Others are pretty out there. But you may be surprised to hear that a lot of the wilder ideas are from military technology that people are really working on. Below, I'll share a few news articles I used when researching some of the military technology in War Planners #5 OVERWHELMING FORCE.
I hope you enjoy!
My Writing process
It takes me about six months to write a book. As I've learned more about the craft of writing and storytelling, it's actually taken me longer than when I first started. This is because I have a better feel for...well, for bad writing. The first few weeks are spent outlining. I try to come up with a good hook at the beginning. An opening that will make you want to keep reading. I spend time coming up with interesting character backgrounds and settings. I research as I outline. One idea usually leads to another. I have learned that one of the most important things about a story is that you leave the reader feeling satisfied with the ending. You also don't want them to see it coming, if you can help it.
I usually write on weekdays from eight to noon. The afternoons are for working out and running my businesses. I am an owner or partial owner in three businesses: Point Whiskey Publishing, which only publishes my books. Severn River Publishing, which publishes the mystery and thriller novels of other authors, and Thrillerfix.com, which is a book discovery website for readers. Writing can be mentally draining, and I find the law of diminishing returns kicks in after a few hours. Once the outline is complete, I aim for 1500-2000 words per day, expanding chapter by chapter, scene by scene. I'm okay with fewer words as long as they're good quality.
I read a lot of fiction books in my genre. I consider it part of my professional development to learn from the great writers of the past and present: W.E.B. Griffin, Tom Clancy, Vince Flynn, Brad Thor, Lee Child, Jason Matthews, Ken Follett, and Daniel Silva to name a few. Because I've gotten busier (we have 3 kids and I spend after school hours in suburban-sporty-kid-bliss) I have switched my reading routine to include more audiobooks while I work out instead of reading visually. But I do read on the kindle app on my phone almost every night as well. My writing style is often influenced by whatever author I happen to be reading.
I also have begun to read a lot of books on the craft of writing and storytelling. (Robert McKee, Stephen King, and Albert Zuckerman each wrote good books on craft.) Some of you may have noticed that my story structure is improving. Apparently, some people like endings. Who knew?
But enough about the writing process. Let's get to the good stuff.
War Planners IDEAS & Technology
Many of you are probably already aware, but the Chinese military really has been constructing bases on islands in the middle of the Pacific. As of 2018, China had built seven new military bases in the South China Sea. They include aircraft hangers, barracks, radar, weapons, and 10,000 foot runways. In essence, these are unsinkable aircraft carriers and missile bases. As missile ranges improve, these bases become more relevant than ever. This is part of a strategy to establish sea dominance in the Pacific.
Of note: If you look closely enough below, you can just barely see Lena Chou jogging on the runway...
USAF HYPERSONIC RECONNAISSANCE AIRCRAFT
Does the US really have a hypersonic manned reconnaissance aircraft?
The truth is, I don't know.
If I was a betting man, which I am, I would say yes. Here is my evidence:
Lockheed Martin SR-72 article from The National Interest. Article on Skunk Works spotting from Popular Mechanics.
And this: "The Vice President of Strategy and Customer Requirements, Advanced Development Programs for Lockheed Martin may have just unintentionally revealed that America’s next hypersonic warplane is much farther along the development process than previously suggested." Article Link
And remember the F-117 Nighthawk? It first flew in 1981. It went operational in 1983. The pilots and maintainers would leave their homes in Las Vegas on Monday, fly out to Tonopah (hey that was in the book...), do God's work for the week, and fly home on Fridays. Crazy. What's more? The public didn't find out about it until they were used in the invasion of Panama in 1989. Eight years of secrecy. The same level of secrecy was used for those stealth helicopters that were used in the Osama Bid Laden raid.
If you have a great capability, why let your adversary know about it?
It is possible that when the public is made fully aware of this type of hypersonic reconnaissance aircraft, we find out that it is unmanned. I hope that we continue to at least have optionally manned aircraft. I think there would be too much risk otherwise.
Okay, fine Andrew. Hypersonic Aircraft. Got it. But blimps as military aircraft? In the year 2019? Come on...
DARPA and several companies have worked on modern versions of dirigibles to be used for military applications. See this article.
And while those programs have mostly been shut down, the fuel-efficiency, carrying capacity, and on-station time of such an aircraft could be hugely advantageous in an anti-submarine warfare scenario. I'm just not sure about how it would fare in bad weather. But if they could overcome that, these things could be lethal.
HOW WOULD A NUCLEAR WAR BEGIN?
My research here went into what US foreign adversaries would likely target. I found this article on what Russia might try.
LONG RANGE ANTI SHIP MISSILES
As the Chinese build up their military capability, the US military is making progress with its anti-ship missiles.
The Signal Underwater Sound buoy that was dropped from the helicopters in the end of Overwhelming Force is real. There are several uses for such a device. Here is a July 2014 article about Naval Air Systems Command at Patuxent River Naval Air Station, Md., spending $166 million to buy 141,263 AN/SSQ series sonobuoys and 5,000 MK-84 signal underwater sound devices, which are dropped from Navy fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters. Link And here is a fact sheet on SUS buoys: LINK
CYBER AND SATELLITE ATTACKS
What would modern sea combat be like in the age of information warfare? Imagine this: The lights in the ship go out. Weapons systems are hacked. Navigational information is spoofed. Radars show false or no contacts. And that's all from hackers. Is it probable? Depends who we're talking about. Is it possible? Yes. Read this.
An article on how the internet is connected throughout the world's undersea cables. Russian submarines are already snooping around them. Submarines have been "tapping" into underwater communications networks for decades. But the age of the internet and hyper-connectivity makes us all the more vulnerable. Russian submarine article.
Somewhat related. One recent article about China turning into a dystopian scifi police state, using real-time GPS and facial recognition to track its citizens.
The worst possible effects of a large-scale EMP attack scares the heck out of me. A theme in all of my books is that militaries and societies have grown over-reliant on technology. If you weren't worried, check this out.
US DRONE MISSILES (MALD-X)
Some readers might think that what I wrote about MALD drone missiles working together to deceive enemy radar might be too far out there. The US military really has a pretty amazing capability here. I only know what I've read open-source. But it sounds pretty cool. Check out these articles:
"BLACK HOLE" DIRECTED ENERGY WEAPONS
The Directed Energy Weapons are being really being worked on, although I don't know if they are capable of doing what I described in OVERWHELMING FORCE. I love Wikipedia. The D.E.W. article there gave me a few ideas on how scientists might overcome the long-range energy dipersement problems.
Black Hole weapons? This phrase I got from an article discussing how the US Navy wants electronic warfare capabilities like sending out "radio frequencies with the power equivalent to those emitted from "black hole jets" or "gamma ray bursts". Fascinating stuff.
Thanks for reading!
I know I've said this a lot to many of you over email or on Facebook. But I really do appreciate you letting me make up stories for a living. I hope you find them entertaining, and I'll do my best to keep quality work flowing. Thanks and take care!
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I write two different series, with seven books total as of early 2019. You can make sure you've read all of the books here.