Behind the Scenes:
The War Planners Series
The War Planners is the first book in a series about a hypothetical world war between the two great military superpowers of the 21st century, China and the United States.
I wrote the first draft of The War Planners while deployed on an aircraft carrier. It was 2012 and I was the Air Operations officer for Destroyer Squadron Two, embarked on the USS Enterprise. We were deployed the Middle East at the time. Fast forward several years and I've made the USA Today bestseller list, and sold thousands of copies to amazing readers like you. I hope you enjoy the books!
Read on to find out about some of the details behind the creation of The War Planners series.
BOOK 1: THE War Planners
IDEAS & Technology
The Chinese military really has been constructing military bases on islands in the Pacific. As of 2018, China had built seven new military bases in the South China Sea. These bases 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.
Note: If you look closely enough below, you can just barely make out Lena Chou, jogging on the runway.
Does China really have hidden submarine pens carved into mountains?
Yes. On Hainan Island, one of their main submarine bases.
Do Red Cell's really exist?
While the term is used in several contexts by military and intelligence organizations (including Richard Marcinko's unit), it has been reported that the US government has indeed used Red Cells for purposes similar to what went on in The War Planners: a gathering of diverse experts whose objective was to identify ways our enemies might attack the United States.
Both authors Brad Thor and Brad Meltzer were invited to participate:
Article: NY Times
Article: NY Daily News article
No confirmation on whether authors not named Brad are allowed to join. If anyone is in charge of invites, I will pay for my airfare, just let me know. (but I won't get on any unmarked jets...)
CHINESE ESPIONAGE OPERATIONS
From my research, China is conducting ongoing espionage operations around the world, targeting the US and its allies. They are actively recruiting US intelligence operatives like this one. Chinese agencies similar to our NSA are hacking into US military and government databases. Here is an example. The end game of these human and cyber espionage operations is deadly. If you read one article, read this one from the NY Times in 2017.
I grew up reading books and watching movies about the Cold War between the US and USSR. While Russian intelligence services are also performing activer measures against the US, the War Planners series mainly deals with Chinese threats. Unfortunately, there is a lot of material to work with.
More recent article: Wall Street Journal 2019
HF radio - MARS
On a lighter note, I mentioned MARS radio in The War Planners. The Military Auxiliary Radio System has been around since 1925. From Wikipedia: The Military Auxiliary Radio System (MARS) is a United States Department of Defense sponsored program, established as a separately managed and operated program by the United States Army, and the United States Air Force. The United States Navy-Marine program has been closed. The program is a civilian auxiliary consisting primarily of licensed amateur radio operators who are interested in assisting the military with communications on a local, national, and international basis as an adjunct to normal communications. The MARS programs also include active duty, reserve, and National Guard units; Navy, Marine Corps, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration ships, and Coast Guard cutters and shore stations.
I used MARS radio several times on my deployments. We had an HF radio on the SH-60B helicopter, and we were able to reach an amature radio operator who connected me on a brief phone call to my family in 2007. After several months at sea with no phone calls, that was a hoot. (Thank you MARS operators!)
SIZE OF CHINESE MILITARY
China is increasing its military strength, although arguments can be made on exactly how strong it is. This is a great article from The National Interest showing that the current state of the Chinese military, while large in size, is buoyed by older technologies. But at the same time, they are making advances in cyber warfare, stealth jets, aircraft carriers, nuclear weapons, and submarines, to name a few. See this article on some of China's biggest military technology advancements in recent years: Forbes
BOOK 2: THE WAR STAGE
BITCOIN AND SATOSHI NAKAMOTO
The history of cryptocurrency, and Bitcoin in particular, is fascinating. Bitcoin really was begun with a simple white paper by a person or group of people known as Satoshi Nakamoto. Unfortunately, I don't know his true identity. But I'm pretty sure that he wasn't really killed in a secret Chinese-Iranian plot.
You can read about the NSA using their incredible capabilities to identify him here: https://medium.com/cryptomuse/how-the-nsa-caught-satoshi-nakamoto-868affcef595 What's more interesting? That the US government asked the NSA to unmask him because they were worried Bitcoin / Satoshi might be a Russian or Chinese agent. (Come on, someone in DC had to have read my book...)
A grouping of Bitcoin / Satoshi conspiracy theories: https://www.inc.com/larry-kim/15-unusual-facts-amp-theories-about-mysterious-b.html
China is the overwhelming leader in Bitcoin mining: https://www.buybitcoinworldwide.com/mining/china/
When I wrote The War Stage, Bitcoin was booming, and I thought that the mystery surrounding its founder would make a great premise for a thriller.
ABU MUSA ISLAND
Abu Musa is an island in the eastern end of the Arabian Gulf (aka Persian Gulf). The Island is strategically valuable, because of its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranians control the island, although there have been territorial disputes between them and the United Arab Emirates.
The Iranian military has deployed its forces there. You can see more here:
Youtube video of Iranian air defense on Abu Musa
FAS article about Iranian military buildup in 2012, including Chinese anti-ship missiles.
Iran has been threatening to "close" the Strait of Hormuz for a very long time. It's one of their biggest threats, because it would shut off merchant (oil) traffic in and out of the gulf.
STRAITS OF HORMUZ
I deployed to the Middle East on US Navy ships in 2009 and 2012, performing multiple transits through the Straits of Hormuz. Some of my transits were in helicopters, and others were in command and control rooms on board aircraft carriers. These evolutions are "game day" for the US Navy. They are meticulously planned, and all personnel involved are well-prepared.
Here is a Business Insider article on Iranian naval tactics. (link)
Every time we went through the Straits, the Iranians were so excited to greet us. Below is an image from our helicopter of a nice Iranian pilot welcoming us to the Arabian Gulf.
CIA SPECIAL ACTIVITIES DIVISION / SPECIAL OPERATIONS GROUP
From what I could find out open source during my book research:
The CIA's Special Activities Center, formerly known as the Special Activities Division contains two separate groups. The Special Operations Group is the highly secretive, elite paramilitary arm of the CIA's clandestine services. SOG conducts direct action missions (raids, assaults, and unconventional warfare). The Political Action Group is the other half, responsible for psychological, political, and economic operations. SOG fills its ranks with former elite US special forces members.
Medium article describing the differences between military and CIA special forces.
Wikipedia article - interesting history
I've been to Dubai multiple times while on Navy deployments. It's a great city to visit. While the weather is intensely hot, the hotels and restaurants are top notch. And there are some world-class sights to see.
The Dubai Mall (be sure to check out the 32 meter long fishtank)
Indoor ski mountain at the Mall of the Emirates
Burj Khalifa (pictured below)
BOOK 3: PAWNS OF THE PACIFIC
CHINESE MILITARY AND INVESTMENT IN LATIN AMERICA
Where did I get the idea for a Chinese military base in South America? Several countries in Latin America have veered away from the US and towards Russia and China, politically. Also, in recent years, China has increased its infrastructure and business investment in Latin America. Chinese firms have purchased ports in the Panama Canal, may possibly break ground on a Nicaragua-based Pacific-to-Atlantic canal, and there may be a massive South America railroad projects in the works. China sells arms to Latin America (link) and their special forces are training in Latin America. (link)
There is a scene in Pawns of the Pacific where a non-lethal electro-schock weapon is used. Those weapons really exist! Check it out:
And what's better than a electric-shock shotgun projectile round? Why one that fits in a grenade-launcher, of course. https://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2009-11/tasers-new-grenade-launcher-projectile-delivers-incapacitating-shock-200-feet
MARSOC / MARINE RAIDERS
MARSOC was just getting going when I graduated the US Naval Academy. I've always had tremendous respect for the Marines (please don't tell them that), as well as the special operations community. I wanted to include a unit in one of my books, so I made them the team that infiltrated the Chinese base near Manta, Ecuador.
From the current Marine Raiders website:
"The Marine Raiders were elite units established by the United States Marine Corps during World War II to conduct Reconnaissance, raids, and other special operations, especially behind enemy lines. “Edson’s” Raiders of the 1st Marine Raider Battalion and “Carlson’s” Raiders of the 2nd Marine Raider Battalion are said to be the first United States Special Operations Forces to form and see combat in WW II. However, most combat operations saw the Raiders employed as regular infantry, and combined with the resentment within the rest of the Marines that the Raiders were an “elite force within an elite force”, led to the eventual abandonment of the experiment as their casualties couldn’t be replaced by similarly trained personnel. Read more here.
Marine Corps Special Operations Command was reactivated in 2003, and is one of the elite special operations units in the US military.
ELECTRONIC ATTACK AIRCRAFT
The F/A-18G "Growler" replaced the Navy's EA-6B, and is a formidable electronic attack aircraft. Here is a great article from a naval aviator who's flown them: https://foxtrotalpha.jalopnik.com/confessions-of-a-us-navy-ea-18g-growler-electronic-warf-1694954599 I referenced that article when I wrote the book.
JSTARS, while flown by inferior pilots who are incapable of landing on ships at sea (just kidding guys), is incredibly impressive and also incredibly classified. There is more about this aircraft that I don't know, than I do. But every time I interacted with one of these platforms, they knew everything that was going on over the battlespace, and it was great to get information from them.
You can read about it here.
SMALL ASSAULT SWARM DRONES
One of the scenes in War Planners #3 featured military attack drones operating in a swarm. I admit using a little of my creative juices here. But I suspect that it's not too far off. Scientists and researchers have perfected the ability of drones flying in formation with each other. (see below)
And as with all technology, there are military applications: https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/china-will-overwhelm-its-enemies-swarms-rocket-armed-heli-drones-59277
WHAT'S NEXT IN THE WAR PLANNERS SERIES?
WAR PLANNERS #4: THE ELEPHANT GAME
Tensions are running high between the United States and China. And a belligerent North Korea isn't helping matters. As members of the US military and intelligence community prepare for the worst, Chinese politicians play a dangerous game.
Read Now: LINK
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!