COLOGNE, Germany – A team of 10 science-fiction writers and artists have begun another round of envisioning threats to French security in 40 years or so, according to Emmanuel Chiva, director of the French Defense Innovation Agency.

The “Red Team” group, which started in mid-2019, presented its initial results in late 2020. The team set out to imagine the future of piracy, complete with entire pirate nations and rogue ships roaming the seas.

The new slate of 2021 topics is entirely classified, Chiva said at an April 29 online conference organized by the International Institute for Strategic Studies. “We don’t want to expose our vulnerabilities or give ideas to our opponents,” he said.

The team’s assignment is to envision how society as we know will be organized in the future and by what means adversaries could threaten it, Chiva explained. Analysts will then derive scenarios in an attempt to identify technologies that would allow decision makers to stay ahead of the game.

The writers and artists are effectively pushing up against the traditional cadre of military officers, armament engineers and scientists, according to Chiva. “The goal of the red team is to scare those people and to be able to make them think about how they could adapt to those emerging threats.”

Unleashing creative professionals to minimize a potentially devastating strategic surprise isn’t a new idea altogether, as U.S. authors like Peter Singer and August Cole have piqued the interest of the Pentagon in a field dubbed “fictional intelligence,” said Frank Sauer, a defense researcher at the Bundeswehr University in Munich. Still, seeing it applied in such a targeted fashion as in the French military remains a novelty.

Science fiction writing can be conducive to anticipating developments truly out of left-field, Sauer said. Trend forecasts tied too closely to present-day conditions have turned to be inadequate, he argued.

But fictional intelligence shouldn’t be confused with trying to predict the future in detail, according to Sauer. The idea merely is to come up with scenarios to illuminate “dark corners” of what’s possible, he said.

It’s still unclear whether the French Red Team’s work will ever see the light of day. Officials will determine after the three-year work period if the results can be made public, Chiva said.

Sebastian Sprenger is associate editor for Europe at Defense News, reporting on the state of the defense market in the region, and on U.S.-Europe cooperation and multi-national investments in defense and global security. Previously he served as managing editor for Defense News. He is based in Cologne, Germany.

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