The year is 2027, and Romania and Moldova have agreed to unite. But the move is opposed by Russia, which has maintained what it calls “peacekeeping” troops in Moldova’s eastern breakaway region of Transdniester since 1992.
As Russian forces mass to the east of the Dniester River, including territory in what is today western Ukraine, NATO deploys its forces in Romania and Moldova.
None of the events in this scenario -- laid out in graphic detail in Silent Ruin, a fictional, comic-style story published online by the Army Cyber Institute (ACI) at West Point -- has actually played out.
But ACI spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Terrence Kelley tells RFE/RL that the publication aims to help U.S. soldiers be better prepared for future cyberbattle threats.
Silent Ruin portrays Russian forces as better prepared for cyberwarfare than NATO, using Russian autonomous drones (UAVs) that are able to knock out NATO observation drones by attacking with electromagnetic pulse waves.
It is one of four fictional stories ACI is releasing in its Operation Dark Hammer project. Others in the series depict a near nuclear confrontation with North Korea and terrorist cyberattacks in the United States.
“The U.S. Army has always sought to prevent strategic surprise by anticipating and adapting to future capabilities and vulnerabilities,” writes Lieutenant-Colonel Natalie Vanatta, a cyberspecialist involved in the project.
NATO troops advance in tanks to take over the observation posts once monitored by its disabled drones – unaware that Russia is sending in more tanks, including autonomous killer robot armor.
The Russian plan exploits a faulty patch in NATO’s satellite-based tracking and communications system. A Russian cyberattack on that electronic command-and-control system leaves NATO tank crews unable to see the invading Russian forces, fire their weapons, or control their vehicles.
The publications do not portray or predict actual events, Vanatta stressed in a statement about the graphic novels. “Rather," she said, "they are science-fiction stories based on future trends, technologies, economics, and cultural change.”
The inspiration for each story came from so-called “threatcasting” workshops by military and civilian experts working with author Brian David Johnson, a cyberprognosticator at Arizona State University.
Russia’s killer robot tanks exploit the outage and move forward to destroy NATO’s crippled armor.
Vanatta says the locations in all stories in the series were selected “could just as easily be any city or democratic nations confronting external threats.”
But the storyline of Silent Ruin shows that both civilian and military cyberexperts in the United States consider Russia a potential “digital adversary” in battlefields of the future.
With the destruction of NATO’s battlefield Tactical Operations Center, the battle is quickly over – and Russian troops are soon storming the U.S. diplomatic compound in the Moldovan capital of Chisinau.
Silent Ruin clearly states that the fictional scenario “does not reflect the official policy or position” of the U.S. government, the U.S. Army, or the Pentagon.
Kelley tells RFE/RL that Johnson, the author of Silent Ruin, came up with the idea of a negotiated unification of Romania and Moldova “merely to dramatize the storyline.”
“We wanted to add an element of realism based on real-world situations and tensions,” Kelley said. “Silent Ruin does portray a fictional unification [of Romania and Moldova]. That was a dramatic technique employed by the author. It is not meant to suggest that the U.S. Army or the U.S. government are advocating one way or the other. That’s an issue for the people of those countries to decide for themselves through democratic processes."