The era of uncontested access to the skies above battlefields and not having to worry about the consequences of attacking an enemy's command and control capabilities is history, says futurist, defense strategist and author Peter Singer.
With future combat likely to occur in cyberspace and space as well as on land, sea and air, the potential for nuclear-miscalculation is greater than at any time since the worst days of the Cold War, said Singer, a strategist with the New America think tank.
"You may now not do certain things, because you need to signal to the other side, 'Yeah, we're at war, but we're not in that kind of war,'" Singer told a group Monday at the Air Force Association's annual Air and Space Conference outside Washington, D.C. "This also applies to how we think about deterrence and cyber conflict."
For example, Singer said the U.S. has regularly requested for China to stop hacking into its government and corporate computer networks.
"I would argue that's not going to end. They are going to keep stealing secrets and the like," he said. "What we need to focus on are what areas are off-limits, which are too easy to risk escalation" to war.
Singer's speculation on what World War III might look like and how it would be fought is the subject of "Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War," which he co-authored with former Wall Street Journal defense writer August Cole.
The novel describes war waged in space and cyberspace and across the world with manned and unmanned aircraft and with warships of the pre-digital age that become critical when cyber assets are destroyed or fail.
Singer said the Navy is obviously paying attention to the need for traditional sailing skills, since the U.S. Naval Academy now requires all midshipmen to study celestial navigation.
Singer noted that only four years ago The New York Times published an academic's contention that war had become a thing of the past for nation states.
Today, he said, NATO is on the highest alert since the 1980s, Russia now officially considers the Western Alliance its greatest threat, and in the Pacific the U.S. and China are engaged in an arms race, with China slated to have more ships and planes than the U.S. by 2030.