Peter W. Singer's vision of the next great war was published this week as a novel — that is, a work of fiction. But before the book was out, Singer, one of the defense community's preeminent thinkers on the future of warfare, saw an unnerving number of his print ideas coming to real life.

"The trends we put a finger on are moving faster than we ever contemplated, and not in a good way," said Singer, who co-authored Ghost Fleet with former Washington Post defense reporter August Cole.

For example: The opening scene in the book is a Navy P-8 Poseidon surveillance aircraft being warned off its Pacific route by a Chinese military officer. A little more than a month ago that exact skirmish occurred over the manmade Spratly Islands in the South China Sea. The book's plot also involves the Chinese equipping their commercial transport ships for military use. Last week, the Chinese government ordered that exact thing.

Four years ago, when Singer started the project, future war was focused on the Middle East. But among the 400 endnotes Singer collected and published to anchor the story in actual technologies and strategy, he saw a different pattern. Singer saw a future war dominated by hacking and compromised microchips, and technological acts of nuisance turning into actual acts of aggression by great powers Russia and China.

How to Write and Fight World War IIIJuly 7, 9:30 a.m.1030 15th St. NW, 12th FloorPeter W. Singer and August Cole will discuss the future of war at the Atlantic Council 

"It's not a point of fiction anymore," Singer said. "The real world is living out the fiction."

The Office of Personnel Management's loss of millions of background security files fits right in, Singer said, noting the Chinese weren't looking for credit card numbers — they were culling personal information, what Singer called "preparing the battlefield."

The book, Singer said, "looks at the consequences of this massive hacking campaign: What is the world like when we've lost so many secrets?"

One consequence is readily visible: the Chinese hack into the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program took an estimated 50 terabytes of information on the program. The hack was first revealed through the documents leaked by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, and were so thorough it is believed they saved China two decades of independent research.

The result: the Chinese J-31 fifth generation fighter, which, unlike the Joint Strike Fighter, is already operational.

"For the last 70 years, U.S. forces have gone into battle with at least a one-generation advantage going in – that's not going to be the case in the future," Singer said.

The Pentagon noted the loss of technological advantage in its 2015 National Military Strategy, which Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Martin Dempsey released Wednesday. "Since the last National Military Strategy published four years ago, global disorder has trended upward, while some of our comparative advantages have begun to erode," Dempsey wrote. The new strategy, the first released since 2011, also addresses last year's cyberhack into Sony Pictures by North Korea, "causing major damage to a U.S. corporation."

When development secrets are lifted through hacking, there's another worry for the nation's future technologies: bugs in the hardware. The Department of Defense has put a recent focus on who makes its microchips and what measures are in place to ensure those items aren't counterfeit, or worse, compromised.

"What would it mean to go to war vs. a nation that makes most of your spare parts, and most of the microchips that power your weaponry?" Singer asked.

The Pentagon is focusing on the ways rapidly evolving technologies create new vulnerabilities and may shift its way of responding to threats.

"Future conflicts will come more rapidly, last longer, and take place on a much more technically challenging battlefield," the Pentagon wrote in the 2015 strategy. "They will have increasing implications to the U.S. homeland."

Singer's book has already been circulated among the halls of the Pentagon. Outgoing Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert and Army strategist Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster are early fans, with McMaster writing that the book, while fiction, "helps us ask the right questions about our future — questions the answers to which might help us take advantage of technology while minimizing risk to humanity."