During the late 2040s and early 2050s Earth saw a new surge of developments in the more classic areas of the military, sparked by the Administration of Republican President Philippe Da Vilcas. While his main focus lay with improvements of the national infrastructure, international politics squared the United States off against China, as the Middle Kingdom expanded its influence into Southeast Asia as well as Africa at an alarming rate, although diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union had largely normalized as far as it was possible concerning the differences between the two superpowers.
With American interests in Africa threatened by China, it was inevitable that the United States started to feel the need to replace aging weapon systems from the 2020s with newer systems. The European Union and the Soviet Union were in second and third place technology wise, while China and India were quickly catching up due to their own arms race with the other three super powers.
During this new armament project Hurtubise Armor Works in Hamilton, Ontario, a subdivision of General Dynamics Land Systems, presented the Aspis M1A1 Personal Protective Armature to the Pentagon and the Canadian Armed Forces. It was the first powered armor design to reach production readiness.
Combining a modern exoskeleton technology with modern non-newtonian ballistic fabric and cermet armor plates, the Aspis overall reached Armor Level IV. While the entire body was protected at least by several layers of ballistic fabric, laminar cermet plates held in place by ballistic fabric gave the torso additional protection up to Armor Level V, or .50 BMG AP. Due to the non-newtonian nature of the ballistic fabric the suit was also stab-proof and capable of surviving small IEDs and most modern anti-personnel mines and grenades.
The head was protected by a full covering cermet helmet with integrated ABC gear and battlefield networking systems. The use of virtual environments and numerous small cameras covering the helmet removed a weak point potentially exploitable by snipers.
The exoskeleton was mostly responsible for carrying the weight of the 200 kg Aspis, but allowed the wearer faster overall movement as well as the ability to turn over a car. This also made carrying and using larger weapons, like the venerated M2 Browning and other heavy squad support weapons.
An intelligent undergarment was responsible for heat management and capable of limited medical assistance, from the release of blood clotting materials to reduce large scale blood loss over the injection of painkillers and other medical drugs to allowing surgeons to prepare for injuries.
China, the European Union and the Soviet Union were relatively quick to present their own Personal Protective Armors.
The European Thales Cuirassier was a jack-of-all-trades design, providing an overall Armor Level IV protection, with a Level V protection of the torso and head areas. Slightly lighter than the Aspis, the Cuirassier was limited in the weight it could support additionally to its own mass, limiting the heavier weapons options. Being cheaper, it was more likely to be spread out through Euroforce and the national militaries.
A heavy version of the PPA was developed by the Soviet Union in form of the LT-2. It provided overall Armor Level V protection on the cost of maneuverability, making it a rather lumbering design. However the overall enhanced protection and the increased strength of the design allowed it to carry heavier weapons then the other designs, going as far as integrating four reloadable RPG-37 carried on the back, capable of vertically launching four conventional or thermobaric rockets.
The Chinese Guījiǎ PPA on the other hand went for an overall light design, with a purely Armor Level IV rating. This made the PPA extremely cheap, but prevented the use of heavy handheld weapons. The overall protection and the low cost however made it possible to equip entire infantry regiments with them.
First tactics developed for the PPA used the additional protection for assaults on hardened urban structures, entrenchments and bunkers. Embedding a PAA into a conventional squad also allowed faster employment of support weaponry, which was the way most armies, besides China, made use of the PAA, before the development of cheaper and lighter PAAs.
The first actual combat that saw the employment of PAA on both sides was the ten day long Golan Conflict of 2050. Here the Israeli variant of the US Aspis, the Iron Armor, faced off against Soviet LT-2 and a few Chinese Guījiǎ on the side of the Syrian Army. Both PAA systems proved their worth in an actual combat situation, especially urban combat within Al Qunaitra, where both sides effectively used PAA squads to clean out their opponents bunkers and fortified positions.
Especially the highly integrated battlefield awareness of the PAA on a personal level allowed for increased effectivity of the PAA armored infantry. PAA also turned out to be effective tank killers if they were equipped with heavy shoulder launched rockets, here the Soviet LT-2 was very effective with its integrated four rocket launchers. Additionally PAA were an effective addition for scouts, allowing them to stay protected and use integrated sensors and stay protected. Here the Chinese Guījiǎ proved to be very effective.
Another area that saw the introduction of new systems were the various air forces of Earth, with the development of the first effective surface to orbit aerospace planes.
In the United States began the Aurora Project, culminating in the choice of the Martin AF-40 Reaper aerospace plane, selected over the Lockheed XF-41 Starfighter II and the McDonnell Douglas XF-39 Skymaster. To arm the Reaper, a variant of the BSM-12 Thrasher ground launched kinetic kill vehicle was developed, with the Reaper carrying four. A pair of 1 MW UVR lasers was included to be used in closer combat situations, as well as to act as point defense if needed.
In Europe the Eurofighter Jagdflugzeug GmBH developed the Hurricane for the same role. Designed along the lines of the Saenger, the Hurricane carried six KKVs and a pair of 1.5 MW UVR lasers. The Soviet produced the MiG-47, which was a lighter design compared to the Reaper or the Hurricane, carrying only two KKVs and a single 1.5 UVR laser. The Chinese Chengdu J-23 was comparable to the Soviet design, but used a more advanced engine system and a 2 MW UVR laser, due to a slightly better understanding of aerospace craft of the Chinese.
Smaller nations either converted civilian SSTO’s or DH-1 reusable spacecraft to serve as their own versions of surface borne space interceptors.
The effectivity of these spacecraft was put into question during the Golan Conflict of 2050. The INS Kidon, which had been hunting down and destroyed several Syrian satellites, was attacked by a number of Syrian armed DH-1 additionally to surface to orbit missiles of Chinese make. While the attack heavily damaged the Israeli MMLS, it destroyed all involved Syrian spacecraft.
In 2047, the Guinean Union experienced the to date largest outbreak of Ebola, with a new variant of the virus which had a longer incubation time. Within a relative short time about twenty thousand people in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Nigeria and Togo got infected.
While the medical situation was better by now it had been during previous outbreaks of the virus, the virus itself had a higher survival rate outside the human body. Additionally several sociological factors were responsible for the increased number of infections, as several disease related myths were spread by the few scattered remains of Boko Haram or various witch doctors that still had a high influence in the more rural areas of West Africa.
The WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières reacted relatively quickly to the pandemic, but the new strain made treating the victims very difficult. Taking care of the deceased was just as troublesome, with only few volunteers to spare. The local people were too scared about contracting the disease themselves. After the idea to incinerate deceased came up, the local population reacted negatively to this perceived disrespect for the dead. In a number of cases hospitals and lazarettes were attacked.
This situation became better however when a larger number of Quetzal, most of them Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry from a small settlement near Lagos, volunteered to help taking care of the infected. Both the WHO and Médecins Sans Frontières welcomed this help, as the Quetzal were immune to the virus due to their alien biology and were well respected by the locals.
Indirectly the Ebola Outbreak was also responsible for the collapse of the Saudi Arabian government. The positive involvement of the Quetzal in the Outbreak lead to a growing human following of the Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry and a sort of unofficial recognition of this form of Islam by some of the more liberal muslim groups. When several Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry attempted to do a Hajj, and were once again refused entry into Mecca, a group of fellow pilgrims began to protest this treatment.
Sadly this protest turned violent, with Saudi security personal firing shots at some of the pilgrims, sparking a panic. This response lead to an outcry by other pilgrims, as well as part of the Saudi population. As the Saudi Arabian government had become increasingly oppressive over the past decades, censoring the media and imposing religiously motivated restrictions, this time they attempted to use the incident to impose more restrictions on the pilgrimage to the holy sites in Saudi Arabia.
The new restriction were received poorly by the pilgrims and the general population, directly leading to the first uprisings of students, followed by the Shiites in the area, which were clamped down hard. Eventually several groups of the Saudi Arabian army defected to the rebels, leading to a civil war that lasted about a year, with the rebels receiving covert support from Iran, while the Saudi government received support from China through Pakistan.
During the Arabian Night Revolt, the rebels were able to quickly seize Mecca and Medina and managed to hold them until the end of the war. Following the fall of Riyadh two years into the civil war, the House of Saud was forced into exile in Pakistan, after which the rebels started claiming the war to be over soon.
Aa a result the nation experienced several years of political instability under a provisional government until a democratic government could be elected that was able to stay in power. This new government openly welcomed aliens of muslim belief and was the first to officially recognize the Ivesi Fakuxi Shiry branch of Islam.
The Ebola pandemia wasn’t the only disease-related event that lead to some changes in the political landscape. In the Soviet Union, the melting permafrost released a number of ancient pathogens preserved within the ground and brought to the surface by tilling the newly farmable land. Although most of these pathogens were harmless to humans, two still infected livestock and three grain. The biggest surprise however was one single viral strain that rose along with humanity.
This specific member of the Hantavirus family, quickly named Budushcheye Virus after the first outbreak in that city, had more severe effects on the human body than any previously known Hantavirus and a much higher mortality rate. In most cases death was induced by kidney failure.
The Soviet response was slow, and the Budushcheye Virus was able to infect several tens of thousands people over the course of a mere six weeks until specialists were brought in to treat the patients. In combination with the cattle and pig diseases, Budushcheye was to be quarantined and dependent on food brought in for one year. The quarantine came too late however and several more cities along the Trans Siberian Maglev were also discovered to be infected by the virus and needed to be quarantined as well.
While it seemed possible to create a vaccine against the Budushcheye Virus and develop a treatment, the response by Moscow was seen as headless by the local population. As the ‘City of the Future’ had a history of largely covert dissent, thanks to the dissidents sent to build up the city and keep them from actual positions of power, an underground movement had developed that was based largely on the views introduced by the Quetzal that had settled down in the city after several years in Star City.
This movement slowly pushed into the open, as more and more offices of the city government converted to the mixture of communism, capitalism and anarchy. Again this seemed to be ignored by Moscow, though it later became known that the Politburo wanted to see this new movement fail on its own. Several more Siberian cities along the TransSibMaglev, mostly those affected by the Budushcheye Virus, followed the example of Budushcheye.
By 2052, the Budushcheye Movement had gathered enough confidence and announced the formation of the Siberian Socialistic Republic, which shared a border with China and Mongolia. The response of the Politburo was par for the course. The Red Army crossed into the newly formed SSR, their units moving in along the TransSibMaglev and occupied the maglev stations. By doing so the Red Army linked up with several units that had remained loyal. Unfortunately parts of these units were infected by the Budushcheye Virus and in turn infected the newly arrived units of the Red Army.
While there were several brushes between the Siberian Army and the Red Army, with only a few shots fired, before the Politburo imposed a quarantine over the entire SSR. Red Army units in full NBC gear began to patrol the Maglev to secure it from the Siberians and secure the way into the Soviet Far East. Moscow also made it clear that they would use orbital weapons, should the SSR try to cut off the Maglev.
Food transports into the SSR, needed to feed the majority of the population, were cut off by Moscow, stating that they of course would be willing to talk about a trade agreement, effectively starving the new nation and trying to make it collapse. Officially it was to keep the infection from spreading further.
Moscow didn’t expect China to intervene however.
Much like the Soviet Union, China was long since interested in the vast material wealth of Siberia and was more than willing to trade food and military equipment to the SSR in exchange for metals, petrochemicals and wood. A trade agreement between China and Siberia was quickly made, even with the threat of Soviet orbital and nuclear weapons, but those were countered by China being ‘willing to stand by their new Siberian allies’. An added bonus for the Siberians was that China set their best physicians, bioengineers and immunologists, among them no less than five Nobel Prize holders, to develop a cure for the Budushcheye Virus.
Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Baltic states made use of the distraction of Siberia to separate themselves more from Moscow as well. This in turn brought them a little closer to the European Union, who welcomed their opening to the west and saw it as a first step of these nations into freedom. This acceptance from the European Union was disliked by the Soviet Union, stating that they should not meddle in Soviet Affairs.
The entire situation in Siberia and Eastern Europe lead to the Soviet Union being viewed as being in decline, while China strengthened its global political influence.
This was partially due to China making nice with several Southeast Asian nations that were trying to keep themselves outside of the Chinese Sphere of Influence. In 2049 an 8.0 earthquake near the West Papuan coast lead to a tsunami racing through the Pacific Ocean, hitting the coast of the Philippines, Japan and rolling over several of the smaller Oceanic island nations.
The damages were heavy and China financed the rebuilding process in these areas, partially by sending engineers and helpers into the affected areas, as well as offering discounts and credits to the nations involved. While Indonesia declined and received help from Australia, the Philippines were slowly drawn into the Chinese Sphere of Influence.
In some cases the nations influenced by the Chinese grew a little overconfident, as it was seen in a localized war between the Chinese supported Laos and Vietnam, which was supported by Australia, Korea and Japan. This border conflict was begun by Laos and ended with a draw and an increasing military presence across the border between the two nations.
China was also responsible for importing a new, and at the same time old, wonder material onto Mars, in the form of Phyllostachys edulis, or moso bamboo. At first it was intended only to supplement the diet of the Chinese settlers of Shuǐxīng with bamboo shoots. Eventually however the settlers grew fully sized plants, which under the Martian gravity could reach sizes of up to 60 meters.
Bamboo turned out to be a very versatile material for space that could be used in varied ways. Aside from the bamboo shoots being edible, their fast growth made them very useful to lock up carbon dioxide when used in the life support systems. Bamboo could be turned into fibers for clothing, into paper and used as a material for scaffolding and for building larger structures due to its strength. It could also be easily turned into everyday items such as eating utensils and furnishings.
While it was at first met with ridicule by the other Mars settlements, Bamboo seeds were eventually traded in by New Plymouth for tilapia, allowing a diversification of the Chinese diet, while allowing New Plymouth to grow their own bamboo.
A somewhat worrying trend was becoming visible elsewhere in several places of the solar system, including Earth, as many of the ever more complex computer systems and software showed emergent behaviour. Most of these computer systems ran agent based software that organized in ways they were never intended to by the programmers, making it harder to understand how they worked at all.
One of the most worrying trends was that the software agents of the Soviet Prirost system began to optimize the economic flow in ways unwanted by its controllers, but still eventually turned out to be beneficial in the long run. Sometimes the behaviour of the system could even be described as sentient.
While most of these systems were tightly observed by system administrators and computer scientists, similar systems in deep space were not under such tight control. They were used in the various automated resource extraction facilities of asteroid mines, controlling the flow of energy and deciding what materials and areas to mine and were allowed to run independent of most control inputs from Earth, only using limited bandwidth for status updates as well as being met by repair crews and equally automated transporters.