UFOs are coming out of the fringe and into the mainstream. Recent events in the United States and the United Kingdom have put the subject in the spotlight in a way that’s never happened before, with the topic being taken seriously at the highest levels within government. When Nick Pope wrote his techno-thriller about alien invasion, Operation Lightning Strike, it was science fiction, but these recent revelations make one wonder whether science fiction could become science fact…
In 2004, pilots with the USS Nimitz task group encountered a UFO off the western coast of the US. It was simultaneously tracked on military radar. One of the astonished Top Gun pilots said afterwards that he didn’t know what he saw, but that he wanted to fly one! There have been an escalating series of such encounters in recent years, and in April 2020 the Pentagon posted videos of three such encounters on their website, saying that the phenomena shown were characterised as “unidentified”.
In response to these incursions into restricted military airspace, the US Navy issued guidance to its pilots telling them what to do if they encounter UFOs. The Department of Defense set up an Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon Task Force to study the phenomenon. And in parallel, the House Armed Services Committee has received classified briefings on the situation and the Senate Intelligence Committee has demanded a report from the Director of National Intelligence. Even the President has commented, and the subject has gone from being the stuff of conspiracy theories, to being something discussed soberly in the New York Times and the Washington Post.
I worked for the Ministry of Defence for 21 years and in the 90s I was posted to a division where my duties included investigating UFO sightings, researching the phenomenon, and advising defence ministers on any policy issues that arose. While the Official Secrets Act binds me for life, I can talk about this because the MoD has recently completed an 11-year project to declassify and release most of its UFO files, many of which I wrote. Although I left the MoD in 2006, I came back to help with this initiative. Further UK UFO files are due to be released by the end of 2020.
I’ve written non-fiction books about UFOs and the alien abduction mystery, but have also tried my hand at science fiction. My book, Operation Lightning Strike, (and the prequel, Operation Thunder Child) have been published in a new Kindle edition by Lume Books, and as a fun piece of trivia, they’re the only science fiction novels ever to have required official government security vetting. That’s not because my alien invasion scenario is real – obviously the central concept is a sci-fi staple that’s been used by many writers before me – but because I used inside information in describing the government and military response. No, I’m not saying there’s a real-life alien invasion war plan (though maybe there should be!), but I’m referring to doctrine, strategy, tactics and hardware, more generally.
Operation Lightning Strike combines my official research and investigation into UFOs with warfighting concepts that I’m familiar with as a result of other MoD postings, such as when I was seconded into the Joint Operations Centre during the Gulf War, or when I served as an acting deputy director in the Directorate of Defence Security. Obviously nobody can predict what would happen if we faced a real alien invasion, and had to fight a real-life war of the worlds. But I’m confident that my sci-fi novels get as close to reality as possible when it comes to how we’d respond if such a threat ever emerged: everything from the way in which top-level political decisions are made in COBRA (Cabinet Office Briefing Room A), to the way in which military jet pilots and Special Forces might take the fight to any hostile extraterrestrials.
Operation Lightning Strike incorporates plenty of genuine UFO material from government files, but it’s the politico-military machinations that make the book what it is, and which necessitated the security vetting. I want readers to feel they have a seat at the ‘Top Table’ as events unfold, and as they get drawn into a story that doesn’t simply descend into a clichéd evil aliens versus plucky/noble humanity dogfight, but becomes something more subtle and nuanced. I hope readers like it, but if they don’t, I promise not to send round the real-life Men in Black!