In the den of the Red Team with François Schuiten, draftsman

(B2 – exclusive) What will be the threats of the future, by 2060? This is the roadmap given by the French army to a dozen artists. The Red Team. Pure science fiction, with a very realistic objective. The Belgian cartoonist François Schuiten tells

The designer François Schuiten in his studio in Brussels (credit: AF/B2)
  • Set up on the initiative of Emmanuel Chiva, Director of the Defense Innovation Agency (AID), the Red Team brings together a dozen authors, screenwriters and science fiction designers.
  • Two teams compete: Red Team simulates an enemy force and thus assesses the defensive capabilities of the tested team, the Blue Team.
  • After a test season, the Red Team unveiled in July 2021 two of its scenarios which close its season 1. In total, four seasons are planned.

Participating in the project: an intellectual ambition

What attracted you to the project?

— It's the intellectual challenge, to question what the world of tomorrow will be like, with lucidity. Because we had access to a lot of information, we were thus able to understand subjects that had previously been quite opaque to us. So it was a tremendous chance. I've never been very interested in anything related to war and weapons. But I found it surprising that the army opened its doors and dialogued with science fiction authors, I didn't want to say no to such a daring proposal.

Some members of the Red Team preferred to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals. Why not you ?

- I fully assume my choice. I am a pacifist, but the role we have in this project is not in contradiction with my convictions. Our mission is not to imagine how to wage war. It is to imagine how to guard against the dangers of the future, it is quite different. What interested me is that we have to imagine difficult worlds and situations for a country like France. We are in a hypothesis of reaction to an attack, to a difficult situation, not in the process of imagining offensive hypotheses.

The mission of the Red Team

Anticipating the threats of the future, isn't the army capable of doing it itself?

— Traditionally, the army is a little behind a war. It certainly has strategists, but we are here to bring something else, out of reality. We stay in touch with reality but work on much more futuristic hypotheses. So we are not in competition with them. The Minister for the Armed Forces had told us 'Scare us'… not a bad suggestion, isn't it?

How did the army welcome you?

- We were very well received. We had to prove ourselves a bit, of course. There was certainly resistance within the army, because it was not in their nature to open up a space for reflection like that. At the start, there was honestly a bit of skepticism about the usefulness of the approach. I believe that this kind of criticism is disappearing, the soldiers gradually discover that this reflection can be very stimulating, for them as for us.

The making of a screenplay

How is the work going day to day?

— We have meetings at a pace that allows us to build the scenario, without a fixed schedule.

And you also work in the field?

— Yes, the soldiers also take us where they train. It happened to us to find ourselves at four o'clock in the morning, in the night, stuck in the mud with tanks passing by... This is how we realize the current difficulties and problems. They also took us to an airfield where the Rafales take off, to see how they think and all the new technologies they are developing (NB: exit organized in February 2021). We will soon be going in a submarine and on an aircraft carrier. These experiences allow us to develop scenarios based on field experience. When you see tanks firing in the middle of the night, you are buried in the ground with plugs in your ears, there is so much noise, it does something to you! The way you put it down on paper is very different. Me, I'm a bedroom designer. If I don't confront reality, the drawing doesn't reflect it.

After that, how do you develop a script?

— We first encounter the Purple Team (the civil society experts). We have virtual appointments on secure computers and listen to experts and their analyses, it's exciting! They come either from the army or from Paris Sciences Lettres. We see very quickly whether our assumptions work or not. We need to be critiqued by experts before we face the Blue Team (the army). Then we submit different draft scenarios and the army tells us which ones they are most interested in. The military may ask us to develop a particular aspect in each of the scenarios. In fact, they play the role of Blue Team which aims to correct us, to tell us if it will never work, or if it is not for them a solid hypothesis...

Where do you go to look for inspiration? Real events?

— There is an inspiration from the real, from a real that is panicking. I often have the feeling that reality goes beyond fiction. The pandemic in some ways shows us that. We have already experienced epidemics… but that it destabilizes the whole world to such an extent, no one would have believed it. Reality always exceeds fiction, so you must already be strong enough to be able to surprise reality. We must also be — and this is what interests me a lot — very utopian to create another world. To imagine 2040 or 2060, you have to be solidly armed to have a valid hypothesis. But we are there to develop scenarios which question and above all destabilize the army. When they tell us 'ah that we hadn't really thought of that', then we are really delighted.

How many scenarios are you working on at the same time?

— There are two big scenarios a year that are made public (see box), but the number is changing. We would like to go a little further, more in detail in the rendering and in the restitution of the scenarios to be more surprising.

And after…

What happens to the scenarios once delivered to the army?

— They more or less implied that some of our hypotheses will allow them to develop a certain type of field of investigation. (NB: guest on France Culture in July 2021, project director Emmanuel Chiva explained that the Myriade 22 project “ is a first concrete result of this collaboration.)

Do your screenplays inspire you in your other work?

- I think, they feed my thinking. Sometimes it even scares me! I hope they don't come true, but there will definitely be aspects that will come true.

What do you remember from this experience?

— The experience I draw from it is a personal enrichment. Many subjects are extremely complicated to put into pictures. For example how to draw virtual bubbles (NB: reference to one of the two scenarios unveiled in July 2021), or what would protect an aircraft carrier and be suddenly broken? (NB: reference to second scenario). We know that these aircraft carriers are extremely fragile so they need to have an extremely sophisticated system of protection. How to give a graphic form to that? I love this challenge of giving an image to what has none.

(Comments recorded by Agnès Faure, st.)

The scenarios are rendered in the form of a book with a series of recommendations, descriptions of the weapons of the future in particular. These are not movie scripts in the traditional sense. " The interest is to dig visually, narratively, all the consequences of this virtual world. For us, it is a question of showing a certain number of elements which allow us to build what can be an extremely difficult situation and which interests the French army. ". The videos uploaded are fragments “aimed at the general public” which allow us to understand the climates ". See in particular the scenarios made public on the occasion of season 0 on the site of the Red Team.

Face-to-face interview, in Brussels, on September 1st.

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