War, war never changes
The Concept of Perpetual War
1. What is the big secret?
The Cosmic Era is marked by many things, personal excess, dehumanization, collectivism and ecology, but it is underscored by the single truth of nearly constant warfare and militarism. The big secret is that this constant low to middle level conflict is intentional and the end goal is not for one power to dominate and defeat another, but to spur the growth and development of weaponry and production.
Mecha and power armor use have exploded with the seeming demise of the tank, which has spurred the growth and development of these weapons systems. The power armor suit has been a force multiplier for the infantry, where now a single soldier in a standard battle suit can deal out the same amount of damage as a petroleum era infantry fighting vehicle and Mecha have improved to the point that they are more than walking tanks. The tank had simply reached the zenith of it's development in terms of design. The only improvements to be made were simply updating electronics, armor, and weaponry.
Almost every major and middle ranked world power has at least one supersoldier program in the works. The end goal is a soldier who as is as dangerous if not moreso than a similar soldier in a power armor suit. To this end genetic augmentation and parapsychic powers have been pursued with great interest. The supersoldier is on par with a petroleum era main combat vehicle, able to destroy other armored vehicles and targets with limited support. Cloning technology is also rapidly growing, making it possible to grow adult humans in a matter of months.
Combat Robots are being built, along with the cortices that control them. The battle 'bot is getting better, more adaptive and intuitive without becoming uncontrollable. As the control systems improve, it is simple to swap the brain out of the diminutive battle bot and place it in increasingly large and powerful vehicles. At the end of the design process is a 55 ton iron infantryman. Resourceful, cunning, and effective. This goes as well in aerospace craft and tanks when they are returned to production. Androids and Seibertronians have also increased in number with the development of better fighting robots.
Spacecraft and Naval Grade weapons are being developed at record pace as the world powers engage not just in a space race with themselves, but with the colonies removed from Earth. And as the ships and weapons improve, defensive systems are also being developed, such as surface to orbit energy weapons, asteroid base mounted anti-ship weaponry and other planetary defense systems.
But why the controlled war?
Because humanity is not alone. Alien life has been discovered, their language deciphered, and their location determined. The aliens are hostile, they don't like the notion of having rivals in what they consider their part of space and have dispatched a fleet to oversee the elimination of human kind. The controlled war state exists to bring human weaponry and defensive ability up to match the technology of the aliens. The improvement in cloning and robotics, tied with incentives for reproducing will create a robust and quickly replenishing population base. The aliens will be met with sentient battlemechs, armies of robots and supersoldiers and heavily armed and armored spacecraft.
Who knows the truth?
The truth of the impending alien extermination is the AISC ring known as the M12. The M12 are the systems administrators of the CogNet, and the Illuminati of the Cosmic Era. These twelve artificially intelligent super computers have made contact with the aliens to determine their motive and purpose and have found them hostile to human life and utterly horrified by the existence of machine based lifeforms, like the M12 themselves. There are a few humans and individuals who also know the truth, but for the most part, all of the information regarding the aliens that was not in the 'hands' of M12 was lost when 3rdNet collapsed.
Why does the secret remain thus?
The M12 and their human associates discovered the alien threat several decades ago, and it was determined that humanity needed to be prepared to meet this hostile alien force or be wiped out. An optimal chance of success of defeating the aliens was only reached by using limited and localized conflict to spur the advancement of technology. Weapons and tech grow much more rapidly in wartime conditions than in peacetime. It was determined that a prolonged period of warfare, in the vicinity of 120-150 years would produce the desired advancements.
The M12 organized and orchestrated the collapse of 3rdNet, which erased much of the data tied to the alien fleet, as well as allowing the organization of machines to rebuild the next iteration of internet systems, the CogNet. Having been in the system since its inception, the M12 are gods in the network.
Layers upon Layers
The secret behind the Perpetual War in the Cosmic Era is hidden behind many screens and layers, such that it is non-existent in the public mind. The only place aliens, real aliens, appear is in popular fiction. Propaganda covers much of it, military, national, and economic for the most part. The war creates jobs, national pride, and the perception of strength and unity in an organization.
Unlike most Illuminati conspiracy theories, the M12 don't have a stranglehold on the flow of events. They have not picked winners and losers in the global and solar system fights because in the long run they are planning on a somewhat motley united humanity defending itself from rapacious human and machine hating xenophobic aliens. The war between two nations is seen by them in the same light as two sibling picking on each other, and occasionally escalating into a fistfight here and there. The organization will as needed handicap one side that is getting to powerful, or prop up one that is losing badly. This isn't to say that every victory is checked, and every defeat supported, but they do what is discretely needed to keep the conflicts going, but from going out of control.
Primary Layer: Public ignorance and secrecy
Middle Layer: propaganda, economic and media input
Base Layer: agents and avatars of the M12
Bringing up the reason for the Cosmic Era's warfare is largely unimportant in the short term. The conflict isn't projected to begin for another two centuries. The aliens aren't knocking on the door, they aren't in the solar system. But they are coming. They don't have FTL travel. But this isn't important.
Paranoia: there is a global conspiracy to control the flow of events and resources. The easier way to find this is to find some forgotten archive or data core from the 3rdNet and find information relating to the M12 or the Alien Event in it.
We are Not Alone: Humanity has spun out artificial life, neo-ethnicities, and plenty of it's own strangeness but it doesn't compare to discovering that homo sapiens isn't alone in the universe. There are plenty of parties who would use the discovery of alien life as a reason to reach for utopia so the aliens arrive and are greeted as galactic brothers and sisters. Ask the Native Americans how it worked out greeting the aliens with friendship and good will.
Born to Die: Millions are going to die in the plan to arm and equip humanity, cities destroyed and rebuilt, and generations will exist in places of constant war. And it's all been engineered for a purpose centuries away, by cold unfeeling machines. It only takes one veteran, one special ops agent to pick one or two pieces to figure out that the mission wasn't for glorious propaganda but to keep a war going for another 12-18 months.
The twist is that the aliens have been here before, they know Earth. They know the Solar System. There aren't any cached fleets or tripods buried under the martian surface (the M12 have organized expeditions to look) but the aliens won't be stopped by some punk move, like being allergic to water, solar radiation, or human bacteria.
The extermination fleet is also a colonization fleet. Once they arrive, they aren't leaving. They are coming to make themselves a new home in the ashes of humanity.