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Sci-Fi The Military Technology

Aircraft Carriers In Space 409

Posted by Soulskill
from the way-beyond-the-red-line dept.
An anonymous reader writes "Real-world military conventions have had obvious effects on many sci-fi books, movies, and TV shows. But how does their fictional representation stack up against the evolving rules of high-tech warfare? In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, a naval analyst discusses some of the technological assumptions involved in transposing sea combat to space combat, and his amusement with the trope of 'aircraft carriers in space.' He says, 'Star Wars is probably the worst. There is no explanation for why X-Wings [fighters] do what they do, other than the source material is really Zeroes [Japanese fighter planes] from World War II. Lucas quite consciously copied World War II fighter combat. He basically has said they analyzed World War II movies and gun camera footage and recreated those shots. Battlestar Galactica has other issues. One thing I have never understood is why the humans didn't lose halfway through the first episode. If information moves at the speed of light, and one side has a tactically useful FTL [faster-than-light] drive to make very small jumps, then there is no reason why the Cylons couldn't jump close enough and go, "Oh, there the Colonials are three light minutes away, I can see where they are, but they won't see me for three minutes?"'"
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Aircraft Carriers In Space

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  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dkleinsc (563838) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:54AM (#41498759) Homepage

    According to J Michael Straczyski, some guys at NASA actually contacted the B5 crew to see about the designs of the Star Fury, because that was the most realistic and maneuverable fighter-sized ship they'd seen in fiction. They also did make use of some interesting concepts, like (a) having semi-realistic tactics in space combat instead of just a free-for-all, (b) factoring in gravity of nearby planets and stars, and (c) making sure portrayed military practices bore some relationship to actual militaries.

    Of course, there are some violations of physics in B5 too: Shots make noise in space, and you can hear the engine noise of passing ships.

  • by petes_PoV (912422) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:01AM (#41498791)

    It's difficult to engage an enemy when they're 50,000km away (and the only part of the "ship" that's visible is small amount of IR from its power source that isn't even pointed in your direction). When the amount of fuel needed to change course is huge: either because of massive vehicles, or high velocities, the whole idea becomes impossible.

    At best you might just be able to make some sort of directed energy weapon work effectively (if you can aim to hit an unknown sized target from halfway to the Moon), or possibly some sort of shotgun type projectiles. But at the sort of distances involved, your target for any sort of physical contact weapon would have so much warning that their usefulness would be small.

  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by robmv (855035) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:20AM (#41498895)

    If I were to design spaceships for the current human capabilities I will add sound simulation to the cockpit, human detection of things in 3D is greatly enhanced by sound, see the advantage of FPS video gamers using 5.1 sound against someone using the plain TV sound

  • by queazocotal (915608) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:22AM (#41498901)

    Sure there's stealth in space.
    See 'Space is FUCKING HUGE' - being far away is stealthy.
    Being in an unexpected location too.

    In addition, there is passive stealth.
    Point a conical mirror at your opponent (taking care not to get glints from the sun or other local stellar object), and you are basically invisible.
    (this is more annoying near planets), disguise.

    Then there are active stealth systems, from jamming to cooling the surface of your craft to near absolute zero to avoid IR signatures, decoys, degrading your opponents sensors by various means, in addition to more conventional systems for shortrange combat such as radar absorbant paint.

    Note that in space - radar is _short_ range only.
    Yes, technically things many millions of miles away have been detected by radar, but if your opponent is using planetary sized objects as ships, you're basically screwed anyway.

    RADAR and LIDAR are useful perhaps for point defense type applications, and similar.

    RADAR (and LIDAR) can be boosted modestly by increasing the transmit power or recieve sensitivity.
    But they rapidly run into the fact that the returned signal decays depending on the fourth power of distance.

    So, if you want to take an earth-based radar, and increase the range a hundred times, you need a transmitter a hundred million times more powerful.

  • by Shavano (2541114) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:26AM (#41498927)
    The only thing that made sense in Battlestar Galactica was the nuclear missiles. The idea of human-occupied fighters is completely 20th-century. If war is ever conducted in space, it will be all kinetic-kill weapons, nuclear bombs and maybe nuclear mines. It will never make sense to put a human (or a similarly-sized Cylon) on board a fighter with a heavy life support system and limit the acceleration to 9-gravity peaks. Dispense with the biological elements and you'll only be limited by how much thrust the engines can produce. Humans, if present at all, will be aboard missile-laden motherships only, directing the battle strategy which will be carried out by automation.
  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Dewin (989206) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:04PM (#41499161)

    That's part of EVE's lore, actually, from the few months I tried it.

  • by nedlohs (1335013) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:26PM (#41499319)

    There is no stealth. You need to dump your heat somewhere, else you cook. Sure you can arrange to dump it facing away from the other guy, but that doesn't work once he has a few observation points. As soon as you do anything other than drift your engines are seen instantly. Decoys don't work since they need to have the same mass as the actual ships/missiles/etc you are trying to hide since otherwise the other guy can tell them apart by how their acceleration is different under the same engine exhaust profiles.

    Once you are at a tech level of such long range that you don't have multiple angles on the other guy you have also mapped out every object and hence you see everything new. As soon as something is hotter than it should be - because it's running life support or a computer or it makes a course change that isn't just falling under gravity you know. By the time something is anywhere close to being a threat you have multiple angles on it so the heat is visible.

    Passive detection is all you need.

    Actual combat ends up being whomever runs out of heat capacity loses. As soon as you need to extend the radiators or cook you have to surrender - or else have said radiators blown off and thus cook.

  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:4, Interesting)

    by peragrin (659227) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:31PM (#41499349)

    The first shown shadow attack in B5 shows spaces battles as they would be.

    It is boring visually. Long range laser beams and missile/mines.

    the rest were done up close to make things look more visually interesting.

    I like B5 and that scene always stuck out.

  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by nitehawk214 (222219) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:46PM (#41499497)

    According to J Michael Straczyski, some guys at NASA actually contacted the B5 crew to see about the designs of the Star Fury, because that was the most realistic and maneuverable fighter-sized ship they'd seen in fiction. They also did make use of some interesting concepts, like (a) having semi-realistic tactics in space combat instead of just a free-for-all, (b) factoring in gravity of nearby planets and stars, and (c) making sure portrayed military practices bore some relationship to actual militaries.

    Of course, there are some violations of physics in B5 too: Shots make noise in space, and you can hear the engine noise of passing ships.

    The story goes that he happy handed all the material over, with the only stipulation that if they build something based on B5 designs, they must call it a Starfury.

  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by EdIII (1114411) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:58PM (#41499593)

    That opens up a whole *new* can of worms.

    Since the sound is virtual... then eventually it will be themed, just like we skin and theme everything else to suit personal tastes.

    The Death Star super laser would sound differently to different people.

    I could see militaries enforcing such themes the same way they do dress codes.

  • by maxwell demon (590494) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:55PM (#41500071) Journal

    Indeed, a large fleet of unmanned ships controlled by only few manned ships which look the same as the unmanned ships would probably be the best strategy. Given that you need many ships, those ships would be made as cheap as possible with the constraint that the manned ships need to be able to support the people on them, and the unmanned ships must at least from the outside be made the same way. In addition you'll have support ships, probably automated and mostly unmanned so they can be both cheaper and even more frequent, because otherwise it will be a better strategy for your enemy to just kill all your support ships and then wait until you run out of food and have to surrender.

  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Iamthecheese (1264298) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @02:48PM (#41500545)
    I would read that novel so hard I'd have papercuts on my eyeballs.
  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Gibbs-Duhem (1058152) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @03:09PM (#41500705)

    This is basically the best reason to read the Honor Harrington series of novels. It blows every other science fiction writer away in terms of portraying reasonable space combat.

    Rules:
    1. Always wear a space suit in combat. Duh.
    2. You don't know where your enemy is until c*\Delta x has passed. This is both advantageous and disadvantageous.
    3. Surprise! You can only decellerate as fast as you can accelerate! What? You mean I have to spend half of my time rushing at my opponent slowing down?
    4. Laser beams hit at the moment you know they've been fired (not that they're used much, lasers are weak).
    5. Lots of people die all the time. I think they killed billions of soldiers in a major war.
    6. Yes, even your friends and main characters. Stray missiles suck.

    It's fantastic.

"And do you think (fop that I am) that I could be the Scarlet Pumpernickel?" -- Looney Tunes, The Scarlet Pumpernickel (1950, Chuck Jones)

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