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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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  • Babylon 5 (Score:5, Informative)

    by dreamchaser (49529) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:33AM (#41498651) Homepage Journal

    I always liked how space combat was portrayed in Babylon 5. It mostly adhered to proper physics of spaceflight, and the battles always seemed to be more realistic to me. I know that is subjective, but it seems it was the best of anything on TV or in the theater. Don't even get me started on Star Trek. It makes Star Wars look realistic and that's hard to do.

    • http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacewarintro.php [projectrho.com]

      Space is 3 dimensional.
      Space is FUCKING HUGE!
      There is no stealth in space.
      There are no quick course changes in space.

      • 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 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.

          • by EdIII (1114411) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:39PM (#41499415)

            As soon as you do anything other than drift your engines are seen instantly

            Since when is anything in space instant?

            Light from the sun takes a full 8 minutes to get to Earth. If I am halfway between the Sun and the Earth than anything that I do will take 4 minutes to reach Earth.

            There are all these assumptions that we would have FTL, and be able to move at considerable fractions of FTL during battle. However, the information and light is not moving at FTL at all. When you come into a system at FTL and commence your run on the Death Thingie it won't even know you are there for a few minutes, and even then needs to calculate your trajectory to determine you are coming at.

            You would need some impressive FTL sensors that gather information at a distance without such limitations before you can start treating space battles as anything close to dog fights around carriers in the ocean where information is being transmitted between units in very small fractions of second instead of minutes.

            • by raehl (609729) <raehl311@@@yahoo...com> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @05:51PM (#41501801) Homepage

              Irregular movement.

              If you FTL into the system three light-minutes away from me, I won't see you until 3 minutes later.

              But by the time you get to where I was, I would be 3 minutes away from there.

              Of course, you could argue that irregular movement in space is hard, but, well, so are FTLs.

              • by nedlohs (1335013)

                There is no FTL. Yes if you magitech you can stealth to, but I thought the topic was realism.

            • There are all these assumptions that we would have FTL, and be able to move at considerable fractions of FTL during battle.

              BSG suggested that FTL drives needed considerable time to spin up (30+ mins), so their use in battle might similarly be limited depending on how they functionally work. ST:NG had the 'Piccard Maneuver', where short warp drive jumps were made. Numerous SF works have described torpedoes that have warp drives on them to hit an opponent at light speed. (The Berserker series, springs to mind with c+ weaponry).

        • by khasim (1285) <brandioch.conner@gmail.com> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:10PM (#41499663)

          http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacewardetect.php#nostealth [projectrho.com]

          The problem is that most people get their "information" from TV shows and movies that have a limited special effects budget. And a need to be exciting enough to keep the audience interested.

          Any form of energy that you put out will be detectable by your opponents at ranges that give them minutes or hours or days or years of reaction time. There's no surprise there.

          If you attempt to screen your energy output then you need perfect knowledge of the exact location of ALL of the the enemy sensors.

          So you send out decoys. But that means that you're really building additional drives exactly like your drive. And the enemy will detect them with minutes or hours or days or years to prepare. So why not just put weapons on them and use them as part of your fleet?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by maxwell demon (590494)

            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 eve

            • In the book series The Night's Dawn Trilogy space combat was between manned ships which launched weapons drones. They were nothing more than a navigational computer strapped to an engine with lots of sub-munitions(nukes, kinetic projectiles, bomb pumped lasers, and ECM pods). They'd fly around with pretty realistic physics and launch swarms of the drones at each other, along the most probable paths the other ship would take, and then the drones would just fly in and shotgun all their munitions in the hope
      • by 605dave (722736) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:29AM (#41498939) Homepage
        It's not a good site for extrapolating web design theories though.
    • 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.

      • 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

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

        by OzPeter (195038) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:38AM (#41498977)

        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.

        If you think of the sounds of things in space as being enhanced reality injected into your cabin environment by computers that are trying to map electronic sensors into something that human senses can cope with - then it starts to make some sense.

        • 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.

      • You know; I've started to wonder if we're too hard on the sounds in space issue. A close passing ship? I actually could see that as causing noise.. after all, the people inside are not in a vacuum. Did the Apollo astronauts hear their engines firing? A close passing ship could cause a vibration in your ship's hull (caused by the impact of whatever material is leaving their engines or some other mechanism), which generates sound in the ears of the people inside, carried through the internal atmosphere. If we

      • 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, Informative)

      by anasciiman (528060) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:55AM (#41498763) Homepage

      Since you mentioned B5, it's sad to note that Michael O'Hare (Sinclair/Valen) passed away yesterday at age 60. That makes five dead from that show now. :/

    • Realism is highly overrated when it comes to fiction.
      • by Smallpond (221300)

        Arthur C. Clarke was probably the most concerned with "real" science in his works. 2001 turned out pretty good.

        • True, but then there aren't many Clarkes around (in fact there are none really, which is sad in itself). He always seemed to make it look he began with his premise and considered the challenges are pitfalls that might occur, rather than working backwards from the shiny explosion and shoe-horning in some science. Also, not a great deal of realism required once you get to "man flies into black box and comes out as space baby."
          • It makes more sense in the novel. Spoilers, but...

            The Monolith is a tool. It isn't sentient, and as such isn't very good at adapting. It's programmed to seek life or potential life, protect it and direct it's evolution towards intelligence. But, having done so, it is left with a problem: Lacking the adaptability of full sentience, it could not communicate with the new civilisation it created due to an unbridgeable cultural difference between them and it's own creators. Thus it's program has one final step:
    • 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?"'

      It's called over-thinking. You probably also take joy in telling small children that there is no Santa Claus.

    • by Chewbacon (797801)
      I liked Mass Effect's way of doing a few things in space warfare. There was always a consequence for whatever awesome technology was out there. Fuel constraints for FTL travel; coming out of FTL speed meant everyone knew you were there because it set off fireworks on sensors; despite the huge benefits of mass effect cores, you had to vent heat from your ship or fry your crew; and there was even issues with static charge build up from being in FTL. They took technological advances that we would think we c
      • by nedlohs (1335013)

        Missiles replace fighters entirely in any realistic setting. Or at the very least drones is the engines are significantly more expensive than the weapons. Why have a human who has to be kept alive when a machine can survive significantly higher acceleration and you don't need all that life support mass.

        Makes for boring fiction though.

    • B5 got the physics absolutely right with the Starfuries, but not the big ships. Huge Omega-class destroyers wouldn't close to just a few kilometers to fight; they'd fire missiles and launch fighters from thousands of klicks out. But, that wouldn't look as good or be as exciting on screen, so, artistic license.
      • 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:4, Informative)

      by fm6 (162816) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:07PM (#41499639) Homepage Journal

      B5 did make a serious effort to adhere to real world physics. (If only they'd made the same effort with dialog!) That actually bothered a lot of viewers, who didn't understand why spacecraft approached the station stern-first. In a Newtonian universe, a spacecraft has to throw reaction mass forward to decelerate. But most people still think in Aristotelian physics, where a moving object that doesn't get forward force gradually stops moving.

      Audience expectation is the big reaason science in movies and TV is so bad. You even see this in ordinary situations. For example, the sound of a gun being fired is always heard before the resulting impact or explosion, even when proectiles are clearly supersonic. And of course that makes for unscientific science fiction. Audiences don't that sound doesn't travel through a vacuum or that light has a finite speed (hence the inability of the Cylons to capitalize on one-way information flow).

      OK, modern scientific literacy sucks. But what's frustrating is that it's so poor among people who are serious about consuming and even producing SF. I remember a frustrating conversation I had on a Firefly fan site trying to explain why FTL was needed to travel between star systems in anything less than years. And the people I was trying to explain to weren't stupid; what made it frustrating was their feeling that it would be some kind of moral value to admit that they were ignorant.

      Totally beyond the pale are writers who pretend to have more scientific literacy than they actually have. The writers for the revived Star Trek franchise have always been the worst. People a "planetoid" is just a synonym for "asteroid". Uh, you do know what an asteroid is, right? OK, maybe not.

    • 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.

      • Er, you're mostly right, except the entire series is simultaneously completely unreasonable.

        David Weber invents whole swaths of physics, notably detailed artificial gravity control (without the use of large masses) and inertial dampening, both of which are completely fiction and likely to stay that way. It's great that he then sticks to his own framework assiduously, but it's a completely artificial framework, and the whole thing is based on historical naval warfare. Very thinly veiled, at that. He start

        • by swillden (191260)

          David Weber invents whole swaths of physics, notably detailed artificial gravity control (without the use of large masses) and inertial dampening, both of which are completely fiction and likely to stay that way.

          Meh. If you're going to have stories set in space you have to invent technology that makes it reasonable. In the case of the Honorverse, Weber clearly wanted to be able to draw a lot of inspiration from great naval battles, where maneuvering for position is essential, which implies a need for extremely high acceleration rates, unless you're going to abandon physics entirely or ignore issues of scale (the approach taken by most space combat).

          Finding a way to make space combat both plausible and exciting,

  • by OS24Ever (245667) * <trekkie@nomorestars.com> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:34AM (#41498655) Homepage Journal

    Can you imagine what those shows would have been like had they tried to apply science as we know it?

    If you'd like a try, there is a series of books about "Black Jack" Geary that has FTL combat. It's actually quite a good read from a naval combat in space perspective with light speed weaponry + kinetic weaponry + trying to shoot at things that are moving up to 0.1c and what not. But, if you're not into that kind of thing it's got to be a horrid thing to read.

    But they do address the few minutes away FTL issue, but it's because you can only enter/exit a system at certain points so unless you're going to turn around and leave you can't micro jump at them.

    • by X0563511 (793323)

      Titles/author please?

      • by RobotRunAmok (595286) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:27PM (#41499329)

        The Black Geary Books, as fans often refer to them, are "officially" known as the "Lost Fleet" books by Jack Campbell.

        The first one is "The Lost Fleet: Dauntless." I believe there is a total of six in the series. He followed that series up with further Black Jack adventures in the now-ongoing series "The Lost Fleet: Beyond The Frontier."

        The Amazon Link: http://amzn.to/R2vhfI [amzn.to]

        The neatest thing I found about the series (other than all the geometry), is that Black Jack -- a war hero revived after 100 years in stasis -- is the reverse-type to the trope of Ancient Badass Warrior Travels to Future and Kicks Soft Pasty-White Butts Living in Luxury Too Long. In Geary's "relative future," he is the Enlightened Man, using sophisticated naval tactics no longer taught at Academy because the peeps of that relative future are so angry and beaten down by a century of war that all they want to do is just ram their ships into the enemy and rip out their opponents' lungs with their teeth.

    • But I also enjoy reading pure Mathematics texts.

      The Black Jack books are the first ones I've ever read since the "Choose Your Own Adventure" series where I felt the need to keep a pen and paper nearby. Half the time it seems that Black Jack wins his engagements because he knows how to use a protractor and his opponents don't...

    • One of my absolute favourite space combat games with FTL was Independence War 2 - you could turn on warp whenever you wanted to do micro-jumps in a straight line, and control your speed using a throttle. But you had to be careful - if you opened the throttle up too far, you could collide with something (a large ship or planetary body) instantaneously. There were also some weapons which used FTL - most notably missiles which would target ships warping away, shutting them down temporarily and signalling their
    • by fermion (181285)
      There are ways to apply science as we know it to make it interesting, though you don't have to be a slave to it. For instance, the thrusters in babylon 5 tried to apply realistic kinematics. Also in babylon 5 the mass bombardment depicts a reasonable form of warfare using materials already in space, and not energy weapons or material that must be lifted into space. Energy weapons and force fields are always a science problem, as discussed in a couple episodes fo Doctor Who.

      But science can be taken too

  • Shiny! (Score:5, Informative)

    by neBelcnU (663059) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:36AM (#41498669) Journal

    We have to differentiate between "made for the screen" and books: Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars were made to look pretty. Everyone can cite their fave SciFi books, but I'll just go with Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat, who eloquently asserted that interstellar war was a complete waste of effort, then goes on to write one book where (wait for it) a bunch of folks decide to wage interstellar war.

    • couple other books that take a good hard science based look at space combat are Jump Pay, by Rick Shelly, and the Leviathan Wakes from 'The Expanse' series by James S. A. Corey. It's been to long since I re-read Jump Pay to remember the FTL details, and Leviathan Wakes does not have FTL, but both detail the difficulties of space combat. Careful though, Leviathan Wakes will make you read all night and be dead at work the next day.
    • Re:Shiny! (Score:5, Insightful)

      by RockDoctor (15477) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:23PM (#41499301) Journal

      but I'll just go with Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat, who eloquently asserted that interstellar war was a complete waste of effort, then goes on to write one book where (wait for it) a bunch of folks decide to wage interstellar war.

      To complete the bits you left out, and spoil the story for those who might read it... they decided to wage interstellar ECONOMIC war in combination with political manoeuvring and installed a Quisling government, BEFORE staging what looked like an interstellar war. Which was the point of the story. Once a target planet had an effective guerilla resistance (a.k.a. "insurgent" in modern double-talk), the invasion from a long way away couldn't maintain it's huge expenditure on men, materiel and transport and the invasion failed with an economic collapse in the home country.

      Harrison was writing in what - the late 60s or so? So he can't have been referring to this generation's long-distance wars. Perhaps he was referring to some other long-distance war of the 1960s which ended in a damaging defeat for the aggressor nation in the face of a determined guerilla war.

  • Playing with FTL (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tmosley (996283) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:41AM (#41498685)
    Three light minutes is a long way away, and the Cylons weren't infinitely advanced. They were only somewhat more advanced than the humans, who, aside from their jump drives, aren't much more advanced than us. Could you examine 360x180 degrees of sky for a kilometer long object at 54 million miles away within three minutes? I don't think so. Further, there is a reason they kept jumping away. They would make a few quick jumps and the Cylons would need a trillion times as much manpower to find them.
    • Actually, it is pretty easy. Any spacecraft gives off heat, and infrared radiation is easy to spot in clumps, compared to celestial bodies that aren't planets or stars.
    • by gQuigs (913879)

      **** SPOILER ***

      Actually the Cylons had a tracking device on one or two of the ships, so it's even a bit worse. I got the impression that the Cylons were just messing with the surviving humans.

      • by Minwee (522556)

        I got the impression that the Cylons were just messing with the surviving humans.

        You're close. It's the _writers_ who were messing with the _audience_.

  • by overshoot (39700) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:46AM (#41498717)

    Modest props to David Weber, who introduced carriers (for fairly good reasons, mostly having to do with life support and cost) to his Honorverse.

    And then, as he spent more time working out the actual dynamics of combat in his universe, rapidly reduced their combat utility, shifted their mission roles, and generally de-emphasized them from their projected value.

    • by OzPeter (195038)

      Modest props to David Weber..

      I'm coming to the conclusion that that David Weber is actually a pseudonym for a group of hack writers that are simply rehashing C.S.Forester books about naval warfare. That and the fact that he has at least 3 different concepts in publication at the moment:

      1) World War 1 & 2 in space (Honorverse)
      2) 18th century naval warfare (Safehold)
      3) Vampires In Space (Out of the Dark .. reads and ends like it will be a series, but no second book yet)

      • by swillden (191260)

        Weber is the first to point out that Honor Harrington is a deliberate re-imagining of Horatio Hornblower. Her arc has continued beyond the point where Hornblower died, but that was actually a change in plans caused by angst among fans who didn't want the story to end. The stories, however, definitely go well beyond Forester's books in the complexity of the plots and on the number and choice of themes. And I agree with the GP that Weber does a great job of inventing a form of space combat that is plausibl

  • by PsychoSlashDot (207849) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:47AM (#41498723)
    As usual, when it comes to nitpicking science fiction, assumptions as bogus as those in the fiction get applied.

    In BSG - for instance - every time we see observation of enemy ship positions, the sensors used (DRADIS) appear to be active sensors, not passive. A cylon basestar jumping 3 light minutes away from Galactica wouldn't observe its presence for six minutes. At least in that show, such vast distances weren't particularly useful.

    That's where the inevitable "well, they should've" speculation comes in. Kinetic kill weapons should be used, right? Passive projectiles from far away with massive velocity just smash into where a target is/was/will be. Okay, well, the counter-speculation kicks in with "if anyone used that tactic, it would be SOP to have all ships injecting a random factor into their movement".

    Blah, blah, blah. All of this misses the fundamental truth: this is all about entertainment. Accuracy isn't necessarily entertaining, and in the case of space battles, very likely wouldn't be entertaining at all if it were utterly realistic.
    • by 1u3hr (530656)

      In BSG - for instance - every time we see observation of enemy ship positions, the sensors used (DRADIS) appear to be active sensors, not passive. A cylon basestar jumping 3 light minutes away from Galactica wouldn't observe its presence for six minutes. At least in that show, such vast distances weren't particularly useful.

      Also it's "dradis". Which isn't explained, but does appear to be effectively instantaneous. When they start a scan they get an image from millions of miles away in seconds. In BSG they have FTL travel, so FTL "radar" isn't out of the question.

      Anyway, the incredulity came with the robot Cylon fighters not being able to hit the side of a barn, despite being designed to be killing machines and having faster ships; while the human piloted fighters could take out Cylons pretty easily. And neither side seemed t

    • by cmarkn (31706)

      If the ship you are searching for has been in one spot for more than three minutes when you jump in, then it can be seen immediately. More precisely, for whatever time t it has been sitting, it can be seen at distance d = ct, where c is the speed of light, because light from it has filled a sphere that large. Meanwhile the ship that jumped in starts emitting infrared and reflecting starlight to create the lightsphere in which it is visible.

      So the cylons could jump to three light minutes out, shoot beam we

  • Maybe they could explain why fighters always have to fly nose-first, like an F-22 or something. And don't get me started about banking while turning...
    • Inertial effects on the pilot, if it has one - G forces and airframe stresses still exist in space, and so do the best methods for limiting them.

    • a couple things

      1 at close ranges you might want to have the pilot actually looking in the direction he is going

      2 there were a few times in B5 where they did fly "backwards" (mostly in a "just before firing guns" kind of thing)

    • by Greyfox (87712)
      Not to mention the pointlessness of having a dogfight in space in the first place, when you could just sit back out of dogfight range and go "Pew... Pew..." with a .1c railgun and projectiles the size of the fighters. Ultimately, though, I think space combat would involve both your ships' computers getting together, calculating the outcome of the battle based on the ship's capabilities and the far ship's estimated capabilities, and having one ship surrender or run away.
  • by Chemisor (97276) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:52AM (#41498741)

    Don't get me started on how transporters are not used properly [slashdot.org] in Star Trek...

    • D00d, you wrote a 2000+ word essay -- on a Slashdot Blog! -- complaining about how the practical applications of Transporter Beams weren't effectively realized on Star Trek (Which is fictional, by the way. FYI)

      You're, like, The Uber-Geek. The ur-Nerd.

      I got the same weird mixed feelings of respect and mockery reading that essay that is usually reserved for when I see pictures of some Steampunk Cosplay Guy who's built a working jetpack. Over nights and weekends for the past three years.

      Well done, Sir! I

  • Smeh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by drinkypoo (153816) <martin.espinoza@gmail.com> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @10:54AM (#41498757) Homepage Journal

    a submarine is a vessel designed to hide under the water, which obscures your vision and forces you to use capricious sensors like sonar. Space, on the other hand, is wide open, and any ship putting out enough heat to keep its crew alive stands out from the background, if you have enough time to look.

    In space the issue is not being hidden but being far away. Stuff shows up here at Earth all the time that we weren't expecting, and a whole lot of us have nothing better to do than to watch the skies. Warships would likely be actively trying to hide; they'd actively mask any forward emissions, they'd be painted the truest black that could be had, and that black would also be radar-masking.

    in space, you don't need that doorway between the sea and the sky, because your "fighter" is operating in the same medium as the mothership. You don't need a flight deck. You just need a hatch, or maybe just a clamp that attaches the fighter to the hull if you don't mind leaving it outside. You don't need the big engines or the big elevated flight deck. And hence it doesn't make nearly so much sense to put all of your eggs in one basket

    It doesn't make sense to keep your X-Wings inside of a carrier because they have their own hyperdrives and shields. But it does make sense to keep TIE fighters inside of one because they don't.

    If you do a fairly simple extrapolation of current technology, what you end up with is space combat as sort of ponderous ballet with shots fired at long distance at fairly fragile targets where you have to predict where the target is going to be.

    If you do a fairly simple extrapolation of current technology then you're probably writing speculative fiction. There's lots of other kinds. He's upset because all science fiction doesn't boringly extrapolate from current technology?

    Babylon 5 was closer in that it understood that there is no air in space and you don't bank. But even on that show, the ships would be under thrust, and then they decide to go back the way they come, they would spin around and almost immediately start going in the opposite direction.

    Right, because they weren't going as fast relative to their surroundings as they possibly could be, because it would only cause them problems later when they chose to change course. Sometimes they would presumably make trips at high V, but mostly they used hyperspace. The ships you mostly saw make turns were White stars, which are special alien technology doodads, and star furies, which were never really going all that fast to begin with, and which are fighters and thus have very high thrust-to-mass ratios.

    one thing that drives me crazy is that on Star Trek, you're either on watch or off duty, when a real naval officer has a whole other job, such as being a department or division head. So he's constantly doing paperwork. Most shows don't get that right at all.

    Yes, this is Roddenberry's vision of the future, where we've moved past a military mentality and people who have jobs in what is currently a military context are also permitted to have lives not centered around service.

    FP: So a universe of faster-than-light travel favors surprise attacks?
    CW: It really, really does. You can go and mug somebody and they never see it coming. Of course, not all faster-than-light drives in fiction work the same way, but the Cylon drives certainly had that attribute.

    It also matters whether you have FTL communications, and whether FTL is fold or warp technology.

    Most science fiction does not cover the whole model; at best it might cover Fleet Missions and Fleet Design in detail, with most other areas only vaguely defined.

    Yes, no shit. Most science fiction is not a war novel. A war is usually a back story for science fiction.

    This idea that Captain Kirk leaves on

    • A refit a year keeps the borg [wikipedia.org] far from here!

      Remember in one episode of TNG, these guys named Binars (the ones who communicate with each other through auditory binary, like modems!) lure Riker away with a smoking hot holo-chick. Picard joins him, meanwhile the binars commit grand theft galaxy class.

      Then they use enterprise to backup their data and reinstall their like, collective consciousness so they can save their people. THEN they justify it by saying basically "take what the fuck you need then apolo
  • 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.

  • by jonsmirl (114798) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:04AM (#41498815) Homepage

    Ian Douglas' Star Carrier series does a reasonable treatment of this. All of his battle scenes involve dealing with speed of light restrictions. The characters have FTL drive but it is only useful for travel between stars. Three book series is a good read.

  • by Mozai (3547) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:19AM (#41498881) Homepage

    It's tangentially relevant, but this is "news for nerds": there was a contest for building realistic space fighters [brothers-brick.com]. The winners were clearly function over form, which was nice to see. (Space Volvos?)

  • but the next evolution of warfare should not be to explore new operating environments, but to deprecate it entirely.

  • by Chemisor (97276) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:23AM (#41498913)

    The article falls into the common error of thinking there is no stealth in space. Yes, your ship will radiate heat and propellants, but you do have the choice of direction in which to radiate them. Your space ship's bow could be at ambient temperature and projecting active camouflage starfield while directing all radiation out the back. Because there is no atmosphere and thus no scattering, this ship would not be visible if you are looking at its bow. All the emissions are directed away from you and can not be detected by you. Active camouflage takes care of most starfield occlusion tests, and the sheer size of space makes radar impractical, making the ship almost completely invisible.

  • 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.
  • by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:30AM (#41498947)
    ...illustrates how military pilots recruited for the US space program thought they could pilot spacecrafts the same way they did with military airplanes, and utterly failed at it. Some of the fools even insisted initially on having direct mechanical control over the RCS thrusters, the way they did it with P-51 Mustangs, before they had to admit that there are too many DOFs for any sort of manual control, and gave in to feedback control systems providing such things as automatic rotation kill and a vast array of semi-manual modes to alleviate the brain from doing having to do rigid body dynamics calculations. A great read, and a vindication to all the control systems geeks out there. BTW, Armstrong, seeing a he is a hot topic these days, mastered the guidance computer and loved it, as far as I can recall.
  • And that's why the Star Wars prequels were forced to introduce swarms of drones.

    It's a common problem with sci-fi prequels -- keeping the science (and the societal norms) more advanced than the present day but less advanced than what was shown in the original episodes.

  • I liked the Stars at War series by Steve White and David Weber which had Carriers and Battleships in the fleets, and some alien races that made good use of fighters (most notably the "Tabbies" which were kind of a cross between Kzinti and Klingoms.)

    Of course you have to have some way of protecting the crews of all space combat vessels from the acceleration needed to have a battle take place in a reasonable time,and of course the FTL capablity to get your ships there before everybody dies of boredom and old

  • by Arkan (24212) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:20PM (#41499277)

    Before the reboot of Battlestar, there was http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space:_Above_and_Beyond [wikipedia.org].
    On all aspect of warfare in a space age, they had a pretty good vision of how everything would be done, from space dogfight between light fighters to land assault and extraction.

  • by Tei (520358) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:44PM (#41499469) Journal

    So much of western sci-fi have pilots of fighters in a style that looks more WW1 than anything else because is good for storytelling. And most "sci-fi" is optimized for that.

    Not all of it, you have some anime series where you have something probably more realisitic, like hordes of ships with computers doing the firing, mostly lasers.

    Popular science-fiction is sorta "pop culture", and is for the most part very "pulp".

    • by srmalloy (263556)

      So much of western sci-fi have pilots of fighters in a style that looks more WW1 than anything else because is good for storytelling. And most "sci-fi" is optimized for that.

      This. Look at the progression of engagement ranges. In WWI, you had fighters shooting at each other at ranges of perhaps a couple of hundred feet, with an attacker who had surprise often closing within fifty feet of their opponent before opening fire. In WWII, with improved guns, combat ranges increased to a few hundred yards, with some excellent shots being able to hit targets six or seven hundred yards out, but surprise attacks might be made at under a hundred yards; while it was not normally possible to

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