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Sci-Fi The Military Technology

Aircraft Carriers In Space 409

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Smeh. (Score:5, Informative)

    by drinkypoo ( 153816 ) <> 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

  • 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. :/

  • 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 []. The winners were clearly function over form, which was nice to see. (Space Volvos?)

  • 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.
  • Re:Babylon 5 (Score:5, Informative)

    by K. S. Kyosuke ( 729550 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @11:36AM (#41498969)

    And why would they contact them about the "design" when all they had is a 3D model?

    I believe that what is meant by that is the configuration of thrusters (giving you good moments of force and forward thrust at the same time for combat maneuvering) and the mass distribution (balancing the moment of inertia among the possible axes of rotation). They probably didn't mean the control chip serial numbers.

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

    Before the reboot of Battlestar, there was [].
    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 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: []

    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.

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

    by RobertLTux ( 260313 ) <robert@lauBLUEre ... .org minus berry> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:54PM (#41499565)

    the point is that they DID work things out.
    a StarFury had a total of eight SETS of thrusters and NASA did the numbers and found out that the base model was actually sound.

    im not sure about the atmo winglets in the late model starfuries but the whole thing of the thrusters being mounted to flip the craft about was seen to be sound. also im not sure if the WhiteStars are not more "just make it look cool" but they used AG thrusters anyway.

  • 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.

  • by khasim ( 1285 ) <> on Saturday September 29, 2012 @01:10PM (#41499663) []

    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:Shiny! (Score:5, Informative)

    by Areyoukiddingme ( 1289470 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @06:46PM (#41502107)

    And goddamn depressing, too. You can tell Haldeman learned about war in Viet Nam. It's too damn bad people have already forgotten what was learned. (And really damned irritating that the publicity for David Sherman's novels tries to claim he's the only sci fi author with combat experience, when both Haldeman and Pournelle are still alive, and are considerably better writers.)

  • Re:Sad (Score:5, Informative)

    by sFurbo ( 1361249 ) on Monday October 01, 2012 @04:16AM (#41511231)

    At a range of lightseconds your lasers will be too diffuse

    The diffusion of laser goes down with diameter of main mirror squared (or waist size squared, to be technical). If I am not mistaken (and I might be, please tell me if I am), a 400 nm laser with a 10 m waist will have a width of 14 m at 2.6 light seconds [] (formula from Wikipedia []). It will thus have an effect per area of half of what is has a point blank range, which is far from useless.

The last thing one knows in constructing a work is what to put first. -- Blaise Pascal