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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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  • 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.

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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:Shiny! (Score:5, Insightful)

    by X0563511 ( 793323 ) on Saturday September 29, 2012 @12:04PM (#41499163) Homepage Journal

    Joe Haldeman's Forever War seemed good, too.

  • 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.

  • 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 Anonymous Coward on Saturday September 29, 2012 @06:42PM (#41502071)

    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.

    Gotta love people arrogant enough to pontificate on subjects that have never fucking happened.

  • by EdIII ( 1114411 ) on Sunday September 30, 2012 @08:40PM (#41509523)

    Not so obvious. It seems you implied the moment the heat was released from the engine it could be sensed instantly by remote craft. That is the biggest obstacle to space battles, the speed at which information travels.

    IMO, it is often overlooked because in conventional battles light and sound is transmitting fast enough that information is only delayed by fractions of second, if that.

    Additionally, one might be overlooking the amount of information. Take a fighter jet involved in a dog fight in Earth's atmosphere. It's onboard sensors only have to monitor a small area compared to space. Take a fighter jet orbiting Saturn. How much information does that fighter jet need to process to detect heat patterns around Mercury?

    Having information of what happened 10 minutes ago is not all that tactically valuable for immediate offensive maneuvers. You would need to gather a lot of data and predict where that fighter would be in the future and coordinate your weapons to arrive on target.

    Most weapons are not FTL either, not that it would matter. Firing instantly where they were is pointless unless you are operating under the believe they are stationary. Something that would seem to be suicidal in my book. Even with near light speed weapons like lasers, fusion beams, whatever, you still need to hit a target most likely in motion, and from predicted targeting data with lag time measured in minutes.

    Space battles will truly be an example of where information is power. Strength will mostly likely be measured in stealth and information processing abilities, not firepower.

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