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Old October 25 2010, 09:18 AM   #1
glock27
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Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

I was wondering if anyone here feels it may be at all possible to develop a warp-capable, single-pilot fighter craft within the bounds of the Star Trek Universe. What would it take to make the smallest craft possible, but which was also capable of high warp speeds while carrying a modest compliment of weaponry with which to do battle?

I'm thinking of a craft, roughly the size of a Formula One race car, capable of keeping up with & attacking a massive starship while travelling at high warp. How possible would it be to develop a warp engine system capable of generating the necessary output, while still being compact enough for a one-man fighter?

I know next to nothing about specs and engineering, and only a little bit more than that about the general idea behind warp mechanics. What needs to be done to make such a spacecraft work?
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Old October 25 2010, 11:02 AM   #2
Timo
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

Basically all 24th century starships can be single-pilot craft if desired. They just won't have much endurance that way, and can't do combat repairs - but a single man could no doubt fly a Miranda or a Galaxy against the enemy if Starfleet were principally concerned about not risking the lives of its men (women, beings, whatever).

If the idea instead is not to risk a big ship, then it probably won't be a good idea to use big engines, either. Those are expensive, probably the most expensive part of a starship. An attrition unit shouldn't have disproportionately big or high-tech engines. However, we've seen that runabouts can do almost warp five, and the similarly sized Starfleet attack fighters are apparently a tad faster because there was no chase scene at the conclusion of "The Maquis II". I guess we have the ideal warp engine there already, then. A 20-30m craft can mount the necessary hardware, and already does.

As for the weaponry, it's indeed modest: we've never seen it do real harm to capital ships. Apart from creating lots and lots of "gasoline explosions" that ultimately don't seem to do much damage, as in "Sacrifice of Angels". In that episode, using fighters against ships was considered a desperation move, and apparently wasn't what those fighters were designed for.

Their onscreen designation was "attack craft", FWIW. Perhaps those craft are mainly used for attacking "soft" targets, possibly on planetary battlefields where starships would have difficulty operating? High speeds wouldn't be crucial for such a role. But I don't see why they should be crucial for any other role, either; if you want firepower at X quickly, you send a full starship to X. She'll be better equipped to deal with whatever challenges may crop up on that distant X anyway.

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Old October 25 2010, 12:29 PM   #3
Pauln6
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

The problem with small craft is energy consumption. It isn't easy to equip small craft with big enough engines to fuel weapons powerful enough to breach the shields of large craft or maintain shields to resist the weapons of large craft. Photon torpedoes are fine but how many can you fit onto a small craft?

The Klingon & Romulan Birds of Prey are examples of small craft that devote a lot of power to weapons and shields and they require 10+ crew to operate fully (don't forget that you need enough crew to man key systems at all times - even klingons sleep).
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Old October 25 2010, 02:06 PM   #4
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

Doesn't the Peregrine class already fill the bill other than having two seats? Look at the size of the torpedo launcher and impulse engines in relation to the whole vessel. It also has four small warp cores and an articulating phaser cannon. We saw these things, with their superior maneuverability and ample firepower, attacking capital ships in DS9.

http://i299.photobucket.com/albums/m...24/maquis2.jpg
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Old October 25 2010, 02:26 PM   #5
Timo
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

I'd dispute that craft being called "Peregrine class", but otherwise I agree. That's apparently the state of the 24th century art. And not very potent against capital ships, not even in great numbers.

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Old October 25 2010, 05:35 PM   #6
YARN
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

glock27 wrote: View Post
I was wondering if anyone here feels it may be at all possible to develop a warp-capable, single-pilot fighter craft within the bounds of the Star Trek Universe. What would it take to make the smallest craft possible, but which was also capable of high warp speeds while carrying a modest compliment of weaponry with which to do battle?

I'm thinking of a craft, roughly the size of a Formula One race car, capable of keeping up with & attacking a massive starship while travelling at high warp. How possible would it be to develop a warp engine system capable of generating the necessary output, while still being compact enough for a one-man fighter?

I know next to nothing about specs and engineering, and only a little bit more than that about the general idea behind warp mechanics. What needs to be done to make such a spacecraft work?
The idea of a single-pilot fighter would be a bit backward looking, don't you think? A piloted fighter is a manned missile, but why risk the man? I think it make more sense to have unmanned drones to supplement the larger ships (a la Andromeda). Next generation fighter aircraft are being designed without cockpits - if we are on the cusp of doing it now, just imagine what we'll be doing in a few hundred years.
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Old October 25 2010, 06:04 PM   #7
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

Timo wrote: View Post
I'd dispute that craft being called "Peregrine class", but otherwise I agree. That's apparently the state of the 24th century art. And not very potent against capital ships, not even in great numbers.
It was good enough to severely endanger Gul Evek's ship in "Preemptive Strike," though it's debatable whether Evek was in danger of being killed or just thoroughly humiliated.
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Old October 25 2010, 06:13 PM   #8
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

I should point out (not for Trek, but for space in general) the entire logic of "space fighters" is backwards thinking in the first place since the nature of the battlefield is so different. The only reason for using fighters is as a delivery system for weapons that are otherwise difficult to put on target in mass numbers, both because of the nature of the target and its defensive weapons. Fighters are meant to be as small and as fast as possible to avoid enemy defenses yet powerful enough to deliver ship/target killing weapons. That puts both a lower and upper limit to their size, hence they tend to be one/two man affairs.

In space, those lower and upper limits disappear because your design specifications change. You don't need a robust airframe to hold everything together, nor do you need wings. The minimalist fighter would literally be a giant propellant tank with an engine and a faring for a missile launcher; the pilot wouldn't even need a cockpit, just a space suit and a seatbelt. You could reduce the weight/increase manueverability by making the propellant tank detachable, in which case what you're basically looking at is a guy in a space suit with a thruster pack and a bazooka...

And in THAT model, space combat looks more like ground combat than its naval counterpart, with space craft as the analog of incredibly large tanks and APCs; boarding actions would be a hell of a lot more common than torpedo runs, not least of which because it's easier to sneak fifty guys in space suits past enemy sensors than it is a squadron of large armed space craft.


As for the OP: it's been done, it can be done, and will be done in the future. That doesn't mean it's a good idea, though. IMO the closest thing in Trek to a "space fighter" is, in fact, the Klingon bird of prey or the Defiant: the right size and armament for the job they have. Someone in Starfleet obviously agrees, since Jem Hadar attack ships are also commonly referred to as "fighters."
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Old October 25 2010, 07:18 PM   #9
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

I always thought the main advantage of having a pilot is that drones require some form of intelligence to run, and AI typically doesn't have the same level of sentience or the ability to things that might be stupid or illogical, but might actually save your life or get the mission accomplished.

Back when seeking missiles started to become commonplace on fighters during the Vietnam era, they built a lot of fighters with nothing but missiles. It was assumed that guns and cannons would no longer be necessary because all air combat would be at long range and you could just fire and forget. But since the earlier systems had a tendency to be unreliable and the pilots weren't properly trained to dogfight, it quickly became obvious that this line of thinking was wrong. That's why modern fighters still carry a gun in addition to their payload, and pilots still go through Top Gun training.

I guess ultimately it would depend on how advanced the AI became. Star Wars is the only series I can think of at the moment that experimented with the idea, using droid brains to control TIE fighters, but the brains were never quite good enough to equal the capabilities of an organic pilot.
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Old October 25 2010, 08:08 PM   #10
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

^ Anime has a better record of that. In some of the Gundam series they had entire mobile suits operated entirely by AIs, which turned out to be superior to all but the most elite human pilots. Later they were used as support units FOR those elite human pilots, which had the effect of turning a single pilot into a one-man juggernaut.

Macross, also, has a history of drone fighters as a force multiplier, most famously in Macross Plus where the X-9 UCAV demonstrated performance so extreme that a human pilot was LITERALLY torn apart just trying to keep up with it.

in Yukikaze the Earth forces deployed a new type of AI controlled fighter to combat an extremely dynamic race of living machines; the AI fighters were so intelligent they were almost able to fight the entire war independently of human control.

In conventional sci-fi, there's always the HKs and Sentinels from Terminator and Matrix. These are "bad guy" mechs, but the concept still stands: they're pretty damned effective, all things considered. Also the Hammerroids from Iron Man 2: also bad guys, but as Whiplash's minions they too serve as a force multiplier.

I guess the thing is it's rare in science fiction to see GOOD GUYS using AIs for combat purposes. The hollywood cliche--and it IS a hollywood one--is that good guys put themselves into harms way, bad guys send someone or something else.
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Old October 25 2010, 09:44 PM   #11
YARN
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

Undead wrote: View Post
I always thought the main advantage of having a pilot is that drones require some form of intelligence to run, and AI typically doesn't have the same level of sentience or the ability to things that might be stupid or illogical, but might actually save your life or get the mission accomplished.
And we once thought that there would never be a computer program that could beat us at chess.

If it were really the case that the occasional "stupid or illogical" guess were really the decisive factor, we could easily program AI to occasionally do perform illogical actions.

There is nothing mystical or magical about human intuition. We don't (directly) understand it simply because are brains are much more sophisticated than our conscious minds. There are all sorts of heuristics and pattern-recognition processes going on in the brain which inform our intuitive leaps, but it ain't magic.

Computer tech is already at the point where the U.S. military is working on the protocols by which a machine, by its own acts of computation, and without outside intervention/approval, will decide how and when to use lethal force on the battlefield.

And don't forget the downside of manned fighters

*Less Expendable
*Cost More
*More complicated (need life support)
*Damage moral/support for war when you lose pilots

Undead wrote: View Post
Back when seeking missiles started to become commonplace on fighters during the Vietnam era, they built a lot of fighters with nothing but missiles. It was assumed that guns and cannons would no longer be necessary because all air combat would be at long range and you could just fire and forget. But since the earlier systems had a tendency to be unreliable and the pilots weren't properly trained to dogfight, it quickly became obvious that this line of thinking was wrong. That's why modern fighters still carry a gun in addition to their payload, and pilots still go through Top Gun training.
And unmanned drones will probably carry cannons too. And when missile tech (BTW, we are arguably already there) gets to the point where engagements are beyond visual range), the cannons can be eliminated or simply kept as a "just in case" weapon.

Undead wrote: View Post
I guess ultimately it would depend on how advanced the AI became. Star Wars is the only series I can think of at the moment that experimented with the idea, using droid brains to control TIE fighters, but the brains were never quite good enough to equal the capabilities of an organic pilot.
Well, that's popular literature serving the needs of human vanity. We like to imagine that the very best pilots will still be better than the very best computers, but this is silly. Should we hope that the very fastest runner could outrun the very fastest machine? Should we hope that the very strongest man could still defeat the strongest machine? Should we hope the that the smartest humans could still defeat the best chess programs?
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Old October 25 2010, 11:02 PM   #12
Timo
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

As we saw in "The Maquis II", these attack fighters are a credible combat force when operating in just ones or twos - provided that the target is soft enough. Keogh derided the craft as "armed shuttlecraft", but those, too, have their valid role in the battlefield. Just because crewed fighters are a silly way of fighting against frighteningly powerful starships doesn't mean they wouldn't be perfectly useful in some other role.

Strikes against soft ground targets would be complex enough to call for "judgement". If that could be relegated to AIs, then Kirk's ship should always have been fully automated, too.

It was good enough to severely endanger Gul Evek's ship in "Preemptive Strike," though it's debatable whether Evek was in danger of being killed or just thoroughly humiliated.
To be sure, that battle involved several Maquis ship types. And while "The Maquis" made it sound like the attack fighters we eventually saw flown by Cal Hudson and his cohorts were the most potent in the Maquis arsenal, some of the types seen in "Preemptive Strike" were at least larger. There was the Bajoran "impulse ship" (although here apparently just as warp-capable as in the Mirror universe), and a couple of those ships that Lieutenant Ro flew for the Maquis later in the ep. That latter type seems to come in two sizes, the bigger being what Eddington and Chakotay flew, and presenting a much bigger threat to starships, too; perhaps we "mistook" one of these larger ships for the smaller type?

If we argue the fighters were not doing real damage in "Sacrifice of Angels" (because the VFX couldn't afford to show real damage), then they certainly weren't doing real damage to Evek's ship, either. We only saw gasoline explosions and charring, not penetrating hits... OTOH, gasoline explosions eventually destroyed Dukat's ship in "Way of the Warrior" (when actual starships were pounding her), so...

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Old October 25 2010, 11:45 PM   #13
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

Undead wrote: View Post
I always thought the main advantage of having a pilot is that drones require some form of intelligence to run, and AI typically doesn't have the same level of sentience or the ability to things that might be stupid or illogical, but might actually save your life or get the mission accomplished.
What's to say the pilot has to be in the ship? They could fly by remote. Picard patched into the navigational control of his Runabout (which he never had long enough to name it seems!) in Timescape.

Why couldn't a shuttle be flown into an enemy target at Warp speed?
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Old October 25 2010, 11:49 PM   #14
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

YARN wrote: View Post

And we once thought that there would never be a computer program that could beat us at chess.
Chess is a strategy game based on a specific set of variables. Almost every computer version of chess I've played is ultimately less satisfying than playing a human opponent, because the computer will always choose the best possible strategy. In this case it's reduction of error that makes the game a bit less fun.

If it were really the case that the occasional "stupid or illogical" guess were really the decisive factor, we could easily program AI to occasionally do perform illogical actions.
That's certainly possible. My point is simply that in some instances, such actions might work a lot better than a rational or logical solution. A solution which the AI might not consider or be willing to pursue, depending on its programming.

There is nothing mystical or magical about human intuition. We don't (directly) understand it simply because are brains are much more sophisticated than our conscious minds. There are all sorts of heuristics and pattern-recognition processes going on in the brain which inform our intuitive leaps, but it ain't magic.
I agree. Humans, like computer systems, are ultimately only as good as training, intuition and so forth give them an advantage. If eventually there is an AI system that has a better range of thinking on our level, then I think controlling drones and such would be a good application over living pilots.

Computer tech is already at the point where the U.S. military is working on the protocols by which a machine, by its own acts of computation, and without outside intervention/approval, will decide how and when to use lethal force on the battlefield.
And what happens if, for the sake of argument, they don't design the "off" switch particularly well? Setting aside the question of how advanced the AI has to be to perform, there may be areas where it simply wouldn't be more preferable over a living controller.



Well, that's popular literature serving the needs of human vanity. We like to imagine that the very best pilots will still be better than the very best computers, but this is silly. Should we hope that the very fastest runner could outrun the very fastest machine? Should we hope that the very strongest man could still defeat the strongest machine? Should we hope the that the smartest humans could still defeat the best chess programs?
* shrugs * Some of it might be a reflection of vanity, but I think in many cases it's also a reflection of practicality. As Spock says in "The Ultimate Computer," a machine that can do things far more efficiently than a human is not automatically better. And if the majority of chess programs are only "intuitive" in picking the single best move, every turn, then they're not strategizing the way a human player does. They're just filling in the next blank.
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Old October 26 2010, 01:52 AM   #15
Wingsley
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Re: Warp-Capable, Single-Pilot Fighter Craft?

glock27 wrote: View Post
I was wondering if anyone here feels it may be at all possible to develop a warp-capable, single-pilot fighter craft within the bounds of the Star Trek Universe. What would it take to make the smallest craft possible, but which was also capable of high warp speeds while carrying a modest compliment of weaponry with which to do battle?

I'm thinking of a craft, roughly the size of a Formula One race car, capable of keeping up with & attacking a massive starship while travelling at high warp. How possible would it be to develop a warp engine system capable of generating the necessary output, while still being compact enough for a one-man fighter?

I know next to nothing about specs and engineering, and only a little bit more than that about the general idea behind warp mechanics. What needs to be done to make such a spacecraft work?

If you'll recall from DS9's "The Search", the Federation (publicly) doesn't believe in warships, so it would logically follow they would not (publicly) believe in fighter-craft, either. Of course, desperate times may call for desperate measures, but there is another major consideration: the nature of weaponry in STAR TREK.

Federation starships tend to employ two types of weapons technologies: the beam projecting phasers (particle beams), and missiles/torpedoes. The nearest rival powers (Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians) seems to rely on at least somewhat similar technologies. Even frontier confrontations with the Tholians, Borg and Dominion seem to apply vaguely similar weapons much of the time. The point? TREK's weaponry paradigm seems to rest on big-gun exchanges between opposing starships-of-the-line that serve as useful platforms for beam- and missile-based weapons systems capable of repetitive firing. In contrast, even when a DS9 Runabout is so equipped, it seems only capable of severely limited firepower. And it's also worth noting that starships-of-the-line also offer defensive shields to deflect/absorb incoming fire.

So the only way I could see fighter-based confrontations working in the TREK Universe would be if (1: they could offer defensive abilities to deal with incoming fire, or face a high mortality rate without them; (2: they could employ as-yet unseen weapons technologies to make a fighter-based dimension to deep space confrontations credible; (3: these craft would also offer a non-military dimension, so that they would be useful for transportation and exploration.

Since we never saw such as class of craft deployed throughout TOS and the 23rd-century movies, it's safe to say the technology made such a concept impractical for that era. I'm not sure that the TNG / post-TNG era would be any different.
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