Aircraft carriers & realism in space

Discussion in 'Trek Literature' started by Jarvisimo, Feb 15, 2013.

  1. Jarvisimo

    Jarvisimo Captain Captain

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    Doug Drexler linked to an article on Foreign Policy on Facebook, entitled 'Aircraft Carriers in Space', an interview with 'with Chris Weuve, a naval analyst, former U.S. Naval War College research professor, and an ardent science-fiction fan'.

    It's really interesting, and whilst not a lit subject, I wondered if the authors - who engage more realistically and deeply with 'space physics' and military policy and so on than the writers of the tv shows - would be interested in commenting on it.

     
  2. Relayer1

    Relayer1 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    There was a very interesting thread about a year ago regarding space fighters and would they be any use against capital ships with shields, computer guided weapons, FTL drive and inertial dampers.

    The verdict was that TTF here was little point to fighters, but playing devils advocate, one or two of us made a limited case for them.
     
  3. Patrick O'Brien

    Patrick O'Brien Captain Captain

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    Great quote: I also know a number of naval officers who have admitted to me that the reason they joined the Navy was because Starfleet Command wasn't hiring.:bolian:
     
  4. Lonemagpie

    Lonemagpie Writer Admiral

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    Carrier-based fighters would work best for dropping fighters into atmospheric combat and recovering them after.

    I've always seen space combat as more likely to be a mix of WW2 style capital ships and submarines... In dramatic terms submarines make sense because, like starships, they have to be self-contained against an inimical environment outside the hull...
     
  5. Relayer1

    Relayer1 Rear Admiral Rear Admiral

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    Δ Good point.

    The main use for fighters I could come up with was strategic - whilst little or no use in space combat they are relatively cheap and mass produceable and deployment in numbers would force an enemy to spread their capital ships over a wide area to nullify their effect.
     
  6. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    I think using fighters at all is an outmoded idea. Even in the present day, there are more drone pilots than fighter pilots in the US Air Force. Drone technology has advanced to the point that there's little need to risk a person's life by sticking them in a fighter -- and in an SF/space-battle context, an uncrewed drone can perform better than a fighter, because it doesn't need to waste mass and power on life support and radiation shielding and can accelerate far harder.

    The one advantage to live pilots in a space-combat situation is that there's no lightspeed time lag for remote control. Autonomous smart drones are another possibility, but there are ethical questions with taking humans out of the decision-making loop. Still, in such a case it might make more sense to keep the pilots in a well-shielded command ship that controlled an armada of drones that stayed within a light-second of it.
     
  7. Jarvisimo

    Jarvisimo Captain Captain

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    I would love more allusions to drone combat in Trek: it makes so much more sense, for many of the reasons Chris outlines. Indeed, Cold Equations had drone bodes, and Enterprise drone ships, so why not low-cost drone 'fighters'? Indeed given the miraculous ability of a ship like Voyager to apparently manufacture shuttles ad infinitum, drones could make a quick and dirty way of putting capital killing weapons into places of maximum effect and zero survivability. Although such brute force is more reflective of the nihilism of the Romulan War, the TOS Federaton-Klingon conflict (as seen especially in Vanguard), the Dominion War and Destiny than any other 'period'.
     
  8. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Nothing miraculous about it, at least no more miraculous than the replicators in the mess hall. If they could replicate food, they could replicate shuttle components just as easily. All you need is the raw materials and the pattern, and a team of engineers to assemble the components, as we were shown outright in "Extreme Risk." Heck, we're on the verge of a very similar technology today with 3D printing.


    As for the use of drones in Trek, there have always been far fewer robots depicted in the franchise than there should be. Why don't they send down robot probes to survey new planets before risking a landing party? Where are the maintenance robots that keep the ship clean and perform repairs in hazardous environments? We don't even see Starfleet crews using waldos to manipulate mysterious alien technologies within quarantine chambers -- they just work with them by hand, usually right next to the warp core.
     
  9. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    Successful jamming or any other interruption of communication is all it takes to render remotely piloted drones ineffective. In science fiction, the sensibilities of the author determine whether fighters are practical in-universe. For example, AI was not an option in nuBSG, since it was too easy for the Cylons to usurp, and the consequences too grave.

    Whether fighter craft will play an important strategic role in our actual future in the long term is impossible to predict, because of the dynamic nature of the evolution of countermeasures. However, fighters remain part of the US arsenal, and will do so for the foreseeable future, despite our increased reliance on drones. Outmoded weapons still matter, especially against soft targets. Even if fighters should someday fall completely out of favor in the US Air Force (a big if), other countries will still use them in theirs, I guarantee you. And, special forces use all kinds of weapons, whatever is effective for the particular mission in question.
     
  10. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    But surely it would be more interesting for a science fiction writer to portray a new mode of combat specific to space and future technology, rather than fudging space and future technology in order to justify clinging to WWII or Top Gun fighter-combat tropes.
     
  11. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    That depends.

    If it's done interestingly and imaginatively, then I wholeheartedly agree! I'm always interested in looking at science fiction that explores how the human condition might change under the impact of hypothetical technology.

    On the other hand, if there's a heavy-handed and unfounded bias behind the shaping of that hypothetical technology, then that's a lot less interesting. The history of warfare has shown that even obsolete weapons matter, especially in particular instances. For a humorous example in SF film, from the boot camp in Starship Troopers, consider the throwing knife that keeps the hand from pushing the button. All humor aside, knives matter, even in the nuclear age.

    Plenty of people find Star Wars interesting, so the idea that human-piloted fighters in space is per se uninteresting is a dog that don't hunt, as the saying goes.

    While it's clear that it typically has been that way, it doesn't follow that the only reason to retain human-piloted fighters in SF would be to cling to WWII/Top Gun tropes. I mean, suppose there really are human-piloted fighters in space in the real world 500 years from now. Figuring out how they might actually be deployed, and why, would be an exercise worthy of applying one's imagination, yes? It might not look anything like Top Gun, even from afar. Maybe no one lives long enough to be an ace anymore. Maybe computer viruses and jamming are so effective that there simply is no alternative.

    Kirk and Spock used bows and arrows against a Klingon with a hand phaser, and that Klingon was killed by a similarly primitive weapon, effectively wielded. The Enterprise was once even vulnerable to a real world interceptor in the 1960's, requiring the use of her tractor beam.

    It's simply unreasonable to argue that fighter craft have no place at all ever in the Star Trek universe. But I'm not looking for Star Trek to imitate Star Wars, if that's what you're getting at.
     
  12. Mark_Nguyen

    Mark_Nguyen Commodore Commodore

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    True enough!

    However in the modern world one reason drones work well is that the people the US and other drone-operating nations are spying on, and dropping stuff on, are hardly equipped to neutralize them. Short of shooting at drones with small arms and the occasional rocket launcher, they cannot jam radio signals or otherwise disrupt the command of the drones from their home base. This is hardly an issue with the enemies of today, but should one nation face another that also has advanced ECM technology, drones will become useless especially in a combat role.

    The list of potential, technologically-advanced US adversaries is really short these days, but should something ever kick off in China (as if, but bear with me), manned fighters would almost certainly be used to fight for air superiority first. Drones would be reduced to surveillance and remote operations where the odds of it being jammed or shot down are low. True autonomous combat for drones is a pipe dream right now, but if something reliable that doesn't result in Judgement Day comes along, sure - we'll have drones doing ALL of our force projection for us.

    Mark
     
  13. Unicron

    Unicron Continuity Spackle Moderator

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    This discussion has come up more than once in Trek Tech as well, and it's always interesting. I think one common mistake that's made is the assumption that fighters would be deployed against capital ships, and that's not their function if they're to be considered analogs of modern fighters. Their function is to be air/space superiority fighters or perhaps attack/support fighters, which means they'll fight enemy fighters and perhaps ground forces. This is how they behave in series like Star Wars and Babylon 5 where fighters are common.

    Capital ships are geared for fighting other capital ships and big targets, so there's no reason for fighters do to so unless they have numerical superiority, better tactics, or they have enough support (big ships) to pull it off.

    I'm not convinced it's entirely outmoded, and I think one other advantage of living pilots is their ability to learn, think and react better than drones with a degree of autonomic programming. A human pilot might succeed using a tactic that shouldn't work by all the logic of their situation, where a drone might not be able to view past its programming and eventually fail. I have often found this to be true with a lot of the chess programs I've tried, that the game is less rewarding because the AI's programming makes it less likely to make mistakes than even a skilled human champion. It's more likely to choose the best possible move in any given circumstance, with the result that most games become a stalemate.

    That being said, though, the Battletech universe did have a highly sophisticated space defense system which was designed to protect the Terran system at all costs, and which included a high degree of automation and sophisticated programming. It was never designed to function entirely without human supervision, but the drones did benefit from upgrades like extra weapons and better engines to replace their normal crews, and the ability to function as pure weapons. They were also programmed in all of the known tactics that had been developed for traditional militaries at that point, which made the system a very difficult enemy to destroy.
     
  14. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^It's a good point about the value of human adaptability, but there's little there that would require those humans to be jeopardized by sitting inside one-person guided missiles rather than in a bigger, more heavily shielded battleship. The reason for the aircraft-carrier-and-fighter paradigm is to project power beyond the horizon. There are no horizons in space. If you just want to shoot at stuff, it makes more sense to use missiles or drones. If it's a situation that requires human decision-makers on-site, then why not just send a larger ship? If it's a question of speed, a larger ship would presumably have more powerful engines and could go faster (although there would be some tradeoff from its greater mass).

    In short, we just shouldn't start with the assumption that there will be fighters like there've always been and then make up rationalizations for it. That's backward reasoning. Space combat would probably be as different from aerial combat as aerial is from ground combat. It would be better to start by figuring out the conditions and parameters that would probably arise in space combat and then derive, from first principles, what the optimal strategies and tactics for dealing with them would be. If such an unbiased process somehow managed to produce one-person fighter craft as a viable response to a given situation, then okay, I'd be persuaded. But making up excuses to justify fighter craft because you want there to be fighter craft is just fighting the last war. It doesn't feel as creative or as honest to me.
     
  15. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    Space is not empty. Star Trek provides all sorts of horizons in space: Hiding behind moons and planets, hiding in nebulae, hiding in sensor blind spots, being invisible to sensors, and using cloaking devices are just some of the ways that fields of view are limited in space.

    As far why not encase each person in invulnerable armor, even in Star Trek there is opportunity cost. Replicators may eliminate scarcity for things like food, clothing, and shelter against weather on Earthlike planets, but they evidently cannot themselves alone solve the problem of the scarcity of exotic (super-dense?) materials required to construct advanced and magical Treknology. There are only so many Galaxy-class starships to go around. There are far more runabouts.

    And even if you make the point of your spear first-class, there's always your rear that might be outflanked. Not every cubic parsec of space is equally well protected. Not every freighter has Galaxy-class shield generators (let's just say that none do).
     
  16. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    ^But the thread title says "realism in space." I'm not talking about Star Trek, I'm talking about approaching the matter realistically.

    Also, you're missing my point about horizons. It's not about hiding from detection. What I'm saying is that the reason aircraft carriers were invented was as a means of projecting force beyond the limits of where the carrier itself could travel. Maybe I should've said there are no coastlines in space.
     
  17. CorporalCaptain

    CorporalCaptain Admiral Admiral

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    I must have taken the fact that the thread's in Trek lit a bit too far then I suppose. :vulcan:

    "Over the horizon" is about what can't be seen, or more precisely sighted, so yeah, perhaps your choice of words did obscure your point. But if you are going to rephrase your point that way, I don't agree with it either.

    The basic advantage of a carrier over other capital ships is that it deploys relatively cheap, expendable, effective, and rapidly responsive craft to seek out and attack or intercept threats while they're too far out to harm the capital ship. That type of deployment sounds like it might be a really good idea in a space battle, just as it is in naval warfare today.

    It's not about where the capital ship can travel; it's about keeping it out of the actual fighting. Because its attack radius is greater, an aircraft carrier can stay even further away from from the fighting than a battleship can. The fact that an aircraft carrier can attack targets even further inland than a battleship can is a byproduct of its attack radius being that much greater in the first palace. I mean, I'm assuming you're trying to bring coastlines into this now to differentiate land and sea. Since aircraft carriers were originally used to attack battleships and other aircraft carriers, coastlines have little to do with it.
     
    Last edited: Feb 15, 2013
  18. Mark_Nguyen

    Mark_Nguyen Commodore Commodore

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    Well, the point is that a carrier's planes would effectively extend the destructive range of that asset by allowing planes to attack places a big boat would have trouble hitting without risking the big boat itself. The earlier post that planes attacking capital ships didn't happen isn't true; in fact that very tactic is why we don't HAVE battleships anymore. Three guys in one Avenger dive bomber can wreak more havoc on an enemy fleet than thousands of guys in one cruiser or battleship.

    Mark
     
  19. Christopher

    Christopher Writer Admiral

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    Yes, but that's where you use missiles instead of fighters. That's where the horizon issue comes into play. At least in the days before satellite communication, carriers needed to send human-piloted fighters rather than missiles because there was a limit to how far they could see and therefore target an enemy. It's a solution that developed in response to the conditions on Earth. It's lazy to just want to transpose that exactly to space.

    Look, I'm not interested in debating this whole thing yet again. Military talk bores and depresses me. I'll just refer you to where I got the ideas from, a site that demolishes the space-fighter idea more thoroughly than I could:

    http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacegunexotic.php#fighters

    Debate it with them if you like.
     
  20. Edit_XYZ

    Edit_XYZ Fleet Captain Fleet Captain

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    Missiles are single use drones.
    Multiple use drones have many advantages over single use missiles in a space battle.

    Over very large distances - as in space -, in order to be effective, both missiles and drones need capable AI (eliminating humans from the command chain - which presents disadvantages) or remote control (which can be jammed).
    Manned fighters don't have this problems - but have others, which can be summed up as higher mass.

    A heavily shielded/cloaked station, housing the humans, and multiple drones operating at close range (minimizing the AI and jamming problems) could be the best solution.