21 August 2011

FWS Topics: Combined Arms

Throughout the history of human conflict, individuals have used different weapons to kill one another, and acting together to achieve their military goals. When civilizations were able field massive armies, they were not just composed of the most basic fighting element, the foot soldier, but they also the horse cavalry, crossbows, slings, archery, and even the chariots. Those concepts continued to develop over centuries of warfare, leading to the war machines of World War One, the blitzkriegs of World War Two, and the rolling thunder of the Gulf War. Today, the inclusion of all combat forces working together is the basic foundation of modern warfare. This concept is known as Combined Arms. This blogpost originally appeared on FWS in the early days, 2011. I am reediting and adding new pictures and text to update the blogpost in 2014.

What are Combined Arms?
Wikipedia defines as: "an approach to warfare which seeks to integrate different branches of a military to achieve mutually complementary effects (for example, using infantry and armor in an urban environment, where one supports the other, or both support each other). " What does that mean? All manner of modern war machinery, soldiers, and technologies work in concert to destroy the enemy, achieve their military goals, and hold the field of battle. 
The Beginning: The Combined Arms of the Word War II
Blitzkrieg, the lightning war of Nazi Germany, was the beginning of the modern day vision of Combined Arms, were tanks, artillery, air power, and mounted infantry pushed with overwhelming firepower and speed at their enemy. This is similar to the concept of traditional English fox hunting, keeping your enemy on the run, with your own forces being organized to be on the chase with all elements being mobile. The result, is a broken, disorganized enemy, that is more focused on retreating, than attacking. However, this concept runs out of steam when your army is no longer on the offensive, like Russia in the winter, or being be chased itself. For the most part, the limits of battlefield communications, close air support, and supply lines forced most much of WWII to be an "soldier's war".

Combined Arms of the Vietnam War
The war that the US was preparing to fight was not the hellish terrain of Vietnam, with its dense jungles, poor roads, lack of urban development and fluid battle lines. This forced the US military to abandon their concepts of conventional ground warfare with the Warsaw Pact across Europe with armored elements. These heavily armored mechanized units could not operate in the dense jungles and mud. Instead, Vietnam was a war waged between soldiers, special forces, frontline artillery positions, and airpower. While during the Nazi campaigns, air power was one element normally used to soften up the enemy for the armor, in Vietnam, close air support was the critical element to counter the VC/NVA guerrilla warfare tactics. To lessen the advantages of the VC/NVA,  and disadvantages of the dense jungles, the United States developed air mobility using helicopters to evac/insert troops and provide close air support, however this made the US forces very dependant on those chopper pilots and their green machines.

Combined Arms of Afghanistan and Iraq (1991 and 2003)
If we look at the 1991 Gulf War, the coalition armed forces bombarded the Iraqi army for a month with all manner of seaborne and airborne munitions. The ground operation rolled heavy armored units across the desert sands, with rocket-based artillery, close air cover, and infantry units tucked in HUMVEEs and APCs. Within 100 hours, the ground campaign was over, and the enemy was routed. This was the very definitions of Combined Arms warfare, and it crushed one of the largest armies in the world.
Then in 2003, we returned to the desert to finish the job, and changed the theory of combined arms. The Iraqi Army was no where near the strength it was during the 1991 Gulf War, instead the coalition forces faced the Fedayeen and their unconventional warfare tactics in urban environments. Armor and artillery were lessened, the need for air mobility, gunship helicopters, and mixed units of special forces increased greatly, and forced military planners to redesign their combined arms strategy for a fluid battlespace.In comparison, when the US armed response came to A-stan after the attacks of September 11th, it was launched with a very small CIA SAD team armed with AKs and Browning Hi-Powers, and loaded down with millions in cash. There were no tanks or massive rolling armies, instead there were warriors and fighters on horseback, Special Forces team directing F-15s with lasers-guided bombs, and M4's getting dirty. The combined arms of the war in Afghanistan is a blend of the low-tech and high-tech. While Special Forces were going back to their roots of guerrilla warfare, they used spy satellites, UAVs, laser designators, gunships, and close air support, to pound the Taliban/AQ forces.

Elements of Modern Combined Arms

-Close Air Support (CAS)
The role of close air support (CAS) is primarily fulfilled by fighters, fighter-bombers, attack helicopters, and/or gunships. In the realm of modern warfare, CAS is one of the most critical elements for a battle either being a victory or defeat. In order for CAS to be effective, there several factors, one being the troops in the shit are able to communicate the location of where the munitions are needed, and where friendly forces are location in relationship to the enemy. This were GPS, laser designators, and combat controllers come in. Next, is distance, CAS aerocraft need to be close enough to the warzone to arrive within ten to fifteen minutes of the call, or else the point may be moot. One factor, that is often overlooked, is trained and skilled pilots to preform these bombing runs without killing the good guys. The last factor is that skies above the battlespace are firmly controlled, or else the CAS mission could be air combat mission or even SAR... 

Attack Aircraft
Attack helicopters, and soon, attack Tilt-rotors, do fulfill CAS roles on the battlefield, however, the attack helicopter is also used in other roles important to the combined arms unit. Aircraft, like the AH-64 Apache were envisioned by NATO to be used in anti-tank roles, softening up the numeral advantage held by the old Warsaw Pact. During the Gulf War and The War in Iraq, attack helicopters were used in CAS operations in urban environments and anit-armor. Then during the operations in Afghanistan, attack choppers used their abilities to attack Taliban and AQ fighters in the dense mountain regions, were friend or foe are often burred.

The task of taking and holding ground as gone to the footsoldier since the beginning of warfare, and in the combined arms theory of warfare, it is still their primary role. Unlike heavy armored vehicles, Infantry units are able to operate conditions that trap or disable armored vehicles, like urban and jungle. During combined arms operation, infantry often are used to sweep-and-clear areas for any anti-tank mines or infantry wielding TOW missiles, then securing the frontline. When mankind does wage wars off-world, you can beat the infantry will be there.

The current main battle tank is the modern combination of the old horse Calvary and artillery that is able to be the main offensive push of the advancing forces, the spearhead. However, like all elements in the combined arms unit, everything as to work together in order to function as a successful military unit...while tanks are dealers in destruction, they have poor visibility, lessened air-defense, and need mechanized infantry to defense them against enemy infantry wielded anti-tanks weapons. In the last twenty years, military planners and governments have been favoring the fielding of main battle tanks only, eliminating the various mixed bag of light and medium tanks.  

In a mechanized platoon, the Infantry Fighting Vehicle (IFV) and/or the Armored Personnel Carrier (APC), serve as armored battle taxis, allowing infantry units to speed along with the spearheading armor, and the armor and armaments of the IFV/APC protect the soldiers on the way to the objective. During the Gulf War and War in Iraq, the traditional role of hauling infantry around in their hulls seemed to be subjugated by the HUMVEE, and the M2 Bradley seemed to entered into a role as an urban infantry vehicle and light tank.    

Field Artillery
Modern field artillery comes in two forms on the modern battlefield: self-propelled tank-like cannons (like the US Army 15mm M109) and more traditional cannons that need a vehicle to tow them into position. These two forms of field artillery can use either rockets or shells. The role of all this firepower at the hands of field artillery is to pound enemy positions to drive them to retreat or to crush the enemy force allowing for the advance of friendly units. Field artillery also support in-field units when the shit gets thick. With the changes in warfare over the last fifteen years, field artillery's role on the battlefield is being filled rapidly by close air support.

Orbital Assets 
At present, orbital satellites assets allow for surveillance, communications, and in the future, orbital artillery support. Works like Gears of War, Bubblegum Crisis, Akira, and Killzone have demonstrated the power of space-based artillery, and unlike ground-based artillery cannons, they much more difficult to destroy, and operation from a superior point-of-view, allowing for command of the battlefield situation. Space-based artillery could be much easier to deploy and unitized than conventional field-artillery or CAS. One can imagine specially trained soldiers with targeting devices similar to the Hammer-of-the-Dawn that access the satellite(s) in GSO, lock in a target, and then destroy them with either DEW or KEW systems.  However, without protection from endoatmospheric fighters and/or GSO warships, the enemy could launcher missiles from fighters in the upper atmosphere, or strike from orbiting warships.    

Unmanned aerial vehicles, like the Predator have changed the face of intelligence gathers, warfare, and wetwork operations. Within the world of combined arms units, UAV can be overhead sending real-time data to the HQ on the battlefield. This allows commanders the ability to adapt to the changing conditions, and eliminates the need for risky flyover or scout missions, added to these eyes-on intel missions, UAVs can hang over the target area for 24 hours, watching, and then when the moment arrives, it strikes with its Hellfire mission, being being watcher and executioner .
With UAVs transforming in size, it soon will be possible for frontline units to deploy "backpack"or even bug-sized UAVs to scout a few miles ahead in all types of conditions, and send back the raw data to the unit on the ground in real-time. Unlike the successful and battlefield tested UAVs,. their ground-based cousin, the  Unmanned ground vehicle (UGV) is waiting to prove its combat role. UGVs could be used to setup patrols while soldiers sleep, scout out terrain, enemy positions, watch the soldiers' backs, and be a cargo hauler. Some of the UGVs that are under developed, mount light machine guns, making them part of the combat team and one step closer to the ED-209 from Robocop.  

Special Operations Forces:
Special Forces Operators are unitized at times within combined arms, to be the eyes and ears of the big army. When the Operators use their skills for special assaults (like Somalia in 1993 or killing Bin Laden), or in the mountains of Tora-Bora, when DELTA and SBS were tagging targets for CAS. SOF units can be the eyes, ears, and claws of a larger combine arms force, like during Operation Anaconda, D-DAY, or even in the deserts of North African with SAS and their modified Jeeps. Most of the time, SOF soldiers do not operate in large mechanized units.  

In the realm of military sci-fi, one of the most celebrated pieces of futuristic warmachine is Mecha, the walking tank that is about 10-15 meters tall, and weights between 20-100 tons, and according to most sources, powered by a fusion core and mounts impressive weaponry, more than several tanks. Within combined arms, mechs would served in terrain that does not allow traditional armored vehicles to operate, like jungles, urban (due to Mechas maneuverability), mountains, and mud conditions. Smaller urban combat mecha, similar to the Vietnam-era Ontos tank, could support infantry during street-to-street urban battles. I don't believe that mecha would exist within a spearheading mechanized platoon of armored vehicles.   

Armored Power Suit
In sci-fi, the famed powered armor of anime, manga, and Iron Man hold the promise of making every soldier an Ubermensch, who commands the battlefield and lords over the normal infantry. Adding to the extra protect, powered armor, would allow for greater weapons to be carried, The promise of powered armor could alter warfare as we know it, however, when you look at the reality of the powered armor and within the concept of combined arms, the powered armor is just another part of the complete tactical picture. The role of powered armor in future warfare will not be the standard tool of the infantry, powered armor is just too expensive and the support staff needed would be massive. I can envision them for special assault, ship boarding, attached to spaceborne troops for securing drop zones, and urban operations. 

Air Mobility
During the Vietnam War, the concept of helicopter warfare was pioneered and forever placed into combined arms. Much like the horse Calvary of old, soldiers rode into battle, and rode out, sweeping down on the enemy. This ability of transporting soldiers quickly and directly into the battlespace as changed warfare, and killed off the old-style airborne drops, due to the soldiers are protected by the transports weapon systems and they drop in with ready for combat. It is not just troops and Operators that benefit from air mobility, some tanks, artillery pieces, and Jeeps can be air-lifted. The vehicles of deploying air mobility have gone from the UH-1 of Vietnam, to the UH-60 Blackhawk, now to the MV-22 Osprey, and in the future, it will be vehicles like ducted-fan Hunter-Killer aerial patrol vehicles from Terminator.

Light Military 4x4 Vehicles
The original utility military vehicle, the famed Jeep, was developed in 1941 by American Bantam company, it was to be a replacement for the horse/mule, and was delivered from drawing board to prototype in 49 days. The military Jeeps were jack-of-all-trades, due to their off-road abilities, flexibility, and simply design. In modern warfare, Jeep-like vehicles are a critical element in Combined Arms, preforming all manner of tasks, from being a battle-taxi, infantry support vehicle, scout, and workhorse, but these class of vehicles are pretty much ignored by sci-fi writers. The tradition of the military Jeep lives on in J8, and all similar patterned vehicles, like the Russian GAZ, the British Land Ranger, and the Mahindra. As a side note, the most insane military 4x4? The 1980's Rambo-Lambo, the Lamborghini LM002.     

Off-World Warfare and Combined Arms
Here are some topics to consider when talking about the reality fielding something like our modern combined arms units in off-world combat situations.

Starlift Capability
Why would an futuristic government that could settle exoplanets not be able to delivery the heavy goods to the front? In a word: Starlift capability. Starlift capability is one most critical elements in any futuristic army, and is how they can get the army from point A (most likely a space station, cargo ship or other planet) to point B. the FTL transport, then onto the battlezone, point C. Once the transport arrives in orbit around the planet, there is the ship-to-shore operation of hauling the vehicles, troops, and supplies down to the surface. This barely discussed in any work of sci-fi, only the ALIENS: The Colonial Marines Technical Manuel and Battletech layout the scale of the operation to project combined arms over lightyears. Here is a quote from ALIENS: The Colonial Marines Technical Manuel: The deployment of Colonial Marine Armor assets is limited by the availability of heavy starlift capability to transport both the tanks and their considerable logistic and service support.

Next Generation Armored Vehicles
When we consider the challenges of transporting armored vehicles from one world (or space station) to another off-world battlefield, we can see the alternation of what we presently understand to be an tank. Already the US military and DARPA are developing the GVX tanks that will crewed by two and light in weight and more maneuverable, and this could be what future main battle tanks that serve on off-world battlefields. In addition, these new tanks will be flex-fuel vehicles and low-maintenance to deal with varying conditions on the colonies.

Loss of the Orbital "High Ground"
In the ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manuel, author Lee Brimmicombe-Wood states that planets are the only location worth the price of commenting the very expensive FTL ships to combat. Orbital space is the best piece of restate in off-world combat, the side that controls orbital space controls the ability to resupply their troops, reinforce, monitor the enemy's movements, and deploy satellites for C3 purposes...and best of all, orbital artillery. Imagine, if your side of a conflict gets wiped off of the high ground, you're at the mercy of the other's side abilities to rain down artillery from a position you cannot reach, you are watched, and worse off all, the other side as the upper hand at every engagement, no matter if it's dirtside or starside.  

Terrain and/or Hostile Environments
Terrain is one of the key elements in warfare, and for the entire history of humanity, we've been fighting on one world, but at some point (hopefully) the human race will get off-world, and commanders of armies will have to deal with fighting on worlds that I've never seen outside of a map. Added to this, these contested worlds could be not atmospheric standard (like Earth), this means that soldiers would be forced to fight in space suits. This factor would raise the casualty rates, complexity of bases, vehicles, and supplies, and morale would dip.

Far-Future Technologies
Star Trek shows us how easy it can be...transporters teleport you instantly from ship-to-shore within a few seconds. Machines seemly construct food, tools, and toys from thin air...why not do that with tanks, gunships, killer robots? That is one element sci-fi creator need to take into account, far-future technology. Teleporting your vehicles from cargo holds onboard ship would be much easier than the other methods discussed here. Hell, why even store those vehicles and weapons? Why not construct them via replicators? One can imagine having a industrial replicator planetside that could build new tanks, guns, and supplies without the need for cargo modules or even ships in orbit....it just seems too easy. These Star Trek high-tech devices are commonplace with their universe, but are never fully unitized by the writers for creating a far-future military, which is a real shame. Most sci-fi works that feature combined arms are constructed on the basis of near-future technology, even my own, it would have been nice to see something like Star Trek demonstrate how their far future technology would be used on the planetside battlefield. 

The ability to maintain communications on the battlefield, allowing for coordination between the different battlefield elements is key to victory and avoiding blue-on-blue fire. Just like in surgery or in a kitchen (just watch Hell's Kitchen), communications is key to coordinating combine arms elements in the local battlespace for maximum lethality against the enemy. That means active and decatied command and control systems, either in orbital, at the FOB, or even riding into battle. This local battlenet would be one of the first targets of an enemy, and besides shelling the hub of their enemy's battlenet, they also could using "soft-kill" systems, in the form of computer viruses and attack programs (see Ghost in the Shell on this subject). Given the scope of planetary future combat, if that battlenet was brought down, all of those fantastic lethal elements of combined arms is scattered, deaf, and mute, causing the enemy a giant opportunity to swing the conflict in their favor.

Faster-than-Light Travel
Contrary to most works of sci-fi, faster-than-light travel is not as like getting onto an highway on-ramp, and, at the moment, modern science as been unable to locate any hyperspace corridors. This means that FTL in a hard science universe is an commitment in terms of a lifetime. The reality of FTL travel involves massive amount of energy, time dilation, acceleration to light speed, then de-acceleration. All of this means that the supply chain for the combined arms units on-planet would be separated by vast gulfs of space and time, leading to the possibility these journeys to the warzone could be a one-time deal. All of the troops, supplies, warships, and vehicles in an FTL expedition would be the only force sent to the warzone, because reinforcements would a lifetime behind the soldiers on the front. This topic is heavily explored in the 1975 MSF founding classic, The Forever War...

Secure Drop-Zones
When the armed FTL transports achieve GSO over the planetary battlesite, the process of getting their cargo down the gravity well begins. And the real question becomes where on the vast battlefield on a planetary scale do you drop in the combined arms vehicles and troopers? If you are invading a planet, then the need for secure drop-zones becomes paramount. This would fall to specialized troops and vehicles, like the ODST from the HALO universe, and the spaceborne and SOF APS units from my book Endangered Species. This concept is seen in a few video games, especially in military real-time strategy simulation games.

Endo/Exo Atmospheric Vehicles
Vehicles that can go up-and-down from a planet's surface with the easy of a helicopter, like HALO's Pelican, the  UD-4 Cheyenne From ALIENS or the Raptor from Battlestar Galactica are simply not in keeping with the hard reality of science. The space shuttles fielded by the US and the USSR require booster rockets to be pushed beyond the grip of gravity, which entails massive launch platforms, support staff, and vast amounts of fuel. The idea of vehicles slipping from ship-to-shore and back again with the easy of what as been seen in science-fiction, is exactly that, science fiction. The unsexy truth of delivery vehicles, troops, and supplies from a ship in GSO down planetside would be accomplished via cargo modules. It is possible for there to be a few dual atmospheric fighter, like the SR-71, to move from the air to orbit and back, but not something similar to the attack helicopters. For there to be the futuristic equal to the Hind-D gunship for planetside combat, it would broken down, loading onto drop cargo modules, shipped down, then fully assembled down on the planet....all that means a secure drop zone, technical staff to assembly it and a base to support its operation.

Combined Arms in Sci-Fi
It seems that sci-fi creators have no trouble conjuring up vast fleets of FTL warships that cross the Cosmo, but when it comes to futuristic planetside warfare, these same creators dream up soldiers wearing advanced powered armor, but nothing else. Added to this, warfare of the future is similar to the allied airborne drops of 1944, where only lightly armed soldiers are the only means of offensive warfare. So, we are to believe that a government that can field vast arrays of warships that travel beyond the speed of light, cannot afford or plan for their starborne infantry to have any support of any kind?! The real question is why sci-fi creators don't include combined arms in their tales of future warfare? My guess is that some authors focus so much on their narrative of future soldier's experiences during wartime, that they forget to round out the rest of military. Another idea, is since the experience of infantry combat is the most accessible to the general public (FPS video games, war movies, and paintball), they just direct all their creative energy on the footsloggers.
Of course, there is a bad tradition in MSF works to equate futuristic battlefields with the allied paratroopers of D-Day, in having lightly armed, highly trained soldiers that drop into the warzone to fight other infantry units. This is reflected in the founding classics of military science fiction, like Starship Troopers. For anyone that read this blog, and write stories that involve future war, please, for the love of the Lords of Kobol, either show combined arms warfare or tell us why there are not used in your fictional universe!

Examples of (or lack of) Combined Arms in Sci-Fi

The United Earth Forces and the Chigs from Space: Above and Beyond
SAAB is one of my all-time favorite sci-fi shows, and one of the few "pure" military Television sci-fi works. It saddens me to say this, when it came to the concept of Combined Arms, the show fails. SAAB had the various Terran military of 2063 fielding nuclear-powered space carriers, attack dual-atmospheric fighters, and armored VTOL shuttles that transported soldiers to the distant shores, but often the show displayed marines combat units using only their rifles, no LMGs, little air cover, and only one tank (a modified M113 APC).

The Armies from the Warhammer 40K Universe
In most of the art for this landmark RPG, heavily armored and armed warriors are facing masses of alien hordes, all weapons are blazing, and people dying left and right. Normally, tucked away in these scenes of choas and blood are massive warmachines of all types. This combined arms approach to 41st millennium combat is due to Warhammer 40K being a tabletop war simulation RPG, allowing players to many options with facing their friends on the battlefield. These warmachines vary from armored power suits, heavy tanks, gunships, mobile artillery pieces, and regular non-suited infantry. Even the infantry units, from the Space Marines to the lesser Imperial Guard, all have support weaponry of heavy machine guns, rockets, flame units, and motars.  

The Battle of Hoth from Star Wars: TESB
It is odd to me, that a work of space fantasy, Star Wars, manages to be one of the only sci-fi films to ever show two combined arm units engage in open classical warfare. This takes place on the icy ball of Hoth, and as the rebels using ground-based space artillery to disable incoming Star-Destroyers, while they evac the hell out. Somehow, despite the rebel alliance's ion cannons, the imperials land a massive force of heavy walkers, light scout walkers, snow-troopers, in unseen landing craft. The rebels strike back with entrenched troops, laser-based cannons, and snowspeeders. Oddly, the imperial landing force does not seem to bring any air support...allowing the snowspeeders to bring down a few AT-AT walkers without any contest.      

The Battle of Geonosis from Star Wars: Attack of the Clones
If one looks up "dogshit" in the encyclopedia then surely the Star Wars prequel come up, especially the dumbass who named them. This is what I waited all of these years for? Despite the fact that Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones, is the worst named movies in history, it's end battle on Geonosis was a grand epic battle between armies both using combined arms that it is rarely seen in sci-fi films. The newly minted clone army fields close air support with their LAAT/i, support-propelled artillery cannons, and heavy walkers all backing up legions of clone troopers and Jedi leading them. The newly foamed Confederacy of Independent Systems also came to battle with armored walkers, droids, and air power.

The RDA SecOps from AVATAR
This film shows a realistic combined arms unit made up of only a few elements, but mount an impressive destructive power. The RDA's security personnel use air mobility to counter the Nav'is use of the dense and hostile jungle. What is interesting about the use of combined arms in Avatar is the use of the Dragon assault ship, as an C&C vessel, heavy fire support to the Samson and Scorpion VTOL craft, and able to deploy Amp combat suits via bomb-bay like doors, making the Dragon one of the more creative designs I've seen in many years. On the ground, the RDA security operations soldiers use various configurations of their CARB caseless rifles, and are backed up with heavy fire support via the 30mm hand-cannon. The Nav'i also mounted an combined arms army of their own to deal with the RDA threat.

The Starfleet Marines? from the Star Trek Universe
I'll confess something, when I was a kid, I wanted to serve in Starfleet of the movies era, I wanted to wear the uniform and serve on an Excelsior class vessel. But, now, I realize that the Federation that spans 8,000 Lightyears and is composed of over 150 members is somehow void of any ground forces. Really?! The armed response to an hostile alien invasion of one of their colonies is to security personnel and a non-movable cannon?! Even sadder is the fact that the big bad enemies of the Federation, the Klingons, the Romulans, and the  Dominion, all lack any sort of combined arms of any kind. However, in the 1980's RPG universe created by FASA in the 1980's, there was the Starfleet Marines, and I believe some ground vehicles, but of course, these were all non-canon and died when the studio pulled the licence from FASA.  

The Warriors of Armor
In one of the founding classics of military science fiction, John Steakley was attempting in Armor, to remake Starship Troopers with more action and less politics. In the book, Terra is defeating its colonies from an aggressive species of spaceborne ants. The main weapon of this war, is the APS-encased warriors armed with "Blazers" DEW rifles. However, there is no mention of aircraft, tanks, or even artillery is made in the book, some of these elements of combined arms may have been filled by several other types of powered armor that the scout verison seen in the book.  

The Mobile Infantry from the 1997 Starship Troopers Film
The sad thing is that the 1997 Starship Troopers film is the most pure military sci-fi film to date, and it sucks. The first time I saw Starship Troopers I noticed that the Terran Federation, which could field a vast fleet of FTL warships, sends legions of soldiers down to the homeworld of their enemy, with nothing in the way of heavy support? Hell, the Mobility Infantry doesn't even give them a machine gun! The only support seems to come from these soft-ass landers with a puny cannon and a micro-nuclear launcher(!). The mighty fleet does not aid the MI with any sort of space-based artillery bombardment of the planet, and only once do we use of the TAC fighters...all-in-all, pretty shitty combined arms. This all speaks to either the view of the MI by the Terran Federation, as cannon-fodder, or the simple lack of imagination from Paul Verhoeven and his writing crew.

The Mobile Infantry from the 1959 Starship Troopers Book
In the 1958 founding classic of military sci-fi, the Terran Federation flexes it power via their use of powered armor, and Rico mentions that three different classes of suits exist...but it seems that the suits mount little in the way of small-arms (unless you call atomic grenades small-arms), and from the raid on Skinny cities at the opening of the book (and the best part), it seems that the APS are used for mobility...similar to second world war paratroopers. This book and the future military would be the template for most sci-fi authors to this very day. There is no mention of any other type of MI combat machinery other than the powered armor. 
The UN Taskforce from The Forever War
In another founding classic of military science fiction, we see yet another powered armor using future military fielding soldiers with little or support of any kind. This seems odd to me, since the author served in Vietnam and saw the effect of in-field artillery and CAS. However, in the graphic novels, it clearly shows tanks, APCs, and CAS support, making the earth response more well-rounded. My hope, is that the upcoming Forever War film uses the graphic novel as the template.

The Colonial Marines of the ALIENS Universe
The first (as far as I know) on-screen realistic futuristic combine arms units was seen in 1986's ALIENS. The small United States Colonial Marines rapid response unit that took off from Gateway Station was outfitted with a massive amount of firepower and mobility for such a small unit. If we take from what was shown on screen, this unit of marines had a fully outfitted M577 APC with a number of support weaponry from anti-armor and anti-air, couple this with Hudson exclaims to Ripley. 
"I'm ready, man. Check it out! I am the ultimate bad-ass! State of the bad-ass art! You do not want to fuck with me. Check it out! Hey, Ripley, don't worry. Me and my squad of ultimate bad-asses will protect you! Check it out. Independently targeting particle-beam phalanx. WHAP! Fry half a city with this puppy. We got tactical smart missiles, phase plasma pulse rifles, RPGs. We got sonic, electronic ball breakers! We got nukes, we got knives, we got sharp sticks".Then there is the ubercool UD-4 Cheyenne Dropship. The small marine unit is transport from ship-to-shore via a heavily armed dropship that can be used from hot-drops, hot evacs, and for CAS. Within the colonial marine squad, their are flame units, two machines, and riflemen outfitted with grenade launchers. If the marine squad needed to secure a parameter, than they carry four sentry cannons. Very cool. More thought and effort were made in just these few concepts than most author's entire series of books. ALIENS...the best damn MSF film ever!

The Combined Arms of the Hammer's Slammers Universe
One of the earliest examples of Combined Arms in military science fiction is the far future military of Hammer's Slammers. Once again, I must confess that I've not read Hammer's Slammers, it sits on my night table, waiting in-line to be read. However, from what I able to pull off of the internet and the Hammer's Slammers tabletop RPG website, this work seems to feature mechanized infantry, tanks of various classes, and gunships. All of this was expanded by various RPG games and miniatures. The heart of the Hammer's Slammers universe was the air-cushioned, fan-inducted grav-tank.    

The Inner Sphere Armies from the Battletech Universe
Back in the mid-1980’s, I along with my brother and his friends all played Battletech by FASA. The favorite of our household was Citytech, which came with infantry units, tanks, and APCs. At times, my brother and his friends would give the normal ground force, and use the mecha to crush me. Other times, we attempted to use the ground forces and the mechs to form a combined arms unit. However, the ground units were always at the mercy of the mecha. This changed when FASA introduced the Clans and forced the Inner Sphere forces to utilize all of their military power. Most of the attention by players and the company were on the main product of the Battletech universe was Mecha and mech-combat. While it would have been easy for FASA to focus the attention on mech-on-mech combat, there were a vast number of non-mecha combat vehicles featured in the Technical Readouts, and some of the later games. Adding to range of traditional combat vehicles were infantry, gunships, submarines, and blue water naval vessels. The Mechwarrior Xbox games featured all of these attacking our mech...I normally crushed the infantry under my metal feet... 

The Forces of GROPOS from the Babylon 5 Universe
Babylon 5 was a show that mainly focused on space battles in a space opera setting, not planetside combat. However, during the episode GROPOS, we see 25,000 Earth Force Marines being supported by several VTOL Valkyrie gunships during an assault on an  alien walled fortress.This led to an tabletop RPG combat miniature game called GROPOS by Agents of Gaming that featured ground combat units for all of the major races,  expect for the Vorlon. This game had each race with mechanized infantry, VTOL gunships, and several classes of tanks, included with he infantry were heavy weapons. It is too bad we never saw this in the TV series.
The UNSC and the Covenant from the HALO Universe
If you look at the UNSC's tools of war, they seem somewhat limited, however, these few vehicles can be modified for various uses, like the Pelican dropship and the Warthog recon-vehicle, and be deployed rapidly from ship-to-shore via the Pelican that itself can be transformed from transport to gunship with a few attachments. Both sides of the war between the Covenant and the UNSC use combined arms in the form of gunships/transports, Jeep-like vehicles, field artillery, tanks, and infantry with various heavy arms. I am impressed with the level of thought that when into the concept of the UNSC planetside forces, especially since Bungie ripped-off

The RDF/REF from the ROBOTECH Universe
Robotech is a massive saga of three generations fighting for Earth against three invasions of aliens over the science of Robotech, and this leds to the Robotech Defenders to develop three generations of military technology. The first series, Macross, was mainly devoted to the Veritech tri-transform aircraft and the SDF-1 during their year old journey through the solar system, there were times of various other non-transformable mecha and ground soldiers in the fight.By the time the Robotech Masters showed up, the Armies of the South Cross were a vastly different military than the days of the SDF-1, with gunships, legions of armored infantry, artillery, transformable tanks, faced off against an limited Robotech Master military of large powered armor.The broken Armies of the Southern Cross were no match for the hungry Invid, and only the distant Robotech Expeditionary Force offered any hope of liberation. I must confess, the third generation of Robotech Defenders is my favorite, and as some of the coolest mecha. The REF combined arms was built around a futuristic blitzkrieg, where Alpha/Beta fighters, motorcycle mounted infantry, and heavy ground vehicles coupled with next-gen  Zentraedi mecha rush into battle...this may be due to the REF being far from their supply lines, and limited in their number of soldiers. However, for much of the New Generation series, Scott Bernard rebel group was limited to a few fighters and Cyclones. Really, really, wished they had made Robotech II: The Sentinels...

The Forces of Skynet from the Terminator Universe

In the war against the humans, the defense supercomputer Skynet used a vast array of warmachines produced in automated factories that were being updated to be more effective killers. From aerial and ground units, Skynet used to form a lethal combined arms force, to patrol the ruins of human civilization. When the opportunity presented itself, Skynet would deploy massive amount of Hunter-Killer tanks, aerial units, walker mechs, and Terminators to press and destroy the human resistance force. 
Engagements on this scale were rare in the post-Judgment Day world. When it came to the human resistance, especially under John “The Bear” Conner, combined arms were a rare sight. Human aircraft were often lacking fuel, parts, and experienced personnel by 2029. The say was true of the surviving pre-war tanks and armored vehicles. Most of the human mobile firepower came in the form of retrofitted junk vehicles recovered from outside the main nuclear detonation sites. Stolen Skynet heavy plasma cannons and some shoulder fired rockets made up the firepower. Humans often engaged in guerrilla warfare and not direct action. The dark future battle scenes of Terminator II are some of the most iconic in sci-fi of combined arms… I mean who could forget the images of Skynet's machines patrolling through the ruins of LA and the air? 

The Starfist book series
From what I can figure from the cover-art and a few pages, the Confederation Marine Corps uses limited combined arms during their off-world engagements. However, I cannot speak if the combined arms exist in the books, because, this is another one of those long-run MSF book series that I've not read yet. However, during trips to bookstores, I have done some light reading one a ew of the books in the series. They are on my list of books to buy and  at some point, thee will be a review for FWS.

The ISA and Helghast forces from the Killzone Universe
Both the ISA and Helghast forces make use of light combined arts vehicles, from Jeeps, light tanks, boats, APCs, and VTOL transports. However, rarely do these elements seem together, into a fully integrated combined arms unit, this is still a game about shooting.

Various Military Organizations from the Old Man's War Universe
Most of you know that I think that Old Man's War is one of the finest military science fiction books...however, when it comes to demonstrating the concept of futuristic combined arms, these books fail. These books show a war between many species for colonial worlds, and Earth via the Colonial Defense Forces is trying to stake out their claims on exo-planet territory...and trying to keep it. The CDF's armed response to the alien threats is their highly advanced soldiers and weapons, and Skip-Drive equiped warships. However, these soldiers are on their own against the aliens...neither Old Man's War or The Ghost Brigades show the CDF using any sort of combined arms to defend worlds like Coral. Pity....all the effort and thought that was put into these books by Mr. Scalzi simply ends when one thinks about the reality of a military being made of starships and infantry...even if they are ubermensch.

The Cylon and Colonial Fleet Forces from the Battlestar Galactica Universe
The central plot of BSG is about the ragtag fleet and the last colonial Battlestar, not ground combat, so little hardware was shown in the series, mainly its toasters vs, humans in ground combat. There were a few uses of AAA missile batteries, mortars, and CAS, but given the story and the role of the battlestar, it is a logical. I do wonder, during the Occupation of New Caprica, the Cylons make use of military heavy trucks...where did they come from? Galactica? In the classic BSG, the colonial warriors used a tracked armed vehicle called a Landram that was delivered on planet via the colonial shuttles. Despite having the Vipers, and some ground operations during the run of BSG, there is not any examples of CAS...odd. The Landram does make an appearance in the new BSG, during the episode "Scar", on the mining asteroid...blink and you miss it.

The Factions of the Starcraft Universe
Ignoring the story for a minute, the Starcraft games are massive popular military strategy game that is centered on the use of futuristic combined arms in concert to defend two their enemies. Each faction with the Starcraft universe use different variations of combined arms. However, unlike other future military combined arms units, Starcraft allows for the use of powered armor marines, siege tanks, gunships, and other alien military units. Like any good field commander, the players of Starcraft have manage and utilize their resources.     

 The TG and RL from the Renegade Legion Centurion Universe
Back when FASA was turning out gold, one of their more interesting products was the Renegade Legion universe of war-games. According to the RPG's backstory, in the 69th century, the galaxy spanning Terran Overlord Government is attempting to crush the last resistance to their rule, the Renegade Legion. are the resistance. Both sides of the endless war in the 69th century is fought using fighters, anti-gravity tanks, fighters, infantry.

Battle Engine Aquila
This is an 2003 PS2/Xbox/PC video game that takes place on world swallowed up by raising seawaters after climate change. This climate results in a bloody war between two surviving governments on the alien world of Allium. During this war between the Muspell and the Foseti, and is waged over the last of dry land and resources. The Muspell, the industrial and military power is staging invasions of the more peacefull and green energy Foseti, in response, the Foseti developed the Battle Engine, a transforming mecha that switches from a short-range fighter to "gerwalker", which unitized different weapons. During the war, the Aquila is used to overcome the Muspell superior and the weakness of the Foseti, during massive battles between combined arms units. This is a rather odd, but good game that is original, still have it for my Xbox. FWS will be reviewing Battle Engine Aquila in a future blogpost.


  1. Hi William!! Combined arms is sadly overlooked by most SF books and series. Our military relies heavily on infantry, air support, artillery, and tanks working together to smash enemy forces, not soldiers running around with no support in hostile territory. Future soldiers will still use the concept of combined arms- but not in most SF books and movies. Hopefully that is changing- this blog is doing its bit toward improving military SF- and any SF that has soldiers in it.

    I was surprised to find out that the infantry is the core of any army, and that tanks, artillery, and aircraft exist to support infantry. It makes sense if you think about it. Tanks can't go in jungles, mecha can't kick down doors and search buildings (they will fall through the floor due to their weight, assuming they can fit through the front door to begin with), orbital cannons can't rescue hostages. Orbital laser cannons might make desert wars suicidal and tanks obsolete- but infantry can hind in jungles, cities, or mountains. Even powered armor suits can't go places soldiers go, so the trooper on the ground won't go obsolete anytime soon. Even in settings with massive starships that battle it out with heavy weapons in the depths of space, you still need ground units to capture and hold territory or defend planetary populations. Even the Death Star can't capture territory without troops- only destroy or intimidate planets.

    That means than in future war, infantry will play a key role- even beyond the confines of Earth's atmosphere. Even orbital bombardment or planet killing weapons won't obsolete infantry- any more than arial combat or nuclear weapons did. Such powerful weapons will change tactics, but they won't obsolete the foot soldier on the ground. It doesn't matter if the soldier is fighting a modern war with an ordinary rifle or combating alien invaders with a Mars Gallant particle beam gun- infantry will always be important. It is unlikely killer robots will replace infantry, unless Skynet is involved. Even then, Skynet had to copy human infantry.

    To be continued...

    Christopher Phoenix

  2. Starlift capability. Without breakthroughs in propulsion physics- like thrusting without propellent, wormholes, or warp drive, we are unlikely to ever have this capability. Interstellar travel is really tough. For one thing, the stars are very far away. If the sun were the size of a typical, 1/2 inch diameter marble, the distance from the sun to the Earth, called an "Astronomical Unit (AU)" would be about 4 feet, the Earth would be barely thicker than a sheet of paper, and the orbit of the Moon would be about a 1/4 inch in diameter. On this scale, the closest neighboring star is about 210 miles away. That’s about the distance from Cleveland to Cincinnati.

    I won't try to explain all the difficulties with interstellar travel right here, since Nasa has already done it for me. Check out this link, it is a great resource for anyone interested in interstellar travel. Go check it out, I'll wait.
    And the main site:
    And the obligatory Tau Zero link that also explains the difficulties with interstellar travel.

    Bottom line is, rockets are not going to cut it for interstellar troop transport. And a civilization with antimatter engines that can propel ships to near-light-speed will fight wars with relativistic impactors- using the starship as a weapon. Why bother sending troops when the ship will terminate the offending civilization's existence with extreme prejudice? Except to mop up any survivors, that is.

    We will need either FTL drives or constant acceleration drives with space drive technology, so the ships don't have to carry propellent. That could provide star lift- as well as opening up the whole cosmos to future space farers.

    Another SF option is teleportation. Some SF works feature interstellar teleporters to transport astronauts, colonists, and soldiers to faraway planets. Star Trek used transporters for quick ground to orbit travel, but that series was unique it its use of teleportation. Sometimes the traveller might be dematerialized and re-assembled at his destination. Other works feature dimensional gateways that can move the traveller through parallel universes or exotic spaces to reach faraway places. Wormholes are a real-life concept for star travel, though we don't know if we will ever be able to create one.

    Robert H. Heinlein wrote a book in which transporters are used to colonize the universe. He realized that rockets couldn't transport the vast numbers of people he needed to move in his book, so he invented a form of teleportation to do it. A MSF book could used teleportation for star lift- and teleportation could give an element of surprise.

    Here is a link on a teleportation physics study done by the Air Force, to research possible military uses of teleportation technology:
    Could give you some ideas.

    To be continued...

    Christopher Phoenix

  3. It was amazing to me, when I wrote this blogpost on just how important infantry still are to the art of war, despite the advances in technology. The conflict in Afghanistan as proven that. I can remember when people thought the tank would be the king of battlefield in the 1980's, especially with books like Team Yankee.
    The ability to teleport entire armies to a enemy planet was best explored, I think, with the Iconians from ST:TNG and ST:DS9. I thought the concept of Demons of air and darkness was much cooler than the Stargate shows. The idea of entire armies onto a planet is bone chilling...

  4. Hi William!! Tanks will likely become obsolete when spaceships can attack targets on the ground with kinetic bombardment, like Project Thor. Tanks work best in open spaces like the desert, but that is where they will stand out and be easy to target from orbit. Soldiers, on the other hand, can hide in jungles, cities, forests... Those people in the 1980's should have though of that. Not only that, but tanks need infantry support so they aren't taken out by infantry with anti-tank weapons.

    When powered armor comes along, there will be anti-powered armor weapons. If aliens in powered armor and fighting machines invaded and conquered the Earth, human resistance fighters could hide in jungles and urban areas where the alien machines had a hard time maneuvering. Then the humans could wage a guerilla war agains the aliens, making sneak attacks and destroying patrols and outposts until the losses became to severe the aliens were forced to retreat. Sometimes bigger is not better. This would be a good plot for a SF novel- showing how the aliens managed to take over, but they didn't count on continued resistance from individual fighters in complex environments.

    The link "Tips on Writing Military Sci-Fi" first showed me how important- and irreplaceable- infantry is. Even in an age of starships, orbital weapons, and powered armor, infantry will be the core of the military. You can't control a location with air support or space support alone. You need soldiers to fight for, secure, and defend a location. Even if you target enemy units from orbit, you need soldiers to go in and make sure the enemy is gone. Massive fighting machines can destroy a city, but they can't capture it. They can't go from house to house and flush out resistance.

    Warbots have their own vulnerabilities as well. Robots just bring their own problems- you can't modify perfection, we are the best. Robots can't make moral decisions. They are vulnerable to EMP, HERF, etc. Infantry is the spine of a military. Everything else is support. Pinpoint orbital weapons won't change this.

    To me, it looks as though most large vulnerable targets like tanks are going to become obsolete in the future. In an age when satellites can count eggs in a basket, pinpoint orbital weapons- such as kinetic bombardment, cruise missiles, or even lasers can find and destroy tanks and armored vehicles with ease. Future warfighters will have to become good at evading attention or they will be killed. Big machines can't hind nearly as easily as a soldier- or resistance fighter- can.

    Christopher Phoenix

  5. Teleporting armies onto a battlefield- that is an exotic technology, to be sure. The army would love that- imagine teleporting into a war criminal's hideout, tapping him on the shoulder and telling him it is time to go. Imagine alien armies teleporting to Earth, confusing and decimating human populations. That is a bone-chilling thought.

    The computer game series Half-Life used the idea of aliens teleporting to our planet- and then organizing an invasion. Imagine going to work at Black Mesa one day and having head-crabs teleport into your office. Then you go outside, and a gargantua materializes and starts chasing you. It is too bad that the Mac version of Half Life wasn't released- I would have like to have played that game.

    I think the scariest experience a civilian might have in the Half Life universe would be being awoken at night during a portal storm to find that headcrabs had teleported into your room- and that they are destroying the neighborhood. Not many people keep crowbars in their room... and those headcrab zombies would love to rip your guts out and play jump rope with your intestines. If a headcrab doesn't latch on to your head first. Lets hope you have Glock 17 and a shotgun handy if this scenario plays out.

    On the other hand, super-technology like transporters, replicators, and disintegration weapons (phasers) out of Star Trek would make a Federation army almost invincible. Whole armies of Federation troops could just materialize on a battlefield. They wouldn't have any problem supplying weapons, tools, and supplies with their replicators- all they need is feedstock. it is too bad that they never explored a Federation army in Star Trek- those puny Star Wars stormtroopers could never withstand an army with the technology of Star Trek. The tech level of Star Trek is just too high. By the way, I like Star Trek TOS and movie era- nothing else. I haven't even seen the spinoffs, and only a little of TNG.

    Maybe you should explore teleportation and replicators in some of your fiction. That stuff is well beyond the "plausible midfuture" the Rocketpunk Manifesto blog talks about, but that sort of tech would make colonizing the universe a whole lot easier. Warp drives allow access to the distant stars. Replicators allow a whole colony to be made from just raw materials in days. Phasers blast a target into neutrinos, causing it to disintegrate into nothingness. Pretty neat stuff. I always liked the Trek universe too.

    Christopher Phoenix

  6. I have a few problems with your assessment of FTL travel. Relativistic space travel involves massive amounts of energy, accelerating to high speeds and decelerating back down, and time dilation. FTL travel, on the other hand, is a pure hand-wave on the part of the author and can take almost any form you want. Tricks of space-time geometry, hyperspatial shortcuts, warp drives, or other such star-drives find some clever way around the light-speed barrier- often avoiding time dilation to boot. A ship wouldn't have to travel at high speeds to take a trip through a wormhole.

    There are some semi-plausible concepts for a FTL drive. The Alcubierre drive warps the fabric of space and time around the spacecraft, stretching it out behind the ship and collapsing it in front, so the ship "surfs" the warp to another star. Right now, we aren't even sure if such a thing is practical or even possible- you would need a strange matter with negative mass to create such a warp. Some physicists are studying this concept right now- but it isn't that much help to a SF author. It's not like they invented FTL travel- yet.

    My point is that FTL drives in SF don't involve high speeds or time dilation- they find a clever way to avoid the light-speed barrier. We know that you can never even approach light in an accelerating space-ship- the speed of light is invariant no matter who measures it. A ship that travels near the speed of light requires huge amounts of energy and experiences time dilation effects, so the crew may spend twenty years in a round trip and return home to find that 160 years had passed. All their friends would be dead, and so would be their grand-children, unless medicine had discovered how to stop aging and extend life for hundreds of years. So, the FTL ship dodges the light speed barrier. It may use tricks of space-time geometry, project bubbles of altered space around the craft, travel through a parallel universe, convert itself into tachyons etc. The warp drive the Alcubierre suggested doesn't suffer from relativistic effects either- and neither do wormholes.

    When you design a FTL drive for SF, just make up some rules, avoid fluffy technobabble explanations, and remain consistent. To make it work, you may have to bend or break some laws of physics- just keep the fracture under control. Give your drive a top speed. Have some other interesting effects. Find the logical consequences of anything you come up with. Right now, FTL is a very speculative concept, and it is quite likely to be impossible. There are good reasons why most scientists reject the concept, and new physics will be needed to show if wormholes can be made stable or if warp drives can work. We just don't know if the laws of physics allow for warp drives- thats what Mark Millis of the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Program works on.

    The real can of worms is that in Special Relativity, FTL travel leads to time travel and casualty paradoxes- I'm not an expert on this yet, so don't ask me why. That doesn't stop some of us from dreaming of a day when we can dive through a wormhole or surf a warp in space-time to travel to the stars and back in time for dinner.

    Christopher Phoenix

  7. That's the thing with propulsion breakthroughs. The idea is that we are not limited by such annoying things as light speed barriers, mass ratios, or time dilation. We can get to the stars and back as fast as in the SF movies, preferably in the short attention span of Congress and the people back home. We don't have to shave off all our body hair and leave everything at home- we can bring everything we need, including all your aunt's luggage. That is the goal of the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project- finding ways to send people the the stars in a short time frame with all their stuff.

    In a military SF novel, this means a ship with breakthrough FTL propulsion and all the cool gizmos won't hang around. Your FTL troopship carries you, all your friends, all your weapons (including your super-duper portable energy cannon), powered armor suits, APCs, dropships, laser banks and nuclear missiles, etc. out into the cosmos. You arrive at the front, fight the aliens, save the day, and come back to the Earth in time for a victory celebration.

    Of course, not all FTL ship in SF are like that- it depends on what limits you set. If only small ships can go, that means no huge battleships. If only big complex ships can have FTL, than you will have big troop carriers. If FTL requires huge amounts of energy, than you need to explain the source of this energy. Set a top speed- if the drive can only go a few times light speed, most the action will take place close to home, assuming most interstellar trips last two years. If a ship can travel 36,500,000 faster than light, the action will be galactic in scope because that ship could cross the galaxy in a day. In some works, the ships can only enter hyperspace at certain jump-points. This is good for MSF, because jump points become military choke points, ships can't escape from a battle by disappearing into hyperspace, and hyperspace bombers can't sneak on your planet and drop a planet-cracker on you. Check out the Atomic Rockets page on Faster than Light travel- it is chock full of useful info and tips. God bless Winchell Chung, where would we be without him? Nowhere!!

    Christopher Phoenix

  8. Now onto Endo/Ex atmospheric vehicles!! Again, I disagree with some of your assessments- but your spirit is most commendable. Just assuming that orbit to ground travel is like a helicopter ride is wrong. However, that does not mean that ground to orbit ships can't be quick and powerful. By the time we can travel in space, we will need to have the capability to launch large ships and cargo into space, and shuttles are easier than cargo lift. On the whole you are right. Troopers are much more likely to build a surface base than rely on regular, helicopter like visits from a dropship. A rocket ship is quite likely to show up at that base, however- or even a light-craft. This falls under launch technologies, and when we can travel between stars, we will have ships that won't even notice the extra delta-v of a liftoff.

    The reason why space shuttles have huge booster rockets is that chemical propulsion SUCKS!!!!! There, I said it. Chemical rockets have high thrust, but they require so much propellent to reach orbit, a single stage ship just can't do it. NASA's rockets have a low exhaust velocity, so they require large amounts of propellent. Unfortunately, that means staging, since no single stage rocket can have a mass ratio as ridiculous as a chemical rocket requires. The rocket scientists who first reached orbit invented step rockets to do this- but better things are possible. Nuclear energy can be used as for space flight. Fission is powerful but dirty. Fusion propulsion is the best. In the future, we will have rockets so powerful they won't even notice Earth's gravity when they take off. This is all rocket science, I know, but Atomic Rockets talks about this- and the bottom line is that anyone capable of reaching another star will be able to jet around their solar system and take off from Earth easily.

    I've got a good link for you here- it covers concepts for Earth to orbit travel, ranging from the quite-practical-but-not-politically-correct nuclear rockets, fusion-powered spaceplanes, and speculative concepts like antigravity and wormholes. And everything in between.

    The bottom line is that much more powerful rockets will be available in the future, your ground to orbit craft may not be rockets at all, and that they are not helicopters. And getting from orbit to ground tends to be much easier than getting from the ground to orbit- especially if the body you are landing on has an atmosphere. So look before you leap, and don't land to hard.

    My next comment will show design and specs for landers that can carry an APC to an Earth sized body. This craft was designed for space exploration, but you can see the possibilities for military use. This craft uses fusion propulsion.

    Christopher Phoenix

  9. I found a cool website that contains a conceptual design study for an explorer class of starships. The craft resulting from this study is a large, capable, mobile research platform with enough personnel and resources to adequately explore another star system. The starship is also rather large, slow, and expensive. This ship is really a draft design that will hopefully be the basis for further debate and refinement.

    The ship was designed with the assumption that no fantastic new breakthrough technologies are available in the future. A fairly extensive space exploration and industrial infrastructure is in place, so we have the resources to build and launch a starship. The public is motivated to explore another star system, instead of just mounting an Apollo style "plant the flag" mission. Space telescopes have already taken high resolution photos of the planets in the target star systems, so the astronauts have a good idea what to expect when they get there.

    The heavy explorer class starship is large and has a crew of several hundred. Her drive systems allow her to reach a speed of at least 30% light speed. This is too slow to experience much time dilation, so the crew will experience a round trip of twenty-five to thirty years on a trip to even the nearest stars. This ship is not multi-generational. It will be hard to attract top personnel if they don't even get to see their destination, but many people would devote their entire life to exploring another star system. Public interest will wane if the ship won't get anywhere for 100 years- why send a slow ship now if you can send a fast one later?

    The real problem is deciding the Explorer class starships drive technology. The study concluded that an externally fueled fusion rocket is the best, and that ramjet concepts are unlikely to work. The Explorer class is not capable of high speed relativistic space flight, so stars as far away as Tau Ceti are just to far away for an explorer class ship. We will be limited to nearby stars.

    The dirty little word is "fuel". If the ship uses a fusion rocket, it will consume 10 tons of fusion fuel every second!! You'd need 100,000,000 tons to reach 1/3 light speed. I don't see where you can get that much, or how you would carry it. Obviously, propulsion is a real challenge with this ship.

    Here is the web site:

    Christopher Phoenix

  10. What I found really interesting were the landing craft the Explorer class starship took with it. Once it reached the destination star, the crew of the Explorer class starship gets busy exploring, building bases, and finding fuel for the return journey. The Explorer class ship has enough thrust to land on a planet, but that is not practical. She would vaporize anything beneath her when she landed. Therefore, we need some support craft to commute to planets and areas of interest.

    The vacuum shuttle is sort of like the Eagles from the TV show "Space 1999", but bigger. This craft can carry one or two eighteen wheelers, take off and land from a 1 G moon, and are modular. The vac shuttles can be reconfigured for different tasks. The vac shuttles drive system is a Bussard fusion reactor heating water as reaction mass. Very capable of taking off and landing on an earthlike planet and doing extensive cruising in a solar system.

    The aero lander is built like a huge lifting body (waverider or Aurora shaped). This craft would use engines similar to the vac shuttle, but in an atmosphere (of whatever composition) she would directly heat the atmosphere behind her in the shock wave for propulsion. That way an aero shuttle can carry more and have unlimited range in an atmosphere. This craft is used for light jobs and supply runs to ground exploration teams, as well as vacuum operations. They have 100 ton cargo capacities. Oh, and they have self protection armament- two self-targeting 30mm solenoid gun turrets.

    You'll love the ground rovers. Heavy rovers travel in packs and can act as a mobile base. Rovers are like very large APC's. They can operate in a number of environments, ranging from normal air pressure to hard vacuum. They can cover many terrains and even float and self propel on water. Self protection armament of two independent self targeting 30mm solenoid gun turrets. Take that, Colonial Marine APC!! The heavy rovers can even link up to form mobile bases.

    Here is the link to the specs of the landing craft:
    And this the mission plan and manifest of an Explorer class starship:

    Christopher Phoenix

  11. Ground survey teams wear hard suits. I'm starting to get a Half-Life-ish feel from all this- "Welcome to the Mark 4 Hazardous Environment Planetary Exploration Protective Suit. Life support activated. Suit computer systems online. Vital signs monitoring sensors activated. High impact reactive armor activated. Suit integrity sensors activated. Power assist exoskeleton activated. Environmental sensors activated. Emergency medical systems engaged. Weapons systems interface online. Munition level monitoring online. Communication systems online. Have a very safe and productive day!!"

    Later: "Hyper-velocity solenoid rifle acquired." "Alien life-forms detected!!" "Warning!! Hazardous radiation levels detected." "Suit power low- seek replacement power cells." "Hostile life-forms detected." "Suit MP3 player online. Epic music activated." "Armor integrity at 33%. Blood loss detected. Minor fracture detected." "Warning! Ammunition depleted." "Armor integrity at 15%. major fracture detected. Seek medical attention." "Massive blunt-force trauma detected. Internal bleeding detected. Warning!! User death imminent!!"
    "User has died. Flatline on all vital signs."

    I always found it annoying that the landing parties in Star Trek just beamed down in stretchy black pants and miniskirts with no protective equipment at all. Obviously, astronauts on the moon and Mars will wear space suits, but if you are exploring an extrasolar planet, even if the atmosphere is breathable you want a hard suit. There could be hostile forms of life, you could be attacked, there could be dangerous substances in the environment, etc. Think of how many times a space armor suit would have saved a redshirt's life. The stupid killer flowers in "The Apple" would have not done anything to someone in a HEV suit. And every time someone died mysteriously, an HEV suit's recording devices and sensors would have provided clues. In older SF, engineers and soldiers often wore "space armor". It is likely future space explorers will have similar suits to protect them from hostile environments, hard vacuum, etc. If you are exploring an alien world, you want to be ready for any dangers you might encounter. A suit can keep you safe and comfortable in dangerous environments, and military versions will exist for space troopers.

    Christopher Phoenix

  12. A great deal of this post was designed around the theroy of a future military that based on ideas of today...some of the more exotic tech out there, like teleportation and anti-gravity would change the face of war dirtside.
    I think authors of Sci-Fi must make decisions that fiction authors do...like how much science should I include? Some sci-fi just pull tech out of their ass with no regard to hard reality. FTL drives is where most, if not all, sci-fi authors are forced to hand-wave. The last realistic drive I've seen was in Avatar. Designing and writting about FTL vexes me greatly...how much is too much with science or fiction...never was a fan of the Skip Drive from Old Man's War, however, the Forever War think did the best job on the horrors of real FTL...choices...

    Star Trek, for its exotic tech, is seemingly low-tech in approach to warfare planetside. No body armor, to support vehicles, hell, no spaceborne artillery, and they were uniforms that standout...and I think one of their phasers, especially from TNG would be hard to aim.
    The whole endo/exo vehicle came from just thinking about the space shuttle, and reading on the dropship from ALIENS from the tech manuel...but anti-gravity pods would change what I wrote.
    I very much like you ground vehicles! I am thinking of putting them in a post later...

  13. Hello, William!!

    Pulling technology out of your ass is not a good idea, no matter how neat that tech is. There will almost certainly be UNFORESEEN CONSEQUENCES. Here is an example. Imagine that a method of FTL communication- an ansible- was invented tomorrow. That's just awesome, right? No more communication delays in our Solar System, and we can talk to people (or aliens) who live at Alpha Centauri or even the other end of the galaxy. A lot of SF authors might introduce such a device, explaining it had to do with entangled particles or tachyons or other such nonsense, but they might miss the social ramifications of the FTL radio. Never mind how it works. Just explore the unintended effects of this device.

    What are the consequences of the Dirac-powered FTL transmitter? For starters, a manned voyage to Mars just become much more remote. One of the big arguments for a manned Mars voyage is the communications lag. The one-way communication delay when Mars is at its closest approach is 3 minutes, but varies up to 22 minutes delay time at the largest possible superior conjunction. This obviously makes it rather difficult to teleoperate rovers. This all makes a good argument for sending people to Mars- a geologist poking around for a while will get a lot more science done than a bunch of guys waiting around for the next signal from their probe. But if we have a FTL transmitter that operates instantaneously, with no lag time, technicians could operate a remote control rover from Earth in real time, making it a lot less likely that they will take on the dangerous and expensive task of sending people to Mars.

    That is not all though.. it gets worse. The FTL transmitter will cause the stock market to crash. High-frequency trading strategies rely on speed-of-light delays. But it gets still worse. All forms of encryption will be broken. All encryption methods rely upon algorithms that are NP-hard to crack with a computer. But since instantaneous communication violates causality (the principle that cause precedes effect), it opens all sorts of interesting strategies that will allow breaking problems that are NP-hard. In one fell swoop, all bank account data, secret government information, and military information will be readable. All of a sudden, our poor SF writer has undermined a major argument for manned space flight while simultaneously destroying the economy and causing wars and depressions. Uh-oh!!

    The moral of this story is to always explore all the ramifications of any device you include in your story. Sometimes, this works in your favor- you could introduce a device that seems to have a unintended consequences when you actually intend to explore the bizarre ripple effects of your device. Frank Herbert did that in his short story "Committee of the Whole", in which Congress orders an uppity, libertarian ranch owner to testify on national television. He does, and describes (on national TV, mind you) how to construct a laser sidearm powerful enough to slice a tank in two with materials commonly found in a garage workshop. This would allow libertarian minded people to hold off whole tank battalions, rendering all governments impotent. This was the ranch owners intention, and he made sure of the result by mailing blueprints of his plan all over the world. Much to the Congressmen's outrage.

    Christopher Phoenix

  14. The spaceship out of Avatar was based on the Valkyrie antimatter starship designed by James Pellegrino and Jim Powell. Avatar crossed it with the laser lightsail for the initial boost from the Sol system and the deceleration back to Sol system on the return trip, only using the antimatter rocket to decelerate on arrival at Alpha Centauri and accelerate back on the return trip, since there weren't any laser cannons at Pandora. That part was conceivable, from a physics standpoint.

    Avatar is still unlikely to be our future, though- it assumes that A: there are habitable moons or planets at Alpha Centauri; B: those moons are full of a valuable, rare mineral Earth absolutely needs and cannon replicate; and C: Blue-skinned aliens that behave like the fairies out of Ferngully live on that moon. That is a bit unlikely.

    Without vastly more powerful propulsion systems that make the space shuttles look like bottle rockets, we aren't going anywhere. The real reason why we don't build rocket ships like in the Heinlein novels is that our rockets guzzle huge amounts of low-energy-density fuel. This fuel doesn't have the ooompphhh to power a rocket with a high exhaust velocity, so our rockets specific impulse is low. This means it consumes huge amounts of propellent, which means it must be multistage since we simply can't build single stage rocket with a mass ratio over ten. Mass ratio is the ratio of propellent to rocket ship and payload- the Apollo rockets were almost all fuel. Without more powerful fuels and engines, like nuclear rockets, fusion rockets, or antimatter drives, we are confined to Earth orbit. Chemical propulsion is just to feeble for anything beyond that. Which means your Endo/Exo atmospheric craft has to have propulsion better than a space shuttle. They will likely be SSTO vehicles and landers. I particularly like the ones I told you about- the aero and vacuum shuttles of the Explorer class starship. Those aren't helicopters, those are spacecraft, and they will get what you need on and off the planets you visit. And them we bring out the heavily armored ground rovers. I love those things. : ) I'll be using those in my SF.

    Christopher Phoenix

  15. Star Trek was totally low tech in its approach to ground warfare- no body armor, no armored vehicles, and so on. The Federation did have a lot of tech that would change warfare a lot, but Star Trek never showed a Federation army. TNG phasers would be really hard to aim, but the Phasers from TOS, and especially the Assault Phaser, would be much easier to aim and use, as well as being much more powerful- an overloading phaser in TOS could nuke a starship, leading to widespread panic, as would an overloading laser pistol. Soldiers armed with phasers would be formidable indeed. Check out this link on SF firearms at Orbital Vector- Orbital Vector considers phasers to be the most advanced firearms in SF.

    I theorize phasers on the disintegrate setting fire a special disruption particle that can cause atoms to break apart into neutrinos, triggering chain reaction in a target. That is why someone shot with a phaser glows green a disappears in TOS, or fades out with a lingering scream in the movies. Later on in TNG, they seem to forget that phasers are disintegration weapons- in First Contact, their rifles shoot pulses that make small explosions instead of rays that disintegrate stuff. On lower settings, phasers disrupt electrochemicals in the targets nervous system or heat objects. They are powered by an internal power pack that holds an obscene amount of energy- 1.3 Million megajoules per cubic centimeter. I want a phaser.

    I'm not sure FTL travel will be that horrible- imagine if the stars were no further away than a dive through a wormhole or the priming of a hyperdrive. You could go to another star and return in home to your friends and family, not your great-great-grandchildren. Space travel could be fun. Colonists would be able to have many starships drop in to visit. If we met aliens, we could actually have meaningful contact in an Earthly timeframe. FTL would be really awesome to have in real life.

    Christopher Phoenix

  16. Hi!
    A very well put together article you have here, though I feel the need to comment your view on the Empire Strikes Back.

    The rebel alliance projected a shield around their base and a good portion of the surroundings. Because of this barrier, ships or aircraft could not access rebel airspace. Instead they relied on landing barges, dropping off walkers outside the shielded area.
    Because walkers have constant contact with the ground, they can pass through the energy field, where an aircraft would disintegrate on contact.

    With that cleared up, I thank you for a wonderful reading time.

  17. Thank you for the comment! I am now researching the battle for Hoth. I think you're theory may be correct, it would explain the lack of imperial air cover. The theory of the energy shielding allowing slow moving targets reminds me of DUNE's "the slow blade penetrates the shield"

  18. What limited training I have had in battlefield tactics revolved around the fact that battlefield units were broken down into three categories. These categories are infantry, cavalry, and artillery.

    Infantry’s role is to hold ground due to its ability to absorb damage.

    Cavalry’s is used to respond to changes on the battlefield. Mainly to plug breaches in friendly lines, or exploit breaches in enemy lines.

    Artillery projects firepower over a distance.

    I hope those definitions are correct. It has been a while since I had that training, and I couldn’t find any verifications.

    An individual unit function is based on its ability to fit into one of those roles. There are various “missions” on the battlefield, but those are divided up by which category could better accomplish them.

    There are two things brought up in this article I would like to address.

    First is targeting tanks from satellites. Yes satellites do have great imaging capability. They can see and identify tanks from orbit, but hitting a target from 300 miles away is much harder. It wound be a piece of cake to hit a stationary target, but a moving vehicle would be much harder. Even if the satellite were to fire a laser, it would take at least a second or two to reach its target. If the vehicle was travelling at 30 MPH, it would have gone about 60 feet from the time the beam was fired till the time of impact. If the vehicle was evading, it would be nearly impossible to hit.

    On the subject of the AT-ATs from Star Wars, their size and speed make them too easy of marks for target practice, and better suited for weapons familiarization. These weapons would only be effective against civilians and poorly equipped militias. If a poorly equipped militia like ISIS were to face The AT-ATs, they would have no choice but to with draw. On the other hand, if a well-equipped and supported force like the U.S. military were to face the Imperial Walkers, they would call in B-52s, and arc light the assault force. The big bombs may not penetrate the walkers’ shields, but the big holes that they would make in the ground would cause the walkers to stumble. The rebels on Hoth could have taken out about 60% of the Imperial assault force by kamacozing one of their transports into the Imperial flank, and triggering a domino type effect.

  19. It has been away since I looked at this blogpost, and I am taking this down for reediting and format change. Not up to the current standards of FWS.
    I think you are correct on the limits of space-based artillery on the battlefield. I think most orbital artillery would be a weapon targeting a large enemy present and not a single tank.
    Yeah, those AT-ATa look cool, but they an large target and easy to take down. It helps that the Rebels were badly armed.