During the times of the Greeks and Romans, there have been seaborne soldiers separated from their counterparts on the land. This tradition of sea-based soldiers continues today with the marines that serve in the vast majority of militaries as elite flexible rapid-response naval warriors.This fact is not lost on the writers and/or creators of military sci-fi, who first began using the term "marine" to represent their futuristic fleet-based soldier in 1932, with Captain Brink of the Space Marines published by Amazing Stories. It was not until 1986's ALIENS that the theory of a space-based marine corps received wide spread exposure. After this, the trend of naming futuristic off-world soldiers 'marines' exploded to the point of cliche in seemingly every book, RPG, and video game.
The trend as only picked up with the invention of e-books, even a simple Amazon search revels that majority of these self-published novels are using the term "marine" to cover their own deep-space light infantry.
The Role of Contemporary Marine Forces
The Marines of today primary mission is a nation's force-in-readiness, that is able to response to a crisis situation much faster than it's big army brothen. This rapid deployment angle is increased when these marines are stationed within a naval expeditionary taskforce. Marine forces, number much smaller than the big army, for example the USMC is about 203,000 with 40,000 in reserve, while the US Army numbers about a million. The same is true of the British Royal Marine Commandos, who number under 7,000, however, unlike the USMC, the British marines also specialize in Arctic warfare.What sets the marines from the big army are their ability to stage waterborne invasions, their unique culture, especially in the USMC, which prides itself on having every marine being able to engage in combat if needed. Another element that sets the marine corps from the big army is a fw unique vehicles, like the V-22 Osprey, the LAV-25 light armor vehicle, the AAVP-7 amphibious armored vehicle, Harrier jump-jet, and the Air-cushioned landing craft (technically, part of the US Navy). despite their status and hardcore training, the USMC has suffered from limited budgets, older equipment, and being overshadowed by the Army in ongoing combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan
The near future of the current USMC, is being explored by the US Military via the USMC, USAF, and DARPA, have explored the possibility of deploying a small team of marines under the SUSTAIN and/or Hot-Eagle Project. These special marine teams would be like first responders, using military Scramjet spaceplanes to get from the USA to any global point within 120 minutes. The idea as been around since the 1950's, and the current Hot-Eagle Project as been around since 2002, with little or no further development.
The Role of Space Marines
What would a realistic space marine look like if and when we colonize other star systems, and project military power out there? In keeping with their maritime heritage, space marine units would serve in space fleet expeditionary forces, being ready for operations on colonies, mining operations, and shipping routes. This would also play into their rapid-response aspect, the space marines would be able to project power onto regions of space, faster than a space army (forgive the term). However, given the realistic nature of FTL/Time Dilation, its possible space marines would be kept during cryo conditions until needed (like that pound of hamburger meat in the back of the freezer), causing space marines to be far removed from their own time period, and possibly distance the marines from the ones they protect and isolated from normal society after their service (see The Forever War).
Given their role as rapid deployment forces, it is possible that these ship-based space marines would unitize power armor suits instead of traditional armored vehicles, much like what was seen in the Starship Troopers book and Starcaft's Terran Marine Corps, a limited elite force of enforcers of the government's planetary holdings, borders, and laws. During major engagements, these space marines would be limited by their government's starlift capacity and FTL. Literary, how much war material they could move to the planetary battlefield, and how fast they could get there. These factors would transform the job of space marine, in planetside battles, to a holding force, that waited on the speed of the navy to delivery the goods and reinforcements. Not a good position to be in. As with all matters involving exoplanet colonization, it all comes down to FTL, I very much doubt that many people would sign up with a space marine corps that would be under for decades or even hundreds of relative years, fight a few times for people that weren't even born when you signed up, then go home to a place that you can't recognize.
Why does Sci-fi use the term "Marine"?
The primary reason for the wide usage of the term "marine" when describing a spaceborne ground troops, is that is a loaded term in the minds of most people. It is easier for an author or filmmarker to use the term marine, and have all that accompany the term marine, allowing for the creator to not spend fifteen pages formulating his/her futuristic troopers. If we look at James Cameron's masterpiece ALIENS, we can see that his Colonial Marine Corps played directly into the common cultural prospective on the US Marines Corps, and allowed for Cameron to use it then move on with the film.
Then there is the other side of the coin, laziness on the part of an author/creator. People like Cameron worked to develop a certain public imagine for the space marine concept, like the the real USMC PR department, and a lazy author/creator that doesn't want to spend the mental energy developing a unique planetside infantry fighting force, will dial up the term 'marine' and move on, this can been seen the recent Turok game, DOOM, and Quake.
Of course, imitation is the highest form of flattery, and some creators, like Bungie tap into James Cameron's Colonial Marines to construct their UNSC Marine Corps, while other wish to mimic the imagine and history of the real-life USMC, bridging the two together as a continuation of the corps, like the USMC in Space: Above and Beyond and the book Sempes Mars. Another theory on why the term 'marine' is used is due to the common brotherhood that the USMC as within its ranks, and authors/creators maybe tapping into this for the "us vs. them" ascept, especially when our foe is an alien species.
Would there still be a 'Big Army'?
If and when mankind pushes out and colonizes other worlds, there will be wars, especially over habitable planets, and given the cold vast gulfs of space between star systems, its seems that marine approach a rapid response, flexible, force-in-readiness would make complete sense. But would there still be an big army? Would there be a need for a large, heavy force that would require more star-lift capability, and supply chain than a space marine force? If you examine the evidence from most sci-fi works that contain a space marine force, the answer is no, but this is a loaded answer. Since the vast majority of sci-fi creators play little attention to the naming of the futuristic spaceborne force, the difference between army and marines matters little or why there is one and not the other. Some creators that have thought about, must conclude that once humanity pushes out, that the "big army" concept would be outdated due to its slow deployment, supply chain requirements, and the vastness of space. According to these creators, the space marines, especially ones with armored power suits or mecha could deploy to hot-zones rapidly and solve the problem before the big army logistics can catch up to the crisis.
Then some works, like ALIENS, HALO, Space: Above and Beyond, Star Wars, and the Starfist books, incorporate both the marine corps and a big army to a force that projects across deep space. From these works, we see the big army being on the major colonial sites or even hub worlds, like Reach from HALO or regions of friction, like a Neutral Zone, where it would make logistic and tactical sense to have a big expensive heavy army presences. While the space marine forces of these works are unitized in a tradition manner to their maritime roots, being based onboard starships, expeditionary deep space flotilla, or distant outposts. This would allow marine units, like the Colonial Marines rapid colonial response unit seen in ALIENS, to arrive at a problem despite being many lightyears from Terra. The big army would be used during wars, major police actions, and long-term engagements, while the lighter marine force is designed for bush wars, uprising, and gunboat diplomacy. My personal view is that if the marines and the big army have existed this long, and continue to receive funding, than it is likely that marines and the army will exist off-world, but much more separated, one based on colonial worlds, the other on starships.
Depictions of Space Marines in Sci-fi
Science fiction creators seem to relay heavily on the term 'space marine', and attempt to link the aggressive nature of the United States Marine Corps to their fictional creation, seasoning their characters with rough language, head-on tactics, and fighting unit comprised of infantry units that drop in from space to fight on-planet. When I examine the bulk of depictions within sci-fi, it seems that most creators are mixing World War II Airborne tactics and historical units with cultural elements of the modern US Marine Corps. Another huge completely unrealistic portrayal of futuristic marines is space attack jet pilots doubting as groundpounders. The only idea I have behind its genesis, using the example from SAAB, was the expense of special effects for space dogfights. The show saved money by having deployed dirtside, plus allowed for the main characters to be put into different situations, expanding the storlines. Honestly, I cannot see a Navy fighter jock stepping out of his F-18/A, boarding a V-22, and rescuing an embassy. The flip side are the expectations to the rule, like the Colonial Marine Corps from ALIENS and the UNSC Marines from the HALO universe, that attempt to show the other side of the space marine concept: aggressive, rapid-deployment, light combined arms force launching assaults from starships.
Depictions of Space Marines my own Sci-fi
For the record, I tended not to use the term "space marine" in the majority of my own writings, due to its over use in fictional works. However, due to the deep impact of ALIENS on my own sci-fi psyche after my first viewing in 1988 and with STARCOM: The US Space Force along with the buying of the Dark Horse Comics ALIENS series, my sci-fi writings at the time had some sort of space marine units. They were mostly seen as infantry units that were divided into three groups: planetary, spaceborne, and planetary marine reserves. The planetary marines were mostly served in mechanized armored platoons of anti-gravity tanks, which was inspirited from novels like Team Yankee. The spaceborne marines were similar to the marines seen Battlestar Galactica, while the planetary marine reserve units (PMR) were colonists that went through training to be a sort of colonial guard force and had access to military-grade equipment and weapons. The PMRs concept was placed into my book Endangered Species, along with a Union of the Americans Marine Corps, which was patterned off of the current USMC.
Examples of Space Marines
The United States Marine Corps from Space: Above and Beyond
The 1995-1996 FOX TV show Space: Above and Beyond, followed one USMC space aviator squadron, the 58th, the "Wildcards", through their service during the first war between Earth and an alien species known as "the Chigs". This marines of 2063 are directly linked by slang, tradition, tactics, mission, culture to the USMC of today. These future marines were involved in similar roles to the 20th centuries ancestors, serving on naval vessels, being the rapid deployment force, and often, fighting in the worst places. In addition, much like today, the US Army and USMC, shared weapons, tactical gear, and vehicles. During the one season series, the 58th used a 7.62 NATO multi-environment battle rifle, the M590, that seemed to mount several sensor/aiming systems, and their sidearm was a modified Glock 17L 9mm, nothing in the way of machine guns, grenade launchers where seen on-screen.
Added to these was an RPG system (SRM), and a rather kewl Smart-Grenade. These soup-can sized devices, pop-out fins that worked with a micro-propulsion, and AI software to hunt down targets. When it came to vehicles, the USMC of 2063 used He3 fueled SA-43 "Hammerhead" dual-atmospheric attack jet fighters, and Inter Solar System Armored Personnel Carriers (ISSAPC or ISSCV) for ship-to-shore work, both were brilliantly designed. However, SAAB made one huge mistakes when it came to projecting what the USMC would be like in 2063: pilots be used as ground troops. That is a trick of sci-fi products and not real-world militaries, no one is going to risk a full-trained attack jet pilot on a ground operation that these pilot have not been trained for. However, one role that is barely mentioned a few times during the series, was Colonial Sentry. It seems that since the nations of Earth are not at work, but the rebellious A.I. are out there, the USMC deploys garrisons onto USA colonial sites, but the concept was never fully explored. On a personal note, I count myself fortunate that I was able to see this groundbreaking excellent MSF TV series during its run, because it changed my outlook on sci-fi and introducted me military sci-fi. If it had not come at that the right moment, I might still be going to Star Trek cons (the horror!)!
The Adeptus Astartes from the Warhammer 40,000 Universe
When you type the term 'space marine' into Google the majority of entries that pop up are related to British Game Workshop dark vision of the future: Warhammer 40,000. In 41st millennium, the Imperium of Man exists in a violent besieged future were aliens and dark gods plot against mankind. Their guardians against the night are these giant violent ubermensch genetic-altered warriors that are loyal to a fault to their God-Emperor, these are the Space Marines. Honestly, Warhammer 40K is one of the more unique sci-fi creations, but GWS should renamed their elite supersoldiers to another more grander name, somehow 'space marine' just doesn't cut it, and the how the game project these Titans of war is nothing like the typical space marine concept. It is not even like these Warhammer 40K Space Marines are being deployed only in their armor, making rapid assaults and be based on fleet combat vessels. No, these Space Marines not only used very encased infantry, but mechs, massive battle tanks, aerial units, and regular non-supersoldier infantry.Truly odd.
The United States Marines RECON from AVATAR
Once again, James Cameron turns to the US Marine Corps to forge a relationship two central characters in his military sci-fi epic Avatar, Jake Sully and Colonel Miles Quaritch. Unlike ALIENS, where Cameron used active service marines to bond the characters to each other, despite some hating each other, in Avatar, he uses Sully and Quaritch's mutual past of being in the USMC 1st RECON and combat veterans to bond them together, and allow the audience to gauge the two men without saying it.
The "Space Marine" from the DOOM Universe
Despite the DOOM series being around since the mid-90's (I remember when it came out...many lost days), ID softare never really advanced the concept of the main character or the organization that he fought for, it was just kill,kill, kill. Then came the DOOM 3 in 2004, and the story was more fleshed out. The United Aerospace Corporation, with help from either the United States or other nations had constructed a underground Martian complex to carry out cutting edge scientific research, and pulling security on the UAC labs, was regular space marines, being used by the corporation for their own security purposes. This may have been a nod to the CMC of ALIENS and the War in Iraq, but the game is clear, UAC had the power to dictate terms to the Earth-side governments. From DOOM 3, we can make some assumptions about the space marines, they are trained for the hostile conditions of Mars, they workout...alot, don't really believe in helmets, but wear heavy body armor, and watch too many movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger and Dolph Lundgren. Oh, and just one last thing, That's one doomed space marine. Sorry. Couldn't resist.
The Alliance Navy Marine Corps from the Mass Effect Universe
One of the most groundbreaking games of recent times as been the Mass Effect saga, and within the game, your character, Commander Shepard (I use the female character), is a member of the Systems Alliance Marines, who moved through the ranks, and passed the special training for N7 Earth Special Forces. from the limited information in the game, the Systems Alliance Marines seem to have a cozy relationship with the Systems Alliance Fleet. Given the high-level of nano-technology used in the game, it can be assumed that these Alliance Marines use armor and weapons technology as a force multiplier, and deconstruct the nature of combined arms. It's just a thought, but FWS will devoted more blogspace over nanotechnology in a few months.
The Confederated Marines from the Starfist series
In the 25th century, mankind has colonized two hundred words under the Human Worlds Confederation, and protecting these worlds is the Confederated Navy. When the fight goes dirtside, the first armed responders is the Confederated Marines Fleet Initial Strike Team (FIST). According to internet searches, the marines of the Starfist universe are used in a similar manner to the tradition seaborne marines, being a quick-reaction force and creating beachheads for the big army, which still exists in the Starfist universe. The standard confederation marine weapons are described as "miniaturized oxy-hydrogen plasma shooters (AKA blasters in the books)." Once again, I've not read the series, only flipped through a few pages at Barnes & Noble and Google Books, but I plan on given the series a try.
The US Marines from Semper Mars
In the world of 2040, the UN is trying to become a one-world government, with only a few nations stand against them, while on Mars, several nations have setup science outposts to study the alien ruins on Mars (Hoagland was right!). As the UN grows more powerful on Earth, the independent nations sent expeditionary units to Mars to safeguard their outpost, The United States sent a small team of 20 marines to the red planet. In Semper Mars, author William H. Keith Jr, explores Martian ruins, Earth politics, and a Marine Corps on the edge of being discontinued. For what little I can research the book approaches the gear of the marines in a realistic manner, they use a "Mars Cat" rover, and the M-29 ATAR (advanced-technology assault rifle) that, from the text of the book, uses a caseless "4.5mm ablative sabot round" and makes it related to the H&K G11. I have not, and mostly likely will not read the novel in its entirety, quite simple I don't buy the basic plot of the novel, nor do I care for its paranoid UN viewpoint, along with cliches about the French, my roots are French...ça me fait chier!
The Earthforce Marines from the Babylon 5 Universe
The EarthForce Marine Corps was known primary as GROPOS and were seen several times in the TV series, one storming an alien planetside fortress and the other was an failed boarding of the massive Babylon 5 station when they withdrew from the Earth Alliance. During these few episodes, it seems GROPOS were loosely based on the USMC and fulfill the role as a light, highly-Mobile, fleet-based strike force. The GROPOS that were seen on-screen seemed to be patterned after the marines from Space: Above and Beyond, and used PPG rifles, thruster VTOL gunships,. breaching pods.This made the GROPOS similar to a light strike force and seemed in line with more traditional marine duties. Later on, the EarthForce Marines were more fleshed out via the GROPOS tabletop RPG system.
The EDF Space Marines from Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato
One of my earliest memories of a space marine corps came from the second series of Starblazers, The Comet Empire. These space marines were stationed on the 11th planet, Brumus station, and the Argo aided them during a comet empire sneak attack. The twenty marine force tags along during their rouge mission to answer an distress call from planet Telezart. Throughout The Comet Empire storyline, Sgt. Knox and his intrepid band of hard-drinking, hard-fighting marines battled the Argo crew, mechanized comet imperial forces on Telezart, and storm the comet empire flagship-city, resulting their deaths. What is interesting about the Earth Defense Force's Space Marines is they are a nearly pure infantry force that uses a gunship/APC/attack shuttle like craft, portable artillery, and laser weaponry. The heavier planetary combat force of the EDF, according to the EDF technical manual, is an army. I believe that Starblazers maybe one of the earliest visual depictions of the space marine concept.
The Imperial Fleet Marines from the Star Wars Universe
In the pages of the West End Games Star Wars RPG, the Imperial armed forces unitizes a marine force onboard their warships, outposts, and space stations (like the Death Star), along with the Stormtroopers. This non-clone human naval soldiers lack much of anything in the way of vehicles, heavier weapons, and pride. It seemed that according to the RPG Imperial manual and several websites, the imperial troopers were concerned weak and the bottom run of the Imperial armed forces, even laughed at by stormtroopers that had to come to their aide frequently.
The Marines from the Turok Universe
In the 2008 attempted relaunch of the old Turok games, the story follows Joe Turok, a Kiowa Native America that had a troubled military service, but his unique skills land him an offer to join the secretive "Wolf Pack", a black-ops unit within the marines. During flashbacks, the player witness a assassination mission where newbie Wolf Pack member Turok uses an bow-and-arrow to take out guards, then use it to kill three in cloe-quarters combat! However, the Wolf Pack was engaged in illegal activity, and Turok reported them, forcing the gov't to break up the Wolf Pack, making Turok unpopular. When the leader of Wolf Pack disappeared, a detachment of marines, called "whiskey company" along with advisor Turok were sent to bring him back. All and All, these space marines of Turok were seemingly dropped out of the Quake/ALIENS Colonial Marine model , and come off as cliche and tired. Which is a real pity, I played the hell out of the original N64 game, and was looking forward to its relaunch.
The Astro Marines from STARCOM: The US Space Force
The 1987 American cartoon and toy line, United States' Space Force, STARCOM had a planetary combat infantry force, called the Astro Marines, and it projected a light assault force that worked with divisions of STARCOM to protect Mars and Luna from hostiles. The Astro Marines were designed as an planetary based force, that was forced to work with Star command, Star artillery, and Star Wing to achieve a combined arms strategy, in addition, the Star Wing vehicles can transport the light armored vehicles of Astro Marines.
The Rumored Starfleet Marine Corps from the Star Trek Universe
One of the interesting questions that Trekkies ask themselves, as I did when I was one: does Starfleet possess a planetary fighting force? This noncanon so-called Starfleet Marine Corps was never seen on-screen in any canon Star Trek series or movie, however, this did not stop Trekkies from forming Starfleet Marine Corps clubs and designing their own uniforms and rank structure. Most of the ideas surrounding the Starfleet Marine Corps descents from the old FASA RPG system, where Marines were a part of the overall Starfleet thought the original series up until The Next Generation era. To be clear, Starfleet soldier of some kind were seen in Star Trek V, and during a few Dominion War episodes. Even taking in account the FASA Marines and the generalized troopers from the canonized events, Starfleet as little in the way of support, heavy weapons, or even armored vehicles.
The Terran Marine Corps from the Starcraft
Starcraft used the attitude and culture of the modern USMC to form the 25th century Terran Marines of the Terran Empire, and these spaceborne troops are encased in powered armor and weild Gauss rifles. The interest element of the Terran Marine corps is that imperium "resocializes" criminals and nutjobs to service against the horrors of the Zerg Swarm. This makes these space marines something interesting and more colorfully than the standard space marines of sci-fi.
The UNSC Marine Coprs The HALOUniverse
When Bungie designed the United Nations Space Command Marine Corps, they liberally borrowed from the space mariens of SAAB and ALIENS, to forge a spacefaring fighting force that was one of the better examples of the space marine concept. From the depiction in books and video games, Bungie, it seems, was connecting today's USMC to the 26th century UNSCMC. Like the current USMC, the 25th century UNSCMC is tied to the UNSC Navy, creating a close working relationship, and the UNSC Navy warship serve as the base-of-operation for much of the Marines seen in the HALO games, along with the books. These marines use easily deplorable armored vehicles via the Pelican dropships, and from what was seen in HALO Wars, they use speed and violence to wedge out a larger/heavier force.
The Colonial Marines from Battlestar Galactica (2003)
Information on the Colonial Marine Corps featured in the new Galactica series is very limited, despite being an important assesst to the ragtag fleet. These marines wore all black kit onboard ship, and the current MARPAT Woodland digital pattern on-planet, and numbered about a hundred after the arrival of the Pegasus. During the run of the series, the marines used a variety of real-steel weapons, changing their primary weapon from the P90 to the Beretta CX4 Storm 9mm carbine, along with the sidearm being a FN Five-Seven, while the Pegasus marines seemed to favor the H&K MP7 PDW. During other missions we saw the use of heavier firepower, like light machine guns, and missile launchers. It is hard to make any profile of the CMC of the 12 Colonies due to the extreme conditions that the Galactica found themselves under, and what these Colonial Marines may or may not have used or even if the Colonial military had an army.