29 February 2012

FWS News Feed: Railguns and Weyland-Yutani!

The US Navy tests an EM Railgun

On Tuesday, the US Navy test-fired their32 MJ prototype railgun constructed by BAE Systems. This most recent test of the US Navy next-gen KEW fired a 40 pound barbell shaped projectile at 5,600 MPH. The hope is that within five years, the latest naval warship would mount a railgun that has a range of 250 miles.

We met the face of the Weyland-Yutani Coporation

Mr. Scott continues to build up excitement for his return to science-fiction with this three minutes of viral video for Prometheus. Here we seen Peter Weyland of Weyland Corporation at a media event talking about the future from the POV of 2023. Here are some facts from the website: "Sir Peter Weyland was born in Mumbai, India at the turn of the Millennium. The progeny of two brilliant parents; His mother, an Oxford Educated Professor of Comparative Mythology, his father, a self-taught software Engineer, it was clear from an early age that Sir Peter’s capabilities would only be eclipsed by his ambition to realize them"


24 February 2012

FWS Armory: Particle Beam Weapons

One of the mission statements of FWS is to catalog and define the weapons used in science fiction, making this a resource for creators of military sci-fi and sci-fi in general. This blogpost about Particle beam weapons is a continuation of that mission. Unlike other well-known and over-used futuristic weapons, Particle beam weapons are much more rare, and often mislabeled in science fiction works. In the real world (which is boring), Particle beam weapons have been experimented with (in a military sense) since Nikola Tesla proposed a "teleforce weapon" in 1934, and more recently with Operation: Seesaw in 1958, SDI of the 1980's, and 2010 construction of an Air Force beam lab at Kirkland AF base with help from Sandia. However, at the moment, Particle DEW are unlikely due to their need for millions (or billions) of volts and massive megawatts that weapons-grade Particle beam would require.
On a personal note, this was a very enjoyable blogpost to research, since I knew very little about Particle beam weapons going into this one.  

What are Particle Beam Weapons?

Basically, Particle beam weapon (PBW) is a form of the directed energy weapon (DEW) and uses powerful magnetics and electrical fields to propel sub-atomic (like hydrogen) particles near or at the speed of light. Particle DEW come in two primary types: charged-particles and neutral-particles. When it comes to military application of these different types of PBW, charged are endoatmospheric, while neutral are exoatmspheric.
If this technology sounds familiar than you are not wrong, an Particle beam weapon is basically a so-called "atom-smasher", like the Large Hadron Collidor in my native nation, Switzerland.

Neutral and Charged Particle Beam Weapons

Due to charged Particle DEW being susceptible to deflection by magnetic fields (like the Earth's own magnetic field), the Neutral Particle beam weapon (NPB) for use in space combat applications by firing hydrogen atoms, due to their neutral charge. During the SDI days, the US experimented with a NPB by launching one into space on July 13, 1989, under the Beam Experiment Aboard Rocket (BEAR). The NPB was a low-power neutral hydrogen particle beam, and was aimed to prove that the technology was accepible for spaceborn application. The endoatmosphere charged Particle beam (CPB) use either protons or electrons for their subatomic particle-of-choice. One of the hallmarks of the charged or ion Particle DEW is its demand for vast amount of energy over a short amount of time, creating issues of charging and brown-out. The US Air Force RADLAC I program has developed beam of electrons in the 10 MeV range with a 30,000 amp current.

The details of Particle Beam Weapon

Particle beam weapons fire subatomic particles of hydrogen, electrons, and/or protons at near light-speed, and to measure the output, PBWs must be talked about in terms of millions-of-electron volts (MeV), the beam current in amperes, and the power of the beam itself in watts. The example given in one of my sources breaks it down like this: 20 MeV Particle beam would have 20 million electron-volts (pg 3, Introducing the Particle-Beam Weapons by Dr. Richard M. Roberts. Air University Review, July-August 1984).
The heart of the PBW system is the particle accelerator that generators the beam of ions, and is the most complex part of the weapon. These accelerators are made up of segments or modules using radio frequency linear electric field to accelerate the charged particles, similar to the Gauss or Coil gun. Most of the current particle accelerators uses miles of these modules to propel these ions at light-speed, which does not translate well into battlefield applications. Another way for Particle acceleration, via induction linac system that unitizes very high currents for short pulses for ionic injection. These are, according to the sources, more suitable for an endoatomspheric DEW weapon because of induction linac stability for propagation of a high-energy beam that is more lethal. The US Air Force's own PBW program, RADLAC, is exploring alternative means of Particle acceleration, via their advanced test accelerator.    

Military Particle Beam Weapons

Due to the different between the endo and exoatmospheric, we'll break this section between these different types of PBWs.

Neutral PBW:
Space-based Neutral Particle weapons (NPW) are the most research because of the SDI ('Star Wars') program during the 1980's and early 1990's. The idea was to use a neutral Particle beam to knock out Russian ICBMs  Another promising electronic disruption application via a low-power particle beam or even dosing the object with lethal amounts of radiation. It is possible that low-power neutral particle beams could be utilized as a 'less-lethal' or 'soft-kill' option for military warships, similar to the Chig U-378 destroyer from the Space: Above and Beyond episode "Mutiny". This alien vessels uses a form of microwave (could be a form of particle DEW) for disruption of communication systems, sensors, and spike nuclear core temperatures. 

Charged PBW:
The goal of current Particle beam weapon (CPB) research is for a one cm beam in the range of 1 GeV within a 1000 amp beam to knock out a target at 1,000 kilometers away. That that seems to be the military thinking on application for a CPB DEW system: interception for incoming missiles.
Since CPB are used in-atmosphere, there have been several attempts at bring this deadly DEW system from the pages of science fiction to reality. Originally, the US Navy looked at CPB weapons under Project Seesaw for usage as a interceptor in 1950's. Another attempt was made in 1974 to field a MILSPEC CPB for cruiser missile interception on carriers. The goal was to have a stowable CPB in the range of 4.5 kilometer that was rapid-fire (six shots a second). The project ran into development issues due to the natural of CPB physics: atmospheric blooming, Earth's magnetic field issues, power consummation, and size of the machine itself. In the 1980's and 90's, $46 million was poured into a CPB anti-ballistic missile system project called DELPHI and MINERVA that could intercept incoming reentry vehicles at between 80 and 4500 kilometers. The project was cancelled in 1992 under for economic and technical issues.

Advantages of Particle Beam Weapons

  • Kinetic damage
  • Thermal damage
  • Damages or disables electronics
  • Damages atomic structures of the target (think cue ball on a pool table)
  • Ligth-Speed velocity
  • Very short, if little, beam dwelling time
  • Endoatmospheric/Exoatmospheric capable
  • All-Weather capability
  • localized EMP effect 

Disadvantage of Particle Beam Weapons

  • Electrostatic Blooming
  • Massive power requirements (especially with pulse Particle DEW)
  • fast discharge/slow recharge of capacitors
  • Deflected by charged fields (like the Earth's magnetic field)
  • Length of the Linear accelerators
  • Very short range, especially in space combat

Effect of being hit by a Particle Beam

Unlike most DEW system, Particle beam weaponry is a triple threat of lethality. Thermal damage via the massive amounts of volts, kinetic penetration due to subatomic particles moving at light-speed, and disruption of atomic bonds of the target. According to the primary source for this blogpost; Introducing the Particle-Beam Weapons by Dr. Richard M. Roberts. Air University Review, July-August 1984, this would be effect of a PBW being fired at a biologic target: "Particle beams would be quite effective in damaging internal components or might even explode a target by transferring a massive amount of energy into it (the catastrophic kill mechanism)" AND
"The mechanism by which a particle beam destroys a target is a depositing of beam energy into the material of the target, which might be any material object. As the particles of the beam collide with the atoms, protons, and electrons of the material composing the target, the energy of the particles in the beam is passed on to the atoms of the target much like a cue ball breaks apart a racked group of billiard balls. The result is that the target is heated rapidly to very high temperatures--which is exactly the effect that one observes in an explosion. Thus, a particle beam of sufficient energy can destroy a target by exploding it (although that is not the only means of destruction)".

From the Fox Mulder corner...

Whenever you google the term 'particle beam weapons', a whole host of conspiracy theories website pop up about Tesla, UFO defense programs similar to X-COM, and of course, Red Russians shooting down the Challenger in 1987! There have been rumors and reports that Nikola Tesla developed and tested a Particle beam, his so-called 'death ray' or even 'peace ray' in the 1930's. Then it switches over from Tesla in the 1980's to the USSR developing their ground-based Particle beam array to counter our SDI program. These beams of death were in the trillions of watts and could melt thousands. The truth was that the USSR did work on Particle beam weaponry under their 1970's FON program and their Terra-3 anti-satellite weapons program. The Terra-3 was an under-powered carbon-dioxide laser that was, according to many sources, test-fired at the Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984 during STS-41G.
Lately, the chatter among conspiracy theories websites is that NASA deployed an anti-UFO particle beam array for the International Space Station and was launched on the Space Shuttle Endeavor. To coverup this massive piece of hardware, NASA cloaked the NPB array as the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer or AMS-02. The fuel that fed the flames was live NASA feeds from the ISS showed objects moving around the ISS, then suddenly NASA deploys the AMS-02 to the station. I guess the truth is out there... 

Particle Beam Weapons in Sci-Fi

Unlike blasters, phased plasma rifles, and Gauss cannons, Particle beam weapons are much rarer in the realm of sci-fi, partly due to the forces of trends in science fiction works. It doesn't help people like me when research topics like this, when most sci-fi creators resort to the ubiquitous 'blaster' weapon or lethal direct-energy beam rifle without much explaining of what the hell the energy weapon even is. Some beam-based DEW could be either a Laser or even Particle, or completely invented like the Star Trek phased polaron beam used by the Dominion. A few works, like the ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual make a point of creating a realistic Particle weapon, giving it the full MILSPEC treatment.

Examples of Particle DEW in Sci-Fi 

The Type-50 and Type-52 sniper-beam rifles are forms of charged Particle DEW, and are used primarily by the Covenant Kig-yar member race. The design of these beam rifles is semi-realistic and the line-of-sight performance of the beam is dead-on. This could be a window into the future application of hand-held Charged Particle beam weapons.      

The Star Trek Universe

Along with the phaser of the Federation, most of the other races, including the Romulans and the Klingons, use an directed energy weapon called the 'disruptor' as their primary ship-board and small arms DEW. While chapter and verse was written about the phaser, Official Star Trek canon is oddly silent about the disruptor's inter workings, and it has been seen in both 'pulse' and 'beam' versions, complicating matters. The little that is canon able the disrupter comes from page 88 of the 1998 Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Technical Manual. It states that "The physics behind the disruptor involves the creation of a particle stream in which the total energy field per particle is so high that it cannot be contained for more than a few milliseconds. The field rapidly unwinds, and the instability releases the contained energy, disrupting any matter the beam contacts."
During the Star Trek: Enterprise era, the pre-Federation Vuclan, the Suliban, and the Xindi all use Particle beams for their personal and ship board weapons, like the combat cruiser D'Kyr class mounted several Particle beam weapons.

Gears of War

According to a few sources and the behavior of this satellite-based DEW system, the Hammer of Dawn seems to be a NPB weapon, that is powered via 'Imulsion-energized' , and targeted from a special SOFLAM-like device. The Gearspedia states that the Hammer of the Dawn is a laser, but other sites say that it is particle beam...go figure.


Particle weapons make frequent appearance through the ROBOTECH saga, especially during the Robotech Masters/Southern Cross War, where both sides used Particle weapons. The Robotech Masters unitized Particle beam weapons for their bioroids and clone infantry, along with naval armaments. The Southern Cross appears to use Particle weapons for much of their DEW systems, including the Hover tanks, where the "ion rapid fire cannon" is the primary armament in two configurations. During the Invid Invasion saga, the REF used the Mars Gallant H-90 handheld CPB DEW  system, and was powered by a micro protoculture cell that variable yield pulse-bolts. Some site say that the REF Alpha fighter had an upgraded handheld Mecha CPB DEW deployed later in the war, replacing the older KEW GU-13 35mm.  

I think my first exposure to Particle beam weaponry by name was during my days of playing Citytech, with the Particle Projector Cannon (PPC). This weapon could dose out the hate onto your target, but you paid for it with high heat. In the Mechwarrior games on the original Xbox, the PPC was a slow-charging ball of blue light that could crush a 'mech if it made contact, I still prefer the autocannons though.

Stargate: Atlantis

When it comes to the hard science portion of Stargate Atlantis you expect it to be nonexistent, and this rings true of their take on a CPB DEW pistol. During the run of the series, the former runner Ronon Dex uses an 'particle magnum' large-framed DEW pistol that looked like a sci-fi S&W Model 29 .44 magnum 'Dirty Harry' model. The gun was original from the advanced Travelers civilization, and Ronon had picked up one along his running days. This DEW pistol feed from a cylinder shaped power-cell, and could switch from stun to kill.


In the world of Gundam, Dr. T.Y. Minovsky is the father of the physics that allowed for FTL and Particle beam weaponry. The Particle beam weapons of Gundam are based on gathering Minovsky neutral particles from the fusion generator, then combined particles via an I-field forming the 'mega-particles'. This dense, larger particles have four times the power output of normal spaceborne laser DEW systems, but it requires a charge-up time, even on warships. With Mobile-Suits having much less power generation ability, suit-mounted Minovsky Particle beam cannons could not work like they do onboard ships. To solve this, most Minovsky Particle beam cannons are a single-shot system. It was only later that Dr. Minovsky helped the Federation develop energy capacitor or E-caps to allow for miniaturization of the shipboard mega-particle cannon into a suit-portable beam rifle.


On the M577A3 APC:

"The most recent variant of the M577, the M577A3, mounts two 20 MeV turbo-alternator powered charged particle beam cannon, The deployment of these weapons has been made possible due to the introduction of a Martin-Continental micro magnetohyodgynamic turbine capable of generating 20 mW of electrical power to run the big particle accelerator guns. Sufficient turbine fuel exists to power the guns for 50 seconds firing and there is some 300 kg of deuterium tankage to provide particle beam mass. The effective range of the weapons against light armoured targets is approximately 3000 metres though at longer ranges the beams are capable of disrupting unshielded electronics"
From the ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual by Lee Brimmicombe-Wood (1996) 

Mounted on the USASF Sulaco, are twin 800 MeV turboalternator powered NPB weapons, and fueled by the ship's deuterium for 230 second of continuous firing. The tactical capability of these shipboard NPB weapons is discussed within the ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual and it seems that during ship-to-ship engagements, it frys electronics at 100,000 kilometers, and punches holes in the hull at ten kilometer.

Mass Effect II

In the sequel, the Collectors use particle beam weaponry, and the player can equip one of their cannons. During gameplay, the Collector cannon fires a continuous beam burning the targets down, but you have to expose yourself when firing it, and it drains quick.

Babylon 5
The bulk of the spaceborne offensive DEW system seen in the series appear to be a form of NPB weapons. This run from the most basic fitted on Narn and Earth Alliance warships to the 'Gravitic Neutron Beam cannons' of the Minbari, but all are used as the primary ship-to-ship DEW front-arch system, and are the punch to crush the armored hulls.

Bubblegum Crisis

In this groundbreaking cyberpunk Anime (and one of my favorites), the USSD, the UN global space force, has two hundred VA-61 satellite based-particle beam weapons in Geosync orbit that are used for space-to-ground artillery, and anti-ballistic missile defense. According to the Bubblegum Crisis Megatoyko 2033 RPG manual, these spaceborne DEW have a destructive power over 100,000 miles, and can be pinpointed targeted with ground-based systems, like the USSD constructed "Killer Doll" Boomer, whose AI was directly linked with the VA-61s. Just put the Killer Doll near or at a target location, and unleash fire from the sky.  

  1. Introducing the Particle-Beam Weapons by Dr. Richard M. Roberts. Air University Review, July-August 1984. http://www.airpower.au.af.mil/airchronicles/aureview/1984/jul-aug/roberds.html
  2. Neutral Particle Beam by Federation of American Scientists.org (date uncertain)http://www.fas.org/spp/starwars/program/npb.htm
  3. Air Force 2025 by USAF Center for Strategy & Technology for the Air Force Chief of Staff 1995-1996: http://csat.au.af.mil/2025/index.htm
  4. Lasers, Charged-Particle Beams, and the Strategic Future by Donald M. Snow Political Science Quartlely, Vol. 95 No. 2 Summer, 1980.


Babylon 5 particle beam technology explained:

Thread on Physics forum:

18 February 2012

FWS Topics: the Broken Elements of Military Sci-Fi

The term "Military Science Fiction" can be a madding one, and we here at FWS are attempting to give this important subsection of science-fiction it's due, but we are also here to point the sub-genre's shortcomings. In this blogpost, FWS is going list the most common broken elements of military sci-fi. I will even put my own fails has a MSF author and creator for everyone to see, besides making my English Composition teachers cry then drink heavily. This post was inspirited by the io9.com article "Your Military Science Fiction isn't really Military Science Fiction by Andrew Liptak:

Lack of Combined Arms
There is no greater sin committed by the creators of MSF than the lack of Combined Arms. Often, most military sci-fi works project the evolution of warfare as something akin to the Airborne units of World War II! Much of this has to do with the tradition that Starship Troopers set for us in 1959 with the invention of Armored Power Suits and the Mobile Infantry. According to the vision of Robert Heinlein, interplanetary warfare would be waged by space-dropped heavily armed soldiers encased in robotic suits that use jump-jets and atomic grenade launchers to wage "shock-and-awe" campaigns on their enemies: the bugs and the Skinnies. The same is true of two other founding classics of MSF: The Forever War and Armor. 
Despite the nature of APS and far-future technology, troops dirtside still need heavy fire support when the shit hits the fan, just look at Starcraft or Warhammer 40K, or in Armor. Felix's warrior unit is partly wiped out by a lack of support,no resupply, and no recharges availble for the suits.
Even in America's more infantry-centered modern conflicts, like Vietnam and Afghanistan, soldiers on the ground were able order up close-air support or artillery bombardment from a fire-base. In addition, besides lack of artillery support, is the void of staples of modern warfare, like gunships, tanks, and light military utility vehicles (Jeeps and Hilux trucks). This lack of fire support in MSF even extends into the small infantry units, via a failure in portraying futuristic small units with any accuracy or plausibility due these units lacking in sort of light machine gun, marksman rifle, mortar. Such MSF works like Starship Troopers and Space: Above and Beyond clearly and painfully demonstrate this. It would be hard to imagine a real future small infantry unit without any CAS, space-based artillery, or even a proper machine gun!

War is hell, fought in bad locations, often poor logistic support, civilians mixed into the battlefield, bad food, and a simple lack of Starbuck's. Then, there is the stress and strain of combat, especially during conflicts that involve paramilitary and/or terrorist forces, these conflicts, like Vietnam wear on a soldiers' mental health. But most MSF works, war is much more sanitized vision of this man-made hell, and the tactical situations does mirror real-life situations. I would love to see a MSF film or book that mirrors the more real-life experience of soldiers, either on the frontline or back at the FOB. These more realistic military sci-fi works would be like Platoon, Saving of Private Ryan, Hamburger Hill, or Sea of Sand (1958).
The other element of realism is lack of hard science effects of weapons, does anyone actually research the damage that a plasma round or laser beam would have on a biological target? Some of the more realistic MSF visual works are ALIENS, the HALO short films (like Call to Arms or We are ODST), the webseries Trenches. There is a lack of the medical side of war, medics, and evacs, all critical elements in war. At times, the future battlefield is not three-dimensional enough, especially given the dynamic and fluid battle environment of current conflicts.  

Other POVs
Fictional works that contain futuristic warfare is often good at the point-of-view of the soldiers fighting, veterans, family members back home, serving members of combat warships (think Star Trek), and even space attack jet pilots ( think Star Wars),but then it drops off from there. Most video games, war films, even the sports of paintball and airsoft seemed narrow-focused on the actions of these limited combat ranks of the armed forces.
 This is also true of the common public's perspective of war and the soldiers that wage them. Not all members of the armed services are frontline combat, there is a vast network of support services that makes the infantryman or Special Forces Operator able to take the fight to the enemy. For every one soldier in the field there 5 to 20 members of the military in a long line of logistics and combat support roles. Where are their future war stories? These is a serious gap of not only the logistic officers and cooks, but also medics, mechanics, and the Navy's Seabees. These critical members of the war effort are seemingly ignored by sci-fi creators, which is similar to medical TV shows nurses and doctors getting all the air time on TV, but were is the unit clerks like me or even the respiratory therapists? One has to remember the longest running military TV show was all about combat support personnel: M*A*S*H 4077.

Overall War Strategy
In the original io9.com article that spawned this blogpost, author Andrew Liptak discussing in great detail the lack of an overall war strategy and a 'Carl Von Calusewitz" of military sci-fi. ' In the March 4th, 2010 article, he states this: "A large gap in a lot of military science fiction stories that's never really been filled adequately is wartime strategy, or the connection between each tactical step in battle and an overarching plan that fulfills the political goal of bending an enemy to one's will. To my knowledge, there aren't any good military science fiction books out there that really cover this step, and it is a vital aspect of the nature of warfare."
When I thought about it, there are a few science fiction works where overall war strategy is discussed, not just limited to war simulation games, like Battlefield: 2142, DUNE,Command & Conquer: Tiberian Sun, and, of course, Starcraft.
I think that Andrew Liptak must have missed Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 portrayal of interstellar warfare, because both of these small screen series displayed a wide view of a massive space/planetary war. During the Federation/Dominion War and the Federation/Klingon war, we witnessed Starfleet planning sessions, going after resources, and attempting to sway non-allied governments to their cause. I may skewer the Star Trek universe on FWS, but I do have respect for the level of work they did on these wars  and other points-of-view they Incorporated into the overall story arch.
The same could be said of Babylon 5 which did a masterful job giving each of the FOUR separate wars (The Earth-Minbari War, Narn-Centauri Conflict, The Shadow War, and the War to Liberate Earth) a different favor and affect on the galaxy as a whole during the show's six seasons. Each of these wars, especially the Narn-Centauri Conflict of 2259, was told through multipule points-of-view, from the personal, the governmental, the soldier, the diplomatic, and the other races.
My main issue with that assessment, as a sci-fi writer, is that it would take one hell of a writer to pull off a strategy-based MSF story that would be interesting AND compelling. Ender's Game and maybe DUNE to some degree are some of the few I've read that contain these elements, but that wasn't their main point. I personally think that Andrew Liptak has a valid point, but it is not realistic for a marketable sci-fi story, plus it largely depends on the subject of the sci-fi story. Sometimes, a story needs a soldier with their ass-in-the-grass, with their view of the war being their weapon's iron sights.  
Battlefield Intelligence
One of the more ignored important elements of warfare is intelligence. The ebb and flow of warfare is based on intelligence of what and where the enemy is or isn't. When soldiers need to take a hill, it because some intel pints to that hill. I have yet to see much in the way of futuristic militaries using present or invented future tech to gather where the enemy is. This includes sniper-scouts, drones, satellites, hacking, and informants. Space: Above and Beyond, Battlestar Galactica, HALO, use these different elements of gathering intelligence on the movements of their enemy. In SAAB, the 58th were used in space operations for scouting-patrols, deploying micro-satellites, and planting false intelligence to the enemy. Then during dirtside operations, these same marines deployed in-cover, low-profile, eyes-on observation roles. In the 2003 E3  HALO 2 trailer, a group of incoming Pelicans are warned against their original LZ by a scout-sniper unit. In the two-part Star Trek: TNG  Chain of Command episodes, Picard, Wolf, and Dr. Crusher acted on intel presented to them and mounted a stealth demolition mission to Celtris III in Cardassian space. And let us not forgot those poor Brothans from Star Wars...

The depiction of Female Characters

Most military science fiction is set with a limited number of characters, whether they're behind the trigger or on a bridge of a combat starship and these future military organization have all manner servicemen, including frontline combat female soldiers. Such works like Old Man's War, Battletech, HALO, Space: Above and Beyond, Battlestar Galactica, and Firefly, show women fighting alongside men in equal roles and amount of danger, which is opposite to current reality. However, some works do not show women fighting in combat units (Star Wars), which is a current reflection, (and not the broken element), because it may never happen, that a future government allows for women to serve in direct combat roles, like armored, infantry, or Special Forces.
The real broken element is the all-or-nothing perspectives on female soldiers, they're Xena Warrior Princess, Max from Dark Angel or Dale Arden from Flash Gordon. I am so tired of seeing the Jedi-ninja-MMA expert female warrior archetype that all over MSF and SF in genres, where are the real women soldiers, like Shane Vansen from SAAB or Ripely from three of the ALIEN saga films? And if you're going to have a super female soldier, I would ask creators look at Kat-B320 from HALO: Reach and Sarah Kerrigan of Starcraft: II. FWS will explore more about women in military sci-fi in a future blogpost.

Lack of Far-Future Military Sci-Fi
Future war is often confined to a narrow window of one thousand year, depicting the period of the 21st century to roughly around the 30th century. Then there is the favored tactic of rooting these future military organizations with elements heavily borrowed from contemporary military life, culture, and behavior. The Colonial Marines from ALIENS to Shepard from Mass Effect are all byproducts of this. I do think that basing most futuristic military organizations on today's armed forces is a good thing, but we need to extend the idea of MSF beyond these concepts, without having it look like Star Trek, into the centuries beyond this narrow window of time. There are a few that exist, like Renegade Legions (taking place in the 69th century), and of course, Warhammer 40K.

Too many Supersoldiers
One of the most common futuristic elements within military science fiction that it projections on the advent of Supersoldiers.With this topic we get such great and well developed ubermench characters like Todd from Soldier (1998), The SPARTAN: II/III programs form the HALO Saga, Johnny from Tinmothy Zahn's Cobra Trilogy, the Jem'Hadar from Star Trek: DS9,  and the Ghosts from The Ghost Brigades.
MSF whips out these engineered badasses when they want to amp up the action, but lacks the ideas to fill them out, like the Clonetroopers, most are just simple empty jackets with big guns, big muscles, and kewl armor. These are more throw-away characters like the Clonetroopers from Star Wars, Universal Soldiers, the Kull Warrior from Stargate SG1, and Max from Dark Angel.  I have designed our own Super-soldier and hope to bring those realistic vision to an e-book reader or publishing company near you soon. 

My own "Broken Elements"of MSF
Because I never serviced in the military, there are things that I simply cannot research, read, google, or even interview people about: it's that military culture. This military culture is difficult for me to reproduce, along with honest radio chatter dialog, and how it feels to be shot at, (my only experience with that is paintball). Adding to the difficult, this "culture" differs from nation to nation, service branch, unit, and even platoon, or even where and when you serviced. But it is a key element in any realistic portrayal of a future war story, and some creators have done a properly good job of it (ALIENS), then other's fail (Babylon 5). Another element that I'm sure that I am doing wrong in my stories, is the chain-of-command, and how plans are transformed to orders. The chain-of-command in most MSF is simply and to the point, and often lacks the confused, and murkiness that real orders possess. At times, I think that the people in command would be "see the hill, take the hill" kind of commanders, but that's not the reality.

15 February 2012

FWS Flash Fiction Serial: Empty Places: Part Nine "No Choice"

FOB Shin was abuzz with all manner of activity, every spare soldier and hopper was pulled off duty, and brought back to the barn. Sandoval was working through his painfully hangover while loading down the cargo section of a massive heavy-lift Babar hopper, while he loaded, he did throw a spying eye towards Maya. She noticed, and produced a smirk, “you’d get more done, if you paid attention to your boxes, Earther.”

“What is all this stuff anyways?” Sandoval quickly changed the subject before his noticed his head face.

“For the big operation, and no, “she said before he asked, “I don’t know what the mission is, we’re going to be briefed in the air.” He nodded, but he didn’t like it, but there was little to like on Abaddon. After the loading was completed, Sandoval was herded down to don his armor and prime his trusty Steyr-Phoenix carbine. He then noticed that those two odd guys from Britain weren’t playing cards and smoking. That left Sandoval unsettled, but the heaviness of the armor made him feel secure and safe, despite what he had seen. It wasn’t much later until the skies around the forward operating base were filled with the insect profiles of an aerial flotilla.

Hundreds of miles away, in the depths of the Sync encampment on this continent, loading of combat air vehicles was beginning as well. Vadher closed his heavy eyes, and transported himself back a few years, when his children played in the lush parks of Mariposa colony, and his wife wore that white dress. Tears ran down his face, as he moved into position inside the lander. Now, he was a pawn for the Sync. It was bad enough that his colony lost the war, that everyone Vadher had known was transformed, but the final humility was that they had to fight to expand their empire, gathering more human worlds under their banner. Vadher never did it but willingly, not that it mattered.

He entered the lander, packed in with those fellow Sync warriors; they were bound for the last linchpin in the colonial defense ring, Forward Operating Base Shin. He and the rest of the warrior-forms obeyed the impulses of the Sync hive-mind without question or a moment of desertion. An hour later, Vadher felt the first jarring impact of AAA flank, ringing in the metallic belly of his lander.

Shin was swarmed with Sync landers, impacts the air was packed with machines, impact explosions from what was left of Shin’s kinetic and Phoenix Labs heavy laser cannons. The Sync attack had been overwhelming, taxing the interceptors to their limits, forcing the General to send people out on the flattop deck with shoulder launched anti-air rockets. It was a messy defense, and any hoppers left on the tarmac were shot down before takeoff, mixing raging fireballs with the general hell breaking out. Shin’s defenders, from soldier to cook, emptied every rack of any kind of gun, and most were thinking of saving the last round for themselves.

COM-VR-NET was flooded with overlapping signals, interrupting the feed from the taskforce. Ray shook his head. “Something is going on back there, Erin.”

“Punch a clear signal to Operations, Ray, I wanna know.”For a few minutes, Ray used his skill to navigate the mess, until he was able to hack into the security camera stream feeds. He swallowed hard, and shipped it over to Hawksworth’s HUD. She said nothing, as she changed course.

“Are the rest following us, Ray?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Good, get me through to the general.” Once again, Ray worked to open a live signal to the man in charge.

“Got one, but its spotty, make it quick.”

“This is November Witch 1-1! We’re onboard hot!”

“Belay that 1-1!” The General screamed over the shouting. “Go to the RV! Do not aid the FOB!”

“Fuck that, Shin! We’re coming in!’ Hawksworth clicked over to the offensive weapons package, while Ray geared up the hopper for combat. “This is Hawksworth,” she said over the WIDECOM to the troops in the back, “Shin got jumped, we’re going in hot, prep for combat drop.” Every Steyr-Phoenix DEW was switched on, and the packs were dumped off of the armor. Sandoval observed Maya checking her tomahawk’s placement. The Hopper banked hard, Erin pushed down hard on the A/G field, and ramped the small thruster package to full burn, the shockwave of vibration echoed in Sandoval’s armor, and his stomach mimicked the rolling action of the armed vehicle.

Maya turned to Sandoval and despite the helmet, he could see the softness in her eyes, he turned the favor, and touched the engraved words on the doorway. The light transferred from red to green, he uninstinctively tossed himself out of the vehicles, straight down into the middle of a an dizzying firefight.

The moment his armored feet hit the tarmac, he was moving, pulsing his ALC-3 laser carbine with 5kj shots, firing was his only cover, along the bodies of both species. Within a minute, he watched half of his jump-platoon be cut down with Sync supraheated kinetic spikes. When the man next to him exploded in a bloody shower of gore, Sandoval’s Courage pump kicked into overdrive, spawning him to flip over to the heavier 40kj anti-personnel DEW pulses. He saw a Sync running with its blades out towards a rocket team; he trained his barrel, and squeezed the hand-trigger.

The laser hit Vadher square in the crest, layers of bio-armor cooked off in ablative effect. Sensing the damage, he darted to the left, preventing the pulse HEL beams could settle again, striking back with a long burst from his projectile weapon. There was so much confusion, smoke, and beams buzzing around; his alien HUD systems was jammed up attempting to track his targets.

Another beam blazed on his alien back, Vadher turned again, taking another in the thigh. He screamed out as the heat scoured down to the layers to his real leg, sending alarms blaring; Vadher stumbled as the bio-armor died. With a mad hope, the human Sync soldier raked the landing pad with hot spikes, catching a few colonials, but they returned fire with their Steyr-Phoenix MILSPEC laser rifles, peeling off more layers. He didn’t scream this time, he knew it was all over, and a sense of relief rolled over his wounded body at finally being discharged from his traitorous service to the enemy.

In his finally seconds of life, Vadner, the colonist form Mariposa, fell to his knees, due to the bio-armor artificial muscles failing. In those last heartbeats of life, he thought only of his wife and children playing in the park…he wept as Maya Aroyo used her tomahawk to behead him. She raised the bloody head in victory, and despite it being clearly human, her fellow soldiers cheered her gruesome trophy. Kicking the remains of the alien warrior body savagely off of the edge of the VTOL pad, Maya watched as it falling hundreds of meters below. It was a fitting burial, she thought as a grim smiled across her face, for a race traitor.

Once the bodies were collected, and the names entered into the computer database, and that day, Sandoval lost more than half of Meatgrinder. Hawksworth was being dressed down by the General, and then thanked with some hot Sake. The operation to attack the Sync base-of-operation was on hold, until they could pull together. Forward operating base Shin was rattled, but the drinks flowed that Night. During the height of drinks, Maya took Sandoval’s hand, and she led him by the hand down into the bowels of Shin, touching, despite the armor. Once they were safety hidden, the armor was removed piece-by-piece, there was no words, there didn’t need to be. For the next hour, the war, and their ghosts that haunted this world were, for the first, not factor. Maya and Sandoval worlds reduced down to the tow of them. After, as they laid together in a warm bliss, Sandoval lit a rare cigarette, touching her lightly, has he puffed away, thinking of the green fields of Elysium. He openly wondered and hoped for Maya to be there.

05 February 2012

FWS Armory: Assault Rifles

Assault rifles are the tool of the infantry on the modern battlefield, and destiny to rule over it, on this planet and others for the foreseeable future. For nearly a thousand years, the chemically-propelled kinetic weapon has been used in warfare, and only in the last 500 years as it been compact and portable enough to be used by infantryman. But always there were limitations, complex loading rituals, underpowered powder, and single shot, causing in a continued evolution of infantry combat tactics. It has been in the last sixty years that an soldier was equipped with a personal weapon that was more proper for their role in the violent dance of war: the assault rifle. In the continued weapons series, FWS will explore the assault rifle's past, future, and how sci-fi sees the assault rifle in the far future battlefields of man.  
Some of the material here is directly lifted from my 2009 award-winning university paper: In the Shadow of Kalashnikov: the development, history, and global impact of the the world's most popular assault rifle: the AK-47.

What is an "Assault Rifle?"
  • Feed from a magazine
  • Uses an medium sized bullet
  • Select-Fire ability
  • Has shoulder-stock
  • Falls between the submachine gun and the battle rifle

The History of Assault Rifles

Before the AK and its clones were the kings of global armed conflict, the world's most popular modern rifle was the British Lee Enfield SMLE .303 bolt action rifle, which is still used in combat today in the wilds of Afghanistan. The weapon that replaced the rugged Enfield was a leap in firearms technology, but along the way, there were other lost attempts at the fully automatic battle rifle. 
It seems odd that Mexico of the later portion of the 19th century would led to the development of the first self-loading battle rifle, but in 1887, General Manuel Mondragon of the Artillery branch patented, the Mondragón rifle, that fired a 7mm Mauser round, and all of this was attempt to curry favor with Mexican dictator Porfirio Diaz. In an odd twist of historical irony, the Mondragon rifle was developed to purge Mexico of rising forces against the government, which is similar to the genesis behind the Kalashikov AK-47.
The Mondragon rifle was also revolutionary in that, it was to be used as a family of weapons, from sharpshooter, rifle, to light machine gun, with a few changes. The weapon would serve in World War One and Two, with the Germans, and more than one million were produced. One of the more interesting uses of this semi-auto battle rifle was during WW1 dogfights, where the second crewmember of a bi-plane would use a modified Mondragon in an anti-aircraft role!
Then next step was from the land of Ferrari: Italy. In 1890, an Italian Army Officer named Amerigo Cei-Rigotti designed a select-fire automatic rifle that chambered the Italian “medium” 6.5x52mm round (the same round that Oswald used to kill JFK) from a 25 round box magazine ; this weapon was patented in 18957. The Cei-Rigotti was shopped around various European governments from 1895 to 1911, in a vain attempt to have it accepted by a national military; however, the weapon was unreliably, jammed under testing at the British Royal Small Arms Factory. This sealed the Cei-Rigotti death, and condemned this rifle never to be constructed in any large numbers and was never adopted by any nation, slipping into the pages of history.
While the Cei-Rigotti and Mondragón rifle used a more traditional, powerful rifle round that limited its usefulness as a fully-automatic rifle. These overly powerful cartilages caused the weapon to shake apart due to the kinetic force of the bolt and recoil energy resulting from rapid fire. It would be in 1906, when the next step towards the assault rifle, when with the Russian officer, firearms tinker, and arms marker to the Tsar Nichols II, Captain Vladimir Federov, and his creation: the Fedorov Avtomat. This was a rifle of it time, full sized weapon of heavy metal and wood and was reworked several times for testing by the Imperial Russian army from 1906 to 1915, to be the standard rifle, including development of a smaller caliber, which was the real genius of Fedorov. During WWI, the resources to develop a new smaller round was out of the question,
 so, Captain Fedorov turned to using the smaller Japanese 6.5x50.5mm “Arisaka” round, to make the weapon light enough for use by infantry. However, the October 1917 Revolution ended its production, with only about 25,000 copies being made . Despite the low production numbers, this early assault rifle was used in World War I, the Russian ‘Red verse White’ Civil War, and then in special units of World War II. Besides, the October Revolution, the Fedorov Avtomat had added reliability issues that prevented it from becoming a standard infantry armament including: fouling, complex parts, lack of interchangeable magazines8. However, in an odd twist of fate, Vladimir Federov ideas of using smaller bullet would be used to create the 3rd Reich assault rifle, the Sturmgewehr 44 and then the AK-47.
During World War One, there similar parallel developments in firearms technology that should have lead to the development of an automatic battle rifle, like the light portable machine gun and the submachine gun. American troops used, along side their Springfield bolt-action rifles, used the crappy French Chauchat LMG, and later in 1918, the superior Browning BAR. British troops were the same boat, with their Lewis Gun, along side the excellent Lee Enfield. While on the German side, the elite Stormtroopers used the 9mm SMG, the MP-18, but regular infantry used the heavy Mauser 1898 rifle. This parallel technological development would continue during the Second World War, where light machine guns, submachine guns, automatic pistols, semi-auto battle rifles all served along side one another, but the development of a true assault rifle escape the minds of most military planners. By 1939, the Russian and the German militaries realized that their bolt-action rifles and sub-machine guns were not cutting it on the modern battlefield . The military high command of the 3rd Reich, the HWaA, issued contacts to several companies to develop a “maschinekarabiner” or machine-carbine, or MKb in the German military terms . By 1942, two companies, Haenel and Walther developed similar looking and performing ‘machine-carbines’, which were known then as Mkb42H and Mkb42W. These weapons were developed around a new smaller cartilage, the 7.92x39mm Kurz, which was a cut down version of the 7.92x51mm rifle round found in the old Mauser Kurz 1898 bolt-action rifle, the standard infantry weapon of the German military in WWI and WWII.
These was the key to the development of the assault rifle concept by the 3rd Reich, was in the smaller round that fit in-between the pistol and rifle cartilages, an “intermediate round”, the failure of so many of the older automatic rifles was because they attempted to have them fire massive rounds that shook the guns apart, however, the Germans learned from the Fedorov Avtomat that use of a smaller round helped it fire in automatic model.
These weapons were fielded for testing, and in November of 1942, when the Nazi Kampfgruppe Scherer unit was surrounded, outnumbered, and badly in need of supplies on the Russian front, the new MKb42’s were air-dropped in. With these new weapons, the Kampfgruppe Scherer was to escape the Russian troops and breakout of their trap. However, this success did not stop Hitler from canceling the maschinekarabiner project, because he felt that his experiences in WWI should dictate what his armies carried now, and he wanted sub-machine guns and along with this, the war was straining the military-production industry, so another weapon would add more stress to an already bad state .The MKb42 was felt more important that Hitler’s words, so some high-ranking commanders, like the General ‘Desert Fox’ Rommel, disobeyed the Führer, and continued the development of the MKb42 which was re-named the maschien pistole, which was the title of sub-machine guns, to throw off Hitler or anyone else that looked around at the project . These men did this with great risk to their own lives, for if the Führer discovered the weapon, than they could be all shot. It was during a meeting with his commanders on the Russian Front, that Hitler learned off the MP-44’s existence, when he asked one general what they needed more of, the general responded, “more of those new rifle,” and then the game was up, and Hitler knew that he had been lied to, which normally met with a firing squad.  
After Hitler fired the improved MP-44 did he realize the impact that this gun could have on the dying Nazi war-effort, and in a steer propaganda move, he named it the ‘storm-rifle’ or “Sturmgewehr” . This new STG-44 was rushed to replace the old M-98K rifles, with 5,000 being made a month, but the allied bombing raids coupled with their invasion into Normandy caused the STG-44 to be only given to a few units. This gun is still used to this day, and US troops have seen in the Iraq, Afghanistan, and even in use by the PLO. One of the great ‘what if’ games of the second world war, is what if the 3rd Reich had developed and fielded the STG-44 to all of their infantry? Well, in the opinion of the author, we would all be speaking German right now. Then in the world of assault rifles changed in 1947, when the Avtomat Kalashnikova 47 came on to the global scene, and changed the world forever.  

Assault Rifles and the Military: Taking it Slow...real slow.

During my last year at university, I wrote a massive historical  research paper on the effect of the AK-47 on the 20th century, and it surprised me how long it took for most governments to arm their soldiers with assault rifles. Especially when we examine that light machine guns were being used along side bolt-action rifles! Much could be said of the lack of lever-action rifles used in 19th century military units. The pattern seems to be: bolt-action rifle (Lee Enfield) to battle rifle (FN FAL), then finally to an assault rifle (SA80/L85). Some government rapidly ascended this pattern, like the USSR, going from the Mosin-Nagant, to the SVT-40, and then finally the AK-47, all by 1947! The Chinese were also fast on the adoption of the assault rifle concept, who had their copy of the AK-47 by 1956 (Type-56), then spread over the rest of the world like virus after that.  Then we look at the NATO nations, who dragged their feet on bring their counter to the AK for many years. The United States was quick to approve a semi-automatic battle rifle, the M1 Garand, but very to warm to the assault rifle, it wasn't until 1965 that the M16 would replace the barely used M14 battle rifle, but the longest is the British and the West Germans. The British used their excellent bolt-action rifle, the Lee Enfield longer than most, and then adopted the FN FAL, but it was not until 1985 that the 5.56x45mm SA80/L85 was fielded! It is a similar story with West Germany, where they used the H&K G3 and several variations of it until the 1990's, when the H&K G36 family of weapons was adopted in 1997. This long delay of the West German military to field a true assault rifle, was due to the futuristic G11 caseless rifle and reunification with East Germany,
This late adoption of the assault rifle has created a global situation where the initial assault rifle bought by a government is still serving for twenty to thirty years with only slight motivations. Only a few governments have moved away for their initial assault rifle, like the Chinese with their oddball Type-95 (AKA QBZ-95) replacing their Type-56 AK47 clone. While the American military is still in debate about the future of their M16 assault rifle, every replacement rifle has been cancelled (the XM8) or not approved (FN SCAR), despite issues with the M4 carbine, even their own elite operators, like DEVGRU and DELTA are using the German made 416.

Battle Rifle vs. Assault Rifles

The in-between stage for main infantry small-arms,between the bolt-action rifle, and the assault rifle, is the so-called battle rifle, and these were the historical foundation weapons that bridged the gap between the bolt-action rifles and the assault rifles, like the Fedorov Avtomat and the Mondragon. This term is a modern one placed on these rifles that were swept out of military service by the assault rifles. Battle rifles differ from their lighter, fully-automatic assault rifle cousins by their heavier round (7.62mm vs. 5.56mm), normally semi-auto in construction or shooting habit, general more accurate, powerful in speed, distance, and kinetic energy, and heavier in over construction (wood, metal, less plastic and composite material).
The classic examples of battle rifles are the FN FAL, H&K G3, and the American M14, which all unitized the 7.62mm NATO round, and all were phased out of main-line combat duties by assault rifles in the 1990's. The interesting thing is that battle rifles are coming back as the Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR), the precursory to a full-on sniper rifle, like the M14 being transformed into the Mk 14 EBR, that has seen more active service time in A-Stan and Iraq than it did original in Vietnam. Recently, the British Army has ordered the 7.62mm L129A1 DMR from the American Lewis Machine and Tool Company, and issuing the 7.62mm version of the H&K 416 for "specialized units", most likely the SAS.    

The Patriarch: The AK-47

Richard Venola of Combat Arms once said: "If I had to go to a planet, another planet, and I was allowed take one firearm, it would be an AK47. When Western Civilization melts down, I wanna an AK47."
So, why is the AK47, and its clones, THE most popular assault rifle in the world (70-100 million estimated)? There four main factors to the success of the AK series of assault rifles:
  • Simplistic design for easy of use and training
  • Reliable, even under terrible conditions, due to loose tolerances.
  • 8 moving parts
  • Cheap to build
The history of the AK-47 started when the 3rd Reich betrayed their USSR allies and invaded. Mikhail Kalashnikov was 22 and a tank Sergeant in Soviet Red Army, who had been recognized for his technical skills at invention and his obsession with firearms. In October of 1941, at the village of Bryansk, Kalashnikov met the enemy when battle turned in favor for the Nazi forces, and the Soviet T-34 tank forces were forced to retreat, which is when Kalashnikov’s tank was hit by enemy artillery fire, and forced to abandon his burning tank with only a TT pistol and soon discovered that was badly wounded. When Kalashnikov awoke hours later, he found himself in a broken down ambulate truck in the town of Bryansk, that was to have taken him to a field-hospital, when the enemy advancing into the town.
With only himself and his lieutenant, they had only a pistol and a bolt-action rifle between them to defend against the advancing German infantry, who were armed with MP-40 9mm submachine guns. While he and the lieutenant scoured for another truck or spare parts they heard the report of SMG fire, and rushed back to the truck loaded with wounded plus a doctor and a nurse. When they came upon the truck, Kalashnikov was greeted with the slight of German soldiers spraying the truck with automatic fire. The men vomited when they saw the bullet-riddled bodies and the inch of standing blood in the back of the ambulance truck, everyone but them was dead.
General Kalashnikov recalled that the lieutenant said to him: “If only we had one automatic weapon, we could have stopped this”, and then Kalashnikov responded: “but we don’t.” This night haunted Kalashnikov for the rest of his life, and the repercussions of that event caused the development of the weapon that would bear his name.
Kalashnikov was one of the lucky ones, he made it to hospital, and was there recovering for months, which is a testimony to his wounds. There he began developing his own sub-machine gun, better than the standard issue PPSh41, “my comrades needed a weapon that would allow them to fight back .” During his recovery, Kalashnikov scoured the hospital library for any books on weapon design, and of these books was 1939 Evolution of Small Arms by Captain Vladimir Federov, and the moment of fate was not lost on General Kalashnikov: “That was my lucky day. The book by Vladimir Federov proved to be invaluable. It gave me my first insight into the principles of developing automatic firearms, and put me straight on the positive and negative aspects of each class of firearms ”. So, the creator of the first assault rifle, who was swept away by the October 1917 Revolution was now in the hands of the man that would develop the world’s most popular and used assault rifle to save USSR, it seems that the world still posses a sense of irony. The original AK-47 was approved for fielding in 1947 after grueling testing against another Soviet made assault rifle, the Dementyev rifle, but was not fully adopted by the Soviet military until 1949, after some modifications. The "real" AK-47 was only around for two years, the classic AK that the world knows was actually called the Avtomat Kalashnikova Moderniziovanny or the AKM. During the Cold War, the USSR and Red China build tens of millions of the AK to send to rebels, fellow Communist nations, and anti-West forces, and the AK-47 faced off with the M-16 during the Vietnam War. During the Vietnam War, the AK-47 and the Chinese copy, the Type 56 was pitted against the first American Assault Rifle, the M-16, however, there was no contest, the AK was superior, and the American forces knew it. In his book, Steel my Soldier’s Hearts, Colonel David H. Hackworth told a story of when his troops in Vietnam found a dead NVA soldier in the mud, and the Colonel took the muddy wet assault rifle, pulled back the bolt and cracked off thirty fully automatic shoots without a single failure: “this is how a real infantry weapon weapons works, this is the kind of weapon our soldiers needed and deserved, not the M-16 that had to be hospital cleaned or it would jam”. This war gave the Kalashnikov rifle world attention, and with its excellent performance in the war, the AK earned its ‘street cred’. In addition, with the flood of AK into Vietnam during the war, it gave the new communist government a surplus to sell on the world-market for hard currency. With the survivability of AK-47, it was a weapon that could be a veteran of many wars, and often, the AK-47 that a soldier or rebel was using was older than they were. Even today, nearly 70 years after its invention, the Kalashnikov assault rifle is still the mostly widely used weapon in the world, and there looks to no replacement on the horizon. 


Here is the best video about the abilities of the AK-47:

The Future of Assault Rifles

William of FWS with a fully-auto AKS-74U
When I was a kid in the 1980's, I read articles that proclaimed that the soldiers of the future would be using Buck Rogers assault rifles that fired darts or used caseless ammunition. Of course, the 21st century rolls around and we (the USA) is still using the assault rifle that my father did in Vietnam, only with all manner of high tech attachments and shorter. The last decade of wars and terrorist-hunt operation have demonstrated that smaller assault carbines and the even shorter "commando" length carbines are best jack-of-all-trades in a tactical sense. This leaves the more traditional assault rifles being phased out of modern armed forces, and the normally viable civilian market for assault rifles is also turning towards the tread. At the moment, assault rifles are going to continue to convert over to assault carbines, with attachment rails that an operator can mount all manner of lights, scopes, lasers, adding life to the base weapon. There is another slow movement underway to have the next generation of military assault rifles and carbines chamber new calibers, like the 6.8, the Chinese 5.8x42mm, or even to be like the Colt CM-901, and be a modular platform that with a few changes, the gun can fire most common rifle rounds. Some sites, firearms experts, and sci-fi films contend that bullpup assault carbines/rifles will become more common that today, along with caseless ammunition, of which I seriously doubt. The window of caseless ammunition becoming the next-big-thing in military technology died with the H&K G11 in 1990.

Assault Rifles in Sci-Fi

With assault rifles becoming the primary tool of modern warfare, their usage in fictional works is not lost to creators of sci-fi, however it took awhile for the assault rifle to show up. Much of the armories of the science fiction world, the directed-energy-weapon (DEW) reins supreme, in all its forms, from phase plasma rifles in the 40watt range, to phasers and blasters, and the 1950's raygun. While the assault rifle, like the AK-47 was being in every terrestrial conflict, science-fiction was worshipping at the feet of Mr. Lucas and his blasters. It was not until after ALIENS in 1986 that most sci-fi creators got the clue to fashion assault rifles into galaxies far, far away. Strangely, while some creators designed weapons similar to current assault rifles, especially the Steyr AUG, others, like the 1984 DUNE movie, armed their future troopers with Galting-gun like rifles. It is only more recently, especially with the rise of FPS games, like HALO and Killzone, that game designers developed futuristic looking assault rifles that fired conventional bullets. What is truly lacking in most science-fictions works that show assault rifle-like weapons, is ones that are futuristic in form and function, like the Fifth Element Zorg ZR-1, and the MP-35 from Old Man's War.

Examples of Assault Rifles in Sci-Fi

Mass Effect series

In the original Mass Effect game, there was a wide array of assault rifles, and assault carbines to pick from, along with special ammunition loads, giving the game a nice depth. These weapons uses a block of dense nano-material as the ammunition, when used, the assault rifle shaves off a silce of the material, and using a micro mass-effect field, propels the kinetic projectile at HV speeds. Then concept was changed in the second and third Mass Effect games, this time, there was a limited number of assault rifles, and the overheating problem of the first game's weapons was taking out, for a power cell that was ejected from the weapon after a certain number of shots, which I disliked. Mass Effect  was one fo the those games that took MSF to the next level, and their design of the weapon was simply outstanding. For the record, I preferred the first Mass Effect game.

Gears of War series

The workhorse of the COG forces is the Mk 2 Lancer assault rifle, and unlike a majority of sci-fi shooters, this works well for most every situation in the game, there is no need for a BFG-9000 when buzzsawing the horde! The caliber of the Lancer is never told on-screen, but from the size of the COG soldiers (steroids anyone?), level of damage, the size of the Locust, the Lancer must shoot something in the neighborhood of 7.62mm NATO. It is nice to have simple, effective automatic rifle in a FPS, and it do its job well...bloody well.

Starship Troopers (films)

Unlike the 1958 novel, the 1997 film shows Mobile Infantry of the Terran Federation uses a 5.56mm bullpup assault rifle, called the Morita, not micro-atomic grenades. In the original film, the light armored troopers battle the bugs by spraying lead into their exoseletons, with little or no reloading. For close-quarters, a 12 gauge shotgun was slung under the barrel, and controlled by a double trigger assembly.  During the massive combat scenes, these soldiers go into battle with little or no support, or even LMG variant of the Morita!The Morita MK.1 prop was built around the Ruger Mini-14 rifle, the Ruger AC556, and the Ithaca "Stakeout" 12 gauge shotgun.
In the second-dogshit-film, the MI troopers use a DEW assault rifle that appears to be a bullpup, and uses energy cells. The DEW Morita (maybe the MK II?) was actually a nice design, save for the flashbulb on the barrel. The third movie revisited the tradition bullet-firing assault rifle concept, with the bulky Morita III. This gun was fitted with an underslung 30mm grenade launcher, and fired 10x50mm caseless rounds via an electronic pulse, which is very similar to the ALIENS M41A1 Pulse Rifle, however, the Morita III reminds me more of the failed H&K XM29 OICW, but the prop was foam-fitted around a South African Vektor R4 assault rifle. Once again, I hate to say this, but SST films feature some excellent futuristic assault rifle action.


Over the lifespan of the HALO games and books, the UNSC fields a few different assault rifles for their marines and army personnel. The most famous of these is the MA5B series of 7.62mm NATO bullpup assault rifles. Over the course of the games, the original MA5B was modified to fit the advancement of technology, improving the game CGI model, and adding layers of realism, like the MA37 ICWS of HALO: REACH. What is interesting about the MA5 series of weapons is that on one hand, they are similar today's assault rifles, like the FN F2000, but lack much in the way of scopes, aiming devices, but are fitted with a simple flashlight, but no IR. Odd. The weapon, especially, the original MA5B was a more of hip-fire, spray-and-pray, weapon, possibly designed to hit the aliens' energy shielding hard and break them down, then rack the flesh with FMJs. The HALO are a nice cross between the Morita from SST and the M590 of SAAB.


The world of the three Killzone games are very interesting, and one of my favorite MSF properties, given that the games are shooters, the bulk of the characters use some form of assault rifles/assault carbines. The Earth-based ISA forces use the rather large and bulky M82 bullpup assault rifle, equipped with a 40mm grenade launcher and fires a 6.8mm round. The interesting points about the M82 are that is a full-size assault rifle, not a carbine, and has a very long barrel , especially for a bullpup, and seems based on the M16/203 or the British SA80.

Half-Life 2

One of few good examples of DEW assault rifles is the Overwatch Standard Issue Pulse Rifle, issued to special trans-human Combine Overwatch soldiers, and it features a unique firing and loading system. The Pulse rifle loads a small energy capsule into the barrel, from a auto-loading ammo-box, and when fired, a piston-like device bangs on the back of the capsule, like bullet, kinetically forcing out the dark energy. What was surprising to me was the kick of the weapon, and it's amazing sound. So, my question is, when is Half-Life 3 coming out again?    

Trenches (web series)

Trenches is an military sci-fi web series made by Shane Felux for about $250,000 in 2010. Felux was best known for a uber low-budget, but well-done fan-made Star Wars film, and was giving the chance to create an internet web-series that were 5-7 minutes long. What he gave us was a very good MSF story, where two human factions are fighting an intergalactic civil war, the story takes place on a mining world during a bloody planetary campaign.The human soldiers on both use a DEW blaster-like assault rifle that seems to be close to the Star Wars Rebel A280 Blaster rifles. FWS will be writing a entire blogpost on Trenches in the near future.   

Star Wars

While everyone was obsessed over Han's DL-44 and the Stormtroopers PDW laser-blaster, Lucas quiety outfitted the Rebel Alliance soldiers in SW: TESB and SW: ROTJ with the A280 and A290 blaster-rifles. these are seen only on-screen for a few flashing seconds at a time, and none of the main cast of character uses it. The prop for the A290 (seen left) is based off the STG-44 assault rifle, and the smaller A280 is a chopped down M-16. This real-steel element to the SW prop DEW rifles gives them a nice bit of realism and toughness.
When the Clones finally made their appearance in the (awful) prequel movies, they were seen wielding a massive blaster rifle, the DC-15A, and it was fired in a semi-auto mode. According to the Star Wars wiki site, the DC-15A is a tibanna gas-powered DEW, and was to be a bridge for the two Stormtrooper weapons seen in the original trilogy. The prop was based on the 3rd Reich MG-34. 

Star Trek

While Gene Rhoddenberry was alive, Star Trek's more military side was kept under wraps, and during this time, the weapons of ST were limited to small hand-held DEW, save for the Laser of the original Cage pilot and the Phaser Rifle of the second pilot. According to Memory Alpha website:"The phaser rifle was retired from TOS after Roddenberry decided that, in common with smoking, guns were not to be shown on the series, either. Regarding the TOS design of phaser rifle, Bjo Trimble remarked, "The gun was just a little too lethal-looking for Gene's taste and he just didn't like it." (Starfleet Access for "Where No Man Has Gone Before", TOS Season 1 Blu-ray special features)"
After Gene's death, Trek moved towards more action, especially with Babylon 5 snapping on its heels, and that meant more weapons. For the other Trek TV series, the base hand-held phaser got bigger and more weapon-like, and when the shit really hit the fan, Starfleet would break out the Phaser Rifles. These Type-III phasers, while basic in appearance, were technically complex, outfitted with sixteen beam settings, gryostablized, flip-up sight, that had some sort of targeting computer.
By the time of the Federation/Dominion War, and the TNG movies, the plain-Jane Phaser Rifle was transformed into sleek badass with scopes, lights, and rapid fire. During the Enterprise series, we saw no less than two separate DEW assault carbines, the odd-looking "pulse rifle"from the NX-01 Enterprise armory, and the EM-41 plasma rifle used by the MACO operators, that was inspirited by the Colt M4 carbine. Of course, in keeping Trek traditions, most or all of these DEW assault rifles are fitted with the "stun" setting, which allowed for tactical flexible. The Type-III Phaser should be given credit for designing a futuristic, convincing weapon.

Space: Above and Beyond

FWS talks quite a bit about the Space: Above and Beyond and the USMC of 2063's primary small arms weapon, the M590, and fires a 7.62mm NATO round. The idea behind the M590 seemed to be a varied-atmospheric assault rifle that could be used by soldiers using spacesuits, given the design of the stock and trigger system. Interestingly, the M590 is fitted with various slighting systems, possibly a light, and a motion tracker (seen in the pilot episode), and it mostly fired on semi-auto. During the length of the one-season series, the magazine for the M590 got larger, first starting off as flush with the underbelly, then moving towards a 30-round banana-style. The prop for the gun was designed around a Ruger Mini-14. I say this often about the M590 of SAAB, but I believe that the this gun was where the HALO UNSC Marine MA5B came from.