About a month ago, FWS asked for topic ideas, and one that came across was an article exploring the size, organization, and logistics of a deep space military. At first, I was overwhelmed with having to research these topics, however, my mind would not let it go,finding the topic engrossing, and over a period of a few weeks, I had most of this written. It is all too common in military science fiction to over simplify these factors of a real military, either by not addressing it or using the high technology of sci-fi to solve these issues, much like the replicators of Star Trek.
However, for most those authors interesting fleshing out a complete future spacefaring military picture, is blogpost is for you...so, pour a Blue Moon, and enjoy the read.
The Organization of a Future Deep Space Military
The term 'Military organization' is how the armed forces are structured involving everything from on how many troopers in a platoon, to rank structure, even to which division of the armed forces get what types of vehicles or guns. This by far is one of the toughest aspects for science fiction authors to accuracy portrayal in their fictional works. Forming a convicting overall organization framework for a deep space future military has caused most sci-fi authors to either dumb down the organization or simply ignore it. Sure, most authors and creators (like me), can research, but it is dumbed down and never lives up to the experiences of people that have served in the military. Then again, sometimes, military novels that deal in the complexity of a detailed explanation of military organization drown out the story like too much salt in a recipe.
There are two lines of thought on how a deep space military would be organized, the hard and the soft prospective on the science in sci-fi. In a hard science universe, where superluminal travel and communication are not possible, interstellar warfare is a slow, isolated and long proposition. Soldiers deployed to exosolar colonies will spent years under cryo, and the generals and politicians that sent them to that point of light in the sky would long dead (see the Forever War
). Given the distance, this would make any commander of the taskforce the sole authority and interrupter of the original orders, much like a US nuclear submarine. It is also likely that the armed troop transport would be automated, much like the Sulaco
, furthering the infantry officer's authority.
This presents problems for a government, whatever decision the marine commander make on-the-ground, like nuking the site from orbit, which would make the government and the brass back on Terra instilling a great deal of trust in those officers out there. It is also possible that future deep space expeditions would be under the command of not a flesh-and-blood officer, but a military AI, similar to HALO
's Cortana. How does this effect the organization of the future military? It simplifies it a great deal, streamlining it to be more lean and mobile, because the current massive organizational system that modern militaries operate under would be impractical. It this regard, works like ALIENS
, and BSG
may be correct, where there fewer officers and ranks. Due to the length of time it would take for replacements to arrive to the exosolar battlefield, promotions would happen with the ranks of the expeditionary force, much like what happened to Corporal Hicks in ALIENS
When it comes to a soft science fiction universe, where FTL travel and communication are similar to Star Wars
and Star Trek
, the military organization could be even complex than today's, simply due to the amount of space that the government has to project power to. The reason behind this is simply, FTL travel takes days or weeks to arrive at a hot spot, rather than years, and Captain Picard can communicate with San Francisco in real-time, receiving orders from the Admiralty that fit the situation unfolded lightyears away. In addition, Starfleet can send more ships and personnel to a crisis point, fueling interdependence, while the more hard science military has to self-reliant. Also, the soft universe military battlesites would be hotter than the hard, due to the availability of reinforcements, heavier vehicles, and combat starships.
Of course, my friend Jesse came up with a easy answer to a hard science deep space military: carve out an asteroid, attach engines that run off a mineral inside the asteroid, have a robotic factory installed inside the asteroid along with a Cortana-level AI, then sent along its way. By the time the asteroid arrives at the exosolar war zone, the asteroid is filled when Centurion Cylon models ready to kick ass and obey the original orders. Problem solves, problem staying solved. The only issue with this solution is that it breaks Burnside's Zeroth Law of Space Combat
, which states that the human audience relates better to another human being in the situation than an armed toaster, so, sci-fi authors will put humans in place of robots for the sake of story. So, to sum up: hard science universe=less complex military organization. Soft science universe=more complex military organization.
Logistics of a Future Deep Space Military
Warships are great, especially when kicking arse up there in the black, making sure that GSO is secure, but when the fight moves downstairs to dirt-side, the fight to keep our space marines feed, caffeinated, with fresh magazines, and toilet paper is critical to the success of the planetary invasion underway. That means the logistics of an interstellar military, with a supplyline that could run many lightyears. Once again, I'll be discussing if FTL is possible, and if it is not.
The real bitch is if FTL is not possible, then the supply line becomes lifetimes in length, if you are not lucky enough to have a replicator onboard. Colonial worlds could have a underground network of supplies and equipment bunkers that are just waited for the ball to drop. This was a tactic used during the First Gulf War, when the Saudi Arabia desert bunkers of US equipment were accessed. Of course, given the amount of time it would take for a troop ship to get to the colonial hot-zone, that equipment would be painfully out of date. Another avenue is for deployment of automated supply stations along the common navigation. When a request is made, the robotic space warehouse station could send out automated supply vehicles to the combat zone.
It is possible to also have automated machine shops on these robotic deep space stations that manufacture up-to-date military equipment with engineering pattern packets sent from communication relay satellites. Other sci-fi works, like the Mimic from All You Need Is Kill
, or the Thing from The Thing,
use the local environmental to supply them, fashioning weapons and food from the local conditions.Then there is the more likely solution: take it with you. Any deep space warship that is designed to repel or take a colony, it would be platform for said operations, and outfitted with the supplies and landing vehicles to carry it out.
I confess this many times on FWS, but I am a recovering Trekkie. The first movie I saw in a theater was Star Trek: The Motion Picture
, and I regularly quote from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
, and have built my share of Enterprises
out of Legos. And has a recovering Trekkie it sometimes easy for most Trekkies overlook one of the best pieces of Trek
technology, the replicator. Working off of raw organic materials onboard, along with recovered materials from the close ecosystem of the ship (just think about that for a minute!), the good ship Enterprise
can generate all manner of foodstuffs, including hot Earl Grey tea. According to several technology manuals, the replicator uses massive software storage and micro-transporter technology to generate nearly any dish that diner selects, and does a close job of it. Certain areas of the ship have special replicators, like Ten-Forward, that are more exact on replicating alcoholic beverages and fancier dishes.
Imagine that if a Nimitz
class nuclear carrier could replace their staff that prepares 1800-2000 meals per day, and carries enough food stores onboard to operate for 90 days independently. Smaller carriers with the same capacities could be constructed, and deceasing their need for resupply. Not only was the replicator used to make tea and gagh, but also to construct small tools, like the hyperspanner, which also cut down on storage. Truly, any future military that possessed replicator technology would be at an extreme advantage over a hostile force that did not have the device. The replicator-equipped force could simply out-supply the hostile force, not relay on the logistic supply train, and most items are as far as the touch of a button.
The Size of a Future Deep Space Army
Creating fictional future military organizations is fun, but when in comes to details of hard numbers, often creators swing too high, making an army of billions, or too low, making an off-world military that has to project power of light-years. The thing is that each fictional universe is individual and depending on certain factors, such has how large the civilian population is, how many colonial worlds are we talking about, length of time it takes to get out to these colonies, and who the enemy is of this government and what kind of government it is. After all, if it the Terran Overlord Government, they are going to want to project power on their colonial holdings, increasing the size of the military. If they are the Foundation from Asimov's series, than it will naturally be smaller. And if they are Cylons...never mind. All add into a complex equation how many troopers you should have ready to kick ass if the need arises. In sci-fi, as I demonstrate below, the numbers vary wildly, much like modern military organizations today, from a hundred thousands, to several million. The number of military personal should hover around 1%-3% of the total population, unless there is some sort of call to arms to invade Klendathu.
For example, in 2010, the US military was composed of 1.43 million active service members involved in two low-intensity wars, while the Red Chinese Army is about 2.8 million members, compare that with British military with 220,000 in active service, with 180,000 in reserve. What do these numbers tell us? The United States is more reliant on mobility, technology, and excellent training to win wars, while the Chinese depend on numbers, and the British are a more seaborne military that also has excellent training, but does not need the numbers of the US, due to their geographic, geopolitical, and proximity to NATO allies than the US. Then that bring us to the Israel Defense Force, one of the most active military forces in the 20th century, who draw their ranks by mandated three-year service for most civilians of Israel, however, in practice, only 50% of the recruit pool serves. This gives Israel a huge advantage if they are invaded, or forced into a sudden war, which all are common in their short, but violent history.
Personally, I think that the IDF is a good model for a future military and it's size: independent in production (for the most part) if cut off, developed their own weapon systems for their style of war and the local conditions (the TAR-21 for example), and a trained populous. If you consider FTL (if it is possible), than any colonial world would need a fight force based onplanet to deal with an invade force until the central government can send reinforcements via some sort of colonial rapid response team, as seen in ALIENS.
Bottom line, the size of an army needs to be realistic, taking in consideration what kind of FTL system, if any, are used by this future government, and what kind of government it is. Here are some examples of the manpower numbers of some of the better known future armies in MSF:
The Galactic Padishah Empire's Sardaukar Legions
In the universe of DUNE around the year of 10,191, Emperor Shaddam Corrino the IV is ruling over the known universe, controlling thousands of settled worlds across intergalactic regions. The books never tell us the size and scope of the Galactic Padishah Imperium, but given the instant space travel afforded by the Spacing Guild's use of the Spice, Shaddam the IV, can project power unlike most ruler in science fiction, but only if the Spacing Guild agree with the move. This domination of space travel by one group makes the military project power of the imperial forces difficult to gauge, but the Sardaukar Legions are a truly fearsome future army.
According to the original text, the post-atomic prison planet Salusa Secundus, kills six out of thirteen children before the age of eleven, making these terror-troops masters in cruelty and projecting fear. So feared were the legions of Sardaukar that the threat of their use was enough to drive planets back into the fold, and there numbers are impressive, too. Based on text from the book and 1984 film, there are about 50 legions of Sardaukar in 10,193, each legion is composed of 30,000 terror-troops, which works out to 1.5 million Sardaukar
that invaded Arrakis at the final battle of Arrkeen. After Paul took to the throne, Shaddam was allowed to have one legion of Sardaukar during the exile on his prison planet.
The United States Colonial Marine Corps (2179)
According to the 1996 ALIENS: Colonial Marines Technical Manual
, the United States Colonial Marine Corps is made up of four active divisions, with a fifth in reserve. In addition to the divisions spread out over the American colonial arm and the Sol system, there are four active and one reserve aerospace wing serving the CMC's transport,starlift, and support needs. At the core of the CMC is the Marine Assault Unit, composed of a battalion of marines, medical, command, and maintenance companies, along with a RECON platoon, a squad of scout/snipers, and a platoon of combat engineers. Adding to the mix of flexible space-projection is armored teams, aerospace elements from the USASF, and one drop wing and one assault wing. In terms of numbers, the Colonial Marines were at a peak of 240,000 during the 2165 Tientsin Campaign, but at the time of ALIENS
film in 2179, the numbers were at around 165,000.
The ROBOTECH Expeditionary Force (2022-2044)
There is some debate among ROBOTECH fans and canon about the number of people that survived the Zentradi holocaust, and then left with the REF about ten years after billions died in space and on Earth. The official ROBOTECH: The Sentients RPG manual printed by Palladium Book, there is an essay on the confusion over the numbers. According to this text, about 350 million Terran survivors of the Zentradi holocaust of 2011, rebuilt Earth, and somewhere around 10,000 left with the REF onboard the SDF-3 in 2022.
However, duirng the 3rd ROBOTECH War, a vast REF fleet comes to liberate made up of hundreds of Sentient constructed warships, thousands of fighters, and ground forces. This has lead Palladium Books RPG manual to debate the number of original REF members, and states that the combat forces of the REF were human or microized Zentradi, while the crews of the REF warships were composed of joint crews. Some other fansites, say that the REF mounted recovery operations to evac Southern Cross personnel that escape the Invid Invasion on off-world inter-solar system bases, colonies, or ships.
The ROBOTECH Master's Zentradi Forces (2011)
When it comes to size of a future, as far as have researched, the largest military force ever seen in science fiction is the Zentradi forces of the ROBOTECH Masters. Over four million warships under Supreme Commander Dolza came to our third rock from the sun to kick our collective ass. Adding to this number was the Zentradi loyal to Lord Breetai, the SDF-1, and whatever UN Spacey ships were left. Some estimates online place this armada at 100 billion
with about 48 billion killed in total, that's Zentradi and the majority of the Earth population. Now that is one hell of a bloody battle!
The Alien Legion of the TOPHAN Galactic Union
Okay, there is little to go on, in terms of hard numbers, for the Legion. It does not help that most of the stories in the first series concerned on Force Nomad's core characters. Only in the graphic novel did we see a mass legion force composed of thousands of soldiers. Force Nomad was expanded during the second series, allowing us to a much large force, however, I doubt it was any bigger than 5,000 legionaries. When I was reading Alien Legion
comics, and even today, I wonder about the size of such a force that had to protect three galaxies worth of space(!). One of the only other works that had a government composed of several galaxies is, Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda
, whose Systems Commonwealth, at its apex, had over 1 million members. So, based on that, it is likely that the Legion is composed of millions of legionaries and thousands of ships. Helping clear some things up, the official Alien Legion
website had a breakdown of the organization of the Legion:
- LEGION- 50,000+
- CORPS- 20,000-45,000
- DIVISION- 10,000-15,000
- BRIGADE- 3,000-5,000
- SQUADRON- 300-1,000
- COMPANY- 62-190
- PLATOON- 16-44
- SQUAD- 9 or 10 Legionaries
The Jedi Order of the Galactic Republic
At the opening of the Prequel Star Wars
films, it has been estimated that the Jedi Order, the protectors of the Republic numbered around 9,000 to 10,000 Jedi Padawans/Knights/Masters, with an unknown numbers of Younglings at the Temple. In their place within the Republic, the Jedi Order was more of a peacekeeping organization, and possessed nothing in the way of warships, ground vehicles, artillery, or even special forces. Not to mention that 10,000 protecting a galactic-spanning government gives way to more weakness. It should be noted that most member planets of the Republic maintain a small planetary defense force, as seen during the Trade Federation invasion of Naboo, to protect themselves until the Jedi can arrive.
The Grand Army of the Republic
When war came to the Republic against the Confederacy of Independent Systems, the grown clones from the Mandalorian DNA of Jango Fett waged war for the Republic. The original order placed for the army was for 200,000 units with a million more in process at the opening of the war. This was along with war machines and ships. As the Clone Wars heated up, Kamino pumped out about three million total clone troopers over the three years of the Clone Wars period. Augmenting these clone trooper numbers were Jedi Knights, some local military forces, and various armed groups.
When it comes to a future deep space military that is charged with protecting the off-world colonies spread over many solar systems, the question comes up with how many super space dreadnoughts and space marines legions do you send? That depends on the importance of the colony and the situation. The hard fact is that not all colonial properties would be treated the same. Just look at recent global history, when Saddam invaded Kuwait in 1990, and threatened Saudi Arabia, the United States deployed the Airborne to prevent Iraqi tanks from invading one of the US's most important allies in the region. But when the civil war in the former Yugoslavia broke out, and charges of ethic cleansing were confirmed, it took years for NATO or the UN to become involved militarily.
Why? The simple answer is that Saudi Arabia is critical ally to the United States, mostly because of oil, and if a madman like Saddam had control over the Saudi oilfields, the world would be fucked. In DUNE,
when the Fremen were close to booting the Harkonnen off of Arrakis, the Emperor sent fifty legions of Sardaukar terror-troops to secure the exportation of the spice...because it must flow. However, if the trouble have been on the piss-ant desert world of Tatooine I doubt the bulk of the Galactic Empire would have come to kick some Jawa ass. Much can be said about the two Jedi sent to the crisis on Naboo, and even when things did heat up, there were the same two Jedi protecting the Princess. Shows how much Naboo rated on the Senate's radar.
The same could be said if we examine the United State's response to the downed colonial transmitter on LV-426. The Colonial Marines sent a single rapid-response platoon with an air support unit, one officer, one adviser, and one Weyland-Yutani representative and a heavily armed automated transport vessel. This may seem like a underwhelming response, but not when you consider that the only settlement on LV-426 was Hadley's Hope comprised of about 158 souls, not exactly Reach is it? When it comes to warships, this greatly depends on what types of warships you have in your sci-fi work, and the situation. I think it is unrealistic to see the sky darkening with 4.8 million green warships to end the threat of one small planet...just remember moderation when it comes to all things in science fiction.