How wars will really be fought in space
Well my faithful readers, I've just sucked down my first cup of coffee on an empty stomache of the the day and me ideas are brimming.
So continuing on with my theme from yesterday, I alluded to numerous problems that modern Science Fiction writers have to work around. So today's blog is going to be an essay on planetary conquest...
...or why it really wouldn't happen.
Ok, take your standard Sci-Fi plot line. Boy joins military. Boy is sent through boot camp. Boy goes of to travel to exotic planets, meet new and interesting forms of life, and kill them. There are a couple of problems.
It is said that in war, amateurs discuss tactics. Professionals discuss logistics. Humans have a really long history of conquering and invading one another. After a few thousand years of capturing each other's cities a few rules of thumb have emerged. One is, that to occupy a hostile population you generally need to have 1 soldier for every 20 citizens. This has held true in every occupation from the Roman Empire to WWII.
Now say an alien race was planning on invading the planet Earth. We have 6 billion inhabitants. And growing. To properly occupy our planet, an alien race would have to have 300 million soldiers on the ground. That's the population of the United States people. Even if some force projection technology would allow them to hold us at bay with a fraction of that, say 30 million, they still have to get them here across light years of empty space.
Just landing them here would require either a fleet of massive troop transports capable of surface operations, or millions of landing craft, or hundreds of millions of personal drop pods. The amount of fuel and material we are talking about is immense. And to turn the other shoe, there is no reason to believe that humans trying to invade an alien home world would have any less difficulty.
While I am not saying that invading an entire planet would be impossible. It would be a tremendous expenditure of man power, material, energy, ammunition, etc. It's not something an alien race would just casually do. So we have to discuss motivation. Why would one wish to invade an alien planet?
One common idea is that habital planets are scarce. So aliens with compadible life requirements would struggle to occupy and hold every planet that can support their lifestyle.
Ok. Let's look for a minute at planetary colonization. You would have to pack millions of people into a starship. Ok, what is a star ship? It's an artificial environment that is ideally suited for supporting ones form of life and carrying it around. What is the most expensive part of a starship's operation?
Now here is the funny part. Star ships are actually rather cheap to build and operate. What takes energy is launching them off a planet and landing them again. Once you are in orbit, you don't even need much in the way of fuel. If you are nearby a star you can just obtain light, heat, and electricity just by putting out a some windows and a few solar panels.
Let's look at another issue. A colony ship would have to keep you form of life alive for months or years at a time. If you have solved all the life support requirement of your form of life in space, and you have already expended a tremendous amount of energy getting a few million colonists into orbital space, why would you need to land again?
Think about it. A space ship has the perfect weather: none. It only rains where it needs to for agriculture. Your cabin is always perfect room temperature. All your utility lines were run when the ship was built. Public transit can be nitted into the design as well.
So you are going to leave this giant cruise ship to live on a hostile alien world? Hell I'd just stay in orbit and take field trips planet side when I needed a little variety. Space is big. Space has plenty of resources. Park yourself around a star and you have all the energy you would ever need. If you don't like the neighbors, fire up the engines and move somewhere else. Starting to get crowded? Build a new one would cost WAY less than the amount of energy it took to build the first.
So for all the trouble of invading an alien world, you could actually solve all of your population and space issues far more cheaply by moving your population to space. The ships that would have been used to move troops and material could just as easily house your excess population in a state of relative luxury, indefintely.
So population expansion, not a very likely reason for war.
What would be a reason alien races would go to war? I am going to be generous and say that it is possible that there are exotic materials out there that are found in limited quantities and yet are essential for technology. We have that today with some exotic metals that are used in mobile phones. Each phone has a trace of a material known as tantalite which is actually far more expensive than gold. There have been numerous wars in Africa over control of area where the ore Columbite-tantalite is mined. Odds are warp drives, sentient computers, and all the other trappings of futuristic life would require equally exotic materials.
So what would a war like this be fought like?
If the material is on a planetary home world, forget about it. The war would actually be fought to control the supply of the material once it reaches space. If the material is in space, it would be fought for the ore itself. One way or another, the combat would be in space. It's just WAY cheaper for everyone involved to fight there. And believe it or not, economics is a large part of determining the ways in which wars are fought.
One common idea is that this would be that space warfare that would be dominated by massive carriers and fleets of manned fighter aircraft. Everything from Star Wars to Battlestar Galactica features fighter jocks and their glistening craft duking it out with alien races.
Well it's a throwback to WWII movies. No, seriously. George Lucas based the fighter aircraft on old war movies from WWII, and just about everyone since has copied him. Hell there's even cliche's like flying out of the sun and catapult launches. If you look closely at the control panels on the classic episodes of BSG (the late 70s version), the Vipers have instruments from then modern aircraft.
The limitation on performance of modern aircraft is actually the pilot. Changes in direction whack the pilot against the interior of the craft, because he/she/it is still traveling along the original path of the spacecraft. The more extreme the maneuver, the bigger the stress on pilot. One thing the space is that there would be a lot more manueving, and at much higher speeds.
The pilot also limits the performance of the aircraft because they are a rather large mass, that has to be kept alive throughout the encounter. So in addition to the pilots own 80kilos or so, you have a life support system or a space suit, and an ejection seat. For long duration missions you need a galley and a lavatory. Computers just need an electrical power source.
The first thing any futuristic race would do is take the pilot out of the fighter. Whether the craft would be an automated drone, or flown remotely by a pilot in the mother ship, technology TODAY is already heading in that direction. A pilotless craft can be any shape, any size, and turn on a dime. It will happily accelerate in ways that would leave a pilot smeared over the interior.
Ground combat, if any, would also heavily feature robotics. Most territory worth disputing more likely than not is either in a hard vacuum or in an environment that is hostile to life. By the time you put together a suit that could work in those environments, you would find that it's more armor than person. There's no touch. There's no sound. There's no smell. Usually there wouldn't even be gravity to give a Soldier a sense of direction. About the only sense a Soldier in extreme environments would have is sight. And depending on the levels of light you would have to shield their eyes from extremely bright light, or amplify extremely dim light, so at the end of the day they are really living life through a video camera.
You can put them in harm's way in a major expensive suit, or you can put together a cheap telepresence robot and let it go out and get shot up. Which would you choose?
So there you have it folks. Real space combat. A bunch or robots blowing each other up. Not very thrilling is it?
Yea, so um, how about them fighter jocks and exo-marines...