2015/01/28

Dogfighting 3

So, my last post went completely off the rails. Part of the point I wanted to make was that active defence lasers may see dogfighting become more necessary as missiles will be shot down where ballistic projectiles may be "immune" to laser defences.

Lasers themselves work by heating up the offending projectile so that the projectile's fuel or payload detonate. Self-propelled projectiles, like missiles, have the additional issue that even a small hole in the side can completely screw up propulsion even if the fuel doesn't ignite out the side.

There may be a push towards relatively tough projectiles without explosives, or with very hard to set off explosives. Everyone has seen the traditional mortar shells being shot down by the HEL. Mortar rounds appear to use anything ranging from TNT to PAX-21. However, as the laser technology improves, explosive projectiles (especially of the extremely hot, like missiles, or low velocity, like mortars) will become less and less viable in a modern conflict.

Back to dogfighting, the idea that I (and I assume others have had) is that being able to target opponents outside of your immediate front is a tremendous advantage. Indeed, it is one that would make traditional dogfighting a very different game. It would still, of course, be an advantage to be behind your opponent. But t-boning an opponent would become a much riskier proposition.

Let's go over some things here:
Aircraft typically roll far faster than they can pitch or yaw. This means, in the terrain clear environment of the sky, that at least one axis of a potential turret is already accounted for.

To have an opponent stuck to your tail is death. Chances are you'll be relying on your team mates to take them out or use a potentially risky manoeuvre known as scissoring. Honestly, there's a lot of stuff there that has been written about elsewhere.

The cannon of the plane should be mounted such that it could turn 90 to 110 degrees, from directly forward to directly vertical. The fighter itself may take a maneuverability hit from this design. However, as part of a wing, the dangerous "area" for an opponent to occupy is no longer a series of lines, but instead a series of volumes; vastly harder to avoid and much easier for the friendly wing to maintain total airspace control.

The traverse of the turret should be capable of tracking a fighter, such that the extremely high rates of fire are less necessary than before. With computer controlled aiming and yaw-ing (whatever). With a smaller gun and no pilot, the aircraft can improve its maneuverability to make up for the added weight and size of the turret. The drone parts need not worry about G-forces.

The projectiles this gun would fire would have to be tough enough to withstand solid lasering, but still carrying enough destructive capacity to reduce a fighter.

Not sure how to end this. But yes, a turreted fighter that's capable of engaging targets in a volume ahead of it may be the way of the future.

2015/01/21

Dog Fighting 2

During World War 2, pretty much all munitions were unguided, meaning that dogfights were the norm in the sky. Well, more normal than they are now. Similarly, in the Vietnam War, targets had to be verified visually, meaning the missiles of the day were unable to lock on at the close ranges air to air combat started.

Nowadays, aircraft have advanced avionics and detection capable of identifying targets miles away, and missiles capable of downing a fighter at comparable ranges. Aircraft still have cannon, because one can't predict every combat scenario. The likelihood that the current generation of air superiority fighters will fight each other is quite low. For all their posturing, Russia and the USA are not going to go to war over whichever tiny country Russia wants to annex.

It does seem important, however, that air to air combat isn't ignored. Air supremacy dictates how ground battles are fought. While the modern guerrilla isn't going to stand and fight (as the traditionalist may put it), even a third world army loses a significant amount of mobility by having all of its utility vehicles bombed out. Hypothetically, the ability to win an air war basically will determine how successful a country is at the counterpart ground war if it is going toe to toe with a similarly armed and sized country.

One thing I've always found odd is that there seems to be a perception that drones (UAVs, for the wankers out there) will never replace real, physical fighter pilots (and their fighters). This seems rather odd to me for a bunch of reasons:

  • Of all the combat spaces, air to air combat is probably the easiest turn into relatively simple equations. There is barely any cover or terrain to speak of to confuse or outwit a drone with. A lot of flying is already automated for that fact. Planes fly in relatively predictable curves based on their speed, model, and apparent thrust. And so on.
  • Drones can respond much more quickly and accurately to complex maneuvers. Even with pilot controlled fighters the trigger for their cannon is operated by a computer since modern jets can fly in between bullets (or into their own)
  • Drone computers are smaller and capable of operating in more extreme environments than pilots. For instance, they are capable of withstanding far more G-forces than even a pilot in a G-suit.
The last point is one that means that any drone fighter is not just going to be a manned fighter retrofitted with another computer. It could be much smaller, much faster, or much more versatile. Or longer ranged. Or whatever you wanted with the several tonnes saved from removing the fleshy pus bag and all of his (or her) support and interface gear.

"Foreign Policy" says that " At present, these are critical tasks that only pilots physically engaged in the battle can do. Distantly controlled unmanned aircraft lack these capabilities. If ever caught in a dog-fight, they transition from lethal airborne assets to defenseless targets."

It also says that drones will never be better than a thinking breathing human in the cockpit. However, this seems remarkably short sighted. Aircraft with some autonomy could react far faster than a human being, to the point of being ludicrous. It wouldn't require a dude in a demountable making it jink or fire. It would just eliminate everything larger than a bird in the sky. It seems almost absurd to think that this wouldn't be the case.

Honestly, this post came away from me. It was initially supposed to be about aircraft design. Whatever. Next week maybe.

2015/01/13

Humanoid Battle Droids

Somewhat recently, I played in a game of Star Wars: Edge of the Empire. Most people are reasonably familiar with Star Wars as a setting, though being into the minutiae is seen as being somewhat lame. Us, sitting there with a multitudes of unique proprietary dice, had obviously gone far beyond that point.

Anyway, one of the character races was "Droid". In game terms, it was the most customisable race. So I thought about what would make a good battle droid.

My first thoughts didn't leave me. If anyone has watched the Star Wars prequel trilogy, they'll know that droids in that setting suck at fighting. Especially the (apparently notorious) B1 battle droid. The ones who beat up the Gungans in Episode I, notable for being the only time they've beaten anyone on their own.

So, I decided to write what I thought would be an appropriate layout for a Star Wars style humanoid battle droid. Bullshit technology aside (which can provide any sort of advantage the writer may think to provide), given what you see in the films about weapons technology and computational power, what could I come up with?

First, I had to come up with a role that my droid would take, as part of a larger army. The split, I decided, was between facilities and environments designed for use by humans or rubber forehead aliens, surely the vast majority of strategically significant battlegrounds, and everywhere else. My droid would involve itself in fighting within these urban environments. Everything else would be handled by a Fighter/Bomber/Tank variant, which I may write about later.

The droid's name was Boarding / Urban Battle Droid - Intelligence / Data Gathering Experimental, colloquially "Bub". The idea was that this custom droid had been made using tactical knowledge, and had learning capacity so it could gather more (and that's where it begins in the party). So let's go over some of its features, and why the B1 Battle Droid sucks. Because this is how I get my armchair general jollies off.
Fuck, I'm bored.

In the Star Wars setting, the battle droids appear to use the most rudimentary of tactics. They march in parade formation directly towards enemies, diverting for only impassable bits of terrain. This makes them exceedingly easy targets. Given the level of AI that appears in the setting, bordering on sapience, let alone sentience, this seems rather dumb. It would surely cost them nearly nothing for their droids to figure out how to use cover.

The cost is important for understanding a lot of the B1s shortcomings. However, the ability to assess the locations of enemies and then seek appropriate cover is surely well within the capacity of cheap Star Wars tech. However, even after this, I ditched the awkward gun hold that the B1s exhibit. Instead, the head and primary weapon were located on an armature that could be used to peek out from behind cover, exposing only a tiny sliver of weapon and sighting systems.

Bub still had arms though, for use in situations where one would require hands. One can imagine any number of scenarios in which it would require hands in an area designed for humans. In the campaign, having hands allowed Bub to use rocket launchers and regular weapons designed for humans, drive cars, and so on.

Having the weapon fixed to the droid means that it's much harder to trivially disarm, also. This feature can be seen in Droidekas and B2 Battle Droids (the big ones first seen in Episode 2). For whatever reason, in both those cases the weapons are entirely separate from any sensory systems, a problem I rectified with Bub.

Of course, having a gun for a face made Bub very impersonal, but very threatening given the right circumstances.

Bub also had a lot of climbing gear, and was a very good rough terrain combatant. This is its primary advantage over Droidekas, which is believed to be "rad as fuck" and "very cool". The problem with Droidekas is that anything it can overwhelm can evade it, and anything it can catch in more open areas can destroy it. It is only truly useful as an anti-infantry defensive platform, one which could be improved significantly were that its only design goal.

So, how would Bub or a squad of Bubs defeat a Droideka or squad of those? By moving around the terrain such that Droidekas could not follow, using grenades, and destroying them if they ever packed up to mobilise. This would take time, but patience and prior planning cost very little compared to expensive battle droids.

After the game, I had a few other thoughts. The arms could be designed to be used for running as well as holding things, allowing for cat like movement if speed is more necessary than endurance. The feet could be rudimentary hands, greatly simplifying the process of climbing and utilising Z space in combat. A flamethrower would be nice for cooking Jedi (as seen in Episode 3).

It also had a thumb that had a retractable vibro knife, which was good just in utility. Its torso had grappling hooks and low velocity grenade launchers. Its sensor suite was very advanced. The final product (as is the case with RPGs in which character progression is marked in both equipment and character ability) was significantly more expensive than a B1 battle droid. However, a lot of the upgrades wouldn't cost that much money after the research stage (rudimentary tactics, for example, or aiming algorithms). Overall, I'd doubt that a Bub would be more than ten times the cost a B1 off the production line. However, I'd rather be backed up by a hundred Bubs than a hundred thousand battle droids.

2015/01/12

Warning: May contain hideous levels of sperg

This is just a small blog for posting my musings about various military things I've had during roleplaying games or whatever. It may or may include crappy sketches I've done during sessions in between fights.

The name is from Harm Inc. which I sometimes use in games to explain some technology or other. It's not a tremendously marketable name, were it to be an actual corporation with actual shareholders, but I find it funny.