2015/03/31

Droid Operations and Strategy

The level of responsibility the commander of a force is willing to entrust to individual soldiers has varied wildly throughout history. With modern weapons, a single soldier can kill or suppress many times his own number. From around the Franco-Prussian War to World War 2, the old military class in Europe changed their ideas about conscription, service, and professionalism in armies. The peasantry would not necessarily cower in cover unable to be rooted out, a teacher from Birmingham could be taught and impressed by his role as a low level CO, and so on.

These changes could be taken to their logical extreme with droids, who do not cost significantly extra to be imparted with additional "training". Indeed, the amount of information given to a single droid may as well be arbitrary (with, at least, modern SDcard technology). Given that droids have no self-preservation instinct on an individual level, their minds can be wiped if captured with no ethical boundaries. Indeed, a self-destruct "coring" could be standard).

The groups of droids (hitherto "squads") themselves would keep note of how long they might last under hypothetical attack. This would enable any potential reserve squads whether they could halt the enemy advance, or whether they should vacate the area in preparation of a full enemy offensive.

Rules like this one would enable battle command to be almost entirely decentralised, nearly to the point of requiring only a few commanders or even one. Obviously, the minutia would have to be worked out for each droid type, but the rules of at least third generation warfare would remain roughly the same.

The commander could assign major objectives, but the individual flow of droids into an area and terrain would dictate their tactics, which they would work out on the field. The commander could also be removed from the defence of all but the most innovative attacks, allowing himself to concentrate on the strategic aspects of his work. Logistics, the other important subject for any war, is one prone to automation also.

I'm just going to come up with some rules, and discuss what their implications might be. At some other stage, I might write about what an individual droid should do if it is cut off from communications. But for the most part, these are written with at least occasional communications from other droids.

If sufficient reserves can be mounted to hold off an enemy attack, send the reserves and hold the line. However, if such reserves cannot be mounted for any reason, due to distance or lack of troops or being 'reserved' for another operation, begin a soft withdrawal action.
If participating in a soft withdrawal action, move reserves away from the point of attack, and consider strengthening flanks. The formations under attack should attempt to slow the advance for as long as possible.
If there is a salient, attempt to close it at the farthest reaches possible. Try to do it when the enemy's supply chain is most disrupted.
For time when no attacks are forthcoming, attack lightly to avoid casualties and supply waste. This hides preparations for a proper breakthrough, and allows lightly defended areas to be captured.
If squads are too dispersed, consider moving up reserves or retreating to a narrower field of battle.
Supplies should be moved up with reserves.

And so on. You'll notice that a lot of these are rules taught to officers (at some stage or another). However, all droids can be well trained officers (in training and knowledge) while being able to be subservient to one another without drama.

The end result would hopefully look as fluid as a tide that rolls around rocks on the shore. That would be cool, right?

2015/03/30

Teleporter Combat

Star Trek used a "transporter" to save money on having to show a shuttle. Ultimately, it wound up being an important part of the setting, but the writers never really put much thought into it. Or rather, they didn't put much thought into what characters would do with it. Fairly regularly, they needed to write a reason for the transporter to be unable to be used in a lot of situations.

In our own role playing scenario, we had a 40k ship with a teleportarium (yeah) that could transport a room of stuff to itself, or to a location, within around 10,000 kilometres. This very immobile teleporter, with a great size to amount of matter transported ratio, was still an extremely powerful tool. So much so that we had to make a rule where we could only use it once per session, lest we use it as a "get out of jail free" card. In the end, that's all we ended up using it for.

Still, without such a limitation, such a teleporter would be a powerful Strategic tool. At its most basic, a bomb could be placed inside the room and delivered instantaneously. Or perhaps a strike team could capture important personnel with very little risk. Or enemy supplies could be teleported to supply one's own troops. And so on. One could teleport ground troops to a random point in space.

In Star Trek, their transporter had less limitations than ours. Theirs could intelligently control who they teleported, with enough accuracy to target a human. Thus, you could transport half the people in a room, or only the ones wearing special badges etc. One would be able to do the above operations with a greater degree of accuracy.

Presumably, with more advanced technology, such a teleporter could become a more powerful weapon. Why teleport an entire human when you could just teleport a portion of their brain? Entire regiments could be wiped out. Or, were ethics involved, you could teleport just the weapons of the enemy, leaving you with a large number of prisoners.

The more and more precise the technology becomes, the less limited its applications. Eventually, the only real limits are your imagination and counter-measures your opponent would deploy. Warfare would be based around the technical limitations of teleporter technology.

The first teleporter technology may only work on energy. However, once it starts working on matter, it becomes a massive strategic solution. In my fiction for RTS game, they required a device at both ends, and an active series of connecting devices (usually satellites). Even then, the hypothesis was that this entirely killed the shipping lanes. Cities and towns would be centred around these giant devices, as they would be a major source of supplies.

The form of transporter that can take something and push it elsewhere without requiring a receiving end would be very far off. The first advances would be in miniaturisation and efficiency, making the devices more accessible. Any war that occurred would have to take such devices into account, perhaps controlling the devices through some esoteric form of hacking or blasting an area with radiation.

After rambling for a bit, this I realised that the scope of this is insane, so I'm cutting this short. Sorry, I'll touch on this later.

2015/03/15

A Case for Caseless Ammunition

Caseless ammunition for small arms seems to be the next big thing, and has been for a while. From the 60s onwards, H&K had their (in)famous G11 program, which itself was submitted to the American  Advanced Combat Rifle program. There have been a few other things that touch on those ideas, most notably the current LSAT program and Metal Storm (which, at the time of writing, is part of a defunct company, though I believe some of the lessons learned in that was used during LSAT).

As pointed out in a previous post, ammunition has been somewhat stagnant over the last hundred and a bit years. Pretty much every development has been a variation of smaller (or larger) bullets, longer cartridges, fatter cartridges, and more reliable primers and powders. There are a number of restrictions on changing the projectile, so perhaps the launching part of the whole round could be changed.

There are a few advantages of caseless ammunition, which we'll just flick over now:

  • Caseless ammunition weighs less and takes up less space, causing less logistical concern for soldiers at the front (it usually translates into weight savings or higher combat endurance for the same weight)
  • As caseless ammunition does not need to eject anything, it removes one of the most common causes of weapon jams, resulting in a (probably) more reliable weapon.
Arrayed against these advantages, however, are several less obvious hurdles, some technical and some logistical:
  • Starting with the biggest technical issue (that is not already solved to some extent), caseless ammunition generates more heat, and weapons that use them don't have the coincidental heat sinks called cartridges leaving them.
  • The vast majority of new designs will require new weapons, rather than much cheaper refits.
  • Any changeover would increase logistical strain considerably, especially as two different sorts of small arms ammunition must be transported. This is a tough hurdle as most NATO countries now use the fairly standard 5.56 x 45 mm. The concerns of this particular problem mean that those countries can be considered a single entity as far as ammunition choice.
  • There is already existing infrastructure for producing and transporting standard ammunition.
Given all that, it would seem that caseless ammunition has it a bit beat. After all, we're still winning wars (to some extent, anyway), and we're certainly not losing them in such a way that caseless ammunition would change the odds. There is an illusion of a war winning weapon, but wars are rarely won by a single feat of engineering, but a combination of events and a fuckton of diplomacy (and some politics). Common examples would include Muskets, Tanks, the T-34 specifically, the nuclear bomb... Each of those eventually changed warfare to the point where it was almost unrecognisable to the previous generation, but at the outset were usually too premature to have a total strategic effect.

The majority of advances in military technology, one way or another, makes life slightly easier for the grunts who actually have to carry that stuff around. Night vision becomes smaller and more compact, boots more resilient and comfortable, and so on. There is the somewhat facetious argument that says that an ancient suit of armour weighs just as much a modern soldier's kit, and regardless of what flaws that argument has, modern soldiers do carry a lot. Caseless ammunition should be seen as something like that. Every soldier would be relieved of several kilograms (or whatever) of stuff, and anxiety (and death) causing weapon jams would be less frequent.

Given the logistical hurdle of switching over, I think the goal of any nascent caseless ammunition program probably shouldn't be the re-arming of all of NATO. Such goals are extremely ambitious until NATO themselves are more comfortable moving away from a standardised round. However, if a small (but otherwise reasonably wealthy) country picked it up, they would be set. Of course, they would still be extremely lucky should such a thing occur. To do this, they would have to show a demonstration weapon that was at least as field capable as modern assault rifles, and also find a country that wants to separate itself from external or diplomatically uncomfortable logistical chains (and also be really lucky).

Once they had secured a small base of income and a contractual relationship, they should release the patent into the world. One of the bigger weaknesses of the patent system is that governments don't want to contract themselves for twenty years to a sole supplier of some necessary good (though they do often). The original developers of this ammunition would have to treat it more like seatbelts, which Volvo released in the interests of public safety. This would mean that the original developers would be guaranteed less money, but have a head start on both weapons development (which would be necessary) and production.

Those are my thoughts on initial hurdles on the logistics side which are not fully developed. I have a few more thoughts on technical stuff after this.

The hexagonal rifling (no, not the old method of producing guns, this one) method could provide much clearer ability for any residue to leave via the barrel (from the next round fired). It is also overall more effective and durable than regular rifling, which is important for the next little bit. (don't use lead bullets, apparently. Also have a fairly soft gradient from round bullet to polygonal barrel.)

To protect the user against the heat of the barrel, a strong set of grips should be used. However, to stop the gun itself from warping, it would need some other way of containing or bleeding heat that don't negate the benefits of using caseless ammunition in the first place. My suggestion would be to use a principle used in old large buildings like churches; manipulate the airflow that you know exists to bring cool air along. With the advances in computer powered evolved design and 3D printing, I envision almost a web along which heat flows outwards and forces in contact with as much air as possible.

Obviously, we've all seen heat waves rising off the top of a car during summer (if you haven't, apparently being really cold sucks too, I'm sorry). So this, multiplied by the surface area afforded by a circulatory style metal (or whatever transfers heat well), might just allow a weapon to cool itself enough that it won't damage itself with repeated firing. It doesn't have to cool it to be comfortable to touch, just so it doesn't warp.

Hopefully, with that natural anti-heating design and the fact that the bolt for a caseless weapon could be a lot more compact, the entire thing would end up weighing significantly less than a current NATO rifle and ammunition. It may even end up being more effective (seeing as almost all of our current weapons are variations on the same theme) at some stage, allowing standardisation amongst a bloc of nations to be a palatable option.

Obviously, this whole thing is very far off, and would require a risk averse and wealthy company. But I do think the dominoes, so to speak, are quite close.