Good rationale (excuses) for manned fighter craft in SF?

RX-79G

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We are living in an era where manned fighters are likely to go away in the hands of major powers. They are limited in maneuverability by human pilots and cost more in terms of life and support for the pilots than remotely controlled aircraft.

But we love them.

So what are some reasons we can use them in realistic SF in atmosphere or space? Here's some categories I've been mulling over, but I would like to hear your thoughts:

1. Jamming - can't get the signal through to remotely control the aircraft or get the kind of sensor data to tell a remote operator what's going on.
2. No AI - there is no guarantee that computers will ever have enough judgement for a complex battlefield situation.
3. Improvements to humans greatly increasing G tolerance, reaction speed and perception.
4. Societal prohibition on machine combatants. Something like the Butlerian Jihad, or by treaty.
5. Requirement for on-scene strategic decision making. During Vietnam US fighters lost their technological advantage due to a requirement to visually identify enemy aircraft before firing.
6. Flexibility - the pilot can dock or land and fulfill other military requirements (commando, ambassador, etc.)
7. Computer viruses - the inability to effectively shield complex electronics causes a rollback to more basic craft and organic pilots.

Interested in hearing your expansion, additions, refutation or discussion of the problem of putting people in fighters and keeping some realism. I get that SF doesn't have to be realistic - ala Old Man's War, but that's how I prefer to read and write. Frank Herbert showed us how technology can create situations where only a low tech solution works - like a knife.
 

Brian G Turner

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1. Jamming - can't get the signal through to remotely control the aircraft or get the kind of sensor data to tell a remote operator what's going on.

I've been thinking about this one, but less because of jamming issues, as much as the huge distances in space would make it difficult to maintain fine control of drones.

That means a potential opening for short-range fighters (in space terms) that can act as a shepherd and issue commands without the same delay problems.
 

RX-79G

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That was the reason I didn't include transmission delays - because you can always have an on-scene shepherd. But it would not be hard to imagine that the shepherd isn't very safe within light seconds and might get drawn into the fighting regularly.
 

Idealect

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longer distances in space, so more "lag" from remote controlling if no suitable on board AI. Every edge counts!

Great expense of spacecraft, compared to which a single life is nothing. It's a privelege to fly in one of these!

Pilots might be able to carry out non automatable repairs if the plane is hit or has an unexpected fault.

combination of 2 and 5: AI might be amazing for aiming, and to a lesser extent for tactics, but strategy is further away

No time to update to unmanned aircraft. We need all the capacity we can get right now!

expansion of 4: AI's smart enough to fight have been created, but they always turn out sentient for some reason. As such using AIs is unethical

very small expansion of 7: AIs are the default, but a human needs to be on hand purely in case the ship is compromised
 

Ihe

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I know you said "realistic", but you have most of the realistic reasons covered in your list. If you're willing to move away a bit from hard SF: IIRC, in the Warhammer 40k universe, ships could take shortcuts through space by entering a weird interdimensional void. The Empire needed human pilots with psychic abilities to navigate the strange and unpredictable jumps in space and not be lost forever. Pilots would still go insane from time to time though. It will not be hard SF, but some fantasy/psychic elements could justify why machines can't take the helm. If you have ships that can enter wormholes, you could conceivably get away with: "higher-function machines cannot be trusted in wormhole jumps (maybe complex systems fry for x technical reason).
 

RX-79G

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I know you said "realistic", but you have most of the realistic reasons covered in your list. If you're willing to move away a bit from hard SF: IIRC, in the Warhammer 40k universe, ships could take shortcuts through space by entering a weird interdimensional void. The Empire needed human pilots with psychic abilities to navigate the strange and unpredictable jumps in space and not be lost forever. Pilots would still go insane from time to time though. It will not be hard SF, but some fantasy/psychic elements could justify why machines can't take the helm. If you have ships that can enter wormholes, you could conceivably get away with: "higher-function machines cannot be trusted in wormhole jumps (maybe complex systems fry for x technical reason).
Actually, this is a category I somewhat missed: That humans might develop or be augmented in a somewhat unexpected direction.


I wrote something years ago about the risk of viral infiltration being so high that some combat vessels had absolutely no electrical systems at all - everything was optical, mechanical or hydraulic.
 

RX-79G

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No time to update to unmanned aircraft. We need all the capacity we can get right now!
This is true of today, but at some point the standard fighter won't even have a cockpit to update from. There won't be a manned anything to go back to.
 

goldhawk

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It takes a lot of energy for a ship to change course in space. A fighter, having smaller mass, could be able to dogfight and manoeuvre where a big ship would burn up all its fuel.
 

RX-79G

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It takes a lot of energy for a ship to change course in space. A fighter, having smaller mass, could be able to dogfight and manoeuvre where a big ship would burn up all its fuel.
The point of the thread is not small vs large craft, but manned vs unmanned fighter craft.
 

Danny McG

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Provided the pilot has a back seat R2 unit and trusts in the force then he won't need no stinkeen' computer.
 
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ralphkern

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This is something I've long struggled with in SF. As UCAVs are becoming more widely used in the modern day, why wouldn't drones be used in space battles, certainly to a greater extent than they are now.

Even artifically limiting them with poor AI would still make them very effective. Even more so in terms of loiter time - You can 'mine' an area days, weeks, months or years in advance and then they can pounce on an enemy.

Dependent on the propulsion technology, they would be much more manouverable, whether through simply being a lower mass versus propulsion as they can do away with the plumbing required for a crew or being able to tolerate high G.

What's more, why would people risk themselves if they didn't have to? Duty is an obvious rebuttal... but even the most dutiful (with a Western world view) would take umbrage if they're asked to put themselves in harms way needlessly. I'd also expect drones to be substantially cheaper.

So back to the OPs thrust of how to bring them in.

1. Cyber warfare would be a non-trivial concern too, it is even now. Somehow spoofing the drones, or even taking control of them would be bad. This can perhaps be technologically cyclical. At certain phases in your future history, cyber warfare has advanced over drone technology, at other times, drone hardening has taken the lead. Your story happens to take place at a time where the cyber warfare is ahead, thus meaning humans are plugged back in.

2. A treaty built around non-prolifieration of the technology. I'm not sure why this could come to be - Perhaps modelled on the Washington Treaty limiting powers to x amount of drones. Perhaps a treaty classes them culterally on par with WMDs. (I'd imagine launching self replicating ones into a target star system or whatever would be rather bad... but again, theres easier ways to take out an enemy).

3. Culterally it is not the done-thing to fight using drones?
 

goldhawk

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The point of the thread is not small vs large craft, but manned vs unmanned fighter craft.

If a big ship is as manoeuvrable as a fighter, then there is no need to build fighters. That would make manned vs unmanned mote.
 

RX-79G

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If a big ship is as manoeuvrable as a fighter, then there is no need to build fighters. That would make manned vs unmanned mote.
Not if the big ship was also unmanned.

However, the other reason to build fighters is that you can build many fighters with the labor and materials required to build one ship, and since one ship can only be in one place at a time, it has a numerical disadvantage.
 

Parson

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The unfortunate truth is that as far as can be seen it is not likely that manned craft is likely to be the airship of the near future, to say nothing of the far future. --- I also wonder about the whole space dog-fighting thing as well. It seems to me that when I read these kinds of things (and I read them a lot) that the distances and the speeds likely to be involved would make almost all of the atmospheric tactics just this side of useless. It would all be about early detection of the target and the speed and powered range of the missile. First to detect would be a HUGE advantage, followed by powered range and then speed of the missile. (Beam weapons practical in space are about as likely as FTL)
 

RX-79G

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@Parson you aren't wrong at all. The point of the OP is to brainstorm scenarios that make this unlikely situation possible, so we can create stories that are realistic but contain this exciting element. Similar to how Star Wars makes swords somewhat reasonable, or Dune makes knives necessary, or how Gundam and Macross make large robots reasonable.

Speaking of which, Gundam's "Minovsky radiation" is the reason radar targetting doesn't work and all the space battles happen at visual distances, which is a pretty good way of handling that.


Realistically, the future might at actually be everyone staying home and gardening. SF is always about depicting unlikely and dramatic situations.
 

Parson

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Realistically, the future might at actually be everyone staying home and gardening. SF is always about depicting unlikely and dramatic situations.

And this would be a good thing!

Perhaps one way to handle the scenario would be to postulate that the shielding necessary for interstellar travel would render each ship basically invulnerable to outside attack, unless operating inside an atmosphere where the shielding could not be used. --- This would render believable dog fights.
 

Phyrebrat

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I wonder if the point is perhaps one of philosophy or existence.

In a world where those obstacles to automatic fighters (AI or otherwise) were found, a large part of me wonders if our apparent need to be in control would stymie us - and our trust in our own tech.

Could space programme launches from Cape Canaveral be automated with today's tech? If they could, and aren't affected by the kind of points brought up in the OP (as it's a civilian task as opposed to combat), why are they not?

I say all this from my gut rather than by any understanding of physics and technology.

pH
 

Ursa major

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No AI - there is no guarantee that computers will ever have enough judgement for a complex battlefield situation.
5a. (or 2a): The society is paranoid about machine consciousness and severely restricts various technologies (processing and/or networking) to help prevent either deliberate or inadvertent emergence of it... which in turn limits what the allowed technologies can do**.


** - It may be that the capabilities built into a single fighter, even one using banned the technologies, would not provide sufficient resources to permit the emergence of a machine consciousness. However, a number of fighters working in concert (or having that capability, but using it while sitting together in a hangar) might get too close to having them for the society.
 

StilLearning

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Have you considered the possibility of having a digitised human mind running a fighter drone, uploaded? The advantage there is that building a real, human level AI might be very much harder and less reliable than just copying a functioning human one. Or, to go a more grisly route, what about having your fighter be a highly augmented person - a human brain with a space fighter for a body? Again, you might argue that the tech to do that is much easier to master than that needed to build a good, reliable AI. If it's of interest, i've written a bit about in space battles, and what we can say about hiw they'd work, here.
 

Dan Jones

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Tackling the bullets one by one...

1. Jamming. Add to this spoofing, sinkholing, and intercepting. It's possible, but I'd find it hard to swallow that future air combatants haven't developed airtight cyber security measures such as QKD or the like to make this line of attack all but redundant, especially so in military sectors. I wrote a white paper for industry and government on cyber security last year, which funnily enough was published this week and has some content on this. PM me if you want some more info. Plus, Bob Marley would approve of this line of attack.

2. No AI. Maybe... but it's fiction. You can easily over look this for fiction and make the AI as clunky or as advanced as you want.

3. Human improvements. Possibly. But superhuman pilots? Sounds a bit bleh to me, unless you did something a bit subversive with it.

4. Ethics. This for me is the big one that stands out and has the most inherent drama, depending on the sort of story you want to tell. It'd be my preference.

5. Decision-making. To my mind this is the same as 2. You can easily make up a robotic / autonomous decision making system that has the capability to take strategic decisions with respect to complex parameters as resources, mission, priority etc.

6. Flexibility. Again, robotic spacecraft can and will achieve robotic / autonomous berthing, rendezvous, grasping and space-based reconfiguration and other manipulating activities. Again, I have details if you want them, though I can't disclose them all. They might not be able to do the ambassador thing, though. The human touch will always be wanted for "soft power" jobs like that.

7. Virus. Same as 1. For first-world military spec hardware it'd be hard to accept them being breached by something as lowly as a worm, unless highly complex supply chains were infiltrated and proper checks and balances weren't done. Ironically you could bypass the most sophisticated firewalls in the world with a USB stick if just one of your supplier says isn't cyber savvy.

Hope this helps. Like I say, 4 seems to have most legs to me.
 

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