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

EJ Heijnis

Aug 26, 2015
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.

Regarding #1 and #7 - I imagine any remote- or AI-controlled vehicle would be potentially vulnerable to interference. I'd have a hard time believing in a firewall or some such technology that is entirely and forever bulletproof. Eventually, someone would find a way through, and once that happens, you've not only lost control over your hardware, you're also facing the prospect of it being turned against you. The problem with human pilots is human limitations, but there's no shortage of theoretical ways around that, as per #3. A bigger issue might be how much range, speed, and firepower you can fit into a one-person craft, but that's another topic. :whistle:


Well-Known Member
Jun 2, 2016
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?

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

M. John Harrison's Light has a protagonist along these lines. It's a been a while since I read it, but I do remember loving the concept.

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