Are space fighters really impossible in realistic Sci Fi?

In summary, the author suggests that fighters/drones might actually be a vital part of realistic space warfare, as they are much easier targets than larger ships and can be hit with lasers at long distances without the weapon becoming too inaccurate. However, even at long distances, the projectile is the limiting factor, not the weapon.
  • #106
Melbourne Guy said:
But with fighters, you're assuming we haven't geneered humans to withstand extreme gees
You don't even need that kind of magic for writing about high accelerations. The acceleration shells from Forever War are already classics.
The reaction speed of humans is likely a more important issue.

Drakkith said:
strict limitation on them in terms of effective range.
The point about space is, that it's not the range what's limited but ΔV.

Drakkith said:
Put simply, the longer the range is, the less fuel the target has to burn to force a large burn of the missile. And the faster the closing velocity the more this is exacerbated.
Another point about space is, that a simple 5 gram foil balloon with a bit of gas in it is just as fast and 'big' on radar as a missile.

There are far more into 'space warfare' than just these simple assumptions.

Jojomanrul3z said:
Why would you build a fighter jet designed to maneuver in space and dogfight upclose and personal?
Just to mind you, the 'up close and personal' is not the main functionality even for actual fighter jets.
Cannons are mostly present only because the lesson from F-4 is not forgotten. Actual engagement is expected to happen mainly at missile range.
 
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  • #107
Rive said:
You don't even need that kind of magic for writing about high accelerations. The acceleration shells from Forever War are already classics.
The reaction speed of humans is likely a more important issue.The point about space is, that it's not the range what's limited but ΔV.Another point about space is, that a simple 5 gram foil balloon with a bit of gas in it is just as fast and 'big' on radar as a missile.

There are far more into 'space warfare' than just these simple assumptions.Just to mind you, the 'up close and personal' is not the main functionality even for actual fighter jets.
Cannons are mostly present only because the lesson from F-4 is not forgotten. Actual engagement is expected to happen mainly at missile range.
I only said that because most sci-fi shows with fighters do ww2 dogfighting like starwars, battlestar galactica and space battleship yamato.
 
  • #108
valenumr said:
Well, technically there isn't any gravity or air resistance, so once up to speed they just need enough fuel to maneuver.
The problem is that fuel isn't the only thing you have to worry about you also need to take into account the ammunition supply, life support systems, water supply, oxygen supply, food supply, radiation, maintenance of your comms, radar and navigation system, heat management, and most importantly the health, morale and sanity of the crew.
 
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  • #109
Drakkith said:
A strong position to take for a battlefield which has yet to be fought on. :wink:
That is only partly true. While there has obviously never been a battle in space, the question was about manned fighters and there we can probably with some confidence extrapolate from what is already happening with fighter aircraft on earth. If we assume that the current generation of manned specialist fighter aircraft will be the last (which many people seems to believe) and that we essentially already have the technology needed to build autonomous fighter aircraft (which the fact that the technology is already being tested and is in part already in use would suggest) ; it then follows that it is extremely unlikely that we would in the future go from using unmanned aircraft/drones on Earth to using manned fighters in space; to carry out very similar tactical roles.

Humans are pretty useless in most cases; and I can't see any military reason for why you would ever want (or need) a human piloting a fighter. There might be political/humanitarian reasons (which is why there is already a campaign to ban autonomous drones); but if it gets so bad that we are actually having dogfights in space I suspect no one would care very much about that.
 
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  • #110
Jojomanrul3z said:
The problem is that fuel isn't the only thing you have to worry about you also need to take into account the ammunition supply, life support systems, water supply, oxygen supply, food supply, radiation, maintenance of your comms, radar and navigation system, heat management, and most importantly the health, morale and sanity of the crew.
All good points, @Jojomanrul3z, and often for the basis of the best narratives because we do like to read about ourselves, after all. Even engaging AI stories typically anthropomorphise the machines!
 
  • #111
Melbourne Guy said:
All good points, @Jojomanrul3z, and often for the basis of the best narratives because we do like to read about ourselves, after all. Even engaging AI stories typically anthropomorphise the machines!
If youre going to make youre military spaceopera novel, try to atleast do some research in todays military combat tactics and BVR. And also try to implement Newtons 3 law of inertia, orbital mechanics and how to get your crew to survive not just a battle but also their journey through the void. And also age of sail combat and how to keep your crew's morale intact. It'll make you're story maybe at most believable.

Unless your just going to go for star wars or star trek style story nevermind what I said.
 
  • #112
Jojomanrul3z said:
If youre going to make youre military spaceopera novel, try to atleast do some research in todays military combat tactics and BVR.
Well, my novel is set in the 2670s, so I'm well past today's military tactics, @Jojomanrul3z, but Newton still applies (mostly, I've had to invent new physics for FTL travel) and I haven't planned for space fighter craft in any event. Battle tactics are mostly kinetic weapons at a distance and beam weapons up close to punch through planetary defences and get to the ground to land troops. And crew morale is part of the story, this is not my first rodeo 😉
 
  • #113
Jetro said:
TL;DR at bottomIt's a somewhat accepted convention that in realistic scifi space fighters should be impossible to use effectively. In general they are regarded as being easy targets that, at interstellar ranges would be unable to survive in a battlefield that employs current plausible scifi weaponry such as laser and railguns. At a glance this would seem like a reasonable assumption. Lasers travel at light speed and would only have to point at the target and at shorter distances rail projectiles move fast enough that dodging becomes impossible. But is that all there is to it? I'd take the unpopular opinion that the picture of warfare for a fighter/drone wouldn't be as bleak and clear cut as the raw science makes it seem once you start considering the realities of how those kinds of weapons might perform in real world conditions. I'd even go so far as to say that fighters/drones might actually be vital in scifi settings that are trying to accurately portray space warfare. Here's my reasoning.

The target is very small. Your gun is very big.
In Future War Stories, the author cites that a fighter craft at a range of ~239,000mi would have about 2.5 seconds to dodge an incoming laser. As such it wouldn't have enough time to evade enough shots to make it closer to a target. I think there's two problems with this suggestion. Firstly, the laser that's firing can only determine a shot based on trajectories that are 2.5 seconds old. If the fighter is always altering it's course this estimate will always be wrong and it will take 5 seconds for the firing computer to even confirm whether or not it made a hit to update it's firing solutions and try again.

Secondly, even if the fighter were traveling is a predictable straight line, would the computer be able to hit it anyways? That might seem like a simple yes, but it really isn't once you consider how far away such a small target actually is. So a laser fires at a fighter 3 yards tall 239,000mi away. Let's make it easy and say the fighter is traveling upwards at 90 degrees to the laser so the computer can use really simple trig. The fighter is also moving really slow, only 1.2m/s relative to the laser. The laser is In order for that laser to hit the target, it needs to adjust the firing mechanism on it's laser by 4X10^-7 degrees or 4 ten millionths of one degree. If the laser were 10 meters long, it would have to raise it's barrel by 4.5 x 10^-11 or 4.5 hundred trillionths of a mile, which I'm not going to covert, but it's smaller than a picometer adjustment. And that's only for adjust aim up/down.

And that's the main problem. At those ranges, the projectile isn't the limiting factor, it's the weapon firing it. At a certain point you can't make the weapon anymore precise. Even if it can adjust it's aim to ten thousandths of a degree couldn't be expected to hit a target at those ranges, even if the target was standing still relative to the gun. It doesn't matter how precise the targeting computer is at calculating since the gun will be limited by physics.

So then we have to ask, at what ranges could a large laser be expected to hit a target reliably. So let's assume it's 10 meters long, and can adjust by as little as 1/10,000 of a degree/second. At 20,000 miles which Future War Stories cited as a realistic engagement range for fighters, the gun needs to adjust by 5 millionths of one degree. Still too inaccurate.

Let's try 5,000 miles. You need to adjust by 2 hundred-thousandth of a degree.

500 miles. You're right about there at 2 ten-thousandths of a degree.

TL:DR With an incredibly ridiculously precise laser gun, firing at the easiest moving target imaginable without account for other issues, like ship vibrations, thermal expansion of the the weapon, the presence of a gravity well, and no third dimension you'd only have an effective range of ~5,000 miles. This would give fighter/drones armed with missiles a very distinct advantage as they could close distances with a larger ship from a variety of angles and fire a very large number of missiles that the targeting computer would have to deal with in addition to the fighters themselves.

And to be frank I wouldn't really expect any weapon large enough to shoot down a fighter to be reasonably expected to have more than 1/100th a degree of precision at the very most, which is just 9 miles effective range. If you can only get one-tenth a degree of precision for the weapon, you'll be able to see Luke Skywalker in his cockpit at less than a mile. At one degree of precision, an A-Wing may crash into your bridge, since your effective range is now 4700 feet.
Wouldn't it be more realistic, and possibly more compelling, if the projectile were self-propelled and guided, like a cruise missile?
 

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