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Writing: Input Wanted Designing drone army defence for a loosely populated planet

  1. Jul 18, 2015 #1
    Setting info - take it as granted. Strategy - treat it as an open issue, if you see an alternative solution, please suggest it.

    Setting - natural conditions
    Planet to defend - Earthlike, tidal locked around red dwarf, water world, cold, 3 atm
    Main weakness point - gates - that allow teleportation between worlds, indestructible (but all area nearby can be ex. mined)

    Setting - social/political conditions
    Technology - not much better than early XXI century, except weak AIs (like self driving cars), mostly tech stagnation, jets and nuclear technology exists only in archives (if necessary it would be possible to recreate them but cost would be too high)
    Population a bit less than 10 mln
    Political system involve mixture democracy, technocracy and Brave New World totalitarianism. (the only setting where population freely voice its outrage concerning Big Brother system cost overruns... no, it's not fully sane place...)
    Assets - well educated masses, low corruption, effective state, industrial base, surveillance systems, plenty of time for preparation and testing.
    Weakness - because of lack of known enemies, there would be an awful pressure to keep military expenditure really low; no real enemy means that the equipment or tactics is not tested in combat conditions.

    Setting - main points worth defending
    Main city and surrounding area (over 90% of population)
    Mines / dams spread all over planet
    Transport routes (mostly sea / river) and electricity lines

    Setting - potential invader - unknown
    -there may be even more crazy group that survived and dream about conquest
    -there may be also some refugees / explorers / diplomats trying to cross gates, so shooting without asking question would be unwise

    -keep microscopic standing army, invest most of money in building huge supplies of weapons (just in case rely on conscripts)
    -hide those weapons underground, to avoid easy targetting
    -use passive multistatic radar arrays (hard to detect, don't use much electricity)
    -give up any idea of fighter jets, just invest in SAMs (yes, poor man way of denying one air superiority) and medium range A2A missiles
    -use production lines for civilian equipment for dual use (like only slightly modifying civilian planes or using the same chassis both for tanks and bulldozers)
    -make all drones cheap (simple design, standardized, cheap materials, long series), with intention to beat any enemy with Zerg rush tactics
    -continue production in spite of having huge reserves in order not to lose expertise (yes, it would lead to huge armies in long run)
    -get a few standardized weapons and use it for all purposes (so one heavy cannon for tanks, ships, fortresses, etc)
    -use mobile phones electronics to create cheap smart bombs
    -encircle all gates with barbed wire and wide minefields, make un-mined exit routes with auto-turrets
    -near each mine/dam put an airport ( both for evacuating staff and for being able to use it for bombardment)
    -surround all valuable objects with heavy fortifications, bunkers, mine fields, turrets, etc. In case of the capitol - with multiple lines
    -spread in random places some SAM, or anti air machine gun turret
    -invest in high redundancy of electricity grid to prevent easy destructions
    -put redundant communication cables between bases, in case of destruction use expendable balloons (like those of google) for communication grid
    -using mobile phone net to get a cheap equivalent of GPS system
    -make aircrafta able to refuel in air to be able to fight a war on the other side of the planet
    -send on a front line a cheap army of drones first, something in this price range, but armed with a few cheap rockets:
    (it cost 1.5 Stinger, so using anything more expensive than Stinger to shoot it down may be a bad business)
    -stockpile insane reserves of materials, like fuel, spread it around (this can be justified to society as precaution for natural disaster)
    -make tiny quadcopters armed with modified pistols - in huge quantities and use to fight enemy infantry. Separately a caring copter and an armed immobile "egg" armed with gun. Everything fed with base ships where "birds" can replace batteries. Sell the same (unarmed) drones to public to provide them with fun and recoup part of R&D cost.
    -use small (one metre tall) drones on chassis armed pending on variant with machine gun / small cannon / rockets mortar.
    -standard terrain car with rockets turned in to something like more mobile and more precise Katyusha (an expendable nightmare for enemy tanks)
    -provide citizens with very realistic computer games where they may be leading a squad of drones. Make a competition, fund a cup and keep in database who can do it well...
    -as last resort have stockpiles of guns to be handed to all citizens to make a last stand in capitol (mostly to have last argument while suing for peace)

    Suggestions concerning strategy? Would you prepare differently under such conditions?
  2. jcsd
  3. Jul 18, 2015 #2


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    How big is a gate? Are we talking Stargate sized? Can you see through the gate? Does the gate just link 1 place to 1 other place, or is it 1 to many? How many gates are there? Can new gates pop up?
  4. Jul 19, 2015 #3
    No, it a kind of space time anomaly that is a much bigger. Different size, from a few hundred meters to round 10 km. It exact position may also move slightly. They can also be ex. 10 km above surface or below sea level.

    A normal person would not see a gate, that's not being used at specific moment. Psions could see through it, if had plenty of time may try it. But it would inform them about general conditions on that planet (pressure, temperature, toxicity of atmosphere), not whether they would not be welcomed with hail of bullets.

    1 to 1, in same cases gate are more or less one direction.

    A bit tricky question - theoretically located in database - a few hundred. But such number would include ephemeral ones, or ones that lead to planets which conditions seem outright lethal for humans. The good ones, marked as real threat - a few dozens.

    Yes, or especially annoying type are ones that appear from time to time, without detectable pattern.

    The population are descendants from Earth inhabitants who were evacuated through one of such anomalies. Their anomaly was an ephemeral one and appearing a few kilometres over ocean. The only way was to use it was sending passenger aircraft, make a parachute drop on land (3 atm helps ;) ) and send it through anomaly back before it runs out of fuel.
  5. Jul 19, 2015 #4


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    Some questions/comments:

    Why would they be so prepared for war when they have few enemies and practically no experience?

    Is the industrial and technological base of a society of 10 million people really capable of what you're trying to do? For example::

    These things (among others, both mentioned and unmentioned) require pre-existing infrastructure to support, which means that your idea of a 'microscopic' army isn't realistic since it takes money and materials to train the personnel and maintain the equipment and infrastructure. Warefare is not cheap. Plenty of wars have been won and lost primarily because of the cost of waging those wars.

    It's hard to say. You haven't given us a lot of context. I mean, do these people know that they are going to be attacked? How much time do they have to prepare?
  6. Jul 19, 2015 #5
    Paranoia would be a bit too strong word, however... This "no experience" is a problem in keeping weapons really effective, not in investing in them. They have mankind history quite well archived, so preferred being prepared.

    Under setting conditions they had well selected people and 80 years to rebuild /redesign industrial base. They are desperate in preserving high tech society, even at high cost. Like one size fits all microprocessor, one size fits all mobile phone, etc. All jars have a few gov approved sizes to facilitate recycling... It's absolutely not maintaining such system for free... Their impressive aircrafts use piston engines that are also used for lorries. (which makes getting spare parts easy and cheap, while some officers got annoying feeling that aircraft that barely achieves 500 km/h would not impress any aggressor with supersonic jets)

    Warfare isn't cheap? Well they try being terribly un-American with respect to that. ;)
    [EDIT] If you think by American standards, they don't build an army out of B-2, but out of Liberty Ships :D [/EDIT]

    Most of infrastructure is dual use (like airports, which are needed to transport workers), so from perspective of low military spending is not a problem.
    Maintenance cost? Drone army, undergoround shelter, mothballed.

    Not specially expect that. However, when I started doing any math and included high GDP per capita, low unit purchase cost and decades of stockpiling weapons, the result of spending meagre 0.5% GDP was a huge drone army.
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2015
  7. Jul 19, 2015 #6


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    I don't think the designers of aircraft, tanks, artillery, missiles, and other weapons would agree. Experience doesn't just apply to the people fighting, it also applies to the people designing and building the weapons. Also, you can't just leave equipment sitting around for years at a time and expect it to work when you pull it out. Planes, ships, and other equipment in mothballs require periodic testing and maintenance. Things like oil and lubricants need to be replaced regularly. I've worked on cruise missiles for the US Air Force, which get stored in storage structures for years at a time. It requires a shop of hundreds of people to maintain a few hundred of them, along with multiple back shops for more in-depth work, logistics support, and more. And keep in mind that the reason these were developed in the first place was because of the cold war. Without an immediate threat people just don't want to spend a lot of money on a military. You can, of course, go against that logic, but you're going to need to have some very good reasons that make sense in the context of the story.

    Just try to ask yourself, "What would these people do" instead of "What do I want them to do".
  8. Jul 19, 2015 #7
    From that what I found - liquid fuel missiles require huge amount of maintenance, while solid fuel - very tiny. Which of course gives me an answer which one to use. With the sociological aspect I don't agree - level of paranoia / spend more because of perceived missile/bomber gap, is somewhat subjective. As I mentioned the spending would be in relation to GDP a few times smaller than of modern democratic country, thus do not seem excessive to me.

    OK, but a question for you - how would you design army under such restrictions? How would you suggest to cut corners? Modify equipment to get very good value to money and be able to mothball it?
  9. Jul 19, 2015 #8


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    Then you cannot have all that stuff you mentioned.
    Take a country here on Earth with a population of 10 million, reduce its GDP because your population cannot trade with others, and see how much it can spend on military. Then try to defend a whole planet with that. It won't work.
    Even 21st century computers (which you certainly need for the AI) are tricky. Modern semiconductor factories cost several billions - if you just have a single one it gets even more expensive as every part would be unique. Electronics would get much more expensive.

    Is there a way to increase the population significantly? That would help. Also, internal conflicts on the planet could justify larger military budgets.
  10. Jul 19, 2015 #9
    Cut from trade, but had enough time to create substitutes and boring technologies. Build surplus of industrial facilities and utilize their production in something like 10%. And whole planet of cheap natural resources (for example - very cheap hydropower).

    I've tried here to do some googling some time ago. Yes, they cost so much but produce enough processors for whole continent. I failed to find how it scales down, I doubt that works well, but I also doubt that's impossible. However, there is one more serious difference - in real life, after a less than decade you trash whole microprocessor factor because its outdated, in that setting one continues production of them and brags that he streamlined the production process.

    Anyway, in RL my country produced some computers during communism, when the Party insisted on autarky-like economics. Nothing special those Odra computer, but not so outside of range of possibility.

    Electronics as such would have moderate price (think marginal cost), just there would be a nightmarish initial R&D and construction cost that would have to be paid by taxpayers. Yes, taxes would be really high and all citizens would be asked for clearly unfair share.

    So for small military what would you advice for defence of planet?
  11. Jul 19, 2015 #10


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    I don't think it matters what your 10 million population planet tries to come up with, a country significantly larger and at the same technological level will easily defeat it in a classical combat. To make it worse, why should it have a similar technological level? Your planet basically gave up in terms of science, the invasion army could be decades or even centuries ahead.
    You can still try guerilla warfare. What would invaders want from the planet? Ressources? Exploiting the economy? Something else?
  12. Jul 19, 2015 #11
    One thing - I'm somewhat malicious here. I'm asking here not how to win such war against overwhelming enemy, but what to prepare not knowing the enemy. The later part of the story involves actually facing a real enemy and discovering serious mismatch between that what army was prepared for and actual fight.

    The aim of facing a more technologically advanced / numerous enemy does not have to be a victory. Being able to achieve a "Winter War" equivalent would still count as a success.

    Concerning military aims. Resources / land - not really worth a war. Conquest and exploiting economy - it would be a worthy aim.
  13. Jul 19, 2015 #12
    Spies? scouts? (reconnaissance units), preferably undetectable ones.
  14. Jul 20, 2015 #13
    For story reasons I prefer making isolation almost perfect for long while to let a few states evolve their way.
    In their case it would involve some mixture of gate instability, vanishing without a trace of at least one team reconnaisance team, internal politic reasons making using psions hard (hiring someone of clearly low loyalty to his state for a secret project - hard) and popularity of theories saying that such crossing of gate is terribly easy to detect.
  15. Jul 21, 2015 #14


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    Now this is a totally different question that what you started with. To start, I'd forget about high-tech weaponry. As has been pointed out already, your planet simply doesn't have the capability of producing mass quantities of drones, aircraft, and other similar equipment at a price cheap enough to take up only a small fraction of their GDP.

    The basic problem is that your population has basically no infrastructure that can produce these things. A small population, clustered around a single, large city, with only scattered settlements elsewhere has little to no reason to produce things like airliners and other large aircraft, which means that building modern military aircraft is MUCH more expensive and difficult than you might think. The modern aviation industry has a large civilian market in addition to its military market in which to pull income from. A small market prevents the industry from taking advantage of economies of scale, which can greatly increase the cost of each aircraft or piece of equipment. This is one reason that military hardware is so expensive even today. The main reason a B-2 bomber costs 2.1 billion dollars per aircraft is because we only built 21 of them!

    In addition, you're also facing a bottleneck in experienced engineers engineers, technicians, and other experts which you need to design, build, and maintain aircraft, drones, tanks, etc. One reason the U.S. is capable of sustaining such a large, modern military is because we spent a vast amount of money back in the 40's creating a massive military and its industrial foundation, much of which was converted from our already massive pre-existing civilian industry, and then spent the money needed to keep this foundation AND upgrade it over time. This includes all the specialists I mentioned above. Schools to teach them, an economy with jobs for them, etc. The European countries have been fighting each other for millennia, and so their militaries and economies evolved hand in hand to support each other.

    That leaves you with equipment that would be considered low tech. Rifles, artillery, and basic, unarmored/lightly armored vehicles would probably be be acceptable. Tanks and other heavily armored vehicles might be possible, but would almost certainly lack the sort of features found in modern AFV's, such as composite armor, reactive armor, depleted uranium armor/projectiles, advanced alloys, and the wide variety of advanced electronics equipment in use today. Even then, their prohibitive cost would severely limit how many can be produced.

    Basically the best they could probably hope for is to use guerrilla tactics with infantry.

    There's not really any separation between the former and the latter. The economy of a country is directly tied to its resources in most cases (land can be considered a resource).
  16. Jul 21, 2015 #15
    I think your dystopian future has too much technology as well, without a large population to sustain an economy and armies of workers, building drones might be important for a while, but then get replaced with more primitive needs such as farming and building. There is a quote from Einstein that I've always really liked that's relevant: "I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones."

    I think most of the advanced technology may still be archived somewhere, but that's pretty useless without someone who knows how it works. When the USSR and the Americans conquered Germany, we got their scientists, the USSR just got the rockets. It took quite a while to reverse engineer them and figure out the technology, and that was with the scientific community and the budget of the most powerful nations on earth. It took decades, trillions of dollars, a quarter of the juice of the USA, and the world's most brilliant minds to go from nuclear weapon theory to actually building it. Our scientific books may be held onto and a small group of scientists will keep the tradition of science alive, but without the experience and numbers, I don't think your world could have even the most simple nuclear technology. Perhaps your AIs could, as long as humans knew how to maintain those, they could handle the rest, they'd probably end up treated like a slave labor force. If civilizations fell apart, the ones that would probably do the best would be those with access to lots of obedient AIs.
    Last edited: Jul 21, 2015
  17. Jul 22, 2015 #16
    Look at realistic comparisons.
    Magnitude of 10 million people?
    Fairly technically developed and urbanized population?
    Heavily concentrated in and around a few big cities?
    Huge sparsely settled areas used for resource extraction?
    Australia, population
    2011 - 22,3 millions
    1959 - 9,95 millions
    1945 - 7,35 millions
    1939 - 6,94 millions
    Canada, population
    2011 - 33,5 millions
    1945 - 12,1 millions
    1939 - 11,3 millions
    1929 - 10,0 millions
  18. Jul 22, 2015 #17
    Original post did specify no jets.
    Yes, that´s a contrast with Australia - Australia does have multiple large cities. Sydney, Melbourne - but moderately sparsely settled countryside in between. Also Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth. Canada is similar.

    But still. 90 % in or near one big city means 1 million people scattered in Outback. If, say, 500 000 are scattered in small stations then there could very well be another 500 000 in small cities - say 50 cities of 10 000 people each, near mines, dams etc. Compare Yellowknife (2011 population 19 200), Alice Springs (2012 population 28 600), Mount Isa (2012 population 22 800)

    And airliners DO now serve Yellowknife, Alice Springs and Mount Isa.

    On the other hand, there IS a clear and obvious need to develop, and cheaply mass produce, civilian transportation vehicles suited for large sparsely settled areas.
    It was Canadian Bombardier who invented and developed snowmobile. Another obvious thing to develop and produce is bush planes. Most of the world market for seaplanes is in Canada... and they are built and developed for that market (by de Havilland Canada).
    In case of that type of population distribution, the separation is very real. What do you think was the war aim of Japanese agains the far less populous Australia in 1942? Marching in and occupying Sydney and Melbourne? Or just landing and settling at Darwin, something like 500 km from Timor across sea, but 3000 km from Sydney across desert?
  19. Jul 22, 2015 #18


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    Re-read the thread. One of the OP's ideas, the part about mid-air refueling and global reach, requires jets or other similar large aircraft.

    Australia is not an isolated world. The airliners you're referring to would almost certainly not exist were it not for the global aviation industry evolving to serve a world of billions.

    This I agree with.

    I could see small to medium size aircraft being available, as these would actually have a purpose. I just don't see them being available in large enough numbers to make any real impact in the story in any strategic way.

    I'm not sure what you're getting at.
  20. Jul 22, 2015 #19
    What is true is that airplanes get more fuel efficient with size.
    "Global aviation industry" evolved to serve First World of a couple of hundreds of millions. USA was 130 million people in 1940, plus the more affluent/less damaged countries of Western Europe.
    Canada did develop Avro Jetliner. Netherlands had Fokker.
    The reason Australia is not producing jetliners is precisely because Australia is not an isolated world. If Australia were isolated world, they´d likely have airliners - although perhaps with price and quality (and originality) of Rombac 1-11.
    Available vs. completely absent does make major strategic differences.
    Then compare Spanish Indies.
    As per Treaty of Tordesillas, Spain owns almost the whole New World (a small part of Brazil and half of Greenland belong to Portugal).
    Yet Spaniards were concentrated in certain parts of Indies. The rest was sparsely settled or left to Indians altogether.
    Well, various nations encroached on these regions. Englishmen grabbed Malvinas, British Guyana, many Lesser Antilles, Jamaica, Bahamas, Belize, Bermuda, Virginia and Oregon. Portuguese took well over their share of Brazil. Frenchmen took French Guyana, Haiti, many Lesser Antilles, Louisiana and Canada. Dutch took Suriname and many Lesser Antilles. Americans took Florida, Texas, New Mexico and California.
    Note that these tend to be the regions which were sparsely settled by Spaniards. Main centres of Spanish populations, like Mexico, are still settled by Spaniards!
  21. Jul 22, 2015 #20


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    Of course. But what's that have to do with what we're talking about? Large aircraft require a very technologically advanced industry, and making them cheap enough to actually mass produce requires that the market be MUCH greater than 10 million people and 1 major city.

    I don't agree at all, for reasons that have already been mentioned in-thread.

    Again, I don't agree. Whether you have a few (or even a few hundred) small to medium sized aircraft isn't going to make any meaningful difference against an overwhelmingly powerful opponent who crushes your military without breaking a sweat. Which is what the OP is going for as far as I can tell.

    Instead of typing up another scenario, just explain the first one. I still have zero idea of what you're getting at.
  22. Jul 22, 2015 #21
    I already forgot about specially high tech. ;)

    I specified no jets. (in first and third of my post)

    As the biggest aircraft I think about something a bit better than "Boeing 377 stratocruiser", a great design from 1947. With reuse of piston engines that would normally be installed in lorries, just combined together. Plus better (read: XXIst century) electronics and carbon fibre (or is carbon fibre too complicated for production?)

    What for such plane for civilians? Place of mining is determined by place of ore. Sea/river transport is very cheap, thus selecting a mining site even on an other continent is not a big deal (comparing to laying 1000 km of rail ;) ). However, it means that you need to transport workers between the capitol and their place of work. Doing that by ship that uses slow steaming to save fuel would be a nightmare.

    I assume here high spending on STEM education. And in the moment when they were constructing first reasonable aircraft, there were still accessible (but in retirement age) last aircraft engineers that were trained on Earth. Plus mechanics that repair such engines, coders who deal with drones, and freshly trained interns who as kids loved to play with tiny remotely controlled aircrafts.

    I assume this country to be a clear outlier concerning organization. Companies in style of Mittelstand, high quality compulsory education, gov controlled mass media spreading education TV, Flynn effect continued a bit .

    Concerning armour - I highly value thick layer of steel with fiberglass and as advanced defence tech - slat armour.
    But if one pick cheap equipment I don't see some serious prohibition if one already had caterpillar track for construction equipment, standard engine or two, to add simple light armour and a big gun.

    I should also think about utilizing that.

    What prohibits combination piston engine + mid-air refuelling?

    Because I though about using one big plane (like mentioned Boeign 377) converted to a flying tanker and a dozen of bush planes, armed with machine guns / bombs / missiles. It would allow those small planes to not to take a lot of armament, while having very good range.

    In this case the are plenty of empty, uncultivated land. Not a really a subject of scarcity, thus as would not valued much. Just the tiny used part would have to be defended heavily.
  23. Jul 22, 2015 #22


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    Well, you're going to run into the same problem we already mentioned. The cost of producing 21st century electronics and carbon fibre are most likely too high for what you specified. The cost of a modern semiconductor fabrication facility is on the order of 2-4 billion US dollars. And that's before you take into account that we already have existing infrastructure to produce the hazardous chemicals and other material needed by the plant.

    However, since you're righting for a future time, you could always handwave this away with the claim that a new, easier, cheaper way of fabricating semiconductor materials has already been discovered. You don't even need to go into detail about it, if you mention it at all.

    I think it's entirely feasible to transport workers by air. I just don't think you can produce large amounts of transport aircraft at a price cheap enough for your conditions. Without knowing the nitty gritty details of your planet and its people it's hard to do anything but generalize. In the end, if you want them to be transported by air, go right ahead.


    Sure. Just realize that such vehicles will fair VERY poorly against modern armored vehicles (which may be just fine for your story).

    Apparently nothing. I thought that modern tankers were all jet powered, but it turns out I was wrong. The KC-130 is a propeller driven tanker used by the U.S. military and appears to work just fine.

    Planes that aren't designed for war will perform poorly at it. I'm not even sure you could convert the smaller planes unless the government spent a substantial amount of time and money ensuring that the missiles and bombs could actually interface with the electronics on board the aircraft. Perhaps each plane has to be 'standardized' so that it can be quickly reconfigured using pre-fabricated components? Still, that's no small task, and may not even be worth the time, effort, and money. A couple of modern fighter aircraft would dominate the skies vs slow, prop-driven planes that have been reconfigured from a civilian role to carry weapons.

    But hey, if your story is going to see them crushed in a conflict anyways, why not?

    Also, note that we're extrapolating from conditions here on Earth. I honestly have little idea how an atmospheric pressure of 3 atm would impact planes performance. It's possible that slow, prop-driven planes would perform better under most conditions compared to jet-aircraft.
  24. Jul 23, 2015 #23
    I also think about a planet (started as the colony of Earth, but became a state on its own) with 10 million population, although they can trade with others, and have hundred or thousand robots for every people, most times, people only have to maintain and oversee them.
    I think the question is, how big is the amount of automatization, how big firepower they can have?

    About dense atmosphere, i think modern planes could go into the stratosphere and operate as normal, although flying high can make radar detection easier.
  25. Jul 23, 2015 #24
    The cost of a competitive one, seeing that semiconductors are sold on a world market.
    If a 2 billion dollar semiconductor fabrication facility can produce semiconductors at 100 % market price, what would be the production price in a 1 billion dollar facility? 110 %? 150 % 200 %? 500 %? Infinite?
    USA mass produced 10 000 DC-3 planes in a few years. At a fairly cheap unit price. And both Soviet Union and Japan copied DC-3.
    How about designing and standardizing planes to drop parachute humans and supplies, firefighting water... and, as necessary, also bombs?
    High speed fighters often have trouble against slow and more maneuverable ones.
  26. Jul 23, 2015 #25


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    Not sure.

    Irrelevant. This world is not the USA. It might have somewhere around 1% of the USA's GDP.

    Well, airdropping people and small amounts of supplies probably wouldn't be a problem. Bombs would be though. You'd need to fit civilian aircraft with bombsights, laser guidance, radar, and other things that you need to actually hit a target.

    No, speed is extremely important in dogfighting. Plus, reconfigured civilian aircraft are NOT going to more maneuverable than actual fighters.
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