Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sci-Fi Crewmen, from Mortars to Starships


Science fiction has its share of small craft pilots, fighter pilots and crewmen of various weapons and vehicles. A glimpse at aspects of current crewmen gives insight into how the crewman of the future may develop.

With the release of the Hasbro Star Wars army men type figures, we have a nice assortment of armed combatants based on that franchise. Along with Imperial Stormtroopers and Rebel infantry, one will find various pilots, crewmen, Jedi and aliens.

Let’s look at pilots and various crewmen.  At this time on Earth, pilots and crew of military aircraft receive training both for flight and for ground situations. Fighter pilots are taught what to do if they are shot down. This includes escape and evasion and use of firearms. The same training is given aircrews of bombers and other combat aircraft. While they might not have the ground combat skills of an infantryman, they can put up a fight.

In a futuristic setting, an air crew might be able to also act as a small landing party. They may be able to set up a small perimeter and explore the immediate area. I doubt they would be prepared to fend off a serious attack. In that case, escape via their aircraft would be the obvious option.

If we look to the Star Wars figures as an example, we see the Tie Fighter pilot and several X-Wing pilots all armed with pistols. It would be realistic to assume that the Tie Fighter Pilot has good training in using his weapon plus skills in the use of cover, concealment, escape and evasion. Rebel training would vary from unit to unit. It may range from very good to poor to uneven..For instance, one unit may be taught excellent shooting skills but poor escape and evasion techniques. This kind of spotty training is consistent with historical precedents for rebellions and mercenaries.

Crews of combat vehicles such as tanks, personnel carriers and self-propelled artillery are trained primarily in manning their respective vehicles / crew-served weapons. Most armies also give these troops basic infantry training so they can fight when dismounted. Crews of crew-served weapons such as mortars, missile launchers and the like also receive infantry training. They can defend themselves and their weapon. Usually, such troops are protected by infantry operating between them and the enemy. It was discovered in World War II that to leave such men untrained in personal combat is a mistake. The speed of modern warfare and the likelihood of troops operating behind the lines demands that all military personnel in the combat zone need basic infantry skills. We can assume that in futuristic scenarios among humans and alien types, that lesson had also been learned.

Then again, there is no accounting for some things that aliens do.

I am reminded of how Japan used Koreans as secondary troops during World War II. These men were used in labor and construction battalions, supply units and such. They had very little combat training. Call it a case of smugness and bigotry that the Japanese did not think it worthwhile to teach the Koreans to defend themselves. Indeed, many of the “Japanese” troops captured during World War II were actually Koreans from labor and supply units.

We can use the Navy as an example of how crews of larger vessels would be trained. Most would receive a basic sort of training that may include rudimentary crew skills and perhaps basic use of personal weapons. Most training would go into developing a crewman’s skills for his particular specialty. For instance, a ship‘s crew today includes radar men, sonar men, engine crews, and even food preparation. Combat with larger ships generally involves crew-served weapons such as ani-aircraft guns, heavier artillery and missiles. Many crewmen have a “battle station” that requires serving the guns or other combat necessities.

For times when personal combat skills are necessary, most ships have a contingent of security personnel. The US Navy assigns Marines to its ships for this purpose. Futuristic craft may have special security teams or their verison of Marines. They would handle internal troubles as well as attempted boardings and provide landing parties.

Special types of ships are designed to transport troops and heavy weapons to combat areas. These would be well-defended.

Something like the “Death Star” would have an abundance of regular crewmen plus contingents for internal security and landing parties. A starship like the Enterprise should have a unit of personnel similar to the Marine contingent on a modern Navy ship. The crews of small ships like those in Firefly and Farscape’s Moira are responsible for thetr own defense.

On the whole, be they assigned to large weapons, vehicles or components of a large vessel, crewmen prefer to stick to their specialty. While they can function as an impromptu infantry, they prefer to man their guns / tanks / ships. Crewmen would rather leave infantry and security work to the grunts.


To understand dismounted crewmen in a gunfight, the best example is from the Western genre. Think of scenes where cowboys defend from behind a wagon or from a house. This is not the coordinated musketry of a rifle team. The cowboys can shoot and provide cover, but they are not as polished as men trained to fight as a unit.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Sci-Fi Realistic Armies and Squads

Judging from the movies, Imperial Stormtroopers are lousy shots and poorly trained in combat in enclosed areas (towns, ships, etc.) They have very little training in practical infantry tactics. Then again, the same can be said for the Redshirts among original Star Trek crews.

For a realistic sci-fi game, units of regular and elite troops would have to be formidable thanks to equipment, training and support. These troops would have protective gear, reliable weaponry and appreciable combat skills. It is useful that these would include:

Use of cover and concealment
Use of extra weapons such as hand grenades.
Close combat skills, both unarmed and using hand-held weapons
Practical fire team and squad tactics.
Use of various infantry weapons: pistols, heavy rifles, small rocket launchers, etc.
Scouting and Patrolling
The ability to assess and respond to enemy action
The ability to coordinate one’s actions with other team / squad members
The ability to communicate with other members of one’s army

These are basic skills, the equivalent of which are taught in modern basic training. Advanced versions of these skills are common among regular combat troops.

Among advanced skills are fighting techniques adapted to various types of terrain. These may include jungle, grassland, tundra, sand and stone deserts, forests, and swamps. Sci-fi scenarios would also include combat in low atmosphere and low gravity environments. Combat in aquatic and subterranean environments may require specially-trained troops.

Unless they had good training and discipline, a platoon of Rebels would be at a disadvantage against a squad of Stormtroopers with realistic fighting skills.

Remember also the ability of Imperial troops to call in support and reinforcements from larger units.

In an OMOG game, imagine a Stormtrooper unit of nine to twelve men. It will have a commander, assistant commander, regular weapon teams (equivalent to rifle teams) and a heavy weapons team (equal to auto rifle or LMG team). There may likely be some sort of rocket-propelled or simple grenade launcher. Imagine that at first contact, the squad has alerted the next level of command. This means that in a number of turns - maybe ten or twelve - more troops and weapons may intervene. The Rebel unit has to accomplish its mission before Imperial support arrives.

Stormtroopers, may also be standard enemy infantry / marines, Peacekeepers, Scarans, etc. Rebels may also be mercenaries, etc.

Rebel and irregular forces usually have inferior arms, mixes and incompatible weapons, and limited supplies of ammo and support. Imperial and other government forces are part of their government supply chain and have abundant ammo and other resources. This includes the ability to operate in different environs, etc.


The problem with Sci-Fi writers is that they have no experience with military matters, especially in these days. When designing a government army, they should look at current counterparts. I would suggest downloading one of the soldiers’ basic skills manuals from the past 40 years. Also, a manual on the infantry squad and platoon. and one on scouting and patrolling. Various such manuals from World War II to the present can be found online. If a writer wants to write about armored vehicles or artillery, he ought to acquire basic information on the operation of modern tanks, personnel carriers and artillery units.

It stands to reason that futuristic infantry, armor and artillery will evolve from the lines established for its current counterparts.

There are ways that armies have fought through the ages. Modern armies have evolved to current modes of warfare. What may the future bring? What may be available in a futuristic, distant part of the galaxy that evolved differently from Earth?

Another monkey wrench in the works: how would different cultures affect the way soldiers fight? In World War II, Japanese culture supported suicide attacks. On the other hand, the Israeli army does everything it can to protect the lives of its soldiers because of its far more limited manpower.

This much I can assure you as a veteran: the regular army forces of a government will reflect its leadership in terms of training, equipment, leadership and support. Armies of stable governments tend to be well-trained, well-led and well-supported. They can fight well. A ragtag bunch of rebels would have a hard time confronting such a force. Rebels may pull off a small raid or ambush infrequently, but they would find themselves outmatched by a well-trained and well-led government unit.


Star Wars, Star Trek and other militaries are made to look good on screen. Their primary purpose is to entertain within the parameters of their respective franchises. We cannot easily equate the weapons carried by sci-fi characters with their Earthly inspirations. The standards are not so much how an effective weapon might appear, but how cool a weapon looks.