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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi there! Just discovered your blog and SO excited to see posts on science fiction (which I think this one falls under, but I didn't see the tag added). Anyway, I plan to read up on all your great posts -- as soon as I'm back from the con going on here in Minnesota. Keep up the great work Thor!