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  • B5 as WWII in space

    I posted an offhand remark in another post - just being a smartass - and it got me thinking that B5 from a military strategy and tactics standpoint is basically WWII in space. This is common to much Space Opera, becuase it makes it easy to understand. We all grew up on Pearl Harbour and battles like Midway so it makes it accessible.

    Militarily - Earthforce and most of the major powers have Aircraft carriers, capital ships and smaller ships (some of which contain Marines) and the goal is to with overpowering strength and catching your enemy by surprise have your fleet defeat his/hers/its' fleet.

    BTW this is not just B5, but Trek (without the Aircraft Carriers) BSG (duh) even Space Above and Beyond, and much Space Opera Lit. From a military standpoint it is either Trafalgar (Trek) or the battle of the Coral Sea (B5, BSG)

    I find it somewhat interesting that there were not particularly innovative uses of even the tech we saw on the show for military purposes. Many of the races were involved in genocidal wars for extinction yet for the most part played nice and kept things to WWII standards and even used chivalry. (see esp Minbari Warrior caste)

    For example nobody opens a jump point inside somebody's planet, or accelerates an asteroid to some notable fraction of c (or 20,000 high yield nukes) and sends it through a jump point into a planet. Sure the Centauri used mass drivers, but they were not very serious about it.

    Also if it was WWII we saw Aircraft carriers, Capital ships and even minefields (thank you Sheridan) but not submarines. We did see biological warfare (some weak ass Drakh plague - 5 years really?) and a bit of round about electronic warfare via the teepsicles (man I love that saying) but what else.

    I get that you cannot invent whole new areas of tech and the show was in the 1990's. Look at the computer screens, memory crystals and communicators etc compared to today's displays, cloud computing and bluetooth. I am not talking about speculating about whole new classes of tech that would be beyond the Singularity, but using the tech we see on the show.

    Although I contend that the computer targeting and radar systems on a modern F22 could take out a Starfury. Fixed weapons points on the SF especially the Thunderbolt variant seem crazy.

    I am undecided whether or not this is a criticism or a compliment to the show. Probably both.

    I can see how this might cross the line into story ideas so please try not to. If we, or this thread are out of line- Jan, please hit us with a trout.

  • #2
    I think it would be fair to say that ALL war follows a basic premise, with obvious leaps in tech and armament. Didn't Schwatzkauf use strategies planned out by Alexander the Great is Desert Storm? Don't generals of today always look to the past for inspiration?

    That being the case, I don't really get your point. Not being a military historian or enthusiast, perhaps I'm missing that point, and if so please correct me.

    But one question from your post I must ask: how could you get submarines in space??

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    • #3
      Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
      Sure the Centauri used mass drivers, but they were not very serious about it.
      Umm, what?
      Jonas Kyratzes | Lands of Dream

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      • #4
        Macbeth,
        I'm afraid I disagree with you. There are two very significant differences: three-dimensionality and hyperspace.

        Battles in space would be truely three-dimensional, and B5 is one of the few times where this comes through. I was watching "Shadow Dancing" recently, and there's ships coming in from every side of the screen- and not only that, but the "camerawork" also moves around, emphasising there's no preferred axis of movement. And this happens in quite a few other episodes too, like the Shadows boxing in the Narn fighters in Q37 (I think it's Q37).

        That fight brings in the second big difference, hyperspace. What that does is practically set the idea of "concealing terrain" on its ear. Hannibal whooped the Romans by concealing part of his cavalry in woods, and every commander before or since has tried to find a forrest, valley or fold in the ground -and when they can't find them, they try to build them- that will let them spring a trap on the enemy. Navies try to use islands, mist, weather, or gaining the wind to get the same advantage. They all spend a lot of time and effort to identify such advantageous spots, and determine if there's an unpleasant surprise waiting for them there.
        Hyperspace just demolishes that. You can map the solar system down to individual dust grains, go through each crater with a fine tooth comb, have guys in white gloves check every ice particle in Saturn's rings- and you won't have removed the danger of your enemy jumping in right at your back and ruining your day. To use your analogy, hyperspace turns every spacecraft into a submarine and all space into dark ocean.

        Now, B5 does all that, but you hardly notice it, because it does them *naturally* and, like a lot of the technical stuff, battles are spoken of simply. In "Shadow Dancing", Sheridan gives orders like "Fall back and protect the Drazi" rather than "Change heading to vector 192-0-11 and initiate a 240 degree cover of the Drazi ships at 188-67-32". This accomplishes two things, for me at least: it's quick enough to show the urgency and fluidity of the fight and it also shows that Sheridan's fleet know how to fight a space battle- he can delegate individual course corrections and concentrate on the big moves.

        And overall, the simpler language *is* more effective. Consider...the Battle of the Line. It wasn't really a line, was it? A line in three-dimensional space makes no sense as an obstacle. Sinclair's description in "The Gathering" is more in line (bad pun- Jan, bring on the trout) with a sphere. However accurate, "Battle of the Sphere" would not only sound slightly silly, it would fail to get the same emotional response from the audience- the "this is where we stand, we shall fall back no further" vibe that's so important.

        Trollheart is also right in pointing out that if you strip off enough things, a battle will look like a battle will look like a battle.

        Adressing a few of your specific points:

        Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
        Many of the races were involved in genocidal wars for extinction yet for the most part played nice and kept things to WWII standards and even used chivalry. (see esp Minbari Warrior caste)
        Well, everyone fights a war according to their own social norms. Back in medieval times, captured knights would be ransomed but simple footsoldiers were massacred- because of social norms, not morality.
        And I'm not sure there were that many genocidal wars in B5. The Dilgar, yes, and we know they spread horrors untold- but only to life forms, since they wanted the real estate. The Minbari, sure, but remember that line in "In The Beginning" about them fighting the Earth warrior caste first- according to their social norms. Noone else springs to mind.

        Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
        For example nobody opens a jump point inside somebody's planet, or accelerates an asteroid to some notable fraction of c (or 20,000 high yield nukes) and sends it through a jump point into a planet. Sure the Centauri used mass drivers, but they were not very serious about it.
        Ask a Narn :-) . Actually, that bit about accelerating an asteroid seems to me the working principle of the mass driver? And again, I think the Centauri wanted to move in and exploit the Narn, just like the good old days, so couldn't just wipe out the planet.

        Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
        Also if it was WWII we saw Aircraft carriers, Capital ships and even minefields (thank you Sheridan) but not submarines. We did see biological warfare (some weak ass Drakh plague - 5 years really?) and a bit of round about electronic warfare via the teepsicles (man I love that saying) but what else.
        There seems to be a fair bit of EW, jamming, Minbari stealth and so on, but again it's not brought forward in great detail unless it's somehow important to the plot- I'm sure that some of the crew seen in a ship's bridge are working on things like that.

        Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
        Although I contend that the computer targeting and radar systems on a modern F22 could take out a Starfury.
        Maybe. Once you get them fitted onto something that can move outside an atmosphere. And shielded from cosmic radiation. And recalibrated to track something that's going seriously fast. And matched them to a weapons system. And...well, there must be a few more.

        best regards,
        Aris

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        • #5
          Originally posted by Jonas View Post
          Umm, what?
          The asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs on earth was approx 10 km in diameter. How about one 10 times as big and going 10 times as fast. Or 10 of them a 10th as big but going 1000 times faster.

          If you got something the size of B5, put some big ass engines on it and accelerated it for a while you could probably crack a planet in half instantly
          Last edited by Macbeth; 03-25-2010, 07:28 AM.

          Comment


          • #6
            Aris, excellent points and I agree with almost everything you say.

            B5 certainly takes the ideas of what we consider naval warfare and and posits them into three dimensions and within the bounds of the universe they are in very well. Although I do think that while getting 3 dimensions correct and inertia correct (no swooping starfurys etc) it does miss local gravity (suns planets moons) but I am willing to overlook that as a complication too far for the purposes of telling a fun story.

            I am thinking of what I might do militarily that our characters did not do. By and large they do not use kinetic weapons - they are almost entirely "energy" weapons. Kinetic are easier and cheaper. Mass drivers that get some serious mass going some serious speed. A hunk of rock with some engines strapped to it. A depleted uranium missile accelerating at some serious G's - say 50 G's for 3 minutes as a weapon against capital ships.

            We do not see anybody open a jump point inside a planet (or even another capital ship). I would have a number of unmanned jump capable bombs containing explosives, or poisons, or plagues, or something capable of exploding the jump point as it opens (the bonehead maneouver) which inside someone's fleet, or planet or 10 miles below or above their capital city would ruin their whole day. Look how effective the original White Star was as a weapon and it only had a couple of nukes and accelerated only from orbit.

            Or how about a breaching pod that releases poison gas or computer viruses. When Earthforce tried to take B5 the first thing I would have the breaching pod do is hack the computers and start creating havoc, not just have a bunch of guys run out to fight Narns hand to hand.

            Instead we get aircraft carriers and battleships slugging it out with fighters and salvos. I agree they are as well done and 3D and transformed into space battles as well as can be done. (big fan here)

            We do not see computer viruses or EMP used. In the world of B5 we see, there is no AI nor any nanotech so I do consider these out of bounds, however likely I think they will be.

            Once again great analysis Aris, I just think that B5 keeps the thinking inside a fan (casual and serious) accessible box of that with which we are familiar, namely WWII.
            Last edited by Macbeth; 03-24-2010, 09:31 AM.

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            • #7
              Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
              ... I just think that B5 keeps the thinking inside a fan (casual and serious) accessible box of that with which we are familiar, namely WWII.
              Well, yeah ... otherwise you end up with a show for geeks that no one else watches and gets canned after half a season.

              It is also specifically stated in the show that the major races have agreed treaties banning the use of mass drivers (and presumably similar asteroid hurling technologies), and that the Centauri are violating those treaties by using them against the Narn.

              We have also on several occasions seen jump points used as a weapon ... Sheridan destroying the shadow vessel by opening a jump point within the Markab jump gate in <i>Matters of Honour</i>, for example, and several examples of capital ships taking out fighters etc. by opening jump points nearby and wiping them out.

              The real problem all space based TV shows have is that, in truth, real-life space battles probably wouldn't happen anything like they have always been shown ... more likely the battling ships would be thousands of kilometres apart and wouldn't use small fighters at all.

              Whilst portraying that on screen would be far more accurate, it probably would be incredibly boring as a spectacle.
              The Optimist: The glass is half full
              The Pessimist: The glass is half empty
              The Engineer: The glass is twice as big as it needs to be

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Garibaldi's Hair View Post
                Well, yeah ... otherwise you end up with a show for geeks that no one else watches and gets canned after half a season.

                -snip-

                The real problem all space based TV shows have is that, in truth, real-life space battles probably wouldn't happen anything like they have always been shown ... more likely the battling ships would be thousands of kilometres apart and wouldn't use small fighters at all.

                Whilst portraying that on screen would be far more accurate, it probably would be incredibly boring as a spectacle.
                Well said GH I agree.

                Much SF deals with universal themes of the human condition (B5 is great at this) or items that are topical to the current society (civil rights in original Trek or terrorism in BSG). By putting these issues in a different context we can examine them with less rancour.

                I find it fascinating that a show about a fantastic speculative future exploring universal human themes also needs to use action and visuals so familiar to us from our past. I am not saying it is wrong or unnecessary, but it is very interesting.

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Garibaldi's Hair View Post
                  We have also on several occasions seen jump points used as a weapon ... Sheridan destroying the shadow vessel by opening a jump point within the Markab jump gate in <i>Matters of Honour</i>, for example, and several examples of capital ships taking out fighters etc. by opening jump points nearby and wiping them out.
                  That is why I would use them way more often, not just to wipe out fighters, but capital ships and whole fleets.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Macbeth View Post
                    The asteroid that killed all the dinosaurs on earth was approx 10 km in diameter. How about one 10 times as big and going 10 times as fast. Or 10 of them a 10th as big but going 1000 times faster.

                    If you got something the size of B5, put some big ass engines on it and accelerated it for a while you could probably crack a planet in half instantly
                    If you want to conquer a planet, that's a mighty stupid way of going about it.

                    Wars are rarely fought to destroy someone; they are fought for conquest, to subjugate people(s) and acquire resources. Which is why it was only the Shadows and the Vorlons who started destroying planets; that wasn't the point of earlier wars. And in most wars, the point is not even to utterly destroy the enemy's army or fleet - simply to get them to surrender.

                    I find quite a few of your suggestions to be deeply disturbing. Why should our protagonists destroy planets or unleash plagues? They are not the Drakh. We're supposed to be rooting for a group of people standing up for freedom and democracy, not a group of lunatics and fascists out for conquest and destruction. As Babylon 5 shows us again and again, the means do matter.
                    Jonas Kyratzes | Lands of Dream

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                    • #11
                      I agree. To paraphrase Londo to Morden: "Why not just destroy the whole galaxy, while you're at it?"

                      And please don't say "All in good time!"

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Jonas View Post
                        Wars are rarely fought to destroy someone; they are fought for conquest, to subjugate people(s) and acquire resources. Which is why it was only the Shadows and the Vorlons who started destroying planets; that wasn't the point of earlier wars. And in most wars, the point is not even to utterly destroy the enemy's army or fleet - simply to get them to surrender.

                        I find quite a few of your suggestions to be deeply disturbing. Why should our protagonists destroy planets or unleash plagues? They are not the Drakh. We're supposed to be rooting for a group of people standing up for freedom and democracy, not a group of lunatics and fascists out for conquest and destruction. As Babylon 5 shows us again and again, the means do matter.
                        If I was in charge of Earth's defences at The Battle of the Line, damn straight I would have used all of these and then some.

                        to quote

                        This is the President.

                        I've just been informed that our mid range military bases at Beta Durani and Proxima 3 have fallen to the Minbari. We've lost contact with our bases at Io and must conclude that they too have been destroyed by an advanced force.

                        Our military intelligence believes that the Minbari intend to bypass Mars and attack Earth directly, and the attack may come at any time.

                        We continue to broadcast our surrender and a plea for mercy. They have not replied. We can therefore only conclude that we stand at the twilight of the human race.

                        In order to buy more time for our evacuation transports to leave Earth, we ask for the support of every ship capable of fighting to take part in a last defense of our homeworld. We will not lie to you. We do not believe that survival is a possibility. Those of you who join the battle, will never come home. But, for every 10 minutes we can delay the military advance, several hundred more civilians may have a chance to escape to neutral territory. Though Earth may fall, the human race must have a chance to continue elsewhere.

                        No greater sacrifice has ever been asked of a people but I ask you now, to step forward one last time, one last battle to hold the line against the night.


                        May God go with you all.
                        Last edited by Macbeth; 03-25-2010, 03:38 PM.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Trollheart View Post
                          And please don't say "All in good time!"
                          But it's my only line!


                          We're raising quite a few different points here, and I won't try to cover all of them- there's quite a bit I agree with. However I wonder if matching B5 to WW2 is caused more by each viewer's background than the show itself. For example, the Starfuries are indeed similar to WW2 carrier aircraft...but at the same time, they also "match" the light infantry screens of the Napolenic wars, and the swarms of small torpedoboats in WW1.

                          G'sH suggestion that space battles would take place at great ranges. There's a good case that they wouldn't. True spacefaring craft need to be very, very tough just to handle the small hazards of travelling across stellar systems- small objects, solar wind bursts, that kind of thing. This means that to seriously hurt one, you need to pour quite a lot of energy into whatever you're throwing at it, and the closer you are the better the return you get from it. And when you begin moving towards the enemy, or he towards you, it's good odds you'll end up in each other's embrace. If you look at the ranges of the guns on the ships at Trafalgar or the tanks in Kursk or Sidi Rezegh they're definitely not point blank weapons, yet these fights devolved into huge, confused, point blank melees.

                          Also, energy isn't free. That's why you need to close the range (to get better bang for your buck), and why a lot of the weapons ideas mentioned in the posts above might not appear in B5.
                          Taking one as an example, a jump engine that can open a jump point powerful enough to disrupt a planet would be huge, eat up fuel or power at phenomenal rates, and you would probably need a very big ship to carry it around in. And that ship would need the best protection in the Galaxy (think of how the Vorlons escort their planetkillers). And if some bright or mad enemy soldier manages to blow the thing up, you've lost a huge chunk of your combat power. However, sink the same resources into building smaller ships and you end up with a fleet big and mobile enough to turn your enemy into space dust and then park over their home planet until they surrender, whichis a much more profitable, and less risky, course of action.
                          And, even if we don't know much about the levels of technology available to B5 forces, it's by no means certain a kinetic energy projectile is cheaper and more efficient than all the beams and bolts we see on screen. Unless you're using them as close-in weapons, they'll need to track and follow a target. The more it maneuvers, the more fuel in needs. The more fuel in carries, the heavier it is, and the bigger its engine must be, which adds to the weight and the whole circle starts again.

                          As a final thought to throw into the ring: the fact we do not see the weapons doesn't mean they do not exist, merely that they're not used. By the end of WW2, Japan had developed some relatively credible tanks, yet all the Allies met were the lightly armoured and armed tanks of the previous generation- the new ones were held in Japan proper, for the final defense. Germany had a very extensive and effective stockpile of chemical munitions, yet they were not used in battle- because the Allies also had one, and the Germans decided not to risk provoking a massive retaliation.

                          And as a Parthian shot...no really inventive weapons you say? How 'bout them telepaths?

                          Aris

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Aris View Post
                            And as a Parthian shot...no really inventive weapons you say? How 'bout them telepaths?
                            Telepaths were definitely short range weapons. P5s could only scan people in the same room.

                            To be viable against Shadow ships the Shadows would have had to have used contact weapons like claws and teeth. (That is a major plot hole.)
                            Andrew Swallow

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Andrew_Swallow View Post
                              Telepaths were definitely short range weapons. P5s could only scan people in the same room.

                              To be viable against Shadow ships the Shadows would have had to have used contact weapons like claws and teeth. (That is a major plot hole.)
                              Not all telepaths were P5s, though.
                              Jonas Kyratzes | Lands of Dream

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