Discussion Boards on Military Science Fiction
Military Science Fiction and the Army Transformation
Michael K. Robel
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Introduction and Starship Troopers
Science Fiction frequently serves as a predictor of future technologies and ideas and therefore, so does Military Science Fiction (MSF). As a long term reader of MSF, I thought it would be useful to examine several works to see what relevance and lessons they might offer to the US Army as it undergoes its current transformation.
MSF has a close relationship with the techno-thriller, which in some cases might be classified as near-term MSF. Techno-thrillers seem to concentrate on the technical part of the story and while they have well-developed characters, the books read like advertisements for defense corporations. MSF pays more attention to the human elements of war, skillfully integrating the technology making war possible, while pondering how war affects people. It is enough of a specialized art form that it seldom makes the NY Times bestseller list, but is popular enough to support several authors and their unique worlds.
These works include Orson Scott Card (Enders Game), John Dalmas (The Regiment), David Drake (Hammers Slammers), Robert Heinlein (Starship Troopers), Keith Laumer (Bolo), Jerry Pournelle (Falkenbergs Legion), John Ringo (Fleet Strike), Rich Shelley (Dirigent Mercenary Corps), and David Weber (Honor Harrington). Most of these authors have prior military service, tremendous historical knowledge, and are well read on military theory, technology, and current operations.
In this series, I will examine Starship Troopers, Falkenbergs Legion, Hammers Slammers, and The Regiment in greater detail. Each section has a brief synopsis, discusses key technological innovations and their emerging counterparts, unit organization, and employment, and their personnel system. Then we will discuss some common features of all units, and finally distill some lessons and recommendations for the US Army.
Robert Heinleins Starship Troopers (Figure 1) is perhaps the seminal work of MSF. Taking place in the far future during an interstellar war with a Bug hive race; the main ground combat formation is the Mobile Infantry (MI) Division. The book follows one soldier John Rico from high school to his eventual promotion to platoon leader. The book is as much about morals and philosophy as it is about combat and a particularly interesting section of the book deals with What is the minimum number of prisoners held by an enemy that warrants starting a war? Rico, after some goading, says one and then is assigned a project to prove it as a mathematical equation. Alas, the proof is left to the reader, but the lack of proof does not spoil the book.
The key technological innovation of Starship Troopers is powered armor, which enables the infantryman to carry a variety of equipment in a self-contained suit giving him the firepower of a modern main battle tank capable of operations in any environment and linking him digitally with his comrades. It can even fly for short distances. Other weapons in this story are fairly conventional although there are individual nuclear rounds that can be issued to the infantryman. The MI has devices similar to those in use in the current military or under development such as Night Vision Goggles, thermal viewers, unit displays showing where units/personnel locations and their actions, and personnel displays showing health status, location, and ammunition status. Project Land Warrior is a small first step toward this suit, although many of the technological breakthroughs are still years away (http://www.fas.org/man/dod-101/sys/land/land-warrior.htm).
Unit Organization and Employment
The MI Division is conventionally organized, although, since it depends on the space navy for most of its support, it is more like the US Marine Corps than the US Army. The MI fights in any size unit from platoon to multi-division corps. At the small unit level, there is a reliance on battle drill and using firepower to smash any resistance. However, due to the extent of interstellar space, a given unit seldom fights as a whole they are frequently task organized into ad hoc formations for specific missions.
For the most part once a soldier appears to stay in one unit his whole career. However, transfers are made against specific unit vacancies and soldiers are replaced as they are wounded, killed, promoted, or detached for school. Rico is detached from his platoon as a sergeant for OCS, and only returns to that platoon when the previous platoon leader is wounded. The MI only has male soldiers, although women appear as naval officers. (The poorly made movie has fearsome bugs, women in the MI to provide a love story, no powered armor, and Napoleonic tactics.)
Other factors contribute to unit effectiveness. First, basic training lasts one year. During this training the infantryman is taught his trade all the way from hand-to-hand combat to the use of nuclear weapons. Second, each year group of soldiers produces its own officers. Only soldiers with proven leadership ability in the ranks have the opportunity to apply for officers candidate school (OCS). Third, is the very low officer to enlisted man ratio only 4% of the division is officers and there is very little staff. This is accomplished by having the space navy, civilian contractors, or retired or disabled veterans provide service support, although there are specialty formations such as engineers, dog teams, intelligence units, and so on. Contractors, retirees or wounded soldiers make up a large number of the instructors, recruiters, and support staff of the armed forces.
Officers frequently double hat. A Battalion Commander is frequently at the same time a member of the regimental staff and a company commander. Many officer positions are filled with NCOs because the officer who is nominally assigned to a slot may be in a critical non-TOE slot. Any soldier with the inclination or civilian training also serves as unit chaplain, mechanic, cook, bandsmen, or as an instructor while he is going to school. This concept is summed up in the quote Everybody drops, everybody fights.
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Discussion Boards on Military Science Fiction
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