Impossible science: flying aircraft carriers, submarine carriers, jetpacks and mechs – The world of science fiction has long suggested that the impossible could be possible. Filmmakers and video game designers have only gone deeper into what the world can bring, in part because they aren’t limited by the laws of physics or defense budgets. At least, however, when HG Welles and Jules Verne conceived some of their big ideas about what the future might bring, they based them on the science of the day – hence the origins of the very term “science fiction”. “.
Fast forward to today, and if CGI (computer-generated imagery) can create it, chances are you’ll see it on the big screen. The same goes for video games, where upcoming wars include flying tanks, defensive shields, and high-energy weapons. Some of them could possibly be seen on future Battlegrounds, while other fan favorites will likely never be used as we see in games in movies.
This includes flying aircraft carriers, swarms of warriors with jetpacks and of course “mechs”. One could also add with a good deal of cynicism that the fact that some of these creations are tailor-made for toys – and that includes actual “play sets” for children, as well as the collectible variety that adorns the shelves of young to -adult heart disease. That is why we will continue to debate the merits of these impossible and improbable scientific war machines.
In other words, what might sound compelling in games and movies just won’t play out in the real world. Here are some reasons.
Shoot down the flying aircraft carriers
It’s one that never seems to die, as there are endless threads on Reddit and other forums about why the military isn’t trying to make flying carriers. Yet the US Navy tried hard to make a flying aircraft carrier – and its USS Builder and USS Akron were essentially rigid airships (aka “zeppelins”) that could carry a small number of Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk light biplanes inside their cells. This was far from a success, however, as both airships were involved in accidents.
In April 1933, the USS Akron crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of New Jersey, killing 73 of 76 people on board; while two years later USS Builder suffered a less serious accident, which killed two of its 83 crew and passengers. This has grounded such efforts.
Today, thanks to the appearance of Helicarrier from the “Marvel universe” seen in films such as The Avengersor the retro art deco-inspired moving airstrip of Sky Captain and the world of tomorrow, the question of flying transporters comes up often. But simply put, a slow craft that could be taken out by a ground-based air defense system will take off like a leaden zeppelin. No army will invest in what is simply a giant target in the sky in the age of hypersonic missiles and unmanned drones that wouldn’t need to do so much damage to come crashing back down to Earth. So until a real-world Tony Stark – calling it Elon Musk – wants to step in to fund such a program, the flying carriers will stay on the ground.
Deep Sixing the Sub Carrier
During World War II, the Imperial Japanese Navy produces its I-400 class submarines, which were the largest submarines ever built until the construction of nuclear ballistic missile submarines in the 1960s. A total of three of the planned 18 boats were built, and each was designed to carry three Aichi M6A Seiran aircraft. The idea at the time was that submarines could surface, launch their planes and then quickly dive back down before being discovered.
Given the very limited success of the I-400 submarines at the end of the war, another debate that will not end is why the United States Navy did not give the submarine carriers another chance.
The short answer is that it’s not quite as far-fetched – at least not compared to the flying aircraft carrier – and any attempt to build an aircraft carrier sub won’t be that different from fast attack submarines or ballistics today. However, no one is going to produce a massive underwater ship equipped with a hanger for a modern aircraft.
The problem remains how any modern jet fighter could be launched and recovered, and even an F-35B would present problems. On the contrary, we could see, and probably will even see submarines modified to launch unmanned aerial systems (UAS) or drones. The Navy has already tested its Sea Robin, which could be launched from its torpedo tubes. So there could be a future of underwater carriers, but not the kind that science fiction likes to present.
So anyone hoping for a massive super-sub carrier with a hanger full of F-35s should stick to video games. The cost of such a system, not to mention the fact that it takes time and effort to launch and recover the expensive aircraft, would quickly result in a loss of surprise and leave the boat with a very large target for a counterattack. Instead, it will dispatch the drones and then dive deep.
Ground the Jetpack Warriors
Of all the sci-fi technologies that are regularly debated, this one has some merit, but not in the way that many would like to see it. The United States Marine Corps and the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy have each conducted tests on how a fighter could use a jet pack to swarm and board an enemy warship during an assault . In recent years the Daedalus Mark 1 exoskeleton has been used in tests to enable Royal Marines to perform a short transit on water – showing how it could be used in hostage rescue operations.
Likewise, jetpacks do present similar opportunities for firefighters, medical personnel and rescue personnel – but no one should expect waves of flying troops in body armor to battle through the skies like Iron Man. Soldiers or Marines certainly couldn’t be equipped with armor because small engines require the wearer to be thin and travel light. Similarly, the flight time of these jet packs is limited to only ten minutes.
We may see jetpacks in the future, but it won’t be like the comics or The Mandalorian.
Knock down the mechs
No piece of modern military sci-fi gear gets as much love as the huge “Mechs” – the giant robotic vehicles that originated in Japanese anime and have since become a staple of board games and games. video. Seen in films such as Avatar and Pacific Rimthe concept of Mechs was introduced by game designer Jordan Weismanwho created the BattleTech board and role-playing games of the 1980s.
Weisman actually attempted a grounded approach that saw the steel behemoths powered by electrically charged artificial muscles that could move joints via gyroscope stabilizers while the required energy came from an on-board power plant. There were scientific reality in the approach, and it is possible that a a mechanical exoskeleton could be developedbut it would probably look like the “P-5000 Powered Work Loader” seen in aliens more than a slow-moving tank.
Powering such a device is only one factor, and we just lack large enough batteries at this point. The biggest problem is that it does not provide any real benefit to future fighters. Throughout modern military history, soldiers have sought to approach the ground and armies have often dug in fortifications – hence the trench warfare that was seen in the First World War. Mechs couldn’t easily go prone and are instead massive targets for ground artillery and rocket launchers. For a video game like BattleTech, that was sort of the point, as battles were usually one-on-one.
Likewise, Mechs couldn’t easily cross rivers and couldn’t venture into dense forest as she would just as much bog down in urban areas, especially once the rubble was piled high. Mechs would be like putting soldiers in oversized medieval armor with the only benefits being massive firepower. It wouldn’t do any good if a few well-placed Javelin anti-tank missiles popped out a gyro or if a concealed pit rocked the Mech. Just remember what those teddy bear-like Ewoks did in Return of the Jedi to the Empire’s AT-STs, and that should be enough to dash any hopes of seeing biped combat gear in the future.
An editor since 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He writes regularly on military hardware, the history of firearms, cybersecurity and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing author for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.