Friday, July 16, 2010

Everyone fights, no one quits.

One can only hope that this infantry exoskeleton project works out more like the book Starship Troopers as opposed to the disaster er... calamity umm... wretched pulsating ball of Hollywood suck and fail movie Starship Troopers.

I'd hate to think that Future Troopers will be lined up shoulder-to-shoulder blazing away from the hip...


Phssthpok said...

Along similar lines to Starship Troopers, might I suggest the book ARMOR by John Steakley?

Anonymous said...

ST has never been adapted to film. That movie was never made. It is an UnMovie. Please report erroneous references to the alleged "movie Starship Troopers" to the Ministry of Truth for investigation.

Thank you, citizen.

Timmeehh said...

Hope he doesn't lose his balance. Also, who's gonna carry the spare batteries?

Jon said...

"Everyone fights, no one quits. If you don't do your job I'll shoot you myself."

Was the only good thing to come out of that movie that will not be named.

That book however (discovered after the movie, sadly) is still one of my favorite comfort books.

And those exoskeletons are cool, but call me when they strap a micro-nuclear reactor to their back.

DaveFla said...

What Jon said. I admit I didn't follow the link before commenting; it surely wouldn't have armament described in terms of megatons per minute, so I can't be bothered...

Fred said...

I should have included the caveat that I, in absolutely no way whatsoever, ever mean anything other than the book if referencing "Starship Troopers." I don't think I've ever referred to the... film... as anything more than "the failed abortion."

However, I am greatly looking forward to the day when they strap plenty of armor to these things and we can have a patrol walking through a town and hip firing M2s.

eeky said...

This is the closest yet to powered armor (check vids)

Or for the busy/lazy:

Fred said...

*utilizing corresponding IR lasers and vision augmentation on the M2s of course. Can't have indiscriminate hip firing of .50s now can we.

Lewis said...

I'll echo the Pak's comment about Steakley's ARMOR. I dug on it. About that movie, though, I think they had to hip-fire, because I don't think their rifles had any sights at all.

Linoge said...

It is an exoskeleton.

It is already better than that non-existant movie I know nothing about.

Will Brown said...

This varient of the general concept has been under active development for at least the last 8 - 9 years and regularly kicked around on the mil and tech nerd sites. Most common snark; who carry's the extension cord?

The usually stated primary application has been as a force multiplier for combat zone loggie ops, whether or not in a remote/undeveloped environment like that pictured. Within the life-cycle of the power supply, I believe ~100 kilos of asymetric
load with no percieved weight penalty for the bearer is the objective.

Sorry, no plans for weaponization publicly confessed to as of yet. :)

reflectoscope said...

That pack is sure hanging a long way out. Who knows how it feels to carry it, but it sure looks awkward.


Außenseiter said...

You didn't like Starship Troopers? And I thought the Snark was with you.

The film is solid comedy. I mean, you haven't LOLed when Carl came up in that snazzy SS uniform? And watching jocks get eaten by nasty oversized bugs is kinda enjoyable.

I was too like "WTF, it makes no sense", when I saw it for the first time, but once you catch the drift that Verhoeven didn't like Heinlein's rather juvenile ideas(voting rights tied to military service, for example), and chose to parody them in a rather deadpan manner, it becomes lot more enjoyable..

BTW, infantry exoskeletons are pretty much a doomed idea. Fighting ones, at least.

I mean, a .50 BMG cal rifle isn't that more expensive to produce than a .303 one. It's just bigger and heavier, but if they were to be made in huge amounts, the cost wouldn't be as prohibitive as it is today.

And no way can you make a bipedal exoskeleton to withstand .50 cal AP rounds. Those can penetrate up to 34mm of steel @500m.

markm said...

Aussenseiter: That's if you can *hit* the trooper in the exoskeleton - who, according to Heinlein's conception, is able to run several times as fast as an unassisted human. It's possible with a belt-fed .50 BMG on a mount that absorbs the recoil, but remember that the troopers are shooting back and using cover and concealment, while you're stuck in either an immobile machine gun nest or a vehicle that is nowhere near as good at ducking, dodging, and hiding.

Carrying a shoulder-fired semi-auto .50 BMG rifle, you'll only be able to hit targets that are standing still or moving consistently (like a truck). That is, you won't get many hits on attacking exoskeleton troopers unless you are also wearing an exoskeleton, so you have the strength to control the weapon in full-auto, and carry a large ammo load.

Also, armor does not have to protect against direct hits to be useful. In most wars since 1914, the majority of casualties were from explosive shells and bombs. Armor that doesn't stop rifle bullets can still stop shell fragments and absorb part of the shock of a nearby explosion. Exoskeleton armor should protect against that far better than anything you can walk around in under your own power. And this not only protects against enemy artillery, it also makes it safer to use your own artillery and grenades at shorter ranges.

So I expect that when armed for similarly-equipped opponents, exoskeleton troopers would carry full-auto .50 BMG's. They would also carry RPG or recoilless rifle armaments for destroying tanks and bunkers. Against Heinlein's Bugs (who unlike that movie we will not name, were technologically capable and well-armed, but didn't spend millions to equip an individual warrior), the .50's would be quite effective at any range, but to break up Bug-wave attacks they could also use grenade launchers right down to ranges of a few feet.

BUT: Where does the Starship Trooper plug in his power cord? Unless we get fusion or fission power plants down to nearly backpack size, the practical use for exoskeletons is probably going to be limited to cargo handlers - who can carry a gasoline-burning generator on the back of their exoskeleton and keep a tanker truck handy for the frequent refills needed.

markm said...

Tam: Didn't you notice that Vanderdrecken, or whatever his name is, did NOT have his troopers equipped with exoskeletons? Or even a rifle that was adequate to killing the enemy? It looked to me like they were using 5.56mm rounds, and it took a whole moon clip to kill one Bug. Even the .45 MP3 greasegun of WWII would have been a better weapon - but of course, if their equipment hadn't been re-designed by an anti-military freak, they'd not only have carried rifles adequate to the job(.45-90?), but also used the strength of the exoskeletons to carry missiles, etc.

Außenseiter said...

Well... I'm not sure a half ton suit of armor might be very mobile with today's technology. Li-ion batteries in the current tech run out in about an hour of swift walking.

There's talk of fuel cells..

As to exoskeletons.. well. You may be right(though, less powerful rifles can punch through armor all right), but in a decade, it'll probably be cheaper to make armored combat robots than exoskeletons anyway.

I think he was well aware the tactics were totally unsuitable for the enemy. I'm not sure what was he trying to say with it, though..

RevolverRob said...

I liked the movie.

No seriously...I did.


Tam said...


"Verhoeven didn't like Heinlein's rather juvenile ideas(voting rights tied to military service, for example)"

So both you and Mr. Verhoeven aren't terrifically perceptive, then, is what you're saying?

1. Bob Heinlein was a writer of science fiction, not government white papers. In Starship Troopers, the franchise was tied to government service. In other books, the setting was a constitutional monarchy, or a despotism, or anarchy, or the franchise was tied to property ownership, or whatever. Get it? Fiction.

2. In the fictional book to which you refer, the franchise was not tied to "military service", as you claim, but national service; the underlying premise being that, in order to have a say in the running of the polity, one had to demonstrate a willingness to put the needs of the polity before one's own.

Roberta X said...

Also, the film, considered on its own, sucked. It was a lousy SF movie.

As for powered armor, they may make it for the battlefield, but consider what a boon it'll be for paraplegics. Not the armor, the power assist. I've worked with a number of people who were chairbound and ramps (etc.) notwithstanding, it would make a huge difference in their lives. Just being up at the same height as (most) other bipeds, for instance....

Außenseiter said...


Of course it was fiction. It's just that the tone of the book was quite enthusiastic, compared to some of his other stuff.

And the book was silly anyway. Anyone with the tech to get from here to over there wouldn't ever need canned meat as ground soldiers.

Also, the film, considered on its own, sucked. It was a lousy SF movie.
But it was a good parody. Also, can you find a SF film that didn't suck? Even Blade Runner sucks about three different ways if you think about it for about three seconds.
I blame screenwriters.

Matt G said...

So we agree? The movie hereafter referred to as "S.T.", A.K.A. "The Movie That Shall Not Be Named", will be relegated to that same place in our consciousness as Highlander II.

So say we all.

Firehand said...

And the book was silly anyway. Anyone with the tech to get from here to over there wouldn't ever need canned meat as ground soldiers.
Actually, he covered that: MI was for when something had to be done, but the level of destruction involved in ship-borne weapons wasn't called for or thought necessary; it was to make the damage personal.

Anonymous said...

I can't say that I agree with your assessment. It seems kind of a stretch to think that Verhoeven was doing satire, as much of the script was written before the books was optioned. The already written plot was shoehorned into a starship troopers suit, and the character names lifted so they could trade on the Starship Troopers name.

OldeForce said...

Roberta X: A Denver TV station Friday night had an update on a unit someone handicapped would sit in and attach to their legs. It would lift them into a standing postion; there were braces for their arms and handgrips and 3 speeds for moving ahead. Problem now is, of course, the cost.

Tam said...


I'd say that someone has inadvertently made a pretty convincing argument for not actually having read it, and is just making rote mouth noises to appear appropriately jaded and worldly in front of the rubes. ;)

Will said...

Wow, there are sequels!

Here is a very good look at the book and movie:

Stretch said...

"make the damage personal."
Firehand, I think that has just become my personal motto.
I believe that should be our national motto as well.

Ian Argent said...

Body armor doesn't have to be 100% effective to be useful. If you're facing asymmetric warfare where the bad guys can't give their infantry grunts weaponry capable of reliably defeating the armor, for example.

Powered armor will take off when it has an endurance measured in days; combines with a ground pressure no more than that of a fully-laden cavalry horse. (And you can do some tricks to reduce effective ground pressure when you have to). I don't believe that every grunt will have one - if nothing else there will be terrain inappropriate for the suits.

Robots/drones are a bad bet. Either you have to have an AI capable of handling every contingency PFC Snuffy is capable of; or you have to communicate with the drone...

Dixie said...

As far as powered-armor sf goes, the Orphanage series by Buettner is good.

Oh, and in Starship Troopers, it's pretty plainly stated that 19 out of 20 people in Federal service are civilians.

Jon said...

I guess I haven't read past the first Orphanage book (since when I read it, there was only one and it felt rather... well... closed.)

But there was no powered armour in the first book, just some semi-armoured semi-vac suits.

Good book though. Not sure I'd be into the rest of the series though.

Außenseiter said...


Sure, but why did they risk soldier's lives if they could send in combat robots, which would've done the job better, faster, and with no loss of friendly life.


Ian Argent said...


There's no evidence for the proposition that the MI *had* combat robots, and considerable evidence that they did not have anything approaching a robot with the capacity necessary.

Außenseiter said...

And therein lies the logical inconsistency of the novel.

I mean, we're a few years short of such technology, but getting there rapidly.

Interstellar flight, though, especially FTL one, is something that's *never gonna happen* for us monkeys. Maybe some of our shiny creations, but not us.

Yeah. But you know, if combat in the book were done mostly by robots, perhaps guided by human officers, there'd be no place in it for dumb grunts like Rico, with whom the readership might empathise..

markm said...

Why no combat robots? Heinlein probably didn't believe in them - that they could work at all (with his appreciation of technology in 1959), that they'd ever be as effective as a human, or that turning a weapons trigger over to a machine could be a good idea no matter how advanced the machine.

Just 6 years before Heinlein wrote Starship Troopers, he wrote Starman Jones, in which most of the spaceship's officers gathered together to calculate the course - by hand. In the 1950's Heinlein was also still writing stories of trips to the moon without radio communications home.

He did appreciate a role both for autonomous robots (the protagonist of his 1958 book A Door Into Summer, designed robot house servants and gardeners),and for remote-operated devices (AKA waldoes - from his 1942 story "Waldo").

But waldo circuits are not sufficient for symetric combat. I don't know if Heinlein ever appreciated the extent to which radio technology could be improved over the 1950's tube-driven devices, but it doesn't matter how good your radios are if the enemy's capability is similar. We (the USA) only get away with drone aircraft since we aren't fighting anyone who's within two decades of our tech. Radio signals can be intercepted; even if using "unbreakable" encryption, they still indicate the location of both the controller and the controllee. They can be jammed, with broad-band transmitters that are much, much cheaper than an effective combat robot - where it gets tricky is in leaving a channel through the jamming for your own communications that the enemy cannot also exploit. Thus, from what I know and can reveal of US Army practices (this is 20 years old, but I don't think the theory has changed), we use jammers sparingly and intermittently; ideally, the other side will never realize it's deliberate jamming, rather than random static that often obscures critical information such as map coordinates. But if we were getting our a**es kicked by remote-controlled devices, we'd consider blocking everything and reverting to stringing wire for field telephones plus fixed line of sight links where they can be shielded from the enemy. (OTOH, an army that can honeycomb the ground under a battlefield with tunnels has just the place to run a redundant wired network.)

So the robot has to be at least as autonomous as, say, a good Corporal: capable of making reasonably good combat decisions with occasional guidance from HQ, and of still functioning at some level even when cut off for a long time. That's a pretty high order of AI, far beyond the vacuuming and mowing that Heinlein saw as possible robot roles in the 1950's. The bigger problem is that combat is where all plans and pre-conceived notions go to get blown to hell. You can't program for what nobody even imagined could happen - and that describes every war since the invention of the Minie ball. In 1959, I'm pretty sure Heinlein did not think it was possible for a robot to essentially reprogram itself to adapt in the fog of war. In 2010, I don't think it's possible using any technology in sight, and I know quite a bit more about computers than Heinlein ever did.

Ian Argent said...

Interstellar travel and sapient robots both require breakthroughs unknown to us; but those breakthroughs are orthogonal to one another. There is no reason to suppose that a breakthrough allowing FTL will lead us to sapient artifical intelligence; no more than atomic power presaged the transistor.

markm said...

Gay Deceiver, the flying car autopilot in The Number of the Beast (1980), may or may not have been flexible and humanlike enough to cope, but I don't recall Heinlein's characters ever allowing her autonomy outside narrowly defined realms of navigation and data storage and recall. This brings up the final point: Heinlein was a Human chauvinist. He would never turn the decision to pull the trigger over to a machine, least of all a machine that was capable of adapting to the unexpected, and hence of in some way rewriting it's software.

For all the reasons above, his MI could not have used robots controlled from somewhere safe behind the lines - if there is any safe place in a space war. It could have used guys in flak jackets huddled in foxholes just behind the battle front, attempting to keep control of fearsome combat robots through various short-range and hard to jam links, without getting noticed by the enemy. Once located, it would be easy to dig them out of their holes with mortars. (Today, I can list several comm technologies that would work for short-range links: microwave beams, lasers, wires, or fiber optics. Some of that hadn't been invented in 1959, and only copper wires were developed enough for the field, but H. might have imagined them all.) In any case, it just made more sense to him to put the men inside the machines.

I think that as we improve our military technology, there will be more combat robots deployed on short-range links - flying and creeping scouts, waldoed tanks to make holes in enemy defenses without exposing men, and self-propelled heavy machine guns and artillery with short-range remote control so the operator won't die when the enemy artillery tracks back to the source of the fire. But these will need frequent fueling and other service, and most of the troops will still be toting rifles in a role that U.S. Grant would recognize. The biggest use of robots, waldoes, and exoskeletons for the next 20 years will be in logistics - so we no longer need to tie up more than half the troops just to supply the few that are in combat.

But for any machine with the mobility Heinlein ascribed to his exoskeletons, gasoline, diesel oil, hydrogen, or any other chemical fuel will only power it a few hours. Batteries also depend on chemical reactions, which cannot be more energy intensive than the best fuels. Flywheels ultimately store energy in the chemical bonds that hold them together, so their energy intensity is similarly limited. A tank of superheated fluid or super-compressed air? Get serious. Gasoline, Diesel, LPG, and Hydrogen are the best choices the periodic table allows, and they're not good enough. It's OK to have a few machines that have to go back to refuel that often, but not to have the whole force taking breaks. Or depending on a long extension cord.

If the power problem is ever solved, it will have to be some sort of nuclear power in a form factor smaller than a tank engine, and with a similar or better power to weight ration. I think that will require some new physics (such as practical radiation-stopping force fields), but it can't be ruled out. Only then will it be possible to make the machines carry the whole combat load. Then it makes far more sense to me to put the controllers inside the machines.

Ian Argent said...

IIRC Gay Deceiver required literal magic before she could pass a Turing Test. OTOH, same novel, the command computer from Lazarus Long's ship was Turing-testable at time of introduction (Minerva?). So he clearly wasn't opposed to writing about human-level artificial intelligences (see also Moon is a Harsh Mistress).

Dixie said...

But there was no powered armour in the first book, just some semi-armoured semi-vac suits.

Eh, I consider Eternads to be "powered armor." They're self-charging, have life support, and are, indeed, armor. Plus, they get improved in the later books.

Außenseiter said...

Interstellar travel and sapient robots both require breakthroughs unknown to us; but those breakthroughs are orthogonal to one another. There is no reason to suppose that a breakthrough allowing FTL will lead us to sapient artifical intelligence; no more than atomic power presaged the transistor.

I believe if FTL is possible, it's far likelier a practical way of doing it will be discovered by an intelligence that won't be old skool homo sapiens. Reason being, we're not getting any smarter, and the cutting edge problems are getting ever nastier.

Just compare Newtonian physics and quantum theory. One is not as easy as the other.

Though, I'm willing to bet anyone a substantial sum of money no practical FTL ship will ever be built.

You know what they say about something being too good to be true? That's FTL for you.

It's not that space travel takes too long.. it is that we are too short lived.

Ian Argent said...

Depends on how you get FTL. In this spacetime, I agree, it's unlikely to the point of impossibility. Bu tI don't rule out accessing another spacetime (though we could get one where OUR spacetime is the "hyperspace" and the speed of light is SLOWER...)

But my point was that feasibility or not of FTL is no guide as to whether sapient AI is feasible or not. At this point it would appear that Moore's Law will NOT bring us sapient AI...

Geodkyt said...


I can give you dozens of reasons why infantryMEN are preferrable to infantry ROBOTS in many cases.

Also why infantry would still be used when your navy has the power to crack planets like eggs.

If you'd actually READ the book (Paul Verhoeven has publicly admitted he never did) in question, you could give a few of those yourself -- if you'd actually served in a military unit with a reasonably military attitude (not necessarily "combat arms", but something where you are more than just civil servants at the DMV all dressed alike -- heck, civilian law enforcement or firefighters would work!) you could come up with a bunch more yourself.

I'll handle one of your objections right off the bat.

Yes, .50BMG WILL go through 34mm of homogenized cold rolled steel (RHA).

And? You think 1.5 inches of armor is un unacceptable bulk for an armored suit about 8 feet tall?

You think RHA steel is the epitome of armor protection? (It's not -- it's a STANDARD to test against. Hell, bare RHA isn't even really good armor!)

Here's another of your objections handled, from within the book --

"There are a dozen different ways of delivering destruction in impersonal wholesale, via ships or missiles of one sort or another, catastrophes so widespread, so unselective that the war is over because that nation or planet has ceased to exist. What we do is entirely different. We make war as personal as a punch in the nose. We can be selective, applying precisely the required amount of pressure at the specified point at a designated time. We've never been told to go down and kill or capture all left-handed redheads in a particular area, but if they tell us to, we can. We will."

Ian Argent said...

Hint: there's a reason the 30-second bomb scene exists in the book. Besides being a Crowning Moment of Funny.