Archive for September, 2013

International Theory And Giant Space Robots

Posted: September 13, 2013 by kdatherton in Uncategorized

Thomas Nelson is a McDaniel College graduate and writer based in Washington, DC. He can be found on Twitter at @trnels.

Look At These Giant  Robot Battle Suits

Look At These Giant Robot Battle Suits

In G Gundam, the world exists in some mashup of Pacific Rim, Elysium and the Olympic Games. A large portion of humanity has moved off-planet, living on space stations governed by the administration of states that existed on the surface. After a prolonged conflict, the governments of the world signed a multilateral peace treaty, establishing [insert information about neo-Earth Federation here]. However, to appease what can only be explained as man’s inherent need for conflict and competition, as well as ensure that no one country establishes a hegemony, leadership is fought over every [two? Three?] years by Gundam fighters, selected as representatives of their respective neo-countries to go to Earth and duke it out in giant robots for control over the neo-Earth Federation.

No matter what direction you come at this from, the whole concept throws every theory of international relations out the window. On the one hand, liberal internationalism. Historically, Neo Earth follows the same pattern as both the United Nations and the European Union. Weary of war after a large-scale conflict, the involved parties resolve to address their grievances in a more diplomatic and humane manner. But most liberals eschew competition in favor of debate, and even though Gundam fights are governed by a set of rules that nearly all participants appear to follow, it’s still possible to put yourself on unequal footing.

Realism, predictably, finds flaw with the other half of this. Why submit to the rules of Gundam fights, and let your political position be decided by a somewhat arbitrary competition? In watching the series, most of the fighters – or at least the ones who play major roles in the plot’s development – appear to be equally matched. (Though unsurprisingly, they are still defeated by protagonist Domon.) While killing another pilot is strictly forbidden, there is no mention of other rules limiting a Gundam’s arsenal of weapons. Why would Neo America use glorified boxing gloves, and Neo Japan limit its most powerful weapon (Burning/Shining Finger) to periods of emotional distress? Victory in these competitions is critical to political power, and the teams building these Gundams and training the fighters should be giving themselves every advantage possible. International politics is no time for sportsmanship.

That’s not to say all of the fighters are intentionally selling themselves short. Later in the series, a more existential threat to Neo Earth is revealed: Dark Gundam, which is based off of a self-replicating and apparently intelligent nanotechnology known as G Cells. Fighters from Neo England, Neo Egypt and Neo India are all discovered to have “infected” themselves with these G Cells to enhance their skills and grant them regenerative capabilities. Neo England’s fighter didn’t stop their, either: he used stimulants, artificially modified the combat area to his advantage, and would notoriously ignore the ban on killing other fighters.

“Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short” was how Hobbes described man’s natural state, and the G Gundam saga only supports that. Even the most well-designed attempts to quell international conflict, by establishing an egalitarian supranational government and still appealing to the need for competition and conflict, will come undone as someone will always attempt to seize power through whatever means necessary.

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Mobile Suits and the Revolution in Military Affairs

Posted: September 11, 2013 by kdatherton in Uncategorized

Thomas Nelson is a McDaniel College graduate and writer based in Washington, DC. He can be found on Twitter at @trnels.

Giant Robotic Battle Suit

Giant Robotic Battle Suit

Japanese fiction popularized the idea of the giant robot as a tool for combat, but few series have portrayed them as realistic military tools. The original Mobile Suit Gundam does just that, showing a war between Zion and the colonies where mobile suits – the technical name for militarized giant robots – are the military technology of choice for both sides. Tanks, fighter jets and other military vehicles are all but absent, and even then they have been adapted to fit into a mobile suit-centric force.

PROS:

Mobile suits, at least on screen, have a few advantages over contemporary military technology. The humanoid shape and piloting system allows the pilot to move the suit like his or her own body, allowing it to do anything a normal person could but on a larger scale, making them extremely flexible in terms of tasks. Indeed, in just the first episode you can see Gundam in both combat and support roles as it fights enemy forces and later assists in loading supplies and construction on board White Base.

Maybe the greatest tactical advantage of the mobile suits is their ability to quickly adapt to a variety of terrains and theatres. They can be seen fighting on land, underwater and in space.

With the addition of support vehicles, mentioned earlier, they can even be used for air strikes.

Weaponry can by swapped as easily as a human picks up another gun, only increasing their applications. A squadron of mobile suits could potentially replace a majority of military vehicles and eliminate the need for specialized transport across certain terrains.

The G-Fighter was also a significant tactical advantage. Based around the Core Fighter system, Gundam was effectively a modular weapons platform, being able to switch from air to ground combat specialization in a matter of minutes courtesy of laser guidance. The flexibility to switch configurations even in the middle of a firefight – which happen many times in the series – grants the Gundam a significant ability to adjust tactics on the fly and suit itself for any opponent.

CONS:

One of the most glaring issues is the computer systems used to pilot mobile suits. One of their greatest advantages is the human-like dexterity that allows them to accomplish a wide range of tasks. But looking at the cockpits, the controls appear far too simple for the amount of finesse a pilot would require. Some level of self-intelligence has to exist in order for the suits to function as they do. (The implied learning capabilities of the Gundam reinforced the idea that it may exist.) But the technology that exists today would need to progress in leaps and bounds before mobile suits would be responsive and quick enough for military use.

Natural reflexes of humans to do thing like avoid strikes and find secure footing would have to be programmed into a central nervous system, no easy task for a towering hunk of metal and servos. The pilot would have to find a balance as well, knowing when these reflexes should be allowed to override their own commands and when they should be in complete control over how the suit reacts. At this point, we can barely get a four-foot-tall robot to go up the stairs.

 

Beyond this highly complex computer system, these things are BIG, and need a lot of power to move them around at a level suitable for military applications. That’s only going to increase with the use of jet propulsion systems or underwater combat. The suits are powered by nuclear reactors, which have to be compact and light enough to fit inside the suit and not weigh them down. This may not be an issue in zero-gravity combat but if these suits want to be functional in multiple theaters – which appears to be their biggest advantage – then nuclear power sources are also going to need some significant upgrades.While these first two issues can be addressed with the slow march of time and scientific progress, the third is a complete about-face from contemporary trends in military strategy.

All the focus now is on small footprints: surgical strikes instead of all-out barrages, or using a drone instead of a fighter jet to take out a target. As pointed out earlier, these suits are large, and lack any kind of stealth. They stand high above the treeline and are painted in primary colors, and require large facilities and crews for maintenance. In some ways it’s a return to the tactics of European army of the 1700s, who would march into the battlefield with their bright uniforms, standing in plain sight for the enemy to see. But with modern military equipment, these suits would stand out like a sore thumb.