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T-70 Model X-Wings In Formation

T-70 Model X-Wings In Formation

[Today’s post comes to us from Eamon Hamilton. When not writing about space ships, he does Public Affairs for Air Mobility Group, Royal Australian Air Force.]

With each trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we’ve been exposed to the new Starfighter being fielded by the Rebel Alliance – now rebranded as the Resistance (go figure). The Incom T-70 is carrying the legacy of the X-Wing into a new generation, combating a likewise new model of the TIE Fighter.

But each new trailer however has suggested something is lacking in the Resistance fleet – that is, a variety of other Starfighter types. It would appear that, in the 30 years since the Rebel Alliance deployed an array of X-, Y-, A- and B-Wings to the Battle of Endor, they have settled on a single multi-role type across the entire fleet.

Even before the release of The Force Awakens however, there’s good reasons to believe the T-70 X-Wing is the only game in town. First, the new X-Wing is the only Resistance ship featured in the trailers and other promotional imagery. A bigger clue however is the lack of merchandising for any other Resistance ships.

When Force Friday hit stores in September, the T-70 X-Wing was the only Resistance ship for sale (aside from the Millennium Falcon, of course). You can buy one in LEGO form, or as a 1:200 scale model for tabletop wargaming. Revell is releasing the plastic kit of the T-70, and there’s also a diecast model if you don’t want to build it yourself.

Now, this assumption that the Resistance has stuck to a single Starfighter fleet will live or die when The Force Awakens premieres, and we pick apart each scene to see whether JJ Abrams dropped a few more ships into the backgrounds of hangars or space battles. But right now, it’s the T-70 X-Wing that’s appearing on lunchboxes.

With that assumption on board, it’s worthwhile considering what steps were taken over 30 years to go from a four-type Rebel Alliance fleet, to a single-type Resistance.

It’s a journey to consolidation that draws some parallels to the United States Navy’s own carrier-based combat aircraft fleet.

Both organisations were operating with different strategic priorities 30 years ago compared to what they are today. When Return of the Jedi hit cinemas in 1983, the Nimitz-class carriers were sailing with no less than four fixed-wing fighter/strike aircraft – the F-14 Tomcat for air superiority, the A-6 Intruder and A-7 Corsair in the strike role, and the S-3 Viking as an anti-submarine/surface warfare platform. Also operating was the EA-6B Prowler, a variation of the A-6, which was optimised for electronic attack.

Likewise, the Rebel Alliance went into the Battle for Endor with its own four dedicated strike/fighter platforms, albeit with no electronic attack variant (it seemed the Empire had the upper hand in the electronic warfare spectrum that day) [Editor’s note: or that electronic warfare just isn’t a big part of Star Wars]. Leading this charge were the T-65 X-Wing in the space superiority role, joined by fellow Yavin-veteran, the Y-Wing bomber. Also deployed were two newcomers – the high-speed A-Wing, and the B-Wing bomber, whose primary role was to attack capital ships.

It’s a safe assumption that the role of a Carrier Air Wing is much like that of the Rebel Alliance’s Starfighter squadrons fighting ‘A Long Time Ago in a Galaxy Far, Far Away’. Fundamentally, they both need to defend a home base, and are important tools for force projection in pursuit of wider campaign objectives.

Fielding a variety of types that each have a dedicated role carries with it benefits. A security or technical grounding for one type will (nominally) not affect the others. Dedicated types are optimized for function, rather than compromising performance to be truly multi-role. A Carrier Air Wing’s F-14 Tomcats can defend against high-speed bombers and provide a combat air patrol against MiGs and Sukhois. A-6 Intruders and A-7 Corsairs are optimized for striking surface combatants and hitting targets on land. The S-3 Viking – working in concert with other aircraft and vessels – can detect and defeat submarines. For the most part, the Soviet Union spent much of the Cold War trying to defeat the force projection abilities of carriers, and at the same time protect its home shores. Whilst the Soviet Union was spending the time, resources and money on countering Carrier Battle Groups, it was not delivering comparable force projection capabilities of its own.

While the Rebel Alliance faced a different strategic environment from the United States Navy, it too found itself benefiting from fielding a multi-type Starfighter fleet. It allowed them to pitch an asymmetric threat against the Empire, dictating the terms of engagements with dedicated platforms and avoid one-to-one engagements that it could not match with people, ships, or resources. The B-Wing Starfighter was primarily for attacking capital ships. Notwithstanding its kamikaze attack on the Super Star Destroyer Executor, the A-Wing was a hit-and-run Starfighter built to raid Imperial convoys and destroy remote satellite relays, degrading logistical and communications networks, and crippling the Empire’s ability to wage its campaign. Throughout it all, the X-Wing was intended to defeat the TIE Fighter; while the Y-Wing, a relic of the Cold War Clone War, was kept in service probably because it was bloody impossible to get rid of.

Y-Wings In Formation With Millennium Falcon

Y-Wings In Formation With Millennium Falcon

Striking from hidden fortresses and deployed capital ships, the Rebel Alliance’s force projection with these Starfighters would have forced the Empire to build defenses capable of defeating all forms of attack. Imperial Commanders were therefore kept guessing as to the composition of Rebel threats, and how they could attack them.

Having so many different types of Starfighters and aircraft however places a significant logistical burden, whether you’re a Rebel capital ship or United States Navy aircraft carrier. Each time a Carrier Strike Group goes to sea, it attempts to bring sufficient spares and workforce for the term of its voyage, but is otherwise reliant on C-2 Greyhound carrier on-board delivery aircraft; or port visits, which themselves are connected to a logistical pipeline supported by shore-based aircraft. Every different aircraft type in the Carrier Air Wing needs its own specially-trained workforce to operate and support, and must retain a spare parts stock for repairs. Different aircraft have different maintenance overheads, depending on their age and performance, which ultimately affects sortie generation. All of these factors determine the overall effectiveness of a Carrier Strike Wing whilst it’s at sea.

When Starfighters are embarked on a Capital Ships, we can assume their supporting constraints are almost identical to their United States Navy counterparts. There’s only so much space on the ship for hangars, spare parts storage, and workforce accommodation. Terrestrial bases for Rebel Alliance Starfighters would provide greater room, but still present similar logistical challenges in how they are sustained with spare parts and key equipment. The one advantages the Rebel Alliance has are astromechs. An R2 or R5 unit, for example, can maintain and conduct repairs on a Starfighter without sleep, and can work across multiple types on the hangar floor without limitations. They can diagnose directly using a ship’s computer, provide accurate stocktake assessments, and receive updated technical publications instantly. Admittedly, they do need their own spares pipeline and sustainment maintenance – but the efficiencies they deliver are worth it.

The United States Navy does have the advantage of protected warehouses and factories for all its supply needs. The Rebel Alliance likely has to disperse its equivalent facilities across the galaxy, keeping them underground to avoid the prying eyes of the Empire. Despite the range advantages of hyperspace travel, resupplying ships and bases with spare parts and personnel is a dangerous affair. Let’s take X-Wing powerplants as an example. Building them requires de-centralised workshops to avoid detection, but also skilled workforces due to the precision construction. Once built, these components are likely kept in hidden warehouse storage until they are smuggled through the galaxy to their end user. Replicating this logistics effort across all the systems of an X-Wing gives a good impression of how hard it is to keep a Starfighter ‘spaceworthy’, especially considering how complex they are compared to their Imperial foes, which lack shields and hyperdrives. We can assume there is little-to-no commonality in major components across Rebel Starfighters (even the Empire consolidated its TIE eye-ball across the Fighter and Interceptor variants). All of this puts Rebel Alliance at a significant logistical disadvantage during the Galactic Civil War.

Which brings me to a cynical explanation for why else the Rebellion had so many different Starfighters – in all likelihood, there was more gerrymandering required from the Rebellion than the Empire, when negotiating the support of planetary systems. How many times did Mon Mothma win the support of a local star system, but only because she promised to employ local workshops and factories to build X-Wing laser canons? Or gain safe harbor in space ports for Rebel vessels, but only because she was buying squadrons of unwanted Y-Wings from the port’s governor? Tyrannical governments like the Empire are built on decrees and corruption, leaving little question that the Rebellion had to resort to financial and employment incentives to guarantee support for its cause.

Over the past 30 years, there’s been significant changes to the strategic operating environment for both the United States Navy and the Rebel Alliance (now the Resistance). These changes undoubtedly influenced their respective moves towards a consolidated fleet of strike/fighter platforms. While aircraft carriers remain an important strategic tool, the years since the end of the Cold War have largely seen their warfighting efforts concentrated on sustained force projection for overland operations in the Middle East and former Yugoslavia. The dedicated platforms operated in 1983 were retired, their roles taken on by a shrinking variety of aircraft types (or, in the case of anti-submarine warfare, shifted to shore-based and rotary-wing aircraft). Today, most Carrier Air Wings limit their fighter/strike capability to the F/A-18 Classic Hornet and Super Hornet, and the E/A-18G Growler. Carrier Air Wing Five, based in Japan, has done away with the Classic Hornet altogether, and operates the Super Hornet and the Growler from the USS Ronald Reagan.

That consolidation was not a pre-ordained path, with failed programs (the A-12 Avenger, F-14 life extensions), receding budgets, and an operating environment that emphasized reliability and multi-role performance. The move to consolidation has robbed the United States Navy of, say, an F-14’s high-speed and long-range intercept talents. The upshot is that replacement types (in the form of the Super Hornet) are largely more reliable and efficient, and fewer types has allowed a more streamlined training and logistics pipeline. In an ideal world, this reduces operating costs and improves sortie generation rates with the same number of aircraft and personnel.

The experience of the United States Navy with the Super Hornet is therefore a good clue to how the Resistance came to operate the T-70 X-Wing as its sole type (if I can indulge my imagination, I’d like to think older T-65s are still in limited frontline service as well as operated by Reserve units). Much like the Super Hornet, the T-70 is based on a widely-used predecessor, and likely performs the roles of other types that have been since retired. Anti-capital ship functions, like anti-submarine warfare, have been transferred to the Resistance’s own capital ship fleet. While the Resistance cannot provide a dedicated type for specific roles, it can compensate through improved sortie generation rates thanks to a streamlined logistics pipeline and training model. These two factors are important when you’re fighting a sustained, 30-year conflict, as the case is suggested with The Force Awakens.

T-70 X-Wing Versus Tie Fighter

T-70 X-Wing Versus Tie Fighter

All evidence in the trailers suggest that the Galactic Civil War is still happening. The Resistance is now facing off against the First Order, an Imperial remnant which is a shadow of what we saw 30 years ago. The loss of a pair of trillion-credit Death Stars, coupled with the assassination of its senior leadership, is hard to come back from.

Faced with a degraded enemy, the Resistance had the freedom to reassess how it sustained its warfighting capability, and felt it was able to pair back the number of different Starfighter variants it operated. As these ships came to the end of their life-of-type, they were progressively replaced by squadrons of T-70 X-Wings. This in turn realized significant savings that could be reinvested in a larger fleet of Starfighters, and allowed them to face the First Order on more even terms (rather than conducting a ‘counter-insurgency campaign with Starfighters’). I’d love to speculate other reasons for how the Resistance came to operate a single Starfighter type. Were there Tomcat-style Service Live Extension Programs for the B-Wings? Was a wildly ambitious replacement for the Y-Wing proposed, only to be cancelled and lead to a decades-long lawsuit? These are the Marvel Star Wars comics that I want to read.

Now, I accept the United States Navy’s wider operating environment is different in many respects from the Rebel Alliance/the Resistance. It has the wider United States Air Force, Marine Corps, and Army to jointly operate with. And the United States Navy hasn’t entirely reverted to a single combat type, either. The Northrop Grumman X-47B is plotting the Navy’s path to an Unmanned Carrier-launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike’ platform. And very soon, the F-35C Lightning II will enter service with frontline units as a replacement for the remaining F/A-18 Classic Hornets. In keeping with the other F-35 variants, the C-model emphasizes a combination of sensor-fusion, stealth, and networked connectivity, and is intended to perform multi-role missions.

The F-35C however might still have a kin-type in the Star Wars Universe. Unless JJ Abrams takes us to the planet where the Resistance has its Pax River-equivalent facility, it’s unlikely we’ll see a brand new Starfighter in The Force Awakens. But I can predict when we will see it – in 2017, with the release of Star Wars: Episode VIII.

There’s a couple of reasons to speculate this case. Without having seen The Force Awakens yet, we can expect to see a major shakeup of the power balance in the Galactic Civil War after a sustained 30-year conflict (which will take at least two more films to resolve). The T-70 will have to soldier on, but I predict the Resistance will come into Episodes VIII and IX with a brand new Starfighter type to face this re-surging conflict.

The other reason to be confident of a new Resistance type (let’s call it the T-XX) in 2017 comes down, once again, to merchandising.Disney can only sell so many models before they have to come up with something new. This year, there’s going to be a lot of T-70s underneath Christmas Trees, making it unlikely that kids will want a repackaging of ‘old’ T-70s when Episode VIII comes around.

The new Resistance T-XX, much like the F-35C, is going to have big shoes to fill, and both types will affect how the Resistance and United States Navy emerge from their respective consolidated combat aircraft structure. There’s no guarantees for what conflicts the F-35C might be called upon in the future, and as for what pressures will drive the design of the T-XX? We wont know the answer to that question until December 18.

Watch the latest trailer for The Force Awakens below:

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"That's all that's left - butter and grime - as the Shattuck Safeway in North Berkeley closes for remodeling." photo by Joe Parks, via Wikimedia Commons.

“That’s all that’s left – butter and grime – as the Shattuck Safeway in North Berkeley closes for remodeling.”
photo by Joe Parks, via Wikimedia Commons.

Seth Ariel Green is in his second year of a Political Science Ph.D at Columbia.

I’m loathe to admit it, but The Walking Dead is often not a very good show. The dialogue is at times wooden, the characters irrational or inconsistent in ways that only make sense in terms of advancing the plot, the philosophical discussions pretty empty. And yet some 10-17 million of us continue to watch. Recently the show has made it easy with Carol’s freaking sweet evolution into an action move star, but cold-blooded: Anton Chigurh style. And the setting moves now, unmoored; we are watching a group of highly competent people navigate an apocalypse. Seeing Carol get rolled into the evil-hospital a few weeks ago, a million possibilities open up, but the one I was banking on is her murdering everyone within to rescue Beth. What can I say? The part of my mind that responds to fiction is savage.1 The show appeals because it is as well.

But there’s something else there, that I think appeals more subliminally. The show works as a very dark fairy-tale – not that the original fairy tales were anything but – with a feel-good, political message at its core. A Straussian reading of The Walking Dead suggests that it is about a group of well-meaning people in a brutal world attempting to establish a safe, just society that stands as a bulwark against the ever-present threats of anarchy and tyranny. It is, in other words, a retelling of the story of America.

The show starts out just like 28 Days Later2: main character, likable straight white age-indeterminate masculine man (Rick Grimes) wakes up from a coma and discovers that society has collapsed amidst a mysterious, zombifying epidemic. Rick meets up with his wife and son and some survivors and some soap-opera nonsense ensues. The season culminates with the group seeking shelter in the CDC, and discovering there that the last remaining employee plans to kill himself and blow up the building. He does so, and the characters move back into the fog of anarchy.

Here, the key concerns are Hobbesian. This is what life is like without the government; as Christian Thorne writes, “If you reflect on the earliest stages of human history, you’ll see that it must have been hard to stay alive. Anybody could have done to you anything they wanted. The only thing standing between you and every passing rapist was your own fist.” The zombies, and Merle Haggard, are this: the passing rapists, the unthinking men and women who will eat you alive. Again, Thorne: “Zombie movies are always going to be about crowds. People-in-groups are the genre’s single motivating concern.”

As the series progresses, the problems change. After some pointless in-group fighting in season 2, the group settles down in a prison in season 3, and by season 4, is growing vegetables, largely safe from zombies. But a new threat emerges: The Governor, a violent man with an army3. His motives, as befitting a not-very-good show, are unclear and often poorly spelled out, but in the end, what he really wants is the safe haven the main group has established, and to kick the group out because he hates them. “I’ve got a tank,” he says, brandishing one. “What else is there to talk about?” He is a tyrant, looking to exercise right by might. Michonne kills him, in a moment resplendent with melodrama. The group moves on, looking for the next sanctuary.

Running through all of this is a group-internal discussion about how they should organize themselves. After some carelessness leads to deaths, Rick declares: “This isn’t a democracy anymore,” and the group marches to his drum. A season later, he recants in a (what do you know!) moving paen to democracy: “What we do, what we’re willing to do, who we are, it’s not my call. It can’t be. I couldn’t sacrifice one of us for the greater good because we are the greater good. We’re the reason we’re still here, not me. This is life and death. How you live how you die– it isn’t up to me. I’m not your Governor. We choose to go. We choose to stay. We stick together. We vote.”

Do you see where I’m going with this? The group is America, 1789 to present, trying to establish a safe, democratic space – multicultural to boot, with a slew of ex-Wire characters accumulating over time4 – against the threat of tyranny on one hand (The Governor/George III/Hitler) and anarchy on the other (zombies/the wilderness/the elemental fears of intergroup contact that lead America to split increasingly into “Belmont and Fishtown”). We root for Rick’s group because we want to root for ourselves, for the project of America. The myths the show weaves are fundamentally our myths.

A strong anti-libertarian bent runs through the story. Libertarians see even well-functioning states as often behaving like “organized gangs of criminals;” TWD starts from the premise that the state is what keeps us safe from each other. When groups of characters encounter one another, they almost always seek to dominate each other or to keep their distance; it seems to never occur to them to trade. To my memory, the only time when characters from different groups even propose anything resembling a contract is when Rick’s group negotiates a strategy for removing Walkers from the prison with the men holed up there, which the leader of the other group promptly betrays the first chance he gets. It’s a repeated Prisoner’s Dilemma in which everyone except Rick’s group always defects. What’s the deal? As best as I can tell, the show’s perspective is that man is by nature evil, and only a society formed by the just few can hold that at bay.

It didn’t have to be this way.  Consider two alternative pieces of apocalyptic fiction. 28 Days Later sets you up to follow protagonists in a zombie apocalypse who seek shelter with the military (“Of course there’s a government! There’s always a government! They’re in a… a bunker, or a plane!”), only to find that their saviors are marauding rapists. Thorne writes: “the underlying scenario is straight out of Heart of Darkness: The last outpost of civilization turns out to be a whirring freak show.” The characters break free, and then recover somewhere in the country, safe both from the zombies (re: the mass public) and from the government that betrayed them.

More to the point, I think, is the YA novel The Girl Who Owned a City5. A virus kills everyone over 14, and a group of children reconstruct civilization by occupying and defending a school, and securing a food supply. They have to fend off other gangs of children, but end the book well on their way towards building a new society based on voluntary cooperation, justice and interpersonal respect. It is the anti-Lord of the Flies.

Such an outcome is next to unimaginable for TWD, and not just because the source comics are unrelentingly bleak. It just doesn’t fit with the show’s vision of human nature. These people aren’t going to find peace with each other unless they’re forced to. The only possible endpoint is that Rick and his group will become so overwhelmingly strong, like America, that no one can take what is theirs.

This is the emptiness of the show’s vision, as appealing as it is superficially. It’s not just that we find the story of a powerful, democratic group of do-gooders establishing peace against the forces of darkness alluring. It’s that they can only get there through force, never through cooperation. And that makes me sad. I’d like to believe better of people.

1.As I reread Harry Potter in adulthood, all I could think of was how inefficient, how non-lethal, their magic was. If you can enchant a car to fly you can probably enchant a gun to never miss! Fire it at Voldermort!

2. It’s the best zombie movie of all time, and by a long-shot; the proponents of Romero’s movies are caught in nostalgia.

3. He is a familiar archetype in apocalyptic fiction.

4. How’s that for an idealized retelling!

5. People on the internet claim that O.T. Nelson wrote the book to spread Ayn Rand’s ideas to children. I don’t remember any Jon Galt type speeches in it but they could be there.

Today’s guest post come from Angry Staff Officer, and was originally published at Points of Decision on Medium. It is republished here with permission.

An abstracted Death Star by Eu mesmo

An abstracted Death Star by Eu mesmo

Army doctrine writers, when composing Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency (COIN), sought to draw on a large number of vignettes from diverse conflicts to make their argument for a comprehensive U.S. COIN strategy. In reality, those ineffable doctrine writers could have merely looked to the world of Star Wars and found therein multiple classic examples of successful and failed COIN (As an aside, they could have also found their mission statement in the single phrase, “I have a bad feeling about this.” “It’s a trap” would also have worked). Now, one could get into the geopolitical semantics of whether the Galactic Empire itself was a legitimate government, with the overthrow of the Republic and the dissolution of the Senate. This would of course mean that the Rebel Alliance was in itself an insurgency, as defined by FM 3-24:

Insurgency: The organized use of subversion and violence by a group or movement that seeks to overthrow or force change of a governing authority. Insurgency can also refer to the group itself.

Let us then presuppose that the Rebel Alliance was an insurgency, and examine the Empire’s multi-level approach to defeating the “Rebel scum.” First, they engaged through means of overwhelming military force. One could earn a PhD, I suppose, by trying to figure out the force outlay of the Imperial Fleet during the wars, and seeing how their forces were allocated. Regardless, the Empire was used to using massive force on an unprecedented scale. Fleets aligned around Star Destroyers (Much like a carrier battlegroup) could be deployed throughout the galaxy to visit shock and awe upon the locals. Imperial bases tended to be population-centric, with varying results. Mos Eisley, for example, afforded the Imperial forces a Forward Operating Base for operations on Tatooine. In fact, this stands as a successful example of Imperial COIN, as they leveraged the local population for aid against the Rebels. It also brings me to the first of two vignettes I would like to focus on.

An image taken on a street in Ajim, Tunisia. The building in the photograph was the site of a STAR WARS film location in 1976. Photographed by Colin Kenworthy in October 2011.

An image taken on a street in Ajim, Tunisia. The building in the photograph was the site of a STAR WARS film location in 1976. Photographed by Colin Kenworthy in October 2011.

On Tatooine, the Imperials established a working relationship with the Jawa community. Jawas were well emplaced in the thriving black market and offered a conduit to any off-world activity entering the planet. They were generally left to their own devices, with the Imperials allowing them to continue their black market activities. Of course, this was not always the case, as sometimes Jawas were considered expendable in the search for Rebel activity, i.e., destroying an entire community in the search for Rebel droids. We can infer from the Imperial stormtroopers forensic efforts to place the blame for the destruction of the Jawa vehicle on the Sand People (essentially the Hezb-e Islami Gulbuddin of Tatooine) that they did not routinely massacre the small, hooded beings. Even with incidents like this, the Jawas did not attempt guerrilla activity or aggression versus the Imperials, possibly for fear of being outgunned, but definitely from the fear of the loss of their fiscal empire. By building their base of support in an urban area, with the availability of Quick Reaction Forces (QRF) and tying in with an unethical economy, the Imperial forces scored a COIN “win.”

The next example stands in strong juxtaposition to the last. Endor is the exact opposite of Tatooine: remote, lightly populated, and largely rural, it did not offer the same types of benefits as an urban center would. The Imperial decision to place the Shield Generator for the second Death Star on Endor was folly at best, criminal negligence at worst. While Imperial tactics had developed for both desert and arctic combat conditions, their jungle warfare tactics were woefully inadequate. Relying on speeder bikes for rapid movement and All Terrain Scout Transports (AT-ST), Imperial troops limited their adaptive reaction to a kinetic battlefield. AT-STs in particular were not suited for the dense and constrictive terrain of Endor due to their top heavy nature and design flaws in the legs.

An ewok, with thousand-mile stare.

Ewoks get a lot of bad press but doesn’t this one look like a 30 year veteran of imperial resistance?

In addition to their ignorance of physical terrain (the Imperials often showed their ignorance of METT-TC; probably because they didn’t have doctrine writers), the Imperials ignored their successes on Tatooine and failed to engage the local populace, the Ewoks. One reason could be that perhaps they underestimated the Ewoks, due to their rural society and non-threatening outward appearance. If this is the case, then the Imperial forces made the same mistakes the British did in the 18th century when encountering the Ghurkas of Nepal. Like the Ewoks, the Ghurkas appeared to be a minor foe: short of stature, non-imposing features, a rural city-state society. The British soon discovered this to be incredibly false when they first encountered the Ghurkas in the field of battle. The British learned from this mistake and developed an alliance with the Ghurkas that continues to this day with the Royal Regiment of Ghurka Rifles (note: don’t piss off a Ghurka). The Galactic Empire understood no such nuances, and treated the Ewoks with disdain. This translated into a hostile populace which developed grievances over land use and the reckless use of force by Imperial stormtroopers. When the advance party of the Rebel Alliance landed on Endor, they found a dissatisfied and disenfranchised group with a strong desire for revenge.

The Imperial oversight of the military capabilities of the Ewoks proved to be a disaster when the fighting began, as Imperial patrols were wiped out and fighting positions overrun. Of particular note is the way in which the main combat platform of the AT-ST, a force multiplier for the base-bound stormtroopers, was negated through use of terrain and light infantry tactics. Much like the Finnish tactics in the Winter War of 1939-1940, the Ewoks utilized the restrictive terrain to canalize their enemy and defeat them in detail. The disaster was multiplied by the seizure of the Shield Generator and the subsequent destruction of the second Death Star. Had the Empire engaged the Ewoks or at least ignored their activities, much like they did the Jawas, the end result may have been much different.

The failure of the Empire to recognize the importance of non-human actors on the battlefield dealt a death blow to their endeavors. Their ignorance of the human terrain (Ok, non-human, but you get the point) led them to overreach and commit their forces in an entirely illogical manner. Much like the British Army of 1763 during Pontiac’s Rebellion, the Imperial forces trusted to technology and an over-inflated sense of tactical superiority which led them to build undermanned outposts in hostile terrain. One could also point to their intelligence failures in underestimating the size of the surviving Rebel Fleet after the Battle of Hoth and their ignorance of basic supply lines when developing forward bases, but their failure in the realm of COIN is what particularly stands out in this case. While U.S. Army doctrine writers often come under scathing criticism by bitter and jaded staff officers such as myself, the reality is that the Galactic Empire could have done with a bit of doctrine on their own. It is evident that no one was codifying lessons learned or developing tactics, techniques, and procedures to aid the stormtroopers on the battlefield. This failure should stand out to all military leaders and serve as a warning against ignoring doctrine outright.

That being said, I still hate ATTP 5-0.1 and want to kick Frederick the Great in the family jewels for developing the general staff.

Erdi Erdem tweets at @milleniacinder and works as a Systems Analyst. Hit him up for more about EVE or Bill Paxton. He is happy to discuss both.


The Titanomachy Monument

“In Greek mythology, the Titanomachy  or War of the Titans (Greek: Τιτανομαχία), was the ten-year series of battles which were fought in Thessaly between the two camps of deities long before the existence of mankind”

There is a good chance that if you’re reading this blog, you’ve heard this word quite a few times since last week.   Either you heard this obscure Greek mythology buzzword for the first time or you heard it from people who have no business knowing about the war between Cronus and Zeus.  There is, of course, a very good reason for this and it has to do with the great excel-spreadsheet-second-life space simulator of our time, EVE Online.

In the wee hours of January 27th, EVE’s resident police force, CONCORD, came to collect on rent and protection money for the space station owned by the corporation H A V O C in the B-R5RB system.  The bill hadn’t been paid because someone somewhere forgot to check off a box to auto-pay for the station.  For want of a nail and all that.  War never changes and neither does human error, even virtually.

On January 31st, CCP Games erected a vast memorial at the site of the Battle of B-R5RB.  Titled Titanomachy, the derelict, non-salvageable remains of the 75 Titan ships lost will remain a permanent fixture in dedication to the historic battle.  Over the course of 12 hours, nearly 8,000 unique characters (people) fought with every kind of ship in the EVE arsenal in various systems (locations) in the EVE universe.  The particular system in question held 2,670 players at peak vying for control over the base.  The numbers are staggering.

Totals Destroyed:

  • Titans – 75 (74 in system, one on its way to the fight.) The losing alliance, N3/PL, lost 59 titans and the winner, CFC/DTF, lost 16.  Just for the record, the most titans lost in one battle in the entire history of EVE Online prior to this point numbered at 12.  The winning side lost 25% more Titans in victory than any group had ever lost before.
  • Supercarriers – 13
  • Dreadnaughts – 370
  • Carriers – 123
  • Thousands of frigates, fighters and drones.

The impact to EVE’s player-driven, free market, laissez faire, capitalist economy was 11 TRILLION ISK lost in ships and resources.  In real money that is estimated at about $300,000.  You read that correctly.  $300k.  It was also, with its 8,000 participants, the largest single battle in video gaming history.
“Fire Everything!”

But I hear you.

“What is this guy talking about?  It’s all Greek to me.” (Hah!)

Let me explain.  There are four major factors that make EVE Online unique in the world of gaming:

The first is that EVE Online is potentially gaming’s greatest sandbox.   EVE is a massively multiplayer online role playing game where characters are pilots with the ability to fly various spaceships throughout the EVE universe.  There is no goal or endgame.  There is no pervasive storyline forcing a player in any particular direction.  There is just a pilot working towards whatever role, aim or design he or she may imagine.  The EVE world is full of clans called “corporations” which work very similarly to corporations in our world.  People join in various roles and each corporation has its own aims.  Some corporations are involved with mining while others provide mercenaries to carry out hits and collect money using EVE’s bounty system, et cetera.  Everything is completely open.

The second biggest factor that makes EVE so unique is the way it handles its servers and player base.  There is only one server in EVE and everyone plays on it.  All 500,000+ players are on the same instance at all times.  The world is, therefore, large and varied.  Players can join various Alliances via their corporations.  Everything is happening at the same time because there are so many places to go.  There are over 7,500 systems in the EVE world, each with something to explore.  The processing marvel here is significant.  CCP runs EVE on server nodes using complicated balancing and a factor called “time dilation” where the action is slowed down across the board to prevent lag.  For example, during the climactic battle at B-R5RB with 2,700 players, the game slowed down to about 5 FPS for everyone within that system.  For three to five hours.

Third, EVE’s sandbox quality comes with very few rules (and those only regarding common MMO rules like sharing passwords or selling accounts.)  The EVE universe has two types of territories.  “Highsec” or high security is the first, where new players can safely move about and learn the game or explore what little PvE exists in EVE.  The second area is called “nullsec” where everything is game.  There are no warnings for PvP, no do-overs and no security.  Players and their ships can be killed at any time and unlike other MMOs, if your ship is blown, that’s it.  If you didn’t get insurance then that’s just too bad.  You have to start over and build everything from scratch.  Worse yet, if you haven’t prepared a clone for yourself, that’s it.  Game over man.  These concepts have opened the door for some of the most incredible storylines in multiplayer gaming.

 
“Hey, I think this guy’s a couple cans short of a six-pack.”

Examples include impressive in-game feats such as “Ricdic’s” heist of 250 billion ISK from the coffers of the corporation he infiltrated or Goonswarm Alliance’s taking advantage of a bug to swindle 5 trillion ISK, for which they were lauded… by CCP.  Other examples highlight the deep and friendly community ties in EVE and the spill out into the real world such as with the death of player Vile Rat, aka  Sean Smith, one of the four U.S. diplomats killed during the attack on the consulate in Benghazi.  There are, of course, certain unsavory stories as well such as when a player was banned for a month after he mocked a potentially suicidal player during a forum event.

EVE Online provides players with opportunities to play the game in any way they want.  Usually, players aim for two things.  One is to have fun in whatever way suits them and the other is to aim for PLEX, which is the fourth reason why EVE is unique in the MMO landscape.

PLEX, or Player License Extensions, are cards that can be bought to extend your EVE subscription.  They can either be bought for real money, or they can be bought for the in-game currency, ISK.  This key game mechanic is the reason behind every real life dollar figure given to an EVE battle, heist or exploit.  True, CCP Games does ban players for selling ISK for real money; however, it is still easy, engaging and convenient to use the fixed price of PLEX to put a real-world figure on these engagements.

In reference to the breakdown of numbers earlier, please refer to this chart containing conversation rates from 2010. The cost of one Titan (remember that 75 were lost in this battle) was about 120B ISK which translated to $7,600 and 3,400 hours of construction time.  Today, these numbers are a bit different as Titans have become easier to produce.  Each one costs about $3,000.  I know.  Chump change.  This kind of thing is why EVE is called “Excel Spreadsheet Online.”

True, it may not be the most engaging game to play.  However, one would be hard pressed to see another game make the news as often as EVE for things most often found in the Wall Street Journal.  In the wake of this conflict, the Titanomachy monument will serve to commemorate this achievement, joining other monuments and milestones in EVE such as the New Jita memorial or the memorial to Steve, the first Titan destroyed in battle.  Travelers can even find a memorial to the aforementioned Sean Smith of the U.S. State Department who was killed in Benghazi.

This post was originally featured on Sharlynegger‘s blog, Coruscant Heights, and is reprinted with permission.

This is a topic I have always wanted to write about, mostly because I have seen so many analyses of Star Wars that did nothing but decry the near absence of women in the movies. As such, it’s often classified as one of the most sexist science-fiction works in existence, and let’s face it, there’s not even a need to run the Bechdel Test here.

Because we fail miserably.

However, as a woman who considers herself a feminist, I don’t think it’s fair to completely ignore the positive role Star Wars has had for women in science-fiction. I can say at least this: I was raised on Star Wars, literally – I saw the original movies at age four or five, I would cover my eyes per dad’s orders at the scary scenes (Honestly, call it instinct, I still do when the Emperor zaps Luke at the end of Return of the Jedi), I spent my entire childhood playing Star Wars video games with my father and pretending the office was a spaceship. After the Phantom Menace came out, I don’t think there was a day without my father referring to me as his “Young Padawan.”

And so, despite its lack of women, Star Wars had a huge influence on my life, and on my feminism, both the movies and the expanded universe. This is what I’m going to try to convince you of here, by having a closer look at every major female character in the movies.

Women in the Original Trilogy

Let’s start with the start; and I mean the real start. And I admit, it’s really difficult to find women in the Original Trilogy other than Leia. In all three movies, there are really three women that appear on screen and interact with the main characters: Princess Leia Organa, Mon Mothma, leader of the Rebellion, and Luke’s aunt, Beru Lars. But despite their small number, two of those had an extremely positive impact.

Princess Leia

Leia was, and still is the major female figure of Star Wars, and I believe things will stay that way for a long time.

She is a fascinating character: at first, she seems to fit all the medieval tropes of the Damsel in Distress (she is, after all, a princess) waiting for her knight to rescue her. Worse, that happens to her in all three movies: in A New Hope, Luke and Han rescue her from the Death Star; in The Empire Strikes Back, she is rescued by Lando’s men in Bespin’s Cloud City; finally, in Return of the Jedi, she finds herself in this situation twice, first in Jabba’s palace, and then on Endor when she is separated from the Rebel group.

“Again?!”

Seeing this, it’s easy to understand why, at first glance, Leia’s character wouldn’t strike anyone as a symbol of gender equality in science-fiction. But, let’s look at her a little closer. What is the first thing we learn about Princess Leia?

This scene.

Well, obviously, she is not just a princess; or at least not a very conventional one. Leia is presented to us as a spy, and a successful one too: she has an important mission, and she gets it done, at the cost of her safety and freedom. Her bravery in that scene is a trait that is something more often seen with male characters in similar movies.

On top of being introduced as a brave operative of the Rebellion, Leia’s resistance against Darth Vader shortly after immediately sets the mood: she is a force to be reckoned with. Later, we get more displays of her strength of character: she resists torture by the Empire, and still lies about the location of the Rebel base, even as her home planet is about to literally blown up. Furthermore, we see throughout all three movies that she is a strong, respected leader: displays of her command over her men are frequent.

TheFateofAllFemaleWookieepedians

I’m pretty sure they’re listening. Except the idiot who’s sleeping right there.

Leia’s skills don’t stop at politics and spying. She’s often shown as a very successful fighter (and a good shot).

Princess_Leia_Return_of_the_Jedi_Endor

I wouldn’t mess with her.

Let’s have a closer look at each of the situations where Leia had to be rescued.

  • In A New Hope, after being freed from her cell by Luke and Han (where she looks like she was just waiting in there completely bored, not very much in distress), Leia pretty much takes control of the situation. She is the one who throws everyone in the dumpster. Not Luke or Han, who are just sitting there unsure of what to do: no, Leia takes the blaster, shoots, and pretty much saves everyone’s butt (temporarily, at least).
  • When on Bespin, despite being initially captured by the Empire and saved by Lando’s men, Leia, again, quickly takes control of the situation (with a little help from Chewbacca, I’ll admit). She is the one who saves Luke after his terrible first “Bring Your Son To Work” day.
  • Return of the Jedi’s famous scene in Jabba The Hutt’s palace does not escape this treatment. Let’s not forget that Leia gets captured while rescuing Han – another middle finger to the Damsel in Distress trope. Of course, then Leia ends up in the infamous slave costume we all know (and I still think that was just George Lucas’ pervert side taking advantage of Carrie Fisher requesting new costumes). But then, what happens? Once again, Leia turns the situation around and literally strangles Jabba to death.
SHOW ME YER WARRIOR FACE

SHOW ME YER WARRIOR FACE

What else does that say about Leia? Well, we know that she literally doesn’t take anyone’s shit. Look at all this glorious sass.

tumblr_m6kpc0LavA1rsrbxa

giphy

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Note: if anyone can find the author of these GIFs, so I can credit them, I’d be grateful!

In the end, I think Leia was my first role model. At the age I saw the movies, I was very much a Disney kid: all my princesses were Belle, Aurora, Cinderella-types. While those also have diverse qualities, Leia soon became my favorite princess. And here’s the key: Leia very much is a princess. But she’s also a fighter, a spy, a politician, and a leader. All those traits, usually associated with male characters, don’t make her any less of a princess, or any less of a woman. All at once, they have made her a very powerful, very influential woman in science-fiction.

Mon Mothma

Leia is not the only strong woman depicted in the original trilogy. How could one forget Mon Mothma? Her character, though very briefly seen in Return of the Jedi, is crucial. She is the leader of the Rebel Alliance, and she is seen giving the briefing before the Battle of Endor. Her role is even more important in the extended universe of Star Wars, with her making appearances as the “General Big Boss” in many games and books. Her iconic line “Many Bothans died to bring us this information” has long turned into a meme and ensured that her role in the movie did not get forgotten.

Representation matters. Power to the short brunettes! Ahem.

Representation matters. All power to the short brunettes! Ahem.

I think the most important thing about her is that her gender is never put into question in the movie: she is introduced, much like Leia, as a respected leader with a position important enough to command the entire Alliance.

Again, it’s only a shame that her appearance is so short; it reduces the importance and positivity of her character.

Aunt Beru and the others

Let’s be honest: the other female characters shown in the original movies are probably contributing to the whole “Star Wars is sexist” conclusion. And frankly, I don’t think they could be much worse.

Aunt Beru, the only woman who gets a name aside from Leia and Mon Mothma, is only used as emotional advancement for Luke, along with his uncle. She fits the role of the gentle mother figure who dies to make the male protagonist motivated enough to start his quest – something that is repeated in the prequels. The only thing that softens this up for her is that she dies along with Luke’s uncle, lessening the “Woman In the Refrigerator” trope effect (but don’t worry, we get that *twice* in the prequels! Yay!)

Aside from Beru, what do we have? The dancers in Jabba’s palace, which are your classic female characters in the background, and…the deleted Rebel pilots. Yes, you’ve read correctly: there were initially female X-wing pilots in Return of the Jedi, that is, before George Lucas scratched their parts at the last minute.

Wait, what?!

original

Wait, what?!

Some of them can be seen in the BluRay edition deleted scenes. Which raises the question: why were these scenes deleted at the last moment? Why was the footage not included? And why specifically the scenes including female pilots? Honestly, we may never know, but personally, I’ve got a pretty good idea. Maybe George Lucas offered them to fly in iron bikinis.

Women in the Prequels

That gives us two very positive roles for women in the old trilogy, but a distinct lack of named female characters, two of which were willingly removed from the movies. Mixed feelings, right? What about the prequels?

What we can observe from the prequels is that they are more recent, and there was a visible effort to include more women roles. But are those roles as positive as Leia and Mon Mothma? I’m not so sure. Again, there are only two major female characters in the prequels: Anakin’s mother, Shmi Skywalker, and Padmé Amidala. And if we compare these to Leia and Mon Mothma… well. See for yourself.

Shmi Skywalker

While I loved the gentleness and diversity in female personalities that Shmi represented for the Star Wars series, her entire character is a living trope. Her role was not quite as bad during the Phantom Menace, where she was even shown as a selfless, strong mother who put the wellbeing of her child in front of everything else – a common theme in fiction, but new to Star Wars – and was not afraid of living the rest of her life as a slave.

"Oh, sweetheart, of *course* we're going to see each other again. After all, someone has to die in your arms to make you all dark and stuff."

“Oh, sweetheart, of *course* we’re going to see each other again. After all, someone has to die in your arms to make you all dark and stuff.”

Then, Attack of the Clones happens. Shmi then turns into the perfect embodiment of the Woman in the Refrigerator I was mentioning earlier: she is only a reason for Anakin to start turning to the Dark Side. Just like that, we learn that her entire existence, her entire character is only there for Anakin’s character development. Quite frankly, she is not really the positive woman representation I was looking for. What else do we have in the prequels?

Padmé Amidala

Padmé – pardon me, Queen Amidala – started out wonderfully well. She is introduced as a powerful queen, loved by her people, and most importantly, elected. As such, Padmé’s position does not come from only “tradition”: she is a young prodigy who earned her place. Much like Leia, she is shown as a fiery woman and expert politician, with battle skills and a natural talent for leadership.

I remember having a lot more pimples at 14.

I remember having a lot more pimples at 14.

During most of The Phantom Menace, she is portrayed as clever, gentle, and willing to put herself at risk for her people. All very good traits. Still, like Leia, she still very much a woman, and that is a good thing! Women can be strong AND intelligent AND pretty. AND like beautifully crafted costumes. Attack of the Clones, despite what one might think, did not ruin her character right away: we get to see more of her fighting skills, and meet her strong-headed side, the side that refuses to be seduced right away by Anakin as she focuses on her career.

Sadly, that doesn’t last. Quickly, Anakin and Padmé’s romance, unlike Leia and Han’s, becomes central to the story: Padmé is still a strong ally, but that is when we start seeing where the prequels are heading with her.

I mean, let's face it, she was pretty badass in Attack of the Clones.

I mean, let’s face it, she was pretty badass in Attack of the Clones.

I had doubts when I saw the movie, but even then, I still considered her a powerful, positive character. Even during her wedding with Anakin, even though it made little sense. It was certainly saddening to see her relinquish her role as a politician to that of “forbidden love character”. But I don’t think anything could have prepared me for Revenge of the Sith when it comes to her personality.

I mean – what happened? Forget Padmé’s leadership skills, forget her politician background. Revenge of the Sith turns her into a plot hole (because, frankly, why does Leia remember her if she died giving birth to her?) The bridge to the original movies is sealed with her losing all interest as a character: she becomes nothing but Anakin’s character development, much like Shmi. Then again, we kind of all wish Anakin’s character development was actually a development.

WHO wrote this?

I mean, WHO wrote this?

Padmé’s character becomes just terrible in that movie: she does nothing to save herself, or even to help Anakin. She just, literally, sits there during the entire movie waiting to be killed, while Anakin turns to the Dark Side to save her. The worst part of it is probably her “losing the will to live” at the end. Why would she lose the will to live? She is about to give birth to two perfectly healthy children, both of which could have been her only hope to save Anakin and the Jedi Order. Padmé, the Queen who got elected at the age of fourteen, the Senator who fought in a Geonosis arena, decides to simply let go of herself and her children because her lover needs to become Lord Vader by strangling her.

They did what to my character?

They did what to my character?

If you still think that makes sense, feel free to explain it to me. Because all I remember from that is this:

No matter what I do, I can still *hear it*

No matter what I do, I can still *hear it*

In the end, that gave me a very negative view of Padmé. The one character that I thought was going to be as inspiring as Leia turned out to be a plot-hole with no personality by the end of the prequels.

Sidenote: if you really think a politician as experienced and talented as Padmé would have chosen Jar-Jar Binks to represent her at the Senate while she was away, you… no. Just no.

A note on the background women

That said, it would be unfair to forget the other women presented in the prequels. Although none of them get a major role (at the exception, perhaps, of the assassin Zam), there are distinctively more than there were in the original trilogy.

We get to see a few female Jedi, including the librarian in the Jedi Temple. Finally, women with lightsabers! My days of running around the yard calling my dog Chewbacca and pretending to be a Jedi are validated.

jedi-girl

Review_JocastaNuTVC_stillF

female_jedi

Zam Wesell, the shapeshifting assassin in Attack of the Clones, is the first female villain we see in the movies. That fact makes her worth mentioning, and it is indeed nice to see more diverse profiles for female characters.

Zam was pretty cool, when you think about it.

Zam was pretty cool, when you think about it.

Finally, Padmé’s all-female handmaiden crew, one of which dies for her in Attack of the Clones, are in my opinion another interesting female input in the series. It’s a shame they are not developed a little more. Despite the fact that they fit the traditional handmaiden mold, their devotion and courage to their queen sets them a little above that trope.

I think we’re done with the women that show up in the prequels. Not a very good score, either.

So, is Star Wars sexist?

With all that’s been said, I think it’s fair to say that Star Wars could use a few more women roles. It would have been nice to see more relevant female Jedi who get more than just a death scene (I’m looking at you, Aayla Secura), it would have been nice to see those female X-wing pilots included in the original movie. And, while I’m at it, why not show female Imperial officers?

The extended universe took on all of that. The contrast is stunning: the games, books and comics are filled with example of very diverse female characters. We have villains, Sith, Jedi, Imperials, pilots and bounty hunters of various races, whose gender is rarely ever called into question. When it comes to the representation, the extended universe certainly wins.

However, I don’t think we can say that the movies are doing so bad: both the original trilogy and the prequels showed strong women in positions of power. But that is where the prequels fail at having an impact as important as the original: Leia and Mon Mothma’s influence was never defined by their gender, and the romance in the original trilogy was only a side plot. In the prequels, while there are more women in the background, the romance is completely central to the plot, obfuscating the genderless qualities of Padmé. Worse, both of the major female characters are character development material for Anakin. As always, we are brought to the final conclusion that the original trilogy is better than the prequels.

Yes, I just went there.

Yes, I just went there.

In all seriousness: yes, the original trilogy definitely lacked women. But the positive representation that Leia generated by herself, with her personality, power, and story, had such an impact on the viewers that I think it’s still fair to call her a feminist heroine.

In any case, I can finally call her my favorite Disney princess.

Ender’s Shadow and Offense-Defense Theory

Posted: November 1, 2013 by blogtarkin in Uncategorized

Seth Green is in his first year of a political science PhD at Columbia, focusing on International Relations.

map of citadel of Lille, designed by Vauban

map of citadel of Lille, designed by Vauban

“Ender’s Shadow” is a 1997 novel by Orson Scott Card, set in the same universe and roughly same time period as his more well-known “Ender’s Game.” “Shadow” centers on a child named Bean, a minor character in “Game,” fleshing out his backstory and trajectory. The setting is a future in which Earth was devastated two centuries prior by an attack from an alien race known as Buggers. Humanity won the war, and then set up an International Fleet to keep peace between states, coordinate future anti-Bugger action, and train the best and brightest children of the world to be military commanders in an off-planet installation known as Battle School, where most of both “Game” and “Shadow” take place.

Bean is a genetically altered, preternaturally intelligent Battle School cadet who started life as a street urchin, and he is quite different from the other children. His genetic gifts enable him to breeze through classes, and so he spends much of his time reading classic military theory and spying on teachers. Eventually one of them goes to talk to Bean about his reading activities:

“”I’ve been looking at your reading list,” said Dimak. “Vauban?”

“Yes?”

“Fortification engineering from the time of Louis the Fourteenth?” Bean nodded. He thought back to Vauban and how his strategies had adapted to fit Louis’s ever-more-straitened finances… He started to talk about this, but Dimak cut him off.

“Come on, Bean. Why are you studying a subject that has nothing to do with war in space?”…

“Well of course fortifications are impossible in space,” said Bean. “In the traditional sense, that is. But there are things you can do. Like his mini-fortresses, where you leave a sallying force outside the main fortification. You can station squads of ships to intercept raiders. And there are barriers you can put up. Mines. Fields of flotsam to cause collisions with fast-moving ships, holing them. That sort of thing.” Dimak nodded, but said nothing. Bean was beginning to warm to the discussion.

“The real problem is that unlike Vauban, we have only one strong point worth defending — Earth. And the enemy is not limited to a primary direction of approach. He could come from anywhere. From anywhere all at once. So we run into the classic problem of defense, cubed. The farther out you deploy your defenses, the more of them you have to have, and if your resources are limited, you soon have more fortifications than you can man. What good are bases on moons Jupiter or Saturn or Neptune, when the enemy doesn’t even have to come in on the plane of the ecliptic? He can bypass all our fortifications. The way Nimitz and MacArthur used two- dimensional island-hopping against the defense in depth of the Japanese in World War II. Only our enemy can work in three dimensions. Therefore we cannot possibly maintain defense in depth. Our only defense is early detection and a single massed force… [E]ven that was a recipe for disaster, because the enemy is free to divide his forces. So even if we intercept and defeat ninety-nine of a hundred attacking squadrons, he only has to get one squadron through to cause terrible devastation on Earth. We saw how much territory a single ship could scour when they first showed up and started burning over China. Get ten ships to Earth for a single day — and if they spread us out enough, they’d have a lot more than a day! — and they could wipe out most of our main population centers. All our eggs are in that one basket.”

“And all this you got from Vauban,” said Dimak.

Finally. That was apparently enough to satisfy him. “From thinking about Vauban, and how much harder our defensive problem is.”

“So,” said Dimak, “what’s your solution?”

…”I don’t think there is a solution,” said Bean, buying time again. But then, having said it, he began to believe it. “There’s no point in trying to defend Earth at all. In fact, unless they have some defensive device we don’t know about, like some way of putting an invisible shield around a planet or something, the enemy is just as vulnerable. So the only strategy that makes any sense at all is an all-out attack. To send our fleet against *their* home world and destroy it.”

“What if our fleets pass in the night?” asked Dimak. “We destroy each other’s worlds and all we have left are ships?”

“No,” said Bean, his mind racing. “Not if we sent out a fleet immediately after the Second Bugger War. After Mazer Rackham’s strike force defeated them, it would take time for word of their defeat to come back to them. So we build a fleet as quickly as possible and launch it against their home world immediately. That way the news of their defeat reaches them at the same time as our devastating counterattack.”

Dimak closed his eyes. “Now you tell us.”

“No,” said Bean, as it dawned on him that he was right about everything. “That fleet was already sent. Before anybody on this station was born, that fleet was launched.”

“Interesting theory,” said Dimak. “Of course you’ re wrong on every point.” “No I’m not,” said Bean. He knew he wasn’t wrong, because Dimak’s air of calm was not holding. Sweat was standing out on his forehead. Bean had hit on something really important here, and Dimak knew it.”(1)

(SPOILER ALERT)If you’ve read Ender’s Game, you know that Bean has just deduced, from a text on fortification, perhaps the central plot twist of the companion text. (END SPOILER)

Wormhole travel as envisioned by Les Bossinas for NASA

Wormhole travel as envisioned by Les Bossinas for NASA

He has also provided a neat illustration of the International Relations concept known as Offense-Defense Theory. Offense Defense Theory’s central tenet is that certain technologies, and certain static features, like terrain, are more or less amenable to offensive or defensive war, and so have an influence on whether states are more or less likely to pursue aggressive war. As a simple example, tanks are an offensive weapon, and anti-tank missiles are a defensive weapon; if tanks were generally stronger and more sophisticated than their counterpart, you’d expect more offensive war.* As Robert Jervis puts it,

“when defensive weapons differ from offensive ones, it is possible for a state to make itself more secure without making others less secure…When we say that the offense has the advantage, we simply mean that it is easier to destroy the other’s army and take its territory than to defend one’s own…The security dilemma is at its most vicious when commitments, strategy, or technology dictate that the only route to security lies through expansion.” (2)

What Bean has figured out is that all bets are off when it comes to defending a whole planet; absent a giant invisible force field, we just can’t defend a three dimensional space effectively with the weapons we have. This suggests is that, given our current technology, if we encounter an alien race and we don’t know their intentions towards us, it’s in our strong interest to strike first and decisively (the ability to do so is the virtue most praised in “Ender’s Game”). This is another way of stating the core position of the IR perspective known as offensive realism; as John Mearsheimer puts it, “Uncertainty about the intentions of other states is unavoidable, which means that states can never be sure that other states do not have offensive intentions to go along with their offensive capabilities.” (3)

So if we ever encounter an alien race in our lifetimes, and immediately go to war with them, just know that Orson Scott Card called it.

* Offense Defense Theory isn’t bulletproof. Trenches are fundamentally defense oriented, and yet states still jumped into World War I aggressively. One potential important qualification is that just as important as whether technology skews offensively or defensively is how states *perceive* that skew.

~~~

1 Orson Scott Card. “Ender’s Shadow.” “Tor Books; US, 1999; p 108-112

2 Roert Jervis. “Cooperation Under the Security Dilemma.” World Politics, Cambridge MA, Vol. 30, No. 2(Jan 1978), p 186-187

3 quoted within http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Security_dilemma

Matt Bassett is a second-year Master’s in Public Administration candidate at the University of Pennsylvania’s Fels Institute of Government. He can be reached at bassettm [at] sas.upenn.edu. 

Hey, I understand.

You’re an FBI special agent, and your life is not easy.

You’re overworked, understaffed, and underpaid. (Thanks, sequestration.) You’re assigned to an interagency task force where the chain of command is, at best, murky. And you’re not just chasing terrorists, white-collar criminals or bank robbers. You’ve got to fight shape-shifters, hack into people’s memories, dodge bio-weapons, and occasionally even jump between universes. And you hardly ever get a day off.

That’s right- you work for Fringe Division. And with all the other stuff on your plate, now comes this New York Times report. Turns out the Grey Lady recently got hold of a (real-life) FBI Inspection Division document, one that analyzed 17 years’ worth of data on agent-involved shootings. And that article, entitled “Bad Shoots,” throws serious shade on the FBI’s shooting investigation process, implying that the Bureau had a suspiciously strong track record of finding its agents faultless.

And let’s be clear- Fringe Division agents are no strangers to violence. Saving the universe can be a messy business. But now your boss- a guy who can’t even make up his mind about whether he works for the FBI, DHS or DoD– wants answers. How does Fringe Division- a tightly-classified federal task force- stack up against the rest of the FBI when it comes to agent-involved shootings? Do Fringe agents usually comply with the FBI’s policies on the use of force, and what happens when they don’t? In short- how does the government’s relationship with violence change when the fate of not only the nation, but of the entire universe, hangs in the balance?

The short answer is- it changes a lot.

Shootings- Lots Of Shootings

Between 1993 and 2009, the real-world FBI (including agents, FBI-assigned local cops, and other Bureau personnel) were involved in 497 shootings. A plurality [FC1] of these (216) were unintentional, accidental discharges; next up were 188 “intentional” shootings; and the remaining 93 involved agents firing on threatening animals.

The FBI treats each shooting category- animal, intentional and unintentional- as a separate incident, even if multiple agents are involved. Four agents shooting at one armed suspect would count as one incident. But if one of them accidentally discharged their weapon while holstering it, that’d be a whole separate incident- and a separate investigation.

Now, Fringe Division agents have accidental discharges too, and they’ve cooked off a few rounds at animals, too. (Anybody remember the lizard/wasp/bat/lion hybrid? Or the jumbo-sized human cold virus that scurried around on the floor?) But what really matter are intentional shootings- moments when an agent draws their gun, fires at another human being, and means it.

Recently, I reviewed Fringe Division records[1], using FBI shooting criteria as well as the Bureau’s Domestic Investigations & Operations Guide and Manual of Administrative Operations & Procedures. By counting unintentional, intentional and animal shootings, I gathered enough data to permit an apples-to-apples comparison between Fringe Division and the FBI generally. (I also drew on FBI and DOJ regulations for agent usage of force; more on that later.)

With 188 “intentionals” across 17 years, the real-world FBI averages about 11 intentional shoots per year. That’s across an agency that boasts nearly 14,000 gun-toting special agents, spread across 56 big field offices, 380 smaller resident agencies, and 60 overseas liaison offices known as “legats.” So every year, an FBI agent stands a roughly 1-in-1,270 chance of getting into an intentional.

By comparison, Fringe Division is a pretty small shop- approximately two dozen FBI agents, housed in the FBI Boston Field Division yet nominally under the control of DHS. (Imagine the turf wars.) Yet between 2008 and 2012, Fringe Division accounts for a whopping 48 intentional shootings, not to mention three accidentals and three animal shoots. That’s right; on an average year, Fringe Division racks up about as many intentionals as the entire FBI, giving a Fringe agent a 1-in-2 chance of logging an intentional every year.[2][FC2]

Put another way, Fringe agents were involved in more intentional shooting incidents in four years than all the FBI agents in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC, Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, Richmond and Charlotte, combined, racked up over 17 years.

The Human Cost

As of August 2013, 57 FBI agents and professional staff have lost their lives in the line of duty, dating back to Edwin C. Shanahan, an FBI agent who tried to singlehandedly stop a Chicago carjacking in 1925. But the business of protecting the universe apparently represents a new degree of on-the-job hazard; shapeshifters, rips in the fabric of the universe,[FC3]  and unspeakable bio-warfare substances are seemingly lurking around every corner.

Based on my count, Fringe Division lost 17 FBI agents in the line of duty between 2008 and 2012. That doesn’t include local law enforcement or outside-agency personnel. Given that the DIOG specifies that the FBI Director will make personal contact with the families of any FBI agent killed on duty, the lethal nature of Fringe Division’s work would be well-known at the highest levels.

Since most of Fringe Division’s work is highly classified, it wouldn’t make headlines, but still, that’s a lot- losing about a third as many agents in four years as the entire Bureau lost in the past 88.

More What You’d Call…Guidelines

So we know a Fringe posting carries the likelihood not only of gunplay, but of significant on-the-job peril, more akin to a war zone than to a regular FBI office. But does this mean they end up breaking the rules to keep themselves and their buddies alive?

In the 497 agent-involved shooting incidents the real-world FBI analyzed, and on which the New York Times reported, only five were characterized as “bad shoots,” all involving violations of the FBI’s Use of Force policy. The FBI’s Domestic Investigations & Operations Guide (Appendix F) includes this document. It’s pretty clear on three key points; you can’t shoot a suspect solely to prevent their escape, you can’t fire solely to disable a moving vehicle, and you can’t fire warning shots.

In contrast, using those same criteria (among the others stated in the policy,) Fringe Division would have racked up- at a minimum- 15 separate dirty shoots in four years, 12 of which came back to Special Agent Olivia Dunham. Dunham fired at fleeing suspects who posed no threat, used her gun to deafen a colleague[3] (protecting him from dangerous sound waves,) intentionally shot out windows and door locks, and even blasted a giant mutant hedgehog while suspended from duty.

And that conservative count of 15 “bad shoots” assumes we don’t include at least nine other shootings involving an FBI professional staff person (Peter Bishop) who was very much not authorized to carry a gun.

…You Did What Now?

If the FBI’s got a lot of regulations governing what happens before and during a shoot, it’s positively awash in rules about what happens afterwards. The Bureau convenes a Shooting Incident Review Team, which is delegated to the local field office about half the time but results in an FBI HQ investigation for the other half. The agent’s supervisor has to submit a written report to Washington within 24 hours (Broyles would be a busy guy) and the Special Agent in Charge (SAC) would have to reach out to the involved agent to offer support (“Agent Dunham again, I presume?”)

The field office would have to obtain assurances, called a “declination of prosecution,” that local authorities wouldn’t charge the agent with assault or murder, and a policy-level group in Washington would have to vet the ultimate report, a process taking, on average, roughly six months.

Whenever injury or death was involved, FBI Headquarters would have to notify the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division and the DOJ Office of the Inspector General. I suspect both groups would soon be camped out next to the Fringe Division office.

Not to mention the impact on the investigations themselves. The SAC has to “strongly encourage” an FBI shooter to take five days of administrative leave, which could do a lot to a small group like Fringe. The agent in question has to be removed from the case, and reassigned somewhere “not…immediately likely to involve armed confrontations.” How are you going to catch bioterrorists, alternate-universe bad guys or shadowy corporate interests if you’re constantly flying a desk?

What Did We Learn, Kids?

Needless to say, Fringe Division is rarely jammed up over “bad shoots,” and the post-shooting review process seems limited to Agent Broyles patting S/A Dunham on the back and saying, “You okay?” One might then conclude that Fringe is just a TV show and it’s not realistic. That’s boring, and more importantly, that’s not the BlogTarkin way. Rather, these depictions of drastic FBI overuse of force makes us consider what life might look like when we tell our government to save the world, at any cost- and whether what’s left is worth saving.

So when our very existence is on the line, how much violence- not military violence abroad, but police violence at home- is too much? The question wouldn’t likely get answered through public debate; everything Fringe does is cloaked in secrecy, and would almost certainly shroud these “oopsies” from scrutiny. And how could the FBI really be transparent about threats to the fabric of existence without inciting mass panic? Oh, you think terrorists are bad? Look out for holes in the fabric of the universe. Don’t like taking your shoes off in the airport? You’re lucky you didn’t get frozen in quarantine amber and declared legally dead!

It’s tough to argue that the FBI should keep the gloves on, stick to the book, and risk the destruction of the universe. But analyzing Fringe’s track record against the real-world FBI does raise the question of how much further we’d change the rules, even the Constitution, and move that red line, if it meant saving our world. As S/A Broyles tells Olivia Dunham, “There are times when the only choices you have left, are bad ones.”


[1] Read, “mainlined Fringe episodes on Netflix for two weeks straight.”

[2] A note on my methodology. I did not account for a number of shooting incidents that took place in a parallel universe, where the FBI- and presumably, its shooting criteria- no longer existed. FBI agents from “our side” were involved in at least two shootings “over there,” but according to inter-universal Treaty Code 5891(j), agents must abide by each universe’s local laws and regulations, so these would not count. I also did not account for shooting incidents which took place in the far future, after the FBI will have had been disbanded, nor did I include incidents occurring in dream sequences or premonitions. I also excluded the deployment of non-lethal weaponry like tranquilizer darts or tasers.

[3] An “alternate Olivia” in disguise performed this act, but it would probably still end up on Agent Dunham’s record.