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Ground Combat Technology


Any discussion of science fiction ground combat weaponry must start by firmly grounding itself (sorry about the pun) in the principles of real-life ground combat. The weapons employed in real-life ground warfare generally fall into four categories:

  1. Melee weapons
  2. Ranged weapons
  3. Artillery
  4. Cavalry

These basic categories have not changed for millenia, although the tactical role of the cavalry has changed. In the classical Greco-Roman era, their melee weapons were daggers, flails, short swords, and long swords. Their ranged weapons were longbows and crossbows. Their artillery was the catapult. Their cavalry was men on horseback. Two thousand years later on the battlefields of Europe, the predominant melee weapons were bayonets, daggers, and sabres. Their ranged weapon was the musket. Their artillery was the cannon. Their cavalry was still men on horseback. The 19th century saw the momentous invention of the machine gun, which initially fell into the category of "artillery" but which would eventually be miniaturized to the point that it became a handheld weapon.

Today, the primary melee weapons are still the dagger and bayonet, which are still psychologically reassuring to the infantryman even if they aren't a front-line weapon any more. Ranged weaponry includes all manner of small arms, as well as special weapons like grenade launchers, anti-tank weapons, and flamethrowers. Artillery includes mortars, towed guns, and self-propelled guns. Cavalry has metamorphosized into the armoured vehicle.

All of the aforementioned categories are important but none of them are capable of functioning effectively alone. It is the combination of these elements (and many internal sub-categories) that tacticians use in order to mount an effective attack on the ground. The classic military strategy is to pull your opponent in two directions at once, with an example being the flanking maneuver which forces your enemy to face in two directions at once. Other examples are the combination of heavier-than-air nerve gas and explosive artillery (one pools in low-lying areas, thus forcing them out into the open, while the other compels them to seek cover), the use of machine guns to support squad advances by laying down suppression fire on an enemy position, and the combination of artillery and infantry to attack an enemy position. One-dimensional strategies are rarely successful, so it has been the effective combination of different weapons and tactics that have characterized successful armies throughout history.


The interesting question for Star Trek and Star Wars fans is how the major ground weapon categories (and some of their important sub-categories) have been translated into their respective fictional worlds. To that end, I intend to compare and contrast these categories as they appear in real life, the Empire of Star Wars, and the Federation of Star Trek.

  Real Life Star Wars Star Trek
Small Arms Major categories are handguns, sub-machine guns and carbines, assault rifles, machine guns, and sniper rifles. Details. All categories are represented. Details. Most categories are represented, but they lack a sustained-fire support weapon. Details.
Artillery Major categories are mortars, towed guns, and self-propelled guns. Details. All categories are represented, but long-range artillery strikes are hampered by line of sight weaponry. Details. No representation. Ground forces are dependent on air support to hit any targets for which small-arms fire is inadequate. Details.
Armour Major categories are tanks, recon vehicles, and APCs. Details. All categories are represented, and the Empire adds heavy battle droids. Details. No representation. Ground forces use transporters for movement, and when transporters are being blocked or jammed, they are dependent on air lifts. Details.
Miscellaneous Some categories are grenades, flamethrowers, anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, mines, body armour, environmental protection. Details. All categories are represented. Details. No representation. Details.

Comparison, Summary, and Acknowledgements

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