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What combat role could a mech play on a real battlefield?


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I know this is pretty far-stretched, but just curious - if it were possible to create mechs like in Mechwarrior or other fantasy universes, what kind of realistic combat role could it play on a real battlefield?

 

Let's ditch the fantasy notion of them being indestructible superweapons that only other mechs can take down, and consider more of a "realistic" sci-fi angle - what could they be used for? I imagine that if they had a functional propulsion system that allowed for a limited amount of vertical movement, they could be useful in hilly terrain, or even heavily forested areas where normal ground vehicles cannot pass?

 

What do you think?

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Target drone for practicing.

 

:D

 

 

No, seriously, Mechs are not practicable. Just way too large of a target.

 

Given we had the appropriate technology available for emplying Mechs, so we would also have the technology for infatry troops to counter mechs. Think of tanks vs. anti tank weapons. And tank vs. AT guy in close combat - the guy wins.

 

And if fighting over greater distances, there are other means to hit a thing that big as well. Compared to tanks (when projecting their capabilities into the future), there is just no real added value for having Mechs.

 

What I could see coming in the future are some sort of Exo-skeleton type of armor for infantry troops. Those are already being researched today ...

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About the only thing I could think is mountain warfare; the tank for un-tank-able terrain. That said, even then, I'd imagine something more akin to Boston Dynamic's "Big Dog": four legs, low silhouette, high-mounted turreted weapons and sensors. (and I'm thinking something in the 20 ton or less class, armed with rapid-firing autocannon or automatic grenade launchers or mortars for the infantry support role, not really a tank). As Flagrum mentioned, they're just too high a profile and too inefficient a locomotion technology for anything else; you'll never hang as much armour on one as on a tracked chassis.

 

Ultimately, I think any technology along that development route would be applied to powered infantry armour, not to "mecha"


Edited by OutOnTheOP
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What mechs have over other kind of vehicle platforms is mobility over uneven terrain at the expense of speed and range. So the question is if this kind of trade off would be useful in some scenario. Considering that US Army is developing walking robots I suppose it's not so stupid idea. Though I doubt a 10m tall walking humanoid mech is useful for any other purpose than teenage power fantasy. Two legged setup is more power efficient so maybe at some point we might see some kind military use for them but because of it's relative height it probably wouldn't be used for direct combat role. Like already said power armor is much more likely way for the future, larger mechs could be used more as mechanical horses for transporting power armored troops, their stuff and maybe artillery missile tubes and other indirect weapons. Future warfare is headed more and more towards small recons units and UAVs finding the targets and directing artillery and air power to destroy them.

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Target drone for practicing.

 

Had the exact same reaction the moment I read this post :)

 

Mech games in the 90s were cool though. Off the top of my head I guess they could theoretically be mobile/semi staionary communications and surveillance relays... Then again you could easily drive other platform that actually exist on top of a hill and have the same effect.


Edited by upupandaway

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What actually could make sense is fighting on other planets under adverse conditions. Rough terrain (no wheeled or tracked vehicles possible), atmosphere unsuitable for humans - so that infantry doesn't play a role there (i.e. impractical to fight in pressure suits).

 

But then, the question was about a realistic scenario ... :o)

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... moving target.

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I think the first practical mechs will be much smaller and lighter than the typical sci-fi behemoths, and they will most likely support infantry. Some of the previous users had jokingly said mechs would be used as a target, but that could seriously be part of their role on the battlefield, especially if they are unmanned. A robot isn't innately concerned about self preservation, so it can be used to draw enemy fire while providing covering fire for human troops. Mechs could also be used for mine sweeping, bomb disposal, around hazardous materials, and for lifting heavy objects. I imagine they would be more of a utility vehicle/robot than a tank, and they may be "optionally piloted" too.

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I think the first practical mechs will be much smaller and lighter than the typical sci-fi behemoths, and they will most likely support infantry. Some of the previous users had jokingly said mechs would be used as a target, but that could seriously be part of their role on the battlefield, especially if they are unmanned. A robot isn't innately concerned about self preservation, so it can be used to draw enemy fire while providing covering fire for human troops. Mechs could also be used for mine sweeping, bomb disposal, around hazardous materials, and for lifting heavy objects. I imagine they would be more of a utility vehicle/robot than a tank, and they may be "optionally piloted" too.

Actually an interesting concept. An unmanned weapon system, dangerous enough that the enemy has to focus on it, but also so cheap and easily replaceable enough that the loss can easily be taken into account.

 

Hrm, after some thinking: that is what IEDs are ... or suicide bombers. Hrm, I don't like this thread anymore.

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In a combat role, I'd think basically mountainous, heavily forested areas or dense urbran (ie, city centres) are about their only application, but quite frankly, if you need the firepower a walking tank could bring to those areas, you're doing air superiority / artillery wrong, especially in today's world of precision munitions.

 

Or simply, if we think a bit smaller and just over man size but a bit wider...moving SWAT style shield for infantry who are assaulting a position? Basically a self propelled barricade. Possibly could also find use as an anti-riot aid.


Edited by Buzzles
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... moving target.

 

Big slow moving target...

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Current forms of power generation aren't efficient or powerful enough to move something the size of a mech. If nuclear fusion can be commercialized and compacted however, you're a third of the way there. The second thing you'll need is computers fast and intelligent enough to move something as complex as a mech without tripping all over the battlefield, but given the current rate of progression in processing power, this shouldn't be out of the question in a decade. The third issue is getting it to move, which is extremely tough at our current level of materials sciences since Square-Cube Law will kick you in the balls harder as the mechs get bigger. Of course, there is one very promising material on the horizon. Carbon nanotube muscle fibers are theoretically 200 times stronger than the human muscles, and if you can mass produce those, you can use nanotubing to build an extremely strong chassis for the mech. Even taking square cube law into account, something 6 times taller than a human could move like a human with these technologies.

 

On the battlefield? It might be good as some kind of armored fighting vehicle (probably would use adapted IFV weapons) for urban combat, and the humanoid form would make it excellent for futuristic man-machine interfaces. It's too tall to be of use in an open plain, although I suppose you could go hull down if you could dig a hole fast enough with it.

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In a combat role, I'd think basically mountainous, heavily forested areas or dense urbran (ie, city centres) are about their only application, but quite frankly, if you need the firepower a walking tank could bring to those areas, you're doing air superiority / artillery wrong, especially in today's world of precision munitions.

 

Not necessarily. In anything other than a one sided or low intensity conflict, you may not have the time to wait for your on-call F-whatever to fight their way through to arrive to deal with a previously unknown or underestimated enemy position. An unmanned mini-mech armed along the lines of a conventional IFV, organic to the unit, might be able to give you more controlled firepower as and when needed, without the need to engage the services of a JTAC equivalent, sit around and wait for priority, and then wait some more whilst support is talked onto the target etc....

 

If it can be produced in sufficient numbers to be attached to (say) every squad in a mech infantry battalion, you are able to replicate the hitting power that would be provided in today's forces by (say) Bradley's and Strykers (with the latter I'm thinking of the M1128 and M1134 variants especially), but in a platform which can take on terrain that those platforms couldn't cope with. You loose the transport capability, but in the areas the mini-mechs could possibly shine, infantry would be dismounted anyway.

 

Technological limits aside (because, let's be honest, we're dreaming here), I think something like this is the most credible way mechs *could* appear on the battlefield:

 

mechcolo2_by_lmorse-d6qnw69.jpg


Edited by Flying Penguin

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Battlemechs are human controlled and they work off the sensory input of the pilots sense of balance so computers only control movement of the feet, the pilot controls balance. On a real battlefield large mechs could be used to assault heavily defended fortifications. Essentially a mech is a tank that can move faster and over more rugged terrain and carries a lot of fire power and is heavily armoured. In a situation where there is a war like Operation desert storm a mech could cut through the front lines and cut off supply to the enemys front lines faster than a tank unit and require less support and fuel than a tank. Although they are large in appearance the more deadly ones(and more practical) are the smaller ones since they are faster and still carry a lot of fire power. Mechs also have the ability to jump if fitted with jump jets which is an advantage that would allow them to cross obstacles if they are fitted. They can also go underwater quite deep and fight under water. In future there maybe powered armour for soldiers which is quite realistic since you can carry more weapons and bigger more powerful weapons, run faster, jump higher and be protected from NBC warfare and all small calibre bullets. Mechs can carry anti missile systems which can shoot down incoming missiles although they might not stop a weapon specially designed for such a target. After having read a lot of Battletech books and played most of the MechWarrior series I find that Mechs are deadly in a lot of situations but realistically we could only possibly expect powered armour as the more likely vehicles that might appear in the near future.:joystick:

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The main argument is mobility. While human soldiers still perform excellent in any terrain from desert to mountainous woods, current armor has its limits. That plus the concentrated and variable firepower is the main idea in Battletech universe, why humanity came up with battlemechs. I think it is a very good argument. Look at the MULE transport drone in development. Its main point is mobility in all sorts of terrain where soldiers have to go.

If you set Battletech as a concept the battlemech started as an alternative to the MBT. When it got better and more versatile it became more and more the centerpiece, but still armor, artillery and air or helicopters play a vital role in 3056 combat scenarios.

I don't think it is so much sci-fi, as it is a logical evolution of warfare.

I guess the major difference will be size and the fact that the controlling pilot will do it mostly remote and not sit in the mechanism itself...


Edited by shagrat

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If we have that level of technology, then a bidepal or quadripedal design is the very LAST thing we would develop.

 

How about a sort of weaponized metal serpent that can bury through earth to dig its own foxhole, or mousehole buildings in urban combat, turn on its side to roll down roads or climb cliffs and terraces like a reverse slinky?

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For specialised tasks definitely. I think there is already a serpent like robotic scout system in development especially useful in finding survivors after an earthquake etc.

Bipedal may be quite unstable for a long time, so my guess is triple or quadruple legs for stability and a smaller size than in sci-fi, but the concept of a robust and agile weapons platform is something to consider!

Given the fusion reactor in an acceptable size is realized, you may have enough power to integrate energy weapons (microwave/laser/plasma maybe?) Put that plus two 12.7 cal and 4 TOW on "Mech" sized like 3 meter high Van or smaller and put a working armor on it that can take a punch. It will be able to fulfil both roles of an MBT and an IFV better than a M1 or Bradley can?

The serpent or maybe a crab or "ball" like drone for close quarters and urban combat may be a good complement.

Though I do despise the general trend for drones... I know the arguments and it is difficult to weigh them against each other. I personally think Peter Warren Singer's 'Wired for War' is a must read on future warfare with automated systems/drones!

But I think we will see these things happen, drones, semi-automated systems maybe even Mechs, if technology has sufficiently evolved.

Shagrat

 

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One factor pro Mech could be the intimidating factor. When employed against perhaps numerous, but not-too-well equipped enemies, Mechs could be perform quite well. Similar to the tactics the Empire applied in the Star Wars universe. :o)

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1. Modular systems approach. See Foster-Miller's 'Swords' drones. Mobile platform quickly armed with different purpose weapons from sniper to antitank. Typically, armor chassis are used to mobilize different weapon systems for some time! Mass production lowers cost and one mobility platform for all terrain and transport needs with just one maintenance chain is a sound concept... given we can built it

2. Walk an Artillery piece or a Tank through a dense forrest on a mountain slope to support a patrol hammered by an enemy in fortified positions. Air is out of the question, because enemy has heavy MANPAD and AAA.

Walk a heavy attack platform through a steep, rocky ravine in the mountains where Air or Helis would be quickly discovered and alert the enemy... well, and in general you have one platform in theatre that can quickly switch mission profiles/adapt. If you need a tank, like now, it is not good if what you brought is a humvee, still you won't take a tank out for recon or patrol, because you may need it or not.

 

3. Valid point, but so is a Plane, a Tank, an Artillery piece... I agree and would consider reasonable size an important factor. The gigantic Warmachines from Battletech or WH40k are more a huge 155mm or Tomahawk magnet, but like a mobile walker at the size of a large IFV or Tank is a different story.

 

Again, as of now, so many technical necessities are not build or even developed/designed that it is fiction anyway. :D

Shagrat

 

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Well, the first mobile phone as we know it was developed, because the guy was intrigued by Captain James T. Kirk's communicator in Star Trek... innovative things need a vision first! :thumbup:

Shagrat

 

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Foster Miller, TALON 'Swords' currently in use... your 'friendly killer robot drone buddy'.

 

SWORDS.jpg

Edit. There is also an M249 machine gun version for larger target groups or suppression fire.


Edited by shagrat

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