Planetary Assaults & Invasions


Science fiction tends to portray planetary
invasions as just a couple battalions of troops attacking one outpost somewhere, as we’ll
see today, it’s a much bigger endeavor than that. So today’s topic is planetary assaults and
invasions, as part of continuing look at how conflict and warfare might differ in the future. The problem being, it’s a pretty big topic,
and not really one we can exhaust in just one, or even several videos. It also involves a lot of overlapping topics
and includes many different scenarios. The most classic one is that a spaceship pulls
up in orbit and drops pods full of infantry down to a planet to fight a comparably able
enemy . I’m not sure who first explored this concept but the one that popularized
it was Starship Troopers, the book by Robert Heinlein. We will not even discuss the film of the same
name, which I thought was quite funny but had nothing to do with the novel. Quite a few of our books of the month have
been adapted into films or TV shows and some more faithfully than others, often the less
faithful ones are entirely forgettable garbage but like I said I rather enjoyed the film. Maybe the biggest difference between book
and film though is that the book is very cerebral, while the film is only cerebral in the sense
that they have these big brain bugs that can suck out your cerebellum. While the novel spends a lot of time discussing
philosophy and debating some controversial ideas, it is probably best known for introducing
the mobile infantry and the idea of units of guys running around in power armor that
made them walking tanks, something also missing from the film entirely. This isn’t a new idea nowadays, but it very
much was when Heinlein wrote about it and it’s going to be part of our focus for today. It’s a great novel by one of the most influential
scifi writers of his era, and you can pick up a free copy of Starship Troopers today,
and also get a 30-day trial of Audible, just use my link, Audible.com/Isaac or text isaac
to 500-500. The first big issue with a planetary assault
or invasion is the question why you’d even do one? Why not just torch the planet from orbit? Why even enter orbit when the sorts of ships
we tend to see engage in this could have done more damage by just flying by at the normal
cruising speed and dumping their garbage out an airlock to hit the planet as they passed. The sheer damage a ship can do ramming something
at such speeds also tends to get skipped in fiction a lot. It most recently got used in the newest Star
Wars film, the Last Jedi, in a scene that everyone agrees was visually gorgeous but
didn’t make much sense. Not because doing that much damage didn’t
make sense, if anything that was way less than it should have been, but rather that
since nobody ever did that in the franchise before, when it’s such an obvious tactic,
one assumes it must be impossible for some reason. Not a new problem either, the Enterprise considers
a warp speed ramming of the Borg Cube at the end of the Best of Both Worlds, they don’t
do it but the very notion that they’d consider that even as a last ditch measure that might
work begs the question of why no one else in their fleet tried that while the Borg were
smashing them up at Wolf 359, and ramming ships into things as last minute sacrifices
is quite common in sc-ifi. We had the main protagonist of the Babylon
5 series, John Sheridan, order one during the attack on Earth at the end of season 4
too. And the answer is really very simple. Fleets pounding away on each other and slowly
getting destroyed is a lot more interesting than waves of suicide attacks by lower mass
ships with skeletons crews or unmanned ships doing it, but that final stand, a desperate
moment of sacrifice is very dramatic. It just has the problem of making people wonder
why they don’t do that more often, since it clearly makes more sense. Spaceships have insane amounts of kinetic
energy, hence why we always say there is no such thing an as unarmed spaceship. So why invade a planet at all? There’s a few reasons that are believable
enough, they just don’t apply well to the classic super-evil genocidal bad guys. But we’ll get one out the way at the start. Interstellar civilizations do not invade planets
for their resources, at last not the raw materials. Most of those would still be there even if
you smashed the place so hard and thoroughly the entire surface turned to glass and what
wasn’t, like the water and air, would just meander around the vicinity of that planet
for easily collection anyway. Also inhabited planets aren’t ever likely
to represent a particularly large chunk of available raw materials in the galaxy, or
even a given solar system compared to what uninhabited planets represent. If we look at our system, gas giants are good
examples. Nor would you do it just for the genetic information
or knowledge they’d collected, since both are easily obtained with a minimum of invasion. You probably don’t have to threaten to torch
the Earth, let alone send troops down to seize our capitals, to get a copy of Wikipedia or
DNA samples of various flora and fauna unique to Earth. You just ask, though if someone demands too
steep a price for those, you might point out that you’d be happy to send your own people
down to collect them in person. So the motivation to assault or invade a planet
has to rest on some reason you’d want it essentially intact. Maybe you want the industries in place still,
but then you could just drop tons of neutron bombs or viruses or nerve gas down. Someone asked me once how long you could keep
breathing on a planet on which all life had just been sterilized, with no new oxygen been
produced, and the answer is actually many millions of years. A typical human might go through a couple
hundred kilograms of oxygen a year, but the atmosphere has about a billion, billion kilograms
in it, so even a few billion people would need a million years to burn through all that
and at least many tens of thousands of years to build up enough carbon dioxide to cause
breathing problems. That’s plenty of time to re-terraform a
planet which is a lot easier in this sort of scenario. Basically they have to have some reason to
want the people on that planet to mostly survive, and as we’ve mentioned before, while you
might use them as slaves, if you’ve got them anyway, manpower probably is never a
driving motivation for a high tech civilization. You might be enslaving them for their mental
efforts, rather than physical, but trying to get science conducted or poetry composed
at gunpoint probably isn’t too effective. This hardly means we’re short on motives
though, it just means those all have to match up to a mindset of wanting to take the place
and its people mostly intact. Maybe it’s a civil war, maybe it’s outright
conquest but there’s lot of other folks watching from the sidelines who might jump
in if you start committing atrocities. Also a lot of your own people, or their own
people, might be okay with conquest but would rebel if you went too far. The next planet you encounter fights to the
last, while other previously neutral planets attack you, and elements of your own population
sabotage you at home. The other two misconceptions are that a fleet
around a planet essentially has it at its mercy and that it is a fleet just against
a planet. As we mentioned in interplanetary warfare
odds are good you don’t just fly from your planet to another, stopping for nothing except
maybe a tussle with their fleet along the way. You’ve probably had to fight your way through
many lines of defense at a relative crawl only to encounter some gigantic orbital defense
network made of thousands if not millions of huge fortresses that don’t have to worry
about pushing mass around like a ship does. Even when you’ve managed to clear that all
out, and the insane amounts of dangerous debris it will have left behind if you were just
blowing it all up, now you have to contend with a planet. We think of ourselves as being very vulnerable
in a case like that because we know how much damage a single asteroid can do to us currently,
but we’re not. You might have a few billion tons of ship
orbiting above ready to hammer that planet but they’ve got the entirety of a planetary
economy and industry to work with and effectively infinite raw materials. Since the first rule of warfare is not to
pick fights with people bigger than you, if you’re doing something like this it probably
means tens of thousands of giant battleships not a dozen or so strike cruisers. Yes even just one interstellar ship could
give a planet a pretty good pounding, but only if it’s sitting still and taking it. Odds are it is not and has cannons lying around
bigger than your whole ship If you’re fighting off planetary invasions,
you’re not a 21st century civilization. You’ve probably got super-tall towers made
out of ultra-strong graphene or similar built by robots, but that also means you can have
enormous underground bunkers and factories built and manned by those same automatons. Trying to bombard or dig out a civilization
that’s retreated to diamond-hard bunkers a kilometer under the ground is easier said
than done, especially if you can’t use nukes or kinetic strikes because they’re war crimes
and someone’s enforcing that. But even if they’re not, yeah you’re dropping
nukes and asteroids on them and they’re flinging up whole mountains worth of ordinance
right back at you. None of these people are using chemistry as
their propellant or they wouldn’t be sending giant ships out to invade planets, so that
whole gravity well issue doesn’t matter, because the delta-v difference between dropping
something down on a planet and shooting up from it just isn’t that big an advantage. It still is one, everything you send down
is stronger than what they send up, but you are onboard a ship where every centimeter
of armor cost you a lot of energy in terms of acceleration as well as maneuverability,
while they are down on a planet where they can cover everything in dirt and rock much
thicker and cheaper and will not run out of ammo, ever. You have to ship in all your supplies and
they probably have fleet remnants or allies who can harass your shipping. Yes you’ve got engines so powerful they
can roast whole metropolitan regions when turned on but they probably have countless
factories and power plants of their own able make those too. So it’s not a one sided conflict, or if
it is, it’s probably in the opposite direction of what you’d expect. As best as we can tell, planets in the future
are likely to be local focuses, not where most people actually live. Meaning you’ve got 4 fairly plausible scenarios
for one. It might be some ancient massive Ecumenopolis
and local capital, in which case it’s been around a long time and has disproportionate
resources, probably not just swarmed around with orbital infrastructure and defenses but
layers of underground facilities. It might be some place that was carefully
terraformed for centuries to be Earth-like, meaning it’s literally older than dirt and
represents massive investment of time and resources to make it that way, and smashing
it up will offend everyone involved in that or who come from places that pursued that
same path. It might be some new and sparsely settled
place doing the same, in which case bombarding it is overkill and pointless as what few people
live there are basically living in bunkers while terraforming the place anyway. Or it could be something devoted almost entirely
to industry or sentiment. A giant factory of a planet slowly eating
it, which is unlikely to be a soft target, or some shrine world carefully terraformed
and left mostly uninhabited maybe. Key point being that most planets in the distant
future are likely to have some role that makes them a place you might want to take over but
either realistically can’t or need to do cautiously to avoid damage or outrage. It’s hard to guess if such an attack would
be a blitzkrieg or a dragged out siege, but if it is siege it’s likely to be because
you’re slowly grinding away morale and layers of defenses, rather than hoping to starve
them out. I’d also tend to guess that most fleets
orbiting a planet to besiege it wouldn’t be in a mostly circular low orbit but probably
a very elliptical one that just brought them in for fast passes, then out again for the
long swing back around. And again, since we have to assume they’ve
got a lot more delta-v than a modern ship, they can get away with changing position and
orbit a lot too. Slam on the gas as you’re approaching so
you get there before they expected on this pass and over a different spot. They also probably have a ton of orbital infrastructure
you need to deal with too, not even counting the swarms of habitats and fortresses hanging
around the vicinity of that planet you’d tend to expect them to have that main ground-to-space
infrastructure. Be that space elevators or skyhooks or launch
loops or orbital rings. If you want those intact you either have to
threaten to blow them up and hope they’ll surrender or send in the marines. And unlike an actual planetary invasion, where
you’d expect a lot of tanks and artillery and air support to come down, not just infantry,
an orbital installation is presumably going to be built around the human scale, and even
if they’re aliens it isn’t likely to be too different. That also means it really isn’t necessarily
all big guns, if you’re fighting your way down a corridor close combat weapons and shields
still make a lot of sense. This also does not necessarily mean those
marines are human, they might be drones or androids driven by AI or remote controlled,
but they should be of around that scale. You probably can’t go driving tanks or giant
humanoid robots around inside. This doesn’t mean the future of warfare
is just robots fighting other robots though. Remote controlled stuff can be jammed, especially
inside some installation you’re trying to take over. You’d be talking about a pretty high bandwidth
signal that’s heavily encrypted, not exactly the hardest thing to interfere with. Also even time lags of milliseconds can be
too much if you’re in the realm where those drones are artificial intelligences or cyborgs. Problem is, if you’re using things like
that for your troops, you’re probably using it all over your civilization for other things,
rather negating the advantage. If you’ve got superhuman AI, there’s a
pretty good chance you don’t use those for protecting your civilization, instead they
are your civilization. Same for if you’re making superhumans, even
if they aren’t actively replacing normal people, they’re probably running everything. Unless you strictly use artificial intelligence
or cyborgs or genetic enhancements for military purposes, which is probably a bad idea. A common theme in a lot of science fiction
is some group of soldiers created just to fight, be it some defense computer or genetically
engineered super-soldiers, who then decide they either should be in charge of the whole
civilization, since they are clearly superior, or want to torch it down, either because they
are angry at who made them or they just really love destroying stuff. There’s a big difference between career
military and being created or raised to do that, not for a living, but as your fundamental
purpose. Normally you’d expect whatever advantages
you have to mostly be possessed by the enemy too, so that both sides have their own super-soldiers
who aren’t that super anymore, but you could easily imagine ideological wars where one
side hates cyborgs and uses vat-grown genetically enhanced ones, while the other side does use
cyborgs. Paints an interesting picture but putting
it bluntly, the cyborgs are going to maul the other side. Particularly since they probably also use
genetic enhancement on any bits they don’t use machines for. One big difference in the future though is
that your troops probably won’t be particularly afraid to die. Odds are their brains or programs are backed
up somewhere if they do. Now, not everyone would consider that back
up to be them but that’s essentially a matter of opinion, not something you can prove, or
disprove, and whatever the real answer is about preservation of identity doesn’t matter,
just what that person thinks it is. If half the population thinks backing people
up is pointless except to allow their general knowledge to be preserved and the other half
regards it as genuine immortality, you just do your recruiting from them. Fictional stories usually need to focus on
people, though they don’t have to be classically human any more than Superman, Thor, Worf or
Commander Data are, three aliens and an AI. But sticking regular people into power armor
or giving them implants or drugs is pretty common. And it is plausible enough if you’re either
trying to avoid having artificial intelligence run your civilization or even comprise such
a civilization, since presumably a default AI is not as combat effective as one designed
or overhauled for combat. Our book of the month, Starship Troopers,
essentially started the power armor trope, though there are prior examples and it’s
usually presented as medieval knights or samurai in space. I think that might be a little more true in
some ways than we tend to think too, because such folks often had a retinue along with
them and I could easily see people hulking around in power armor having a lot of smaller
robots with them. Some might be running around bringing in ammo
or resupplies of some liquid metal for patching holes in your armor. Maybe they’re bringing in new batteries
or some super-soldier drug like ketracel-white from deep space nine. Your civilization might not be okay with superhuman
or human AI, but it’s bound to have a lot of smart automation, so instead of someone
carrying around a big shield or cannon it might just walk around on its own two legs,
or four, and something like that would be hard to jam since you probably don’t need
much bandwidth or range, and wire is cheap so it and you might have some external port
it could shoot a comm cable to, if someone started jamming. Heck an invading force might have long wires
running back to their own boarding ship providing power. Something like that could be cut but self-healing
wires or little bots running along who could quickly reconnect them would be on the table,
limiting your need for batteries to only needing minutes of operational capacity. That’s a big issue for power armor, the
whole point of the stuff is that it lets you carry far more armor than any human could
manage, even above the superhuman strength and speed it’s supposed to offer. Such things would be insane power gluttons. As we mentioned last month in Portable Power,
modern batteries have virtually no capacity. And you wouldn’t want to be trapped in some
heavy powered exoskeleton if the batteries ran out. Even if your armor used batteries, which is
quite probable considering materials like graphene gets discussed as both unbelievably
strong and potentially great capacitors, your probably don’t have hours or days of high-energy
performance available. Such things would take kilowatts to run on
just to walk and that means you either need batteries much more energy dense than chemical
fuels, which is certainly not the case nowadays, or you need an onboard generator or an external
power supply. Though obviously if you had the last you’d
still want to include batteries. Antimatter, if you’ve got it, is probably
not a good choice for a generator or fuel, like nitroglycerine it’s pretty much going
to explode unless handled with amazing delicacy which is pretty much never going to happen
with something like power armor. You prefer something that’s inert and doesn’t
blow everything up on accident. Makes a very nice parting gift for your enemies
if you blow up when killed, but besides getting your allies too, that really would never be
handy in any case where you were using infantry. If you’re just trying to blow stuff up,
use a missile. Nuclear is an option but it would probably
need to be transuranic, something with a fairly short half-life like some Fermium isotopes,
just days, gives a good power supply by mass and lets you restock on comfortable combat
timelines, and it’s something you might be able to make in a ship’s reactor by bombarding
another material with neutrons. There’s a pretty good chance long-lived
beta-decaying isotopes would be regular batteries in the future, but more expensive, higher-powered
and shorter lived elements might be used a lot specifically for military applications
like this. There are other options too, again see Portable
Power for details, but the important thing to remember is that you need a very durable,
compact, light and high-powered battery or generator to run stuff like this. If you don’t have those, you don’t have
power armor. Amusingly you might not need it were that
the case because nobody would be toting around rail guns or laser rifles either. But that doesn’t mean they don’t have
low-tech chemical propellant bullets that never miss because they have a tiny guidance
package on them or a computer in the gun that was quite capable of tweaking the barrel to
hit the target so long as you aimed it vaguely in the right direction and it knew what the
target was. Very precise weapons are probably a lot more
likely in the future, so instead of power armored individuals smashing down a corridor
dumping buckets full of ammo at each other it might just be a lot of automated systems
constantly trying to out maneuver each other till a single shot gets fired. Spray and pray is already a pretty ineffective
approach compared to aiming a single shot or quick burst anyway, and our modern guns
don’t have computers in them. You probably need extreme accuracy anyway,
you’d be unlikely to get anything delicate and smart through someone’s armor and just
punching a small hole through someone generally won’t kill them, even if it’s through
a vital organ considering there might be all sort of automated systems that can plug up
the bleeding and start pumping your blood for you. Even a headshot might not kill a cyborg as
they could easily have a backup brain in the boot or have their consciousness spread around
to a 100 systems where you’d need to break 50 to really do much or the exact right 3
to cripple some key part of their mind. Probably not a pleasant job though, considering
that even if you take the installation they might blow it up themselves, but none of this
really applies unless both sides are trying to keep the destruction and loss of life fairly
limited. Or at least the former. Again if your civilization is pretty transhuman
in nature then they might not care if their body gets destroyed as they’re backed up,
and odds are any civilian population in residence could be quickly turned into pretty combat
effective troops themselves. They might just be able to download a whole
combat database into their head, Matrix-Style, and cheerfully throw themselves at the enemy
as entirely willing cannon fodder. Indeed they might not need that, we don’t
really encourage folks to simulate combat for fun much these days, though a lot of other
cultures did just that and it’s the basis of a lot of sports, but people certainly enjoy
video games of that sort and while those are mostly nothing at all like actual combat,
that’s unlikely to remain true as things like virtual reality emerge. Now fellow veterans are probably saying, “Yeah,
Isaac, it’s still not like real combat because you’re not terrified you’ll die” but
again that element wouldn’t likely apply if your brain is backed up somewhere. Or if you neurohack their brains so that they
shall know no fear. But even ignoring those options, a lot of
the point of training is to make sure you’ve practiced something so many times you do it
reflexively even if the world is falling apart around you, and that training is not conducted
in life and death situations but works just fine, for the most part, and I’d expect
combat simulations would be very popular in the future. Which is fairly important when you’re invading
the planet too, because it means you probably can’t show up with a few thousand or million
super-troops just to fight their full-time military. You probably need to invade with a force of
a similar size to their own population. Again they can probably be manufacturing weapons,
gear, and ammo throughout the invasion and might have lots of stockpiles, and they might
not need to give people much training, in terms of actual time, to make them decently
combat worthy. So probably not dropping a few battalions
down but tens of thousands of divisions down instead. Keep in mind on an Ecumenopolis, even if only
1% of your population is trained and equipped enough to usefully fight, that could easily
be billions of people. These are vast conflicts. It is worth remembering every war we know
of was between just two of many factions from this one planet fighting for a small chunk
of it. Yet many of those involved millions of people
in continent wide battles lasting years. And this is all assuming you don’t land
next to some apparent mountain that you eventually realize is nothing but a hundred trillion
fairly smart combat drones just sitting there in storage. If you’ve got good enough self-replicating
systems, you could easily find yourself fighting an entire planet in a very literal sense,
as all the ground under you just turns into very smart weapon systems. Definitely not the traditional view we have
of planetary invasion but probably a lot more likely. At the same time we can definitely contemplate
such things occurring, rather than just ending in an utter wipe out by orbital bombardment. So you could have have invasions conducted
by ground forces and if that involves human troops in any direct combat capacity, odds
are they would be wearing some sort of power armor or be inside a vehicle. As I said at the start of this series I wouldn’t
expect anyone to ever use giant humanoid war machines but power armor is a lot more plausible,
and tanks, while mostly absent from scifi, probably would be too. Truth be told though I’d expect planetary
assaults or invasions to almost never happen, as we’ve noticed throughout the series,
high-tech warfare is pretty much either going to be so absolutely destructive that folks
probably would tend to avoid it or bound up in rules to prevent that happening. If so, you’d tend to think they’d be the
sort of people who could agree to purely proxy or simulated resolutions without real shots
needing to be fired. Of course if everybody regards getting shot
as just meaning you need a new body they might regard actual combat as exactly that. As to the novel, it’s one of those books
that gets recommended by virtually everyone even though arguing about Heinlein’s view
on life and philosophy tends to be almost as popular as the plots. I think a lot of that is that the protagonist,
Johnnie Rico, is just very engaging. He feels like a very normal person you can
just follow along with and it’s the sort of book you typically won’t put down till
you’re done. It’s inspired countless other novels and
adaptations, from the great to the terrible, but the original is still the best in my opinion. You can pick up a FREE copy of “Starship
Troopers” today, just use my link in this episode’s description, Audible.com/Isaac
or text Isaac to 500-500 to get a free book and 30 day free trial, and that book is yours
to keep, whether you stay on with Audible or not, and if you don’t enjoy it, you can
swap it out for a different book at any time. Next week we will be returning to the post-scarcity
series to continue our look at how such civilizations might function, with a focus on how their
very view of reality might change. The week after that we’ll explore the notion
of that Ancient Alien Civilizations might have visited us in the past, and explore this
premise in light of our discussion about post-scarcity and high-tech civilizations. For alerts when that and other episodes come
out, make sure to subscribe to the channel, and if you enjoyed this episode, hit the like
button and share it with others. Until next time, thanks for watching, and
have a great week!

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