Thursday, September 8, 2016

Comparative Technology

I feel the need to be nerdier than usual.

A video on YouTube has sparked a topic that I think about from time to time. Many fans wonder, seriously or in jest, how the technology of various science fiction universes compares. I thought I might delve into four of my favorites. Oh, and when it comes to who would win, the answer is always the Doctor. But technology is a different matter.

I'll tackle Star Trek first. They set out from the beginning to have a higher level of technology so you have phasers and photon torpedoes for weapons. The ships carry a variety of deflector and shield systems designed to go from avoiding space debris to protecting from weapons. This elevates the level of damage these weapons can do to a different level.

Then came Star Wars. While Lucas refers to lasers and laser swords, in universe they are rarely referred to in that way. Also, the effects do not correspond to the way lasers works leading me to have a different explanation. The weapons are called basters or turbo lasers and we can see the beam travel leading me to believe they are a plasma based weapon very similar in effect to a laser, but more powerful. We do get some description of deflectors and shields but don't really get to see much of them. There is also armor plating. What you do get is a sense that the larger ships are heavily built.

Battlestar Galactica (the original - the only one I've seen) basically copied Star Wars for the level of technology, omitting lightsabers. But basically the same effects as Star Wars and the same solid designs. Not surprising since Ralph MacQuarrie was behind the conceptual design of both. This places Battlestar Galactica and Star Wars on nearly equal footing.

Then there is Babylon 5. This gets more dicey because we aren't dealing with just one technology. There are really three levels. first you have the Earth Alliance. These are lower level weapons solidly built ships. Then you have the Centari, Narn, and Mimbari at the mid level. They are pretty equally matched in most ways and superior to the Earth Alliance. But they are inferior to the Vorlons and Shadows. They represent an entirely new level, one that has more firepower at their fingertips than anyone else.

When you start to pit these various technologies against each other you get some pretty varied results depending on who is doing it. My outlook is to take the level of damage into account and the size of the ships and the damage weapons do. Then I look for parallels. One parallel is the merchant ship at the start of Star Trek III and the Millennium Falcon. They are similar in size, both appear to land on planets. The Falcon has armor plating and deflectors. The other ship seems to have been caught with its guard down. The Klingon Bird of Prey destroys the ship with one volley of fire from its phaser-like weapons (often called disruptors but that name doesn't always seem to fit the effect). So, what would a Bird of Prey do to the Falcon? I think the results would be similar, but it would take more shots to cut through the armor plating. Now, in Star Wars we see the Falcon take a lot of hits on the deflectors and suffer no real damage (other than some overloaded systems) so if the deflectors were up, it would take the Klingon ship some work. But the Falcon's weapons are no match for the Bird of Prey's shields.

As I continue to put the pieces together, I come to realize that the Star Wars weapons are almost as powerful as the Star Trek ones. Similarly compatible to the Mimbari weapons from Babylon 5. So in terms of dealing out damage, they are all quite similar. But it is when you get to shields that things become more clear. The Star Wars ships seem to rely on ruggedness and armor rather than shields. Their shields are weaker than the Star Trek or Mimbari ones. And Battlestar Galactica doesn't seem to have any shields except around the bridge. So when it comes to damage they are almost all equal. But when it comes to the ability to sustain damage, they are not.

I would put the Earth Alliance as the weakest. They've got the spirit and tactics, but not the equipment. They need luck and skill to even hold their own with the others and a hell of a lot of both to beat them.

Then Battlestar Galactica. They have no defensive systems. Their capital ships have missiles that can blow the others away, but bringing them to bear would be difficult.

The Mimbari, Star Trek, and Star Wars all seem to be pretty equivalent. Star Trek ships have stronger shields, but they rely on those shields for most of their defense. The ships can't take much damage. the Star Wars ships are hearty and can take a pounding. The Mimbari seem to have the best technology and make use of fighters. That seems to be a key difference in Star Trek and Star Wars tactics. Star Trek lacks fighters. If those ships focus too much on the fighters they could put to much effort into the small targets and neglect he larger targets and lose the battle. All things considered, I think the Mimbari would come out on top.

But then there is something else to consider. The Death Star is an order of magnitude higher than the rest. But so are the Vorlons and Shadows. The Death Star can blow apart a planet, something the Vorlons and Shadows can't quite match. But the Death Star is easy to take out. Since the Vorlons and Shadows were loathe to act unless things became serious and really were only in the mood to fight each other, this pretty much negates any need to really consider them (they'd win if you did).

What it boils down to is what ships could take the pounding from the others and still dish it out. The Galactica took more hits than any Star Destroyer we witnessed so for capital ships, I'd vote her the winner for endurance. But Star Trek ships have pretty powerful weapons and advanced shields. Unless an enemy can take such a pounding and still dish it out, the Star Trek universe would have to win as the most powerful. It would be a tough battle between them and a fleet of Battlestars, but I think a TNG era Federation fleet would win. They are fast, maneuverable, with the firepower to do the job. The Battlestars and Baseships would have a hard time dealing out any damage, but they could take a huge amount and that might give them the time to get in shots to take down the Federation shields. After that the Federation ships wouldn't stand a chance, but I don't think it would go that far.