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Why no energy weapons on the new BATTLESTAR GALACTICA

by Ken from Chicago / April 10, 2007 9:46 AM PDT

Hi, V. Excellent questions given the Twelve Colonies have mastered artificial gravity and faster-than-light travel.

The set-up of the show is a RETRO-futuristic setting. Look carefully, they don't have cell phones, PDAs, holograms, etc. Adama's phone on the Galactica is a big clunky affair that the old AT&T would have envied. He could club someone to death with it and then hammer some nails afterword. Aside from a few high tech features, the settings inside the ship looks much like the inside of a 1970s office or apartment building.

The REASON for the retro-futuristic design--in-story--is that the society of the Twelve Colonies as a whole RETREATED from high technology in the wake of the original Cylon War, that occurred 40 years prior to the mini-series (where in we see the Cylon Massacre, that wiped out the population of the 12 worlds, save 50,000 in a ragtag fleet). The society was slowly advancing back toward developing higher technology--slowly.

We saw in the mini-series that Doctor Gaius Baltar being interviewed for a news program as a radical expert advocating faster development of high technology and research into Artificial Intelligence 40 years after the Cylon War. Commander Bill Adama was arguing that as long as he was commander of the Galactica that its computer would be NEVER NETWORKED together. His son, Major Lee Adama was grousing that the Galactica, which was about to monthballed after 40 years of service, did not have a computer network to take control of his viper--so he would have to land MANUALLY.

The other and newer battlestars did have networked computers, just like the new vipers. The older original vipers on the Galactica did not and were kept mostly as museum pieces--on a museum ship (which the Galactica was being scheduled to be turned into once decommissioned).

It's that LACK of networking that would save the Galactica and its older vipers during the Cylon Massacre. The cylons infected the colonial networks with a virus, and, like all those virus warnings say, took control of the human computers and shut down the ships cold, dead cold in space.

-- Ken from Chicago

P.S. So Tom was right--kinda--when he said they lacked high technology due to the cylons. Speaking of cylons, the inside of their ships look something out of the 1970s, that is, 1970s disco-influenced scifi, with a spartan combination of lights, red glowing bands--and clear tubes with water flowing thru them. Their technology is significantly different than the humans' technology.

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great explainer! thanks!; 1 other angle...
by shawnlin / April 10, 2007 1:01 PM PDT

I've only seen a few BSG episodes but I know the general plot. thanks for the explainer!

I was thinking that there were no ray guns from another angle - the energy supply and efficiency issue. It'd be difficult to have enough portable power for a laser pistol without having an whole backpack or something similar. And it would probably only last a handful of shots.
So 1) you've gotta be a Olympian decathlon competitor to move swiftly with the equipment; and 2) really bad "battery life"


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Galactica power supply
by Ken from Chicago / April 11, 2007 5:14 PM PDT

The thing about warfare and weapons is that one tends to make weapons to defeat an opponent's defense and build up a defense against an opponent's weapons. If the cylons had energy weapons and shields then the colonies would have developed weapons and defenses to counter them. The cylons didn't so the need to develop same would be lower on the list of priorities for the government.

As others have pointed out, energy weapons, specifically ray guns could be incredibly dangerous with lots of bystanders. If the projectile weapons were doing the job, then the dangers and costs of energy weapons would tend to argue against their redevelopment.

After all the 13th tribe left for Earth THREE THOUSAND YEARS before the events in the new series. No way 3 millennia after developing interplanetary, much less interstellar, flight would a society not have the means for ship-based and handheld energy weapons. Obviously there had to be some kind of major "Dark Ages" were technical knowledge was lost.

The recent retreat from high technology in the direct wake of the Cylon War 40 years ago in the series is demonstrated by the lack of even laser sights, or cell phones, or small PDAs (they had some kind of huge clunky industrial-looking device when they landed on planet Kobal at the end of Season One). I mean they were using ANALOG radio-er "wireless" in the Season 3 finale to dial into that mystery song.

-- Ken from Chicago

P.S. They even using HAND-pushed models to demonstrate a live battle in Season One's "Hand of God" raid on a cylon asteroid fuel base.

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why no energy weapons/shields
by mattdattilo / April 10, 2007 9:16 PM PDT

My comment was played on April 10th's show, but I didn't really have time to explain myself. When I was in the US Navy (early 1990s), we had many systems that were 10, 15, or even twenty years old. They were still used because they still did the job. Also, everything on a ship is built to survive battle damage and be easily serviceable. That helps explain the old sound-powered phones on Galactica---they work when everything else is broken.

While I don't know much about lasers, I know that practical hand-held ones (like in Star Trek) are a long way off because of their energy consumption. Also, a rifle or cannon (like the Vipers have) is probably easier to service than a laser of some type.

I know, I know---it's just a show. But it's a darn good one IMHO and worthy of the attention.

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plus...EMP disruptions - not much of an issue there when...
by shawnlin / April 10, 2007 9:31 PM PDT've got basic technologies...

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plus...EMP disruptions - not much of an issue there when...
by mattdattilo / April 10, 2007 9:40 PM PDT

Good point

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EMPs would be very bad in space. There would have to be an enormous shift in technology to have spaceships NOT be electrical in nature. You'd need some kind of biotechnology, but even then, many organisms on Earth have electrical systems.

On the ground, EMPs not as devastating, especially if you're packing chemically-based projectile handheld weapons. You may have to walk to your destination instead of drive a vehicle, but it needn't be nearly as devastating as in space.

-- Ken from Chicago

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It's just a tv show, I should really just relax?
by Ken from Chicago / April 11, 2007 5:30 PM PDT

That's often used as a way out--when it's not necessary.

The 12 Colonies as a society CHOSE to avoid development of high technology for a long time after the Cylon War. Imagine if the cylons had managed to have energy weapons and power shields. Look at the backlash against air travel in this society in the immediate wake of 9/11 or in the 1990s during the uproar about video game, Mortal Kombat--to say nothing of Buzz Squad's nefarious archvillain, the diabolical Dr. M (that's DRM to newbies).

Look at the stranglehold many major corporations have had on technological development--until they worked out a way to wring that last extra over-priced sales penny out of potential consumers. It's 2007, can Windows Vista save a listing of a file directory? How long did it take before Macintoshes have TWO-button mice? Will Verizon cell phones ever be able to transfer files thru bluetooth connections?

-- Ken from Chicago

P.S. And don't get me started at the squandering of the Amiga computer by CBM (the geniuses who authorized the mismarketing campaign, "Amiga--The Mind of a Musician", "Musician"?!!?! Why not "Artist"? That would have made sense, but musician?!!?!).

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Adding lasers to any movie....
by csliva11 / April 10, 2007 11:29 PM PDT

makes it look like a cheesy 80's flick.

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Found a good article about it
by russiancatfood / April 11, 2007 12:17 AM PDT
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Advantage of projectile vs. laser-based weaponry
by LifeStar / April 11, 2007 6:56 AM PDT

One thing I also would like to point out is that projectile weaponry, at least for outer space combat does provide an advantage for the humans. Since RDM and the rest of the crew on the show want to display pseudo-believable physics, then the use of projectile weapons would cause greater "splash" damage to the Cylon raiders and ships in the show. They showed this effect many times in the giant space battle scenes where they would show that some of the weapons that were firing included canons that shot out a type of missile that would immediately break apart into a thousand little pieces and start smashing into the raiders.

Now for V's objection about ground combat. If the pseudo-physics theme was to still be applied, the energy-consumption of such laser weapons would require a very large power supply. Even in the Star Trek universe, they explained away the unique small size of phasers by saying that they have batteries that contain SUPER AMOUNTS of energy, to the point that should a phaser overheat and explode, it could take out a good part of the hull within the Enterprise. I honestly think that would be a gigantic safety problem in the BSG universe.

If they had lasers within the BSG universe AND if they go for the pseudo-physics, then we would never know if anyone was firing a laser, there would be no sound effects, and there would be no visible laser beams. Makes the whole point of wanting lasers to be moot in the end.

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projectiles vs. laser - pick your poison...
by shawnlin / April 11, 2007 7:26 AM PDT

A VERY big disadvantage to projectile weapons in space is...SPACE DEBRIS! Real life example: The space shuttle orbiter forward window was hit with a paint fleck the size of a dime and the result was a crack...imagine if that were bolt it ran into!

But I guess this is what the shields are for? what happens when the shields "catch" the debris - do they bounce off or vaporize or something else?

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Laser weapon physics--aka you're overlooking something
by Ken from Chicago / April 11, 2007 5:50 PM PDT

There's something that's been overlooked in the show and in the forum about laser beam weapons. Firing a laser beam at someone is a GUARANTEED way of pointing at YOURSELF. The beam of light provides a clear target on the one firing it and could easily be used in space combat to instantly calculate your location in space--and attack. With projectile (or pulse) weapons, your ammo's flight is not necessarily indicative of your location.

That said, if an energy weapon was seriously more effective than projectile weapons against the cylons then the colonialists would have used them in a heartbeat. However they were doing fine with projectile weapons, plus the society as a whole had retreaded from high tech development in the immediate wake of the Cylon War.

-- Ken from Chicago

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Inefficient weapons
by isting / April 12, 2007 3:27 AM PDT

I think another reason for projectile weapons is efficiency. V wondered why not have handheld lasers? Handheld lasers would still have to be charged, which would use up valuable energy. V also asked why the Cylons don't have lasers? Why would they waste time developing a new weapon when bullets are very effective against humans. The Cylons don't have time to develop lasers. They are putting most of their technological resources into biological reproduction.

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The other great thing about BSG and Firefly
by FredAgain / April 12, 2007 9:40 AM PDT
In reply to: Inefficient weapons

The other thing I really like about these SciFi shows, is no silly-looking space creatures! I mean, they are able to tell a great enrossing Sci-Fi story without having to resort to over-the-top makeup or costumes.

This, along with the "primitive" weapons and shields, makes it much easier to relate to what they are going through.

And Firefly didn't even have hyperspace!

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You do what works.
by Renegade Knight / April 18, 2007 4:14 AM PDT

I?m probably a day late on this entire laser thing but here?s my take.

Regular Bullets Just work. Point and shoot. The energy is contained in the powder. You only need human power to ?lock and load?. The guns work on the ground, they work in space. You don?t need to carry more than one type of gun.

Everyone else has covered laser energy so I?ll leave that.

However I haven?t yet heard this take. Cylon Warriors are Centurions who are polished to a mirror finish. Most of the laser energy would be reflected willy nilly. You would need at least 10 times the energy it would take to zap a human to burn through the finish and zap the Centurion; probably more. You would cut down your own army from all the reflection. If Galactica started using lasers it would not take long for the Cylon fighters to have that same glossy sheen. Then you are back to explosive rounds in all their mundane glory.

They have blasters in Star Wars but that?s another thing.

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laser weapons
by jason2009 / January 18, 2009 3:25 AM PST
In reply to: You do what works.

I was also thinking about this, why both the cylons and human fleet use batteries of cannons and rifles to shoot down their enemies. I have come to the following conclusion:

the physics of shooting missiles and bullets in space are not much different than when you shoot them on the ground. If you fire a missile or a bullet at a base star, it is going to hit it at the same speed as when you shot it. The only thing you need to account for is the movement of the target as the bullet travels, but presumably the base stars don't move very fast instead they just jump away if they needed a quick escape. This means that, provided you aim properly, you can shoot at them from a distance of 1.000s of km which is what the case would be in space.

Now, they could also fire a laser, but how effective would that be? The bullet and missile doesnt require much energy to fire it. The energy comes from the powder contained in the bullet, or missile fuel. Very handy if your ship is having power problems in the heat of a battle, because your weapons systems don't just go offline when you need them most. So, a laser blast, would require a significant amount of energy.

Also,as distance increased, laser energy would dissipate.

Finally, if you want to deliver raw power, they can just fire a nuclear missile, which they also have on board.

In battle, the highest tech weapons are not necessarily the most effective at killing the enemy. How many times has the enterprise main power supply been damaged and they are left defenseless with no weapons. They could probably use a few nukes at those times!!

just my opinion..

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