Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Twin Suns: Advanced Weaponry

In any work of action science-fiction, advanced weaponry plays a pretty significant role. Laser, plasma and ion weapons are so prevalent in SF shows, books and video games, that despite their limited relation to reality, people have a pretty specific concept of each. We all know that laser weapons fire faster than plasma  weapons, and do less damage, while ion weapons knock out electronics. It's  not unlike the way that we know silver kills werewolves and zombies require head-shots. It's no longer specific to any one work, but part of the general body of SF lore.

Once again, in Twin Suns, I decided to go in a different direction, and draw on both modern technology, and some throw-backs from the past that might actually be practical in the future. Let's start with small arms and work our way up.

Small Arms

There are two major considerations when selecting a personal arsenal aboard a ship; mass and penetration.

Obviously, you want things to be as lightweight as possible, so I went with case-less ammunition. It weighs about half as much as regular ammunition and has about eighty percent of the volume. The crew of the Tranquility uses the Benelli M9 and the  HK G42. I chose Benelli because it's the name of one of the first weapons manufacturers to make a handgun that fired case-less ammunition. The H&K G42 is just a fictional, futuristic version of the H&K G11, which does exist and fires case-less ammunition. To further save on space and mass, I made the H&K G42 modular, so that extensions could be added to make the same weapon capable of fulfilling a variety of roles. Plenty of modern firearms have similar options (I'm currently in the market for the grenade launcher attachment for my SKS if anyone knows where I can get one).

 The other, possibly more important factor when choosing your space-borne weaponry is penetration. It's all well and good to leave the other guy's ship venting atmosphere, but what about when you're the ones fending off boarders? Fortunately, there's already a solution in place: frangible ammunition. It's the same stuff that security personnel on airplanes use to prevent cabin depressurization should they accidentally hit the plane. It's a special type of ammunition that's designed to shatter on impact, rather than penetrate. It still has more than enough force to pass through flesh, but won't go through something more solid. On Tranquility, clips of frangible ammunition are bright red, to avoid mistakes. That'd be a big mistake.


Gyrojets were first pioneered in the 1960s, and discarded as an idea shortly thereafter. What separates them from other firearms is that the propellant is inside of the projectile rather than behind it. Therefore they're really tiny lead rockets rather than bullets. The project was abandoned because the projectiles were expensive to produce and their manufacturing required greater precision in order to guarantee accuracy. They also had little advantage over conventional weapons, on Earth at least. In space they offer one huge advantage: there is virtually no recoil. A bullet releases all of its energy at once, launching the bullet forward and the shooter backwards, but gyrojets release energy at a set rate and continue to accelerate after they've left the muzzle.

I decided to use this technology for heavy "outside" weapons, like the DW38 .50 caliber sniper rifle and the DW2 .50 caliber machine gun. I gave Tranquility's fighters each a pair of DW13 20mm machine guns. The DW is not based upon my initials, as I'm not quite that big of an egomaniac. It stands for "Death Wind," a project I found online that's looking to further research into the technology. The name refers to another interesting quirk of gyrojets: they just make a quiet whistling sound. (Until they break the sound barrier, and there's a sonic boom).

Electronically-fired Bullets

For the big ships, Tranquility and bigger, recoil is less of an issue. Between their increased mass and maneuvering thrusters, it makes more sense to trade stability for power...and rate-of-fire. That's why I went with electronically-fired bullets. The world record for rate-of-fire is currently (well, when I wrote Twin Suns) was over one million rounds per minute. It is held by a product of the Australian defense technology company Metal Storm. Their weapons utilize stacked, electronically-fired projectiles. So I fitted Tranquility with six MS22 40mm machine guns. The turrets also fire rockets and other conventional stuff, but those machine guns are their main anti-fighter defense. Rate of fire is especially important when you consider how maneuverable a fighter is when it can ignore atmosphere and gravity.

Rail Guns

The largest ships in Twin Suns, the battleships, have rail guns. Rail guns have been around, at least in theory for nearly a century. The principle is relatively simple. I'm assuming you've played with magnets. If not, I apologize for your terrible childhood. Anyway, while more famous for attracting, magnetic fields can also repel. If you've got a projectile being repelled by the magnetic fields from rails (hence the name) on each side, it shoots out the end. Now, if you substitute the magnetic fields emanating from the magnets you played with as a kid for extremely powerful electromagnets, you can make that projectile go really, really fast. In fact, the velocity you can attain is only really limited by the power at your disposal (for a decent one, you most likely need a nuclear reactor) and how strong of materials you have access to, as the rails also repel each other, thus constantly trying to rip the entire thing apart. On top of that, it generates massive amounts of heat. That's why only the big ships in Twin Suns have them. They need a ton of space for reactors to power them and radiators to dissipate all that heat. Despite those limitations, they're a pretty impressive weapon, and have the potential to be made more devastating by upping the power, and thus the velocity. To quote the motto of the US Navy's rail gun project: "Velocitas Eradico," (basically, speed kills, but literally something else. You get the idea.)

So that's about it for the advanced weaponry of Twin Suns. Again the novel was a pleasure to write and I hope that you enjoy(ed) it (and review(ed) it on Amazon). If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Because of the underwhelming level of feedback I receive on this blog, I'll definitely dedicate an entire blog to answering your question(s). To reach me, can always comment here, or contact me via email, Skype, Facebook, Twitter, phone, text, fax, mail, telegraph, courier, carrier pigeon, message in a bottle, smoke signals, or shouting very loudly.

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