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Old 04-22-2022, 10:42 AM   #1
Anders
 
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Default Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

This was an interesting article about the so-called tooth-to-tail ratio over the millennia. The "tooth" is the troops that do the actual fighting while the "tail" is the people who make sure the teeth get all they need - delivering ammunition and fuel, keeping the vehicles combat-ready, etc. Over the years the ratio of tooth to tail has kept shrinking. The Roman legions were pretty much all tooth, lancers in the 15th century had an 8:1 ratio of tooth to tail. That ratio had reversed by the early 21st century.

Deveraux argues that the teeth will continue to become smaller and the tail larger as technology becomes more complex and more capable. What do you think? Have you thought about this when creating sci-fi universes?
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Old 04-22-2022, 12:06 PM   #2
ericthered
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

A few notes about teeth and tail:


How far you fight from home has a fairly large impact on how much tail you need, as does the terrain you are crossing. As transportation and communication technology has increased, in becomes both easier and more relevant to fight wars in far away places... which increases the length of the tail


Using machines to fight wars has generally increased the amount of manufactured goods and consumables needed to fight the war.


Is the merchant who sells grain to the army part of the tail? What about the farmer who grows it? Or the cook in the baron's castle who fed him during his decade of training? Ancient societies spent quite a lot of money on their militaries, just not the same way we do.



We are currently finishing a shift away from combat equality. The musket allowed one man to kill any other man he could see, but only one. It brought great equality to the battlefield. Repeating weapons and modern machines of war have mostly rolled that back, making long tails make more sense. Most of our really good records don't go back before the age of musket equality. I'd be cautious of over-generalizing numbers based on that shift as a general trend over millennia.



When I design sci-fi military forces, I'm more worried about three other factors. The Nuclear factor and social pressures influence a lot of my thinking, with proxy wars, "acceptable actions", and "targets we can't just bomb". The problem of Urban combat also looms large in my thinking: how do you create forces that work well in hyper-urban environments. And then I go for how cool something looks or how well it mimics a certain property or genre I'm aiming for.



That said, for my dreadstormers game, I have an enormous tooth to tail ratio on the NightFall, the space dreadnought everyone fights on. There are around 1800 people in 13 sections, and really only the gunnery and navigation sections can really be said to fight, plus the security half-section. Everyone else is a technician maintaining some aspect of the ship. Even then, I feel the strain of not positions the ship should have but doesn't occasionally popping up. And that doesn't include the folks in port.



Of course, On the other end, the PC's themselves just have three psionic agents behind enemy lines, and my Called-from-Exile game handwaves all the staff for their warship with robots, an AI, and an on-board auto-fac.
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Old 04-22-2022, 05:13 PM   #3
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

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Originally Posted by Anders View Post
Deveraux argues that the teeth will continue to become smaller and the tail larger as technology becomes more complex and more capable. What do you think? Have you thought about this when creating sci-fi universes?
A lot may depend on which is easier to automate. In my setting FLAT BLACK killer robots are a no-no, but AI-controlled and robot-executed production and delivery is fine. So you need a bunch of human marines to keep the infantry drones, heavy weapons, and so forth under close supervision, but very few actual people in supply, paymaster, signals, ops, or intelligence.
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Old 04-22-2022, 07:11 PM   #4
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anders View Post
This was an interesting article about the so-called tooth-to-tail ratio over the millennia. The "tooth" is the troops that do the actual fighting while the "tail" is the people who make sure the teeth get all they need - delivering ammunition and fuel, keeping the vehicles combat-ready, etc. Over the years the ratio of tooth to tail has kept shrinking. The Roman legions were pretty much all tooth, lancers in the 15th century had an 8:1 ratio of tooth to tail. That ratio had reversed by the early 21st century.

Deveraux argues that the teeth will continue to become smaller and the tail larger as technology becomes more complex and more capable. What do you think? Have you thought about this when creating sci-fi universes?
His treatment of ancient and medieval logistics is not great, because he just erases all the camp followers as 'not soldiers.' But that is just a legal formality, and low-tech sailors, oxdrivers, porters, etc. often faced the same dangers as the troops who were counted as troops and paid by the commander (such as disease!) And horses will die just as quickly from lack of care and fodder as trucks will break down without mechanics and a supply of fuel and spare parts. The idea that camp followers were inessential expresses some very ugly prejuduces about class (poor people shoe horses, rich people fight from them), gender (a lot of the scut work was done by women, even Richard of England admitted that his men needed some women to launder their clothes), and commerce.

This MA thesis presents evidence that ancient armies in the Mediterranean usually had on the order of 1 support worker per 2 soldiers.
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Old 04-23-2022, 03:09 AM   #5
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

Quote:
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Deveraux argues that the teeth will continue to become smaller and the tail larger as technology becomes more complex and more capable. What do you think? Have you thought about this when creating sci-fi universes?
A bit, yes. The SF I've run was a Transhuman Space campaign, where the PCs, plus a few NPCs, were the crew of a "light cruiser." They were part of a flotilla whose job was to keep one ship constantly available for emergencies. That actually required four ships: at any given time, one would be under refit, one training, one on alert, and one on standby alert, required to be ready in a day if the alert ship was busy. They were backed up by a large naval base, their admiral's staff officers, and so on. The crew was four fully biological people, a ghost and an SAI living as infomorphs, and a ghost living in a bioshell. They also had lots of LAIs, which made calculating a teeth-to-tail ratio a bit difficult.
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Old 04-23-2022, 06:46 AM   #6
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

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Originally Posted by Polydamas View Post
His treatment of ancient and medieval logistics is not great, because he just erases all the camp followers as 'not soldiers.' ...
This MA thesis presents evidence that ancient armies in the Mediterranean usually had on the order of 1 support worker per 2 soldiers.
The large size of mid-20th century logistics tail comes, in part, from professionalizing these functions and putting them in uniform -- hence, laundry and bath units, mortuary affairs units, and so on. Organized civilian auxiliary agencies (e.g., Defense Commissary Agency, Army/Air Force Exchange Service) replaced the ad hoc support of merchants following the armies. The trend towards the end of the century and into this one is to outsource as many functions as possible to private contractors, such as Kellogg Brown & Root, or (infamously) Blackwater/Xe. Some highly technical expertise resides solely in the contractor force, to the point where (e.g.) McDonnell-Douglas contractors had to accompany AH-64 Apache helicopter units in the field and a variety of defense contractors serve aboard active warships.

For future warfare, I think Brett's point about automation is key: humans will be increasingly relegated to decision-making roles, while most of the work (tooth and tail) is carried out autonomously by machines.
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Old 04-23-2022, 08:35 AM   #7
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

Low tech armies marching across land can often forage for some to most of their needed supplies. Hi-tech infantry might be able to find sufficient food and water to keep going but they are unlikely to find much suitable ammo and repair parts for weapons, radios and such while foraging. Mechanized units will have a more difficult time with scrounging repair parts and fuel. A mechanized unit becomes infantry, likely a poorly armed unit, once the fuel is gone or the vehicles break down. Sailors on a ocean or spacers in a star fleet can't really forage for much of anything while underway. Anything that can't be foraged or scrounged has to be made good via a supply tail regardless of the tech level.
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Old 04-23-2022, 08:53 AM   #8
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

Presumably "sufficiently advanced tech" such as replicators or nano-assemblers would do a lot to shrink the tail as they have have the potential to bring the "home front" logistics up to the front (or at least the REBA). The more generic their feedstock, the more the tail shrinks.
Directed energy weapons also have the potential to cut what is probably the hardest single element of modern logistics (in terms of mass, hazard and what have you) - ammunition. Granted you then have to keep your DEW charged (and possibly still fed with something) but that then becomes a question of power generation and distribution.
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Old 04-25-2022, 02:36 PM   #9
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

Quote:
Originally Posted by The Colonel View Post
Presumably "sufficiently advanced tech" such as replicators or nano-assemblers would do a lot to shrink the tail as they have have the potential to bring the "home front" logistics up to the front (or at least the REBA). The more generic their feedstock, the more the tail shrinks.
Directed energy weapons also have the potential to cut what is probably the hardest single element of modern logistics (in terms of mass, hazard and what have you) - ammunition. Granted you then have to keep your DEW charged (and possibly still fed with something) but that then becomes a question of power generation and distribution.
I suspect those technologies will end up like mongol horsemen: you can do amazing things when the conditions are right, but most of the time you can get better performance out of the long tail. Being able to make anything is great, but odds are you'll be able to make two of those back at the factory for the same cost.
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Old 04-25-2022, 05:16 PM   #10
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Default Re: Sci Fi - the teeth and the tail

Another thought. Some weapon systems change the type of tail needed.

ICBMs, regardless of the type of warhead, don't need a long supply tail. Once built, it carries itself to the target and does its thing. The supply tail in this case is the factory that makes it and the transport to the launcher. A short but possibly wide tail.

In Star Trek type universes, star ships are their own tail. They supply at a base, travel to the adventure, then return to a base. Another short but wide tail.
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