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500 years after a nuclear war, an empire called the Midwestern empire rose.

It has conquered most of the Midwest and surrounding areas. They now set their eyes on California, a state that hasn’t been claimed by any other major faction.

They sent 10 legions of soldiers over to start their invasion, but another government, called the Western Federation, also want to control California.

Negotiations have been attempted, but have not worked. Both side are fully prepped to go to war with each other, and would only surrender if their cities were completely destroyed.

The empire usually fights in tight formations, and use standard laser rifles as their main weapon, but each soldier is equipped with and extra side arm, a small laser pistol, and two gamma grenades, grenades that shoot out radiation. All these supplies weigh about 40 pounds. The laser weapon can only fire 3 shots before it overheats, and they have to wait for the weapon to cool. Because of this, they use volley fire.

The western federation has fewer men than the empire does, their soldiers outnumbering them 10 to 1, they have far superior tech. Each soldier is equipped with a metal exoskeleton that lets them pick up x 30 what they could normally carry. Their armor also can deflect any ballistic weapon, except for a bazooka. Their suits cannot however protect the wearer from radiation. The western federation also has heat vision googles in their suits. Lasers can pierce their amor however. Each soldier is equipped with a laser machine gun, which can shoot 15 rounds without overheating. They also have a standard laser rifle like the empire.

They each have body armor that can disperse the energy from laser weapons and smaller ballistic weapons. And last but not least each soldier wears a bright red uniform.

My question is:

Does it make sense for soldiers to wear bright red uniforms in battle?

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    $\begingroup$ Why is "aesthetics" not a good enough answer for you? $\endgroup$ – Aify Feb 10 '18 at 3:37
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    $\begingroup$ en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shaggy_dog_story $\endgroup$ – wetcircuit Feb 10 '18 at 3:50
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    $\begingroup$ People with laser rifles would not stand in tight formations. Tight formations existed when you couldn't instantly kill people at a range of 100 yards plus, muskets and their shooters were not that accurate. But modern firearms and marksmanship training mean that any such tight formation would be decimated. Hopefully it doesn't take a WWI Battle of the Marne for you nations to figure that out. $\endgroup$ – kingledion Feb 10 '18 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ I think gamma grenades are not what do you want to use in the battlefield, especially if you have no dense cover (e.g. lead). The radiation is not a shockwave or flying fragments. The power of radiation shrinks with distance squared. Thus if it is supposed to be instantly lethal within some radius, it still would be still non-instantly lethal in bigger radius and harmful in even bigger radius, making it unsafe to use them. $\endgroup$ – abukaj Feb 10 '18 at 15:26
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    $\begingroup$ "Laser rifle" does not make sense - "rifle" means "gun with grooves inside to make the projectile rotate for in flight stabilization". It does not work with light, even when rotating the polarization inside the gun. $\endgroup$ – Volker Siegel Feb 11 '18 at 3:07

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Not in your scenario, no.

Let's go back to the last standing army that wore bright red and look at the reasons why they did that.

The British Model Army, often referred to as the Redcoats originally wore red because it was adopted as a national colour in England. This colour served them well in many situations because of the weapons that were in use at the time.

Bayonets were in common use for melee combat as infantry lines closed in. The bright red attracted the attention of the enemy to be sure, but it also ensured that there were no collateral damage incidents on the field as the other British soldiers could tell themselves apart more readily.

Even in ranged combat with muskets, the range and accuracy of these weapons meant that being seen at a distance was less of an issue because it didn't mean that you could be hit, and the black powder being used at the time meant that there was a lot of smoke on a battlefield, and the red uniforms meant that the musketeers didn't aim at a moving shape close to them that turned out to be their own people.

High velocity rifles (snipers), long range weapons, and sneak attack tactics put and end to all that and the British stopped issuing these uniforms at the beginning of WWI.

Your laser rifles and handguns are effectively massively long range weapons. Lasers don't suffer from wind resistance, gravity, or any of the other factors that affect bullets in any meaningful way1 so if you can see a bright red uniform on the horizon, technically you can hit it. This makes every soldier in your army a sniper, and that also means that the best defence any opponent has against you is not being seen.

The only possible scenario I can think of is that the red uniforms are only red because of a refractive effect caused by an ultra-reflective crystalline lattice built into their uniforms, designed to refract and dissipate incoming laser fire.

Scientifically, this seems like a very bad idea, but then so do combat lasers. The red could be because the coats are designed to optimise reflection at a specific frequency, which matches most military lasers. That said, changing the chemical frequency of a combat laser would have to be a simple thing to do for this very reason. Still, it's a possibility.


1. Of course, being in an atmosphere does mean that your laser can attenuate through refraction. Lasers would therefore be 'tighter' in space because there is less to get in the way of the photons to break the coherence of your laser. That said, in practical terms, the refraction of a military laser in the Earth's atmosphere is still less likely to cause range issues that would be material in a situation where ground combat is still a thing.

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    $\begingroup$ the best defence any opponent has against you is not being seen. mandatory british video: youtu.be/ifmRgQX82O4 $\endgroup$ – Renan Feb 10 '18 at 4:37
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    $\begingroup$ The other reason for uniforms in the "national" colours was to rapidly identify deserters, since running around in the rear area in a red/blue/white/green coat made you stand out among civilians. Running around in your underwear after shedding the uniform would also make you stand out among the population. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Feb 10 '18 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ There is another scenario: to show power. Sometimes it is actually a purpose to "show off" and be as visible as possible. If only to impose your opponent, and gain confidence in your own army. $\endgroup$ – paul23 Feb 11 '18 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ Lasers are subject to gravity. I admit it's not enough to "suffer". $\endgroup$ – Volker Siegel Feb 11 '18 at 3:09
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    $\begingroup$ Upvoting for mentioning being able to distinguish your side from your opponents. Technically you can do this without differing colors, but this is always the reason that springs to mind for me with this scenario. $\endgroup$ – Pleiades Feb 12 '18 at 15:10
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Your soldiers might wear red if they want to be obvious and stand out. Think of the stormtroopers in Star Wars. They value the fear inspired by their reputation more than they do camouflage, so they wear recognizable uniforms to more easily inspire that fear.

This mostly makes sense when your soldiers are going to be up against significantly weaker forces most of the time.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, yes they are $\endgroup$ – Bryan Feb 10 '18 at 4:47
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    $\begingroup$ Or, the Red Baron painting his aircraft red so as to make his presence obvious. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 10 '18 at 21:45
  • $\begingroup$ I am pretty sure stormtroopers were designed for snow combat. Look at all the tech they have $\endgroup$ – Andrey Aug 14 at 14:16
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Theres a few things that need to be necessary for your idea to make sense. First is that Napoleonic tight formation style battle maneuvers were a product of the weaponry of the era. Muskets had a phenomenally low rate of fire and were not especially accurate. Commanders had to group companies of men together in order to minimize drawbacks of the low fire rate and unreliable accuracy of the era's weaponry's through sheer volume of fire. If you have laser weapons that can only fire say, 3 times every 60 seconds, then it might make sense. for reference to Napoleonic era muskets, 2 companies of men might line up 50 yards apart and volley fire at each other for up to 8 hours and suffer only a few dozen gunshot casualties each. In the Napoleonic era up through to modern times rifle fire has been a minority of combat wounds, Artillery has been the primary casualty producer (aside from disease.) Problem with "laser musketry" is that then the audience starts asking why at that point nobody is using gunpowder anymore, since its easier to manufacture and making machine guns is actually so easy you could do it in your garage (FYI super illegal, don't try to do this.)The most logical would be to go the "high tech compounds and armor manufacturing means that bullets don't work anymore" route. Perhaps the laser weapons are highly powerful but suffer from over-heating, require frequent focusing-lens and power pack changes, and are not particularly reliable. Keep in mind the back scatter heat and energy from a laser weapon that powerful would produce plasma blooming in the atmosphere generating a LOT of heat, electromagnetic phenomenon. Maybe this has a cumulative effect in degrading weapons limiting rate of fire, making aiming difficult, and limiting range (Plasma blooming disrupts beam cohesion). the only reason such bulky cumbersome weapons are used is because that while it may be hard to hit a target, at least when you do hit something it actually does something instead of just bouncing off the armor.

As far as brightly colored uniforms, if there are lasers and miniaturized gamma radiation sources and such then one would assume that use of thermal optics, radar, or other high-tech scanning and optical enhancement devices would be fairly common. Perhaps the color of a uniform doesn't really matter when even if you evade regular visual detection your enemy still has you on radar, FLIR, IR, UV and LADAR all at the same time. In such a battle field maybe there just isn't any reason your soldiers cant be all painted up in the bright colors of the empire since detection devices are so good hiding simply isn't very possible.

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  • $\begingroup$ You make a good point about the rate of fire of laser weapons. a slower rate of fire makes concentrating your weaponry advantageous. However, it would also make the gamma grenades far more effective. What you gain, you loose. What you say about slug throwers is actually very pertinent. Slugs have greater inertia, and thus a wider damage area. Lasers can be effectively blocked using ceramic shielding. Repeated slugs with enough inertia transfer the energy to the ceramic shield, and then transfer it to whatever is below. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 10 '18 at 15:45
  • $\begingroup$ ctd Lasers make very inefficient anti-personnel weapons. The damage is caused strictly by localized heat. No impact damage. No broken bones. A laser would make a pin-point hole in a shoulder, a slug would shatter the entire shoulder. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 10 '18 at 15:45
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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't matter (+1) also because wars with those weapons will not be fought in "tight formations". Whatever isn't nuked from orbit is mopped up by the aircav. The only thing left for infantry to do is clear out people hiding in holes. 'stand-up-fights' ended with the invention of the machine gun. $\endgroup$ – Mazura Feb 10 '18 at 16:40
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme, a human is an ugly bag of mostly water. Guess what happens when you heat water in a bag? You get a steam explosion. Shoot someone in the shoulder with a high-powered laser, and you don't get a "pin-point hole", you get a small crater. $\endgroup$ – Mark Feb 10 '18 at 19:23
  • $\begingroup$ @Mark they do something like that now, but not with laser beams as most sci-fi portrays. It is being pushed as a deterrent which burns the skin, but can be lethal if used continuously in confined spaces. $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 10 '18 at 21:47
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The reason modern soldiers wear camouflage is because not being seen gives you an advantage in combat. Wearing bright colors can give the enemy the necessary split-second advantage to shoot you before you shoot them. Personal anecdote: One time I was playing Paintball. Everyone wore old camo overalls provided by the paintball range. But one guy in the opposite team insisted on wearing a red sweater over it (for science? lost a bet? no idea). That guy got hit more than the rest of his team combined.

But what if AI assistance systems have become so good that camouflage becomes useless? What if every soldier had an augmented reality headset. The headset has advanced sensors and recognition software which is very good at finding and identifying targets. Enemies, allies and non-combatants get highlighted in bright colors. Wearing camouflage doesn't help - the sensors and the AI system are too advanced to be confused by that.

Uniform color would then no longer have any impact on survivability. So your army would focus on the other purpose of uniforms: Instilling a sense of order and camaraderie among the soldiers. In that case, uniform design is simply a fashion choice.

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    $\begingroup$ +1, seems reasonable, if you fight in tight formation or wear a bulky exoskeleton you might be easy to spot regardless of the uniform. Those laser rifles presumably also have some sort of an electronic sight. It probably has thermal imaging. The big question is why fight laser rifles in close formations at all? A similar tech laser system attached to a vehicle could probably have enough power and cooling to mow down entire formation in short order. And having its own wheels, be cheaper to field. $\endgroup$ – Ville Niemi Feb 10 '18 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @VilleNiemi Indeed. The more advanced your technology, the less sense it makes to fight in close formations. But that plothole is not the subject of the question. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Feb 12 '18 at 11:58
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The uniforms are red because the material that gives the uniforms their protective properties is red.

synthetic rubies https://www.alibaba.com/product-detail/Loose-Gem-3-8mm-Created-Synthetic_60118321103.html

Your uniforms confer some protection against ballistic and laser weapons. If they were made a fabric which incorporated synthetic ruby (corundum) they would be red. Ruby is extremely hard and durable as well as translucent and refractive. Ruby is not an outrageous choice as a basis for a super durable protective fabric - both against impacts as well as light-based attacks.

The soldiers do not care enough to paint or cover the uniforms to make them a color other than red. They are uninterested in concealment because the nature of their combat makes that pointless or an impossibility. So the uniforms are the color of the material they are made from.

Sapphire is a cousin of ruby and also extremely hard if you need some blue uniforms.

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    $\begingroup$ Great idea - you can augment the "the soldiers do not care enough to paint their uniform" with some future technology - e.g. if everyone have IR / sonar / radar goggles (with standard FoF and BC augmentations, obviously), then pigments-based camouflage is just a silly notions from ages past $\endgroup$ – G0BLiN Feb 11 '18 at 14:04
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    $\begingroup$ Huh? Did I read pricing right? 1000 tiny rubies for 10 dollars? I'll have to remember that, I could imagine a few decorative uses. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Feb 11 '18 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ @M i ech - I was surprised too! Synthetic sapphires are comparably cheap. $\endgroup$ – Willk Feb 11 '18 at 23:32
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Re "The empire usually fights in tight formations, and use standard laser rifles...": I'm assuming the folks they're fighting have those laser rifles &c, or at least some sort of ranged weapon? Then the only reason for fighting in a tight formation, or wearing bright uniforms, is that the Empire needs to kill off its surplus population, WWI trench warfare style.

Really, formation fighting, like bright colored uniforms, went out with the Redcoats at Lexington & Concord (American Revolution, April 1775, for non-US people), even if some military minds haven't quite accepted the fact yet. (I'm perhaps a bit prejudiced here: in boot camp, two centuries later, they still had us practicing close-order drill, instead of things that might have been of some use in real combat :-()

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    $\begingroup$ Drilling is designed to install teamwork, unit cohesion and immediate obedience to orders, which has very clear use in real combat. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Feb 10 '18 at 6:11
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    $\begingroup$ @Thucydides: Doesn't work that way, at least in my experience. It's more the brass being interested in fighting the wars of the last century. Honestly, I think some of them would only be happy if we went back to the Greek phalanx. (And I wasn't intending to play on your username when I wrote that, really :-)) $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Feb 10 '18 at 6:38
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    $\begingroup$ Completely wrong. Tight formation was still a thing during Napoleonic wars and later. It wasn't until breech loading rifles that tight formation started falling out of use. Tight formation + bayonet are a defence against cavalry, as long as infantry does not have firearms with enough RoF and range to mow down charging cavalry, they need to fight in tight formation or get slaughtered. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Feb 10 '18 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ tight drilling also comes into use in modern military not in combat but in getting large groups moved around and on and off transports. Although drilling rarely focus on this. $\endgroup$ – John Feb 10 '18 at 15:20
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    $\begingroup$ The purpose of close-formation drills is to instill a sense of unity - to get everyone working together, as a homogeneous unit. If you are out of step in a military drill, everyone stumbles. That's the point. In modern warfare, you absolutely depend on the other person doing exactly what is required by the entire formation. Strict adherence to the drill. Step-step-step in time with the beat. In operations, you follow the check-list script, step-by-step. in co-ordination with everyone else. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 10 '18 at 16:03
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Bright uniforms? Possibly but the reasons I am giving is a stretch. Since bright colors reflect more light, bright uniforms might be contributing to the dispersion of radiation from lasers and the gamma grenades. However, gamma grenades I assume would emit gamma rays would not help much since it is very hard to make a gamma ray mirror. The lasers on the other hand could be infrared lasers in which case bright red might make sense but higher-frequency lasers such as x-rays could also be used.

On the other hand, if the weapons being used create a lot of dust or smoke (i.e. the gamma grenades could shoot out radiation by dispersing radioisotope dust/smoke), bright uniforms might be needed to see each other similar to European battles before smokeless gunpowder.

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Rules of Engagement and the lessons of history.

This is a post-nuclear war world. The soldiers are armed with deadly weapons. There is a global prohibition against civilian casualties and collateral damage. The mass destruction accompanying the nuclear war of five centuries has created an indelible lesson in the need to restrict combat and confine battlefields to much smaller areas.

Fighting units are compelled by law and treaty to form up in small, compact groupings to make their exchange of fire less discriminate and less likely to harm civilians or destroy civilian property. Military personnel are also required by law and treaty to wear distinctive clothing to make them readily identifiable.

Therefore, when the forces of the Midwestern Empire are abroad civilians will not wear red for their own safety and protection.

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    $\begingroup$ During the first stages of the American Civil War, when the sides lined up against each other, civilian spectators would often come out and cheer their side on, like they do at football games. Pre-1870's, European war was pretty much a game, a spectator sport. The soldiers used bright uniforms for the same reason football teams use coordinating uniforms. They identified the home team from the away team. This pretty much ended when weaponry became more deadly. But by then, we had the news media to allow spectating and cheering from a distance. And, we now had the Olympics. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 10 '18 at 16:32
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    $\begingroup$ But, who enforces those laws? What happens if someone does kill noncombatants? Is there enough social exchange to make them lose trade and allied support rather than become the de facto rulers through intimidation and terror? Using any weapon which poisons the area rather than simply kills would seem to prohibit use of the weapon in certain areas which are yet viable moreso than limit its use in regards to the amount or class of people — unless combatants only fight on wasted terrain. Why would they be fighting there, then? $\endgroup$ – can-ned_food Feb 10 '18 at 21:37
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Disclaimer - the following is an "a guy once told me" answer which I haven't verified, so do your own research before quoting.

However, I was once told by an ex-British soldier with a strong interest in military history that the reason the British Army historically wore bright red uniforms was to prevent enemies from seeing how many troops there were, and/or from distinguishing individual soldiers. So this was partly so that the enemy would think there were more British soldiers than there were (psychological warfare) and partly so that they could not identify they soldiers as (from a distance, or through a telescope), all the soldiers would blend into one indistinguishable splodge.

To me, however, these seem like minor advantages compared to the much bigger advantages gained from camouflage, which probably explains why the latter replaced the former.

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  • $\begingroup$ So, you're saying they were employing the Zebra Defense? $\endgroup$ – Paul Feb 10 '18 at 18:22
  • $\begingroup$ @Paul yeah, basically. Hadn't thought of it that way, but yes. (According to this guy). $\endgroup$ – Statsanalyst Feb 10 '18 at 18:34
  • $\begingroup$ But why red? This would apply to any color. $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 10 '18 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme, because they had access to a cheap bright-red dye. $\endgroup$ – Mark Feb 10 '18 at 19:31
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    $\begingroup$ I’ve heard a similar apocryphal story that it was to hide injuries. $\endgroup$ – Paul Feb 10 '18 at 19:41
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Status or the Mission - perhaps more important than life, especially if camouflage makes no difference

We sometimes make the mistake that the military wants to 'save lives of soldiers'. To an extent this is true, however overall the mission takes priority.

If by wearing a bright colour, such as red, they create a uniform, strong physical presence to others, including other armies, you might create a strong psychological effect that may serve the government / military more than saving it's own lives. It may also be a good recruitment drive too and give the nation identity.

There could also be advanced technology that could target soldiers with no-error, available cheaply to all armies. In this case there would be no reason to be camouflaged, and so the soldiers might as well wear red for other purposes as above.

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If, because of genetic effects from the nuclear war, everyone were red-green color blind, then red would be the perfect camouflage. Edit Hunting vests are no longer red because color blind people can not distinguish them against a green background. Too many hunters were thus being shot wearing bright red vests.

It is also the color that is least seen from a distance. Blue light penetrates the atmosphere better than red light, that is why distant mountains are blue. edit it is the blue light from the distant mountains that penetrates the atmosphere. EDIT See How to instantly add depth to your mountains in acrylic landscape painting

EDIT This, of course, because a blue light photon has more energy than a red light photon. It's all about wave length,

Most red traffic lights actually have blue in them, so they are seen from a distance. Same with police and emergency vehicle flashing lights.

Winter road vehicles (snow plows and sanders) use flashing blue lights, because red just isn't visible enough in inclement weather.

And, of course, there is the psychological factor - red is associated with anger and aggression. It also signifies avoidance, danger.

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    $\begingroup$ Blue light penetrates the atmosphere better than red light That is exactly the opposite of true. The atmosphere scatters blue light more effectively than red, which is why the sky is blue. Red will transmit farther. That's why sunsets are red--the blue light is filtered out of the image of the sun when it has to travel longer distances through the atmosphere, leaving only red behind. Blue light does, however, travel farther in water, which absorbs red light relatively quickly. $\endgroup$ – Logan R. Kearsley Feb 10 '18 at 10:49
  • $\begingroup$ @ Logan R. Kearsley Sorry, the facts say otherwise. See this , for instance $\endgroup$ – Justin Thyme Feb 10 '18 at 15:24
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    $\begingroup$ @LoganR.Kearsley that link that you give doesn't seem relevant, unless you assume that since blue light is more energetic than red light then it automatically penetrates the atmosphere better. $\endgroup$ – John Coleman Feb 10 '18 at 15:48
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    $\begingroup$ @JustinThyme Blue light has more energy than red light, thus it has greater penetrating power Physics doesn't work that way... which you can verify by looking at a freaking sunset. If that were true, the ozone layer would be worthless, because UV would automatically have more penetrating power. But it doesn't. The properties of the material medium matter, not just photon energy--ozone absorbs ultraviolet, nitrogen and oxygen scatter blue, and red travels farther through the atmosphere in straight lines. See, e.g., math.ucr.edu/home/baez/physics/General/BlueSky/blue_sky.html $\endgroup$ – Logan R. Kearsley Feb 11 '18 at 0:17
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    $\begingroup$ In addition to holding on to an inadequate (scatter-free) theory as to why the sky is blue, the discussion is a bit besides the point. What colors the human eye can best see at a distance has little to do with fundamental physics but a great deal to do with evolutionary biology. The human retina can see some colors better than it can see others. If human evolution had been tightly constrained by the need to survive the predations of giant purple people eaters, we might very well have eyes which are very good at seeing purple at a distance. $\endgroup$ – John Coleman Feb 11 '18 at 14:43

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