Humans and several other alien species are allies in a universal war against another set of species. How would these different allies (us and aliens) communicate on the battlefield. It's one thing to communicate slowly when in a friendly mood. We can try to make them understand our language with signs and signals, but on a field where quick communication (like "hey, watch out. Enemy at 12'o' clock) is a necessity, how would these species communicate.
Language can be used but since it will be new to all of us, we will take time to hear it properly and understand it. What mode of communication would be the fastest on battlefield for the alien species and us?

They will be communicating before the war. That is not the question. The question is about the fastest mode of communication on battlefield where it has to be extremely fast

  • $\begingroup$ Would emotions be a valid answer for you? Something like empathy as shown by Diana Troy in Star Trek. $\endgroup$
    – Fulli
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 11:18
  • $\begingroup$ Emotions? How would we communicate with emotions? And how will we direct our emotions to a certain individual whom we want to warn? Wouldn't it take time for us to focus our chain on emotions on a certain individual? $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 11:20
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    $\begingroup$ I'm guessing this is about infantry ground combat? For any kind of vehicle combat, the best fix would be building a communication system that can translate information and display it in the native language for each vehicle. $\endgroup$
    – Erik
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 12:37
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    $\begingroup$ This question is far too broad as it stands unfortunately. If you can provide a list of species and their differences and similarities, as well as how their native form of communication works this would be objectively (or more at least) answerable. $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ Wouldn't this be solved before we got into battle with allies? Like, we'd have computers which talked to each others, and each species would just talk to the computer? Why would we be war-time allies with a species that we couldn't easily communicate with? $\endgroup$
    – David Rice
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 21:50

7 Answers 7


Imagine someone arriving to a country he has never been before and doesn't know language at all (even basic phrases). That's what phrase books are for.

We and our allies would have to define a set of basic commands that'd be used on battlefield (like attack, watch out, retreat; numbers to define positions (as in question) etc.). It could be voice commands as well as gestures or any other code that can be easily and quickly recognised.

Emotions wouldn't work unless included in the set of commands, since our and aliens' psychology would be completely different.

  • $\begingroup$ So you are saying that language is the only option. It will probably take days and weeks or even months for us to learn that phrase book. And who is to say that they can all speak. What if they don't speak and can only make signs and gestures. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ @Namechangedtomaskidentity There are distinct contexts in which you'll want to communicate. One is strategic planning, during which you can bring people to translate what you say and you have some time to figure out what every one is saying. The other one is in the middle of the fight, and then there are very few things that you actually need to say. And every soldier could learn the twelve phrases from his phrase book. $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 13:50
  • $\begingroup$ As long as the phrase book is accurate. You don't want the aliens trying to warn of an incoming attack shouting, "My nipples explode with delight!" $\endgroup$
    – KSmarts
    Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 16:10
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    $\begingroup$ @Namechangedtomaskidentity: Phrase book was just an example of finite subset of phrases used for basic communication. If we ever formed an alliance with another lifeform, we first have to be able communicate with them at least at basic level. $\endgroup$
    – Trang Oul
    Commented Mar 9, 2015 at 10:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Namechangedtomaskidentity: Yes, it would probably take that long to learn a phrase book. It would take that long just to produce it AND it would likely take that long for the various combatants to actually figure out who is fighting or even why the fight is going on. $\endgroup$
    – NotMe
    Commented Jun 22, 2015 at 18:56


So you're dropped into a battle with several aliens. One of them hands you this funky looking visor thing - you notice that they're already all wearing them. You want to be cool too, so you put it on. Immediately you see your normal vision overlayed with complex, uncomprehensible goblygook.

The visor, not recognizing your species, initiates an integration step. This is a couple of minutes where it familiarizes itself with your visual spectrum and capabilities. Thankfully it has inward facing cameras, and the dumb AI is quickly able to detect and interpret your pupil motions and activities, using those to fine tune its display and figure out what colors you best react to.

Once it knows it can show you information, the visor initiates the familiarization step. Obviously fake objects appear in your vision, and your prompted (again, visually) to interact with those objects - you see shadowy appendages reach out, as if they belonged to you, and move those around. Once you take that step, it proceeds to more and more complex actions. It takes a bit but the visor adjusts quickly and is able to motion capture your hand movements.

Once you can interact with it, the visor starts walking you through information. A map appears in the upper right corner of your vision (the visor determined that area would be optimal, given your eye movement patterns). You notice some dots on that, which the visor demonstrates to be your allies by high-lighting them in the same color in your field of vision and on the map. Once you're comfortable with that, it adds more options. You're a quick study and you start clicking and messing with the map, and you can indicate danger, or movement, or query for help - thankfully it's pretty intuitive with dropdown menus and such.

Now that you have the basics down, you're ready for combat. You're surprised when your group is broken up into several different colors - you end up being in group pink, go figure - but you immediately see the benefit when a pink arrow indicates the direction you need to go. You start off with the rest of your group. After a bit you notice a weird pink dot in your group - it's a darker color, and it's flashing as you get further away, but there's no one there - and oh! That's where you're supposed to be. You head over there, and once you get close enough it stops flashing. You keep an eye on it to make sure you stay on track.

Contact with the enemy is rough. You first spot them as red dots, which you haven't seen used before. Your group leader assigns you movement orders (pink trail), and enemy targets (high-lighted red dots). It's tough at first paying attention to the map while also fighting, but you adjust after a few minutes.

Your first battles go ok. You notice that as you get comfortable with the basic capabilities, it starts adding more options. The first is False-Color Overlays - you get the option of viewing things in other parts of the light spectrum (ultraviolet, infrared, radar, microwave), and even a weird echolocation sound mode that gives you a headache. Once you get promoted to lead a group, you also see other options appear - you can now create subgroups of your people, and you have options to assign those targets or movement orders. You can also create more variations, or mark enemies certain ways - never with language, but you are given logical grouping options, and the visors render those appropriately to the wearer (a human might see striped enemies vs cross-hatched, for example).


Ever been to pub fight? Well, let me explain from my one, and luckily only situation where I was in such situation:

  • These three dudes are my friens
  • These four dudes are most definitely enemies
  • Heck! These two dudes attacked my bro! Attaaaaack!

In other words:

  • You have to know your enemies
  • You try to attack your best and your hardest to the closest enemy.
  • If one of your friends seems to be needing help, you provide it. Simply because you hope they will do the same for you

Even more generic: I am strongly assuming that tactical capabilities of these aliens will be same, or at least similar. And that we are fighting together some ugly dude, because, hey, we are friends and he is not. If only he paid me the shots...


I feel like I actually did not answer the question. I strongly think, that in such situation, where any communication is slow ...

(Did I tell you that the pub fight happened in Bulgaria where I fighted together with some dudes from Germany and I am pretty poor in German and I do not understand any Bulgarian?)

You just fight and hope for the best

Motto: Even the best plan can be thrown away when dealing with enemy


I have been thinking about it even more and decided to post this:

Why did we decide to help them?

Your question kinda suggest this scenario:

Alien ship appears: Hello, we are race Tom from planet Bob

Humankind quickly decides who should answer and says: Uhm, hello and welcome. We are peaceful, live long and prosper

Aliens: Um, actually, there is race John from planet Mary and they are our enemies. Will you help us?

Humankind: Yeah, sure! Bring them on!

But this is very, very unlikely. It will take years to actually decide what to do in this situation. So, likely scenario is this:

Aliens appear on orbit: Hello, we are race Tom from planet Bob

Humankind: Um, we officially agreed to say: Hi!

Another alien ship appears and starts attacking Earth immediatelly

Alien Tom: Thats race John from planet Mary. They are our enemies. Will you help us?

Humankind: We are packed and loaded. Bring it on!

  • $\begingroup$ But, how would I communicate to my friend that hey lookout, there's an ugly dude with a heavy machine gun just behind your back and is about to blow you to pieces. Right now, I can simply say "Zohan, look out." $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 6, 2015 at 11:39

Ironically this has already been answered by the military: they do exactly what they do today.

Consider, combat is not a coarse art. If your squad is not finely tuned and well oiled, the finely tuned and well oiled squad down the hall is going to shoot you and take your ground. There is no one way to fight, so each group develops their own quirks that work well for them.

This pattern ripples all the way up the chain. Consider navy battles between the great sailing ships of the French and English. The English used powerful ships will well tuned guns so that, when they had the wind, they could demolish their foe. The French used more nimble ships so that, when they didn't have the wind, they could simply flee faster than the English.

In modern combat with multiple nations, the process is simple: you don't rely on communication at the lower levels unless you have to. When given any opportunity, you structure your army to allow the different groups to act independently, and only do language translation at higher ranking positions where there is time to do such translations.

It'd be nice to think that our military would be an even mix of human and alien with nobody discriminating between the two. Tough cookies. This is war, where people die. If segregation increases survival, its what they do.


How did they become allies? How long has it been? If they are allies then they should already have some communications available.

We are currently working on universal translators, don't know how well they work now, but I'm sure they would be sufficient for simple commands and directions.

So, I expect computers would be doing the translation and an individual fighter pilot might not even know if their wingman is alien or human.


Visual signaling is a lot faster than verbal processing, especially with a new language. The fastest way to do this is to use short hand signals - you sometimes see this in cop shows and war movies.

This can be combined with HUD alerts. Think Google glass overlays or a standard fighter pilot cockpit. Since you're talking about aliens (but didn't specify whether we're on earth), the HUD is feasible tech. The military already has models it's working on, so it isn't really a stretch for your world.

Basically, direct visual range =hand signals, father range = translate verbal commands from allied commander to visual signal overlaid of l on HUD.


I would use radios with automatic translators. Use a different frequency for each language. A computer listens to each and translates anything said on that frequency into each other language and broadcasts it on the other frequencies.

One of the complications of communicating during combat is confusion, so we already need to use limited vocabulary and keep messages brief. This will make translation easier. Keeping the different languages on different frequencies allows the soldiers to listen to only what they'd understand, anwyay.

Radios also have the advantage that it would cut down on the amount of shouting that modern combat soldiers have to do.

One disadvantage is that communications would no longer be localized by the range of the soldier's voice, so there is the potential for lots of chatter in a combat involving hundreds or thousands of soldiers. But we already have technology (cell phone networks) to allow us to control who we'll be listening to, including override capabilities, etc.

It would take a lot of planning and design work, but anyone with technology for interplanetary travel could definitely build a combat communication network that could meet the above needs.

See the "Old Man's War" series by John Scalzi for an example of a network similar to what I've described. The network in his stories is humans-only, but that was a political decision, not a technological one.


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