This probably sounds like a ridiculous question but it is actually very simple. It seems possible to me to modify a motorcycle to be weaponized and indeed very deadly here on Earth (if you had the technology to put machine guns or a missile on the front), it seems like a motorcycle is a good way to rush in and send in a few shots against the enemy and turn around before they have a chance to hit, now I don't think they are a very good option here on earth but I am wondering what this community thinks about having them on Mars.

So simply if I am to include military motorcycles with a combat role on mars in my world I have to be convince that they are tactically useful, maybe some unconventional ways to use this unconventional tool would be appreciated; aka are they useless or useful?

Edit: For those who are wondering I have considered ATV's, please stop mentioning it as an alternative to motorcycles. The ATV is obviously quite useful, and I am going to use it, I a simply wondering whether Motorcycles would be worth the effort in a military situation on mars.

Edit 2: People have asked what kind of Martian environment we are talking about, the two environment's I will ask you to consider is the modern environment of Mars and an environment where the CO2 is mostly replaced by O2 (and is also colder then the modern mars (fewer greenhouse gases). The soldiers themselves will be wearing power armor, the usage of bikes in war CANT come before the invention of power armor. They are probably powered electrically.

Edit 3: Since I am genuinely surprised nobody has made any mention of this I would like to note that motorcycles are obviously not the best firing platform, however if you strap some sort of weapons to the front and back of the motorcycle could it have uses? This is an extension of the question, I don't really care about how hard it is to shoot a gun from the seat of a motorbike, I want to know if strapping a machine gun or missile wouldn't be worth the effort in combat. I wan't to know if they are useful as combat vehicles and if there are any unconventional uses for them.

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    What powers the motorcycles? – RonJohn Aug 21 at 16:09
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    Have you considered a 3-wheel or 4-wheel ATV instead of a 2-wheeled motorcycle? – Jasper Aug 21 at 19:30
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    “It seems possible to me to modify a motorcycle to be weaponized and indeed very deadly here on earth” ... um, why? Maybe you should examine that assertion. If it really was simple and practical as you think, someone would be doing it, but no one is. The reason no one does it is because motorcycles are about the worst possible vehicle for tactical combat operations, here on Earth. By looks of the answers, it doesn’t look like that changes on Mars either... so examine why you think they’re a good choice for combat operations, and figure out what you’ve got wrong in that assumption. – HopelessN00b Aug 21 at 22:16
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    Unless you strapped a bomb onto the motorbike and sent it on its own merry way, its not going to be effective. If you can shoot the enemy, the enemy can shoot you and a motorbike isn't going to provide you anywhere near enough protection. Sure you can ride up and take a shot, but then they are just going to shoot the crap out of you as you leave...your not that fast. They can have a support role, but they won't have a combat role outside of suicide bombing a location (I'm pretty sure you can get them to go in a straight line by themselves with no rider) – Shadowzee Aug 22 at 0:43
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    @DavidK Twice, even – Chronocidal Aug 22 at 7:58

16 Answers 16

In lower gravity, like it happens on Mars, any jump will last longer.

And motorcycles, while in a jump, can do little to no steering.

So at any jump your attack motorbike will have, it will basically be a floating target for enemy artillery.

Add to this that you can hardly add enough shielding to protect the driver (a tank or a Jeep is way more effective) from weather and bullets, and you get why motorcycles are used in supporting/exploring roles in Earth wars, not active fight.

I would say that you can use motorbikes for the same roles they are used here on Earth, nothing more fancy.

If you got creative with the motorcycles, yes.

You'd have to equip them with some sort of maneuvering thrusters for short bursts. The low gravity, if accounted for, could make the motorcycles very effective.

You could have downward thrust to cut short huge jumps, and thus make tracking the arc of a jump impossible for gunners. Left and right thrust could make a jumping bike able to swivel and fire upon any pursuer and frustrate their attempts.

The wheels would need to either be solid, or have some self-healing abilities due to nanites, or some other tech.

To add to their effectiveness, their small size allows for a new substance, nicknamed "hardtofindnium", which allows for a kind of stealth tech, which can hide a small object from sensors, but larger objects are easier to track (vibrations from larger vehicles and such can be triangulated on, flying things can be tracked by RADAR or something along those lines) so tracking one of these motorcycles would require visual sighting.

Be creative, there are tons of possibilities along these lines.

The approach you should take is that these things would screw up the enemy's plans by introducing something that draws their attention, throws them off guard, and circumvents their standard defenses.

  • Good stuff here! Also these should be electric motorcycles - low oxygen means no internal combustion but the dust would be hell on a combustion engine. The problem arises that these Mars cycles will not make a throaty roar. Until the THRUSTDOWN jets kick in! I like having the thrustdowns on when you need more traction - they effectively increase bike weight like a spoiler does a car. I agree with everything except that they should not be standard. This should be the only way the martians make war! – Willk Aug 21 at 18:51
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    @Willk, the throaty roar is an entirely unnecessary fashion accessory. I suspect your forces would much prefer their bikes to be silent rather than broadcast their approach with an echo from the hills – Separatrix Aug 22 at 7:23

Yes.

https://www.cnn.com/2014/04/28/us/stealth-military-motorcycle/index.html

Soon after he left the unit in 2010, Golembesky said Marine special ops in Afghanistan began improvising and bringing motorcycles into their weapons arsenal. They started acquiring cheap "Chinese knockoff" motorbikes in Afghan bazaars and customizing them. "They'd weld racks on the back and repaint them, camouflage them down," he said. "The bikes mainly became a way to overcome covering long distances over harsh terrain." It was really a case of fighting fire with fire. Taliban have been riding mopeds and motorcycles to attack U.S. forces since the beginning of the war in 2001, said Golembesky. "They know the most practical, low stress, low impact way to get around the battlefield and maneuver."

But ATVs are more practical, since they're more stable and carry more stuff.

https://www.popularmechanics.com/military/a17336/special-forces-atv-marines-army/

The military likes these vehicles because they can be transported inside the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, Boeing's MH-47 special operations helicopter, and Sikorsky's MH-53 Pave Low, and dropped from the air. Special forces, in particular, like ATVs because of the extra mobility they provide, allowing smaller units to get to a combat area or conduct reconnaissance patrols quickly. Plus, they keep Marines or troops who would otherwise move on foot fresher.

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    Worth noting, these are used for primarily for transport, not as combat vehicles, like the OP seems to want. Riding into a firefight on your motorcycle is the kind of mistake you only get to make once. – HopelessN00b Aug 21 at 22:21
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    It’s really not, which is why it’s not done. It’s just not possible to ride into effective small arms range, take an effective shot, and get out of range before you, or your unarmored vehicle are riddled with holes. On a motorcycle, that’s an even bigger problem than in a car, because of the risk of being thrown from the vehicle. Even your own source says these are used for traveling long distances over harsh terrain, not in some ridiculous version of a cavalry charge. No need to take my word for it, see if you can find a combat soldier who’d ride a motorcycle into a firefight. – HopelessN00b Aug 21 at 22:36
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    @HopelessN00b cavalrymen didn't shoot on the move either. You ride up to where you want to shoot (almost to the peak of a hill), stop and crawl up to the peak, shoot and then scoot. – RonJohn Aug 21 at 22:47
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    So, you’ve come around to my very first comment on your answer, where I said they’re useful as transport, but not combat vehicles? Yeah, like I said. Don’t know why the OP seems to think that motorcycles would make a useful combat platform, but that seems to be what he’s asking about, rather than the non-combat applications of motorcycles (or other light, one-person vehicles) in warfare. – HopelessN00b Aug 21 at 22:52
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    It depends on the period in history you are refering to in the 17th and 18th century the soldier that rides dismounts and shoots would be a dragoon rather than a cavalry man.en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dragoon Cavalry fought mounted carrying swords or lances and possibly pistols or a carbine to shot whilst mounted depending on the regiment and country they fought for. – Sarriesfan Aug 22 at 6:31

I can see a couple major problems with using motorcycles in combat, let alone on mars.

Poor Firing Platform

A Motorcycle is an awful firing platform, there's a reason they aren't used as raiders. You need at least one hand to operate them, they're unstable and if you aren't paying attention you'll crash.
This dramatically limits the kinds of weapons you can use down to pistols and low-recoil carbines/machine-pistols. You can drive-by, but any capable opposition can easily kill you because...

No Armor

A motorcycle leaves its operator completely exposed to the elements, incoming fire and critically, accidents. On earth, motorcycle accidents are common and frequently horrific, on mars they'd be 100% lethal without some incredibly capable safety equipment in your sealed environment suit.
Your suit rips on a rock as you skid 100s of meters and you die of asphyxiation even if you weren't that badly hurt.

In practice, a Motorcycle isn't an awful way to get around on Mars, though you might be better off with a quadbike or Trike, they're more stable and can carry more weight.
Your vehicle would be electric, so quiet and easily recharged in the field with portable solar arrays, so endurance is not a problem.

In combat, you'd want to operate somewhat like a Dragoon, using the vehicles to get where you're going and then dismounting to fight.
There are some advantages to using small ATVs like this, they can go places bigger APCs couldn't, they can get there faster, and they're more easily manufactured and maintained.

I could well imagine the ATVs would actually be adapted from colony Rovers and buggies rather than purpose-built for combat.

All of this assumes a fairly conventional low-tech solution. If you want to get high-tech, you could mount a machine-gun in a motorised pintle on the front of your bike/quad and guide it via head-tracking of the driver. Similar to a helicopter gunship's "Look-to-kill" tech. This solves the need to go one-handed and lets you aim more easily. Put the trigger on the hand-grip for the bike.

If wars are happening on Mars, it means we made it there. The technological advancements we will have made will be many and varied.

This means that weapons will be more technologically advanced as well. Drones will be cheaper to build and easier to operate, and will be packing on top of that. Any bullets will fly faster and further than on Earth due to the lower atmospheric pressure and drag. That, coupled with bot autoaim will change tactics as we know them.

A motorbike would probably have great mobility on the rocky surface of Mars. But to the drones patrolling the enemy territory, any rider will be an aquatic fowl in a resting position.

Also this:

Opportunity the killer rover

Source

  • I think drones would be limited, because the Martian atmosphere is too thin for planes to easily fly. (See this question, asked just yesterday, which also saw an xkcd comic in the answer: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/122389/…) – Joe Aug 21 at 16:47
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    @Joe the lower gravity of Mars counterbalances that. NASA is seriously considering sending drones there. – Renan Aug 21 at 20:17
  • A lightweight drone might serve well for reconnaissance, but for warfare you want a drone that carries some mass of explosives and ammunition, and that's going to be hard to do in that thin atmosphere. – Joe Aug 21 at 20:19
  • @Joe I would expect a coilgun or the like, shooting tiny bullets through the thin atmosphere. (Iron and electricity are renewable resources on Mars; explosives, not so much.) – Charles Aug 22 at 13:41

Given the rocky terrain of mars, it can be hard for a lot of vehicles to traverse it efficiently. Motercycles/dirtbikes only have two wheels, which means they can fit through smaller gaps in the terrain. Perfect for recon or guerilla tactics which rely on using the landscape.

Addition: If it's an electric motorcycle, or uses other quiet non combustion sources for power, it makes it even better for the two above mentioned activities.

Bonus: if each cycle has two passengers, one driving and one in the back with a turret, you could simple drive to the top of a hill and rain bullets upon your enemies in a couple short bursts and then drive away quickly before they can make a counter offensive. It would be suicide to chase you with a turret keeping enemies behind you in check. Guerilla warfare x mobile machine gun nests can suppress large scale forces and pose a threat to any non mobile forces.

The British military used machine gun turrets during the beginning of WWII, but they fell out of use as trenches became prominent.

Problems

Motorbikes are not really able to fire while moving. They are unstable even before you consider recoil. If the rider was to carry explosives such as a grenade launcher that may have some power.

Bikes are loud making them easy to locate on a battle field. They are then moving in a somewhat predictable path with no opportunity to get into cover. Infantry can weave and drop to the floor periodically and other vehicles are built to resist bullets. The bike can do neither of these things.

Advantages

I can imagine a bike being the fastest ground vehicle on Mars. If defences prevented aircraft from being flown then a bike would be a good vehicle for staying out of range of enemies or moving infantry quickly across safe ground.

Bikes can reach more terrain than other ground vehicles meaning they may be the only choice to move quickly in some areas.

Bikes are easier to hide and can be pushed to close in on enemy without making a noise. They could then quickly rush through the defensive lines and break up the formation causing a lot of confusion or reaching critical areas such as a commanders tent, it would be near suicide for the rider but would greatly help a supporting unit attacking at the same time. Alternatively they could ride over entrenched machine gunners and fire shotguns down as they pass.

Change to the story

If neither side brought actual weapons either because the conflict was a surprise or because earth placed an embargo on arms they may be fighting with tools or improvised weapons. In that case a bike could be armoured enough to be a viable vehicle for closing on enemy units but much faster than a larger vehicle with more range of movement. Or they could simply be used because they had them around for unrelated reasons.

Conventional motorcycles would be useless on Mars.

There is simply not enough oxygen for an internal combustion engine to operate on Mars. Its atmosphere has at best the equivalent of about 30km above sea level on Earth, and it has about 1/10th as much oxygen in its relative composition. This is an important detail to recognize for your credibility's sake. If you are going to use motorcycles, they need to be electric or use fuel that doesn't require atmospheric assistance, or at least do some hand-wavey super-duper-turbocharged enhancements.

Motorcycles could almost certainly be used for Martian warfare in specific circumstances.

Guerrilla warfare is almost certainly their best use. Electric bikes would be quiet, fast, and able to get through difficult terrain to raid storehouses, supply lines, etc.

If you wanted to get a little silly, the reduced gravity could make for some interesting semi-aerial attacks. If they are maneuvering through cratered plains or dunes, they could launch themselves high into the air off of natural ramps, making it difficult for the enemy to sweep them all down in one go. It is much harder to hit fast moving targets in 3 dimensions than 2.

Lets take a look at all the times that motorcycles have been used during war on earth.

In the US, motorcycle testing began as early as 1913. There first deployment was during the "Boarder War" against Pancho Villa. They came in a variety of models including standard bike, sidecar support vehicle, sidecar machine gun nests, and sidecar supply runners. They were deemed so effective that over 100,000 motorcycles were commissioned during WWI.

During WWI Entire infantry units could be motorcycle bourn, and motorcycles could be equipped with features such as stretchers, shielding, passenger sidecars, and machine guns. However, the most common use of motorcycles was information relay. The unreliability of radios and other communications during the time gave a great niché for motorcycles to occupy.

The U.S. wasn't the only one with motorcycles though; the British had 30,000 of their own, complete with a range of accessories such as sidecars, machine guns, and ammo storage. Once again, they saw most use as communication relays.

This is a trend that continued into WWII. Despite over 200,000 motorcycles used between allied forces, they were almost all exclusively non combat. American models were the most durable motorcycle available with a Thompson submachine gun holster equipped to hold the soldiers' weapon.

One unique use of motorcycle was as an accessory to paratroopers. Light weight versions of motorcycles were used during WWII by British forces to deploy highly mobile units behind enemy lines. Unfortunately for mars, the lack of atmosphere makes this innovation impossible.

With the conclusion of WWII, many advanced technologies began to be developed, which almost entirely closed the need for on ground communications. This relegated motorcycles to mostly recon work, especially during Operation Desert Storm, in which they got a fair amount of use by Britain, the U.S., and NATO.

Today, the U.S. Military still has motorcycles in reserve. These bad boys are silent electric bikes with 3500 hours charge and 50 hp. I imagine you'll probably have something similar on mars, do to the lack of fossil fuels.

And what uses would they have? Well, if mars has yet to build a good communications infrastructure you may need to use them in part for communication relays.

There's also the possibility that trenches aren't feasible on the rocky surface of mars. This gives mobile machine gun nests a good opportunity to come back into use.

Speaking of the rocky surface of mars, do you know what can be used for crossing sandy planes effectively? Motorcycles. Add into the fact that trenches are hard to build in a sandy environment and you have a pretty good reason to have a motorcycle corps.

Lets also assume that your enemies have motorcycle corps though. How do two motorcycles choose to battle? Well lets go out on a limb and go ahead and give motorcycles front facing missile launchers. Like a miniature rpg launcher with two shots or so, in order to eliminate targets that are hard to penetrate with your normal machine gun. Of course, your motorcycle has an on board computer that helps them aim these mini rockets, possible with a in helmet display so you can confirm your target.

In fact, why not mount a small machine gun in the front of your motorcycle with a helmet tracking software. The gun will automatically adjust to whatever you look at, and then you can shoot in a wider area in front of you, instead of just directly in front. This gives you some amount of firepower if you happen upon an enemy while on a patrol.

Of course, you can have a larger amount of hardware in your martian motorcycle thanks to the lower gravity. In fact, larger, harder, and stronger systems are essentially required to help keep you on the ground. This gives you a lot of play, including bullet proof domes over your motorcycle protecting the driver, especially for recon vehicles or anti cavalry troops.

However, lack of gravity also makes other vehicles a lot more useful, such as tanks that are both lighter, faster, and yet have heavier armor than those on earth.

But lucky for you, high mobility is incredibly important in war, and motorcycles will definitely have uses in recon and support. You could even mess with the whole less gravity thing to make motorcycles that have weapons specialized in anti tank, anti personnel, and anti motorcycle functions. Different motorcycle units could all have specialized roles in a high mobility battlefield where they can navigate the terrain better than other vehicles, be equipped with similar defenses or weaponry as traditionally bigger vehicles on earth, and replace a lot of the functions of aircrafts on earth.

  • darn, I like this answer. So you are saying they can be used in direct combat, right? but what I am confused with is I don't see how they can be used as "mobile machine gun nests". – skout Aug 29 at 0:37
  • @skout okay, basically the motorcycle has a big machine gun and ammo that is normally to cumbersome for a normal person to carry alone. This has a special piece that allows it to be mounted on top of a shielded motorcycle. Now you just sit behind your motorcycle and use your giant machine gun to hold down your position. When you need to leave, you just hop on your bike, raise the kickstands, and drive away. Basically its bigger ammo supplies than a normal soldier carries and possibly some sandbags or armor to protect your position riding in a sidecar or strapped to the back. Modified for mars. – Clay Deitas Aug 29 at 0:43
  • I get it. I will have to wait for more answers to see if someone else might be more deserving of the bounty then you but I am inclined to give it to you. – skout Aug 29 at 0:44

I am not at home with gravitational forces and such, so I cannot give you calculations about how easy it would be to drive one; however, I can give you some tactics.

Motorcycles should not be used in direct confrontations, because the drivers are very vulnerable; however, they're perfect raiders, ambushers,...

  • They can quickly transport a sizeable force. These can be used as raiders or just to reach positions for conventional battle. (mobility warfare)

  • They can transport small amounts of material – for example, mines and bombs – to sabotage enemy supply lines or ammo to resupply friendly troops or act as messengers. (sabotage, logistics and communication)

  • They can be used to chase and harass enemy armour. This one is a bit trickier and I wouldn't recommend doing it against decently trained militaries, but it sort of worked in the 'Toyota war.' Granted, they used pick-ups, but bikes could do it too with some tweaks. (Instead of mounting anti-tank launchers on top you could have small portable rocket launchers.) (Harassing and chasing down enemies)

  • If you have the tech, maybe they could also serve as remote controlled suicide drones. (sabotage and terror)

Honestly, you can be more creative if need be. Why not put a mortar on the sidecar and have your fellow mortar crew members drive along with some ammo? Mobile mortar platform. Mount an MG on a sidecar and you a machine gun emplacement/crude AA platform.

I think that if you were asking "is there any combat or combat-related use for motorcycles on Mars?" the answers are already here (yes). However, I will try to answer your specific main question, which boils down to: "Is there a direct combat role for power-armored soldiers mounted on motorcycles that carry heavy weapons?"

On present-day Earth, this is a losing proposition for two main reasons:

1) Power armor doesn't exist, and mounted unarmored troops are extremely vulnerable to today's long range and rapid firing weapons (this is why for more or less the last 100 years cavalry charges haven't existed). The only analog I can come up with is suicide or swarm attacks where massive casualties on your side are acceptable (think Iranian fast boats in the Persian Gulf).

2) Unless you are going to invest in visual systems for missile lock or aiming guns (think Apache main gun or F-35 helmet system), it is virtually impossible to fire accurately from a motorcycle-mounted weapon, especially on rough terrain. This isn't even taking into account the recoil from repeated shots on the move. I am neither a combat veteran nor a motorcycle expert, but I do ride and I do shoot and I can tell you that trying to aim a simple strapped-on weapons system would be absurd. Hopefully someone with more experience in either or both of these areas can chime in if I am somehow incorrect.

So now let's examine the main differences between your setting and present-day Earth:

1) Mars

Once we get past the fact that the motorcycles are most-likely "powered electrically" and the riders need life support (in the CO2 scenario), the terrain is similar to modern-day battlefields and the only real difference is the thin atmosphere and lower gravity. Any complaints about the noise are negated by thin atmosphere but this is probably not an issue anyway due to the electric motors. I have seen answers that mention jumping and using thrusters for evasion. Honestly I can't see a way that this makes more sense than personal aircraft (e.g. jetpacks) with mounted weapons unless you just really want the cool factor of Martian machine-gun motorcycles (which does sound rad).

2) Power Armor

I'm going to assume power armor at least means a fully sealed life support system that has a hardened or otherwise survivable outer shell and provides greater strength to the user. As such we don't have to worry about whether we are in the CO2 or O2 atmosphere. If defensive technology has evolved faster than offensive technology (unlikely but hey it's your story), then I can conceive of a scenario where my first objection is nullified. Power-armored soldiers cruising in on motorcycles might not immediately get picked off by machine-gunners or missile systems. I should note that if motorcycle troops are not the only ones wearing power armor, then they will be facing up-armored troops who are able to field pretty large and heavy weapons systems themselves. You can work this out in your story if you are determined to make it happen.

3) Advanced Technology

You could finagle "advanced technology" to really make anything fit into your desired plot, so without getting too broad I'll address my second objection. If the power armor includes some type of aiming/locking system as discussed above, the motorcycle-mounted weapons become more viable. Think of a rider being able to strafe a line of dug-in infantry by aiming with his line of sight, or visually locking his missiles onto an attacking aircraft. Add to this some very advanced stabilization that lets you fire your .50 caliber machine gun or future equivalent at a 90 degree angle to your direction of motion without immediately crashing, and I guess you have a fast, survivable, and accurate weapons system.

I think if you really wanted to present a likely path for the combined evolution of weapons technology and military tactics, you would not find power-armored motorcycle soldiers cruising around and shooting missiles, whether on Mars or Earth. You can certainly ignore that entirely subjective statement though. Maybe the atmosphere is too thin or fuel is too scarce for armored jetpacks. Maybe anti-aircraft weapons are too advanced or one side doesn't have the resources to field jetpacks. Maybe power armor is rare and only used for elite motorcycle troops, or advanced energy weapons that would easily fry power-armored soldiers aren't fielded often because of the energy requirements. Like I said, it's your story so you should write one that you're happy with, and if that means the motorcycles gotta have missiles then make it happen!

  • After looking more closely at all of the answers I should note that Clay Deitas mentioned the helmet targeting system and Yaak mentioned the reason we don't have traditional mounted cavalry anymore -- both before my post. Just giving some credit to prior answers. – ben Aug 29 at 2:26

I think the nearest you would get, because of the issue of maintaining balance while zooming over a rough surface while shooting weapons with recoil, would be a militarized ATV. https://www.google.com/search?q=militarized+atv&rlz=1C1CHBD_enUS789US789&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiDvdvm2f_cAhWnE5oKHUoSDJ8Q_AUICigB&biw=1884&bih=896

This solution is actually multi-purpose since it also provides freight and logistics capability beyond what is feasible on a motorcycle, for just a little more cost in materials.

For over 100 years we have been in the era of line-of-sight kill.

If you can see your target, you can kill them.

Cavalry in combat -- lightly armored tall mobile troops -- became obsolete with this era. Your motorbikes are cavalry.

What hasn't become obsolete (yet) are dragoons -- troops that travel on lightly armored transport to reach a position, then dismount and engage.

Unless defensive technology suddenly outperforms offensive technology, using cavalry on mars will be just as stupid as it has been on earth for a 100 years. Naive extrapolation of todays tech -- computer vision and targetting and drones -- gives us cheap "infantry" that can kill unarmored targets around corners and over the horizon.

As the atmosphere on mars is going to kill the endurance of air-based drones, you could see a ATV/motorbike drone "carrier" that is used to bring drones to a forward position to be deployed against the enemy. I'd expect battles (outside of built up areas) would be over-horizon "shoot a drone into the sky, shoot down enemy drones" beyond-LOS combat.

The usual armor-vs-caliber game will occur. Armor is defeated by higher caliber guns; but a high-caliber gun platform with no armor can be taken out by a cheaper/lighter/more numerous low caliber gun platform.

So you could imagine having scout drones (no guns), harrier drones (no armor, gun sufficient to take out an unarmored foe), combat drones (armor sufficient to defend against harrier guns, gun sufficient to defeat own armor), defender drones (armor sufficient to defend against combat drone, gun sufficient to defeat combat armor), anti-capital drones (no armor, gun sufficient to take out capital drones) and capital drones (armor sufficient to defend against combat/defender drone, gun sufficient to take out defender drone), or some similar web.

A mobile base (capital level armor) with remote control bikes (combat level armor) that deploy/retrieve drones vertically (of various kinds) could control a large section of territory well beyond a horizon.

Firing a drone up 10 km gives you sqrt(10 km(2*3.4km+10km)) = 13 km horizon. Have a base with bikes 20 km out gives you a kill-radius of 33 km.

  • Drones won't work well in Mars' stunningly thin atmosphere. – RonJohn Aug 22 at 15:17
  • @RonJohn We have designed drones that can fly on Mars already. There is 40% gravity, 1% pressure, 2% density. Using air for lift (balloon, parachute, wings, rotors) is 20 times harder than on Earth; but air resistance is 50 times less. On Earth, just using station-keeping drones would be sufficient; on Mars, a drone-motorbike carrier that can station-keep but be relatively cheap, and launch drones for over-horizon engagement, might be more practical. – Yakk Aug 22 at 15:32

I think everyone is forgetting the motorcycles used during world war two. Whether they were used in the actual fighting or not is something I don't know, but I do know they were widely used, especially in ferrying messages back and forth between headquarters and men in the field. It would only make sense that they had machine guns attached to a side car in that they could protect themselves, if nothing else. It sounds perfectly plausible to me! You could always borrow from Tron slightly in that the motorcycles were somewhat armored. It wouldn't be a huge leap to attach weapons. However, the motorcycle might not be as cool as the ones in Tron, as you would have to have a physical bike, instead of a digital one.

  • Adding a sidecar to your bike can make wonders: it gives stability essential to handling weapons, allow you to add more than one weapon and will give you a vehicle with smaller dimensions. en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/BMW_R75 – Christmas Snow Aug 27 at 19:44

Controlling the motorcycle AND the weapon is a difficult task. Steering and balancing without hands must be done differently. My proposal would be controlling your motorcycle with body movements. This means a radical change in the bike's set-up. It will be controlled by tilting the body while freeing your hands to control the weapon. You can think of a mobile platform that operates like a segway, though it could look completely different.

Martian Chaos Terrain

I'm going to come at this from a slightly different angle and just accept that we ARE using armed motorcycles on Mars, and look for where we would use them. The answer, I think, is Martian Chaos Terrain

"...a rat's nest of mesas, buttes, and hills, chopped through with valleys which in places look almost patterned."

So, let's assume that we're fighting in this Chaos Terrain. There's LOTS of cover, ludicrous amounts of it in fact, so it's pretty easy to stay hidden from anything that's not directly above you. The conflict by necessity extends all the way up into orbit so neither side has uncontested control of either the airspace or the orbital space above the battlefield.

Now, This isn't a conflict involving thousands of troops in mass formation, nobody has the resources to bring THAT many people to Mars just to get killed. No. This is a battle primarily fought by robots. But, the robots aren't very smart, which means they need human commanders. The radiation levels on Mars are already very high, and deliberate jamming makes long range communications even more challenging, which means that the humans who are leading these robots need to be able to stay close enough to them for their wireless communications to both cut through the jamming, and be tightly controlled enough not to be intercepted.

Our robots have all kinds of weapons and counterweapons and measures and countermeasures and counter-counter-measures to deploy against each other. There are LOTS of them because your automated factories can spit them out all day long. Your human commanders are VERY valuble however, so you can't have them just hanging out with robot squads that aren't fighting. The Commanders need to be able to move very quickly from place to place so that they're always supporting the robots that are in the thickest of the fighting.

Now you need motorcyles. You can't use ATVs or anything larger because they can't move quickly enough or quietly enough through the mazes of the Chaos Terrain. You can't FLY because you just get sniped out of the air by concealed laser emplacements in the mesa tops. You have to stay low, and stay fast, and that means two wheels and lots of speed. I'm imagining hydrogen power cells powering electric motors. Almost no moving parts to deal with. Something a lot like a Tron Lightcycle, only with those nifty new titanium tires NASA came up with.

Weaponry is primarily defensive. Your commander's job isn't to run around killing robots, it's to help his own robots take best advantage of the terrain and (hopefully) annhilate enemy robots that don't have a human commander in play. You want your motorcycle to have plenty of chaff and ECM, and probably something like a Trophy launcher to knock down incoming missiles and so forth. Whatever weaponry you DO mount on the motorcycle is gryo-stabilized and linked to the commander's helmet like on Apache Helicopters and F-35s. The Commander looks at something, the motorcycle shoots at it without the commander having to do anything so crass as aim the weapon with his HANDS.

Obviously the greatest threat to a commander is an enemy commander, and so the motorcycle is designed for playing hide-and-seek. The commander wants to stay as close to his robotic troops as he can to maximize his ability to control them, while remaining undetected by the opposition. If he thinks his location has been compromised, he needs to rely on speed to get as far away as possible as quickly as possible before over-the-horizon artillery rounds start falling on him.

So, yeah. Motorcycles on Mars are TOTALLY viable. Practically indispensable, really. You'd be a fool not to use them.

  • You make some assumptions about the situation that weren't stated, by me, in the question. I, in-fact, didn't say anything about the political situation at all or the level of colonization. I should have stated this in the question but I am working with a colonized and politically divided mars, by the time the first war between non-colonial powers comes about there could easily be millions on the planet. I just didn't feel the need to clarify because I thought most people would consider it the default situation and answer accordingly, it seems to me as if you are treating mars as a place – skout Aug 29 at 22:54
  • where people fight and nothing more. That being said I really did find your answer interesting and helpful, I am not using robot armies but I still find some use in your answer. I'm not handing the bounty over to this one though. – skout Aug 29 at 22:56

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