Right now, I'm facing a problem:
Dragons are useless.
Most of my characters are non-humans. Among them, dragons have the problem of being, well, kinda useless in combat, thanks to firearms and helicopters. That is a problem, considering they're supposed to be going on adventures storywise.
I mean, dragons are a combination of the worst possible traits:
- Large size
- Natural armor
- Six limbs
Those four HATE each other. Sure, you can experiment with hollow osteoderms, this question and whatnot, but at the end of the day, you will be left with something that ain't the most workable as infantry, and downright laughable as "The Dragon".
The most problematic elements of these creatures are their size, armor, and biology:
- Size: Even though I constrained my dragons in size to be around as big as a large horse and only a fraction of their weight, they're still a bigger target, compared to humans.
- Armor: Given that they need to be able to fly, dragons must suffer in other areas, not just muscle mass, but armor as well. Even if we assume that they can withstand a .30-06 Springfield where it's important, the enemy can simply just bring a larger (50 BMG) gun.
- Biology: Though dragons are heavily altered in terms of genetics, which is what gives them their unlikely biochemistry and human intelligence, they're still "mundane" animals, as in that they're organic life ('cause fully-autonomous robots have been banned). So, if they get shot, they bleed, cry, and their abilities are decreased.
This is especially problematic since while they do have stronger (but no heavier) bones than even giant pterosaurs, damage in the right areas can compromise their ability to fly. Sure, dragons can grow about everything back (given they survive), and unlike military vehicles, they forage their own fuel and contribute to the economy.
Their advantages aren't all that compelling either:
Speed: Dragons on the ground are more geared towards burst-strength, able to sprint faster than most horses (in part thanks to their increased stride length via spinal flexibility) but tiring out quickly.
Perception: Dragons obviously have very keen hearing, smell, and eyesight.
Flight: Dragons are capable of powered flight. Many of their flight characteristics (pole-vaulting into the air, primarily soaring flight, and speeds that exceed 90 kph) are similar to that of giant pterosaurs. Note though that if dragons are heavier than pterosaurs, their speed would likely increase, see this post.
Since giant pterosaurs could potentially tackle human-sized prey (and because their flight was for escaping and long-term travel) we can assume our dragons could also carry the weight of a human without becoming grounded.
They can also swim and climb.
Endurance: Dragons can cover roughly twice the distance as cheetahs in one day,) which means 22 kilometers a day, though dragons prefer to fly when safe.
Here is the problem:
While I'm in full control and I could easily crank up effective gun control in my world from "thoughts and prayers" to "9mm only", it feels like cheating. You'd expect that in a modernish setting, dragon characters would have to face off against firearms of any kind and (since I don't want to roll new characters) live to tell the tale.
So, would dragons be useless in modern warfare as combatants?
Just to be clear, dragons have human allies and/or superiors. I did say they contribute to the economy.
Update 1: I've previously made a question about dragons, equipped with autonomous grenade launchers
Update 2: Here's a video of a leopard crawling. My guess is that the highest vulnerable point of a crawling dragon would be their elbows and supracoracoideus muscle (top of their backs). The height of a crawling dragon would be determined by the deepest part of their chest, Here are two giant pterosaurs as reference:
Update 3: People have been in confusion about how strong was my dragons' natural armor.
Sadly, not even I know. My original plan was to make the muscle fibers, tendons, and bones of dragons more resistant to tearing and sudden impacts (bullets) by letting them synthesize and utilize graphene in their bodies. Now, spider silk can actually be reinforced with carbon nanotubes, but myosin heavy chains and collagen are very different from spider silk, even if all three are proteins.
This overall "upgrade" was meant to help them withstand the stresses of flight with any additional bullet-resistance being a welcome side-effect.
The dedicated protective layer would be their osteoderms/scutes that deviate from the normal bone microstructure, opting to resemble the abalone shell's instead, which offers the most optimal structure for impact-resistance.
As for things like biogenic silicon carbide, we do know that bacteria can efficiently bind silicon to carbon, even if they only used it to create organosilicons (which silicon carbide is not).