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The setting: 27th Century Alpha Centauri system

From everything I have seen, it is generally accepted that future space combat might not do very well with individual fighter-craft (similar to a modern F-22 Raptor but in space). In this narrative series, individual fighter-craft are a thing but they are rare. The pilots are enhanced humans who are modified to withstand higher G-forces than a normal human. One of the modifications is an internal fluid equalizer complete with Liquid Breathing. The goal is to allow the forces to pass through the internal organs and not catastrophically compress them during high-G maneuvers. Other modifications include a form on Mind-machine interface, adrenaline boosters and potentially faster brain processing abilities. Most of what I know I have gained from listening to Isaac Arthur (SFIA) or Project RHO, in particular this page.

Because of these modifications, the pilots are seen as gods, even among the military and special operations units. With the modifications they have, I am wondering if they would hinder them in a normal setting or would they still be better than a normal human? Something like, if their lungs and organs are set up for liquids equalization, then when there is no liquid would they be less efficient at breathing? Would they always require the liquid inside?

Essentially, I need guidance on whether the pilots are highly specialized and only useful as Pilots, or if their special modifications will make them a super human and therefore be good at everything.

First Edit Thank you everyone for the answers and responses, lots of great ideas. I'm going to add a few more points here to clear up some of my reasoning for pilots. (Canon reasons)

  • Drones were the primary fighter previously until some advances were made with MMI and biological enhancements. Also, multiple drone hacks were done so the public perception on them dwindled.

  • Pilots are very rare and high value, ships will only launch them as a last resort. Each ship usually has a fee gunships (heavy and light) and then a couple fighters. The fighters are more akin to a lighter gunships with automated turrets and AI assistance than a traditional jet fighter.

  • Various treaties have limited the use of drones (and other one-use large vehicles) as well as attempted to add responsibility to the fleets to limit debris in space (a large occupation sector in the series relies on scrappers cleaning up space debris).

Thanks again everyone

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    $\begingroup$ What does "good at everything" mean? None of the mods listed seems to warrant them being "seen as gods". They have no training/experience or enhancements for other types of combat and mind machine interfaces, adrenaline boosters, etc. presumably are also cheap enough to be installed on other personnel too. $\endgroup$ – GrumpyYoungMan Nov 16 '20 at 4:10
  • $\begingroup$ You could really delete the "liquid breathing" and "pilots", and have a reasonable question. What use would "space fighters" be? $\endgroup$ – jamesqf Nov 16 '20 at 17:13
  • $\begingroup$ Not necessarily a duplicate, but similar: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/98538/…. Also, check out my Answer on it to find out why using large amounts of liquid in a spacecraft wouldn't necessarily be an advantage and in many cases could be a disadvantage. And then there's this Q: space.stackexchange.com/questions/5635/… $\endgroup$ – computercarguy Nov 16 '20 at 18:50
  • $\begingroup$ I think you're looking for downsides of super-pilots. Have them download their minds into G-resistant computer matrixes. They can tolerate loss of O2 much better, survive terrible G-forces, and maybe eve be copied if they die. But loss of humanity, psychosis, can't learn normally (downloads?). The possibilities are endless. And who wants to have their brain replaced? Super, but terrible cost. $\endgroup$ – DWKraus Nov 16 '20 at 22:09
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    $\begingroup$ Why are you looking for reality, when you could better work with realism? Why not trust your audience to follow your thread, and write your world to suit that? What problems would remain? Very tritely, what is the use of trying to explain how the blaster works, when everyone accepts Captain Spacer drew his blaster and shot the baddie dead? $\endgroup$ – Robbie Goodwin Nov 17 '20 at 0:06
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Liquid breathing pilots are still biological. Embrace the machine and upload them instead.

Your hypothetical liquid-breathing pilots, regardless of their modifications, are still fundamentally biological beings, with biological limitations. They can still only withstand so much g-force, they have reaction times limited by the nerve impulses in the brain, and even with mind-machine interfaces, there's only so much information they'll be able to comprehend at a time.

Instead, just upload their minds and copy them onto the computers in the fighter planes. If they die during the fight, just reboot them from a backup copy on their carrier (or back at their military's HQ, if the carrier is also destroyed); if they don't die, you can just update the backup with their new memories. No fleshy limitations on G-forces or reaction times; they'll be as resilient as the electronics they're running on, and the only limitation on their reaction time is the computational power of the computer.

And, if they want to have a humanoid body to walk around with once they get back on the ship, they can just download themselves onto a humanoid drone, or access a VR system where they can represent themselves using whatever form they want.

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Realistically they're still not going to be very good

Liquid breathing isn't going to help with the brain which is nothing more than a mass of jelly in a hard box. You don't need to crack a skull to give a brain injury.

A Japanese dish is the Golden Egg which is basically scrambling the egg without breaking the shell. enter image description here Enough G-force and you'll scramble the brains anyway.

To avoid the g-force you need to either some handwavium tech like inertial dampeners or to not have the pilots actually on the fighter craft.

Personally I'd see enhanced pilots as generals controlling AI drone masses. Brain enhancements could accelerate the mind/machine interface allowing them to respond quicker and understand the entire three dimensional battlefield.

The other part is people take such a long time to produce. You have 20 years for them to mature, all the enhancements, training, and numerous washouts just to strap them to a rocket with a gun. It's better to keep the best of the best safe and let a mass produced drone do the dying. enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ Point well made with the Golden Egg. $\endgroup$ – Fivesideddice Nov 16 '20 at 12:17
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    $\begingroup$ If you're engineering them to be able to use liquid breathing without suffocating, you might as well add in shock absorbers for the brain. Some artists and scientists designed a hypothetical human genetically engineered to survive car crashes, and some of their adaptations might be useful in this context. meetgraham.com.au/fallback/view-graham.html $\endgroup$ – nick012000 Nov 16 '20 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ Using unmanned drones instead of human-piloted space fighters might be more logical, but unfortunately machines fighting machines does not make for very good stories. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 16 '20 at 12:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Philipp I think it can be made to work, as long as the machines are anthropomorphized and the controllers can communicate with their opponents to enough of a degree to create drama. Take Pokemon (the early games) for a successful example. At no point is the player directly fighting anyone, and the story would not change much if one would suddenly reveal all those "monsters" are in fact highly elaborate combat machines. (honestly, this would explain a lot, breeding in particular) (There's also Digimon, but IIRC the monster tamer gets into danger more often there) $\endgroup$ – Discrete lizard Nov 16 '20 at 13:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Discretelizard One reason to give combat drones strong AI with unique personalities instead of just pre-programmed behavior might be to make them less predictable and more creative in combat and thus harder to defeat. The cost might be that individual drones might occasionally choose to abandon combat or even switch sides. $\endgroup$ – Philipp Nov 16 '20 at 14:27
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It might help some, but your pilots are not gods.

When all other things are equal, or close to it, any little advantage can tilt the balance. I would think that the mind-machine interface makes a greater difference than the liquid breathing. A lot depends on your assumptions for engine technology -- you would need engines to make hundreds of m/s2 acceleration worthwhile and not just a way to expend all the fuel/reaction mass in an eyeblink.

Compare those mods with the recon commandos, who can hold their breath for hours and not excrete anything for days, and who also got those speed boosters, or with the operations officers who practically fuse their minds with their battle management mainframes.

As to advantages and disadvantages out of the cockpit, again concentrate on the mind-machine interfaces.

  • Do they get machines to interface with out of the cockpit, or is the interface bulky enough that only the fighters have it? Would they have an interfaced computer in their hip pocket? They'd be killers at billiards, for starters, and nobody could pad their bar tabs.
  • Will there be withdrawal syndromes without such a computer?
  • Does their speed cause problems with interactions? To they get irritable and impartient with 'basic' humans?
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    $\begingroup$ "Do they get irritable and impatient with 'basic' humans?" Probably, seeing as this already happens with "normal" humans. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Nov 16 '20 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ Thanks, I like your answer. I am thinking that with all their enhancements, they would be very irritable with regular humans. I would think even more so than a commando unit because of their G-force specific enhancements. As for withdrawal, I'm sure that at this point the main withdrawal would be the liquid breathing fluids (whether they stay in the body or are added preflight). $\endgroup$ – Markitect Nov 17 '20 at 13:02
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Sticking to the negatives, long term or performance enhancing total liquid ventilation hasn't been done to know what the real effects may be. TLV is better than conventional mechanical ventilation (i.e. iron lungs and modern ventilators used in covid 19 situations) in animal studies, and partial may help babies more than adults, and may actually be worse than CMV for adults, but both TLV and PLV are experimental and not common. Other uses of TLV is a better method of cooling a person after a heart attack to minimize damage. TLV is used when the surface tension of the lung's liquid to air barrier has become abnormal. Gas exchange must be monitored.

If we extrapolate this, then yes, there is probably drawbacks from long term use. By changing the liquid to air barrier ratio, the lungs could become more accustomed to it. Basically causing the lungs to dry out in normal nitrogen oxygen gas situations. Dry lungs can lead to thick mucus, asthma, COPD, pulmonary sarcoidosis and fibrosis. On the easy scale that means just needing to limit the time away from the liquid environment, or needing an inhaler or rebreather occasionally. On the hard end, your pilot needs an entire support system/backpack/tank or reverse scuba suit. It would help with the god-like/alien aspect of how they come off, but in reality, it's an extra weakness.

They can also be overly sensitive to temperature changes. The change in the lung's environment has sensitized it the overly controlled setup. Something as simple as too hot or too cold air can paralyze the pilot while it would just inconvenience non-pilots. It may require a suit or breathing aids like above.

And finally, performance based TLV means that your pilot is used to a richer oxygen. The first hours or days in the tank would give your pilot an oxygen doping sensation, but the first hours or days away from the tank would cause the pilot to experience what anyone who travels around the world might. Altitude sickness. Lower oxygen saturation and or pressure will lead to your pilot being weak, short of breathe. Climbing stairs may exhaust them. They will have a brain fog like a few shots into a good night out. Metabolism and temperature sensitivity happen too. Dehydration is common co-effect of altitude sickness, so the lung issue above can also worsen. It takes time to acclimate. So constant switching would take it's toll.

Whether you present compensating for this in a non-liquid environment as a disadvantage or not is up to you. Can someone be considered god-like if they need a suit to operate like that? It could be a hidden weakness. Only the enemy knows that the pilot needs a rebreather in public, while the public only sees a fancy mask.

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Interesting question. Let's talk about response times. Electrical signals can propagate at close (99%) the speed of light. Let's just call that an even 300,000 meters / second. It is that fast because as soon as you give a power source a path to ground, electrons are carried by current through the conductor (wire), which is at a constant conductivity.

Nerve impulses, which are essentially also low-voltage DC signals propagate slower. The reason for this is that when the signal reaches the next nerve cell in line, there is a lag time during which the cell's internal chemistry changes from conductive to non-conductive (in an inhibitatory signal) or from non-conductive to conductive (excitatory signal). The signal propagates from cell to cell until it reaches its destination, at a speed of up to 120 meters / second. This is approximately 0.04% as fast as a signal propagating across a wire conductor.

So that said, let's assume you can somehow double the speed of the nerve impulse to 240 meters / second. I don't know how, maybe a different neurotransmitter than potassium is being utilized. You are now at 0.08% as fast as the speed of a signal on a wire. Moral of the story, a computerized autopilot is ALWAYS going to send its signals faster than a human one. That isn't necessarily a bad thing. A human outside the cockpit in the decision making loop (say at a remote control console on the Carrier or a planet surface) will be far more limited from the lag time in radio communications. Especially if EM radiation or jamming scrambles those communications. The speed at which a pilot makes a decision isn't really the issue. The issue in manned vs unmanned flight comes down to this:

The unmanned flight won't make any widows if it doesn't come home. It can go on one-way missions, including Kamikaze missions. A manned one can too of course but then you lose a skilled pilot. No one is going to mourn the loss of an autopilot.

So by all means, pump up your pilots with modifications. Ultimately it will just make them more valuable and make commanders less willing to risk them on manned missions. Which is kind of the direction we are already going.

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Humans piloting spacecraft are always going to be inferior to AI.

Humans need life support, protective structures and a whole bunch of other garbage to make them even usable in deep space combat. Not to mention humans tend to think in 2D planes in terms of warfare.

AI on the otherhand does not need life support or any other garbage, and the technology for such machines, isn't even really that scifi. You can also miniaturize AI space craft to be incredibly small given the lack of life support. And given both the 3D nature of space, the lack of obstacles, and zero air resistance Why have a space fighter jet when you can have a engine attached to a laser/missile launcher with an AI controlling it and an excellent IR camera (with out atmospheric distorition, and easy methods of heat dissipation that don't involve radiating heat you are very easy to see with IR cameras in space) making it hard to hit easy to mass produce and easy to manage and automate fights with. Plus you don't have to worry about losing one critical part of the ship and lose the pilot, you can even create redundant AI's. Plus computers have much better reaction times.

In the future it might get to the point you never need a human in the battlefield at all, even to give commands, and abstract battles to the strategic level "Im going to send AI starfighters here to defend this location (the AI's can handle interbattle logistics) and AI's over here to do another thing"

So why am I mentioning this if you are adamant on human pilots? Because you tagged this as science based.

Drones were the primary fighter previously until some advances were made with MMI and biological enhancements. Also, multiple drone hacks were done so the public perception on them dwindled.

Humans are going to be in relatively short supply compared to manufacturing drones, even ignoring the fact that the growth rate of humanity is projected to flatline on earth alone. Enhancing MMI isn't going to solve the rest of the logistical problems with carrying human sized vertebrates in space either, let alone humans themselves.

And if you want to apply reactions of humans like those today to those of tomorrow, they are going to be even less receptive of sending actual humans into space than drones. The outcry of drone striking is significantly less than the outcry against the loss of humans themselves, or even humans yet to even exist!

Plus just because humans are involved doesn't mean they aren't subject to being effected by electronic warfare. You can hack communications very easily giving humans the wrong orders. Any electronics in the space ship are susceptible to hacking as well, if the corresponding drone parts were, and all they need to do is take out lifesupport.

Pilots are very rare and high value, ships will only launch them as a last resort. Each ship usually has a fee gunships (heavy and light) and then a couple fighters. The fighters are more akin to a lighter gunships with automated turrets and AI assistance than a traditional jet fighter.

Why are they launching them like this at all? With AI's you can just have a fleet, with no mothership, no "last resort" needed, every scrap of metal out there can fight. They can even easily be used as fodder, no need for "rare high value ships". You don't want to lose your rare stuff.

Various treaties have limited the use of drones (and other one-use large vehicles) as well as attempted to add responsibility to the fleets to limit debris in space (a large occupation sector in the series relies on scrappers cleaning up space debris).

Space is huge, like really huge. You would have to have trillions of vehicles and constant traffic in a sector with constant fighting for there to even be a noticeable increase in space debree for it to be worth even thinking about cleaning. For a planet it is different, but drones, given, that unlike your assumptions, would be small not large would even be less of a problem, less than your non drone space jets.

Also, treaty limiting use of drones? Why then? Why haven't we already had such a treaty? Drones, unlike WMDs, do not present an existential threat to humanities survival, but rather provide a similar threat to remote missiles, or really any remote kill tech. Drones are just more precise. They are coveted by modern militaries in part due to their public appeal (in the sense that less human deaths on their side take place) and ability to perform warfare with out being there.

No military in their right mind would obey the banned use of drones, even in the modern era, much less the space era. The military would have to simply not exist as we know it, as well as all the knowledge of weapons we currently have.

Your scenario could kind of work for a civilization not used to war with advanced HMI and human modification capabilities, which are used for warfare as a last resort because other tech is not availible, it does not work as an extension of current civilization as we know it.

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