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How possible would it be to have guns & melee co-exist in a near future setting? In this setting genetic modification is possible but difficult to do to currently alive humans. Humans have spread around the solar system but 90% of anything worth something outside of raw mineral resources is on earth & a few very large space stations. Lasers, rail guns & other miscellaneous energy weaponry is relatively common but 80% of the ranged weaponry that melee units would face would be conventional, light gas gun & ETC firearms.

Edit: When i say "co-exist" i mean in the sense of firearms still being the primary method of warfare, with melee units being another component of combined arms. With Infantry/Armour/Artillery being replaced with Infantry/Armour/Artillery/Melee.

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  • $\begingroup$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Jun 5 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ Does this answer your question? What are the enabling factors for melee combat in modern or future settings? $\endgroup$ Jun 5 at 4:34
  • $\begingroup$ @ProjectApex No, as most it focuses on societal or environmental limitations. Which is not v. useful for a world in which earth is the only place worth much at all with almost no international conventions in place. $\endgroup$
    – OT-64 SKOT
    Jun 5 at 4:54
  • $\begingroup$ I see. I'll retract my vote then. $\endgroup$ Jun 5 at 11:30

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I can't believe no one else has said this yet. All you need is...

Tight quarters

Mythbusters tested the whole "bring a knife to a gunfight" thing, and under a certain distance, the knife actually wins. Also:

  • Melee weapons generally don't need ammunition.
  • Melee weapons generally need little maintenance.
  • In some situations, it can be faster to attack with a melee weapon than with a ranged weapon.
  • Melee weapons can be very quiet. Firearms, even suppressed, are loud and will, at minimum, alert your enemy that something is going on.
  • It may be easier to conceal a melee weapon.
  • A sheathed knife is very safe but can be used almost instantly. A firearm that's ready to use might discharge unintentionally.

Basically, there are plenty of potential advantages to melee weapons if you will usually survive until you are close enough to use them. If you're facing an enemy across an open field, they're not a good choice. If you're constantly maneuvering through tight quarters with visibility rarely more than a few feet, a melee weapon might be a better choice. Especially if you're in tight spaces and trying to be stealthy.

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    $\begingroup$ In the military I learned that an unprepared gunman (just carrying the rifle, not ready for contact) will be taken out by a melee combatant if the can get closer than 7 meters before attacking. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 16:39
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    $\begingroup$ I'd challenge anyone with proper changing can keep a firearm that's ready to use from unintentionally discharging and access it as quickly as a knife. No arguments in general/great answer. Just that last bullet strikes me as fluff that sounds good versus reality. But then again, maybe assuming proper training for everyone wielding a gun isn't anywhere near reality either... Just my two cents I guess $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Jun 3 at 18:34
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    $\begingroup$ It's nearly impossible for a handgun loaded with proper ammunition, secure in a holster, to misfire without being mishandled. The key is not being mishandled, and proper ammunition always being used. But I'd take my chances on the lottery before a properly loaded, holstered gun going off from "jostling or heat", round chambered and all. You need an ambient temperature near 400 degrees before a bullet will self ignite. You're cooked before that. $\endgroup$
    – TCooper
    Jun 3 at 19:19
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    $\begingroup$ This only works if the side with better guns has a reason to keep the quarters close. Take how the US defended firebases in Vietnam for an example for what I mean. They didn't train their GI's to be just as sneaky and jungle-adept as the VC, they just got rid of the jungle wherever possible. That's what agent orange was for; poisoning plants, not people. $\endgroup$
    – Ryan_L
    Jun 3 at 20:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Ryan_L, sure, but if you're defending a city (or a base, ship, space station, etc.), removing the tight quarters may amount to destroying the very thing you're trying to protect and/or capture (works best if both sides want it in roughly one piece and not obliterated). I'm not saying this is a solution that an attacker or defender can definitely employ deliberately, but it's certainly an option for a world builder. IOW, yeah, what you said in your first sentence 🙂. $\endgroup$
    – Matthew
    Jun 3 at 20:42
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Do you need melee-only units or units with additional melee weapons?

  • Safe use in space stations and artificial habitats.
    A bullet or laser beam that could go through body armor would also go through bulkheads. So all "multiple environment capable" troops are trained with their primary firearm or beam weapon and also with a secondary melee weapon like a bayonet, cutlass/machete, or axe.
  • Batons for riot control.
    When riot troops have rifles or handguns, the rioters might not quite believe that they'll be used -- until the troops fire. Which might not be in the interest of the troops, either. A rubber baton or a solid cudgel can be used to break bones without long body counts.
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Go Medieval.

enter image description here

In several historical times and places, the average peon would not be allowed to own a weapon, and especially not a status symbol weapon like a sword.

However, agricultural tools would of course be legal, which means they were often used as weapons. Think sticks, flails, scythes, knifes, etc. This is why your typical manga ninja is proficient in the use of all sorts of cutting, bashing and dismembering implements that are somewhat impractical, but offer plausible deniability.

enter image description here

"Yes, Mr. Officer, this is actually a plasma cutter, for mining, absolutely. For cutting rocks, and occasionally tentacles. You know what happens on these asteroids."

Onboard a sci-fi spaceship, anything that can make holes in the hull, or in the reactor core or any other sensitive equipment... is bound to be highly regulated. Even if the security force carries guns, they would prefer to use stun batons or the like. So if there is a fight, it will probably be with weapons that don't make holes. And even if one side has guns, it would be in their interest to use them very carefully, which puts them at a disadvantage since it would force them to think a lot before firing, thus wasting time. They would probably use fragmenting slugs or space buckshot to make sure there is not too much overpenetration in walls. And armour piercing ammo would be extremely dangerous to us: if it makes holes in armor, it will also make holes in an oxygen pressure tank, for example. Explosives are also not a great idea.

Add a layer of bureaucracy, red tapes and rules and you can easily get guns and ammunition that are either wimpy or totally impractical.

There are plenty of melee weapons that can not be made illegal, especially in a sci-fi setting where you won't be limited to the usual heavy wrench or crowbar: you could also have various high-tech tools for metalworking, mining, welding, etc.

Plasma is especially nice because it's AWESOME, it will cut and burn savagely at short range, and quickly dissipate in the air. So it would actually be pretty safe, except for whoever is on the receiving end. Also a plasma cutter has to be a melee weapon (unlike in Dead Space) because you need to strike the workpiece to spark the electric arc.

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  • $\begingroup$ Problem: if the bulkheads are so weak that small arms can destroy them, why would you even consider entering the ship? The moment you are close enough to disgorge espatier squads into your enemy you are better off just shooting large caliber machineguns and perforate the ships vital components (offering more credence again to "if you do battle in space, ALWAYS WEAR A SPACE SUIT"). $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jun 4 at 8:07
  • $\begingroup$ I hope the space cops would not shoot your ship full of holes before boarding it for a routine search for contraband... I wasn't thinking about military operations of the "just blow it up variety", rather arrests, capture, piracy, or just a standard brawl after having too much space vodka. In any case, if the space cops board the ship, and the occupants turn out to be pirates, they would probably railgun the cop ship, but they should be careful not to blow themselves up by having a firefight inside... $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Jun 4 at 14:49
  • $\begingroup$ On the other hand, there's warhammer, where the monsters are so baddass you have to shoot them, and then dice them with a sword, and then stomp the pieces and set them on fire, just because. $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Jun 4 at 14:51
  • $\begingroup$ I understand what you mean. But would you dare approach any suspicious ship if anyone could fire and pierce your ship? Pirates would be more than willing to fire at any potential cops or boarders, or imediately shoot the engines out of other ships to tow them and threaten all those on board not to destroy them as they are their only hope of salvation. But maybe you can throw it the other way: there's plenty of capable firearms, but government can easily track them and take them or shoot you. Melee weapons however... a gentleman adventurer has to be able to defend themselves right? $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jun 4 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, boarding a ship would be quite complicated in "real" science fiction... One lone space cop ship would get shot if they pick the wrong target. So the cops would need at least several drones aiming guns at the target, so the suspects can't shoot them all at the same time and retaliation is guaranteed if they try something. $\endgroup$
    – bobflux
    Jun 4 at 15:55
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BioArmor

Advances in robotics and medicine have resulted in a bio-armor that can take care of the soldier wearing it. Modern medicine (including transplant of organs grown on pigs) has made that virtually any bullet that does not go through the brain or heart is survivable without that much trauma. The bio-armor is not only bulletproof (specially a small patch protecting the heart), it monitorizes the soldier's health and applies first-aid treatments and drugs. Its bulletproof capabilities mean that soldiers are virtually inmune to small calibers, so weapons have returned to old 7.62mm or bigger calibers.

The commonest ammo is 7.62 piercing, but the problem is piercing ammo, while it's able to pass through the armor, provokes small, straight, not too so lethal wounds. Bio-armor provides instant compression in the wound, powerfull painkillers and blood coagulants which allow the soldier to continue fighting for some minutes before requiring more serious treatment, so warfare doctrine has evolved to a close-quarters-combat-as-soon-as-possible which sees soldiers charging fiercely towards enemy positions, taking damage, then finishing their enemies in hand-to-hand combat, then being healed by the medical unit which follows them. While firearms are still useful, blades and hammers stop or kill your oponents in a much more efficient way.

Cyborgs

Modern soldiers are almost all cyborgs. With most organs replaced by redundant biological or mechanical systems, only the brain remains from its original human body (because we haven't figured out how to substitute it with microchips yet). As such, a sniper can still kill someone with a heavy piercing bullet across their armor-reinforced heads, but when battle rages on headshots are not that easy, and hitting any other part of the body is not that useful.

Grenades, rocket launchers and big hollow point bullets aim at destroyin part of their bodies while at range, but cutting their limbs or their necks with your blade, or smashing their skulls works just better.

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  • $\begingroup$ Re: armor piercing ammo, I've seen a variety of sources say that it leaves a smaller wound channel but isn't any less lethal. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ I'd also argue that if bullets "just pass through"... then bullets that DONT just pass through (Hollow point? Exploding tips?) would become more common - and even "required". $\endgroup$
    – WernerCD
    Jun 3 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ @GrumpyYoungMan Indeed they are. The requirements of the OP stated "firearms alongside melée weapons". Bullets are still deadly. The armor negates most of it stopping power, by dealing with incapacitating pain and cumbersome movement, but they are still useful in combat. It only changes modern actual tactics a bit, encouraging pushing forward and finish off enemies quickly in hand-to-hand combat so your medical unit can treat you as soon as possible. It's better to bite your lips and finish the combat quickly than lying there waiting for help, since help won't come until combat is over. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Jun 4 at 10:15
  • $\begingroup$ @WernerCD Both hollow-point and explosive bullets have waaaaaaay less penetrating power, so they would deal no damage at all since they don't pierce through the armor. Another thing would be hollow-point/explosive bullets that also can penetrate armor, but that's just larger bullets, as I've said. 12mm can defeat the bio-armor, but recoil and weight of ammo make it not suitable for infantry, only armored vehicles. $\endgroup$
    – Rekesoft
    Jun 4 at 10:19
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To borrow from Dune, kinetic screens. Any object moving fast such as a bullet, get blocked, but slow moving blades can pass through the screen.

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    $\begingroup$ Such a shild is a great recipe for fast suffication. Air molecules move quite rapidly. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 16:40
  • $\begingroup$ Develop a field weapon that modifies the Higgs boson-Higgs Field such that the faster the mass (Higgs boson) goes, the inertia goes up exponentially instead of linearly? $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ The thing is, the OP wants near future. But otherwise, sure, "Dune" is popular are these are fine to steal (I've actually seen them stolen in a book where they only worked if you had a special secret, painful full-body mesh implant. Or in The Forever War where it's a big field you can set up). $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 23:33
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    $\begingroup$ @TheDyingOfLight. Its the future, people can wear spacesuits or have a breathing tank to keep going while the shield is up. A different type of problem is this: how do you find the enemy when your shield is up? I am assuming light (very fast) can't get in, so you need to fight blind! (and deaf, those air molecules you mention). $\endgroup$
    – Dast
    Jun 4 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ It has been a long time since I read Dune, but I believe they mention in the novel that you will slowly suffocate. $\endgroup$
    – James Cook
    Jun 4 at 14:01
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Superior protection to fire arms so it requires several hits to just injure someone let alone kill them and melee weapons with high enough power or capabilities to overcome that armor.

Normally when a better armor is introduced mankind increases the bullet size. Larger bullets means more kinetic energy and higher penetration. Large enough bullets can even break bones if they don't penetrate due to the forces involved. However larger bullets means less ammo and more weight (I'm ignoring recoil since your armor can apparently absorb the kinetic impact). If you have a melee weapon with properties great against that armor it might become more useful to bring that melee weapon instead of the bulky and short on ammo fire arms.

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You could have a global organisations law, prohibiting weapons exceeding a certain caliber / damage potential because after horrible war number XX the UN of that time wanted to humanise warfare. If on the other hand, armor is not limited in technological development and melee too, there would be a scenario. You have to make up a plausible enforcement of the prohibition, maybe good controlled internet where weapon manufacturers leave traces or simply other illegal activity just generating much more money. Maybe even the organized crime is quite content with how things are because with no death sentence and no unprovoked lethal force by police, being a gangster and being alive for a long time is now possible so they don't dare to break this truce by providing strong weapons illegally.

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    $\begingroup$ Nice ideas, welcome to Worldbuilding. We invite you to take our tour and read-up in the help center about how we work. Enjoy the site. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 15:25
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Melee weapons would have a distinct advantage if your setting had explosives gases in the atmosphere (a mining station, for example). A conventional firearm is powered by combustion, which could ignite the air in the general vicinity of the operator. The heat from a powerful laser weapon could do the same. A projectile hitting a metal surface can generate sparks capable of igniting vapors.

A melee weapon could be made that was inherently safe for such an environment. A club made of wood or carbon fiber would pose no hazard, neither would a brass blade, brass knuckles, or a good old-fashioned sock full of nickels.

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Everlasting Fog

This may seem somehow like @McTroopers answer, but it has a different twist.

The point being in this world you can't always see your enemy at range, so you cannot shoot at them.

@McTroopers focused on technological device, I focus on environment. Your world has a persistent fog that impedes vision at more than a few meters (at best) when outdoors.

This is global, so ranged weapons to be effectively used outdoors must be equipped with very expensive electronic targeting systems, that very few people could afford and the military can't deploy in vast amount (especially for handguns or rifles).

Moreover the perpetual fog creates problems with non hermetically sealed electronics, making targeting systems and other hypertech mcguffins extremely expensive. Common firearms are very prone to misfire and energy weapons beams are scattered wildly by the fog, even if targeted right, requiring much more energy to reach a certain range (and more expensive and larger batteries).

This makes melee weapons an economically viable alternative on a large scale, not only for special operations forces or killers.

You can justify this everlasting fog in various ways, depending on your settings: terminal pollution, wild world climate, weird tech gone boink in the past, some mysterious/pseudomagical thing. The point is, non foggy days (and nights) are so rare that the whole society and wildlife have adapted to this situation.

If this everlasting fog is too disrupting of your world-vision (pun not intended), you could make it non-perennial, but very impredictable: the fog could rise in a matter of minutes on a sunny day, without being possible to predict (vapor emissions from underground?) and lasting for hours, then disappearing.

Any armed troops is then forced to carry effective melee weapons as primary weapons, since any attack or defense plan cannot be carried out effectively relying only on ranged weapons (Always prepare plan C, since plan B is always "Oh crap! The fog has risen").

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The difference can be advanced ceramics and graphene, substances which would make light and rather bulletproof body armour. This way a man can be stunned/hurt/stopped by ranged weapons, but killing would require either large clunky high powered weapons, or advanced melee weapons from close range. In this type of cambat melee would mostly, but not exclusively, be to make sure people are dead.

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  • $\begingroup$ Body armor isn't sufficient. Concussion will travel through body armor as well as into any gaps to injure organs within the body without breaching the armor itself, meaning grenade launchers and other explosives are a viable counter. Killing the target without breaching the armor can also be said for the flamethrower which, contrary to their video game depictions, can reach out to a few dozen meters. So even bullet-impenetrable body armor alone can't stop some real-world ranged weapons. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 13:09
  • $\begingroup$ @GrumpyYoungMan with sufficiently light and strong materials you can incorporate space into the armor. For example your armor lays on top of a frame that moves as one. That means that by the time the front part of the armor is transferring it's energy to your body the backside of the armor is simultaneously pulling on the inner layer of the armor, letting you bleed energy simultaneously across the entire front of the torso/bodypart as well as the back. Shockwaves would have to cross a small air/fluid pocket like spaced armor, so you feel at best as much force as the recoil your shooter felt. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jun 4 at 6:23
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Short distance teleportation, or as the grunts fondly call it, blinking.

With the laser daggers(expandable to long sword by thought) built into their blink suits, melee soldiers have actually, typically, become more effective than the average soldier with a rifle. While the suits are extremely expensive, a group of 10 typically wipes out a regiment of riflemen with ease.

You see the suits don't rely on the solider's reaction time, but the suits AI. It detects a projectile being fired up to a mile away (flat ground, clear visibility, real world results may very) and in the first 2ms of launch calculates its current speed and deceleration due to air resistance(wind included), gravity, Coriolis effect, etc and quickly blinks the soldier forward about a foot just in time for the bullet to miss.

It's a form of quantum teleportation, and gets into that sticky question of whether you're the same person because all your atoms were just converted to energy aka information, let a bullet pass through your energy cloud self, and were rematerialized as entirely new matter a foot or two from where you just were, but wow... is it effective. In most cases there's even very limited memory loss, and some soldiers have even asked to increase that 'negative side effect' after numerous tours as a blinker.

There are manual controls for the highly trained, most elite soldiers, but typically, the suits help keep the soldiers alive, and to get them to their target as quickly as possible.

For more extreme cases the suit can move a user up to 5ft any direction, even airborne at times it determines it's the only way to keep the user alive. There's only a 1ms delay between blinking, so its possible to string together to travel great distances shortly, but of course, the scaled nuclear reactors powering the suit have their limitations. More importantly, the disorientation of the user prevents the most extreme uses, again, unless its life or death for the user. This is another reason very very few are given manual control of their suits blink capability. A rogue blinker is very dangerous indeed.

Many people argue the blink suits are unnatural, lead to excessive death, and are a bastardization of technology for the worst of uses, but many also argue the standard method of teleporting to any side of an enemy, or above, and quickly severing the spinal cord with a laser knife is actually far more humane than the last several centuries of war. Whatever the case, the blinkers are more feared than most any other soldier on the modern battlefield.

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  • $\begingroup$ I thought of short-ranged teleportation too, as well as other mobility options. A jumpjet to close the distance could work wonders as it's hard to hit airborne targets. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jun 4 at 8:15
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With the caveat that this is difficult to imagine outside of specific special cases, here are some possible ideas.

Cost

If the cost of effective range weapons is too high, melee weapons could be employed. For this to make sense, standard armor must be able to defeat all ranged weapons that are at acceptable costs, making it prohibitively expensive to defeat the armor with ranged weapons. Such armor must also be vulnerable to melee weapons, cheap enough to deploy on a majority of soldiers, and cannot be layered with melee-defeating armor. Most often, this takes the form of an energy shield that deflects or absorbs high-powered projectiles but is vulnerable to slower, larger intrusions (like a blade). You could however come up with ablative armor or some other physical defense that doesn't require exotic energy shields.

Space Safety

A common enough "trope" is that any ranged weapon capable of penetrating armor is also going to penetrate bulkheads. This makes it a risky proposition to be shooting at anybody in space, for fear of hitting critical components on the ship or breaching the ship altogether, exposing everyone to vacuum.

Space ship design

Melee weapons such as knives have proven to be very effective at short ranges, like fifteen feet (5m) or less. If ships are designed such that most combat takes place in such short ranges, then melee weapons make sense. This means the majority of important areas on a ship need to be very small; no large, expansive Star Trek bridges, no sprawling Star Wars reactor cores, no long straight corridors. Take a look at modern submarines, which have very little open space. Now imagine those submarines are built to repel boarders (which is not really a consideration for modern subs), meaning there will be areas where defenders can take shelter from incoming fire. Melee weapons make sense in this context, though ranged weapons would still be used.

Melee-only capabilities

If firearms can kill a person, but melee weapons can take control of a person (think Borg assimilation), then you have a case for melee combat. Likewise, if soldiers are implanted with an AI that can control the host's body even after death, and that AI is distributed throughout the soldier's body, then a melee weapon which injects a nanovirus (or other hack) could be used to disrupt the AI's control once the soldier has received a mortal injury. Perhaps one faction has deadman switches installed, so if you shoot their soldiers, they explode. You need to incapacitate the soldier before you can disable the deadman switch, or use a melee-delivered hack/nanovirus/etc to prevent detonation. Perhaps soldiers have an implanted computer, or their armor does, which wipes itself upon the soldier's death; melee would then be important to gain access to data and intel before the soldier is killed and the data is lost.

The point with all of these ideas is that melee has to be capable of accomplishing something that firearms cannot.

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A lot of really great stuff up there. I particularly like, and would also recommend these three:

  1. scarcity of or cost of ammunition for ranged weapons
  2. environment safety such that ranged weapons are dangerous for friend and foe alike
  3. skill-based augmentations that can allow avoidance and faster approach such that melee is effective

In addition to allowing melee to "make sense", I think all three of those provide a logical way for dramatic combat and relatively novel action.

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Actually, I will turn my comment into an answer, that only slightly pushes credulity.

Develop a field weapon generator that, in an area the size of a battlefield, within the range of the field, the Higgs Field is modified such that the Higgs Boson in mass acts exponentially to speed.

That is, the faster a large mass goes, the inertia is increased exponentially. Long distance weapons like bullets and shells could not exceed a specific speed least they not have enough energy to overcome the exponentially increased inertia. Think 'slime'. You can slowly push your finger through, but if you try to poke it quickly, it ls like poking a solid wall. The faster you try to poke, the harder the wall. The faster the bullet goes, the more it is like trying to move a ton of lead, and so it stops sooner due to friction, or just a loss of momentum.

Think F=ma or a=F/m where m becomes infinitely large as a becomes slightly larger. Sort of like a localized field that changes it to F=m^a

So the only hope of contact is for slow close-in combat with sharp penetrating weapons. Not even fast swords or striking weapons.

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The development of blinding devices

In order to attack a target with a ranged hit, you need to see it, or at least have some cues about its position.

If on a battle field both factions could deploy a technology that allows to blind the soldiers (think of a kind of hyper persistent smoke screen, or even some light bending devices), ranged attacks would be almost useless.
Probably, shooting blind would still be done (as a way to keep enemy soldiers at bay on an open field), but the bulk of combat would still be done at close range, where the blinding devices have no effect and it is possibile to detect an enemy.
To face an enemy appearing suddenly at close range, melee weapons would probably be a better defense (and even offense) than ranged weapons (like rifles).

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Now add to Rekesoft's answer that these soldiers are not just cyborgs but 'zomborgs'. Cyborgs with localized distributed processing of the external robotic extremities, and a 'hive mind' (external centralized command and control). Like a chicken with its head cut off, the processors in the limbs still work, to keep the headless body on its mission. Even if just a lower pelvic region and two legs are operational, the zomborg still relentlessly fights on. Just a hand left? No problem. The individual fingers are still functional, using localized distributed processing and external hive control. The zomborg 'goal' is to swarm the enemy and then detonate grenade-type devices, so the only way to destroy it is close-up high-voltage conducted power weapons applied to specific areas of the zomborg processors.

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  • $\begingroup$ Wouldn't letting the zomborgs get close enough for melee combat also let them get close enough to self-destruct? $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jun 3 at 15:36
  • $\begingroup$ @dunlop Aha! Therein is the rub. Getting close to them destroys them for sure. Maybe the ONLY way to ensure they are destroyed. But it DOES make close-in combat inevitable. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 17:29
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Everyone can bullet time.

Cybernetic augmentations and genetic augmentations are at such a level that dodging bullets at a range greater than 20 feet is relatively easy, and they can twist around lasers enough to lessen the heat damage.

You can make up for this with skill, especially powerful guns, or overwhelming firepower, but your enemies can exploit any lack of this by closing into melee and using the superior killing power of melee weapons.

Edit. Since this seems to be a serious worry of people, assume that they are also fast enough to dodge bullets. A firing rate of 600 bullets a minute doesn't matter, because they'll only be facing one bullet at a time every tenth of a second, which they can dodge.

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    $\begingroup$ The thing about The Matrix is that bullet time only really applies to handguns. By the time automatic weapons are brought to bear against Neo, he has the ability to stop bullets in mid-air, but before that point, all the antagonists would've had to do was use a gun which left the protagonists no human-shaped spaces to dodge into, of which there are many. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jun 3 at 15:34
  • $\begingroup$ @dunlop Actually, what Neo developed was the ability to re-program the matrix on-the-fly. So it became a programming duel-to-the-finish between him and Agent Smith as to who was the better, faster programmer. It was AI hacker vs, human hacker. Not even the Machine could develop a routine that could isolate and stop the Agent Smith coding 'virus' - it was self-replicating. Neo had to insert his own code into the Agent Smith viral code in order to deactivate it - a virus to a virus. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 17:40
  • $\begingroup$ Neo and the rest of the resistance were able to 'dodge bullets' because they were able to 'read the code' faster than the matrix could implement it, so they knew where the bullets would be and they could code their bodies (only their bodies, not the matrix itself) to 'not be there' when the 'bullets were there'. Sort of like those nifty 'click on me' screen savers that moved the button whenever the cursor got close.. $\endgroup$ Jun 3 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ This story isn't the matrix, and their skill at bullet timing could be great enough to dodge automatic gunfire. They could be faster or bendier than Neo. Just because one fictional character has certain limitations, doesn't mean all do. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jun 3 at 17:57
  • $\begingroup$ They'd have to be supremely bendy to avoid fire rates measured in hundreds of rounds per minute. If they're still recognizable as human, they have to have a certain amount of surface area, and past a certain point, it's like dodging raindrops. There's nowhere you'll go that you won't get wet. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jun 3 at 18:27
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Warhammer 40k solves this by having the knowledge and ability to create various weapons lost to time. While various alien armies make do with creating rudimentary ballistic and melee weaponry.

You could use some idea of this by saying that weapon manufacturing is difficult due to the atmosphere of new planets, or as you go out further from Earth the knowledge of creating complex weaponry is much harder to come by.

Another option depending on your story is to have these resource plants use their tools to fight. This is something that 40k does as well. One faction uses handheld saws and mining lasers, things that would be easily available to them.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you can make metal armor, you can make a gun. And alchemists will eventually discover gunpowder. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Jun 4 at 3:11
  • $\begingroup$ @RonJohn Sure, but you might not be able to make a scifi supergun that's capable of beating their scifi superarmor, while you might be able to make a scifi supersword that can do so. $\endgroup$
    – nick012000
    Jun 4 at 7:44
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Two solutions:

Drone Swarms

Drone swarms can't be destroyed by weapons carried by single humans. They would be some kind of minimal defense in areas that aren't very important, there to surveil and strike small targets.

Through the new muscle suit technology called 'cheetah', human infantry could travel faster than the drone swarms. Imagine a gigantic cheetah with a human head. Making the drones fast enough to catch the cheetahs would make them less energy efficient and decrease their range.

The best counter against the cheetahs would be larger drones with target seeking rockets, sound weapons and heavy machineguns. Airstrikes might not be efficient enough against a target that moves at over 100 mp/h on even surfaces, but AI's might be able to predict movement quite well, so I'm not sure if they'd be used.

Because it helps against all of their counters, cheetahs would be optimized for speed, which means they'd have no guns and no armor. Even if they had small calibre guns, their destructive power would be small compared to a kick to the body by a gigantic cheetah. Also, when traveling at high speeds in close quarters, aiming is very hard.

This might somehow lead to 'cheetah-suit vs human' in abandoned cities, which would be a form of melee vs ranged weapons.

The 'perfect' Anti-Terror-System

Weapons got cheaper, more diverse and more deadly. After the third civil world war, the survivors give up their power and set a System in charge of preventing the next civil war at any cost.

There are different kinds of drone swarms that search for any kind of weapon and destroy them. The System's AI surveils everything and can even map parts of the near future in advance. No other technology humanity has can outsmart or circumvent it. Spaceships, jets and cars all have to be built the way the System's protocols demand and let a foreign AI steer them as soon as they enter a protected area. No more kitchen knives, lawn mowers, batteries, etc.

In the protected areas what's left to fight with are very simple things that can't all be destroyed, like rocks and sticks, maybe weapons that can be built and destroyed quickly.

People could have a combo of iron bars, advanced grinding machines and a melting furnace. You'd have like 3 minutes or so before a drone swarm arrives, scan the weapon, evaluate who might be guilty and kill them. Until then you have to melt your blade to prevent the drones from finding and targeting you.

The same could be done with guns, but simply disassembling them wouldn't be enough to keep the drones from killing you and ammunition can't be produced as quickly, so it's a little more risky. Since guns are more deadly, the drones might also punish more people.

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Firearms have a well-known problem: Even if you miss your target, the bullet will hit something.

On Earth, that something may be an innocent bystander (which is one reason police issue ammunition has high stopping power and little kill capacity).

But on a space station, or on a planetary habitat, that something can be the outside wall, and that's bad news. On planets, you can be lucky that the wall is thick enough to stop a bullet, or it may not. It's not a risk you really want very much. On a space station, you definitely do not want to punch a hole or several near your location. There's also pipes and other stuff to consider, as everything is paper-thin to save weight.

That's not even all. In space, the bullet won't fall to the ground even after going through a few walls. It will travel on, adding to orbital debris, another thing you'd prefer to avoid.

So at least on space stations, shooting weapons will be taser-like (a projectile tied to a string with minimal penetration power), and melee weapons are the more powerful option, for reasons of self-preservation.

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I got two ideas that might help:

  1. Tradition: it could be a matter of honor and tradition that swords and spears would still be used. "it is dishonorable to fight a lesser opponent with a gun". This might sound silly to us, and it must have finally sunk in to them too, but soldiers all over the world, even in modern warfare, still carried swords into battle (bayonets of course). You could get some mileage out male macho " I'm a better warrior than you are".

  2. Ammo shortages: This is probably more realistic. What if during wartime ammo production becomes more difficult? You can come up with a reason for that, but Irl wartime shortages are a thing. So, swords, knives and spears become a thing again.

  3. Both!

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(local) Overpopulation

Population grows fast and Earth is space limited. Moreover majority lives in cities, so space is scarity and population density is going insane. If you remember old japanese houses, they was literally just wooden skeleton and paper walls. Now it is like high-tech skeleton and cheap plastic walls, doors and floorings. The walls can be cut with sharp knife (sometime even jumped thru, if older and a lot of force is used) and fixed with a glue or tape or spare plastic. The floorings is double layered, so it is somehow more rigid, but still not fully. But hey, it is cheap and you will get acustomed. Such building may have many tens or few hundreds of floors (like WTC) each about few km^2 big and incorporate streets, shops, restaurants, everything. If you are poor (as majority is) then you live in some such building-city.

Cosmical traveling is possible, but expensive in term of energy (gravitation well), so while there is a lot of ships in space and they bring lot of materials, still there is need to so much Earth based work and only few people from millions will get out of Earth - the rest is working, so it is even possible. Need to say, that big space stations are overcrowded as well. (Also look for Apollo, how much space there was for crew).

So the result is, that there are many rich people and even more well doing and those lives in decent houses or even palaces.

But it is just drop in ocean of relatively poor masses. And those masses are not exactly happy and loyal, but thanks to many social engeneering are not (yet) directly hostile and rebelious. Mainly. There is none simple way to make everybody happy, so the powers try to keep status quo. There is massive police (and corporate armies, and security agencies) to keep some kind of order, but small misconductions are generally overlooked, so those overcrowed enclaves are (illegaly) modified, new doors, shop windows, ways etc. are made (and undocumented) on daily base, but fixing it would mean to imprisoned too many people and starting Rebelion now - so it is more or less tolerated. (anyway, who cares...).

There is a lot of rebelious types, who mainly call themself Resistance (but they are mainly local, each group with little different ideas, from global revolution to pub-talking and small sabotages/vandalism). People tolerate their actions mainly because the police is not able effectively stop it and nobody likes police. Also Resistance is komonly known for doing only small property damage to normal people and usually repair it later (like cutting thru walls on escape route and later bring lot of glue and whisky) as long, as nobody resist them. And they lives near and knows you, so you rather look other way, "I was scared, so I could not do nothing", "I do not remember nothing", "I did not seen them before" and so on,if the damned police asks you about them.

The police is ofcourse protected by relatively good armor (say like todays SWAT), which can stop one or two shots or knife and walk to enclaves in squats of at least 4-8 man, armed with anything they want. But riffle can kill bystander over 8 walls away, if it miss target and 2 walls away, if it hits unarmed target. And it is not good.

You kill too many civilian or some more popular and you are fighting few hundred relatives next moment and get slow killed just by being repeatedly hitted by crowbars, full bottles and any other mundane weapons, while other ten rebels are sitting on your hands and legs. (And then stripped from the armor and robbed of your guns.) On the other way the Resistance member may have some armor too (stolen or improvised from iron plates), so wall-safe ammo may not be able to hit them effectively.

So you have some buttons too, as it is relatively effective and safe to use - you see, who/what you are hitting and few scratches on innoncent does mean nothing with the courts on your side.

Problem is, that without armor you are vulnerable to anything (and some rebels may be armed) and with better armor you sacrifice mobility - and it targer get like 5-10 room distance, it is effectively lost and safe for today. So you will choose "adequate" armor, not the "best", even if you had money for that. And you choose handguns rather then automatic riffles, for your own safety - court may release you, but angry mass can kill you without court intervention. And soon you will have not only buttons to free your way and subdue opponents, but also swords, sabres or so, which aneable you to make fast "shortcuts" too and use killing force on armed enemy effectively, without risking too much collateral deaths.

The Resistance have similar problems - you do not want kill or hurt locals, because without their help (or at least tolerance) you are done. You need mobility more then armor, so you use only some light versions. But swords and other melee weapons are good for opening "shortcuts" eve thhere, where you do not know any and if you use civil clothes, you can avoid police at all, or at least approach them undetected, as part of usual street mass, if you want to attack. And the attack will probably take place from distance zero, with surprice, but with too much locals around, who you do not want hurt.

Sending military in make no sence, as there would be need too many of them, fight on full with and height of the megabuilding, most of Resistance would pretend normal people and those really wanted can literally cut their way not thru your units, but thru the walls, ceilings, technical sections ... and run away anyway. But after sending full military in you can expect the Revolution immediatelly and loose any legitimity, as you send army agains nearly all of your nation.

Result

Ranged weapons and heavy armor are good for battle, but not for policing megacities (except few exceptions), melee weapons and light armors are much more practical for majority of internal forces.

If there would be war with other nation, tanks, bombers, cannons, snipers and all the rest of clasical army up to aircraft carriers is good for getting fields and strategical points, but to get megacities, you still need clasical light armor/melee weapon police and good propaganda. (Also any smaler unit could use melee weapons for getting pass thru civilian places to next military assignment - like secretly place sniper, or anticraft missiles on the roof, or eliminate enemy sniper placed there) And you need the population to work for you, after all. You fight for resources, money and control, not for national hatred/pride or something like that (regardless what you make media tell).

And the police would have way more man than army, so here you have your melee needs.

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