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My book series is set in a rapidly industrializing galaxy, and one of my planets (which has a sort of late medieval-early Renaissance tech level) has griffins, pegasi, hippogriffs, and other large flying creatures, whose uses in warfare are readily apparent (scouting; dropping rocks, gunpowder barrels, or other heavy and/or explosive items on the enemy; flying people under cover of night into enemy strongholds to open the gates from the inside; etc.), but since my galaxy is rapidly industrializing (this planet by the end of the series would have a relatively modern, plane-based air force), I don't really see how I would keep flying creatures in service in such a scenario. Which roles, if any, could such creatures fill in a modern air force?

NOTE: These flying creatures are non-sentient and are treated in-universe like any other animal.

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    $\begingroup$ Do we use horses in the military today? For what? The answer would be very similar. $\endgroup$
    – Neinstein
    Aug 8, 2021 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ In open, head-to-head warfare, I can't see much of a role for these animals. In a guerrilla-resistance situation, they suddenly could be quite useful. No heat signature to speak of, pretty soft radar return, stealthy incursion and transport, ease of "refueling"...it would all work for the rebels until the mechanized army started to wake up and smell the griffin-shit. Puts me in mind of plot threads in the classic "The High Crusade" by Poul Anderson where there are delightful rationalizations of a medieval force taking on high tech. $\endgroup$
    – Blaze
    Aug 9, 2021 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ Please use specific years when you're comparing time. "A relatively modern, plane-based air force" doesn't give any indication of the capabilities you're talking about; ten years ago the F-35 wasn't available, for example. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Aug 9, 2021 at 9:51
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    $\begingroup$ Is it important that it is the Air Force? I think they would be assigned the army more than the air force. E.g. in Afganistan. $\endgroup$ Aug 9, 2021 at 11:26
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    $\begingroup$ "rapidly industrializing galaxy"... that's not how socio-technical progress works. $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Aug 9, 2021 at 18:05

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It depends a bit on how large exactly your flying creatures are. For example, if your pegasi are about the same size as a regular horse, but with wings I think they could be quite useful in urban combat situations. In the real world in particularly dense urban environments where your troops and enemies are quite close to each other (as in standing physically close, not that they're emotionally close and intimate) even helicopters are of limited use due to their large size and lack of suitable landing zones. For instance, I can picture pegasus-mounted snipers using their mounts to fly from roof top to roof top following their squad and providing sniping support. Or maybe even guys carrying heavy machine guns and using their pegasus to quickly relocate to where they're needed to provide fire support. Same goes with troops carrying mortars (as in the artillery) and anti-armor weapons such as the Carl Gustav Recoilless Rifle (or an RPG-7 if that's more familiar to you). Just to clarify, they wouldn't be fighting mounted on pegasus back but rather using the pegasus to quickly get from place to place to follow the squad they're supporting. Furthermore something like a pegasus would probably be a lot harder to hit with anti-aircraft guns or rockets than a helicopter due to its much smaller size, so they might even be preferred for troop transport in urban combat situations with heavy enemy fire.

Additionally, as others have already mentioned, they would probably be a lot stealthier than other options such as helicopters, and would likely be used frequently in stealth missions and other situations where remaining undetected is important.

Assuming your other flying creatures such as your griffons and hippogriffs are about the same size, then what I said about pegasi applies equally as well to them.

An important thing to keep in mind is to avoid comparing the creatures to aircraft such as stealth bombers or an A-10 "Warthog", as they would be fulfilling vastly different functions. Comparing them is like comparing a submarine to an aircraft carrier, yes they're both things in the water, but what they do in the water is completely different.

I think even comparing a dragon to military planes is misguided, as dragons would much more likely be used in a similar way to an attack helicopter rather than a jet fighter.

If you don't mind some advice, I think researching modern military tactics, particularly how different types of infantry are used and how the other branches support them could be very helpful, as I think that’s where the flying creatures would probably be used rather than the air force proper.

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    $\begingroup$ This is essentially spot on IMO. The key benefit here is improved mobility, and mobility is a large part of what wins modern battles. $\endgroup$ Aug 8, 2021 at 15:27
  • $\begingroup$ A modern military would actually have a hard time countering the use of such creatures, at least initially. Heat-seeking missiles are looking for hot jet exhaust, not body temperature, and radar-guided missiles basically can't see anything that's not made of hard radar-reflective materials. Depending on how low and slow these creatures fly, old-fashioned flak cannons wouldn't necessarily be effective either - they wouldn't be able to track fast enough to actually get a decent kill rate. $\endgroup$ Aug 9, 2021 at 8:13
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    $\begingroup$ @SebastianLenartowicz You don't use flak cannons to track targets that slow, because you don't need the stopping power of flak for targets made of squishy meat. Ordinary soldiers shooting ordinary bullets will work quite fine. $\endgroup$
    – Ian Kemp
    Aug 9, 2021 at 9:53
  • $\begingroup$ @IanKemp an AAMG, manually aimed, would be easiest, but counter-sniping would also be effective even in flight (let's assume airspeed comparable to an unladen swallow at around 40km/h or 25mph) $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Aug 9, 2021 at 14:28
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I'm afraid their "uses in warfare" just aren't "readily apparent" in a "Modern Airforce"

In a world that also has jet fighters armed with missiles (or even just helicopter gunships) griffins, pegasi & hippogriffs are going to be about as useful as horse cavalry on a modern battlefield, even if you give the riders machine guns & hand held rocket launchers.

They won't even have the advantage of speed against real world modern combat aircraft.

A full blown fantasy fire breathing dragon might be a different issue.

But for the creatures you've listed the only use where they might possibly have some utility might be insertion of small teams of special forces personnel behind enemy lines .. & even there I'm not convinced real world modern methods wouldn't hold the advantage in most instances.

If these animals had existed in the real world then they would have been used in the past but like the horse would have been largely relegated to recreational & sports uses by now.

Of course if I somehow misinterpreted your meaning when you say "modern air force" then all bets are off.

But it is worth noting that several modern armed forces do still keep mounted units for purely ceremonial & demonstration purposes such as parades & the like .. toward the end of your story arc that may be the most plausible remaining 'military' use for them.

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Flying under the radar.

Not being metallic, they may have limited use in situations where stealth is needed. As an added advantage, they do not need a technological base, though they have food requirements as soldiers do.

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First of all the period you describe would be a lot like WWI but with WWII technologies near the end. During WWI and WWII the industrialisation had well and truly began, but as the tanks drove through the countryside they met farmers who had never seen anything more advanced than a horse and carriage. Even during WWII the amount of horses in use was tremendous, although near the end their use was greatly diminished.

Aircraft are expensive, time consuming, require high skill to operate and use, require increasingly expensive and hard to acquire materials and in most cases require some specialist facilities like proper runways and equipment to operate. They are the ultimate argument against anyone saying "ah but maintenance/cost/complexity is a problem for military equipment!".

This means that during your time period aircraft are still expensive and complex machinery (for the time). In the meantime there is still a thriving network that breeds, feeds and trains these creatures. Early weapons will likely be Flachettes, basically large iron darts used in WWII and dropped in large quantities (like 300 at a time) above the enemy. Later weapons will likely see a shift for using these creatures. First as Dragoon type groups, where a group of men armed with muskets/rifles will cross the battlefield to a position they want and then dismount before starting combat. This protects the large flying creatures from harm and means their mobility is most important. As weapons become more modern and biplanes become dominant air-forces capable of taking down your flying creatures they will shift any aerial attack duties to aircraft and become transports. They would be ideal in getting things like a machine gun or mortar team into a position, or to get a squad into a flank, or deny enemies terrain by flying in infantry towards places the enemy would want to occupy so their faction has more time to move up and take the hill/area from the enemy as these airborne troops retreat after their delaying action.

The advantages of using such creatures are numerous. They dont require factories to build but farms to feed them. Their "fuel" is food, most likely meat due to the energy requirements of flight, which means that an action behind enemy lines could refuel by eating some livestock. To create them they dont require the hungry metals industries that industrialization brings with it to build its planes, vehicles, boats, ammunition, factories and infrastructure. This all means that they can supplement existing developments of warfare without taking anything from the hungry warmachine.

Except food that is, and that is the one big caveat: armies and countries at war function on food most of all. Having a group of meat eaters which can be described as flying horses to flying bears in terms of size and weight might be too costly to maintain, unless ofcourse your goal is to raid behind enemy lines by simply feeding them with enemy livestock.

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We have achieved space flight and sent probes out of the solar system, yet cops on horseback are still a thing:

Mounted police are police who patrol on horseback or camelback. Their day-to-day function is typically picturesque or ceremonial, but they are also employed in crowd control because of their mobile mass and height advantage and increasingly in the UK for crime prevention and high visibility policing roles. The added height and visibility that the horses give their riders allows officers to observe a wider area, and it also allows people in the wider area to see the officers, which helps deter crime and helps people find officers when they need them.

A flying mount would add Rule of Cool aspects to the job description. Make it a military police and there you have it.

Being able and skilled in riding a flying beast might even be a requirement to pilot spacecraft, since you should need nerves of steel to fly the latter.

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    $\begingroup$ mounted cops for crowd control of unarmed civilians might still be a thing but mounted cavalry aren't & haven't been for a very long time & for good reason, mounted air police works though ;) $\endgroup$
    – Pelinore
    Aug 8, 2021 at 4:08
  • $\begingroup$ @Pelinore: Spot on. It's not an accident that the cavalry units of the US Army still exist but use vehicles now. They play the same military role, but Apaches, HMMWVs, Strykers, M1s, and Bradleys just do the job so much better. $\endgroup$ Aug 9, 2021 at 19:44
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Air evacuation for wounded soldiers. Strap the solider to a gurney and carry it under the creature who could be trained to pick up and drop it gently. Today that role would be done by a helicopter but if you haven't invented that yet, or helicopters are expensive/rare then having an alternative source of transportation would help.

It may not be a pleasant trip for the soldiers (being swung around a bit as the creature flies) but it may be better than nothing.

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Rather than horses, they could be equivalent to dolphins

Until recently, it seems that both USSR and USA had programs to train dolphins for military porpoises purposes.

If griffins are intelligent enough to be trained, they could be used without a rider, as a kind of stealth "soldier".
For instance, if wild griffins are common enough in your world, trained griffins could have an automated camera strapped to their belly and be employed for scouting, or could be used to drop/recover small payloads (or even bombs).

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Possible strengths of a BeastForce:

  • Can quickly and effortlessly land practically anywhere unlike the smallest of helicopters.
  • Fly so low that you would be flying under the tree top level. (radar and visual stealth)
  • Lower maintenance cost then some mechanical equivalents.
  • Much quieter then most other air vehicles.
  • Refueling stops could be nearly anywhere and everywhere (food for the beast)
  • Less breakdowns and repair then a mechanical equivalent.
  • Unlike most mechanical transports after arrival on site your mode of transport will have been trained to independently and remotely(to a limit) follow a basic command. (move/attack/do a thing)
  • Would be a highly effective scout.
  • Highly useful for destroying lightly defended infrastructure in an enemy controlled territory.
  • Hit and run tactics.
  • Replace most small to medium scale paratrooper like operations with the huge bonus of self redeploying capability.
  • Highly versatility.

Possible weakness of a BeastForce:

  • Would not replace a AirForce, only supplement it.
  • Slower then most aircraft.
  • Bad at air to air combat.
  • If damage was taken it would likely result in the total loss of the beast (cant bolt on a new wing)
  • Harder to quickly replace then a mechanical version.

None combat uses:

  • If you dream of flying cars this would be exactly like that. Highly equivalent to a modern expensive car for personal transportation. With the added bonus of flight!

  • Material transport and delivery. (think drone package delivery but with a rider)

Conclusion:

If a side (local or from another planet) was lacking access to a beast force equivalent I feel it would be at a disadvantage. The mode of transport by riding a beast would remain the same as in the past but the weapons and tactics riders could employ would not. When the rapid industrialization event happens the inhabitants would have centuries of past beast tactics and tech to build on to. A BeastForce would be highly effective in supplementing a wide variety of modern gorilla tactics.

Its conceivable most planetary inhabitants would feel a sense of sacred value to many of the flying beasts in the world. Imagine today the extra value we would put on a horses if it was just as useful in a modern time as it was in the past.

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  • $\begingroup$ What can I can I do to improve this answer for next time. (I hope it was not the word "BeastForce") $\endgroup$
    – Kezat
    Aug 8, 2021 at 9:53
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    $\begingroup$ I think the biggest issue is that you didn’t quite answer the question. The poster was asking HOW flying creatures could be used in a modern Air Force, as in what specific roles would they fulfill. Your answer mostly just listed some potential advantages and disadvantages the creatures would have compared to mechanical vehicles. While I’m sure this information could be useful to the poster, it doesn’t actually answer the question of how they’d be used. $\endgroup$
    – user88381
    Aug 9, 2021 at 1:09
  • $\begingroup$ I see your point, thank you. I probability should have used the information I compiled to come up with a direct answer to the question instead of a data dump of sorts. $\endgroup$
    – Kezat
    Aug 9, 2021 at 2:40
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A real-world counterpart would be horses. Until the advent of motorized vehicles, horses were both an important mode of transportation (the only alternative being walking) and critical component of a weapon system (medieval knight, cavalry soldier). It was only after motorized vehicles had sufficiently developed and their inventories sufficiently built up that the role of horses diminished. Today, we still see horses in ceremonial roles (Canada's RCMP, funeral gun carriages) as well as functional such as crowd control, although these examples mostly exist in police rather than military forces.

Another example is dogs trained to sniff out contraband, explosives, or trapped survivors in collapsed structures.

One might imagine flying beasts to be similarly relegated to more ceremonial or niche roles with the introduction of flying combat vehicles, but they could remain indefinitely in roles where there is a desire to maintain long-established traditions, or where technology lacks the finesse to fill a specific niche.

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Ship to ship combat.

Ships are large vehicles with lots of up and down space, and are extremely expensive to build and extremely valuable.

As such, one use would be ship to ship combat, with you boarding your flying creatures on the enemy ship and having them beat up those inside. You ram your boarding parties on board and you have your flying creatures quickly maneuver inside to get your troops to good places and kill poorly armored spacers inside.

One of the main weaknesses of horses is that they can't handle broken roads very well. Your flying animals wouldn't have this weakness and could handle broken roads, paths, and erratic building structures in ships, with riders to blast holes in anything that's in the way.

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  • $\begingroup$ I can't imagine how that would work. Ship-to-ship combat is done at dozens of kilometers range, and any flying mount would take minutes to reach their destination - enough time to be picked up by an IR sensor and mowed down by a machine gun. (Of course, my imagination might be lacking - can you clarify your answer?) $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Aug 8, 2021 at 18:08
  • $\begingroup$ As I noted, you need to get your landing party on board first, which will probably involve high speed boarding vehicles and shooting out their machine guns and weapons and sensors. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 8, 2021 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ hmm... fighting inside the warship isn't going to work with flying mounts, so they would be useful for switching decks or landing on rooftops. Problem is that they're still going to be large, relatively slow targets, plus they need distance to fly so their options for taking cover are limited. If I were tasked with boarding an enemy ship, I'd take speedboats and crossbows with grappling hooks with a winch: faster and better evasion on approach, better cover during deck change. (Downside: Can't change multiple decks in one go. OTOH a flying mount would be even more at risk.) $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Aug 9, 2021 at 8:14
  • $\begingroup$ OP hasn't said that they have magical batman style grappling hooks, and modern grappling hooks can't do what you said. Also, speedboats don't tend to be smaller than horses, or mythical flying animals. I wouldn't assume they have reliable access to magical technology. $\endgroup$
    – Nepene Nep
    Aug 9, 2021 at 10:39
  • $\begingroup$ okay, no Batman-style winch hooks - but WW2 indeed saw gunshot-launched (mortar-launched?) grappling hooks on D-day, and manual climbing is still pretty speedy (see youtube.com/watch?v=8euRsnemNRI). A flying mount would have to expend more energy per kg than a rope climber I think. $\endgroup$
    – toolforger
    Aug 9, 2021 at 13:07
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Rescue and extraction missions

A flying creature will have a much easier time getting into small but high areas than a helicopter. Think a burning building, it might be difficult to manoeuvre a helicopter (and certainly a plane) to the exact floor from which to gather the victim. If there are many victims, the difficulty with large flying machines increases, but you could have lots of pegasi or griffons flap their way to the different parts of the building very precisely, and have a much easier time negotiating dangerous obstacles than a guy dangling from a winch.

If this isn't military enough for you, think of how modern warfare is going - it's getting less and less acceptable to bomb a city or even a building to take out a target. For example a terrorist might take refuge in an apartment building full of innocent civilians. Again he would be difficult to access with a helicopter and it might look bad in the news if the attackers simply bomb the building. But hippogriffs could deliver a team to the building on any floor or any side of the building they liked.

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