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So I wanted to write an Ace Combat type story but I'm having trouble what type of world that would explain the importance and mass production of aircraft. I tried to look at the map of Strangereal but I couldn't find any type of inspiration. The world I want to make is like an alternate modern world. It's also a multi-polar world which means that most nations and countries are equal in power, resources, and military strength. Most countries could own fighters jets and naval ships that they don't need to trade with others (just an idea but I thought that because of the ease of production of military vehicles that even mercenaries could grab themselves a fighter jet to join wars).

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    $\begingroup$ Why is this an issue? In our world, air combat has proven superior to ground and naval combat. So much so that even the navy employs planes. Why is Earth and its history not sufficient to answer your question? What's causing you to hesitate or care that the planet somehow influences this choice? Why is the fact that airplanes have the flexibility of traveling from anywhere to anywhere limited only by fuel not solve your problem? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 18 at 2:34
  • $\begingroup$ You will have to elaborate what you mean by "important" to you?. Like JBH said. air power is the goto when projecting strength. But no matter how much you bomb a strip of land, you don't hold it until there are "boots on the ground" $\endgroup$
    – Gillgamesh
    Jul 18 at 14:31
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    $\begingroup$ People have, since the 1940s, regularly promoted the idea that air power makes naval and ground forces obsolete. These people have repeatedly been proven totally wrong. $\endgroup$ Jul 18 at 21:11
  • $\begingroup$ @IseeDeadPeopleNot While I understand you want to have a more detailed answer, in order to accurately answer your needs it would be much easier if you provide details about your world's other constraints : Technology, magical lands allowed, etc. Otherwise we can only either make broad swipes at it or try our luck guessing some of them in your stead :). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jul 21 at 9:30
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH actually most of our history shows that Airplanes are a great support tool, but in virtually no circumstance useful as primary means of attack. I know of only Desert Storm that did not end up a waste of resources using aircraft so much, and they had an absolutely overwhelming airpower advantage, first strike advantage and still needed the ground troops to also push up. Almost all other campaigns that relied primarily on air power failed in their goals and often were more a drain on the resources of the user than the opponent. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jul 23 at 21:12

13 Answers 13

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Instead of making the terrain flat, make it extremely rugged and broken: very mountainous, sharp, cliffs, crevices. The Alps, The Rocky Mountains. Make all the available water large lakes, a few miles across at most, but frequent. Rivers can run, but are windy with steep 10-20 foot drops every 5 or 10 miles; often ending in waterfalls. These are not great for ships.

By doing that, you have disabled most land vehicles and ships. Marching armies move slowly. Only an aircraft can navigate rugged terrain quickly and easily.

We can find enough land we can clear for a township, or even a mile long airstrip. But aircraft, even gliders or Wright Brother era aircraft, are the superweapon in this terrain. Air battles would evolve naturally.

Below is a photo of Peru near Machu Picchu, the ancient mountainside village made of fitted stones. If your culture evolves here, gliders and machine powered flight would have enormous impacts, both militarily and culturally.

They learn to glide first, taking advantage of currents, gliding alone is 10 times faster than foot travel and saves huge amounts of energy. Climb one mountain, glide to the next, even if you lose 100' of altitude and have to climb again, that's better than climbing down a 1000' and back up 1000'.

People will develop fold-up lightweight gliders, and use them like we use bicycles. Heck in this terrain, they'd probably invent wheels, but may never invent bicycles; what's the point?

Eventually huge gliders will be devised for carrying heavy cargo.

Eventually the invention of engines to power the gliders will come along; regular aircraft and powered flight will evolve.

The knowledge of how to fly, over generations with migrations, diffuses into all cultures worldwide, until the primary mode of transportation anywhere is by air.

And thus the primary mode of warfare between nations is air battles.

Peru, Machu Picchu

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    $\begingroup$ I did wonder about this, but it occurred to me that there are a lot of short lines of sight there, and it would be a bad place to fly a plane if there were some peeps down there with hand-portable SAMs. You'll also get some really nasty weather conditions over terrain like that from time to time. Read up on rotor winds, for example (and various other kinds of orographic effects on weather). $\endgroup$ Jul 17 at 18:17
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    $\begingroup$ @StarfishPrime Fly higher. I fail to see how this is any worse than a military helicopter, and we still use those despite ground artillery. And, of course, there are evasions; A good helicopter pilot can use the hills and mountains for cover, to hide, and for surprise attacks. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Jul 17 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena You develop quick take off and landing facilities. Aircraft can take off and land on an aircraft carrier with a runway about 300 feet long. The Wright Brothers first "runway" was 60 feet long. If you develop your flight capabilities from gliders, the runway is: jump off a cliff, catch updrafts, and land on your feet. Basically their aircraft will be invented and evolve with their landscape in mind. We could make long stretches of flat runway, so that did not constrain our aircraft development.Their aircraft development would always retain the quick take-off and landing ability. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Jul 20 at 11:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Sure. Or, in a mountain, a short runway off a cliff, counting on the fall to generate lift. Or, like the aircraft carrier, the jet slows as much as possible, and has a hook to catch a cable and that stops it quick; if a pilot misses the cable they hit the gas, take flight and circles around to try again. $\endgroup$
    – Amadeus
    Jul 20 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ Aviation would definitely be the best way to travel in such a world, but I think the biggest change this would cause would that war would just slow down all together. Mountains provide significant benefits to the defender (cover, ambush spots, etc), which aviation cannot completely negate. $\endgroup$
    – jb6330
    Jul 21 at 15:24
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Large flat treeless islands or continents in large quantity, I'd say. Vast grasslands and shrublands (eg. prarie, steppe, veldt, pampas), nice for farming. Giant flat deserts, like quite a lot of Australia. Easy to put in an airstrip wherever.

First for the wet navy:

  • Aircraft have been bad news for surface wet navies since Pearl Harbor, and antiship missiles have only made this worse.
  • Carriers are only needed when there's no handy airbase.
  • If there's more land and less Pacific, there can always be a handy airbase.
  • Shore-launched antiship missiles are increasingly dangerous when there's more shore and less open ocean.

And for the dry army:

  • Long lines of sight with little cover are bad news for everyone on the ground. With no mountains and no trees, everyone on the ground is badly exposed, and no-one is going to dig trenches across a thousand miles of plain or desert.
  • Modern antitank missiles are pretty bad news for tanks already.
  • Specialist ground attack aircraft are extremely effective in the right sort of terrain.

The only thing you hand to handwave away is antiaircraft missiles, and that's a bit more of a challenge. Any countermeasures to SAMs also work against regular AAMs, and potentially against air-to-surface weaponry too. This needn't be a bad thing if what you want is WWII-style gun dogfights and A10s with ridiculous cannons.


Remember this doesn't have to be the whole world (which might be a bit too unrealistic), but just enough of it to provide an interesting setting. Maybe tanks and soldiers and carriers are the best things everywhere else in the world, but no-one cares because your flyover continent has all the resources that everyone else wants and needs, and so that's where all the plotworthy fighting happens.

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  • $\begingroup$ You could argue that large extremely open terrain is ideal for land armies (islands too)... as defender. You WANT open sightlines that enemies have to cross, its why defenders tend to remove all cover near their defenses and why attacking an island across the coverless beaches is so difficult. And trenches are perfect in open terrain to provide protection even from airstrikes, just make sure you have various lines. Having flat terrain is ideal for aircraft to detect their opponent though, just not very good at trenches usually (or rather, trenches that you know are filled) $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jul 23 at 21:24
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To make aerial combat more prominent, here are my choices ranked by incentive to develop air warfare. Most are inter-compatible between each-other :

1) Sky islands

Laputa, Dragon hunters, Sunless skies, trapped in a Dating Sim: The World of Otome Games Is Tough for Mobs (this title is so long o_x)... It's simply a set of islands or other objects floating in the sky. Alternatively it can be floating asteroids, but reacting for people like they're on Earth. This is your best choice over anything else. Having a sky world is a very high-incentive to make air-warfare, as any other warfare isn't just viable at all. This is shown in all 4 references I gave

Why?

  • There can't be any naval warfare at all, because... Well, there's no sea x).
  • Bridges between islands is expensive. And they get destroyed very easily. Land warfare is therefore very unreliable beyond the islands they're set on. Land troops will need air transport to conquer territory.
  • You don't want to fight enemies on your land, especially with key infrastructures, that's the last resort defense. Because there are always empty spaces where no flak land cannons can reach, you can't have a buffer zone to prevent this. Therefore you have to send fighter planes to intercept invasions instead.
  • Any commercial caravan will be in the air, therefore almost every pirate or corsair attacks will be in the air, too.
  • People necessarily have to invent efficient planes, helicopters and blimps to travel between islands, and therefore would have focused their research on it.

Why not?

  • For a sky island world to exist you generally have to admit there is some magic or physical singularity involved.

2) Lava/acid oceans worlds

This is a slightly less magic-prone alternative to sky islands. Take a world, replace the seas with either lava, acid, or something else which prevents boats from floating. Or its crew from living.

Why ?

  • There's little to no naval warfare at all. It's one less concurrent to care about.
  • Like with sky islands, land warfare is contained within the land it is lying on. To provide land troops from another continent/island, you have to use air.
  • Infantry are removed from the game or would require very heavy support from tanks and planes to get protected from rains (acid or pyroclastic clouds).
  • If people do manage to bypass some of the lava/acid damage, they get access to a new cheap and effective against any unprotected or damaged land troops/structure, yet working at its most potential from altitude : lava/acid bombers. Bonus for lava since it solidify against any resilient structure left.

Why not?

  • Living conditions are likely to be extremely hard there. Technology or/and magic requirements to just survive there is likely to be high.
  • Meteorological conditions are likely to be harsh, too. You can't rely very much on visual identification and do need the instruments and specialized technology to navigate an aircraft in it.

3) Lower gravity, 3b) higher air density

This is the main element which prevents air from being used to its full potential. Make your planet less heavy, or increase its air density to make the cost of rising things up in the air much lower.

Why ?

  • Drastically improves air vehicles max carry weight, which means increased armor, weaponry, troop transport or autonomy (fuel). You can have actual air tanks with more stable air frontline now.
  • Maneuvering with planes is easier : You can have a lower speed and you'll have an easier time dealing with stalling. Your tactical playground is also bigger (you can reach higher-places).
  • Take-off areas will be much shorter due to higher-lift/lower gravity : You can have more airfields with more planes taking-off with less cost.
  • It's much less expensive (economically and technologically) to produce aircrafts. You can have "cannon fodder" aircrafts and replacing/repairing any aircraft will be easier, much more than other troops would gain from these world changes.

Why not ?

  • Higher air density can decrease airship top speeds, one of its main strength.
  • Lower gravity means ground and naval forces can carry more weight, too. However, they'll never get the same speed as air, and the profits of much higher weight capacity suffer from diminishing returns.
  • Tanks will get more armor... But at the same time they will have to use it to protect against aircraft which'll hold heavier weaponry and be more numerous.
  • This doesn't make airships a true necessity, rather a much stronger card to play.

4) Archipelagos or plain oceans

If you can't remove naval warfare, think the opposite, remove land warfare instead. The principles are about the same as sky islands, just you have moving boats around now.

Why ?

  • Planes work very well with ships because they cover each-other weaknesses : autonomy and raw fire power for air, speed and coverage for sea.
  • Planes excel at destroying key objectives. Islands and any other targets like offshore platforms are very easy to determine as "key objectives".
  • Because there are always empty spaces where no flak land cannons can reach, it's much harder to have a buffer-zone to prevent air invasions. You could use ships to make up for that, but they can be outmaneuvered (slow...) and are already split protecting against 2 other battle planes (sea surface and underwater), so...
  • You need only one plane with one well-placed torpedo to sink a whole ship and its crew. You need several bombers to kill all infantry and tanks in an area.
  • Difficult to land shorelines could make sea transport much trickier to do. Land assaults are likely to need the support of air.

Why not?

  • You're very dependent on naval warfare, especially regarding aircraft carriers. At the very most you're split between 50% air / 50% sea warfare, if not less.
  • You don't have much ground to land and take-off. This severely limits the total number of planes available at one time.
  • This doesn't make airships a true necessity, rather a stronger card to play.
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  • $\begingroup$ I like the idea of 3 and a bit for 4. But I wonder if gravity decreases depending on the size of the planet. If for example the world is like the size or half of a super earth (10 times the sizes of our earth), would gravity be a problem there? $\endgroup$ Jul 21 at 12:06
  • $\begingroup$ @IseedeadpeopleNOT That's not the main point of your question (it's worth its own question), but... According to Newton laws, surface gravity is both a factor of distance and weight. Increasing size helps "squarely" as much as reducing weight, but at the same time you add a lot more weight (no exact number, but I guess it's more cubic). This is why bigger planets tend to have higher gravity, like displayed on this list of planets ordered by size :). $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jul 21 at 12:18
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    $\begingroup$ For rocky planets, bigger definitely means more gravity, with only a small adjustment for density. On the other hand, higher gravity isn't correlated with a thicker atmosphere. You can pile a lot of atmosphere onto an earth-sized planet. Venus, for instance, has an atmosphere 95x that of Earth, while being only 81% as massive. $\endgroup$ Jul 22 at 16:26
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You got two examples from existing works.

A world with floating islands like the Japanese game Grand Blue Fantasy. Since you definitely need to fly to get to another human settlement, most of the transport in that world is going to be aircraft or airships.

Or, just like the anime The Magnificent Kotobuki, where there is very little ocean--which makes transporting goods by land possible, but very time-consuming. The existence of aircraft and airships makes transportation time shorter.

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In other answers, scenarios are suggested where enemy is difficult to reach by land or sea therefore you attack by air force. Well! you bomb the enemy land or dog fight with the enemy air force, then what?

Navy, army, air force, all have different uses.

Navy is used when

  • enemy can be reached by sea.
  • enemy is also fighting with navy and you want to destroy it.
  • enemy's strategic places are close to the coast and can be attacked by ships.

Army is used when

  • enemy can be reached easily by land.

  • you want to capture and control the enemy's land.

Air force is used when

  • enemy's strategic places are away from the coast.

  • enemy cannot be reached easily by land because of large distance, mountain, sea, thick forests, marshy land, rivers etc.

  • you only want to destroy enemy's places but you don't want to capture or control enemy's land initially until the enemy becomes very weak and unable to fight when army reaches.

REMEMBER

  • Many people think that army and navy are becoming obsolete. But you cannot capture and control the land without army (unless you throw enough nuclear weapons so that there are no people left and the land becomes useless). You need navy to save your coastal cities, sea trade routs and ports.
  • If your borders are common with or close to the enemy, you will need army at some stage. Only air force may not be enough.
  • If the enemy's land is flat or desert, air force and later on army is effective e.g. Iraq.
  • If the enemy's land is full of mountain, sea, thick forests, marshy land, rivers etc., then air force can destroy enemy's places and kill many people but capturing and controlling the land is very difficult e.g. Vietnam, Afghanistan.
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  • $\begingroup$ So there isn't any kind of situation where aviation military would be prioritized than ground forces. $\endgroup$ Jul 21 at 8:20
  • $\begingroup$ Every force has its own uses and purposes but occupation is done only by the army. On or about April 26, 711, the army of Ṭāriq Bin Ziyad, debarked at the foothills of Gibraltar (Jabal Tariq), burned the ships and Ṭāriq said to his companions: “fight or die”. $\endgroup$
    – imtaar
    Jul 21 at 9:55
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The Problem

You want air force to be the main solution to warfare in your world, and want a realistic, believable reason for it to be that solution. You want army and navy to exist, but be severely overshadowed by the aviation forces of the major factions in your world.

The Desires

The Navy

These forces generally want

  • Easy access to vital targets via waterways.
  • Clear line of sight on enemy vessels.
  • Waters relatively free of aquatic enemies (more important the earlier in history you go) (Giant squids, Krakens, etc.)
  • Large areas of water to traverse to get to a location
  • Natural propellant (Wind, Tides, etc.) for early ships
The Army

These forces generally want

  • Easily forage-able land, and should that not be the case
  • Easily defend-able supply lines.
  • Flat expanses of ground that can be covered easily
  • Clear line of sight on enemy forces (flat ground good)
  • Cover from line of sight of enemy forces (flat ground bad) (funny how that works)
  • Safety from hit-and-run tactics (boats, air, etc) (away from coasts, under trees)
  • Land route to target
The Aviation Force

These forces generally want

  • Easily traverse-able airways (low turbulence, few obstacles)
  • Cover from anti-air technology (could be as simple as clouds, depending on tech level)
  • Clear targets
  • Large distance / difficult terrain to cover

Taking What They Hold Dear

The Navy
  • Perhaps your world was once an ocean world, but some event led to the sea level on your world suddenly dropping by a large margin.
    Sea Shelf Diagram
    If your oceans dropped by ~1,000 meters, you'd be looking at 800 meter tall cliffs on most continents, and that is terribly sub-optimal for navy forces.
  • Foggy waters. If your world's oceans and rivers are constantly shrouded in fog, navy would become great for small stealth operations, but would rarely be used for large-scale war operations. This, of course, inhibits your ability to have aircraft carriers, as well, as it's much harder to land on things you can't see, but it allows for secret refueling stations left out in the sea, perhaps broadcasting on a certain frequency to alert allied planes to its presence.
  • Squids, Krakens, and Monsters Galore! The simple addition of terrors of the deep are certain to keep early tech levels off the seas, or at the very least extremely cautious and afraid for their journeys through the waters.
  • Oops! No water!
    No water? No Navy. Simple as that. Although this option is bland in my opinion, it is a possible option.
  • The gods hate us. The natural forces that be are always forcing ships back in towards land. This is hard to pull off in a way that feels natural, but something you could keep in mind is that early ships relied on wind to go far. If the wind was constantly pushing you into land, you'd have to wait until a new invention (engines) was made in order to go anywhere close to as far with ships. Or row.
The Army
  • Deserts. They suck to attack, unless you're already used to them. Unrelentingly hot, deserts require you to drink way more water, and are flat open ground that is great for defenders to see you in. Supply lines are made difficult by soft sand, and weapons and vehicles can easily be gunked up by that same sand.
  • Mountains. They're hard to traverse for ground units. Unless you travel the peaks of mountains, someone can always attack you from above, and travelling at the peaks takes more time and energy. Even a mountain range between territories is a huge deterrent to land forces.
  • Oceans. Most people can't walk on them. Put them between territories, and voila! A huge deterrence against land invasion is born.

Strengthen Your Air Power

  • It's okay to have paratroops.
    Armies are vital in taking and holding cities, and large planes with great defense and fuel capacity to support carrying many troops is a necessity if your world is mainly based around planes.
  • Bombers.
    This step is usually done before sending in the ground forces, but after defeating any fighter aircraft in the area. These guys are slow and powerful. They have high fuel capacity and an even higher weight capacity. They drop bombs on your target location, 'softening' the target, so that when your troops arrive, they meet minimal resistance. If everyone lives underground on your world, these planes become near-useless, as causing damage to empty ground doesn't do much to the enemy.
  • Fighters.
    These planes will be small, light, and fast with air-to-air combat in mind. These will be your fastest planes, and your planes most likely to go down. With that in mind, the pilots flying these planes will be the most skilled, and they will have the best protections in place for escaping the plane alive should the plane lose function. They do, however, have low fuel capacity, so they won't be going very far without help. These kinds of planes love cover. Especially once you start getting into laser-guided and heat-seeking missiles, having a mountain to dodge behind can mean life or death for the pilots of these guys.
  • Mid-flight Refueling.
    The smaller and faster the plane, the lower the fuel capacity. If you have small fighter planes, they will need somewhere to refuel. This could be on the ground for defenders, or on aircraft carriers or mid-air refueling for attackers. If you choose to go the mid-flight refueling route, you'll need aircraft specialized for the task, and they'll need to stay away from the air-to-air fighting.
  • Carriers.
    If it's possible to land on them, carriers are essential to attacking overseas. Even the most gassy of planes can be on fumes after crossing the Pacific. It's unwise to attack a target from the air if you lack the ability to stay there. So you'll want some way to get your planes across the expanse or refuel them once there, and a carrier fills both of these roles. If your planet has oceans, these are a great idea.
  • Reconnaissance.
    These will be your most stealthy planes. The ones with cutting-edge tech to keep them quiet and unseen. These will go out long before your attack commences to set up likely targets, and mark down enemy defenses. If your planet doesn't have clouds of some kind, these planes will be virtually non-existent in earlier tech levels, and very difficult to pull off in later ones.
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  • $\begingroup$ As far as I am aware in modern air power its the fighters that are fastest. A bomber's best defense is getting in and out while trying to outrun any response. Fighters instead rely on their maneuverability, detection ability, stealth/electronic warfare ability and the amount/capability of their missiles. modern fighters are often slower than their predecessors as a result. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jul 23 at 21:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan I'll look further into it. However, you seem to contradict yourself in your critique? $\endgroup$ Jul 24 at 3:43
  • $\begingroup$ sorry meant "bombers are the fastest", didnt get much sleep last week. $\endgroup$
    – Demigan
    Jul 24 at 6:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Demigan After looking into it, I found that the fastest military planes still in service (apart from the boeing X-37, though that hardly counts) are all fighter jets. Not to discount your assertion, as bombers are certainly much faster than they once were. $\endgroup$ Jul 25 at 12:09
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Storm Hawks

enter image description here

Storm Hawks is a cartoon about crystals and dogfights and maybe friendship and believing in yourself too. The real Storm was the one inside us the whole time.

They have their world set up to explain why there is so much zipping around in little airplanes and also lazer-swordfights to keep things PG.

Storm Hawks is set on a fictional world called Atmos, a largely mountainous world consisting of scattered, towering, plateau-like land masses known as terras.

enter image description here

enter image description here

enter image description here

Directly below the terras lie the Wastelands, the most dangerous area of Atmos, with infernal fires and wicked creatures. Because of the geography, travel is mostly dependent on flight.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is it possible to remove the poster and put a link to a wikipedia page or equivalent instead? Knowing there's a red-haired guy and a crazy-looking rabbit in this show doesn't detail much about your answer's core point :p. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Jul 21 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Fair point. There is now a link AND an airplane. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    Jul 21 at 14:28
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What about a world with almost no land and the ocean is a very dangerous place.

Maybe the depths are inhabited by terrible and indestructible leviathans or a savage race of deep ones that love the taste of human flesh, creatures so vicious that humans have to build floating cities sustained by zeppelins in order to survive.

Maybe the atmosphere is so dense that any child can be a aeronautical engineer (because flying will be pretty easy) and some crazy airplane designs are completely possible.

Well, if more ideias come to mind, I will be back here editing it.

EDIT: apparently, denser atmospheres make the air in lower regions toxic for some reason, so I think it makes any terrain dangerous enough.

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  • $\begingroup$ Sounds like a good idea but the world I'm trying to make is a modern AU idk how civilization can grow if there's little no land $\endgroup$ Jul 22 at 23:33
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An increased importance of aircraft could become likely on a world with limited metal deposits. Naval vessels are among the heaviest vehicles on the planet. The lightest tanks are as heavy as a fighter jet. If there was a limited supply of iron, aluminum, titanium, and other metals, their use for war machines would likely be restricted to those which give the biggest bang for their buck. As fighter/bomber planes can sink a naval ship, there is the risk of losing a significant metal investment should planes attack a naval ship.

Tanks are also at risk of destruction from aircraft. The term “tank plinking” came into being during the Gulf War for pilots using precision munitions to destroy enemy tanks and armored personnel carriers. The best way to increase the survivability of a tank is to add more armor. That is not really an option on a planet with limited metal reserves. They should be able to make 4-5 jets for the metal cost of a single large tank. It makes more sense to make hundreds of planes at the same cost of a few dozen tanks.

Other side effects of such a world would be the use of extensive public transportation in leu of private transportation. Vehicle metal would be limited to the engines and supporting components, while the frames would be fiberglass and other lighter non-metallic materials. Cities would be built close together to prevent urban sprawl and decrease infrastructure costs. It costs significantly less metal to build an apartment building which can house 100 people than to build houses capable of housing that same number. There would be greater reliance on plastics, wood, and other alternatives. Even things like sign posts would be made from wood instead of steel.

Alternatively, you could have an advancement of automation (3d-printing) which enables the rapid production of things such as aircraft, but struggles with heavier vehicles such as tanks. If your nations can produce 100 fighter planes in the time it takes to make a single tank, there would be little reason not to use planes over tanks. Just say that your automation cannot produce metals over a certain thickness, as planes use thin sheet metal it is not an issue. Over time, this use of aircraft could become a cultural preference.

Of course, this type of efficient production would have a ripple effect throughout your world. Production of most goods would become easy enough to reduce the bottleneck of supply and demand. Perhaps this is how your nations gained equal status. Once a nation adopts the widespread use of this automation, they quickly attain status on par with the rest of the nations. As a nation starts to expect rapid production of goods, the idea of waiting significantly longer for something like a tank becomes less workable. If replacement times are measured in months as opposed to days, it becomes harder to argue for that option.

Alternatively, you could have an Einstein type character who designs a “perfect” aircraft and releases it to the world in the hope of preventing wars (or whatever other motivation fits your narrative). This is what the Expanse novels did for their Epstein drive. The use of these super aircraft turns the tide of battle so drastically that all nations prioritize their use. This does not have to be a specific aircraft, but could be an AI control system or something else which makes planes significantly better on a battlefield. As the battlefield losses against these aircraft increase, the only option is to copy that design. Continuing to field tanks which are nearly instantly destroyed would cause public backlash. This happened during the Iraq/Afghanistan wars when unarmored Humvees and other vehicles were easily destroyed by the local forces. It resulted in several completely new lines of vehicles to combat the threat. Eventually, your nations would adopt the new aircraft out of necessity. A super airplane would have the least impact on the other aspects of your world.

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You want to give as much advantage to aircraft and as little to the ground/navy forces. That means:

  • large flat terrain with little to hide in for easy spotting and detecting.
  • large pieces of cover that hide aircraft approaches and make it easy to pinpoint potential radar sites and reach them. This means that many singular mountains or hills are present with only a few kilometers of flat terrain distance.
  • no easy supply routes for ground armies. That means many bridges or roads that can only be constructed in specific area's making it easy to cut off. Swamp lands for example.
  • little deep enough water with enough connections to other bodies of water. If the navy is stuck at say Vietnam types of water area's then the navy can only use small boats.

This would mean that the best methods of attack would be scouts that radio in enemy ground/navy forces or supply lines which then see strikes from helicopters and aircraft that use the few large (and devoid of meaningful vegetation) pieces if cover to approach their target. The defender's best option is to use MANPAD's for the lowest flying units and station vehicular missile systems behind or on the sides of the mountains and hills. The second most used unit would be artillery due to its range, but its also a very supply hungry unit*. Aircraft are hungry too but land far behind their own lines where supply lines are easier to maintain.

Something else to consider: airships. While some highly public crashes made airships look like they were slow and made of explodium, the truth is that they are the toughest aircraft to have ever existed. In fact jet engine aircraft were in the same spot at some point where people thought they were more expensive, more fuel consuming and more dangerous alternatives to prop aircraft that just kept randomly crashing despite being young planes. They found out that it was the lack of rounded edges on windows that caused the planes to crash due to stress failures.

Airships, properly build and with the same decades of design as modern aircraft behind it, would be a magnitude tougher than the toughest modern military aircraft. Multiple lifting gas bladders, not using highly flammable materials for the outer skin, superior construction materials, modern weather and electronics for safety and detection of leaks, heavier-than-air airship designs and higher redundancy than planes would all help make these excellent additions to modern air power.

A simple example: airships would be far superior to modern early warning aircraft like ELINT or AWACS due to the larger and more powerful versions an airship could install and the ability to be on-station for LITERAL DAYS compared to several hours (and even in WWII airships could fly across the atlantic and back in one go without in-air refueling). Additionally the ability to use offset armor plates to detonate incoming missiles prematurely and catch shrapnel with spaced armor designs would help protect vital area's (on top of again redundancies). Having another airship as a missile barge would also supplement your airpower ability, as missiles fired from it dont have to climb as high to intercept their targets, meaning more fuel for speed and chasing for a larger effective range.

*I think Russia's current supply lines are for 50% dedicated at feeding their artillery in some way (ammunition, fuel, food, maintenance along with the consequences of all the maintenance and fuel required to maintain a supply line to the constantly moving artillery pieces).

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Increase air pressure

If the air would be more dense, nature would grow stuff that floats, and with stronger winds there would be stronger skin and stuff (to a degree) that would allow even early craftsmen to attempt floating, or making deltaplanes or similar contraptions to quickly cover ground while descending. The atmosphere contents as well as biology could be slightly altered to avoid broken physics or biochemistry, say humans could develop protection from decompression issues raising from them travelling heights, without actually changing appearance of lifeforms, except those that specifically take advantage of dense air and are impossible on Earth. The very same alteration could as well harden sea travel, because sail-based ships might not cope with more harsh weather in deep sea, and with advent of fossil fuels and combustion, using hot air to lift up zeppelins might even be energetically cheaper than making a sturdy ship capable of sustaining high winds and propel it with diesel.

Use Pangaea

Employ a scenario where the sea is too far for involved parties to ever take part in the story, except maybe as a place to refuge or seek death. Everything else should be either land or air, and air travel is by definition faster than land.

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Post Apocalyptic wastes:

Your terrain was once verdant farmland, forests and lush countryside. No more. Once great natIons are now limited to bunkers, isolated valleys and islands. Vast regions are filled with radiation, deserts, mutants, and lingering super anthrax.

The seas are poison are filled with mutant monsters. Drone AI nuclear submarines operate autonomously attacking ships like a cross between Moby Dick and the Nautilus, still fighting a long-lost war.

Many nations prepared for the apocalypse, building up aviation industries around aIr bases. Their best and brightest were saved to rebuild civilization. Advanced automated factories churn out advanced equipment as fast as resources can be found. But the remaining bases are isolated and far apart. They scavenge the wastes with blimps and dirigibles, retrieving supplies and equipment to rebuild.

The new distribution of resources and power looks quite different than it did. Battered superpowers scrabble to hold on to vast territorial claims. New powers that came through the war less damaged refuse to recognize outdated maps.

The table is set for a world where air power rules, fighting at vast distances in a world where armies dare not travel and every port has been destroyed.

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Who cares about ships... Just build a plane!

Alternative option here: Earth like planet with different gasses and main element compunds. In this world, lets say there are easy to make mixtures creating "lighter than air" liquids and/or gasses. Add some certain metals with less weight, extreme flexibility and they are easy to manufacture.

Aerial combat is effective in our world as it is. One of the problems with air attacks is, well, building a good plane or airship is hard. Engineering when it comes to planes, needs to be deadly precise. And even then there are accidents. But what if... There are easily accessable good materials to build planes cheaper, more efficient. If hindenburg accident didn't happen, or if people had access to large amounts of safe light gasses for airships, they wouldn't be so rare as they are now.

If building and maintaining a plane or air ships would be this easy, I wouldn't spend most of the budget on land or sea based weaponary. Mostly aircraft carriers, land based portable aircraft launchers for faster take-off, and enough fuels. This way, most of the combat would continue on air, and other units would mostly support air units. Because, why spend money on building a good ship when you can build 30 nice planes. With half the price and material.

War is a battle of information, resources, morale and economics. If one method offers significant advantage on even one of these, then people would naturally choose that more frequently.

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