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My blind, intelligent species has advanced technologically to the stage of space exploration through the usage of FTL travel. The reason for their blindness is evolving underground, after the surface had been rendered uninhabitable by a GRB. The environment they were in was one of massive cave systems, which had an ecosystem capable of supporting life.

Because of this, this species relies on hearing for their primary sense, using highly sensitive "hairy" antenne on their heads to pick up sound, as well as using echolocation. They have one primary pair of arms located on their bodies, and a secondary pair of arms on their backs, which they use for emotion and cleaning their antennae and proboscis mouths. This species also has 4 legs, and an exoskeleton. These secondary limbs are highly mobile, but smaller/weaker than the primary limbs, but still able to be used for manipulation of objects, with 3 fingers on each hand.

I want to give them a unique firearm, different from humans, but I am having trouble imagining what that would look like. In combat, what would their equivalent of sights be? How could a firearm make use of the secondary limbs (which can reach across to their front). I am thinking of something similar to the bren gun, where the magazine is located at the top to make reloading easier.

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    $\begingroup$ Out of curiosity what effect do loud sounds have on their ears? $\endgroup$
    – Questor
    Jul 18, 2023 at 20:47
  • $\begingroup$ Painful or at least unpleasant. $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2023 at 21:01
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    $\begingroup$ Just making sure: the firearms are for story purposes? Unlike basically every fiction out there you can expect basically no one will have firearms any more. Why would you if you have computers and optics many times better than any human, allowing accurate, long distance weapons to be automated. Waste no lives, automate your weapons today! $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jul 18, 2023 at 21:39
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    $\begingroup$ Like all weapons questions, what is the purpose? The word "combat" is in the latter part of the question, so we can (maybe?) assume it is not for hunting, but is it for fighting other species or fighting their own kind? (Also, "GRB" comes back with 22+ possible initialisations - I'm guessing after looking at the list that you mean "gamma ray burst" but it's preferable to spell in full if you are not using it multiple times in the question.) $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2023 at 22:50
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    $\begingroup$ This is a "technology dichotomy." We're nowhere near FTL travel, but we're beginning to provide synthetic vision to the blind. Unless your creatures physically have no capacity for sight. No eyes, no optic nerves - not even the brain's capacity to capture and process vision - then the idea that an FTL-capable species can't see is unbelievable. And there are serious problems with the idea that the blind could achieve FTL tech. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 19, 2023 at 4:37

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[Frame Challenge] They probably wouldn't.

As @Questor hinted at in a comment, if this species has hearing as their primary sense, they'd be reluctant to use explosives as a propellant for the same reason you would be reluctant to use a flashbang in a fistfight. In media res, a Star Wars-esque laser gun would make sense, but that begs the question of how they got there: If a laser gun is just a cool future space version of an AK-47, what would your species' AK-47 be?

I propose: Crossbows. Your species could theoretically load a crossbow faster a human could (strong arms pulling back the string at the same time the weak arms are loading in a bolt) and tension-propelled missiles are a lot quieter than explosively-propelled ones.

As for "sights", maybe the primitive version was just a sound funnel that helped narrow down the aiming, but more modern versions have assistive technology outside the species' normal range of senses. In Andy Weir's Hail Mary this is touched on (though I won't spoil the details as the book is a JOY to read). If they made it to FTL then they know light exists, so they might have literal sights on their weapons that communicate relevant visual information in a medium they can understand.

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    $\begingroup$ Kudos for referencing Hail Mary. I think that their willingness to use explosives would be limited by their ability to silence their guns. We can silence our guns, but we don't because we consider that part of it to be "acceptable losses" to our perception. $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2023 at 22:06
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    $\begingroup$ @RobertRapplean agree with the first sentence, but the second is not universally true - most of Europe looks favourably on sound suppression (not silencers) for hunting weapons. Not to mention that suppressors have been used in military tunnel clearance operations because - prior to reactive hearing protection becoming available - soldiers not using suppressors would either wear hearing protection and be unable to hear the enemy or not wear it and be deafened when they fired their own weapon. $\endgroup$ Jul 18, 2023 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ @KerrAvon2055, I think you're making my point for me. We adjust our technology to suppress excessive sound when we consider the sound levels to be unacceptable. Any rational entity would do that instead of "Too noisy! Can't use!" $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2023 at 0:51
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    $\begingroup$ About aim & sight: blind biathletes have solved this problem: When aiming at a target, their weapon beeps. Lower pitch beeps indicate "far off", while higher pitch beeps indicate "near bullet eye". Advanced civilisation could couple this with a heat sensor. $\endgroup$
    – m.reiter
    Jul 19, 2023 at 8:34
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    $\begingroup$ Other clear advantages of crossbows for such a species, especially in their underground environment, is that a hit or miss would sound clearly different, especially if a bolt from a miss is rattling off the wall. Shortbows might be even better as they would make less noise than a crossbow when firing, giving some measure of stealth. $\endgroup$
    – RisingZan
    Jul 19, 2023 at 19:43
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High Energy Lasers with PSLs

One of the biggest hinderances in the military adoption of laser weapons is not about power, but about them being so bright that they burn soldier's (and nearby civilian) retinas to see the pulse of plasma generated where you strike; so, even in a future tech setting, there is a lot of reason for humans to continue to use kinetic firearms and not HELs. However, our biggest reason NOT to use HELs is a non-issue for your aliens. They are blind; so, the bright flashes of light not only don't effect them, but they also create a secondary advantage against seeing enemies.

Our loud percussive weapons will destroy thier hearing and deafen them, and thier bright HELs will destroy our retinas blinding us... this alone should be enough to make these weapons feel pretty alien to one another, but we can take it further...

enter image description here

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  • $\begingroup$ The concept of a laser weapon is interesting, but how could it deal with something like smoke? $\endgroup$ Jul 19, 2023 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ @FedorScheglov Most laser weapons operate in the infrared spectrum which mostly goes right through smoke and steam. The blinding part of a weaponized laser is not from the beam, but from the plasma that forms from super heating the target. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jul 19, 2023 at 19:49
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Aim by Sound

There is a pretty simple way to aim horizontally by sound. Put a camera on the gun with some sort of target recognition and detection. If the target is to the left, the sound is louder in the left ear. If the target is to the right, the sound is louder in the right ear. This is very similar to the approach used in experiments where neurons are grown in a vat and trained to play video games like Doom and they can aim very quickly using this sort of input. Humans can also learn to aim very quickly by using this approach.

Vertical aim is harder, but can be done through pitch. Make the noise in the ears consist of two tones - a low tone and a high tone. If you are aiming exactly at the target, the tones become the same frequency and sound perfectly harmonic. If you are aiming below or above the target, their frequencies drift apart proportionally to how off mark you are. The low tone is louder than the high tone if you're aiming below the target and vice versa.

If their hearing is very sensitive, they could achieve high accuracy and precision on both axes.

Overall this would allow them to aim almost as quickly as sighted people, limited primarily by the target recognition ability of their camera.

As for the loud noise of the gunshot, whichever hearing device provides them with the aiming tones could also block out the noise of the gunshot.

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I would like to argue a bit against Samuel Page's point.

While our current firearms are nice and refined, they haven't always been like that.

The fire lance was pretty much the medieval version of bringing a flashbang to a gunfight. Most of the firearms <1800 or so were seriously uncomfortable or even dangerous to the user, and that's the reason why they were mostly used by the unskilled, expendable drafted parts of the army.

In 1450 or 1500, a highly skilled sniper would be using a longbow or maybe some form of crossbow, not an arquebus.

The arquebus was used by the random peasant that was drafted shortly before engagement. They were handed a mass-produced crappy arquebus that required maybe an hour of training, then pointed vaguely in the right direction and then hundreds of them fired volley after volley towards a similar line of enemies. No need to learn to aim, the bullet won't fly where you aimed anyway.

This level of firearm would work equally "well" for a blind species. To help aiming, maybe draw a line in the dirt that you can feel with your feet, so that you vaguely aim in the right direction and that's it. Yes, your soldiers will walk home with debilitating hearing damage, but who cares?

Now on to more modern weapons. Probably for a hunter, a hobby shooter or a sniper, firearms would still not be the preferred type of ranged weapon, due to the potential hearing damage. But since these use cases rarely need quick reloading, so something like a longbow or crossbow might be more effective, especially if you factor in "magical" scifi materials.

Regarding targeting aids:

The easiest one would probably be a directional microphone, since they would feel "natural" to a hearing-based being, similar to how optical magnification feels "natural" to us.

But if you have more tech available, you can use any kind of target-detecting sensor (heat/infrared sensor, optical sensors) and translate their targeting information into auditory signals.

Btw, it would help a lot if these beings had more than two ears. With two ears you cannot ever accurately pinpoint a 3D location of a target.

Two ears mostly give you a "ring" of possible target locations, which is the reason why two-eared animals with good hearing have to tilt their head sideways to know where a sound is coming from. 3-4 ears would make that pinpointing possible without tilting the head.

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It would be best for them if the weapon had some kind of smart surface.

In this diagram the weapon would have a needle pointing at the target they could feel. enter image description here

I don't have a 3d program handy so substitute different heights for different colors.

enter image description here

Think of this a braille for weapons. Real blind people use braille to read books. enter image description here

This would be a more advanced version. Perhaps sounds could be used to augment this touch sensitive surface.

Additionally if their brains could handle the conversion rate audio sounds could be turned into binary communications.

Beep-boop-beep-boop-boop-beep 101001

Now of course your not limited to just beep and boop if you don't want to be you could buzz,hmm,whirring noise, or etc. The sounds don't even have to be audible to other lifeforms just themselves.

The downside is they would have to recognize these words fast, but a species that is dedicated to sound should be exceptional at this as humans who lose there sight are often exceptional at recognizing sounds and echo location. Also bats.

Primative computer modems used audio signals over phone lines to communicate at 300,600, and even 1200 baud. 57,600 baud modems existed but I suspect the audio tones would be too complex for them to decode in real time. They could probably manage the slower baud rates.

Morse code is could be viable at fast enough speeds.

Maybe the weapon actually said the enemy is at 47.28 degrees relative to the alien.

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Since they rely heavily on sound, the sights could be replaced with some kind of audio system. Small microphones on the barrel could pick up subtle echoes and feed directional audio cues to the shooter via headphones. The intensity and direction of the sounds could help aim the gun.

For reloading, the secondary smaller arms could come in handy. The gun could be designed with two separate parts - the barrel/firing mechanism and the ammunition magazine/stock. The smaller secondary arms could detach and reload ammo magazines while the primary arms keep the barrel aimed and ready to fire.

The magazine could use a top loading design as you suggested. The secondary arms could reach over the top to detach and replace magazines rapidly from a pouch or bandolier.

Instead of a typical stock, the gun could have dual handles or grips on either side. The primary arms could hold the barrel while the secondary arms detach and reload magazines from the top.

To utilize echolocation, the barrel could contain emitters that send out pulses. The echoes would create a soundscape for aiming. The gun could even link up wirelessly to implants in their sound-sensing antennae.

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The question answers itself. Since you define that the "aliens" can for all functional purposes "see" using sound, then there is no reason to believe they wouldn't use missile weapons, including loud firearms.

It may be painful or "blinding" to use such a loud weapon, but then it becomes a risk vs reward question.

Chances are the prime directive of all life "to survive and make more" will override or adapt to any suffering.

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