I've thought about space warfare and seen how sensor information has been displayed in various Science Fiction franchises and been left disappointed.

For our future space forces we need screens which (after some training) intuitively provide critical tactical information to the officers of a future space warship. Some information is obvious (distance, velocity, acceleration, position in X-Y-Z [or radial] coordinates, etc.), but

How do I display this and make it relevant to the officers of our ship?

When would I need one sort of display versus another?

For example,

  1. When in deep space one useful sensor plot not seen in current era (naval) vessels would be the time to important distances as magnitude and expected close approach direction shown as direction plot using logarithmic scale and spherical coordinates. "Important distances" may include any or all of the following:

    • Effective weapon range for light speed weapons, missiles, torpedoes, projectiles.
    • Intercepts with other vessels or "space terrain" (like planets, moons, or asteroids).
  2. In deep space, Navigation may desire a plot showing required $\Delta$V shown as magnitude and thrust vector shown as direction. Depending upon the available $\Delta$V, this might also require a logarithmic scale (or not).

  3. When your vessel and "nearby" objects are all in orbit near a planet/moon, a more conventional range as magnitude and orientation as direction in a spherical coordinate system centered on the planet/moon might work.

  4. Then again, the system described in #1 above would also work (how long until the bogey is in range and in which direction from the ship will that encounter occur).

Two other things to consider,

  1. When considering things that require $\Delta$V to be effective (ships, shuttles, missiles, etc.) the specifics (distance, direction, velocity vector, acceleration vector, etc.) of the encounter are important (How to add tactics to space warfare). In a stern chase scenario, the ship being chased has a much longer effective range for missile weaponry (the missile's effective acceleration and $\Delta$V are boosted by the acceleration and $\Delta$V of the chasing ship). So range or velocity plots should show a significant skew in their circles of effective range.
  2. At long ranges, plots showing the location and $\Delta$V of objects shouldn't show precise data for other objects under acceleration. They should show baskets of likely data. The basket shows a probability that the other object will be in that part of the basket. The basket shows the other object's acceleration ability to foil intercept or weapons calculations. CJ Cherryh's "Down Below Station" describes this very well.
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    $\begingroup$ This seems like 3 different questions, requesting an open-ended list of features. That’s not a great fit for this site. $\endgroup$ Commented May 11 at 22:08
  • $\begingroup$ Suspected target classification (fighter, cruiser, battleship, carrier, etc), possibly even target name if that would be known in the setting. Latter not likely applicable to enemy fighters. $\endgroup$ Commented May 11 at 23:00
  • $\begingroup$ "The Expanse" TV show demonstrates several methods. Since it's all in-universe, everyone is so used to interacting with the technology they don't comment about it. I read the books a while ago, but don't recall if it was described in detail. $\endgroup$ Commented May 11 at 23:22
  • $\begingroup$ A dozen different officers, that's a dozen different sets of functions for them to take care of. Just looking at the computer read-out from my car's last inspection, there are (many) dozens of sensors and processes going on. In a sophisticated spaceship there'd be potentially thousands. Ever watched Star-Trek? Think how many bridge-officers there are. Then there's the engineering-crew doing their thing - it's computers and menu-systems all the way down. Could you narrow the question to make it answerable, so we don't need to design the whole ship in order to answer. $\endgroup$ Commented May 11 at 23:25
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    $\begingroup$ I am VTC for this question in its current form - even though there are a pile of interesting answers that could be written for it. And that is the problem: The answer is entirely context specific. A Navigational Officer would not want Engineering details and so on. You need to scope this question down and provide a lot more context before we can hope to answer this. Which I want you to do, because this could be a great question. $\endgroup$ Commented May 12 at 2:48

2 Answers 2


Star Trek-esque viewscreens replicating a "Front window" would entirely be inconsequential to space warfare because vessel's perception based on crew capability to discern objects. Naval warfare at sea is advantageous because curvature of the Earth limits surface "playing field" to whats perceived, past sensors/commmunications beyond. Vast distances involved; looking out a window is useless less what's a threat is directly in our field of vision.

Just like ship/airbone observations' it'd be guys staring at screens. enter image description here

To perceive Any visual information; the Spaceship would need a cluster of cameras or vast distances camera's linked to network of Optical telescopes. enter image description here

The most important tool space sensor's would be RADAR. enter image description here

Like Naval warfare which focuses on 3 dimensions, the planar surface of the sea, Air and Underwater. A spaceborne sensor suite has to accommodate all plans of attack. More so accommodate the trajectory of the vessels orientation in space. The realistic aspect is that of a submarine. Navigation in a void, is tricky. So What kind of data would be displayed.

  1. NAVIGATION: A 3D map in reference to position of itself and objects in fictional plane created by orientation mechanism. enter image description here

enter image description here

  1. Threat Assessment information: enter image description here

  2. Engineering data: speed, power output, etc. enter image description here

  3. Combat management: Weapons stores enter image description here


I think a good approximation of what a tactical combat screen would look like in the future of space battle is how current games display these, mostly in 2 Dimensions.

2D vs 3D
When we thing of the future, it could be possible to visualize information in 3D by VR or direct brain visualisation. While having advantages in showing relative direction and distance to a single target. Every other direction just eludes as. Displaying this in a permant state would me, you cant know what is coming from the other directions. Even with directional help from the compute, this could end up disorientating the user. Distance would also not directly be visible, only in form of numbers (distance away to max range). Additionaly if we got manual input you would have the problem of precision as in working without an object with friction means holding your arms and positioning for a long time.

Meanwhile in 2D, while you lose the detailed view and the directional sense, you can still have an overview. Instead of a first-person-view, like view from the ship, you could have a third-person-view, rendered by the information the sensors could gather. Depending on the amount of targets/objects, the display could be optimized to show a directional projection of the enemies.

  • More enemies in the front/back and the top/bottom -> Projecting your ship from the side.
  • More enemies from the front/back and the sides -> Projection from the top
  • it is complicated -> calulate the best direction to view from

Additionally, the computer could show weapon arcs and ranges and firing directions, depending on your speed and the speed of the ship (and weapons projectile speed of course).

Importance of a computer
As you can see, the computer has a lot of work to do just to calculate and show informations. In fact it might be optional to not target at all or just give the orders to specific targets by the user. A computer can optimize his fire way better than a human, but he still needs a human to decide.

The Piloting
Same goes for flying, as the pilot becomes more of a navigator. In no way could a pilot be more efficient than a well programmed system flying through close spaces and weapon fire.
For closer manouvers, the pilot could be shown a 3d view of where to fly next. Depending on the propulsion system, the pilot would only be shown the direct flyable direction and surrounding. You dont need to see, whats behind you if can only fly forward. Maybe only if you need to evade.

Not questioned here, but regarding to the IO topic: Instead of giving orders via options (click enemy/subsystem to target), give the commands by words to instruct for more complex and even timed orders. "Dont fire until both guns are in range". "If avaible, aim for they engines.". "Stay between both ships, to discourage torpedos." etc.
Also, the computer could give further informations, depending on the context. E.g. another ship gets in range sooner than the targeted one, rockets cant get shot down by point-defense and could be targeted by other weapons.


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