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There's a major interstellar war going on. Both parties are highly technologically advanced and have thousands of warships of sizes varying between 10 meters long and 1 km long.

For both parties:

  • Instantaneous transmission of information is possible, even if something is light years away. (Due to the Handwave-particle Transmitter™.)
  • Faster than light travel is possible. (Thanks to travel through Handwave-space.)
  • Artificial Intelligence is not achieved. They have extremely advanced computers, but not truly (meaning creative, reasoning, inventive) intelligent ones. However, they do have extremely advanced robotics and technology in general.
  • As an example of the previous point: They have robots that are at least as dexterous as living beings, and can be remotely controlled perfectly by a living being in another location. (Through some Virtual Reality-suit or something.) Such a robot could perform repair work, etc.
  • They want to avoid casualties (at least in their own ranks.) Death tolls look very bad on statistics and will upset the public. They really value the lives of their own people.
  • They are really committed to the war and do not want to surrender.

Spaceships are flying around shooting at each other and blowing each other up. If there are living beings on board, this means they will occasionally die when a ship gets damaged or destroyed.

In my world, these warships have living crews. (The battles become sort of boring and unemotional otherwise.)

But why? Why wouldn't these ships be unmanned drones controlled by living beings in (a) safe location(s)? (Or at least safer than the middle of a battle.)

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    $\begingroup$ Guess I took "unmanned drones" to mean "self-determining" and skimmed past the "controlled by..." part. Still, the discussions there have relevance here, even if they don't fully answer your question. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Aug 23 '16 at 19:51
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    $\begingroup$ By definition, they wouldn't be 'Manned', but they might be "Aliened'. $\endgroup$ – user21221 Aug 23 '16 at 22:26
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    $\begingroup$ @mickeyf english.stackexchange.com/q/344469/160195 $\endgroup$ – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Aug 23 '16 at 22:42
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    $\begingroup$ See "Dune" and it's universe... where "Thinking Machines" once took over and now complicated machines (aka Computers) are now banned. $\endgroup$ – WernerCD Aug 24 '16 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ "How can you move faster than possible, fight longer than possible without the most powerful impulse of the spirit: the fear of death?" $\endgroup$ – Devsman Aug 24 '16 at 16:04

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One easy answer is communication limitations. You do need command and control to have uninterrupted access to the front line. Maybe you have instantaneous comms over vast distances, but are they uninterruptable comms? Is it possible to jam an enemy's comm system and interrupt his ability to direct a drone ship? If so, a human-controlled ship will ALWAYS outsmart a non-AI drone ship.

Computers are great, but they have major limitations compared to a biological brain. The kinds of things we do with pattern recognition by instinct are very hard to replicate. Assuming you don't have perfect AI technology, you will always need a real person in command somewhere that cannot be jammed by enemy actions (like inside the ship).

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    $\begingroup$ Interrupted or even hacked. Any sufficiently advanced civilization will have hackers that could take over your ships, if there’s no sentient being on board having the control. $\endgroup$ – Holger Aug 24 '16 at 9:34
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    $\begingroup$ @Holger Any sufficiently advanced civilization can hack sentient beings... $\endgroup$ – Thomas Aug 24 '16 at 10:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Thomas: open communication ports make infiltration much easier. Unlike remote controlled drones, sentient beings don’t need to constantly talk with their home base during a fight. $\endgroup$ – Holger Aug 24 '16 at 13:05
  • $\begingroup$ Look up "Social hacking" as a concept. $\endgroup$ – Shadur Aug 25 '16 at 8:52
  • $\begingroup$ @Holger it is theoretically possible to write software and make hardware without vulnerabilities. $\endgroup$ – user69874 Aug 25 '16 at 15:57
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FTL communications jamming

Both sides have a device that can block all FTL communications within a certain range. No more remote control tech, the decisions need to be made right there on board the (main) ship of the fleet.

A Moratorium on autonomous killing by machines

Whether it was a Skynet or Geth rebellion, someone did make machines that could more or less think for themselves, and it went very very badly. A galaxy-wide convention has been adopted that forbids computers from deciding to activate a lethal weapon. This means living beings need to pull the trigger on all that awesome weaponry.

These two factors together mean that a living crew needs to be in close proximity to the fight, preferably in the best defended ship in the fleet. Drones are fine for scouting and combat operations in the vicinity of a mothership (where they can be remote controlled with unjammable point-to-point communications), but outside that range any independent ship needs to have a commander/gunner if it wants to fire its weapons, because FTL comms are sure to go as the first sign of hostility.

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    $\begingroup$ Hey, #2 sounds awfully like some space novels I read when I was a kid, they were written by Frank Something... can't really recall. Maybe the name is lost to the sands of time. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Aug 24 '16 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ That would be Dune, by Frank Herbert $\endgroup$ – MTilsted Aug 24 '16 at 14:49
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    $\begingroup$ @Mindwin Would that be Destination: Void by Frank Herbert? It has AIs going crazy and killing people, though they're not banned, at least in the first novel. [please laugh, I want to pretend I'm funny] $\endgroup$ – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Aug 24 '16 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @QPaysTaxes hint: "sands". $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Aug 24 '16 at 15:40
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    $\begingroup$ @Mindwin It was a joke, like I assumed your comment was. :P $\endgroup$ – Fund Monica's Lawsuit Aug 24 '16 at 15:41
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Jamming and bandwidth are already great answers, honor and philosophy too. I'd use them. But allow me to introduce other reasons you can use with them.

Sick and crippled

So remote ship is less reliable and much more expensive. At the same time you have citizens that can't really contribute to war and society to much due to health issues. But their brains are good and you have neural interface. Let them fight and earn glory. And maybe honorable death.

Convicts

Same as above - cost and reliability. You can offer convicts shorter sentences. And keep enough drone equipment on ship to make it kill crew and come back home in case of mutiny.

Of course you don't want slaves for this. Rather, convicts from civil fleet, already trained, who would want to serve shorter time in military than spend longer years in prison. Especially if, due to war, some crimes are now considered more severe. For example eating more than your rations. Military personnel is usually better fed, and inmates - worst, so this choice is even more tempting. Also, military career is good choice for someone whose criminal past prevent getting any other decent job.

Warrior caste

You see, they evolved to be a bit different from rest of their own race. In times of peace their lives are quite short. Hormone produced when they are in danger works as a youth serum. Sadly, synth substitutes aren't near as good. Thus, you have to keep your people in danger to allow them to gain experience. Or you would use other castes, but they lack what it takes to be a soldier: controlled aggression, will to kill etc. And warriors want this. Who wouldn't want to live long time, virtually forever?

Theft

Drone can be hacked and used by enemy. You can afford to lose small ones now and then, as you also "earn" some when your tech has upper hand. But you can't afford to lose big warship. Especially in large formation. It could do a lot of shooting before "friend or foe" systems would allow others to shoot at it.

Damage control

You can not have ftl com in every robot. So in case of one lucky shot in the antenna, only people on board can be creative enough to make this piece of junk spaceworthy again, with resources they happen to have.

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    $\begingroup$ The use of slaves on warships only took place in special circumstances. Contrary to the movies, oarsmen in ancient galleys were trained professionals, since an untrained or disgruntled slave on the oars could upset the rhythm needed to propel and manoeuvre the ship. Press ganged sailors on men of war were also considered to be less reliable and often could contribute little to the operation of the ship for long periods until they were trained (and always under the watchful eye of the Coxswain). So I'd avoid convicts as sailors, crewmen or marines in this scenario. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Aug 24 '16 at 2:21
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    $\begingroup$ Less reliable than willing trained personnel, maybe. But convicts can be willing, too, if it's five years on front vs lifetime in prison. And ones from civil fleet are pretty trained to begin with. Sure, their use is more problematic, but to some extent can work. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 24 '16 at 4:42
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    $\begingroup$ There are historical precedents for very different types of indentured warriors in different cultures. (Ex: Mamluks.) In some circumstances, it can be the best option, particularly for a very decadent society with extreme cases of loss-aversion. Similarly to the "warrior caste" option; what about a less aggressive race of very poor warriors with high tech levels that uses a less advanced race of natural born warriors as a warrior caste? The less advanced race will do basically anything to have access to FTL technology since it is such a game changer, plus they LIKE war. $\endgroup$ – JBiggs Aug 24 '16 at 14:13
  • $\begingroup$ I really like the last one - damage control. A lot of people have talked about blocking or hacking the AI, but what about introducing the extreme fault of being able to disabling an entire ship with a single shot to the antenna? $\endgroup$ – dallin Aug 24 '16 at 17:34
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    $\begingroup$ @HSchmale best horror movie can't make me feel endangered nearly as much as night walk in bad neighborhood, and it only lasts two hours, top. You see, they know it's a sim. They know it's not real. They are made to be brave. You know guys that are never scared on horror movies?that's your warriors on sim. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Aug 25 '16 at 6:15
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Adrenaline!

Let's assume for brevity that human minds make better combat decisions than computers. Humans are less predictable and intuition is real and relevant on the battlefield. So it is not an issue of whether human pilots should control combat ships, but rather where those pilots should sit.

Drone pilots sit far behind the front line in safely shielded bunkers, on padded couches, in air conditioned comfort. When they loose a particular fight, they get up and stretch, maybe get a cup of coffee, then log into another drone and get back to work.

Fighter pilots get crammed into what space is left after the engines and armaments have taken all the comfortable spots. When they loose a fight, their atoms disperse across the infinite expanse as they cease to exist.

There is no comparison between the motivation of a drone pilot to a fighter pilot and that difference shows in their combat performance. Fighter pilots will do superhuman things in order to survive and thus remain a living human.

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  • $\begingroup$ But humans by their squishy nature don't take g-forces especially well. Dogfighting a drone which doesn't have to worry about how tightly it is turrning or stopping would put the human pilot at a massive disadvantage. $\endgroup$ – ilikeprogramming Aug 25 '16 at 11:10
  • $\begingroup$ @ilikeprogramming, Absolutely right! But the Original Poster was asking for a reason why human pilots would be preferred. You are correct though. I should have handwaved away the inertia issue like I did the processing speed issue. Maybe an inertial damper field... $\endgroup$ – Henry Taylor Aug 25 '16 at 14:44
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    $\begingroup$ You would be astonished to see what wouldn't a dedicated gamer do to not lose his game. And who says that losing is something to be scoffed at? The body already has a very sophisticated damage control system, and it would be only logical to wire the pilots to feel damage and systems stress as physical discomfort. The higher the damage, the sharper the discomfort. $\endgroup$ – LSerni Aug 25 '16 at 21:32
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Economics

Sure, losing soldiers is bad, but losing money is worse!

Remote control to the level needed will be expensive. Shipping people is cheaper. (Note, given the cost of life support this point is somewhat doubtful. You might want to find some explanation like FTL communication needing some rare component that is hard to make or find)

Also, people who sit in some remote location tend to be somewhat sloppy with their hardware. People sitting inside their hardware will be much more careful with it. Less ships lost that way.

This all sounds very cynical, but wars are often decided by the ability to outproduce your enemy. Then you need this level of cynicism to win the war.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very good point laziness :) +1 for realism $\endgroup$ – GameDeveloper Aug 24 '16 at 12:21
  • $\begingroup$ This is what I was thinking too. Maybe these ships are very expensive and it's rare for one to actually be completely lost. When they get disabled maybe there's another fight over salvage, because the parts are so valuable. And from there, maybe someone discovered that when completely unmanned, their soldiers are getting their ships destroyed left and right; when manned there's a balance. $\endgroup$ – Jeff Aug 24 '16 at 15:27
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Colony Foundation

If this war is fought on a large enough galactic scale, and settlement of enemy planets is your eventual goal, then it might be too wasteful in terms of time to have to send two waves of ships(robotic warships, then colony vessels only after the battle is won). Instead, have warships with male+female crews that can serve as colonists/administrators immediately upon victory(depending on whether the losing party will be completely wiped out, or just conquered).

Source: Ender's Game

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  • $\begingroup$ i don't see how ender's game answers the question here. the human ships were remote controlled, and the buggers really only needed a queen for colonization. so not exactly examples in favor of the original question. $\endgroup$ – eMBee Aug 24 '16 at 8:05
  • $\begingroup$ @eMBee, the human ships weren't remote controlled in Ender's game. They were all manned. Not sure if that was Ender's Game or Ender's Shadow where you're told that though. $\endgroup$ – Separatrix Aug 24 '16 at 9:15
  • $\begingroup$ oh, you are right, they were remote commanded, but i forgot about the pilots. i think they were mentioned in ender's game when they talk about the ships that have already been sent out there. there was no indication that they were drones. and i think there was something about sending people to their death. $\endgroup$ – eMBee Aug 24 '16 at 9:59
  • $\begingroup$ despite that however in ender's game the lives lost in battle don't seem to matter much. it seems it's all about the genocide, the fact that the enemy was not just beaten, but completely erased. $\endgroup$ – eMBee Aug 24 '16 at 10:03
  • $\begingroup$ I think his point is that in Ender's Game the crews of the attacking ships landed and colonized the planets after they won the battles. $\endgroup$ – yitzih Aug 24 '16 at 15:40
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Assuming there is reliable FTL communications, there are still several limitations that might demand a "being" in the loop.

Firstly, it isn't clear from the OP's post that communications are 100% reliable or unjammeable. Even using quantum entanglement would invoke the risk of having quantum decoherence breaking the FTL comms link. This might even be a problem without enemy action, given the bizarre nature of quantum mechanics.

A second issue would be bandwidth. Since you are presumably creating a space opera scenario with a multitude of ships, each potentially carrying drones, missiles and perhaps utility vessels, there will be thousands or millions of "channels" needed and each "channel" would need to have a huge bandwidth to carry detailed data to the controllers. Assuming quantum entanglement, you could easily expend all your entangled particles and need to bring the fleets home to restock. If there is an analogy to radios, you will run into the same sorts of issues that plague the sorts of networks in major cities. Even wired Internet providers have bandwidth issues when a multitude of people are online gaming or downloading movies and streaming music.

FTL comms might also have issues with casualty. This depends on how the OP plans to handwave this issue, but theoretically, and FTL comms system could have the ships communicating to the "past" and the fleet controllers might not be able to determine what is actually happening since they will be looking into other frames of reference. The action might be in the past or the future compared to where the controller is, so their commands will become irrelevant to the action.

So having a live crew on board either directly or in a command and control ship somewhere in the deployed constellation of warships will overcome many of these limitations, and allow for fleet action to take place.

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  • $\begingroup$ Could communicating to the "past" be used as a feature rather than a bug? Transfer authority between admirals in different reference frames to help you out think the enemy? $\endgroup$ – Deolater Aug 24 '16 at 15:22
  • $\begingroup$ The issue is which reference frame do you use, and of course the enemy has the same ability if they have FTL communications as well. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Aug 24 '16 at 22:32
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Nothing beats the experience of being there

Even if you have uninterrupted FTL capabilities, there would be a lot that you just can't see, feel, hear, experience. Your ships would need so many sensors and so many automatons, that you would still be "crewing" them, even if from afar. But you wouldn't get the tactile experience signifying trouble or allowing your "gut" to win the day.

It's the same reason our multi-million dollar fighters aren't remote controlled. Drones are one thing - relatively inexpensive, limited mission scope - but a fighter or a bomber or a recon aircraft needs a human pilot to be truly effective.

You don't want your tech to fall into enemy hands

What if your signal gets jammed or the generators are taken off line or the engines fail? What if the enemy has a stealth technology you don't possess and they manage to board your ship or disable it from the outside? Sure you could post killbots throughout the ship, but what turns them on, or off for that matter? Regardless, if you've lost or are losing control, how do you stop the enemy from towing your tech off the battlefield? You might be able to initiate a self destruct - assuming you know you need to and have the capability - then again, maybe not. When the self destruct is manual and a human hand can push it, there aren't any "maybes".

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Despite these aliens's technological advancement, they may not have a place to call home. That is to say that either they expended their home planets resources to such an extent that it is no longer habitable, or they lack some crucial resource (perhaps required for building the machines used for FTL travel etc) and are on the hunt for pastures green. Furthermore, in a universe with faster than light travel, there really is no where to hide. Both sides "residential ships" would be very vulnerable to attacks from ships which can travel faster than you can see them coming. The only effective way to remain safe was to weaponize all manned vehicles.

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  • $\begingroup$ But why can't they have "residential ships" where they live (and control the drones from), and separate ships for battle? $\endgroup$ – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Aug 24 '16 at 12:05
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    $\begingroup$ In a universe with faster than light travel, there really is no where to hide. Both sides "residential ships" would be very vulnerable to attacks from ships which can travel faster than you can see them coming. The only effective way to remain safe was to weaponize all manned vehicles. $\endgroup$ – Tom Doyle Aug 24 '16 at 12:15
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent, you could (and perhaps should) add that to the answer. +1 if you do. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Aug 24 '16 at 12:16
  • $\begingroup$ Edited. As suggested :) $\endgroup$ – Tom Doyle Aug 24 '16 at 12:21
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    $\begingroup$ And +1 as promised :) $\endgroup$ – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Aug 24 '16 at 12:21
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Interstellar defense is difficult

Both militaries are armed with relatively-small, (compared to a city or planet, at least) fast-moving (FTL-capable) ships. And while they can field thousands of such ships, that's likely not enough ships to effectively blockade a planet or solar system.

In fact, with the material requirements to build such ships, it's likely that any particular solar system would be unable to produce enough ships to do so. Gathering resources from other systems has the result of needing to protect those systems as well to prevent tactical disruption of your fleet-building efforts and eradication of any mining colonies.

This means their colonies and homeworlds are soft targets for whatever population-killing attacks the other side wishes to muster. (Starting with ramming an unmanned ship at FTL speeds directly into the opposition's homeworld/sun and scaling up.)

Given the above, the two sides have presumably resorted to 'Mutually Assured Destruction' tactics, with each craft manned to ensure that they can continue to battle their opponents even with ground control glassed over.

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Something like this happens in Stephen Baxter's "Exultant", and the reason given is kinda philosophical: if it's drones that do all your fighting, all your winning, all your losing, all your dying, then in what sense is it YOUR war? How are the victories YOURS? Without the human (or whatever biological species) being physically involved in the battle, then, well, you're basically just a Robot Wars competitor.

And this need not be a concern that only troubles the philosophy professors back on the homeworld. It can be intentional social engineering / propaganda. "Supporting the troops" gives the population back home an emotional connection to the war that they otherwise wouldn't have. And yes, on the one hand that can be a bad thing if you're shipping people home in body bags to grieving widows and children, but on the other hand it can be a good thing if, as Plutarch wrote of the Pyrrhic War:

the Roman camp was quickly and plentifully filled up with fresh men, not at all abating in courage for the loss they sustained, but even from their very anger gaining new force and resolution to go on with the conflict

And then you've got all the possible technical reasons other people have brought up: someone to work the ship if comm jamming happens, an emergency store of Adam & Eve settlers, etc.

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Honour, religion or philosophy

All irrational, but all reasons which have been used in history to go to war. If the participants are this irrational, then they may well also be irrational in terms of how they fight their wars.

More likely though:-

Because the people are on the move

Other answers have said "put the pilots somewhere safe". This assumes there is somewhere safe. Planets tend not to move around very much, and tend to be hard to defend (targetted asteroid strike being the obvious weapon of choice, as per numerous fictional sources). If you want to keep your people safe, the only real way is to emulate the WH40K Eldar and live on a colony ship/fleet. Or perhaps you're emulating Battlestar Galactica and escaping a first-strike attack which destroyed your homeworld. Either way, people are in the fleets because that's where those people are now living.

Of course they wouldn't be in the individual little fighters - if you've got instant comms, those would always be drones. But the major colony ships are likely to be full of people.

Probably there'll be a fleet of colony ships rather than one big one. If FTL drives and other kit are relatively cheap, your typical ship is likely to be village-sized, complete with recreational facilities and families (because this is a community, not just a barracks for an army). If it's relatively expensive, the break-even point is likely to have more people per ship.

The corollary to this is that a smaller ship is likely to have less defensive capabilities, because they don't have the resources to buy, build, maintain or man them. So smaller ships are more likely to get into trouble. But if you're more spread out then the fleet as a whole are less likely to be wiped out.

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  • $\begingroup$ Honor and religion were the first two that sprang to my mind. You can go a variety of different directions with those two. $\endgroup$ – Ghotir Aug 25 '16 at 15:56
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Because Meat can improvise

Think about Apollo 13. The spacecrafts electrical power system was completely crippled, and with no power to the nav computers was a dead ship. However, Apollo 13 had backup computers running on an auxilary power system - By which I mean a human crew that eats food. The ship might have been dead but the crew was alive, kicking, and highly motivated to get home.

There's also the lesser known case of Apollo 11, where one of the lunar landers electrical switches was damaged. Without that switch, the Ascent engine could not fire, and the LEM would be stuck on the surface. Again, meat saved the day - by jamming the metal tip of a pin into the broken switch, and completing the circuit.

So, while your alien crew might be in a reactor-dead ship, its engineers will still be alive and breathing, working tirelessly to get it back online. Which brings me to another point.

It probably won't be a fight to the death

On the ocean, you don't need to sink a ship to remove it from the fight. Consider the battle between the HMS Hood and the Bismarck, or more importantly their supporting ships the HMS Prince of Wales and Prinz Eugen. During the battle, the Prince of Wales took severe damage and suffered multiple turret malfunctions, forcing her to retreat. Even though it wasn't destroyed, it was effectively no longer a factor for months after.

In fact, destroying the HMS Hood is probably what led to the Bismarcks own destruction - The entire royal navy dropped what it was doing to avenge the Hood. Had the hood been mauled and retreated, there wouldn't have been the same bloodlust to find the Bismarck.

Now consider the USS Cole. A single powerful, point-blank bomb blast crippled all of the ships systems, and was so extensively damaged it needed to be hauled home by a salvage vessel. Were it a battle, sinking the Cole would've been a waste of time and ammunition.

So, like the title says, it won't be a fight to the death. To win a battle you just have to smack your enemy around until they either run away or stop moving. In the event you cripple them, you have a golden opportunity to salvage some intact-ish enemy technology and intelligence. Also, if you're in an FTL setting and don't want to have some kind of warp-disruptor, there's very little you can do to keep the enemy from running away when things go south.

Between Meats ability to improvise and the reality that you don't need to atomize your enemy to get rid of them, it makes sense to have a crewed vessel.

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    $\begingroup$ Allow me to take your idea one step further. You want to conquer other civilizations? You want to send AI machines to do that job? If the machines don't want everything that you want, and aren't capable of everything of which you are capable, then you'll have to go along for the ride so that you can "improvise." On the other hand, if the machines feel the need to conquer as strongly as you feel it, and if the machines are as capable of conquest as you, then guess what? They probably will conquer you before they fly half way across the galaxy to maybe conquer somebody else. $\endgroup$ – Solomon Slow Aug 24 '16 at 19:16
  • $\begingroup$ But is meat better than a drone who can be physically there and instantaneously connected to meat? If you have robots that can do whatever humans do and are directly and instantly connected to human reasoning, this reasoning doesn't hold oxygen. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 24 '16 at 23:57
  • $\begingroup$ Your first point is good but the question specifies that there are robots as dexterous as humans so there's no reason why they can't jam a metal tip of a pin into a broken switch (also by remote control). +1 for the second point though. $\endgroup$ – colmde Aug 25 '16 at 9:20
  • $\begingroup$ @NathanielFord There's still the issue of jamming. That and to fix your complicated starship, you're proposing an even more complicated (and thus delicate/prone to failure) piece of machinery. What repairs the repair droids? Maybe you could make them out of some multi-purpose self-repairing material composed of countless molecular-level machines... You know, Meat. $\endgroup$ – UIDAlexD Aug 25 '16 at 13:42
  • $\begingroup$ @UIDAlexD I dunno. No reason drones are so complicated to fix. Also, you can have replacements instead of just repairs. Hard to replace meat. I also don't buy that space ships aren't more fragile than seas ships: lack of breathable oxygen makes that analogy a reach. $\endgroup$ – Nathaniel Ford Aug 25 '16 at 17:47
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A good example of the answer to this question is based in Earths current militarizes. Even though leading nations have ability to for instance make fully unmanned fighting aircraft. Man still has a human ego to contend with. Man can not accept at this time that release of control to AI is the next step in evolution.
We have pilots that must take the fight to the enemy win or lose, of course they are trained to be or at least think that they are invincible (some times referred to as John Wayne mentality).

Of course to believe any society that achieves the levels of interstellar travel and communications as you mention would still fight wars themselves or send out their peoples for such activity would likely not exist as they would have the ability for cyborgs or humanoid construction to handle dangerous tasks.

On the other hand remote controlled items can be disrupted or taken over. So some tmes you just need to do things yourself!

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  • $\begingroup$ Ai is ruled out in the question but the second half of your answer is ok. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 23 '16 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ True but AI is an elusive term in today's world. You can or could open up the discussion on what AI really is or isn't. There are cruise missiles that have a remote control ability but pretty much are set and forget weapons. They have self defense, self guiding, and targeting, even alternate target selection. Today we have computers that are able to compete against human thought and intelligence but lack the one part of self awareness of a true AI. But yet are still needing a remote controlled purpose, so where is the line drawn? $\endgroup$ – spicetraders Aug 23 '16 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ Sure, I was just pointing it out. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Aug 23 '16 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ Man will always fight his own battles until the end of time, regardless of technical prowess. That is the ultimate ego. $\endgroup$ – Steve Mangiameli Aug 23 '16 at 20:40
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Maybe it is not for technological reasons?

So just because your race is technologically advanced, doesn't mean philosophy has changed. They maybe holding onto archaic ideologies such as personal honour, or glory in battle?
Or maybe they feel that by controlling a drone in a remote location will cause the to become desensitised and to ready to pull the trigger? This is fine in deep space while fighting other drone craft, but could become problematic closer to inhabited planets.

Is it a case that the pilots are convicted criminals and forcing them to fight is a way to deal with over crowding in prisons? (Cliché, I know.)

Could it be a right of passage? Not to be on a battleship persay, but to spend time in space, traveling between colonies, navigating your own way. Now because of the war, that journey is on a warship. Could it be the start of a new tradition and the reason why one side won't surrender? If they do, they will deprive the next generation of the right to prove themselves in battle?

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Hacking: Because maybe the more effective way for war is hacking enemy warships but that cannot be done through Handwave-space because require "wire-jamming" or regular EM-transmission. Warships are expensive if you can hack them then you can re-use them. Hacking can be largely automated but require someone on the terminal.

Economic: Losing your ship is basically going to kill you economically so people prefer to stay on their ships.

Overpopulation: People gets advantages by living in ships simply because living elsewhere is more expensive. (Actually much people live in campers without a fixed home).

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Maintainance crew

For bigger ships: Who changes the oil? Who fixes the broken electric cables? Who refills the weapons? Remember those ships are far away and it costs fuel/money to get them back and it is not possible when the calbe of the motor needs to be fixed.

Limited bandwidth

So you managed to produce robots which can do this do, you need sensors that transmits the data to your base and the commands back. Because of the limited AI it must be controlled by humans/aliens. The transmitted amount of data would be too much.

Communication interruptions

The communication might be interrupted when flying through asteroid fields or by jamming enemies.

Leaking your location

The enemy has sensors to detect the location of communication. You have a hard game to play in war when the enemy knows all your ships positions. Most tactics would not work and he knows where the ships are or where they are not.

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding the first point: From OP: "They have robots that are at least as dexterous as living beings, and can be remotely controlled perfectly by a living being in another location. (Through some Virtual Reality-suit or something.) Such a robot could perform repair work, etc." Regarding the other points: fair enough, +1. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Aug 24 '16 at 16:51
  • $\begingroup$ LOL, I forgot the actual vote until now. $\endgroup$ – Revetahw says Reinstate Monica Aug 24 '16 at 17:43
  • $\begingroup$ Radio silence is the only killer argument (in the whole thread), imo. Radio silence is indispensable. Unfortunately, handwave transmissions are immediately receivable all over the universe, and their source easy to locate. $\endgroup$ – Peter - Reinstate Monica Aug 25 '16 at 10:34
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Politics

In order for the general populace to socially accept and support the ongoing war, you need something to keep them vested in the war, especially when things are generally going well for said general populace. Something that makes it real for them, despite not being on the lines or (usually) in any real danger or threat. A perceived threat, in other words, something for them to feel outraged about. This tends to be provided in the form of:

Casualties

A few deaths here or there are just the thing to outrage a general populace. Especially if those deaths happen to be amongst one's political or social opponents so that you can take advantage of the resulting swell of support, and power vacuums. The brave beings in uniform who are sacrificing for your freedom is often good for a generation or three. If you manage to pick the oppositions Dudley-Do-Right, they may still sacrifice themselves for the greater good, despite knowing your intentions.

Martyrs

A sub-set of casualties, getting just the right person killed off will often shift the entire political and social mindset of an entire generation or two. Just be certain you leave that bit of uniform from the enemy officer where it will definitely be found.

Terrorists

Another sub-set of casualties, When the former two aren't working, bringing a little mayhem home to the masses will often make your point. Nothing gets people worked up in support for your cause like offing a few of their own with the enemy to take the blame for it. Some even let the actual enemy into non-critical areas to let them enemy actually do the deed for you.

Strategy

On the flip side, if all the slaved robotic units are controlled out of crewed centralized C&C units, then those units become the prime targets. Take out a C&C unit and an entire squadron or battalion may go inoperative.

Technology

Maybe the remote system causes unavoidable feedback? So even if the battle is taking place far far away, the destruction of the robotic avatar causes some sort of psychic shock, from which they need to recover (if they can) before returning to the lines of battle. Perhaps only a limited sub-set of the population is 'compatible' with the communications and control devices. If the feedback is severe enough, then perhaps crewed ships are preferable for all combat-live situations, and it is only safe to used remotely controlled units for purely non-combat, or even non-dangerous situations.

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Decision Making

Particularly given that:

Artificial Intelligence is not achieved. They have extremely advanced computers, but not truly (meaning creative, reasoning, inventive) intelligent ones.

So you've got good computers, but no true AI. The implies that if the drone runs into a situation it hasn't been explicitly programmed for, it's going to either 1) make a suboptimal/wrong decision, 2) make no decision, or 3) attempt to communicate with an organic operator so that they can make a decision.

The first two outcomes are bad (with the first being potentially catastrophic if the wrong decision is something like 'start nuking friendly cities from orbit; it's the only way to be sure'), and the third doesn't work well even with instantaneous communication (especially if the instantaneous communication mechanism has a finite maximum throughput), as for an organic operator probably nothing is as effective as actually being there and seeing everything with your own optical receptors. A program that can't solve the situation for itself may also be unable to solve the problem of what information is actually relevant and important to solving the situation.

Resistance to Hijacking

If the drones can respond to instructions from an external operator, which I think is something they essentially must be able to do in the absence of true AI, they're vulnerable to technological hijacking. Your enemy doesn't have to fight your drones, they just have to reverse-engineer your communications mechanism or covertly take over one of your comm stations while your drone army is out looking for the enemy army. Then they turn your drone army against you, and it's game over pretty quick (unless it turns out that organics are actually superior fighters after all...meaning that in either case the drones were a bad idea to begin with).

At least with traditional ships piloted by organic crews, the only way to take one over is to actually face it in combat, overwhelm its defenses, and subjugate or kill its crew members. All while preventing them from doing something inconvenient, like rigging their ship to explode and take your boarding party and half your moon out with them.

Resistance to Damage/Increased Autonomy

Similarly, if the drones are reliant upon external operators, you've now given your entire army a very obvious weak point. All your enemy has to do is come up with a way of disabling (or jamming) the communications subsystem, and the drone is robbed of all external input and left to rely on its advanced but non-sentient computer programming. Making it still potentially dangerous, but also potentially easy to then completely disable by exploiting some flaw in the program (may be hard for your enemy to find, but it only takes one). Then they can gut your drones for material, or perhaps even reprogram them and send them back against you.

With embedded organics each ship is able to operate autonomously, even if communications are disrupted or disabled for extended periods of time. They can be cut off while continuing to pursue their mission independently, which is something that appears to have even actually happened.

Fear of Losing

The moment you go for a purely technological solution to warfare, you're basically declaring "whoever is smarter will win". It doesn't matter which side has the strongest warriors, the most committed populace, the largest army, or the best strategy. The entire war will come down to "am I smart enough to design and implement a technology that my opponent will be unable to crack". If they crack your technology, you lose. If they manage to field technology that you can't crack, you lose.

If both sides are about evenly matched technologically, maybe neither one wants to take the risk of making the war entirely about who can be the first to break the other's technology. Maybe they feel they'd be better off fighting a more traditional and/or multi-pronged fight, where being the smartest is still important but not an automatic "we win the war" scenario.

A pure drone army is basically an "all the eggs in one basket" kind of gambit. That may be a tough sell, particularly if either side is democratic.

You Can Still Have Drones

People are useful for the operational decision-making, and harder to subvert through technological means. But drones are small, numerous, expendable, and not burdened by having to devote significant space, energy, and mass to superfluous luxuries like life-support. Any ship that's capable of supporting a sizeable organic crew can also carry a large complement of drones.

So why not have both? Use the organics for the decision-making and operational concerns, and have them man the big weapons-systems, and have fleets of drones that can be deployed for things like point-defense, skirmishing with enemy warcraft, mining resources, search-and-rescue, and similar tasks. Drones could certainly be effective at all of those things without true AI, and with the organics on the ship only needing to direct them at a high level like "mine that asteroid" or "intercept that fighter group". Then you get a lot of the benefits of a drone army, while mitigating some of the most significant weaknesses of an all-drone approach.

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There's a very unpleasant and powerful weapon out there: maybe self-replicating nanobots that slowly but inescapably turn the target into mush. The details don't matter, but it kills you and hurts the whole time.

Treaties are in place forbidding the use of this weapon, but no one is going to care if you use it on a bunch of unintelligent robots. Fielding a drone army would just be a waste of money, because the forbidden weapon is more effective than anything else available.

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There is the possibility that these aliens bodies and minds are so incredibly advanced they can actually control the ship (by plugging into it, steering manually with their tentacles,highly advanced interface,etc.) and calculate its movements faster than their computers. If they can send messages faster than the speed of light maybe they think faster than the speed of light?(Because that makes sense... ._____.)They could even be the ships because they are that just that cool. Or the ship that is being manned needed to be manned for some other reason such as colonizing a planet. If they were carrying there entire species on a massive carrier it wouldn't make sense to control it remotely when the pilots are already on board. But in the latter situation the small fighters would really have no reason to be manned.

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Psychology

Assuming the enemy don't have drones too... Maybe they were fighting with drones but found they lacked a certain charisma/psychological advantage.

For example, imagine a ship outgunning an enemy and negotiating surrender via visual communication like in Star Trek. They may have found that the enemy responded more favourably when they knew they were surrendering to a sentient crew rather than an empty ship. Maybe the enemy tended not to take demands / threats / persuasion seriously when they knew they were talking to some coward hundreds of light years away through an empty, soulless, robot ship.

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Bandwidth.

Yes, you've got FTL comms, but you're underestimating the sheer amount of traffic that you'd need to run a drone. Imagine each drone has a 1080p camera - actually, 2 for binocular vision. Now throw in telemetry, etc. Multiply this up for every single drone, remote system and interface and you're not talking about a warship anymore - it's a broadcast ship which can't hide, can't fight and spends all it's energy beaming information back home.

AKA, a target.

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The simplest is sheer price. Handwavium FTL transmitters may exist, but that doesn't make it economic to equip them on a million warships.

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Frank Herbert's Dune-verse had a good example of this.

Due to the Butlerian Jihad (a machine uprising), true AI had been not only outlawed, but almost treated as a sin. While battle computers and robots were used to assist in calculations and aid in training, they weren't allowed (by law and by social convention) to be truly intelligent.

This was so prevalent that an entire caste of humans arose: the Mentats. Mentats were trained (and used special drugs) to enhance their analytical abilities and replace computers.

If you have a religion/philosophy/legal/historical reason to never use a "true" AI - or, at least, keep it "out of the loop" in a life-or-death (even of an enemy) situation - then you use people (human or otherwise).

... which then gets back to quite a few of the other answers dealing with communications lag, hacking, etc. to show why remote control might not be the best answer.

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There is no honor in killing with drones. There is much honor in defeating opponents under a self imposed handicap. The most honor comes from destroying a heavily armed and armored opponent with bare hands (or other appendages as appropriate).

Their ships are well armored but undergunned,, because they prefer to acquire honor by boarding and destroying the crew personally. You can't do that if you destroy the enemy ship. Those seeking the highest honors will enter battle without weapons and as near naked as possible. Those who just want a minimal amount of honor will use light body armor and melee weapons. Ranged weapons are considered a necessary evil when dealing with honorless foes, and are reserved for cowards and criminals.

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Wire the armaments, firecontrol, navigation and other systems directly into peoples brains. The actual people in inertia tanks in the ships are hardwired into their roles. With the odd assault force of heavily armed infantry or whatever also dormant with brains wired into their assault vehicles/weapons/armour/whatever.

Basically this gives you Artificial Intelligence systems, without the 'Artificial'.

If you did it right you could even have them in the missiles and bombs.

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The scenario being posited here is essentially the premise of the film Surrogates

In that scenario, most of the US at least are living through remote-operated android bodies. their physical bodies stay at home.

The problems at the personal level tend towards the health hazards of staying basically in a chair all day, getting poor nutrition because caring for their own bodies is more or less an afterthought at intervals through the day.

There is also a fairly substantial contingent of people who believe (correctly IMHO) that this lifestyle is unnatural and unhealthy and are lobbying to scale back and get rid of the Surrogates.

There is even a sequence where we see US military surrogates, nicknamed " G.I. joes" because of their more toylike appearance. no need for fancy things like human faces or fingernails or realistic skin or hair when you're operating disposable cannon-fodder.

there's a wonderful sequence where the main character, sans-surrogate body is walking down a street full of surrogates. They're inhuman, intimidating and far more powerful and beautiful than him.

Ultimately the plot centers around the Human-Factor, but the technical problems of the Surrogates are quite relevant I think.

They have a centralised point of failure (because the plot demands one), they have bio-feedback which results in death when its safeguards are bypassed.

The general neglect of the user's health is also a huge issue. but on the other hand the surrogates themselves are vulnerable to things that a human body would simply ignore. such as EMP.

It's a useful point of comparison I think.

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