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In my world, modern humans are at war with elf-like humanoids who are harmed by the touch of iron and steel. So instead of modern tools they use bio-tech and elemental magic. The human army is trying to invade but one of the elves' defenses against invasion are swarms of attacking insects. The insects carry venom but their real weapons are the viruses they transmit to humans.

How would a human army prevent losing large numbers of its troops to insect-borne diseases?

Note: not all the insects carry the same viruses, but all the viruses, built by the elves, are deadly to humans and can spread quickly through the ranks of an invading army.

More information: the insects are a lot like mosquito as far as their form, but they attack in swarms of hundreds like Locusts or killer bees.

Human Technologies is about the same as ours.

Viruses: as I said earlier the insects carry several different viruses. This is done to prevent one simple vaccine from disarming your entire army. All the viruses are deadly and all the viruses spread quickly from person to person by touch. The elves do have airborne viruses, but they won't be using them at this stage of the invasion. Other than that there's nothing in common.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm not trying to sound funny but -- how about insect repellant? $\endgroup$ – NuWin Oct 3 '16 at 6:13
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    $\begingroup$ You say "modern humans". Should we assume that the technology is also modern (equating to present day)? $\endgroup$ – Snow Oct 3 '16 at 6:50
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    $\begingroup$ The insects here will also "bee" an important factor. I laughed at least. $\endgroup$ – Harry David Oct 3 '16 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryDavid they would have a real 'buzz' $\endgroup$ – Skye Oct 3 '16 at 12:39
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    $\begingroup$ +Nelson have already explained you can fight a war with just air power but you can't invade with air power alone some time you eventually going to need to put troops on the ground. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Oct 4 '16 at 2:51

16 Answers 16

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A good offence is a good defence; eliminating the insects, hence eliminating the diseases that come with them, will be your best bet here. And how, I hear you ask?

WITH FIRE!

Fire: who doesn't love its radiant warmth, its excessive smoke, its raw destructive power?! Insects. Thats who.

Flaming arrows, blazing trebuchet boulders - greek fire mortars even - as long as it is in a form that can be projected or easily spread, fire will do the trick for a few reasons...

Flames; bugs, like most creature on earth, don't particularly like them, and if they do decide to get to close will suffer dearly. Insects, though hearty beasts, are no more fire-resistant than a cheap nylon teeshirts; after a few moments of flame exposure, they will be nothing more than charcoal, stamped beneath the foot of the opposition.

Smoke; the faithful accomplice of fire, smoke is always one to create a scene; it alone acts as a notorious repellent for many species of animals and insects alike - such as bees, mosquitoes and some types of ant. A bug that chooses to enter the smoke will have their senses stifled and any flight capabilities, effectively defenceless and unable to attack.

Heat; can't handle it, then get out the kitchen, for it is this more than anything that will do the most damage to the insects arsenal. Airborne Viruses are intolerant to high temperatures, "dying" (speculation exists whether they are alive in the first place) if their heat threshold is exceeded, rendering them as harmless to the human invaders as the insects they were created inside (who would be dead. Plain and simply dead).

Fire: the all in one bug-buster!

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  • $\begingroup$ Fire will also play havoc with the Elves too, who will either have to focus their attention on putting blazes out, or risk their homes/lives being lost (they being made from organic and flammable materials... $\endgroup$ – Harry David Oct 3 '16 at 9:07
  • $\begingroup$ This is a very good answer as it is very unlikely that they would be able to create a insect is immune to fire $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Oct 3 '16 at 13:55
  • $\begingroup$ Scorched Earth. Great tactic regardless of the enemy. Just note the long term consequences of using large amounts of fire. $\endgroup$ – Anketam Oct 3 '16 at 20:15
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    $\begingroup$ @Anketam There's also long-term consequences to crafting bio-weapons a la extremely deadly viruses. So long as the enemies are throwing around their big weapons, so should we ;) $\endgroup$ – Thebluefish Oct 3 '16 at 21:23
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    $\begingroup$ @HarryDavid maybe it is. A chlorine elemental can cause some serious damage to the front lines :) $\endgroup$ – Loupax Oct 4 '16 at 7:09
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There are microcristal powders to combat insects (meant to be used vs ants) that clog the joints and work as like sandpaper so every movement by the insect harms itself until the joints stop working. Combine that with iron nanoparticles that are light enough to be blown by the wind. Use this mixture to bomb the battlezone than advance with protective gear including air filters and protection from the insects.

The above harms the insects in the area and the Elves but turns harmless fast enough to not cause lingering harm and/or prevent population by humans.

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    $\begingroup$ What you are looking for is Diatomaceous earth. It has 100% kill rate on non magical insects, but it is not fast. It relies on compromising the exoskeleton resulting in death by dehydration. Also safe to consume by humans, but as stated don't breath it. It is water soluble, so it can be easily countered by water. $\endgroup$ – Anketam Oct 3 '16 at 20:11
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Cordyceps

Cordyceps is a family of fungus's which naturally help prevent any one insect species from becoming too common.

They infect an insect which then feels the urge to get somewhere high and then the fungus sprouts from the body and spreads deadly spores that target the same species.

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You said modern tech humans, if we had modern tech and were facing someone using stinging insects, particularly if it's a monoculture of engineered insects then breeding/engineering a variant of Cordyceps to target the enemies insects would be a sensible option.

enter image description here enter image description here

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    $\begingroup$ The problem with this strategy it is a rather slow acting strategy, and in war the front lines can rapidly change and shift. Also it only helps to curb the number of insects, it does not stop all of them. Which in this scenario even one ant can cause mass damage. $\endgroup$ – Anketam Oct 3 '16 at 20:18
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Fly Spray

Same was as we do now, formulate an airborne mist that attacks the insect's vital functions. The likelihood is that technological advances will outstrip evolution, so it wouldn't take too long before the Elves primary weapons are disabled and they'll have to think of another strategy.

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    $\begingroup$ If the elves are breeding/engineering these insects with viruses that are deadly to humans, they might also be able to engineer out the allergy to bug spray. $\endgroup$ – Devsman Oct 3 '16 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ @Devsman -- good luck making organophosphonate-proof insects! $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Oct 3 '16 at 22:17
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Get a giant bug zapper or just get thousands of them around your base

Self-explanatory, it works against bugs here, it should work just as well against bugs there. (I was going to make a question on how to fight giant-mosquitos but I found it to be too easy) Bug zapper

Magic chain lightning

I'm gonna offer an alternative to Harry David's answer on fire. If your modern humans can use any form of magic(I'm assuming they can use some) then they should be able to use chain lightning. Get a few dozen mages on guard and any idiotic swarms trying to fly in gets fried. Of course, they could fly in discreetly. But then that's where your smoke and bug zappers come into play.

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  • $\begingroup$ I'm imagining the elves, palms to face, as they watch countless numbers of their insects goggle at the pretty lights. "Why do they have to be so stupid, steve... Steve?" But Steve is already running down to look at the pretty lights too... $\endgroup$ – Harry David Oct 4 '16 at 1:31
  • $\begingroup$ An elf named Steve. Palm to face $\endgroup$ – NuWin Oct 4 '16 at 7:00
  • $\begingroup$ You could have front-line troops just carry the zappers while you march straight to the enemy stronghold. $\endgroup$ – David Starkey Oct 4 '16 at 14:38
  • $\begingroup$ @Nuwin, :P yeah - "he's an odd one alright..." says mother. $\endgroup$ – Harry David Oct 5 '16 at 1:07
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Pheromone Traps

These can be set up to lure insects, namely the ones you don't want infecting you.

Whilst it may not be particularly useful on a battlefield, as there are many other smells to confound the one the insects need to detect, it can be used in small enclosed spaces, for example barracks.

Soldiers need to sleep, and insects can be released into an area at any time. It will help against the enemy catching the humans off-guard, and will be best utilized in protecting bases so that if the insects come to attack the humans on their home-turf, they will be lured to a specific area where they can then be easily neutralized.

It can also potentially be used near to the places these insects' breeding grounds. It can make male insects chase each other so that they do not breed with females, and allow successive generations to die out. Whilst the enemy can always produce more, it will be very expensive to do it manually instead of allowing them to breed naturally. Bankrupting the enemy is always a legitimate option.

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  • $\begingroup$ Why not collect the scents of the soldiers, through sweat or whatever, and put them in the traps? That way the bugs will fly toward the traps instead of the barracks, given the traps are closer of course. $\endgroup$ – Harry David Oct 4 '16 at 1:26
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You should consider the environmental conditions which those weaponized insectoids can tolerate.

Any protection worn by the non-elves would need to function much the same as a beekeeper's outfit: resistant to puncture by stings and chewing from the insects, and have no open seams through which they could enter.

As to the infectious microbes: how are they spread once they exit the stinger apparatus on an insect? Are they transmissible through air i.e. via dust and spittle? Touch? Or does it require open wounds, saliva, genital fluids, that sort of thing?

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The easiest solution to protect the soldier in the field would simply be heavy clothes with gloves and mosquito netting to cover the head and neck. Gloves would be connected to sleeves and netting would be a part of the hat and would be fastened to the collar. Pants would be connected to boots over thick stockings.

Smudge pots putting out smoke and insect repellent would help protect campsites and bases.

And having demonstrated that they are willing to engineer diseases tailored to wipe out humanity, it would be very easy to get public support for some "precision" nuking to wipe out this threat to the species.

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  • $\begingroup$ "mosquito netting" +1. Like, duh? ;) $\endgroup$ – Mazura Oct 7 '16 at 7:50
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Lasers!

As with so many of life's other problems, lasers provide a simple and effective solution. If killer insects are bothering your troops, simply set up a few laser defence perimeters around their encampment. Any insects flying within range will be targeted and destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Not only are lasers fun for all the family, but this technology exists (and works) today.

TED Talk - How to shoot down mosquito using a laser gadget

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  • $\begingroup$ Hmm. Insta-downvote without explanation. How friendly. $\endgroup$ – Richard Oct 3 '16 at 13:33
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    $\begingroup$ This probably won't end well: What If $\endgroup$ – Michael McGriff Oct 3 '16 at 19:43
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelMcGriff - It also fails the "skynet test" in a big way. If it can detect insects, what's to stop a malevolent AI turning up the juice and setting it to detect human eyeballs? $\endgroup$ – Richard Oct 3 '16 at 20:26
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Human Technologies is about the same as ours.

Air strikes and/or cruise missiles.

Seriously, you may have to reconsider the scope of your question, because why would you send ground troops in against a virus-laden army when you can drop laser guided bombs on them from a sealed metal tube travelling too high and fast to be bitten?

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  • $\begingroup$ Because the human do not want to destroy the land and all it resources. Because they have laws against genocide. Because if they target civilian then the elves would release biological weapons on human civilians. For the same reason why the US did not just nuke Vietnam. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Oct 3 '16 at 15:43
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure The US did use Agent Orange. It didn't cause genocide but it did cause severe health problems for generations. -- Just as effective as a nuke but less bodies. $\endgroup$ – NuWin Oct 3 '16 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ @BryanMcClure - all very good reasons and would certainly be good plot devices to avoid using my suggestion; however recent history should have shown that when a state has massively superior air power they will use it, infrastructure damage and civilian casualties notwithstanding. $\endgroup$ – Whelkaholism Oct 4 '16 at 11:00
  • $\begingroup$ @Whelkaholism In other words, "Close air support covers a multitude of sins", eh? $\endgroup$ – Martin Carney Oct 4 '16 at 20:42
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    $\begingroup$ I don't think they'd refrain from using airstrikes this way, especially when the enemy is using bioweapons. Bioweapons are so dangerous, that in those areas affected usually both the target and the whole area will be quarantined and burnt, so it can't spread. $\endgroup$ – Doomed Mind Sep 15 '17 at 10:01
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The technologies used to defend the population at large - and the army camps, etc - against insects, would be the same as we defend against mosquitoes in the real world.

So bug screens in windows and doors; mosquito nets around beds; fogging of populated areas; innoculations; and as others have said, bug spray.

The technologies used during combat would be the same as mosquitoes and bees; so gloves, and beekeepers' hats; and again the bug spray.

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Give standard issue tactical bug swatter to every solder

bug swatter

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  • $\begingroup$ Laugh out loud . Funniest answer so far. $\endgroup$ – Bryan McClure Oct 7 '16 at 1:11
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Instead of going head to head, one to one battle, use ranged weapons from a distance. Lowbowmen, ballistas, trebuchets and rockets would make a short work of the elves. If you use explosives, they'd be very helpful eradicating the elves entirely.

As for defense, use insect repellent (as suggested by NuWin). Also consider marching in military transport vehicles (for medieval times, use iron and wood cabins pulled by horses).

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  • $\begingroup$ I think you missed the point that the humans have modern tech comparable to today's, not medieval tech. $\endgroup$ – Martin Carney Oct 4 '16 at 20:43
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinCarney: That is why the medieval part was written in brackets. $\endgroup$ – Youstay Igo Oct 5 '16 at 4:01
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Just give everyone of your troops a slightly heavier and modified NBC suit and the insect problem is solved.

Now the real problem is that the troops need to return to the barracks, but it is not too difficult to make a sealed barracks and avoid the insect to enter it, you just need to copy the systems that are used in every factory that work with gold (and I suppose other precious materials) to recover also the dust.

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  1. "armor" - mosquitoes can't sting if they can't penetrate clothes (won't help against the virus, but that comes later)

  2. To command this swarm, there must be a command channel or signal of what to attack. If it is chemical, the chemical can be removed or a false scent can be planted. If it is electrical, similar disruption can occur.

  3. At an individual level the insect has to detect the target. Mosquitoes detect carbon dioxide and heat if I remember correctly. Similar to the swarm signal, there could be decoy CO2 traps (this is how mosquito traps work).

  4. Kill the insects where they live. They can't attack if they are dead.

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    $\begingroup$ Zombie Mosquitoes; can there be anything more frightening to the enemy? $\endgroup$ – Harry David Oct 5 '16 at 1:09
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Giant Fans

Light things are going to have a problem flying when they face a moderate headwind.

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