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Lets say humanity has colonized the solar system. We don't have FTL, but we can get pretty damn close to light speed. Now, lets say that a few planets decide that they want to break off. The main group of planets is not pleased with this, and a civil war break out between the two. Ship-to-Ship combat, boarding parties, ETC. Now, Lets say that everyone in both forces is equipped with an assault rifle, a sidearm, a bulletproof shield, and a 2' long blade. Would said blade and shield be practical in a time where compact, high velocity projectile weapons are abundant?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Aify, Hohmannfan, Mołot, Skye, Green Oct 18 '16 at 14:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    $\begingroup$ See "Dune" by Frank Herbert. Great detail about why swords are needed. $\endgroup$ – SRM Oct 17 '16 at 23:40
  • $\begingroup$ At the speeds that spaceships are going, the energy release of dropping a box of kitty litter in the path of an oncoming spacecraft could be enough to destroy the enemy ship. Boarding is highly unlikely. If you do need to defend something like a space station, then shotguns, grenade launchers and assault rifles similar to the ones we have today would suffice, assuming the enemy isn't just going to destroy it with a nuclear weapon. $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Oct 17 '16 at 23:56
  • $\begingroup$ Suppose Scotty gets over excited and unintentionally beam you to a wrong ship unfortunately it is ur pissed mother-in-law's... while waiting for rescue you might as well kill some time inside the engine room. $\endgroup$ – user6760 Oct 18 '16 at 0:53
  • $\begingroup$ Are personal kinetic barriers a thing? Mass Effect justifies the use of blades as not moving fast enough to trigger the kinetic barrier, and thus nullifying it in close quarters. $\endgroup$ – Leon7C Oct 18 '16 at 1:06
  • $\begingroup$ The fact that your top upvoted answer is just a long list of clarifications indicates that this question is far too broad. While it was closed as "opinion-based" it could easily have been closed as "too broad". $\endgroup$ – Green Oct 18 '16 at 14:14
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This is going to be a loooong answer.

As always, weapons develop and adapt according to the environments and purposes they are used for. I will leave aside the question if boarding combat is ever a possibility in your world. If it ain't likely, it doesn't necessarily mean that different rules will apply.

In order to understand what weaponry is going to be used in what way, first we need to look at the environment and potential armor.

Environment

Boarding combat will take place close to or inside space ships, on moons, asteroids etc.. there will most probably be no air, or at least potentially no air, if we assume space combat happened before combat. Also, there is going to be some radiation issues, heat problems and a lot of debris flying around. Also, combat might happen in zero-g.

So, our space suits are going to be protecting against: radiation, heat, vacuum (probably even self-sealing), and small debris parts. You will probably have magnetic boots to anchor to the ground. And the suit is going to be armored as good as possible.

By the way, your space ship is usually not an issue. If it was made out of paper (or any other material that cannot withstand some bullets), your ship would have surrendered by the first sight of an enemy that can throw pebbles at them. Or would have been long destroyed by space debris and small asteroids. Your space ship hull will be self-sealing or resistant to bullets.

So, how well-armored can a space suit be?

Here's the problem: if you have shields that can resist bullet impacts, i see no reason why you can't armor your suit with that. I would even think it was absolutely advisable to do so, to protect against debris while boarding the vessel and inside later on. So if your shields are bullet proof, your armor is probably bullet proof, too. Yikes.

Why should i use melee weeapons? I got this rifle here...

If a soldier can, he will usually choose a firearm over a melee weapon for obvious reasons. So why should there even be a widespread use of melee weapons? If your firearms can't penetrate armor at all, there is no need to have them in the first place. So we must assume that at least a well-placed shot to the visor or a weak part of the armor can cause damage. And we must also assume that in order to penetrate space suit armor at all, you need a big calibre.

That brings some problems. In zero-g, firing a rifle with enough "punch" might send you flying through the room, or even away from the space ship / asteroid / moon. It will most probably not make you fly into deep space, but being "adrift" for a few seconds makes you an easy target. It can also throw you off "balance" while gliding through a ship in free fall.

You solve that problem by anchoring your magnetic boots to the ground before firing. So firearms are only really effective when on a metal surface, anchored and therefore immobile.

But can you charge an enemy while being immobile? You can't.

And this might be where melee weapons come in. You grab a heavy shield, much heavier than the usual stuff, send it towards the enemy with some initial momentum, and cover behind it while it flies towards your enemy. Maybe it's even self-propelled, so enemy fire won't stop it. Once you reach the enemy, you put all your faith in your armor (because the other guys will take a few shots at you) while you throw yourself at them, hacking and slashing at...

Their armor. That can stop bullets.

Space swords vs. armor

The real problem is that we already noted that space suit armor can stop high-calibre bullets.

It will stop your sword/axe/space viking halbert. A knight with a lance, mounted on a horse, the pinnacle, the most sufficient deliverer of energy the medieval ages ever produced, had roughly the same kinetic impact force as a .50 BMG bullet. (only that the knight could never transfer it to the target, while the bullet can, so his effective force is much lower). So by almost no means can my space axe have more kinetic energy as a .50 bullet. It could be very sharp, yes. But so can my bullets. If i can make mono-nuclear blade edges, i can make REALLY pointy bullets.

So i can see no way how my sword would be able to penetrate the space suit armor my rifle cannot penetrate.

Still, there need to be weak points for joints, visor etc.. and your melee weapons need to be aimed against them. But melee weapons will also throw you off-balance if used while in free fall, and might also send you tumbling if you are unlucky.

I think the only effective way of using them would be similar to the historical "harnischfechten" (Wikipedia). It was a school of fighting between two armored opponents in platemail. And it's more like wrestling than hacking and slashing. That might actually work.

Summary

I love space viking combat. i like space axes and that stuff. I really do. But i would always prefer a full-auto-space-shotgun or a glue gun. And carry a long knife or a short sword with me for emergencies...

Edit: Also, melee weapons can be useful in areas where i cannot anchor myself to use firearms, or where bullets might actually cause significant damage, e.g. in a magazine or close to the reactor or a sensitive computer...

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  • $\begingroup$ This was honestly very helpful, and quite entertaining to read! $\endgroup$ – CaptClockobob Oct 19 '16 at 2:09
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Without the element of surprise wouldn't the assault rifle and sidearm be pretty useless against a bulletproof shield in the hands of someone who knows how to use it? In this case wouldn't it almost always boil down to melee combat, since guns run out of ammo but shields don't?

Would you risk firing a gun in a spaceship where you could kill yourself due to ricochet, puncturing a fuel line, or breaking some mysterious piece of technology that keeps the ship from going kaboom? Would you want to get in a gunfight in engineering or on the bridge? Once you take the ship how will you pilot it if you have significantly damaged the bridge, engineering, or blown yourself up?

What about stealth? Can a boarding party get onto your ship by cloaking their ship, hacking your security, teleporting aboard, or through some kind of deception. If so do you really want to fire a gun that announces "here we are" or do you quietly start knifing people (or employ some other method of silent death)?

How tight is space on your ship? Do you even have room to swing a 2' blade or are you better of with a something shorter and made for stabbing? How useful is your gun (or any projectile weapon) if the ship does not have long, straight, wide hallways or big open spaces? If there isn't enough room for more than 1 or 2 people to walk side by side, does numeric superiority mean anything since the people in the back can't shoot without hitting their own boarding party? Assuming you have ships of different sizes and configurations, you might have to employ different weapons and strategies when boarding.

If you have technology to build starships that fly at almost the speed of light, why would humans fight at all? Don't you have killer nano-bots or remotely manned drones? Or is human life so cheap that you don't mind sending non-essential crew (or people who ticked you off) through the meat grinder?

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  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to the site, David. This seems to be a really long comment (too long for comments), rather than an answer. If you have this many questions, I would suggest going to Worldbuilding Chat to talk them over with the OP, then posting an answer incorporating the feedback. $\endgroup$ – Frostfyre Oct 18 '16 at 3:30
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    $\begingroup$ @Frostfyre I don't think it's a bad answer. Many of these questions are answers. "Can people teleport onto the ship in your world?" is an answer, as it points out that if they can, then killing people in their sleep with knives is a workable plan. $\endgroup$ – J. Doe Oct 18 '16 at 7:44
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In a previous question, I recall the conclusion that kinetic, projectile weapons are hardly likely to get phased out. This means that any such weapon is almost always going to require an ammo source, which is very likely to be finite. The possibility of running out of ammo is one compelling reason for any combat unit to always have a melee weapon close at hand.

A short blade also has many practical, non-combat uses such as cutting lengths of rope (or through doors if you have a laser blade or similar), land-mine detection, or maybe even forming temporary footholds in a sheer wall. The usefulness of a short length of hard, sharp material is not to be underestimated.

Also, in a sufficiently advanced environment, something low-tech like a steel dagger could give one the element of surprise. For instance, imagine that an enemy's ship is equipped with a black-box tech that somehow kills off the magnets in your nifty hand-held railgun. Lucky for you, you have a steel dagger which no damping signal in the universe is going to affect! Stab.

In short, I imagine that any hardened combat veteran in your universe is going to want to have a short blade or two on hand, but it may not be part of standard field equipment. The shield is very likely to be replaced by tougher armour.

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I'll be quick with this one.

Ineffective Measures

People have suggested some ineffective means of dealing with boarders. Really, if you plan to open an airlock, they'll just drain the oxygen from the parts of the ship they are boarding, putting you at risk of being without air if you didn't arm for combat. If you throw in gas... people already have very sophisticated contained environments called spacesuits.

No Guns

As has been pointed out, if the ship is delicate, you don't want to be firing large guns. If futuristic guns necessary to pierce (power)armour have some restrictions like earlier guns, like long reload times, limited ammo, or so much power that they're a danger to the ship, melee weapons become a much more preferable scalpel for dealing with your foes. If it is a very close quarters environment with tight turns, guns won't be any great advantage over a tomahawk.

(Trivia: As a point of interest, a good reason to remove the oxygen is to prevent your guns making noise and deafening yourself in that very enclosed environment, if you have big guns for dealing with power armour.)

It was mentioned that a bayonet could be used, and this is true, a bayonet is a good addition to a rifle. However, it is not equal to a dedicated melee weapon. If you have a bayonet, no ammo, and they have a spear, you are dogfood.

Shield

Yeah, decent idea. Like the ballistic shields SWAT sometimes uses. Not sure where people get the idea those are so useless. You will have to decide Whether you want a rather unwiedly shield like the one I mention, or something more melee-friendly, just depending on what the greater threat is.

Grenades

Oh, and much, much more effective than guns and melee weapons in indoor fighting, the grenade. Nothing beats these for clearing rooms. The problem with these is that if you want to avoid damaging the ship and don't want shrapnel floating around. Also remember that, if the atmosphere is drained, there will be no gas explosion, but there will be shrapnel.

Hope this was helpful. No offence to anyone's ideas, but I had to hammer this out in a hurry.

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The legends of galactic heroes anime, was a galaxy with thousands of spaceships fighting in a similiar fashion as WW1 line formations. When boarding happened they nullified the use of laser weaponry by expelling the seffle particle, an odorless and invisible to the naked eye particle which erupted by laser weaponry and without the need for oxygen. Which acted as a deterrent to both invader and defender from using their laser rifles. Thus intense and brutal melee combat.

Could use a similar method in your world.

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That's quite a lot of gear to be carrying. There's much more practical (less exciting) ways to get intruders off your ship. De-oxygenate compartments, pump-in some kind of knockout gas, or blow em out the airlock. I really doubt this kind of warefare would develop at this stage of technological advancement.

If you're looking to be practical it would be better to have wearable armor rather than carrying around a shield. Also you really just need a main weapon that can also be used as a blunting instrument for close encounters--bayonets could be a better option. Carrying around a bad ass sword/knife seems like a sexy idea, but I just don't see it being a viable option based on what you've provided about your universe.

If you're committed to this particular loadout you are going to have to develop some backstory on why this is going to be important e.g. traditions, warrior culture, etc. Or maybe it's dual purpose for some other more practical use.

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A couple variables to consider:

1- The fighting style of the enemy 2- The blades capabilities

The blade inst going to be in the hands of the front line force, but it should certainly be on the soldiers person where it is easy to access in case it is your last defense. The bullet proof shield/blade combo can still be a deadly threat to rifle carriers when in close quarters.

Guerilla warfare picked the Redcoats apart, so knowing how the enemy fights helps. The shield and blade would be more effective in a phalanx formation.

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