But in space, you don't need that doorway between the sea and the sky, because your "fighter" is operating in the same medium as the mothership. You don't need a flight deck. You just need a hatch, or maybe just a clamp that attaches the fighter to the hull if you don't mind leaving it outside. You don't need the big engines or the big elevated flight deck. And hence it doesn't make nearly so much sense to put all of your eggs in one basket. There might still be some efficiencies in grouping them together, but the fighters are probably more analogous to helicopters rather than F-18s. Almost every ship in the U.S. Navy carries a helicopter, or at least could temporarily. And before the emails start, Battlestar Galactica is one of my favorite TV shows.
FP: So it sounds like sci-fi space warfare is transplanted naval warfare, but a very mixed bag when it comes to realism?
CW: It is kind of a mixed bag, but "realistic" is a word that I have problems with. For a lot of these models, the assumption drives the conclusion. The ability of your laser cannon drives a lot of the problem. If you have a faster-than-light propulsion or communications capability, that also drives the problem. If you do a fairly simple extrapolation of current technology, what you end up with is space combat as sort of ponderous ballet with shots fired at long distance at fairly fragile targets where you have to predict where the target is going to be. You don't end up with space fighters. You don't end up with lots of armaments. On the other hand, if you look at the modern U.S. Navy and then go back 300 years, there are things now that would be incomprehensible to people back then. They would get some parts, but not others. Our scientific knowledge is greater than ever in human history, so there's a greater chance that we have a complete understanding of the physics in the future. But then again, you don't know what you don't know. I remember seeing a submarine book when I was in high school. A Jules Verne type of book, with a submarine with a sled that hung underneath the sub, with some kind of contact sensor to let you know if you were close to the bottom. They didn't know about sonar. It was a perfectly logical, perfectly clever solution to a problem. It also turned out to be perfectly wrong.
FP: What about ships turning in space like airplanes?
CW: Babylon 5 was closer in that it understood that there is no air in space and you don't bank. But even on that show, the ships would be under thrust, and then they decide to go back the way they come, they would spin around and almost immediately start going in the opposite direction. That doesn't work. They ignored the fact that acceleration is cumulative. But I do like that they can rotate in flight and fire sideways. Babylon 5 and the new Battlestar Galactica are far and away the best in trying to portray vector physics. There are a lot of problems with the way they do it, but I'm willing to give them an A for effort.