Why Walkers? Is there a hard sci-fi reason for walking vehicles?

March 22, 2011

I love cool toys. There are some exciting walker models produced in 15mm and, in principle, I’d love to add them to my Striker armory. Problem is do any of these babies actually make sense? Why would I deploy a walking vehicle when I could develop a tracked or wheeled vehicle for much cheaper?

Striker itself doesn’t accommodate walking vehicles but it is possible to crib the design elements from MegaTraveller and do a fusion-interp version. As I post my collection of vehicle stats, I’ll include the walkers that I have designed for fun. But I am talking about getting serious and actually buying some lead!

So then, how and why walkers? Do they even make sense?

When I think of walkers in sci fi cinema, five types come to mind (besides the fantastic Transformer types) :

  • All Terrain Armored Transport (AT-AT) [Star Wars]
  • All Terrain Scout Transport (AT-ST) [Star Wars]
  • Power Loader [Aliens]
  • Mitsubishi MK-6 Amplified Mobility Platform or AMP Suit [Avatar]
  • Kenbishi Standard Light Weight Tank – Multi-Ped “Crab Tank” [Ghost in the Shell Anime]

I suspect there are more but those are the ones that spring to mind. Do these make sense for Striker/Traveller? I mean of course aside from the simple cool toys rationale. Would any government actually buy these with ever scarce military credits? Are they worth the bang for the buck? Do they make sense, as they say, IMTU?

First question — are they plausible? could they ever be built or be effective? The answer to that is a pretty quick “yes.” I found this video of a prototype timber cutting vehicle which uses six walker legs to navigate tight spaces and uneven, changing terrain. Check this out:  Timber Cutting Walker Video It seems that here at lowly tech 8+ we get walkers too!

In the process of searching for an answer to the plausibility question, I discovered that the designer of the AT-AT, the AT-ST and the Power Loader used the same concept drawings as inspiration for the three designs. You can read more at Cybernetic Zoo on my favorite walkers including picture of 1969 US Steel design.

US Steel Legged Cargo Vehicle 1969

US Steel Legged Cargo Vehicle 1969

So what are they for? It seems the best rationale for walkers is a vehicle capable of

  • bringing onto the battle field weapons heavier than an infantryman can carry
  • carrying its weapon into terrain too rough for wheeled or tracked vehicles
  • carrying its weapons in terrain too constricted for aircraft, hovercraft or grav vehicles to easily traverse
  • having a low crew requirement (preferably just one)

So let’s take a look at these different concepts:

AT-AT Walker — Visually, these are armored elephants. In fact the Battle on Hoth looks like the Battle of Pellenor Fields from the Return of the King(LOTR). The visual impact of the scene creates a lovely oooo-aaah in the audience (or at least it did when the movies first came out.) But what military purpose do they serve?

It seems that these are multi-gunned, multi-turreted heavily armored vehicles. A little digging on the web tells me that they were supposed to carry 5 speeder bikes and 40 Imperial troopers. They are armed with two blasters (not sure on the Traveller translation) and two laser cannons. So that makes them a sort of Super Infantry Fighting Vehicle capable of carrying a near-platoon into action in extremely bad terrain. With a crew of two and an understandable battlefield mission, the AT-AT might seem like a candidate if it weren’t for the fact that they are supposed to be somewhere between 15 and 22.5m tall. That is around 5 storied high. Unless I am planning on stepping 5m tall obstacles, I am just not seeing much utility in the height.

I’d give the AT-AT credit for being a possible if not likely design. In Striker terms, these would have a very big High hit DM that would make them very easy to hit. A suspension hit could topple the vehicle and I for one would not want to take a 5 story fall with 40 of my best friends when that monster falls over.  To make this vehicle work, one would have to build in lots of survivability features (like extensive “hard-kill” countermeasures) that would add to the cost and weight of the vehicle.

AT-ST Walker — These “chicken walkers” with reversed knee legs reminiscent of a rabbit or kangaroo seem more plausible to me. Again, they have a crew of two and are capable of traversing difficult terrain. They are armed with smallish laser cannons and some “concussion missiles.” They have no infantry carrying capacity and are intended for use in scouting. They are 8m tall.

One might compare them to a CFV, light tank, or even an armored car in terms of battlefield function. Their height gives them greater spotting range but, unlike a helicopter or grav vehicle performing a popup, that also means they can be seen and targetting from further away. In an combat environment where tactical missiles are common, these tall walkers are in danger. On the other hand, in a jungle/forest environment where the cover height is greater than 8m, they could have some advantages.

One wonders how their size might limit mobility in confined spaces, but they seem to do fine (at least mechanically) in the close forest of Endor.  I would worry about ground pressure since the weight of the legs seems to add to the overall weight without creating corresponding advantage. I know they had big feet but again if the feet are too big, it becomes more difficult to place them in very rough terrain.

Again, I would put these in the category of plausible but improbable.

Power Loader from Aliens — These walkers make sense to me totally. I should probably add the disclaimer that one of my first jobs was driving a fork lift truck inside a warehouse with very narrow aisles. There is definitely heavy stuff that needs lifting in small spaces and a wearable fork lift makes a lot of sense to me. I wouldn’t expect to see one at Ikea, but I might expect one on a colony world where terrain, weather and structural conditions (like a smooth concrete warehouse floor) can’t be controlled so much in advance. I don’t expect them to show up in downtown Imperial Tech 15 Town and it seems that the ubiquity of grav tech makes a Power Loader less useful beyond about tech 11-ish. In the 8-9-10 zone, these seems plausible, possible and potentially cost effective.

Power Loader from Aliens (toy)

Power Loader from Aliens (toy)

Mitsubishi MK-6 Amplified Mobility Platform or AMP Suit [Avatar] — If you buy the idea of the power loader, then the AMP suit makes sense too. Basically, this is a power loader with a sealed environment cockpit and a more

anthropomorphic configuration. The Avatar wiki describes these as having advanced force feedback mechanisms so that the driver can interact through a whole body interface. Hands and feet are intended to mimic human ones and to provide a range of actions like the actions a human infantryman would be capable of doing. I assume this means digging, loading, unloading, weapon maintenance as well as gun toting.

AMP Suit from Avatar Wiki

AMP Suit from Avatar Wiki

Kenbishi Standard Light Weight Tank – Multi-Ped “Crab Tank” [Ghost in the Shell Anime]
I am a bit partial to this one…it is especially cool.

Kenbishi Standard Light Weight Tank - Ghost in the Shell Wiki

Kenbishi Standard Light Weight Tank - Ghost in the Shell Wiki

This one appears in the movie Ghost in the Shell. As it is depicted in the film it is armored and armed with two autocannon in the 2-4cm range. They are know as “think tanks” since they are run by an AI and are actually robots.  The hexapod leg structure would make them as stable as the Timber cutter in video above and the jointed legs decrease overall height to what appears to be about 4m or less.

The AI version is obviously at least tech level 13 but a non-AI manned version seems quite plausible before that point. In Striker terms this would still have a sizeable High Hit DM, but I could imagine a crouch posture that would reduce this vulnerability.

So what does all this mean? Is it time for toys yet? Yes, yes it is.

So in writing this post I convinced myself to purchase some of the most plausible walkers I have found on the market, the Federal Army DIMOG Mark 1 and Mark 2 Walkers from Khurasan Miniatures. Khurasan’s stuff looks good in person and not just on the website. I’ve ordered from them before and been very satisfied. It could be a little while before some painted pics appear on the website as the order is just in. For the time being, here are the pics from Khurasan’s web site:

DIMOG Mark 1 Walker

DIMOG Mark 1 Walker - Khurasan Miniatures

and it’s slightly more armored upgrade the Mark 2

DIMOG Mark 2 Walker

DIMOG Mark 2 Walker - Khurasan Miniatures

More on the stats and rationale in my next post!


4 Responses to “Why Walkers? Is there a hard sci-fi reason for walking vehicles?”

  1. BeRKA Says:

    Very interesting post! 🙂

    I think they make sense if you cannot build grav vehicles. I don’t really think they make sense in Traveller or Star Wars, but they do make sense in 2300AD.

  2. If grav vehicles are as widespread by Tech 10 as the Traveller canon seems to propose, walkers would have very few applications where they could even plausibly compete with a grav vehicle for cost or utility. The biggest challenge that I see for walkers is getting to the battlefield. A small grav vehicle can fly itself to the battlefield and then operate in a manner very similar in effectiveness to a walker on the battlefield. The walker needs a transport since its likely speed is not much faster than infantry pace. A niche tool at best.

    Thanks for your comment and for tuning in! Your site is a treasure trove. And thanks for the link!

  3. Bill Says:

    I could perhaps see walkers more in the vein of carrying one warrior. Specifically “Proto-Mechs” in Battletech.

    They are a step up from battle-armored infantry and smaller than full sized Battlemechs. They run from 2000-9000 lbs, have heavy armor, have a small fusion engine to power them, carry heavy cannon, missiles, energy weapons.

    You could consider them to have a built-in autocannon or a custom designed Striker energy weapon plus some small weapons/and or a VRF gauss built in. VERY NASTY versus standard infantry and pretty good against powered armor infantry. They are also dangerous to full-sized Battlemechs if used in quantity to swarm them.

    They’d be useful in terrain that would hinder infantry, as they can have jump-jets, and man I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of one.

    See here: http://www.sarna.net/wiki/ProtoMech

  4. TG Says:

    AT-ATs are an idiotic idea militarily speaking. They were in the movie for the oh-ah effect and to show what could be done with 1977 visual effects, but elephants were originally used for raised platforms to give bowmen elevated platforms. Elephants proved a poor shock weapon for an army that knew how to deal with them, and were logistically unsound, eventually falling into disuse in war even in India. In future combat I see no reason to use platforms like that due to availability of orbitally-guided missiles. The utility of AT-ST scouts is highly problematic. The thing is that the human form is not a particularly suitable one for warfare. Its just that its the only one we know. Bipedal designs (look, no arms!) are even worse. Although predatory dinosaur species are often portrayed as fearsome killers, I note that none have survived into our own times, so in terms of survival flying seems to make far more sense than walking 🙂 One could argue expense of flying designs, but with availability of anti-gravity technology why make a design based on failed prototype? If I was designing vehicles, I would certainly not copy such failed designs.
    Interesting article though none the less

    Thank you


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