A Major Headache

Last week I talked about my rather obsessive need to know everything in my science fiction writing. Oddly I don’t seem to have the same compulsion when it comes to writing fantasy. I think that this is because fantasy is more obviously not our world. Science fiction, only in some instances it’s true, is seen as a possible extension of now. Babylon 5 makes mention of the two world wars, Abraham Lincoln, the cold war, Tennyson, and other persons and events. It could be our future. Star Trek is almost the same except we didn’t have sleeper ships in the 1990s.

Bernard Woolley: So that means you need to know things even when you don't need to know them. You need to know them not because you need to know them but because you need to know whether or not you need to know. If you don't need to know, you still need to know so that you know that there is no need to know.

[Yes, Prime Minister – Man Overboard]

This page has been in the draft section for over a year. Partly because I’ve been writing other things but mostly because beating this into shape has been almost as difficult as the subject described.

If i was going there i wouldn’t start from here

When looking at series like Star Trek and Babylon 5 its rather disappointing that the rank system is basically a cut an paste of today’s military. Battlestar Galactica is more interesting in that regard. In that there’s a Colonel reporting to a Commander. Today a Commander would be subordinate to a Colonel – I rather like this playing with ranks though.  [No links for those characters because… spoilers.]

One thing to consider is that the militaries of today are based on foundations laid centuries ago. The British Army has existed for centuries. Since Britain has invaded just about everyone it has also influenced other countries. For the purposes of this post there is just one question to ask: Would you do the same thing if starting from scratch?

If there was no military, and one was being created, would something different be done?

I believe that the reason for officer and non officer [different terms are used in different forces] is to ensure that each unit has a good amount of experts. A Chief Petty officer may have the same length of service as a lieutenant-commander but the lieutenant-commander will be doing less hands on work. By making the difference you ensure that you have someone who has worked hands on with the equipment for many years.

What I don’t understand is why expertise seems to be valued so much less than leadership. It seems silly to me that an Army Captain could be earning the same as a Warrant officer at the end of his or her career.

For a science fiction robots also need to be considered. If the amount of people needed is dramatically reduced then the rank system might have to be changed for that reason. If 30 engineers can be reduced to 8 how might that effect ranks? Robots are coming. Here’s a video by C.G.P Grey.

Who’s the Captain?

Captain is so complicated. A navy Captain is different from an Army Captain; Any commanding officer is called Captain; A Captain (Navy) who is posted as a commander of a task force might be called Commodore, US Aircraft carriers have four people with the rank captain. There are conventions to prevent confusion such as the only person called captain on the ship is the commanding officer. It still seems like a bit of a headache.

This is not even getting into other countries, like Russia and Germany, that have three grades of Captain. It does mean one thing though. Homer Simpson was right:

Homer …. I’m Colonel Cool, and I’m the captain on this rocketship to the moon.
Bart………. So are you a colonel, or a captain?

The Simpsons [A Star is Torn]

This works because Colonel could be the rank but Captain the position.

Royal Canadian Mounted Police

This might seem like a bit of a non-sequitur but I’ve looked at everything I can think of to solve this little conundrum. One of those is the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In this service everyone starts at the bottom. They then have the choice of continuing as a non-commissioned officer or becoming an officer after a minimum length of service. An eligible Corporal can choose to become a Sergeant or an Inspector. 20140510_175816[1]

I don’t see why this wouldn’t work in a military. Essentially your junior rates and junior officers become the same people. Then each person world decide if they wanted to take on a leadership role or a technical role. This makes some sense to me. With robots doing more and more of the work the less specialised areas might disappear. So an amalgamation makes some sense.

As you can tell, and if you’ve made it this far congratulations, I’ve spent far to long thinking about this. Part of the problem is that I want to create a system that could really happen. So I’ve looked at Britain, America, Germany, France, basically all of NATO, Russia, and China. I’ve come to tow inescapable conclusions.

  1. This is something I’ll never understand.
  2. I should learn German.
  3. I should learn Chinese.


Germans don’t use Captain, or Kapitän, in their Army. Instead they have the rank Hauptmann. This would solve the confusion of captains.


According to this table the literal translation of Shao Jiang is ‘Junior General’ – thus, using Chinese, I could just use a more direct system of ranks. “Middle Field Officer Blogs reporting for duty.”

Of course in English that would sound a little silly.


If we do have a space navy it will surely have to consist of nations working together. I have no idea what the ranks might be as everyone has a slightly different idea of how a military works. major in France, for instance, is not an officer.

One idea I’ll probably go with is to remove ambiguity and amalgamate army and navy ranks.

Officer ranks like this…


In this way there is less confusion. Ranks are referred to in their entirety. So no Lieutenant-Commander’s called Commander, and no Lieutenant Colonel’s called Colonel. Captain is a positional title and so anyone in command of a ship is called Captain.

English will, in all probability, still be the language of choice. So this joining of ranks might be something as simple as having Ensigns and Sub-lieutenants as the lowest two ranks and doing away with Midshipman, from the Royal Navy, and, Lieutenant Junior Grade, from the United States Navy.

The End

So, yeah, I think too much. There’s three things I can draw from all my research.

  1. There are so many ways to organise a military that almost anything could be considered right.
  2. That in the end, when all is considered, internal constancy is the most important thing.
  3. And that most people won’t notice or care anyway.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.