Mecha design; manipulators

Consider your hand. You control all those 27 bones through muscles and tendons. The nerves give you feedback and send your commands down the like, commands that you are not even conscious of. Twist your hand, and you see it twisting. The large muscles come through the skin, but all the fine motion is lost unless we specifically look for it. It can grab and hold things in a wide variety of positions and ways, some that we don’t even know before someone else teaches that. These hands can build and destroy in equal amounts, they are our the tools of our creations.

Transferring that to a giant robot is a bit of a hassle.

Much like with a lot of other direct transfer elements with human body and giant robots, adapting hands 1:1 is an easy concept for sure. The idea of similar multi-use manipulator is attractive from the get go, but depending on the setting, human-like hands might not be the best option. A human-like hand requires far more parts, development, maintenance and simple tech than a say a pincer or more simple manipulator. Of course, the main argument for having a hand for a giant robot is its versatility, especially when it comes to weapons. However, that’s something that could be easily done with hardpoints where weapon is being mounted. We should also question how versatile does the hand of a giant mecha be, especially for a war machine.

Broadly speaking, all human-like hands with mecha follow the same basic idea, there isn’t much deviation. It’s either smooth or cubic. Using this example from a VF-19 serves as a good showcase.

VF-19 hand

While it looks complex, it’s more about the layered elements that make it look complex. Inner functions are of course barely thought, they’re not important. The fact that it looks like it could work and has plausible design elements, like the knuckle guard and fingers’ segments layer on top of each other when bent, is more than enough. Studio Nue has always preferred rounder elements to their design (sometimes dubbed as Bubble hands), especially with their older works. In Gundam, Sunrise and Bandai have preferred using more cubic hands, although exceptions are aplenty.

Gundam MS fed manipulator

The above generic Mobile Suit manipulator was designed for the models, but seeing how Bandai and Sunrise design their mechas models in mind nowadays, it’s a good example of a hand that’s more or less designed for wielding a gun and a beam sabre. It’s a bit more straightforward than VF-19’s, less well-rounded. The question of course is, if this hand is largely made for weapon carrying, why isn’t it designed as such?

The answer is, of course, because of Rule of Cool. When mechas are designed as characters, they’ve almost always given large amount of human characteristics in order to showcase dramatic events. Hands are no different in this. Beam sabre battles would be less dramatic and interesting if the manipulator would be specifically designed holder than a hand.

Controlling a hand like this has basically three options, direct 1:1 input, control macros or brain wave input. Variations and combinations do apply. While a “glove controller” would be idea, that’s pretty much what you do then with that arm. It’ dedicated for that arm, and the rest of the controls are either automatic or left other arm or legs. We discussed control macros previously, and this is most likely the best option overall, if brain wave scanning tech is not available in your setting.

Designing mecha’s hand really isn’t anything hard; just look at your own and mechanise it. Give it details for something to grab attention and some panels for easy access.

Giant robots don’t really have a need for similar level of sophistication when it comes to their hands, a simple grasping arm should be enough with some level of modification to suit the needed purpose. Hardpoints add a lot of versatility as well.

These take less maintenance and production costs would be lower too
These take less maintenance and production costs would be lower too

Of course, fiction doesn’t need to play by the rules of reality all that much, and if technology is advanced enough in a fiction to produce these things, why not? They could of course build better and simpler manipulators, but sometimes you do seek more complex solution for the sake of all the options it could give you. A gripping manipulator above doesn’t really offer many ways to grasp a thing.

Some franchises mix human-like hands with specifically designed manipulators, Muv-Luv popping to my mind foremost.

To be fair, this is complex for the sake of being complex, some of these steps could be dropped
To be fair, this is complex for the sake of being complex, some of these steps could be dropped. It’s a pretty good example of a very specific manipulator arm that works in junction of the main hand, something that I personally would like to see done more

Another one would Mobile Suit Z Gundam‘s The O with its assisting manipulators underneath its skirt. These manipulators question why would The O even need human-like hands, when the three-prong manipulator does everything they do. The answer to this is, of course, because the human design does not use that sort of hand. In a way, mecha in general should always be contrasted to armoured knights of legends, but that’s another topic.

Hands are ultimately something that Japanese inspired mecha design does. For giant robots, America has always preferred more built-in options. MegaBot’s Mark II is a good example of this.


American vision usually attached the weaponry onto a pre-fixed arm that may have some freedom of motion to it, but is always more dependent on the movements of the main body. Compare this to Suidobashi Heavy Industry’s Kuratas and the difference in approach is notable.

The idea of having this built-in approach and lack of manipulators is just as valid.  While it lessens on-the-fly options and puts some limitations, it eliminates loads of moving parts that would require maintenance. The most prominent film example of this sort of thing would be our good old friend, ED-209.

I should probably write a whole entry on ED-209.
I should probably write a whole entry on ED-209.

Unlike with mechas with arms and manipulators, you can see ED-209 guns are its arms with no manipulators, as it needs none. It’s a robust little connector that looks sturdy and serves only to take the beating from the cannon’s recoil and swivel enough to shoot whoever full of holes.

Keep an eye to hands you see in mecha films and shows. Take notice how they are portrayed and how they function. Rarely you will see them doing things outside the capabilities of human hands, and showcasing how they are actually controlled is even rarer. Sometimes they take advantage of what a machine hand can do, like how Gundam washes clothes by rotating its wrist 360-degrees in repetition.

Washing machine Gundam


Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; MiG-27 Alligator

Let’s point out that the English name of this TSF can be disputed. In Japanese, the name is アリゲートル, Arigeetoru. The little Russian I know, it should be written as Аллигаторы, or Alligatory. Seeing how no other TSF name is plural, I’m going to use my own head here and assume my ass out that its name was supposed to be Alligator, Аллигатор. It’s not uncommon to see âge misspelling names, like Schwarzesmarken or Valkylies.

The MiG-27 inherited the same basic airframe the MiG-23 had, but got a revised nose. It was first introduced to the service as MiG-23B as the ground attack variant of MiG-23, and after initial runs it saw some additional changes. Flogger-D, as NATO designated it, serves as battlefield  attacker and thus these changes accommodated its role. Both sides of the cockpit are protected from small arms fire and frontal view was increased. New terrain-avoidance radar and nav/attack systems were installed to give the pilot the edge they’d need.

MiG-23 and MiG-27 were one of the first swing-wing fighters with three sweep settings; 16-degrees for take-off, 45-degrees for cruising and 72-degrees for high performance flight. Sukhoi would continue using swing-wing in its fighters down the line. Sadly, it would seem this variable geometry configuration is more or less obsolete nowadays now that relaxed stability flight controls systems have negated most of the disadvantages the fixed platform fighter had. That, and it takes much fewer resources to designs and maintain solid fighters with no variable control surfaces.

The Tumanksy R-29B-300 turbojet engine the MiG-29 uses gives it a respectable thrust of 11 500kg. The fighters’ empty weight is 11 300kg with a maximum take-off weight at 20 300kg. The armaments are respectable, having one 30mm cannon in the belly pod with seven pylons for missiles and rockets up to 4000kg, including nuclear carry capability. Nevertheless, MiG-27 was in production almost three decades until 1997 with  around 4000 units build. It is a potent fighter with ceiling of 14 008m, range of 1080km and climb rate of 12 007m per minute, the MiG-27 can be still found serving different airforces around the world due to Soviets and Russians importing it to countries like Cuba, Iraq, Afghanistan and India.

Overall, a classic fighter, but I’m still partial for MiG-21.

Original here

I’m always surprised how tightly knit MiG variants are, but ultimately that showcases how it’s not feasible to have a fighter that would excel in all roles. As such, I’ve noticed how TSFs are either shooty or knify, but the ones trying to do both don’t really stand out at all. TSAs on the other hand stand apart from their TSF brethren just fine.

While the MiG-27 is variant of MiG-23, it’s TSF version is more or less an upgraded standalone version, and its performance and changes made to the frame were supposedly significant enough to give it a separate designation. The two look pretty much the same, having only one or two actually important changes, like on the arms and in certain details here and there, like on the knees and on the holes of the shoulder armours neat the head.

WhY mY ShOuLdErS hUrT?
An argument for all TSFs looking the same, unless you recognize how the real fighters look almost the same as well

The Alligator uses nicely surfaces and elements from the MiG-27 fighter. It’s more inspired than some other TSFs and has instantly recognizable, boxy look to it. The groin guard is a relatively unique in that it encompasses more elements than just the fighter’s nose. The head isn’t anything special, but I would argue the shapes on top of the head are inspired by the point where the variable wings are attached to the fuselage. The shoulders and arms should’ve been just a tad slimmer to follow the surprising thin nature of MiG-27, but overall there’s a healthy amount of plane elements in there, especially in the line language, mixed with TSF original materials, notably in the legs.

It would appear that close-combat focused TSFs function as equivalents for ground attack fighters. As such, the Alligator has a larger Soviet Army Combat Knife for better BETA cutting power. I’m not sure how this translates as better close combat capabilities, as the Alligator doesn’t have any more sharp points on its armour than its predecessor, Cheburashka. It’s got the WS-16 Assault Cannon and the same DS-3 MPSA shield MiG-21’s use. I guess it’s just quicker and more nimble than its predecessor, but that doesn’t necessarily translate into better performance at close range. That translates into better performance overall.

Much like the real life MiG-27, the Alligator is supposedly still in action during the events of Alternative, making  about 40% of Soviet Surface Fighter forces. It’s a competent, basic TSF that doesn’t do anything too fancy, but has the basics down just fine for a Second Generation TSF. It’s direct descendant MiG-29 Ласточка/Lastochka/Swallow and MiG-29OVT Fulcrum do everything the Alligator did and then some more while still staying in the range if Second Generation TSFs.

Of course, Su-37 and Su-47 would totally eclipse the MiG-27 in their time in terms of performance, close combat capabilities and fire power.

I just wanted to throw this in here
I just wanted to throw this in here

Remember to check the Tactical Surface Fighter tag I have for all the previous posts with TSF/plane comparisons.

Plane elements in Tactical Surface Fighters; Su-37 Terminator

The Flanker series of Sukhoi fighters have always been competent fighters. In Muv-Luv Alternative’s BETAverse, the base Su-37 most likely exists somewhere, but is never seen anywhere, not even on the TSF tech trees. As such, this comparison will be a bit weird in that I am using a base version of Su-37 to Su-37m2. This is the single seat variant that Fikatsia “Mama Bear” Latrova and 221 Batal’on Zhar used in Total Eclipse. The TSF Su-37’s don’t have outside differences par painting scheme, so either could’ve been used. If this bothers you, too bad.

A modified version of Su-27 with canards first flew in 1985 and was the prototype from which the Su-35 would be based on. The first true Su-35, called Su-27M at the time, flew in June 1988. It was a single seat fighter with moving canards, improved engines, digital fly-by-wire system that had quadruple redundancy to prevent mishaps. The prototype was made to be an aggressive fighter with great control. Because of the redundancy systems, Su-37M could fight and take hits without losing control. Probably. The Su-35 was a beast on paper, but Su-37 would improve the fighter further.

Su-37  was an experimental fighter with many names. NATO calls it Flanker-F, Sukhoi themselves calls it the Terminator. A loved child has many names. For a multi-role fighter first flown in 1996, the Su-37 was super maneuverable and able to utilise two dimensional thrust vectoring with its moving nozzles. All things considered, it had  great weight-to-thrust ratio with its Lyulka AL-37FU engines providing 12 500kg thrust to a fighter weighting 17 000kg empty. 2500km/h is nothing to scoff at either, especially for its time. With fly-by-wire, the Su-37 could do very impressive vertical acrobatics that impressed attendants at airshows in 1996 and 1997.

For its armaments, the Su-37 had one 30mm cannon and 14 hardpoints to carry a range of missiles and bombs up to 6000kg. The maximum take-off weight for the fighter was 34 000kg. Later Lyulka-Saturn developed AL-31Fp thrust control engines that were able to move in both horizontally and vertically. Some Su-37 were installed with these for tests and were named Super Flankers, but the engine is more associated with Su-30 Multi-Role Flanker. In December 2002, a Su-37 crashed during a ferry flight, ending the program. The plane series never entered production, and it seems Russian air forces are emphasizing Sukhoi PAK FA as a sort of response to US’ F-22A and F-35 Lighting II.

In Muv-Luv Alternative Su-37 saw larger production and was one of the main stepping stone towards Soviet Union’s 3rd Generation TSFs, namely the Su-47 Berkut.

F-14 Tomcat
Had to use these models, never found a good coloured back image

The Terminator, as its known here, is a single-seat front line TSF. It has a brother version in Su-37UB, which was used by the Scarlet Twins Inia Sestina and Cryska Barchenowa. Anyway, the Terminator was a 2.5th generation TSF with an emphasize on Close-Combat. Sure, it carrier the usual A-97 Assault Gun, but much like its little brother, the Terminator carries Arm Blade Motors ie. Chainsaws in its arms and basically has enough Spike and Blade Vanes to give a modeller bleeding hands. It lacks proper knives to do the Knife Dance, sadly.

One thing that needs to be separately mentioned is that both Su-37 and Su-47 are very similar to each other. There are clear differences for sure, but designers at âge clearly intend to reflect the fact that Su-47 used the same tandem-tripple layout with canards and tailplanes that Su-37 would use. This leads to other interesting things like the Jump Units having two tailpods instead of one found on the real plane. Furthermore, the torsos between the two are extremely similar if not identical, which harkens back to the fact that Su-47 was originally knows as Su-37. Russians have a tendency to re-use definitions with their fighters, which honestly has caused me more than a little headache when it comes to writing this entry. While Su-47 came first in the real world, it’s very clear that Su-37 came first in BETAverse. The Terminator also is a bit poor example of fighter elements in TSFs.

One interesting thing with the Terminator is that its skirt armour has forwards pointing thrusters, which most likely adds to its maneuverability. While the Terminator was not all that impressive in Total Eclipse VN or the television series, it’s safe to say that for its time it reflects the real world counterpart in how agile beast it is. The differences between 3rd and 2.5th generation TSFs is not all that big, so it would be safe to say that the Terminator could give early 3rd gen TSFs run for their money. That is, if the US surface pilots aren’t dicks and stay in stealth mode, shooting from miles away.

I also need to revise these charts at one point from ground up.