Firepower of the GU-11 Gun Pod
This section will feature a detailed article on the subject of the firepower of the fictional GU-11 Gun Pod of the VF-1 Valkyrie from the original Super Dimension Fortress Macross animated TV series


Introduction

The gun pod of Macross was first introduced in the original 1982 Super Dimension Fortress Macross animated television series and has been the mainstay weapon of the transforming variable fighters ever since. Modelled after real rotary cannons used by modern militaries, the gun pod was drawn with a signature aerodynamic styling accompanied by a distinctive saw-like sound when fired. Macross fiction included advanced micro-missiles and directed-energy weapons (DEW) brought about by investigating a crashed alien spacecraft filled with OverTechnology of the Macross (OTM), yet ballistic weapons like the gun pod remained one of the primary weapons for the fighter-robot Valkyries of the series. For most of the Macross franchise history there was no rationale why bullet firing weapons remained relevant in a fictional world filled with such swarms of missiles and practical directed-energy weapons. However, recently the Macross Chronicle (2008, 2013) has provided several reasons for the prominence of gun pods by describing the limitations of missiles and beam guns. Missiles are susceptible to jamming or interception while beam weapons suffer influence by interstellar gas, magnetic fields and can be foiled by Anti-Optical Weapon Vaporization Armor (Macross Chronicle 2nd Edition Technology Sheet 01E Variable Fighter: Defenses). OverTechnology advances in ballistic technology and the aforementioned limitations of other weapons ensure the greatest advantage of the gun pod is the limited defensive measures the enemy has against this direct fire type of kinetic weapon (armor, pin-point barriers). The gun pod has thus retained a primary role on the Macross battlefield.

These inherent limitations of – and defenses against - missile and beam weapons may not hold much weight when judged against the animated productions themselves or other official trivia. The Zentradi Army utilizes beam weapons almost exclusively, with the lethality and reliability of beam weapons in all combat regimes being readily apparent by the success of the Zentradi war machine. Perhaps these supposed weaknesses/limitations of beam weapons were written in the Macross Chronicle to make the Macross fiction seem more plausible or justify the continued use of ballistic weapons. Or perhaps the UN Spacy lacks the technological accomplishment of Zentradi beam weapons. Whatever the reason, gun pods are a staple of Macross that have attained a level of power beyond modern weaponry.

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A Schematic of a Real GPU-5 Gun Pod

What is a Gun Pod?

In reality, a gun pod is a removable pod containing a machine gun or automatic cannon mounted upon military aircraft which may or may not possess its own guns. Typically a gun pod will also contain an ammunition supply and may even feature additional equipment like a power source. The gun pod enables a vehicle to field greater firepower without occupying internal volume and can be omitted when not required to save weight. Gun pods were developed following World War II and found some use as mounted weapons on fighter aircraft and helicopters.

In Macross, the gun pod is a powerful projectile gun that is one of the core offensive weapons of nearly all variable fighter armaments. The gun pod features a rotary cannon, ammunition, a self-contained power source and a sensor system all housed within an aerodynamic shell. Most gun pods also feature a retractable handle to hold and fire the gun like a rifle in Battroid/GERWALK modes, an aerodynamically shaped extending/retracting exterior shell for mounting in Fighter mode as well as optional features such as foldable stocks, straps, stealth covers, retractable cooling covers and anti-armor bayonets. Gun pods are highly versatile weapons utilized within an atmosphere, also capable of operation in the vacuum of space and fire high-speed munitions that can intercept incoming missiles. The gun pods can also be armed with a wide variety of ammunition types that range from recognizable projectiles used by conventional militaries to exotic projectiles found only in the science fiction universe of Macross.

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GAU-8 Avenger Automatic Cannon Cutaway Diagram
(WARNING: Large Image)

The GAU-8 Avenger: Real Life Inspiration

It probably comes as little surprise to any fan that Macross gun pods share a lineage to the weapons found in real militaries the world over. As one of the early "Real Robot" anime series, Macross' gun pod was inspired by aircraft vulcan guns and the GAU-8 Avenger rotary (gatling) cannon. The GAU-8 is most well known as the big gun visible at the front of the A-10 Thunderbolt II, often nicknamed the "Warthog" and known as a tank killer aircraft. The GAU-8 is a rotary cannon using multiple barrels on a rotating mount to achieve rapid-fire. Rotary cannons have a high rate of fire and a tolerance for continuous rapid-fire specifically designed for attacking fast moving targets. Currently the maximum rate of fire for a single barrel gun is 1,500 RPM (German MG42) but such guns cannot sustain fire without overheating. Rotary cannons are capable of firing from 1,000 to 10,000 rounds per minute and the multiple barrel design produces less heat and wear per barrel than single-barrel weapons. Generally the more barrels the faster the gun can fire and the longer it can sustain rapid-fire. The GAU-8 Avenger entered service in 1977 and has remained active ever since. Technical information for the GAU-8 Avenger follows:

  • 7-barrel gun firing a 30mm round
  • rate of fire is 4,200 rounds per minute (maximum)
  • ammunition capacity is 1,170 rounds
  • muzzle velocity between 988 m/s and 1,052 m/s (3,240 ft/s and 3,450 ft/s, ammo dependant)
  • fires PGU-14B Armor-Piercing Incendiary rounds
  • Weight 619.5 lb (281 kg)
  • Weight (total system) 4,0291b (1,830kg)
  • Length 19 ft 10.5 in (6.06 m) (total system)
  • Length (gun only) 112.28 in (2.85 m)
  • precision is 80% of rounds fired at 4,000 feet (1,200 m) range hit within a 40 feet (12 meter) diameter circle

The GAU-8 typically fires PGU-14B API (Armor-Piercing Incendiary) rounds that are 30mm in diameter, weigh 395 grams each and are fired at a muzzle velocity of 1,013 meters per second. Kinetic energy for the bullet can be found using a real unit of measurment known as the joule. A joule is equal to the energy expended - or work done - in applying a force of one newton through a distance of one metre. In the case of the GAU-8 gun, each fired round has a muzzle energy of 203,321 joules. It has been stated by the U.S. military that a single GAU-8 round is enough to destroy a tank. However, given that the GAU-8 Avenger is an almost 40-year old gun, it is uncertain how effective it would be against the most advanced armor of the best modern main battle tanks.

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GPU-9 35mm Gun Pod
(Art by Jeff Sorley)

The GPU-9 Gun Pod: Baby Steps

The Macross Zero animated OVA was first released in 2002 and introduced the GPU-9 Gun Pod as the main weapon of the VF-0 Phoenix variable fighter. Although the Macross Zero animation was released some 20 years after the original SDF Macross series debuted in 1982, the tale of Macross Zero is set a few years before the beginning of the original Macross story. Hence, the GPU-9 Gun Pod is chronologically the first step to improve the conventional automatic cannon utilizing OverTechnology. The GPU-9 entered service in-universe with the VF-0 Phoenix in 2008 but the total service life is unknown. Technical information for the GPU-9 Gun Pod follows:

  • 3-barrel gun firing a 35mm round
  • rate of fire is variable at 60/1,250/2,500 rounds per minute
  • ammunition capacity is 550 rounds
  • muzzle velocity is 1,100 m/s
  • 7.35 meters long when retracted for mounting in Fighter mode
  • fires composite heavy-metal armor piercing or air-to-air AHEAD rounds
  • self powered, all-regime, etc
  • The GPU-9 had sufficient firepower against Anti-Unification Alliance craft that were predicted to have energy conversion armor
  • expansion and contraction mechanism, cowl and tail fins. However, when fired it had the problem of a large recoil

As one of the first Gun Pods the GPU-9 was only a small step forward for improved ballistic firepower. The weapon was designed to counter the variable fighter defenses of the era; the first iteration of the energy converting armor system. The VF-0 Phoenix of the United Forces and the SV-51 of the Anti-Unification forces were both powered by conventional (but overtuned) turbofan jet engines generating enough power to make the Battroid mode Energy Converting Armor as strong as a modern main battle tank. The statistics of the GPU-9 shells are unknown but a low-end estimate can be approximated if one substitutes into the GPU-9 a round similar to the real gun upon which it is based, the GAU-8 Avenger. If the 30mm PGU-14B API round (weighing 395 grams) were to be scaled up to the 35mm GPU-9 round the result is a 627 gram projectile. When fired from the GPU-9 at 1,100 meters per second each 35mm round would deliver roughly 379,335 joules of energy to the target (low-end estimate), almost double the firepower of a round from the GAU-8 Avenger. Official trivia describes the 35mm rounds of the GPU-9 as “composite heavy-metal armor piercing”, but no other information is provided. Since the gun pod itself is an improvement upon current conventional technology, it’s likely the ammunition it fires is an improvement beyond the PGU-14B rounds. Unfortunately not enough official trivia exists to make that determination, so the low-end figure described above is the best estimate possible.

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GU-11 55mm Gun Pod
(cutaway diagram)

The GU-11 Gun Pod: OverTechnology on Overdrive

Human discovery of OverTechnology lead to some impressive early advances for the first gun pods but these improvements were just small steps forward compared to the leap ahead that would be taken for the next gun pod. The GU-11 is the primary gun pod of the original VF-1 Valkyrie that appeared in the Super Dimension Fortress Macross animated TV series released in 1982. As the original gun pod of Macross the GU-11 is directly inspired by the GAU-8 Avenger. Yet the gun is an extremely large 55mm caliber that is highly unusual for an aircraft and was clearly desgined as a far more powerful multi-purpose weapon for use against almost every kind of enemy threat. Technical information is listed below:

  • 3-barrel gun firing a 55mm round
  • rate of fire is 1,200 rounds per minute (VF-1 Master File Vol. 1 pg 52 states a variable rate of fire of 30/80/1,600 rounds per minute)
  • ammunition capacity is 200 rounds
  • muzzle velocity is 2,000 m/s
  • nominal “effective range” is listed as 1,100m (1.1 kilometers) with a margin of error of 200-300mm (20-30 centimeters)
  • material endurance is 20,000 rounds before barrels need replacement
  • self powered, all-regime, etc
  • VF-1 Master File Vol. 1 pg 53 states the GU-11 can utilize numerous ammunition types:
    • Armor Piercing Discarding Sabot-Depleted Uranium (APDS-DU) – kinetic penetrator only
    • Armor Piercing-Tracer (AP-T) – kinetic penetrator only
    • Solid Shell (SS) – kinetic penetrator only
    • High-Explosive Anti-Conversion Armor (HEACA) – kinetic penetrator with explosive charge
    • Multipurpose (MP) – used against a mixture of conventional and OTM (OverTechnology of Macross) vehicles

While most combat aircraft mount 20-30mm rotary cannons, the GU-11 utilizes a very large caliber 55mm round fired at an incredible muzzle velocity of 2,000 meters per second that truly stretches into the realm of science fiction. Like the GPU-9, the official trivia does not provide any statistics for the rounds fired from the GU-11. However, official trivia from the Macross Chronicle (Technology Sheet 01C) describes rounds very similar to the PGU-14B API rounds of the GAU-8, including more exotic ammunition types unique to Macross fiction.

Since official trivia confirms the GU-11 can fire a vast array of conventional and fictional ammunition, it is once again prudent to scale up the PGU-14B API rounds of the GAU-8 Avenger as a low-end estimate. At 395 grams for a 30mm bullet, each round would scale up to a 2.434 kilogram projectile for the 55mm caliber of the GU-11 gun pod. When fired from the GU-11 at 2,000 meters per second each 55mm round would deliver roughly 4,868,000 joules of energy to the target (again, low-end estimate). By now it's clear to see the GU-11 firepower is well beyond an order of magnitude greater than the GAU-8 Avenger. A quick calculation reveals each GU-11 bullet is roughly 24 times the destructive force of a single shot from the GAU-8. With such a level of firepower the GU-11 would effortlessly shred even the most advanced conventional armor developed today and it becomes difficult to imagine a fictional defensive system that could counter such an attack. However, the fictional properties of energy converting armor (especially powered by thermonuclear reaction engines) and materials like space metal or hypercarbon remain a mystery so such technologies may have far superior defensive capabilities to anything we know today.

EDITOR NOTE: The book "Macross Journal Extra: Sky Angels: VF-1 Valkyrie Special Edition (published 1984)" states the GU-11 gun pod fires at a muzzle velocity of 5,980 m/s (citation is pg 32). This obviously differs significantly from the 2,000 m/s muzzle velocity cited in "Variable Fighter Master File: VF-1 Valkyrie Vol. 1 (published 2010)". Since both books are NOT part of the official Macross continuity, fans can accept either figure or ignore both. For purposes of this analysis the Master File will be sourced since the 2,000 m/s figure is a proportionately better fit within the established performance for ballistic weapons written in official Macross trivia. For reference, those three official figures for muzzle velocity are: 1,100 m/s for the GPU-9 gun pod of the VF-0 Phoenix, 3,300 m/s for the 78 mm high speed cannons of the MBR-04-Mk X Destroid Defender and 6,200 m/s (7,490 m/s in space) for the SSL-9B Dragunov 55mm Anti-Armor Sniper Rifle of the VF-25G Messiah.

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GU-11 55mm Gun Pod Internal Color Diagram

What do the Numbers Mean?

The analysis of the Macross gun pod has thus far revealed an astounding level of advanced firepower far beyond the capabilities of conventional ballistic weaponry. Perhaps only the current experimental rail gun technology could approach the destructive capability of the GU-11 gun pod, but modern technology could never power or mount such a rail gun on a fighter the size of the VF-1 Valkyrie. Yet for all these impressive figures it can be difficult to imagine the destructive effect of the gun pods without some kind of context. Collected in the list below are all the calculations in this article thus far as well as calculations for several real world weapons to provide some comparison.

  • GAU-8 30mm Gun - energy per round = 203,321 joules
  • GPU-9 35mm Gun Pod - energy per round = 379,335 joules
  • GU-11 55mm Gun Pod - energy per round = 4,868,000 joules
  • M16 rifle 5.56mm NATO M855 (4.1 g fired at 930 m/s, 700-950 rpm) - energy per round = 1,800 joules
  • One kilogram of TNT explosive - energy released = 4,200,000 joules
  • Rheinmetall L55 120mm Tank Gun (M1 Abrams, M829A3 10kg fired at 1,555 m/s, 15-20 rpm) - energy per round = 12,126,739 joules

The numbers above show the gun pods are more destructive than one of the most powerful conventional rotary cannons. But how destructive are the gun pods compared to other weapons? Currently, the most powerful small scale vehicle cannon is the Rheinmetall L55 120mm Tank Gun mounted upon modern tanks such as the German Leopard 2, the South Korean K2 Black Panther, the American M1A1 Abrams, and the Japanese Type 90. The L55 fires a 10kg round at 1,555 meters per second to produce 12,126,739 joules of energy per shot, which is 32 times more energy than a single round from the GPU-9 35mm gun pod (rated at 379,335 joules per shot). While the GU-11 55mm gun pod fires far more powerful 4,868,000 joules of energy per shot, the Rheinmetall L55 tank gun still fires a round more than twice as destructive. While the L55 tank gun may outperform a round from either of the Macross gun pods, the Rheinmetall cannon is a single-shot anti-armor weapon that can only fire 15-20 rounds per minute. In contrast, the Macross gun pods are rotary cannons specifically designed for continuous rapid fire and as such the energy they can unleash per firing (per second) shows the true destructive force of the weapon.

  • GAU-8 30mm Gun - energy per second (at 4,200 rpm; 70 rounds fired per second) = 14,232,470 joules
  • GPU-9 35mm Gun Pod - energy per second (at 2,500 rpm; 41 rounds fired per second) = 15,552,735 joules
  • GU-11 55mm Gun Pod - energy per second (at 1,200 rpm; 20 rounds fired per second) = 97,360,000 joules

The figures above show that even the real world GAU-8 Avenger can deliver more destructive force to an enemy target than a single round from the L55 tank gun. If we explore the per second kinetic energy of the gun pods, the GU-11 delivers eight times more destructive force than a tank cannon! It should be noted that for these rotary cannons to deliver so much energy the weapons must strike an enemy target with all the rounds fired in one second. The real GAU-8 Avenger might fire 70 rounds per second but the precision of the gun will only see 80% of the rounds fired at a 1.2 kilometer range actually striking within a 12 meter diameter circle. However once again the marvel of OverTechnology allows the GU-11 55mm gun pod to deliver projectiles within a 20-30 centimeter zone at 1.1 kilometers; an improvement to accuracy that is an entire order of magnitude beyond the GAU-8 Avenger.

Another useful method to establish context for the firepower of the GU-11 gun pod can be to convert joules of kinetic energy into a more familiar measurement. The energy of a projectile as powerful as the GU-11 can be expressed as an explosive equivalent yield whereby 1 kilogram of TNT is equal to 4,200,000 joules or 4,200 kilojoules. Each GU-11 round delivers 4,868 KJ of kinetic energy so as an explosive equivalent each round would deliver as much energy as 1.16 kilograms of TNT. A one second burst of fire from the GU-11 gun pod (20 rounds) would be the equivalent energy of an explosion of 23.18 kilograms (51 pounds) of TNT.

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The Many Gun Pods of Macross

Post-Space War I and the Future Gun Pods

The VF-1 Valkyrie utilized the GU-11 gun pod throughout Space War I and even after that devastating conflict the gun pod continued to fulfill the role as one of the three core weapons of the variable fighters of the post-war era. Now that this article has completed examination of the GU-11, it is worth some time to briefly note the gun pods created after the events of the original Macross series. The more advanced gun pods share the style and function of the original GU-11 gun but differ in many ways. See below for a partial list of the later gun pods.

  • 6-barrel 30mm gun pod for the VF-11B/C Thunderbolt
  • 6-barrel GU-XS-06 long-range high-piercing-round gun pod for the VF-11C Thunderbolt APS-11 Protect Armor
  • 5-barrel GU-15 gun pod for the YF-19/VF-19 Excalibur
  • 7-barrel MC-17A 40mm multipurpose gun pod for the VF-17 Nightmare
  • 4-barrel GA-22 60mm multipurpose gatling gun pod for the VA-3 Invader
  • 5-barrel GU-17A 58mm gun pod for the VF-25 Messiah
  • 1-barrel SSL-9B Dragunov 55mm Anti-Armor Sniper Rifle for the VF-25G Messiah
  • 35mm Gatling gun pod for the VF-9 Cutlass (circa 2021)
  • BP-14D multipurpose gun pod OR Hughes/GE GV-17L cartridge-less gatling gun pod for the YF-21/VF-22 Sturmvogel II

Early post-Space War I variable fighters appeared to continue deploying the 3-barrel GU-11 55mm gun pod either as standard armament (VF-3000 Crusader) or as an optional weapon (VF-4 Lightning III). At some point in the early 2020s a change occurred in which the variable fighter gun pod was built in a smaller caliber, a greater number of barrels or both. The VF-9 Cutlass deployed in 2021 is currently the first known post-Space War I variable fighter to use a smaller caliber 35mm gun pod. The trend would continue and soon the VF-11 Thunderbolt was deployed into operation in 2028 mounting the smallest caliber gun pod yet known, a 6-barrel 30mm gun. In 2035, the VF-17 Nightmare entered active service armed with a 7-barrel 40mm gun pod. The reason why these advanced gun pods were built to fire a smaller caliber projectile is unknown. However, a rotary cannon with more barrels will achieve a faster rate of fire, sustain continuous fire longer and manage heat better than a rotary cannon with fewer barrels. Smaller caliber weaponry can also hold more ammunition given the same weight constraints. The variable fighters may have been built to use smaller caliber weapons to realize such advantages while advances in projectiles/projectile velocity would allow the newer gun pods to keep pace with advances in defensive armor and shielding. The caliber of the 5-barrel GU-15 gun pod (YF-19/VF-19 Excalibur) and the BP-14D or GV-17L gun pod (YF-21/VF-22 Sturmvogel II) are unfortunately unknown. However the VF-19 Excalibur Master File (not official continuity) does state the GU-15 has a muzzle velocity of 4,000 m/s which would support the theory the gun pods partially compensated for a decreased caliber by firing faster projectiles. It is not until the VF-25 Messiah was deployed in 2057 that a main variable fighter gun pod caliber is revealed again, this time the GU-17A gun pod featuring a very large 58mm caliber. The variable fighters of the 2050s also introduced the SSL-9B Dragunov Semi/Fully-Automatic Anti-Armor Sniper Rifle, a powerful weapon firing ultra-hard-metal jacketed ultra-dense alloy 55mm projectiles at 6,200 m/s (7,490 m/s in space). There are also several beam gun pods that have been deployed throughout the history of the variable fighter. Refer to the list below.

  • Mauler RO-X2A high-powered double-action beam cannon pod of the VF-1S Strike Valkyrie
  • MC-17A 40mm multipurpose Gun Pod with Beam Adapter for the VF-17S Nightmare
  • Shinsei Industry/L.A.I. Co. AVPAGC/MEDC30-EX-A Anti-Vajra MDE anti-gravity particle cannon for the VF-171EX Nightmare Plus
  • BGP-01β 55mm Beam gun pod / High-Powered Beam Grenade of the VF-27 Lucifer
  • Howard/L.A.I. HPB-01A Heavy Quantum Beam gun pod of the YF-29 Durandal
The beam gun pods are depicted with a level of firepower beyond most of the projectile-firing gun pods, the one exception being the GU-XS-06 long-range high-piercing-round gun pod for the APS-11 Protect Armor VF-11C Thunderbolt. Unfortunately none of the projectiles for any of the gun pods are detailed in the official trivia beyond vague descriptions. Perhaps in the future information about the design, weight, density, material and dimensions of OverTechnology (OTM) projectiles will be published. For now, it should be noted once again that all firepower estimates in this article have been derived by extrapolation based upon conventional projectiles. As such, the firepower figures for the GPU-9 and GU-11 gun pods described in this article will always be considered low-end estimates only.

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