Follow TV Tropes


See the Whites of Their Eyes

Go To
Picard had them right where he wanted them.

"'Far range' is not visible to the naked eye, and that's what most aerial battles look like: Something shows up on a computer, a jet fires a missile at seemingly nothing and then, a few minutes later, something blows up somewhere that you cannot see. It's less like "high-stakes plane jockeying" and more like "filing a request for death" that another department, miles away, might or might not grant."

While current military organizations possess the technology to accurately target things over the horizon or out of visual range (most noticeably in the case of missiles and even in the case of snipers), most advanced civilizations have lost the secret. Those that do manage to retain the secret tend to develop the technology to the point of roboteching.

Although not exclusively, this presents a particular problem for armed spacegoing vessels, where the loss of this rather useful bit of technology invariably leads to confrontations and battles against other vessels at near-point-blank range. And God help you if your opponent is packing an Invisibility Cloak. This has also led to a common starship design configuration where most of the ship's weaponry is placed broadside-style along the flanks of the ship's superstructure. It has also brought about the need for super-advanced, highly technological warlike civilizations to engage in Old School Dogfighting.

Named after the supposed famous quote of Col. William Prescott in the Battle of Bunker Hill: "Don't fire 'til you see the whites of their eyes!" This was justified at the time because they were using notoriously inaccurate 18th-century muskets and they had almost no ammunition, so every bullet had to count. It is not meant literally, as one can only see the whites of ones eye at about ten feet. The effective range of flintlock musketry was about to 75-100 yards, well beyond ten feet! It actually meant "don't fire until you get further orders." The one time someone meant it literally was during the American Revolution when John Buford told his men to fire when the enemy forces (British cavalry), were less than 10 feet away. Unfortunately, Buford issued the order too late, and the cavalry was able to charge at them without sustaining significant casualties. In reality, the command was routinely given to soldiers in many battles: no army had very accurate guns or unlimited ball and powder — or arrows, for that matter. The saying is famed, and associated with Bunker Hill, by Americans because it was the first battle of the nascent American nation.

Not to be confused with Eye Lights Out or By the Lights of Their Eyes, for literal eye lights.

There are four discernible reasons for this phenomenon:

  • The trope is often a function of practical visual cheats by filmmakers rather than a mistake. Star Trek often refers to a vessel being "300,000 kilometers away and gaining" but still presenting a real threat to the Enterprise. A representation of this actual distance is near impossible without some sort of visual trickery. Television is also a visual medium that emphasizes "Show, Don't Tell". In order to get a sense of the size of the two or more spacecraft they need to somehow be next to each other. The cheat may be required to get around logistical problems in portraying a situation accurately: in the case of Star Wars, special effect technological innovations during the time of the original trilogy hadn't reached the point where one could plausibly represent the flight path of missiles through a vacuum other than in the most rudimentary way.
  • Many filmmakers hearken back to naval or submarine combat as the closest metaphor for space combat available, and consequently use visual devices and images consistent with the representation of eighteenth-century seagoing vessels shooting at each other to place space battles on film. Of course, they might do that just because they know Space Is an Ocean. As it is, naval vessels have had the capacity to engage with guns at ranges of tens of thousands of meters since the late nineteenth century, albeit it took a while for fire control to make firing at said ranges accurate rather than spray and pray. Even torpedoes, relatively slow and short-ranged weapons, have had 10-20 kilometer ranges since at least the 1940s. Nowadays carrier-based aircraft and guided/homing missiles give the capacity to engage targets at hundreds of kilometers.
  • Averting this trope probably isn't much fun to watch in a visual medium, as a battle between starships where the enemy ship isn't blown up right before your eyes can be a bit dull, especially given the limitations of pre- and early CGI. In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Wounded", two ships fire at each other at a range of over 100,000 kilometers. The characters watch the exchange on a screen with little symbols representing the ships and the shots. The fight is, needless to say, quite boring. Andromeda uses this and gets around it somewhat by showing the eventual collision of the missiles with the ship (sometimes. Other times, the dot representing the other ship just disappears), or just showing the battle if they're close enough for Anti-Proton blasts (less than 5 light seconds away, usually). Books have an easier time averting this due to the nature of the medium.
  • The trope may also have a tactical justification as follows, as drawn from Mass Effect: most ships aren't going to start shooting each other in deep space for no reason; they'll start shooting at each other because one ship stands between the other ship and something it wants. For the ship on defense to actually defend its charge, it can't go anywhere. By contrast, space battles where the combating ships are the only factors will usually take place at extreme ranges. Some examples on this page fit this situation; notice that in the Babylon 5 instance of aversion, the objective of the aggressors is to destroy the ships. Of course, this is still an imperfect explanation when the setting features FTL independent of fixed nodes, which Mass Effect has in the form of Mass Relays. The example of aversion in Star Wars regarding the ion cannon below illustrates this problem, where the Star Destroyer comes out of lightspeed anywhere it damn-well pleased, but the Star Destroyers or other ships in freeform-FTL settings still approach the target very closely instead of firing on the defending ships from afar. Similarly, because space is so huge, no weapons that don't approach the speed of light would actually hit the enemy within a reasonable amount of time, assuming there isn't any countermeasures that can be deployed in the 15 minutes between being fired upon by a sublight missile and actually being hit. And even at the speed of light it is still about 8 minutes to get to the sun and several hours to exit the solar system. Space is big.

When the phrase is used, is often changed to reflect the enemy. For instance, in Transformers, it's "the wires of their optics".

See Short-Range Long-Range Weapon for more generalized examples of this trope.


    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • Justified in SOME Gundam series, where the use of Minovsky Particle makes using radar difficult to impossible. Indeed, they interfere with all electro-magnetic phenomenon, and at extreme ranges, even interfered with visual light. Note that this didn't exactly mean the Federation and Zeon fleets were fighting at knife-point — "Visual range" is a long ways in empty space. It was mostly the Mobile Suits that got in everyone's faces.
    • N-Jammers serve the same purpose in Mobile Suit Gundam SEED in addition to disabling nuclear power. It is a big deal that the Freedom Gundam has N-Jammer Cancelers, giving it near limitless nuclear energy and radar targeting that allows it to Beam Spam multiple targets at once with deadly accuracy.
  • Averted in Legend of the Galactic Heroes. Most battles are fought at ranges so vast, the enemy fleet looks more like a particularly-ordered field of stars. Battles are shown as a series of jump cuts of part of one fleet firing, then to the opposing ships taking the attack and firing back. Notably, despite the light-second ranges, ships in that universe move so fast that if they needed to they could actually close such a huge gap and get right into the enemy's face in short order. On a few rare occasions, that's exactly what happened.
  • Taken to its logical conclusion by Outlaw Star, where space combat takes the form of ship-to-ship fisticuffs.
  • Averted largely in Starship Operators where the trainee crew who mans the ship for the majority of the show stress the ranges involved in combat early on. Several of the enemies ships play with this concept, running in stealth mode (drifting into a "no miss" range and attack angle, featuring extremely advanced stealth), a remote drone Hyperjumping all over the place like a bunny on steroids (thus avoiding the return fire by not being there when it is ready), or just plain running in (featuring a nigh invincible bow designed specifically for ramming other ships).
  • Averted for the most part in Toward the Terra. Several space battles are shown to be taking place at such distances that the opposing sides can't even see each other; at one point when preparing to attack a planet, the attacking force parks its superweapon behind a gas giant in the same solar system to keep it from being detected, and simply fires it from there when they're ready. The real reason close mobile suit battle happens is because most mobile suits seem at least somewhat capable of dodging cannon fire.

    Comic Books 
  • Action Comics had fist air fight right on the cover — apparently that's the main weapon of Supermobile.
  • Lucky Luke parodies it with the Cavalry leader asking his men to not shoot the attacking Indian until they see the whites of their eyes. They all stop out of range safe one Indian that still doesn't get shot because the cavalrymen can't see the whites of his eyes.
    Indian 1: What are you doing you're too far.
    Indian 2: Sorry my eyes are all red with this dust.
  • Parodied in one issue of The Simpsons ("Hail To The Cat!"), wherein the British have invaded Springfield (long story), so the town stages a new American Revolution to force them out. Mayor Quimby makes the declaration, only for the British to pull out sunglasses ("We're not falling for that one again!"), and catch the Springfieldians off-guard.

    Comic Strips 
  • The Far Side: One strip has an unfortunate British soldier at the Battle of Bunker Hill, one Charles "Bugeyed" Bingham...
  • The saying is spoofed in The Wizard of Id. Sir Rodney is being sent off to fight the Huns, and is told by the King not to shoot until you see the whites of their eyes. Gilligan Cut to Rodney being brought back, severely wounded.
    "They must have been up drinking all night."

    Film — Live-Action 
  • In Battleship, Missouri engages the alien ship at close enough range that they not only can see each other visually, the shells can be fired directly at the alien ship without having to go through a ballistic arc.
  • Independence Day, where advanced alien shielding technology is not matched by a comparable technology providing the ability to target and destroy enemy fighters outside visual range. On the other hand, your advanced technology is probably Cool, but Inefficient anyway if it can be hacked by a TV repairman using Apple OS.
  • Pacific Rim plays this painfully straight; in a world where the antagonists are Kaiju (skyscraper-sized monsters), all the attacks we see against them are within visual range; the opening prologue shows fighter jets doing a strafing run and crashing into the first beast that makes landfall. But even after the technology is invented allowing the construction of Jaegers (giant human-driven robots with Wave Motion Guns designed to fight kaiju), most of the fights are fisticuffs. Possibly justified since Kaiju move fast underwater (when they could be taken out from a distance), and must be engaged at close range when fighting on land to prevent catastrophic friendly fire from the Jaegers, since the Kaiju target population centers.
  • Spaceballs, where the crew of the Eagle Five successfully jam Spaceball One's radar by visually locking onto, and firing a giant raspberry jam jar at, the capital ship's radar dish. Having said that, this somewhat backfired given Dark Helmet was able to ascertain the jammers' identity from their choice of weapon: "There's only one man in the universe who'd DARE give ME the RASPBERRY ... LOOONNNNE STARRRRRRR—*clunk*
    • This scene gets a pass because it's hilarious, and in a comedy.
    • Justified in the case of Spaceball One itself by the sheer ineptitude of its gunners. (That Eagle Five wasn't even spotted before making its "attack" run also doesn't say much for their sensors. Again, Rule of Funny definitely applies here.)
  • The Star Trek films, where most ship-to-ship combat took place with the captains of each vessel within spitting distance of one another. The inherent superiority of visual targeting is illustrated perfectly in Star Trek: Generations where a Klingon warship locks onto the Enterprise by using what looks a lot like a periscope.
  • Star Wars, where it seems impossible to target a Star Destroyer with a superstructure one mile long unless you are able to see it out the window. Missiles are restricted to fighter-sized starships, are deployed only at visual range, and tend to operate in a Cool, but Inefficient manner. Advanced missile weapons (such as proton torpedoes) have insufficient targeting accuracy to hit anything more agile than a freighter (unaided). In addition to this technical data mention ship weaponry as having a range of a few dozens of kilometers.
    • This is generally hand waved in the books as a result of having much better ECM than targeting systems. Missiles are tricky because they only carry so much fuel, and if they go ballistic are trivial to intercept with counterfire. Missiles don't tend to be carried on capital ships because heavy turbolasers pack a similar punch, can't be shot down, and don't have to worry about ammo.
    • Except for one occasion: in The Empire Strikes Back, a ground-based ion battery fires very effectively on a Star Destroyer in orbit above Hoth. And the writer got around the fact of a Star Destroyer's ability to target ground-based installations by indicating that a planetary energy shield prevented anything but a direct ground assault to dig the Rebels out.
    • The trope is justified a few times as well, such as in Revenge of the Sith where the attacking force was attempting to invade the planet (see "tactical justification" above) and in Return of the Jedi where the objective was to obtain protection from the Wave-Motion Gun obliterating their ships. The battle in Attack of the Clones, with the two armies no more than a few hundred meters apart and charging at each other, however, is right out.
    • Also, in Empire Strikes Back, Darth Vader's apparent tactic was to attack the Rebels from outside their sensor range, so they couldn't raise the shield (which is why he was pissed when Ozzel came out of hyperspace too close). They also displayed incredible accuracy in the EU, where a Super Star Destroyer fires on a worldship from outside the solar system.
    • Averted partially in Tyrants Test, specifically the Battle of ILC-905, where missiles are used, and barrages do manage to allow a few to penetrate the flack. Justified over normal tactics due to the enemy ships being very resistant to standard weapons.
    • The missiles used only against Star Destroyers is justified in many novels: missiles are much more expensive than lasers (which use a little fuel), have a huge firepower, and a typical fighter only carries a dozen, so it's ridiculous to use them against fighters, except aces.
    • And finally re-justified in the post-Disney acquisition Star Wars Expanded Universe, where it's stated that the plasma casters used in the 'verse are in fact relatively short-ranged, losing cohesion and power after a few hundred kilometers at most. Several works use this as a plot point:
    • Thrawn: the titular admiral has to put his Arquitens-class light cruisers into stratosphere (less than 50 km from their target) for their shots not to lose so much power that they'd become useless (Thrawn noted that this would be the case even if his target wasn't shielded). Noting that these light cruisers are modern 325-meter long military warships, this by extension implies that the vast majority of warships used in the Star Wars universe aren't capable of Orbital Bombardment, which explains a great deal. His Star Destroyer can, but it still has to get rather close by orbital standards.
    • Thrawn: Treason: a ship Thrawn is chasing is able to escape because, at 1,200 kilometers distance, it's "well beyond the range of [a Star Destroyer's] turbolasers."
    • The Last Jedi: the chase sequence that makes up the main plot of the movie is entirely dependent on the idea that the enormous turbolaser batteries on the Supremacy have an effective range of just a couple thousand kilometers before damage fall-off over range makes them useless against anything with shields.
  • Starship Troopers: Futuristic humanity, in possession of portable small-yield nuclear weapons, prefers to send footsoldiers en masse into battle with weaponry largely incapable of hitting a target other than at point blank or very short range. On the other hand, this is only to be expected when you're employing the Redshirt Army, all of whom are equipped with Cool, but Inefficient weaponry.
  • Top Gun depicts aerial combat at absurdly short ranges for modern jet fighters. Sometimes jets are shown firing missiles at targets within the minimum effective range of that kind of missile. At one point during production, the military pilots doing the flying pointed this out and the filmmakers agreed to try shooting actual aerial combat. The resulting footage was completely unusable because the jets were so far away from each other that the viewer couldn't actually see anything, so they went back to shooting at closer ranges. The TOP GUN school of aerial combat is, in Real Life, also designed around the concept of Aerial Combat Manuevering, which is "getting into the furball" of knife fight range aerial combat. No pilot wants to be in that situation with Beyond Visual Range weaponry available, but TOP GUN is designed to help them if they do.
  • Transformers (movie version), and in particular the Decepticon known as Starscream. Whilst primitive Raptor aircraft employed by the US Air Force were designed with the capability to lock and fire at ground-based targets outside visual range, this advanced alien warrior apparently is unable to target and hit the Hoover Dam's power station unless he's stationary and in robot mode. On the other hand, he's Starscream. He may have just wanted to add a personal touch.

  • Justified in Alexis Carew. The energy-dampening effects of darkspace, where most combat in the series takes place, and the price of the Unobtainium that counters it, mean that the Standard Starship Scuffle has to take place within visual range, with hand-loaded single-charge laser cannons aimed with the Mark I Eyeball.
  • In the second Artemis Fowl book, while watching goblins approached, Butler asks, "Do we wait until we see the whites of their eyes?" Commander Root responds, "Goblin eyes don't have whites."
  • In The Culture series of SF novels by Iain M. Banks, the eponymous Culture, one of the most progressive and advanced interstellar societies, totally avoids the use of ground combat and traditional soldiery, and instead prefers to go to war with starships that are essentially big engines with weapon nodules at both ends, and which are capable of causing stars hundreds of light years away to go nova. This strongly informs the outcomes of several of the novels, especially the first, Consider Phlebas, due to the fact that aggressor societies tend to trip all over themselves in attempting to fight the Culture on conventional terms, using starships as methods of conveyance of troops towards Culture habitats, while the Culture merely evacuates their population to a safe distance and either commandeers or detonates the enemy ships on approach.
  • Averted in Joe Haldeman's The Forever War. The battles take place across entire star-systems at good fractions of light-speed (and even then it can take days or weeks for a single battle to finish), and while ships do have lasers for last-ditch defense, most of the action uses drones (big missiles), with a backup of 'fighters' (though these are probably closer to motor-torpedo boats in that they require 3 crew, and can fit up to 12).
  • Justified in Heavy Object. The guns on Objects (a "land battleship"-style Military Mashup Machine which is the primary combatant in the 'verse) are capable of engaging faraway targets with indirect fire, but most fights between Objects take place at knife-fighting ranges of 5-10 km, because punching through the tough "onion armor" on their hulls usually requires multiple direct hits on the same point (to give you an idea, the first Object ever fielded shrugged off a direct hit from a submarine-launched nuclear ballistic missile). Indirect fire is still part of the playbook, just not usually against other Objects, with the exception of the Amazon arc: the signature ability of the enemy Object, a railgun-based artillery piece dubbed Break Carrier, is accurately striking faraway targets with plunging fire from beyond visual range (behind mountains in this case).
  • In the first Honor Harrington book, Honor's ship is outfitted with a weapon called the grav lance that's capable of taking down almost any ship, but requires the attacker to close to more or less suicidal range in order to fire it (which is still about 25,000 kilometers). Between that and the fact that the ship's more traditional weapons had to be gutted to fit in the lance, it was declared a failure and pretty much disappears after the first book. The rest of series averts this consistently and without mercy. Starship engagements take place almost entirely at ranges that need to have the commanders looking at the little glowing maps with little explosion icons popping up for a hit. Probably a byproduct of the fact that this sci-fi writer is trying to demonstrate he has a sense of scale just fine, thanks. As the series progresses, new technologies that extend the range of ship weapons make the Kingdom of Manticore Navy one of the most dangerous navies in the region.
  • Also averted in CS Friedman's In Conquest Born, where the idea of getting close enough to an enemy ship to be able to attempt to capture it was considered insane. Which made it all the more stunning when they pulled it off.
  • Jack Ryan: With a relatively few exceptions, neither protagonists nor antagonists go for this trope where it's possible to avoid it, preferring to engage the opposition as far away as possible while not sacrificing accuracy. Even bombing, traditionally requiring one to be somewhere near the target, is done from the maximum distance possible thanks to guided bombs, like those used in Clear and Present Danger or in The Bear and the Dragon, where American fighter-bombers launch specially designed bombs from almost a hundred kilometers away, using satellite imagery and AWACS to guide them in the rest of the way. Since AA and SAMs don't have the same range, the enemy doesn't even have a chance to know the attack is coming, much less defend against it.
  • John Carter of Mars. Despite the incredible range of Martian rifles everyone still carries and uses swords/spears. An honor code exists that specifies that a Martian must, when challenged, use an equivalent or inferior weapon (if someone charges you with a long sword you can fight him with your short sword, but you can't go the Indiana Jones route and just shoot him.) It's also considered unsporting to kill an unsuspecting target without issuing a challenge first... the Green Martians near the start of the series do fire upon Red Martians from ambush, but as the Red Martians they're firing at are in a flying battleship it's not as unfair as it sounds.
  • Largely averted in the Lensman series, where "beams" are used for long-range combat and ships have "tractor beams" to pull the enemy in close so that physical missiles don't take forever to get there (even so, it's still described as taking quite a while for the missiles to cross the gap, and only the fact that the other ship can't move allow them to actually hit it). Smith was also fully aware that space has three dimensions. Fairly early on, the enemy develops "tractor shears" that allow them to cut a tractor beam and get away from heavier and more powerful but slower ships; the response is a technique called "englobement", where you surround them in three dimensions and use pressor beams from multiple ships to hold them in the center while you temporarily turn said center into the heart of a star.
  • Averted in The Lords of Creation series where it's pointed out that such as system as above wouldn't work, as "the cheaters would win too often."
  • Men, Martians and Machines has "Don't shoot until you see the green of their teeth." In that case they were the width of an airlock door away, however.
  • Completely averted in Larry Niven's novel Protector, in which Elroy Truesdale and the Brennan-Monster fight a battle against a small fleet of Pak scout ships, and the distances are so great that Truesdale and Brennan don't find out they've won for close to a month.
  • Starship Troopers subverts the trope. Narrator states that the Navy can blow the planet into smithereens, but they need M.I. (Mobile Infantry) to make precision strikes against certain targets, an example being the main character (and narrator) a part of Scare them into cooperation battle in the beginning of the book and the main battle near the end of the book has Capturing enemy commander as it's only real purpose (it's clearly stated that they didn't even have to fight for this planet this way - they could just blow up the rest of the bugs using mass destruction weapons). Another thing is the fact that the book is a sort of manifest against Redshirt Army.
  • Justified in the Vorkosigan Saga. The ever-escalating race between space weapons and the defenses to stop them has resulted in extremely short ranged weaponry. This is explained in a brief narrative Infodump towards the end of The Warrior's Apprentice and more or less never comes up again; despite being ostensibly military sci-fi, the books usually focus on people, not pulse lasers.
  • Warhammer 40,000: Although the Battlefleet Gothic spinoff game mostly averts this (see the Tabletop Games section below), stories in the setting dealing with space combat will take approaches that vary from work-to-work:
    • In the Ciaphas Cain book Death or Glory, this is averted. As Cain notes:
      Contrary to what you might see in an episode of Attack Run, starships in combat seldom approach to within point blank range of one another, exchanging fire at distances of hundreds, if not thousands, of kilometres.
    • In the Gaunt's Ghosts novel Salvation's Reach, the ship transporting the Ghosts is attacked by enemy vessels. Several characters have gone to the viewports to try and watch the fight. They discuss the fact that the other ships are probably too far away to see anything, which some of the guardsmen have trouble wrapping their heads around. Then they realise that what they are looking at is not the star-specked blackness, but the hull of a destroyed friendly as their ship desperately tries to put it between them and incoming torpedoes.

    Live Action TV  
  • Used and averted in Andromeda, where on the bridge, they call out the distances and mention distances measured in light seconds, and have unexciting displays where symbols fire at each other. However, the CGI battles are usually done up close and personal.
  • Averted once in Babylon 5. When the Narn fleet was ambushed by a team of Shadow Vessels, the initial salvos of the battle took place very far from each other. The shots were cleverly edited together to maintain the necessary sense of danger. By the end, they had closed to spitting distance, but a lot of Narn vessels didn't make it that far. JMS does explicitly state in the DVD commentaries that he and the production team knew that space combat between large ships would realistically occur at extreme range but that they had to make some concessions to having an exciting TV show rather than a physics documentary.
  • In Battlestar Galactica (2003), they heavily rely on Old School Dogfights, and ships often fire at relatively close distances, even despite homing missiles. Even nuclear weapons are deployed at this sort of range.
  • Largely averted in The Expanse. Ship-to-ship combat changes weapons from guided torpedoes to rail guns and Point Defense Cannons as ranges fall. Rail guns tend to be the province of big ships; when someone manages to mount one (and power it) on a frigate-sized vessel, the result can go toe-to-toe with a Battleship.
  • Played straight in all Stargate-verse series: fights between ships invariably happen within visual range.
  • Zig-Zagged in Star Trek depending on the series and episode.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series typically used a trick where one ship would fire, and then they would cut to the other ship receiving it. While mainly a result of technical and budgetary limitations, it effectively allowed their scriptwriters to state whatever range they wished without contradicting the visuals—and the TOS writing room tended to have a much better sense of distance than later series'.
    • Once special effects technology reached the point where showing two fighting ships on the same screen was actually feasible on a Star Trek TV budget, this trope came into full effect, with ships engaging at essentially spitting distance. However, on occasion you would have an instance where a character would call out some wildly long range, only to have the accompanying special effects depict both ships in the same frame.
    • One episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation had some of the characters fleeing in a stolen runabout, and the person at sensors stated the pursuing ship was closing in to (something like) 4,000 kilometres. The camera switches to external 3rd person ahead of them, and just before the runabout zooms past a phaser beam lashes out (only missing because it was a warning shot). After the runabout has gone past, it is several seconds before the pursuing starship even appears.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "Defiant", the stolen USS Defiant engages some Cardassian ships, with the battle being viewed from Deep Space 9 on a map and said to be taking place at distances upwards of 100,000 kilometers. Later in the episode, the Defiant encounters a pair of Obsidian Order Keldon-class battleships, which are shown live and facing down the Defiant in TNG's classic starship standoff posture.
    • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode "By Inferno's Light", the Defiant has to get right on top of a stolen runabout to use its tractor beam on it, but its normal weapon systems could target the runabout from a distance you'd have to jump to warp for about a second to get on top of (warp 1 is light speed).

    Tabletop Games  
  • BattleTech: The absolute largest (mass-produced) direct-fire weapon that the building-sized BattleMechs can mount has a range well under 1 kilometer. Artillery can hit further out but is incredibly inaccurate. The writers of the wargame have stated that they made engagement ranges so small to prevent every battle from turning into a boring sniper battle, and to allow melee combat to coexist with laser cannons and cruise missiles. Optional rules exist for advanced players with too much time to kill and a football field to play on, allowing BattleMechs to blast each other from a dozen miles away with a few upgrades and a steadied arm. However, like Warhammer, space-combat has ranges measured in hundreds of thousands of kilometers.
  • Star Wars:
    • Star Wars Armada: Given how even the smallest ships represent capital ships from Star Wars, the ranges are very noticeably short. As an example, a Victory-class Star Destroyer, about 900 meters long, has its range measured using a ruler about five times its length. Even generously assuming it can shoot five kilometers, that would embarrass a World War I Navy.
    • X-Wing Miniatures: Starfighters occupy the entirety of their approximately 1" x 1" base. At this scale, maximum range for weapons would be a few hundred yards. To scale, these pilots can't hit each other past distances a modern rifleman can manage.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • Even the biggest artillery units have a maximum range which is, to scale, several hundred meters. Later books address this by giving artillery units ranges fully capable of targeting another table in the next room.
    • Battlefleet Gothic: The main batteries of larger ships have ranges of several Earth diameters, although the miniatures will be very short distances apart. The game gets around this by telling players that the miniatures are significantly out of scale with the rest of the game, otherwise they wouldn't be very fun to paint, or the game would be played on sports fields instead of tabletops. The ship itself occupies a tiny point within the stem holding it up. The supporting base, while constituting 'close range' for various rules, is still an area several thousand kilometres across. Fiction related to ships in Warhammer 40,000 will handle the trope in different ways in different works; see the Literature section for examples.

    Video Games 
  • Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars includes walking artillery units for the GDI that can fire the length of the map. However, for game balance purposes, they can only do this when a sniper is close enough to paint the target with a laser designator.
    • This is actually realistic, since real artillery requires SOMEONE to spot for them in order to correct the fire. While in Real Life, they could be able to fire at such range without a spotter, it would be a complete waste to fire at a position without a clue if your shots are hitting the spot they're supposed to.
    • Juggernauts could fire across half the map in their normal attack mode in the last mission of the NOD campaign. This was so they could pound the Threshold tower's defenses, but any juggernauts had this modified range. (Cue pounding of their ion cannon structure, which is another sidenote altogether...)
  • EVE Online: The range of ship weapons varies depending on the size and type of the weapon. Small ships usually have a max weapon range of few dozen kilometers for long range weapons and a few kilometers for short range ones. Large battleships can potentially hit targets from several hundred kilometers away (although their close range weapons still require getting very close, especially for such slow and hard to maneuver ships). Large scale space battles tend to consist out of two large groups of ships about 100 kilometers from each other, blowing up the other group by focusing fire to one ship at a time.
  • Homeworld: Your capital ships, whilst equipped with point defense weaponry, cannot target an enemy ship visible on radar tracking, which is out of visual range. Distances in the battles are measured in tens to hundreds of kilometers — but in space, without air friction, gravity or solid obstacles, that's still nothing much.
  • Double Subverted in Mass Effect. The fluff describes an aversion, with dreadnoughts acting like self-propelled artillery in space: keeping well back from the engagement and firing at extreme range. However the VFX artists naturally wanted more dramatic visuals: every starship battle shown in the series plays the trope straight, taking place in situations where extreme range would be physically infeasible (such as within the arms of the Citadel) or risk damaging a planet with a stray shot (an orbital battle tactic used in the Krogan Rebellions, also described in the fluff).
  • In Rodina, you can spot hostile ships from thousands of kilometres away as red rings on your HUD, but your default weapon sprays bullets so wide its more practical to fight them at a distance of 30 kilometres or less.
  • In Sins of a Solar Empire, highly-advanced ships must close to within spitting distance of one another to fight. This is further enforced by the fact that ships can only fight within the same gravity well, which doesn't go very far beyond planetary orbit. The only weapons that can go beyond that are considered superweapons and can only target planets.
  • Star Control II has some spaceships that can hit enemies from the other side of the map (Earthling, Druuge), and a few who can only hit at what's effectively melee range (Zot-Dot-Pik, Ilwrath).
  • Averted in Star Ruler. Even the weakest, smallest, lowest-tech weapons have ranges measured in fractions of an AU (about 150 million km or 8 light-minutes) and ranges only go up from there.
  • Star Trek Online has a blanket maximum range of 10 km for all space weapons, possibly due to technical limitations. You also can't even target an enemy ship from more than about 21 km.
  • Averted in Stellaris: while battles are chaotic mishmashes where ships circle each other with lots of Beam Spam, it's clear that the battles are taking place over at least half an Astronomic Unit (half the distance between Earth and the Sun), given the visual representation. Missiles are also the second longest-ranged weapons, with capital class X-size weapons having the longest range of about two AU. Kinetic weapons are realistically the shortest ranged weapons, requiring close combat of half an AU. Beams start shooting at about 1.5 AU.
  • Supreme Commander: The few guns capable of shooting with semi realistic artillery ranges (up to 71 km) are so damn expensive as to not be worth building. And most of them are game enders if they are built. A completed Mavor will make your enemies weep. Most of the game's units have an effective range of a few hundred meters, despite the fact that even the smallest targets are robots taller then trees.
    • The prequel, Total Annihilation is much more forgiving about this sort of thing past the first tier, although tank battles still escalate to a mass of tangled metal if their respective armour is sturdy enough.
    • Actually, Supreme Commander was notable for avoiding this trope. Even the weakest weapons have a range of half a kilometer. Additionally, conventional artillery pieces have ranges exceeding one kilometer (for example, the UEF's Duke cannon has a minimum range of 3 km).
  • Sword of the Stars can go from BVR combat where the enemies are only visible through the sensor display to close-in fighting where ships maneuver around each other. According to Word of God, though, this is merely an abstraction for the players' convenience. Everything actually takes place at stellar ranges and even "knife fights" with small mount weapons don't actually take place in WVR. The sequel will further avert this as weapon ranges will now exceed sensor ranges, requiring the use of battle riders as scouts/spotters.
    • Certain weapons require the use of ships equipped with the Deep Scan section in order to target something BVR. These include plain old missiles and Rail Cannons, which fire amazingly precise extremely long-range cannonballs, which are not only powerful but their kinetic energy keeps the enemy ship from getting close to use the more powerful energy weapons.
  • Universal Combat is perhaps one of the best arguments for why this is a good thing to have. Behold!
  • The longest-ranged anticapital gun in the later X-Universe games fades out at 6.62 km. Factor in, that's only two to three times longer than the ship is, and that the effective range (i.e. where a moving target is likely to avoid it) is often a kilometer or so shorter. Averted with missile frigates, however, whose Macross Missile Massacre can blow away targets from nearly 80 kilometers away (though effective range is closer to 30 km because of sensor range limitations, unless you have another ship acting as a spotter). Weapon ranges remain equally pathetic in X: Rebirth, where the Plasma/JET LR Death Ray on the Olmekron has a range shorter than ship it's mounted on.

    Web Comics 
  • Darths & Droids pokes fun at this in one strip, where the transports are ordered to fly DIRECTLY at the Star Destroyers, because their weapons are calibrated to aim at targets at "ultra long range," not right next to the ship. Before they can readjust their weapons, the transport is gone.
  • Schlock Mercenary mentioned this as a quote from The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries:
    Maxim 22: If you can see the whites of their eyes, somebody's done something wrong.

    Real Life 
  • The Caroleans, the elite force of the 17th century Swedish Empire's army, were specifically trained to do this for a few reasons. First, as mentioned elsewhere, the flintlocks they carried were wildly inaccurate even at relatively short distances, therefore they had to be close and still fire in volleys by rank. Second, because reload times were long (experienced soldiers could reload a flintlock in under two minutes), the mechanics of battle tended to favor the side that fired last. A typical Carolean attack would have them marching slowly at an enemy until they fired, then they would double time it to within 20-50 yards and then fire en masse before completing the charge with pikes and broadswords. This had a powerful psychological effect on enemies and allowed Sweden to make up for its numerically inferior army.
  • During The Vietnam War, American jets carries carried the Sparrow missile which was designed to shoot down Russian bombers beyond visual range. Unfortunately, due to rules of engagement, commanders instructed fighter pilots to only fire on a hostile aircraft after visual identification, completely negating the technological advantage of the long range missile. The missiles were completely ill suited for tracking maneuvering targets in a dogfight and achieved a kill rate of under 10%.
  • As noted in the introduction, the Trope Namer was Col. William Prescott at the Battle of Bunker Hill, the real start of The American Revolution (although he probably didn't say those exact words). Prescott was concerned over the lack of ammunition in the Patriot fort, but such an order was justified anyway due to the poor accuracy and range of 18th century muskets. If you fired before you could see the whites of their eyes, you almost surely weren't going to hit anyone.
    • This was also the basis for 'thunder fire' tactics of XVII-century Swedish musketeers who preferred to fire at very close range but with three or even four ranks at once. With such firepower they were able to break even the charge of heavy cavalry.
  • During The Battle Off Samar (the most famous David Versus Goliath battle in the history of the United States Navy or any other navy for that matter), a Destroyer Escort by the name of Samuel B. Roberts, managed to maneuver in close enough to the Japanese heavy cruiser Chōkai so that the Japanese gunners couldn't shoot back because their guns were unable to aim so low, while the Americans fired into them with 5 inch guns and Anti-Air cannons. Samuel B. Roberts managed to cripple two Heavy Cruisers before being fatally wounded by the Japanese battleship Kōngo and would go on to be known as "The Destroyer Escort that fought like a Battleship."
    • Something similar happened during the First Battle of Guadalcanal, when in a night action in near-complete darkness the US destroyer Laffey passed so close to the Japanese battleship Hiei (just 6 meters away) that the former was able to rake it with her guns causing extensive damage, and the latter as in the previous example was unable to depress its weapons to return fire.
    • HMS Glowworm got into the same situation in 1940 vs the German cruiser Admiral Hipper. Although by the end some of her manoeuvres were random (her bridge had been destroyed), the 1,350 ton destroyer fought so hard against her 16,270 ton opponent that her commander was awarded the Victoria Cross posthumously, partly on the recommendation of the German captain, who wrote to the British authorities via the Red Cross, giving a statement of the valiant courage Roope had shown when engaging a much superior ship in close battle.

Alternative Title(s): Whites Of Their Eyes, The Whites Of Their Eyes