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  • Real Space Combat

    We've all seen Star Wars and yes it all looks cool, but has anyone wondered what true starship combat would be like if indeed we had the technology. This is a military strategy/tech question, not a sci-fi fan question.

    Here is my impression.

    Star navy tactics would change in the first place because in a sea navy ships sink so the strategy is to cause enough damage below the waterline to cause the ship to sink. But in space, unless in orbit, sinking isn't going to happen. Damage criteria would be more akin to a submarine, breaching the pressure hull to cause death. Forget what you see in Star Wars, reactors don't usually explode in catastrophic fashion so victory would be attained by reducing the ship until it either can't fight or isn't inhabitable.

    Here is my impression of the future battleship (I don't feel that carriers will dominate the new battlefield and will explain why later). First it is built in four layers. The central layer will have all the vital equipment: bridge, power plant, life support, all the stuff you don't want getting hit. Built around it will be the semi and non-essential compartments such as the mess hall, barracks, etc.. The third layer will be the armor belt, designed to deflect and absorb impact rounds (I'll also explain later why lasers won't enter the picture). The fourth kind-of layer will be the gun deck. Since it is easier to maneuver large objects in space than on land the largest capital guns will be embedded in the armor layer, gun barrells poking out like cannon on a casemate ironclad. Smaller point defense guns and turret based weaponry will have to sit outside the armor belt.

    The gun positions will be manned in a vacume during battlestations with loaders in pressure suits so that a breach of the gun position will not disrupt operations with explosive decompression. Since space has no drag or gravity, there is no need to risk high explosive propulsion. Railguns will be the tools of the day.

    No lasers, sorry. Since the only way to stop one of these battleships is to crack the pressure hull in vital regions impact weapons will be ideal. Lasers take too much power and would take way too long. There will still be solid and HE rounds for varying purposes and missles. (Although since rounds that miss their target will continue to fly until they hit something a UN style organization might dictate that all rounds self-destruct after so much time in order to avoid clipping some passenger cruiser years later.)

    Why no starfighters? Because of the layer design of battleships starfighters wouldn't be able to carry a payload of destructive power heavy enough to be effective. Big gun battleships will rule in this terrain, although carrier based fighter and bomber aircraft will still be needed in terrestrial operations. And starfighters would work in "amphibious" actions of planet invasion. In this case you could see starfighter combat but not in big fleet operations prior to planetfall.

    Marines will once again come to the forefront as soldiers of boarding actions. Since ships are expensive and extremely difficult to destroy, it may be worth the risk of sprinting up to the ship, cracking open a door, and taking over the ship by boarding action. It would be even more dangerous than Marine operations of WWII but the risks would be worth the gain and the Marines would have an even greater legend of prestige.

    What do you all think? Any good ideas to add to my impression of real space combat.
    A new life awaits you in the off world colonies; the chance to begin again in a golden land of opportunity and adventure!

  • #2
    See Jerry Pournelle's series There Will Be War. Later portions of the series deal with just this subject. Interspersed with the stories, is genuine science dialogue on the subject.

    Very good reading.
    Life is change. Built models for decades.
    Not sure anyone here actually knows the real me.
    I didn't for a long time either.

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    • #3
      This is a good subject to talk about. I think space will be ruled by the Destroyer, Battle Cruiser and the battleship. Everything has it's own weakness and you have to have another type(s) to help combat that weakness.
      "You can tell a lot about a fella's character by whether he picks out all of one color or just grabs a handful." -explaining why Reagan liked to have a jar of jelly beans on hand for important meetings

      CO for 1st S.INC Shock Security Troop

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      • #4
        Interesting analysis pirateship, it sounds coherent. To add on to what Aries has mentioned, the first realistic SF account of space combat I ever read was by Arthur C. Clarke called Earthlight which postulated Earth fighting colonists in the future. A battle between 3 earth cruisers and a moon base seemed real to me, especially as it was pointed out this was a battle in silence...no air after all.

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        • #5
          Read this:
          http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/index.html

          Probably the best source for theoretical space combat online.

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          • #6
            Pirateship,

            If we're going to be realistic about space combat, then we need to answer the most important question, why would we need big space warships in the first place? Ships existed for three main reasons:

            1. Transportation.
            2. Trade.
            3. Control of waters.

            Out in space, where will we need transportation to? There is nothing out there right now, no valuable resources for us to mine from, not to mention the prohibitive cost of transporting whatever it is. Who will we trade with in the space? Nobody. What about the control of waters? Now, that is the question worth asking.

            We have the control of waters here on the Earth, but do we really have the control of outer space above our heads? All we have are some of our satellites orbiting the planet. They are defenseless and have no offensive weapons to speak of. This is the realm where space combat will realistically occur, if at all. I believe the answer will be space drones and satellites capable of performing both offensive and defensive operations. If we could find a way to deploy drones above a nation's space region and use them to gain the aerial supremacy before sending in our warplanes, then indeed it is worth investing our time and money on drones or satellites.

            On the other hand, what if we were able to build an atmospheric carrier (powered by a nuclear reactor and advanced propulsions) capable of launching dozens of warplanes? Maybe, that's something I can accept, as long there are some countermeasures available to defend itself from satellites or drones. If technical difficulties could be ironed out and the cost isn't so prohibitive, then even a single atmospheric carrier is probably more dangerous than a water carrier, because it can move across anywhere without any obligation to ask a nation's permission to go through its outer space region. It would potentially expand our ability to project our military power far inland and without a need to establish forward bases. It also forces nations to defend against both water and atomspheric carriers, something of a potential financial burden if not handled correctly.

            Tell me what do you think of atmospheric carriers, is it even a real possibility?

            Sure, atmospheric carriers would be always vulernable to missiles and defensive or offensive satellites, but so are water carriers and we still use them! That's only if we could overcome fuel and technical problems in building such a carrier. That's perhaps 100 years from now. But real space warships capable of fighting each other in middle of nowhere? I doubt it, however, that's only because I believe there are no intelligent beings out there and no valuable natural resources for us to mine from, hence no need for interstellar spaceships.

            Dan
            Major James Holden, Georgia Badgers Militia of Rainbow Regiment, American Civil War

            "Aim small, miss small."

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            • #7
              Cheetah, I think he was assuming in the distant future, we might have already gone "out there" and thus, there could be "someone out there" with which to deal with.

              As for no resources, that's simply hilarious. Space is full of resources.
              Life is change. Built models for decades.
              Not sure anyone here actually knows the real me.
              I didn't for a long time either.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by Aries View Post
                Cheetah, I think he was assuming in the distant future, we might have already gone "out there" and thus, there could be "someone out there" with which to deal with.

                As for no resources, that's simply hilarious. Space is full of resources.
                I have a hard time imagining how could moon and Mars be full of resources. Not to mention the prohibitive cost of transporting anything we might have mined on moon, mars, or distant planets. If our moon or mars were like the Earth, then I'd say go ahead and knock yourself out in grabbing those worlds.

                Dan
                Major James Holden, Georgia Badgers Militia of Rainbow Regiment, American Civil War

                "Aim small, miss small."

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                • #9
                  Originally posted by Cheetah772 View Post
                  I have a hard time imagining how could moon and Mars be full of resources. Not to mention the prohibitive cost of transporting anything we might have mined on moon, mars, or distant planets. If our moon or mars were like the Earth, then I'd say go ahead and knock yourself out in grabbing those worlds.

                  Dan
                  Moon may be questionable (in useful materials), but Mars certainly will be... It's made mostly of the same stuff as Earth. The question isn't whether the resources are there - it's whether it's economically useful to bring them around.

                  Asteroids are another great source. The elements didn't appear on Earth... Earth (and us as Mr. Sagan is keen to say) are made up of the same star stuff as everything else.
                  “To discriminate against a thoroughly upright citizen because he belongs to some particular church, or because, like Abraham Lincoln, he has not avowed his allegiance to any church, is an outrage against that liberty of conscience which is one of the foundations of American life.”

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                  • #10
                    It will look mostly like a duel between attack submarines.

                    A surface ship operates at the interface of two different phases of matter - liquid and gas. There are no meaningful interfaces in space. It's like an ocean with no surface and no bottom, just other objects floating in the same medium. There is no horizon. The islands are pitfully small against the expanse of space.

                    There will be no fighters. A fighter in space is just a small space ship. It lacks range. It lacks payload. There are no aerodynamic considerations. Objects moving at multiple mile per second velocities will transition from beyond range to zipping past your head in the time it takes a human to blink. There will be no spiffy dog fights.

                    Guns have very limited utility. The range of space combat is limited by sensor capacity. If you can ID a target on the other side of the solar system it would be handy to be able to shoot it with something. No matter how good your guns are there are inherent limits to their accuracy. If you are going to have to make course corrections anyway you are best off using something with maneuvering capability greater than that of an un-powered shell. That means a missile.

                    A missile is just a space ship without people. Both operate in the same environment and according to the same principles of physics. The best analogy is between submarines and torpedoes. You've all watched a scene of a submarine crew tracking its torpedoes toward the target. They are monitoring their environment, watching the target for indications that it's responding to the attack. Counting down the seconds to impact or miss. In space they could just as easily be counting down the days to impact.

                    Everything will be measured in seconds - If you spot a bogey at 3,000,000 km everything you see it do happened ten seconds before. If you use a laser on it you won't know the result for twenty seconds. If you launch a torpedo at it, take a nap. The computers will count the seconds for you.

                    If you have an effective laser weapon and he doesn't - you own him. Say you need an hour to burn through his hull. His missile needs a week to get to you. Fry him and see what's on the ship's movie list tonight.

                    The devil will be in the details. Every ship will be a stealth ship. All transits will be silent running. The first one to give away his position will be at a terrible disadvantage. A few percent improvement in sensor efficiency could be the difference between a so-so weapon and a killer system.

                    Now a few questions - what does you space torpedo look like? How does it work? How will you employ it? How do you defend against it?
                    Last edited by GCoyote; 07 Aug 07, 21:24. Reason: tidy up a few lines here and there
                    Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

                    Questions about our site? See the FAQ.

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                    • #11
                      Wouldn't the best ship design just be a small, robotic box with the most powerful sensors and missiles available on it?

                      If it can sense something far enough away, then it launches it's nuclear tipped warheads (or uses whatever future tech is available: railguns, photon torpedoes, etc. ).

                      My bet is that whoever can get their ordinance on target first will win: that means that ships will be smaller, faster, and rely more on great sensory equipment and electronic countermeasures to defeat the enemy.

                      That also rules out the use of the massive space battleships, and here's why: if I can fire X amount of nuclear warheads at your ship, and you can only stop Y missiles (where X > Y), then you're screwed. The missiles don't even have to hit your ship directly.

                      Of course, with our current tech I don't see the small ships being to much of a viable option, so any wars fought in space will be very (very) quick and very costly.

                      Or at least, thats how I see it.

                      And DoD is craaaazy!

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                      • #12
                        Interesting analysis, Tyler. I like your layering concept. I agree that missiles and kinetic weapons would be the 'main guns', but lasers and particle beams could have a role in point defense with an adequate power source. I could also see a limited role for stinger type fighters and scout craft. And of course the Marines would need assault ships.

                        The biggest problems would be inertia and stress on both crew and machinery from high G acceleration. You would need to plan course changes well in advance and allow for a cone of defense along your probable vectors.

                        Your engagement envelope would be rather short. Unless you have an unbelievably large ship with a huge magazine, you would have to carefully pick your shots on approach.

                        ECM would be vital, both in ship defense and as decoys among your salvos.

                        As for the why, if we ever make it into space, someone will want to fight over something. That's a given. The resources are definitely there and plans for bringing them home relatively cheaply have been on the drawing boards for years. Mining the moon? Use a rail gun to fling the cargo into LEO. Mars? A continuous loop of robot freighters could have a regular route between Earth and Mars, or even points beyond, using simple orbital mechanics. All you would have to do would be to match a known orbit and load the cargo.

                        Per Ardua Ad Astra!
                        All questions are valid, all answers are tentative.

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                        • #13
                          The why, mankind rarely needs much of a why, the how, mankind is a curiously ingenious creature and we often come up with the darndest ideas.

                          Mars could be doable if we really wanted to go.

                          Given enough greed (seems we never lack for that) and almost anything can be made valuable enough to want.
                          Life is change. Built models for decades.
                          Not sure anyone here actually knows the real me.
                          I didn't for a long time either.

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                          • #14
                            Read David Weber's Honor Harrington series. Combat there takes place over a distance of light minutes (at the end of the series) between fleets and light hours for assaults on planets/moons/etc. Capital ships are 5 million tons+. There are small craft (with crews of 10ish) that are mostly expendable parasites, though they do end up playing an important role, such as aircraft carriers coming into their own during WW2

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                            • #15
                              Damn You!!!

                              Originally posted by the_redstar_swl View Post
                              Read this:
                              http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/index.html

                              Probably the best source for theoretical space combat online.
                              I stayed on that site for three solid hours last night!!!

                              I'm going to temporarily adopt a liberal position and refuse to accept any personal responsibility for my current state of sleep deprivation.

                              [great site BTW]
                              Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

                              Questions about our site? See the FAQ.

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