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Friday, February 27, 2015

Conjunction #9: Taste Test

In the Pumpkin-Suit Manual: Easy Rules for Hard Science Fiction, I described riding in a laser propelled vehicle as similar to being inside a machine gun...

Monday, February 23, 2015

Space Combat in Conjunction: Tactical Considerations

So here we are again, RocketFans, with another installment of combat in … SPAAAACE! Conjunction-style.
Pictured: UNLS Czechoslovakia  in rendezvous formation with PL-16. 
Because even super robot ray guns in space need maintenance. 

In the last segment, we discussed a few of the assumptions that space combat in the Conjunction universe would be working under, at least initially. To recap, these are:

  1. Missiles and lasers are evenly matched
  2. Remote control beyond a light-second is impractical
  3. Most combat is going to in orbital space, where it is possible to hide
  4. The most vulnerable location on a spacecraft is its laser
So the questions are: What does this all mean for ship design? And what does it mean for strategy and tactics? The second of those questions is the main topic of this post – after all, you need to know what kind of missions you're going to accomplish before you try to design the ships.

Or else you get this.
So, let's look at assumption #1 first, and then weave in the others as needed.   A large enough salvo of missiles will overwhelm any laser defense but could be too expensive, and lasers need to be the biggest, most powerful and therefore most expensive in terms of cash and, much more important, mass and energy. What kind of tactics does this suggest?  If the missiles have less Δ-V than the spacecraft they are attacking, than the ships can get out of the way. If the ships have large enough lasers, they don't even need to get out the way – they can shoot the missiles and laugh at you. But, let us not forget Assumption #4 – once our ship starts shooting, targeting that laser is a simple matter and without the laser, the ship neither defend itself or – and this is important – attack its own targets.

Why can't the defending ship attack? We can assume that the defender has its own missile salvo to launch, right? Because the nature of the beast, especially Assumption #2, both the attacker and defender will launch their missile salvos at a specific time to insure that they have the maximum spread and the maximum amount of control. Of course, if the goal is to utterly destroy the defender, vaporize its armor and detonate its propellant, kill every living thing on board and write off the multi-billon dollar price tag of the defending spacecraft, than you can just launch on the most economical vector, shoot out the defender's lasers, and let Sir Isaac's mighty maths convert mass and acceleration into lethal force.

I told you:  Fear my mighty maths.
In Conjunction, however, there is another possible mission goal. 

One of the Conjunction universe's central assumptions is that the war is one of colonial revolt. This is a civil war in space – which means that all the spacecraft in the conflict are considered by the UNSF the property of the UN&C. So if it was possible to mission-kill a spacecraft and spare the vessel - and its squishy crew – we can assume that doctrine would suggest doing so. But how?

It's like this: Because we assume lasers are vulnerable, missiles need to be launched early and at the same time, and spacecraft want to keep the distance of engagement at around a light-second, tactics exist that allow one to mission-kill a spacecraft without destroying it. The missiles, which would occupy all the attention of a spacecraft's lasers, are maneuvered into a spread that requires the spacecraft to do just that.  One way to do that is to bracket the defending spacecraft so that it must destroy the missiles or maneuver onto a vector that will force them to expend too much propellant - either die fast with a bang or slow with a whimper.  It can also be assumed that some of the missiles are lasers themselves, used to attack the defending spacecraft's lasers. Because a spacecraft must use most if not all of its laser time-on-target, the side with the most intact lasers wins, period. They can still defend against missiles, and the other side cannot. If the other side surrenders, they will do so by maneuvering their remaining missiles away from the attackers, probably at a perpendicular vector the ecliptic - because those missiles will eventually hit something, even it's Vega a million years from now. The victors can then do the same thing, confidant that they are still in control, because they have working lasers, and the other side doesn't. Physics being what they are, the two ships will most likely never be able to rendezvous, but that's okay, because unless the defenders turns Kamikaze and rams something, they can't really hurt anyone anymore. The best they can hope for is to return to a friendly (or even unfriendly) port and get resupplied.   

Of course, this only works if both sides considers the others' rockets and the lives of their crew to be worth preserving. Jovian forces would not consider the UNSF spacecraft their property and therefore have no financial reason to want to conserve the UN's assets, would they? That being said, part of the true difference between a group of separatists and a group of terrorists is that the separatists generally adhere to the conventions of lawful war – which means not slaughtering enemy combatants if it is not necessary. This is why members of the Confederate States militias and the earlier Continental Army (eventually) were treated as enemy combatants when captured and not summarily executed for treason.
"...we are willing to exchange all colonial
prisoners if you stay in America..."

Did you know that most prisoners of war in the American Civil War were paroled? There were simply too many POWs to house and feed, and no one really wanted to slaughter fellow Americans. Soldiers on paroled were expected to never raise arms against the other side until a formal prisoner exchange took place. If they did, then they would be summarily executed the next time they found themselves on the losing side on the battlefield. I bring this up because this is exactly what could happen to our defeated spacecraft in the example above. They surrender, they are allowed to go on their way, make port and not die in space. Should that spacecraft be repaired and redeployed before a formal exchange (which basically means both sides agree to allow x number of defeated spacecraft to be reactivated) it will be shot out of the sky with all the Ricks that can be mustered.

It occurs to me that for all the bloody massacres implied by the cold equations in space combat, we may see a different effect on the future battlespace of the solar system simply because we chose to limit ourselves to more civilized forms of warfare, just as we do (mostly sometimes) today. If the idea of paroled patrol craft and “exchanges” of spacecraft that amount to little more than saying “Okay, your timeout is over, you can play again!” sounds unrealistic, remember that with infantry in at least one war just such a thing has already happened.

Our next post will be about what kind of design considerations are needed to make these missions happen, and some more about the doctrines and deployments these spacecraft can execute. After that, back to Building a Navy with the ships we come up with. Hope you enjoy!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Conjunction #8: Misunderstanding

...The next major article, "Space Combat in Conjunction II: Design Considerations" should be ready by Friday sometime, so keep an eye out.