Friday, February 27, 2015

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. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Conjunction #7 Unenviable Position

I thought I would actually add a little commentary to this one.
For all my Hard SF Rocketfans out there, the masks provide pure O2 so that the mechanical pressure suits under their clothes don't cause the bends in the event of depressurization.   The spaceplane they are traveling on rides along a magnetic track until it ski-jumps off the launch tower.  Then the umbrella bell on the tail opens so the rocket can be goosed into space via lightcraft propulsion.  There are a couple of solids to boost the plane out of LEO and into a GEO rendezvous.

Thanks Winch! 

Monday, February 9, 2015

And Now For Something Completely Different...

I think I've figured out a way to dungeon-crawl a Star Destroyer using geomorph cards and random tables.  Could take a while to develop, but I see potential.
Please realize that these are just preliminary notes, so things are subject to change:

Think you can map this?
Challenge Accepted!
-There will be a collection of cards, three large maps, and a booklet full of tables and stats.
-There will 24 cards, in alphabetical order...each card is lettered.  -There are also three "big map" cards to put in the deck.
-Each card had 6 corridors on the edges.

How to use:
-Shuffle deck, pull cards.
-Roll 2D6:  line the numbered corridors up.
-Look up the geomorph's letter in the booklet, use the random tables.
-If you get a Big Map card, put the big map down.
-The Big Maps will be of the Command deck, Engineering, and the Hanger.
-There will be lots of possible NPC encounters, as well as puzzles, hazards and obstacles.  Even if you make several copies of each card (which you could) the encounters can be completely different.
-Logic should be used in place of randomization when appropriate (ex: A garbage masher should be one deck below the detention area, no matter what the dice or the deck say)
-There will be some "cul-de-sac" cards and cards with non-standard corridors for variety.
-The NPCs will also be on cards, for ease of use during play.
-There will also be a few "recommended combos" of the geomorphs and maps to represent large ships, smaller ships, and bases.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Building a Space Navy VI: Fleet Missions: Fleet Posture

Welcome back, RocketFans!  Or should you welcome me back, since it's been exactly one month to the day since the last post that attempted to fill in the blanks of the great Space Navy Chart.  In the last month, every member of my household has been sick.  Twice.  And my sainted wife has developed bronchitis again.  What started (at least in my mind) as a joke is now sadly confirmed:  My wife is allergic to February.

Tales of woe and doom aside, It's time to return to the current meta-subject of this blog:  How to build a Space Navy Force in a realistic manner, taking into account factors that most mainstream producers of fiction ignore or underservice - such as today's subject, Fleet Posture.

Doesn't it look neglected down there?
Fleet posture is a deceptively simple concept that is nevertheless of such staggering strategic importance that anyone who ignores it should sit in the corner with the people that don't think about logistics.  And it is ignored, all the time.  For example, in the original Star Trek series, The so called "5 year mission" of Enterprise is about as forward deployed as you can get, but where was it's base?  We're all those Starbases they visited really that far out?  Or did Kirk & Co.  travel dozens of light-years backwards when they ran low on deuterium?   Some television SF, like Babylon 5 and it's emulator Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, were all about Fleet Posture, as both eponymous stations were forward deployment bases into what became active war zones.

We will not discuss who did it better on this blog.

Before continuing, let's look at the excellent summation of Fleet Posture from Atomic Rockets:

I"s the fleet homeported inside your star empire ("garrisoned") or is it forward deployed in foreign territory so it can rapidly deploy to known threats? Does it frequently patrol or deploy outside your empire or does it say inside except for training missions? Fleet posture is not where the spacecraft are based, but instead how they are based and how forward-leaning it is."
There's more about FTL fleets but we don't need that.  The idea of being "deployed in foreign territory" is of particular interest, not just in a setting as vast as all of space but in the real world as well.  For example, the USN, Earth's largest and most technologically advanced navy (for now), has a carrier permanently ported in Japan, and has since the end of WWII.  First, this was to keep an eye on Japan, naturally, but now this forward deployment gives the USN a base from which to project power into all of Asia.  On the other side of the globe, more or less, we've had a Carrier Task Force in the Persian Gulf since I was a freshmen in high school (My daughter starts high school next year, so long time!) and I have no doubt that those waters will be heavily patrolled as long as the US has interests in the region. 
But Navies aren't the only branches of the military that forward deploy.  The US Army Air Corps forward deployed in Britain during WWII in order to conduct bombing raids on the Third Reich, and to this day there are Army assets in Germany that have been staring across the boarder at Russia for so long the threat collapsed and then became a threat again.
So our point is, Forward deployment is important.
But forward deployment isn't the only consideration to...consider when thinking about Fleet Posture.  The other major point of consideration is patrol.  We've discussed the idea of patrolling here and there, band provided links as well as actual spacecraft.  However, patrolling is an important enough subject that we should expand upon it ever so slightly before moving on.
Space, like we discussed before, can be easily divided into Orbital Space and Interplanetary Space.  Likewise, patrols can be divided into these two categories as well.  Orbital patrols will be, by far the easiest and most frequent.  An orbit, by definition, is a patrol route around a planet, after all.  It lets you keep an eye on the ground - the planet itself - and the sky, or anything approaching said planet, and even keep tabs on other orbits around that planet and nearby bodies such as moons.  Any Space Navy Fleet, if I were going to organize it, would have a planet's orbital space as it's primary zone of responsibility.  Since I am designing a Space Navy, it works out.
Interplanetary space is another animal all together.  Since there are no shipping lanes to patrol, and the distances are just so vast, patrol will probably be restricted to patrolling what ever convoy military assets find themselves attached to.  It may seem like a waste of resources have a fleet capable of blockading a planed on convoy duty, but if we think about it, it makes more sense.
It's like this:  Those planet-patrolling Fleets have to get from point A to point B anyway.  Therefore, they may as well do so as part of a convoy.  Not just "may as well"  if the fleet is moving from Earth to Saturn, then the voyage will take at best two years.  That is a long time to not only rely on a single life-system, but to stay in the same can with the same food and the same people.  Even if you equate this to the Age of Sail, with titanium space craft and iron men and women, you're asking for trouble.  Especially since any interplanetary spacecraft is basically a weapon of mass destruction once you reach cruising speed.  Travel in a convoy, and things are much more interesting.  You can have patrol craft that routinely flit between big ships in the convoy, performing maintenance and inspections and stuff I've already mentioned before.
So, what does all this rumination mean for the good ol' UNSF of Conjunction?  Well, I've already mentioned that any space force will have be pretty forward leaning if it wants to respond to a crisis that decade.  The UNSF is certainly no exception.  In addition, the UN&C expect Jupiter separatists to make a move to disrupt shipping during the Great Conjunction.  This has lead the Security Council to increase Astro and Espo presence in Jovian space, as well as increase the number of Patrol Craft moving with the convoys.
I'd like to get more specific.  I really would, but here we hit a hurdle: we have yet to describe the actual Space Navy in question, so it is difficult to move forward.  That is why, before beginning the next phase of our discussion on building a space navy, we will first continue our discussion of space combat in Conjunction, with an article on how the basic assumptions we already discussed will be put into ship design practice.
See you then.