Friday, December 12, 2014

Building a Space Navy II: Stategic Assumptions (World Building)

So let's dive right into the next segment of our series on "Building a Navy" with the tools given to us by Dave Weber and Christopher Weuve.

This part.
The first section of our chart from the first post in the series shows the column "Strategic Assumptions".  Now, in real life this means military and political stuff way above our pay-grades (except Weuve, of course) and is therefore not our concern, unless you like to study that stuff.  For the purposes of our little niche labeled "military-hard-SF-that-doesn't-insult-professionals-too-badly" This is where the author in question should put their world building.

In order for us to go through this chart effectively, we will need examples to work with.  In order for me to show off what I've been working on, It makes sense that I should provide the examples.  Very well, I accept.

This step is also arguably the most arbitrary of the steps we'll be going through in this series, so there isn't much I can advise others on except in the most vague and broad manner.  If you're Weber, you add the Honorverse to this and get the Royal Manticore Navy.  If you're Ken Burnside, you add the 10 Worlds and get Attack Vector: Tactical.  If you're me... you get Conjunction.

"When Planets Come Together, Worlds Are Torn Apart."
This idea was stolen inspired by Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets website because of course it was.  Specifically, the Appendix "Ring Raiders"  Which extolls the virtue of Saturn's sub-system as a location for human colonization.  The main MacGuffinite offered is that Saturn is basically is a huge source of Fusion super-fuel Helium 3 and lacks the crushing gravity and deadly radiation of it's larger son, Jupiter.   This is all well and good for the future, but we don't even have fusion reactor that works on helium 3, so it's all a bit pie-in-the-sky.  However, Saturn's moon Titan has some very interesting properties.

On September 3, 2014, NASA reported studies suggesting methane rainfall on Titan may interact with a layer of icy materials underground, called an "alkanofer," to produce ethane and propane that may eventually feed into rivers and lakes. (Citation)

Did you catch that?  On Titan it rains natural gas.

This isn't even a MacGuffin, Rocketfans, this is as real a reason to go 'way out into space as it gets. We are now rapidly approaching the period of Peak Oil here in Earth, and we have not made adequate preparations for converting our civilization to renewable power generation and conservator power usage.  Most estimates I've found for the absolute latest we can start this process and hope to keep industrial society alive is between five and twenty years ago.  Even better, if our industrial society slips into the Dark Ages because of a lack of fossil fuels, it's pretty much impossible for any successor civilization to get back into space.

So, in short, we lose civilization for a few centuries and we lose space forever.  And plastics, and fertilizer, ad nauseum.

Let's assume for purposes of pure fiction that somebody or a group of somebodies decides to get proactive and corner the market on hydrocarbons mining on Titan.  This is far from a bad idea no matter what you think about the future of fossil fuels as a power source- we literally make everything out of the stuff, so it will always be valuable the way rare-earths and coinage metals are valuable.  Not to mention, it would probably take a lot less time to terraform Mars if we could bathe it's red hills in fertilizer...

This means a huge train of space-going super tankers bringing Titanian rain to where it's Black Gold.  Just as pirates hold oil tankers for ransom now, they probably would in the future, so there will need to be a military/ peacekeeping patrol keeping an eye out.  Add to that what Issac Kuo had to say about Jupiter and you have a possibly self-sufficient colony system that may be chafing under the yoke of Earth's trusteeship.  Then there is a little event called the Great Conjunction, where restless Jupiter is right in between the oil-starved billions of Earth and Mars and the propane seas of Titan.

Black Barney:  "I'm the Captain now.  I'm the Captain."

And that, Rocketfans, is what gave me an idea...

Taking all that and plugging it into the Building a Navy chart was (is) a non-trivial process, but the main legwork is in the latter sections.  With what we've discussed so far, we can fill in the Strategic Assumptions section in fairly short order:

  1. Strategic Assumptions
    1. Security Environment  (This is the part where we talk about what we want to protect and what we need to be protected from) 
      1. Overview: Multiple colonies spread throughout the solar system. Earth is the hub, with Mars undergoing major terraforming. Extensive mining of NEOs. The Jovian system is nearly self-sufficient with abundant raw materials and energy thanks to Jupiter's magnetic field. The Saturn system is thinly populated but Titan is the number one source of hydrocarbons in the entire solar system.
      2. Original source of security threats involve changing orbits of NEOs and outer system objects. UN&C over-site necessary to insure planetary security.
      3. Advent of nuclear powered civilian craft require on-board UN inspection teams to insure integrity of reactors, safe operation of spacecraft, and compliance to all UN mandated safety protocols.
      4. Economic pressure of Titan's hydrocarbon boom have shifted mission assets to protecting commerce from Saturn to the Inner System
      5. Jupiter's increasing self-sufficiency, deteriorating economic and diplomatic relations with Inner System and approach to Great Conjunction requires forward projection of force.
    Fiscal Environment (This is where we see how much money there is changing hands, and how much we can reasonably spend on our Navy before our Security Environment is more trouble than it's worth)
    1. Importance of Space Resources to the Economy:
      1. Nearly 20% of Earth's GPP and 80% of Mars' GPP depend on foreign imports of rare earth metals and hydrocarbons.
      2. It is impossible to underestimate the value of Titan to the Solar economy. Both water and hydrocarbons (ammonia and methane) are needed to hydrate and fertilize the Martian soil and Titanian hydrocarbon stocks are still needed for the synthetics, agriculture, and plastics industries.
    2. Amount of expenditure viable for interplanetary military assets is one-fifth of the value of space commerce to the constituent planets' GPP (Approx. 3.8 trillion)

The part about "one-fifth the value of space commerce"  is compliments of Rick Robinson's essay on Interstellar Trade, which works just as well for interplanetary trade.  The monetary values are arbitrary and subject to change depending on the needs of fiction, further research, and stuff.  I thought the part of UN inspection teams being present on all nuclear powered craft to be common sense, but I'm not sure if I've seen it before.

Anyway, that is more than enough for now.  Next post will be about How to spend that 3.8 trillion a year on our Strategic Goals.  Or, you know random stuff.  But we will continue the series eventually.


  1. Great overview. I agree that Titan would be a tempting natural resource for colonies. I do question how economically viable it is to import gigatons of hydrocarbons from 1.2 billion or so kilometers away. The energy requirements to break orbit from the Saturnian system are not negligible. Likely they would need those fusion drives we keep dreaming about.

    As a Med Ops planner in my Army unit's S4 shop, I really appreciate this article and have bookmarked it for future reference. You are absolutely right that most fiction fails to address the strategic and fiscal situations in the story. I'm writing my own hard sci-fi novel and have some of this stuff in the background, mentally if not in the story.

  2. A few other comments: The Peak Oil crisis does not seem to be as dire as we thought, especially with the use of fracking. Additionally, by the time we run short on oil, we will have had a great deal of time to develop commercially viable alternatives: massive solar arrays with robotic drones to smart enough to maintain them. This could easily spin off into a whole other discussion so I'll stop here.

  3. My research indicates that the fracking boom is already going bust, unfortunately. There is also not nearly enough money being put into alternative power - though the recent breakthroughs by the Japanese are encouraging.

    1. This is why we should've built those massive solar power satellites that they extensively studied back in the late 70s. Now it's probably too late.

  4. Hello. Great article! Is there ever going to be a "Part III"? I want to see you bridge the concepts all the way down to Fleet Missions, where, as you note, most sci-fi novels pick it up.

  5. Never mind, I found it. Didnt look carefully enough at the home page. Will there be a IV?


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