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.

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