Sunday, August 26, 2007

Space Fighters, Not

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, George Lucas added Space Fighters to the standard arsenal of SF warfare tropes. For Hollywood it was love at first flight, partly for the cool special effects, partly for the reason I gave here. At SFConsim-l the consensus has been trying to stuff the things back in the toy box for the last eight years ... but no one listens to us.

Lucas did not invent space fighters, of course. I don't specifically recall any in the SF I read growing up, but I vividly remember one in an animated series I used to watch in grade school. (That was also a long, long time ago, and alas I have no idea what show it was.) Space fighters didn't really catch on till Lucas, though - the clearest evidence being that Trek had nothing of the sort.

So ... what exactly is a space fighter, and what does SFConsim-l have against them? If Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica, and Babylon 5 are anything to go by, a space fighter is exactly what you would imagine: the spacegoing equivalent of a DeHavilland DH-4 or an F-16. It is a small spacecraft, about the size - and, oddly, roughly the shape - of a present-day fighter jet. It has a single pilot or at most a two-man crew, strapped into a cockpit with minimal habitability, clearly intended for short missions of only a day or so at most. We see them whooshing and gyrating across the screen, zapping away at each other. Now and then they also destroy the odd stray Death Star, which with typical bad-guy carelessness is designed to obliterate whole planets but cannot defend itself effectively against killer gnats.

(Credit to Babylon 5: not only did its Starfuries have less overt similarity to atmospheric jet fighters, they sometimes even maneuvered like spacecraft instead of airplanes - an all but unique Hollywood tribute to Sir Isaac Newton.)

So what, you may ask, do some of us have against space fighters? The atmospheric kind have been with us for more than 90 years - a shade longer than tanks - so they're no passing fad. What works in one environment, however, isn't automatically suited to a very different one, and fighter planes don't fight in space any more than tanks do. (Yes, the same false-analogy critique can be laid against the analogy of space warcraft to naval ships - but that's an issue for another post.)

Space, first of all, is the same environment for small ships and big ones alike. This immediately knocks the stuffing out of the implicit contrast between small, fast fighters and big, slow space dreadnoughts. Fighter planes are airplanes; battleships are ships: They operate in two entirely different fluid mediums with very different properties. Battleships can't fly, and fighter jets can't cut power and drift while making repairs. There's no such essential difference between space fighters and larger ships - and no inherent reason for the fighter to be faster or more maneuverable.

"Fast" is in fact a bit of a slippery concept when it comes to spacecraft. Speed in space is all relative to begin with; the more useful measure for a spaceship is delta v, "change in velocity" - especially, how much you can change your velocity before you run out of gas. For any given propulsion technology, the way to get more delta v isn't a more powerful engine but a bigger fuel tank. What a powerful engine does give you is higher acceleration - so you can achieve any given delta v more quickly.

"Bigger fuel tank" and "more powerful engine" are also relative - to the size of the ship, more specifically its mass, since that's what you've got to push around. They are also contradictory in a sense - a big propellant supply means more the engine has to push around, so it is hard to get both sprightly maneuver performance (high acceleration) and extended maneuver capability (ample delta v) in the same ship.

Which does suggest that a small, somewhat fighter-like spacecraft, designed for tactical operations with limited endurance, could be a good deal handier than big ships designed for long voyages. The short-range tactical ship - presumably transported to the battle zone by a "carrier," or operating from a nearby base - can carry a smaller and lighter fuel load relative to its size. It doesn't need the supplies, provisions, and life support of long-voyage ships - not even a proper zero-g toilet, let alone bunkrooms and a galley. (Also no crew of techs to keep it running: just a pilot.) The mass saved by leaving all of this out translates directly into higher acceleration: in tactical terms a more agile, "faster" ship.

So isn't this our fighter, even if it doesn't look much like the Star Wars kind?

If it's going to be a useful fighter, however, it should probably have an armament. It can't carry a very heavy one, or you lose the maneuver performance that is the fighter's reason for being. Nor can it carry much armor or other protection, for the same reason. Whatever armament and protection it does carry, however, should be sufficient to fight its enemy counterparts. If successful it destroys them or chases them off, after which it can attack bigger, slower enemy ships ... how?

Broadly speaking, space warcraft in SF use two kinds of weapons. The more familiar are beam weapons - once called ray guns; now usually imagined as lasers or something similar. The hitch here is that our small fighter can't carry a very big one, especially since the weapon needs a power supply. Big, sluggish ships, by virtue of being big and sluggish, can carry a much heavier armament - heavy enough to zap a swarm of fighters out of the sky before the fighters can do much more than scratch the big ship's paint.

Yes, the fighter is fast and maneuverable - but not faster than a laser beam. Nor is there much chance of jinking around to dodging one, at least at any range much less than Earth-Moon distance. Light travels that distance in one and a quarter seconds. Aiming is limited by the round trip (because the gunner depends on light, or a radar beam, etc., to see the target), so at Earth-Moon distance our fighter has two and a half seconds to dodge. That might be enough. But at a tenth of Earth-Moon distance - a piddly 40,000 kilometers - the fighter only has a quarter-second of dodge time.

Dodging "bullets" that come at the speed of light is no way to live long and prosper. So if fortune favors the big battalions, combat between laser-armed warcraft favors big ships that can lay down powerful zaps. Maneuver hardly enters into it.

Lasers and similar beam weapons, however, are not the only plausible space weapons. A throw pillow will wreck a space dreadnought, if you throw it fast enough, and spacecraft do go fast. Thus kinetic weapons, as described in this snippet back in April. The weapon itself is nothing more or less than a slug (or spray of slugs, like buckshot). It does, however, have to be thrown - fast and hard.

One way to throw it is to shoot it out of a gun - probably electrical, a railgun or coilgun. This, however, requires a heavy, high-power installation. As with lasers, coilguns with serious hitting power thus require big ships to carry them and their power supply. Another way to throw a slug, however, is to put it on the front end of a missile. The launching ship has to carry the missile, but this requires nothing more than a launching box, or even a clamp on the side. The third way to deliver a kinetic slug is the simplest of all: Head toward the target, fast, release the slug - then veer aside before it hits.

This last tactic has a lot in common with World War II dive bombing. In practice you would probably combine "bomb" and "missile" - the slug having a guidance motor to steer it into the target and counter any evasive moves on the target's part. Henry Cobb on SFConsim-l came up with the term lancer for this tactic and the ships used to execute it.

In contrast to zapping with lasers or similar weapons, lancer tactics favor small, agile ships. You need good maneuver performance, first to line up on collision course with your target, then to veer clear of the target - and its defensive fire envelope - after releasing your ordnance. Large size is no advantage, because the lancer ship needs no powerful on-board equipment, and because several small lancer ships are preferable to one big one. They can engage several different targets - or come at one target from several directions, boxing it in.

Now things start to look interesting, because it has probably already occurred to you that lancer ships can engage each other. In fact, if lancers are technically and tactically viable at all, the best way to protect your big ships from them might be to send your own lancers out to engage them. A battle between lancers even looks quite a bit like a dogfight, though on a vastly larger physical scale. We can imagine small, handy ships, hurtling along complex curved trajectories, trying to line up for clean shots at their enemies while avoiding getting lined up on - especially getting boxed in, where evading one enemy sends you right into the path of another.

It's taken us long enough - I've been working on this post, off and on, for about three weeks (which is why this blog has looked like a dead zone lately) - but here at last we seem to have our space fighters.

Not so fast: There are complications. In space, if I've lined up a good shot at you, you also have a good shot at me. We're heading straight at each other in a game of interplanetary chicken - given equal-performance ships, if one of us veers aside in time neither of us scores a hit; if not, we both score hits. In lancer combat you're either a live chicken or a dead duck. So much for swaggering lancer jocks knocking back green fuming Rigellian brandy and hitting on the bar girls.

The simple if unromantic solution is to leave out the pilots, or at least put them back somewhere safe, "flying" the lancers by remote control. That way you're not throwing away pilots, just some expensive hardware. There's not much reason to have a pilot in any case. Outer space is a tactically "clean" environment, without much clutter - ideal for automated systems. A lancer ship would have to be flown mostly by computer anyway; there's really not much place for silk scarf and goggles. Save the mass of pilot, cockpit, and even minimal life support and your lancer-turned-drone becomes that much more agile.

One type of decision that can't be left to an ordinary computer is a rules-of-engagement decision: shoot or don't shoot. In contemporary terms only a human being - or an artificial intelligence as sophisticated as a human being - can decide whether a car speeding toward a checkpoint carries a suicide bomber or a terrified Iraqi family. A tactical space battle, however, is very unlikely to pose that sort of question, at least in a form so immediate that it can't be decided by a human remote operator a few light-seconds away.

You could find ways around all of these complications, but at some point it becomes special pleading - like contriving a world where people have radar and guided missiles, but fight their sea battles with ironclads, really just because it would be cool. A more robust contrivance is to have your ships fight in Z-space (or whatever you choose to call it), where the local laws of physics favor spaceships that fly like airplanes. It's still contrived, but not so baroque.

For "normal" space, however - the kind with stars and planets - space fighters are a pretty dubious proposition, and you're better off without them.

Of course, if Hollywood calls and waves some money in front of me ... space fighters you want, space fighters you get.

387 comments:

1 – 200 of 387   Newer›   Newest»
J Morales said...

A very nice post.

One quibble, though. You write
""Bigger fuel tank" and "more powerful engine" are also relative - to the size of the ship, more specifically its mass, since that's what you've got to push around. They are also contradictory in a sense - a big propellant supply means more the engine has to push around, so it is hard to get both sprightly maneuver performance (high acceleration) and extended maneuver capability (ample delta v) in the same ship.
"

You're talking SF here, not reality.

Regarding the power to mass ratio, mass disintegration changes the equation. A major premise in, say, the "Doc" Smith universe is that the fastest and nimblest ships are the biggest.

Just saying.

Karl Gallagher said...

You might like Walter Jon Williams' Dread Empire's Fall trilogy. The fleets don't have fighters, but they deploy "pinnaces" to act as forward observers for missile salvos.

Winchell said...

Obligatory Atomic Rocket link:
Space Fighters

Kedamono said...

I definitely think that the scale of battle needs to be mentioned. Most people think of big slow ships, ponderously moving past each other at speeds respectable for ocean going ships. That if you ship had a porthole, you'd be able to see your enemy through it.

Relative speeds between the ships will be in the tens if not hundreds of kilometers per second. Blink and you missed seeing the ship you're trying to hit.

Distances will such that if a friendly ship was within 100 km, he'd be too close, mainly because of his drive or your drive. Your enemy is a high resolution pixel on your telescope. He's hundreds if not thousands of miles away.

And there's your tiny little fighter, who has to cover that distance without being blown out of the sky by the other guy's AA lasers.

Sure you can get ships moving relatively slowly next to each other... if they are paralleling each other. But if they do that, they'll pound each other to flinders with their weapons, since at the ranges portrayed in most movies, they can't miss each other.

Rick said...

j morales - The perils of hidden assumptions! I tend to assume "realistic" assumptions, meaning things like reaction drives, no protective force shields, etc. (We'll politiely ignore the realism of any sort of FTL ...)

The same problems can be raised by purely engineering assumptions, though, such as the likely minimum size of a nuclear drive, including fusion.

karl - If ranges are very long, fire controllers within a light second or so could be really useful. Do they need human crews? Dunno, but that's another one to tiptoe past, because an awful lot of space SF makes what amounts to negative-handwave assumptions about cybernetics.

winch - Thanks! I was too lazy and tired of fighting this damn post to the mat to go hunt down the link, and forgot to even include the standard link to your front page.

(Any tech-minded readers not familiar with Winch's site, hie thee hence, forthwith! Or even if you just like cool retro SF images.)

kedamono - Oh, dear me, let's not even talk about Hollywood range. Space battles always seem to take place closer to Trafalgar range than Jutland range, let alone Midway range.

Just from a cinematic point of view, it wouldn't be that hard to do it right - the problem was solved for WW II naval footage, if not earlier. Good guy, firing toward the right, CUT TO Bad guy, firing toward the left.

To convey really long range, have one ship zapping away (or firing missiles, whatever); pan the camera, we see it's firing more or less in the direction of a distant moon-type body. Cut to another ship, close to the cratered moonscape, just as it gets whacked.

Kedamono said...

If you want to see what happens to a ship at "Tralfagar Range", check out this web comic:

Crimson Dark

Unfortunately, the ship that's being pulverized had it's drive taken out by...

a...

fighter. :-(

Rick said...

kedamono - Well, the big ship got what it deserved, letting the fighter get within about 100 meters. (!)

And boy that fighter pilot would have to put on a lot of veer, after firing what amount to keel-mounted weapons at that range!

Marina said...

You know, I used something similar in an extremely-not-hard-scfi collaborative work; pointblank heavy torpedoes which are the only way fighters can damage large ships, truly blazing accelerations. More unguided rockets in the style of the blazing 400g's of acceleration of the 1960s HIBEX experiments than anything else.

Oh, and, Hi Rick. It's been a damn long time, but surely you remember me. How can we get in touch again?

Rick said...

Marina - hi! Even loaded with 400 g rockets, space fighters still seem like a very expensive form of suicide.

I've lurked through Warships1 a few times and seen you there, but I haven't posted in an age, and Tarrantry seems to have faded. I sometimes mull a Tarrantry 2.0 - its fleet scaled down to a level more reasonable for a robust midrank power - but I have no idea when I might get around to it!

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm new, but I read your take on space fighters and I thought it was interesting. I thought it seemed odd that you all had much to say about various tactics and innovative weapons, but seemed to dismise missiles with but little commit. The whole point of a fighter, space or otherwise, is to get weapons into range of its target as quickly as possible, not to have a small vehicle engage a large one. The missiles engage the target and the fighter just gets it close. The fighter launches its weapons, then escapes. Modern warfare is all about NOT being hit by a weapon and most modern heavy weapons are long-range, such as missiles. Fighter tactics are designed to divide the defensive capabilities of the target among the incoming weapon, the fighter's EW, and the fighter's onboard weapons. Oh, and one last thing; fighters attack in numbers and only a foolish or desperate pilot would attack one-on-one with a warship at AA range.
Ferrell Rosser
fro1797@aol.com

Rick said...

Ferrell - Belatedly, I am generally a fan of missiles as a space weapon, but for a variety of reasons I don't think that missile-armed agile space warcraft would much resemble our familiar notion of a fighter.

Anonymous said...

I think that that's the whole point; space fighters used in deep space won't resemble the common concept of a spacefighter. The common concept is more akin to that of an 'aerospacefighter', or a spacecraft something like a cross between a shuttle and a jet fighter. I think that most people have this idea of what a spacefighter is. This confusion is widespread and spills over into popular culture. Aerospacefighters would be a highly specialized subdivision of spacefighters. I think that 'real' spacefighters for deep space missions would simply be the smallest type of combat spacecraft. If you want a more realistic approach to spacewarfare, most combat spacecraft (of any size or type),would be auxilary warships due to the costs of maintaining a fleet of warships active full time. However, you're right about the dramatic needs of SF and Vipers and X-Wings do look cool, zipping around the screen, no matter how unrealistic they are.

Anonymous said...

Oops! I forgot to sign my last post.
Ferrell Rosser

Anonymous said...

Okay. I read the Atomic Rocket page and I thought "Oh, dang! I want fighters in my story!" It looked like I was going to have to abandon them. But then I thought of something-FORCE PROJECTION. Assuming your fighters can use whaever FTL you have (fixed warp points for me), and you have a carrier group or starbase set up in a nexus, your fighters can engage enemy forces or scout and find them a system or two away. I don't disagree with you on anything you said (I LIKE the lancer idea!) I do think they may have a use. Also, If you have missile-armed fighters for engaging their fighters and BOMBERS for engaging their capital ships.
BTW I'm a different Anonymous.

Rick said...

Different Anonymous - good to see that people are still coming by, considering that I hadn't posted anything in more than a month! (I just finally posted a new item.)

But as to your point, why put pilots aboard the vehicles? If there are no FTL comms, so you need some in-range human supervision, follow the combat vehicles with an 'AWACS' control ship.

The nature of space combat, primarily unlimited visibility, means that the need and scope for purely tactical human decision-making is fairly limited. So why strap someone to the front end of the spear? That just costs extra mass for life support and - especially - necessary recovery of the vehicle. (Remember that even the kamakazes were a desperation move, not part of intended Japanese doctrine!)


Put the human decision makers at the back end of the spear, covered by the combat vehicles.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, I'd thought of that. A problem-If you use lasers (or other lightspeed device) as a communication system, and your remote fighter is 2 lightseconds out when it comes up on their manned fighter. it takes 2 seconds for the message to get back, a second or two for the huan on the other end to respond, and another 2 seconds to get the message back. those 4 extra seconds can kill a fighter. But, that dead fighter won't take a pilot with it. Each side has its own advantages. Anyway, with the fighters engaging the enemy capital ships, it really depends on how much punishment the capital ships can take and the fighters can dish out. A squadron of X-Wings (Star Wars) can take down a Star Destroyer (with some losses :/), but a Starfury (Babylon 5) squadron would (and did) get slaughtered against a Minbari War Cruiser. Once again, a Bomber that can carry heavier weapons may make sense here. It all depends on how you want your universe.

Anonymous said...

A thought-wouldn't an advanced AI that could process enough information to analyze and react to a situation be really expensive? Although, a robot might be able to make more logical choices than a human (I'll leave it at that...Anyone who is a Star Trek (TOS) fan will know the meaning of M5...). Now, I do agree with you that a robotic vehicle or an Honor Harrington style Missile Pod would be more cost effective-but I would still recover it. Seeing a several-thousand-dollar-computer drifting into space on a spent drone will not make the computer techs happy. And, of course, a completely non-scientific law-SF readers want FIGHTERS, not DRONES! It may not be realistic, but its there. I still think I'm going to drones, but...

Rick said...

Anonymous - another belated reply!

A high level AI might well be expensive, especially if it needs to be 'trained,' not just programmed. But tactical space combat is relatively simple, and doesn't seem to call for much beyond present day expert systems. 'Everyone sees everything' tends to reduce pure tactics to just number crunching, which computers are good at.

Higher level decision making and judgment comes in more on the operational level, but that is well suited to human decision makers 'behind the lines.'

And, of course, a completely non-scientific law-SF readers want FIGHTERS, not DRONES!

AKA Burnside's Zeroth Law: Readers want to read about people, not robots. But the issue with space fighters is really a bit subtler than that. The space fighter trope isn't just about people, it is about fighter jocks. The staff planners and techs at a base or aboard a mother ship are just as much at risk if the drones they control lose, but less derring-do is involved.

Putting it another way, I think space fighters were invented so that the human decision makers could be studly (or babelicious) 20-somethings, rather than middle aged senior commanders.

Anonymous said...

Just like to point out the that the reason for maned vehicles (as I see it) is that they help to discourage war due to loss of life. If they were artificially controlled they would only be a loss in money instead of loss of money and life. On a side note I believe combat wold try to take place near an planetary body for so as more likely recovery of escape pods.
Dan

Anonymous said...

I think this is one of those "Purple/Green" conflicts-there is NO answer (until we get there). You have those who avidly defend them, those who think they are useless, and those poor people stuck "on the fence" (like me). There are all kinds of problems-fitting life support, engines, weapons, and whatever else a ship needs, and advantages-You can attack a system away (assuming your fighters can use FTL-another possible problem based on size), if it gets shot down you don't lose as much as a full-size ship... and so on and so on. A good comment was on Atomic Rocket- Space Warfare will probably not be anything like what we have seen. The point is, we can argue this back and forth all day. I've read things that convinced me fighters WOULD be used, and some (admittedly more) that convinced me the opposite. This is by no means the end of the discussion, but this is me officially removing any responsibility for the post becoming endless from my shoulders.
"The Different Anonymous"-also responsible for the 9-20 and 10-21 posts.

Anonymous said...

As to your comment, Dan... loss of life hasn't bothered humans since Caine and Abel. Hitler still invaded Poland, Xerxes still invaded Greece, and so on and so on. There will always be some evil, totalitarian, power-hungry dictator out there willing to sacrifice his subject's lives for more turf.
The Different Anonymous

Anonymous said...

I just had an idea-I was reading back throught the original post, and I see the comments about the short-range ship with very little life support, etc. Then, I thought, on a full-size ship, why not take those elements out, too? You could have room for more weapons or a higher acceleration.
Think about it-
EvilTyrranicalDictator's "fleet" comes out of hyperspace to engage the PoorOpressedHeroRebels. It really consists of, say, three "motherships"...which drop a horde of Gunboats, Destryoers, or whatever else you want to call them. They are equipped only with enough life support to keep the crew alive for a few hours, a command syestem, an engine, and a heck of a lot of weapons. Meanwhile, the sensor techs of the PoorOpressedHeroRebels pick up the EvilTyrranicalDictator's force. The Battlestations drop their own Gunboats/Destroyers/Others. The ships engage each other like a normal ship-to-ship engagement, albeit at higher acceleration rates and with heavier armaments. Either A-The EvilTyrannicalDictator's fleet wins, forcing the surrender of the PoorOpressedHeroRebel ships and battlestations, or B-The PoorOpressedHeroRebel ships win, the EvilTyrranicalDictator Gunboats (or whatever) re-dock with their motherships and leave, or C-Neither side gets the upper hand, and both sides retreat to their battlestations/motherships, re-arm, and go at it again. It's an idea, and solves the problem of Fighters just being too small.
"The Different Anonymous"-this conversation is getting a bit one-sided here...

Anonymous said...

In reply to "different anonymous' the fact that their would be tyrants out there that would gladly sacrifice people for land, has little to do with the fact that there are tyrants that would not want to sacrifice life.

In regards to "Double post anon" it is indeed a less thought of idea but the cost may end up being to great if a mother ship was lost.

Dan

Rick said...

Time for me to actually drop by and maintain my own blog! The doubled comment and following 'oops' comment have been deleted (their former presence explaining the 'double post anon' identifier).

The presence of human crews has been no deterrent to fighting in the past! But you could still have human crews functioning as escalation tripwires, like Western troops in West Berlin during the Cold War. Nothing says 'An attack on X will be regarded as an attack on me' like stationing my troops there.

New Years Eve Anon - What you suggest is a generalization of rider ships, which can be large, not just 'fighters.' They don't even all have to be literal riders - you could have support ships to carry maintenance crews, etc.

Today's Anon - Yep, the risk factor for an attacker is that the vulnerable logistic mother ships will be attacked, leaving his tactical forces stranded.

But the defender also must have a logistic base, and they are also stranded if it is wrecked, albeit they might have a friendly planet nearby to bail out onto.

Anonymous said...

Okay, about the humans as a deterrent argument, I don't think you need to go out and attack people, just be ready to kick the butts of anyone who attacks YOU. but that's not the point.

About to the risk to Motherships, that is true. That is why some respectable defensive batteries should be mounted on them. Also, I thought about something. Why not have hyper-capable "Cruisers" to support the motherships, do backwater patrols, etc. It makes since.

We don't have our Space Fighter, but I think this is about as close as we're gonna get.
The Different Anonymous

Rick said...

Different Anon - Wow, this post still gets replies!

If you haven't already, you might want to read a couple of my recent posts, 'Yo ho ho and a bagful of khat' and 'Adventures in interstitial space.' Short form, the piracy off Somalia invites a broad rethinking of space combat. It may be MUCH more up close and personal than I (and most people) have assumed. Long range sensors don't tell you who or what is aboard a spacecraft. Those requires close inspection if not boarding.

This probably doesn't lead to the classic space fighter, but it does cast plenty of doubt on my previous antiseptic image of robotic spacecraft fighting at Stupendous Range. I'm only starting to explore the implications.

Anonymous said...

I had read a few of your blog articles and haven't been that avid of a reader like some of your other repliers, though I felt that I would have to respond to. However, before I continue, I would like to note that like those of the Battlestar-Star Wars Camp, I wasn't too happy with the declaration on the feasibility of Space Fighters made by Atomic Rocket. Thus I would have to come up with semi-imaginative ways of including said machines into any story universes and ideas that range but not limited to Force Bubbles, limited FTL Jumps and the like. But then again, I'm also fond of the giant robot mecha idea as military vehicles so meh.

Anyway, as I was saying, the idea of Space Fighters as a staple of any Sci-Fi Fleet would not survive the physics and logic of space and orbital warfare. However that doesn't mean that a Galactic Empire's Flaghsip Dreadnaught Space Craft and pride of the Emperor's personal guard force couldn't trace its lineage to a space fighter.

How or even why a Capital Ship could even have a basis in a space fighter that would be considered impossible or even impractical in a space combat environment based upon physics and number crunching at spit second speeds, you may ask? Well, until someone or some people start constructing a Space Elevator, a terrestrial borne Mass Driver or the like, chances are that payloads going into space are still going to be predominately sent via rockets and rockets are notoriously known for having large remass and/or propellant tanks to lift otherwise minuscule cargo like satellites, let alone people. Thus, any combat vehicle sent into space are more than likely going to be small, one-manned space craft that would have piss-poor life support compared to other orbital craft and stations designed to keep orbit for months or even years at a time.

At first, these Orbital Fighters would be similar in function, if not design, to their jet fighter cousins in that a cockpit is exposed with its bubble canopy to allow full range of cover for use of the Mark I eyeball to catch any targets or enemy Orbital Fighters on its tail. The cockpit of these early space combat craft don't even have to be pressurized or even feature integrated life support. The Pilot's Space Flight Suit provides the necessary atmospheric pressure and life support to which is plugged into the Orbital Fighter's power generation system. However, radiation protection for these pilots against cosmic rays are similarly limited to just not launching during a solar flare. Eventually, this problem is fixed by replacing the bubble canopy with strategically located cameras scattered across the Orbital Fighter and stuffing the cockpit and its fighter pilot deep inside the Orbital Fighter to have as much mass between the human element of the machine and cosmic radiation as possible.

After some advancements are made and pass that allows for the deployment of space craft to have significantly smaller mass ratios than previous generations that allows for the creation of far more robust space combat ships that feature life support for a much larger operational crew for far longer duration in addition to military operations moving father and deeper into space with ranges and delta v requirements that Orbital Fighters simply are not designed for spelled their end.

However the lessons learned with the Orbital Fighter are expressed in the designs of future space craft and star craft fighting each other with turreted and spinal weaponry while maneuvering in three-dimensional space restricted by the laws of orbital mechanics. The Space Fighter popularly known in old science fiction serials, movies, and TV series are pushed by the wayside like the Knight and Cowboy. However the spirit of the Space Fighter lives on in the capital ships that fight in orbit of planets, jump points and other such strategic celestial objects that make them worth fighting and dying for.

Course then again, I have been wrong before.

Anonymous said...

To Rick's post, that would be a special case (i.e. having to take all or some of the people aboard a ship alive rather than just vaporising it). For normal combat, big ships work just fine. For catching and boarding a ship, I'd go with a small ship with high acceleration and maneuverability. Possibly one that can latch onto said enemy and burn a hole through the hull (like the boarding pods seen on the B5 episode "Severed Dreams"). For that, a big fighter. Of course, it would have a very limited role. And as to why this still is getting posts, I have this page on my favorites list :)

As to the other anonymous, that does make sense. Probably one would place thier bases on a moon or asteroid, to avoid massive amounts of fuel consumption to escape gravity. As to the cost of rockets, I'd also put as many factories and assembly yards on moons and asteroid fields. (I see gas giants and asteroid belts moving up on the "target" scale...)
Anyway, I don't disagree with anything you said, but you still have some of the problems of "traditional" space fighters (i.e. running out of gas/air too quickly, not big enough to carry significant weapons, too little armor...)

If you had a lot of small ships they could overwhelm larger ships (much in the same way swarms of stinging inscects can kill/seriously injure a much larger animal). However, it would be best to combine the two, so the enemy cannot devote all of its weapon space to either heavy anti-capital ship weapons or light anti-fighter weapons.

Rick said...

Apologies to the Anon who posted on June 13 - I was replying to comments on recent posts and reply on this one. (I've done a few posts in the last month on aspects of space warfare.)

The question given current tech is why an orbital craft designed for pure combat would have a pilot. One way to get orbital fighters in a setting (or its historical past) is to have an alternate history in the later 20th century, so that some project such as Dyna-Soar actually got built.

Having said that, small early generation spacecraft could certainly be the historical and technological ancestors of much larger later ones. Compare the 16th century oared fregata to 18th century frigates, let alone modern ones!


Today's Anon - I'm interested in those 'take them alive' situations because they are a reason to have humans on the spot. If the mission is to simply blow something up, there is no need to risk a human; send a robotic / remote piloted vehicle to deliver the attack.

My general thought is that in space combat the weapon platforms will be robotic, with humans aboard command and support craft. See Space Warfare III (June 23), and its discussion thread.

Anonymous said...

One more point. If your sensors aren't good enough to accurately pick up tiny ships at extreme range, you could use small "missle boats" as weapon platforms. (See these pages, http://www.arclight.net/~pdb/hammer-lightnings/index.html and http://www.silentphoenix.co.uk/confed/confed.html, for where I got the idea) Big ships could be used to carry missile platforms, troops, supplies, etc. They may carry defensive weapons to engage enemy pods, and possibly some heavy anti-ship offensive weapons, but the "Queen of the Battlefield" will be the remote pod. In situation, I agree with most everything you said. Pods will lurk around the battlefield, blowing ships and each other up in spectacular fireballs (complete with entirely unrealistic Hollywood "Explosion" suond effect), the large ships would recover/reload/launch pods, and the troop transports would grab and opening they could to capture whatever your objective is (deep space isn't much use). Note that the reason for Troop Transports is that I REALLY don't like kinetic/nuke bombarment of planets, and in ALL of my universes a kinetic/nuke bombardment ban is in effect.

In case it seems I am "reaching at straws" for excuses to include fighters, I'm not. What I'm trying to do is present all possibilities and dicuss pros and cons of them all.

"The Different Anonymous"

Rick said...

The thread that will not die! This post has now been drawing comments for nearly two years!

You're not reaching at any straws here, because robotic missile craft aren't 'space fighters' - at least not in the sense of having a human fighter jock flying them, which is the core of the idea so far as Hollywood and the pop culture are concerned.

A formal ban on planetary mass bombardment might have little effect on its own, given high intensity warfare, but I believe that MAD leads to the same outcome. Slagging a planet, or at any rate bombing any civilization on it to rubble, is simply too easy, given the lack of force-shield type preclusive defenses.

Planetary landings have their own problems, but they are merely practical ones - the enormous cost of spacelifting enough troops to have any chance against a strong, stiffly defended planet. (Minor colonies with limited local forces are another matter.)

I tend to think of space warfare as very 'maritime,' at least on the strategic level, with blockade the characteristic doctrine once you've defeated the space opposition.

Anonymous said...

To Different Anonymous, or what I would like to call "Diff-Anon": Well the traditional problems of any Orbital Fighter of any concept in a Near-Future context will exist regardless simply because traditional rocket motor drive technology could only lift so many kilograms at once per launch and some things will just have to be sacrificed and those things will have to be mass that doesn't help with accomplishing the mission parameters and tactical profile of the space craft in question.

I'm not sure exactly who said this, but its a design philosophy that pretty much states that "One does not design and build more than is needed to finish the job". A spacecraft designed to reach and engage a target in addition of returning to its launch point/base isn't going to necessitate a semi-self sufficient life support system designed to keep a person alive for months at a time at least.

To Rick: Well even though there are legitimate reasons for not having a human being pilot an Orbital Fighter and other similar craft, there are also reasons why a human being may be need to man the controls of a combat spacecraft whatever the type and size if the automation and computer technology isn't sufficiently advanced enough to perform such missions autonomously or even in a drone like fashion if that post you've done on the automated subway train crash is any indication.

Weather the reason, such as the sophisticated computer AI system isn't economical enough to be expendable in combat or drone control being disrupted because of who knows what, a human-piloted spacecraft would have a foreseeable and plausible future if the technology or circumstances prevent an automated or drone craft to perform the same combat mission. A good visual example, abit purely conjecture, would be this clip from a History Channel Documentary, especially at time mark 6:42 onwards:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXDZn1P2oPg

Though I am a bit miffed at the statement of "Conventional Missiles being useless in the vacuum of Space". Aren't rockets perfectly suited for space or am I missing something here?

However, I do get the point about Directed Energy Weaponry being a better choice for Low Earth Orbital combat over conventional missiles whose sole job is to make things go boom. When space junk is a concern, you don't want to add any more than you should. With Directed Energy Weaponry, especially those designed to cause damage via heating, one can simply wound an enemy space craft enough for it to loose the power needed to stabilize the orbit and simply fall. Along with possible damage to any atmospheric reentry protection, the craft will-

Actually it'll be a repeat of Columbia, though this time it'll be more deliberate rather then accidental. Still not a pretty way to go.

Either way a human-manned combat spacecraft, weather it be some form that could be recognized as a Space Fighter to Joe Average or a Missile Launching Platform that could be considered a "Space Warship", will still be utilized if the technology and/or circumstances doesn't allow automated or drone controlled combat space craft. Once those hurtles are achieved, with Technology being easier to overcome than circumstances, well it's been a nice ride for the Space Jock while it lasted.

- Sabersonic

Rick said...

Ah, one of the anonymi has a name now, AND this comment thread is getting every closer to the 2 year mark!

I haven't watched the video yet, but I'll guess that 'conventional missiles' means, for example, air to air missiles that use fins for steering, and therefore wouldn't work in space, where you'd need deflect/attitude thrusters instead.

Generally I agree that there will be a role for humans, but especially in places where relatively high level command decisions are required (e.g., shoot/don't shoot). Purely combatant tasks - 'zero in on X and zap/smash it' seem to lend themselves to automation pretty well.

On the other hand, boarding and inspecting a suspicious spacecraft would be very much harder to automate. That is the sort of mission I seem humans doing.

Anonymous said...

A thought just occurred to me, based off of Diff-Anon's statement on the accuracy of sensors to pick up and track small targets at a distance.

To be truthful, any spacecraft producing any energy at all will light up an IR screen and single it out compared to the ambient temperature of space utilizing today's technology as stated on Atomic Rocket. However, seeing a spacecraft and targeting onboard weapons onto a spacecraft are two different things. One of the challenges in targeting would be the performance and mechanical error of the machinery that reorients a weapon system to a target. One doesn't have to dodge the weapon projectile itself, especially if its a line-of-sight or within that narrow aiming cone type, but rather avoid being targeted by the weapon system itself.

Spinal weaponry would be easier to dodge since it's dependent upon the orientation of the spacecraft it is mounted upon. Missile banks don't have to change their orientation, but their rocket propelled munitions do and these can be easily defeated either through destruction or sensor confusion. Turreted weapon systems, especially LOS weapon types such as lasers and particle beams, would be most susceptible to mechanical error in addition to the speed of the machinery used to reorient the weapon onto a target that is desperately trying to avoid being targeted.

One can imagine that harder hitting and damaging LOS weaponry would not be fast enough to reorient itself onto a smaller and more maneuverable target relative to the attacking spacecraft. Weapon systems whose turrets are fast enough to get a few precious seconds onto the target generally would not have the kind of stopping power to outright destroy said spacecraft. Just wound it at best, possibly enough to decrease its agility so that it may be destroyed by the larger and deadlier weapon systems.

This little targeting problem might give the orbital fighter, manned or unmanned, the edge it needs to become relevant if only for a few years. As I have stated previously, manned orbital fighters are probably going to be utilized first before the utilization of automated systems due to limitations of technology at the time.

Looking around one's environment without having to manually turn a camera into the desired orientation is also going to be an advantage as well over drone and automated spacecraft. That is until the use of strategically located cameras negates this little problem for AI controlled craft, but it may still be a problem for drone craft if the remote pilot is only looking at a single screen.

Though then again, barring any mass budgeting, this doesn't mean that remote pilots of combat command spacecraft can't utilize a VR screen that allows for 360 degree viewing of the drone's location without having to switch to another camera. This simulated viewing environment could even be mounted upon a VR helmet display that senses the rotation of the heads of what I would call "Drone Gunners". Not exactly as exiting as a human in a cockpit, but in the type of environment and setting that is Hard SF, this may be the more plausible method. Barring any restrictions of the technology and circumstances at hand of course.

- Sabersonic

Rick said...

I'm working on a post about laser weapons, and one peculiar property is that if they are workable at all they can be aimed with ridiculous precision, comparable to the Hubble Telescope.

For a related reason, I think 'keel mounted' lasers are less of a problem than often assumed, because of the range they can zap at. Even uber fast ships creep across the sky when they are thousands of km away!

That said, all of this could be rather different if you are fighting in an orbital clutter and unsure which objects are your targets. That's a whole issue I mean to address in a future post in the Space Warfare series.

Jean Remy said...

And the post endures.

I was at one point tempted to have a "technological leap" at a point in a war. The Battle of Midway leaped to my mind: the era of battleships ended, the era of the carrier began. And I wanted, more than a new type of weapon, to convey this end and beginning, combining nostalgia for things that were, and enthusiasm for things will be.

Therefore is unveiled the new secret weapon, the Carrier. It was to supersede the Battlecruiser, that old lumbering relic of another age, about to be overtaken by the new. An age was over.

The role of bombers was exactly that of the Lancer: get close enough to get past the ECM, release payload, delta-v laterally. Unfortunately I'd decided early on not to use missiles, because missiles were very much slower that any workable fraction of c, and lasers went, well, at c, I didn't see any reasonable way a missile could get close enough without being vaporized. So I tried to have a reason for the pilot: random movements, not very big ones, just a tad of lateral delta-v while remaining on the main vector. My thought was that a computer RNG, at least as we know them, are really pseudo-random. If the enemy computer could crack the random number generator's seed, it could predict such course changes and zap the missile. It satisfied me for a while, and once this setup in place started to write the story.

Then I got to the part of the pilot, alone in his cockpit. The other fighters of his squadron are so far apart (for maneuvering room) that they are only tiny specks. Even the enemy Battlecruiser is a tiny dot in the far off distance. It was a lonely, empty thing to be the pilot, so full of poetry and...

screeeech

The fighter is still moving at far less than c in any direction, far less than a second downrange, and it doesn't matter where he goes or what he does, the advantage always goes to the faster bullet. While the cavitation chambers for the lasers are large and buried in the ship's structure, the optics themselves, a game of mirrors and lenses, could be swiveled. No need to turn the entire ship around or any such silliness. In fact the Battlecruiser doesn't seem like a lumbering relic, but like a very bright light, and the fighters were mere moths going to their doom.

I cannot now see a situation where a physical weapon, especially one as easy to target as a vehicle spitting very very hot matter, (also possibly emitting radar and lidar) can outrun, outmaneuver, outanything a weapon which hits it at the same moment the vehicle perceives it is fired upon. As for the ability to target a fast-moving object, consider that the lens mechanism (put it in a sphere like the military plans to do with their 747) even at a very low angular speed, can sweep a wide arc of the sky in a fraction of a second.

The exception would perhaps be kinetic weapons: cold, inert, impelled at speeds that might attain a reasonable fraction of c with accelerations unsurvivable by mere human flesh. When I saw an article about MetalStorm, I was sold: throw enough metal at a problem, and it ceases to be a problem.

Well there is a problem: railguns cost as much energy as the laser, generate as much waste heat and require expandable ammo.

But I like the irony.

Rick said...

The irony, indeed!

Perhaps this is a good place to admit that - quite apart from the severe practical problems with space fighters - I do have a bias against them. I am a battleship/battlecruiser fan, and therefore disapprove of carriers and the planes they carry on aesthetic principle, so to speak.

Paradoxically I've also tended to favor missiles over beams, though beam weapons generally favor big ships that can carry powerful installations, while missiles can justify rather fighter-like lancer types.

Jean Remy said...

I actually think if you were going to field missiles you would actually need a big ship actually. Not because of the complexity of the launching mechanism but because of the sheer number of them needed to get past any point defense (be it beam or kinetic)

Another point against the fighter: a battle like this can only be one of attrition. You don't want to lose 80, 60 even 40% of your fighters when you can lose 95% of your missiles and get the same results. I am not even taking a humanist view. Training a fighter pilot is very expensive. The pilot of an F16 is far far more valuable in terms of cold hard cash than the fighter itself. If Emperor Evil McEvilpants doesn't think twice about human life, he might just hesitate when they bring him the bill.

Rick said...

This is a good point that I've only rather recently started thinking fully about (it will be the topic of an upcoming post in the space warfare series).

And I agree with your point about pilot attrition, even from utilitarian perspective. If it is worthwhile to spend the cost in mass and life support to carry a pilot they must have exceptional skills and training, which themselves are expensive.

Anonymous said...

Good points!

Rick: I am also a Battlecrusier/Battleship fan, but to the next degree: My SUPERDREADNAUGHT will cleanse the heavens of your puny Battleship! MWAHAHA!!!

But I digress.

My idea for "Pods" is the same thing as Jean Remy's "pilot's value" argument. Your pod gets nailed, oh well, we'll build a new one.

As to the laser argument, there is a point: the laser moves at lightspeed, and your sensors, at best, do also. So, a target at a range of 2 light-seconds (I don't know what that translates to, so if anyone else does please say), then by the time your sensor beam comes back from hitting the target, the information would be 2 seconds old. Even assuming instant reaction, your laser takes 2 more seconds to get there. That's 4 seconds your target has to change vector, and when your acceleration is measured in km/s^2, that can be significant. I think missiles are your best bet for space weapons, simply because it can follow its target around.

Also, I'm not saying to take humans completely out of space combat. The unmanned pod is simply an extension of a ship's combat power. The HUMANS give the pod a target and tell it "sic 'em." Capital ships are entirely under direct human control, another thing that's a given with all my universes.

I still think, once combat moves to the interstellar scale, an automated pod will be the closest thing to a fighter we're going to get, especially if you have drives that don't need fuel (i.e. reactionless drives). I can leave a group of pods with one-shot kinetic launchers around a planet for days, ready to hammer any enemy ship that cones nearby and race back to the launching ship.

"The Different Anonymous"

Jean Remy said...

Diff-anon

2-second downrange means roughly 600,000 kilometers. And yes, at "best" it would be 4 seconds before you hit anything. But it gets worse. Far worse.

Using only passive means (ie: a telescope) one observation only gives you its bearing. It gives you neither range nor vector, requiring at least another observation, an to have significant parallax to make the estimate viable, you probably need to wait a few seconds between measurements. Even with a radar pulse, you only get bearing and range after one pulse, and need another pulse to get the vector. Since one radar pulse takes 4 seconds to give you any data (2 seconds out, 2 seconds in, you could be looking at 8 seconds before you take a shot, or ten seconds total before you actually strike. 2 seconds downrange is FAR.

Barring magitech, accelerations in the order of kilometers per second squared are rather impossible. If 10 m/s^2 is 1 g, then 1000 m/s^2 is 100 g. You'll need a mop to retrieve the crew.

My issue with a missile following its target is mainly this: you will need at least as big and expensive a torch engine on that missile as on the enemy ship. It seems to me like a huge investment that's still slower than a laser and susceptible to huge attrition rates, perhaps even until it costs more to hit the ship than the ship itself: using a 2 million dollar missile to kill a 50 dollar mule, so to speak. Grated the enemy ship itself is very expensive, not to mention the crew, but it still seems like a woefully expensive way to kill a ship. Even if lasers are, per shot, less powerful, any decently-aimed shot will arrive within seconds, or less, and is impossible to block, and you can shoot more times for the same mass assuming an efficient way to cool it (the number of missiles will by necessity be limited, while once installed, the laser can keep shooting) I just don't see too many weapons as remotely viable in space over a laser.

One last point: if you have a reactionless-drive pod, why put a gun on it? what you have is a missile potentially capable of c-fractional strikes: basically a planet-busting nuke in a convenient package. Putting a gun on it becomes rather redundant.

Anonymous said...

With my missiles, I'm assuming the missiles are cheap enough to make them effective. Also, I think I'm predujiced. I'm a fan of the Honor Harrington books by David Weber, which use missiles as primary weapons and has ships capable (assuming the inertial compensator is working) of several hundred g acceleration. When I can hit your ship from 6 million kilometers out with missiles, and my lasers (which are IMMENSELY powerful, to be fair) can only hit from around 100,000 kilometers, I tend to prefer the missiles. For a more in-depth discussion of space weapons than I can manage by someone better educated than I, check out this site:

http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/rocket3x.html

As far as NOT using the pods as suicide missiles, I want at least some of them to be retrievable. Whlie that could be the purpose of some of them, I don't want my cruiser out on detached duty is some backwater sector to have to come back every few months because it ran out of pods. Although, on second thought, they WILL have to do this for thier missiles, so it might not be as big of a deal.

Another thing I've thought of as a reason for a fighter/lancer/rider/pod/whatever. Smaller ships have an advantage when firing a missile or kinetic weapon. Assuming you are firing your projectile in the same direction you are travelling, your shot has the vector of your ship, plus the speed given to it by the launcher, and whatever extra speed its drives give it, assuming it is a missile. that means a faster ship has a LONGER range (yes, I know, missiles/kinetic weapons have technically unlimited range. I'm talking about powered flight range for missiles and the range a hit is reasonably possible for kinetics). Since smaller ships generally have higher acceleration rates and always take less fuel/energy to accelerate, they would be better for a high-speed weapons platform. On another (rather ironic) note, if you are running away from an enemy ship, the faster you go, the SHORTER your range becomes, and the LONGER your enemy's becomes. Although, it cuts both ways with kinetics, since yours will be going to meet the enemy, and theirs will be trying to catch up to you. That also applies to missiles, but not as much.

"The Different Anonymous"

Rick said...

In general, a lot depends on techlevel, including relative techlevel among different systems. Spacecraft of the midfuture (probably) will accelerate, for any sustained time, in milligees. Even doing that requires gigawatt level drive power for a craft of any size. Torch level drives approaching sustained 1 g will need to be in the terawatt range.

I'll note as an aside that SF writers are very careless about this. Ken Burnside made an observation (I think it is somewhere at Atomic Rockets) that Weber had a missile carrying a 20 megaton warhead, but hitting the target at speeds that would deliver gigatons of kinetic whallop - the warhead was totally irrelevant. :-)

If you have torch level drive performance, you probably also have uber lasers. Anthony Jackson at SFConsim-l has suggested that 1 percent of drive power is a reasonable guesstimate for beam power ... meaning torchships should have beam weapons delivering on the order of 10 gigawatts.

On the other hand, at torch speeds, missiles deliver stupendous kinetic punch, and even a small fragment will wreck a ship (unless zapped, of course).

A couple of specific notes. With two or three ships / sensor drones you can triangulate for range. And while missile acceleration must be greater than target acceleration, the missile can be much smaller, so total drive power can be a lot lower - maybe 10 gigawatts for a torch missile.

Jean Remy said...

Rick:

Triangulation would give more accurate physical coordinates for the initial measurement, but all you get is relative bearing and range. No matter what you still need another data set for the vector: a vector is a change of position along a specific direction over time. That "over time" can't be solved by different locations, you still need over time data, which means no matter what to get a vector you need another data set.

In other words: a vision (telescope) sighting only gives you a bearing. A single source radar pulse gives you a bearing and an approximate range. Multiple-source radar pulses give you bearing and accurate range. No matter how many data sources, you still need a second data set to resolve the vector.

My example was inaccurate in that I purported to wait for the first pulse to come back before you shot the second pulse. The example was intended as a worst-case scenario that would invalidate the firing solution before the shot was fired. More realistically the radar pulses would be only micro- to nanoseconds apart, so in the 2 second downrange example the earliest to can compute a solution involving the enemy's vector is 4 seconds and 1 nanosecond rather than 8 seconds.

Rick said...

Yes, you do need over-time data, but you can get it from two successive triangulations. If speeds are high or distances great, you will have to number crunch for light lag, but that is what computers are for.

And precision ranges often aren't terribly critical. Lasers are basically point and shoot. Missiles just have to maintain CBDR (constant bearing, decreasing range) on the target. If the target evades, the missile sees it drifting off center and makes a deflect burn to keep it centered.

Jean Remy said...

I think we're arguing over something we're in agreement with.

Even the visible observation through a telescope, so just bearing without range and vector data, is enough to at least get a quickly aimed potshot.

I'm convinced that once laser technology is sufficient to get killing power, most other weapons system (especially missiles) become obsolete. I was merely arguing that a laser has an effective range limited by light speed. However even a self-correcting missile launched beyond said range has to enter that range eventually, even if its own effective range is longer (of which I am not entirely convinced because said missile/fighter/drone will have to pack a LOT of delta-v to be effective at ranges longer than 300,000 kilometers.)

And what is valid for a missile is even more so for a fighter, or even an unmanned offensive drone. Any advantage given by last second precise targeting is lost when said fighter is in laser range.

Jean Remy said...

caveat I'm willing to consider relativistic kinetic weapons since they, unlike lasers, do not diffract and therefore maintain their full killing power over time. However the energy that must be used to launch a projectile at a significant fraction of c might negate even that: better fire a hundred laser pulses than one bullet for the same energy use.

Rick said...

I think we're arguing over something we're in agreement with. It is always funny when that happens!

On effective range, with uber lasers you can potentially just hose the target and put occasional scorch marks on it.

Certainly I tend to agree that the longer the effective laser range, the less relevant any other weapons. And like you I'm doubtful that relativistic pellet guns would offer any advantage over lasers, for the power required.

Anonymous said...

A thought, or more like a brain fart, just occurred to me. Though the "Carrier and Fighter" mentality isn't the most likely model for interplanetary combat, but what of interstellar combat?

Now then, let me explain. Whatever form we utilize to travel to and from the stars, weather they be solar sails, quasi-Bussard ramjets, or some form of FTL that our science and technology needs several centuries in order to allow its existence, one can theorize that the interstellar engine would be rather large, power hungry, and rather fragile when it comes to combat.

Utilizing a starcraft as a combat vessel would be expensive resource and otherwise, with the loss of even a single one would be a dramatic blow to any interstellar star force. It may only have enough power to devote itself defensively and only against lower threat classes and would need an escort of "Fighter Spacecraft", for lack of a better term, in order to keep the starcraft intact. These Fighter Spacecraft are adequate interplanetary vessels in their own right, with their only flaw being that they are unable to traverse the vast emptiness that lie in between the stars. At least not at the speed and time one would like for a starcraft.

Instead, these Fighter Ships are shuttled from star system to star system by their Starcraft Mothership, almost akin to a Naval Aircraft Carrier and its compliment of jet fighters. The only difference is that these Fighter Ships would have its own compliment of dedicated scouting and combat drones to increase that miniature constellation's, or Cluster's, offensive reach. These Fighter Ships can be divided into offensive and defensive Constellations in which one group would bring the fight to any enemy forces while the other stays behind to ensure that this Expeditionary Force has the ability to return home.

- Sabersonic

Jean Remy said...

Saber-

I think we want to define "fighter" as a one-(two) man craft of limited range. I like your idea but that sounds more like a job for larger gunboats/corvettes than strictly-speaking fighters. Maybe even strapping two-four frigates/cruisers on the frame would be more practical than 50 fighters. Even better: have the stardrive be just that: the engines. On arrival the battleship dumps the engine in orbit at the inner edge of the star system, say in the Kuiper Belt, shut down so that they're cold and hard to track.

Rick said...

Jean - I agree with your definition of 'fighter,' for purpose of this discussion. Essentially, the vision is a space counterpart of atmosphere fighters as we've known them since about 1916.

As aviation analogies go, I'm more inclined to think that manned space warcraft would be 'bombers' - not in their mission, but in crew size. (Perhaps physical size, too, though tending larger.) If you need humans on the spot, you probably need a team, not just one or two.

Citizen Joe - There's also general logistics. Starships in whatever form are probably making prolonged voyages, and for military missions must carry delta v and provisions, etc., for a round trip.

I can certainly see starships releasing rider craft to do the actual fighting. But on the other hand, if lasers are dominant your big starship can probably carry a larger main mirror than any rider craft could. As for kinetics, these will tend to be expendables, because the whole point is to hit the other guy fast and hard. A reusable lancer, even a drone, has far less throw weight than the same vehicle used as a jumbo torch missile.

Which anticipates my upcoming post on kinetics.

Anonymous said...

Wow, there's been a lot going on since my last post! I agree with Jean in that a Gunboat/Corvette/Other small ship would be more useful than a "fighter"-this idea is similar to one I already posted. And while I do agree with your points on how a big ship can hit harder than a little one, a bunch of little ones are more versatile than one big ship. If you have one dreadnought that is equal to my 50 gunboats on the front line with two possible routes to follow, your dreadnought will break through my 25 gunboats on the route it takes, but the survivors will be linking up with the relief force as my other 25 come around to cut it off. (By "route," im assuming some type of FTL with fixed points to enter/exit, i.e. wormholes or jump gates.) That's why ship sizes vary, because sometimes smaller, cheaper ships are better for the job.

But does that mean Fighters? I still think the closest we're going to get will be an unmanned drone or a gunboat.
"The Different Anonymous"

Rick said...

This thread is quite active as it approaches the 2-year mark!

I think that 'gunboats' or patrol-inspection craft are the likeliest adventure vehicles, so to speak. Pure weapon platforms, large or small, are likely to be robotic, and command and control craft try to avoid hands-on action.

But sometimes you'll have to send people in to check out dicey situations - meaning that adventure could very suddenly break out. The craft used for these missions are probably not the most spectacular in the constellation, but arguably the most interesting. At least, interesting things happen to and around them.

Anonymous said...

So far, we seem to have been deciding between (among other things, of course) a human in every "fighter" and a completely robotic drone force. I had a thought-why not both? Have one human-controlled craft per squadron, at least nearby to the combat force, with the control of all nearby drones slaved to that ship. It would probably have more than one crewman, to control several ships. The drones would be crammed with as many weapons as possible. Why not put the controller in the launching ship, you ask? Well, that's one point I brought up in my analysis of laser accuracy. There would be slight problems with giving prompt reactions (besides those programmed into the drone's AI) if you were near Earth and your drones were patrolling around the orbit of Pluto.

As to weaponry, I think missiles still would be best for fighter-type craft. They simply don't have the power to make a decent laser shot or fire a kinetic shell with any decent velocity. If you have to, you can just drop the thing and let it's drive do the work.

Also, looking through earlier posts about range of space combat, I think the reason ships are seen fighting at point-blank in the movies is to get dramatic scenes of battleships hammering away at one another (like the Venator/Invisible Hand scene in Star Wars III), peices of ships flying in every direction, and the tiny fighters (assuming they're present) twisting their way through the melee. In books, you can say your missiles hit at 600,000,000,000 kilometers (an obvious exaggeration, but you get the point) without firing at a speck on the screen and hitting 5 minutes later.

Jean Remy said...

Minor quibble: your one forward control fighter is probably going to have a significantly different drive/heat/acceleration signature not to mention appearance, especially if you load the drones with as many weapons as you can and the control ship with none, or a pair of missile box launchers. If I know that was the ship in charge of all those drones it'd be a prime target.

So would any type of control vessel, but at least a control battleship has the armor to take the hits, presumably enough that the tactical choice becomes: take the battleship out first and get hit with 20 drones, or start taking out drones knowing that every last one of them will be controlled.

Combat at range has been done reasonably well. In Babylon 5 the Narn fell into a Shadow ambush. Most of the fighting was at long range. I thought the visual of the parallel laser beams intersecting at the vanishing point was really cool.

Rick said...

I imagine the forward control craft could be made to outwardly resemble the drones it controls - though its trajectory might also be a giveaway.

Regarding movies, Hollywood has the freedom that there is no real space battle footage that they need to conform to. For long range anything, though, the classic way of handling it is simply cross cutting.

Jean Remy said...

well the problem is that a human plus life support is going to mass a lot more than the computer chips in the other drones, and will occupy a greater volume, and will be less dense. The only way to have a drone the same volume act as the fighter in terms of acceleration curves is to match that density, and therefore waste a lot of space that could be used for ammo, weapons systems and targeting suites.

Not only that but what exactly is the role of the man in that ship? There are only two possible decisions that can be made:

1/ Shoot or no-shoot. That's a high-level command decision. I'm not sure an admiral's post is in a front-line fighter. I'm sure the admiral agrees with me wholeheartedly.

2/ What to shoot. Targeting priorities need to be assigned a *lot* faster than a human possibly could. CISW systems have to decide which, of several incoming missiles, gets the highest priority and gets shot at first. A human cannot possibly make that decision fast enough. At speed of hundreds or thousands of kilometers per second, even less so.

Jean Remy said...

typo: CISW = CIWS of course

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Close-in_weapon_system

Rick said...

Not only that but what exactly is the role of the man in that ship?

Well, that has always been the core problem with 'space fighters.' It is not hard to come up with fairly small, high performance combat spacecraft, e.g. lancer types. The question is what advantage it gets from a human pilot, when the mission calls more for good reflexes (which a machine can provide) rather than high level human decision making.

Anonymous said...

"The question is what advantage it gets from a human pilot, when the mission calls more for good reflexes (which a machine can provide) rather than high level human decision making."

The only answer I can personally think up (at the moment) would be when heavy ECM is active that cuts off the Command Starbase from the attacking drones and said drones were never given the order to attack before that little trap had sprung. Only way to have any combat spacecraft to operate under ECM would be if there were humans manning the controls. And as far as I know, the best way to nullify ECM for that particular craft is a RIO manning the ECCM controls.

Granted, this can be better answered with the Guncrafts as well as Manned Lancers. Only difference is a larger onboard crew size.

And speaking of crew sizes, Rick, I'll take it that you meant Bomber-sized Crews as those found in WWII and up to Vietnam War correct? I ask since modern day bombers such as the B-1 and B-2 can be operated by a two-man crew, and not both of them have to be awake at the same time for the duration of that mission.

- Sabersonic

Rick said...

Last point first, you're right that I was thinking of WW II and early postwar bomber crews, not contemporary ones!

Electronic warfare is another whole issue I need to post about, but my first thought is that ECM may be harder to do in space, at least in most situations, than in the more cluttered terrestrial environment.

Anonymous said...

The necessity of a human pilot on or near a ship depends on the sophistication of the AI. If it is fully capable of controlling itself without doing immensely stupid things or becoming too predictable, a human is unnecessary. (However, it can also be a problem if the AI is too advanced. I don't want to give advanced weapons to an AI mentaility that might figure out how to remove its blocks and run to stay "alive"... or decide I am not good enough to control it and come after ME.) I was assuming AIs need some level of immediate control. Actually, it might actually take more decision making for a patrol mission than a combat mission. In combat, you can point to an enemy ship and your drones go running off after it. If you're on patrol and find something out there, do you go over to check it out or just send its location back to the carrier ship and keep going.


for the point made by Rick back on the 15th about a Weber missile with gigatons of kinetic energy and a 20 megaton warhead, the missile is a "laserhead"- a nuclear detonation forms several x-ray laser beams. That way, the missile wouldn't have to get all the way through point defense to the hull of the ship-it just has to get close. The warhead DOES have a purpose.
Also, an idea I've had. I'm sure SOMEONE already had this idea, but I haven't heard about it. Why have a missile with a FUSION drive and a FUSION warhead? When the missile gets there, just turn off the controls and let the drive go BOOM. That would reduce the missile's mass, and by extention acceleration and range. Yes, you do lose power with greater range, but it will also have more kinetic energy. :)

Anyway, my rant on missiles is done for the day. It seems the primary discussion is currently on whether to have humans holding the drone's leash or not. Logically, there is none. Psychologically, I don't want that much firepower in the hands of a computer.

"The Different Anonymous"

Jean Remy said...

One point: Most of Weber's missiles have bomb-pumped X-ray lasing rods. However this is to give them a stand-off range since it is impossible for a physical projectile to penetrate the gravity sidewalls.

However a few missiles are pure nukes, and one is fired at a ship crewed by semi-incompetents (granted they stole the ship and it is FAR above the tech level they are accustomed to and they can't grasp its full capabilities. In seeing this they launch a nuke down the unprotected "throat" of the enemy ship whereupon the nuke detonates.

However, I wonder if the objection is unfounded. Weber uses not only reactionless drives, but inertialess drives (shut the drive and the ship stops. It doesn't coast) so if the missile doesn't have any inertia, does it really have the kinetic energy? Theoretically it should, since K=mv^2, so it is dependent on speed, not inertia. However, at the moment of impact one would assume the missile drive shuts off, thereby robbing the missile of said speed. Maybe there is a reason the missile carries a warhead then.

Rick said...

This thread has now passed the 2-year mark! Does this blog have great commenters, or what?

Jean - Interesting point about Weber's tech. If what is true of ships is also true of the missiles, and they have no 'real' velocity, then plausibly they have no 'real' momentum. (The whole tech strikes me as a frightful kluge, but hey, it's unabashed space opera!)


Anon - You've hit on a central point of my thinking, that patrol requires more high-level decision making than combat. But in any semi-demi realistic setting, 'space fighters' are pretty much pure combat craft. Patrol missions would call for a quite different vehicle, more of a corvette type.

I never watched the new BSG, but at least in Star Wars and the old BSG, the fighter pilots were likewise pure fighter jocks, not the sort of judgment calls I see humans as crucial for.

If your setting is such that 'fighters' may be engaged light minutes or hours away from any larger control ship, there's a better case to be made for a human pilot, but not if the control ship is only light seconds away.

Regarding fusion drives and fusion warheads, my guess would be that a fusion drive probably would not be the sort of thing where you can just let it run haywire and it goes off like an H-bomb. For that you'd have to make the fuel in the tank go off. (Loose analogy: Pull out the rods of a fission reactor and it will do a core meltdown, but not explode like a fission bomb.)

Jean Remy said...

I think the point of Weber's tech is that everything is based on the gravity control tech, and that missile drives are ship drives in miniature. In fact he miniaturizes his "gravity nodes" so much that they are used in hand-held missile launchers!

Back to fighters. I think the Starfuries in B5 are closer to the patrol craft idea than BSG (yes the new ones are fighter jocks. Replace the Galactica with the Nimitz and you change... well, not much at all. A lot of the terminology--C.A.G, C.A.P--are pulled directly from the air-naval US military) Repeatedly through the B5 series fighters are sent on long range patrols, escort missions, S&R missions, anti-piracy missions, far from capital ship support, in situations demanding high-level command decisions. One such mission involved chasing raiders to their command ship, interrogating them, and tracing the attacks to Narn gun merchants: a very politically-charged mission. When they get the White-Star gunboat, a lot of those missions pass on to the more capable warship however.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget how the Whitestars, built and designed around alien technology such as the bio-armor of Vorlons for example, maneuver akin to fighter aircraft but with tighter turns and the occasional newtonian maneuvering without said newtonian thrusts. One might mistake em for a kind of heavy fighter, or even a gunship though one could theorize that a guncraft or similar corvette-style spacecraft would probably move in a similar fashion to what is seen in those Whtiestar fights but with a bit more visual indication of maneuver rockets than just a quicker rendition of Star Trek maneuvering.

However, that note about a human pilot being essential over drone control if the distances are measured in light minutes or even light hours is an interesting note. Just makes the case for space fighters just that more plausible, now we just need to fix that little DeltaV problem.

And speaking of gunships and space fighters, are there any familiar with Heavy Gear's version of "Fighters"?

- Sabersonic

Rick said...

Jean - Thanks for the reminder about Babylon 5. You're right, Starfuries were used for patrol missions involving real decision making. Regarding BSG, someone has called it the best show on TV about the contemporary USN.


Sabersonic - This was sort of implied by B5, though how they got far enough in a short time wasn't quite specified. :-)

I never heard of Heavy Gear, but the reference to 'gunships' is interesting. Maybe jets are the wrong analogy for a fighter-esque space warcraft. I've mentioned before that things could get interesting in the clutter of orbital space, and I can see a plausible role for 'gunships' doing patrol missions in orbital space.

Anonymous said...

Rick: "This was sort of implied by B5, though how they got far enough in a short time wasn't quite specified. :-)"

Outside the age old "plot hole" answer?

And well Heavy Gear is an RPG created by the company Dream Pod 9, though from what I'm able to browse through the Tactical Space Support book of the franchise, it describes these Fighter Craft as being focused on brute force acceleration and fire power over endurance and armor though the crew size is comparable to WWII and post war bomber crews with the larger ones having a captain.

However, from what I can tell the Drones are considered the "infantry" in space combat in this roleplaying universe in both offensive and defensive roles despite the use of ASAT missiles and lasers for combat spacecraft.

And I agree with you on low orbit or even medium orbit being the focus of most space-borne combat since that's where a vast majority of the more "tactical" if not just "strategic" targets are located. Deep space on its own, with the rare exception of long orbits that reach that far out for battlestars and the like in addition to transport craft on Hohmann transfer orbits on an interplanetary scale, there's really not real reason to fight for it. Interception and similar engagements, maybe but not all out battle. At least not what current media leads us to believe.

- Sabersonic

Rick said...

I'll be dealing with orbital combat in an upcoming post, both strategic and tactical implications. I can see defenders wanting to fight in 'outer' orbital space, not out in the middle of nowhere, but 'in front' of the stuff they want to defend.

Anonymous said...

Okay, this idea is not a "space" fighter, but it is a reason spaceships may carry fighters: have an assault ship, with marine-loaded shuttles and regular old atmospheric fighters. The ship enters a low orbil, the fighters coast down on whatever velocity is given to them by the launcher, wait until theres enough air to make thier jets go, and crank up there drives. Of course, the fighters have to be able to get back to the ship, because if the Marines don't take an airfield, the fighter pilots aren't going to be very happy.

Jean Remy- Weber's missiles CAN coast. I'm fairly sure they mention regular missiles going "ballistic," i.e. turning off the engines to increase range (drives don't burn out as fast). I KNOW the "Ghost Rider" missiles could "burn out" one of their dives (which was no different from a regular missile's drive), coast for a while, and turn on another drive (they carried multiple drives).

Sabersonic- you mentioned WWII bombers for crew sizes. Actually, the commander of an American B-17 bomber, the pilot, was a Captain. (The Co-Pilot was a Lieutenant, the Engineer was a Master Seargent, and everyone else was a seargent)

For patrol craft, a mixed group of ships is what I'd use. Have a few gunboats/corvettes as the major fighting force, and some smaller ships for their maneuverability (actually, on second thought, acceleration would be a bigger concern in space). The little ones find the enemy and report to the bigger ones, which either attacks the enemy or runs like heck for the REALLY big guns. Just a thought.

As for my idea of a drive being the warhead-oh well. I figured there'd be something wrong with it. *sigh*

"The Different Anonymous"

Jean Remy said...

Diff Anon: oops you are entirely correct. It's been a while since I've read one of his Honorverse because honestly when he became impervious to editors he started to ramble on with "Character Exposition" and by that I mean "Look at how awesome Honor is even when she's not kicking Peep butt" The missiles indeed do coast.

Ground assaults are probably going the be "complicated"

Rick said...

Different Anon - Exoatmospheric fighters are a way different beast from conventional 'space fighters,' because they are designed for planetary air combat. (Whether there will be manned combat aircraft in 50 or 100 years is a separate question.)

I agree with Jean that ground assault is 'complicated.' For one thing, if you're invading with more than a battalion of Marines, the scale of the required spacelift gets massive. There's definitely a gal with a bronze bra singing in your setting, if it has divisional scale assaults on planets.

Jean Remy said...

I was thinking in terms of the difficulty of deploying aerial fighters from orbit, or especially reclaiming them once you dropped them into the atmosphere. Depending on how low you want your aircraft to go, and presumably you want them to go all the way into the lower atmosphere, you're talking about SSTO's. If you can build SSTO's that can also fight inside an atmosphere, and return to orbit to refuel, then we're talking about the kind of easy power that makes SSTOs cheap. If you can't build cheap SSTOs, then you have to secure an airbase for the fighters to land, or they crash when they run out of fuel. The planet's aerial forces will not be limited by these kinds of requirements and will be fielding a lot of far cheaper units. You might be able to build a prefab airfield on your first landing, and drop fighter drones with a disposable reentry heat shield. In either cases, air superiority is going to be a pain.

The same cheap SSTO deal applies to any dropship that can easily make shuttle from ground to orbit. Honestly I don't see these cheap SSTO's as feasible in the very near future. At best dropships will be one-way vehicles, probably lifting bodies with an ablative shield and a small engine and, like a WWII glider, will sort of land, sort of crash into the ground. That means you'll need a lot of them to deploy ground forces.

Actually this sounds like a good rich topic for a specific blog post (nudge nudge, wink wink Rick?)

Anonymous said...

Though this thought of mine does not relate to the overall blog entry of the feasibility of space fighters, it does relate to the current discussion of trans-atmospheric combat aircraft and SSTO craft. So you'll have to forgive me to getting this little thought out of my head.

Now then, assuming that humanity has spread out to other worlds in an interstellar sense of the word, there is some sense in utilizing SSTO combat aircraft when one is attempting to not only attack ground based Orbital Denial targets but also other combat aircraft defending those targets from said SSTO combat aircraft. Giving enough breathing room for the orbital constellation to attack other strategic targets upon a planet's surface without spending too much of their time and energy in defending themselves from Anti-Orbital weapon systems on the ground. They have enough problems with orbital defense stations and the enemy constellation as is.

One could potentially argue that one could just simply build or even take over an enemy airfield (or aerospace field if once chooses) as a base of operations for air-borne missions. However, these things are notoriously difficult to defend and it gets rather hard to build one from scratch when the planetary defenders are attacking that airfield and the closest form of support are several orbits away from the base and potentially occupied with their won problems to help with the airbase's own in a timely manner. This is effectively where SSTO capable combat aircraft find themselves a niche that contributes to the overall combat operation, especially when capturing an airbase would be resource intensive in order to mission-kill anti-orbital weapon systems when there is no need to occupy that planet to begin with.

And speaking of the SSTO transports such as the iconic drop ship, there is potentially a political reason as to why capturing or establishing a base or post upon an enemy planet isn't such a good idea. Besides the difficulties in deploying that much manpower from orbit to the surface, there is also the possibilities that the civilian populace (if any) would not like the idea of any potential signs of an extended or even an indeffinate occupation of any foreign military force and would resort to asymmetrical and insurgent style warfare to drive them off.

Instead, military commanders would keep such support infrastructure off world as much as they could and instead send Special Ops teams down to encourage the populace to fight against the defending military forces instead of the invading military. One could argue the development of either trans-atmospheric air carriers to act as mobile air bases or even pre-fabricated and cheap airbase modules, but it would probably be easier resource wise to just keep nearly everything in orbit and leave the ground fighting to SSTO Combat Aircraft, Special Ops, and the local insurgent population.

- Sabersonic

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, there's no reason someone can't just drop a fighter from orbit and let the pilot take over as soon as it gets low enough to operate. As long as its dropped at the right angle, it should go right on in. There is the problem of heat melting the plane, but that can be handled by plates similar to those used on the space shuttles that are jettisoned after the pilot takes over.
As to landing, it wouldn't be as much of a problem if they had VTOL capablities like modern Harriers. Then, all you'd need would be a flat, open space. Then, fuel and replacement weapons could be sent in with the marines. As long as it puts down inside the perimeter, it can be refueled and rearmed. You'd have to destroy it if they had to putt out, but nothing's perfect.
The way I handle planetary assaults is to send Marines into the planet in heavily armed and armored assault shuttles. They make a rapid, (hopefully) surprise attack and open a perimeter. Then, the larger and lighter shuttles land, carrying army troops and letting them take over most of the fighting.
"The Different Anonymous"

Anonymous said...

Edit: ont the last post, when I said "putt out," I meant "pull out."

Anonymous said...

Another thought I had: it is possible an attacking force dosen't need air superiority.
It all depends on your lasers mounted on orbital ships. If they can penetrate the atmosphere, and if they can target something small and fast like a fighter, they may be able to deny the enemy use of the air(lots of "if"s, I know). True, it is not as good as having your own fighters controlling the air, but its better than nothing. If you can get your own fighters AND be able to kill enemy fighters from space (without your ships accidentally blowing up your own fighters)... that would really put the planet's defenders in a bind!
"the DIfferent Anonymous"

Rick said...

Though note that control of the air is quite limited in controlling the ground below it. But it would not be fun for the defenders.

You may also want to read my latest post, which re-evaluates space fighters from yet a different perspective.

Anonymous said...

Many people sound disappointed that space fighters are impractical and therefore can't be used in hard science fiction novels. However having a carrier-like mother ship makes sense if the equipment required for FTL travel{if any} is extremely large it would be deployed on only a handful of ships which would be too valuable to risk in combat. So they would probably launch smaller frigate-like{ not that there would be an equivalent} ships to do most of the fighting.

Obligatory Atomic Rocket link:
Space Fighters

-A Person

Anonymous said...

Rick: While it is true that controlling the air does not mean you control the ground, airpower is a vital part of modern ground combat. While it is possible to win if the enemy controls the skies, it will be MUCH more difficult.

A Person: The idea of a "fighter" is a one- or two-man ship that is considerably faster and more maneuverable than the full-size ship. If you want that kind of size and performance, you're going to have to use zero-man drones.
"The Different Anonymous"

Lee said...

There is a hidden assumption running through this very interesting discussion, that there is no defence against a laser. A laser is deadly as long as it is concentrated. If it passes through a medium that absorbs it, diffuses it, or both it gets a lot less deadly. A big smoke screen, laced with chaff, makes life hard for lasers and missiles alike. This opens up a need for a high delta V weapon system capable of independent action to punch through or maneuver around the cloud to get into a firing position...

Douglas said...

I can see one good reason that small fighters might exist, stealth. A small fighter might be able to hide well enough to get close where as the bigger ships might not be able to do this. It all depends on the SF hiding and finding tech though.
DEK

Jean Remy said...

Hard SF Mantra #2:

There Is No Stealth In Space.

Sorry, but any object using thrust to get anywhere, or even sheltering a human body, will have to emit heat or it will fry itself. The moment you emit heat, you get spotted. And by the way a temperature of 15 degrees C (72 degrees Fahrenheit) which would be comfortable for a human would flare at 288 degree Kelvin against a background of 3 K (unless you maintain a star behind you at all times, which implies only one IR receptor, which is unlikely-parallax is a killer)

That's the short of it. Somewhere you should find a more comprehensive discussion on heat, stealth, and related subjects.

Also: we're not arguing against the use of small vehicles, we're arguing against small manned vehicles. A small robot ship like a current-day UAV is entirely possible, even likely.

I hope this clarifies things.

And welcome to the boards.

Rick said...

Welcome to Lee, and apologies to both A Person and The Other Anonymous for missing your posts here.

I think that people who have worked it out have found that (at least on paper!) a laser can burn through a surprising lot of smoke. Of course the one other thing about defensive smoke is that it blocks your own laser fire, and probably your onboard scan as well.

Rick said...

Welcome to Douglas, too!

I agree fully with Jean's general point. For more, see as always the relevant section of the Atomic Rockets website.

But an important proviso. This is for classic stealth, where a ship does not register on scan. But in some areas of space the problem can be identifying potential enemies among a clutter of civil and perhaps neutral traffic.

Putting it another way, while the space equivalent of a submarine is problematic (requiring magitech), the space equivalent of a Q-ship may be quite straightforward.

jollyreaper said...

All depends on the tech. I agree that the X-Wing is unrealistic.

The best analogy for the space fighter is the PT boat. Prior to the torpedo, combat effectiveness scaled with size. The bigger ship would win. Bigger hull, more armor, more guns, and the damage rate of the guns was gradual, eroding the enemy's power, like two boxers slugging away. The guns got bigger and bigger and made the chance of a one-two knockout greater but the torpedo upended everything. Suddenly a piddleshit boat could take out a battleship. This changed everything.

If the big-ass ginsu beam rules space combat, the only way to counter that is by being a bigger, badder ship that can take that blast. But what's the tech in the story?

There was a great video game, I-war. Pretty realistic. Ships use a warp drive to move distances in space -- basically it uses small teleportations to give you an effective FTL velocity. You also have jump points. So you get into combat range and drop back to your reaction thrusters. Combat ranges end up very close because of this.

Your combat ship is among the smallest in the fleet, I think they called it a destroyer or corvette. You're equipped with weapon pods on your disk, forward-facing gun and missile rack on the left and rear-facing on the right. Auto-targeting, full 360 combat. You could move at fighter speeds relative to the larger ships.

The postulated design for this ship was pretty kewl.

jollyreaper said...

Beams vs. missiles and starfighters. Depends on the tech.

If we stick to realistic next few decades tech, beam weapons for the win. Especially since ships should be bright and visible across the solar system.

How could this be different? Here's an example, a simple warp drive. Turn it on, you move at FTL velocities in any direction you want. With FTL on, you cannot be hit by lasers since they warp right around you like space-time. HOWEVER, your warp bubble does bad things when it runs into another warp bubble. A rival ship could try to knock you out of warp. If the bubbles touch, both ships go boom.

So, why not make a disposable warp generator with a power supply and guidance system? There you go, antiship missile. Ships in warp combat will engage with missiles. If a ship drops from warp, it then can be engaged with lasers.

Trek was supposed to work kind of along those lines but it never translated that way onto screen. I don't think we've ever seen combat at warp which is where the torps were supposed to be used.

You could make the setting more interesting if warp blinds a ship's sensors. When in warp, it is invulnerable to lasers but can be engaged by torps. Of course, to track the ship the torp would have to drop from warp every ten seconds or so to check the target's movements against prediction.

With the proper technology applied in a consistent fashion, you can make many things convincing. Of course, I still can't buy space combat in Galactica. You engage Cylons with machine guns. That felt more absurd when the dogfight went atmospheric and you're realizing that an F-4 Phantom has a better engagement envelope than a trans-sonic spacefighter.

jollyreaper said...

"Many people sound disappointed that space fighters are impractical and therefore can't be used in hard science fiction novels. However having a carrier-like mother ship makes sense if the equipment required for FTL travel{if any} is extremely large it would be deployed on only a handful of ships which would be too valuable to risk in combat."

This is the Dune universe where guild ships are sacrosanct and combat ships are intra-system frigates carried by the highligners.

Also seen in Battletech where JumpShips are rare and expensive and the factories that build them are irreplaceable. In the game's setting there's been 400 years of succession wars after the fall of a giant galactic empire. There used to be combat-capable JumpShips but nobody risks them in combat anymore. DropShips are easier to manufacture and are commonly risked in fights. They are also the primary means of moving cargo between space and surface.

Jean Remy said...

The major problem I think is that there really isn't a "torpedo" in space. A torpedo works for the same reason a submarine works or an aircraft works: they exist in different mediums from the battleship. The aircraft works in the air, and the torpedo works beneath the surface. Although the battleship stands at the border between those two elements, it belongs really to neither. A surface ship's territory is the surface. It can have anti-aircraft batteries and anti-submarine depth charges, but its abilities in both those fields are severely limited. It can't dive, and it can't fly. His adversaries work in 3 dimensions (limited each by the plane in which the battleship operates) and the battleship only functions in 2 dimensions (said plane)

There is no such difference in space, there is only one medium, one element: nothing. Well, not very damn much. The laserstar *does* operate in 3-D, it is not a lumbering behemoth restricted to a plane. There are no fighters and no submarines in space, because there are no battleships. There is no difference between a torpedo and a missile, no difference between a mine and a bomb. You can't get your insignificant PT boat or sub to close in *under the radar* and you can't *fly out of range*. An aircraft cane get close to a battleship because it moves very fast. A PT boat can move close because it is very small and hard to see. A submarine can get close because it is nearly invisible. No matter where you are, the laserstar sees you, and if it sees you it can hit you, and if it can hit you it will kill you.

Sorry to go a little meta here, but warp drives and the like are generally not taken into account by this blog.

jollyreaper said...

"Sorry to go a little meta here, but warp drives and the like are generally not taken into account by this blog."

Star Destroyers were mentioned elsewhere and Honor Harrington was mentioned with a straight face so I thought we were open to discussing all scifi, from the hard to the squishy. :)

If we stick to future-tech that can only be directly extrapolated from today's tech, lasers do seem to be the king of space. Use lasers against any ship that comes into range with ranges seeming to go on for light-minutes, use asteroids for any targets harder than that. It takes a lot of mass and energy to get an asteroid moving but momentum builds over time. Use a big enough rock, plausible lasers simply can't do enough damage before it hits. Of course, if you're grabbing a rock from the kupier belt and are bringing it in to hit Earth, there's probably decades enough to equip a fleet to go out and shoot up the engines you put on the thing, then detonate a few nukes near the surface to ablate away some material and deflect it.

My personal tastes can range from hard to squishy SF. All I ask is that the material be self-consistent. I'm willing to suspend my disbelief but not hang it by the neck until dead. Stuff like the new Battlestar Galactica just makes my teeth hurt. Stuff where the writers obviously don't even watch their own show. Look at the original miniseries. They find a cylon because he's getting sick from special radiation in a nebula. Hey! How about take the whole fleet in there for a day or two and completely decylonize the whole thing? Or we're told that cylons are prefect copies of humans and cannot be discovered through medical examination only to find out they have fiberoptic ports in their forearms. Huh? And the doctor says the cylons got the baby-making parts wrong which makes delivery difficult. Really? You think someone might have noticed that when having sex with a cylon at some point?

Jean Remy said...

The point is while yes there are references to sci-fi in general, the main objective of this blog as I see it is to separate fact from fantasy in an effort to bring a more hard-bitten thoughtful examination and extrapolation of current technologies and currently known science fiction in order to bring back a bit of Hard in Sci-Fi. We know that all this is sheer speculation anyways, and my own writing tends to veer off into the softer end, but I hope to start from a more realistic substructure.

We're not futurists, we're science fiction lovers and writers. References to beloved books and TV shows will pop up. Literary comparisons might pop up from time to time. However, in terms of main objective for those of us who come here, the blog is a place to take a cold shower to wash off gravitic drive and hyperspace travel and bug-eyes aliens, and to look at what the known options and realistic expectations of progress in the near (1-2 centuries) future.

Rick uses Realistic(TM) to underline that in the end what we do *is* sheer speculation, of course. It's all a fun intellectual exercise that benefits greatly from varied opinions, ideas and backgrounds.

jollyreaper said...

Near future of 100 to 200 years. The more serious the speculation gets about plausible science, the more I laugh at our own guesses because as earnest as we are about getting it right, we get it so wrong. There was another post on here looking at Victorian futurism and showing how far, far off they were. I gives new perspective to what we think of as reasonable futures like the bridges of spaceships looking like 20th century submarines. If scifi were big during the Napoleonic wars, surely we'd be marching in ranks with muzzle-loading laser rifles, pouring in photons and ramming them home while the alien horde closes in.

What blows me away with Asimov's early fiction is how completely absent computers are for space travel. People are computing hyperspace routes by hand!

I look at our current cell phones and how the 60's Star Trek communicators look nothing like that.

Fifty years from now, I wonder what people looking back on our fiction will marvel at, the gaping lack of some obvious thing.

Rick said...

I'll quibble a bit about torpedoes. Though they are underwater weapons, this was incidental to the threat they posed to battleships as the fact that shells are strictly speaking airborne weapons.

What made the torpedo - in combination with the torpedo boat - new and different was that the torpedo needed no heavy, expensive gun to fire it, but could be delivered by a small, cheap ship.

I could easily see space missiles in the same light - a laser star needs powerful generators and other fancy gizmos, while a missile may only need a few clamps. What spoils lancer craft as 'fighters' is that no one has come up with a good reason for a single pilot.

On the scope of this blog, the main reason that I avoid dealing with magitech is that you can't really have comparative speculation. Every system of magitech such as FTL, like every system of magic in fantasy, exists in its own conceptual world. You can test for internal consistency, but you can't cross-compare.

Plus, admittedly, I've never personally cared for magic, or its SF counterparts. A hero should win because their heart is true - along with being a master swordsman, brilliant navigator, gifted statesman, and handy with a quip - not by using a bunch of hocus pocus.

Errol Flynn never needed anything so vulgar as magic! (And a Heinlein hero doesn't need magic drives.) Ah, these decadent times, for which I blame Gary Gygax more than Tolkien.

jollyreaper said...

Agreed, comparative magic systems are tough. You can compare the original Battlestar and Star Wars because they basically share the same technology. Trek doesn't scale into that universe very well at all.

The cheap, disposable craft with a punch like a ship of the line is exactly why the PT boat is so disruptive and the same goes for airplanes.

But you raise a very, very good point if we limit tech to plausibly extrapolating from today. Lasers are going to be the king of the high frontier and it's going to be very hard to "sneak up" on a target.

In the here and now, the US Navy talks about blue water and brown water missions. That's roughly analogous to in orbit vs. interplanetary space. In blue water, there's few contacts and you can easily determine who is who. And any airborne contact traveling at more than airliner cruising speed is likely military and if you don't know who it is, it's probably one of theirs. Same goes for subsurface contacts. There aren't any civilian submarines out there, not like this.

In brown water everything becomes more confused, cluttered. Is that a civilian vessel or a military one? Or even worse, is it a civilian vessel repurposed for military duty? Theoretical engagement range is not the same as effective engagement range, as you mentioned in the write-up about somali tactics in space. We've had several blue-on-blue cases with using beyond-visual-range weapons in combat. We shotdown two blachawks in the 90's that were in the no-fly zone in Iraq, their IFF was glitched.

But if we're talking about a near-future situation where the rules of engagement allow incoming ships to be hailed and, if not responding appropriately be destroyed, then the laser remains king.

By limiting ourselves to discussing near-term future-tech, this excludes interstellar scenarios. I'd usually like to allow the shortcut of wormholes or something so we can at least have a little more variety of location. But I suppose we could get creative in earthspace.

As mentioned previously, Gundam has a very populated solar system. There are many colonies at the lagrange points, not just L4 and L5. The tech level supports billions in space. And later in the series fusion materials are harvested out in Jupiter's orbit and so there's a Jovian fuel fleet shutting materials to Earth.

The thing is, aside from human scientific curiosity, there's not a lot of reason to have a manned presence on the various balls of rock in the solar system. Why live on Mars when the low gravity just means your strength will wither? Why live on Venus when the conditions are awful? Building human-friendly habitats will trump terraforming for the foreseeable non-magictech future.

Rick said...

The naval distinction between 'blue water' and 'brown water' is one of the things that got me thinking about cluttered orbital space as an environment where the pristine model of space combat at Stupendous Range might not be applicable.

You hit on an important semi-meta point that there's really not much reason other than science (and more broadly coolness) for settling various solar rockballs, or in fact going into space.

I'd argue that the same really would apply to earthlike extrasolar planets, if 'magically' placed within reach. The whole SF trope of colonization has its roots in the homestead era, when millions of people would migrate for the chance at 40 acres and a mule.

But that was an agrarian age phenomenon. Even with FTL, you wouldn't get suburbs on some other planet unless the FTL is so (pseudo) fast that they are within commuting time of Earth cities. :-O

jollyreaper said...

"The naval distinction between 'blue water' and 'brown water' is one of the things that got me thinking about cluttered orbital space as an environment where the pristine model of space combat at Stupendous Range might not be applicable."

But that would only be one of many engagement scenarios. Sometimes you'll fight cluttered, sometimes you'll fight out in the open. If your tactics only work in one kind of environment, your enemy will do his best to force you to fight on his terms.

There's remarkable parallels between Gulf War 1 and the island-hopping campaign in WWII. Towards the end, any Japanese ship operating in the open water was as good as dead. Easy to spot, easy to engage, easy to kill. But troops on islands were much harder to engage, had to be rooted out by hand. Air power was nullified by the ability to dig in. Likewise, troops and tanks in the open desert were easy to slaughter in Gulf War 1. That's why there was such a lop-sided death toll. But once you get into a city, suddenly things become complicated. If the ROE says you can't just stand off and carpet bomb the place, now you're faced with giving up your major advantages. M1's are great at killing from a distance but can be killed close-up with IED's, man-portable antitank weapons, etc.

"You hit on an important semi-meta point that there's really not much reason other than science (and more broadly coolness) for settling various solar rockballs, or in fact going into space."

Can we rationalize something? That's one of the things that struck me as odd about the new BSG series. According to the canon, all twelve colonies were located in one star system. They arrived long enough ago that their origin story was regarded as religious myth rather than genuine history. Naturally, their scientists should have realized that humans did not originate on any of those worlds, ancestors missing from the fossil records. And even if humans did develop there, surely they did not develop on twelve separate worlds. Did the original colonists settle all twelve at once or pick one world first and move to the others later? I think it was supposed to be twelve at once. So did they settle and lose their higher technology for a few thousand years while they went low-tech and then reinvented everything?

jollyreaper said...

See, that raises an interesting point. Could you imagine what our own history would have been like if there was a human-habitable but uninhabited planet in this system? Imagine the cold war struggle when the US and USSR realize that this is a world people could live on, an entire planet free for the taking. But given the expense of space travel, new settlers there would be going on a one-way mission and would be modern primitives, trying to establish farming communities with only irregular supply of high-tech goods sent from the homeworld.

Going back to BSG, imagine the consternation when the first telescope is reinvented and they realize that the other planets in the system are inhabited by technological civilizations not unlike their own. Imagine when radio is invented and the colonies start talking. And imagine how early attempts at warfare would develop.

Amongst the many things never explained in BSG -- why do they have interstellar ships? I can understand ships capable of traveling between the colonies. I can understand how the FTL drive is useful for making hops that take seconds instead of days or weeks at sublight velocities. But why do these ships have interstellar ranges when there's absolutely nothing for them to do out there? There's nowhere to go, nobody out there, nobody to trade with. So how come the fleet is suddenly able to do that? It would be like me taking a water taxi across the Pacific to escape invaders, only the scale is more ridiculous.

One other hole, that Kobol planet is really, really close to the colonies, so close that Starbuck was able to use a captured enemy fighter to jump back to the colonies, pick up a doohickey and jump back. We're able to spot planets with telescopes at interstellar distances. You're telling me this planet was sitting in their cosmic backyard and nobody discovered it yet?

"I'd argue that the same really would apply to earthlike extrasolar planets, if 'magically' placed within reach."

If we had them, people would want to live on them. The colonization trope in human society goes way back before the American dream. But the "westward, ho!" vibe in American scifi was certainly a product of the culture.

"But that was an agrarian age phenomenon. Even with FTL, you wouldn't get suburbs on some other planet unless the FTL is so (pseudo) fast that they are within commuting time of Earth cities. :-O"

That's the fascinating thing about economics and technology -- if the cost is low enough, you can justify crazy stuff. If you told Ben Franklin we'd make our horseless carriages in the orient and ship them here via ship and it would be cheaper than making one down the street, he'd say you were mad. If you told a spice trader in Columbus' time that pepper would be as cheap as, well, pepper in the future, he'd also laugh. So when Asimov writes about a planet-spanning city that uses the agricultural output of entire worlds to feed it, you'd smile and think about the cost of chemical rockets. With sufficient magic tech, Trantor really would be feasible. Now realistically I would think that a Trantor would want to be self-sufficient with regards to food because that's a major vulnerability, nobody would allow that kind of weakness. Yet here we are today utterly dependent upon oil but not starting crash programs to get off of it. In fact, we get our oil from overseas and let China do all of our manufacturing. What happens when they cut us off? Completely illogical situation I'd never buy in fiction but it's our reality.

Good, proper hard-SF needs a reason for us to be out there. Even if we had FTL jump drives, without habitable worlds out there we'd have little interest in going out there save for science probes.

Rick said...

Disclaimer that I never watched the new BSG. When it first came on, I was prejudiced because of the lame original show. ('Range 30 microns and closing!') Later, though a lot of people said it was an excellent show, they also said that it had no 'different era' flavor, which was much of what I liked so much about Firefly.

I didn't know that the BSG colonies were all supposed to be in the same planetary system. That was also supposed to be the case with the Firefly 'verse. It seems that Hollywood has got the word that FTL is non kosher, but somehow unlikely planetary systems seem even worse, and this is all space opera anyway.

That said, I'd hardly sweat the various implausibities of media scifi, created by people who wasted their formative years learning film instead of physics. I loved me some Firefly, and God knows that apart from the grace note of a silent rifle shot in space it was pretty innocent of Realism [TM].

I can imagine some other alternate space ages - suppose that we imaged ruins on Mars?

But back to the meta point. Given what we know now, the realistic human future in space will be interesting, but not particularly well suited to adventure fiction.

For the purpose of space opera we have to tart things up, and in particular blow things up. I suppose this blog is, in part, a guide to making your explosions superficially convincing.

Jean Remy said...

Mmmmmmh explosions. Big fluffy red Hollywood expl... ah darn it.

Geoffrey S H said...

to a point, there's plenty of room for gritty clancy-esque drama, and Apollo 13 provided the material for quite a good "Adventure film", though I might be stretching the term somewhat here.

Rick said...

Largely it is just a matter of approaching things with a little subtlety, and a bit outside the box.

Anonymous said...

Let's see; Callisto colonies get sick of being 'ruled' by the Monolithic Jovin Industries Conglomerate (MJIC), headquartered in the huge habatat orbiting Europa, so they build several 'tanks', APC's, and several 'space fighters' (one man ground-to-orbit armed rockets) used to 'discourage' the MJIC Security Transports from landing troopers (read; mercs)on the surface. The MJIC then needs to either ask Earth to send military forces...or build their own combat spacecraft. The colonials can then either surrender, fight with what they have, ask Earth to help them, or upgrade their military forces...or a combination.

"Aerospace Fighters" are what I call those combat spacecraft that drop from orbit to fight in the atmosphere, before returing to orbit (or rising from the surface to combat threats in orbit before returning to the surface). Earth, Mars, and Titan might use these craft to protect themselves from orbital threats or to secure their orbital spaces. In conjunction with other combat systems, they would be a useful deterrent to threats, military or otherwise.

If you have nuke-pumped-lasers or nuclear-shaped-charges then ANY ship, no matter what the size, can kill you; near or far. In interplanetary space, zapping someone during a quick fly-by, would be a viable tactic; in orbital space, getting up close and in their face type combat with lesser cabable weapons would be more appropreate.

Military spacecraft missions would either take a few hours, a few days, or several months/years. So, would most military spacecraft be small, low-endurace, easily-configurable, high Delta-V and a handfull of very large, extended-endurance, low Delta-V ships with a wide variety of capabilities to support those smaller ships? This looks more like a air base-air wing configuration than a carrier/naval fighter set-up to me. Throw in a fast logistics ship and it really does look more like an Air Force model than a Naval one. However, having said that, I don't think that combat spacecraft will be anything like combat aircraft in form or function; just like the uses and tactics of combat aircraft are different from navy warships, or navies are different from land forces' uses and tactics.

And, again, I can think of some uses for small, 1 to 3 man combat spacecraft: numbers, if you can't hit every ship, then one WILL kill you; one big ship can only be in one place at a time, but a dozen can be in a dozen places; cost, a dozen small ships could cost the same to build as one big ship, and only half as much to maintain.

Second rate 'powers' would likely only be able to afford smaller, cheaper, less capable combat spacecraft; if you can't afford a battleship, then a squadron of spacefighters might be your only option. Especially if your next door neighbor has dreams of empire...

Ferrell

Jim Baerg said...

Jollyreaper said:"See, that raises an interesting point. Could you imagine what our own history would have been like if there was a human-habitable but uninhabited planet in this system? Imagine the cold war struggle when the US and USSR realize that this is a world people could live on, an entire planet free for the taking. But given the expense of space travel, new settlers there would be going on a one-way mission and would be modern primitives, trying to establish farming communities with only irregular supply of high-tech goods sent from the homeworld. "

S. M. Stirling has done something close to that for us.
See this

Rick said...

I don't think that combat spacecraft will be anything like combat aircraft in form or function; just like the uses and tactics of combat aircraft are different from navy warships, or navies are different from land forces' uses and tactics.

Carve this in stone. And remember how, a century ago, people pictured both air warfare and armored land warfare as involving 'dreadnoughts' resembling sea battleships of the time. Which tanks resemble only very slightly, and fighter planes even less.

Good point also about the enormous difference in mission time between orbital space hours to days, and deep space weeks or months.

To some degree this does suggest a limited parallel to carriers and planes - minus features like flight decks. In other threads people have even suggested that local space forces and deep space forces might even be different service components.

Lesser powers will always have to buy smaller and cheaper ships (or else fewer). But for anything like a 'fighter,' I'm coming the view that the key is having to put people near the tip of the spear. And the main reason to do that is that you expect to fight in cluttered environments, with ambiguity about both targets and rules of engagement.

Jean Remy said...

"Carve this in stone. And remember how, a century ago, people pictured both air warfare and armored land warfare as involving 'dreadnoughts' resembling sea battleships of the time. Which tanks resemble only very slightly, and fighter planes even less."

I don't know, the AC-130H Spectre ("Spooky") is pretty close to an "air battleship". 105mm Howitzers! Close enough for government work.

I am being mildly facetious, but sometimes misconceptions of the past can come back, with subtle alterations, in a form closer to the original theory than one would expect. What is evident is that we won't see X-wings and Vipers, however, depending on how far you want to stretch the definition of space fighter, you could get something close enough for government work, at least in spirit.

jollyreaper said...

I don't know, the AC-130H Spectre ("Spooky") is pretty close to an "air battleship". 105mm Howitzers! Close enough for government work.

Hardly battleships. They're incredibly vulnerable to any kind of enemy air power and even man-portable missiles can knock them down. They're highly effective when used within the confines of their own limitations.

It's very instructive to look at history and see what we thought would work versus what actually worked. Those land battleships mentioned above are exactly like that. Also interesting is to look at pre-WWII thinking as to the next big thing in aircraft. While much work was done with fighters, the Germans had a fixation on the idea of the "destroyer", something that would fit between bomber and fighter, with long range and capable of providing its own defense against fighters. The ME-110 was an example of this philosophy. It turned out that the envisioned tactics were unworkable and the Luftwaffe tried using them as bomber escorts. The ME-110 was poor at that and itself needed escort. The 109's could only go so far, being short-legged.

Also interesting is look at the development of carrier-based attack aircraft. Much work was done on monoplane torpedo-bombers like the Avenger. But what was ultimately proven towards the end of the era for piston-powered carrier aircraft is that you don't need multiple crew like radio operators and gunners, the weight of all that and the tail gun could be better replaced with more fuel and armor. To hell with the torpedo attack, the best way is to get in and out quick with a dive bombing run. But it took a lot of time and argument to prove it. Until theory could be put into practice in combat, it was one side arguing against another without being able to prove it one way or the other.

If WWII did not happen when it did, the carriers vs. battleships argument would have gone on for years and years. I think that the aircraft carrier's ascendancy peaked in the mid-cold war with the development long-range supersonic cruise missiles but, since a decisive battle has yet to be fought, the carrier remains queen of the ocean. I think we would have to lose two or three in quick succession to a low-tech opponent before the navy could be convinced to rethink the carrier-centric strategy.

Jean Remy said...

One of the big problems in trying to move *away* from a carrier-centric strategy is that the carrier is so damned impressive. In that respect it serves exactly the same purpose as the Battleships, where the main reason to have one is because if you didn't you would need it.

There is something daunting about a small floating city, complete with airport, bearing down on your coastline, something that an Aegis Cruiser will never be able to summon.

There is also the problem that the Aegis Cruiser is not a halfway weapon. You can't really *threaten* someone with it, only bomb him into submission. An aircraft carrier, on the other hand, can launch a squadron of fighters and have them do a completely "innocent" nap-of-earth fly-by over your coastal cities, as a reminder that yes, we can, and will, bomb you back to the stone age. Now blink. A Tomahawk can't really do a formation fly-by to intimidate the good citizens, they can only hit something and go boom. Granted it can be quite impressive to have earth meet sky where your military installation used to be, but once you fired the first shot you've crossed that fine line between diplomacy and war. As per Clausewitz, "War is the continuation of diplomacy through non-diplomatic means." It is a line more easily crossed one way than the other.

Finally, there is the whole love affair between the US Military and the fighter jock. All branches of the military have their own air wings. The army has rotary wing aircraft, the Navy has carriers and even the Marines have jump-jets. Moving away from the carrier would be finally admitting that fighter jocks in *general* are obsolete.

In the end, this may be the reason we might see space fighters after all. There is no practical or logical reason to have fighters in space, but if the love of the fighter jock persists against all odds, they might still exist just because the politicians in the five-sided wind tunnel (the ones in and out of uniform) say so.

Jean Remy said...

Quick concluding thought: we're always fighting the last war. It might be necessary for such a war to happen to lose that Carrier mentality, after we see them all get sunk by missiles.

Anonymous said...

Carriers may well persist...as floating bases for semi-autonomus drones and UCAVs, with 'pilots' being the remote operators. That might cross-over to space combat, (or not). Having a single-manned armed spacecraft standing overwatch for a manned customs-inforcement OTV during an inspection on an orbiting freighter might make sense, but other applications wouldn't. Second rate 'powers' wouldn't be able to afford several hypercapable (and expendable), AIs for combat drone spacecraft and so would be forced to use small, manned armmed spacecraft to protect their orbital assists.

Ferrell

Geoffrey S H said...

Carriers, to a point, lie somewhat outside the traditional cycle of naval evolution. Right now, traditional battleships are at the point where they were in the 1850's-1870's, with only a few (powerful) weapons and relatively small. Soon someone will build a larger vessel with more of these weapons, until they reach the size of WW2 surface combatants (and a number of weapons emplacements equivalent to ships of the line or 20th century battleships). Ignoring carriers for the moment, we seem to be coming full circle again- small missile destroyers that replaced gun-cruisers might soon be sharing space with 900 VLS CG(X) type cruisers of 20,000 tons. Contrastingly, Carriers are at the peak of their size, or soon will be. Cruise missile hits might make them smaller and more expendable (and spur analyists to declare them obsolete). 100 years from now, they will have grown back to their current size as defenses against Cruise missiles improve, and eventually they will surpass the current tonnage, ready to be cut down to size again.
Generally it seems this trend has been going on since (at least) the early Roman imperial period, with Actium being won with small vessels against larger Quinquiremes. Cut foreword a few centuries and war vessels were again large. The Hellenic naval arms races might have involved a similar pattern even before that however.

Rick said...

More later, but my first thought regarding the AC-130 is that it is used for a mission very closely analogous to the missions assigned to the surviving battleships in the recent era, namely firepower ground support.

I can see a case that there may always be niches for big vehicles armed with heavy guns, because there are times that sheer firepower is handy. They may not rule as they did in the last century, but they'll have a place.

Jean Remy said...

Well, a very big weapons platform with very big weapons capable of massive overkill is a psychological weapon. Better to scare your enemy into not shooting, or to make him duck in an overwhelming first strike. In essence, this is why we'll (probably) have Laserstars at all.

jollyreaper said...

The thing that I keep coming back to with smart weapons is the idea of the golden bb. That's a term used in the military to describe the improbable lucky shot, i.e. the small caliber rifle fired at a passing aircraft that just so happens to make it into the air scoop, sucked into the compressor, causes it to shed blades and explode, knocking the plane out of the air. A one in a million shot. If you were a betting man, you'd put your money on the quad 20mm cannon that's spewing shells, not the rifle. But that's a low-tech solution, isn't it? You know your target is *waves arm* somewhere over there so you just spray and pray. But with the right electronic magic, that million to one shot could become routine. If you look at the most ridiculous of the white hat comic gunfighters, you've got guys like the Lone Ranger shooting guns out of people's hands. Pure funny papers business, that. You find yourself in a real gunfight, you shoot center of mass and shoot to kill. But honest to God, we might very well see that kind of stuff in the near future. We're fielding armed combat robots and could very well have the accuracy to do just that kind of thing. There was actually a video on Youtube of a police sniper shooting a rifle out of the hands of a drunken gunman. Surprised the hell out of me they tried something like that but there wasn't anyone within range of the gunman, the sniper wasn't risking his own life, and he always had the choice of putting another round in the guy's chest if the trick shot didn't work.

But back around to the original point, part of the reason why the AC-130 flies with that much firepower is because it's difficult to pick out precisely the right targets and engage with just the right amount of firepower. I predict there will be more changes in this approach as time goes on. In the Balkan war in the late 90's, the Brits were using training rounds for tank plinking. GPS-guided weapons were so accurate, a concrete-filled training bomb could be counted on to skewer targeted tanks. Explosives would be redundant in such a hit. By deleting them, the Brits had guided, kinetic kill weapons that could be used in built-up cities with less risk of splash damage. You could take out that tank sitting right next to a school and not even break a window. You couldn't even ask for that kind of control with older guided anti-tank weapons like the Maverick, let alone attack by dumb bombs.

ElAntonius said...

I posted in another entry about Independence War, so I won't bring up the justifications that game presents for small fighters (and the player corvette, which is really kind of a fighter anyway, just with more crew).

I think to discuss space fighters we have to distill the elements of what makes a fighter, and then look at why these do or don't work in space:

1) Limited Endurance. Missions much shorter than other vessels.

2) 1/2 person crew. Tying into 1). Essentially the mission is a single shift for the crew, no rotating.

3) Pilot-as-commander. Unlike a naval ship, the guy manning the controls is the one who makes the tactical/strategic decisions.

4) Parasitic. The fighter docks with a higher endurance vessel and only sorties to accomplish missions.

5) Agile/Fast. I'm hesitant to call this one because modern fighter combat isn't necessarily about who can turn and burn faster, but it is part of the romantic ideal of a fighter.

So now we look at them in the context of space:
1) makes sense if your setting demands a lot of close orbital operations: customs inspections or heavily balkanized settings where you don't know who your friends are. 4) flows naturally from 1)...but in space, 1) doesn't mean hours, it can still mean weeks or days.

So if 1) takes at least a few days, then 2) gets tossed. You simply can't have the same guy manning the helm for 3 days straight.

3) might or might not make sense. If you have multiple crewmembers rotating in and out, I think a Captain role starts to make a lot of sense. However, I've personally always disliked this notion of people barking orders around a bridge...it seems antiquated in this age of high tech computers and automation. If I was picking, I'd say a 'Captain' role that handles administration of our ship and a 'Pilot' role that makes immediate tactical decisions.

4) Is actually pretty natural to me. I just don't see any reason to park people in ships when space stations will offer much improved habitability. If we've got space ships out there, they'll probably be up to something.

5) is the real kicker. But it occurs to me that space ships will always be as big as they need to be...a warship will be as big as its mission demands, no more. A weapon, the drive module, and the crew module. So we're not talking really about differing agility levels, but I do think spaceship designers will want to maximize performance and high delta-v/thrust will always be sought.

Depending on context, I could see a setting where the 'carriers' are really space stations or basically large propellant supplies with attached rockets to ferry combat ships close to their mission zone.

How you handwave crew in doesn't matter, really. Justify crews of 200, justify crews of 2. I think for practical reasons any ship will need roughly 3-4x the 'operating' crew, so if it takes 1 guy to operate your ship, there will be 3-4 people on board. If it takes 10, then you'll have 30-40. This accounts for rest periods and off-time. Personally I like the idea of a 5 man 'operating' crew, meaning 15-20 people on board at all times.

Weapons...as I said earlier, any space craft will be designed around its payload, and really be no bigger than that.

Pilot controls the ship...this is really the big one. Size, performance, weapons, crew...none of that really matters. What differentiates a fighter is that there's a guy yanking the joystick to implement some cunning maneuver and be a daring hero ace. Picard saying 'make it so!' is a different vibe than Skywalker dodging lasers.

Jean Remy said...

My issue with your definition of fighter is that you take into account characteristics that "make" a fighter to decide whether they are practical, but not the roles of a fighter.

Carrier-embarked aircraft on Nimitz-class carriers are:

F/A18C and H (Super)Hornets, EA6-B Prowlers, E-2C Hawkeyes, C2 Greyhounds, SH-60F and HH-60H Seahawks.

Roles:

Prefix H: Helicopters are for anti-submarine warfare and S&R because of their unique ability to hover. Not relevant in space.

Prefix E: Electronic warfare. These aircraft are designed to provide over-the-horizon tactical overviews and command and control. In space there is no horizon. If it's in space, chances are you will be able to see it from several million kilometers away, beyond the operational range of anything that could be reasonable construed as a fighter. However they could provide command and control if fighter operations (if there are any) stretch the light-lag limit from their primary. Then again, operations at ranges of over 500,000 kilometers become problematic for fighters because of limited operational ranges. The light-lag "horizon" is a lot further away than the physical horizon due to the curvature of the Earth. Note that E2-C's don't really operate "far" from their primaries as much as "a lot higher" allowing them a greater sight range since the horizon is now a lot further for them.

Prefix F: Air superiority. In essence the role of a fighter is to shoot down other fighters, or to engage defending fighters when attacking. The existence of these depends on whether or not there are fighters at all. Modern carrier-embarked fighters are multirole now because this role is solely dependent on the presence of fighters to fight. If there are not, there is no reason to deploy them and now you have a lot of aircraft with no reason to be. Combining this role and the next into one means that that no fighter will be grounded for lack of anything to do.

Prefix A: Strike aircraft. The role of a strike aircraft is simply put to attack your targets. They allow the carrier to hit targets that are 1/ beyond sight range (over the horizon) 2/ inland. This is where you have a problem: there is no horizon in space, nor is there any "inland". There could be an issue with having a planet between you and your target, but unless fighting in close orbit the cone of blindness is fairly small. There is still no "inland".

The prime motivation for fighters on a sea-based carrier is that pesky horizon, because it is so very very close. For an observer 100m above sea level, the horizon is a mere 36 kilometers away. The second motivation is that ballistic weaponry is of limited range, due to little annoying things like gravity and air resistance. The role of the fighter, then, is to extend both sight and weapon's range beyond those limitations. Those limitations do not exist in space.

Lastly, on speed and maneuverability. On Earth small vehicles can go faster and maneuver more efficiently because they offer less resistance to the medium (air or water, especially water). Since there is no medium to move through in space, so no force to resist. In terms of maneuvering, the farther apart the RCS engines are, the more torque you can get. In terms of acceleration it depends solely on the *ratio* of mass to engine "power". In terms of range, in space, like on Earth, the bigger fuel tank wins.

The biggest strike against the space fighter is that it doesn't *have* a role that is separate from other space combat vehicles that are bigger and more capable.

jollyreaper said...

The Dread Empire's Fall trilogy provides an interesting look on space combat. It takes place in a civil war in an empire that's existed in peace for 10,000 years. There's been a navy the whole time but there's been no real wars for them to worry about so no employment of the tactics worked out. The war is now a time for everyone to start learning.

Ships use antimatter. There's no grav-tech so no Star Trek gravity, acceleration dampeners, etc. There's ridiculous amounts of fuel so ships can accelerate for months at a full gravity. Ships can burn harder than that if necessary and military ships can do a month of 3g acceleration which is punishing on the crew. They're confined to crash couches during these maneuvers and thrust is cut to a half G for rest breaks.

FTL travel is via fixed wormholes that are transited simply by passing through. The one thing that doesn't make sense is that gravity slingshots are used to built speed in-system. So a fleet looking to leave System A for a fight in System B will fire up the engines and conduct fancy loop maneuvers past the major planets and primary in the system, building up speed. I wouldn't think a ship traveling at .5c could reverse direction just passing by a planet but I don't have the math to prove it. If the ship does not have a convenient planet or star to use as a slingshot, it's now looking at spending months decellerating and then moving back towards the system.

Combat takes place at long-range via missiles. Because ships can move so quickly and thrust so hard, it becomes problematic to target with lasers at long distance and so laser and particle weapons are only for close-in defense against the missiles.

Because of the intensity of the engine flares, it's pretty hard to be stealthy in a system. You have interesting tactical situations like a fleet entering a system and immediately spotting an enemy force four light hours out. That force has been there for days and so the new arrivals can spot them instantly (or at least their emissions from four hours ago) and have four hours to prepare their own maneuvers before the enemy has the first warning they've arrived. Because the enemy's pieces are visible, it becomes like a chess match at times, trying to mask a strategy while in plain sight.

There are some cases where detection is complicated. The antimatter clouds from exploding missiles play havoc with sensors. Missiles that aren't thrusting are very difficult to see unless active radar is used. Missiles that are coasting ballistically can thus sneak up on targets and not be seen until the last moment. Maneuvers made behind planets and other celestial objects are obscured, assuming there aren't observers with line of sight on the spacecraft who can relay that data to ships on the other side.

Also, in a bit of a nod to the Soviets from the Cold War with helicopters that could give mid-course guidance to cruise missiles, the navy ships here operate pinances. They are one man light craft that get fired off with missile volleys. Pinances can provide human guidance to missiles from one side of a system to another. This allows for rapid response to shifting tactical situations without the headaches of lightspeed delay which mount quickly given the high speeds involved.

It's a pretty interesting set of books.

Jean Remy said...

Sounds interesting, who is the author and what are the names of the books?

jollyreaper said...

Dread Empire's Fall. First book is Praxis. Walter Jon Williams.

Rick said...

ElAntonius and Jean - It seems that there are two dimensions of fighter-ness. One is the silk scarf; the other is the fighter mission.

I don't think they can be combined in space, but if you can only have one, for story purpose surely the silk scarf is more important.

Culturally, fighter pilots are cavalrymen riding 100,000 hp horses. Perhaps in looking for space fighters we need to broaden our scope from the air fighter of the last century to 'cavalry missions' more broadly.

The problem being that the main use of cavalry has been scouting and tactical surprise, just the things that are hard to do in space.

As a side note, the first high performance combat vehicles reversed the relationship of crew members. The aristo chariot warrior was the 'weapon officer,' while his charioteer was trusty companion.

On another note, you could probably stretch the mission times of 1-2 seat spacecraft, as compared to aircraft, because you really can put the seat back and sleep while on orbit beyond engagement range. How long did Gemini missions go before crew performance was impaired?

jollyreaper said...

A space fighter would also likely have more living space than an f-16. I'd imagine space fighters would be less like a speedboat and more like a liveaboard sailboat in terms of space. Unless there is the other option which I would call the cyberpunk example. The pilot is wrapped up in a crash cocoon with automatics to handle food and waste, maybe even looking like the matrix tanks. The interface is all virtual. The pilot isn't decanted until the mission is over. With this kind of interface, he is the ship, thought controls all, and with an ai autopilot to assist during deep sleep cycles he would likely be "always available" in a way that would require relief pilots if done conventionally.

The least likely space fighter would be "just like an f-16 but in space!"

Jean Remy said...

The role of cavalry was essentially the same role as fighters, which is as I pointed out to extend sight and weapons range due to the limitations of that darn pesky horizon thing.

I think more than anything else, it's that pesky "Earth is round" thing that has imposed the most limitations on warfare.

Know the Enemy and Know Yourself is often viewed as a semi-mystical admonishment to embark journey of self-exploration because the Tzu (Master) is his name recalls the other Tzu's (Lao and Kun'g Fu) who were philosophers. And in many ways, so was Sun. However, he was also very practical, and in this case he most assuredly meant: Have good information on what your own capabilities are, and good intelligence on your enemy's. Sun Tzu basically says that all warfare can basically be whittled down to information.

Information is limited by sight range, which is in turn limited by things like forests, mountains, and eventually that same pesky curvature issue. A great many warfare innovations have centered around getting past that problem, and cavalry was certainly one of the first. Whether it was to send a scouting force, a message, or harass someone's lines of communication, the horseman was your go-to guy.

Then came flight. Balloons in the American Civil War and the first cloth-and-wood fighters of WWI were primarily intended as scouting and observation platforms. Then a comedian took a rifle up there, and the rest is, yep, white silk scarf stuff.

Whether they are horses or fighter planes, they started as observers and messengers before they became weapons whose motto was Speed is Armor. In space such weapons will not be developed first as observers since you can see everyone. Not only that, but speed isn't even very good armor in space, especially not if lasers are dominant.

As a side note to your side note: Very rarely is the driver also the commander of the weapon system. Take most two-seat multi-engined craft. You have the commander and the pilot (not: pilot and co-pilot) In the rare two-man tanks (like the small French Renault FT-17 of WWI) the commander aims the gun, while the driver, well, drives. I'd say the F14 and 18's, where the pilot is in charge and the RIO (Radar Intercept Officer) is *not* the commander, are the exception rather than the rule.

Geoffrey S H said...

It would be interesting to know if there have been studies on the psycological effects of being put in a tank for Suspended animation/ remote controling a tool/craft. Probably not, but still...

Jim Baerg said...

Jollyreaper"The one thing that doesn't make sense is that gravity slingshots are used to built speed in-system. So a fleet looking to leave System A for a fight in System B will fire up the engines and conduct fancy loop maneuvers past the major planets and primary in the system, building up speed. I wouldn't think a ship traveling at .5c could reverse direction just passing by a planet but I don't have the math to prove it"

You're right

I recall playing with the math of gravitation slingshots a few years ago, & basicly you can't get a significant effect if the escape speed from your point of closest approach to the planet is much less than your speed relative to the planet.

The large escape speed from Jupiter & the low escape speed from Mars is why the former is so much more useful for gravitational slingshot maneuvers.

ElAntonius said...

Jean - You are correct to be discussing mission roles. The point I was discussing was more general...what attributes does the popular fictional notion of a fighter have? (And let's face it, Top Gun might as well be Star Wars in terms of realism)

But I disagree that we need a split between weapons and piloting. Modern fighters don't have separate weapons guys because the computer is their weapons guy. They tell the computer what target they want to destroy, the computer tells the missile, and the missile chases the target and destroys it. There's very little active intervention required for a missile launch.

The real meat in that equation is positioning...I'm not convinced that missiles in air are really THAT different than missiles in space. In both cases, a missile MASSIVELY outperforms the target, but has a more limited fuel supply. Right now, a modern AA missile launched from certain vectors is pretty much a guaranteed kill...do training exercises equate LOCK with KILL? I've heard that before, but I am not in the military, nor do I wear a scarf on TV.

((Note: I'm distinguishing here between a missile that a spacecraft might launch and a missile that is really the same as the spacecraft, just unmanned))

So the role of the pilot is to get to a launch point that is within the missile's mission envelope...once the missile is away, there's very little need to do much else, which I think reduces the desire for a dedicated 'gunner' position.

It's worse with lasers, really. When you're talking about illuminating a tiny spot 1ens of thousands of km away, a computer is pretty much required for the fine focusing.

That being said, I was more railing against the notion of a captain that sits there doing nothing but relaying orders. "Turn 15 degrees left. Burn 12 seconds. Fire missile 1."

PS: Thinking more on the 'gunner' position...depending on the tech we're talking about, I could see such a role for controlling non-missile drone craft. The reason I say non-missile is that other drone craft may have increased complexity in their missions.

They might even be fighters :P.

jollyreaper said...

That being said, I was more railing against the notion of a captain that sits there doing nothing but relaying orders. "Turn 15 degrees left. Burn 12 seconds. Fire missile 1."

A thousand years in the future, I have a hard time seeing that sort of thing. Hell, maybe even a hundred years in the future. I've got a feeling that the humans will give expert AI systems the Rules of Engagement and then everything past that point will be handled autonomously. Had an invented sentient vegetative lifeform that was forced to operate that way in a story. The plants were vines that would extrude hard, wooden tripods they'd use to walk around. The plants thought a lot slower than humans so we'd appear to be buzzing things like timelapse photography. But they'd evolved a simpler "fast brain" that allowed them to play with the animals on their homeworld. A threat presents itself, the animal brain operates in fast time (i.e. what we consider normal time) and the plant would evade, attack, do whatever it took. Subjectively, the plant would be doing its thing, then there's a sudden feeling of alert and the environment is different and memories of what had just happened would filter into its consciousness. Naturally, human/plant communications tended to favor the written word rather than direct conversation.

In the near future, though, I just don't see us getting away from crew-served vehicles with people talking. Air superiority fighters flew with radar officers for a good long time. The original F-15 did not have a backseater but the E variant did because there was enough workload to require it. Same with the F-4, F-14, the old A-6. The Prowler version of the A-6 has a stretched cockpit to fit four crew, a pilot and three operators.

Attack choppers flew with multiple crew because of the complexity of flying and operating weapons. The Cobras and Apaches had pilot/commander and gunner. The Comanche was supposed to be able to let the pilot handle both duties. I remained skeptical. The Army isn't into wasting money and they wouldn't have put a gunner in if one wasn't absolutely necessary. It's a full-time job to keep the bird in the air and low to the earth, let alone hunting for targets.

In tanks, the Army is pretty insistent on a four man crew: driver, gunner, loader, commander. There's enough going on with the first three roles that the commander is still needed to make sure the tank is doing what it's supposed to. The Russians like their auto-loaders and can get the crew down to three. The Army has never been happy with the technology and still insisted on a loader position. The extra hands also help with maintenance, changing tracks, etc. And all commands in the tank are verbal. Things are broken down to a drilled cadence.

I guess a better example of reducing headcount is the B-52 vs. the B-2. In the B-42 you have (pilot, copilot, radar navigator (bombardier), navigator, and Electronic Warfare Officer). With increasing computer automation, the B-2 flies with a pilot and co-pilot who can handle all of those duties. Navigation is by computer, bombing is by computer, and EWO is computer-driven. There was a variant with six crew, that might have been a flight engineer or someone for more avionics twiddling, not sure. But five is what they're flying with right now.

I can't possibly see the crew count for a manned bomber reduced to one. If for nothing else than the chance of a heart attack or stroke causing the loss of the aircraft, they'd want two in there.

The real question is one of situational awareness. Humans are only really good at doing one thing at a time. We can monitor several tasks but only pay full attention to one. As technology improves and new computer tech comes online, researchers will have to put in sim time mocking up workloads and seeing where the test pilots start failing.

ElAntonius said...

jollyreaper-

I don't necessarily disagree, as I do believe that any sort of long term craft are going to require multiple crew.

I just don't think those crew positions will be as naval-like in structure, where a captain relays orders for implementation. I think they'll be more akin to a bomber, where the commander has direct control of the craft and the rest of the crew are in supporting roles.

Everything I'm about to say assumes that we handwaved such that manned space warfare exists AND that humans are directly in control of the ship.

If we have manned warships, then at the very least you'll need an engineering officer, and probably a team. If a spacecraft is multirole, independent drones might be useful, so probably an officer for that as well. A pilot is a given in that scenario. Most of the weapon aiming tasks would be automated, so I would imagine just giving the pilot the button for that makes sense, since the position of the spacecraft alters when a weapon should be fired. I could see a use for an independent navigation officer to assist the pilot in long term maneuvering, and some form of EWO...although in space I suspect jamming would be more easily achieved by blowing off your target's comm system.

Turret gunners won't exist. It just doesn't have a good role in space. Bombardiers are also obsoleted by modern smart weaponry.

With sufficient automation I think Rick is right in that the controls don't have to be manned 24/7, so perhaps a single-shift crew is plausible. I'd think for redundancy you might want two shifts, still, but who knows.

The thing with all your examples is that they point at fairly antiquated technology. The tank is fairly certain to be past its prime, supplanted by close air support and smart weapons.

Helicopters have an independent gunner for precision reasons...we're not to the point where we can reliably fire guns at man-sized targets and discern their identity correctly without a human eye. In space we won't have that problem, so I'll confidently say that a computer can 'lock' any desired spaceship at will. Also, a helicopter is different because it's a low flier. You simply don't have terrain to worry about in space.

In either case, I think we may be arriving at the same point from different directions: suffice to say that the bridge of a space warship won't look like either a submarine OR a fighter jet.

ElAntonius said...

In rereading my own comment, I realized I'm not being clear about something.

The Guy In Charge doesn't HAVE to be the Pilot, but if the Guy In Charge isn't the Pilot, then he's going to have to leave operating decisions to the pilot.

IE: he can say "take us to Callisto, Pilot", or "Engage enemy forces, prioritize that one", but if he's making precise decisions about the implementation of those orders he's better off holding the controls.

IE: if the GiC is not the Pilot, which is certainly possible, his role will be more about coordination than implementation. The popular image of Kirk coming up with 'brilliant' maneuvers and then telling his pilot to do them just doesn't resonate with me...why wouldn't he just pull them himself?

jollyreaper said...

In rereading my own comment, I realized I'm not being clear about something.

The Guy In Charge doesn't HAVE to be the Pilot, but if the Guy In Charge isn't the Pilot, then he's going to have to leave operating decisions to the pilot.

IE: he can say "take us to Callisto, Pilot", or "Engage enemy forces, prioritize that one", but if he's making precise decisions about the implementation of those orders he's better off holding the controls.

IE: if the GiC is not the Pilot, which is certainly possible, his role will be more about coordination than implementation. The popular image of Kirk coming up with 'brilliant' maneuvers and then telling his pilot to do them just doesn't resonate with me...why wouldn't he just pull them himself?


Oh, well of course Trek is ridiculous. Riker barking out "evasive pattern this and that," WTF? That's ridiculous. Those engagement ranges were always point blank with both ships facing nose to nose. The ONLY firing orders that should be given are "Let 'er rip!" which means all power to forward shields, start pumping out phasers and photon torpedoes until that sucker's dead. You're not dodging at that range, you're not maneuvering, you're just pummeling like a heavyweight boxer with his opponent in the corner.

As to whether the vessel's commander is also the pilot, I think it's a matter of size. Anything with one or two crew, it's a pilot-commander. If it takes three or more people on the flight deck to operate the vessel, the commander is going to be in the backseat.

So long as we're talking about Trek, you're talking about having a reason for the characters to be on the bridge in the first place. The captain, that's obvious. Having a helmsman makes sense, that's a character. The science officer is there to provide exposition about the space anomaly of the week, operate sensors, etc. And it makes sense to have a communications person, that draws from the real world. TNG decided to create a position of tactical officer who doubled as running ship security. In charge of the MP's and the weapons? That makes no sense but was an economy of script-writing. Putting a counselor on the bridge? Made not a lick of sense. I'm the first to appreciate Troi's decorative properties but what the writers created was of little utility and ridiculous.

It's interesting to see how other shows work around the conventions Trek seemed to carve in stone. B5 had the captain and the second in command. That makes perfect sense. And Ivanova was a lot more of an XO than Spock or Riker ever managed to be. A medical chief for a city in space makes sense so you have your doctor just like Crusher or McCoy. Security Chief makes sense for a place that big, proper role. But you didn't see a lot of bridge bunnies. They were in the background but not turned into main characters. Part of the reason for this, of course, is there's only so much screen time to go around and major roles had to go to the alien factions. It would have been a different show if it was concentrated just on what went on in CIC.

Firefly did another interesting take. I like that Mal wasn't the pilot of his own ship, in fact he wasn't very good at it at all. For what was essentially "the early adventures of Han Solo, as reinterpreted by Joss Whedon," I thought he made very intelligent expansions on the Han/Chewie setup. You've got your pilot and engineer who can basically keep the ship running, but the other characters round the show out with clashing personalities and areas of expertise. Still miffed Faux canned it.

Jean Remy said...

jollyreaper: "As to whether the vessel's commander is also the pilot, I think it's a matter of size. Anything with one or two crew, it's a pilot-commander. If it takes three or more people on the flight deck to operate the vessel, the commander is going to be in the backseat. "

I agree with this, especially in the case of a laserstar, though perhaps even a frigate. By laserstar I mean of course the super-space-cow showman of space, the saber in "saber-rattling". It's the showman of space. The laserstar will have to be at the center of a constellation of drones, support vessels and perhaps an escort of frigates it can dispatch around. The frigates of course are the real workhorses of this setting, showing the flag without being intimidating and the occasional intercept of suspicious moon-hopper.

The laserstar commander is therefore in charge of a lot of hardware, and is the de facto ambassador on the scene as well. I' rather doubt he'd also be tasked with aiming or driving the rig, more than likely he will seat in the back, barking orders, not so much "helm to port 5 degrees" but more "this is our overall strategy, take it away helm and guns."

The frigate commander might be the pilot, but I rather doubt it as well. At minimum I'd have the operation crew be three members, a driver, a gunner, and the commander, maybe even add a 4th as radio/navigator/engineer. Either way, once again the commander is the de facto ambassador on location, and has to make the big decision like "Is the moon-hopper from Callisto legit and should I risk pissing off the Callistans by intercepting it"

I think it's *because* we don't have fighters or tanks in space that the commander can't be pressed into service as pilot. The reason to have humans on those ships at all is for the decision process that can't be trusted to a computer because it requires a judgment call from a wetware brain. That brain can't be asked to multi-task when it's sitting on a WMD (as we know, any ship with an interesting drive is a WMD)

So while the bridge of the space-cows aren't going to be set up like that of a wet navy ship, I still don't think you want to throw too many tasks on the guy's head. He won't be (if he's smart enough) micromanaging his helmsman and gunner. Or, given a 17th century Royal Navy scenario where said commander is appointed with no real-world experience, he could try... and here's your drama. Dun dun dunnnn

Anonymous said...

On looking at some of the other pots, I have come to the conclusion that the 'bridge' of a small (read single shift, limited endurance spacecraft) 'space fighter' would resimble a main battle tank more than anything else; a pilot also operating the main gun, an engineering tech (flight mechanic), an EWO/secondary weapons operator, and a commander whose main duties would be as crew chief and identifying/prioritizing targets. A warship like that would have missions measured in days, not hours, weeks,or months; in other words, a medium endurance fighter/bomber...a setup that gives a good deal of flexibilaty to the ship's role.

Ferrell

Rick said...

Ships are the only vehicles I know of that split the driving job, with the officer of the deck giving voice orders to another guy actually at the helm.

This was and is mainly because ships are so cumbersome to steer - once you got beyond triakonters it was no longer practical for the commander to hold the steering oar. (Even pentakonters split the job.)

Large spacecraft will also be cumbersome to steer, but of course the detail steering will be automated.

And spacecraft differ from all terrestrial vehicles in that they don't need piloting most of the time. Rockets are only under power at all for brief intervals. High Isp ships spend more time under power, but 'steady as you go' in deep space requires no regular piloting.

The only time most ships need any piloting in the traditional sense is in rendezvous and docking maneuvers, and that might be the only time the pilot station is manned. If the CO decides to handfly a docking approach, they'll probably do it themselves, unless for training.

jollyreaper said...

Ships are the only vehicles I know of that split the driving job, with the officer of the deck giving voice orders to another guy actually at the helm.

Tanks, as we've already established. And if we look beyond combat aircraft to support aircraft, the pilot may be in charge of the aircraft itself but the mission is commanded by someone else.

If we consider AWACS (S-3 Sentry, the thing that looks like an airliner being molested by a flying saucer), you have separate crews. The flight deck crew has the aircraft commander who is also the pilot and responsible for the safety of the aircraft and occupants, the first pilot who we would think of as the copilot, navigator and flight engineer. To compare this to a navy ship, the flight deck = the bridge and on modern ships, the captain fights his vessel from CIC. If it's a flag ship, the admiral is commanding the task force from CIC as well but there will be equipment and crew for both captain and admiral.

The mission crew are all the people sitting in back and operating the equipment. There can be up to 35 of them. Equivalent of CIC. There's the tactical director who is in charge of the mission. Senior member of the crew and liaises directly with the operating authorities. Then there's surveillance team run by a surveillance controller who runs the sensors, weapons team run by the flight allocator responsible for controlling and coordinating air traffic, plus airborne technicians who keep all the equipment humming along.

And spacecraft differ from all terrestrial vehicles in that they don't need piloting most of the time. Rockets are only under power at all for brief intervals. High Isp ships spend more time under power, but 'steady as you go' in deep space requires no regular piloting.

Lots of assumptions in that statement. All depends on how fast the craft go and what they're doing. If we're talking far enough in the future and with a suitable situation for space warships, I think there will be a little more activity than you're describing. Your scenario sounds more like the daily activity onboard the Discovery from 2001, months of nothing but monitoring life support and essential systems hoping nothing breaks.

The only time most ships need any piloting in the traditional sense is in rendezvous and docking maneuvers, and that might be the only time the pilot station is manned. If the CO decides to handfly a docking approach, they'll probably do it themselves, unless for training.

A lot of supposition there. So much of this is open to interpretation given the technology of the setting.

Jean Remy said...

Rick: "And spacecraft differ from all terrestrial vehicles in that they don't need piloting most of the time. Rockets are only under power at all for brief intervals. High Isp ships spend more time under power, but 'steady as you go' in deep space requires no regular piloting."

jolly: "Lots of assumptions in that statement. All depends on how fast the craft go and what they're doing. If we're talking far enough in the future and with a suitable situation for space warships, I think there will be a little more activity than you're describing. Your scenario sounds more like the daily activity onboard the Discovery from 2001, months of nothing but monitoring life support and essential systems hoping nothing breaks."

Going to go with both on that one. For interplanetary voyages we're going to have the 2001 situation, minimal crew "on deck" the rest running training in the on board simulators (on the redundant auxiliary "bridge") or keeping in shape running laps around the outer ring of the hab.

But the real meat of the missions happens in orbit, either Earth, the Moon or wherever else, and at that point between the local traffic and the situation the ship was to handle in the first place. You only dispatch the big Space Cow to Callisto if there's an issue, otherwise they stay in Earth Sphere. Local frigates can handle the showing the flag routines. Those situations will require the full shift on duty, second shift on-call while 3rd shift is taking a nap fully-dressed. The commander is talking with the ambassador/rep and the local authorities to solve situation, the ship's pilot is handling the course changes to intercept suspicious ships or orbital structures that could be problematic, EWO is running sims on local sensor nets to see if he can shut them down through hacking attacks, the weapons officer is updating his targeting solutions on anything that could be a threat... this is a very busy ship buzzing with activity and tension.

Rick said...

jollyreaper caught me out on tanks. I was thinking of civilian vehicles, since in most cases their military counterparts follow the same basic practice (planes have pilots, ships have conning officers + helmsmen, etc). But there's no civil counterpart of a tank!

I'll add that while battle trains have been very rare, some have existed, and presumably the commander was functionally the conductor, not the engineer. ('Guard' and 'driver,' to some of you from cultures where everything about railroading is Not Quite Right.)


I'll join Jean in agreeing with both myself and jollyreaper!

What spaceships in cruise flight DON'T have to worry about is weather, which is the main reason that ships and planes in cruise need a conning watch. You won't hit turbulence, or stray off course due to wind and currents.

So the equivalent of a fighter ferry mission would be much less stressful. If a single seat spacecraft has to make a 3 day mission from lunar orbit to LEO, the pilot can take sleep periods en route with no problem.

Once you enter a combat zone, for sure the control room will be a busy, active place. And single seaters have a problem if things stay busy for more than a few hours.

That said, I think conning/piloting as such will be less prominent, not unlike modern naval operations, at least for larger combatants.

The reason COs moved to the CIC to fight their ships in battle is that shiphandling became relatively less critical than seeing the overall threat picture.

This in turn is because ships facing air attack, whether planes or missiles, are effectively standing still - there's no ramming, no raking, no crossing the T, no combing the torpedo tracks, not even weaving to throw off dive bombers.

In space, ships go about the same speed as kinetics, and in principle kinetics might permit a classic shiphandling fight, ships swirling around like polo ponies, getting off shots and avoiding them.

(The Persians, said Herodotus, were taught three things only: to ride, to shoot, and to speak the truth. Iranians with a Parthian shot tradition might play well in this environment.)

Unfortunately the heartless gods of Realism [TM] conspire against this elegant scenario in a host of ways.

ElAntonius said...

I'd agree as well, with the caveat that I believe that for the scenario to work at all we need a clear division of labor.

IE: the Commander can be anyone, even just the Commander, but if we hold that flying a ship in combat is sufficiently complex such that it requires people at the helm, then it doesn't follow that a Commander can micro-manage those same things.

IE: if a Pilot is required to perform active evasive operations, the Commander isn't going to tell him to pull 15deg left and full burn to exhaust that missile; the Pilot will be thus trained.

I'm still uncomfortable with a 'gunner'.

A keel mounted laser would require so much coordination between a pilot and a gunner (ostensibly because the pilot has coarse control and the gunner has fine control) that it would be better to hand fine control to the pilot/computer anyway.

Missiles are automated drones anyway. Their mission type doesn't require a gunner, and in either case the biggest decision with a missile is when to fire, which is dictated by relative positions of the spacecraft.

Guns, I could see some role, but even then you'd need some major help from a computer, almost to the point of eliminating the human entirely, to actually hit anything.

So what do other people see as the minimum crew roles for a manned combat space craft bridge? I'm thinking (keeping in mind some roles can fold into others to reduce head count if desired):

Commander
Pilot
Navigator
Communications
Electronic Warfare
Sensors
Engineering

I'm probably forgetting something.

jollyreaper said...

Commander
Pilot
Navigator
Communications
Electronic Warfare
Sensors
Engineering


All depends on the complexity of the systems and degree of automation. If we look at the Millennium Falcon, it really needed to be operated with a crew of four. The dorsal and ventral quad cannons were manually operated and the ship does not possess an autopilot as far as we are aware. In bombers you had dedicated gunners and crew who would man guns when not otherwise performing their duties. For example, the bombardier would often double as the nose-gunner. On naval ships, cook's mates might also double as a flak gunner when at action stations. But the main guns would have dedicated crew who did nothing but operate the guns because they are more complex whereas anyone can be trained to pass ammo boxes.

Some airliners used to fly with three crew on the flight deck -- pilot, co-pilot, and flight engineer. Newer planes have managed to do away with that position with increased reliability and automation.

On the WWII bombers, the navigator had to do things the old school way. He would shoot the sun during the day, look at the moon and stars at night, etc. He really wasn't that far removed from what navigators had been doing at sea for hundreds of years. Modern bombers have both GPS and inertial navigation systems that can work even when the satellites are gone.

Commander
Pilot
Navigator
Communications
Electronic Warfare
Sensors
Engineering


That's a pretty good list. You forgot weapons in general. That's everything involved in the operation of the vehicle. The question of how much time has to be paid to each determines how many crew you'd have to fly with. As a comparison to video games, look at real-time strategy games. You typically have to split your attention between base-building and attacking the enemy base. You cannot conduct two battles simultaneously because your idiot units need to be micromanaged. If this were a serious competition, you'd need to play in at lest two-man teams, one to protect the base and one to manage the troops. If you were fighting on three of four fronts, you'd really need another teammate to manage each front. If the units had better AI, then only one player would be needed since he could trust the battles to take care of themselves.

ElAntonius said...

I intended to leave out weapons because I fail to see a role where it wouldn't be folded with the piloting duties.

With lasers, it's a matter of pick a target and flip the switch...although maybe we don't have the automated technology to fine focus on vulnerable parts of spacecraft.

Still, with a laser, having one person with coarse control (the pilot) and another with fine control (the gunner) is a recipe for disaster.

Missiles simply do not have a gunner role.

Kinetics might, but...CIWS exists now, and I'd doubt that any kinetic weapon would have any hiuman interaction asides from "acquire this...now fire", much like a missile. But I'll accept that in a heavy kinetic world a gunner position might be valued.

So weapons is out...unless...

We discuss I-War again. Now that game had something interesting.

The Pilot handled general navigation, but in combat the Weapons station took control of the craft.

If we hold that combat maneuvering and astrogation both require high levels of training, then having specialists for either might make sense.

Because the most important tactical maneuver in space is bringing your weapons to bear on threats (IE, launching missiles on realistic intercepts, keeping your laser on in range threats, and/or allowing your railguns to track their targets), then it might hold that the Pilot's role is getting us there, and Weapon's role is the fight when we get there.

Anonymous said...

Commander
Pilot
Navigator
Communications
Electronic Warfare
Sensors
Engineering

Ok, good list! However, I'd give Sensors the control of the weapons (the Fire Control Officer) 'cuz he's already looking at/for threats...so why not put the SHOOT button next to his thumb? The Commander should have the weapons lock/unlock switch next to his thumb. Modern SAM/Tactical ground air control has the sensor operators also be the weapons controllers.
So...
Commander/Nav
Pilot/Nav
Sensor/Weapons
Electronic Warfare/Communications
Engineering/Communications
OK, five crew members for a low endurance combat ship, 10 for a medium endurance ship, and 15 (maybe add a medic or two) for a high endurance ship. Not the standard model of a 'spacefighter', but probably closer to reality...

Ferrell

Rick said...

Commander
Pilot
Navigator
Communications
Electronic Warfare
Sensors
Engineering


I'd fold pilot and navigator together. The skill sets are converging. The computer takes sights and calculates orbits; the navigator's job is having a good head for what orbit to calculate. It is a more intellectual skill than piloting, but it relates to piloting about as choreography relates to dancing.

A keel mounted weapon might be fired by the pilot; otherwise I'll go with Ferrell and assign the gunner function, such as it is, to Sensors.

Comms, sensors, and EW might all fold together, more or less, depending on what the actual job is.

Is the comms desk twiddling with frequencies and the like, or more like a TV news director, monitoring traffic and making sure the CO gets the most critical information? I tend to think more the latter, which makes comms specialist more a big ship billet, a la Uhura.

I would give the basic 'bomber crew' four positions:

Commander
Pilot/navigator
Weapons/sensors
Engineering

For longer missions add life support/medic. For larger ships, and/or prolonged alert status, double or triple up the billets so you can stand watches.

I don't think the operating crew even for big ships needs to be more than 10-15 - more or less the familiar TV bridge crew. If you have more they are 'staff' of some sort - command staff, mission control for other spacecraft, espatiers, or for that matter the hotel staff of a space liner.

Anonymous said...

Rick:
Commander
Pilot/navigator
Weapons/sensors
Engineering

Yeah, that would work. However, on further thought, I would combine Engineering with Life Support and let the Commander listen to the Comms. Your Idea of folding EW into Sensors does make sense, as well.

Ferrell

ElAntonius said...

Merging EW into sensors makes sense if EW does not require a whole lot of human interaction (IE, if EW is just another weapon).

However, if EW involves active hacking (such as comm exploits), then I think that might have to be a dedicated position...or at least one separate from tracking threats, which I think is a full time job.

It strikes me that it's getting a bit specific, however...who merges into what position starts to become highly tied to what specific technological advancements exist.

Putting the weapons under sensors makes sense, I agree. Suffice to say that it highly depends on how tightly correlated the ship's ability to maneuver is with the ability of the weapon to strike its target. It then strikes me that keel mounted weapons and relatively low performance missiles will be pilot controlled, while things like torch missiles and point defense will be sensors controlled.

Changing the subject a bit: Mass Effect. A relatively hard sci-fi video game from Bioware.

They introduce one piece of magic: Element 0, which has the property of being able to increase or decrease the mass of an object.

Thus: the main weapon in the game is essentially a coil gun, firing small bits of metal suspended within a mass-reducing field. This allows the projectile to gain massive velocity.

Spaceship tactics are essentially centered around bringing a massive keel mounted coilgun to bear on your enemy's side.

Shields exist, I don't remember by what mechanism exactly...although I'm 99% sure it has to do with the aforementioned 'mass effect'.

Fighters come into existence in that game via the development of a special torpedo type that increases its mass after launch...this means it is very slow, and as such must be launched from relatively close range in very large groups. The increasing mass causes it to overwhelm the shields of the target and continue unimpeded to impact vital areas.

Laser point defense exists and is considered the standby defense against fighters/torpedoes. The game implies that laser strikes are usually not strong enough to kill a fighter, just usually enough to force it to retreat out of laser range and repair at the mothership. As the range decreases, laser strikes are fatal.

The laser point defenses can be overwhelmed by sheer quantity, so fighters (lancers!) launch torpedoes in synchronized waves.

The name of the game, then, is to knock out enough fighters either via other fighters or point defense that the torpedoes can be defended against.

I bring this up because it gives the impression of being thought out. Element-0 Drives allow for fighters to have massive performance/cost advantages over larger craft. Lasers are not particularly fatal, allowing for manned lancers. AI is outlawed due to an ongoing war between the good guys and a race of sentient machines.

The game also discusses heat management and radiators, artillery duels in deep space, knife fights around FTL points...

This is particularly interesting since all of that is optional reading background info...the player is never directly involved in a space battle (in the first one, I haven't had a chance to play the copy of the second one I purchased a few months ago -_-)

Jean Remy said...

There's a lot of questions as to who gets the little red button with the word FIRE embossed in white and probably surrounded by black and gold hatch marks.

My take is that while selecting targets goes better with the sensor operator (assuming that EW involves hacking and is separate) his role would be only to paint targets and acquire firing solutions. The little red button probably should go on the mission commander's console, giving him the final authority, and perhaps he could even chose between several available firing solutions.

In the case where a ship is armed with an unguided spinal weapon that does not have independent targeting, even in a small cone (which I think it unlikely being too unwieldy) this selection will override helm control. Say RIO selects three targeting solutions for three ships within a certain cone in front of the ship, the commander picks the target he wants, which slaves helm to the targeting computer, aims the ship, and off to the races.

So:

Commander: Final authority on fire control and helm.

Pilot/Number One: Helm control unless overridden by Commander or Fire control

RIO/Weapons: Target tracking, selection and prioritization.

EW/Communication: computer warfare, hacking.

DCC/Engineering: Maintenance and if available damage control dispatch

Life Support/Medical: Self explanatory.

ElAntonius said...

Jean Remy - that's actually pretty close to the I-War approach, where the weapons station overrides helm control in combat (and the commander can override control of any position).

I don't think I agree with the big red switch going to the commander alone though...I'd think he'd have the ability to lock/unlock weapons (as well as other functions), but I see no reason for giving command the button where a simple "weapons are free, fire when ready" command would suffice. (Of course, I could see where the computer determines the best time to fire and the switch acts only as authorization for the computer to act weapons-free).

That being said, I find myself rather attracted to the idea of control of the ship being dictated by whatever the particular sub-mission is.

I suspect we may be quibbling over relatively minor points within a larger consensus, however.

Jean Remy said...

An silly Intrawebz and the difficulty of conveying sarcasm through it. The red button was kind of a joke. Hollywood loves little red buttons stamped FIRE.

I agree the commander doesn't just have a red button that fires the gun when he's ready. The way I envision it is that the RIO gives the commander a few possibilities ranked in whatever way the commander asks it (proximity, value, time to target, hit probability etc...) letting him chose which target he wants to take out then bouncing it back to the targeting computer and helm computer to refine the targeting solution and fire at the optimum time. As you said, the red button is more of a "fire when ready" weapons release command than an actual "fire" button.

And yes, in my scenario the computer directed with as good an AI as you can build is mostly in charge, the wetware is on board to draw the general lines (go there, shoot this) while the software decides exactly how to go about it (Pitch +50 deg, Yaw -30 deg, Roll +35 deg, two second acceleration, wait five picoseconds, fire)

ElAntonius said...

Ah, my mistake.

So, we have, in terms of the 'fire weapons at enemy target' sub-mission, essentially three actors:

-Pilot
-RIO
-(Tactical) Command (I added the tactical because in this scenario Command is making the decision about how to best accomplish the sub-mission)

(Abstracting out the specific flight controls bit)

Step 1) Pilot gets the ship to its coarse engagement area.

Step 2) RIO provides target tracking to Command.

Step 3) At this point, Command is essentially in control of the ship. Command selects a target and intercept course, selected based on likelihood of attack success and likelihood of enemy counter-attack success.

Repeat Steps 2) and 3).

In large engagements, Command may essentially be plotting new courses the entire time. Isolated engagements, it'll be fire weapons once, then Pilot resumes control to return the ship home.

That actually REALLY looks like a slightly less "gamey" version of I-War. That game continues to surprise me for nailing likely dynamics of small-crew combat spacecraft.

Rank implications: I'd think such a bridge arrangement would have Pilots promoted to Commanders as the logical progression as they gained experience.

The Commander needs Pilot knowledge anyway...after all, you don't want to spin into space after you exhaust all your propellant chasing bad targets.

Rick said...

Taking a half step back I agree with ElAntonius' point that fairly fine technical details will drive how these positions actually shake out, the command track, and so on.

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Anonymous said...

OK, I think that the concensus is that real "spacefighters" will be vastly different then the common image (i.e. Hollywood image), of what it should be. The "spacefighter" will resimble a main battle tank, stategic bomber, or even a UH-1 "Huey" helicopter (for it's versitility and ablity to be reconfigured to meet a specific mission). Even though the F-119 is called a "Fighter" it is, in fact, a light bomber...just because you give an old name to something new, doesn't mean that the new thing bears any resimblance to the old thing...both the P-48 Lightning and the F-35 Lightning II both have the same role, but just looking at them you wouldn't have just guessed that.

Ferrell

William said...

"Anonymous - another belated reply!

A high level AI might well be expensive, especially if it needs to be 'trained,' not just programmed. But tactical space combat is relatively simple, and doesn't seem to call for much beyond present day expert systems. 'Everyone sees everything' tends to reduce pure tactics to just number crunching, which computers are good at.

Higher level decision making and judgment comes in more on the operational level, but that is well suited to human decision makers 'behind the lines.'

And, of course, a completely non-scientific law-SF readers want FIGHTERS, not DRONES!

AKA Burnside's Zeroth Law: Readers want to read about people, not robots. But the issue with space fighters is really a bit subtler than that. The space fighter trope isn't just about people, it is about fighter jocks. The staff planners and techs at a base or aboard a mother ship are just as much at risk if the drones they control lose, but less derring-do is involved.

Putting it another way, I think space fighters were invented so that the human decision makers could be studly (or babelicious) 20-somethings, rather than middle aged senior commanders."

In other words, they're big strap-on space dildos.

Rick said...

Welcome to another new commenter!

This is a quick drive-by, since I'm not on my regular machine, but either you read my 'Tough Guide' entry on space fighters, or great minds think alike. Maybe both.

Byron said...

After reading through these posts, I'm finally going to throw my opinion in.
First, I can see several vessels that have characteristics of fighters, but definitely none that have all of them.
I actually expect that the first purpose-built (or kludged-together) space warcraft will resemble fighters in terms of being low-endurance, engine with weapons and crew strapped on designs.
If Europa and Callisto start raiding each other's convoys coming from the rare earth mines of Metis, soon one will realize "If we strap weapons and crew onto a rocket, and carry them on a transport, it should be more effective then attaching them to a freighter."
They'll last until after the war, when something better can be built.

On crewing, I think that combat crews will probably break down into three basic groups: Piloting, Engineering, and Tactical.
Piloting and Engineering are self-explanatory, while Tactical combines command with gunnery and sensors/communication/EW.
In a story I'm working on, a 30m warship has a 29 man crew - 6 officers, captain, XO, navigator, chief engineer, assistant engineer, and operations officer; 3 warrant officers, pilot, assistant engineer, and chief gunner; and 20 enlisted, 2 helmsmen, the COB, a medic, 9 technicians, 2 stewards, and 5 gunners, who also handled sensors, comms, and electronic warfare. The gunners were mostly there to provide fire direction, and didn't actually press the fire button.
I do have one problem with drones, and the dismissal of EW on the control thereof. I believe that if drones are commonly used, then Electronic Warfare will become very prominent. Not just hacking, but jamming, EMPs, HPMs, etc. It's really hard to make a drone that can operate autonomously, and even if you could, would you really want to use it? Any remote-controlled drone would be vulnerable to EMP attacks, because, while you can shield against pulses to the system, you can't shield antennas. And any systems used to deal with the effects will likely be more complicated than merely putting a human crew aboard. Drones might be the best solution, but it's not a foregone conclusion.

Rick said...

In deep space combat at long range, I'm doubtful that there is much scope for EW.

On the other hand, I'm becoming more doubtful that combat will typically happen out in the middle of nowhere. The more cluttered the environment the more complicated things get, including potential for EW.

Anonymous said...

I think that the only time that there will be deep space combat will be when an interceptor(s) makes a fly-by attack on an inbound fleet/constellation. I also think that you are right in that most space combat would be near the target.

Ferrell

Byron said...

I agree that deep space would be a place where few actual battles happen, but I disagree that EW will be a non-issue. While decoys don't work, what's to stop microwaves or radar jamming? If you happen to have a bunch of electricity that would normally go to your drive, but it doesn't produce enough acceleration to be useful, and it can't all go to the laser because of heat issues, what to do besides jam? Also, when I say EW, it could be expanded to include such things as HPM/EMP attacks, which drones would be vulnerable to.

Rick said...

I'm not entirely sure what there is TO jam.

In deep space you can mostly use passive tracking, since spacecraft are bright, at least in the IR, against a dark background, and EXTREMELY bright when accelerating. So long as you have two platforms, parallax will give you a range solution. Comms can be by tight beam, which you can't really interfere with unless you're directly in line.

There are some semi brute force things you can do, such as using lasers for sensor blinding, which could be effective at much longer range than the laser can drill through hulls. But I don't see much opportunity for the types of EW we developed in the environment of broadcast radio and radar.

Anonymous said...

EW is directed at the source of transmissions...You direct 'noise' at antenni, cameras, and other sensors/emitters; if you can't see, if you can't hear. if you can't 'smell', can't 'feel', can't 'taste'...then you can't function effeciently. EW degrades, impairs, or even disrupts navigation, communication, sensors, targeting, even computers. Yes, even in space, EW is important.

Ferrell

Jean Remy said...

so since passive sensors will be IR I assume large flares or IR-tuned lasers will mess things up for the observers. Or large heat-emitting drones with over-sized torches? They might not fool someone for very long once they do the acceleration/mass computations but a non-smart drone might get confused...

Rick said...

Yes. In saying 'limited role for EW' I'm thinking of classic contemporary era stuff, spoofing and such. There's definitely a place for chaff and flares on the short time scale, and perhaps opaque smoke, though it will dissipate rather quickly.

ElAntonius said...

Which is another great argument for setting things in politically complex, crowded environments.

A flare is almost pointless in deep space. It'll fool sensors for a few seconds at most...when a missile is going to take minutes to reach you.

However, in a complex environment, losing tracking for even those few seconds would cause a missile to totally lose the target, and may even cause the attacker to lose the target long enough that more traditional hollywood dogfighting tactics can be shown.

The lack of stories in earth orbit is kind of surprising, really.

jollyreaper said...

What prevents billionaires in the here and now from buying islands and declaring themselves their own sovereign nations? Is the limitation that every island is already claimed by one nation or another and they'll only ever authorize purchases but never sovereign ownership, the same way I can buy an acre outside of town but not declare myself King Jolly? I was always impressed by that stunt in the GI Joe comics where Cobra used mad geologic super-science to raise up an island in the Gulf of Mexico. They achieved diplomatic recognition as a sovereign state and the US government told the Joes were told to pull out even as they were ready to win the fight for the island.

Well, we're not exactly going to make islands like that and waiting for volcanoes to do the job for us is kind of chancy. But what are the prospects for colonizing sea mounts? Put a stilt city on top of one of the mounts, bubble colony under the waves, or building a free-floating sea colony?

The difficulties of doing this sort of thing closely mirror the ones facing space colonies and are a sharp contrast to natural islands.

1. The establishment of the very living space will take a huge capital investment. Natural islands are already there.

2. There's a huge continued maintenance cost for a station or sea colony. Natural islands just sit there.

3. Tightly-balanced economic and ecological system. Islanders can farm the land. An artificial colony would rely on more technology for food production which increases the need for imports to support the technology. Also more things can go wrong. Islands can suffer from this problem, i.e. Haiti, Easter Island. See previous discussion about how space stations would have to be autocratic and intolerant of dissent lest disagreement cause the entire effort to fail.

4. What's the whole rationale for the colony in the first place? If it's philosophical, there's still going to need to be a way to support itself. What sort of cash crop could be created to provide the capital needed to buy advanced manufactured goods from the outside world? The only thing that springs to mind is aquaculture.

Anonymous said...

"What's the whole rationale for the colony in the first place? If it's philosophical, there's still going to need to be a way to support itself. What sort of cash crop could be created to provide the capital needed to buy advanced manufactured goods from the outside world? The only thing that springs to mind is aquaculture."

If the only thing you have to eat is only yeast, alge, bacterial paste, and krell (YABK), then someone a couple of weeks away who grows, ships, and sells pumpkins for $100 per pound will make a fortune...especially if pumpkins from Earth take half-a-year to ship, cost $10,000 a pound (or 7,500 Euros a kilo). Something that wouldn't normally be considered a luxury here on Earth may well be in deep space. Any heavy metal (or nuclear fuel, exotic chemicals, or even low-g formed crystals, ect.), that is scare on Earth, but abundent elsewhere, would be good to exchange for various things that the colony needs; the amount of precious meterials exchanged for 'luxuries' could be small and produced as a 'side' venture.

Ferrell

Byron said...

When I speak of jamming, I'm talking about jamming communications. Sensor jamming can have some effect, but what if I make a super-powered radio jammer, and prevent you from talking to your drones. I certainly wouldn't make my drones capable of much in the way of autonomous operations. My point is that there are lots of subtle ways to damage ships which would be effective against drones but not manned vessels, such as EMP attacks. I could build a mechanical system to reset all the circuit breakers, but eventually it would just be easier to put people on board.
Also, where did the island discussion come from? This is the fighters thread.

Jean Remy said...

I doubt drone guidance would be done via omnidirectional radio because of the fact they are so easy to tap into, interfere, and otherwise interact in illicit ways with. Drones will probably have to have high degrees of autonomy running on near-AI computers and would be communicated with on tight beam lasers.

Anonymous said...

Yes, countering EW may jack up the cost of a drone, manned warship, or 'Armed Utility' Vehicle, but if you don't, then someone could just zap you with a high-powered radar coupled to a noise generator and then throw rocks at you...blinding your enemy (even for just a few seconds) could mean the difference between life and death...and if it's yours, you'd want as much of an 'edge' as you could get.

Ferrell

Byron said...

The problem, again, is lightspeed lag. Lasers for communication will have the same problem. Personally, I wouldn't let my drones be very autonomous, and at least require weapons-free authorization, which could be disrupted by jamming.

Adam said...

Hey everyone-

I had a couple of thoughts:

I know that ships in space are 'hot' almost all the time, especially if they are burning. However, do they gain temp if they fire a laser (or possibly any other weapon)? If so then one could detect a power up for a weapon preparing to fire and that would give someone a chance to dodge (AI override for fast reflexes). Or are there other signatures one might read to tell if there is a charge up?

My second thought has more to do with fighters in space.

I read on this blog that lasers in a story could be tweaked to fit a given story. I don't know about lasers and how they function very well, but I think I have a feeling for them from the readings.

Assume that both sides have fighters and the ability to read enemy heat signatures (or other signatures) with enough time to dodge at the assumed zap-time.

Whether or not these fighters are automated or have human control is not the point I’m making at the moment also.

The lasers I propose would have a fair recharge rate, the larger and more powerful, the longer the charge rate. I speculate that either side would have a few big laser ships supported by a few more smaller laser ships.

I expect that the ‘dodge’ ability for the fighters would only work for light lag distances and that in order to not be killed by the smaller laser ships (which have faster charge rates) would discharge their ordinance closest to the edge of light lag while not entering the kill zone of the smaller lasers. The fighters would carry shotgun kinetics such as the kind Rick suggested so that, counting on the big lasers being occupied by the opposing big lasers and the need for even the smaller lasers to charge, some kinetics would get through and bash the opposing fleet.

Now the opposing fleet would also be sending out their fighters, but not to intercept the incoming fighters. I am now saying that all weapons that fighters carry would be wasted on trying to kill other fighters and to be targeted on the enemy fleet. To counter fighters, shotgun kinetics would be used.

Now I think the outcome would be that quite a few fighters would be destroyed, but this would extend the range of saturation kinetics without advancing your more valuable laser ships. Lasers have a stupendous range, but you wouldn’t want to needlessly loose them.

As far as automation goes, one could have the fighters be totally autonomous and go on a one way trip (they are only carrying kinetics and maybe some really small point defense lasers against missiles) or have a couple of humans strapped in there for whatever reason and have them try to break away at the right time. Essentially what this seems to look like is dive bombing in WWII but at great range (not a total analogy).

I believe that this might (might because I probably haven’t thought of everything) allow for deep space engagement with fighters. To elaborate, fleets would only be attacking ‘hard’ targets such as large space stations, asteroid, moons or planets so there is something to fight over not just empty space.

Another point for stealth though: if the enemy does not want to damage orbital infrastructure, what if said orbital only fighters were to hide behind or inside orbital stations and only come out to raid when the enemy fleet had gotten in dagger close? An Earth fleet heads to Mars and defeats their main battle fleet, but when the Earth fleet closes into orbit and engages planetary defenses (lasers, missiles aerospace fighters etc), fighters flood from the moons and orbital stations.

I would think that in reality the first rounds of space engagements in history are going to be bloody and very costly to all sides, much like when Europe learned about the implications of long rifle armed infantry. Every culture in the solar system that has a military will have it’s own starting doctrine and their ships will reflect this with space fighters or no, battle cruisers or no.

ElAntonius said...

Woohoo, I have access to the site again.

@Adam:

The problem with "fighters" as described is really with putting humans on board. I think the consensus here is that vaguely reusable drones don't present nearly the same problems.

In theory, I suppose you could tell when a ship is "about to fire", but there's a problem with that mechanism:

Lasers generate immense amounts of waste heat. Any heat generated from...say...charging a capacitor in preparation for firing would be trivially small by comparison. Therefore, I would assume that the ship could just store the heat in some sort of heat sink, and dissipate it with the heat from the laser shot afterwards, thereby nullifying the advance warning.

If you really want "fighters" AND lasers, I think the best way would be to make lasers weak in some fashion.

The Mass Effect universe postulates it as follows:
-Lasers are relatively short range, and used as point defense vs. fighters and missiles.
-The laser systems overheat quickly, and once they approach the overheating point, their power and recycle time is greatly reduced to avoid overheating.
-A "successful" laser strike on a fighter need only damage it, not kill it, such that it must retreat for repairs.
-Fighters/missiles then operate by saturating the point defense systems at longer range, and as the battle wears on, the lasers become ineffective to the point of not being able to stop fighter torpedoes (which are relatively "slow" due to the handwavium Element Zero postulated in game).
-Fighters launch torpedoes in massed waves in order to discourage early targeting of fighters when the laser system is at full capacity.

The summary of that:
Dodging lasers outside of light-lag considerations is not really possible, so you'll have to eliminate their deadliness in some fashion if you want small, agile craft to be effective.

Anonymous said...

My concept of "space fighters" are more like stand-off fighter-bombers that come in at an oblique angle, fire their missiles/kinetics/energy weapons, deploy their defensive weapons, and due a course change burn, and be on their way toward the ship or station that's poised to recover them. Unless you are in orbital space, there won't be any "dog fights" like in the movies; even then, not much like them either.

Ferrell

Adam said...

ElAntonius-

Well, since I posted I was doing some thinking. it seems that the main problem with fighters is the ability to survive long enough to get into weapons range and then out of it. However this is accomplished makes fighters viable (not trying to debate =P just wanting to try and sum up) because fighters in this case would carry a weapon designed to seriously damage or kill a ship. Wether it is by stealth (not really a possibility in space), shields (better than armor), speed (not in space), pure numbers etc. fighters offer a way to take down big ships.

So maybe not dodging a laser when it is fired, but through some other tactic. If the writer can dream up a way to get fighters there and back, then there you go.

Ferrel-

To tie to my upper part > yes I agree on a stand-off fighter of some sort. Dog fighting doesn't seem to be viable.

Me-

Could someone explain why dodging a laser beyond light lag would not work? My idea was not so much, dodging it as it was fired so much as using emission sensors to detect a heat build up for a laser weapon, or to tell if a ship is already 'running hot' because of charged laser capacitors. I would think that if one had sensitive enough equipment and good intelligence on the enemy vessels one could tell what is a normal emission signature for a particular ship and dodge just before laser reaches firing point.

ElAntonius said...

Dogfighting in space is roughly as viable as dogfighting in atmosphere is now :).

That's why I favor missiles, in a fashion. The interplay between missile and target allows for more potential shows of pilot skill (the only reason to have fighter-like craft at all, really).

RE: Dodging Lasers
Well, as has been posited on this blog before, if a laser is an effective weapon it must be extremely precise.

There's no reason the main focusing element has to be stationary while a laser is firing, so even if the target moves while the laser is charging, the main focusing element can track it continually. In fact, I'd posit that it's easier to "track" a target with a laser turret than with a gun, since for a gun to track you'd need to move the entire weapon, while with a laser the weapon can be stationary while only the final focusing element needs to move.

Or to put it another way: while our weapons aren't always 100% precise, we do have the ability NOW to paint a target with a laser from a jet. And that's at practically kissing range in space, where tracking only gets easier as range increases due to less apparent displacement.

The only way for a craft to dodge a laser would be for its apparent jink to be faster than the turret can track...and at realistic space ranges that's just not feasible.

"Dodging" lasers might actually be feasible at VERY close range, perhaps in complex political situations or the Rings Of Saturn, since at those ranges targets might flash in and out of the laser's "kill cone" very quickly. But in a stand-off situation, you won't be dodging it.

There is a bit of dodging you MIGHT be able to do, however. If a laser doesn't flash vaporize your armor and is instead "drilling", you might be able to mitigate the damage somewhat with rolling your craft, preventing the laser from consistently focusing on a single spot on your armor.

Adam said...

So essentially, the mistake I made is that, even if you are able to sense a build up in the enemy ship's laser, when you dodge just at the right moment, it has to be inhumanely fast because otherwise at those distances the turret can track you still. Because when you move the opposing ship will still be able to see you move just before the laser fires and can compensate. I think I get it...so much for my idea =P

Rick said...

The subtler problem with laser jinking is that it isn't very exciting, nor lead to interesting tactics.

Your jinking has to be at random, or the other guy may be able to predict it. And a few seconds of jink won't change the tactical geometry. We would like a scenario where, for example, making the other guy to dodge bullets might force him onto a trajectory that takes him out of the fight. But the scales are too different.

Adam said...

So that leaves not too many options for survivng to get into weapons range (except hoping that your big lasers will keep the enemy's big lasers busy while fighters/drones fly in).

I've read both here and on Atomic Rockets that there are sorts of 'shields' that can guard against energy weapons (limited of course). Could it be possible, if you know what type of lasers the enemy uses, to devise a shield against them?

Also, if that shield protects the ship against emission comming in, could you make a shield that does the inverse? Keep the heat/emissions from leaving? You could paint your ship black and have somewhat of a stealth ship. Of course you couldn't go indefinately because the heat would build up, but it might be like WWII subs that would have to surface periodically. The ship would have to discharge heat. Xp probably too much handwavium though...

Byron said...

Rick, that's what kenetics are for, like in AVT.
Adam, The problem with that stealth shield is that all objects radiate according to temperature, and that leaves only liquid helium as being invisible. Also, the temperatures involved are a lot different. No matter how much we wish for it, any stealth ship with people aboard is made of pure handwavium.

Anonymous said...

Ok, two seperate thoughts...
1) the idea of chilling your spacecraft hull and using a super-effective, mosterously high capacity heatsink to provide a limited steath might work, for a while; however, when you do a 'thermal dump' either everyone is gonna see you, or you run the risk of frying something...

2) there are 'shields'...magnetic, voltage, and cold plasma; plasma will stop/absorb certain bands of EM, but it depends on what you make the plasma out of. Now, in the SF game "Star Crusier 2300" they did have a type of 'shield'; it was metallic dust held in place by powerful magnetic fields. As I recall, the concept was pretty well trashed by several comentaters. However, just because the people who discribed the concept didn't understand it any better than the people who trashed it, I thought I'd better explain it a bit better; serrounding a spacecraft with a cloud of metallic dust will do several things; it will defract EM pules entering it (think of how the atmoshere scatters sunlight), defocusing laser beams (hopefully below the damaging threshold); these clouds will also scatter out going IR, defocusing it so that instead of a small, hot target, you have a large, warm target; also, the cloud don't have to be symetrical, the ship doesn't need to be at the center of the cloud, nor does the could need to retain a static shape. Now, for the cons: the dust cloud will block your weapons and sensors just like your enemy's; it takes a huge amount of power; It's realy big and difficult to move around; you will lose some of it during both combat and even normal operations, so after you've depleted your reserves, you are 'uncloaked' as it were. Of course, you have the same problem of dwendeling reserves with plasma shields. If you go completely Handwavium and use shields make up of exotic particles, ions, gravitrons, or Clouds of Space Jellyfish armmed with Super Rebounding Ping-Pong Paddles...you still will have pros and cons for each system and situations where they work well and others where they don't...

Ferrell

Rick said...

A note for anyone who is checking this thread and has gotten this far - I revisited space fighters.

The bad news is that the new post already has more than 100 comments of its own. :-D

WLUwikipedia said...

Question, and not having sufficient time to read nearly 200 comments, my apologies if it's already answered.

Doesn't a lancer just have to release a solid slug at a particular point on a curved trajectory such that the tangent of the curve gives you a straight line to a large target? Lancer-to-lancer obviously wouldn't work, but against big ships that would seem to be effective, particularly given something coloured black and nonmagnetic. You'd probably have to worry about lasers, but a continuously curving trajectory would probably keep you safe from kinetic kill point defence.

Weblinks that answer my question are welcome :)

Byron said...

Doesn't a lancer just have to release a solid slug at a particular point on a curved trajectory such that the tangent of the curve gives you a straight line to a large target? Lancer-to-lancer obviously wouldn't work, but against big ships that would seem to be effective, particularly given something coloured black and nonmagnetic. You'd probably have to worry about lasers, but a continuously curving trajectory would probably keep you safe from kinetic kill point defence.
I'll take a crack at it. The question has been somewhat answered, but it's not really all in one place.

The continuously curved trajectory is not really practical. It's a more complicated version of "drop something and burn to the side", and won't produce better results, unless you either restrict your inbound delta-V to a fairly small portion of your total, which is going to hinder effectiveness.
Also, I know exactly when you drop the projectile, as that's when you're headed straight at me. I just sweep the area until I find what you dropped. Multiple passes are unlikely, due to mass ratio concerns.
Lastly, black and nonmagnetic isn't enough to render a projectile invisible. It needs to be chilled to around 3 or 4K as well. The only way to do that is liquid helium. It was discussed somewhere else, and seemed practical. The biggest problem was delivery systems. Low-power coilguns won, because you have to avoid giving the projectile's position away. Missiles won't work, and neither will kicking them out, as both leave a predictable trajectory.
The idea was to send them in cold and near the target, and fire rockets at the last moment, avoiding most of the PD fire.
I'll admit that I'm skeptical of tactical lancers. We don't have any current or foreseeable propulsion systems that will outperform chemical missiles on a tactical level. A highly expensive, high-thrust fusion torch is the only candidate that comes to mind, and that's not in the foreseeable future. Strategic lancers are another story.
Hope that answers your question.

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter!

... And a great question and answer.

But what is a strategic lancer? One that lobs a very big rock toward a planet? Or takes out its orbital infrastructure?

Byron said...

But what is a strategic lancer? One that lobs a very big rock toward a planet? Or takes out its orbital infrastructure?
Actually, that's pretty much backwards. I was speaking of scale rather than targets. The PMF example of a strategic lancer is the killer bus. Even though it's fired at ships, it's launched on the strategic scale.
(I'm speaking, to those of you who don't feel like reading a couple thousand posts, of what is basically a ship that, instead of carrying passengers or cargo, carries a bunch of kinetic submunitions and launches them at the enemy. The problem is that the drive acceleration is going to be so slow that it will take light-seconds if not light-minutes to get up to speed, rendering it tactically useless.)

WLUwikipedia said...

Delicious commenty goodness...thanks for the reply and I'll keep reading here and projectrho to try to better grasp the terminology.

I've bookmarked the page, despite it's eagerness to destroy fun :)

It needs to be chilled to around 3 or 4K as well. The only way to do that is liquid helium.
Let me be the first to admit my question totally ignores the main impracticality of your original answer!

To avoid cooling problems, why not store the slugs near or on the exterior of the lancer transport? Have robots load the slugs onto the lancer immediately before launch, and it should be close enough to background temperature to make detection difficult. Particularly if the launch point were away from living quarters, and you cooled one part of the ship (slugthrower grappler, presumably also made of low-conductance material) with liquid helium to slow heat transfer?

Though this still doesn't address the necessary velocity and acceleration, you could at least improve your odds of hitting the ship with a slug by using the same grappler with an adjustable connection to alter the tangent (relative to the ship's course overall) at which the slug is released. If you've got a long, skinny lancer (which you may not), the grappler would be a projection that could drop slugs when the main axis of the lancer is pointing elsewhere.

Although, possibly answering my own question, the lancer would be far enough away that the target probably couldn't tell where the lancer's main axis is pointing, and it would still have a very good idea of the general area in space where the slugs would be coming from unless the lancer covers a huge amount of area as part of it's trajectory.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Ok, lets say that planet 'B' is launching an attack against planet 'A'; planet 'A' sends a ship or ships, (manned, unmanned, or some of each), to intercept them. When the ships from planet 'A' gets several hours or days from their intercept, they release one or more slow moving missiles; these missiles hold between 200-300 SCODs (Soda Cans Of Death); the missile opens up to release them shortly before the start of the engagement. In the meantime, the missile now acts as a jammer, masking the exact position of the SCODs (hopefully); the ships that launched the missiles are armed with lasers to shoot up the enemy SCODs, while the other group does the same. If a SCOD hits you, it may do damage anywhere from annoying to degrading mission capability, but if the the carrier missile hits you its damage would be anywhere between major and hard-kill. The missile I've described would act like your lancer; a bunch of them would be like your strategic lancer.

Ferrell

Anonymous said...

On further thought; a manned lancer would line up on a target, launch a cloud of weapons at its target, and then turn its nose and fire its main engines to move away from a close fly-by. It would swing its nose back toward the target to bring its defenses to bear against any retalitory fire. The whole thing would be acted out with several thousand miles between the two sides, even though they may have closing speeds of many tens of miles per second.

Ferrell

ken_anthony said...

I'm very late to this party but would like to add my two cents.

You have two enemy capital ships. Both carry the same high powered beam weapon. One is a carrier. They detect each other beyond effective weapon range.

Detection is not the same as identification, but let's assume they know the other is the enemy.

Reaction mass is limited. Most of the time these ships will be coasting. When not coasting they are going to be using high specific impulse low thrust engines. Keeping their limited reaction mass in mind they will each maneuver for advantage (which is not possible really since they have the same weapon, but one can launch fighters.)

Fighters have low specific impulse high thrust engines. They can maneuver in a halo around the enemy ship outside of effective range of the enemy beam weapon. This may take days or weeks (crew of three on rotating shifts.)

Computers on board the fighters determine likely paths of the enemy and fire a burp of marbles into those paths. They repeat sporadically until effective.

Some fighters get too close and are zapped, but usually the target capital ship will not be able to accelerate fast enough to get close enough to the fighters which can quickly move out of range, so will try to get the carrier instead which is farther out of range but they may just be able to get it within range depending on relative velocities and which ship has enough reaction mass to burn.

Rick said...

It is never too late for the thread that refuses to die!

So welcome - belatedly, in WLUwikipedia's case - to a couple of new commenters!

Letting something cool to ambient temperature doesn't actually help, unless you're far out from the Sun - like Kuiper Belt distance. Otherwise the object absorbs sunlight, and re-radiates it in the infrared.

Ken A - a couple of complications with your scenario. One is that if the fighters have low Isp / high thrust engines, do they have enough Isp to position themselves as a 'halo' around the enemy capital ship?

But the real problem is that there's no particular need for a crew, versus remote piloting (and limited onboard AI). And if the vehicles are drones, they are expendable, and can use all their limited delta v for combat maneuvers, if need be, instead of requiring a reserve for recovery.

You may prefer not to expend the drones, but you CAN expend them, whereas only in deep desperation mode will you expend fighters with a crew.

TOM said...

Well I read things, and i have a few arguments in favor of fighters.

At first, even when you have the resources of a Galactic Empire, you cant build large battleships everywhere, so even if they are inferior to bigger ships, that doesnt mean they are useless.

I think, in case of orbital combat, where long ronges arent needed, and there are places to hide (space debris, ring systems of other planets) they are pretty good.

About drones and robots : remote controlling can be jammed (as we could already see...) robots are better... but on the long run, employing robot armies instead of humans can be extremely dangerous.
What if someone will say, ok I have got robot armies, elections, human rights are no longer needed?

(Last note about FTL thingy : ok i know, im just a hobbi scientist... but various FTL phenonema exists, like quantum-nonlocality, and we could also red about the CERN experiment.
What if it proves to be right?
Even the greatest scientist can be wrong sometimes. )

TOM said...

And another thing : they wrote that stealth in space is impossibe, do to the heat radiation.
But if we can solve with the help of liquid helium, that we only radiates heat BACKWARDS?

(Otherwise, sorry that I couldnt read everything yet.)

Byron said...

TOM:
No offense, but all of these have been addressed before.
At first, even when you have the resources of a Galactic Empire, you cant build large battleships everywhere, so even if they are inferior to bigger ships, that doesnt mean they are useless.
There's a big difference between "not a battleship" and "space fighter". Nobody has claimed that anything that isn't a battleship is useless, because this is an entirely valid point. However, a one or two man space fighter in the classic Hollywood style is largely useless for the reasons above.

I think, in case of orbital combat, where long ronges arent needed, and there are places to hide (space debris, ring systems of other planets) they are pretty good.
This is the most likely scenario for fighter-like craft, but you won't see that many places to hide. The ring system of Saturn is a few meters thick. Space debris will be tracked, and new pieces will arouse suspicion. Plus, a big ship can stand off and shoot.

About drones and robots : remote controlling can be jammed (as we could already see...) robots are better... but on the long run, employing robot armies instead of humans can be extremely dangerous.
No, you really can't jam a laser. And nobody has advocated employing robot armies. Space is a much cleaner environment then land warfare, and so more suited to automation.


And another thing : they wrote that stealth in space is impossibe, do to the heat radiation.
But if we can solve with the help of liquid helium, that we only radiates heat BACKWARDS?

Everybody thinks of this. The biggest problem is simple. You can't be sure that a given direction is safe to radiate in. All it takes is an IR camera somewhere in your field of radiation to detect you. And those are fairly cheap. Not to mention that you can't alter course much when you're under stealth, so they know where you're going to begin with.

I'd like to make one point on space fighters. The best analogy to what is generally proposed is not an aircraft carrier. It's torpedo boats. And nobody has ever made a PT boat carrier. At one point, the US Navy did say they were going to, but they never did. They never to my knowledge even attempted to deploy PT boats into combat from a ship. Nor did anyone else. Please note that PT boats are sort of like water fighters, and operate in the same fluid medium as the larger vessels.

TOM said...

"There's a big difference between "not a battleship" and "space fighter". "
"However, a one or two man space fighter in the classic Hollywood style is largely useless for the reasons above."

I can accept that Hollywood made quite much mistake, but that doesnt rule out, that fighters are the most cheap but useful fighting vessels.
I dont think the naval analogy is the best, because spaceships fly, and you can down a bomber with fighters.
I wouldnt equip fighters with torpedos, I would equip them with lasers to damage enemy sensor arrays (you cant armor them) and railguns to fire tiny projectiles with relativistic speed, with a barrage, they can hit a big enemy far away.
Of course the sensors of fighters will be also blinded in the process, but the pilots can return to the carrier (some plain cheap cargo ship is enough) if they turn around and open the window of the cockpit.
Some of the fighters will be hit by lethal weapons, but due to their small size, they are quite hard to hit.

I sorry if i repeat previous things, that topic is so long.

"No, you really can't jam a laser."

Is it absolutely sure? And if one bombs the laser emitting controlling device with pulses of low-energy lasers to create interference?
Also, remote controlling is subjected to light-lag.

You want to occupy a planet, you manage to reach within a few light-seconds. Then you can send the fighters ahead, to shot down the missiles of planet defence in a safe range, and that can be one-light second away from the main fleet.
And they have to make decisions, whether to fire at a space station, orbital mirror, civilian spacecraft, or not, we want to capture them.
If you manage to land on the planet, the fighters can also descend into the stratosphere, to give more precise support to ground occupy forces than an orbital bombardment.

"Space is a much cleaner environment then land warfare, and so more suited to automation. "

That is quite rational, but if people see things that happened in BSG, Terminator, Star Wars, they dont necesseraly take the most logical decision.

I also think about the following scenario : what if one combatant is way better than to other in cyberspace warfare? They can launch their attack after they infected many computer systems of their enemy. So they can give orders to drones and robots to fire at their own ships, and machines wont hesitate to do so, humans have got common sense.

TOM said...

Furthermore, I have one more thought, if you compare fighters to small boats : we can see, they are good for pirating.

Lets presume the objective is to capture a cargo transport, a space station, a moonbase, not to destroy it.
They cant outrun fighters, you can can keep your large, expensive interplanetary ships out of the range of enemy turrets, while the small, hard-to-hit fighters intercept the enemy, eliminate their defences with swarm tactics, than the people aboard take over the objects.
Well in that case they arent really fighters, but assault gunboats, but i think they can satisfy SF fans.
(Like me, I admit it.)

Byron said...

TOM:
I dont think the naval analogy is the best, because spaceships fly, and you can down a bomber with fighters.

I don't think that an air analogy is better then a naval analogy. Neither is perfect, but spacecraft operate on naval timescales and sizes.

I wouldnt equip fighters with torpedos, I would equip them with lasers to damage enemy sensor arrays (you cant armor them) and railguns to fire tiny projectiles with relativistic speed, with a barrage, they can hit a big enemy far away.

Firing things at relativistic speeds is difficult. Period. A big ship is likely to be able to fire more projectiles at a higher velocity then a fighter can. As for sensor blinding, raw power matters more then anything, and that again doesn't favor fighters.

Is it absolutely sure? And if one bombs the laser emitting controlling device with pulses of low-energy lasers to create interference?
Also, remote controlling is subjected to light-lag.

I am absolutely sure that a properly-designed laser system is practically impossible to jam. First off, it's not omnidirectional, so you would have to place your jammer bomb very close to the line between the control ship and the drone. If there are multiple control ships, you need bombs on every line of sight. Second, you would have to know the laser frequencies in question, because a filter would cut interference dramatically. And those would not be public knowledge. Also, there would be multiple frequencies. Third, the drone would probably have some options for autonomous operation. It would have reduced effectiveness, but probably not enough to justify the difficulty of jamming it.
Light lag is unlikely to be a problem. Almost all decisions are either going to be made by a computer anyway (gunlaying, kinetic defense) or not have to worry about a few seconds of light lag (targeting priorities, etc.) For farther explanation, see Space Warfare XIII. Probably the second or third page.


You want to occupy a planet, you manage to reach within a few light-seconds. Then you can send the fighters ahead, to shot down the missiles of planet defence in a safe range, and that can be one-light second away from the main fleet.

This assumes that fighters are better at missile defense then big ships. Why is this the case?

If you manage to land on the planet, the fighters can also descend into the stratosphere, to give more precise support to ground occupy forces than an orbital bombardment.
This is a possible use of a "fighter" but it would be a dedicated vehicle. The performance penalties that would come with being able to enter the atmosphere would be enormous, so you would have specialized aerospace fighters for this job.

Byron said...

I also think about the following scenario : what if one combatant is way better than to other in cyberspace warfare? They can launch their attack after they infected many computer systems of their enemy. So they can give orders to drones and robots to fire at their own ships, and machines wont hesitate to do so, humans have got common sense.
This assumes that the side in question is stupid enough to leave open ports on the side of the drone facing the enemy. We're dealing with lasers here, and I would imagine that whenever a ship first tries to give a drone commands, the drone looks at it and runs an IFF routine. Using things like thermal signature, spectral profile, and EM emissions. Stuff that's not terribly easy to fake. Plus, all the hardware in question is dedicated and classified, so it isn't like you know what the target uses.


Lets presume the objective is to capture a cargo transport, a space station, a moonbase, not to destroy it.
They cant outrun fighters, you can can keep your large, expensive interplanetary ships out of the range of enemy turrets, while the small, hard-to-hit fighters intercept the enemy, eliminate their defences with swarm tactics, than the people aboard take over the objects.
Well in that case they arent really fighters, but assault gunboats, but i think they can satisfy SF fans.

When trying to capture something, the best bet is to snipe something vital at long range, then send in small craft loaded with Espatiers.
I would like to note that today, all small craft carried by warships are for transport duties. None are warcraft in their own right. (Yes, I know that some Special Operations craft are armed. That does not make them warcraft.) This is something that I expect to see continue.

TOM said...

Ok, you have pretty good points.

However :

"This assumes that fighters are better at missile defense then big ships. Why is this the case?"

They can take out the missiles outside the efficient range of the big ships laser cannons, and because they are small, they can dodge the shrapnels, that would seriously damage big ships.

"This assumes that the side in question is stupid enough to leave open ports on the side of the drone facing the enemy. We're dealing with lasers here, and I would imagine that whenever a ship first tries to give a drone commands, the drone looks at it and runs an IFF routine."

But they can infect the systems years before the attack. And the drones will be working very fine, until they can see something special, that triggers the enemy virus.
And that overrides the IFF.

Okay you can say this is very very unlikely... but we could already see, that infecting a nuclear installation to ruin centrifuges isnt impossible. And I'm sure they double checked those centrifuges, and their programs.

"When trying to capture something, the best bet is to snipe something vital at long range, then send in small craft loaded with Espatiers."

It isnt that easy to snipe out something vital from far away and dont do too much damage.
What if the carrier only (partially) blinds the enemy, than retreats before it would take too much damage, and let the small craft finish the job, with half blinded sensors, they are very hard to hit.
And from close range, they have better chances for a precise shot.

"Firing things at relativistic speeds is difficult. Period."

And what if the small craft employs cyclotrons? Than they dont have to accelerate the projectile in a flash of time.
Im not an engineer, but i read that a Wakefield plasma accelerator is already capable of producing enermous accelaretion.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/G-force
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plasma_acceleration

Okay this is plasma, not a solid projectile, but maybe we can solve the problem.
And I think about just a tiny projectile, for example one with a microgram mass.


Small size cant become an advantage, when we have to deal with waste heat?
If you expose a radiator forest from the big ship, they will be quite vulnerable.
Small craft have got large surface compared to their mass, so they can radiate the heat away faster, even without largely exposed radiators.

jollyreaper said...

It's probably safest to say that analagizing space combat to any other form of combat would work as well as analagizing air, land, and sea combat to each other. While you might see terminology borrowed (you have squadrons in armies, navies, and air forces) they're barely recognizable to each other except as units of organization.

I think the only thing that gives the slight edge to the navy for comparison is that the number of men that would fill out a division or air wing are in a single hull.

Byron said...

TOM:
They can take out the missiles outside the efficient range of the big ships laser cannons, and because they are small, they can dodge the shrapnels, that would seriously damage big ships.
Fighters would be less efficient in this role because they would almost certainly pass the missiles head-on, limiting firing time dramatically. As for dodging shrapnel, that's not a huge deal at the sort of ranges we're talking about.

But they can infect the systems years before the attack. And the drones will be working very fine, until they can see something special, that triggers the enemy virus.
And that overrides the IFF.

Okay you can say this is very very unlikely... but we could already see, that infecting a nuclear installation to ruin centrifuges isnt impossible. And I'm sure they double checked those centrifuges, and their programs.

Yes, this is very, very unlikely. However, I'm going to file it under "things to remember when using drones" not "reasons not to use drones". Also, bear in my that stuxnet attacked a component that was on the open market, and the writer of the virus had access to. The same is not likely to be true of the drones in question.

It isnt that easy to snipe out something vital from far away and dont do too much damage.
What if the carrier only (partially) blinds the enemy, than retreats before it would take too much damage, and let the small craft finish the job, with half blinded sensors, they are very hard to hit.
And from close range, they have better chances for a precise shot.


Retreating in space is difficult. And while fighters might be more capable of precise strikes, a laser is not a blunt instrument. It's going to be pointed very precisely, and against a largely nonresisting target (which is all you'll be thinking about capturing) it should be more then adequate. And I would point out that sniping key elements on a target is very rare today.

I'm positive that you can't modify a plasma accelerator to launch solid objects. And there's still the matter of energy, where big ships have a definite advantage.

I'm also fairly certain that a fighter won't be able to get away with hull-mounted radiators. It's going to put out more waste heat per unit volume (because it's got less dead mass), largely nullifying the advantages conferred by the square-cube law.

Rick said...

A slightly belated welcome to a new commenter!

I still haven't actually caught up with this thread - The Thread That Refuses To Die - but I'll toss in a quick mention of a related post: Space Fighters Reconsidered.

TOM said...

Thanks Rick, I read that one also, and I can agree much of it.

Byron :

"Fighters would be less efficient in this role because they would almost certainly pass the missiles head-on, limiting firing time dramatically. As for dodging shrapnel, that's not a huge deal at the sort of ranges we're talking about.

I'm also fairly certain that a fighter won't be able to get away with hull-mounted radiators. It's going to put out more waste heat per unit volume (because it's got less dead mass), largely nullifying the advantages conferred by the square-cube law."

I have to admit I dont get this ones clearly.
While I think missiles arent really viable for ship vs ship combat, planetary defence have got more resources.
It can launch a huge number of missiles, so the second or third wave can get close enough to the ships to harm them with a shrapnel barrage.
But you have time, till they reach you as they are launched from far away. So fighters can advance and take out as many missiles as far as they can, thus minimalizing damage to the fleet.

About waste heat : so, do you imply dead mass is good against waste heat, bacause it swallows it? But if you make evasive manuevers, you have to move the dead mass also, that means more energy is required, that means more waste heat.
Also, cooling systems have got frictional losses, so the cooling system of a small craft is more efficient IMHO.


I dont say you are wrong... but maybe a bit overrate the naval analogy.
A fighter has got lower power than a bomber but they could down the bomber with chainguns.
A human has got lower power than an armored truck, but he can take out the track with an anti-material rifle.
A wasp has got lower power than a human, but a swarm can take him out.

Lets assume, that in the next milennia, they can solve the technical problems, and equip gunboats with a cyclotron, that can accelerate tiny projectiles to 90% of light-speed.
(A microgram mass would obtain 10^8 Joule kinetic energy.)

Okay the destroyer can accelerate it to 95% of light-speed. That doesnt change dramatically the chance to hit.
But an interplanetary ship is WAY bigger than a gunboat.
They open fire at a distance of 1.5 light seconds.
You have 3 seconds of light lag, till you can get the enemy position, and your projectile reaches it.
Ships are moving with a constant 1g acceleration. (Well, a trained fighter pilot can handle much more.)
That means, when the projectile reach them, they can be anywhere within a 50 meter radius.
The fighter got a chance to survive even a barrage, while a barrage of fighters will almost certainly hit the big one.
Okay it can survive and keep firing. But even if it shots half of the fighters, the other half can still fight, if they ruin half the destroyer, it is done.
They say that Whipple shields are pretty good against such attacks.
But still, the resulting shock-waves and x-rays of the impact can fry sensor arrays, gun controls, as well the crew. And you can accelerate a small series of tiny projectiles just after each other.
The first ones penetrate the layers of Whipple shield, the last ones will penetrate the hull...

Lets say that even under these circumstances the destroyer is still slightly better.
But you can only produce large interplanetary ships in large special factories, and they will be the primary target of enemy artillery strikes.
You can produce gunboats in dozens of smaller factories, and use them for planetary defence, or load them in a cargo ship, to use them in deep space.

TOM said...

Than it is quite right to say, I have compared fighters to wasps, so why they arent driven by expendable computers instead of pilots, above the reason, that SF readers dont like the heroic tales of drones?
But than one can say, why do we insist so much, that destroyers operated by humans? Robots become so advanced, they can handle it now.
If it seriously damaged, you have to drag it into the dock anyway, where humans can do the tricky repair jobs. But the robotic ship dont need living quarters, it can handle bigger acceleration etc.
They accept this, and within a few iterations, you have a robotic navy watched over by a bunch of yesmen.

"Okay computer, so you suggest that we attack in formation A? Okay, you are the better chess player, let it happen."

And that can lead to very serious consequences...
Maybe after it, they bring inter-solar system laws, that enforce the application of Asimov's laws of robotics. And if one breaks them, he has to face an inter-solar system retalliation.

Byron said...

While I think missiles arent really viable for ship vs ship combat, planetary defence have got more resources.
It can launch a huge number of missiles, so the second or third wave can get close enough to the ships to harm them with a shrapnel barrage.
But you have time, till they reach you as they are launched from far away. So fighters can advance and take out as many missiles as far as they can, thus minimalizing damage to the fleet.

The problem is quite simple. Say the missiles are inbound at 30 km/s. If you send fighters out to meet them at 30 km/s, the total closing velocity is 60 km/s, whereas if the fighters had stayed at home, it would be 30 km/s and they would have twice the engagement time. The only way it could work is if the fighters more or less match course with the missiles. And I'm skeptical of that possibility.

About waste heat : so, do you imply dead mass is good against waste heat, bacause it swallows it? But if you make evasive manuevers, you have to move the dead mass also, that means more energy is required, that means more waste heat.
Also, cooling systems have got frictional losses, so the cooling system of a small craft is more efficient IMHO.

No, I'm implying that the fighter will produce more waste heat per unit mass, which means that it will need more radiator per unit mass, leaving me doubtful that it will have a major advantage in heat rejection. And the frictional losses in the cooling system should be minimal.

Lets assume, that in the next milennia, they can solve the technical problems, and equip gunboats with a cyclotron, that can accelerate tiny projectiles to 90% of light-speed.
(A microgram mass would obtain 10^8 Joule kinetic energy.)

This assumption is wrong. I'm sorry, but a cyclotron will never be able to accelerate anything larger then atoms. Any form of particle accelerator can only accelerate ideal physics particles (atoms and smaller). The complicating factors grow with the introduction of molecules. Tidal forces (from differing fields, orientation, etc.) will rip it apart. And you'd have to maintain mass-to-charge ratio, which leaves you needing to dispose of a bunch of electrons. Any particle accelerator will be a particle beam weapon, not a kinetic one.

I'm not saying that you can't have a .9c kinetic weapon in a story. I'm saying that it has no basis in reality.

WLUwikipedia said...

...and if you do somehow manage to fire anything larger than an atom at near-relativistic velocities, your ship immediately moves in the opposite direction. Anything that shoots out a bit of matter fast enough to damage a capital ship is going to have to bump up their fuel complement considerably to have the deltaV to compensate for the resulting kick. Or, you'll have to fire out a particle of equal size out the opposite direction - doubling your energy requirements and putting anyone behind you at risk. Not to mention the stresses placed on your hull by something shooting out that fast. And I'm not sure what the exact math is, but aren't the power requirements for acceleration exponential as you get closer to the speed of light? I'd love to see the energy cost of firing even a microgram of matter at 0.9c, I'm betting you'd get in to the power output range of a capital ship rather than a fighter.

The best naval analogy isn't fighers to bombers either, both are similarly-scaled planes. The appropriate naval analogy would be fighter or bomber to battleship or aircraft carrier.

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