Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Space Warfare III – 'Warships' in Space?

Imperial Star Destroyer
One more in a sporadic series.

As long as there have been serious shoot-em-ups in science fiction there have been space navies. The analogy is traditional and 'natural,' and even in the rocketpunk era it easily turned back occasional efforts to model the Space Force after the Air Force. Unlike aircraft missions, space missions take days or weeks, often months, not infrequently years. Crews live aboard their vehicles, unlike aircrews or tank crews.

The naval analogy also invites some ways of thinking about force deployments and space operations. In spite of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica, there is some preference for drawing inspiration from the big-gun era, especially – and a bit steampunkishly – the Mahanian golden age a century ago, before the World Wars and the complications introduced by submarines and aircraft. In this schema there are broadly three warship types, with familiar and evocative names: battleships, cruisers, and corvettes.

Battleships fight other battleships, especially in fleet actions. They carry the heaviest practical armament and protection, sacrificing some speed and range in order to do so. Cruisers patrol the seaways/spaceways, often operating independently. Though no match for battleships they are formidable against anything else, and are tailored for speed and range: In the classic formulation the ideal cruiser can outrun anything it can't defeat. Corvettes, though to 'Murricans their name connotes a classic car, are lighter patrol craft and workhorses of the fleet, with the virtue of being cheap and therefore plentiful. In the late 19th century these were called gunboats, hence 'gunboat diplomacy.'

Turn the time-regress dial back from 1890 to 1790 and the first two classes become ships of the line and frigates. Corvettes are still corvettes, unless they are sloops of war, gun-brigs, or whatever have you. (Gunboats were then small vessels, often oared, with one or two heavy guns, used mainly for inshore defense.) Ships of the line are rarely seen in space, but the name 'frigate' has captured the popular imagination, and indeed is used by present-day navies.

Take another ride on the wayback machine, to around 1400 – or 400 BC – and the battleships and cruisers blur together. Galleys could be assigned more rowers for cruiser missions, or more fighting men on deck for battlefleet service. (Lesser patrol craft went by a wide variety of names, of which one, fregata, turned out to have a big future ahead of it.) The mission configurability of galleys by loadout is a hint that the three main types are not a universal law, but science fiction has drawn few analogies from the mere 2000+ years of galley warfare.

In SF some hybrid models are also popular – notoriously battlecruisers, cruiser types scaled up to battleship dimensions: dashing, powerful, and with a nasty reputation for blowing up. In space wargames there's also some popularity to using 'dreadnought' for a super battleship, rather than what dreadnoughts were historically, battleships of a later type; and perhaps even bigger classes with colorful names like Annihilator. Destroyers are also rather popular, including as major combatants, though they originated as a specialized type, 'torpedo-boat destroyers.'

Such is the quasi-standard typology. I've used it myself, which didn't keep me from making snide comments about most of these classes here. A number of people have noted that some of these assumptions, such as cruisers being 'faster' than battleships, don't translate very well into space. As practically always, your go-to source is the Atomic Rockets site, specifically here.

But. Space is not really an ocean, and space war forces aren't navies. A few things to think about:

Even without demimagical high level AI, robotics and remote systems will surely be pervasive in space, as they already are. Robotic systems are cheap compared to the cost of spacecraft, they don't require heavy and expensive life support, and no letters saying 'We deeply regret' need to be sent to their families. Human presence, by and large, will be reserved for functions that cannot readily be automated, such as high level decisions – especially Open Fire! and Cease Firing!

Even within the traditional schema, this suggests odd consequences. A corvette has more need of a human crew than a battleship does. A squadron of battleships blazing away at their enemy counterparts in open space does not really call for a lot of high-level decision making, just intensive number crunching. Exercising gunboat diplomacy, on the other hand, or ordering a suspicious spacecraft to stand by for boarding and inspection, calls for policy judgment.

And suppose for a moment that kinetic weapons are dominant. This evokes an image of 'missile ships,' but is that really how it plays out? Say that an enemy war force (of whatever composition) is on orbit from Mars to Ceres, and Earth wants to send a force to intercept it. This does not call for missile ships, it calls for missiles. By definition you don't expect to recover kinetic weapons; their whole purpose is to smash into their target. Expendable buses can use all their propellant for a fast intercept, and use their own mass for whacking the enemy. If you need some battle managers closer than light minutes away, send a control craft along behind them, perhaps fitted with defensive – but not offensive – armament.

If beam weapons are dominant the picture is slightly more classical, but only slightly. Laser platforms don't cannonball themselves into the enemy, and since they are expensive and (unless wrecked) reusable, you would like to recover them if you can. But there is still no inherent reason to put a crew aboard one. It zaps, and is zapped back. The prospects of repairing it in the heat of battle are iffy, or more than iffy, and the repair crew with its life support is an additional expense and vulnerability.

Repairs after battle are more plausible, and for extended missions you might well want maintenance techs as well as a command staff, plus supplies, workshops, and other logistic facilities. But the spacecraft needed to carry all this are more like transport auxiliaries than men-of-war. They might also be largely modular, more like trains than ships. For that matter, fit a military space station with drive engine and tankage and you have a mobile support base. If you win, it becomes an orbital base supporting your forces around the objective. What it never becomes is a 'battleship,' or anything that fits the familiar warship typology.

It isn't even a Death Star, because while it may carry defensive armament there is no particular reason to mount a huge weapon laser aboard it, and good reason not to. If you scale the whole thing down for long range patrol you might call it a cruiser, but really it resembles a cruiser not much more than raiding cavalry does.

Thus, in broad (and sketchy) outline we have a picture of space forces that has little in common with traditional naval fleets. The largest spacecraft, perhaps, are mobile military stations with command and logistic facilities and personnel, not intended for direct fighting. They control and support weapon platforms, some of which might be quite big, whether these are laser platform or kinetic killer buses. You probably also have remote sensor platforms. And you no doubt have patrol/inspection craft, manned and fairly small, to put boots in the airlock when called for.

Taken as a whole you might call it a fleet. But it more nearly resembles a mobile, distributed, and networked fortification, deploying in action into a three-dimensional array of weapon emplacements, observation posts, and patrol details, all backed up by a command and logistics center. (Armies in SPAAACE !!!) Very little of it fits our template of 'space warships,' because it is designed for space, not simply borrowed from the sea.

Okay, your turn. You may fire when ready.


Related links: Part I and Part II of this series. And I took on the unglamorous little detail of logistics here.

Image source page.

68 comments:

Anonymous said...

What you've described is a kind of 'Space Control Ship', a type of mobile logistics and command vessel for battle platforms, as well as a base for a host of smaller vessels (both manned and unmanned), used for various secondary missions. They would be organized more like a Carrier Battle Group, or an Assault Ship Battle Group, than a Battleship Squadron. The central ship, or ships, carry maintainance & operations crews for the unmmaned weapons platforms, an enormous C4I electronics suite (communications/command/control/computers/intelligence), and a relitively small number of specialized troops for the secondary missions. Of course, this would be used as a major force; not as a routine patrol ship.

That isn't to say that patrol ships wouldn't be assigned to the Space Control Ship flotilla; it may well be, although independent patrol ship squadrons could also be used. These patrol ships would be smaller, faster-accelerating ships that more resembles a small escort or auxiliry carrier (or assault ship), than a traditional navy crusier. The patrol ship would incorporate into its design not just some defensive systems, but also some offensive systems; it would also carry several weapons-and-sensor drones, as well as a few small manned daughter ships they could use for secondary missions that need people on-scene. You could very well call these ships 'Drone Carriers'. A heavier variant would also carry a few smaller-scale weapons platforms simular to the ones operated by the larger Space Control Ships.

Aother type of combat spacecraft may well be an Assault Ship; an armmed troop transport that might have some sort of bombardment weapons system.

You could use patrol ships for a variety of missions; deep space patrol, convoy escort, intruder intercept, blockade, commerice raider, and others we haven't figured out yet.

I guess you'd have 'Space Control Ships' as capital ships, 'Drone Carriers' as your major combatents, and with various daughter ships and small specialized ships as minor combatents, just to keep with the navel theme.
Ferrell

Rick said...

Ferrell - Yes, contemporary naval practice is converging on some of the points made here!

I rather suspect that patrol ships / 'cruisers' will tend to scale down a similar approach. For example, the main ship configured for strategic speed = lots of delta v and logistical range, but not necessarily tactical speed like classical cruisers.

And slightly meta, how much do these vehicles resemble 'ships,' especially if they are semi-modular, with the drive engine and tankage separable from the payload end?

Even more meta, my purpose here is not to outright reject 'warships' but challenge established preconceptions and subject them to a conceptual test.

... navel theme ... Britney Spears? (Yes, I know - not only am I tacky, but that is sooo 2004.)

Anonymous said...

Rick:
While I had some reservations (strong) re: your conclusions vis a vis spaceside attacks upon planets, I am in 100 % agreement with your conclusions here. And would go further.

Those backup control ships? Indispensable in every regard. Firstly, given hacking and the rest, you will want LOS/Lascom to guide missiles, drones, USVs that are the actual "fighters" of the fleet--since the gees pulled are, in a survivable craft, going to be WELL beyond human toleration. Also, if you've spent an hour at max gee accel, you're going to have to counterboost at least as long (n.b.: important variable; if engagement is near planet, grav-assisted slingshots into near/recriprocal vectors). If that turns into days of accel,...well: you get the picture. The longer the duration required of a manned craft, the greater the amount of parasitic mass required for control interface with meatware and lifesupport (as well as crew escape subvehicles, etc.). In short, the advance control craft is going to be key--and therefore a key target. Speed, agility, countermeasures and defensive weapons out the yimyam.

Primary shipkiller = nuke? I don't think so. You still have to get pretty close. Weapon of choice? If Teller's numbers hold up and the folks at Livermore (including my friends Marty Pilch and Larry Warner) are right, then the x-ray laser is the way to go. But how to build an x-ray laser on a ship? answer: you don't. Drone vehicle carries nuke-pumped x-ray warhead emitter. One shot, but can lie doggo, hang back, disperse, re-group, etc. Why put all your offensive eggs in one, big, slow basket--and thereby give the enemy every good reason to take out your personnel, b/c with a "dreadnought" as the locus of all your offensive power and extended range ops, the war in space turns into a game of "kill the big ship and all problems are solved." Dispersal--of computing, personnel, offensive systems, commo nodes, sensors--is going to play a much larger role than anything for which we have a maritime analog.

I could go on and on and on. But I'd prefer you keep an eye out for my fiction, and read that instead. this--and much more--is given due consideration and illustration in those pages.
Thanks for a great post,
Chuck Gannon

Rick said...

Chuck - Don't hesitate to post your reservations about ships v planets to that thread. (It already drew 50 comments, a record for this blog.)

Moving right along ... even if the tech does not permit prolonged high acceleration (I'm conservative with my 'midfuture' tech), I don't see putting people on the tip of the spear for deep space combat. It's dangerous up there, and I don't see a role for them. For story purposes there will be plenty of dangerous situations for humans, for example in cluttered space where you can't blaze away at uber range.

In a future post of this series I'll discuss orbital combat, where those reciprocals you mention come into play, AND cluttered space.

I abandoned direct nuking of ships long ago. My own preference is kinetics, though my initial conception of deploying them was 'missile cruisers,' which I'm now much doubtful of. Generally I see Big Ships with large crews as operating behind the sword and shield of weapon platform, sensors, etc.

I'll keep an eye out for your fiction!

Marktheother said...

I like to think of a group of spacecraft as a "constellation" to distance it from naval terminology. (at a distance it looks like a grouping of bright spots in the sky, so it seems appropriate, and it's already used for satellites)

With patrol ships and mobile orbital defenses (for lack of a specific term for what Rick described) being so different, and having such different missions, they could end up being run by different people, like separate branches of the military.

Anonymous said...

While this basic and logical description of a Space Force has some sense (even though the Space Cruiser fan in me isn't that all happy with the idea), I can't help but think that there is just one little element that was mentioned in part 1 of the Space Warfare Series: The Planet.

To be more specific, how disadvantaged any orbital force would be against planet-bound anti-orbital defense systems and how easier denial is compared to defending the route to space. It makes one wonder why one would even need a Constellation of defense platforms when planet-side can perform just as well and without all the problems associated with space flight and orbital warfare.

And then there's the problem with lightspeed lag, any order to any missile or drone swarm beyond a single light second or more would mean the loss of precious seconds that would determine victory or death in any combat situation. This may validate the need of a mobile combat network to patrol interplanetary space to ensure that light speed delay is as minimized as tactically possible.

Of course, this also gives rise to the question weather or not command should even be centered upon one networked hub craft, but rather spread across multiple command craft to ensure that command and control for the drones and missiles are not taken out by a lucky shot by a UV laser cannon. In addition, multiple command units could also do more tasks with the drones and missiles available when there are more than one commander and one control craft or even respond to threats and complete objectives that would otherwise spread the network to the point that the light speed drag becomes a tactical liability.

It may not be the "Star Navy" that many of us have grown up with, but it is more tactically sound than having all of your command elements in one basket.

Rick said...

I like 'constellation' for a formation of spacecraft! In fact it is steal-worthy. :-) And as Marktheother says, it is already in use, another point in its favor.

Deep space forces and an orbital defense layer need not be inherently so different - broadly speaking, clap a deep space drive engine and tankage on the back of an orbital defense platform and you are good to go.

On Anon's point about the limitations of orbital defenses v surface defenses, I actually see a mixed picture. Surface based is very good at defending the planet itself, and low orbits, but more limited (depending on tech!) at protecting space infrastructure in higher orbits. For that you might want an orbital defense layer, parts of which are interchangeable with deep space forces.

And a good point from Anon that there's no inherent reason to have ONE big command/logistic platform; this could also be a constellation of craft. (I just like the idea that fitting an engine to a large station gives you a Really Big Ship!)

Sundog said...

Let me throw a spanner into the nice workings here (not a big spanner, but a spanner nonetheless).

Hacking.

Drones are going to be vulnerable to this. You're going to need two-way communication links between your C4I platforms and your drones, and you're not going to be able to guarantee tight-beam communications over light-second distances. That's not to say you're going to broadcast - directional casting should be sufficient. But from the instant one of his drones is able to "overhear" one side of the conversation, the other side WILL be trying to hack your comms.

Now, an AI would not be fooled, but I have ethical issues with putting an AI in a disposable drone. Likely, so would the AI. Anything less, if given an order in the correct form, from the correct "sender", will simply obey.

So, your Constellation approached an enemy-held planetoid, issues orders to begin bombardment, and vanishes as your drones spin 180 degrees and detonate their x-laser warheads...into you.

Of course, you are going to scramble your transmissions, use codebooks (codefiles?) and every other trick in the book to prevent that scenario. So will your enemy. SO the real question is, what's the current status of the defence/offence war in cyberspace? If defences are dominant, use of drones is safe and fine. If not - I would suggest that they are too great a danger to their own users.

Kedamono said...

You can't ignore the fact that some politician/space admiral will want to build a giant battleship for all the wrong reasons. Mainly the phallic ones.

The smart Space Force personnel will point out all the problems, but the Man In Charge will say,

"But nothing speaks power like a HUGE battlestar!"

And the Federated Earth Battlestar Behemoth gets built...

As for planetary defenses, who says that they have to be on a planet? Moons and asteroids could work just as well for wider coverage.

As for patrolling the system, you either have ships following a Hohmann orbit between ships travelling to the same destination, or just coasting in an orbit waiting to intercept someone.

The Hohmann patrol has a problem in that if a problem occurs in front of the ship, they really can't do much but chase after offending ship. Behind the patrol boat, it can try to intercept, but I wouldn't want to be the person working out that orbit on my slipstick.

A coasting patrol can't do anything about an incident behind it, it can only deal with what's in front of it orbitally. So you patrols coasting in counter orbits. Depending on traffic, you could make do with 8 patrols, four orbital and four retro-orbital.

Anonymous said...

This leads to some interesting points about the tender ships. Most of the craft will probably be automated and carry reaction mass, fuel, and whatever other volatiles the fleet needs. The tender ships carrying conventional weapons will probably also be automated. Transporting unconventional weapons will be subject to strategic/political pressures as to whether it's done by drone or crewed ship. The tender drone craft might also have robot arms and a tool kit for minor exterior repairs.

At the next step up in size and complexity we could see supply ships that also carry repair facilities and crew. A machine shop/fablab, workbay, parts, and small workcrew. This would still be mainly a supplies craft, but the crew would perform routine maintenance while the robotic systems swapped supplies.

The next step up is a large dedicated repairs craft. One with several workbays, a massive machine shop/fablab, and possibly a large hangar for auxiliary craft and cargo but certainly lots of exterior clamps for small work-drones. And facilities for whatever personnel, however minimal, need to be transferred off the damaged craft.

There's no point in trying to build a repair craft big enough to handle rebuilding a badly damaged major war craft. It's easier to build barges and drag the wreck home. And besides, a repair craft on that scale is a major logistics bottleneck and expensive target.

As in a modern fleet, the tender craft will outnumber the battle craft. For the most part they're not heavily armed (Probably just point-defence weapons), and never leave the bulk of the fleet unless under escort. They probably have minimal crews who are more technician and labourer than soldier, and are commanded either by a junior officer or a senior NCO (Actually, this is starting to remind me of Canada's corvette fleet in the Second World War). And when they get to wherever they're going, there's probably no-one to talk to. Just some broken machinery and the possibility that whatever broke the machinery is still around.

Ian_M

Rick said...

Sundog - I agree WRT 'true' or high level AI. Just what the threshold is, is a question we can't answer yet. I think advances in cryptology are tending to favor the defense (i.e. very secure codes), but who knows the state of play in 2100 or 2250.

But in many cases even human crews won't be immune to being 'hacked.' It's one thing to doubt a properly authenticated order 'attack your own flagship.' But firing at a speck of light, the crew may only be able to rely on their sensor data, etc., to know what that speck is.


Kedamono - True. But like 17th century 'Great Ships,' showboats may have their own validity. One thing space war platforms and traditional warships surely WILL have in common is that they are ultimately political instruments, and the highest level of effectiveness is never being called on to fight.

On the other hand they could be an abysmally stupid waste of money. :-)


Ian - Agree with pretty much all of this. Though the largest class of repair craft might carry big cageworks (not very massive, after all) capable of accommodating even quite large damaged spacecraft.

Much also depends on the characteristic types of damage!

Marktheother said...

I was thinking that the human intensive jobs (Gunboat diplomacy, boarding etc.) would require a less specialized vessel, but in retrospect I realize it would be easy to put an engine on a command pod, and if more then the defensive armament is needed for a mission put engines on the necessary number of weapons platforms.

Taken to an extreme, modularity could mean that a spacecraft would last only as long as it's mission, when the missions over the modules are taken apart and used elsewhere. it would also be a good way to keep the other sides intel types guessing about ship capabilities and such. probably the only part of the space craft that would have a name would be the habitat, and if you broke the habitable parts of a ship into modules, maybe not even that.
-Mark

Rick said...

Names of modular spacecraft might be analogous to the names of trains. The Santa Fe Chief did not refer to specific equipment, but to timetable and reputation. Military units don't operate by timetable, but there'd be some institutional continuity.

For that matter, Royal Navy ships have battle honors going back to the 16th century, a lot older than any of the hulls!

Kedamono said...

The only the worry I have about modular spaceships is that the connections between the modules may not be as strong as a purpose built ship. But then considering how such a ship would be built, it may not be that much different from a modular design.

As for the name given to such a ship would be based on it's primary bus module: The engine/fuel tankage/radiator module. There may be a dedicated control room on this bus for independent movement of the bus module and doubles as a backup bridge.

From this bus you'd hang extra fuel tankage, defensive, offensive, sensor, hab modules, and other specialty modules. depending on the mission plan.

So each bus module would carry the ship name, modified by the mission it was to carry out. So the FESS* Ty Cobb would be called the FESS Ty Cobb XP for a exploration mission and FESS Ty Cobb FP for a patrol boat mission.

*Federated Earth Space Ship

Anonymous said...

Thinking about the possible evolution of a space warship, I wondered about a class of ship that does have a military mission but one deffenantly not like any surface-based craft; the Asteroid Deflector. This ship would be both a discription of the type and its mission. It could be that most combat spacecraft would be developed from this type of ship.

Logistics ships would be important for very long duration missions; however, those ships would have to have some pretty impressive Delta-V (especially if they have to tow something really huge).

Marktheother- I really like the idea of modular spacecraft; building the components and using them to cobble together whatever spacecraft you needed to perform the mission-of-the-moment and then dismantling it afterward.

And I think 'Constellation' for the name for a group of spacecraft is great!

Hacking has been a part of modern warfare since at least the 1970's; I don't think it's going to go away anytime soon.

Thinking about it, having more than one command ship, or a hierarchy of command posts scattered throughout the 'Constellation', would be a really great idea.
Ferrell

Anonymous said...

It's always telling about a point when it opens up with the phallic symbol fallacy.

Rodney said...

I had a very disturbing thought when I read everyone's assumptions. I don't disagree with most of what was posted, but it leads to an increase in the idea of a video game war.

I can picture a battle where a control ship matches up with another control ship. Both send out drones. Ship A destroys Ship B's drones. Ship B immedately leaves the scene (assuming she has the delta-v to do so). Since drones are cheap and quick to build, Ship B can just go home and rearm.

The result of the battle is semi-decisive. Ship A won, but Ship B will be back in the fight as soon as she gets back to base. This leads to very long drawn out wars where nothing really happens. That might make it so that no one really wants to go to war because it becomes a war of resource attrition.

I can also picture the small patrol ships being very active in this kind of climate. If open warfare is very resource costly with no gain, clandestine operations become the means to force one's will on another power. The patrol ships are on the front lines searching ships for contraband and enemy agents.

It is possible that the control ships could engineer themselves out of a job, and the patrol ships become the most important craft in the fleet.

Rick said...

Kedamono - Modular design is always a tradeoff. You get more operational flexibility, at cost of more complicated/heavier/weaker connections. Integral designs will be favored when the components will consistently be used together.

Much will depend on tech. Torch type drives and even 'conventional' nuke electric drives pretty much have to be mounted on a pylon, which sort of invites the option of unbolting it from the rest. OTOH, as you note, the drive section may well have its own control center. And since the rest of the ship sits on top of the pylon, it's a fine line between 'pylon' and 'chassis.'

On naming, I could also make a case that the crew hab compartment is the main component, and so would be named. Especially if it is a spin gravity structure. And 'spaceships' may end up having more than one name, just as a named train might included Pullman cars with names of their own.

And if ships are highly modular, some terms might be borrowed from railroading. For example, 'consist' as a noun (pronounced CON-sist) for the whole assemblage. Thus, 'The Ty Cobb departed Mars with a consist of [such and such modules].'

Amusing side note: modular spacecraft reverse the order of trains: the 'locomotive' or drive engine is at the back (more precisely the base), while the 'caboose' or control cabin might well be at the front/top.


Ferrell - A lot depends on how asteroids are deflected. At one extreme, it might be done by nukes, in which case the ship that carries and places them need not be very specialized itself. At the other, you attach a drive engine or mass driver to the asteroid to give it a gentle but prolonged shove. In which case the ship is highly specialized - and perhaps, essentially, a commercial asteroid 'tugboat' performing a military mission.

My bias about space warcraft evolution is that the progenitors could likely be exploratory craft. These naturally have lots of sensors, 'mission control,' and facilities for handling drone probes. In fact in my Human Sphere setting (now sort of in abeyance) I used 'survey ship' with more or less the connotation of 'cruiser.'

Note that the Trek Enterprise implicitly fits this template rather well.

Hacking, and broadly EW/information warfare, is a whole subject area, and surprisingly un-discussed at both SFConsim-l and Atomic Rockets. (Another future blog post here!)


Anon - You gotta expand on this a bit! As it were. :-)


Rodney - Sophisticated combat drones might not be all that cheap. But non-decisive warfare is quite possible, in fact in many eras the norm. Think of 18th century wars prior to the French Revolution.

On your second point, obviously you opened that can while ignoring the bright red label, CAUTION: CONTAINS WORMS. :-)

Because the whole familiar template of space wars tends to be World War II in SPAAACE !!! But there are fairly fundamental questions about the viability of warfare with big task forces, invasions, and the like. On the one hand they could be enormously costly but indecisive; on the other hand they could be all too decisive - everyone slags each other's planets, and the game is over before the pizza delivery guy even shows up.

Another future blog post! Jeez, you people are giving me ideas at a far faster rate than I can possibly write about them ...

Kedamono said...

Hacking drone control systems may be a problem. I'm a Mac and he's a PC or a Unix, or an OS and control system that I've never seen before and can't make heads or tails of.

Hacking is only possible if you use the same or similar communication protocols and commands. If you don't you'll need to capture a drone "alive" and reverse engineer it's systems. Like the Nazi's standing order for the Enigma device, a good drone has a self destruct charge on it's computer and encryption modules, with a failure mode where if the drone fails its mission in any way whatsoever, it blows up. (Sort of a deadsman switch.)

Rick said...

But ... but ... in 'Independence Day,' didn't they hack an alien system by just plugging into a handy USB slot? Warning to aliens, hostile or friendly: Avoid Microsoft like the plague! :->

Seriously, the best prospect for hacking would probably start with HUMINT.

Anonymous said...

"But ... but ... in 'Independence Day,' didn't they hack an alien system by just plugging into a handy USB slot? Warning to aliens, hostile or friendly: Avoid Microsoft like the plague! :->

Seriously, the best prospect for hacking would probably start with HUMINT."

I quiet agree with you about the HUMINT. However, an Asteroid Deflector ship might well be 'armmed' with many massive kinetic missiles and need precision sensors and control systems.

I think that there will be a difference between unmanned weapons platforms and attack drones; the former will be more like the main ship, but the drones will more resemble unmanned 'space fighters'; the drone should be more flexible in their roles, switching from defence to offense as needed, but the unmanned weapons platforms would probably be either armed with heavy weapons or batteries of PD weapons. These unmanned weapons platforms might even be used to escort convoys or logistics ships.

We probably need to come up with a name for these things; unmanned weapons platforms seems a bit clumbsy. (UWP?) Mobile Gun Platform?
Ferrell

Rick said...

Ferrell - I don't see shipboard kinetic missiles as very effective against an asteroid. In military terms I see the whole asteroid-deflection exercise as more analogous to digging entrenchments than shooting at something.

(All apart from my skepticism about asteroid shoving as a military operation; there are faster and simpler ways to slag a planet, if that is your objective.)

Drones might blur together, but you describe the polar cases, roughly corresponding to cheap and expensive, or quasi-missiles and quasi-ships. There may or may not be intermediate types.

Type names: For story purposes (if the story is set well in the future), I wouldn't use initials/acronyms, because they have so much the flavor of the recent/present eras. I don't think militaries in 2250 will still talk that way! But discussion here is another matter.

That said, I have hardly a clue what to call them yet, even for discussion, because the typology itself is still hazy.

Anonymous said...

"Ferrell - I don't see shipboard kinetic missiles as very effective against an asteroid. In military terms I see the whole asteroid-deflection exercise as more analogous to digging entrenchments than shooting at something."

Deflecting it away from the Earth is the mission...
I was thinking more along the lines of a 10 to 100 ton coluum of metal with a sensor package on one end and a powerful rocket engine on the other. Slam it into a rock at 12 Kps or so...then do it again several times in a row and you should nudge it away from smacking into the Earth.
Ferrell

Rick said...

Ferrell - For this mission I'd just buy an old freighter on its way to the scrapyard and smack it into the asteroid. If asteroids are shunted around industrially, hire those guys. It's basically an industrial job, like large scale earth moving except in space. :-)

Anonymous said...

"Type names: For story purposes (if the story is set well in the future), I wouldn't use initials/acronyms, because they have so much the flavor of the recent/present eras."

Yeah, the acronym/alphanumeric designation is the product of a very specific sort of bureaucracy. Also it's overdone. Is COBRA health care legislation or a supervillain organization?

Regarding the danger of prolonged wars of attrition - This is the standard way wars are fought and won. The Second World War is remembered today as ending in D-Day and Hiroshima-Nagasaki, but it lasted for seven years and the major battles were fought over strategic resources and supply routes. The US lost Vietnam (You lost. Deal with it) in part because it couldn't cut off the supplies from China.

If you can't deal a decisive blow to your opponent's supply chain, a conflict can last decades. This poses some interesting tactical problems for civilizations with asteroid bases, fablabs, and portable fusion plants. And it gets worse if you bring in Drexler's fairy dust (AKA nanotech). If you can't kill all of your enemy, you have to either pacify them or break them up to the point where the parts regenerate into something not interested in fighting you.

Ian_M

Rick said...

Not unrelated to acronyms, 'presentism' is why I've never been tempted to watch the new Battlestar Galactica. It apparently replicates present-day military culture, which just doesn't ring true. Contrast to Firefly, which even if a bit corny DID capture a sense of a different era.

Yes, prolonged wars of attrition are the norm. 'Everyone blows everyone up' (or turns everyone into gray goo) is not a practical alternative; instead it pushes power players with any survival impulses even more in the direction of indecisive, attritional conflict.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the factor of attrition in wars. Attrition was a factor in WWII because the war eqiupment could be produced en-masse at a relatively low cost. However, a modern tank, or plane or whatever, being much more technologically advanced, is much more costly and takes longer to produce.

If war were fought between major powers now (and it remained conventional for whatever reason) for the most part both sides would have to fight with their armed forces that existed at the beginning of the war. Simply put, modern technology is much more effective at destroying things than making them.

Whether this trend would continue into the future and into space I'm unsure. There's the possibility of new technologies (nanotechnology) making things easier to produce. Or that the timeframe of any potential conflict in space would change things.

Rick said...

The difficulty of replacing costly equipment should tend to make leaderships risk averse - think of the High Seas Fleet in WW I. And it should also push them toward use of simple, cheap systems that can be quickly replaced.

This is something left out of the familiar (on SFConsim-l, at least) purple/green debate, missiles v beams. Both costly laser platforms and relatively costly torch missiles could end up being used sparingly in favor of unsophisticated but cheap chemfuel kinetics.

And in general one more thing pushing toward long but indecisive wars, with a great deal of sitzkrieg.

Anonymous said...

It's always been easier to destroy than build. This is just simple physics. But the markets were open in Hiroshima and Nagasaki a week after the bombs fell. And with dispersed manufacturing it becomes harder to target production centres.

The price of US military equipment has increased faster than the rate of inflation because the US is caught in a cost/influence spiral. The more money arms makers get, the more money they have to spend lobbying for bigger defence budgets. And eventually it escalates to the point where people complain about the president slashing defence spending because he didn't increase the budget by as much as the military asked for. For the most part, the rest of the world hasn't experienced that out of control budget-bloat.

"If war were fought between major powers now (and it remained conventional for whatever reason) for the most part both sides would have to fight with their armed forces that existed at the beginning of the war."

All wars are fought with the armed forces that exist at the beginning of the war. Usually this lasts until about a year and a half in, and then they reorganize to incorporate the lessons learned in wartime. The US Second World War experience of building an armed force from scratch is highly unusual. It required a major combatant to sit out the first part of the war but still be able to draw on the lessons of its allies and to have a resource/production base untouchable by its opponents. Nations are rarely that lucky.

Rick - Simple kinetics, and probably simple chemical warheads scattering metal or ceramic shot. That's a good point about the cost of lasers and high-acceleration missiles. The exact mix of lasers, missiles, and kinetics depends on too many specific factors for a blog post - Materials technology, drive technologies, the cost of good sensors and ECM gear... The only thing that will answer those questions is experience (Or a lot of behind the scene assumptions in a story).

Ian_M

Rick said...

There's plenty of bloat in US military procurement, but it is dwarfed by the sheer 'secular' increase in cost resulting from greater complexity and higher performance demands. A handy benchmark is the cost growth in civil airliners over the same period.

True that it takes a year or two to adjust to the realities of war, but there is not a whole lot that can be done about the lead times of big naval ships, new aircraft types, or their spacegoing counterparts.

'Simple chemical warheads' - yes, as fragmentation charges (as you said), not for explosive energy as such, since at space speeds this is modest to insignificant compare to kinetic impact energy.

Anonymous said...

Now that I thought about it, the only two types of space craft in any future Orbital Defense Force that could require an onboard crew would be the command craft and the tender/repair craft.

The needs of a human mind to command the front have already been addressed, however ingenuity of the technicians and engineers would have to be noted. A computer, AI or not, would only know how to repair and with what depending upon what is part of its programming and in some cases where byte budgeting is an issue, the computer will only be able to repair simple, routine tasks that would have been regulated to interns and green enlisted personnel once upon a time. Human crew members, meanwhile, are tasked with the repair of complex, difficult repair tasks that would otherwise be impossible for the computer to think "outside the box" due to software and hardware limitations.

Resupplying a combat craft within a Task Constellation would predominately be within the realm of the computer and its more sophisticated AI kin and overseen by humans if only because the humans can use their brains to solve or counter any problems that could arise such as blockage in the refuel and re-remass lines. An engineer designing the ship class could create a fully automated system to correct blockages, however a problem could be better corrected with onboard crew with (arguably) the same amount of mass and without that many joints and other machinery that must be maintained as well.

One would argue that the boarding craft is also another spacecraft that could potentially require an on board crew, but from what I've been reading, that would only be possible for patrol and law enforcement craft. If a missile or any other drone is unable to get close enough to the hull of an enemy combat spacecraft with adequate defenses, how would a boarding craft?

Oh, and for those who think that nanomachines and nanotechnology is an end-all answer to warfare and manufacturing, let me direct you to this article: http://www.stardestroyer.net/Empire/Tech/Myths/Nanotech.html

Rick said...

Pretty much agree that the main human functions are command and repair. (Though the chances of repair in battle, as opposed to afterwards, are probably not worth risking a crew.)

Boarding, as you say, is a patrol activity, not a battle activity. Though for battle in orbital space, where civilian craft may be in the clutter, there's a case for positive human control of weapons - the crew needn't be aboard the weapon platform, but close enough that light lag is substantially less than human reaction time.

Nanotech in the pop culture sense, e.g. grey goo, strikes me as hypeware. Nano-scale devices yes; nanomagic, almost certainly no.

Anonymous said...

You may not be able to build new ships/large moble weapons platforms without a lead-time of years, but you could have an active assembly line for war drones and missiles; those could be stepped up, if they aren't bombed.

"Ferrell - For this mission I'd just buy an old freighter on its way to the scrapyard and smack it into the asteroid. If asteroids are shunted around industrially, hire those guys. It's basically an industrial job, like large scale earth moving except in space. :-)"

But only if the Asteroid Deflector isn't one of the earlist type of spacecraft...say, 2032?
Ferrell

Rick said...

Yes, you'll step up production of whatever can be turned out quickly.

And yeah, if an asteroid has to be deflected in 2032 there won't be a lot of old deep space freighters around! But I'd still say that even if done for military purposes, asteroid bumping is so much like a civil engineering project that it would be performed by bulldozers, so to speak. (Yes, I know tanks can be fitted with bulldozer blades!)

Josh said...

What if ships are so expensive that multi-role, smaller craft are the norm if not the limit?

I think if you are dealing with just our own solar system, big ships would be limited to industrial craft - haulers.

Without an external, known threat - invading aliens, primarily - the only need for military craft would be either in the instance of conflicting nations - be it America and Russia and such having launched into space and claiming various rights or locales, or Earth vs. Mars after the latter secedes from Terran control.

There just wouldn't be enough need for that many ships - you'd have your patrols on the orbits used between whatever colonies or bases that traffic travelled between - and then defenses to keep the other guys at bay. Again, the political angle of having big guns to back up your words.

So I would think most ships would be designed to take on as many challenges as possible since you would only have X ships that might - might - be able to respond to any threat that pops up. You can't blow up what you can't catch; this brings us back to what weapons are common but I think "stupid range" weapons would be of limited use in the types of engagements one might see if you are only dealing with humans in our own solar system fighting over political or resource issues.

Bring in invading aliens and you practically must have FTL travel; The concept of any invading craft spending hundreds of years to get here is very impractical in my mind.

If the invading species has FTL and we don't, well, I'd think we would not be adequately prepared even if our weapons and defenses might be a match where our drives are not. But that is a whole other conversation and involves the economics of having a fleet of ships waiting for a highly unlikely scenario, and whether you could convince the taxpayers to fund such a fleet to begin with.

Kraven Kor

Rick said...

Josh - It's entirely possible that no one will be able to afford, or really need, large warcraft. The big logistics ships discussed upthread are essentially transport types, and there's nothing inherent that says they can't be used for war service.

Even the headquarters command ships could be of that type. (After all, the Pentagon is not a fortress, just an office building.) That would leave the purely military types, manned or unmanned, as relatively small vehicles.

Theoretically some alien civilization might mount multi-century invasion expeditions, but lots of things that are theoretically possible are extremely unlikely!

Citizen Joe said...

One of the big problems is that, while drones and automation make sense, nobody wants to read a story about the life of computer chips. That means that you need to come up with a reason for the big ships and the fighters.

I was helping someone out with a setting and came up with this scenario. The Terran ships included an enormous vessel like five miles long. It needed to be that long in order to house the linear accelerator needed for its fusion reactor. As a byproduct, it could also tune the accelerator to produce a laser in the opposite direction, tunable down into the XRay range. Then using an array at the bow, it could target accurately within a few degrees of forward. This powerful and penetrating laser was effective out to several light minutes (way way way beyond the range of the enemy). However, at that range you're not going to be able to hit anything that can dodge.

That then becomes the role of the fighter craft. The fighter craft acted more like sheep herding hounds to lure the enemy ships into pre-planned locations where the xray laser WOULD be. This is taking the concept of 'time on target' and implementing it in space.

Rick said...

(Whew - this comment thread just survived a near death experience. Trying to fix the image, I thought I'd converted the post to a 'draft,' which I could republish but at cost of losing the comments. But somehow they seem to have come back.)

Citizen Joe - while drones and automation make sense, nobody wants to read a story about the life of computer chips.

Around the haunts of SFConsim-l and the Atomic Rockets website, this is known as Burnside's Zeroth Law. (Promulgated by Ken Burnside, designer of the tactical space combat game 'Attack Vector.' http://adastragames.com)

I suspect that the 'sheep dog' mission could be performed by drones, though you'd need a human operator closer than the big X-ray laser ship. That said, this does strike me as one of the more credible justifications for fighter types that I've seen. And you could plausibly claim, in this case, that since you need forward controllers anyway they may as well be aboard the 'sheep dogs' they are controlling.

The five mile long fusion-cum-Xray-laser ship is also pretty cool in its own right!

Citizen Joe said...

That particular setting required FTL travel, but it was done so in two different manners (human and alien) and both involved not actually traveling through realspace to do it. Ignoring the FTL for the sheepdogs, they could simply remain on station at appropriate locales. The big capital ship could tune its laser to radio frequencies and fire off its instructions at a much larger spread. So the sheepdogs don't have to come from that ship.

The aliens relied of gravitics for maneuvering. So, the deeper into the gravity well they sunk, the more they could accelerate. A bit like a gravitic sail. The alien cap ships could actually produce gravity wells themselves. However, that still limited their top speed to the rate at which they could generate the gravity well. The end result is that the Alien ships (which had wormhole style FTL which needed gravitic nulls for targets) had to stay near planets.

The human ships had basically 'hyperspace' fields that were efficient in low gravity and broke down when you entered a gravity well. The lighter your ship, the deeper into the gravity wells you could go. The big honkin' ship with the laser couldn't 'jump' inside the orbit of like Uranus or something like that. But, it's D-He3 fusion drive allowed continuous accelerations to amazing speeds.

End result, aliens were better around planets, and had limited top end speed and relied on visible light lasers (good for penetrating atmospheres). The humans had many different ways of killing things and were at the advantage in deep space. Although they had poor acceleration, they didn't have an actual top end limit.

Typical tactic for the humans would be to send orion drive tugs, pushing a big block of ice towards the aliens around orbit of a planet. At extreme closing speed, like 30 Km/s the tugs would deploy a cloud of Lithium Deuteride pellets (normally used for fuel). The incoming pellets would be attracted to the cap ship gravity well and home in. Upon impact, at 30 km/s these pellets would undergo fusion and turn the enemy hull into a lance that burns through the ship. If you dodge into the 'safe' area, the XRay laser fries you. If you don't dodge, your ship gets swiss cheesed. Lithium Deuteride (LiD) is very flammable so it would simply burn up in the atmosphere without detonating. That hopefully keeps the spaceways clean. The sheepdog, after deployment then veers off, blinds sensors with thrusters and gets clear. He then hibernates until his ship can be recovered a few months later.

I think that one of the key features of the human weapons was that they have utilitarian uses as well as offensive. Like the Kzinti Lesson.

Rick said...

I assume the sheepdogs can be carried by the big ships, though in local service they don't have to be.

Having different techs is nifty. In Real Life [TM] the two civilizations would be able to reverse engineer each other's techs fairly quickly, once observed in action. (Of course 'fairly quickly' could mean at least a few years, even under wartime pressure.) And each might stick with its own tech, which it has mastered, and (as you suggest, at least for the humans) is part of a broader industrial infrastructure.

Meta, the prospect of two civilizations being at such comparable techlevels that they can have relatively evenly matched fights in space is iffy - but then, so is FTL itself. :-) In order to have dragonslaying it is necessary to turn a Nelsonian blind eye to the more problematic aspects of dragons!

Anonymous said...

"And yeah, if an asteroid has to be deflected in 2032 there won't be a lot of old deep space freighters around! But I'd still say that even if done for military purposes, asteroid bumping is so much like a civil engineering project that it would be performed by bulldozers, so to speak. (Yes, I know tanks can be fitted with bulldozer blades!)"

Yes, but do you really want a subcontractor moving around asteroids? Me, I'd rather have a small military or paramilitary force to protect the homeworld from getting smacked by a honken' big rock! And, yes, again, the Asteroid Deflector could have several other roles; patrol, customs enforcement, rescue and salvage, force projection, ect.
Ferrell

Rick said...

Ferrell - I'm speaking of the technical aspect, not administrative. I agree that this is no job to privatize!

A good conceptual analogy is the Army Corps of Engineers (even though they among many dropped the ball on Katrina). A bulldozer used by them is still technologically just another bulldozer.

As a practical matter, an asteroid deflection in the near future, e.g. 2032, would surely be some sort of international effort by the major space powers.

Anonymous said...

"As a practical matter, an asteroid deflection in the near future, e.g. 2032, would surely be some sort of international effort by the major space powers."

True. However, it could still be a template for later military spacecraft. Asteroid Deflectors, unlike other military spacecraft, could be operated by a Coast Guard equivelent.
Ferrell

Rick said...

'Coast Guard' operation is plausible, since this is basically a rescue operation after all.

Indeed, as you know I'm skeptical of asteroid slinging as an offensive military operation because it has such a long warning time, and is no easier to execute than a plain old nuclear strike.

Jim Baerg said...

One thing about Asteroid deflection:

If you have decades of warning it can be done with some slow acceleration method like the gravity tug idea. This would be done with tech almost everyone in space would have.

However if the warning time is short, as is likely for a long period comet on a collisions course the plausible methods of deflection would be something like exploding a nuclear bomb to one side of the comet. This is the sort of destructive technology that would be highly restricted. So a special international organization would be wanted in these cases.

Rick said...

Jim - Agree with you about the technical aspects of asteroid deflection. Using nukes to give it a bump would clearly be a delicate operation in the political as well as technical sense.

Once the techlevel and political environment makes deep space hostilities plausible, it would be hard to surprise with an asteroid/comet. We could be surprised now only because there is nothing remotely close to a military level of deep space surveillance.


Totally OT, but are you still in touch with anyone else from the late lamented Compuserve History board?

Citizen Joe said...

Speaking of detection abilities. Assuming realspace travel, there is a practical upper limit on safe speeds relative to the indigenous bodies. Space is mostly empty... key term is MOSTLY. Yes, you could send automated ships out and if that one in a million shot ends up hitting a small rock, then the mission is scrubbed, you're out some money but otherwise no big deal. If that rock instead got hit by a ship with a hundred man crew, then you got bigger problems.

That means that your upper speed, relative to the surrounding star system can't exceed your ability to detect/evade/destroy any hazards in space. Now, if the prevailing tech level allows you to detect a pebble out 10 seconds, then that same detection ability would spot a warship at days or months distant. Safe speed goes up with detection range.

Rick Robinson said...

True. A further aspect is that the faster you're going, the more damage done by an object of given size.

At ordinary interplanetary speeds, tens of km/s, objects big enough to wreck a ship are rare, and collision warning is not much of an issue. At uberfast speeds, say 1000 km/s, pretty small (and more common) objects will deliver a serious whack.

The frequency of hazard objects is actually pretty well known, or could be determined from well known data, at least for our part of the Solar System, based on the frequency of bright meteors.

Jim Baerg said...

I haven't been much on Compuserve recently, but the Compuserve history doesn't yet appear to be 'late'.

http://community.compuserve.com/n/pfx/forum.aspx?webtag=ws-history&redirCnt=1

Rick Robinson said...

The forum is still there, and there may still be old regulars in the re-enactment sections. But in the last year or two (especially after Ray Briscoe died) the regulars in the general history area all seem to have melted away.

I wanted to get hold of Karen Lindsay, because I used and referenced her book in the work I did at Emmet (see links in the 'Mary Mary Quite Contrary' post), but with the disappearance of the regulars I've no direct way to get in touch with her!

Calsir said...

@Citizen Joe: "At extreme closing speed, like 30 Km/s the tugs would deploy a cloud of Lithium Deuteride pellets (normally used for fuel). The incoming pellets would be attracted to the cap ship gravity well and home in."

The capital ship gravity well would not let the pellets home in, as much as the Sun gravity well does not let the earth home in. Gravity is a lousy passive homing system (tm). Either those pellets are correctly aimed to begin with (in a shotgun pattern) or they will simply "orbit" around the capital ship, unless they were guided (via drive). Of course, if the target is orbiting a primary, the trajectory of the slugs will be more complicated, but there is no reason to think that they will eventually home on the intended target.

Anonymous said...

You know, thinking about it, combat spacecraft might fall into two categories; space crusiers and interceptors. Space crusiers would be slow-accelerating, 'high endurence' types (of any size or role); while interceptors would be fast-accelerating, 'low endurence' types(again, of any size or role). Nick-names to distinguish between civilian and military 'space crusiers' would probably evolve over time; what they might be is anyone's guess!
Ferrell

Geoffrey S H said...

One small point having read all this- if manouvre is important (throwing off torch missiles with the help of decoys to break target lock at the last minute, avoiing unguided kinetics and forcing laser turrets to actually turn and track their next victim) it seems to me you'd need a large "ship" in the traditional sense, having the engine power to change course and manouvre at speed. A drone launched at high speed from a carrier can do little to chnage its course having an engine far inferior in performance to that of the logistics ship/carrier that launched it.

Rick said...

'If maneuver is important' is a critical question. Under Realistic [TM] tech assumptions, maneuver in the sense we picture will be hard to come by. Chemfuel has the oomph, but very limited total delta v, and high specific impulse drives have the acceleration of an oil tanker.

Keep it up for a few days and you put on some real speed, but it is more like operational mobility than our familiar image of tactical maneuver.

On the third hand, a lot may depend here on some hidden assumptions, especially regarding scale, that I plan to take up in an upcoming post.

Geoffrey S H said...

Looking back at what I wrote, I think I was describing jinkling laterally but using main drive engines instead of manouvering thrusters- apologies for the unclear language.
Having read these poses, I've started to become somewhat sold on the ideas of a military thgat relies on traditional; "spaceships" as it were, along with modular vehicles with a paytload and drive section, mobile stations and
From a historical point of view, the notion of aerial battleships was quite popular in the late 19th century, and even practical (in the form of airships). The along came the fighter and the idea was eventually dropped. Had technology prgressed, the notion of a large aerial craft utilising small-calibre artilliery might have been realised. While I won't go into the advantages here (in my opinion) of such a craft, historically speaking there has been a tendancy at the beginning to tranplant the previous "big thing" in military history onto the next one. As a further example , fixed wing aircraft were origionally branded as cavalry. From the viewpoint of a univerity history student, I would say that either aircraft or ships will be used as the model for early military spacecraft designs. Indeed, the Almaz stations ("shore-forts" as it were), military shuttle and orion-drive ewarship designs of the '60's already form a kind of precedent.

On the subject of new posts- as a suggestion, I had some ideas on the formation of governments on newly colonized planets in the solar system in the near future, in addition to how nations down here would react to and shape the changing political face of the solar syestem- with space warfare and trade somewhat obviously being part of that on going situtation. It would be interesting to see what the other posters would think.

Rick said...

In the era around 1900 there were also prediction of armored 'land ships' - pictured as comparable in size to naval ships, enormously larger than tanks turned out to be.

Analogistic reasoning is nearly inevitable, which is why ships and aircraft have been the general mental model for spacecraft (as witness the term itself).

I definitely intend to post more about possible political futures as they relate to modes of conflict!

Elukka said...

Interesting ideas.
ALL WILL BE ASSIMILATED.

I think a more traditional force of warships would be more resistant to losses on the fleet level. You kill one ship, well, it's dead, but it's just one ship. Kill the drone control ship and you knock out or put under full AI control a hundred automated ships. In either case, losing one control ship hurts the drone fleet more than losing one warship hurts that fleet.
On the other hand, assuming similar levels of technology, the drones will always perform better in every way since they're not carrying anything that's not needed in battle.

I think whether warships or droneships are dominant depends on a big bunch of assumptions. How advanced your AIs are, how important human life is, how important AI life is (obviously nobody besides the accountants will care about losing a normal AI, but what about the kind that may be considered crew), military doctrine, and economical factors.

As for ship classification... In my own universe, I've used the conventional corvettes, frigates, destroyers and so on, based on size and tonnage. I don't really like using them that much, since they lose most of their meaning as I try to avoid stretching naval roles to space... But I just can't seem to come up with a set of names to replace them. Anything I might come up with never sounds as good as the naval designations.

Rick said...

Welcome to the comment threads!

An intermediate solution to the 'kill the brains' problem would be a distributed network with a several manned control ships and a whole bunch of drones.

As to terminology, I'll admit that the classic circa 1900 terms remain clear and evocative. Even though they apply to a period that only lasted a few decades, and ended nearly 70 years ago.

Geoffrey S H said...

Interesting- this is almost turning into a "carriers v battleship" debate. For the record I personally think modern navies have put far too much investement into one-ship carriers (or far too little investment into large heavy surface warship groups, be they battleships or large cruisers). While I shouldn't make too close analogies between space and water, I do feel that battleships and carriers should share the modern battlespace more, and I subsequently have transposed this concept into space when I think about furture conflicts.

Distributing control vessels is a good idea, but does run into the problem, that a single well protected target might be harder to kill- losts of smaller vesseels means with each one you get you whittle donwn the force they can control- in addition to the control force now being dispersed over a wider area.

One thing I've been dwelling on for some time is whether automated human-less ships really are superior to humans. We haven't yet got full automated battlegroups in the air or on the sea yet and the human brain, for all its faults still has the largest amount of "proccessing power" known to creation. For all our fancy technology we still have nothing artificial yet that can equal it. Personally I can see mixed groups of dedicated warcraft having both human and automated "crews". The human crews could possibly due to the advantages of specialised training have roughly the same strengths of the automated vessels apart from slower reactions times, more room needed for "storage" as it were and the inablility to withstand accleration above 10gs (though that itself is not neccesarily a disadvantage as I will elaborate below).

Thus a fleet had cruisers, battleships and frigates (8 frigates are essentially a weaker but more tactically flexible battleships and 4 are the same for cruisers, the equivalent group has the same amount of firepower of the battleship or cruiser)-human crewed, accomnpied by IPBMs launched from planatary surfaces and perhaps low/high orbit depots. Mobile battlestations are also brought to provide berthing places if needed for vessels just outside the combat zone, and to provide fire support (think supporting artilliary pieces/mobile hospitals for an analogy).
This human componant is backed up by a vastly larger automated contingent of kilsats, lancer-drones and remote /computer controlled frigate to battleship versions of the fleet.

The problem with highlighting the greater acceleration of automated ships is that on a strategic lebvel this become problematic. Have your ships accelerate ahead of their hman controlers and thelightspeed lags begins to loom close- do you cut your automated battlegroup loose and rely on a risky purely automated strategy, or simply stay on your 7/8 gees course? Therefore accelerating before a battle seems to be the best option for robot ships. Which does seem to negate some of their advantages. Kinitic killing power and the ability to flypast quicker than your enemy does still however convey greater advantages. Unless there is an advantage to being slower than your opponent in space?

Geoffrey S H said...

excuse the typos, sorry- accelerating JUST before a battle was meant to be in that post. Should make more sense.

Rick said...

Taking the last (and secondary) point first, commenters mentioned acceleration as an advantage for automated craft, but I don't see it as a factor in the midfuture tech level I'm most interested in. Any high g has to come from chemfuel and can only be sustained briefly - there isn't much role for more acceleration than in traditional space launches.

On the naval force mix, I notice that the naval blog Information Dissemination has taken to calling missile cruisers 'battleships,' with the pretty clear implication that in the real strategic and operational world they have capital ship status.

On automation, this is a whole big issue. I admit that a lot of people, including me, attribute to 'ordinary' robotics capabilities well beyond what we actually have. Our deep space probes are remarkable achievements, but their autonomy is very limited, and they are 'manned' by large ground teams.

Damien Sullivan said...

OTOH, though human-level AI seems far away, improvements in computing and AI (also biotech) are happening far faster than in rocketry or even lasers. Even if it's not clear where the plateau will be, assuming much better automation coupled with comparatively boring drives seems pretty plausible. "We will have better automation" is fairly certain, while having useful fusion reactors isn't.

Rick said...

Yes. Rocket propulsion is a mature technology, and the more Realistic [TM] deep space drives combine largely mature technologies (e.g., nuclear electric).

With automation it is at least still a lot hazier where the Realistic [TM] limits are. I tend to draw them at processes that we don't even understand conceptually, such as 'high level' judgment. But this itself is pretty hazy.

Anonymous said...

As to the control of remotes, this thread makes the assumption that they'll require a sophisticated advanced AI to combat enemy ships. I really don't think that's the case.

A KEW system will behave exactly as a guided missile does today with equivalently sophisticated software (perhaps scaled up a bit). It will also require some level of sensor suite and perhaps some com capability.

A DEW system system will require a better sensor suite due to its longer engagement range. It'll also require very good tracking and targeting systems. Once again not necessarily advanced AI.

You may also have mixed weapon systems or perhaps other functions (supplementary sensor, com, ELINT, etc.). These will tend to be specialized with perhaps a single secondary role (slaving all sensor suites together or ramming a ship with a sensor drone rather than a KEW).

There will NOT be dog-fighting since no one has the propulsive efficiency to turn and burn required for this type of combat. Combat will be single passes in which none, one, or all sides receive damage. In some cases multiple passes may occur but there will be no dog-fighting in the conventional aerial dog-fighting sense (ala Star Wars, BSG, or B5).

Think about F-14s shooting down Iraqi fighters from a range of 75 miles with Phoenix missiles. That distance would be hand-holding distance compared to what we're talking about.

Jim

Rick said...

I'm really largely in agreement with you. When I say robotics I don't mean high level AI. For spacecraft fighting in a 'clean' battlespace, current techlevel expert systems would probably be largely sufficient for tactical operations.

Things get much more complicated if rules of engagement considerations come into play, for which you need humans or true human level AI.

Turbo10k said...

Imagine my Windows 7 laptop with 250Gb memory and several MHz processor speed onboard the Moon Lander. In '69. Things would have been completely different, right?

Just to bookmark...

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Люси Сорью said...

I'm tempted to necro again. 'Tis one of my favorite posts on this blog, after all.

That is not to say that I'm completely in agreement - I like my comfortable naval analogies and human crews too much, although I still dislike putting too much people aboard a ship that's going to be largely automated.

I also happen to like naval ranks much more than Army/Air Force ones, but I still feel there may be room for improvement - I keep devising a generalized rank system for one of my not-quite-settings, one that's more plausibly midfuture.

Oh, and on the subject of warship designation that's been raised here somewhere: why not look into Soviet warship designations for inspiration? They still called their cruisers cruisers(and aircraft carriers aircraft cruisers, as part of a loophole - however they did(and do) pack some serious firepower besides their air wing), but they had no destroyers or frigates or even corvettes. Instead, corvettes and smaller frigates were designated as Guard Ships(storogevoy korabl', or SKR in Russian), ASW frigates and destroyers as Anti-Submarine Ships(protivolodochnyi korabl'; a frigate was a MPK - malyi protivolodochnyi korabl', literally 'small ASW ship', and a destroyer was a BPK - bolshoi protivolodochnyi korabl', 'large ASW ship'). Yes, there ain't no submarines in space, but call them anti-shipping ships and it would work, or something along these lines. Not too original(except for the West, maybe), but it would look interesting, in my opinion at least.

And that's not getting into Soviet submarine designation, which groups subs according to size, role, armament and propulsion, and what you get in the end is something like a 'nuclear ballistic missile strategic underwater cruiser' or a 'non-nuclear cruise missile multipurpose cruiser'. Kind of like that.