Thursday, May 13, 2010

Space Fighters, Reconsidered?

The Universe is filled with sights of awe and wonder, but what we really want to do - at least for story purposes - is encounter the ships of some remarkable civilization, and blow them up. Or at least zap them to a fare thee well.

Hollywood's favorite implement for this purpose is the space fighter, for the very good meta reason that the core audience relates more to studly/babelicious fighter jocks than middle aged starship commanders. Unfortunately, as readers of this blog (especially the thread that refuses to die) and Atomic Rockets know, it is very hard to justify single- or two-seat 'fighter' types in deep space combat under Realistic [TM] constraints of physics and technology.

But in fact under these constraints it is difficult to model any form of deep space combat that justifies the expenditure of electrons to write it, much less expensive CGI to film it. The vastness and emptiness of the battlefield push inexorably toward a Lanchesterian engagement at Stupendous Range, featuring all the senseless destruction of war and none of the excitement. A commenter noted that it is a fight no one will show up for. In real life this would be a feature, not a bug, but for our purpose it's a bug and we want to zap it.

As regular readers here know, a solution that I have been looking more and more at involves rethinking where combat happens, and under what circumstances. People fight over things of value, either natural bodies with Valuable Space Stuff, or human infrastructure. These will tend to be concentrated in certain areas, such as the orbital space of planets and large moons.

Such regions might have multiple large habs and stations, with hundreds or thousands of smaller spacecraft forming constellations around them. Travel times in these regions are typically hours to days, not the weeks and months of deep space travel.

A second consideration is that once you have true space politics, the 'natural' political unit is the individual station or hab. Its inhabitants are bound together by shared life support, while the hab itself can change orbit, even perhaps head off across deep space to some other region.

So, instead of the traditional rocketpunk era scenarios, say Mars against Venus, a conflict might break out between two hab in Mars orbital space, while other habs remain neutral. 'Clutter' in space is a very relative thing - we are still talking about thousands of kilometers, but this is a far more complex operating environment than the empty vastness in which must discussion of space combat takes place.

Both the physical and political environments are cluttered. Space taxis or inter-orbit shuttles will keep up a steady flow of traffic: between hostile and neutral stations, and between neutral and friendly stations. 'Everyone sees everything' is no longer so simple, because you don't see who or what might be aboard.

The first class of military craft this environment invites is not space fighters, but a type for which there is no obvious name, although the bland 'patrol craft' and the perhaps overly nautical 'corvette' convey something of the idea. In its basic form it is simply a space taxi carrying a boarding and inspection team, and some armament to encourage compliance.

Such craft are the basis of space control, but they are not ideal platforms if shooting breaks out. They have to be large enough for a proper cabin, with airlock and perhaps a holding cell for detainees. Bulk it up with armament and it becomes a decent sized vehicle, roughly the size of a transport plane.

For actual shooting we want something more compact and frankly cheaper, at least in human if not monetary terms. Often it need not be manned, and indeed whenever practical you'll operate it under robotic or remote control, cheaper operationally and much cheaper in 'we deeply regret' letters to families. But in particularly critical situations the rules of engagement will be too ambiguous to be trusted to robotics (short of 'true' high level AI, which currently is magitech).

This does still leave the (preferred) option of remote piloting. In 'cluttered' space, ranges will generally be less than a light second, often much less, so light lag is not a real problem. On the other hand, the closer you get, the better the chance of communications interference. In the Vastness of Space, the prospects of jamming a tightbeam are close to nil. But in a close-in confrontation, something as simple as a puff of opaque smoke might block a tightbeam for a few critical seconds.

I'm not quite sure, to be honest, how this bit plays out, and Step Two should probably be a bit more explicit. But in general, the more un-pristine the environment, the more human level intelligence has to be on the spot, not acting from a distance, whether the spatial distance of remotes or the temporal distance of robotics.

The basic fighter concept that emerges from this line of thought could be remarkably low tech. The cockpit might resemble the EVA pods in 2001; we are looking at one day habitability. Propulsion is probably chemfuel, with plenty of short term oompf and enough delta v for the sorts of missions we are undertaking.

Laser armament will also be chemfuel powered, whether a chemical laser or plain old turbogenerator; I will leave that issue to the laser geeks among us. For kinetics, a couple of target seekers with solid boosters to kick them on their way, much like 'katies' in Ad Astra's AV:T. And for the missions I have in mind, there may even be a place for a plain old gun.

Configurations may depend on particular tactical requirements, and design doctrine. If you need to move quickly, is it better to pivot and go, with a single main thruster, or perhaps have multiple gimballed thrusters so you can kick yourself laterally? This latter approach is often proposed; in the traditional assumption framework it is questionable, but here we are in a very different operating environment.

On the whole, I imagine that the graphics crowd and Hollywood could work with these craft.

They are not exactly 'fighters' in the sense analogous to the kind von Richtoven flew. At least in the three original Star Wars movies, none of the fighter missions shown could not have been done just or well or better by automated or remote-piloted craft. (Okay, I'm ignoring the part about just use the Force.)

If what you really want is Midway in SPAAACE !!! then you have read this far in vain. In environments where there is no one on the game board but Your Side and Their Side, there is no excuse to monkey around with this stuff - just zap away with your biggest mirror or let fly with your baddest kinetics. Or if you are fighting a racial war of extermination, just exterminate: no need to risk your race's precious bodily fluids aboard space fighters.

Space fighters, like the patrol craft / corvettes they often escort, are in fact not primarily weapons of destruction. They are weapons of coercion. If they open fire, things have already gone pear shaped, and you're in a scramble to keep them from getting entirely out of hand.

But isn't that pretty much always the case, anyway?

Related post: My original take from the early days of this blog, Space Fighters, Not.

Update: Here is the space fighters commentary at Atomic Rockets, which represents the current informed consensus, at least in one corner of geekdom. (The link in the post also now points there, not just at the main page.)

The image was swiped from a page at


Anthony said...

Under these conditions, I'm at a loss as to why you don't just fire missiles at one another and leave out the middleman.

Sabersonic said...

"Under these conditions, I'm at a loss as to why you don't just fire missiles at one another and leave out the middleman." - Anthony

As this Mass Effect Video suggests, in a politically "dirty" and cluttered environment, you wanna make sure that your shot will connect with the right target. Otherwise, you the gunner will find yourself in the middle of an international scandal. What's even potentially worse is that with all that clutter and potential Electronic Warfare jamming, a missile can miss its target and something tells me that said missile will not be agile enough to perform a sharp, 90 degree turn that an intelligent orbital fighter design may potentially perform.

Which means that to ensure a high success rate per shot, one would have to get pretty close to their target, uncomfortably close.

That or just zap em with your laser to damage their systems enough for the missile kill. Whatever fits the setting. Though then again, utterly destroying a hostile craft would just add more space junk and increase the hazard of that orbit and any others that intersect it. Which also means that it would be better to just mission kill it and bring the onboard pilot/crew for questioning.

While we're on the subject of orbital fighters, it does bring about the question of deployment. That is, would they be based around what is tantemount to an Air Force Base IN SPACE, an Aircraft Carrier IN SPACE, or are launched as SSTO Trans-Atmospheric craft not unlike a ballistic missile? The latter does give some justification as to why some orbital fighters are aerodynamically designed despite their use in a micro-gravity and free fall environment.

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Native Jovian said...

I was going to point out that the single-man space fighter still doesn't really fit, even in a purely orbital setting, given the fact that even Earth's relatively modest orbital neighborhood can take the better part of a week to cross at reasonable delta-v budgets, but Sabersonic's comment on SSTO fighter-missiles has me intrigued. It would cut time-to-target (at least when your target is in LEO) to minutes from the hours or days that an already-in-orbit launch would take. It would probably be more expensive (you'd still have to ship the fighter into orbit if it was based there, but presumably you could do it with more efficient heavy-lift technology instead of a custom-made rapid delivery rocket), but it might be worth the cost.

I envision "corvettes" acting as the equivalent of standard police cruisers and fighters being more like SWAT teams. While corvettes are armed with some basic firepower, fighters are the real deathdealers in the neighborhood -- and corvettes can pop an alarm that'll have a fighter (group?) scrambling and in orbit in under an hour.

Naturally, this assumes that the guys policing orbit have resources on the ground as well, which may not be the case if we're dealing with hostilities between two separate habs, or may not be possible if we're dealing with someplace where the "ground" is extremely unpleasant, like gas giants. To a lesser extent, it requires most of the "action" taking place in fairly low orbits -- if your Earth-launched support fighter has to sail all the way to lunar orbit or a Lagrange point, it's not going to be much of a rapid-reaction force.

Sabersonic said...

Time-to-Target Deployment from Earth to the Lagrangian Points and/or Lunar Orbit does kill the rapid deployment idea for Orbital Fighters. Though it does beg the question of why a space faring nation-state would be limited to just the surface of a planet?

Potentially, SSTO Orbital Fighters could be stationed upon the lunar surface and the "Carrier" Orbital Fighters serviced and deployed by Fighter Bases and Ferries not unlike the naval aircraft carrier at said lagrangian points to ensure that rapid deployment to those areas are only measured in minutes max. Though by that token, it does have the hints of a local defense force. One can even postulate Orbital Fighter Cycler Stations that periodically travel from Earth Orbit to Lunar Orbit and/or Lagrangian points.

Naturally, one could envision such a cycler fighter base being built within a repositioned NEO whose body serves as the heat sink for the point defense laser base aka Laser Fort. However it does beg the question if it's technically feasable to create such a cycler using Realistic TM technology in the near or even "middle" future timescales, or if it's even a good idea considering that the same technology that could move said NEO could also be used by hostile powers to have it fall on the Earth that causes mass destruction and destroys a valuable military asset.

Though then again, now that I think about it, it does have dramatic story potential.

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Geoffrey S H said...

While the term "fighter" of course refersto the aerial craft, the US navy hasa program entitled "sea fighter"- a littoral combat ship, or patrol ship. One could easily retcon space-fghters as an attemtp by the USAF to glamourize their new class of patrol spacecraft for the investors by branding their vehicle as essentially a space-bound analog of the former craft.

Anonymous said...

The Air Force, like any other service, has various types of combat vehicles that are used in a wide variety of roles; every thing from 'Air Superiority' fighters, to 'Ground Attack/Close Air Support', to 'Escort' Fighters, to 'Tactical Bombers', to 'Startegic Bombers', to 'Fixed Wing Gunships', just to name a few...all of these have various shaps, sizes, and armaments. Combat Spacecraft would be simular. Some would be aerodynamic-shaped SSTO types designed to defense/attack/patrol orbital space on a moments notice; theres would be like the inspection craft mentioned by Rick in his post; still others would be high-acceleration fighter-bombers that would attack in the deep-space equivelent of a drive-by shooting; others would have the capacity to stay 'on-station' for extended periods of time and either be bases for other (smaller) combat spacecraft, or mount heavy bombardment weapons. The only real 'naval' mission for combat spacecraft would be customs enforcement and convoy escort. I believe that space combat will either be at Stupindous Ranges, or Up Close And Personal, for the most part...with the ocational drive-by just to spice things up.


Thucydides said...

The US Navy had a "pop-up" space fighter program back in the 80's as part of the now infamous Strategic Defense Initiative.

The fighter was a cone shaped vehicle that could carry one pilot and equipment to orbit launched on a Trident SLBM booster (from a submarine no less!) to rapidly inspect and potentially disable hostile (read Soviet) space hardware without warning. The size and shape of the vehicle allowed it to use the atmosphere for large changes in orbital inclination ("skipping" off the atmosphere).

The project was extended by General Daniel O Graham's "High Frontiers" project, with design variations like a cup shaped trans stage for more delta V and life support, the ability to be carried aloft in a space shuttle (maybe the analogue there would be the USS Akron and Macon) and even pin point landings on Earth (such as the fantail of a US Navy ship) using high performance parasails.

The USSR has the unique distinction of having the world's first space fighter in the form of the ALMAZ OPS-2 space station in 1974, armed with an automatic cannon similar to the type carried on Soviet fighter jets. The entire station had to be aimed (similar to aiming the cannon on current jets). Since the OPS-2 wasn't able to make orbital changes, it wasn't much of a fighter, but still better than nothing at all...

Anonymous said...

Thucydides said: "The USSR has the unique distinction of having the world's first space fighter in the form of the ALMAZ OPS-2 space station in 1974, armed with an automatic cannon similar to the type carried on Soviet fighter jets. The entire station had to be aimed (similar to aiming the cannon on current jets). Since the OPS-2 wasn't able to make orbital changes, it wasn't much of a fighter, but still better than nothing at all..."

The ALMAZ OPS-2 was more like an ASAT platform than a spacefighter, but that's just a nitpick; a Spad isn't much like an A/F-18, either.


VonMalcolm said...

The upcoming midfuture (?) suggestion probably is not practical nor even plausible, but it may make for a good background for a 'Hollywoody' sci-fi war movie. . . I am reaching here, but what the Hell!

Space Fighters in Saturn's Rings: Maybe
Space Fighters in Orbital Combat: Maybe
Space Fighters in the Asteroid Belt: No

Presuming we would have the technology to easily deal with any rogue asteroid: What if instead of Terraforming Mars we blew the Hell out of it (piece by piece if necessary) to make a mega-asteroid belt buffer zone between the defending Human Terra Squad and the invading Alien Terror Squad? -if a hunk of Mars doesn't take out Earth first! Would that be enough space clutter to make things congested enough to make space fighters relevant? If not, add more stuff! -perhaps send a couple of Jupiter moons careening into one another (Ganymede and Callisto?). -purposely make the asteroid belt 'fighter friendly' and 'battleship unfriendly' (if only for the story!).

The Hawking Invading Force is composed of a few heavily armed dreadnoughts with planet destroying weapons, but they have to get to us first, navigate the rocky hell that would be the new asteroid belt that is filled with mines, space junk, nukestars, laserstars, coilstars, (dummy craft and missiles?), radiation spills, and hundreds (thousands?) of Space Fighters hiding their presence via natural heatsinks waiting to launch a counterstrike with the prerequisite hunk/babe pilots ready to deftly navigate the Martian Made Mess to take out the intruders.

Okay, without a 'spherical asteroid belt' maybe the invading force could just come into the solar system from above or below, but what if the asteroid belt was Earth's main line of defense, its primary military base, and had to be dealt with before actually attacking Earth?

Mars may have too many flaws for terraforming anyhow and this way it can live up to its name! -plus it would be easier to mine. The only thing is if we had the power to destroy Mars would we be worried about the Invasion Force in the first place?

In trying to find out how hard it would be to obliterate Mars I came across this amusing article:

How To Destroy The Earth:


Thucydides said...


All the ASATS demonstrated to date are either semi-autonomous or controlled from the ground station.

While it is true the only test fire of the cannon was under ground control while the OPS-2 was unmanned, it was designed as a manned weapons platform with the pilot using a gun-sight to shift the station and aim the weapon, and from the little literature available, it was expressly designed to prevent hostile (read American) spacecraft from intercepting or inspecting the OPS-2 and follow on craft.

If we do a slight reset and have some of the projects of the Rocketpunk age come to fruition, then the Russians would have had a point; USAF "Dynasoar" spaceplanes were explicitly designed for this kind of mission, the USAF would have had a manned military mission with the MOL program and more capable projects like "LEM warrior" were being studied. It would not be too far fetched to think the capable Apollo spacecraft/Saturn 1 launcher being placed in series production for military use in a "reset" timeline.

While none of the American programs seem to have been designed to carry weapons (except the Dynasoar, and earlier programs like RoBo which were proposed as orbital bomber/reconnaissance craft), it doesn't seem too difficult to attach some sort of gun pod or space to space missile system to counter the perceived or real threat of cannon armed Soviet spacecraft. A militarized Apollo could have a weapons system built into the adapter tunnel built for Apollo/Soyuz, giving the crew the ability to fight, or to dock and inspect (more like a Coast Guard cutter than a "fighter" really).

A cold war era dogfight in space would resemble the Orion docking with the space station scene in 2001 far more than any air to air combat from the prop or jet era, though. That would have to wait for the USN/High Frontier "High Performance Spaceplane" project to come to fruition in the 1980s, with the Naval Aviator skipping off the atmosphere to make large changes in orbital plane and altitude. Pull some high "G" for a few seconds of Top Gun manoeuvres, then coast back to the fight.

"Maverick: Tower, this is Ghost Rider requesting a re-entry.

Air Boss Johnson: That's a negative, Ghost Rider, the pattern is full."

Cityside said...

I'm with Thucydides. You're talking a cutter more than a corvette.

And the type could, like traditional cutters, evolve from civilian craft:

Mr. Blue said...

I like the idea of Space Cutters. In addition to the usual roles of border patrol or customs work, you've got rescue- because if there's a lot of traffic in space, you need someone to do rescue work. Add a few para rescue jumpers, a trama surgeon, and medical facilities.
Another role for a cutter, if armed with a laser cannon, would be zapping debris. Vaporize the really small stuff and 'nudge' the larger items into a different path.

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter!

If the physical and political environment is 'clean' - no one in the shooting gallery but you and the bad guys - there is indeed no reason not to engage at maximum range. Fighters of the type I'm considering here are for the messy situations.

It is the Somalia piracy situation that started me to re-thinking space warfare, because we find a situation where overwhelming long range firepower turns out to be useless, and getting up close and personal is the only option.

Much like the polarity Ferrell suggests.

Belated thanks to VonMalcolm for emailing me a link to ALMAZ. (But your comment link on destroying the Earth seems inert, at least in Firefox.)

An alternate Cold War could quite possibly see deployment of armed orbital spacecraft. Although it is striking that in real life both sides quickly lost interest in manned military spacecraft. I'll guess that besides cost and lack of a clear mission, service politics played a role. No one wanted to see another branch or command 'own' space.

I agree that 'fighter' types could come in a range of configurations, including transatmospheric types, if fighting near a body with an atmosphere is expected.

For the mission I've described, 'cutter' is probably a better term than 'corvette,' though both feel too nautical-specific to me.

Anonymous said...

Mr. Blue beat me to most of my comments about rescue craft. In a messy/crowded situation, you want the people making life-or-death decisions to be on the site.

@ Rick: "I'll guess that besides cost and lack of a clear mission, service politics played a role. No one wanted to see another branch or command 'own' space."

Also, the hardware involved cost far too much for either side to want to start shooting. That's another reason to put these scenarios in the mid-range future: In the near-range future, say the next fifty years, space gear will still represent a huge investment. Once you get the right level of lower launch costs, low equipment costs, and enough gear in space that at least some of it can be shot up, then you'll start seeing Shootouts at the 0-K Trailing Trojan Rendevous Point.


VonMalcolm said...

How To Destroy The Earth. . . (Thoroughly)

If this link doesn't work try copying and pasting the below text!

Unknown said...

This might be a good opportunity to mention something I've been thinking about. This post is closer tot he present than usual, but it's still midfuture, say 22nd to 23rd century. What happens if we have a space war here in the 21st--say, India and China get frisky in the 60s?

There might be a few space fighters, but not many. What war in space would really mean is that each side shoots down each other's satellites with conventional-tipped ICBMs in support of the ground operations--maybe some space stations as well, if they've put them up. This is murder for the rest of the planet--we're full up on space junk and a bunch of 21st century technology goes down now that our satellites get totaled every two days because of some Chinese screw on some strange orbit.

If this happens, the postwar push into space will be defined by a massive orbital cleanup effort--at huge cost, no doubt, but this could provide the income all these startup space firms and their descendants are looking for. This could be the environment in which the neo-medieval space midfuture Rick likes to talk about is born.

Thucydides said...

An Indo-Chinese space war (or any war supported by attacking enemy space assets) might not drive the development of space fighters (although I could see souped up Soyuz and Dragon clones early on, before it became too unhealthy), but rather the evolving xSN.

Consider; in that environment any craft would need gobs of delta V, the ability to generate lots of thrust to evade oncoming debris (and a pretty high end sensor suite to go with it), and the ability to operate autonomously for extended periods in high orbit or cis lunar space (which also implies the ability to operate in a high radiation environment) just to survive.

We are talking a big, capable spacecraft with a heavily armoured "citadel" to protect the crew and electronics. In today's terms, a powerful dual purpose nuclear reactor would be generating electricity for the VASMIR drive, and capable of short term use as a NERVA thermal engine for bursts of emergency power; by the 2060's "direct drive" using a Focus Fusion or IEC fusion device might be possible.

In evolutionary terms, this would represent a change comparable to the shift from sail to steam (as opposed to any aerostat/aircraft/jet plane comparisons. As far as military operations are concerned, we need to look towards "torch missiles" using high thust/high ISP ORION drives with 100+ G accelerations, either carried by or guided by these capable control cruisers.

If we are looking for the military analogue, we have just launched an AEGIS cruiser rather than a SPAD or F-16 into space.

Anonymous said...

I have read the other posts and I was just wondering if anyone knew what a space fighter might look like. I mean would it look like the High Performance Spaceplane concept, or like the picture at the start of this post, or like Apollo (with guns). (BTW the place i am using space fighters in is 23-24th centuary after a war smashed up all the planets except earth ( created before the post like it on this site), so any that would work in this setting would be nice)

nqdp said...


When trying to figure out what a fighter would look like, consider two things: 1, what does it need to do? and 2, what technology do you have?

If your fighter flies in atmosphere and space, it should probably be aerodynamic. If it only flies in space, then it can be nice and clunky. The more accelerating and swooshing you want to do, the bigger the fuel tanks need to be. If you want a small, multi-role "corvette," then you should give it a cargo or passenger bay.

Technology includes choices like missiles vs lasers, your preferred engine type, how well Whipple shields work in your universe, etc. You'll also need radiators, and big ones if you like awesome swooshing and zapping. These will probably be retractable.

Once you know what your fighter needs to do and what tech your future engineers can build, the fighter will come together logically. This will probably take some effort and research, but in the end you'll have a good (by which I mean plausible) design.

If you're still lost (and this is a process that I'm still working through for my story/universe), then find some pictures of futuristic space shuttles and try to imagine them with missile tubes or something.

A word of caution, though: if you insist on having BSG Vipers KEWing everything in sight, you're probably not approaching the problem logically. I am, however, completely accepting of BSG Raptors.

Thucydides said...

I have read the other posts and I was just wondering if anyone knew what a space fighter might look like. I mean would it look like the High Performance Spaceplane concept, or like the picture at the start of this post, or like Apollo (with guns).

Like the man said, "it depends".

One thing which rarely comes up is economics, in other words, how much of your society's resources are being used to raise and support military forces? If your setting involves something like a total war scenario, space fighters and other equipment might be stripped down and simplified for rapid production, leading to fleets of cone or sphere shaped spacecraft (for example). Even retractable radiators might be ditched for fixed radiators in the name of economy unless there is a very compelling reason not to i.e. the craft is an aerospaceplane and needs to enter atmospheres.

One other factor is convergence; similar problems breed similar solutions. Everyone's spacecraft might look superficially similar because of that.

Unknown said...

@Thucydides--great point. Even in orbital space, space fighters don't necessarily make as much sense in a full-on war scenario. We need interstitial space and political ambiguity.

That said, will India and China (or whoever) know what they are getting into? Will their military planners foresee the huge amounts of space debris that will follow in the event of war, and design accordingly? Or will they be end up with fleets of space fighters they won't end up needing? They may need to find a new use for them, among other things.

Something has occurred to me. Might space fighters launched from an LEO station be used for hit-and-run? Say they have a torch powerful enough to put them back up into orbit. So India launches a from a station just as Africa comes into view (I am assuming that the state of MAD is such that they won't attack enemy soil, but will attack military assets on allied and even neutral soil. This war is going to be murder for the sovereignty of non-nuclear states.) They make re-entry, bomb the crap out of a Chinese factory complex somewhere in, say, Ethiopia, and light up the torch just as the Chinese interceptors and SAMs start to hit back. Some of the Chinese assets are capable of achieving orbit, but not all. They hit LEO, swing 'round, and dock with the station.

Of course, why not just launch unmanned missiles from the station? Saves time, money, personnel. Which is precisely why the Chinese want to torch this station with their ICBMs. Hmm. Back to the drawing board.

Oh and I had another idea coming from that Navy spaceplane. Dunno if I can justify it, but it would be pretty awesome. Huge submarine aircraft carrier that launches space fighters like ICBMs. Can move, stealthily, to anywhere over 2/3 of the Earth's surface and provide air/space support to anywhere in sky or space within minutes. Maybe the role is air superiority--on crack.

These fighters would be built before their use makes them somewhat obsolete by all the space junk they create.

Rick said...

As said, there is quite a bit of design flexibility.

The one thing that would be hardest to justify is what graphix geeks and Hollywood seem to love most, pseudo streamlining like a Star Wars X-wing. If you stay in space you don't need any streamlining. If you interact with an atmosphere, you need to be configured for hypersonic flight, and any angular stuff has to retract or be jettisoned.

Anonymous said...

Rick said: "As said, there is quite a bit of design flexibility."

After thinking about my design for a "Deep Space Fighter" I've come to the conclusion that it would be about 36 to 39 meters long and about 6 to 12 meters wide and 6 to 7 meters deep...for the three shift version; the single shift version would be about 20 meters long, 10 to 12 meters wide and 6 meters deep...not small vehicles. However, the 'cobbled-up' versions of the second and third-rate space fairing nations and 'orbital city-states' would use a tin can or something that looks like a beefed up LEM, but without the landing legs. They would only be around 6 to 7 meters long and about that wide and deep, for low endurance missions and twice that length for high endurance missions.
As far as what to put on the outside of these combat spacecraft, this is my opinion:
Missiles, unguided rockets, rail/coil guns, lasers, PBW, ordinary guns, granades, or even more exotic weapons; all depending on the mission and your ability to build/purchase them. I'd have lots of hardpoints, 'plug-in' module bays, or both; put lots of 'threat' sensors, communications antenni, navigation instruments, EW arrays, and RCS clusters all around the ship; put your radiators whereever they won't interfere with your weapons, drives, or electronics; if that means they need to be retractable, then do it. Replacing those things after each reentry might tend to get expensive.


Mr. Blue said...

And then one must consider politics.
In space, when the opposed parties are close enough, warfare is pretty much guaranteed Mutual Assured Destruction. It’s a bit like living in a densely packed trailer park where everyone has machine guns and bazookas. Bazookas with fragmentation warheads. And lives in glass trailers.

So, in this situation, the other nation states in space probably won’t be allowing the Republic of Zeon in L2 to build a Strategic X-Ray Laser Satellite of Doom. And they wouldn’t be too happy with the Zodiac Alliance of L5’s proposed fleet of Orion Drive battleships either.

Therefore, a few limitation treaties may be in order. Maybe a Washington Treaty type limit on the size of warships. Plus a SALT type restriction on strategic weapons (super lasers, nuclear missiles, that sort of thing). Even then, the space powers still would still be a bit reluctant to engage each other directly.

Where would space fighters fit in this situation? Maybe as a conventional weapons system allowed under treaty. Maybe the New Washington treaty allows for non strategic manned craft under X tonnage and delta V. And then SALT XII forbids beam weapons over a certain power level. Now you have small, short ranged craft with light armament. Viola, space fighters.

ushumgal said...

What I love about this post is it strikes at the heart of one of my most hated scifi tropes – the Invariably Unified World or Species. Notice how in most scifi, you never hear of multiple states on a single planet? And alien species are invariably politically (and conveniently) unified, so that we may refer to ‘the Klingons,’ for example, as a single entity. It must be admitted that rebels are sometimes thrown in, but this is mere window dressing, since the basic concept is that each species has its central government.

Given that scifi aliens are very often redressed (sometimes very slightly redressed) historical human civilizations (Klingons=Mongols, Romulans=wait for it…Romans!), here are a couple historical examples to consider when developing alien species. The ancient Greeks (we’re talking later 1st millennium BC here) shared a common culture and language, but were *constantly* fighting each other. Even during their highly publicized union to fight against a foreign invader (the Persians), it is often overlooked that a goodly number of Greeks sided with the Persians as well. So, unless we’re talking a war of genocide, isn’t it likely that in a war between humans and aliens, some of the factions of the aliens may elect to side with the humans? And some of the humans with the aliens? Things can get complicated fast that way, but complications are good for stories, in my humble opinion. I should also mention my field of study, which is ancient Mesopotamia, where we had a similar situation…a large area of more-or-less homogenous culture/language/religion with occasional periods of unity (though with enormous internal stresses) punctuating much longer periods of conflict between factions, complicated still more by the occasional arrival of invading groups (Gutians, Kassites, Aramaeans, etc.) who would be absorbed by the local culture, but not before leaving their own mark on it.

One advantage to adding some political/social/biological ‘clutter’ is that it can make a single star system much more interesting…after all, a star system is a *huge* place, so there is plenty of room for all kinds of variety and adventures. It helps keep the action in much more restricted space (avoiding the super-duper-long-distance-war issue, as well as having to deal with the FTL transportation issue).

ushumgal said...

As far as space fighters go…and by space fighters, I refer to 1- or 2-man fighters with small cockpits, and therefore necessarily short ranged…I think in this scenario, their most practical use would be in defending a habitat/installation. They would be based at the habitat or wherever, where the studly young pilots could strut about advertising their pecs to the local females, and when the nasty attackers arrive, they would swarm out and overwhelm them with large numbers of cheap (=disposable) fighters.

But it’s a bit hard for our young bucks to swagger when, in fact, all they do is defend. Offence doesn’t seem to work too well. Sure, you could put a bunch of fighters on a big carrier ship and take them over to the enemy habitat and there unleash them…but why not just make that big carrier into a big battleship, which could probably do the habitat-smashing job much better?

As far as visualizing space fighters, I would suggest my personal favorite, the venerable Babylon-5 Starfury. Ok, it has all that unnecessary streamlining, and it has mysterious ‘particle guns’ which go “pew!” when you shoot them, but otherwise it’s a pretty sensible design, considering the amount of cool factor it has. The widely-spaced maneuvering thrusters would make it quite nimble, and the pilot is essentially lying prone relative to the direction of thrust, which is an excellent position to resist g-forces. So perhaps take the Starfury, chunk it up a bit (assuming you don’t plan for it to enter an atmosphere), add your choice of more realistic weapons (missiles, big laser, coil gun, etc.) and there you are! Do note, though, that with any kind of realistic propulsion, there would obviously be *very* limited fuel supplies in such a small hull, so range would be very short indeed.

Citizen Joe said...

Fighters exist to fight other planes. In particular they exist as a counter measure to bombers. And then as escorts against hostile fighters. So, in order to have your 'space fighter', you need to define your 'space bomber'. Unfortunately that role has been converted to missile boats, so they can launch their attack from someplace other that directly over target. That leaves the fighters chasing missiles, which doesn't really work.

So what is that mobile infrastructure threat that fighters exist to destroy? Asteroids? Space stations?

nqdp said...

Citizen Joe said: "So what is that mobile infrastructure threat that fighters exist to destroy?"

If I'm reading your post correctly, you're implying that there's not much out there for fighters to destroy, which I agree with.

The comments section has discussed the concept of straight-up war machines, although I think a more practical space fighter would be more like an armed transport, or the "corvette" that Rick described. Unmanned missiles are pretty good at blowing stuff up, but if I'm attacking a huge, expensive space hab, I probably want to take in intact and merge it with my own.

And yet I still think that fighters swooshing around is kinda fun. Maybe the "Lunar Rebels" can't afford big spaceships, so they have to take on the "Terran Oppressors" with lightly armed tugs and shuttles. It sounds like a losing battle to me, but it would make for a great story if the Moon-Men won.

nqdp said...
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nqdp said...
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Anonymous said...

I have noticed that some people Have thought that space fighters would be used in interplanetary warfare (and they think that that is a dumb idea), but i see space fighters as being craft that fight in orbital space, to patrol and defend (or attack other orbital habs) and IP warfare is taken care of with the Massive Laser Of Doom!!(automated Mk 1), or you could use space fighters to escort incoming trade ships on their last leg (have a station with the fighters in a distant L5 and they escort the ship in (protect them form rebel habs perhaps?)

Citizen Joe said...

The fighter role isn't present. Boarding ships/stations is closer to the Blackhawk chopper role. Escort duty is valid though. In that case, inbound ships have to orbit at a quarantine zone or risk getting shot out of the sky by the global defense lasers. Navigational control would then get handed off to either a local pilot or to the space traffic controllers.

Both vessel types imply some sort of boarding capability under the protection of massive laser retaliation. The latter may be closer to a tug with massive thrust capability for maneuvering larger vessels.

Unknown said...

sorry to post from the paleolithic, but...

"As this Mass Effect Video suggests, in a politically "dirty" and cluttered environment, you wanna make sure that your shot will connect with the right target. Otherwise, you the gunner will find yourself in the middle of an international scandal."

Did anyone else catch in that video "lieutenant Burnside" was one of the gentlemen being briefed. Shout out, anyone?

Citizen Joe said...

Here's the video:
The other guy is Winch Chung from Atomic Rockets. It was put in as a shout out to them.

Citizen Joe said...

I wanted to point out that although 'vacuum fighters' aren't feasible due to the reliance on remass for propulsion, atmospheric fighters would be very useful to prevent invasions. Deep space warships might be tuned for vacuum combat with the more energetic UV and Xray lasers, but the atmosphere would protect atmospheric fighters (and indeed the ground) from those weapons. That means that seizing a planet requires dropping from orbit. There is little advantage to bringing your warship into the atmosphere, which leaves atmospheric drop ships with typical blind spots during reentry. So, that's where your fighters would shine.

VonMalcolm said...


‘’What I love about this post is it strikes at the heart of one of my most hated scifi tropes – the Invariably Unified World or Species’’

I agree, but diversifying an Alien Civilization in a story makes for much more work for the writer and especially the reader! (Major info dump!) In describing a particular Alien Civilization, their physiological make up and their technology, you already have a pretty large info dump to begin with (this is one of the things I am struggling with in trying to write sci-fi: I have some major, problematic, info dumps in my stories and I haven‘t even diversified the Alien Civilization(s) yet -which I intend to do.) -and, God forbid if you have multiple Alien Worlds each with multiple civilizations, instead on moving your story along you are stuck in the mud giving more and more background information! I guess it’s the author’s responsibility to weave those subcultures into subplots!

-Also, there maybe a good reason for a world-wide homogeneous civilization: our world is getting smaller everyday, and with supposed environmental catastrophe around the corner a powerful world government maybe the only solution to keeping everyone in check, and that could cut into a particular country’s governmental diversity, and even, in general, cultural diversity itself (ask a Muslim woman in several European countries about that potentiality). Look at the NFL’s conduct policy: as of the law Big Ben and Pac Man didn’t do anything wrong but the NFL imposes their morals on their players: a world government could act very similar: just think how homogeneous planet Earth would have been had Hitler won! -Maybe a Fuhrer Alien succeeds on his/her/its planet. Hive minds, I think, would also lead to homogeneous civilizations. Interstellar war itself may lead to world-wide (solar system wide?) homogeneous civilizations: it’s us or them, get on board: right now isn’t the time for your rebellious individuality! Just conquering space itself may lead to homogeneous civilizations (in space anyhow): think the International Space Station!

Just playing the Devil’s Advocate!

P.S. Homogonous, Homogenous, Homogeneous are slightly confusing!

Citizen Joe said...

Now we're working with a sample size of one, but in the known habitable worlds there is only one dominant species (man). One of the aspects of dominant species is to gather resources for itself, i.e. land. Since land is a limited resource but the need (population) increases, you have two choices, increase supply or reduce consumption. That means space travel or war. War is far simpler and often produces technologies needed for space travel. It is only when there is no more 'they' that war stops working, at which point you're forced into space travel. So from the stand point of motivation and ability, it makes sense that space faring races are a single unified body.

Sabersonic said...

You'll have to excuse me for this little derailment of the blog entry topic at hand, but I feel that I need to put in my own two cents on the diversification of an alien civilization mentioned by both ushumgal and VonMalcolm.

As it was noted previously, the task of creating an alien civilization for a writer is a daunting task in and of itself with the information that detail that civilization could be potentially overwhelming. This can also be seen as a waste of time for the writer if that particular civilization isn't presented in a good portion of the plot and rather treated as a "stop along the way", let alone the prime focus of the story itself.

However, there is also a logical reasoning for having such unified worlds/solar systems and/or sapient species. If a technology exists yet the resources to support such expeditions, let alone routine traffic, are limited then not everyone will be able to have access to space due to resource and currency costs alone. The more complex the technology, the more resources needed to support them. Look at our own current space development, the technology to travel to space exists yet I can count the number of civilian space exploration agencies with one hand. Developing planetary orbit for anything remotely habitable, let alone create a high enough traffic, will take much more resources and advancement in technology that would limit the amount of space faring nation-states that are able. Those Nation-states that have the infrastructure and resources to not only get into space, but to develop and settle it will have to compete with each other for resources. Competition that would either lead to a delicate balance of power between the space powers or the eventual unification of that world/solar system/species through conflict and/or diplomacy. And even if there is a singular space power among the crowd of planetary/star system bound nation-states, when this civilization encounters an interstellar power or even organization, then that space power would almost become the default example despite the fact that there are other nation-state examples.

However, just because there's a unified goverenment doesn't mean that there's a unified culture or the lack of linquistic divercity. Here in the US, there are fifty states with a wide divercity of culture that depend upon geographical location and the immigrant history of the region with various ethnic cuisines, accents and dialects, yet a vast majority of them are able to read and speak English (with second place being the ever growing Spanish speaking population in certain regions, but that's a topic for another time). A writer can potentially add different cultural and linquistical quirks to add divercity to an otherwise homogeneous civilization. True, this does give the potential of stereotyping what is otherwise a rich and unique alien culture, but that just adds some color to the otherwise plain and dull salad.

Anyway, returning to the initial topic at hand, Citizen Joe does have a point about Trans-Atmospheric SSTO transport craft having blind spots in its own defenses which may include the inability to provide atmospheric entry protection for turrets beyond armored "cubicles" that would make them extremely vulnerable to atmospheric fightercraft. A weakness that, if any military commander was intelligent and prudent enough, would be covered by their own squadrons of transatmospheric SSTO fightercraft deployed from orbit.

Protection from Anti-Orbital and Anti-Air Artillery on the other hand...

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ushumgal said...

VonMalcolm, I take your point about overloading the reader with info when describing complex just makes the historian in me twitchy to see things looking oversimplified... ;) Still, I *do* think it is possible to have a realistic degree of complexity, as long as the scope of the story stays small. You focus on the local Bug-Eyed Tentacle Aliens, while still acknowledging that there are very different Big-Eyed Tentacle Aliens elsewhere.

I have a similar problem with my current project, and that has only human characters. But it is set in a distant future with no common frames of reference for the reader. How, for example, do you describe a meal when NONE of the foods and NONE of the ingredients are familiar to the reader? It can get pretty tedious unless you approximate them with known entities.

As far as one-world governments and cultures...I do agree that planetary governments can exist, but I suspect that unless there is external pressure to keep them in place, they will not last long due to conflicting internal pressures. And planetary cultures are even trickier, even if all the original inhabitants had the same culture. There are certainly some world-wide tendencies here on Earth (people all over the world wear blue jeans now, for example, and in most places, businessmen wear western-style suits and ties). But that is ephemera, which can be adopted or dropped without significantly altering a culture. Humans think in terms of "us" and "them," and unless there is some external populace to make everyone on Earth think of each other as "us," I doubt there will be much tendency for an 'Earth culture' to form. Deliberate attempts to enforce a common culture (not to get into politics, but I will raise the same example of the situation with Muslim women in France, Belgium and here in Spain...a topic rather near to me, since my wife is a [secular] Iranian) tend to have the opposite effect. It is human nature to resent being forced to conform, and it tends to make people cling to the things they are being forced away from, even if they were not that important to begin with, in order to show that they are independent.

Byron said...

Somewhat dragging this discussion back to it's original topic, I have to see fighters mostly as short-range defensive vehicles, particularly in an orbital situation. Personally, I think that fighter-like vehicles will be the first "dedicated" space warships. If the Europan and Callistan colonies get in a dispute and start raiding each others ships, someone will soon get the idea "Hey, instead of mounting weapons on our cargo ships, why don't we take a small hab module, a frame, a chemrocket, and some weapons, and stick them together? We can make it fit into a standard container slot, so any of our ships can use it." I also see the "cutter" as being a viable type, and likely important. In my universe, which I'm close to revealing, that's what most ships are for before the war starts. So in reality, if fighters exist, they will likely be deployed from cargo ships with the proper modules.

Patrick Newman said...

As far as short-ranged defense goes, I could see someone building a cut-down (less in the way of engines, crew, and life support) Laser Star, and calling it a Monitor. Its role is rather limited, though.

Thucydides said...

I suspect that cluttered orbital environments are the only place cutters or aerospaceplanes will have a viable military role. It is too easy for a laserstar or constellation in the High Guard position to pick you off once you start making aggressive moves.

Even without a laserstar, a control ship in the High Guard position will be able to direct missiles or kinetic energy weapons against the offending vehicles (and it would be too easy to remote a missile pod already in LEO to the cruiser in GEO).

As for reentry drop ships, hypersonic waveriders contain the plasma sheath beneath the ship, allowing the use of radar and even weapons mounted on the upper surface during flight. Trying to fight them as they scream past at Mach 25 would be interesting to say the least...

Byron said...

It's easy. Throw a bunch of hot air balloons with tether weights in front of them and watch the fireworks.

Anonymous said...

Byron said:
"Somewhat dragging this discussion back to it's original topic, I have to see fighters mostly as short-range defensive vehicles, particularly in an orbital situation. Personally, I think that fighter-like vehicles will be the first "dedicated" space warships. If the Europan and Callistan colonies get in a dispute and start raiding each others ships, someone will soon get the idea "Hey, instead of mounting weapons on our cargo ships, why don't we take a small hab module, a frame, a chemrocket, and some weapons, and stick them together? We can make it fit into a standard container slot, so any of our ships can use it." I also see the "cutter" as being a viable type, and likely important. In my universe, which I'm close to revealing, that's what most ships are for before the war starts. So in reality, if fighters exist, they will likely be deployed from cargo ships with the proper modules."

This type of ship, in wet-navy terms, is called an auxilery cruiser...your ship should be called an auxilery carrier, I suppose; unless it's used to hunt convoy raiders, then it would be refered to as a 'Q-Ship'. Still, why go to all the expense and effort to build a warship when you can just (temporarily) modify an existing cargo ship; repurposing it for the duration, before returning it to it's pre-war configuration and mission.

Cost and industreal capability may also play a part in the desision to build a space-going warship or to repurpose one and modify it for combat; the local and wider (astro-political?) situation will also dictate limits and tactics/strategy. The combat machines and the tactics that employ them, will be vastly different; the Callisto-Ganymede war will be ratically different than the Titan Unification war, or the Mars-Venus Wars, or even the Ceres War of Independance. Not just the causes, tactics, strategies, and overall aims of these Mythical wars will be different, but the war machines they use will also be different; perhaps even radically so.


ushumgal said...

Not only industrial capability, but simple economics too.

For example, two small, remote habitats fighting it out may not have the funds or ability to build big laserstars or anything like that. Depending on how fast the conflict arose, they might have to resort to arming existing civilian ships (auxiliary cruisers), but if they have time to build some purpose-built ships, then small one or two man fighters might be the most effective solution than investing an even larger amount of money and time in building a larger warship.

Where this could get interesting, in terms of story material, is if one habitat has more money/industrial capacity and has been able to build a single warship, where the other only has a handful of small one or two man craft. Will the hotshot fighter pilots be able to take out the menacing enemy warship? Stay tuned! Whether the fighters really stand a chance, though, will still depend on your assumptions about technological capabilities.

Citizen Joe said...

Fighters could evolve from the belters. You get that lonely asteroid miner. The ship gets maximized for ore capture/refining. Lasers added for mining. Grapples for holding on. Extra power thrusters for moving asteroids many times the mass of your ship.

ElAntonius said...

One important note is that you fight the war with what you have, not with what you wish you had.

If treaties, economics, or reality intervene such that what can be built is fighter like craft, then that's what will be there for the war.

In my mind, a space fighter is more like a space "gunship", really. I simply can't find a way to justify a spacecraft smaller than that.

Treaties is easy, and has been discussed.

Economics is a bit more subtle, but in effect if each power can only build a few battlestars, then they'll naturally be concerned with moving those things around in little chess matches with the other battlestars. Think of the queen in chess...unstoppable to a pawn, really, but she can be outmaneuvered with a bit of planning, with the further point that a lot of chess players tend to irrationally protect their queen.

So in the economy argument, most fights are fought with smaller, economical ships because the powers simply can't afford to lose a battlestar, or to even move it away from a position of threatening power B's battlestar.

The "reality" argument is somewhat related to the battlestar, but it's a bit more direct..."No one has the technology to build anything fancier than a space shuttle with a missile launcher strapped to the cargo bay.

Anonymous said...

One cinematic fighter that seemed purely designed for space was the bubble fighter from the 1998 Lost in Space film, with the pilot suspended upright in a spherical transparent cockpit with asymmetric winglike weapons pylons behind. However, from what I remember it was armed with standard sci-fi 'pew-pew' energy weapons, and the design would probably in real life be very vulnerable to kinetic weapons and visible-wavelength lasers. Maybe something like a cross between a B5 Starfury and an Apollo Command/Service Module, armed with seeker heads (released lancer-style, shot from a coilgun or rocket-boosted), with a laser or even a machinegun/autocannon for short-range combat, would be more effective. The cockpit could be modular, allowing the craft to be converted to a teleoperated or autonomous unmanned vehicle.


Byron said...

Auxiliary Cruiser is exactly what I meant. I just think that there will be very few purpose-built warships, at least initially. Fighters/gunboats provide a nice way to boost firepower quickly and cheaply. Plus, a fighter is likely to be cheaper than a long-endurance ship of similar firepower, which is a plus for everyone.
In my universe warships are divided into three categories: fighter, fleet, and independent. Fighter ships are short-endurance, usually on the order of a couple days or less, with heavy armament. The USASF forces are dominated by this type. Fleet ships are more versatile, and make up most of the Lunar Fleet. Independent ships are mostly used to patrol the outer planets, and are high-endurance and balanced armament. Actual fighters are also in existence, mostly launched from larger ships. (I started this before I knew better, but it's largely orbital, so it's not that bad.)

Adam said...

Hey guys!

I was reading over the comments and I was thinking how this post is not so much about fighters so much as it is about the environments in which they evolve/exist. Many different commentators have seemed to offer different environments, but the idea of a "cluttered" orbital environment (either politically cluttered or physically or both) is still a bit hazy to me. What would a conflict look like between habs? or between planetside nations that have expensive orbital interests? Would there be industrial sabotage between competing companies? Would said companies choose to ship a permanent worker population into orbit rather than constantly ship them back and forth?

I guess what I am asking is: Could a post be made about environments that could occur in orbit (hostile or benign). After all, the environment dictates the ship.

Also I was thinking that in space warfare, it might resemble old line tactics on ground (in some regard) skirmishers up front, infantry, and then the big cannons behind, with cavalry for the flanks (maybe).

Byron said...

The "cluttered orbital environment" just means that there are multiple players and lots of stuff, including your own stuff and the stuff of people you don't want to anger. There was a post on it in the "space warfare" series a while ago that describes it very well.
As for tactics, I don't really think so. Any form of combat is dictated by environment, and the environments are wildly dissimilar.

ElAntonius said...

Adam -
The reason the environment is critical to space fighters is because the classic Hollywood image of the fighter is small, one man pods twirling about and zapping each other.

I think I alluded to this in a response to you in the undying fighter thread, but at long range, lasers cannot be dodged; also, fighters lack the endurance to perform any meaningful missions.

So, if we want fighters, we'll need some excuse for the following effects:
1) We need people on board the fighters.
2) We need to reduce the engagement range so that weapons can be dodged with meaningful changes to tactical geometry.
3) We need an environment where the Death Star can't operate, because we don't have a Jedi handy to kill it with.

The easiest way to get 1) is political complexity. We put the guns under the hands of a pilot because we need to be sure of what we're shooting. In a "clean" environment, we could just automate all spacecraft.

Clutter and political complexity helps with 2). Since we have to be sure, and there's a ton of stuff out there, fights break out at close range since we can't just blast random spacecraft out of the sky.

Ditto with #3. Think of killing a fly in your home with a shotgun. You can do it, but you'll probably break the good china in the attempt.

Jim Baerg said...

Ushumgal said: "I have a similar problem with my current project, and that has only human characters. But it is set in a distant future with no common frames of reference for the reader. How, for example, do you describe a meal when NONE of the foods and NONE of the ingredients are familiar to the reader?"

How far in the future would that be? Most of the food humans now eat comes from a few plants & animals that were domesticated several millenia ago. Why should that change in the next few millenia?

Citizen Joe said...

The plants and animals we eat now are land based gravity inclined things. When the leap to space occurs, you're looking at hydroponic algae and microscopic worms as your food base.

Likewise, if there is a shift to Venus as the space food producer, those plants (and thus the animals being fed those plants) are going to be more acidic, which may in turn increase the condiments to cut the acid.

Luke said...

It is interesting to note that warm blooded animals spend about 90% of their energy budget keeping warm. Cold blooded herbivores would thus be a more efficient source of protein, since much of their energy budget goes toward growth and reproduction. The meats of the future, especially in space habs, may be silkworms, mealworms, cockroaches, iguanas, catfish, and tilapia rather than pork, beef, chicken, and predatory fish.

VonMalcolm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
VonMalcolm said...


Interesting and unappetizing! I think if I were aboard a space habitat I would become a space vegan!

(minor edit!)

Citizen Joe said...

Hmm... if food consumption is a concern, perhaps some sort of genetic conversion in humans to a cold blooded system is in order. Uncontrolled temperatures in space would be beyond the human extremes anyway, may as well adjust it to optimize the new Homo Sapiens Reptilus.

That seems to lend credence to the V aliens. It also makes sense from a cold sleep concept.

Mr. Blue said...

On the food thing- don't forget shellfish. Which may lead to the frequent complaint of "Awww, mom, not lobster AGAIN!".

Adam said...


I guess what I meant about line infantry was about deep space > everyone sees everyone, no real need for maneuvering so it is just a slugging match. You have your heavier ships behind your more numerous ones.

About my questions about the cluttered environment, I know what it 'looks' like in that there is a lot of orbital infrastructure, but what I am unclear on is what is the political environment that gives rise to the sorts of conflicts that start in such an environment. Why would entities fight in such a vulnerable environment, and if they do fight, how do they do so to avoid MAD. it seems like the topic of orbital conflict and environment is more a topic in its own right where fighters are included.

ushumgal said...

@ Jim Baerg: at the risk of derailing the thread again, in brief, it is set in a *very* far future, on the order of some 40,000 years.

All Luke and Citizen Joe say are true, but you are also right, that some basic foodstuffs would probably remain more or less unaltered. But I think in that kind of time scale, many of the familiar sorts and forms would have changed significantly, and the staple foods of people may be altered significantly.

You may have noticed how much development, hybridization, etc., is done with fruit. Imagine that kind of development carried on for *millennia*. I think there will be many new kinds 'invented' via hybridization, and those may come to be the commonly eaten ones, and our familiar apples and oranges may be forgotten. And even today, in places like China, there are kinds of fruit I've never heard of...maybe they will be the ones taken with when new planets are colonized? I'd never seen a loquat before I moved to Spain...I'm still puzzled how I would describe it... Also bear in mind that one of the very first grains to be domesticated was emmer, and who eats that today?

Same goes with animals...yes, some have been domesticated for thousands of years but the common subspecies now are not necessarily the first ones domesticated (e.g. the extinct auroch, the ancestor of modern cows)

And as a final observation, some breeds of dogs are very ancient (the Assyrians had dogs that look *very* much like rottweilers), but my personal favorite breed, the labrador retriever, is, as a breed, only just over 100 years old. So some of the things that seem so comfortably familiar to us may prove quite ephemeral.

Maybe we can persuade Rick to start a topic on this so we can avoid bringing up fruit in the space fighters discussion? :D

Anonymous said...

ushumgal said:
"Maybe we can persuade Rick to start a topic on this so we can avoid bringing up fruit in the space fighters discussion? :D"

Yes! Especially when you get pulped fruit all over the inside of the space fighter's cockpit...

Anyway, insted of calling them 'space fighters' I'm going to refer to them as 'utility spacecraft', or 'military utility spacecraft', especially if it's modular or has a payload bay configured to match whatever the current mission is. This way I can distingish between Hollywood-style 'space fighters' and more realistic small combat spacecraft.


VonMalcolm said...

For some cheap (really cheap) laughs just ask Porkins about the perils of eating food in the Cockpit:

I hope these links work this time.

Porkins. . . What was George Lucas thinking?

Rick said...

Regarding space fighters, it is indeed all about the environment, physical and even more political.

My premise in this discussion is that it is hard to justify 'classic' space fighters, a la Star Wars and BSG, so instead I would look for other missions where a small, agile, 1-2 seat spacecraft is more plausible.

In terms of mission I am indeed looking at something that is more 'gunship' than 'fighter.' If you just want to blow lots of stuff up you don't need such a vehicle, certainly not with a human pilot. So I am looking at missions that involve highly selective use of force. These will tend to have some police-like characteristics, rather than 'pure' warfare.

And, short of magitech force shields, 'total war' is problematic for high tech civilizations in any case.

Other points raised in this thread are worthy of their own blog posts, such as what people will be eating in the year 40,000. Something to, um, chew over!

Thucydides said...

The fighter pilots have the task of protecting the photosynthetic fish:

Dinner's on!

ElAntonius said...

Well, I've posted this example before, but just a quick reiteration of it since it is a pretty good example of how politically complex environments can encourage fighter behavior AND nullify long range tactics and weapons.

From Independance War (PC Game):
1) Rebels successfully assume control of a cargo freighter at dock. Subterfuge is certain since the fact that the freighter is taken is not known to Imperials.
2) Freighter was selected because its normal route would bring it into dock with an Imperial transport, heavily defended by warships, and just happening to be carrying someone important at the time.
3) Rebels load fighters into "blow-apart" cargo canisters instead of normal cargo.
4) Freighter assumes normal flight plan, then, when in almost docking range, blows open cargo canisters and unleashes swarm of fighters.

The rebel plan is that at the close ranges, the slower corvettes cannot efficiently track the fighters, so the swarm of fighters will quickly overwhelm and destroy the escort.

In the game, the player is part of the escort, in command of a Corvette-class ship, and of course they get to deal with it.

Adding a detail of my own:
-If the rebels intend to capture the important dignitary, rather than kill him, they can't simply load the cargo ship with bombs, which would probably kill the dignitary but leave the escort alive.

The example highlights how the environment works to reduce combat range and create an environment where fighter "antics" are possible. The slower escort ships simply can't slew around efficiently enough to track fighters at Hollywood ranges, after all.

From the Imperial perspective, how do you react to such a threat?
-You can't well blow up every freighter that resupplies your warships.
-However, any of your resupply ships could be compromised in various nasty ways. The ideal counter to the fighter swarm at close range is having a bigger, better fighter swarm, so you can always use that.
-If the resupply ships could have bombs on board, you'll want to decentralize your firepower anyway. Battlestars are great at countering battlestars, but provide a huge bullseye for "terrrrrist" style tactics.

So, how do you operate? Small patrol ships that dock with and inspect every inbound craft to counter the bomb threat, and standby fighters to counter the fighter threat.

(Of course, you could put a picket WAY out there so that if the fighters will get discovered long before they get int their effective operating range, but then I'd argue that the fighters have won a strategic victory by forcing the Imperials to waste valuable rocket propellant in long inspection missions).

ushumgal said...

I can see ways that this scenario could be carried out without the need for fighters (never having played the game in question).

If the transport is capable of outrunning its escorts, it would be pretty straightforward. Play the innocent cargo ship until you dock, storm on board, seize the VIP and the bridge. Then, using the presence of the VIP as a guarantee that the escorts will not fire on you, take off in the direction of your choice and leave them far behind.

If the transport can't outrun the escorts, then it gets messier. At lot of options would depend on just how devoted to their VIP the captains of the escorts are. If they consider him an 'acceptable loss,' then you need to be able to overpower them. If not, he can be a powerful bargaining chip (if you want to get all Machiavellian).

As far as weapons go, if we are already so close in to the escorts, wouldn't missile serve as well, if not better? While en route, place some launchers behind the cargo doors, and as soon as you dock with the transport, open the doors and smother the escorts in missiles. If they have trouble tracking a fighter, they'll have even more trouble tracking a whole bunch of missiles boosting at dozens of gravities towards them, I would think.

Of course, from a story-telling point of view, the fighters would most likely be much more interesting...

ElAntonius said...


Cold hand of reality, sure. I don't want to get too much into "but, what if" because it eventually devolves into contrived explanations.

I'd point out that the game does not focus on fighters much at all (as I noted, the player does not fly in one).

-Missiles are not considered a primary weapon in the game. The main weapon is a STL particle weapon (typical plasma polt looking thing). All ships mount the same caliber, including fighters, larger ships just have more of them.

-Notably, the game features an energy shield that can stop any attack in an unlimited manner, but only from one source per shield (player ship has one shield per side, fighters have none, larger ships have more). Essentially the shield technology encourages swarm tactics, except that fighters are TOO vulnerable to be terribly effective.

In either case, I actually think the game's "Corvette" is a more ideal space fighter. As small as it can be and mount all the relevant weapons and defenses, 4-5 crew with bunking for lots more, can be autopiloted if called for, and modular to support mission profiles from raw all out combat to scientific exploration.

ushumgal said...

Very true, I certainly take your point about contrived explanations. And of course, every solution is dependent on one's own set of preconceptions about what is more likely/realistic.

And I think we're pretty much all in agreement that for a decent story, you usually need to make at least a few concessions to move the plot along (or to flesh out the universe), like taking FTL travel for granted.

I myself much prefer the solution used in the video game, as you describe it, since I personally find missile battles rather dull.

My personal view that balance is more important than strict, absolute realism for the purposes of storytelling. So I like the fact that Mass Effect balances the benefit that fighters have in swarming with their vulnerability. In the project I am working on, for a more limited example, I am trying to find the right proportions to balance the weapons (a kind of particle gun), where one must choose to emphasize either range or damage potential, but you cannot have both and each has obvious tactical implications.

ElAntonius said...

RE: Mass Effect

I absolutely adore the codex entries describing the worlds in the Mass Effect series. For a series of games where the player's spacecraft is shown in combat a handful of times, space combat is wonderfully thought out.

Mass Effect is particularly good at striking a balance, I think. They use one piece of handwavium (the titular mass effect of a fictional element-0, which has the ability to reduce the apparent mass of any material), and expand it to explain how fighters exist, what weapons they use, how shields work, how FTL works, artificial gravity, so on so forth.

It may not be 100% science, but the designers took some time thinking it all out. All the more impressive given the fact that all that juicy content is totally optional to the game.

Elukka said...

Going back to the earlier discussion, I made a 3D model to illustrate how I imagine a fightercraft some hab built out of a repurposed capsule, some propellant tankage and ad-hoc kinetic missiles might look like.

Citizen Joe said...

Everyone will jump on me for remass inefficiency, but if you've got that kind of tankage, why don't you just push around a big chunk of ice instead? It can act as a shield as well as remass, then just grab onto another chunk. This works very well in Saturn's rings.

Anonymous said...

Elukka said: "Going back to the earlier discussion, I made a 3D model to illustrate how I imagine a fightercraft some hab built out of a repurposed capsule, some propellant tankage and ad-hoc kinetic missiles might look like."

Very cool! This is pretty much what I had envisioned for "cobbled-together" fighters! I think you nailed it...


Rick said...

Sharp models!

On 'contrivance,' I pretty much agree. The bottom line is that spaceships always travel at the speed of plot. The art of hard SF is making this look less contrived than it really is.

The scenario ElAntonius has that quality - you can find holes in it, but a little well placed rhetoric will make them harder to find.

Jim Baerg said...

Rick said: "Other points raised in this thread are worthy of their own blog posts, such as what people will be eating in the year 40,000. Something to, um, chew over!"

I do have some thoughts on that, so I look forward to the post.

ushumgal said...

Very nice design, Elukka! If you don't mind my asking, what modeling program do you use? I've been playing around with Google Sketchup myself, though I don't have anything worth showing of yet, myself.

ElAntonius said...

Elukka-Those are brilliant! Kudos. Exactly what I would imagine, except I have zero talent :)

It always bothers me when spacecraft look like airplanes. Am I the only one that thinks that designs like Elukka's are far "cooler" than any F-16 in space could ever be? I mean, for crying out loud, at least don't put aerodynamic wings on it!

On the topic of kinetic would a politically "dirty" environment deal with all the potential space junk from a battle? You might not hit anyone inconvenient with your missiles, only to anger them when a piece of fighter 1003231 blasts through their hab's oxygen recycling module.

I can almost imagine some sort of sacrosanct neutral party, that no one bothers, charged solely with cleaning up space debris, recycling what's useful, and selling it to various powers. Or generally respected rules of war that after a fight, each party is to recover their "property" unmolested.

The interesting aspect of space is that there is no territory, really. So it strikes me that, unlike terrestrial warfare, post-battle scraps (not to mention potential survivors if your weapons grade allows it) won't automatically be the concern of the victor.

So we now have a situation where the aftermath of a battle is potentially valuable (unfired missiles, undamaged propellant tanks, spare parts, whatever isn't totalled by weapons fire, really), and potentially dangerous (that gold mine is a kinetic nightmare for everyone).

f said...

A ww1 fighter plane like the Sopwith Camel had a mass of about 400 Kg empty.
A ww2 fighter plane like the Supermarine Spitfire had an empty mass of 2300 Kg.
An F-15 has an empty mass of about 13.000 Kg, and an F-22 of 19000 Kg.
Extrapolating (a lot) this trend, and considering as a sole requirement for a fighter being a single (or double) seat, the 23rd century space fighter could really be the laserstar dreadnought that was described here in prevoius posts. Automation would allow for it, and even if allowing for the decision-taking necessity of humans, would minimize the dead weight of life support structures.
After all, even in most scenarios described here that would allow for a fighter-like craft, distances and weapons would not allow for what we think of as dogfight... so we could well go the full distance: fighters of 100.000 tons of mass, with a giant spinal-mounted laser of doom.

VonMalcolm said...


I justify having my starships aerodynamic in case an emergency landing on a habitable planet is needed. (They are manned interstellar exploratory vehicles.) Is this thinking flawed? -Of course once they land the explorers maybe stuck on the planet for a while! -many generations perhaps.

Also: an article on an upcoming Scramjet experiment:

ElAntonius said...

I think for crew sanity reasons any serious spacecraft is going to at least have a few crew, and probably multiple shifts.

The fighter thread that never dies has some great discussion on crew and roles, so I won't reiterate it here :).

That being said, I think you're right in that even "small" spacecraft will be much larger than terrestrial craft. However, I'm not convinced that orbital gunships (a term I'm finding to be much cooler sounding than space fighter) will be all that massive...their delta-v requirements are modest, and if we're tailoring the setting to "space knife fighting", their acceleration has to be stupendously high for space terms (instead of the milligee acceleration we normally discuss, probably a G or more in short bursts)...that means cutting to the bone on mass.

I've long held that combat spacecraft will be built around the gun, however...I even think that even spacecraft classes could be easily classed around what weapon they mount.

ElAntonius said...

VonMalcolm -
Oh, yeah. Atmospheric re-entry or dual mode spacecraft/aircraft is a whole 'nother matter. Those will of course be constrained by aerodynamics.

f said...

Slightly off-topic, speaking about orbital gunships, I remembered another scenario that always fascinated me. If you saw the old b&w movie "the African queen", I'm thinking about frontier places, where even a single medium-powered laser gun can be heavyily destabilizing (and during an occupation, prompt a couple of patriotic misftits to rig a kamikaze belter rocket to disable the menace... :p).

ElAntonius said...

Never seen the movie, but it strikes me as an idea with great story potential.

In space, every weapon is deadly. If a ne'er do well comes into possession of an Imperial Gunship and threatens the poor hab orbiting Saturn, we've scaled down the story to sufficiently human interactions. Our band of merry villains in their one gunship is as insurmountable as the Death Star, but all of a sudden it's almost plausible that a Ringer (?) in a mining tug might be able to do something about it.

Geoffrey S H said...

I wonder, would it be possible to one day do a thread that has images of the many spacecraft concepts that have been discussed over the years on this blog? Just a thought, and it looks, from the quality of the images above, that there would be people willing to do them. Those images look brilliant, though they do lack heat radiators...

ElAntonius said...

It strikes me that a largely Chemfuel rocket, using only solid booster missiles for weaponry, and with minimal life support for no more than a handful of crew probably doesn't have massive radiator requirements (compared to the more intense designs usually discussed).

An internal heat sink with some way of dumping that heat is probably sufficient (deployable radiators?)

Citizen Joe said...

Again. Push a chunk of ice. Dump heat into ice as you use it for remass. Meanwhile the ice surface acts as its own radiator.

That kind of fighter would look and act a lot like a virus.

ElAntonius said...

That presumes easy and constant access to ice, but sure, a fairly "cool" suggestion :).

As I said, I don't think the discussed craft has heat dissipation requirements much higher than modern spacecraft, so passive "skin" radiators would probably work fine.

Or, since fighters are relatively low endurance anyway, have them pump heat into home base, which then dissipates it. Home base could even be a giant-er chunk of ice.

Looking at some diagrams of the Apollo CSM on Wikipedia, skin radiators seem sufficient for most tasks, although I would imagine it does need a supplementary sink for combat situations (prolonged or frequent burns).

Mr. Blue said...

Another likely space fighter concept: the armed maintenance pod.
If your larger official space warships have any sort of manned maintenance pod, transfer shuttle, or other auxilary craft, someone will try to attach an autocannon, rocket pod, or torpedeos to it.

Useful? Depends on the author. The armed pods may wind up saving the day after the Imperial Frigate's laser cannon overheats during the first Battle of Titan (the one against the conveted mining tugs of the Ringer Independance Navy).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the kind comments!

ushumgal - Funnily enough, I used Sketchup. Rendered in Kerkythea, though.

(Incidentally, anyone know how to make links clickable? The 'a' tag makes them look clickable, but they still aren't.)

As for the case of the missing radiators, I did mean for part of the nose to be a wraparound radiator but it turns out it's not quite big enough. It's about 3,5 square meters which is just shy of half the Soyuz's radiator area. Goes to show it pays to do your research and/or math. :P

Oh well, it's probably workable if you carry some expendable coolant since it indeed won't produce very much waste heat.

Elukka said...

Blar, forgot to enter my nick. It's me there in the last post.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm...on further thought, I'm not sure that 'military utility spacecraft' as a substitute for 'space fighter' is any better. Mybe 'gunship' is better; perhaps even using the role of a small combat spacecraft as the name for the class (e.g., Interceptor for fast, relitively-long-range fly-by attack; Interdictor for slower, high endurance military missions; Space Control for extended endurance, combat-support, and long-term military missions; gunships would be used for local space patrol, orbital military missions, overwatch for customs ships, and various other missions) So, you could devide combat spacecraft into two broad categories; those that have a spin-hab and those that don't have one.

My idea of a 'Gunship', (with its two main modules and a pair of open-frame tressles holding all the plumbing/wiring and radiators; the middle is where the payload/mission module is docked), could have the two end modules (crew and power/propulsion) be cylindical, brick-like, cubes, spherical, or even a combinaton. You could even swap out the engine depending on the mission. Lasers, rail guns, missiles, PBWs, ordinary guns, even morters for special purpose weapons or expendible sensor/EW/fragmentation canisters could be mounted in the mission bay. Whatever the mission called for, you could load into the bay...even extra propellent and extender pallets for life-support. I can picture it in my mind, but don't posses the skills to render it into an image. I'm sure that several of us have that same problem...;)


Elukka said...

Rick - I think I may have coincidentally found a justification for what might look like partial 'streamlining' of pure spacecraft.
In a ship I'm currently modeling the propellant tanks have a total surface area of about 1100 m2. The relatively smooth hull on top has a surface area of 700 m2. That'll save nearly a half in armor mass!

Of course, you might remove the hull and leave parts of the propellant tanks unarmored, but then you'll probably end up with weak spots that your enemy can exploit to total a tank on the first laser hit.

Byron said...

There are other possible definitions of a fighter. In the universe I've built, fighters are armed craft with a thermal drive, as opposed to the fusion drives of big ships. This makes them cheaper, but with lower delta-V. As for big ships, I don't see automation taking over too much. The problem is that a military ship has to worry about being hit and randomly loosing pieces. That might be another definition of a fighter as opposed to a "warship", in that it has low repair capabilites, and is meant for sorties more than for long-term missions.

Michael said...

An idea I had considered, particularly in regards to chemfuel "fighters" is to have two large drop tanks of fuel/remass that are a little wider than the fighter itself. When it is on approach to its target, it releases the empty tanks, which may have very small maneuvering thrusters on them, and takes up position behind one, using it as a double whipple shield on its way in.

In the worst case scenario, parallax sensors allow identification of which fuel tank the fighter is coasting in behind, but the tank still acts as armor. If you're pretty sure the enemy can determine which tank is covering you, you just put both tanks in front.

In the best case scenario, the enemy has no parallax sensors, and the enemy weapons have to target both fuel tanks.

ElAntonius said...

That's not a bad idea. Bonus points in that the tanks themselves are threatening as kinetic weapons, potentially forcing the target to destroy something other than the fighter as it approaches it's ideal combat range.

Anonymous said...

Small, low-endurance, single shift crew, mission-specific configuration...we might be getting close to a definition of a realistic space fighter!


Thucydides said...

Perhaps a better way to justify a "fighter" is to have the ship use beamed power from a mother ship or base. A laser or microwave receiver will be much smaller and lighter than an on board power supply (especially if the ship is using some sort of electric or plasma drive like VASMIR, Hall effect thrusters and so on).

Even a thermal drive can be smaller and lighter (and potentially have a much higher ISP) with clever use of focusing mirrors following the designs of Leik Myrabo and his "lightcraft" designs rather than a nuclear thermal drive.

The end result might not look very elegant (perhaps a series of discs of metamaterials to focus the beam onto the receiver), but the performance would be fantastic due to the weight reduction. Imagine taking the engine mass from a F-16 but still being able to generate the same thrust...

Anonymous said...

Thucydides: wouldn't beamed power have the same drawbacks as tight beam communications?


Thucydides said...


The difference between a power beam and a communications tight beam would be similar to the difference between a high voltage transmission line and the telephone line running into your house.

In terms of bandwidth, you have few issues, the beam is either "1" or "0". For the pilot of a fighter or other beam powered craft, the issues are ensuring the receiver is centered on the beam, and "dumping" excess energy when you don't need max thrust. So in addition to large discs of metamaterials or mirrors, the ship also needs large radiators for beam dump (an internal heat sink adds mass, which is what we are trying to avoid).

The other factor which makes this different from tight beam comms is range: we would want to have the beam powered ships operate inside the diffraction limit of the power beam, so ships might patrol throughout cis lunar space, but only coast on minimum energy orbits to Mars or Venus (unless another beam station is waiting there.

Byron said...

Remember the Kinzi lesson. A power beam for fighters would be more effective as a weapon.

Michael said...

The fighter could also get by using beamed power only for strategic movement; getting there and getting back. Along with the H2 it is using for remass with its beamed-power electric thruster, it could carry some (relatively) light O2 tanks and thrusters. If there is a short range engagement space where quick maneuvers, debris, or other environment would risk interfering with power transmission, it has batteries and/or chemical fuel to take over during those times.

Michael said...

"Remember the Kinzi lesson. A power beam for fighters would be more effective as a weapon."

True, but I think we're past the point of fighters as raw weapons. In the picture that has been developed in this thread, they are not in any way infringing on the battlefield niche of a laser star.

ElAntonius said...


While what you're saying is at least partially true, it's easy to imagine how a war might break out and EVERYONE just uses fighters because that's what they got.

Battlestars, asides from being expensive, are also very much subject to MAD. Any engagement between 2 matched battlestars will probably result in a Pyrrhic victory at best.

So I could see an all out war that drags on and on because all the good weapons are spending most of their time out of the fight, and no one has the resources to build more of them.

Roger M. Wilcox said...

Sabersonic wrote: "a missile can miss its target and something tells me that said missile will not be agile enough to perform a sharp, 90 degree turn that an intelligent orbital fighter design may potentially perform."

Why wouldn't a missile be able to perform the same kinds of maneuvers as a fighter? What's so special about a fighter's drive system compared with a missile's drive system? In order to keep up with a target that's moving erratically to avoid getting hit, a missile would need an engine capable of accelerations every bit as high as its target.

Sabersonic said...

Why wouldn't a missile be able to perform the same kinds of maneuvers as a fighter?"
Roger M. Wilcox

Beyond the fact that an orbital fightercraft is expecteted to return from a mission, while a missile doesn't have to, the vehicle would have noticably higher number of maneuver thrusters that allows it to make sharp direction changes allowed in a newtonian environment. The maneuver thrusters of an orbital missile will only be powerful enough to make minor course corrections rather then drastic turns and curves, that is if the weapon designer want's the maximum amount of DeltaV thats economically possible for that design to reach its target.

Add in a cluttered and "dirty" orbital environment, both physical and political, and the potential for the missile to miss its target despite lock on will be high. Potentially just as high as with atmospheric missiles with orbital debris and habitats taking the place of terrestrial landscapes for a skilled pilot to shake the missile off using maneuvers that could only be dreamed by conventional fighter pilots.

That or just do a full 180 and shoot the blasted thing off its tail. Whichever works.

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ElAntonius said...

I think we can classify missiles one of two ways:

1) Massive acceleration, but low delta-v. A skilled pilot might be a able to dodge one, but the best pilots simply position themselves so that there's never an ideal launch vector in the first place.

2) Roughly as capable as a typical spacecraft. IIRC, it's pretty trivially shown that you cannot really dodge these in space.

The thing is, building what amounts to unmanned fighters to try and ram other fighters may be a great tactic for general warfare, where it's win at all costs. But I suspect that scenario 1 missiles will rule the roost, for the most part, given considerations of cost and the type of missions fighters would undertake 90% of the time.

Also, a type 1 missile is probably a great way of defeating a type 2 missile, so I think we'll mostly see combat spacecraft using type 1, with type 2 being used for high value targets.

Elukka said...

Combine 1 & 2 and make a two-stage missile. High Isp engine to get there, high thrust for the final push.
If you want initial high thrust to get it going, strap some chemical boosters on as stage 0 or shoot it out of a coilgun.

ElAntonius said...

Well, combining 1 & 2 gives you the unmanned missile bus, really the space vehicle that replaces the fighter altogether in open, classical warfare.

Honestly, however, at the closer ranges we're talking about right now, a locked missile is almost absolutely a kill. All the drama will be in "lining up the shot", because any reasonably sized missile (compared to a fighter) won't really have the propellant to dance around forever.

(The following assumes no coilguns for delta-v boots on missiles)

Interestingly, the classic aerial dogfighting scenario is to line up a shot such that you're firing a missile into the target's space, that's almost a zero advantage.

If you fire a missile on a chase vector, it might end up expending all its propellant just trying to catch up...sure, it out accelerates the fighter, but the fighter has a better delta-v.

I think the best possible attack angle would be a perpendicular intercept, where the missile is fired from a right angle to the target's vector..."crossing the T" in space terms, almost.

Michael said...

I think the best possible attack angle would be a perpendicular intercept, where the missile is fired from a right angle to the target's vector..."crossing the T" in space terms, almost.

I don't see why this is the case. The target is at an advantage at that point. It stays on course, and the missile has to chase it down from behind. If the missile was anti-parallel, however, the target must change course (burning remass to do so), the missile fragments will do more damage against the target if they hit, and the target has less time to react to the missile.

So the position of advantage for a fighter is "leading" the target (ahead of the target's vector). The trailing fighter's missile approaches the lead position at (missile acceleration - lead acceleration), while the leader's missile approaches the trailing position at (missile acceleration + trailing acceleration).

It's worth noting that if neither vessel is accelerating, there is no advantageous position, so two equal fighters in open space probably just stay away from each other. The tactical aspect is sliding your fighter into leading position long enough to get a lock and missile launch, and clever enough that the target doesn't see you doing it. Or doesn't have a choice.

Sabersonic said...

"I think the best possible attack angle would be a perpendicular intercept, where the missile is fired from a right angle to the target's vector...'crossing the T' in space terms, almost." ElAntonius

Such tactics reminds one of famous naval battles that involve Penteconter and Triremes successor crafts where one wants to "cross the T" to focus the ram against the broadside of an enemy warship. Only difference is that there's an added third dimension, spacecraft can turn on a dime when not under thrust, and ramming one manned craft against another isn't the most sane tactic.

Though, for the tactic of firing upon an enemy craft's six would probably be the domain of Directed Energy Weaponry (DEW) such as lasers and particle beams. Then again, it does beg the question of what's to prevent the attackee orbital guncraft from turning off the engine and just rotate 90 degrees towards the missile attack and just fire away. It does lead to the question of how the attaker overcome that little newtonian trick.

In an ideal "dog fighting" environment, the orbital infrastructure can be used as cover for the guncraft to maneuver close enough to the target craft with limited detection as possible before performing an attack run that is close enough to deny the target the chance to face the attack head on and shoot down or maneuver out of the incomming missle/Kinetic Energy attack.

In a "clean" orbital enivronment for this dogfight, the best solution is through quanity rather than quality to overwhelm the target craft and ensure that at least one of the warheads reach it target. This does lead to one to postulize the popularity of Macross Missile Massacre tactics and weapon systems. Though one can make the logical leap in asking why should an orbital fighter spend so much deltaV to cross the path of the target craft just to launch a missile when the momentum alone would be enough to justify mine dispersion systems that drops a mine within that path that the attackee screams bloody murder as they crash into it.

Granted, missiles and/or mines would cause additional orbital debris that would just cause trouble in the forseeable future in that orbital trajectory that'll take orbital janitors some lenght in time to clear and collect safely. It would probably be more ideal to just disable/mission kill the target craft with high accuracy DEW systems then to outright destroy it.

Though now that I think of it, what's the justification of adding windows to any orbital assault craft instead of cameras, radar and other such sensors? After all, windows don't block or even slow down the amount of radiation the onboard crew/pilot will accumulate during the flight. Ideally one would want to limit the amount of radiation exposure as much as possible while in orbit, or at least keep it down to safe levels.

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Thucydides said...

Trying to handwave a justification for a "fighter" is pretty difficult, but here is another go:

Fighters are lightweight, high thrust/high ISP craft tasked to intercept enemy torch missiles. Their light weight is a function of tapping beamed energy from the base for propulsion, so the fighter is a gauzy creation of mirrors and metamaterial disks to focus the beam onto the receiver and blast the remass into a focused stream of plasma.

Enemy torch missiles are stripped down ORIONs capable of 100 G acceleration, and simply slam into the target at high velocity delivering a Gigatonne of kinetic energy, enough to demolish an Island 3, planetary base or deflect an asteroid and damage or destroy any installations on or in the asteroid. (The bus only weighs about 3 tons after burnout, but can cover 15 million kilometers in @ 5 hours).

The purpose of the fighter is to move across the calculated vector of the torch missile and lay down a carpet of sand, ball bearings or mines far enough from the target to demolish the missile and create a dispersed cloud of missile parts.

"Why don't they just use the beam to intercept the missile?" asks Capt Starbuck. The beam is limited in power and duration (the base fusion generators and heat sinks are only so large), so using the beam to sweep clouds of smaller debris rather than try to burn the singular missile bus has a greater chance of success.

Fighters don't blast away from the base to do an intercept (torch missiles are much too fast), but rather fly "CAPs" near the limit of power beam dispersion. Other analogues to modern day aircraft in this scenario: an AWACS ship provides early warning and targeting information to the fighters, an ECM/EW ship to try and confuse enemy missiles and penetration aids, and a tanker to supply remass for extended patrols (although in space they could also swap out crews, provide on site repairs and so on, more of a supply ship rather than just a tanker).

The job of the squadron commander is to calculate the minimum amount of energy usage for the maximum patrol coverage (the beam might actually be off or running at a fraction of rated power much of the time), and to try to ensure there are no holes for the enemy to exploit.

The attacker is coming in the equivalent of a missile cruiser, and must try to find an approach vector which has minimal coverage, or to try to overwhelm the defender with more torches than the defense can deal with. Of course the friendly Navy also has missile cruisers, which are either lurking in their own target box, or in position to blast enemy cruisers with their torch missiles.

As technology improves, the power and efficiency of the beam generator gradually increases to the point where the beam alone can perform the job on its own, and fighters gradually are withdrawn from service to hang in the Lunar Smithsonian annex, or be mounted on pylons near the airlocks of military bases. A very few lucky collectors might restore and operate them for personal satisfaction and to do the flypast at space shows.

Citizen Joe said...

I bet a Russian Nesting Doll model would work. Start with the mother ship. This could be an actual carrier or an asteroid or a hunk of ice moving through space. Once the vectors/delta-V's/sphere of influence line up, the fighters launch with their own vectors relative to the mother ship. The fighters deploy as a constellation and then deploy drones as well. The drones then move in for the kill, either as kinetic impactors or as laser platforms. Since everything is networked, killing one fighter just means that its drones get retasked to another fighter. This could go even further if some of the kinetics burst into clouds of debris.

Meanwhile, everything is moving relative to its initial vector, so clean up is a little easier. Once the danger has passed, you're still moving close to the same vector as the mother ship so that it is relatively easy to recapture your fighters.

Rick said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
nqdp said...

Thucydides: You've been arguing in favor of powering fighters by beaming energy to them. I'm sure that this is a realistic way to power them, but I'm wondering how the fighters would maneuver.

Do they tell the mothership that they're going to make a course correction several seconds before they actually do, so that the mothership can re-aim the beam?

Or are they close enough to the mothership that the beam can track the fighter in real time? In which case, why doesn't the mothership just zap the bad guys directly?

Or is there something else I'm not thinking of? Maybe all your fighters have ansibles?

Rick said...

I do like 'gunship' as an alternative to 'fighter.' It's just as good from popcorn perspective, sounding appropriately badass - you can never go wrong with 'gun' as first syllable.

And it pulls the reader/viewer somewhat away from the airplane stereotype. Helos are just as un-spaceship-like in reality as fixed wing planes, but on a superficial level hovering, flying backwards, and turning on a dime all have a bit of space-like flavor.

On another note, I'm tempted to ban links to TV Tropes, because that place is such an efficient destroyer of time. But I'd end up violating my own rule, which would be embarrassing.

VonMalcolm said...

When you absolutely need something specific blown up in a cluttered space environment: The Space Kamikaze.

Any thoughts its potential use/effectiveness?

Thucydides said...

In the scenario I'm thinking of, the fighter makes lazy orbits around the base while doing the CAP, so beam control during patrols is pretty easy.

When the incoming missile is picked up, the information is transmitted to the fighter and the beam station, allowing the fighter to move into the path of the missile and drop its weapons load of ball bearings or mines.

Even with beam power we are still talking about a space fighter, not an "X-wing" or "Viper". The pilot might pull a few "G" accelerating from the CAP orbit to the attack vector, but then he might actually coast the rest of the way. A small self contained engine will be provided for course adjustments or to limp home if the beam is lost, but not for primary power.

As for the beam; it is strong enough to power the fighter (since the fighter has mechanisms to focus the beam), but not powerful enough to deal with a 3 ton torch missile bus. If the bus hits the cloud of debris the fighter lays down, the kinetic energy will convert the missile into a cloud of smaller fragments. A fraction will be moving clear of the target, and the remainder will be smaller and lighter; the beam can be used as a laser broom to divert them away from the base.

ElAntonius said...

The idea of "crossing the T" is more in terms of leading the target, firing a missile along a vector that intersects with where the target will be.

The target then has a sphere of space where they can place themselves by accelerating in any direction, and I suspect that the missile would have no trouble matching any movement in that sphere.

Note that I'm not caring about where the spacecraft is pointed, since that's relatively unimportant in space, but rather, what direction it's traveling in.

I imagine any effort to dodge a missile would need to be combined with "blinding" it somehow, if only momentarily. Complex environments will help with that, as well.

Bryan said...

I'm a little late joining the party - excellent discussion, as per usual.

I agree with most posters here that the need for "fighters" varies greatly upon the situation. But one situation that may be more universal, where "conventional fighters" (i.e. 1-2 man, small, limited range, etc) are needed, are ones where limited atmospheric capacity are needed.

Even if you're just skimming along the upper atmosphere, a degree of aerodynamics will be needed (i.e. no dangling appendages). Likewise, smaller craft will be practical due to the short times between points A and B (a few hours max in LEO), and the relative cost/difficulties of building large ships strong enough to engage in those kinds of activities. Needing a human is, as always, a bit of hand-waving, but maybe in the future humans are cheaper and more expendable then the really good AI's.

One idea I've been playing with is the idea of a weak-ish orbital society in conflict with an earth-based power. The earthly forces are going to have to boost into orbit, and unless things change dramatically by then, will be at their weakest during that boost (large rockets being no-so-maneuverable, plus being somewhat flammable). In such a situation it would be in the orbital societies best interests to intercept during their opponents launch, or while their opponents are accelerating into orbit.

Heck, this may even work for the movies - the rebel orbital colony detects massive launches coming from their earthly overlords territory. They jump in their fighters and scream into the atmosphere at full throttle, nailing part of the enemy fleet as it climbs into orbit. Of course, a few bad guys make it through, so the rebel fighters bounce back into LEO (maybe even using some kind of ramjet - with afterburners of course, for the nice flame effects) and race around the earth, trying to intercept the enemy before they get in firing range of the colony...

...Of course there still are 2 big issues with this situation:

1) If you can do it with a fighter you can do it with missiles, and probably do it for less money as well.
2) You're still going to need a hell of a computer, to hit rockets as you fly by at Mach 25...

Michael said...

El Antonius-

I admit that the orientation of the nose of the gunship is not necessarily significant, but I was trying to make a point about acceleration. If there ever is combat between two gunships, it will be because one is trying to do something, and the other is trying to stop it. Objectives like this almost always require movement, which requires acceleration.

It should be possible to identify a variety of possible paths of acceleration required for the target to carry out its mission. My conjecture is that the interdicting craft will be in the most advantageous position if it is in "front" of the optimal acceleration path of its target.

KevinC said...

I'm probably gonna get creamed for this, but I want to try and accomplish the impossible: namely, to argue that "space fighters" will be the primary space combat platform for the foreseeable future.

The key to this scenario is the idea that exporting industrial depth from Earth to space will prove to be very difficult, in terms of economics if not technology. The problem with boosting heavy industry from Earth is that it's heavy, and you have to lift out a lot of it before you have the industrial depth to start strip-mining Mars or turning asteroids into giant space colonies with golf courses.

Any attempt to start a Space Mine and Manufacturing Concern has to compete with mines and factories on Earth. If you want to use your SM&MC to build a spacecraft or habitat from space materials, you have to factor the costs of hefting heavy mining machinery, steel mills, and factory robots out of Earth orbit into the costs of your final product. In addition, much of this heavy machinery will be experimental, since it's being used in environments unlike the Earth, where our familiar industrial technologies were developed. While it could be beneficial in the long run to pay up and build the industrial depth in space, corporations and governments aren't prone to thinking in the long term, especially if the long term benefits will accrue to somebody else.

So, there will be a long period where spacecraft and habitats are manufactured on Earth and shipped into space or their target destination (NEO, asteroid, planet, moon) for assembly. Industrial depth will accumulate slowly (as it did on Earth), and it will be a long time before anyone is churning out giant space cruisers from local materials.

In this period, space settlements will consist of Tin Can Habs which are supported by relatively large crewed Supply Ships equipped with high-performance drives (nuclear-thermal, VASIMR, fusion...). There may also be un-crewed "slow boats" lobbed toward settlements on Hohmann transfer orbits and containing inert supplies (wrenches, water, pickaxes, etc.), but once the prospect of hostilities arises these could become targets for "piracy" or "privateering." The Supply Ship is a high-performance vessel able to bring supplies and crew more quickly, and it can be defended against attack.

I'm guessing that a Supply Ship would have to be fairly large, comparable in size to the International Space Station. If so, it, like the ISS, would be incredibly expensive, and perhaps take decades to build. It would not be something one would want to risk in combat. Even if it could be armed (and putting heavy weapons on it takes up precious carrying capacity), it would be comparable to the king in chess. You lose a Supply Ship, you lose.

Let's say the Atlantic Union, the Eurasian Federation, and the Southern Hemispheric Alliance are engaged in a rivalry for control of space. Nobody can afford to build a heavily-armored laser star. Taking into account that it took the resources of all of Earth's major space powers (except China) to build the ISS, each of these future alliances will only have a tiny handful of Supply Ships at most.

More to come. Sorry 'bout the length.

KevinC said...

Part II:

What's needed is a combat platform that's small, light, relatively cheap and replaceable. Perhaps something that can be manufactured at space outposts by base crews mining with pickaxes and shovels and chucking pieces of ore into a workshop furnace, with the resulting metals shaped into parts by a workbench fab. Light industry.

Some of these can be robot drones and missile buses, but since manufacturing capacity is very limited and each "cheap" craft is still very expensive, it's best to go with something that's adaptable to whatever your needs might be--cluttered environments, ambiguous capture situations, and so on. So, apart from human-level A.I., you'll want it to carry a canned ape (more likely a small crew). Voila! The Space Fighter! Or Gunship!

If gunships can be "kit-built" (like small planes can be today) by outpost crews, a well-developed outpost would be able to produce a defensive squadron, with the difficult-to-make components (computers, lasers, coilguns…) shipped from Earth. Given practical suspended animation and maybe the ability to build an Engine With Tanks that can carry a squadron or more of gunships to combat range and bring them back after the battle, the base might be able to project power with its squadron. The EWT would represent a huge investment for the base, so it would have to be kept out of combat.

Tactics would look something like this: Supply Ships or EWT's carry gunships most of the way to battle, then launch them. The SS/EWT then pulls away to achieve standoff distance. The gunships engage one another. If one party of gunships is victorious, they have the option of re-uniting with their SS/EWT and using its superior delta-V to pursue the enemy SS/EWT. Even if the defeated Supply Ship has point defense guns, a bag of ball bearings can still ruin its whole day, so it's in the interest of the ship and its governing power to light engines and escape as soon as the gunship battle is lost.

Surviving defeated gunships are thus abandoned. Barring a do-or-die attitude, they can extend radiators, drop weapon pods and surrender, while using what delta-V they have to position themselves for pickup by the victor. The victor can, for the price of some remass, score some new gunships. The enemy pilots can be saved for the next prisoner exchange. Since trained pilots lifted from Earth are also very, very expensive, such prisoner exchanges would arguably be worthwhile for both sides. The capturing power benefits from a reputation for treating prisoners well by providing incentive for defeated pilots to surrender and turn over their gunships, and for rival powers to recover its own pilots.

Bonus: Chivalry! In an extended conflict, we might even have scenes where enemy pilots know each other well (have romances?) from time spent on enemy bases as P.O.W.’s. Like Wile E. Coyote and the Sheep Dog. "Hiya Fred." "Hiya Sam."

The high value of manufactured goods in space (especially anything with sophisticated sensors, avionics, targeting computers, any drive better than basic chemfuel rockets, and anything that’s Big--i.e. stuff that has to be built on Earth) provides a strong economic incentive to favor "disable-and-capture" over "spreading cloud of debris." A whole craft is much easier for "space junk clean-up crews" to track and recover than a spreading cloud of tiny, lethal pieces. This provides a reason to make space weapons smaller and less destructive. Such "weakness" also makes the weapons lighter, which extends the range of the craft they're on.

KevinC said...

Part III:

Taking this military doctrine to an extreme, we might even have boarding parties fighting with swords (yes, swords!) since frangible rounds can be rendered useless by armor and regular bullets or laser shots flying around in a Supply Ship or Tin Can Hab could destroy what you're trying to capture. Perhaps a “sword Geneva Convention” could be signed after kids in a Hab die from decompression following a machine-gun-and-bazooka shootout. Or more hopefully, before. Microgravity Swordfights! In! Spaaace! Like something out of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon!

One more advantage of this model of space combat is that it keeps capital ships from battling it out in Earth orbit or on Earthbound trajectories. Since a crashed laser star dreadnought (or big pieces of it) would likely cause a mushroom cloud wherever it went down (if only from its kinetic energy), a laser star would be considered a WMD, and using one in combat would be the equivalent of launching a ballistic missile in the Cold War.

Gunships would look a lot less threatening to the Earth if they were employed in Earth-Moon space, and they could be countered by scramjet Aerospace Fighters if they got too close.

We might even imagine a scenario from the twilight of the Gunship Era: after industrial depth has slowly accumulated, gunship forces are more numerous, and someone finally has the resources to build the first crude laser star in a space shipyard. It’s early days, so the laser star only has the size and power to sport one whacking great laser, plus a point-defense system and hitherto unprecedented armor while carrying a modest gunship force. It’s used to ruthlessly destroy the Alderaan Hab and intimidate the Solar System into submission. Our band of hardy Rebels rises to the occasion, and they mount up in their gunships to destroy the terror. They take heavy losses, but thanks to successful espionage efforts, they know where the laser star’s armor is weakest, and they’re able to destroy it just before it strikes again. Though, I’m assuming that in a Realistic scenario, no one would design an exhaust port that, if hit, would destroy the most expensive space weapon system ever built. At least not without welding a steel grate over the thing.

The few surviving gunship pilots (and the Lovable Scoundrel who piloted the salvaged-and-souped-up old Smuggler Supply Ship that came and retrieved them) are hailed as heroes, but the writing’s on the wall. Military planners for all the major powers start ordering the construction if bigger and better laser stars, missile buses and the rest, and the role of the gunship shrinks until it’s confined to cluttered environments. People look back fondly on the noble and chivalrous days of the gunship, before the ruthless, robotic efficiency of computer-targeted Massive Weapons of Stupendous Range ushered in a new era of soulless modern warfare.

So: does this work, or am I about to get beat up by a brutal gang of facts?

ElAntonius said...

It works, seeing as it's a logical application of the economic rationalization for space fighters (we build space fighters because laser stars are too expensive).

I suspect we're agreeing :P. The only reason I suspect a head on attack would be less ideal than a right angle intercept is that the head on attack gives the defender the opportunity to "turn inside" the missile's trajectory.

But yes, the advantaged attacker will always be "ahead" of the defender, because you require less delta-v from your missile that way. It's not dogfighting as we picture it in atmosphere, but it does mean we have a meaningful tactical geometry to discuss.

ElAntonius said...

KevinC -
I should say I don't necessarily agree that the gunship would ever fade in that scenario, but then I tend to vehemently disagree with the laserstar being a dominant force. Superweapons have the inconvenient habit of being in the wrong place to be useful.

RE, swords in spaaaaaace. Swinging a sword in freefall is going to be awkward. You won't get much out of it except swinging your whole body in the opposite direction.

I tend not to think that hostile boarding actions will be all that common. It's easier to force a surrender from outside the target, then send your boarding party in with a big bomb. Secure the crew, send the ship back to base, and that's the end of it.

By that token, I suspect most "weapons" in space are going to be repurposed tools, rather than dedicated weaponry. Wrenches and plasma cutters, rather than swords and plasma rifles.

Michael said...

While I see shotguns as the more likely low penetration weapon than swords, I'm not sure swords wouldn't work in zero G. In fencing, as with most combat sports that I'm even vaguely familiar with, footwork is everything. In zero-g, however, the footwork involved might be using your high traction booties and free hand to get leverage from your surroundings, in addition to getting proper distance from the opponent.


Economic reasons for space fighters are the Best reasons for space fighters, because they don't need follow the laws of physics, and they have historically determined what wars are fought with far more frequently than those pesky laws of physics.

Michael said...

El Antonius-

I think you are correct if the missile is mismatched with the target. I think that a missile designed for "dogfight" situations, which is the sort I'll argue gunships will be armed with if they are expecting close range encounters, then the missile can turn and burn just as well as the target, and doesn't want to give the target time to use its (possibly) superior deltaV to outrun the missile.

ElAntonius said...

You're correct. A missile that is roughly as capable as the ship it targets will always hit, because it doesn't have to worry about coming home or carrying a crew (delta-v, acceleration advantage).

I picture a "dogfighting" missile to be an inexpensive solid booster, very high acceleration but low delta-v, with some sensors that allow target tracking.

Defensively, if one is launched at you:
Option 1-Blow it out of the sky before it hits you.

Option 2-Blind/Distract it so it can't immediately follow your jink, hopefully forcing it off course just enough so that it can't follow you. I kind of like this one since it makes dodging missiles a bit more believable in space, but in short timeframes it would be pretty tense. (IE, you blind the missile just long enough to mask your maneuver, then bite your lip as you hope it runs out of fuel before it can fully compensate).

Here's a general relatively close ranges, would certain thruster designs have a blinding effect? I'm thinking of something like an Orion spacecraft...would firing its main thruster have any chance of overwhelming the sensors on inbound spacecraft?

Luke said...

The problem with swords as weapons in boarding actions is that the losing side has nothing to lose by breaking out the shotguns, and in a flight, shotguns beat swords by a wide margin.

In addition to the benefits of any firearm over melee weapons, shotguns have many advantages. They can achieve a variety of effects just by switching ammunition - low penetration buckshot can be replaced by foster slugs if the bad guys are wearing body armor. A variety of less-than-lethal ammunition have been developed even in modern times (beanbag rounds, baton rounds, rubber buckshot, Taser rounds), for suppressing riots and uppity enlisted men. Special breaching rounds are available for blowing locks. If body armor that resists slugs is worn, you could probably get a Munroe-effect grenade that could fit in a shotshell. Shotguns are also easy to use in close quarters battles while still giving you the option of attacking at significant ranges, and have a lot of stopping power.

That said, in practice the ammunition capacity of an assault carbine makes them more desirable in modern close quarters battles - this may be true in the future as well.

If you do need to go hand to hand, there are weapons I imagine would be better than swords. In close quarters, knives are less bulky and are good for inc-close grappling and stabbing, without the requirements of space on either side or above for a good swing (Kendo-style) or enough space in front of you to hold a thrusting sword en garde. Without traction as supplied by gravity, the footwork associated with swordwork cannot be used, and attackers are likely to grab and stab, favoring shorter blades. A knife can be used to cut air hoses of an enemy's hostile environment suit, making them useful even against armored foes.

More exotic hand-to-hand weapons might include powerheads up to HEAT grenades-on-a-stick for punching through heavy boarding armor. HEAT warheads have the advantage that the shaped charge jet disperses after a couple meters or less, so that after punching a hole though a trooper it will not also punch through a bulkhead and smash the life support,

Thucydides said...

If we are going into boarding parties, the weapon of choice would have to be the AA-12 automatic shotgun with a 28 round drum magazine.

The breaching party will have a load of "Frag-12" grenades in their weapon, while the remainder of the assault party can load out with flechettes, 00 Magnum buckshot, breaching rounds for the locks, and less than lethal rounds to control prisoners.

Sightlines would be pretty short inside a hab or the built up structures inside an Island 3, so a reflex type sight should do. Perhaps a computerized sight to compensate for Coriolis forces inside a rotating hab would be a common accessory, and most firearms would have gas ports or muzzle brakes to reduce recoil forces on the shooter.

Secondary weapons might include "Gyrojet" style rocket pistols and carbines, large bore weapons with low velocity rounds (similar to flare guns) with various ammunition, cattle prods or other shock weapons for "up close and personal", or extensible batons if shock weapons are not desirable.

The assaulting party would also carry damage control equipment to rapidly patch up holes and reconnect wires after a firefight. and the equivalent of the police ballistic shield would also be useful.

Since any firefight would be 3 dimensional, some sort of locating equipment to find the location of enemy shooters would also be in order.

On the other hand, since this equipment is so valuable and expensive, the proper way to board and seize it would be to insert the Impossible Mission Force (cue self destructing USB flash drive and music, please).

Rick said...

KevinC makes a very good point about the economic dimension - I could easily see gunships, manned or otherwise, as the only true purpose built warcraft.

Thanks a bunch, Thucydides, for making me feel like a fossil. I still remember when the Impossible Mission Force got its instructions from a reel to reel tape recorder. :->

At least I don't remember the version in which it was parchment that automatically burst into flame ...

Thucydides said...

Thanks a bunch, Thucydides, for making me feel like a fossil. I still remember when the Impossible Mission Force got its instructions from a reel to reel tape recorder. :->

Well you did say you enjoyed history...;)

I found an interesting historical Space Fighter (or more accurately aerospace fighter) in "Fantastic Plastic", the FDL-6 experimental spaceplane. This was more wedge shaped than the Navy's High Performance Spaceplane (which was a simple cone), and could be launched from the Space Shuttle as well as various boosters. Once again, no manned versions of the FDL series was ever built or flown (so far as is known).

In this time continuum, Boeing has launched the XB-37 unmanned spaceplane on its first test flight. While it is much smaller than the Space Shuttle, there is no particular reason that this sort of airframe could not be built as a manned spacecraft (although as an unmanned platform it has up to 9 months endurance in space). With its ability to loiter in space for extended periods and manoeuvre in the atmosphere, this could also become the basis for a gunship/fighter.

Michael said...

"Defensively, if one is launched at you:
Option 1-Blow it out of the sky before it hits you.

Option 2-Blind/Distract it so it can't immediately follow your jink, hopefully forcing it off course just enough so that it can't follow you."

This is what I thought also, which is why I proposed that the optimal attack is the one with the shortest time of flight. To elaborate on what ElAntonius suggested above, I see a missile attack/evasion looking something like this:

1.) Missile Lock/Launch
2.) Detection of Lock/Launch by target.
3.) Wide angle countermeasures and evasive maneuvers while sensors track incoming missile.
4.) Once a firing solution is attained, point defense kills the missile (this might be kinetic weapons blowing it apart or laser weapons permanently blinding it).

Basically everything you do is an attempt to increase the time to impact, giving your antimissile defenses that much more time to deal with the incoming missile.

ElAntonius said...

Hmm, evasive maneuvering, optimal launch vectors, justification for small manned craft, tactical geometry affecting the result of a fight...

I think we have our fighters :). What's interesting to note is that we haven't come up with F-16s in space, but I can easily picture some pretty tense battle scenes on board a gunship.

As for shotguns: in the close confines of a spaceship/hab, yeah, a shotgun might reign supreme. On the other hand, mass is precious and I don't know if spacecraft will want to waste much of it on carrying around a bunch of rifles and bullets of varying types.

ElAntonius said...

As a side note:
Independence War is apparently now available on Good Old Games ( for $5.99

I haven't purchased it so I have no idea how or if they resolved any outstanding compatibility issues with newer PCs, but the company prides itself on re-issuing old games with whatever it takes to work on new systems.

I'd highly recommend anyone with an interest in space combat games to check it out...
Newtonian Physics! The player DOESN'T pilot a fighter, but rather a multi-crew corvette!

Elukka said...

ElAntonius, coincidentally, every Soyuz carries a multifunctional three-barreled gun!
Information is somewhat scarce, but try googling for Soyuz gun.

ElAntonius said...

Well, what do you know.

Learn something new every day.

The rationalization is interesting, considering that it really has no modern day utility, so it seems like a good case of hairy chested machismo defeating common sense.

Then again, that's how space war REALLY starts :)

Cityside said...

Actually, the helicopter analogy raises some interesting possibilities. Some powers could prefer separate shooters and toters, while other might take the combo approach, producing the orbital equiv. of an Mi-24.

Byron said...

On guns in space, I spent some time thinking about this. There are a number of issues, and I can't say how I'd solve them without more specific parameters. However, there are some things that might be important.
1. Versatility: I can't carry too many different weapons.
2. Enclosed environment: Noise and gases are going to be a problem in a spacecraft. If fired a lot, I could see the propellant gases being bad for humans.
3. Zero-G: You don't want too much recoil, as a shotgun has a lot more than a pistol, and might make it hard to control. While you're unlikely to send yourself spinning, you will mess up your aim.
4. Lethality: Avoid punching holes in the bulkheads. That might be hard if your enemies have body armor.
There are several possible solutions, and I'll touch on two.
1. Use a similar system to a shotgun, but operating like the S4M pistol. This would trap the gas and noise, and, if the piston is part of the gun, the charges and rounds could be fed separately, allowing multiple types to be loaded and switched, somewhat similar to the BRG-15. A large bore could be used to give a wide range of payload options, and the multiple magazines would give options based on the enemy.
2. A weapon similar to a SMG, but firing even smaller, lighter, frangible rounds. Each round has little effect on body armor or the hull, but if held in the same spot, it can chew through.
The problem with the hull issue is the thickness of the hull. On the ship I designed, the outer hull was .5mm titanium, which wouldn't stop much.
Sorry about the long post, but I'm something of a firearms geek.

Anonymous said...

How about a fully automatic shotgun? Make it an over-and-under design, both barrels dual feed through detacthable tube-magazines; a selector would allow you to fire upto 4 different types of rounds, all from one weapon. Customs inspectors (or their Commando escorts) could be armed with these.

The overwatch gunship could be armed with lasers, rail guns, missiles, and a morter, or two, firing non-nuclear EMP rounds (perhaps directional), all designed to inflict ever increasing levels of damage.


Byron said...

Not a bad idea, but the recoil would be brutal. A 12-gauge has about three time the recoil of a .45 (I can't be more precise, as my collection of firearms information is failing.) However, at that point, the recoil becomes a problem, particularly if you're using it on full auto.

Luke said...

I am a bit dubious about fully automatic shotguns. The ammo just masses too much. Full auto works well for small calibers where packing several hundred rounds (split up among a few magazines of 30 each) is practical. This generally means guns firing lightweight projectiles at high velocity. Shotguns are low pressure firearms that launch heavy projectiles at moderate velocity, so the ammo is quite weighty. Even in zero-G, packing around extra mass is cumbersome.

Then there's the recoil. Single shots from a shotgun in zero-G should be handleable. Full auto, even if it didn't send the fighter spinning, would make keeping a burst on the target well nigh impossible.

Now a semi-auto shotgun would be quite useful. This despite the coolness of a pump action. You might get something like those Benelli's that can switch between pump and semi-auto - a lot of low velocity, less-than-lethal rounds do not develop enough pressure to cycle a semi-auto action, so you need to cycle them manually. Throw in a selector to choose between two or three different magazines and you would have a nice weapon for shipboard defense/boarding actions.

(Side note: My dad used to have a semi-auto shotgun that had an annoying habit of going full auto when least expected. Pull the trigger and it would cycle through the entire magazine in about a second. This is not a particularly desirable feature for hunting ducks or pheasants.)

For practical shotgun-launched grenades, you probably need to increase the blast power of explosives by a factor of 4 or so. From what I've heard, even the hyped Frag-12 grenades are not particularly effective. Modern explosives might make a shotgun launched HEAT grenade useful for penetrating armored environment suits, even if they can't handle area effect, antipersonnel roles.

Byron said...

But then you have the issue of said HEAT rounds missing. I kind of lean towards option 2, which means that each projectile is less lethal, but can penetrate in bursts.

Thucydides said...

We are moving from space fighters to space fighting, with heavy emphasis on boarding parties. Jointed boarding pikes and carronades firing grapeshot will have to become standard ship equipment at this rate!

Automatic weapons are rarely used in "full auto" mode despite what you see in the movies. Even machine guns are fired in short bursts to allow the gunner to correct his aim and prevent the weapon overheating. A weapon like the AA-12 has a fully automatic fire mode, but this would only be used at short range to prevent the position from being overrun. An automatic weapon favours the defender, while the attacker can either try to overwhelm the defender by using a high rate of fire to suppress the position, or employ snipers to engage and eliminate each defender in turn. in a chaotic 3D firefight, a single blast of a shotgun may be more effective than a bust of fire from an assault rifle.

Since size and mass are important considerations in space travel, I don't see the development of heavy crew served weapons or weapons platforms like artillery or tanks, some sort of exoskeleton equipped infantry or Marine force will have to do the job.

Perhaps the best description of a fighting in a large colony scenario I have read is Greg Bear's "Eon", with the heaviest weaponry being the equivalent of an uparmoured HMMVW mounting a heavy machinegun. Modern infantry with man portable ATGM's like Javelin or Spike would be able to deal with this and reduce strong points to rubble, although a prepared defender will probably have a bigger stockpile of weapons than the attacker can carry.

ElAntonius said...

All boarding actions and planetary assault actions HEAVILY favor the defender.

One defender tactic I can think of is a gun on rails, which can be moved to respond to internal threats and has no worries with recoil. Lasers could then tap into the ship's internal supply, and guns could simply carry an extensive ammunition supply in their train.

Such a system could even be controlled from a secure position within the ship if it couldn't be automated.

This is all assuming that the defender doesn't just have the capacity to space any hostile boarders.

As for planetary assault...well, one side has big guns, fortifications, and a comparatively much larger reservoir of trained men and supplies. It isn't the attacker.

Planetary assaults will always be won or lost from orbit, I think (either force a surrender, slag the planet, or get wiped out in orbit). The most we'll see is some commando style raids on high value targets.

Going back to the rail idea, for a minute...a small supply rail on board larger ships strikes me as a frightfully good idea, especially in freefall. It keeps items where you expect them to be, and provides a safer path for transporting objects than just pushing them around in null-g.

Byron said...

While I have to agree on orbital assaults (for the most part), the rail/laser could be a problem. What if the ship's power goes down? I doubt people will put too much mass/effort into dealing with borders, for the same reasons modern navies don't. If they can board, you've lost. Actually, I think that any counterboarding weapons will be self-powered, as I'd never approach a ship that is hostile and has power. It'd be too easy to kill me. I have to agree on the colony weapons, however. Honestly, any orbital power (say Luna) will likely have a large Navy and a small Army, as they have the ultimate in a moat, and probably won't need to do a lot of heavy personal power projection. (IE a large army deployment).

Anonymous said...

Everyone is missing the point: The reason men kill other men is because we are too many, and we have no predators. Sorry bleeding hearts, but we are animals, and we are predators, and we do hunt each other.

Second point, fighters are simply force multipliers. Get an old copy of Star Fleet Battles. The original game was written by air force personnel that treated it like a real military. Starships are mobile habs. Fighters are weapons platforms and the computers to guide them.

AI will never be as intelligent as Bishop in Aliens because we all fear the Terminator. So it will be more of a stupid, limited, controllable AI. Even Data had an off button.

ElAntonius said...

Fair enough. I've said in the past that I don't think hostile boarding actions will be really used...force a surrender, then board "peacefully" with a big bomb to discourage them changing their mind, then securely fly the ship back to base where you take on the POWs.

The idea mostly came from the thought of having a light supply rail on board zero-g spacecraft, and a reckoning that a single heavy gun on a rail would be a better use of mass than a rifle for every crew member.

I don't think this blog has ever assumed an end to warfare...Rick just lamented in the calcium-rich supernova thread that we're much more apt to talk about man-made explosions.

The thing is, we're not discussing whether fighters as "mobile weapons platforms" are unrealistic...I think there's a generalized consensus that gunships are a possible weapon of the future.

What the argument centers on is the fact that barely habitable, short term spacecraft like fighters make no sense in the classic scenario.

Much of the previous discussion has centered on how something fighter-like might come to be and what it's mission is.

Rick said...

Welcome to another new commenter!

Space combat, on both tactical and strategic levels, massively favors the defender ... unless the attacker can afford to simply blow the defender away. The problem in the latter case is, broadly, that what goes around comes around, and everyone gets blown away.

Since that is not generally helpful as a strategy, there is strong pressure to deploy coercion selectively - which is what brings 'gunships' into play, and generally makes things more interesting in story terms than 'Everyone blows everyone up, the end.'

Arguments for the primal inevitably of war may be a valid reflection on the tragic human condition and the limitations of the primate house in producing an intelligent species, but it provides no very helpful guidance for the strategist, who like James Tiberius Kirk rejects the premise of the Kobayashi Maru scenario.

Anonymous said...

You know, looking at the picture at the top of the column, I'm reminded of why I dislike most Sci Fi spaceships is because they don't seem to have any heat management systems (i.e. radiators); while they do have a lot of glowing panels, (maybe those are the radiators?), they still seem like they would melt a few seconds after they turned on their engines, fired their weapons, or raised shields (could their shields radiate heat [outward]?); It makes me want to hear something like this..."Damn it, Scotty, we're losing power!" "They've shot off our number two radiator, Captain! The reactor is going into thermal shut-down! I canna change the laws of physics...!"


Anonymous said...

I was looking at the Nuclear Shaped Charge and it looks like if you use the example at Atomic Rockets(tm), you can extrapolate by using a Lithium faceplate and reducing its thickness to about one millimeter, you can get a "plasma pulse" that has an expansion rate of about 0.033 radians and a velocity of around 63,000 Km/s (21% c).
I'm not sure, but that seems like it would be like dropping the Empire State Building on you...pointy end first.


Lazertalon said...

4 hours later.

Ok so now that I have read all of the comments from here I have been wondering if anyone has taken into consideration fleet style settings

The pure space carrier fleet of the future as well stated is not a reliable solution as provided. But to not include it - especially for economic reasons - seems a little short sighted. The real development of space fighters seems more like a natural evolution of space combat.

Big government A comes up with Ultra-damaging I can blow you away from long rang system(beam/missile platform) i.e. a Battleship

Big other government B decides to create more smaller lighter ships so that will attack Big Gov A's ship in numbers so as to try to get to the target faster. Big Gov A responds by making smaller less costly ships to defend Big Gov A's Ultra-Kill-You-All weapon.

Big Gov B makes crafts smaller and smaller until Big Gov B has one man light assault craft to attack, in swarm-like masses, i.e. the anti-ship bomber.

Big Gov A makes smaller missile systems because swarm attacks overwhelm Battleship.

Big Gov B makes small attack craft to defend anti-ship Bomber
Big Gov A makes small attack craft to remove anti-ship Bombers defenses. i.e the fighter.

Next on AI
Some AI and drones will be better than others…
Unless AI can truly think at human levels it still can be fooled
Highly developed Combat computers can assist pilots in target acquisition, random jinking and getting into target range. At ranges higher than a light second beam weapons should be relatively useless against this kind of "Automatic Dodging". But that is still dependent on tech ( beam intensity, real range rate of fire, heat dissipation)

The Doll Method attack swarm seems relatively workable. When incorporated with "Corvette" class ships in addition to fighters it makes it damaging. Corvettes allow for a limited upgrade of weapon class availability, but if for economical reasons only are impractical to implement in the same masses as fighters.

Missile volleys can be countered with other volleys of missiles. This tactic is even better at short ranges. Small anti-missile missile platforms are great for this.

Targets for these little strikes may be as mundane as Com towers or generators. Minor engine damage etc..
But this has to be assuming that The Fleet is still making its assaults from Ultra-Long-I-Will-Kill-You-All range. This is just a tip of the missions from a fleet standing. Spine type defenses always suffer from the same problems, smaller size therefore easier to destroy, and limited firing angles.

Fighting done at super high speeds with fighters may be sillier. But maneuverability of smaller crafts with proper engines will almost always be better than those designed to move really fast in one direction.
Maneuvering into range of "confirmable kills" is going to be one of the arts of space warfare. The chess game will begin only after the enemy is spotted. This having been said, fighters rolls for scouting, EW and multi-purpose missions will affect their design.

Lazertalon said...


On EW and fighters

For every electronic there will, eventually, be an ECM
For every ECM there will become an ECCM
It is another manner of escalation. The point of the combatants and types of vehicles and weapons used are going to vary with resources, technology and good old fashion manpower. Fighters unlike general capital ships can be made in significantly smaller production areas, made faster, and resupplied or replaced faster. And with the proper anti-missile technology more cost effective than their missile brethren. Drones are much more susceptible to EW than human pilots, but with the proper combat programming should not be overlooked as options.

On gunships vs Fighters

Both have places and applications. It is merely choosing which is necessary in the area. In truth the fighter-gunship role sometimes is the same. In other instances, such as an Interceptor, they are not. BTW I don't think other that the use of the force I have ever heard of attacking an operational battle station with fighters only as anything but suicide (including the use of drones). Just my thoughts on it based on what people have said here and what I have been looking at.

Lazertalon said...

One more thing, If spacefighters are decided on as an element, special considerations need to be made to the tactics used. Every weapon of war starts one way until someone thinks of a way to use it better

Raymond said...

Forgive me for resurrecting the Zombie Thread; I only recently discovered this (thoroughly epic) site, and I've been playing catch-up.

I don't have the slightest complaint with the consensus about fighters in deep space. Interplanetary fleet battles (if anyone bothers to show up) are the domain of Huge Frickin Lasers and Macross Missile Massacres. Inside a planet's orbital sphere, however, there may be enough of a niche for our favorite photogenic jockeys to ply their trade and steal their audience's hearts.

(Incidentally, why are we not calling the orbital sphere by its technical term, characteristic energy (or better yet, C3)? Nice, clean dividing line between long-term orbital vectors and interlopers. Mathematics giving a sharp boundary to politics. And more representative of the edges where interplanetary commerce (or at least resupply) would take place.)

There are two elements which I haven't heard discussed much here with respect to fighters/gunships/lancers in orbital space: shadow shields, and spirals.

Large, high performance nuke electric drives designed for interplanetary travel (and warfare) are going to be stripped of their shielding except for the narrow angle which covers the rest of the ship. These are not craft you use to dock with anything friendly except under reserve power, reactor off. These are not craft you take close enough for the enemy to be far off that angle, either. Civilian craft (as well as military transports) will likely be fully shielded, with all the mass penalties that entails. The biggest, baddest laser stars, on the other hand, will be terribly unfriendly to approach from any angle except the (relative) front, which (as discussed elsewhere) will have a rather large laser. Ultimately not a good thing to have in LEO.

As for spirals, well, there's been much discussion of the clutter of orbit, and precious little of its curves.

The delta-v required to get from LEO to GEO and back is less than a one-way trip to Mars by Hohmann orbit. The cost of multiple large orbit changes within Earth's C3 without constant resupply means that large battlecraft are going to have engines similar (if not identical) to their interplanetary cousins. Which also means those large orbit changes are measured in days, and those trajectories are sweeping spirals moving through most of the battlespace. Bad Idea. And if the lasers are measured in mere handfuls of megawatts and hundreds of nanometers, they're not going to be able to reach down from geosynch and fry anything beginning a burn.

Chemfuel or nuke thermal, however, have burn times measured in minutes and transit times in hours, at least for less than lunar distances. Rick has remarked several times that there isn't any difference in the medium to justify the carrier/fighter divide - I would say it's here, in the engine tech and interception times.

So your gunships and bombers and lancers and interdictors have a place in the force projection game. And a niche for mobile supply depots for long-term hab, resupply and rearm, and moving across cislunar space or out to L4/L5 - here come the carriers. Moving between battlespaces, from close Earth orbit (geosynch and lower) to Lunar orbit to Lagrange point: these are your oceans. Striking from outside scorch range and boarding suspicious craft recently launched from the surface: these are your gunships. Dealing with enemy gunships before they get to optimal kinetic release range? There be fighters...

Raymond said...

Part 1/2

Forgive me for resurrecting the Zombie Thread; I only recently discovered this (thoroughly epic) site, and I've been playing catch-up.

I don't have the slightest complaint with the consensus about fighters in deep space. Interplanetary fleet battles (if anyone bothers to show up) are the domain of Huge Frickin Lasers and Macross Missile Massacres. Inside a planet's orbital sphere, however, there may be enough of a niche for our favorite photogenic jockeys to ply their trade and steal their audience's hearts.

(Incidentally, why are we not calling the orbital sphere by its technical term, characteristic energy (or better yet, C3)? Nice, clean dividing line between long-term orbital vectors and interlopers. Mathematics giving a sharp boundary to politics. And more representative of the edges where interplanetary commerce (or at least resupply) would take place.)

There are two elements which I haven't heard discussed much here with respect to fighters/gunships/lancers in orbital space: shadow shields, and spirals.

Large, high performance nuke electric drives designed for interplanetary travel (and warfare) are going to be stripped of their shielding except for the narrow angle which covers the rest of the ship. These are not craft you use to dock with anything friendly except under reserve power, reactor off. These are not craft you take close enough for the enemy to be far off that angle, either. Civilian craft (as well as military transports) will likely be fully shielded, with all the mass penalties that entails. The biggest, baddest laser stars, on the other hand, will be terribly unfriendly to approach from any angle except the (relative) front, which (as discussed elsewhere) will have a rather large laser. Ultimately not a good thing to have in LEO.

Raymond said...

Apologies for extra half-post - damn Blogger ghost errors...

Turbo10k said...

Damn bookmarking.

Turbo10k said...


Anonymous said...

My appologies if I've necro posted but I recently discovered Rocketpunk Manifesto and its various discussions, including this one on realistic space fighters.

I've been working on a space fighter off and on for awhile now. Though a bit out of date now, here is my idea for a near-future gunship, the Mk II Blue Gemini (known as the Gemini In Name Only, GINO).

From bottom to top you can see its propulsion module, service module command/re-entry module, and the tactical module.

The tactical module is launched on a Delta II rocket and the GINO flies on my fictional Agena rocket. The propulsion module is the Agena's upper stage and there is plenty of delta-v for maneuvering.

The gunship is manned for situations requiring human decision making, and if the situation is too dangerous, the GINO undocks the tactical module and flies it remotely, turning GINO into a mini space control ship. This is particularly helpful to have the GINO act as the SCS since comm sats are likely the first casualty of orbital war. Plus, GINO has lots of delta-v as I mentioned to push that tactical module around.

The TM is armed with Space Intercept Missiles (SIM-1A Python) and a good old-fashion M2 Browning "Ma Deuce" in spaaaaace! It may not actually work in spaaaaace but hey, it's science fiction! :)

And yes, you could simply fit the tactical module to the propulsion module and fly it that way, but then you'd have to rely on TDRSS sats when the craft is on the other side of the planet (and I am assuming that the US doesn't have global tracking stations for budget reasons since comm sats are doing the job well).

Rick said...

Welcome to the comment threads! No problem posting to older threads, though they do risk not getting noticed.

(I do encourage 'anonymous' posters to sign a name or handle. No huge thing, but it is easier to respond to someone with an identity.)

The use of a Gemini-like capsule as the basis makes this look more like an alternate-history spacecraft than a near future one. I'm also a bit puzzled by your reference to the 'fictional Agena rocket,' since Agena was a very real upper stage. (For all I know, updated versions are still in service, but I associate the name with the early space age.)

All of that said, it looks like a believable 1970 era military spacecraft, with a probable mission of armed inspection.

I don't know that I've ever before seen a proposal to mount a Browning on a spacecraft! I can't think of any reason it wouldn't work ... though you'd probably need special vacuum lubricants for it to work very long.

Thaw the Immaculate Barbarian said...

(No problem on the registered person thing. There we go, rcovered my Google Account). Yeah I should probably give a bit more background. There's a it of alternate history going on. The "fictional Agena" is named after the real-world Agena upper stage but in my fictional alternate/near-future history, a company called Wild Blue Industries created a commercial launcher and named it the Agena after the old upper stage. They're basically my fictional version of SpaceX.

The GINO was built in 1994 as a cheap alternative to another spacecraft I made, the YF-19A Saber (based on the X-20 DynaSoar), which turned out to be too expensive to produce. For my universe, the YF-19 was based on Shuttle technology, and when it proved to be too expensive, the USAF went for their backup plan, and the GINO is the result.

Here's some "baseball cards" I made of the YF-19. I did these a couple of years before discovering your site:

Thaw the Immaculate Barbarian said...

Hm. Seems the URL's scroll past the page but there is a SaberCard2.jpg and a SaberCard3.jpg.


Anonymous said...

it seems to me that both the idea of large battleships and fighters is unsound.
realistic space weapons seem to be as rule have the capacity to cause massive damage. In this situation a battleship seems just to easy to destroy very quickly possibly with a vastly smaller vessel. On the other hand fighters seem to be far to small to traverse the long distances present even in a planets immediate vicinity some sort of gunship that is heavily armed with a crew of three to ten seems a realistic idea. Though this may have problems of its own. these could be used in large groups. Even though several might be destroyed one would probably destroy the target. this would seem more reliable then putting alll your eggs in one basket.


Rick said...

Welcome to the comment threads!

The one argument in favor of big space warcraft might be that only such a vehicle could provide sufficient juice for a maximum power laser.

And I wonder whether the actual battlecraft need a human crew, as opposed to putting the human in the loop somewhere out of weapon range of the enemy.

The whole discussion is ongoing and evolving - see some of the recent posts on this blog!

TOM said...

Well, sorry that i didnt read anything, but my opinion is :

For orbital patrol, the fighters should be rather manned.
They should patrol on LEO, in the most populated area of space, where most things can happen, that requires quick reaction.

You have to make serious decisions : you dont want, that a dumb machine opens fire on a luxury ship for the sin of fireworks, but you want immediate response in case of a real missile threat, however if a terrorist captures a civilian ship with hostages, you shouldnt just blow it up with your main cannon.
/You might just leave it, and if negotiations fail, you return with a stealth attack, you can contain your waste heat for a short time, and use some special microwave weapon or laser to snipe the terrorist's brain./

You can have the following troubles with remote control in that case :
- if the controller unit is on LEO, it wont be much less vulnerable
- if it is not, horizont can give you trouble
- if you involve comm satellites, you increase the chance of hacking
- they can have spyes who give away your frequency, so they can jam remote control
- with a distance of 15.000 km, you have 1/10 second of light-lag, that can be bad, there are cases when you need immediate decision, that rather requires human thinking

TOM said...

I have the following plans for a space fighter :

It should have long wings on the sides to radiate waste heat, and hold the spin cycles of the cyclotron, that empowers their main particle cannon.
On the front, lasers and interceptor missiles, on the frontal sides, manuevering thrusters.

On the upper deck, it can hold a big lens, that refocuses their carrier's beams to the target.

On the lower deck, magnetic claws to attach to the board or side of bigger ships.
They might hold a bigger life support unit, to convert it to an assault boat, although normally, corvettes hold more people.

Propulsion : some kind of super-hot plasma thrusters, that operate rather in pulsed mode.

The destroyer Sea Fighter has mixed propulsion, diesel engines for cruise, and twin gas turbine engines, twin water jets to fast speeds. Fighters would only have the fast engines. (Or maybe a little ion engine for small course corrections. But definitally not for cruising.)

I think, the pilot could occupy an orb like place on the back of the ship, that could be filled with oxygen for manned missions, or coolant for unmanned missions.
/Or perhaps the pilot's life support unit should be held by the magnetic claws, to keep him away from the reactors?/

Rick said...

My bias remains that smaller combat spacecraft - where 'small' is relative, and regardless of crew size including zero - would be mainly armed with missiles, because unlike lasers (or other beam weapons, or for that matter rail/coilguns), they don't need a major onboard power supply.

Люси Сорью said...

Oh cripes, it seems I won't be necroposting after all. Well it's something.

First, I would concede with most points made in the discussion and the post itself; however, while the orbital gunship idea is sound enough, it is a real shame I can't use it, since 'gunship' in Russian only means a naval gun boat(and not an armed helicopter or a flying battleship like AC-130). Which, sadly, is far too big to be called a fighter per se, more like a corvette.

I wonder how much the gun boat concept is different from a fighter IN SPACE, besides having a bit more crew. At least three universes I've seen to date pretty much treat them as the same(Honorverse, Sten series and that obscure Russian milSF series that I could barely bear to read through all the misogyny) - and well, being slightly bigger craft, they would translate better into space.

A torpedo boat tender IN SPACE is not too different from an aircraft carrier IN SPACE, only carrying less craft since those craft would carry either more or bigger weaponry than smaller one-man fighters.

Perhaps we could even pass them off as 'heavy fighters' of some sort of terminology made up by people who write bad Star Wars rip-offs.

That brings us to the second point, namely on small craft and their, er, maneuverability. Now, I'm a bit pessimistic about fusion thermal drive capabilities(and my 'verse fighters naturally mount these, or they won't have transatmospheric capability, as is the case with VASIMR and its ilk), and I don't know how power they can dish out or how much acceleration they could provide, even for short periods.

The problem with small craft is that they turn fast - faster than capital ships, at any rate. While rapid re-orientation is a plus, it is offset by their weaker drives that have to burn twice as long than capital ship drives to cancel the small craft's vector and actually change its direction. This would probably be a detriment to torch missile capabilities, insofar as you depend on them to pull wide turns chasing after their gone-by target.

Capital ships, in my opinion, would be able to change course quicker than smaller craft, and for half the price in remass; but, being more massive - and longer - they would turn around for, like, forever, short of mounting another engine(and, thus, another reactor and another shadow shield and propellant tankage) in the nose of the ship.

I wonder if I got it right.

For that matter - and it's third - how much g's would space fighter pilots have to pull? They aren't pulling any sharp turns, so angular acceleration would be pretty negligible. Any hard braking, as opposed to corrections, would be done via turning the craft nozzle forward, so direction of thrust would remain the same.

That leaves us with the questions of:

how long would fighters sustain thrust?


how much acceleration would their drives provide while thrusting?

Люси Сорью said...

And part two. It's the fourth point, and it's going to be extra heretical, as I debunk the notion of space fighter combat being much more exciting. Sure, that may be the case from the aviators' point of view, and then only for brief moments of sheer terror before a hypervelocity cat turd idly strafes your cockpit.

But to the aircraft carrier's crew - and its flight commander(insistent terminology!) - a space battle would be a long and impossibly boring venture. You arrive, you cut acceleration, you launch fighters and then lounge comfortably in your acceleration couch flinging snots at the comms specialist. And if anyone or anything dangerous comes, your carrier's sensors would spot it from far enough for you to identify it, track, calculate its course, mark it as a target for point defense and go back to doing nothing.

A laser beam out of hell would be a bit more unpleasant, but then again, that's what escorts are for - and in any case, you'll spot the beam carrier long before he actually gets to fire and thus have time to try and counter it somehow. And it's even worse for kinetic guns, since their projectiles are slow and can be shot down just as good.

I probably am missing the point - 90% of the time fighters in space are there for studly/babelicious fighter jocks, not middle-aged starship commanders. But I tend to write about the latter. And it's not like they are middle-aged anyway, not by their time's standards.

Not like the fighter pilots are all studly mavericks all the same.


1. Sometimes I really hate Russian. Did you know it doesn't distinguish between 'fuel' and 'propellant'?

It doesn't. And it's ought to be confusing, especially in the context of nuke rocket engines.

2. I think I deserve at least a few points for not referring to space military branch as a Navy, but as a Space Force, not calling spaceborne troops Marines(it's either Spacebornes, Espatiers, Drop Commandos, Raumsjaegers, what have you) and calling a spacecraft CO 'Commander' instead of 'Captain'.

Although I still like naval ranks a bit too much, mostly because Army or Air Force ranks don't quite carry the same weight as Navy ones do. Plus a Major in command of a ship (or a General in command of a fleet) sounds... wrong. Many kinds of wrong.

It's also oddly fitting that, in Russian, the synonym for Flight Commander is Crew Commander, while the Russian Flight Commander would be referred to as Mission Commander in NASA parlance.

TOM said...

Argh, why i lose my comments?

Rick : yes dragging torpedos can be also achieved with the magnetic claws of my fighter idea.

Dont you think, dragging mirrors or lenses to refocus carrier's beams, extend efficient range is good idea?
Of course they are big targets, but lesser than a big ship.

Otherwise i wonder about supercondensators, how good they will become. I read about a carbon nanotube one, that is enough for a bus from one stop to another.
If they can be good enough, you have time to power up the energy cannon.
/torpedos also need time to reach the target/

TOM said...

Well i found this one.

Rick said...

Welcome to a new commenter, at least on this thread!

Since my ignorance of Russian extends to not even knowing the Cyrillic alphabet, I'm in the embarrassing but amusing position of not even being able to mispronounce your name/handle.

What do Russians call an armed helicopter? Of course, if it literally translates as 'armed helicopter,' it is not so helpful as a term for spacecraft.

I don't think small spacecraft necessarily have lower linear acceleration - it depends on drive tech and fairly complex scaling factors. But smaller craft to generally have quicker 'pivot' response.

In casual usage I often use 'fuel' to mean propellant. And presumably Russian rocket scientists have terms that allow them to know what stuff is in what tank. Otherwise, Soyuz would be a much less reliable means of space access.

None of which actually answers the main points, but the tidbits struck me as interesting.

Now to go read Tom's link!

TOM said...

To Mr. Russian Commenter /sorry i cant spell your name, i mean no offense/ : I asked on physics forum, they said small light ships can provide bigger acceleration than capital ships, as they dont have to drag tons of fuel and equipment.
Capital ships can provide bigger delta-v but over a long time.

Well, after reading the link, i have the following thoughts :
Fight in space will be mission oriented, surprisingly.

A small frigate or destroyer can rather mount torpedos than fighters, and they rather used for small conflicts, where it is enough, that you fire the torpedos, by the time they arrive, preferably your cannons ruined the defence systems, enemy has gone, we are happy.

However in a prolonged conflict, you need dedicated logistic ships, battleships, maybe even mother ships.
They can mount and refuel, repair fighters, and reusablity does count, refuelling is much cheaper (repairing not so much, but still) than manufacturing new torpedos (not to mention delivering them, if you dont have a mother ship with a factory inside)
Ion/plasma thrusters can accept almost anything as propellant... although i dont know how much this can hinder performance.
About the price of torpedos : if they dont provide random acceleration, jamming, countersystems against enemy interceptor missiles, mines, than they has to launched in BIG swarms...
If they has theese abilities, than they are rather "kamikaze" fighters...
And if you dont know the exact technical details of the enemy, you can waste double amount than necessary to overwhelm the defence system, if you dont launch enough, they will be eaten by the defence system, if they hit by lasers, no chance to return for repair.

Torpedo boat carrier :

I wondered, whether jamming signal filtering can be like a complex image processing task, that still requires human like thinking...
But i cant really counter the arguments for drone fighters in a war setting (maybe with the exception of operating in a really difficult terrain, asteroid mine shaft, lunar cliffs, so Star Wars like scenarios).

In a police operations setting, immediate human level decision making can be required, like Rick said.

Otherwise we can rather calculate with the following characters : aspiring little drone controller cadets, captains and admirals facing heavy decisions, what and who should be sacrifised for example...
Marines who try to capture enemy cargo ships and colonies /the fighters magnetic claws can drag their life support unit... well actually i call everything a figter, that is smaller than a corvette, it would more proper to call them fast space attack craft, torpedo boats, gunboats, assault boats... well i want to make them as versatile as it can be, with different payloads/
And secret agents try to get information, technical details about fleets, operations, secret plans, spread desinformation, make sabotages, create havoc.

Rick said...

I finally caught up to the article that Tom linked above. The article itself did not persuade me very much. But lurking behind it, I think, are the same considerations I discussed in this post.

In short, if your mission is simply to blow the bejeezus out of something, nothing even loosely fitting the 'space fighter' image is well suited to that job. But for more complex missions you might just want to combine a moderate weapon package with human judgment on the spot ...

Anonymous said...

I think that most people have the mistaken idea that that a small space-going gun or missile ship (what is popularly called a 'space fighter'), would be normally operating alone; that isn't very logical, in the modern world, fighters attack in groups of anywhere from a pair to several dozen (in WWII there were raids were a 1000 planes attacked a single target); I don't see an logical reason that small attack spacecraft wouldn't operate in groups, as well.


TOM said...

Ferell : who said otherwise?

Rick : it seemed to me, what he wrote, is like to your previous "lancer ship" idea, or am i wrong?
But of course people can have different options, or modify it.
(I regularly updating my models, to justify certain things with the least amount of magitech. )

"But for more complex missions you might just want to combine a moderate weapon package with human judgment on the spot ..."

Agreed. :)
What kind of missions can we collect?

TOM said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
TOM said...

Or what can be the more specific definition of 'fighter'?

When big ships involved i dont see enough reasons for dedicated interceptor fighters/gunboats, as dogfight will be short, you may only need remote controlled cannon boats or torpedo boats. /they, and their controllers still bring a little bit color to an otherwise dull and boring space battle/
Or assault transport boats for capturing, pirating.

For Orbital Guard, manned gunboats are good IMHO.

otherwise, recently i telled a story in Warhammer40k universe, tau attack vs planet.
The small craft's duty was surrounding the planet, and fight against stratosphere fighters and nuclear missiles, so the destroyers could calmly beam down all major military infrastructure from low orbit.

Anonymous said...

Returning to this situation : if the enemy storms from behind the planet or moon, tactical situation changes suddenly, and the battleship can be further away, as it is less expendable.
Maybe the fighter squadron leaders should be manned, they are the ones, who knows the boats abilities the best, and can bring immediate decisions.

I have found this one.

Otherwise, Rick have you seen anime
series Cowboy Bebop? It is about a space bounty hunter, maybe it can give inspiration.


FBH said...

Again coming late to the discussion but: even if the situation exists in which orbital platforms can blow one another to pieces with kinetics or nuclear bombs then you'd still need patrol craft and they could easily turn into fighters.

Consider the cold war: despite our ability to vaporize one another both sides built large conventional (that is to say, sub city busting) arsenals. They did this for a variety of reasons, mostly due to the fact that there was with the best will in the world, a whole bunch of situations where you couldn't use the bomb.

This applies even more so in a swarm of habitats because the equivalent of nuclear weapons is likely shooting down the enemy's habitats. Such an act would not only be a humanitarian catastrophe but it would also spray surrounding space with a whole constellation of fast moving debris. If you thought fallout was bad, this is much worse.

Under those circumstances large numbers of small combat space craft could easily be built. Most operations are simply not vital enough to commit to mass slaughter and spraying the orbit with shrapnel.

Even if you do need a general war, the existence of this equipment might well lead to a conventional phase in which neither side destroys the other by a sort of mutual agreement that was expected to govern the initial phase of a cold war gone hot. Only in this case there's less reason to escalate because there's no tactical nuclear bombs that push you inevitably over the threshold into a nuclear exchange.

TOM said...

Comparison to naval copters, interesting.
Personally i imagine the bigger corvettes to something like Hind copters, transport/attack role.
While i imagine the smaller ones serving a patrol/attack role.

I wondered on the following, we already have Hubble Kepler, the military could have launched something like that to monitor the surface... but traditional methods of recon didnt become obsolate.
Could a small craft from close range see more than the mothership from GEO, or lunar Lagrange point?

Otherwise, if long range lascannons wont be really viable, or have hour long recharge time or something like that (W40k, Mass Effect kinetics are much stronger than lasers, in SW either they have poor sensors and tracking compus or superior jammers) than small craft can do things more efficiently than even a giant mothership from afar. I think about taking out LEO stations and destroyers with all around attacks (using horizont, debris, etc to advantage) if the situation gets really bad, like your lunar colony invaded by other ones.