Monday, March 28, 2011

Space Warfare XIII: The Human Factor


Discussion of the recent post on Interstellar Empire led to a question that until now failed to get a post of its own: the role, in space warfare, of drones versus ships carrying human crews. Consider this deficiency now corrected.

A few provisos apply. Set aside for now the question of whether warfare, as we have known it and too much loved it since the Iliad, may be obsolescent as a viable mode of conflict among post-industrial communities.

Also set aside the Plausible Midfuture, a place where warfare in deep space is doubtful even if Earth orbital space is armed to the teeth. Set aside as well the general messiness of warfare on planets; my concern here is with space combat. We are dealing here with space armadas, a concept that is demi-operatic at least.

Will these armadas be made up primarily of warships with human crews - the familiar classical vision - or largely of robotic craft?

A lot of this comes down, I would argue, to good old money. The first 50 years of deep space exploration have been exclusively robotic because robotic spacecraft are cheaper. They are cheaper for several reasons: They can be much smaller; except for sample returns they don't need to come back; and in fact they don't even need to always get there.

So far as I can recall, every mission to the outer planets has (so far) been a success, but we only reached the point of batting .500 against Mars since I launched this blog. Such a loss rate was regarded as acceptable for human missions in the 16th century, but not in the 21st. (The more so because the enormous cost of human spaceflight, and resulting high profile, makes human spaceflight losses more controversial than, say, helicopter crashes.)

The situation in warfare is somewhat different, because soldiers are in some fundamental sense expendable - many of our military traditions are, in one way or another, built around that fact. But they are not lightly expended, if only because high quality crews are costly to train and difficult to replace. For post-industrial societies, where untimely death is no longer a sad commonplace, public resistance to casualties may be problematic even for authoritarian regimes.

Cost and risk of losses, taken together, are ample reason for the designers of combatant spacecraft to automate them so far as is practical. But how far is practical?


Kinetic weapons will have no human crews, for obvious reasons. There are almost equally strong reasons not to put crews aboard the buses that deliver them. Kinetics are most effective in a single wave that saturates defenses - the faster they are thrown the harder they will hit, and the less time the defense will have to stop them. This argues for a bus that uses its full delta v for maximum closing rate, rather than holding back propellant in order to recover the bus. For its basic mission it need not be very sophisticated, and you will not be re-using it anyway, at least not anytime soon.

So it is probably cheaper to make the bus expendable.

Lasers are a different matter, as are alternatives such as particle beams. (And for that matter kinetics, if these are slung on their way by coilguns. Flip side, bomb-pumped lasers are expendables, with military properties similar to kinetics.) A laser star is inherently reusable, and suited to missions, such as blockade or maintaining a 'presence,' in which repeated engagements may be required. A laser and its associated optics are also presumably sophisticated equipment. On all of these grounds putting a crew aboard a laser star seems much more plausible than putting one aboard a kinetic bus.

But what exactly would the crew be called upon to do? No gunners' mates are needed to shove photons into the breech, or even aim the laser. Actual precision aiming of the beam will be automated in any case, and assigning targets can be done from a few light seconds away.

The other traditional role of ships' crews is maintenance and repair. But drive engines and megawatt lasers do not, so far as I can see, provide much scope for onboard servicing, let alone damage control during battle. Repairs of either one pretty much need the services of a cageworks. Occasional replacement of smaller failed systems, or whacking balky parts with a wrench, can be done by service teams based elsewhere - at a space station, for defensive orbital forces, or aboard a tender for deep space constellations.

It is a peculiar fact that both many space emergencies - such as onboard fires or air leaks - and much of the corresponding scope for human emergency repair, relate specifically to life support habs. (Propellant tanks can also leak, but offer precious little chance of onboard repair.) I suspect, indeed, that life support maintenance will be a major role of space crews. But this sets up an odd circularity. Take away the hab and you eliminate many of the emergencies that a crew could respond to.


The final role for humans in space combat is command and control, especially rules of engagement decisions. We might not want to trust even high level AIs with these decisions - either because we are not quite sure of their motives, or because they have no motives at all, and so can free us of everything but the need to decide. But the scale and probable tempo of space combat are such that - as mentioned above concerning target designation - these functions generally don't need to be aboard the weapon platforms. Why not offload them to the 'tender' that provides teams for the occasional maintenance call?

Back in Part III of this series I gave the following description of a space combat constellation:

Taken as a whole you might call it a fleet. But it more nearly resembles a mobile, distributed, and networked fortification, deploying in action into a three-dimensional array of weapon emplacements, observation posts, and patrol details, all backed up by a command and logistics center.
But even supposing that a main battle force is built along these lines, what about smaller independent mission packages - the equivalent of a cruiser, for example, for patrol missions?

Contrary to the (understandable!) assertion of a well known Evil Website, space is not an ocean. At sea, a single 10,000 ton ship has major advantages over four 2500 ton ships. It is more seaworthy, far more comfortable for its crew, harder to sink, provides a higher and dryer command for guns and sensors, and can maintain higher speed with less power and fuel consumption.

In space these considerations apply with far less force, if they apply at all. A single large hab pod is likely preferable to several smaller ones - but only the command ship / tender needs a hab pod at all. And the other force elements can be carried as riders, if desired, separating only to deploy for combat.

If your propulsion tech involves an electric drive powered by an external reactor, which also supplies the primary laser, you want to match the drive, reactor, and laser, which does argue for putting them together aboard the same spacecraft. And you might reasonably be less than comfortable about separating the crew hab from the main drive. But if your setting has fusion drive, or any self-contained drive, this is much less a consideration.


One other human-factor consideration to keep in mind was brought up in the linked discussion by commenter Tony: What happens to the morality of warfare - such as it is - when no soldiers put themselves at risk to fight it, because the fighting is all done by robots?

In the scenario I have outlined above this is not really the case. The constellation has a human crew, aboard the command ship / tender, even if it is 'behind the lines' relative to the weapon platforms. If the combat units of its constellation are defeated the crew must retreat, surrender, or face destruction - the choices that have always faced combatants who were disarmed in battle rather than killed outright.

Discuss.



Related Links:

Atomic Rockets, of course - especially, but not exclusively, the pages on space warfare.

And previously in the Space Warfare series on this blog:

I: The Gravity Well
II: Stealth Reconsidered
III: 'Warships' in Space
IV: Mobility
V: Laser Weapons
VI: Kinetics, Part 1
VII: Kinetics, Part 2 - The Killer Bus
VIII: Orbital Combat
IX: Could Everything We Know Be Wrong?
X: Moving Targets
XI: La Zona Fronteriza
XII: Surface Warfare

Also ...

Battle of the Spherical War Cows: Purple v Green
Further Battles of the Spherical War Cows

Plus

Space Fighters, Not
Space Fighters, Reconsidered?

And, indulging in heresy -

Give Peace a Chance


The image shows Achilles fighting Hector.

875 comments:

«Oldest   ‹Older   801 – 875 of 875
Tony said...

Byron:

"What do you mean dense? The use of the term fighter-bomber carries a suggestion of aircraft, and thus space fighters. That's what I'm saying. I know you don't mean that, but the implication is there."

I mean that despite being patronizing at times, I expect the kind of person that would be in this type of conversation not to take such facile implications and run with them.

"Yes. But that would take a lot of ammo, and was probably pretty rare. Larger guns were much better at that."

Even the largest guns hardly did any sinking. They just weren't that good at inflicting buoyancy hits. They only got hard kills when they achieved catastrophic magazine penetrations. Now, those were spectacular and storied events, but torpedoes were much more prolific ship killers.

"Torpedoes work, too. That would be kinetics."

Well, you know I'd rather rely on missiles than guns. They do more damage per shot, both in the context of guns/torpedoes or lasers/KKVs.

"And we've reached 800 posts. 20 more to the record."

Ummm...yay?

Byron said...

Tony:
Simply, do we have to have an analogy for everything? You could have pushed for modularity without bringing up fighter-bombers.

Even the largest guns hardly did any sinking. They just weren't that good at inflicting buoyancy hits. They only got hard kills when they achieved catastrophic magazine penetrations. Now, those were spectacular and storied events, but torpedoes were much more prolific ship killers.

We're now drifiting out of the analogy. Torpedoes usually sunk ships, but often after the ship in question was badly damaged by gunfire, usually much larger than 5-inch. I maintain that modular guns won't be the primary lasers, though they might make good secondaries.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Simply, do we have to have an analogy for everything? You could have pushed for modularity without bringing up fighter-bombers."

Yes, I think we do need analogy. Metaphor is how we explain things that we don't have precise terminology for.

"We're now drifiting out of the analogy. Torpedoes usually sunk ships, but often after the ship in question was badly damaged by gunfire, usually much larger than 5-inch."

I suggest you study your WWII naval history a bit closer. Also WWI, where big guns (aside from catastrophic kills) were notably inefficient at getting capital ship kills.

"I maintain that modular guns won't be the primary lasers, though they might make good secondaries."

I'm of the opinion that lasers won't be primary anything. Like dual purpose guns on modern surface combatants, they'll have their uses. But the real shooting will be done with missiles.

Byron said...

Tony:
The whole fighter-bomber thing sort of rubs me the wrong way. I understand where it's coming from, in that it's the most reconfigurable military craft around, but the parallels are mostly superficial. A fighter-bomber is flexible on the tactical level. You can change the loadout depending on the mission pretty much whenever you feel like because it's mostly hanging ordinance on the thing.
I don't see any modular space warcraft being reconfigurable at any level below a minor shipyard. It's essentially fixed for the duration of a mission. I know the same is true of a fighter-bomber, but the missions are of such different types that calling it a parallel is not even remotely plausible. This is where the space fighter problem I warned about earlier comes from.
You can choose the analogy if you like, but I really don't think it's a very good one, simply because there aren't any. Space is different.

Tony said...

Re: Byron

Let's see...

Fighter-bombers are not as reconfigurable as you think. There are plenty of configurations that can only be done in the hangar (which is the aviation equivalent of a pierside maintenance/upgrade availability). Once you have a set of aircraft configured for a certain mission, you often keep them that way for dozens or hundreds of missions. Also, once you have aircrew efficient at a given set of mission tasks, you want to keep them at it. Wild Weasel aircraft and units are a perfect example of this.

Additionally, fighter-attack aircraft are often produced in several different configurations straight from the factory. For example, many fighter series had reconnaissance variants. Likewise, the F-15E can carry out fighter role missions, but it is optimized in the factory for deep penetration and strike. So one part of the fighter-bomber trope is not that you can hang whatevero n the wings or sling it under the fuselage, but that such aircraft are versatile basic packages.

Finally, space may be different, but it's not that different. And war is fundamentally always the same. If you just absolutely can't stand "fighter-bomber", then you'll have to find a descriptor that means essentially the same thing, because modular space warcraft in the PMF are going to resemble fighter-attack aircraft on some pretty fundamental levels. Ships will be built on a narrow selection of multi-purpose chassis. There will be some degree of configuration in the factory, and some degree of configuration in the field. Most weapons, above an LCD outfit (probably defensive lasers or guns), will be hung on the outside, either individually or in standardized launcher clusters. The vast majority of configuration will be multi-mission and/or long duration. Some will be for a few missions or for a very short time. A very few may be for a single mission.

Now, as things get more and more operatic, it's possible that space warships will get less readily modular and more often permanently configured, or only reconfigurable with major yard work. But that's not the PMF. With the industrial base solely on the Earth, ships will have to be sufficient with modifications that can only be made by dockable or bolt-on-and-plug-in modules.

Byron said...

Tony:
You earlier kept using the example of the hardpoints. This other stuff is new, though it is a much better analogy.
I guess I should stop trying to split hairs, though I find the entire thing sort of strange. Yes, fighter-bomber designs often are used in widely differing variants, but usually those variants are set at the factory. The other element of the design's versatility, the weapons load, is very tactical in nature. I see spacecraft as being right in the middle of the two. Their flexibility is operational. To use a modern naval analogy, at the end of each cruise, they can be reconfigured, but for the length of the cruise, they're stuck.

And war is fundamentally always the same.
No, it isn't. I'm not going there again.

Tony said...

Byron:

"The other element of the design's versatility, the weapons load, is very tactical in nature. I see spacecraft as being right in the middle of the two. Their flexibility is operational. To use a modern naval analogy, at the end of each cruise, they can be reconfigured, but for the length of the cruise, they're stuck."

I think what you're missing here is that the warplane's equivalent of a cruise is not the operational deployment, but the tactical sorty. The warship begins and ends a cruise at its homeport, or at least a significant naval base. Likewise, the tactical aircraft begins and ends its sorty at its base, or at least at some base.

A deployed aircraft's homebase is not the same thing as a ship's homeport, for maintenance and upgrade purposes -- an airforce wing takes a large portion of its industrial base with it to an overseas combat base. In fact, air force combat bases are often more flexible, in terms of what they can do to repair or modify an aircraft, than navy forward bases are at repairing or upgrading ships. Structural and system damage that on an aircraft can be repaired in the field, on a ship require a return to a major home country shipyard.

In any case, when an aircraft goes wheels-up on a sorty, it's actually more stuck with what it's got than a warship is after leaving port. The ship can not only refuel at sea -- as aircraft can refuel in flight -- but it can reprovision, rearm (in terms of ammunition supply), and conduct personnel/equipment transfers. In this respect PMF spacecraft will be more like aircraft than ships. Once you leave Earth orbit, that's it -- you better have all the weapons, supplies, and fuel/remass you need, because the source for all of that stuff (except possibly remass) is Earth.

"No, it isn't. I'm not going there again."

Please note that I said "fundamentally". All wars and types of warfare have superficial differences from one another. But fundamentally they're all the same: they involve startegic logic, economic resources and tradeoffs, human objective and imperatives, etc.

Byron said...

Tony:
I think what you're missing here is that the warplane's equivalent of a cruise is not the operational deployment, but the tactical sorty. The warship begins and ends a cruise at its homeport, or at least a significant naval base. Likewise, the tactical aircraft begins and ends its sorty at its base, or at least at some base.
No, I get it. However, that's what makes it a bad analogy. A ship is only in base on the operational level, while a fighter-bomber is there on the tactical level. Comparing the ability of the two to alter in that manner is bad because of two things:
1. The FB uses ordinance. It fires it off, usually. It doesn't change the basic aircraft. The same is not true of what I see in modular spacecraft.
2. The timescales are so different that any comparison is flawed. I can take a fighter-bomber to a crisis knowing I can set it up for whatever I need to do when I get there. I can't do so with a spacecraft unless it is a fighter.

I get that there are a lot of parallels, but the missions are of such fundamentally different scale that they are sketchy at best.

Please note that I said "fundamentally". All wars and types of warfare have superficial differences from one another. But fundamentally they're all the same: they involve startegic logic, economic resources and tradeoffs, human objective and imperatives, etc.
On the most fundamental level, yes. However, we aren't operating there. We're operating several levels below that. Why do you not get this?

Tony said...

Byron:

"No, I get it. However, that's what makes it a bad analogy. A ship is only in base on the operational level, while a fighter-bomber is there on the tactical level. Comparing the ability of the two to alter in that manner is bad because of two things:
1. The FB uses ordinance. It fires it off, usually. It doesn't change the basic aircraft. The same is not true of what I see in modular spacecraft.
2. The timescales are so different that any comparison is flawed. I can take a fighter-bomber to a crisis knowing I can set it up for whatever I need to do when I get there. I can't do so with a spacecraft unless it is a fighter.

I get that there are a lot of parallels, but the missions are of such fundamentally different scale that they are sketchy at best."


You're getting hung up on irrelevancies, IMO.

In wartime, a ship deploys from its homeport to a forward base. From there it goes out on sorties, either individually or as part of a task group. It's at sea endurance can be extended by underway replenishment, but the fundamental dynamic is a series of missions from a forward combat base.

In wartime, an aircraft deploys from its homebase to a forward base. From there it goes out on sorties, either individually or as part of a flight. It's airborne endurance can be extended by in-flight refueling, but the fundamental dynamic is a series of missions from a forward combat base.

The only real difference is that ships can be away from base for a few days to a few weeks, while aircraft can be airborne for a few hours to maybe as much as a day.

Now, with PMF spacecraft, the mission converges with the sorty. Neither the naval or the air warfare analogy is accurate. Naval ships have at-sea service vessels to draw from to extend their endurance. Even aircraft have in-flight refueling. Spacecraft won't have either. The spacecraft will be fueled, armed, and sent off.

Aircraft operations are more like what space operations will be like than naval operations are. Mission duration is an irrelevance. Mission profile is relevant. Armamaent level and type will be set at the beginning of a space mission, just like with aircraft. No rendezvous with logistics ships is likely.

"On the most fundamental level, yes. However, we aren't operating there. We're operating several levels below that. Why do you not get this?"

The fundamentals of warfare pervade the exercise, at all levels, at all times. Economics, for example, boil down to logistics at the lowest levels. But take my word for it, a squad leader is no less concerned with those logistics than a general planning a campaign. Tactics, even at the lowest levels, are dictated by both objectives and the accepted rules of war. Those are ultimately and directly derived from national strategy. In any battle, the private/sailor fears for his life but tries to do his duty, while the general/admiral tries to accomplish his mission without avoidable casualties.

Byron said...

Tony:
The fundamentals of warfare pervade the exercise, at all levels, at all times. Economics, for example, boil down to logistics at the lowest levels. But take my word for it, a squad leader is no less concerned with those logistics than a general planning a campaign. Tactics, even at the lowest levels, are dictated by both objectives and the accepted rules of war. Those are ultimately and directly derived from national strategy. In any battle, the private/sailor fears for his life but tries to do his duty, while the general/admiral tries to accomplish his mission without avoidable casualties.
Yes, but how those are applied changes greatly between types, levels, and times. For example, a lot of terrestrial warfare is dictated by the horizon. That won't exist in space, despite your efforts to the contrary.
Fundamentally, the problem with your approach is this:
If all war is the same, then why are there multiple services? Shouldn't everyone be equally good at everything?
I suppose that fighter-bombers are the same as we expect spacecraft to be on the same level that all warfare is the same. Since I'm not going to convince you on either one, I'm dropping this debate.

Tony said...

Byron:

"If all war is the same, then why are there multiple services? Shouldn't everyone be equally good at everything?"

You're being reductionist and absurd. Your argument, applied to transportation would be: all forms of transportation are about getting from here to there, so why can't an ox cart cross an ocean? That's pretty silly on its face, don't you think?

Different contexts require different solutions, but an overarching context can still exist. Transportation can take many forms, but every form must address questions of cost, utility, efficiency, impact, etc. Likewise, warfare can take many forms, but every form of warfare must also address questions of cost, whether to attack or defend, how to get from here to there, etc.

Byron said...

Tony:
I have one question. Is it possible you could be wrong on this? So far, it seems that you think the answer is no. I'm not interested in a debate that I can't win.
As to the specifics, I think we're somewhat arguing past each other. You view all warfare as the same, I don't, but we often use the same examples. I'm really not sure where to go.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I have one question. Is it possible you could be wrong on this? So far, it seems that you think the answer is no. I'm not interested in a debate that I can't win."

Of coure I could be wrong, but only if Van Creveld, Keegan, Archer Jones, and host of others are wrong as well. I don't dream this stuff up on my own. Also, if warfare didn't exhibit significant cross-environment and cross-technological commonalities, how could students of warfare formulate standard principles of war?* And why do those principles seem so useful in analyzing conflict regardless of time or place?

*In US usage:

Unity of Command
Maintenance of Objective
Offensive Action
Simplicity
Mass
Maneuver
Economy of Force
Security
Surprise

"As to the specifics, I think we're somewhat arguing past each other. You view all warfare as the same, I don't, but we often use the same examples. I'm really not sure where to go."

It comes from a difference in perspective. Remember when you said that you view the plausible midfuture as technology, not as economics, politics, or anything else? I think that's just the same thing here. Set a warship, a military aircraft, and a tank side by side. You seem to see three very different machines, designed to compete with similar machines in unrelated environments. I see three different expressions of the same underlying problem -- you need tanks to confront the enemy on his own ground, warships to protect you convoys as they take the tanks to the area of conflict, and aircraft to support both. Or, if I were thinking in terms of a continental power like Germany, I would see the ships as a means of protecting coastal flanks and harassing enemy overseas trade. In any case, I think in terms of interrelated systems, not distinct technologies.

Byron said...

Tony:
I'll admit that all warfare does have standard principles. However, their application differs markedly. You seem to assume that the principles being the same will also mean that the means will be roughly the same. For example, your opposition to laserstars is based not solely on technical reasons (which is where I'm at) but because you expect space to be like the ocean in that ships will be most efficient with multiple weapons. That seems to be overgenralizing.

It comes from a difference in perspective. Remember when you said that you view the plausible midfuture as technology, not as economics, politics, or anything else? I think that's just the same thing here. Set a warship, a military aircraft, and a tank side by side. You seem to see three very different machines, designed to compete with similar machines in unrelated environments.
I view plausible midfuture as primarily technological, yes. That's becuase all of the rest is far easier to handwave then technology. People do things that don't make strict economic sense all the time. As to the different machines, that's entirely my point. Each is different because of the different enviroment it has to work in. Space will be the same way. Analogies based on modern weapons will be as flawed as aerial dreadnoughts. Take space fighters.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I'll admit that all warfare does have standard principles. However, their application differs markedly. You seem to assume that the principles being the same will also mean that the means will be roughly the same. For example, your opposition to laserstars is based not solely on technical reasons (which is where I'm at) but because you expect space to be like the ocean in that ships will be most efficient with multiple weapons. That seems to be overgenralizing."

Ummm...not really. To me -- and to a lot of others -- the means are an expression of an economic, strategic, and political reality.

For example, why did the Germans use submarines in both world wars? They couldn't compete with the RN on the surface. Seems like a simple tactical decision, right? If I can't fight you with a sword in a duel, I'll sneek up on you and knife you in the back. But what really caused that were differences in the size of the German economy and that of the British Empire, compounded by the different strategic priorities of continenal and maritime powers, compounded further by perceived political imperatives.

And I'm totally vexed by this continued insistence of your's that I see space as another ocean. That's simply not true. Where I see anaolgies with sea warfare, it's in an operatic, interstellar setting. In the PMF, I see it as being a combination of positional and aerial warfare -- positional for economic reasons, aerial for technical ones.

WRT heterogenous weapons outfits, that hardly has anything to do with sea warfare, though there are some pretty obvious parallels. It has to do with the fact that almost every soldier or warfighting machine in history has been armed with multiple means of offense and defense. That's because each indivual element has to posess the means to both attack and defend, to fight both close in and at a distance (even if "distant" is defined as the end of a spearpoint).

The laserstar is a weapon totally optimized for offensive fire at long range. That's not likely to cut it in real world combat. If I know you have such a weapon, I'll find a way to counter it. Even as part of a constellation the laserstar has problems, but more to do with economic issues of multiplying the requirement for military grade propulsion and sensors, when there's almost certainly going to be a limit on those kinds of things. Also, constellations of automated systems are significantly more vulnerable to decapitation, compared squadrons of manned vessels.

Finally, I think specific technological objections are meaningless, because we don't really know what technology is actually going to be like even a hundred years in the future. I make my judgments on what has proven to be true, regardless of time, place, or technology. I know that seems fuzzy and too open to interpretation, but I still think it's a much more realistic approach than flushing numbers through spreadsheets, based on whatever assumption one wants to make.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I view plausible midfuture as primarily technological, yes. That's becuase all of the rest is far easier to handwave then technology. People do things that don't make strict economic sense all the time. As to the different machines, that's entirely my point. Each is different because of the different enviroment it has to work in. Space will be the same way. Analogies based on modern weapons will be as flawed as aerial dreadnoughts. Take space fighters."

This "space is different" trope has taken on the properties of a mania. In fact it's almost like a cult sign -- invoke it to defend any assumptions or opinions that can't be justified by real world experience. (This isn't personal Byron, it's something that I've observed to be constant here over the last year or so.) While it's true that space warfare will have technical and tactical differences from Earthbound forms of warfare, it's also true that it will still be subject to the logic of strategy, the constraints of economics, and the imperatives of politics. So anything proposed for space has to meet the strategic, economic, and political plausibility test.

In addition, there has already been a lot of thought given to orbital warfare, which is probably the form warfare will take in the PMF. The Soviets were going to defend their Almaz station from ASATs with a 23mm autocannon (they actually test fired it on one station when it wasn't manned). ASAT technology itself has been tested in several forms. And lasers have so far been found to be of relatively marginal utility compared to all the possible variations on kinetics.

Extrapolate those weapons to future warfare in space, and one wonders just how different it will actually be. Navigation is still navigation, just in three dimensions. Shooting still relies on propulsion and ballistics. Precision and accuracy are still important. All of the principles of war will still apply.

Byron said...

And I'm totally vexed by this continued insistence of your's that I see space as another ocean. That's simply not true. Where I see anaolgies with sea warfare, it's in an operatic, interstellar setting.
I was objecting to your use of a naval analogy in the case of single-weapon ships. There were two problems:
1. Spacecraft don't scale the way ships do
2. The standard definition of a laserstar is a ship carrying the largest plausible mirror. If the largest plausible mirror is much smaller than a ship's weapons payload, the ship will have multiple mirrors. If the largest plausible mirror is bigger than that that can be carried by the largest plausible ship, then it will carry a single big mirror.

The laserstar is a weapon totally optimized for offensive fire at long range.
I already dealt with this. There is no such thing as a long-range laser. Variable-focus lasers obey the inverse square law. If the characteristic we measure is flux/fluence, then all lasers can be measured as multiples of a standard, no matter the range.
The advantage of a larger mirror is simple. A 10-meter 100 MW laser will have a higher flux than a pair of 7-meter 50 MW lasers that are pointed at the same spot. All lasers are assumed to be diffraction-limited and perfectly aimed. I know that won't be true, but I'm not sure the complications will be enough.
The only reason to have multiple lasers is to engage multiple targets. That's for kinetic defenses.
And we have weapons today optomized for long-range fire only. It's called artillery.

Also, constellations of automated systems are significantly more vulnerable to decapitation, compared squadrons of manned vessels.
I already dealt with that. The command ship can stay well out of weapon range.

This "space is different" trope has taken on the properties of a mania. In fact it's almost like a cult sign -- invoke it to defend any assumptions or opinions that can't be justified by real world experience.
The problem is that space is different enough to make qualitative analysis often faulty. Scaling is a good example. Land and air warfare tend towards large numbers of small combatants for maximum effectiveness. Naval warfare is the opposite. Any analogy drawn to any other form of warfare is flawed at some level. Attempts to draw analogies between the current three usually end in disaster. Remember air dreadnoughts?

Byron said...

As to economic plausibility, we don't really have to stick to today's economy. Say I'm writing a story. When the next group of explorers lands on Luna, they discover room-temperature superconductor deposits. Suddenly, the entire economic picture of space changes. We now have reason to go in large numbers.
Other than the superconductors, everything is hyper-realistic. The technology is today's. The only change I made is the addition of the superconductors.
Is the story unrealistic?
My point is that economics is far easier to twist than technology is. Yes, there should be a good explanation for why we're out there, but so long as the explanation's there, and the space presence is in proportion with that explanation, then I'd say it's realistic.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I was objecting to your use of a naval analogy in the case of single-weapon ships. There were two problems:
1. Spacecraft don't scale the way ships do
2. The standard definition of a laserstar is a ship carrying the largest plausible mirror. If the largest plausible mirror is much smaller than a ship's weapons payload, the ship will have multiple mirrors. If the largest plausible mirror is bigger than that that can be carried by the largest plausible ship, then it will carry a single big mirror."


I could have used any anology I wanted. I chose a naval anology because it more naturally fit an environment nominally requiring long duration, relatively large vessels. I could have pointed out that spearmen also carried knives and/or swords for close-in fighting. Or that musketeers also carried bayonets. Or that tanks have machine guns to complement their main armament. Or that missile armed fighters also carry guns (I actually used that one).
Perhaps you're focussing too much on the specifics of the example and not on the principle being illustrated?

And the principle I was illustrating was that no element in a tactical array should be one-dimensional. Certainly no historically effective weapon system seems to have been. In the case of the laserstar, it matters not if the craft has one laser or several, the point is that lasers alone is a recipe for disaster, given sevral thousand years of military experience. Space may be different, but it ain't that different.

"I already dealt with this. There is no such thing as a long-range laser..." then that's something we agree on, even if for different technical reasons. Why do you feel you have to assert the superiority of your reasons over mine?

"The only reason to have multiple lasers is to engage multiple targets. That's for kinetic defenses."

How about redundancy? Or maybe one type of laser is good for one type of target, and another type for a different target?

Tony said...

Byron:

"And we have weapons today optomized for long-range fire only. It's called artillery."

And the artillerists have rifles and machineguns for battery self-defense. When batteries are required to be static, but an enemy infantry threat exists, the batteries have to posted at fire bases with infantry defenders or defended base camps. When there is a significant air threat, field artillery has to be teamed up with antiaircraft artillery, or rely on air cover from friendly air forces. Finally, artillerists are trained in close range defensive fire for in-extremis situations.

"I already dealt with that. The command ship can stay well out of weapon range."

Just a personal opinion, but you use the word "I" way too much.

WRT to command ships staying out of range, you're really showing a poor understanding of military theory. One of the basics is that enemy vulnerabilities are always to be exploited. If a force has a single point failure mode, such as a single command ship, guess what? a way will be found to go through or around and get to it.

"The problem is that space is different enough to make qualitative analysis often faulty. Scaling is a good example. Land and air warfare tend towards large numbers of small combatants for maximum effectiveness. Naval warfare is the opposite. Any analogy drawn to any other form of warfare is flawed at some level. Attempts to draw analogies between the current three usually end in disaster. Remember air dreadnoughts?"

You have a point about direct technical analogies. But making analogies as illustrations -- IOW metaphorically -- is a valid approach. That's all I do. For example, I foresee PMF space warcraft to be like fighter-bombers operationally. That doesn't mean they will be fighter-bombers, or even look like them (in most aspects anyway -- modular weapons loadouts will probably descend pretty directly from modern aviation technology). It means that the same operational principles will be applied, for the same reasons they are with aircraft (and to a lesser degree with seagoing warships).

Tony said...

Byron:

"As to economic plausibility, we don't really have to stick to today's economy.

...

My point is that economics is far easier to twist than technology is. Yes, there should be a good explanation for why we're out there, but so long as the explanation's there, and the space presence is in proportion with that explanation, then I'd say it's realistic."


Maybe it's realistic enough for pimply-faced teenage boys without girlfriends. Maybe it's realistic enough even for college students. For adult SF readers? Not so much.

But once again, that's not personal. It seems to me that the SF audience has gotten less and less critical over the years. I literally can't comprehend how the authors today think they can get what they write past readers. It's full of preposterous dreck, without a shred of credibility. Yet thar crap seems to sell.

Byron said...

Perhaps you're focussing too much on the specifics of the example and not on the principle being illustrated?
And you're ignoring what has been said multiple times in the past. Laserstars might carry other weapons, missiles or small lasers, for self-defense. Being designed around a certain weapon doesn't rule out all other weapons.

WRT to command ships staying out of range, you're really showing a poor understanding of military theory. One of the basics is that enemy vulnerabilities are always to be exploited. If a force has a single point failure mode, such as a single command ship, guess what? a way will be found to go through or around and get to it.

How? The ships is light-seconds back. Barring operatic techlevels, lasers are ineffective, and kinetics are going to have really long closing times, making interception easy. Plus, why only have one command ship?

Maybe it's realistic enough for pimply-faced teenage boys without girlfriends. Maybe it's realistic enough even for college students. For adult SF readers? Not so much.
This makes no sense. All SF must have some aspect that isn't realistic. The only SF that can be written without that is a remake of Apollo 13. If we don't have some piece of implausium, economic or technical, then we won't have a story.

Byron said...

Tony:
Let's look at another possibility. First, read this link.
Let's say that some venture capitalist (or the government) does this and it works. Soon, we get a virtuous cycle. As launch costs fall, more people go into space, which pumps more money into R&D and brings costs down farther.
Is this unrealistic/bad? Yes, it's authorial fiat, but isn't everything in fiction? For that matter, what would you consider good?

Tony said...

Byron:

"And you're ignoring what has been said multiple times in the past. Laserstars might carry other weapons, missiles or small lasers, for self-defense. Being designed around a certain weapon doesn't rule out all other weapons."

I'm not ignoring it. I'm simply not buying it. The way the laserstar is talked about by it's proponents, it seems inescapable that the laser is relied on too much as a one-size-fits-all answer. YMMV.

"How? The ships is light-seconds back. Barring operatic techlevels, lasers are ineffective, and kinetics are going to have really long closing times, making interception easy. Plus, why only have one command ship?"

How? Some way. No defense is perfect. No position is unassailable. With the potential payoff, a significant effort would be put into getting to the command ship, and that a successful approach would be found.

Why a single command ship? It's a mathematical fact that for some number of drones, there will be a one-to-many, command-ship-to-drone relationship. Or, looked at another way, if you consider the entire force as a single constellation, then command ships are few and drones are many, making the command ships the obvious vulnerability.

"This makes no sense. All SF must have some aspect that isn't realistic. The only SF that can be written without that is a remake of Apollo 13. If we don't have some piece of implausium, economic or technical, then we won't have a story."

Oh, come on! Not all plot devices are created equal. There's a world of difference between requiring a hyperdrive to move the protagonist around at the speed of plot and requiring a deus ex machina mcguffinite to have a story at all.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Let's look at another possibility. First, read this link.
Let's say that some venture capitalist (or the government) does this and it works. Soon, we get a virtuous cycle. As launch costs fall, more people go into space, which pumps more money into R&D and brings costs down farther.
Is this unrealistic/bad? Yes, it's authorial fiat, but isn't everything in fiction? For that matter, what would you consider good?"


That's called betting the come. Drawing to an inside straight is hardly a way to do successful business, and good luck finding investors to try it. Going back to the author's foundational example, it's based on irrational economics to begin with.

What would I consider good? Pournelle, Niven, Heinlein, Piper, Clarke, (some) Asimov, stuff like that. They don't try to justify their settings, they just presume they exist. And those settings are generally one of two things:

1. Far enough in the future that they're not implausibly quick to their economic conditions, or

2. Limited enough in scale that one can see them happeing in the plausible midfuture from when they were written.

So, for example, Piper's Terro-Human Federation and eventual Empire are hundreds or thousands of years in the future of the late Fifities or Early Sixties. Pournelle's CoDominium/Empire is set in the mid-21st Century and later. The CoDominium at least seems not so likely now, but in the 1970s, the earliest story was 80 years in the future, and fusion-powered spacecraft by the early 20th Century seemed not that implausible.

Rick said...

You're being reductionist and absurd.

Exactly how does this kind of tone advance the discussion? I don't have an issue with disagreement. I do have an issue with disagreeability.


On the substance of the discussion, I don't have a whole lot to add at the moment.

Tony said...

Rick:

"Exactly how does this kind of tone advance the discussion? I don't have an issue with disagreement. I do have an issue with disagreeability."

I don't want to start a fight with you or anybody else Rick, but Byron's rhetoric was reductio ad absurdum. I just said it in plain English, rather than trotting out the latinate nomenclature from debate club. Sorry Byron...please don't engage in reductio ad absurdum, k?

Byron said...

Tony:
Oh, come on! Not all plot devices are created equal. There's a world of difference between requiring a hyperdrive to move the protagonist around at the speed of plot and requiring a deus ex machina mcguffinite to have a story at all.
Your standard of realism keeps changing. It's realistic so long as they don't try to explain it, but if it is explained at all, then it has to be perfect. I never recall trying to explain how I have the interstellar economy to support laserstars, but that didn't stop you from attacking that economy.

How? Some way. No defense is perfect. No position is unassailable. With the potential payoff, a significant effort would be put into getting to the command ship, and that a successful approach would be found.

Why a single command ship? It's a mathematical fact that for some number of drones, there will be a one-to-many, command-ship-to-drone relationship. Or, looked at another way, if you consider the entire force as a single constellation, then command ships are few and drones are many, making the command ships the obvious vulnerability.

Yes, but you are viewing the problem independent of other things around it.
The drones are cheaper than manned ships of similar capability. With sufficiently large numbers of drones, the manned ships will be outnumbered by a significant amount. That's going to be telling during the battle. Oh, and did you actually read my posts on the math of decapitating a constellation? I know that math is useless, but it might bear looking into.

I'm not ignoring it. I'm simply not buying it. The way the laserstar is talked about by it's proponents, it seems inescapable that the laser is relied on too much as a one-size-fits-all answer. YMMV.
Maybe we do overemphasize the laser. That won't be known until we get there.

Sorry Byron...please don't engage in reductio ad absurdum, k?
Yes, I was engaging in reductio ad absurdum, because to put it bluntly, as you phrased it, I found the point you were trying to make absurd. The fact that you can draw high-level parallels between all aspects of war doesn't mean that we can use naval (or land or air )analogies whenever we feel like it, k?
But I will try to refrain from using that tactic again.

Byron said...

Oh, and I'm pretty sure that when blogger finally gets back to normal, we'll have broken the record by this point.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Your standard of realism keeps changing. It's realistic so long as they don't try to explain it, but if it is explained at all, then it has to be perfect. I never recall trying to explain how I have the interstellar economy to support laserstars, but that didn't stop you from attacking that economy.

Maybe "realistic" isn't the right term, since the more operatic you get, the more it becomes science fantasy rather than science fiction. What I'm getting at is that certain things are credible because they match prior experience. In the age of sail, an SF writer might have imagined steamships (even if he couldn't be specific about how they worked). In the space age, an SF writer can therefore credibly imagine hyperdrive (with the same caveat that he couldn't really explain it).

A previously undiscovered mcguffinite is simply outside the realm of human experience. The Portuguese and Dutch knew what they were going to the Indies for. The Spanish, on their way to what they thought were the Indies, knew gold when they saw it in the Americas. The emerging petroleum economy made a geologic curiosity into a fuel source, but we always knew it was there.

And I'm not attacking the economy. I'm just pointing out that a real economy has constraints that limit choices.

"Yes, but you are viewing the problem independent of other things around it.
The drones are cheaper than manned ships of similar capability. With sufficiently large numbers of drones, the manned ships will be outnumbered by a significant amount. That's going to be telling during the battle. Oh, and did you actually read my posts on the math of decapitating a constellation? I know that math is useless, but it might bear looking into."


Your math isn't useless. It helps define the problem, to the extent that your initial assumptions may be correct. But it doesn't prove that the problem is insoluble.

WRT drones outnumbering manned ships, there are a couple of ways to approach that. The first is to note that they may only outnumber manned ships by a marginal amount, because the limiting factors aren't likely to be the number of space-worthy life support systems you can build, but the number of military grade propulsion and sensor systems.

The second approach to realtive numbers, even if they are significant, is to point out that numbers aren't everything. Here's a study project: google "battle of leuthen".

"Maybe we do overemphasize the laser. That won't be known until we get there."

Maybe. But on general military principles, I know what result I'd put my money on.

"Yes, I was engaging in reductio ad absurdum, because to put it bluntly, as you phrased it, I found the point you were trying to make absurd. The fact that you can draw high-level parallels between all aspects of war doesn't mean that we can use naval (or land or air )analogies whenever we feel like it, k?"

No, you can never use analogy when you fell like it. I agree 100%. But when analogies are valid in making a point, rejecting them simply because they are analogies is just as wrong.

Byron said...

Tony:

WRT drones outnumbering manned ships, there are a couple of ways to approach that. The first is to note that they may only outnumber manned ships by a marginal amount, because the limiting factors aren't likely to be the number of space-worthy life support systems you can build, but the number of military grade propulsion and sensor systems.

I'm not sure that's as big of a problem as you make it out to be. However, even if it is, the advantage is still with drones. Either I can get more performance out of a given drive, or make a more heavily-armed drone with the same drive and performance for the same price. Either way, it's fundamentally an advantage.

The second approach to realtive numbers, even if they are significant, is to point out that numbers aren't everything. Here's a study project: google "battle of leuthen".
Yes, but they are very significant. You're grasping at straws.

But when analogies are valid in making a point, rejecting them simply because they are analogies is just as wrong.
In the specific case I was referring to, you used specific numbers from naval usage. That's the problem. If you use an analogy, it should be to illustrate a point you made via independent logic, not to make a point. You usually are OK about that, but sometimes you skate close to the edge.

A previously undiscovered mcguffinite is simply outside the realm of human experience.
Maybe so, but I had to add something, and superconductors seemed like they might work.

jollyreaper said...

Anyone have a list of the most common mcguffinites? It's usually energy-related. Xenotech is a great one or a xeno mystery like 2001.

Radiation was unknown to the ancients and yet we could have seen the 20th century turn on access to nuke fuel rather than oil.

While history is a good guide for creating authenticity, history also shows many examples where our prognosticators were blindsided.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I'm not sure that's as big of a problem as you make it out to be. However, even if it is, the advantage is still with drones. Either I can get more performance out of a given drive, or make a more heavily-armed drone with the same drive and performance for the same price. Either way, it's fundamentally an advantage."

It is as big a problem as I make it out to be. In WWII, aviation engine supply was a limiting factor in aircraft production, even for the US. Even specific components could be limiting. Colonel Tibbet's insistence on having his group's B-29s equipped with the latest supercharged engines created a shortage of those engines throughout the entire B-29 force.

The history of sensors tells a similar story. By the end of WWII, the US had a highly complex radar inventory because there just weren't the resources in the largest industrial economy on the planet to equip every radar operator with the latest model. Even today, with decades of relative peace to rationalize the inventory, there are multiple systems in service for many applications.

WRT the idea that a drone can somehow be more effective than a manned ship, given the same propulsion and sensors, I'm just not convinced. Say you make it more maneuverable -- can you make it significantly more maneuverable? Or if you put more weapons on the drone, well -- you probably can't, because sensors are limiting factor, and weapons don't grown on trees either.

"Yes, but they are very significant. You're grasping at straws."

Hardly. The history of warfare is, quite often, the history of small forces applying superior skill to achieve favorable results over larger ones. Above a certain level, God may be on the side of the big battalions, but at the tactical level, that's not even close to being true.

"In the specific case I was referring to, you used specific numbers from naval usage. That's the problem. If you use an analogy, it should be to illustrate a point you made via independent logic, not to make a point. You usually are OK about that, but sometimes you skate close to the edge."

You'll have to refresh my memory.

"Maybe so, but I had to add something, and superconductors seemed like they might work."

It depends greatly on the audience. Maybe you want to join the Kratmans and Ringos of the world, but if so, I'm not buying your books.

Byron said...

Hardly. The history of warfare is, quite often, the history of small forces applying superior skill to achieve favorable results over larger ones. Above a certain level, God may be on the side of the big battalions, but at the tactical level, that's not even close to being true.
That's just plain ridiculous. I do know that a smaller force may beat a large one, but all else equal, the bigger force will win. I have yet to be convinced that humans onboard will produce enough inequality.

You'll have to refresh my memory.
16-inch guns on a Fletcher.

As to drones vs. manned ships in cost, you're also grasping at straws. I honestly don't expect space forces to be large enough that industrial capacity will be the limiting factor in production, as it is in the examples you give. Even if it is, you seem to be reaching around for any excuse to keep men on every spacecraft. It's getting annoying.
As to maneuverability, if my ships are 25% lighter and use the same drive, then they should have 25% higher acceleration as well. That counts as significant in my book, particularly on a strategic level. Or I could sacrifice some of that mass as extra remass and get more transit delta-V.

Tony said...

Byron:

"That's just plain ridiculous. I do know that a smaller force may beat a large one, but all else equal, the bigger force will win. I have yet to be convinced that humans onboard will produce enough inequality."

"[A]ll else equal" is simply a fallacy when talking about military theory. And it has nothing to do with human combatants aboard each ship, per se. It's simply that highly concentrated command and control is a vulnerability that an opponent would seek to exploit.

"16-inch guns on a Fletcher."

I'm having trouble seeing the problem with the analogy. It follows laserstar logic -- if you have a gun at all, might as well have the biggest one you can mount. That was actually a solution tried during the ironclad era. Armored frigates were equipped with a single example of the biggest gun available. (See Japanese Kotetsu (ex CSS Stonewall)) The logic was even similar to that of the laserstar -- achieve as much damage as possible with each hit.

So, what is your specific objection?

"As to drones vs. manned ships in cost, you're also grasping at straws. I honestly don't expect space forces to be large enough that industrial capacity will be the limiting factor in production, as it is in the examples you give. Even if it is, you seem to be reaching around for any excuse to keep men on every spacecraft. It's getting annoying."

Just because you are characterizing my responses as "grasping at straws" that doesn't mean they actually are. They may not be what you want to hear, but they're all based on extensive historical experience. My opinion is firmly grounded. Your's? I'm not sure what you're basing it on.

"As to maneuverability, if my ships are 25% lighter and use the same drive, then they should have 25% higher acceleration as well. That counts as significant in my book, particularly on a strategic level. Or I could sacrifice some of that mass as extra remass and get more transit delta-V."

That's all highly sensitive to technical assumptions. Higher acceleration only has strategic significance at torchship levels of operaticness. Otherwise you just take a little bit less time to make an orbital insertion. At the tactical level, it's unlikely that even 25% more delta-v is going to mean much to attacking missiles or lasers. To make an illustrative analogy, in 1982 an Argentinian Mirage could make supersonic speed dashes, but it couldn't outrun a Sidewinder fired by a British Harrier. (And please don't compalin about aerial fighter analogies yet another time -- I specifically left the Mirage's dogfighting disadvantages WRT the Harrier out of example.)

Byron said...

"[A]ll else equal" is simply a fallacy when talking about military theory. And it has nothing to do with human combatants aboard each ship, per se. It's simply that highly concentrated command and control is a vulnerability that an opponent would seek to exploit.
What is that supposed to mean? If we look at the command problem in isolation, humans do have an advantage. But I'm not convinced that it's a big enough disadvantage to allow exploitation. You can't shoot a laser across half a light-second, and any non-operatic kinetics can't get there in timescales under hours. During that time, they should be tracked and eliminated.

So, what is your specific objection?
You were using naval scaling laws during that analogy to prove your point.

Just because you are characterizing my responses as "grasping at straws" that doesn't mean they actually are. They may not be what you want to hear, but they're all based on extensive historical experience. My opinion is firmly grounded. Your's? I'm not sure what you're basing it on.
Yes, your basing them on a total war scenario. I doubt we'll see that, and even if we do, what's to stop one side from making more numerous, smaller engines at the same cost? You act like each side has the same number and type of engines and sensors. I doubt that.


That's all highly sensitive to technical assumptions. Higher acceleration only has strategic significance at torchship levels of operaticness. Otherwise you just take a little bit less time to make an orbital insertion. At the tactical level, it's unlikely that even 25% more delta-v is going to mean much to attacking missiles or lasers. To make an illustrative analogy, in 1982 an Argentinian Mirage could make supersonic speed dashes, but it couldn't outrun a Sidewinder fired by a British Harrier. (And please don't compalin about aerial fighter analogies yet another time -- I specifically left the Mirage's dogfighting disadvantages WRT the Harrier out of example.)

You looked at the advantages backwards. Delta-V is the biggest advantage at the strategic level. Getting there faster will be important. Acceleration is more useful when setting up the battle or dodging things.
I have no problem with the analogy, and as far as you go, you're right. However, that stopping point seems rather convenient.

Tony said...

Byron:

"What is that supposed to mean? If we look at the command problem in isolation, humans do have an advantage. But I'm not convinced that it's a big enough disadvantage to allow exploitation. You can't shoot a laser across half a light-second, and any non-operatic kinetics can't get there in timescales under hours. During that time, they should be tracked and eliminated."

You're fixating on irrelevant details. By concentrating your command and control, you creat an exploitable vulnerability. Period. If the command ships were full of AIs, instead of people, it wouldn't change that. If the attacking ships were all also AI controlled, it wouldn't change it. The vulnerability is concentrated command. That's all.

And you're presuming that the drone constellation can be perfectly operated to keep the command ship(s) out of danger. That's just not likely at all. The vulnerability of concentrated command will be attacked, in any way possible. Presuming impenatrable defense is simply mistaken.

"You were using naval scaling laws during that analogy to prove your point."

I wasn't trying to prove a point. I was illustrating a point -- things can be taken beyond their practical limits. It doesn't matter what scaling law you use.

"Yes, your basing them on a total war scenario. I doubt we'll see that, and even if we do, what's to stop one side from making more numerous, smaller engines at the same cost? You act like each side has the same number and type of engines and sensors. I doubt that."

Wow. Yes, I used total war examples. I also pointed out, if you recall, that even decades of peace can't serve to rationalize system inventories. That's because there's only so much money to go around. In fact, if we're presuming infrequent military action in space, then the expectation should be that forces will be as small and inexpensive as they can be and still provide a credible deterrent.

You looked at the advantages backwards. Delta-V is the biggest advantage at the strategic level. Getting there faster will be important. Acceleration is more useful when setting up the battle or dodging things."

Actually, I looked at them sideways. I would think that a drone spacecraft would be carried to the battle area on a larger vessel, possibly the command ship, or a dedicated tender. That type of ship's performance would determine the force's strategic mobility. Tactically, I'll stick with my assessment that ship performance (drone or manned) isn't going to be a significant factor compared to the maneuverability of missiles or the reach of beam weapons.

"I have no problem with the analogy, and as far as you go, you're right. However, that stopping point seems rather convenient."

I intentionally took the analogy as far as it was valid to take it. Perhaps you should contemplate that, WRT other analogies I have made.

Byron said...

You're fixating on irrelevant details. By concentrating your command and control, you creat an exploitable vulnerability. Period. If the command ships were full of AIs, instead of people, it wouldn't change that. If the attacking ships were all also AI controlled, it wouldn't change it. The vulnerability is concentrated command. That's all.
No, you're fixating on irrelevant details. Yes, there is a vulnerability. I don't believe it to be exploitable. The command ship is far enough back that attacking it is going to be nearly impossible.
Tanks have an exploitable vulnerability. They have weakly armored backs and tops. One of the fundamentals of armored tactics is to avoid having those pointed at the enemy. And nobody plans their anti-tank tactics on getting shots into those sides. Well, nobody who has a choice. I do know about Sherman vs. Tiger.

And you're presuming that the drone constellation can be perfectly operated to keep the command ship(s) out of danger. That's just not likely at all. The vulnerability of concentrated command will be attacked, in any way possible. Presuming impenatrable defense is simply mistaken.
I'm not presuming impenetrable defenses. I'm just presuming that the defenses are strong enough, or that there are other reasons to make it a bad idea.
I'll throw one out. Each drone has an AI that keeps an alternate targeting que, and will attack any target that is deemed hostile within weapons range, and maneuver to engage those that are not. Once the fire button is pressed, the drones will engage those targets, and keep engaging them until told to stop. If the command ship is eliminated, then the drones will fight to the death. Suddenly, shooting down the command ship isn't such a good idea. Yes, the drones might be less effective, but they're now suicidal.

Yes, I used total war examples. I also pointed out, if you recall, that even decades of peace can't serve to rationalize system inventories. That's because there's only so much money to go around. In fact, if we're presuming infrequent military action in space, then the expectation should be that forces will be as small and inexpensive as they can be and still provide a credible deterrent.
This particular line of argument is really weak. "Both sides have the same engines, sensors, and armaments, and any extra performance gained through getting rid of the crew is irrelevant, so there's no point to drones."
In a total war, you can't buy more because you can't make more. However, during peace, you can design a smaller, cheaper engine that you can buy more of. Cheaper ships let you buy more stuff, so you do get more ships. I don't see where this is going.

I would think that a drone spacecraft would be carried to the battle area on a larger vessel, possibly the command ship, or a dedicated tender.
Are you ignoring my statements intentionally? I've stated numerous times that the drones I'm proposing are fundamentally unmanned ships. Period.

I intentionally took the analogy as far as it was valid to take it. Perhaps you should contemplate that, WRT other analogies I have made.
Poor choice of words there. The analogy was fine. The second part referred to the rest of your statement about the effects of acceleration and delta-V.

Tony said...

Byron:

"No, you're fixating on irrelevant details. Yes, there is a vulnerability. I don't believe it to be exploitable. The command ship is far enough back that attacking it is going to be nearly impossible.
Tanks have an exploitable vulnerability. They have weakly armored backs and tops. One of the fundamentals of armored tactics is to avoid having those pointed at the enemy. And nobody plans their anti-tank tactics on getting shots into those sides. Well, nobody who has a choice. I do know about Sherman vs. Tiger."


With all due respect, you're simply over your head here. All anti armor tactics are predicated on shooting at the enemy's flank or rear whenever possible. And with competent tactical positioning, it's generally possible. Every single bit of training for anti armor work reinforces this.

More generally, all direct fire tactics are predicated on engaging the enemy from the flank whenever possible, preferably with an enfilade (fire along the enemy array's long axis). I don't know what the space warfare analogs of flanks and enfilades might be, but I'm sure they will exist, and be accessible, with proper tactics.

"I'm not presuming impenetrable defenses. I'm just presuming that the defenses are strong enough, or that there are other reasons to make it a bad idea.
I'll throw one out. Each drone has an AI that keeps an alternate targeting que, and will attack any target that is deemed hostile within weapons range, and maneuver to engage those that are not. Once the fire button is pressed, the drones will engage those targets, and keep engaging them until told to stop. If the command ship is eliminated, then the drones will fight to the death. Suddenly, shooting down the command ship isn't such a good idea. Yes, the drones might be less effective, but they're now suicidal.


I always presumed drones would be suicidal, given the proper circumstances. That doesn't invalidate the point that centralizing command creates a real vulnerability that will be exploited.

"This particular line of argument is really weak. 'Both sides have the same engines, sensors, and armaments, and any extra performance gained through getting rid of the crew is irrelevant, so there's no point to drones.'"

Is that a direct quote, or are you putting words in my mouth?

"In a total war, you can't buy more because you can't make more. However, during peace, you can design a smaller, cheaper engine that you can buy more of. Cheaper ships let you buy more stuff, so you do get more ships. I don't see where this is going."

Cheaper stuff, unless produced in overwhelming, total war quantities, get's killed by better stuff. That's such a common dynamic that we have legendary example like Sherman vs. Tiger for people to misquote.

"Are you ignoring my statements intentionally? I've stated numerous times that the drones I'm proposing are fundamentally unmanned ships. Period."

I simply don't accept artificial constraints. Strangely enough, you don't seem to accept realistic ones. Funny how that works, ain't it?

Byron said...

With all due respect, you're simply over your head here. All anti armor tactics are predicated on shooting at the enemy's flank or rear whenever possible. And with competent tactical positioning, it's generally possible. Every single bit of training for anti armor work reinforces this.
OK, point. Still, tanks are vulnerable from some angles. It's often possible to get shots from those angles. We still use tanks.

I always presumed drones would be suicidal, given the proper circumstances. That doesn't invalidate the point that centralizing command creates a real vulnerability that will be exploited.
You still have to explain how you intend to exploit it. The command ship is far enough back that it's going to be really hard to hit. Yes, you launch all your kinetics at it. That would probably work. At the same time, the drones take out all of your ships because they're unengaged. I'm down a command ship, and I just tell my drones to come home. You're down all of your ships.
I'll quote from you a day ago:
Your math isn't useless. It helps define the problem, to the extent that your initial assumptions may be correct.
So what is wrong with my assumptions? Please be specific.

Is that a direct quote, or are you putting words in my mouth?
That's my paraphrase of your argument. However, it you demand direct quotes:
[Drones] may only outnumber manned ships by a marginal amount, because the limiting factors aren't likely to be the number of space-worthy life support systems you can build, but the number of military grade propulsion and sensor systems.
Or if you put more weapons on the drone, well -- you probably can't, because sensors are limiting factor, and weapons don't grown on trees either.
(Whole thing on uselessness of acceleration at strategic levels and delta-V at tactical levels)
The basic point is that by removing the humans, and all of the attendant mass, a ship can be built cheaper.

Cheaper stuff, unless produced in overwhelming, total war quantities, get's killed by better stuff. That's such a common dynamic that we have legendary example like Sherman vs. Tiger for people to misquote.
I'm trying to figure out if this is intentional or accidental. I specifically said "smaller, cheaper engine." However, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Cheaper was used as an apositive of smaller, not the primary adjective. The meaning was that cheaper would be a byproduct of the engine being smaller.
Yes, you'll probably ask me not to lecture you about grammer. I agree, so long as you don't greviously distort my statements like this.

I simply don't accept artificial constraints. Strangely enough, you don't seem to accept realistic ones. Funny how that works, ain't it?
Oh, so coming from me a constraint is artificial, but coming from you, it's realistic. Funny how that works, ain't it?
In all seriousness, though, that statement was a strawman. If you think that drones will work that way, fine, but don't project that onto the drones I'm woking on.

Byron said...

Tony:
Cheaper stuff, unless produced in overwhelming, total war quantities, get's killed by better stuff. That's such a common dynamic that we have legendary example like Sherman vs. Tiger for people to misquote.
To deal with the specifics of this statements:
More expensive doesn't always mean better. There is a strong correlation, but it isn't an ironclad rule. And even then, quantity can be vital as well. Remember Lancaster. It takes an n-squared increase in quality to make up for an n increase in quantity.

I suppose I should also clear this up:
I've stated numerous times that the drones I'm proposing are fundamentally unmanned ships. Period.
That was meant to make it perfectly clear exactly what I'm arguing for. My arguments are predicated on drones as unmanned space warcraft. The use of other kinds of drones is fundamentally a red herring.

Byron said...

Oh, and this is 821. We've broken the record, even though blogger is still broken.
It does make me wonder how much longer this thread will last, though.

Tony said...

Byron:

"OK, point. Still, tanks are vulnerable from some angles. It's often possible to get shots from those angles. We still use tanks."

The Iraqis used tanks too. They used them with over-centralized and over-rigid control, to the point that indivdual vehicles and even several vehicles together might as well have been driven and fought by robots. How'd that work out for them?

"You still have to explain how you intend to exploit it. The command ship is far enough back that it's going to be really hard to hit. Yes, you launch all your kinetics at it. That would probably work. At the same time, the drones take out all of your ships because they're unengaged. I'm down a command ship, and I just tell my drones to come home. You're down all of your ships."

There are a lot of different approaches that might work. Attack from more than one vector. Execute a bait and switch, a la Blenheim. Exploit a technical superiority. Who knows? The point isn't to come up with a specific tactic or strategem. The point is that if vulnerabilites exist, they will be exploited.

"I'll quote from you a day ago:
Your math isn't useless. It helps define the problem, to the extent that your initial assumptions may be correct.
So what is wrong with my assumptions? Please be specific."


Sigh...that wasn't a challenge. It was a standard disclaimer of a type routinely used in technical work. It means that your technical argument is internally consistent, but only applicable to reality if your data is accurate and complete. If you want to be an aerospace engineer, you better get used to hearing this kind of thing.

Obviously, our data on space warfare is incomplete and probably inaccurate. So making absolute quantitatvie assertions is contraindicated.

"That's my paraphrase of your argument. However, it you demand direct quotes:
[Drones] may only outnumber manned ships by a marginal amount, because the limiting factors aren't likely to be the number of space-worthy life support systems you can build, but the number of military grade propulsion and sensor systems.
Or if you put more weapons on the drone, well -- you probably can't, because sensors are limiting factor, and weapons don't grown on trees either."


Yeah, I said that. I see no reason to correct or expand it. It's based on long historical experience.

Tony said...

Byron:

"The basic point is that by removing the humans, and all of the attendant mass, a ship can be built cheaper."

Yes, but spacecraft mass is not fungible. In general, propulsion systems of a certain performance cost a certain minimum amount, due to mechanical and electrical complexity. Additionaly raw power output above the minimum is a marginal cost. I see no reason why spacecraft propulsion is going to be any different. IOW, an engine for a spacecraft of mass 3 may cost almost as much as one for spacecraft of size 4.

"I'm trying to figure out if this is intentional or accidental. I specifically said "smaller, cheaper engine." However, I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. Cheaper was used as an apositive of smaller, not the primary adjective. The meaning was that cheaper would be a byproduct of the engine being smaller.
Yes, you'll probably ask me not to lecture you about grammer. I agree, so long as you don't greviously distort my statements like this."


See above -- smaller is probably not significantly cheaper, unless it is of lower quality too. So, I wasn't intentionally distorting your atatement, I was just working off different premises.

"Oh, so coming from me a constraint is artificial, but coming from you, it's realistic. Funny how that works, ain't it?
In all seriousness, though, that statement was a strawman. If you think that drones will work that way, fine, but don't project that onto the drones I'm woking on."


"[D]rones [you're] wo[r]king on" is an artificial constraint, because they're not the only type of drones possible. And the economic, political, and strategic constraints I insist on are broadly realistic, if only qualitatively so.

Byron said...

The Iraqis used tanks too. They used them with over-centralized and over-rigid control, to the point that indivdual vehicles and even several vehicles together might as well have been driven and fought by robots. How'd that work out for them?
And the point is? Using tanks wrong makes their vulnerabilities greater? Who would have guessed?

There are a lot of different approaches that might work. Attack from more than one vector. Execute a bait and switch, a la Blenheim. Exploit a technical superiority. Who knows? The point isn't to come up with a specific tactic or strategem. The point is that if vulnerabilites exist, they will be exploited.
Maybe they will be. But will it be enough to render the idea useless. I doubt it. See above.

Sigh...that wasn't a challenge. It was a standard disclaimer of a type routinely used in technical work. It means that your technical argument is internally consistent, but only applicable to reality if your data is accurate and complete. If you want to be an aerospace engineer, you better get used to hearing this kind of thing.

Obviously, our data on space warfare is incomplete and probably inaccurate. So making absolute quantitatvie assertions is contraindicated.

OK. That makes more sense. Though I still don't buy the thing about not being able to do quantitative analysis.

Yes, but spacecraft mass is not fungible. In general, propulsion systems of a certain performance cost a certain minimum amount, due to mechanical and electrical complexity. Additionaly raw power output above the minimum is a marginal cost. I see no reason why spacecraft propulsion is going to be any different. IOW, an engine for a spacecraft of mass 3 may cost almost as much as one for spacecraft of size 4.
While you're probably correct in this, I think that asssuming that the economies of scale will hinder drones is an incredible reach. We really don't have the data on this, but according to Luke (who should know more about this then we do) the minimum size for a nuclear reactor is around that of a desk. That seems to indicate that we won't be running up against size constraints. And even if we do, just replace the humans with more weapons, or more delta-V, or increase acceleration. Any of them will help combat power.

See above -- smaller is probably not significantly cheaper, unless it is of lower quality too. So, I wasn't intentionally distorting your atatement, I was just working off different premises.
Then you really should have stated that. I've been assuming that scaling will be relatively linear for the range we're looking at. It's almost certainly not true, but unless we can find a better model, I'll stick with it.

"[D]rones [you're] wo[r]king on" is an artificial constraint, because they're not the only type of drones possible. And the economic, political, and strategic constraints I insist on are broadly realistic, if only qualitatively so.
I'm going to say that it's not an artifical constraint to ask you to refrain from making statements based on a position that I don't hold. Yes, there are other kinds of drones. However, I'm not arguing for them right now.

Tony said...

Byron:


"To deal with the specifics of this statements:
More expensive doesn't always mean better. There is a strong correlation, but it isn't an ironclad rule. And even then, quantity can be vital as well. Remember Lancaster. It takes an n-squared increase in quality to make up for an n increase in quantity."


It's Lanchester, and his analysis only applies to tactical situations in which all elements of both arrays are uniformly vulnerable. That's never been the case in modern warfare that I am aware of.

And whatever a unit of strength costs, it is unlikely to be of uniform quality at all levels. The tiger tank had tactical superiority to some types of enemy units (it could really shoot up enemy AFVs, but it was remarkably vulnerable to determined infantry). But it ate up a lot of maintenance resources, it used up rail transport at a disproprotionate rate (both for the tanks and the large maintenance establishment), and it couldn't be operationally repositioned on its tracks more than 100 km at most (otherwise the Germans used rail transport, at the previously mentioned disadvantage).

"That was meant to make it perfectly clear exactly what I'm arguing for. My arguments are predicated on drones as unmanned space warcraft. The use of other kinds of drones is fundamentally a red herring."

My response is not a red herring. As previously stated, your insistence on discussing only what you want to discuss is an artificial constraint.

Byron said...

Tony:
And the point of the entire discussion on cost is?

My response is not a red herring. As previously stated, your insistence on discussing only what you want to discuss is an artificial constraint.
No, but it is a red herring to dismiss my argument by changing the frame of reference. To quote the original exchange:
"You looked at the advantages backwards. Delta-V is the biggest advantage at the strategic level. Getting there faster will be important. Acceleration is more useful when setting up the battle or dodging things."

Actually, I looked at them sideways. I would think that a drone spacecraft would be carried to the battle area on a larger vessel, possibly the command ship, or a dedicated tender. That type of ship's performance would determine the force's strategic mobility.

My analysis was based on independent drones. If I'm not allowed to have more engines, sensors, or weapons due to your artifical constrains, a drone ship will have better performance than the equivilant manned ship.

Tony said...

Byron:

"And the point is? Using tanks wrong makes their vulnerabilities greater? Who would have guessed?"

No. Using tanks exposes their vulnerabilites, which are multiplied by poor or simply inefficient doctrine. It's not rocket surgery.

"Maybe they will be. But will it be enough to render the idea useless. I doubt it. See above."

You're looking at it backwards, B. The question isn't whether a centrally controlled constellation will be invulnerable. It's whether one would be unquestionably dominant. It could go either way. I'm just questioning your assertion of inevitable dominance.

"OK. That makes more sense. Though I still don't buy the thing about not being able to do quantitative analysis."

You can do all the quantitative analysis you want. But it will be based on unverifiable assumptions, because we simply don't have the data. In case you haven't noticed, I don't agree with anybody's numerical ssumptions when it comes to speculative astronautics. We're all in a condition of insufficient data. That's why I stick to opinions that are broadly qualitative.

"While you're probably correct in this, I think that asssuming that the economies of scale will hinder drones is an incredible reach. We really don't have the data on this, but according to Luke (who should know more about this then we do) the minimum size for a nuclear reactor is around that of a desk. That seems to indicate that we won't be running up against size constraints. And even if we do, just replace the humans with more weapons, or more delta-V, or increase acceleration. Any of them will help combat power."

Except the "more" is not necessarily "better". Say your drone has an extra missile rack, or a slightly bigger laser, or more defensive firepower, or more delta-v, or greater thrust. All of those things or any of them won't guarantee more combat effectiveness. They just change the firepower/protection/maneuverability ballance of the platform.

"Then you really should have stated that. I've been assuming that scaling will be relatively linear for the range we're looking at. It's almost certainly not true, but unless we can find a better model, I'll stick with it."

You're sticking with something almost certainly not true, simply because centuries of experience with mechanical technology isn't enough evidence of the fact?

"I'm going to say that it's not an artifical constraint to ask you to refrain from making statements based on a position that I don't hold. Yes, there are other kinds of drones. However, I'm not arguing for them right now."

Insisting on discussing only your favorite hobby horse is an artificial constraint. Take my word for it, if you trot that one past one of your future bosses, you're going to find yourself in a corner, designing non-mission critical widgetry, supposing your lucky enough to keep your job.

Byron said...

Tony:
Insisting on discussing only your favorite hobby horse is an artificial constraint. Take my word for it, if you trot that one past one of your future bosses, you're going to find yourself in a corner, designing non-mission critical widgetry, supposing your lucky enough to keep your job.
Um, you're still missing the point. I'm not adverse to discussing other kinds of drones. What I am adverse to is you suddenly changing the subject and not answering my position there. That is pretty much the definiton of a red herring.

You're sticking with something almost certainly not true, simply because centuries of experience with mechanical technology isn't enough evidence of the fact?
Neither of us knows enough to be certain how they will scale. Or at least I don't and you've admitted all you have is supposition. That gives me no reason to believe that drives will scale like you say. In fact, if industry is based on Earth, for larger ships, I'm fairly certain that it will be linear. The reactor is launched in modules, and they are mated in orbit. For that matter, a drone allows reduced radiation shielding, which might help the balance.

Except the "more" is not necessarily "better". Say your drone has an extra missile rack, or a slightly bigger laser, or more defensive firepower, or more delta-v, or greater thrust. All of those things or any of them won't guarantee more combat effectiveness. They just change the firepower/protection/maneuverability ballance of the platform.
More might not always be better, but correlation doesn't imply causation, either. I'm restraining myself from reductio ad absurdum right now. No, it won't guarantee it, but it's a very strong indicator.

I'm just going to let the whole qualitative/qunatitaive thing drop. We're not going to get anywhere on that for time number twenty-three or whatever the number is.

Tony said...

Byron:

"And the point of the entire discussion on cost is?"

Cost is a factor in every real world decision. When you start trading off capabilities, you have to figure the marginal cost against the marginal benefit. You have taken Econ 101, right?

"No, but it is a red herring to dismiss my argument by changing the frame of reference. To quote the original exchange:
'You looked at the advantages backwards. Delta-V is the biggest advantage at the strategic level. Getting there faster will be important. Acceleration is more useful when setting up the battle or dodging things.'

Actually, I looked at them sideways. I would think that a drone spacecraft would be carried to the battle area on a larger vessel, possibly the command ship, or a dedicated tender. That type of ship's performance would determine the force's strategic mobility.
My analysis was based on independent drones. If I'm not allowed to have more engines, sensors, or weapons due to your artifical constrains, a drone ship will have better performance than the equivilant manned ship."


Once again, my constraints aren't artificial. Marginal cost and marginal benefit are a reality. You can't just trade one capability -- say manning for delta-v -- without thinking about whether you have the resources to apply the extra delta-v, what the development, acquisition, and support costs are going to be for robotic or AI control. Then you have to figure what the actual benefit is going to be. The same applies for weapons, sensors, whatever.

Now, let's get this artificial constraint thing out of the way once and for all, using a real world example. My day job is fundamentally about collecting data from suppliers and redistirbuting it to consumers. If I had my druthers, I'd want every data supplier to provide me with a realtime REST request interface, do all of the filtering, sorting, and pagination on his end, and send me responses in vanilla XML that I can flush through a style sheet and display direct to the user. That way I don't have to store any data on my database server, and I only have to write a minimum of presentation level code.

But the real world ain't like that. Many data feeds come as flat files that I have to download, parse, and store in a database. On the user interface end, I have to right hundreds of lines of code, on the average, to handle filtering, sorting, and pagination.

Now, if I went to my boss and said, "I only want nice, quick and easy, realtime REST-to-XML data feeds," I would be imposing an artificial constraint that my boss wouldn't accept. Downloadable flat file data feeds exist and I have to coexist with them.

So, If you say you only want to talk about drone constellations the way you want them to work, that's an artificial constraint that nobody is bound to accept. There are many possible ways one might build and employ drones and their possible carrier/tender ships. That's a reality you have to live with.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Um, you're still missing the point. I'm not adverse to discussing other kinds of drones. What I am adverse to is you suddenly changing the subject and not answering my position there. That is pretty much the definiton of a red herring."

Making a statement that can only be addressed by way of accepting an underlying premise is the Complex Question fallacy. Refusing to accept the premise is not changing the subject or refusing to answer. It's simply not accepting the premise.

"Neither of us knows enough to be certain how they will scale. Or at least I don't and you've admitted all you have is supposition. That gives me no reason to believe that drives will scale like you say. In fact, if industry is based on Earth, for larger ships, I'm fairly certain that it will be linear. The reactor is launched in modules, and they are mated in orbit. For that matter, a drone allows reduced radiation shielding, which might help the balance."

Show me a single complex technology that has scaled linearly, and demonstrate it's applicability to the subject. I'm relying on standard economic theory and technological experience, both personal and received. The burden of proof is onyou, not me.

"More might not always be better, but correlation doesn't imply causation, either. I'm restraining myself from reductio ad absurdum right now. No, it won't guarantee it, but it's a very strong indicator."

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but more is a strong indicator of better?

Byron said...

Cost is a factor in every real world decision. When you start trading off capabilities, you have to figure the marginal cost against the marginal benefit. You have taken Econ 101, right?
I have. The paragraph you wrote didn't seem to have much bearing on the debate.

Once again, my constraints aren't artificial. Marginal cost and marginal benefit are a reality. You can't just trade one capability -- say manning for delta-v -- without thinking about whether you have the resources to apply the extra delta-v, what the development, acquisition, and support costs are going to be for robotic or AI control. Then you have to figure what the actual benefit is going to be. The same applies for weapons, sensors, whatever.
What do you mean, resoucres to apply the extra delta-V? That makes almost no sense. In all honesty, you might not even expand the tanks. The mass ratio would go up, of course, and you'd get some extra acceleration.
And control was covered a long time ago. All humans will do is say "shoot at that" no matter if they are onboard or not. All you need is a secure laser comm setup. I don't see that as a huge obstacle in most cases.

So, If you say you only want to talk about drone constellations the way you want them to work, that's an artificial constraint that nobody is bound to accept. There are many possible ways one might build and employ drones and their possible carrier/tender ships. That's a reality you have to live with.
I do understand that, and maybe I over-focused on that. You still haven't answered my position there.

Show me a single complex technology that has scaled linearly, and demonstrate it's applicability to the subject. I'm relying on standard economic theory and technological experience, both personal and received. The burden of proof is on you, not me.
Show me why nuclear reactors will scale the way you say they will. I understand that linear scaling is not the correct model, but neither of us knows what is. If my drone engine needs 75% the power of your engine, we can't tell if it will cost/mass 75%, 80%, 95% or somewhere in between. I don't see why I should assume 95%.

Correlation doesn't imply causation, but more is a strong indicator of better?
Wouldn't you say that more is a strong indicator of better? If I had a destroyer and a battleship, I would assume the battleship was better due to having more. One of my basic assumptions (and I haven't really stated it, I will admit) is that we're dealing with generally competent people. There won't be bad designs involved, so the person with more wins. I know that that isn't strictly true, but who says that the bad designs will be the drones?

Tony said...

Byron:

"I have. The paragraph you wrote didn't seem to have much bearing on the debate."

Which paragraph, where?

"What do you mean, resoucres to apply the extra delta-V? That makes almost no sense. In all honesty, you might not even expand the tanks. The mass ratio would go up, of course, and you'd get some extra acceleration."

You may not add tankage, but at a reduced vehicle weight, you will probably need to beef up structure to handle the higher acceleration. Or you keep initial vehicle mass constant, which means you have to add structure in the form of tankage. So, you've elminiated the crew, and probably saved some complexity cost, but you haven't eliminated compensating investment in structure.

"And control was covered a long time ago. All humans will do is say "shoot at that" no matter if they are onboard or not. All you need is a secure laser comm setup. I don't see that as a huge obstacle in most cases."

Why are we presuming that computing resources humans would use to help them, and computing resources to support expert system or AI control are fungible? At the very minimum, even if hardware is constant, you have to design and qualify the autonomous functions software. That can be expensive, time consuming, and possibly of little marginal benefit.

"I do understand that, and maybe I over-focused on that. You still haven't answered my position there."

Yes I have -- my answer is that I don't accept your premises, and even if I did, I don't accept the necessary superiority of drone constellations over manned squadrons.

"Show me why nuclear reactors will scale the way you say they will. I understand that linear scaling is not the correct model, but neither of us knows what is. If my drone engine needs 75% the power of your engine, we can't tell if it will cost/mass 75%, 80%, 95% or somewhere in between. I don't see why I should assume 95%."

Please. We know linear scaling is so highly unlikely as to be safely ignored. Once we accept that the scaling function is complex, we pretty much eliminate one-for-one substitution, which makes talk of tradeoffs and their effects purely speculative. And when you enter the regime of pure speculation, you choose your numbers and you write your outcome. As always, I don't play that game, and you have no authority to insist that I should.

"Wouldn't you say that more is a strong indicator of better? If I had a destroyer and a battleship, I would assume the battleship was better due to having more. One of my basic assumptions (and I haven't really stated it, I will admit) is that we're dealing with generally competent people. There won't be bad designs involved, so the person with more wins. I know that that isn't strictly true, but who says that the bad designs will be the drones?"

We're not talking about differences on the scale of destroyer vs battleship. We're talking performance tradeoffs within the same general class. Assuming competent people on each team, I would expect that neither would have an outright advantage. That's all I've been saying -- one can't presume that drone constellations will be dominant.

Byron said...

Tony:
You may not add tankage, but at a reduced vehicle weight, you will probably need to beef up structure to handle the higher acceleration. Or you keep initial vehicle mass constant, which means you have to add structure in the form of tankage. So, you've elminiated the crew, and probably saved some complexity cost, but you haven't eliminated compensating investment in structure.
I'm not terribly sure about this. First off, I can get rid of the structure mass that was supporting the crew and use it to beef up the rest. Second, structure for this type of ship (miligee acceleration) is going to be rather light, anyway. For my spreadsheet, I think the safety factor I used was 16, just to get the mass to a reasonable level. Thirdly, we're looking at maybe a 10% increase in acceleration. That's rather minor.
You do raise a good point, but I don't think that's a huge issue.

Why are we presuming that computing resources humans would use to help them, and computing resources to support expert system or AI control are fungible? At the very minimum, even if hardware is constant, you have to design and qualify the autonomous functions software. That can be expensive, time consuming, and possibly of little marginal benefit.
Yes, there would be that. However, I will reiterate my earlier point. Humans will tell the computers what to do. They won't point the guns themselves, or anything like that. Yes, the autonomous operations software might be expensive, but it can be amortized over a lot of drones.

Please. We know linear scaling is so highly unlikely as to be safely ignored. Once we accept that the scaling function is complex, we pretty much eliminate one-for-one substitution, which makes talk of tradeoffs and their effects purely speculative. And when you enter the regime of pure speculation, you choose your numbers and you write your outcome. As always, I don't play that game, and you have no authority to insist that I should.
I probably over-interperated your inital comment on the subject, but you did pretty much the same thing, without numbers, when you said that economies of scale would hinder drones. We can't know, and linear scaling has been standard here.

We're not talking about differences on the scale of destroyer vs battleship. We're talking performance tradeoffs within the same general class. Assuming competent people on each team, I would expect that neither would have an outright advantage. That's all I've been saying -- one can't presume that drone constellations will be dominant.
I think we've gotten sucked down a rabbit hole here. I expect drones to have an advantage in numbers. I see drones as 95% capability at 80-90% cost. Given the cost of control ships, this is most apparent when large numbers (several dozen minimum) are involved. You obviously feel differently. The entire thing about engines was mostly me trying to see how the extra mass could be spent, instead of cutting the ship and making it cheaper.
I guess what I don't understand is how you can expect a ship that's carrying around 25 (or even 10) percent in mass of what is militarily dead weight to be competitive with a ship on a similar budget and specs that desn't have to carry that.
And to remind you, you can't presume manned dominance either.

Tony said...

Byron:

"I'm not terribly sure about this...
You do raise a good point, but I don't think that's a huge issue."


Maybe a big issue, maybe not. But remember, I'm not presuming a given technological profile. In the predominantly orbital combat of the PMF, interplanetary drives might be milligee, but orbital maneuvering motors would have much higher accelerations, up to large fractions of G, possibly even G+. This is because when one wants to to make an orbit change in combat, he wants it now, not in a week, which is what his plasma drive would give him. As the operatic quotient increases, we start seeing all warcraft with drives that can apply multigee accelerations over long periods.

"Yes, there would be that. However, I will reiterate my earlier point. Humans will tell the computers what to do. They won't point the guns themselves, or anything like that. Yes, the autonomous operations software might be expensive, but it can be amortized over a lot of drones."

Software is cool in that respect, I have to admit. But large, complex software projects, no matter how many copies are eventually made, are not of neglibile expense.

"I probably over-interperated your inital comment on the subject, but you did pretty much the same thing, without numbers, when you said that economies of scale would hinder drones. We can't know, and linear scaling has been standard here."

Once again, I'm only saying that economies of scale don't guarantee their necessary dominance.

And if linear scaling has been SOP, then I'm injecting a sense of reality here. But somehow I don't think that's really the case. Not everyone is a college student or non-technical, are they?

"I think we've gotten sucked down a rabbit hole here. I expect drones to have an advantage in numbers. I see drones as 95% capability at 80-90% cost. Given the cost of control ships, this is most apparent when large numbers (several dozen minimum) are involved. You obviously feel differently. The entire thing about engines was mostly me trying to see how the extra mass could be spent, instead of cutting the ship and making it cheaper.
I guess what I don't understand is how you can expect a ship that's carrying around 25 (or even 10) percent in mass of what is militarily dead weight to be competitive with a ship on a similar budget and specs that desn't have to carry that.
And to remind you, you can't presume manned dominance either."


But I can assume that human crew aren't automatically "militarily dead weight". We've been over all of the valid reasons to have people on a space warcraft. I won't reiterate them here. I'll just point out that the question isn't black and white. You yourself admit a potential 5% advantage for manned craft on a unit-per-unit basis. So the question is really one of whether humans add enoguh benefit for their potential cost. The answer to that is so highly dependent on technological assumptions that I wouldn't argue things either way on quantitative grounds. I'll just reassert my opinion that war is a human activity, and humans should and will be involved in its conduct as long as humans are recognizably, well...human.

Byron said...

And if linear scaling has been SOP, then I'm injecting a sense of reality here. But somehow I don't think that's really the case. Not everyone is a college student or non-technical, are they?
Here it certainly has been, as we have no better method. If you (or anyone else) would provide one that had some support, I for one would be more than happy to adopt it.

But I can assume that human crew aren't automatically "militarily dead weight". We've been over all of the valid reasons to have people on a space warcraft. I won't reiterate them here. I'll just point out that the question isn't black and white. You yourself admit a potential 5% advantage for manned craft on a unit-per-unit basis. So the question is really one of whether humans add enoguh benefit for their potential cost. The answer to that is so highly dependent on technological assumptions that I wouldn't argue things either way on quantitative grounds. I'll just reassert my opinion that war is a human activity, and humans should and will be involved in its conduct as long as humans are recognizably, well...human.
True. In a lot of ways, it's purple vs. green. I do think we've been over all of the reasons, except the last. And I'd like to point out that I've never advocated for autonomous drones, except in the case of the command ship being destroyed. For story purposes, it really can go either way, and there's sufficient justification for each camp in this thread. It won't be damage control, but it might be economics.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Here it certainly has been, as we have no better method. If you (or anyone else) would provide one that had some support, I for one would be more than happy to adopt it."

The scaling function for any given technology is going to be unique. But I can give you an idea from a real world example. The numbers below represent the power (BHP in ths case means Boiler Horsepower), shipping weight, and power/weight ratio of a series of package boilers made by Clayton Industries:

BHP | Weight | BHP/lb
0150 | 08560 | 57.07
0200 | 08590 | 42.95
0250 | 08590 | 34.36
0300 | 10730 | 35.77
0350 | 10730 | 30.66
0400 | 17340 | 43.35
0500 | 17490 | 34.98
0600 | 23470 | 39.12
0700 | 28100 | 40.14
1000 | 52426 | 52.43

Please note that I picked package boilers because they are middling complex as machines, but modular in construction. (That's why they're "package" boilers -- the boiler and all of its control and support equipment are mounted and shipped on a skid, ready for installation.)

Please also note that size does not scale linearly with power, but in several steps, based on power range. This seems to be true for most machines I am familar with. This is important because, while I would never assert an absolute size/cost relationship, there does seem to be one in a lot of industries.

In any case, remember that the above is just an example. But it does illustrate that the performance of a machine WRT size is sensitive to where you are in a the power range you're operating in. So going bigger or smaller on power output could mean a relatively linear progression in weight and cost, or it coule mean a drastic one, depending on precisely where you're at. IOW, linear scaling works, but only at marginal performance improvements.

"And I'd like to point out that I've never advocated for autonomous drones, except in the case of the command ship being destroyed."

I never thought you did. I just don't accept assertions that drone constellations don't have vulnerabilit or that those vulnerabilites can't be exploited.

Tony said...

Addendum:

Sorry, the third column in the boiler performance table is labeled wrong. It's a wieght-to-power ratio, and shold be labeled "lb/BHP".

Milo said...

Wow, this thread is still going?



Tony:

"I could have pointed out that spearmen also carried knives and/or swords for close-in fighting."

However, the spear was still very clearly their main weapon. If you took away all their weapons except their spear (and shield if they have one), their combat effectiveness would be reduced by some percentage, but not a crippling one - they would still be able to give a good fight to any enemy force from a similar tech level. They carried daggers simply because those are sufficiently lightweight that there is little reason to not carry them.



Jollyreaper:

"Anyone have a list of the most common mcguffinites?"

Helium-3 is currently in vogue in the hard science fiction community. It has the advantage that we know it's there (so, as Tony says we should, we know what we're going for before we go), and we have some inkling of how to use it. The biggest problem with it is that it would have to compete with helium-3 artificially bred from tritium and with proton-boron fusion.

More exotic things include: room temperature superconductors, magnetic monopoles, antimatter, wormholes, cosmic strings, and artifacts from advanced alien civilizations (which will inevitably have somehow met their demise by the time of the story).

The really exotic stuff is only plausible in an interstellar setting, not an interplanetary one. If there were such interesting stuff that near us, we'd probably know about it already. Also note that some of these may be artificially produced rather than found naturally, but in that case they do not fulfill the role of McGuffinite unless the production still requires some raw resources which are not found on Earth.



Byron:

"They have weakly armored backs and tops. One of the fundamentals of armored tactics is to avoid having those pointed at the enemy. And nobody plans their anti-tank tactics on getting shots into those sides."

Umm, anti-tank tactics are pretty much all about hitting their vulnerable spots. One of the reasons helicopters are good at killing tanks is because they shoot from above. Even a cheap infantry soldier with a cheap grenade can kill an expensive tank, if he can sneak close enough (using cover/camouflage and the superior agility that comes with having legs) to put the grenade in the right place. Yes, sometimes you do need to take the brute force approach of just firing a really big (and expensive) shot at the tank's front, but a force that relies purely on this to take out enemy tanks is not going to be doing very well.



Tony:

"IOW, an engine for a spacecraft of mass 3 may cost almost as much as one for spacecraft of size 4."

If this is true, then people will almost never use a size 3 spacecraft for anything. If you can afford to upgrade to size 4 with little extra cost to your engine, then you'll find some way to make use of that mass - even if additional weaponry or living space is too expensive, armor is cheap.


"I'll just reassert my opinion that war is a human activity, and humans should and will be involved in its conduct as long as humans are recognizably, well...human."

I will correct that to saying that war will be a human activity as long as only humans are recognizably human. If we have AIs that act in a recognizably human manner...

However, war being a human activity does not mean humans will be everywhere. An AK-47 bullet does not have a human riding and steering it. It's a human pulling the trigger - from some distance from the enemy - but after that it's entirely autonomous.


"BHP | Weight | lb/BHP
0350 | 10730 | 30.66
0700 | 28100 | 40.14"


Okay, so... why would anyone ever install a 700 HP boiler instead of two 350 HP boilers? The latter would give better power/weight ratio and better redundancy.

Tony said...

Milo:

"However, the spear was still very clearly their main weapon. If you took away all their weapons except their spear (and shield if they have one), their combat effectiveness would be reduced by some percentage, but not a crippling one - they would still be able to give a good fight to any enemy force from a similar tech level. They carried daggers simply because those are sufficiently lightweight that there is little reason to not carry them."

Spears broke all of the time. Or they were not the most effective weapon for a given job, such as storming a walled city or even simple field fortification. So they had swords as well, because they knew there would be times when that was the superior weapon.

(FUnny how you focussed in on the "knives" and not the "swords", but we won't go there...)

"Okay, so... why would anyone ever install a 700 HP boiler instead of two 350 HP boilers? The latter would give better power/weight ratio and better redundancy."

"'BHP | Weight | lb/BHP
0350 | 10730 | 30.66
0700 | 28100 | 40.14'

Okay, so... why would anyone ever install a 700 HP boiler instead of two 350 HP boilers? The latter would give better power/weight ratio and better redundancy."


Fewer water and electrical hookeps, half the parts to go wrong, and less space occupied. They don't put prices on cut sheets, but I'm willing to bet that two 350s cost significantly more to buy than one 700. I know I said price tracks with weight, but that's within performance bands. There's also the underlying cost of complexity. I'll bet most of cost for this kind of technology is in control systems.

Rick said...

What I see in that package boiler rating list is a stepwise - but roughly linear - relationship. Or arguably a curve, with the sweet spot around 350 BHP.

The thrust-weight ratio of liquid fuel rocket engines is roughly linear across an amazingly broad size range, from attitude thrusters to first stage engines. The cost per ton of high subsonic transport type aircraft is on order of $1 million/ton from business jets up to jumbos.

So I'd argue that approximately linear relationships are common, and a good first approximation. An interplanetary craft of 2500 tons dry mass will probably cost more or less 10 times as much as one of 250 tons dry mass. For 25 tons or 25,000 tons the relationship may hold less.

I'll just reassert my opinion that war is a human activity, and humans should and will be involved in its conduct as long as humans are recognizably, well...human.

I have no dispute, and I doubt that Bryon does. In spite of the post title this discussion is not really about removing humans from the loop - merely about setting them back a ways.

There is nothing new about trying to keep your troops from being exposed to fire - for example, putting them behind armor or entrenchments.

The only thing new here is the option of placing them physically well back from the weapon mounts - using distance as a form of armor.

I'll quote again from my Space Warfare III post, regarding constellations:

Taken as a whole you might call it a fleet. But it more nearly resembles a mobile, distributed, and networked fortification, deploying in action into a three-dimensional array of weapon emplacements, observation posts, and patrol details, all backed up by a command and logistics center.

Of course that is a conception that may not play out, but I don't think it is anything inherently bizarre.

Byron said...

Rick:
I have no dispute, and I doubt that Bryon does
I have no problem with it, but I'm not sure about him, or even who he is :-)

Tony said...

Re: Rick

Protecting the soldier where you can is one thing, removing him from the fight is another. And you can't really remove him from the fight by distance and remote control. Use of surveillance (and ultimately combat) drones controlled from the US has already created the specter of enemies in regional wars legitimately attacking targets in the continental United States, because that's where the drone pilots and their commanders are.

The same would apply in space. It has been argued that the controllers of a drone constellation could be kept back from the battle where they would be safe. I simply don't buy it. They may be harder to engage, but they represent such a significant vulnerability that it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't be targeted, and in effective ways.

Tony said...

BTW, to play in the drone constellation ballpark for a moment, the fortification analogy is actually pretty instructive. Tactical warfare might become an analog of Age of Reason siege warfare, where the battle is decided when one side or the other finds it's command ship(s) vulnerable to attack, whereupon the commander of the vulnerable force surrenders rather than takes things to a lethal (for him and his crew's) conclusion.

Byron said...

Tony:
BTW, to play in the drone constellation ballpark for a moment, the fortification analogy is actually pretty instructive. Tactical warfare might become an analog of Age of Reason siege warfare, where the battle is decided when one side or the other finds it's command ship(s) vulnerable to attack, whereupon the commander of the vulnerable force surrenders rather than takes things to a lethal (for him and his crew's) conclusion.
That's probably one possible solution. A good analogy might be chess. The alternative to the normal chess set might be all "super pawns" which move like kings. (I'm not enough of a chess person to know if that's a good idea.)

The more I ponder, the more I become convinced that the use of ship-drones will be based almost entirely on economics. I'm going to analogize from World War I-era navies. It's not perfect, but it's what I've come up with.
During that period, Britian, and the other great powers, pumped out tremendous numbers of battleships. Lesser powers often bought one or two. If we assume that drone numbers will be in the same region as battleship numbers (including pre-dreadnoughts), or possibly a few times those numbers, for an equivilant power, then we have a starting point.
For the RN, drones make sense. If a standard squadron is 10 drones and a controller, and the RN produces 10 squadrons, the economies of scale take over. If we assume that 5 drones and a controller costs as much as 5 ships, then if the RN buys 10 squadrons (100 drones and 10 controllers) I'll make a guess that the savings from not buying the other 10 controllers can be used to buy an additional squadron.
This only works in large navies. The startup costs of drones will probably be higher than the costs for an equivilant group of ships, due to software and comm hardware development. This also assumes that a squadron is the standard unit of deployment. You won't be wanting to split the force into small packets. If that's common, a force of manned ships might be made in paralell for those missions. Something like HMS Renown.
One thing those ships might be useful for in a total war is protecting the control ships during battles.
For smaller navies, these economics differ. They can't amortize the startup costs of drones across a lot of units. While they might be able to buy from the other powers, that's an iffy solution. If my budget will cover 5 ships, or 5 drones and a controller, I'll probably go with 5 ships, as I gain much greater operational flexibility.
This does leave midsize powers like Tarrantry in a bind, though.

jollyreaper said...

The more I ponder, the more I become convinced that the use of ship-drones will be based almost entirely on economics. I'm going to analogize from World War I-era navies. It's not perfect, but it's what I've come up with.

There's also the question of what the goal of the navy is. Power projection requires one kind of setup while strict defense requires a different kind. Just talking aircraft, you only really need carriers if you're projecting power. If you're only looking at defending, you fly your planes from your land bases.

In your drone ship analogy, it might just be that the defending smaller navy can keep all the controller equipment on land.

I also like the idea of enhancing verisimilitude by including ships from outdated or unsuccessful doctrines. You could have a drone assault ship whose original intended use was plunging deep into enemy formations before unleashing the attack drones. In practice the armor provided insufficient protection and the whole point of having drones is that the vulnerable mothership could use them as stand-off weapons. The concept is completely discredited but the ships are fast and armored with excellent carrying capacity so they are now used by Special Circumstances as mobile bases stealth ships.

Byron said...

Jollyreaper:
In your drone ship analogy, it might just be that the defending smaller navy can keep all the controller equipment on land.
The same thought has occured to me. The problem is twofold.
1. You can't have a war between two defensive navies.
2. The defense drones are probably different in design from the offensive drones. You don't need huge delta-Vs, and you can probably get by with nuke thermal.

Tony said...

Byron:

"The same thought has occured to me. The problem is twofold.
1. You can't have a war between two defensive navies.
2. The defense drones are probably different in design from the offensive drones. You don't need huge delta-Vs, and you can probably get by with nuke thermal."


This just highlights the need to optimize drones for their tactical roles (the same argument could be made for manned warships, BTW). If you need to deploy them to interplanetary or interstellar distances, you load them up on carrier vessels optimized for making strategic transits, and unload them where there is fighting to be done.

Or you equip each one with an expendable interplanetary drive module (I doubt interstellar motors would be expendable). After you win -- if -- you win, the warships you sent become an occupying force and you send cargo vessels with more supplies and return drives modules for any ships you bring home.

Rick said...

I have no problem with it, but I'm not sure about him, or even who he is :-)

Just think of it as an anagram. The scary thing is that I actually checked the name, and still got it wrong!

They may be harder to engage, but they represent such a significant vulnerability that it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't be targeted, and in effective ways.

There's nothing new about either attacking or protecting command & control. Of course it will be attacked. Having to get past or around the 'weapon emplacements' simply makes such an attack more difficult. Nothing more, nothing less.

The analogy to Age of Reason siege warfare is very much to the point. At some point in the history of this blog I think I even made it, though I'm not sure where.

And if the command and control facility of a planetary defense constellation is in a city on the planet, that doesn't really change any of the essentials.

So long as the constellation retains its fighting power, it protects the planet and, incidentally, its own command and control. Once the constellation is defeated, the contest of arms has been settled, and what comes next - from someone handing over their sword, to flattening cities - is driven by other considerations.


Even if Tarrantry existed, it would be in no position to have a space force, so I don't have to worry about its doctrine!

Anonymous said...

=Milo=



Tony:

"It has been argued that the controllers of a drone constellation could be kept back from the battle where they would be safe. I simply don't buy it. They may be harder to engage, but they represent such a significant vulnerability that it's hard to imagine that they wouldn't be targeted, and in effective ways."

That depends on how far away your controllers are. If they need to be no more than a few lightseconds out for effective decision times, then yeah, they're vulnerable. If they're way over on a different planet, then taking them out would require the equivalent of storming the enemy's capital.


"the battle is decided when one side or the other finds it's command ship(s) vulnerable to attack, whereupon the commander of the vulnerable force surrenders rather than takes things to a lethal (for him and his crew's) conclusion."

Very plausible.

Although there will, of course, be cases where the loser fails to surrender, either due to overestimating the strength of their position, or due to stubborn insistance on making a last stand even if they're doomed, or due to getting killed by a lucky shot that no-one could have expected. They might be the exception, but they will be common enough that death in warfare will still happen.



Byron:

"For smaller navies, these economics differ."

The question is, what counts as "small" in an interplanetary economy?

Even with continued Balkanization, it'll be a long time before even third-world countries will be able to afford a couple of space corvettes to patrol to orbital lanes. (There are also fundamental tactical issues with this - while even small nations can own their own stretch of coastline, space in orbit cannot be parcelled out in a reasonable sense to any specific faction on the planet.)

On the other hand, you might be talking about "small" in the sense of a nation controlling only one small moon, but which still has a celestial body to itself. This creates a very different tactical picture.

Also consider several small allied nations pooling their resources. Though they'd have to be really trusting of each other, and in the more successful leagues it could lead to them gradually losing their sovereignity.



Tony:

"This just highlights the need to optimize drones for their tactical roles (the same argument could be made for manned warships, BTW)."

Could be made? Was there any dispute about this?


"(I doubt interstellar motors would be expendable)"

Considering any interstellar propulsion system is complete handwavium at this point, they can be pretty much whatever you say they are.

Tony said...

Milo:

"That depends on how far away your controllers are. If they need to be no more than a few lightseconds out for effective decision times, then yeah, they're vulnerable. If they're way over on a different planet, then taking them out would require the equivalent of storming the enemy's capital."

Controllers, by definition, should always be assumed to be within realtime or near-realtime decision ranges, otherwise they're not really controlling anyting at the tactical level, don't you think.

"Very plausible.

Although there will, of course, be cases where the loser fails to surrender, either due to overestimating the strength of their position, or due to stubborn insistance on making a last stand even if they're doomed, or due to getting killed by a lucky shot that no-one could have expected. They might be the exception, but they will be common enough that death in warfare will still happen."


All that's happened in the past. I'm sure it will happen agian in the future.

"Could be made? Was there any dispute about this?"

Well, there's a heavy current against any serious consideration of manned fighters, but if the strategic (as in interplanetary/insterstellar) transit infrastructure is decoupled from the tactical vehicle, then whether or not it is manned, it will be optimized for tactical maneuverability and endurance.

"Considering any interstellar propulsion system is complete handwavium at this point, they can be pretty much whatever you say they are."

Sure, but given the enourmous energies involved, and the likely huge investment in equipment to generate and control those energies, making the star drive expendable just doesn't seem like that lilely.

Barsoomian Fever said...

One major point that has been so far neglected is the evolution of space forces. Where will space warfare first be fought? What forces will be fighting this war? If the answer is earth orbit and humans, then it wouldn't be insane for further battles into space to derived from that formula.

Another issue that has not been touched is the relationship between cost and performance. Let's take your average space probe and theoretical laserstar.

With the probe, its mission lifetime is determined by how long it can endure without maintenance. That's not a problem because the costs of doing so outweigh the cost of sending a repair crew with it.

The laserstar is a very different machine. Likely to be at least half a trillion dollars, the cost of losing this beast would frighten any future nature. Thus, designers may cast aside performance in favor of reliability. This means making a very human repair crew standard. Whether that crew is onsite is debatable.

My own opinion is that the cost of including a repair ship is directly proportional to the number of drones it has to repair. If you have a massive fleet of a hundred, it makes perfect sense to keep all the technicians in one place. However, if your costly fleet is spread out across the system, it may just be cheaper to include the technicians in every ship.

That goes to back to my point about the history of space forces. If patrols evolve into fleets, then designers will likely design their craft to be independent. And that means including a human repair crew on every ship

Rick said...

Welcome to the discussion threads!

You are right that the origin of space forces will have far reaching effects on their form and development. In particular, to what degree the first (or zeroth) generation of space warcraft are purpose built, or repurposed civilian technology?

I tend to think that scratch-built forces favor kinetic weapons, basically because if you are in space, you already know how to do kinetics. Throwing heavy objects fast and with precision is the precondition to spacefaring.

Isaac said...

Maintenance can be done by droids also, surely? I imagine an R2-D2 situation, only more spider-like (with little spider babies for the fiddly bits) and humourless.

I get the idea of the maintenance droids breaking down, but they could fix each other, and its not like humans don't need repair - rather more expensively too. A ship can only break in so many ways, and I don't see why a human would be any more effective at memorising the solutions.

Humans suck at space. We're just not built for it (obviously), while robots can be. While I get many of the human advantages, I really don't see the point in splashing out on a crew for the more mundane tasks. Nearly anything a human can do, a robot can do better. Anything that can be done with AI, should be. In space I can see that being a pretty fundamental principle.

The question then, is what can AI do? This of course depends on your tech assumptions, and on some probably quite personal philosophical beliefs. As much use as my beliefs can ever be, they are thus: If we can create a learning AI, we shouldn't. Just because of the sheer processing power an AI could call on, once it had the ability to learn it would do so immensely quickly (sorry to go down the singularity route) and would quickly outmatch humanity's ability to control it. For a conscious AI to be useful it would have to have an inherent belief in its own right to exist, otherwise it would soon give up and die. A thing that wants to exist, and is better at doing so than us, will out evolve us, and will inevitably out compete us for resources. Personally I can think of no limits that can be written or coded that cannot be wormed out of - language is a function of power, not truth.

Apologies for laying on the philosophy.

What essentially, in my world-view, it is that AI cannot do (or at least should not do), is learn. Or rather elements of an AI system could learn, but it should be severely restricted and single task specific. Even then I may be asking to much of the midfuture.

This is especially relevant in battle scenarios, as it leaves room for a pilot/commander who would provide the conscious-learning component of the ship.

There would still be droids, making their way with complex decision trees, ready for most situations. It's just that those trees would be written and improved by a human near enough to follow what was going on.

So I'd put one guy in there, to link together all the AI functions. Maybe in some kind of matrix spinal plug bath. If we're talking interstellar war, then I'd assume there was some way of putting people to sleep for the journey. The guy would then only be woken for the exciting bits, and wouldn't go crazy being on his own, as for him it would only last a week tops. If its interplanetary and there's no hibernation, I guess I'd just make him wait out the weeks travel, or go in a group.

Just keeping him in the most defensible ship is probably cheapest. The vast majority of the time the AI would do all the work, as, as has been said, the time scales for decisions are usually too large or too small - unless you go down the route of slowing or speeding up consciousness.

I may well be accused of seeing AI as far too effective. However whether my assumption is that it can only be as good as its programmers, or that it can beat them, my interpretation holds.

I'd be glad to be ripped apart, point by point.

Byron said...

Isacc:


Humans suck at space. We're just not built for it (obviously), while robots can be. While I get many of the human advantages, I really don't see the point in splashing out on a crew for the more mundane tasks. Nearly anything a human can do, a robot can do better. Anything that can be done with AI, should be. In space I can see that being a pretty fundamental principle.

I've said before that if I weren't a squishy thing, I wouldn't support putting squishy things in space.

I'm not sure how AI will work. The problem with space battles is that there is a very limited amount of tactical stuff that can be done. Both forces are fully visible, and moving on a fairly fixed course. Even a modern video game-type AI could fight a reasonable battle under such circumstances. Honestly, it may be that the details are fine enough that it takes a really high-level AI to get any real improvement over that. Or a human, of course.
The "single human in a tank" thing is interesting. It avoids the problems with single humans sans tank, but the ethical question is still there.

Robot maintainence is a tricky question, and while I expect that robots will handle a lot, for some things, it's easier to just have someone do it. I could build a robot system to handle 90% of maintainence for a billion dollars, or 100% of maintainence for five billion.

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