Monday, August 27, 2012

The Steampunk Era


In a recent post remarking on the battleship era I noted briefly the naval period that came just before it - from 1860 to 1880, give or take. Twenty years are barely enough to qualify as an 'era.' Especially, when it comes to the world's navies, this particular twenty years, which saw the transition from wooden three-deckers to ships that are recognizable forebears of 20th century battleships.

So if you came expecting to read about steampunk in the literary sense you will be disappointed. On the other hand, this is the age of Jules Verne, when science fiction (then called Scientific Romance) was starting to emerge as a distinct genre. It is the era from which steampunk draws its inspiration.

And nothing was more steampunkish than the era's naval ships. HMS Inflexible (launched 1876), shown above, is as good an example as any. True, Admiral Popov's famous circular ships could run (or at any rate spin) weirdness circles around her. But the Popovkas were experimental oddballs even in their own day. Inflexible, by contrast, was a typical first class capital ship - or at any rate as close to such as existed at the time.

In this image she retains an auxiliary sailing rig - later reduced to pole masts for signaling and to support fighting-tops armed with light weapons. Her main armament is 4 x 16-inch muzzle-loading rifles. (Most navies had adopted breech-loaders, but the RN reverted to muzzle loading after a couple of nasty accidents.)

Her two turrets are offset to port and starboard - 'Murricans of sufficient geekitude may recognize the similar overall arrangement of USS Maine, of 1898 'remember the' fame. (Infamy, perhaps, from the Spanish perspective.) This turret arrangement was in considerable vogue at the time, in an effort to maximize all-around fire.The turrets could, in theory, fire directly ahead and astern, and even through gaps in the narrow flying deck. In practice, trying this caused considerable blast damage to the ship.

The underlying assumption was that - given the slow firing rate and doubtful accuracy of those enormous guns - a battle would likely devolve into a melee instead of an orderly line-astern engagement. This same speculation lay behind the most notorious feature of steampunk-era warships - the ram bow, which ultimately accounted for precisely two 'hostiles,' along with some half a dozen 'friendlies.'

Nevertheless the ram bow became such a defining feature of warships that it was retained into the early 20th century. Indeed, most early-generation dreadnoughts had ram-shaped bows, though no actual reinforced rams.

HMS Inflexible also carried another weapon intended for a close-range melee: a pair of underwater tubes for launching torpedoes. These, as it turned out, were to have a much bigger future than the ram bow. Even at the time they were recognized as having extraordinary implications. Inflexible's stubby 16-inch muzzle-loaders, or any comparable guns, could only be carried by a large and very costly ship. But even a fairly small boat could carry and launch a torpedo.

It soon occurred to some analysts (as we would call them now) that this weapon could revolutionize not only tactics but naval strategy. By the 1880s torpedo boats became the space fighters of the late-Victorian imagination, dashing in to strike at cumbersome death stars battleships. The British and French even experimented with torpedo-boat carriers.

Probably things would not have worked out quite so neatly as the torpedo prophets imagined, even if there had been a suitable war to test out their doctrine. The same technological progress that provided 16-inch guns and ironclads to carry them, as well as torpedoes and torpedo boats, soon produced so-called quick-firing guns, and these were mounted on the big ships. Torpedo boats could no longer attack with impunity.

Even before the heyday of torpedo boats, another creative idea for deploying torpedoes got a trial. HMS Polyphemus (launched in 1881) was a 'torpedo ram.' A fairly large ship resembling a surfaced submarine, she had an armored turtle deck for protection, the inevitable ram bow, and several torpedo tubes along with reload torpedoes.

Tech progress (specifically the quick-firing gun) rendered Polyphemus obsolescent by the time she entered service - a typical fate of steampunk-era warships. But she would end up being indirectly immortalized in science fiction.

By the time HG Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, in the late 1990s 1890s [Time Machine oops!], the torpedo-ram concept was already long obsolete. But HMS Thunder Child in the novel is described as a torpedo ram. The idea must have stuck in Wells' mind, some years earlier, as the epitome of advanced naval technology.


Discuss.





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The image of HMS Inflexible, from this old-postcards website, was originally on a card from the (British) National Maritime Museum.

73 comments:

Brett said...

I support CAPTCHA. We might as well make the spammers pay people to break them instead of just using computer programs.

For some reason, I think those hybrid steam/sail ships (a product of an era where you needed coal re-fueling points everywhere) are fascinating. Maybe it's because I never understood why they didn't simply dump the sails as soon as they had screws and steam engines (1840s) until recently. I've included them in SFF story ideas.

 Ashley said...

Well the reason for the sails was because nations didn't always have access to coaling stations, and the nature of the technology, sails were seen as the reliable back-up drive system.

Byron said...

On CAPTCHA:
Would it be possible to only require it for Anonymous users? I don't think I've ever seen spam from a named user.

I fully expect that a space fighter carrier would experience similar success to the British and French torpedo boat carriers. And that the fighter itself would be as effective as a conventional torpedo boat (which, it should be noted, was rapidly replaced by the destroyer for torpedo attacks.)

H said...

No problem with CAPTCHA, as long as it works correctly. (sometimes it is quite difficult to read what they want you to type)

While torpedo boats are obsolete, missile boats which fulfill a similar role in modern navies have replaced them. They are cheap, fast and can deliver an important amount of firepower for their size/price, the ideal craft for defense oriented naval forces.

See:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houbei_class_missile_boat

or

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hamina_class_missile_boat

While the analogy doesn`t sustain itself in space, i expect orbital defense ships to be much smaller than their offensively oriented counterparts, just because they won`t have to carry propellant supplies and life support for extended operations.

While I am thinking of it, a small spacecraft, put over a conventional launcher an ready to take off an engage any target in orbit might be a good analogy to a fast torpedo boat.
(Though you will have to explain why to put a spacecraft and not a warhead on that missile. A possible reason may be that a space craft is able to engage multiple targets and if there are none available wait until somebody reveals itself. If it has a reentry shield it can also be reused.)

Just my humble toughs.

Byron said...

Small warcraft have always been a terrible idea. See here for an example. The particular post I'm referring to is the second one down, but the whole thread is interesting.

(Though you will have to explain why to put a spacecraft and not a warhead on that missile. A possible reason may be that a space craft is able to engage multiple targets and if there are none available wait until somebody reveals itself. If it has a reentry shield it can also be reused.)
A spacecraft is unlikely to have significant multi-target capability, at least when compared to a similar cost of missiles. Unless the targets are in similar orbits, it will likely be unable to maneuver to engage them, rendering the whole thing moot. Not to mention that all the bits that are required to make an effective manned spacecraft weigh a lot, and have to be pushed around, too. In the PMF, things are not going to appear in orbit unexpectedly, so the rationale for this design is shaky at best.

jollyreaper said...

Technology progressed so rapidly that expensive battleships rapidly became obsolete. But if we look at the status of the aircraft carrier, it's remained on top for quite some time, the only quibbles being in what a nation could afford. We went nuclear with them as soon as we could with one throw-back to fossil fuels (the JFK) and then cheaper reactors allowed us to keep subsequent designs nuclear. (Setting aside arguments that carriers are obsolete, would not survive an all-out naval war, etc.)

Despite our best efforts, we haven't really improved upon the concept of the C-130. It's been in production for 50 years. Engines, avionics, and materials have been updated but we've yet to improve on the general idea. The only thing to replace an old C-130 is a new C-130. The B-52 as a bomb truck has had similar longevity.

The thought this suggests for a scifi future is the question about whether age does not equal obsolescence so very old ships remain quite capable. With the Royal Navy, every ship laid down came with an expiration date. Imagine if they did not and ships from the turn of the century remained just as viable as ships commissioned during WWII.

What this could mean is that a naval force with a low production rate and yet avoids losing ships can end up having a far greater punch than economy or production rate should allow for.

Something else we don't really see anymore is the idea of capturing an enemy ship and employing it in your own forces. I think that we pretty much stopped seeing this by the time steam engines showed up? Any illiterate sailor could see how to rig rope and canvas and English stores would likely work just as well on an French prize. When you're talking lots of precision-machined parts, I think that concept goes out the window. But in a far future with robotic manufacturing, it might be worth the trouble to refit a prize for service in your own forces.

jollyreaper said...

One other thought: an era is defined not so much by the span of time but what we remember. If WWII came a decade earlier, our imagery would be full of all-metal biplanes. If it came a decade later, radar-fused proximity shells could have made conventional attack by aircraft on battle fleets as suicidal as WWI's frontal assaults against machine guns.

We also saw changes in the development of bombers. The tailgun was the last weapon to be retained on jet bombers. Even then, it didn't receive much use. And for aircraft like the B-29, the guns were remotely controlled.

So instead of every gun position being manned by a dedicated gunner, only the tail turret had an operator and the rest were controlled from central positions in the pressurized cabin. And for color, that's another big change. The most riveting accounts of WWII bombing were from the unpressurized aircraft so people are bundled up like arctic explorers sucking down dry oxygen through their masks, bored and freezing waiting for the moment of terror when enemy fighters are sighted.

http://www.twinbeech.com/CFCsystem.htm

http://philcrowther.com/6thBG/6bgcrewm00.html

Trench warfare was never seen as the likely outcome of a large war prior to WWI breaking out. Everyone assumed that modern technology would allow sweeping maneuver to win the day. The reprise of WWII didn't see the return of large-scale trench warfare.

It's hard to predict how technology would have developed absent the pressure and funding of wartime but it seems possible that it was a perfect combination of tactics, politics, and technology that led to the extensive use of trench warfare and that moving the start of the war forward or back by several years could have made things far different.

Byron said...

Jollyreaper:
Technology progressed so rapidly that expensive battleships rapidly became obsolete. But if we look at the status of the aircraft carrier, it's remained on top for quite some time, the only quibbles being in what a nation could afford. We went nuclear with them as soon as we could with one throw-back to fossil fuels (the JFK) and then cheaper reactors allowed us to keep subsequent designs nuclear. (Setting aside arguments that carriers are obsolete, would not survive an all-out naval war, etc.)
JFK was supposed to be nuclear, and we have a certain secretary of defense to thank (or spit on the grave of) for it being a dinosaur-burner.

On the general point of technological stagnation, it depends on the area. While a C-130A and a C-130J look the same, internally, they're completely different. Sort of like a car from the 1950s and the same model today. (I think. I'm not a car person. Maybe a car from the 80s?)

The B-52 has done well enough as a conventional bomb truck in low-threat duties, but it's been obsolete in its intended role for a long time. We'd have had a replacement, if not for the same secretary mentioned above.

The thought this suggests for a scifi future is the question about whether age does not equal obsolescence so very old ships remain quite capable. With the Royal Navy, every ship laid down came with an expiration date. Imagine if they did not and ships from the turn of the century remained just as viable as ships commissioned during WWII.
There are two problems with this. First, it assumes a low rate of technological development. While that has held true since the late 50s with regards to basic warship technologies (see the Enterprise) all of the Dreadnoughts that fought in WWI were a decade old or less. (OK, 14-ish years by the end of the war.) Even then, for modern warships, the biggest cost in a new ship is the electronics, which have been updated on Enterprise. Incidentally, that's probably why she's survived for so long. Less electronic gear to replace, so refits are cheaper.
Second, ships wear out. It happens, and eventually, it becomes necessary to scrap the ship. With wooden ships, you could rebuild them, but that's not really possible here. Note that for a long time, the oldest commissioned vessels in the Navy were destroyer and submarine tenders which spent most of their time alongside the pier instead of at sea. Some of them were referred to as building (number) because they so rarely left port.

What this could mean is that a naval force with a low production rate and yet avoids losing ships can end up having a far greater punch than economy or production rate should allow for.
Not really. The crewing and operation expenses are going to be a lot of the budget no matter what. While a low production rate force might do well early on in a war, and have somewhat greater power then a high-rate one, it'll run into problems in the long haul.

Something else we don't really see anymore is the idea of capturing an enemy ship and employing it in your own forces. I think that we pretty much stopped seeing this by the time steam engines showed up? Any illiterate sailor could see how to rig rope and canvas and English stores would likely work just as well on an French prize. When you're talking lots of precision-machined parts, I think that concept goes out the window. But in a far future with robotic manufacturing, it might be worth the trouble to refit a prize for service in your own forces.
That's more or less what happened. Also, ships stopped getting captured. Though it did happen a couple times in WWII. The Japanese got some allied vessels, generally gunboats and the like, into service.

jollyreaper said...

Small warcraft have always been a terrible idea. See here for an example. The particular post I'm referring to is the second one down, but the whole thread is interesting.

Is this the best lesson to take from it? Consider how vulnerable battleships have proven in battle. I think the lesson is "You have to be big enough to fight effectively with the technology at hand while not being so expensive the loss of any one ship cannot be tolerated." Battleships were theoretically armored to withstand shells from their own guns and were supposed to absorb damage. Post-WWII designers assumed that their ships would either be attacked by nukes or supersonic cruise missiles with multi-ton warheads. It's impossible to armor against that sort of firepower so put your money in active defenses, shoot down the weapon before it hits.

Still, it's fascinating to see the lessons, development and theory. We're used to thinking about the English with nimble ships destroying the lumbering galleons of the Spanish Armada. But we also have people learning the wrong lessons like the French being defeated by defending knights fighting on foot and thus thinking that there was an advantage to being on foot and thus dimounting an attacking force in the next fight! The lesson they mislearned is the defender needs more weapons at hand in a defending line but an attacker needs speed more to make it through the arrows, not to mention advancing under fire in armor is tiring!

I'm also thinking of the failed concept of the destroyer aircraft, exemplified by the ME-110. It was meant to have range to escort bombers but proved so vulnerable to single-engine fighters that the escorts required escorts!

The Americans claimed their bombers were self-escorting, which was another way of saying we didn't have fighters with the range to follow them into Germany. We did try to make gunship versions of B-17's but they couldn't keep up with the bombers, especially after they'd dropped their loads.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/YB-40_Flying_Fortress

Byron said...

Jollyreaper:
One other thought: an era is defined not so much by the span of time but what we remember. If WWII came a decade earlier, our imagery would be full of all-metal biplanes. If it came a decade later, radar-fused proximity shells could have made conventional attack by aircraft on battle fleets as suicidal as WWI's frontal assaults against machine guns.
Not so sure about the second. Guided missile development began before the war, allowing aircraft to attack from outside gun range.

Is this the best lesson to take from it? Consider how vulnerable battleships have proven in battle. I think the lesson is "You have to be big enough to fight effectively with the technology at hand while not being so expensive the loss of any one ship cannot be tolerated." Battleships were theoretically armored to withstand shells from their own guns and were supposed to absorb damage. Post-WWII designers assumed that their ships would either be attacked by nukes or supersonic cruise missiles with multi-ton warheads. It's impossible to armor against that sort of firepower so put your money in active defenses, shoot down the weapon before it hits.
How vulnerable they've proven in battle? Which battle might that be? Krishima vs. Washington? Yes, an old battlecruiser, refitted as a battleship, against one of the newest and best. Suriago strait? The Japanese forces were heavily outmatched, and the US had radar, and possibly (I'm not sure) the superheavy shell. Almost all of the other battleships were sunk by air attack, in conditions of inadequate air cover. I'm not saying that they were terribly useful, but they were really very durable.
The point I was trying to make was that FAC-Ms (and probably torpedo boats before them) are incredibly vulnerable to properly handled warships. Night attacks used to be the way to go, before the introduction of radar. The battleship was the right answer, probably up until about 1935. It was only when aircraft were able to carry the loads to sink them that it became a problem.

jollyreaper said...


On the general point of technological stagnation, it depends on the area. While a C-130A and a C-130J look the same, internally, they're completely different. Sort of like a car from the 1950s and the same model today. (I think. I'm not a car person. Maybe a car from the 80s?)


Well, they redesign car models from the ground up so the only thing that remains the same is the model name. The basic pattern seems to be redesign one year, then refine each year for four or five years, then an all-new design that introduces more bugs.

I'd wager no unit would want to operate mixed variants of any aircraft, they'd want to standardize. We'd have to talk to the crew chiefs to hear just how different they feel one airframe model is from another.

As for electronics costs, I did a quick google and can't find the typical cost breakdown for new warship development. There's R&D which is usually amortized over a production run, very limited for large warships. There's unit cost, annual operation cost, service-life extension programs, etc.

There's a point where replacement is cheaper than maintenance. You can always drop in a new engine in a vehicle but mechanical stresses on structural members might prove so expensive to repair that you're better off replacing the whole thing. Hard to say what factors would weigh on on that with a spaceship.

As for the question of operating expense vs. the capital expense of procuring the hull, I'm not sure how well we can project ratios from now towards a far future. It would be interesting to compare the expense ratio of Nimitz carriers with WWII battleships and ironclads and first-rate ships of the line and galleons and cogs and triremes. Navies have always been ruinously expensive but I wonder if the ratios hold enough to allow for a projection into the future.

As for capturing ships in a space war, it wouldn't be from boarding actions I think but if there's a gentleman's agreement on how wars are conducted, surrender and your crew will be offered safe passage on a civilian ship out of the war zone. Such conventions might go away if the war becomes total, the same way submarine skippers stopped giving a warning and just sank ships, crew and all.

Byron said...

Jollyreaper:
I'd wager no unit would want to operate mixed variants of any aircraft, they'd want to standardize. We'd have to talk to the crew chiefs to hear just how different they feel one airframe model is from another.
I'm pretty sure that's what they do. My point stands. The C-130J is a fairly substantial redesign.

As for electronics costs, I did a quick google and can't find the typical cost breakdown for new warship development. There's R&D which is usually amortized over a production run, very limited for large warships. There's unit cost, annual operation cost, service-life extension programs, etc.
At one point, the British built a class of ships (I think it was the Type 23s) with the intention of replacing them instead of doing a refit. That's not exactly numbers, but it should give an idea of the costs.

As for the question of operating expense vs. the capital expense of procuring the hull, I'm not sure how well we can project ratios from now towards a far future. It would be interesting to compare the expense ratio of Nimitz carriers with WWII battleships and ironclads and first-rate ships of the line and galleons and cogs and triremes. Navies have always been ruinously expensive but I wonder if the ratios hold enough to allow for a projection into the future.
The problem is that none of those work the same, and I wouldn't trust your numbers unless I saw the analysis. Do you count the aircraft on the Nimitz? What about the galley rowers? Carriers are not that expensive to build compared to battleships, but the air wing sucks up a lot of money.

As for capturing ships in a space war, it wouldn't be from boarding actions I think but if there's a gentleman's agreement on how wars are conducted, surrender and your crew will be offered safe passage on a civilian ship out of the war zone. Such conventions might go away if the war becomes total, the same way submarine skippers stopped giving a warning and just sank ships, crew and all.
Logistically not worth it. They're likely to require a total rebuild, which might be just as expensive as a new ship. And you don't have the owner's manual.

Brett said...

@Byron
JFK was supposed to be nuclear, and we have a certain secretary of defense to thank (or spit on the grave of) for it being a dinosaur-burner.

McNamara again? Is there anything he touched as Secretary of Defense that he didn't screw up?

As for old space ships, I question their durability. Space is just really hard on spacecraft, whether it's radiation or repeated acceleration/deceleration. You'll probably have to do complete overhauls at regular intervals (at the very least).

jollyreaper said...

Not so sure about the second. Guided missile development began before the war, allowing aircraft to attack from outside gun range.

The Nazis worked on it but had problems. Near as I can see the USN was still using dive-bombers well into the jet era. It looks like the A-6 was the replacement for the Korean-era Skyraider.

As for vulnerable battleships, I'm thinking of several disabled or destroyed by mines in WWI as well as the ones destroyed in WWII. The Yamato class took a lot of killing before they went under but they still sank without accomplishing much of anything. What is worth more, a useless weapon that serves no purpose or a very expensive weapon that serves no purpose but takes longer to destroy?

I'm not disputing the findings of the FAC-M post. I found it pretty interesting. It does bring to mind a question: if a FAC-M and an aircraft can both carry the same missile, why choose one over the other? A ship would seem to have more loiter time than an aircraft but if we are talking about defending a coastline, the enemy has to come to you. Do you want a missile boat dashing out to make a strike or an aircraft? And how vulnerable would those aircraft be with long-range missiles? How accurate would they be? Questions and questions.

Another interesting post:

http://politicalforum.net/showthread.php?1659-US-Navy-Doesn-t-Even-Bother-Installing-Anti-Ship-Missiles


Many of today’s newer destroyers have no Harpoon launchers and, as such, no anti-ship missiles. Instead, if the ship needed to sink an enemy ship at long range, it could launch a helicopter armed with Harpoons, AGM-119 Penguins or AGM-114 Hellfire missiles. Attack jets also can carry anti-ship missiles.

U.S. commanders became wary of ship-launched anti-ship missiles in exercises in the 1980s, during which they missed or hit neutral ships about as often as they found their targets, naval weapons expert Norman Friedman said. The weapons suffered from the classic problem of needing good information about their targets.


What if missiles prove less than effective than we imagined, similar to Vietnam-era dogfighting, and our frigates and destroyers find they've exhausted their stocks and must then close to deck gun range?

I remain skeptical of any weapons system that hasn't actually been involved in a knockdown all-out war since political maneuvering can always protect terrible ideas outside of such a threat.

jollyreaper said...

The problem is that none of those work the same, and I wouldn't trust your numbers unless I saw the analysis. Do you count the aircraft on the Nimitz? What about the galley rowers? Carriers are not that expensive to build compared to battleships, but the air wing sucks up a lot of money.

I know they don't work the same, the question would be if any truisms could be divined or if it would prove predicting the future based on prior experience won't hold.

As for calculation, I would include the annual pay for rowers and the air wing would also be included. I don't know how you would factor in R&D cost for triremes and I don't know if we could even do better than roughly estimate what they cost. It's like trying to compare a war chariot to a mounted knight to a tank as dominant land weapon systems.

Basically I think the best measure would be relative % of the economy for the force delivered. One modern infantryman vs. a Roman legionnaire, how much bang for the buck or denarius? If the Romans wanted to stage a naval embargo, how many ships would it take them versus their opponent? How many would it take us?

I suppose you might descend into craziness trying to square things. How could I compare a Sopwith Camel to an F-15? 115mph top speed versus 2,054mph. With speed and radar, the F-15 can patrol a far greater space but enemy aircraft are also fast and can slip by quickly.

Paul Kennedy had a basic rule of thumb that any government spending more than 10% of GDP on defense would see itself in ruin. That held regardless of what the economy was based on and the weapons produced, from antiquity to modern times. I guess we could look aside from the weapons themselves and look at the political objectives met. If your military is sufficiently strong to convince your enemies to listen to your diplomats, mission accomplished.

Tony said...

A few random hits...

1. Byron is right about lifecycle costs generally outweighing capital acquisition costs by a large margin. That's true even of something as simple as a car. At 25 mpg, and at the cost I paid for gas the other day, 100k miles costs you $14k in fuel alone, not to mention maintenance and repairs. Larger, more complex artifacts, that you actually have to pay the user to run -- imagine the annual manpower cost for a carrier plus air wing -- just get more and more expensive to operate.

2. Planned obsolescence in warships presumes a significant degree of technological churning. People talk about the dreadnought battleship being revolutionary. In reality it was the culmination of the ongoing high-rate evolutionary period. Dreadnought is where insanely short technological cycles ended, not where anything really new began. After the introduction of the all big gun ship, the design pattern was pretty much set for the next 40 years, with advancements coming in size of hulls, guns, and power plants, not in basic layout.

The pattern was so much set that we can actually talk about the Kirishima running afoul of Washington. Of course Washington won the gunfight, both because her guns were bigger and she could use radar for fire control. But given radar for fire control, and fighting a more even battle against older ships, a WW1 retread was still a viable capital ship. And since both sides were mostly equipped with battleships from the 1910s (even the US, even after Pearl Harbor), that was a real consideration -- at Surigao Straight, the newest battleship present on either side was laid down in 1920.

3. There was plenty of trench warfare in WW2. (A-la 1917-18, when the trenches had been abandoned for strongpoint defense.) It just didn't last very long in any one place, because armies were mobile enough to exploit breaktrhoughs in depth.

jollyreaper said...

There was plenty of trench warfare in WW2. (A-la 1917-18, when the trenches had been abandoned for strongpoint defense.) It just didn't last very long in any one place, because armies were mobile enough to exploit breaktrhoughs in depth.

But we weren't looking at armies bogged down in the same positions for years on end. We've had fighting entrenchments since the dawn of time and we still dig down for protection but when people think WWI, first impressions are 1) muddy trenches 2) lines that never move 3) futile attacks that keep getting turned back.

Byron said...

Brett:
McNamara again? Is there anything he touched as Secretary of Defense that he didn't screw up?
Indeed it is, and I can't think of anything offhand.

Jollyreaper:
The Nazis worked on it but had problems. Near as I can see the USN was still using dive-bombers well into the jet era. It looks like the A-6 was the replacement for the Korean-era Skyraider.
The Germans successfully attacked several ships with guided bombs in 1943. That, not the kamikazes, was the genesis of the Navy's guided missile programs which eventually evolved into the 3Ts.

As for vulnerable battleships, I'm thinking of several disabled or destroyed by mines in WWI as well as the ones destroyed in WWII. The Yamato class took a lot of killing before they went under but they still sank without accomplishing much of anything. What is worth more, a useless weapon that serves no purpose or a very expensive weapon that serves no purpose but takes longer to destroy?
First, I can only think of one destroyed by mines, HMS Audacious. Admittedly, several Pre-Dreadnoughts were also lost to mines at Galipoli, but those were considered obsolete and expendable. Most of those disabled were still immediately combat-capable, and if they had been in battle could have kept fighting. The fact that they needed yard work later is not relevant. And until air attack became so powerful, they were quite useful.

I'm not disputing the findings of the FAC-M post. I found it pretty interesting. It does bring to mind a question: if a FAC-M and an aircraft can both carry the same missile, why choose one over the other? A ship would seem to have more loiter time than an aircraft but if we are talking about defending a coastline, the enemy has to come to you. Do you want a missile boat dashing out to make a strike or an aircraft? And how vulnerable would those aircraft be with long-range missiles? How accurate would they be? Questions and questions.
The FAC-M is helpless before aircraft, and has no independent operations capability. It's just a target. Aircraft all the way.

US helicopters don't carry Harpoons, and I believe that the logic is that a major surface threat is unlikely to develop in the face of US air power.

Basically I think the best measure would be relative % of the economy for the force delivered. One modern infantryman vs. a Roman legionnaire, how much bang for the buck or denarius? If the Romans wanted to stage a naval embargo, how many ships would it take them versus their opponent? How many would it take us?
Even then, the strategic situation is so different that comparisons are nearly useless. While our forces might cost a lot more, the edge in capability is far greater. An entire roman legion could probably be held back by a company or so of infantry with artillery support.

Tony:
2. Planned obsolescence in warships presumes a significant degree of technological churning. People talk about the dreadnought battleship being revolutionary. In reality it was the culmination of the ongoing high-rate evolutionary period. Dreadnought is where insanely short technological cycles ended, not where anything really new began. After the introduction of the all big gun ship, the design pattern was pretty much set for the next 40 years, with advancements coming in size of hulls, guns, and power plants, not in basic layout.
That is a very interesting point. I had never looked at it that way.

Tony said...

jollyreaper:

"But we weren't looking at armies bogged down in the same positions for years on end. We've had fighting entrenchments since the dawn of time and we still dig down for protection but when people think WWI, first impressions are 1) muddy trenches 2) lines that never move 3) futile attacks that keep getting turned back."

Please recall -- I did the whole infantry grunt thing for a living for ten years. I'm not about popular impressions. I'm about historical accuracy.

There certainly were places in WW2 where they were entrenched for years. The siege of Leningrad is a good example. And Italy wasn't exactly a mobile front. It lurched from fortified line to fortified line for two years.

Apeaking of WW1, while the Western Front and Isonzo Front were meatgrinders of little movement, there was plenty of movement in the East and in the Middle East.

Tony said...

Byron:

"[dreadnought battleships as the end of evolution, vice being revolutionary in and of themselves] is a very interesting point. I had never looked at it that way."

It's one of those things that everybody knows that ain't necessarily so. If you look at the arc of iron/steel warships, from 1860 through 1945, dreadnoughts do indicate a striking phase change. But the change is from radical redevelopment of navies every ten years to steady growth of a type over a decade.

I think people get confused by the first dreadnought arms race into thinking the all big gun ship changed the face of naval warfare by creating a new type that had to be adhered to. That, I think, has things backwards. What the dreadnought did was create a type that, for the first time in several decades, could be adhered to over the long run. That made capital investment in large navies of large ships viable, and consequently created the environment in which a naval arms race made some sense.

Byron said...

Tony:
It's one of those things that everybody knows that ain't necessarily so. If you look at the arc of iron/steel warships, from 1860 through 1945, dreadnoughts do indicate a striking phase change. But the change is from radical redevelopment of navies every ten years to steady growth of a type over a decade.
Radical redevelopment every ten years? Looking at the list of British pre-dreadnoughts, the first was laid down in 1880, and stayed in service until 1909. In fact, discounting service losses, I don't believe any conventional pre-dreadnought was decommissioned before the dreadnought evolution. On the other hand, the first ships weren't completed until about 1887, so there was about 20 years there. The cycle was about twice as long as you described, but the dreadnoughts did indeed last about two cycles.
On the other hand, that might not have been the case if not for the treaties. The next cycle would have been somewhere in the mid-twenties, the successors to the ships cancelled under the Washington treaties. Maybe something along the lines of the Maximum Battleship? When construction resumed, the treaties limited them to 35,000 tons, so no room there for innovation.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Radical redevelopment every ten years? Looking at the list of British pre-dreadnoughts, the first was laid down in 1880, and stayed in service until 1909. In fact, discounting service losses, I don't believe any conventional pre-dreadnought was decommissioned before the dreadnought evolution. On the other hand, the first ships weren't completed until about 1887, so there was about 20 years there. The cycle was about twice as long as you described, but the dreadnoughts did indeed last about two cycles."

Compare the broadside ironclad Warrior (1860) to the turret ironclad Devastation (1871).

Compare the turret ironclad (with muzzle-loaders) Devastation (1871) to the steel barbette battleship (with breech-loaders) Collingwood (1882).

Compare steel barbette battleship Collingwood (1882) to steel barbette battleship (with armored gun houses and quick-firing secondary armament) Majestic (1895).

Compare steel barbette battleship Majestic (1895) to all big gun battleship Dreadnought (1906).

No, they didn't literally recapitalize the whole fleet every ten years, but the technological change was so great over a decade that ships from the previous decade were not really fit to fight in the same line as the latest ships. With dreadnoughts, ships from 1906 could have fought at Jutland in the same line with newer ships. Dreadnought would have, had she not been in refit at the time.

"On the other hand, that might not have been the case if not for the treaties. The next cycle would have been somewhere in the mid-twenties, the successors to the ships cancelled under the Washington treaties. Maybe something along the lines of the Maximum Battleship? When construction resumed, the treaties limited them to 35,000 tons, so no room there for innovation. "

I don't think too many of the pre-treaty battleships would ever have been completed. Economic realities drove the treaties to begin with, and they wouldn't have disappeared just because some treaty wasn't agreed to. I think many would have been stillborn on the ways after rationality took hold and people realized that nobody was any more capable than anyone else at building such huge ships, so therefore there was no real threat to be countered. One can also take the view that arms treaties are inevitbale part of arms-racing, just like peace treaties are an inevitable part of the war process.

Byron said...

Tony:
No, they didn't literally recapitalize the whole fleet every ten years, but the technological change was so great over a decade that ships from the previous decade were not really fit to fight in the same line as the latest ships. With dreadnoughts, ships from 1906 could have fought at Jutland in the same line with newer ships. Dreadnought would have, had she not been in refit at the time.
By your own dating, Dreadnought was 10 years old at the time. And I'm not sure that it was quite on the same level as the later battleships. It was definitely inferior to the WWII battleships.

I don't think too many of the pre-treaty battleships would ever have been completed. Economic realities drove the treaties to begin with, and they wouldn't have disappeared just because some treaty wasn't agreed to. I think many would have been stillborn on the ways after rationality took hold and people realized that nobody was any more capable than anyone else at building such huge ships, so therefore there was no real threat to be countered. One can also take the view that arms treaties are inevitbale part of arms-racing, just like peace treaties are an inevitable part of the war process.
It's entirely possible, and quite likely that few of the post-war ships (G3/N3 etc.) would have been built. I do remember in Freidman reading about the Maximum Battleship, and people saying that it would do exactly what Dreadnought did, but in an even more expensive way.
But now that I think about it, we're looking at this whole thing wrong. Postulating that the cycle is 20 to 25 years, what do we see moving on from 1906? In 1928, Lexington and Courageous entered service. Glorious was in 1930, and Akagi was in 1927.
What about the next cycle? In 1955, Boston recommissioned as CAG-1. While carriers remain in use, most navies have switched to the guided missile as their primary weapon.
What do we see in the 1975-1980 period? Here it breaks down. Guided missiles are still the order of the day, and modern ships have longer lives then any since the days of sail.

Tony said...

Byron:

"By your own dating, Dreadnought was 10 years old at the time. And I'm not sure that it was quite on the same level as the later battleships. It was definitely inferior to the WWII battleships."

At Jutland, the British had a grab-bag of dreadnoughts.

Of the 28 battleships present, the distribution of gun calibers was:

12": 10
13.5/14": 12
15": 6

Of the 9 battlecruisers present, the distribution of gun calibers was:

12": 5
13.5": 4

At Surigao Straight, as already mentioned, not a single battleship present had been laid down after 1920. (Though the ones originally caol-fired had been reboilered and tanked for oil firing.)

"It's entirely possible, and quite likely that few of the post-war ships (G3/N3 etc.) would have been built. I do remember in Freidman reading about the Maximum Battleship, and people saying that it would do exactly what Dreadnought did, but in an even more expensive way."

The maximum battleship was never a serious proposal. It was an exercise in imagining the technologically possible, if money was no object. But of course money was an object, and ship designs had to conform to what was economically realistic.

"But now that I think about it, we're looking at this whole thing wrong. Postulating that the cycle is 20 to 25 years, what do we see moving on from 1906? In 1928, Lexington and Courageous entered service. Glorious was in 1930, and Akagi was in 1927.
What about the next cycle? In 1955, Boston recommissioned as CAG-1. While carriers remain in use, most navies have switched to the guided missile as their primary weapon.
What do we see in the 1975-1980 period? Here it breaks down. Guided missiles are still the order of the day, and modern ships have longer lives then any since the days of sail."


I think the point to be made here is that ships have longer first class combatant lives than they used to. I would still maintain that that started with the settling down of the battleship configuration, starting with the dreadnought type.

Thucydides said...

Wooden ships of the line often had long service lives, HMS Victory was laid down in 1759, for example. Of course the same paradigm was at work in this era; wooden sailing warships were essentially refined versions of a pattern which had been pretty much set in the mid 1500's so there was little reason to change.

One thing which makes comparisons in the modern era a bit difficult is the lesser classes of warships have evolved a lot more than the capital ships like Battleships and Aircraft Carriers. Consider the Destroyer was initially the "torpedo boat destroyer" and was only slightly larger than the torpedo boats they were supposed to defend against. They grew in size, branched off into multiple sub classes such as the Destroyer Escort and now serve as the capital ships in many navies around the world. OTOH, some ships classed as frigates are even larger than destroyers...

The various naval strategies also change how ships evolved, the Soviet navy was pretty explicitly designed around the need to clear the seas of American carrier battle groups, so surface ships were often much smaller than their American counterparts, but literally built around giant missile batteries. Eventually the Soviets decided submarines were the way to go, hence very large cruise missile subs like the Charlie and Oscar class, which have no direct counterparts anywhere else.

The steampunk "era" simply represents a sort of evolutionary thrashing out as technologies are tried and refined until they fit particular "niche" roles that the navy deemed important. If we develop something "new" along the lines of steam power replacing sails, then expect another period of transition where weird and wonderful things are attempted. Nothing that dramatic has come along yet (for the most part, a sailor of the late 1800's would probably have a reasonable grasp of a modern warship, and could conceptualize the idea of dropping a diesel engine into HMS Warrior, for example).

Anonymous said...

Ok, two things I've noticed;
1) modern warships have about a 40 year service life, give or take a decade.
2) modern warships (and to some extent, warplanes) are 'weapons platforms', i.e. a vehicle to move the primary weapons into range and support the targeting and enhance the survival of said weapons. Secondary weapons are mostly for self-defense or to give an alternate means of attack.

Ever since guided missiles were developed, most warships simply became mobile bases for missile/torpedo batteries and EW/sonar/radar suites. All warships (of the same nation/bloc)carry the same type of missiles for each role. In a real sense the 'era' of the battleship (and even the aircraft carrier) has given way to the guided missile...perhaps we should stop talking about the various classes of warship and concentrate instead on what platform carries the most effective mix of missiles and electronics. PMF combat-capable spacecraft might be discussed the same.

Ferrell

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"Ok, two things I've noticed;
1) modern warships have about a 40 year service life, give or take a decade.
2) modern warships (and to some extent, warplanes) are 'weapons platforms', i.e. a vehicle to move the primary weapons into range and support the targeting and enhance the survival of said weapons. Secondary weapons are mostly for self-defense or to give an alternate means of attack.

Ever since guided missiles were developed, most warships simply became mobile bases for missile/torpedo batteries and EW/sonar/radar suites. All warships (of the same nation/bloc)carry the same type of missiles for each role. In a real sense the 'era' of the battleship (and even the aircraft carrier) has given way to the guided missile...perhaps we should stop talking about the various classes of warship and concentrate instead on what platform carries the most effective mix of missiles and electronics. PMF combat-capable spacecraft might be discussed the same."


It depends at what level the weapon systems have to be integrated into the platform. A laserstar (not that I'm advocting such a thing) would pretty much be a laserstar, no matter what else you hung off of it. See the 80s recommissioning of the Iowa class battleships for an idea how that might look.

Also, there are some ships even today that are pretty much what it says on the label. Aircraft carriers are pretty highly specialized, and you wouldn't want to use them for something else. Same-same amphibious transports and submarines. Also, cruisers and destroyers have always been inherently more flexible. That's why WW1 destroyers made adequate ASW escorts in the early part of WW2, and why WW2 cruisers were still in the fleet during Vietnam.

There's also the fact that weapons and propulsion technology really haven't taken any great leaps in the last 30 or so years. Electronics have improved, but those, for the most part, are modular, bolt-on systems. Even phased array radars could probably be upgraded or replaced, now that space has been made for them on the ships. So there's really no compelling motivation to replace ships that still have useful hull and propulsion plant years left in them.

Thucydides said...

Ferrell

While the weapons platform idea has lots of attractions, it is also dependent on the weapons themselves being sufficiently flexible and self contained.

This is the reason we still use high performance fighers to deliver weapons, rather than flying a surplus 747 cargo jet full of missiles towards the target box. The USN considered the Arsenal Ship concept back in the 1990's, essentially an ocean going barge carrying up to 500 missiles, but the lack of flexibility and inability of the ship to survive made it a case of putting far too many eggs in a single basket. (adding the electronics and self defense capabilities onto the Arsenal ship concept to make it survivable and you actually would have created a 21rst century battlecruiser, something like the Soviet Kirov class).

We don't have all aspect weapons yet, and maybe there will be a class of missile carrier mounting batteries of hypersonic boost glide weapons that will come close to your conception, but there will still be the need for flexibility of launch platforms (aircraft) and stealthy launch platforms (submarines), as well as classes of ships to fight in the littorals, auxilliary support ships and so on. The 21rst century navy will have some pretty shiny new ships, but will still be recognizable.

Rick said...

Something else we don't really see anymore is the idea of capturing an enemy ship and employing it in your own forces. I think that we pretty much stopped seeing this by the time steam engines showed up?

Several Russian battleships surrendered just after Tsushima (1905) and were subsequently incorporated into the Japanese navy.

I have read that the surrendering was heavily criticized at the time, and caused a social change whereby ships from WW I on tended to fight on until sunk, even after being pretty much wrecked.

But more broadly, weapons became far more destructive, such that a substantial fraction of combat losses were catastrophic. (And 'striking the flag' would have been hard to even observe.)

Compare to the age of sail, when - in spite of dramatic paintings - it was fairly uncommon for ships to actually sink in battle. Mostly the loser surrendered because the crew had been decimated, and the survivors were too exhausted and bloodied to go on.

H said...

Well, regarding ships as weapon systems:
The aircraft carrier is a perfect example of a flexible weapons system.

As long as it can carry the aircraft and equipment to perform the desired mission it can do it. Is aircraft and helicopters can provide reconnaissance and intelligence, perform air superiority missions in order to protect the fleet, it can attack other ships, bomb targets deep inland, contribute antisubmarine warfare, and a wide variety of other missions.

And as long as modern aircraft can operate form the carrier, the ship is perfectly valid.
You can easily replace the weapons without having to replace the ship.


Regarding spaceships. I somehow expect big spacecraft to be modular. Maybe because I am supposing the first ones will be build as components on Earth´s surface and assembled in orbit. Later when orbital manufacturing becomes commonplace, you will be building components that can be adapted to existing ones.
As a result, I can see a situation where it is not all that uncommon to just replace any part (the main weapons, the engine, crew module, or other systems) with the newest component.

Just my humble toughs.

Skírnir said...

There was a bit about "copying tech that doesn't make sense for you" - such as ship rams and whatnot. This reminded me immediately of early post-WW2 French tank design.

See, the later German tanks like the Tiger and Panther models had overlapping road wheels (Germans have a specific term for everything, in this case "Schachtellaufwerk"). Tank for tank, these models were very successful.

So after the war, when the French built their next generation of tanks, they copied a lot of their former adversaries' ideas, including the overlapping road wheel layout.
Nobody seemed to bother to ask _why_ the German engineers had used this complicated layout. The actual reason was that this was necessary due to various material shortages, e.g. rubber. This problem didn't apply to postwar France at all. So there was absolutely no reason to use this design element.
So that's what you get when you copy something without thinking why the original perpetrator did it in the first place.

Anonymous said...

Tony, Thucydides, H: you seem to have either ignored or skipped over the part where I said that weapons platforms "...a vehicle to move the primary weapons into range and support the targeting and enhance the survival of said weapons" So, of course a supersonic jet, or a stealthy sub enhances the delivery of weapons. Also, I don't believe that I said anything about multipurpose or all-aspect weapons; I did meantion that nations and/or blocs pretty much used the same types and mix of missile for each type of attack profile; perhaps I didn't make myself clear, and for that I apologize.
Anyway, moving on:
All of the command & control, EW, auxilery missions, intel-gathering, troop transport/support, and logistics functions are there for tactical or strategic reasons; or non-military missions, like hospital ships dispached to disaster areas. However, the modern focus in war-fighting is based around the rocket propelled missile or other guided weapon. Yes, we have other weapons, and they are used extensively, but missiles are still the top of the heap; they turn jetfighters into ship-killers, they give infantymen a fighting chance against aircraft and tanks; a modern US type frigate can take on a WWII battleship, beyond the range of those big guns, because of its missiles. The modern aircraft carrier is a mobile base for a wing of fighters and fighter-bombers; they themselves being highly capable platforms for getting to bnattle, launching their weapons successfully, and surviving to fight again and again. There are so many types and models of missiles that you have to state the category; Harpoons aren't gonna be used on most jetfighters, and most warships don't use Sidewinders as they're primary AA weapons. So, yeah, I do think we are in the "Missile Era" as far as modern warfare goes.

Ferrell

Locki said...

Thanks for the brilliant summary of a very tricky and often overlooked period of naval history Rick and its probable analogies to the rocketpunk era.

The only certainty in any military endeavour is we'll all be surprised when we finally test our new shiny weapon systems and doctrines. Its a historical lessen many aspiring rocketpunk writers should take onboard.

I'll note the military is one of the few institutions in our society that is completely unaccountable for its entire life cycle - until war breaks out. In comparison a business gets to check if its products are succesful by looking at its profit. A democratic government counts its votes. A non-democratic government checks the level of dissent. An education institution counts up its published papers .... and profit. But a military only has its theories until the worse happens.

Throughtout history periods of rapid technological development or change are followed by new military doctrine that may or may not work till they are battle tested. And its only after the militaries finally do battle that they become accountable for the weapons and doctrine they have put in place. History teaches us we are usually in for a rude surprise.

Off the top of my head some examples of newly developed doctrines failing miserably include:

1. Increase the armor of the knights so they can charge pikemen/longbowman

2. Equip your warships with loads of rapid firing HE guns Post Tsushima Strait = the mess of steampunk warships till HMS Dreadnaught came out

3. Attack the enemy with superior aggression and great Elan. Result = Trench Warfare WWI

4. Battleships as a decisive weapon = useless German fleet in WWI that started an arms race with a traditional ally

5. I my opinion our ability to match theoretical doctrine with on the ground reality has only gotten worse in modern times. There has been some spectacular recent failures of newly developed theory. Mostly they relate to the usual airforce generals thinking the army is obsolete eg Shock and Awe Gulf War II, IAF vs Hezbollah, Afghanistan invasion with minimal SF's and airforce in support. All of these "quick and clean wars" lead to long and costly ground campaigns that are unprecedented in the length of deployment required (11+ years since GW II).

6. Interestingly, I've previously pointed out the current capital ship, the Aircraft Carrier, is completly untested for more than half a century against its two main enemies:
- the modern submarine (both diesel and nuclear)
- the anti-ship missiles especially the high mach versions - either something like the upcoming scramjet mach 3 Perseus (will thoeroetically give a ship 8 seconds of response time) or even worse the hypersonic DF-21 Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles which will give very little response time and be even harder to intercept.

Not only has no one taken a shot at a carrier in 60+ years ... no one has even attempted to take a shot at a carrier. They have operated completely unopposed for more than half a century. The carrier's survivability in a modern high intensity war has never been tested yet the USA not only builds their entire naval doctrine around these goliaths they build up a significant proportion of their foreign policy as well.

Since everyone on this blog is bloodthirsty you can be assured our future stories will have some sort of military conflict in them. Its probably best for all of us to remember that the new fictinoal shiny space weapon systems are not only a brand new type of weapon its also a brand new combat zone. The only constant will be the fact everyone is going to be surprised by the outcomes. It'd be realistic and plausible our characters to experience some of that rude surprise when conventional thinking gets thrown out after the first few days of war.

Locki said...

Hmm this new captcha system ate my very long 4000+ character post. I'll try to be brief for once ....

An excellent summary of a rapidly changing and often overlooked period in naval history Rick. Thanks.

I think there are quite a few lessons for aspiring rocketpunk writers in the period of rapid changing technologies in the steampunk era of naval warfare. Since we have all proven ourselves to be quite bloodthirsty (1130+ posts on the Battleship post!) its probable our rocketpunk novels will all have some sort of military conflict in it - considering the setting it will probably revolve around the dawn of the space warfare era. Historical precent tells us our characters will almost certainly be rudely surprised when they start battle testing their shiny new weapon systems and doctrines in Spaaaace.

The military is one of the few institutions that is completely unaccountable for the vast majority of its lifecycle – until war finally breaks out. Our companies know they are doing well because they make more profit. Our government knows they are doing well because they win more votes. Our universities know they are doing well because they publish more papers … and make more profit. In contrast the military exists in a vacuum until war breaks out.

When technology changes quickly military doctrine will change to take advantage of the new weapon systems. History teaches us all of this theory and doctrine is often completely wrong when the time comes to finally battle test the theory. Some old examples off the top of my head

1. Increase the armor on the Knights so they can charge down those pesky peasants with pikes/longbows/blackpowder. Result Agingcourt etc
2. Build a huge battleship fleet and get involved in a deadly arms race with your traditional ally. Result Germany alienating UK pre WWI.
3. Attack the Germans with superior aggression and great elan. Result = French army committing mass suicide in trench warfare WWi
4. Scout and harass the the enemy and screen your big bad battleships with Carriers. Result Pearl Harbour/Midway etc
5. My favourite and more recently - use airpower to “shock and awe” the enemy into surrender and finally achieve a nice quick clean war. Result hundreds of thousands of soldiers stuck for 10+ years in Iraq/Afghanistan.
6. I think the trend is our ability to predict the future of warfare is getting worse. On a side note I’ll also point out the current kind of the hill, the nuclear powered aircraft carrier is completely non-battle tested. For more than 60 years no one has had either the capability or inclination to attempt to take a shot at a carrier. For more than half a century we have no idea how a carrier will truly handle its two biggest threats: the antiship missle (especially supersonic and hypersonic varieties) and the modern submarine (both nuclear and diesel). Yet despite its lack of “battle testing” the USA builds both its naval capability and a good chunk of its foreign policy around these behemoths.

For anyone writing a novel with rocketpunk spacewarfare the only constant is the characters will be in for a rude surprise when conventional doctrine/thinking is finally battle tested and proven to be incorrect or completely wrong. Whatever, weapon systems or tropes or doctrines you choose for your rocketpunk setting the most realistic outcome is everyone is scrambling to cover their asses when warfare finally breaks out and everyone has to make it up on the fly.

Skírnir said...

re the usefulness of a surface navy in general and aircraft carriers in particular:

http://exiledonline.com/the-war-nerd-this-is-how-the-carriers-will-die/all/1/

(especially the second half, the "update")

tl;dr version: they are useless, because they have no defense, repeat NO defense against ballistic missiles, and both east and west have had ballistic anti-ship missiles for almost four decades.

Thucydides said...

There are many reasons to explain what happened in the past, but I will do example #3 because it is relatively simple.

In the 1870'and 1880's, armies began to adopt rifled firearms in large numbers. Rifles fire in predictable trajectories, and platoons volly firing could create "beaten zones" (where all the bullets would land). One side effect is all the bullets follow a "cone of fire", and at some points in the trajectory (especially with low powered rounds and at long ranges) the bullets fly high enough to clear a standing or even mounted man.

For the person being attacked by rifle platoons, the key was to exit the beaten zone as fast as possible, and running forward (i.e. charging the enemy) got you under the cone of fire and able to directly attack the enemy platoon, both good for your mission and good for morale.

Lieutenants and Captains who did this in the 1880's and 90's KNEW this worked (since they did it) and so taught this as Majors and Colonels. Two generations of soldiers in the "advanced" armies "knew" this to be true, and put it into action in 1914 (lessons from second rate powers and colonial wars "didn't count").

This is a slightly paraphrased version of the argument put forward in Forward into Battle: Fighting Tactics from Waterloo to Vietnam by Paddy Griffith

Byron said...

Skírnir:
That guy does not know what he's talking about. How do I know this? First, he equates the Harpoon with a ballistic missile. That is a precisely-defined term, which does not include a harpoon in the final stages of its flight. I think that pop-up is actually intended to make the warhead more effective, not to evade defenses. The fact that it comes in from more or less above does not mean it is a ballistic missile. And there is exactly one ballistic missile in the world that is capable of targeting ships, the DF-21. Which has not been around for 40 years.
Second, read the article I posted about FACs, in response to his call to switch to them.
Third, the Eliat was lost to Israeli stupidity, not the inherent vulnerability of surface ships.
Fourth, what about the SM-3?
Fifth, a Harpoon is not a terribly effective weapon against a carrier. It's probably not getting through the flight deck.
I think I've made my point.

Tony said...

Ferrell:

"So, yeah, I do think we are in the 'Missile Era' as far as modern warfare goes."

And? A missile is just a type of ordnance. An aircraft carrier still has to match the technical description of an aircraft carrier. A submarine, even if it fires cruise missiles, still has torpedo tubes and torpedoes. (And the cruise missile has to either be designed for deployment out of a torpedo tube, or the sub has to be designed aroung the requirements of the cruise missile.) A guided missile cruiser used to be literally built around its missile magazines. (And even with VLS, the ship has to be designed or reconfigured to accept the launch cells inside the hull.)

Tony said...

I would say the Harpoon did have a limited ballistic capability, as described. But the popup maneuver happened so close to the target that it was possible to target the incoming missile while it was climbing, at least with SAMs and possibly with larger guns.

The Chinese ballistic missile is a different story altogether, as it would be reentering the atmosphere and coming in at a high angle before it could be engaged. Whether or not current carrier escorts have an ability to counter that kind of threat is of course a closely held secret, but the fact that anti-TBM capabilities are high on the USN list of things to get out to the Fleet, I would actually be kind of suprised if at least a limited ABM task force defense wasn't available.

Of course, it all depends on whether the Chinese can locate a task force at sea accurately enough to launch a ballistic missile strike against it, and whether the RVs themselves have the ability to discriminate and home in on a carrier within that task force.

WRT the evolution of small arms and modern infantry tactics, there was of course a learnign curve to be ascended. By WW1 everybody understood the cone of fire, and could make use of it on both the offense and defense. After all, it's not like the defenders couldn't adjust their sights as the enemy closed range, nor were attackers unaware that the last 500 or so yards would have to be covered under conditions of grazing fire. (Fire that does not rise above the height of an average man.) Machine guns made it worse, but well executed rifle fire was enough to break up even the strongest attacks.

Byron said...

Tony:
I would say the Harpoon did have a limited ballistic capability, as described. But the popup maneuver happened so close to the target that it was possible to target the incoming missile while it was climbing, at least with SAMs and possibly with larger guns.
Did you read the post he linked to? He claimed that US warships had no defense against ballistic missiles (false) and that the Harpoon could not be intercepted because it was like a ballistic missile when it popped up (also false). Any rational observer would interpret the phrase "ballistic missile" in the stuff about not having a defense to mean "missile that follows a sub-orbital ballistic flightpath with the objective of delivering one or more warheads to a predetermined target." (Wikipedia), not "any missile that is ballistic". If ballistic is good, then we should switch back to guns, because for some reason, the fact that an object is "ballistic" makes it impossible to defend against. Never mind the fact that ballistic missiles are hard to hit only because of their speed. In fact, the requirements for an ABM are less stringent then those for shooting down high-performance aircraft. The Phalanx can elevate to 80 degrees, and I'm pretty sure that the harpoon is not even technically ballistic during the pop-up. The first harpoons used pop-up, later models were direct, and currently, it can be set for either. This means that pop-up is obviously not the ultimate defense avoidance system he claims. My understanding is that sometimes it helps, and sometimes it doesn't. Also, a harpoon sinking a carrier? Not likely. It probably won't even make it through the flight deck. It's probably going to do more damage from a direct approach.
And let me dispel the implication that the author in that case is not rational by stating it baldly. He's completely crazy. He ignores things like the SM-3, claims that he obviously knows better then the entire US Navy, and ignores the evidence against such concepts as FACs.

The Chinese ballistic missile is a different story altogether, as it would be reentering the atmosphere and coming in at a high angle before it could be engaged. Whether or not current carrier escorts have an ability to counter that kind of threat is of course a closely held secret, but the fact that anti-TBM capabilities are high on the USN list of things to get out to the Fleet, I would actually be kind of suprised if at least a limited ABM task force defense wasn't available.
I don't think the angle is going to be all that high, 45 degrees at most. The problem is the speed. For defense, see SM-3.

Tony said...

Byron:

"Did you read the post he linked to?"

Yes, I read it.

You're undermining your own case by being unreasonably legalistic and pedantic. The Harpoon (and many other missiles') popup maneuver is designed to attack the target ship from a high angle, where it's defenses are weakest. If you can't get it at sea-skimming altitude, you have to get it while it's climbing in it's popup, because when it's coming down, it's inside the minimum range of your missiles and above (or just at the limits of) your gun elevation.

A ballistic RV could be designed to take advantage of that same vulnerability. It could enter the atmosphere at a relatively shallow angle, but a trajectory could be designed that nulls out most of the forward component of velocity at maybe 100-150k feet, after which it comes down almost vertically on the target ship.

"SM-3"

We can hope that SM-3 does the job. I wouldn't take it for granted, however.

Byron said...

Tony:
You're undermining your own case by being unreasonably legalistic and pedantic. The Harpoon (and many other missiles') popup maneuver is designed to attack the target ship from a high angle, where it's defenses are weakest. If you can't get it at sea-skimming altitude, you have to get it while it's climbing in it's popup, because when it's coming down, it's inside the minimum range of your missiles and above (or just at the limits of) your gun elevation.
That's some of it. I think I've also seen it suggested that a lot of the reason is that it's more effective at killing the target, or it's better for attacking small targets like submarines and FACs. See this for more details. My point is that pop-up does not render an ASM invulnerable to defenses.

A ballistic RV could be designed to take advantage of that same vulnerability. It could enter the atmosphere at a relatively shallow angle, but a trajectory could be designed that nulls out most of the forward component of velocity at maybe 100-150k feet, after which it comes down almost vertically on the target ship.
How does that nullify my point? Most ballistic missiles that I'm familiar with come in at relatively shallow angles. In fact, it's standard for atmospheric reentry models to assume constant angles for entry work. While not totally accurate, the error involved can't be that big.

We can hope that SM-3 does the job. I wouldn't take it for granted, however.
Everything I've seen indicates that it's working well, probably better then any of our other ABM systems. The point is that the Navy is not putting its fingers in its ears, closing its eyes, and refusing to acknowledge the problem. Also, the article that was cited as the source of the quote "Ships currently have no defense against a ballistic missile attack." was published in March of 2009. In the three and a half years since then, I'd imagine that significant progress has been made. Also, note the use of the word currently. This could mean that there is the possibility of the situation changing.

Tony said...

Byron:

"That's some of it. I think I've also seen it suggested that a lot of the reason is that it's more effective at killing the target, or it's better for attacking small targets like submarines and FACs. See this for more details. My point is that pop-up does not render an ASM invulnerable to defenses."

While being wrong on a lot of facts and pretty every conclusion, the linked article is correct in reporting that the Harpoon does have a popup maneuver and that maneuver does have defense-penetration motivations. I simply observed that such a maneuver does have the same penetrative properties that a high-angle ballistic attack would have, once the missile starts coming down. I don't see anything controversial or wrong in that, as far as it goes. (And I certainly only meant it to be taken that far.)

IOW, yell at Skirnir, not me. I'm not carrying his water for him.

"How does that nullify my point? Most ballistic missiles that I'm familiar with come in at relatively shallow angles. In fact, it's standard for atmospheric reentry models to assume constant angles for entry work. While not totally accurate, the error involved can't be that big."

I don't know if it nullfies your point so much as simply show that it doesn't have universal applicability.

Let me put it this way... We're talking about ballistics, right? Well, it's a well known property of ballistics in a sensible atmosphere that bodies descent at a higher angle than they are launched. A projecitle launched at 45 degrees, for example, you might expect to come down at 50-55 degrees, depending on its launch velocity and ballistic properties. Mortar rounds, for example, because they are launched at a low velocity and have only so-so ballistics, come down almost vertical, even when launched at an angle of 45 degrees.

Taking that into account, and presuming the desirability of attacking a ship or task force at a high angle, it seems likely that an astute trajectory analyst would try to design an attack profile for a ballistic missile that put's it almost out of energy, almost vertically above the target, then lets the RV fall as straight down as possible (at a supersonic velocity if he can arrange that). I certainly wouldn't rule that possibility out, simply because it requires a bit of skill, and may only be viable within certain windows of range-to-target. Artillerists -- and missileers are first and foremost artillerists -- are used to that kind of thing.

"Everything I've seen..."

You're swingin' after the bell, Champ. I too think the Navy is trying to close that loophole, to the degree it actually exists. I'm just counselling reasonable caution in forming final opinion.

Byron said...

Tony:
While being wrong on a lot of facts and pretty every conclusion, the linked article is correct in reporting that the Harpoon does have a popup maneuver and that maneuver does have defense-penetration motivations. I simply observed that such a maneuver does have the same penetrative properties that a high-angle ballistic attack would have, once the missile starts coming down. I don't see anything controversial or wrong in that, as far as it goes. (And I certainly only meant it to be taken that far.)
That's about the only thing it gets right. I guess I was stunned and shocked by the incredible leap in logic, so I tried to squash it as hard as I could.

IOW, yell at Skirnir, not me. I'm not carrying his water for him.
I guess I defaulted to "Yell at Tony." :-)

Let me put it this way... We're talking about ballistics, right? Well, it's a well known property of ballistics in a sensible atmosphere that bodies descent at a higher angle than they are launched. A projecitle launched at 45 degrees, for example, you might expect to come down at 50-55 degrees, depending on its launch velocity and ballistic properties. Mortar rounds, for example, because they are launched at a low velocity and have only so-so ballistics, come down almost vertical, even when launched at an angle of 45 degrees.
This is a little different. We're dealing with things like the earth's curvature and exo-atmospheric flight. I'm not sure about the angle, but apparently, the apogee of a ballistic missile is normally about .25 of range. In this case, 500 km. If we assume it descends in a straight line from there over a flat earth, we get 26 degrees. Even doubling that is only 52, which should be well within the capabilities of AEGIS.

Taking that into account, and presuming the desirability of attacking a ship or task force at a high angle, it seems likely that an astute trajectory analyst would try to design an attack profile for a ballistic missile that put's it almost out of energy, almost vertically above the target, then lets the RV fall as straight down as possible (at a supersonic velocity if he can arrange that). I certainly wouldn't rule that possibility out, simply because it requires a bit of skill, and may only be viable within certain windows of range-to-target. Artillerists -- and missileers are first and foremost artillerists -- are used to that kind of thing.
This might work, but I'm not sure how effective it would be. The SM-3 has a range of over 500 km, so at very best, the intercept angle is something like 45 degrees. To get the warhead much higher, you'll lose a lot of range.
Actually, dumping all the energy like that is going to render the system worthless, rendering it unable to maneuver to actually hit the carrier. And a warhead that's falling out of the sky might be a tempting target for a DDG-51 a few miles away.

Also, the DF-21D hasn't seen a full-scale test to date. By that measure, the SM-3 is well ahead of it.

Anonymous said...

Tony, a modern torpedo is an underwater missile, even though it's not generally rocket-propelled. And aircraft are an aircraft carrier's main weapons, who in turn rely on missiles as their main weapon. Nothing you said contradices the notion that Carriers are mobile air bases. I personally think that Carriers are good at what they are designed for and make good military sense. Why, if not, would the Chinese be putting forth such a great effort to come up with a way to neutralize them?

Ferrell

Thucydides said...

Much of the effort to devise anti carrier weapons comes under the heading of "entry denial"; making it so dangerous to approach the contested area that a rational actor would choose to avoid putting their assets at risk.

Of course, we all think we know that aircraft carriers are the "big stick" of the US Navy's arsenal due to their impressive capacity (a naval air wing is bigger than the entire air force of some nations), and its demonstrated flexibility, but does this really mean the first thing going into harms way is a carrier battle group?

Hmmmm.....

jollyreaper said...

A rumination along these lines along with a story idea, rule of cool runs headlong into hard truth.

http://jollyreaper-ideapit.blogspot.com/2012/08/polish-mecha-charging-germans-tanks.html

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

Anonymous said...
…….. I personally think that Carriers are good at what they are designed for and make good military sense. Why, if not, would the Chinese be putting forth such a great effort to come up with a way to neutralize them?

Ferrell


========

I actually meant to bring this up a long time ago on a previous thread about the definition of a capital ship.

I suspect the USN may be using their carriers as history’s biggest, most expensive Trojan Horse. They are a highly visible, huge, impressive, overwhelming etc etc example of sea power - a perfect weapon for a totalitarian society. And the USN has *gasp*11 of the big bad boys. Of course the PLN must spend every effort to match and exceed the power of their main foe! For the middle kingdom hoorah! By the way errr sorry chinese submariners there is no budget left to develop your geriatric SSNs based on the old Soviet Charlie class further. It’s more important we “project power” and look suitably imposing.

Meanwhile the USN has quietly invested most of their budget into the most advanced, well trained, experienced and largest all-nuclear submarine fleet the world has ever seen (60+ SSN’s and counting). If an SSN is considered a capital asset (and they should be) then the USN has more capital ships than any navy in history.
If full war against China breaks out in 10= years they have no intention of trying to overwhelm a chinese carrier’s Aegis-like defences and CAP with a Alpha strike saturation air attack from 3 different directions …. simultaneously. They’ll just send in the nearest Virginia SSN.

The nuclear carrier is not a Trojan horse without use though. Far from it they are perfect for the current low intensity-terrorism environment. The carriers are still awfully useful for beating up on the nearest tinpot dictator, enforcing foreign policy and a very visible way of telling America’s enemies “I’m hear, I’m watching you, I can kick your ass anytime.” Which realistically is all the USN will be doing for the next 20+ years anyway. If the unthinkable happens and you have idiotically found yourself in a war with an equally advanced and budgeted foe then the navy will just get on with the business of quietly killing things without all the drama and excitement of a nuclear powered airport. Read: submarines

Re: DF-21. More on this later when I get to double check my facts. But for the technical boffins. If the chinese can find, track and hit a 750kg satellite moving at 28,000km/hr 5 yers ago with a converted ballistic missile then I'm sure they are going to be able to reliably hit a 100,000 tonne carrier moving at 30 knots in the very near future

Byron said...

Locki:
Interesting point on the role of carriers and SSNs. My analysis agrees with yours, though I wouldn't entirely count the carriers out.

If the unthinkable happens and you have idiotically found yourself in a war with an equally advanced and budgeted foe then the navy will just get on with the business of quietly killing things without all the drama and excitement of a nuclear powered airport. Read: submarines
There is nobody in that category today. China is nowhere near our level in naval power. On the other hand, the USN has the harder task. It has to project power, while the Chinese merely have to stop it from doing so.
And if the Chinese launch a ballistic missile at a US CV, I expect that their overpopulation problem will be permanently solved within the hour.

For the technical boffins. In brief. If the Chinese can find, track and hit a 750kg satellite moving at 18,000 miles per hour five years ago with a converted ballistic missile then I'm sure its only a very short matter of time before they can hit a 100,000 tonne carrier moving at 30 knots.
The more I look at it, the more I think the DF-21D is vastly overstated as a threat. To my knowledge, there have been no overwater seeker tests (which I would consider vital to any sort of operational capability) and according to the latest statements I've found, it's not yet operational.
Also, you still don't seem to get that hitting a carrier and hitting a satellite are entirely different tasks. The satellite is ballistic, and seen against an empty background. Theoretically, the projectile could be inertially guided and make intercept just fine. The carrier will run in a random direction immediately after it detects the launch. In 15 minutes, it can make about 7.5 nm, leaving an area of 175 nm^2 for the missile to cover. It has to maneuver against the carrier in that area, and not get shot down in the process. Oh, and it also has to discriminate the carrier from the dutch cargo ship two miles away from it.

francisdrake said...

I'd like to add a few lines referring to the steam(-punk) era:

Best available technology (steam) vs. economical considerations:
In the Austrian Navy of 1860 the captains were encouraged to use sails whenever possible, starting up the steam engine only when absolutely necessary. Coals were costly, while wind was for free. At this time the real danger were not the perils of the sea, but the bureaucrats at home ...

Drawing false conclusions by not realizing the impact of technical improvements:
The popularity of the ram was attributed to the success of the ram tactics in the battle of Lissa (1866) in the Adriatic sea. It was the first major engagement of ironclad ships. In fact it was a mixture of everything afloat at this time, wooden ships with small steam-powered engines, gunboats, cruisers, ironclads. The Italians were superior both technically and by numbers. The Austrian admiral decided to go in for a melee, sinking two Italian ironclads by ramming. This success led battle ship designers consider ram bows as an inevitable feature of warships. For the next 50 year ram bows were common, although obsolete as gunnery improved. No sea battle after Lissa was ever decided by ramming.

Anonymous said...

By the time HG Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, in the late 1990s, the torpedo-ram concept was already long obsolete

I do believe you meant 1890.

jollyreaper said...


By the time HG Wells wrote The War of the Worlds, in the late 1990s, the torpedo-ram concept was already long obsolete

I do believe you meant 1890.


Time machine, duh.

Skírnir said...

Okay guys...
Maybe I'm catching a cold and am a little slow on the uptake, but...
...what does all of this have to do with Science Fiction / Rocketpunk?

Byron said...

Skirnir:
Okay guys...
Maybe I'm catching a cold and am a little slow on the uptake, but...
...what does all of this have to do with Science Fiction / Rocketpunk?

Nothing much. We occasionally debate other things, too.

Hugh said...

Trying to tie aircraft carriers, steampunk, and science fiction together...are there books / TV shows where the space craft are individually unique?

A lot of modern steampunk is like the arts and crafts movement in emphasising hand built, individually crafted technology rather than mass production. (Yeah, they're deliberately ignoring that the Victorian era is where mass production started.)

Right through the early years of WW2 aircraft carriers were all one-off designs or a pair. Only the USN and to a lesser extent Britain managed to mass produce carriers. Japan and Italy tried to stick flight decks on something - anything - handy.

Today, with the exception of the USN, we're back to fleets with unique carrier designs, and the older models need a lot of individually made parts to keep in service.

But I've never seen something like this in science fiction. Whether Star Destroyers, Omegas, or Constellations, all the warships seem to be mass produced.

Is there science fiction (written or image) where the space ships are as diverse as they were at the time of HMS Inflexible?

Skírnir said...

Interesting question. I can't think of any right now, but here are my 2 cents:
I'd guess that ships were more individual in the early days of SF. Nowadays, we are used to stuff (ships, aircraft...) being mass produced, so we transpone this pattern into space. It makes sense, at least as long as the R&D cost of a model are substantial.

On the other hand, there's the idea of modular spacecraft. You have a selection of sections for propulsion, habitat, tanks etc, and you may even be able to change components between missions.

If the technology is so advanced that designing a new spaceship can be done quickly and cheaply, you can have individualized craft again. At least civilian ones, that are going to be operated by the same crew for many years.

In the military, I'd still expect standardized classes, because their can be high crew turnover, and you'll probably want to train crew where they can't break anything, and _then_ deploy them to combat units.

By the by, would it make sense to introduce a hierarchy level between "type" and "class" for spacecraft?

For instance, if "tanker" and "freighter" are types, and various companies build one class each specialized on the Jupiter-Earth and Saturn-Earth routes. What would be an appropriate term to indicate you are talking about any Saturn-specialized ship?

Anonymous said...

Skirnir said:"For instance, if "tanker" and "freighter" are types, and various companies build one class each specialized on the Jupiter-Earth and Saturn-Earth routes. What would be an appropriate term to indicate you are talking about any Saturn-specialized ship?"

Perhaps by crew endurance and/or Delta-V?


Ferrell

jollyreaper said...

Endurance and delta-v seem to be the two primary characteristics. But any other peculiarities of a regular service will be factored into vessel design. For example, Earth may have launch lasers and so any vessel coming or going could take advantage, saving onboard remass for the other side. Ships that visit trans-neptunian objects or asteroids might not bother with aerobraking equipment but any vessel hitting suitable worlds can eek out an x% performance boost by dedicating mass to the brakes. Maybe each pound of brake is worth 10 pounds of remass.

My guess is the interesting ships will be the ones that handle odd job stuff. Look at the Russian super-transport aircraft, the heavy sealift ships or salvage operators. When no two jobs are ever the same and procedures are invented on the fly, things remain interesting.

Skírnir said...

>Perhaps by crew endurance and/or Delta-V?

Sure, but I was thinking about a naming convention, analogous to "type" or "class".

I thought some more about it. How about "rating".
"Captain, we're picking up the signature of a solarsize Saturn-rated tanker, probably Hyperion class."

Rick said...

On Captcha, it would be eminently logical to have an option requiring it only for 'anonymous' posters. Alas, Blogger doesn't seem to have any such option ...

And as annoying as Captcha is, it has eliminated the spam, good for email subscribers (and certainly good for me).


On carriers, I agree with the observation that they are well suited to the wars the US is actually fighting, and is likely to fight for at least some years to come.

A war against another great power is not something defense planners can ignore, but it is not really a primary consideration in the near term.

(This is a bit reminiscent of an observation that John Guilmartin made about Renaissance galleys - fighting other galleys a la Lepanto was a mission they had to be able to perform, but it was not their primary mission - in sharp contrast to 18th century ships of the line, or early 20th c. battleships.)


On the relevance to science fiction, the 'steampunk era' was a period of basic tech change, when planners had to think at a fairly fundamental level. Compare to the discussions in the Space Warfare series, and also to this discussion of an earlier naval tech revolution.

Anyway, 1870-era ironclads, like galleasses, are Cool, which is fully adequate justification in itself!

Byron said...

Rick:
A war against another great power is not something defense planners can ignore, but it is not really a primary consideration in the near term.
I'm not so sure about this. We pay lip service to a possible war with China, but the chances of us going to war with China without going nuclear is pretty much nil. We have nowhere near the power to defeat them in a conventional war (what are we going to do, invade the whole country?) and they have nothing besides ICBMs that can really get to us. Thus, the war will either be very limited (tactical weapons only, for instance) or nuclear.

Thucydides said...

The only way to have an analogous period to "steampunk" in space would be to postulate some sort of breakthrough similar in effect to the adoption of robust sailing rigs or the transition from sail to steam.

If social attitudes change enough for nuclear reactors to become common power sources (either as NTRs or using reactors to generate the high levels of electrical energy for PMF electric drives), then there will be a shakeout as people experiment with various solutions; one or more reactors? Open or closed cycle? Solid fuel elements or molten salts? How much power density is desirable or safe (given the limited size of reactors that can be lifted from Earth)?

As these questions get answered by practical experience in space, various solutions will be discarded and a "standard" of sorts will be developed.

Rinse and repeat when something is developed that outperforms nuclear fission in space...

s337101 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Locki said...

Skírnir said...
Okay guys...
Maybe I'm catching a cold and am a little slow on the uptake, but...
...what does all of this have to do with Science Fiction / Rocketpunk?


============================

It is more than tangentially related. Since the dawn of recorded history humans have looked back into their past to try to find inspiration to solve the problems of the present and the future.

When weapon systems rapidly change we’ve often drawn on our past experiences to try to determine the best course of action. Hence, the infamous rams in the 1880’s. History also tells us we often draw the wrong conclusion from past experiences. The meme goes something like ”generals are always preparing to fight the last war.”

Since Rocketpunk is talking about future, yet to be developed technologies its only natural we’ld look to our present and past to support our positions. The lengthy “discussions” we often have (eg the infamous green-purple lasers vs kinetics) are probably even less accurate since many of us are subconsciously trying to recreate a plausible future space battlefield whilst also creating interesting story possibilities in spaaaace. I especially tend to favour story over plausibility and my opinion towards certain possibilities is appropriately biased (What? Plot holes in Dark knight? Nonsense!)

Looking back at the the turmoil and rapid change of the steampunk era of warships is as close an analogy as we are going to get to future rocketpunk warfare. Its also a very cool time for amateur military historians.
Other stuff

1. SM-3 for carrier defence

I presume this question is best aimed at artillerists. The SM-3 is designed for mid-course intercepts. Eg you park your Aegis destroyer off the coast of N.Korea and shoot down the ballistic missile in mid-course whilst its on its way to Tokyo. Doesn’t this make the weapon useless for carrier defence. If you are aiming a 1500nm range ballisitic missile at a carrier then you’ll need to intercept the missile in the terminal phase. The Aegis radar nor the SM-2 missile itself just doesn’t have the range to detect and intercept the DF-21 mid-course if the Carrier itself is the target. Something that has proven to be much harder to do so far.

2. Carriers hiding in high intensity warfare.

I actually think when people trot the line “you can’t kill my carrier because you can’t find it” they are almost implicitly conceding the argument to submarines. For starters if it was so easy to hide a 100,000 tonne carrier and conduct ninja like hit and fade attacks then why are we bothering with submarines in the first place? Secondly if your primary defence against the modern hypersonic anti-ship missiles is to remain hidden then you are impliedly suggesting the only vessel that can survive is a stealth vessel (submarine).

2. Less exotic hypersonic anti-ship missiles.

Check out this proposed hypersonic scramjet anti-ship and anti-land 300nm range missile http://home.janes.com/events/exhibitions/dsei2011/sections/daily/day1/perseus-mbdas-missile-of-.shtml. It’s a mach 3 sea-skimmer that dives onto the target in the terminal phase. Supposedly an Aegis ship will get 8 seconds of warning.

I trully think the advent of a highly networked battlespace and long ranged, hypersonic missiles all points towards a future where stealth is as much a concern in naval warfare as it is currently in air warfare.

Space warfare with its complete lack of stealth will probably be both dreadfully and boringly deadly.

Byron said...

Locki:
I presume this question is best aimed at artillerists. The SM-3 is designed for mid-course intercepts. Eg you park your Aegis destroyer off the coast of N.Korea and shoot down the ballistic missile in mid-course whilst its on its way to Tokyo. Doesn’t this make the weapon useless for carrier defence. If you are aiming a 1500nm range ballisitic missile at a carrier then you’ll need to intercept the missile in the terminal phase. The Aegis radar nor the SM-2 missile itself just doesn’t have the range to detect and intercept the DF-21 mid-course if the Carrier itself is the target. Something that has proven to be much harder to do so far.
Not so sure about this one. I think that the SM-3 would be capable of intercepting a missile headed at the carrier. Not only that, the SM-2 might have marginal capability against it as well, given that, from my reading, the DF-21D behaves almost like a very fast conventional missile in the last stages. Modern, high-power SAMs typically have limited ABM capability as well.

Check out this proposed hypersonic scramjet anti-ship and anti-land 300nm range missile http://home.janes.com/events/exhibitions/dsei2011/sections/daily/day1/perseus-mbdas-missile-of-.shtml. It’s a mach 3 sea-skimmer that dives onto the target in the terminal phase. Supposedly an Aegis ship will get 8 seconds of warning.
Check the fielding date. 15 to 20 years, which in practice might mean we never see it, and when we do, AEGIS will have had a couple of upgrades. Also, speculative technology.

I trully think the advent of a highly networked battlespace and long ranged, hypersonic missiles all points towards a future where stealth is as much a concern in naval warfare as it is currently in air warfare.
In other words, submarines. Read the article I linked to earlier for why surface ship stealth is a terrible idea.

All in all, I'm not counting surface ships out yet. They have a significant advantage when it comes to sea control, and given how rare shooting wars between great powers are going to be, I really don't see the concern.

Skírnir said...

re Steampunk, thanks, now I see. Also, my head is clearer today. ^^
I actually like the idea of an anything-goes technology mix. Actually I have a few elements of it in my setting (e.g. some nations prefer ASPs for STO-traffic, others vertical launch rockets).

re China, one thought, what about Taiwan? If the PR decides it's time for reunification, what is the US gonna do about it? Risk an all-out nuclear war? I hope not!

As Bismarck put it in the 19th century: "The Strait of Formosa is not worth the bones of one Pomeranian grenadier."

jollyreaper said...

Naming conventions will be based on the tech. Whatever the design considerations are, that's how a ship would be named. You hit upon most of the possibilities. Like I said, any ship on a routine service would be optimized for the route.

Inner system vs outer system.

Fast for people vs slow for bulk goods. People fly overdress but most cargo goes by slow boat. Speed would probably be indicated by drive type, slow board have the cheapest and most efficient option available.

What are the economic interests in your setting? What gets moved and why? From where to where? How many different ways are there to move things? Will some vessels be manned and others run on automation? Why?

But yes, it does make sense to talk of ships by what they do, a shorthand way of conveying relevant information.

jollyreaper said...

On his rocketpunk site, our good host has mentioned the idea that ships could be purpose-assembled and known for the timing and schedule rather than the pieces, just like we have an Orient Express or Silver Meteor.

As to how that would work depends on the technology, of course. As far as the solar system goes it seems reasonable that you can strap together cargo modules, tankage, habitation and engines as the situation warrants. If the FTL technology requires a robust and uniform hull structure, this might not work so well.

By way of comparison, we can string trains together. We can string trucks together for road trains only in some areas. Works for the Australian outback and for very limited double trailer situations in the US. For the most part only a single tractor with one trailer can work with current road infrastructure.

Likewise with ships, barges and tugs may be assembled and work for inland waterways. I don't believe we see barges really working anywhere in coastal waters. If any barge load needs transshiped across an ocean, they get put onto proper carriers. I'm sure we could find given sea states suitable for a given vessel class.

Nobody can futz with modular components for aircraft. The closest we get to that are droptanks for military aircraft. We tried "staged" aircraft in the early days of air travel, a mothership flying a smaller aircraft part of the way and the parasite then separating to continue the flight. It was ridiculously impractical and went away in short order. Even romantic aircraft such as the giant passenger seaplanes went away as jets simplified flight operations.

I was reading another thread where people are arguing about the best palmtop computer and am struck by the similarity to this steampunk thread. Long practice has shown us which ideas are good, which ideas are terrible, and the cases in which certain compromises are permissible. In a way, mixed caliber battleships are the same bad idea as multi-turreted tanks from WWI.

In the palmtop debate, people are still arguing over the form factor with screen size, on-screen or physical keyboards and also the software environment. Apple represents a walled garden that does everything most people need is there but if you want to do anything slightly different it is forbidden.

Android gives you a zillion and one options and is not standardized, is more for the tinkerer. Many iphone owners have never downloaded an app the entire time they owned the phone. I know some that barely even use the data options, it's just a phone.

PS you know how annoying the captcha is? If you are pulled away from the computer for a while and come back, it refreshes. I'd already typed it in and it refreshed!

Skírnir said...

> Fast for people vs slow for bulk goods.

Kinda like that. Fast also for valuable goods - like the stuff that goes by air freight today.

> What are the economic interests in your setting? What gets moved and why? From where to where? How many different ways are there to move things? Will some vessels be manned and others run on automation? Why?

Bulk goods with low intrinsic value (such as water) won't even be hauled on a real ship, just get pushed into a groove by a tug and get caught by another tug at the destination, so there's your barge traffic. That way a pair of propulsion busses can move a hundred times more cargo than if they moved it all the way. So there are your barges right there, and they will only have a robot pilot with some maneuvering thrusters.

Other goods to be hauled are stuff like: fuel, electronics, machinery, parts, processed rare metals or rare earths, and so forth.

Basically, anything worth stealing will be shipped by manned freighters.

Water is mainly used as propellant, and is distributed to all space stations in a system. Likewise fuel, which may be 3He, Uranium, Thorium; here we have the rocketpunk element that different fuels may be in use.
Most high-tech stuff is shipped from Earth to the colonies.

While there is an FTL element, there is a mass limit on starships. So the average Saturn-rated tanker will be much bigger than the biggest interstellar freighter.

So a ship's designation is composed of different elements. "Type" is the main groups like tanker, freighter, lifter. The "rating" is governed by drive performance.
The "size" is mainly whether it's light enough to jump or not. So "Solarsize" ships can be much bigger than "Stellarmax", but of course there can be smaller ships, too.

For example, Saturn-rated ships will have higher V_e, Jupiter-rated ships higher thrust than the respective other. A Jupiter-rated ship going to Saturn will take longer than necessary. A Saturn-rated ship going to Jupiter may find itself wasting a lot of energy trying to escape Big J's gravity well.

Tony said...

Skírnir:

"That way a pair of propulsion busses can move a hundred times more cargo than if they moved it all the way. So there are your barges right there, and they will only have a robot pilot with some maneuvering thrusters."

That depends on the value of the propulsion modules vs the value of the extra reaction mass and tankage to recover the launching tug and for the receiving tug to match trajectories with the payload.

"Basically, anything worth stealing will be shipped by manned freighters."

Anything with a time value greater than the shipping premium will be shipped by freighter. Everything is worth stealing.

Skírnir said...

> That depends on the value of the propulsion modules vs the value of the extra reaction mass

Sure. I developed an economic model for my setting that allows me to calculate the cost of any cargo over any distance with any ship. It takes into account cost for fuel, propellant, maintenance and write-off.
For reference, lifting stuff from Earth surface to LEO costs around 7-8cr/kg in this model. Most interplanetary traffic also lies between roughly 7 and 14 cr/kg.
This assumes a water cost of max 1cr/kg (interplanetary propellant) at Earth orbit.

> Anything with a time value greater than the shipping premium will be shipped by freighter. Everything is worth stealing.

Let me put it that way: not everything is worth guarding. If water was transported by freighters, it would cost at least 5cr/kg. But "playing interplanetary Catch" allows you to move it for less than 1cr/kg. Even if somebody around, say, Mars orbit decided to steal a water transport now and then, just sucking up the loss would still cheaper than committing a manned tanker to move water.

Tony said...

Re: Skirnir

Please understand -- I'm not thinking or writing about any one person's fictional conceptualizations. Too easy to fix things in favor of the desired result. I'm thinking and writing about the underlying physics and engineering.