Space Warfare in Milky Way | World Anvil

Space Warfare

Space warfare (sometimes referred to as naval warfare, not to be confused with ocean-based naval warfare) refers to the action of armed spacecraft engaging outside the atmosphere of a planet. It is considered the most important domain of warfare, as control of the space around a planet shapes the conditions for the planet itself. As such, all spacefaring societies invest into armed starships, either for self-defence or expeditionary purposes. Many non-government organisations, such as mercenaries or criminal groups, also operate armed spacecraft and engage in conflict, so even the most pacifist governments have at minimum limited numbers of warships. However, the primary purpose of space warfare is that of power projection, which is what most navies engage in. Technology, experience, and even ideology has shaped space combat since the species of the galaxy left their gravity wells, and each species has its own unique way of engaging in space combat - its doctrine.

Table of Contents



Weapon technology in the mid 24th century CE is generally divided into three categories: energy, kinetic, and guided (or explosive). Energy weapons refer to those that primarily employ some kind of energy to deal damage, like lasers, plasma weapons, disruptors, and particle beams. Kinetic weapons propel projectiles at high speed, impacting enemy ships and transferring kinetic force directly to their hull. Guided weapons are similar to kinetics in that they rely on kinetic force, but instead are guided, self-propelled weapons like missiles and torpedoes that travel under their own power to their target.

Each weapon has its own use in combat. Kinetic weapons are more effective against shielded targets, but heavy armour plating can deflect their kinetic impacts. Energy weapons can melt armour with ease, but are quickly absorbed by energy shields. Guided weapons can penetrate shields and armour, but are vulnerable to interception by fighter screens and point-defence systems. Due to this, fleets almost universally deploy with a mix of weapons to deal with any threat they encounter.


The first line of defence for any starship is its energy shield system. They protect ships against fast-moving objects and high-energy blasts that would otherwise directly harm the hull. However, with enough damage, energy shields can be overloaded and disabled. In addition, some weapons (like missiles and disruptors) are capable of completely penetrating energy shields, rendering them ineffective against these attacks.

Once shields fail, a ship relies on its armour plating to protect its hull. Armour is usually made from composite or alloyed materials, such as nanocomposites, ceramo-metal, plasteel, or durasteel. While cheap, armour has two main downsides. The first is that it adds significant amounts of mass to a ship, reducing its speed and maneuverability. The second is that unlike shields, when armour is impacted, it must be repaired instead of regenerating (some navies use special bacteria that can regenerate hull integrity, but these are uncommon).

Missiles, with their slow speeds, powerful warheads, and close-proximity detonation, are capable of penetrating both shields and armour and compromising hull integrity directly. In order to defeat them, special point-defence weapons were developed. The majority of point-defence are highly-accurate lasers that can target incoming missiles to detonate their warheads at a safe distance. Strike craft pose a similar threat to warships, but their evasive maneuvers and shields render laser-based point-defence less effective. Instead, rapidly-fired shrapnel rounds - commonly called flak - are used to quickly drain strike craft shields and destroy them.

Sensors and Computers

Modern starship sensors are capable of tracking enemy ships anywhere in a given system, while gravitic, subspace, and tachyon sensors can detect ships through hyperlanes. As such, commanders of vessels and fleets are aware of battles far in advance. Although scanners can be defeated by cloaked ships, such devices are not commonly equipped on fleet warships due to how they interfere with the operation of energy shields.

All military starships are equipped with on-board computers dedicated to various combat functions, such as targeting, evasive maneuvers, fleet coordination, and damage control response. Early developments in starship combat computers created specialised systems that enhance the ship in coordination with its role in doctrine. A close-range corvette will have a computer with enhanced control over engines and reactor output to allow it to evade incoming fire more easily, while a long-range battleship will dedicate more computing power to target acquisition to improve its weapon range.

As space lacks air to create drag, a horizon to create cover, or planetary gravity to pull munitions to the ground, weapons in space have a theoretically unlimited range. As one extreme example, in 2297 CE, the science ship UNS Gagarin was struck by a glancing blow from a several-billion-year-old mass driver round from another galaxy. Modern naval engagements, however, typically play out at less than one thousand kilometres. This is because of the prevalence of electronic warfare systems in modern warships, that degrade the ability of enemy ships to target and acquire them at range. While a physical battle is going on, hackers and shipborne AIs are constantly trying to degrade the enemy's targeting capability while defending their own systems from hostile intrusion. Due to this, effective engagement distances are significantly shorter than a weapon's physical range.

Power and Propulsion

A ship's reactor effectively defines the size and power a ship can be. Modern warship reactors are usually of an antimatter or zero-point configuration, providing tremendous energy that can be routed to shields, engines, or weapons. A ship's engines, integrity fields, and intertial dampeners consume the vast majority of power, but what remains is more than enough for offensive and defensive capabilities. Effectively, a ship's power output determines the amount of weapons and shields it can be armed with.

All starships have two sublight speeds: cruising and maneuver. Cruising speeds engage the full power of the primary engine, allowing a ship to cross a star system in as little as a few days. However, cruising speed doesn't allow for significant course correction or maneuverability. Instead, smaller thrusters and inertial compensators are used in conjunction with the main engine during combat or close-range maneuvering. Engine power tends to be inversely correlated with the size of a ship. Smaller, lighter starships like corvettes are capable of moving at faster speeds than larger ships like battleships.



While not on deployment, ships are based at fleet anchorages for maintenance, or shipyards for refitting. When ships deploy, they usually do so as part of a fleet or task force. Ships are mustered from existing deployments or anchorages to a staging point, which can take several weeks if individual ships are spread out across different systems. As such, many fleets are kept grouped together or nearby when not on deployment. Once ships are grouped into a fleet, they proceed to their objective.

Due to the high accuracy and range of sensors, starship captains and fleet admirals are always aware of enemy forces in-system with them. Due to this, ships with a higher speed are capable of determining an engagement. If a faster ship wishes to flee, a slower ship cannot chase it, and if the faster ship chases the slower one, it will eventually catch them. This creates another dilemma for ship designers: they are required to make the choice between larger, slower ships that are more effective in combat, and smaller, faster ships that can determine when that combat will happen. Different navies have different doctrines on how they approach this dilemma, based on their historical and political contexts.

Starbase Assaults

Starbases are central command facilities constructed around the primary star of a system, capable of tracking all traffic within the system gravity well. Small starbases, called outposts, are lightly armed and pose little threat to even smaller warships. Heavily fortified starbases, like star fortresses and citadels, can possess enough firepower to rival fleets of warships. However, like ship weapons, starbase weapons are limited in range for similar reasons. In most circumstances, a fleet would be able to simply bypass a starbase and move to its objective. The development of the FTL inhibitor changed this completely.

FTL inhibitors are devices that are capable of projecting localised gravity wells across a star system, which render entering hyperspace impossible. Due to their immense power requirements, FTL inhibitors can only be constructed on a planet's surface or in a fixed starbase. While FTL inhibitors can prevent hyperspace window formation, they cannot prevent emergency subspace jumps - but they can extend the time it takes for a hyper drive to charge up for these risky maneuvers.

Due to the presence of FTL inhibitors in starbases, they become a top priority for any fleet attempting to move through a system. With their stationary nature, starbases can readily be scouted out and forces necessary to destroy them assembled in advance. As such, a lone starbase and defence platforms is more of a speed bump than wall for large fleets. Instead, starbases act as force multipliers or delaying actions for friendly fleets, providing them fire support to engage enemy forces. For a starbase to hold, it requires a friendly fleet to help defend it.

Starbases are extremely resilient to damage, provide valuable control over the FTL inhibitor, and allow for the effective control of the space in a system. With this in mind, the complete destruction of a starbase is an extremely rare event. Instead, once the weapon systems of a starbase are disabled, boarding parties are sent to take control of the station. In some cases the starbase crew surrenders without a fight, but in many cases, the invading marines are required to seize the station by force. Information on boarding actions can be found in the Tactics section of this article.

Planetary Assaults

Further reading: Land Warfare

The act of securing a planet varies in difficulty, depending on circumstances. A newly-established colony can likely be intimidated into submission with a company of marines, while a homeworld could have tens or hundreds of millions of defenders. The most critical part of securing any planet is to secure the space above it. From there, the planet can be blockaded or bombarded at will, subject only to ground-based defences.

If a planet is being blockaded, larger ships will be stationed over starports, while corvettes and destroyers patrol the rest of the planet for any blockade runners. Depending on the planet's self-sufficiency, a blockade could be a short-term affair, or may drag on for years at a time. Ships in a blockade formation must be ready for threats coming from both the planet and space for the entire duration of the blockade.

If a blockade is deemed to lengthy to force a surrender, a fleet may opt instead to commence a planetary bombardment. Standard ship-to-ship weapons are effective firing down gravity wells, but the most effective bombardment weapons are nuclear or antimatter. In space, nuclear and antimatter missiles have a reduced effect due to the lack of atmosphere. On a planet's surface, however, they are incredibly devastating. Only fortified bunkers can resist such weapons, while cities and field armies are quickly obliterated. As such, most planetary fortifications are buried deep underground and distributed to avoid falling victim to a single barrage. Bombardment can take time, but once a planet's defences are destroyed, civilian populations usually surrender.

When a planet needs to be secured quickly, has powerful anti-space fortifications, or is too self-sufficient for a blockade to work, a planetary invasion can be attempted. These are extremely difficult, involving millions of ground soldiers deploying directly into enemy territory. The role of starships switches from blockade and strategic bombardment to that of a tactical bombardment. Ships and strike craft provide close support to units on the ground, targeting enemy hardpoints and C4I (command, control, communication, computers, and intelligence) positions. In some instances, ships may be required to land on a planet's surface to take on or unload cargo.



The standard formation for a fleet is well-established. The largest and most valuable ships are in the middle or rear of a formation, while escort vessels screen them from enemy missiles and torpedoes. Ships maintain a distance of at least one kilometer from each other, using three-dimensional space to spread out. When cloaked ships are not expected, the full screening force is deployed in front of the main force; otherwise, the screen assumes a spherical defensive formation. Skirmish vessels, like corvettes and frigates, are forward deployed beyond the screen in order to rush the enemy line once battle commences.


A battle begins with both sides assuming combat stance beyond weapons range. Strike craft are the first vessels to be deployed, harrassing the enemy while the main fleet remains at a safe distance. This is usually a range of 300-500 kilometres. If a fleet has a skirmish force, such as corvettes or frigates, they attempt to charge the enemy lines and breach their defensive screens. Lighter corvettes target screening ships, while frigates target the main enemy force with their close-range torpedoes.

After the skirmishing force has been deployed, the screening force advances to intercept the incoming enemy skirmish force. Destroyers and medium-range cruisers are the preferred warships for this task, capable of withstanding light fire while engaging evasive ships with their accurate weapons. During this, the fleet's main force, consisting of long-range cruisers, battleships, and possibly a titan, engages the enemy from maximum range. The goal of the main force is to destroy the enemy screening force, or at least punch a hole through it. The skirmish and main forces can then attack the enemy main force to attempt to end the battle.

Once a screening force has been broken, an admiral must decide whether to continue battle by reforming the screening line, or retreat by having the fleet perform an emergency FTL jump. Due to the inhospitable nature of space, individual warships are usually granted permission to perform an emergency FTL jump if they have suffered heavy damage. However, emergency FTL jumps into subspace are dangerous, and critically damaged warships might be destroyed outright by the stresses of a non-hyperlane jump.

Boarding Actions

When a ship is disabled through the damaging of its engines and hyper drive, it becomes vulnerable to boarding. This most often occurs during anti-piracy operations, but rarely happens during fleet actions as well. If a commander decides to board the enemy ship, the first course of action is to ensure the ship is fully disabled and does not pose a threat. Weapon systems are specifically targeted and disabled before any action can commence. In addition to ships, boarding actions are often used to seize outposts and starbases.

Once the ship is completely disabled, a boarding party (usually of specially-trained marines) is assembled, the size depending on the target in question. A small pirate corvette may only require a squad, while an enemy battleship could call for a full battalion of marines supported by heavy weapons. In order to reach the enemy ship, the marines board a shuttle to fly there. Once at their destination, they insert either through an open hangar bay (on larger ships), through an airlock, or by cutting a hole directly into the hull of the enemy ship.

Inside a hostile ship, there are two immediate objectives for marines. The primary objective is to secure the ship's engineering and engine bay. Taking this allows ship systems to be physically isolated and controlled directly, preventing the enemy from taking it back, as well as preventing a deliberate reactor overload. The secondary objective is to seize the bridge, command crew, and computer systems. Taking these effectively seizes the "brains" of the ship, and can also prevent a self-destruct.


United Nations of Earth

The naval doctrine of the United Nations of Earth is a combination of power projection and trade protection. With a large civilian economy, industrial base, numbers of spaceborne habitats, and trading partners beyond its borders, the spacelanes of the UNE are particularly crowded with civilian shipping. Due to this, the United Nations Naval Forces operate a higher ratio of destroyers for escort operations and spacelane patrol than other navies. Informed by the historical oceangoing naval traditions of their constituent nations, the UNNF does not operate a particularly large number of corvettes, using them for civil patrol and customs enforcement operations instead of fleet engagements.

The UNNF's prioritisation of destroyers extends to military combat, and their fleets are particularly protected from missile or strike craft attack. Due to their lacking of an extensive skirmishing force, UNNF fleets prefer to engage at range, and let their strong screening forces prevent enemies from approaching. UN ships are built primarily with energy weapons for armament, and eschew heavy armour plating in favour of more powerful shield generators and reinforced hulls.

In combat, UNNF fleets rely on their strong screening force to compensate for a lack of a skirmishing force. Many UNNF destroyers are equipped with long-range artillery pieces to aid in fire support, rather than solely relying on cruisers and battleships for the main force. However, despite its focus on destroyers, the UNNF does maintain a sizable number of cruisers and battleships for its fleets.

In terms of strategic and tactical doctrine, the UNNF puts an emphasis on rapid maneuver and long-range engagements. UNNF ships on average have more powerful engines, while fleet commanders emphasise fleet cohesion at full thrust. The doctrinal goal is to strike wherever the enemy is weakest through the use of superior speed, and have a flexible response to enemy threats encroaching on UN or allied territory.

Commonwealth of Man

While the Commonwealth of Man shares its naval history with its fellow humans of Earth, the historical and political pressures it has experienced since landfall on Unity have led to a divergence in doctrine. In order to patrol the expansive territory of the Commonwealth, the Commonwealth Colonial Navy relies heavily on its multirole cruiser fleet to act as patrol craft, screening vessels, torpedo boats, and artillery ships. CCN ships are primarily built with a focus on strong armour, usually at the expense of powerful shielding. Kinetic weapons and missiles are the favoured weapons of the CCN.

CCN cruisers can often be found conducting patrols either by themselves or in pairs, in either anti-piracy or border security roles. These cruisers are usually gunship pattern variants, armed with a multitude of smaller weapons that can target small ships more effectively. During fleet battles, these gunship cruisers are employed to break enemy screening formations, as their larger tonnage allows them to absorb heavy amounts of incoming fire.

Although the CCN still employs frigates, they prefer to use torpedo cruisers for close-range engagements. They are more capable of breaking through a screen line than frigates, but are themselves more vulnerable to the powerful weapons of battleships in the enemy rear. In Commonwealth fleets' main forces, they employ large numbers of artillery cruisers and battleships, in a similar manner to most other navies.

In a similar manner to the UNNF, the CCN employs a doctrine of rapid deployment. Attacking enemy weak points faster than they can react, while using mobile fleets to intercept enemy forces on the attack. CCN ships focus on attacking from a distance, using the superior range of their cruiser and battleship weapons to destroy the enemy before they can get within range.

Tzynn Empire

The Imperial Tzynn Starfleet is required to police and patrol one of the vastest regions of space in the galaxy, owing to the size of the Empire and its client states. Due to this, high-endurance cruisers form the bulk of the Imperial Starfleet. Tzynn ships are constructed with weaker shields and armour plating than their contemporaries, but have strongly reinforced hull plating and integrity fields to reduce the maintenance requirements on them. With fewer ships in dock for maintenance, the Tzynn can effectively field more warships without needing to construct more. Simplified maintenance and operation also allows battle thralls to act as enlisted crew with little training.

Tzynn armament favours guided weapons, both long-range missiles and close-range torpedoes. They are also armed with a mix of kinetic and energy weapons, allowing them to have flexible responses to different tactical scenarios. The Imperial Tzynn Starfleet also operates a sizable number of ships with cloaking devices, especially frigates and cruisers. These ships are completely bereft of shields due to the cloaking field's interference, instead featuring significantly stronger armour plating.

The Tzynn employ a fairly standard doctrine, with skirmish forces, screening forces, and main forces in balance. However, their tactical doctrine emphasises the role of torpedoes. Enemy screening forces are the first to be targeted by gunship pattern cruisers, quickly punching holes so torpedo cruisers and frigates can break through. Meanwhile, long-range artillery cruisers and battleships fire missiles support the skirmish force's attack with guided weapons and batteries. Where available, cloaked Tzynn ships will strike from behind or in the midst of enemy fleets, causing chaos and confusion as they unload their torpedoes.

Strategically, Tzynn doctrine focuses on overwhelming the enemy with ships and maximum aggression. The cheaper design of Imperial Starfleet ships and extensive industrial base of the Empire allows for more tonnage to be brought to bear in individual battles.

Kel-Azaan Republic

The Kel-Azaan Republic has a strong martial culture within its society, with strict codes of honour and conduct. This culture extends to the Kel-Azaan Star Navy. Doctrinally, the Star Navy places an emphasis on its battleship carriers, which it has proportionally more of than other navies. The culture of individual combat prowess means that strike craft pilots are highly venerated within the Star Navy, so many positions for such pilots are made available. Other than strike craft which can be found on dedicated carriers as well as smaller hangars on non-dedicated battleships and cruisers, Kel-Azaan ships use a mixture of energy and kinetic weapons. They generally aim to be flexible in their standard armament, in order to defeat any enemy they encounter.

In a typical engagement, the Kel-Azaan fleet will begin launching its strike craft as soon as possible. Battleships engage the enemy screening force with long-range missile fire to saturate enemy point-defence, while the strike craft punch a hole through and get into the enemy rear. The Kel-Azaan also use battleships in their own screening force, bristling with medium weapons to engage enemy destroyers and cruisers.

On a strategic level, the Kel-Azaan always engage the enemy wherever possible, even while outnumbered. Unlike other navies, Kel-Azaan ships are not permitted to retreat during combat, and are instead expected to fight until destruction unless a general retreat is sounded by the fleet commander. Both tactically and strategically, local commanders are given significant leeway by their superiors to employ whatever means they see fit. Although there is some coordination between various fleets, overall each fleet acts mostly independently of others.


Please Login in order to comment!