Space Combat

This document outlines theories on space warfare, focusing on "current" tactics and technologies of the 25th and 26th centuries  

GM's Notes

These notes are written "in universe" but represent the views and knowledge of a top Terran academic in the year 2519. However, they cannot be considered to be totally factual in universe.

Notes

This article was authored by Dr Laverne Hollister, PHD of the Vanheim War College at Aesir City in 2518.

Purpose

This article is intended to detail the history and evolution of space-warfare, from a Terran point of view, though it does touch upon alien races in relation to space combat.   This document has been peer reviewed and was published in the New Berlin Scientific Press in 2518. It is on review to form part of the syllabus at Cydonia College "Military History" BA class.

History of Space Warfare

From a Terran point of view, the first examples of formal space warfare took place in the mid to late 21st century as the Federation's armed warships under the banner of the FAS. Armed Terran ships had to overcome the lack of artificial gravity, G-force dampening and the poor performance of Terran guided munitions against alien ships during the initial armed contests.   The Terrans, however, proved a quick study when it came to ship to ship warfare and won their early wars, with a massive, prestige enhancing victory during the Four Empires War.   The Terrans gained something of a reputation for being a warlike power, willing to fight nearly anyone and sacrifice the lives of their citizens to win military accolades.   By the 26th century the Terrans had fought in at least twelve major wars that involved space conflict and it has become the viewpoint of many top Terran strategists that space warfare was the primary and, perhaps in some ways, the only real form of warfare that counted.   To quote the late Emperor August Solarin -
Yes one must win battles on the ground, capture cities and downports and raise the flag. But without control of space, you can't put those boots on the ground, you can't feed or arm your troops and, if one wished to, you could simply redirect asteroids at any ground-site and vanquish any force that lies in wait

 

Warship Design

Starship and warship design are constantly evolving, with improvements to drive cores, engines, shielding and computer systems allowing ships to do more and more, with a smaller crew.   For the Terrans, an increase in automation ever since the great 9th and 10th generation AI advances have seen an increasing role for AI and automation aboard modern warships, with the "Razorshark" frigate and the "Cyclone" class cruiser both featuring very high levels of automation, though the ship itself is not fully automated nor considered to be an AI.   Warship design depends on purpose as well as size and disposition but there are some commonalities:
  • all warships must have a drive core to provide power to the ships systems
  • all ships must have both primary engines (for FTL) and outmaneuver engines for simpler, out of FTL movement
  • shielding protects warships from weapons fire as well as radioactivity
  • weapons systems that can be based on hardpoints or "spinal mounted" ranging from missiles, solid-shot guns to energy weapons
  • hull plating and armour protect the ship and its crew from damage and are the layer between the ship and the shields. Armour tends to comprised of heavy metal alloys and very heavy, therefore increases the mass of a ship

Ship Purpose

All warships are designed with an inherent purpose. Interestingly the first Terran warships were designed based on civilain hulls and based around a modular design process. These ships did not possess artificial gravity per se and needed "spin" sections to allow the crew to experience gravity, making them extremely vulnerable to weapons fire.   Many irregular or unorthodox ships exist being used by "non-state actors" such as Sword of Liberty, the Black Dragon Yakuza, Burning Path, the Valtanist  Rangers or various Private Military Contractors such as VAIL or Deadly By Design.

Frigates - Picket Ships

In modern fleets, the frigate is the most common ship to encounter and serves as the eyes of the fleet. It also serves to screen the fleet from enemy ships as well, using its speed, maneuverability and, normally, above average EM and scanning capacity to gain information on enemy ship movements as well as prevent enemy ships from doing the same   Frigates can also perform escort duties alongside larger ships, providing additional interception capacity and offer fire support.   Squadrons of frigates, in groups of three or more, often operate in concert during combat and are able to exchange fire with cruisers, though this will often result in heavy casualties for the frigates.

Cruisers - Ships of the Line

Cruisers fill out the heavy hitting part of the fleet and deliver firepower far beyond that of a frigate or even a group of frigates. Due to their larger size and reactor output, cruisers are able to mount much larger and heavier weapons including spinal mounts.   Cruisers are also able to absorb more damage than frigates and therefore hold the line together whilst delivering fire to the enemy to break up their line. Due to their larger crew and more sophisticated systems, they are also very capable of being command and control ships.

Battleships - Line-Breakers

Battleships are large, slow and expensive and generally not capable of performing a peacetime function, which makes them an unnecessary expense to many smaller powers and navies. The post Imperial Terrans have no ships that match this class, as of 2519.   In combat, battleships exist purely to deliver huge levels of firepower to the enemy line. They are generally able to swat away frigates without much risk and can deliver a killing blow to a cruiser with just one shot, with the right weapon.   Battleships are not very quick and therefore tend to operate almost as a base of fire during combat. They excel at longer range bombardment attacks but many have been equipped in the past with lots of smaller hard points in order to tackle many frigates or smaller ships.  

Carriers - Long Range Strike Capacity

Unique, so far, to the Terrans, carriers are ships that can carry and deliver large number of combat capable drones with some form of AI to run them. Drone-carriers are generally armed with smaller weapons to defend them against ranged attacks and a limited ability to engage with enemy capital ships.   Instead, the carriers deliver squadrons of attack-drones to attack enemy ships. These can be delivered and attack a huge distance away from the carriers and cause significant damage to enemy ships without the carrier itself even being in range of enemy weapons.   Evasion and detection are therefore critical concepts for carriers. During the days of the The Terran Empire the Carrier was the "Queen" of the fleet with the huge Arasai class super-carriers serving as flagships and potent symbols of power. However, some military theorists, including this humble author, believe that such expensive ships were generally more for show than battle.

Detection and Evasion

Detection and evasion are key concepts in space combat, especially before fleets come into contact. Most ships are able to operate with low energy output which can allow them to avoid detection as often as possible, referred to by Terran sailors as "running silent".   Whilst stealth capabilities are built into most modern warships, no Terran ship has true cloaking technology like the Tranoans have.   A net of frigates operating out from the fleet can often give an increased ability to pick up the movement of the enemy fleet and allow a task force to strike quickly and effectively against the weak point of the enemy.

Guided Munition Combat

During the 20th and 21st century in wet navy and aerospace warfare, the guided missile and torpedo were king of the battlefield. However, during the Terrans first engagements with the Indirian pirates during the so-called Tomahawk War, Terran officers found that our missiles could not lock onto their ships and were more often than not defeated by EM or shielding.   In the 25th and 26th century, improvements to guidance systems and delivery vehicles mean that guided munitions can now strike many enemy targets, though they are at their most effective against un-shielded targets and excel at striking "fixed" objects such as stations or ground targets.  

Close Quarters Battle (CQB)

The real damage of most modern battles occurs at CQD range, which is very much dependent on the capabilities of the ships but is often down to ranges of little more than 10,000 kilometres between the ships.   Gunfire from solid shot or energy weapons can be guided but not in the same fashion as missiles or torpedoes. Energy weapons are far less effective against shields than solid shot but solid shot is often deflected by armour or hull plating.   Whilst almost all modern Terran ships have auto-loaders for their weapons, there is still a large manual component with gunfire, ensuring that weapons are tracking and targeting correctly.   Interestingly, Terrans have generally proved to be better than the "Quadrant average" at gunfire, which many theorists put down to our ancient traditions of warfare.

Boarding Actions

Boarding actions during fleet actions are very rare as launching shuttles during combat is extremely hazardous.   Ship to ship boarding actions are extremely rare unless one of the ships is totally crippled and unable to move or fire.   Boarding parties, comprising marines or ships crew will generally seek to take control of critical ships functions such as the engines and bridge. They will generally lose low powered or low velocity weapons to avoid hull damage and exposing the ships interior to vacuum.

Unusual Weapons

There are a wide array of "unusual" weapons that have been used over the last hundred years. Among these are:  
  • Shatter-Drones - essentially the "Fireships" of the 25th and 26th century, these are older hulls that are stripped of all usable material except for their life support and engines. They are often packed with explosives or other fissile materials and detonate when they get close to a hostile ship. These ships are usually left automated but a skeleton crew are often aboard when the ship begins operations and then evacuate in shuttles when combat begins
  • Wild Weasel - a specially modified shuttle or smaller ship packed full of EM and sensor equipment designed to create a massive amount of EM traffic and noise. These small ships can sometimes deafen enemy ships and draw combat ships from the line.
  • Mass-Driver -an older technique, sometimes used by non-state actors where an asteroid, usually with a large metal content, is driven with speed at a target. Generally useless against ships who can detect and evade the attack, these attacks could be directed against planets with truly devastating effects. Considered a "weapon of mass destruction" by The Federated States

Damage Control

Damage control is a critical function during combat. Repairing damaged sections of a ship during combat is risky but also vital and ships capacity to keep fighting despite damage and casualties can often be the difference between victory and defeat in battle.   Larger Terran warships have a dedicated Damage Control officer and crew whilst smaller ships will tend to assemble them as needed.   As a part of damage control, there is also casualty clearing ensuring that wounded or dead crew are removed from critical places and moved to medical or other triage areas.  

Individual Ship to Ship Combat -Ship Duels

In contests between two individual ships, detection and then maneuver tend to be very important, as well as clever use of the ships power reserves and positioning. Of course, a single frigate cannot really hope to defeat a cruiser in a one on one duel but could conceivably delay or damage a cruiser so much as to put it out of use for a major engagement. If this was done, then even the total loss for the frigate would still be a net-gain for the frigate side of the equation.   When the two ships opposing each other are of equal size or class, then this is referred to as a ship duel. These tend to happen during the scouting out period and often will see frigates jockey for position and use a variety of schemes and moves to try and outfox their opponent and get the crucial first volley of fire on the other.  

Fleet Actions

A major fleet action occurs when groups of ships engage in battle with each other. From a Terran point of view, standard fleet actions tend to see several distinct stages:
  • Scouting - both fleets tend to spread out their picket ships to try and find the other fleet and get the drop on them. This often results in ship duels between opposing pickets
  • Establishing a line - once contact is made, the fleet will use its frigates and other picket ships to establish the maximum safe line of scanning range, to give their fleet as much notice as possible of the enemy movement, whilst also hopefully limiting the enemies notice of their own movement
  • Line of Battle - cruisers and other heavier ships form a line of battle, perhaps joined by squadrons of frigates and they will seek to engage the enemy fleet from an optimal range where they can use their weapons the most effectively. This will often mean that the cruisers and battleships will engage from maximum range using their spinal mounts in order to cause as much damage as possible whilst attracting as little fire as possible
  • Close Quarters Battle / Knife Fight - when a battle can't be resolved by manouver or barrages from line of battle, then its time to get in close and exchange gunfire. These stages of the battle are the most chaotic as ships pound each other at close range using their guns whilst heavier ships try to keep at range and keep up their fire with their heavier guns
  • Withdrawal - all Terran Admirals are well aware of the incredible cost in time and money to replace a lost capital ship and therefore they will not throw away ships without good reason. If the battle is lost, then the fleet will seek to withdraw to sufficient distance that they can move to FTL and then to jump-space
It is fairly rare in fleet actions in the Quadrant to result in one fleet being utterly wiped out, with most fleets having a huge number of escape vectors. The recent Battle of Vanheim saw the entire Imperial Terran Fleet wiped out due to the shield frequencies being compromised to the Karkouri Regime.   Encirclement is very hard to achieve in space, though being able to pursue the enemy to prevent them from having the spare energy to move to FTL and enter Jump-space can be the best way to cause maximum casualties.

Karkouri Tactics

The Karkouri Regime has one of the most effective Navies in the Quadrant and they have not lost a war for nearly one hundred years as of 2519. The Karkouri favour frigates and cruisers, focusing on heavy frontal weapons for their cruisers whilst wing mounted weapons are popular for their frigates.   The Karkouri heavy weapon of choice is the plasma gun of various size and type, which causes incredible searing heat to the target on top of any impact damage, which makes them very effective against armour. The Terran Imperial Navy used ablative armour where possible so that armour plates that had been coated with burning plasma would flake off by design to avoid further damaging the ships hull.   In battle, the Karkouri make effective use of manouveres, feints, faked distress calls and will try to find the flag-ship in a fleet and cripple it early on. During the Battle of Vanheim, the Terran Flagship was crippled near the begining of the battle and only destroyed when it was the last remaining ship left.   Karkouri make quite good pilots but often lack a killer instinct when it comes to gunfire and they are often considered to be slightly inferior in gunnery combat to their Terran equivalents.

Vatu Tactics

The Vatu are a proud warrior people who generally regard death in battle as the highest of honours. Their ships are somewhat reflective of this view, with few redundant systems and a very forward focused set of weapons. The vatu like heavier ships where possible and tend to overload them with weapons, though their ships also tend to have very powerful central engines.   Vatu ships are very heavily armoured and built with ramming tactics in mind, which they have often used to great effect, overcoming their somewhat brutalist design plans with sheer ferocity.   Vatu may not make subtle pilots but they are incredibly brave and also hugely determined, willing to hold the line when other races may turn and run.   Vatu warships favour the use of a heavy laser as their primary heavy weapon but they have also been known to use rail-guns firing solid shot on a spinal mount.   As a quirk of the Vatu's very high resistance to radiation, Vatu ships tend to carry far less shielding than most other ships.

Dhau Tactics

The Dhau Empire has one of the largest fleets in the quadrant and it is one of the most secretive, despite the Dhau exposure to corporations during the 23rd and 24th centuries.   The Dhau Navy make use of ships of all size, ranging from frigates all the way up to their truly vast battleships and dreadnoughts which pack a massive amount of firepower.   Dhau warship design favor simplicity and molecularity, with most designs intended to be able to fulfill various functions dependent on "lockable" modules being added to them. Dhau cruisers can range from heavy firepower delivery to being troop carriers.   The Dhau use a mixture of laser weapons, plasma weapons (developed thanks to aid from the Karkouri Regime) and solid shot.   Dhau ships are not known for their great redundant systems and often damage that could have been recoverable, if not easily, by a Terran ship will see a Dhau ship destroyed or scuttled.   The Dhau also possess a singular ship design, the so-called "Mono-Ark" class super-battleship. These enormous but seldom seen command and control ships are over three kilometres in length and possess inbuilt factories to support an ongoing Dhau war-effort.

Tranoan Tactics

The Tranoan Navy is generally regarded as the most technologically advanced in the quadrant, though the Tazzyn Empire may have disputed this. Tranoan ships generally have extremely strong shields and possess speed and outmaneuver capacity that is far in excess of anything produced by the other races.   The Tranoans value speed and evasiveness over firepower and shield their ships far beyond any other race, with their shield strengths often exceeding the other races by more than two to one.   Tranoans build fast, elegant ships which have often been criticized as overly designed and somewhat brittle in combat. Tranoan ships always have excellent EM abilities and most cruisers possess cloaking technology.   Tranoans favour Fusion Lances as their heavy weapons, which deliver incredibly high energy beams and can punch through shields and armour with equal ease. These are considered some of the most powerful ship to ship weapons in the quadrant.   The Tranoan Navy often suffers with a lack of resources and they go into most wars outgunned and outnumbered. The Tranoan officer class can often been somewhat cautious and doctrinal, favouring withdrawal and hit and run tactics.

Tazzyn Tactics

The largest Navy in the quadrant was for hundreds of years considered totally invincible in battle. The Tazzyn Navy is rumoured to consist of at least 1,000 fighting ships and possess at least 95 battleships.   The Tazzyn Empire does favour heavilly armed battleships and dreadnoughts and prefer a set piece battle where possible. Tazzyn fleet doctrine favours concentration of firepower and they tend to try to go directly for an enemies capital or central command where possible.   Tazzyn ships favour speed whereever possible and their frigates are very fast and very agile. The Tazzyn prefer wing mounted weapons on most of their frigates and aim to skirmish one on one, using their own superiority as well as the skill of their helm officers and captains to overcome their enemies.   Tazzyn heavy ships tend to use powerful heavy lasers but they also use a rarely seen weapon called a Stellar Converter which is mounted on their largest and most modern ships. Best used against slow moving or damaged ships, the Stellar Converter delivers an incredible high energy beam which easily shears through shields and armour. Due to the huge energy use of the weapon, it is slow to deploy.   The Tazzyn officer corps are known for their aggressive instincts and their own sense of elan and honour, though they also tend to look down their nose at "less advanced races", which to the Tazzyn is everyone but the Tranoans.   The recent defeat of the Tazzyn Navy and Army at the hands of the upstart Hressan Republic has forced a quadrant wide reevaluation of Tazzyn military skill but their high tech level and huge economic base means they should not be taken lightly by any race in the quadrant.  

Gannid Tactics

Gannid starships are famously well designed and have excellent engineering. The Gannid favour lots of interlocking systems but also build in a large number of redundancies and many systems on Gannid ships have a manual method to restart or repair them.   The Gannid Navy favours larger and heavier ships and Gannid frigates are often more heavily armed than their Terran equivalents, though equally not as agile. The Gannid tend to favour broadside mounted weapons where-ever possible.   The Gannid favour the use of the Meson-cannon, a weapon that is now produced in Terran space thanks to the long connections between the Gannid and the Terrans. Meson weapons excel at cutting through shields but can deflect off armour. Meson weapons also require a huge amount of energy to fire so tend to have a poor rate of fire.   The Gannid Navy aims to win wars by splitting the enemy fleet up and fighting "one on one" with a doctrine referred to as "Superiority of Type", with the average Gannid warship of any class outperforming a rival ship of the same class. This theory was initially proven in duels with the Dhau Empire until the Dhau overwhelmed them with their sheer advantage in numbers.   The Gannid also began to experiment with the use of Drone carriers but this appears to have been abandoned. Based on the former cooperation in CANDL, Terran officers tended to believe that Gannid officers were somewhat cautious and lacked imagination but were brave and excelled at power conservation and repairs.  

Minor Race Tactics

There are a wide number of other "minor" races in the quadrant who all have their own battle doctrines, tactics and ship configurations.   The Indirians have a very old style of ship design and only construct freighters and frigates. However these ships are extremely easy for them to build, are extremely hardy and have excellent EM capacity. They can often outfight Terran ships of the same class, despite their seemingly outdated style.   The Mor-Du are known for their excellent technology and their ships tend to use superb EM capacity and strong shields to evade the enemy and strike against the enemy where they are weakest. The Mor-Du also favour modular design ships that can be used in a wide variety of ways.   The Rorn Navy tended to favour larger, heavy ships and were considered one of the "stronger" military powers of the so-called minor races. Rorn ship design is also fairly comparable to Terran design due to both biological similarities and also due to previous cooperation. The Rorn, however, are generally outnumbered by their enemies and tend to be very cautious in combat   The Bl'Hud Primacy use lots of smaller modular ships, many of which are able to combine and break apart to form new configurations. They also use the so called "Catarmaran" style ships that can serve as a hub and control ship for dozens of smaller ships. Bl'Hud use lots of drones in combat and have excellent EM and shield strength. Bl'Hud fleet actions tend to be precise but somewhat logical and predictable  

Future of Fleet Warfare

There's a wide array of thinking on the future of naval warfare for Terrans. Within the Republic, many designers believe that more reliance on AI and hybrid AI ships like the Razorshark is the order of the day.   However, some purists believe that AI ships will never be able to replace crewed ships and the Free Worlds Pact Navy, which relies heavily on the Martian Navy, has a large number of frigates and now a new run of cruisers that have no AI crew at all, beyond simple shipboard computers and servitor mechs aboard.   The future of the carrier in battle also remains to be seen, with some Republic politicians believing that the larger fleet carriers are now "out of scale" for the Republic or the Free Worlds Pact.   There has also been increasing talk of the privatization of space combat, with the corporations and PMCs taking on the burden. However I refer to the below quote from VENTRISS UDC's Chief Financial officer, Mary Stavros-Shaw in 2518 during an interview with The Economist:   "Whilst security and warfare are marketable concepts and areas that VENTRISS UDC has had an interest in, the sheer cost to build, crew and maintain a warfleet makes the endeavor likely beyond the scope of any major corporation. there's perhaps a model where we construct, build and crew a fleet but it is leased by a government but on a per engagement basis, as tends to be the way in the PMC space, I can't see it proving profitable." Conclusion Warfare has been around since the first humans used sharpened sticks to take control of better hunting grounds and now we are a space faring race, it does not appear to be likely to go away. The recent outbreak of war between the Dhau Empire and the Tranoans means that war is likely to remain the default way for Empires to resolve their issues and even beyond that, how much Terran blood was spilled by other Terrans over the last hundred years?   Terrans must continue to develop ways to fight in space, build stronger, more efficient navies and find ways to punch above our weight. We're unlikely to ever be the largest Empire and can never be the oldest so we must find our advantages where we can. Perhaps our boldness, which can sometimes be our undoing, can also save us and prevent our final downfall?   Or perhaps, as some theorize, our twilight has already slowly begun and these divided times are the slow drift into subjugation by the Dhau, the Tazzyn or Gods forbid the Karkouri. This author would rather not believe that and I will leave you with this quote:   "Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light." Dylan Thomas - Earth

Notes on the Author

Dr Laverne Hollister was born in Jotun City on Vanheim in 2445 and educated at Narvik College and then studied her MA and PHD at Cydonia College on Mars. She served as a research fellow at the Imperial Naval Academy and served in the IIS for ten years as a consultant on Naval operations and weapons systems.   She returned to academia in 2489 after authoring a very unpopular position paper regarding the Zzenddi threat and she taught first of all at Athens College and then Vanheim War College on Aesir City.   She has been published twenty five times and written three academic books. She currently lives in Aesir City on Vanheim and teaches military history, ship battle doctrine and shipboard weapon systems at the college where she is a tenured professor.   Dr Hollister lives with two cats, Hera and Freya

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