1. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    Space combat techniques

    Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by CDRW, Jul 27, 2009.

    So I've been thinking about the weapons and tactic involved in a realistic space battle, and now I want to talk about it. This is a set-up that I think is reasonable (assuming no energy shields). Do you think it is? What kinds of battle tactics would such a system use? How could it be improved? Do you have viable alternate system? What would happen in a show-down? How would things be affected if fighters were thrown into the mix, would they be an enormous asset or get slaughtered?

    Distributed Laser System:

    Specs: One laser mounted on a turret at each end of the ship. They can put out x megawatts per second as either a continuous beam or a short, more powerful burst followed by recharge time. They are connected directly to the power plant and the laser power is determined by how much power is fed to them, and how much of that is distributed between the two. For maximum power, all other systems can be shut down and redirected to the lasers. If the capacitors are damaged, they are incapable of firing bursts.

    Uses for: The lasers can be used against enemy ships, but they are not very effective (see defense). The best use for them is anti-missile defense, nuke preparation (by damaging mirror finish), and conventional missile preparation, (by damaging shrapnel nets). They are capable of firing at the same time against multiple targets, or having one fire a burst against one target while the other acquires it’s next target. Defense against relativistic weapons. Lasers are a long range weapon.

    Defenses against:
    1. Random acceleration in random directions at 1-4 g’s. This reduces the amount of time a continuous beam can rest in one spot, lessening point damage on the hull. It also reduces the chances that a charged burst will hit. Most importantly, it makes it nearly impossible for the enemy to fire a burst into your laser lens and destroy it’s firing capability.

    2. Mirrored hull reflects most of the light, but not enough to make lasers impotent. Micrometeorite pits in the hulls are a particular weakness because it allows places for the light to “catch” on the hull. This is the primary reason to use a continuous beam, because it has a much higher chance of hitting and widening one of those pits.

    Effects:
    1. continuous beam will slowly melt and evaporate the metal. If it is allowed to rest in one spot, it will burn a small hole into the interior of the ship. If it is not allowed to rest in one spot, it will damage the reflective coating, allowing lasers to do more damage on the next pass. A continuous beam is most useful for finding micro pits and expanding the damaged section of reflective coating, making a much larger part of the hull vulnerable to bursts and nukes; and attempting to hit the opponents laser lens and instruments.

    2. Bursts will cause an explosion when they instantly evaporate a small cross section of metal. The expanding gasses will create a large hole that is much harder to patch. If it penetrates, it will cause extensive damage to internal mechanisms.

    Notes: The extreme distance that battle is carried out at means that until the ships get close there will be a lag of several seconds between the movement of the ship and the appearance of it’s movement, making hitting it with even computer controlled lasers very difficult, because tracking the random movements will almost always ensure a miss. The ship will no longer be in the position it appears, and random movements ensure it won’t be where it looks like it should be several seconds in the future. A continuous beam is more likely to hit, but will do less damage.

    Instrument lenses, laser lenses, exposed antennas, cannon hatches and drive components are particularly vulnerable. They are mirrored as much as possible, but they can’t be completely protected.

    Nuclear & conventional missiles:

    Specs: Nukes make bigger explosions, but they vaporize all shrapnel. They work much like a laser burst, except over a much larger surface area. Because of the inverse square law, they need to get extremely close before detonation in order to be effective.

    Conventional explosives are smaller, but manufactured to make as much shrapnel as possible.

    They are bulky and heavy, so carrying a large number of missiles is impractical.

    Uses: Nukes vaporize large portions of hull and shrapnel nets at once, they also take out a large part of the exposed parts that are vulnerable to lasers at once. If used first, it will vaporize the shrapnel nets and damage the mirror finish, making the ship extremely vulnerable to further attack. If used after the finish is already damaged, there is a good chance it will destroy or cripple the ship.

    Conventional explosives are packed with shrapnel in order to damage the mirror finish and hull integrity, making it much more vulnerable to laser and nuke damage.

    Defenses against: Distance. Missiles are the slowest moving weapons and require fuel, making them vulnerable to anti-missile fire from lasers. However, they have their own guidance and steerage system, so if return fire is disabled or overwhelmed, and they are within maximum range, they are the most likely to hit at a distance.

    Mirror finish, it can reflect a very large part of a nuke’s power.

    Shrapnel nets surrounding the hull prevent micrometeorites and conventional explosives from doing the damage required to make the hull vulnerable to light weapons.

    Notes: There are no shockwaves in space. All damage is done by radiation or shrapnel.

    Shrapnel nets are not actually nets, but a solid sheet of extremely tough fabric. They need to be solid in order to stop micrometeorites and prevent the smallest shrapnel from reaching the hull. They are mirrored, but because of the need for flexibility, the finish is not nearly as good as what can be put on the hull. Laser fire can easily penetrate them, and nuclear missiles can destroy them entirely.

    Relativistic cannons:
    Specs: Railguns that fire a metal “slug” at a significant fraction of the speed of light. They do not require explosives because the energy contained is trivial compared to the kinetic energy of the slug itself.

    The slugs are actually very thin, but very wide diameter discs fired so that the large flat surface impacts the target. They are flat because normally shaped shells of the same weight would pass completely through the ship without dissipating a significant portion of their energy. It is analogous to using hollow-point shells instead of armor-piercing ammo while hunting, and drag is not a problem in space. The shape also allows for easy and compact storage.

    Uses for: They are by far the most damaging weapon in the arsenal. They don’t require destruction of the shrapnel nets or mirror finish in order to be effective. One direct hit is all that is required.

    Defenses against: Random ship movements are even more effective against them than against lasers, because A. the cannon cannot sustain a continuous shot, B. there is a significant capacitor recharge time, and C. it must be shielded behind a mirrored hatch in order to protect against laser fire while it recharges.

    Distance. If it is fired from far enough away, a laser burst can hit and vaporize part of the disc, creating enough thrust to force it off course. The same could be done by redirecting a missile that has already been deployed and is a sufficient distance from the ship to deflect the slug enough. The slugs move slower than light-speed, so they are detectable, and the distances involved are usually great enough to allow response time, but they still move extremely fast, and interception is difficult. It is a death sentence to allow an enemy ship to get close enough to accurately use it’s railgun.

    The ship cannot have more than one or two cannons because the power required to fire the gun is much higher than that required for even the lasers. They require a large array of capacitors and have a recharge time of several minutes, even when they are fired at maximum speed for minimum damage.

    The capacitors are buried deep in the ship, but damage to one will disable the entire array. The gun hatch is vulnerable to shrapnel because the nets in the area are retractable, and to laser fire because the door seam catches the light the same way as pits in the finish.

    Notes: Ships can easily carry more ammo for the cannons than missiles due to weight. The cannons can be fired nearly as far out as the lasers, but due to it’s long recharge time, intercept potential, and lesser accuracy it is effectively a medium to short range weapon.

    Other notes:

    The mirror finish reflects the full spectrum. A mirrored hull also has the advantage of reducing the amount of solar radiation absorbed, which reduces the amount of energy the heat sinks and radiators need to dissipate during any battles that occur.

    Cannons and lasers almost never fire at even an appreciable fraction of their full power because the power output of the ship is divided between the weapons and ship systems. Additional power can be obtained by shutting down unnecessary systems and diverting the power to the weapons. Life support can even be shut down for several minutes until the air becomes foul enough to require turning it back on. The weapons can handle as much power as is diverted to them, even the full dedicated output of the ship’s power plant. More power recharges the capacitors faster, so more power means more damage up to the point where the capacitors max their charge, and after that point it only means faster firing times. Shutting down the ships engines long enough to boost fire rates is effectively a death sentence, though you will be able to get off a few shots.

    Ships are especially vulnerable to overheating during battle because of the difficulty of radiating heat into vacuum. The further from a star a battle takes place, the more likely it is to continue to the conclusion of destruction or crippling fire.

    Engaging in battle at point blank range is a death sentence for all parties involved, except in the case of a one-on-one. In that case, the first one to loose a shot will usually win.
     
  2. Xeno
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    Xeno Mad and Bitey Contributor

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    Can I suggest one other weapon system?

    I read about a hypothetical weapon that's pretty much a mass driver; pretty much a solid metal rod, about 20cms in diameter and three or four metres long, that if fired in a manner similar to your Relativistic cannons, can cause as much damage, if not more, than a nuclear warhead if fired on a planet, or simply tear a hole straight through the enemy ship.

    Other than that, I like your set up. If I was to choose my own, it would probably lean more on the missile side than the lasers and nukes. :)
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Lasers are only a means of transferring generated energy along a line, so your turrets must be capable of generating the energy to burn through a hull. If the laser pump fails, you had better be prepaered to dissipate that energy safely by other means, or you will destroy your OWN vessel. Also, even a laser beam spreads with distancce, so at further ranges, the beam will be less effective.

    Rail gun pulses don't spread with distance. Everything else you mentioned is well-covered.

    Missiles can track the target and make course corrections, so they have a greater likelihood of hitting the target at a distance. However, the enemy can see them comi g and take countermeasures. In addition to radiation and shrapnel, an explosive can cause heat damage. Technically, that too is radiation, but you may not think of it in the same way. There is also the EM pulse from a nuclear detonation, which can raise hell with detection equipment, drive control systems, even life support.

    Missiles can be stealth-enabled, to minimize the risk of detection. If the missile's propulsion system is not based on high temperature emission of reaction mass, their approach may be concealed from the target. Decoy heat signatures can also help conceal the actual missiles.

    Mines can also be deployed, and the enemy vessel herded into close proximity. Mines can activate to home in on any nearby vessel, or be attracted to drive systems.

    Your other technologies, particularly advanced drive systems, may suggest related weapons.
     
  4. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    That sounds pretty cool. I vaguely remember reading about something like that. Oh wait, never mind, I think what I heard of was dropping much larger rods made of cobalt from orbit.

    Thanks for the reminder of the EMP effects of a nuke. I forgot about that. Is that still active in space though? I thought the EMP was made because of atmospheric interaction with the radiation. I don't really follow what you mean about the laser pump failing though, probably because I don't have a real well working knowledge about the internals of a laser.

    I vaguely remember reading that if you make a closed loop of superconducting material and introduce a current it will keep the flow going without loss until the material loses it's conductivity or the loop is broken. I also remember hearing that you could put an infinite amount of power into the loop. Do you know if this is true? If it is, could they be used instead of capacitors? That would place the power cap at the limits of the laser and cannon components instead of the power limit of the capacitor, and you could continuously charge it during normal operation to get a huge initial burst of power at the outset of a battle. If the laser pump problem is what I think you're saying, it might be a handy solution for that too, just dump the power back into the loop.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A laser only collimates and directs the energy fed into it. It doesn't create the energy. So if for some reason the laser becomes unable to emit the energy injected into it, that energy will dissipate locally. In fact, gas lasers require a window at the emitting end. Even if that window only absorbs 0.1% of the energy passing through it, you can quickly build up a hot spot. If that window suddenly becomes essentailly opaque, nmearly ALL the energy passing through it is converted to heat -- BANG.

    A carbon dioxide laser is a gas laser that generates an infrared beam. Invisible to human eyes, but converts very efficiently to heat at the target. Any laser beam will be invisible in space, of course, unless the light is scattered by particles along the path, or unless you are at the target point. This also makes it very difficult to align a laser with its targeting gear if they ever get misaligned.

    EMP does not require an atmosphere. It is a magnetic wavefront produced by the sudden release of thermal and other radiated energy.

    A superconducting loop can only store energy. The problem occurs when energy is transferred in and out of the superconductor.
     
  6. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    CDRW, there is one other thing I would like to add to your space battle tactics. Rail guns and missles would likely take up a lot of room on a ship, particularly nukes. Thus a ship designed to use this weaponry would need to be rather large class of ship, like say a dreadnought. These ships would be very effective at bombarding outposts and at targeting other dreadnoughts. As you noted, rail guns would be useless against a fast moving target, also missles would be ineffective against a smaller target that's gets close. They could have a some laser turrets to help defend them against such as attack, however this turrets would likely the first target of an attack.

    As such, these ships could be vulnerable to swarms of smaller attacks ships, say fighter ships. Due to it's small size, a fighter's primary weapon would be a single laser and a few smaller missles. A swarm of fighter's could overwhelm a dreadnought's defenses and take out important targets, like missle ports, turrets, engine vents and the railguns. Thus disabling the dreadnought's combat abilities. Since fighters will mainly be shortrange vehicles, they'll be carried by large aircraftcarriers. Also, it's primary defenses would likely be laser turrents to protect it from missles launched by dreadnoughts.

    So most attack fleets would consist of a couple dreadnoughts being accompanied by several aircraft carriers.
     
  7. Kamille
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    Kamille New Member

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    I used an idea like this in a Sci-Fi a tried writing before- 'turret' globes. Basically, tiny little balls that can be launched from battleships and piloted closely to enemy ships.

    I think the important thing to remember is that your Star Wars fighters aren't going to cut it for realism. Unlike your good-old fighter plane dogfights, any kind of small space weaponry would need to be able to fire up, down, behind, forward, left, and right. Ideally, any kind of space fighter should be operating just as well on the entire axis rather than in a linear way like airforce fighter jets.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Small fighter craft still must utilize the same kinds of weapons, but limited by the fighter crafts' smaller size. Fighter craft may be more effective at deploying mines, particularly ones which attach themselves to enemy vessels. Such a con tact mine can bore through the hull and introduce invasive technologies like bots/nanotech, bioweapons, invasive programs, etc.
     
  9. Shadow Dragon
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    Shadow Dragon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Oh, that's a pretty good idea Cog. Though when it comes to lasers, the fighters can be equiped with, essentially a large battery before leaving the carrier. Also to kinda add to what you said, if an opening is created within a dreadnought or carrier, then an apc can drop off a squadran of soldiers to enter the ship and take it over.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, in fact that was a battle tactic Earthdome forces attempted against Babylon 5 in the fourth(?) season. B5 had some of the best space battle sequences of any SF series/movie I have seen. They worked closely with military strategists to come up with plausible tactics and strategies.
     
  11. CDRW
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    CDRW Contributing Member Contributor

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    The problem is that spaceship boarding is nearly impossible unless you disable every single engine and thruster. If even one attitude adjusting thruster is operational, all they have to do to prevent boarding is fire it at random times. That way you can't make any alignments with an airlock, and even making a hole and connecting it with a flexible tube wouldn't work because you could twist it up.

    A small craft that adheres to the hull of a ship might work, but it would have to be able to attach itself to an object moving at several g's relative to itself without falling off or getting damaged. You could liken it to trying to land a helicopter during a gigantic earthquake, everything's fine until you actually touch the ground.

    The problem with a fighter is that it makes a bigger target than a missile or mine, but they can't take the same kind of battle damage as a cap-ship. They would probably work for deploying mines. I keep thinking they couldn't get close enough to an enemy ship to make a difference, but I guess they don't have to. In space a fighter's weapons would have roughly the same effective range as a larger ship. If they were un-manned weapons platforms instead of your typical fighter, then they could accelerate at much higher velocities, making them a harder target, but it would also decrease the accuracy of the lasers.

    I can see a tactic where cap-ships stay out of effective range and send fighters in closer to do as much damage as possible before the manned ships get in close enough, but they would make easy targets to be picked off by enemy guns unless they are very numerous and disposable.

    The counterattack to that would be to launch your own fighters to meet them in the middle, and use the cap-ship guns to pick off enemy fighters while staying out of effective range of the heavy weapons of the other ship. Each cap-ship would probably also be taking potshots at each other with the relativistic cannons hoping for a lucky hit, since that wouldn't be very effective against fighters and the ammo for them is relatively cheap and plentiful.

    Even if one was taken out by the other side, they would still have to destroy all the fighters left over.

    Edit: Would mines really be effective when battles are taking place at a distance of light-seconds?
     
  12. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    No, but if you had tye closer engagement you might get with fighter craft, mines become increasingly practical. Also, mines make even more sense in orbital defense than in deep space.

    Mines are more effective than boarding craft because unmanned mines don't have to maintain life support, and can apply high accelerations to attach themselves to a vessel.

    Mines need not be passive at all times. They can enter a capture mode when a vessel is in proximity.
     

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