1. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    What kind of tactics might this military sci-fi technology produce?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by X Equestris, May 26, 2022.

    Exploring the tech behind my idea for a mil sci-fi romance has led me to suspect starship-to-starship combat could end up looking pretty strange, so I'm seeking some outside perspectives.

    The centerpiece of this whole system is a reactionless drive along the lines of the Alcubierre drive, although its mechanism for warping spacetime is different. You can't use it for FTL, and its current in-universe upper limit is around .2c. Besides allowing faster sub-light travel than anything else humanity has developed, this drive offers another massive advantage: the bubble of warped spacetime doubles as an almost impenetrable shield.

    So far, hitting the bubble with another warp bubble to destabilize or "pop" it outright seems like the only viable threat. You could do this by ramming your starship's bubble into an enemy's, proximity mines that briefly project a warp bubble when they detect an approaching ship, or missiles mounting the same type of drive. Since ramming is suicidal and space is so big minefields are impractical, missiles are probably the most feasible weapon.

    My problem surrounds launching them.

    You can't fire projectiles out of the bubble for the same reason you can't fire them in: the warping destroys them. If your missiles bring up their bubble drives while they're still inside your ship's bubble, you pop your own bubble. The only way to launch these missiles is to drop your bubble, wait until they're outside where it would be, then raise the bubble again.

    At first glance, this looks pretty reasonable...but these drives (theoretically) don't pass inertia along to the ship because the ship technically isn't moving. Spacetime is moving, so the ship becomes stationary when the bubble drops. You become a sitting duck. The enemy can use their superior mobility to maneuver into a much better position before dropping their own bubble and opening fire, or they could use their speed to get out of range and/or outrun your missiles.

    All this combines to create a tactical paradigm I can scarcely imagine. Are we looking at a high-stakes game of chicken where you're trying to spook or trick your foe into being the one who drops their bubble first? Does this make space battles a series of head-on passes so your missiles don't have to chase the other ship down from astern?

    If I can come up with some vaguely plausible reason for starships to coast ballistically after dropping their bubbles, the combat would be much easier for me to get a handle on. Missile broadsides, interceptor missiles to counter them, decoy rockets to mimic a ship's bubble (filling the same role as chaff), lasers for combat at close range, etc. You'd still have a bit of that high-stakes chicken with captains balancing the security of hiding in their bubble with the need to drop it for attack and point defense, but that system seems much less alien.

    Unfortunately, no plausible physics explanation comes to mind. I don't plan on wading too deep into the science--this is meant to be mil sci-fi romance, after all--but withstanding casual scrutiny would be ideal.

    For added context:
    • The bubbles interfere with just about every type of sensor you can imagine, so everyone relies on detecting ripples caused by the bubbles. These ripples echo into hyperspace and offer real-time data.
    • Fluctuations in the bubbles can be used for simple, faster-than-light coded messages because they alter the ripples
    • Warships generally follow a toothpick-like design, with starboard, port, ventral, and dorsal "broadsides" plus bow and stern chase weaponry. If I can't find a reason for the bubble drives to impart inertia, I might throw out this design in favor of something else.
    • FTL is possible only through hyperpoints, spherical volumes on the edge of a star system where the bubble drive's interactions with gravity allow a ship to access a stable "lane" through hyperspace to another star system, so FTL is less important tactically than it is at the strategic scale.
    I know all this is a lot, but any ideas you have or holes you can poke in what I've got so far is much appreciated. Although the tech isn't the focus and the tactics are secondary, I'd much prefer to find out I've overlooked something while I'm still pre-writing.
     
  2. NWilliams

    NWilliams Active Member

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    Some of this follows reasonably closely to the FTL drives used in David Gerrold's Voyage of the Star Wolf series.

    A couple of thoughts:

    If the drive doesn't impart any inertia to the ship, then wouldn't the ship maintain any inertia it had before the drive was energized? If so, then you could start the ship on a vector, energize the drive, then drop the bubble to fire the missiles, then re-energize the bubble. You could also change the ships vector while out of the bubble, causing attacking ships no end of difficulty keeping track of you. With the proper timing between dropping the bubble, firing, and putting the bubble back up (computers would be ideal for this critical timing) the interval between the bubbles existence can be minimized. This too would cause firing issues for the attacker. They would have to time their attack to coincide with the dropping of your bubble, difficult at best. Also, if they can track you with your bubble on, if they keep theirs up and you drop yours, can they still track you since the bubble virtually disables sensor data? Yo might be able to use that too.

    Even if firing the missiles with your bubble up, why is that a problem? Can you not immediately bring your bubble back up or is there a time intervals necessary to do that? Could the ships computer drop the bubble before the missile impacts it, for a minute amount of time, then put it back up?

    I assume your missiles are guided? If so, can you use the technique that some of our current ground-to-ground missiles use. It's called HARM. The missile tracks what it is fired at but goes past it, intentionally. Once it detects it is no longer being tracked, it reverse course and returns to detonate at it's original target, but from the back. Our current missiles do that with radar tracking but there is no reason you couldn't do that with bubble tracking too.

    Food for thought anyway. Good luck with your future warfare. Looks quite readable from the theories present here.
     
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  3. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum Contributor Blogerator

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    I know nothing about sci-fi tech, but this popped into me noggin—use it or modify it if it can help. Or scrap it.

    The nano-second before a missile is fired, you create a much larger bubble around the ship, or the present one expands massively. So for a moment the missile can travel some ways while still inside it. Then in the next instant a new, smaller bubble is created (normal size again) and the big one is dropped (popped, whatever). So there's never a moment when the ship doesn't have a bubble around it.

    Or maybe... this is based on those plastic bubble-blower rings that come with the bottle of bubble-stuff, where you wave the wand around and it spawns bubbles. A big ring is launched from the ship, travelling just in front of the missle and at the same speed. It can somehow pull the surface of the ship's bubble out along with it, warping it and stretching it into a tube or a tunnel (a long bubble) that the missile travels in. Behind it the main ship-bubble re-seals (because technology), and after a moment the traveling bubble, moving with the missile, pops and dissipates. Or it stays with it, I don't know.

    Or use the same idea only there's no traveling ring. The missile just takes a piece of the ship's bubble with it, and it enwraps the missile, and the ship's bubble seals up behind it. Because (magic?) technology.

    I probably don't understand the way these space bubbles work at all!
     
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  4. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    I believe so, though there’s not a ton of scientific literature on how something like an Alcubierre drive and inertia would interact.

    One problem is the bubble drives are their only onboard means of generating a decent vector. They have maneuvering thrusters, but they’re pretty piddly in comparison. If inertia isn’t imparted, the first ship to drop its bubble still ends up at a massive disadvantage in velocity. Not as big an issue on a head-on pass, but I have to wonder if pursuit is even practical.

    Otherwise, I’d completely agree with your suggestions.

    For what it’s worth, the enemy doesn’t necessarily have to time their attack to coincide with the dropping of your bubble. If they pound it with enough bubble drive missiles, your bubble might “pop”—destroying your ship outright or causing damage to the drive—or become so destabilized you have to shut it down yourself to avoid catastrophe.

    Lasers are useless while the bubble is up, though.

    Nope. They’d have to drop their bubble and fall back on sensors that suffer from light-speed lag. Tons of potential for stealth if the bubble drives imparted inertia, but it’s a lot harder to exploit if not.

    I haven’t nailed down a cooldown interval yet, but the existence of one makes sense. Enough of one that there’s a window of vulnerability.

    On firing while the bubble is up in the inertialess model, I feel like this would probably screw up the targeting for your missiles. Drop the bubble and you might go from .18c to 0.0 or 0.001 instantly. Onboard guidance could probably recalculate at least part of the time, but firing with the bubble down seems more reliable.

    You could probably pull it off without issue in the inertia version.

    Yes. Tactical officers feed them sensor data on the bubbles they’re meant to hit before the missiles are launched, and they use ripple detecting sensors just like the ones on ships to make adjustments in flight.

    On the other side, electronics warfare officers would try to program decoy rockets to produce bubbles as close as possible to the one their ship is producing to lure those missiles away. This fits both models, but it probably suits the one with inertia better.

    #
    After typing all this up, I feel more inclined to bite the bullet and go with the inertia model even if it isn’t as scientifically rigorous. Maybe with a handwavey explanation about how spacetime behind the ship remains warped ever so briefly after the bubble drops, propelling it through normal space at the same velocity like wave pushing a beach ball.

    What do you guys think?
     
  5. Not the Territory

    Not the Territory Contributor Contributor Contest Winner 2023

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    Assuming I'm picturing this right...which I'm probably not... the sudden delta in velocity from 0.1-0.2c to basically nothing is a pretty significant relative change with respect to seeking missiles or enemy tracking.

    If I was trying to broadside a car at 200kmh, then it stopped instantly and mine kept going, I'd be pretty darn disoriented. Are there tracking limitations for non-warping ships and entities? Or is it as simple as looking at where the ripples stopped then delivering the payload? I guess that's where the decoys would come in; you'd exit warp then fire a warp missile and hope its trajectory is read as yours.

    Anyways, rule of cool seems to favour the spacetime inertia model. That gets my vote as well.
     
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  6. Iain Aschendale

    Iain Aschendale Lying, dog-faced pony Marine Supporter Contributor

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    This sounds a lot like submarine warfare. There was a Clarke Gable movie (wikipedia says loosely-) based on a book named Run Silent, Run Deep where (IIRC, it's been a long time) the submariners faced the dilemma that the only time they could fire their torpedos was when they had risen to a depth that left them vulnerable to enemy fire. They could hide (silent and deep) indefinitely, but in order to attack they had to be quite near the surface. Someone wrote an SF novel based on that where the ships went into some sort of hyperspace/n-space whatever that minimized their presence in "real" space.
     
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  7. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    That’s a clever approach. Changing the size of the bubbles or projecting multiple isn’t something I’d considered. I don’t know how plausible it would be with the current drive design, but it’s worth keeping in mind.

    The warp bubble makes it impossible to directly track them while it’s up, but their path can be projected with relative ease since meaningful course changes without the bubble are so difficult to generate. So, yes, targeting computers on the ships or missiles would hone on the spot or vector where the ripples stopped.

    Oh, this is a good one! The decoys don’t have much endurance—they’re the size of normal missiles but have to match the bubble strength of warships—so I imagined them as working like chaff, but this is the kind of unorthodox approach I was hoping for when I typed up the thread.
     
  8. big soft moose

    big soft moose An Admoostrator Admin Staff Supporter Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Two things come to mind

    the first is that none of this is real - you make the rules and you can change them, especially since this is a backdrop to a romance not a hard sci fi techno thriller, you're making life unnecessarily difficult for yourself... if you want ships to be able to launch missiles that 'blip' through their bubble, make up a reason why they can.

    the other is that you're setting is way way in the future where they have the technology to have ships that are capable of warping space time...and yet they are still fighting with missiles. That's like modern warships exchanging broadsides of solid shot... if technology has moved on so far why hasn't something far better been invented ?
     
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  9. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    It’s not really a backdrop; the military sci-fi elements are integrated into the plot to the same degree the mystery/suspense elements are in romantic suspense.

    For clarity’s sake, these missiles are way beyond anything we have today. They’re propelled by the same type of drive as the ships. They don’t mount any kind of warhead; the bubble of warped spacetime itself is the weapon. Like I said up top, the only thing capable of harming a ship while its bubble is up is colliding with another bubble. The physical body of the missile is just a way to bring one of those bubbles close enough to pose a threat.

    They’re “missiles” in the sense of being a guided, ranged weapon capable of self-propelled flight, but the gulf between modern missiles and these things is as wide as the one between ballistae and modern artillery.
     
  10. Mogador

    Mogador Senior Member

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    Maybe the 'missile' could be the term used for a phenomena that ships can generate, where they cause a smaller bubble to bud off the space-time bubble they're moving in and go destabilise the opposition ship's bubble. Its called a 'missile' for the same reason we still call some ships Corvettes, but it has no actual physical parts, its a space-time phenomena.
     
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  11. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Hmm, maybe. Being able to propel a totally separate bubble of warped spacetime at targets light-seconds or even light-minutes away is far beyond my original vision of the drive, but it would fix up the inertialess model quite nicely. This is definitely an idea worth keeping in mind. Thanks!
     
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  12. Luigikinesis

    Luigikinesis Member

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    Maybe you could do a combination of more conventional missiles and this other missile effect that was discussed by Mogador. Since they are able to relatively easily detect distortions, these Mogador missiles would be easily detected but may force them to change trajectory. These could mostly be used to "herd" enemy spacecraft into fields of more conventional missiles, almost guaranteeing a kill. Though with these offensive abilities comes a range of defensive abilities. Warp bubbles by nature can turn on the dime, making it relatively easy to dodge Mogador missiles, so at longer ranges (a few light seconds or maybe a minute depending on how fast they are) they are of little danger. But since conventional missiles are capable of independent guidance, they are more dangerous. Maybe deployment of counter missiles of ether variety could be used, or even decoys mimicking the warp bubble characteristics of the craft. Just a thought though, and just like it has been said earlier, you can define the rules to make something you find interesting and works for the plot.

    Hopefully, my humble opinion has brought insight, and the best of luck on your project!
     
  13. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Oh, I didn’t expect to see this thread again.

    In the end, I decided to go with the inertia model to make things as simple as possible to envision for myself, readers, and in-universe tacticians. Tactics bear some resemblance to Honor Harrington, but they’re much less “Age of Sail naval warfare in 3-D” than that series.

    But if anybody has more ideas based on the stuff in this thread, I’m all ears!
     
  14. w. bogart

    w. bogart Contributor Contributor Blogerator

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    For space combat, look at David Webbers Honor Herrington series. Or Jack Campbell's lost fleet series. Campbell is a retired naval captain so his translation of sea combat to space is very good. His characters, not so much.
     
  15. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    They’re both actually pretty big influences on this setting, though the result is distinct enough most of the tactics don’t apply very well.
     
  16. w. bogart

    w. bogart Contributor Contributor Blogerator

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    Reading this, I see 2 functions of your missles. First is to pop the bubble, the second is a purely kinetic attack once the bubble is down. Your purely inertialess drive creates a problem with the kinetic strike aspect. But if the inertia were retained from before the bubble went up it would work.

    Doc Smith used something similar with his inertialess drive in the lensman series, yeah really old school. It also created situations where the inertia of 2 ships had to be matched, and all the issues there.
     
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  17. Luigikinesis

    Luigikinesis Member

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    Maybe they could use nuclear versions of HEAT rounds, that would work quite well.
     
  18. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    With the physics I’m working with right now, inertia is retained when the bubble comes up and imparted when it drops. So the grav-drive missiles definitely work as kinetic weapons.

    Of course, I don’t think they’d be used that way most of the time. The incredibly intense gravity of their bubbles is more potent than their kinetic energy, so it would usually be best to keep the bubble up even after the enemy’s has been popped. But purely kinetic hits could offer a more precise tool for disabling ships the attacker hopes to capture rather than destroy.

    That is something I hadn’t thought about.
     
  19. w. bogart

    w. bogart Contributor Contributor Blogerator

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    Maybe I misunderstood, but I was thinking popping the bubble meant both bubbles went down canceling each other out. Which left me with the kinetic option.

    Maybe add in some materials science here, with a depleted uranium penatrator on the missiles. Not so fun fact for those on the receiving end, DP is self sharing when going through other materials. So it leaves two small holes, entry and exit. Anything between them tends to get sucked out through the exit hole.
     
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  20. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Sometimes the missiles themselves do survive, but a collision between bubbles with large gaps in strength—like a missile and a warship—usually destroys whatever is inside the smaller one outright. A hit that pops a warship’s bubble will still destroy the missile, but the ship would probably take damage to its drive.

    So if you have a ship-to-ship duel and launch six missiles at the enemy, two might get lured away by decoys mimicking the drive signature of the target, one might get destroyed by enemy interceptor missiles, a hit from the fourth momentarily destabilizes their bubble, another from the fifth pops it, and the sixth uses its own bubble to rip the target apart.

    This is my basic setup at the moment, but I haven’t written any battles yet, so there’s plenty of room for adjustment.
     
  21. Luigikinesis

    Luigikinesis Member

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    I quite enjoy that basic setup. I'd imagine there could be quite a variety of fleet compositions, some focusing on multi-purpose and advanced ships, while others focusing on pure firepower at the cost of defense, or maybe a battlegroup of hyperspecialized warships becoming more through their cooperation. I'd personally have these fleet doctrines complement the ideas/morals of the faction/group that uses them. I'd also recommend checking out Nebulos: Fleet Command since it provides a good but gamified version of missile warfare, which then can be adapted to your setting.
     
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  22. w. bogart

    w. bogart Contributor Contributor Blogerator

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    Also consider the lowly destroy class. Or as some of the crews call them, mobile missile intercept platforms.
     
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  23. X Equestris

    X Equestris Contributor Contributor

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    Funny thing: a destroyer captain is actually one of the leads for my main project in this setting.

    The destroyers of his navy occupy a role somewhere between the original torpedo boat destroyers and their later role as point-defense platforms. They hunt pirates, escort convoys, and screen against both missiles and packs of gunships, corvettes, or frigates.
     
  24. Alcove Audio

    Alcove Audio Contributor Contributor

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    Perhaps you should do some reading on modern Submarine warfare and stealth bombers/fighters.

    US subs are virtually undetectable, unless they do something to attract attention - changing depth, flooding torpedo tubes, etc. - which give their opponent a "transient" sound to indicate general position and distance.

    US stealth bombers have a similar problem; they are virtually indetectable until they open their bomb bay doors, compromising the stealth configuration.

    Since your ships are in a space-time bubble (being out of space time) wouldn't they be undetectable until they drop their bubble to fire weapons?

    Perhaps your warfare would be more hide-and-seek or sniper versus sniper.
     
  25. w. bogart

    w. bogart Contributor Contributor Blogerator

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    One detail that hasn't been mentioned. Does the bubble occlude the stars it passes in front of? That would make detection easier, but still not easy.
     

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