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It was tasked with protecting the fleet from submarines, aircraft, and surface torpedo attacks, along with conducting torpedo attacks on the enemy fleet. However, none of these functions has an analogue in space. Submarines and naval aircraft rely on the fact that there are three fundamentally different environments in close proximity, a feature that does not apply to space. This is not to say that no smaller vessels would exist. During the Age of Sail, ships below the line played an important role.
Besides scouting, they protected convoys, hunted commerce, patrolled, and showed the flag. While scouting and patrolling are not likely to have spaceborne analogues, commerce warfare and general station duties will, and smaller warships will exist to fill those roles. For example, I recall two essays which were originally published about fifty years ago in Astounding. In the first of the essays " Space War ", Astounding Science-Fiction, Aug , Willy Ley , a very knowledgeable man who had been involved with the German rocket program, proved to my satisfaction that warships in space would carry guns, not missiles, because, over a certain small number of rounds, the weight of a gun and its ammunition was less than the weight of the same number of complete missiles.
For that matter, Jameson had been a submariner rather than a surface-ship sailor during much of his career. That was a dangerous specialty—certainly as dangerous a career track as any in the peacetime navy—but it had limited obvious bearing on war in vacuum. He pointed out very gently that at interplanetary velocities, a target would move something on the order of three miles between the time a gun was fired and the time the projectile reached the end of the barrel.
Ley could have done that math just as easily. And the advent of the electrically-driven railgun has brought even projectile artillery back into the realm of space warfare. At one time, boarding and hand-to-hand combat were common notions in military science fiction which, in the s and 30s, was rather a lot of science fiction. Boarding has a long naval tradition as, at times, the heaviest available weapons were not by themselves sufficient to sink major warships.
When oared warships grew sturdy enough to be equipped with rams, however, ramming replaced boarding as the tactic of choice …. Until sailing ships replaced oared warships. As guns became more powerful and ships were designed to mount large numbers of them along the sides, the sort of melees that characterized the Armada battles and the meeting engagement s of the Anglo-Dutch Wars of the seventeenth century gave way to formal line-of-battle tactics.
Opposing fleets were expected to sail along in parallel lines, firing all their guns at one another, until something happened. Mostly, nothing much happened. This was the crucial battle that decided the fate of the British army at Yorktown—and, thus, the Revolutionary War. It was a draw , with no ships lost on either side which turned out to be good enough for the American rebels, of course. Nelson changed matters by what amounted to assertiveness training for the British navy. His captains were expected to close with the enemy and board if necessary, instead of staying at a reasonable range and letting noise and smoke stand in the place of doing real damage.
In the end, they were able to kill him; but even dead he led his forces to victory. The appearance of steam and armored warships in the nineteenth century gave rise to an amazing number of theories and some of the most outlandish warships ever built. At Lissa in , an Austrian fleet humiliated an Italian fleet of more modem and powerful ships, proving that competence and leadership had more to do with victory than equipment alone. Nelson must have smiled from his grave. Lissa proved little or nothing about the new hardware theorists of the time thought otherwise; they were wrong. Ships generally mounted mixed armaments of large and mid-sized weapons. This was partly in the hope that a single huge shell could smash opposing armor in the unlikely instance that such a shell hit its target ; and partly because the planners wanted an easily quantifiable marker for their arms race.
There were few successful examples of ramming in war. The only real test of nineteenth century warships came in the twentieth century—— at the Strait of Tsu Shima , where a Russian fleet that did nothing whatsoever right met a Japanese fleet that did nothing important wrong. The Russians were massacred, and it was heavy gunfire alone that did the butchers' work. An idiosyncratic genius named Jackie Cooper was running the British admiralty at the time. He came up with the first good idea in warship construction since Ericsson put a turret and screw propeller on the Monitor : Cooper built the Dreadnought.
The Dreadnought was big and fast and carried ten of the most powerful naval guns available, with none of the mid-sized weapons that had proved almost useless at Tsu Shima. Every battleship built after the Dreadnought is more similar to her than the Dreadnought was similar to anything that came before her. Having had a brilliant idea. Cooper went on to have a lethally bad one: the battle cruiser. The battle cruiser was a dreadnought the name became generic for all-big-gun warships which had lighter armor and more powerful engines than a battleship.
The dreadnought brought back the concept of the line of battle. Besides, the fleets of World War II were dominated by aircraft. The one major battleship-to-battleship fleet action of the war occurred at night in the Surigao Strait. It was a close copy of Tsu Shima, with the Japanese playing the part the Russians had forty years earlier. There is enough in actual maritime history to provide models for almost any form of space warfare a writer wants to postulate.
Because there are so many possibilities, writers can find a solidly-grounded situation that suits their story, rather than forcing the story into a narrow matrix. For a broad overview of some of the issues, study this penetrating analysis by the man known as Sikon. Weapons like particle beams and lasers may have "unlimited ammo" if a space warship's electrical power generation and storage system is powered by nuclear reactors, with gigawatts or more of firepower. Such is from a MIT study on ultracapacitors for future cars, implied here. That would be up to 0. Technology of the distant future may be superior, but the preceding is a reasonable lower limit. Energy storage is not the only limiting factor, though.
What is the recharge rate from warship power generation? The energy content of fission, fusion, or antimatter fuel can matter less for the attainable electricity generation than engineering limits. Even before melting, metals weaken if temperatures rise from more heat transfer into them than coolant systems take away; parts deform if subject to excessive mechanical stress; etc. For example, plutonium "fuel" in a bomb allows a power-to-mass ratio of billions of gigawatts of heat and radiation per kilogram during the fraction of a microsecond of detonation, but that of a plutonium-fueled power plant must be orders of magnitude less.
A nuclear-electric concept with a MHD generator was estimated to obtain 0. For perspective, car engines of today are sometimes hundreds of kW of mechanical power per ton i. Even with need for electricity rather than mechanical power alone, the many thousands of tons involved in a space warship would allow it to have nuclear power generation at least in the gigawatt range or higher, likely terawatts for large ships. There would also be inefficiencies. Radiator mass for the weapons is going to depend much upon acceptable operating temperature. If most parts of the weapons can operate at moderately high temperature, the waste heat from high power consumption can be transferred away fast enough without excessive radiator size.
One study of what is obtainable for heat rejection in space with merely today's technology indicates that 30 MW of heat could be dealt with by a 45 metric-ton Curie point radiator CPR or by a 29 metric-ton liquid droplet radiator, for an average temperature of degrees Celsius or K. The space warship would operate at least in the gigawatt range, with orders of magnitude greater heat rejection from its weapons, but it could afford to have orders of magnitude greater radiator system mass. And it would be more advanced, higher-performance technology. The 0. That's not practical for a spaceship; you're not going to run your radiators at K, nor are you going to use liquid nitrogen as a heat sink. Using a higher temperature heat dump will reduce efficiency or power density or both ; in practice the heat dump has to operate at the same temperature as the radiator.
Assuming a 10 GW reactor, it's likely going to have a heat output of GW. A 10 GW reactor produces 40 GW of heat. A perfect blackbody at K has a heat output of A perfect blackbody could radiate from both sides, but if we're using a non-solid radiator of real materials it's not a perfect blackbody, so we'll just have a wing with an area of 1 million square meters. Assuming our ship is M long, that means the radiator wing is 5 kilometers long.
I think not. So much for heat radiators. Let's shift over to heat sinks. We'll use water, since it's easy to work with. This gives us a heat sink at around K, so we'll double our efficiency; a 10 GW reactor now produces only 15 GW of heat. If we allow the steam to vent which more or less requires dumping it to space; you need a phase change, which means you can't keep the water compressed we get another 20 TJ. It will produce low temperature heat, well suited to our water sinks and nearly impossible to radiate away with our high temperature radiators. A 10, ton weapon system requires a power input averaging 10 GW, and a peak power input of 50 GW.
During 1 duty cycle we produce GJ of waste heat from the weapon. Generating 1 TJ produces another 1. We'll round up, and discover that we can run through 2 second duty cycles without venting coolant, and another 8 by venting coolant. Our combined system mass is 33, tons. Now, if we have some down time, we probably want to bring the coolant temperature down to near freezing, or if possible turn it into an ice slurry. Unfortunately, that means a radiator operating at an average of about K, with a heat output of 0. If we figure extended radiators are 1 km long and m wide, they can dump heat at a rate of MW, or approximately 8 hours to cool to near freezing. Generating the ice slurry would take another 6 hours or so.
Also, unlike high temperature radiators, sunlight heating the radiators will interfere substantially with cooling, so we need to remain edge-on towards the sun. Back to Sikon :. Let's add an intuitive illustration of the overall picture. That proportionally corresponds to as much firepower per unit mass as a half-kilogram energy pistol firing shots between J and 50 kJ of energy. Such is equivalent to the energy pistol being able to vaporize a volume of ice between 0.
While the whole range is conservative by sci-fi standards, one could take the low end of the range if concerned about the reliability of it being plausible. The comparison is proportional since the sample space warship's weapon masses 20,, times more than the energy pistol. This is roughly the size of the largest ships I think are provided for in Attack Vector: Tactical.
It is about 10x the mass, from my impression, of the largest type DiGleria? Sikon speaks of fleets with thousands of such ships - so they're implicitly dealing with vast galactical-imperial scale polities. I've gone into this a bit because it makes an interesting point: scale matters. I didn't carefully examine Sikon's analysis, but it gave the impression of being well thought out, and I can imagine that you could indeed get Incredible Firepower For perspective, a kJ vehicle-mounted laser concept is considered by the Department of Defense to be lethal against common rockets, aircraft, and light ground vehicles with little armor.
Yet, at the technological level implied by sci-fi interplanetary or interstellar space war, average firepower of a far larger space warship could be astronomically higher, either in the energy per shot, the number of shots fired per minute, or a combination of both. Every 0. Propulsion system power could be much greater than electrical power and beam weapons power. For example, the MS Word document from researchers here describes a magnetic compression pulsed fission concept with a magnetic nozzle, in which a vehicle of metric tons initial mass and tons final mass could have GW jet power.
That is between 0. For this distant-future scenario, such is just a probable lower limit. As an initial beam weapons illustration, consider a space warship firing a lethal radiation beam against planetary targets including aircraft. Against humans, on the order of 10 kJ per square meter of some types of radiation would be enough to cause enough exposure for relatively quick mortality , much above the level for slow death. The end result is a little like the effect of the radiation of a neutron bomb, for which rads or 0.
But the radiation wouldn't be neutrons. This is not an ordinary particle-beam weapon concept, being instead a wide beam with particle composition and energies chosen to equal or exceed the atmospheric propagation of penetrating natural cosmic radiation. As GeV energies are obtained in contemporary research accelerators, the preceding would be attainable by an accelerator within a large space warship. The result is that each shot of 0. If a given intensity level is insufficient, such as firing on a relatively hardened unmanned target, making the beam more narrow by a factor of 10 would increase the intensity by a factor of , and so on.
But wide beams can kill ordinary tanks, aircraft, infantry, etc. The beam is unaffected by weather and sufficiently penetrates the mass shielding of the atmosphere, despite it being 10 metric tons per square meter. Unlike even neutron bombs, the beam would have no blast and just a few degrees heating effect when fired in wide beams, leaving structures unharmed aside from disruption to electronics, yet killing the occupants. Now, when talking about targeting the ground with a particle beam, it's worth noting that cosmic rays not only attenuate on hitting atmosphere, they scatter. You can't really target a region smaller than about meters radius 31, m 2. One duty cycle from our gun above is GJ 15 Sv at ground level , and we probably don't want to dump coolant on secondary targets, so we likely only fire once or twice.
In practice, the lethality difference between 15 Sv and 30 Sv is negligible in either case, nausea after minutes, a couple days of normal activity, then delirium and death , so one shot is fine. Lethal radiation beams may also be used against other spaceships, with effectiveness determined in part by their shielding armor thickness. In that case, a quickly-lethal 0. Actually, since enemy vessels can be detected at great range , the warship might not wait but rather open fire on lightly-armored targets at such extreme range that beams hit only by being hundreds of kilometers in diameter or more. The cumulative radiation dose delivered over many shots every minute would add up to enough in time. One potential countermeasure is mass-shielding or thick armor around vulnerable areas of a ship, like the battle stations for the crew and vulnerable electronics , such as with enough meters of metal to stop practically all of the radiation.
Another weapon can be microwaves. Against non-hardened civilian targets, as little as a few joules per square meter or less can be enough if delivered in the right time frame, concentrated into microseconds or less. Gigantic " EMP " pulsed microwave beams can fry ordinary electronics over up to many square kilometers per shot. EMP beams could be about the opposite of lethal radiation beams, devastating planetary infrastructure without killing any people aside from a few indirect deaths like crashing aircraft. Against more hardened targets, more focused microwaves in the form of narrow-beam MASERs might physically overheat and destroy.
The potential firepower of such a concentrated MASER beam is implied by the many-gigawatt or terawatt-level power generation of a large space warship being equivalent to a number of tons of high-explosive per second. As implied by what happens to sunlight, light from space doesn't always reach the ground well on cloudy days. Thus, lasers might be an unreliable weapon against planetary targets, unless the basic principle of this could be applied with ultra-intense pulses. However, the situation is different in space against enemy warships. The shorter wavelength of lasers compared to microwaves allows a more narrow focus at long range. During planetary attack, yet another potential weapons system for space warships is firing non-nuclear mass driver projectiles and missiles to hit air, sea, and ground targets on the planet below, impacting at hypersonic velocities.
Such is for a telephone-pole-shaped projectile of a metric ton mass. That means the reverse is also possible for projectiles with the right mass, dimensions, ablative shield, and trajectory. Projectiles and missiles fancier than the cheapest unguided shells could use small thrusters to adjust trajectory to home in on a target. Although sci-fi sensors or even remote-control communications systems might be able to operate through the plasma sheath from atmospheric passage i. Large numbers of nukes may be used in planetary assault. For example, one cheap "brute force" method of dealing with atmospheric fighters trying to avoid shells or missiles might be to have them explode with sub-kiloton to single-kiloton yield.
The equivalent isn't done by terrestrial militaries for reasons like political issues, but those do not necessarily apply so much in a sci-fi planetary assault scenario. Even in the real-world today, nukes do not have to cost more than merely hundreds of thousands of dollars each or less in mass-production, compared to fighters costing orders of magnitude more: tens to hundreds of millions of dollars each. Fallout from such nukes would tend to be harmful to the planetary defenders and localized regions without making the planet unusable by the invaders. Localized radiation levels shortly after a detonation can be lethal, but such decrease over time. The radioisotopes emitting the most initial radiation are those with the largest fraction of their atoms decaying per unit time.
The rate of radiation emission per unit time from a radioisotope is inversely proportional to half-life, to a degree such that stable elements can be thought of simply as those with infinitely long half- lives. The fallout of a nuclear weapon detonation of low or moderate yield can much elevate radiation levels over a limited number of square kilometers, but it can do very little overall over the half-billion square kilometer total area of a planet like earth. Historical above-ground nuclear weapon tests in the 20th century amounted to megatons cumulatively, with megatons fission yield I, Annex C. Total collective dosage to the world's population from such past tests corresponds to 7E6 man-Sv, for the UNSCEAR estimate for total exposure in the past plus the result of currently remaining radioisotopes projected up through the year The preceding total over the decades and centuries is less than what is received every year from natural sources of radiation , which is in turn orders of magnitude less than what would make an eventual death from cancer probable.
Of course, from a real-world civilian perspective, any potential increased risk of cancer is undesirable, but, from the perspective of the hypothetical space invaders, the bulk of the planetary surface is not harmed enough for them to necessarily be concerned. For example, even with fission devices, if the orbiting warships are firing quarter-kiloton-yield nuclear shells or missiles against targets like enemy aircraft, it would take on the order of , warheads even just to exceed the limited radiological contamination from the MT fission component of the preceding nuclear tests.
If available, pure-fusion devices would be cleaner. Sci-fi technology allows other possible ordnance, such as biological weapons genetically engineered to have a non-lethal temporary incapacitating effect or infectious nanobots. Different attackers might use different techniques depending upon their psychology, ethics, objectives, etc. In combat between space warships, the vast firepower attainable from nuclear projectiles or missiles , combined with no particular limit on range, might make them dominate the battlefield. Or they might not, depending upon the effectiveness of missiles versus point defenses , their relative cost, and other factors in a given sci-fi scenario.
With lasers destroying artillery shells becoming possible even now , the point defenses of distant-future space warships are not to be underestimated. As little as a kJ projectile can destroy an ordinary missile. For example, if warship firepower of 0. If firing pellets like a shotgun, such could deliver on average a kJ pellet per square meter within a meter to meter diameter pattern per millisecond, a thousand times as much per second, potentially destroying many different incoming missiles. Or, to maximize engagement range, firing a whole second at one target could amount to a shotgun pattern 0. Alternatively, comparable firepower to the preceding might also be obtained with another weapons system like a laser array instead.
Against such point defense firepower, ordinary missiles are at a disadvantage against warships. One possibility could be a space missile swarm not carrying sizable nuclear warheads but rather dispersing clouds of kinetic-kill masses , such as billions of grains of sand or the equivalent, too numerous for point defense weapons to hit and vaporize them all. Point defenses might try to destroy such missiles far enough away for clouds deployed before missile destruction to subsequently miss due to the warship's changing course.
Imagine two modern-day soldiers. One is armed with a sniper rifle, while the other is armed with a pistol. If they face each other in a jungle or in dense fog with visibility not beyond several meters, either one may have a good chance of being the winner. But now imagine them starting a kilometer apart on a featureless flat plane of solid rock with perfect visibility. Then the guy with the sniper rifle wins, as the man with the pistol can not approach close enough to hit before being shot by the sniper. Since there is typically no effective stealth in space, the situation for warship combat can be like perfect visibility, no horizon, and usually no cover.
That makes effective weapons range particularly important. Fire control computers try to predict a target's position based on its velocity and current acceleration, but, at ranges with significant light speed lag , mobility matters much against beam weapons and possibly the missile-deployed kinetic-kill clouds described earlier. For example, a ship doing 5g of unpredictable acceleration deviates m in 1 sec, 2. One countermeasure may be to fire many shots, but the earlier illustration of a warship firing a huge pattern of , to 10,, kJ shots per second doesn't work well if the target has armor making kJ too little.
Armor could make the enemy fire a low rate of concentrated high-energy shots, reducing the chance of any hitting at long range. Of course, good enough point defenses are also needed, or else the armor would just be penetrated by a missile with a nuclear warhead. What about space warships fighting planetary anti-space weapons? Typically the planet would be better off having space warships than planet-based weapons. Even if an advanced propulsion concept like nuke-pulse or nuke-saltwater rockets is used instead, having such launched from a planet during a battle would make them relatively easy targets during boost phase. Craft launched from a planet may tend to be smaller and more limited than space warships.
For example, a mass driver sending even just ten tons per hour to orbit could over a decade put almost a million tons up, enough to be potentially the seed of a society processing eventually billions of tons of extraterrestrial material into habitats and ships. But, in that scenario, billions of tons of spaceships might exist without the planet necessarily being able to launch more than a proportionally minuscule amount in a day. A planet could have gigawatt to terawatt range beam weapons, but the effective range of such against space warships would tend to be less than vice versa: In a duel at up to light-minutes or greater range with light speed weapons, a space warship fleet will tend to win against a planet, as the immobile planet with zero unpredictable acceleration can be engaged at extreme range.
For example, if technology allows a variant of the lethal radiation beam weapon described earlier to have 0. With thousands of 0. That gives the mobile warships plenty of time to evade any light speed weapons fire from the planet. Such would arrive long after each warship has moved to another location in the vastness of space, perhaps millions of kilometers away from its previous position.
If even more firepower is needed, kinetic-kill clouds might be used, i. Optionally, the columns of fire in the atmosphere created by the preceding might "blind" remaining defenses for critical seconds while missiles with nuclear warheads arrived right behind them. Before inefficiencies and aside from the other mass in nuclear weapons, fissioning plutonium and fusioning lithium-6 deuteride are 17 million megatons and 64 million megatons respectively per million metric tons mass. Of course, if the goal is to capture the planet with it still inhabitable , the level of firepower used in destroying anti-space weapons from extreme range would need to be limited.
Warships could afterwards move closer, into orbit, providing final fire support for an invasion. I was struck by how it assumed the space ship had amazing beam weapons capable of penetrating the atmosphere, but for some unknown reason ground defenders using that same beam weapon technology simply lose. On rec. They have a stupendous advantage in heat rejection, shielding, and mobility. He seems to assume planetary defenses must be fixed, despite the explicit example of aircraft which can literally jink all week which, of course, spacecraft can't. Never mind about submarines, ships, or underground weaponry. A habitable-planet surface is about as cluttered an environment as you can find. Other parts of the post also seemed to blow off the problem of detecting targets on a planetary surface.
As an aside, at least "guns" reveal themselves when they fire. Assuming you have a suitable tech for lobbing missiles out of a gravity well, a missile engagement is even more in favor of the surface, because once a missile is fired all it leaves behind is its launcher, probably of insignificant value as a target. Returning to beams, the whole sensor-blinding issue also heavily favors the planet, because finding a passive sensor on a planet surface approaches the level of trying to find a guy with binoculars somewhere on the nearside of the planet. With good enough targeting information transmitted from recon drones through a computerized system, space warships could help kill even individual vehicles or even individual enemy soldiers from orbit when possible.
Such would not be their primary mission, and initially the warships would attack more valuable targets. But afterwards, a warship would still have practically unlimited ammo for its electrically-powered beam weapons running off nuclear reactors. Using a hundred-thousand-ton warship to kill a couple enemy soldiers riding around in a truck might superficially seem wasteful, but there is next to no marginal cost in the preceding scenario. Consider a warship orbiting at km low-orbit altitude for final fire support. A little like a terrestrial sniper can shoot an enemy from 0. If there was a single person or handful of people on the warship manually trying to search for targets, aim, and fire the weapons, it would be a slow process. Yet, if there are a large number of robotic recon drones searching for enemy vehicles and soldiers, transmitting their precise coordinates, a computerized fire control system on the warship could shoot thousands of designated targets per hour, continuing for hours or days if necessary.
Given the firepower and capabilities possible with one space warship, imagine what a fleet of thousands of such warships or more could do against a planet. Space warships would initially destroy all targets they could see from space, but, for foreseeable technology, orbital surveillance might not find every last target. Deploying air and ground versions of robotic recon drones could help give further targeting information. For example, if a golf ball-sized robotic drone with a miniature jet engine flies up to the window of a building and sees enemy soldiers inside, it can transmit a signal causing the warship's computers to fry the area within a meter radius with a lethal radiation beam a fraction of a second later Even in a hard sci-fi scenario, predicting the capabilities of technology that may be centuries or millennia beyond the 21st-century is highly uncertain.
For example, perhaps technology would allow a million tons of raw materials to be quickly and cheaply converted to its mass-equivalence: a billion one-kilogram missiles to be dispersed at low altitude. Or there could be other weird military technologies. A little like a person from centuries ago couldn't very well predict the capabilities of modern combat, the preceding is mainly just a lower limit on what could be accomplished at the technological level commonly implied by interplanetary and interstellar wars in science fiction. Adam D. Ruppe had this analysis. It was in a thread at the Stardestroyer BBS. Please note that I have this entire section duplicated below in the ship types section, because it talks about both ship design and ship types, and I couldn't figure out how to split it into two parts.
I don't think there would be a huge variation in the types of warships seen. You'd have the big battleship which would dominate everything it fights, and then maybe smaller ships that could cover more area at once and engage in light combat, but wouldn't stand up to the battleships. Red called these 'frigates' in his Humanist Inheritance fiction, probably because their role is similar to the ship of the same name from the age of sail, and it is a term I like, so I will use it here. However, note 'cruiser' may also be an applicable moniker for these ships, probably depending on its specific mission rather than its design goal.
I feel these would exist due to economic efficiency rather than speed or range difference like those seen in the real sailing frigates. Let me explain. Many of the arguments against space fighters can actually be used when talking about other capital ship classes as well. Let's look at what the roles of various naval ship classes basically were, and see if they could have an analog in space.
You had corvettes, which were small, maneuverable ships used close to shore. This role doesn't really apply in space. You might argue low orbit around a planet could be seen as a shore, but the problem is combat ranges would be rather large. If you have a stationary asset in LEO that you want to attack, you could put your battleship arbitrarily far away and attack it at will. If you have a mobile asset in LEO you want to attack, you can still attack it from some distance away, probably around one light second, to avoid too much light speed lag targeting issues and diffraction of your laser beams over the distance. For comparison, the moon is about one and a half light seconds away from Earth. So, the battleship could be sitting out two thirds the distance to the moon and easily engaging the LEO target with precision and power.
Corvettes being there wouldn't be of any help on defense, and the battleship can do their job on offense just as well, and at longer range. A corvette type ship might be useful to the Coast Guard for police and search and rescue work, but that is an entirely different realm than a warship. The historical usage of the term referred to a small but fast warship, capable of operating on their own, and often assigned to light targets or escort duty. I do see an analog to this role in space. A frigate would be no match for a battleship, however they would be useful in force projection, due to presumably being cheaper to produce and operate, thus more numerous.
I'll be back to this in a moment. And of course, battleships would be the backbone of the war fleet, able to swat down anything that comes at them except other battleships. If it were economically feasible to build a huge fleet of battleships, I see no reason not to. Let's investigate some of their traditional disadvantages and see if they apply in space. The big one is speed: the huge battleship can take just about anything dished out to it and dish out enough to destroy nearly any other class of ship, but its huge size makes it slow.
This isn't so much of a concern in space. Allow me to elaborate. There are two things in space that are relevant when talking about "speed": delta-v and acceleration. Delta-v is determined by the specific impulse fuel efficiency of the ship's engines and the percentage of the ship's mass that is fuel. Tonnage of the ship doesn't really matter here: it is a ratio thing. If the specific impulse is the same and the fuel percentage to total mass the same, any size ship will eventually reach the same final speed. Thus, here, if fuel costs are ignored, small ships have no advantage over large ships.
And indeed, if you are going on a long trip, the large ship offers other advantages in how many supplies or for war, how many weapons it can carry at no cost to delta-v, again, if the ratio remains constant So the question is how fast can they reach it, which brings me to acceleration. Acceleration is determined by total engine thrust and the total mass of the ship.
At first glance, it seems that the smaller ship would obviously have the advantage here, but there are other factors that need be observed. One is the structural strength of the materials of which the ship is constructed. This becomes a big problem on insanely huge ships with larger accelerations, since the 'weight' the spaceframe must support goes up faster it cubes than the amount of weight it can handle it squares. Mike talks about this on the main site when he debunks the silliness of giant insects. However, steel is strong enough that with realistic sizes and accelerations, this should not be an issue before one of the other ones are.
One that is a much bigger problem is how much the human crew can handle. Well trained people in g-suits can handle 9 g's for a short time, but much more than this is a bad thing to just about everyone - their aorta can't handle it. In fact 5 positive g's are enough to cause most people to pass out, as she explains. If the crew is passing out, the ship is in trouble. This problem can be lessened by the use of acceleration couches: someone laying down flat can handle it much better for longer, but even 5 g's laying down is going to be very uncomfortable, and the crew will have a hard time moving their arms. Extended trips would probably be best done at 1 g so the rocket's acceleration simulates Earth normal gravity, with peak acceleration being no more than g's for humans in the afore mentioned couches if possible.
That is probably the most significant limit on acceleration, since it is an upper limit of humans. No matter what technology exists, this cannot be avoided. The third limitation will be based on the technical problem of generating this much thrust for the mass. This, too, can provide an upper limit, since adding more engines on to a ship will eventually give diminishing returns. The reason for that is the available surface area on the back of the ship where the engine must go increases more slowly than the mass of the ship as it grows. But, for a reasonably sized ship, this should not be a tremendous problem, especially when nuclear propulsion techniques are used, many of which have already been designed and proven feasible in the real world.
Fission nuke pulse propulsion can provide mega-newtons of thrust according to the table on Nyrath's Atomic Rockets website see the row for Project Orion. Three gees is about 30 metres per second squared acceleration. Incidentally, this is the number Sikon used for his demonstrations in the October thread about brick vs needle. I think it a reasonable number for a battleship, so rather than repeat the benefits of this, I refer you back to that thread and the posts of GrandMasterTerwynn and Sikon on the first page, who discussed it in more depth than I am capable of. I agree with most of the views Sikon expressed in that thread. You also pointed this out later in your post that these advanced propulsion techniques do not necessarily scale down very well, which may also serve as a lower limit on ship size, which is probably more relevant than the upper limit it causes.
You might ask if pushing for a greater peak acceleration would be worth it, and it is not, in my opinion. The reason again goes to the human limitations. Even if your warship is pulling 10 gees, it most likely won't help against a missile, which can still outperform you. An acceleration of even 1 g should be enough to throw off enemy targeting at ranges of about one light second. Then, if he fires back with a laser, you have another second to apply more change.
This would be enough to help prevent direct, concentrated hits. Having even five times more acceleration will offer little advantage over this in throwing off targeting or wide spread impact of lasers of particle beams, due to the ranges and the size of your warship, which is certain to measure longer than 50 metres. For missiles and coilgun projectiles, it matters even less, simply due to the time the enemy fire arrives, you have plenty of time - minutes - to have moved. Long range acceleration would again be limited to around 1 g or less due to the humans, mentioned above.
However, even at 1g constant acceleration which would probably not be used due to fuel concerns anyway , an Earth to Mars trip could be measured in mere days. More offers little advantage there either. Lastly, there may be a question of rotation. A more massive and longer ship would have a greater moment of angular inertia than a smaller ship, thus requiring more torque to change its rate of rotation. Again, I don't feel this will be a major concern.
At the ranges involved, you again have some time to change direction. However, this does pose the problem in quick, random accelerations to throw off enemy targeting. Going with the 10, metric ton ship, let's assume it has an average density equal to that of water: one tonne per cubic meter. For the shape, I am going to assume a cylinder, about 10 meters in diameter about the same as the Saturn V , with all the mass gathered at points at the end. The reason of this is to demonstrate a possible upper number for difficulty of rotation moment of inertia , not to actually propose this is what it would look like.
Actually determining an optimal realistic shape for such a ship would take much more thought. Now, we can estimate the moment of inertia, for which, we will assume there are two point masses of tons, each 65 meters away from the center. Now, let's assume there are maneuvering jets on each end that would fire on opposite sides to rotate the ship. Let's further assume these have thrust about equal to that found on the space shuttle, simply because it is a realistic number that I can find: about 30 kilo-newtons. Outstanding, now we can determine angular acceleration possible. This is about a meager 10th of a degree per square second.
Remember this is acceleration - change in rotation rate. Once spinning, it would tend to continue spinning. This is also a lower limit: most likely, the thrusters would be more numerous than I assumed, and probably more powerful as well, and the mass probably would be more evenly distributed. But anyway, let's see if it might be good enough.
As I said when discussing linear acceleration, you would want some quick randomness to help prevent a concentrated laser beam from focusing on you, and you would want the ability to change your path within a scale of minutes to prevent long range coilgun shells from impacting. There isn't much you can do about missiles except point defense: a ship cannot hope to outmaneuver them due to limitations of the crew, if nothing else. Some unpredictable linear acceleration should be enough to do these tasks, unless the enemy can get lined up with you, in which case, you will want to change direction to prevent him from using your own acceleration against you, and blasting you head on.
So the concern is can you rotate fast enough to prevent the enemy from lining up with you. So, let's assume the enemy can change direction infinitely fast, and can thrust at 3 g's. The range will still be one light-second. We can calculate how much of an angle he can cut into the circle per second if he attempted to circle around you. His thrust must provide the centripetal acceleration, so we can use that as our starting point. So, its angular velocity is three times that of the acceleration of the battleship. Thus, it would take the battleship three seconds to match that rotation rate.
It would also want to spin faster to make up for lost time, thus lining up on your terms again. I feel this is negligible because of two factors: if the enemy actually was orbiting like this, its position at any time would be predicable, thus vulnerable, and the battleship can probably see this coming: the enemy's tangential velocity must also be correct to do such a burn - he can not randomly change the orientation of his orbit due to his limitations on linear acceleration.
This means you can see what he is doing and prepare for it with a small amount of time of him setting the terms. In this small time, he would not even move a degree on you: still easily within your armor and firing arc. Also, weapons turrets on the battleship would surely be able to rotate at a much, much faster rate, so outrunning them is impossible anyway. Thus, I feel neither linear acceleration nor angular acceleration are significant limiting factors as size increases within this order of magnitude.
Long story short: unlike marine navies, speed is not a significant factor in space warship design, unless you are getting into obscene sizes. And, since I find it interesting, I want to finish talking about possible ship classes, so back to the comparison list. Submarines depend on stealth, and since there is no stealth in space barring pure magic like the Romulan cloaking device , there are no submarines in space. Destroyers operated to protect larger ships against submarines and small, fast ships, like torpedo boats.
Since speed is not a significant factor and stealth impossible, there are no fast ships nor subs, meaning the destroyer has nothing to do, thus would not exist. Though, you might chose to call what I call frigates destroyers if you prefer the name, but IMO the role is different enough that is isn't really accurate. But the US Navy somewhat does this, so it is up to you as the author. A cruiser is simply a ship that can operate on its own. Frigates, destroyers, and battleships can all also be called cruisers depending on their mission.
A battlecruiser is a ship meant to be able to outrun anything it can't outgun - it had the speed of a lighter cruiser with the guns of a battleship. In real navies, this was usually achieved by taking armor off a battleship. However, since speed is not limited by mass in the given order of magnitude, a battleship and battlecruiser would have the same speed: the battleship would be a clearly superior vessel. Thus, no battlecruisers. Now, if you have FTL, then that might create a battlecruiser class, but I am trying to avoid talking about magic in this discussion, since as the author, it is entirely up to you what the magic can and cannot do.
A destroyer escort is a small, relatively slow ship used to escort merchant ships and protect them against submarines and aircraft. But, in the real world, aircraft can threaten a ship due to its superior speed and submarines due to stealth. So neither of them are there, making the destroyer escort worthless. Frigates or battleships would have to be doing the escorting, since they are the only things that can stand up to what they will be fighting: other frigates or battleships. Now, a little more on what I mean by frigate. It is basically a smaller battleship, built simply because I am presuming they will be cheaper to produce and maintain, thus allowing more of them to exist. With more of them, they can be in more places doing more things.
The 10, ton proposal might actually be the frigate, with the battleship being larger than that, or it might be the battleship with the frigate being smaller than that. The relationship would remain the same, however. Dean Ing has some interesting speculations on space warships. But what of vehicles intended to fight in space? As colonies and mining outposts spread throughout our solar system, there may be military value in capturing or destroying far-flung settlements -- which means there'll be military value in intercepting such missions. The popular notion of space war today seems to follow the Dykstra images of movies and TV, where great whopping trillion-ton battleships direct fleets of parasite fighters ed. The mother ship with its own little fleet makes lots of sense, but in sheer mass the parasites may account for much of the system, and battle craft in space may have meter-thick carapaces to withstand laser fire and nuke near-misses.
Let's consider a battle craft of reasonable size and a human crew, intended to absorb laser and projectile weapons as well as some hard radiation. We'll give it reactor-powered rockets, fed with pellets of solid fuel which is exhausted as vapor. To begin with, the best shape for the battle craft might be an elongated torus; a tall, stretched-out doughnut. In the long hole down the middle we install a crew of two -- if that many -- weapons, communication gear, life support equipment, and all the other stuff that's most vulnerable to enemy weapons.
This central cavity is then domed over at both ends, with airlocks at one end and weapon pods at the other. The crew stays in the very center where protection is maximized. The fuel pellets, comprising most of the craft's mass, occupy the main cavity of the torus, surrounding the vulnerable crew like so many tons of gravel. Why solid pellets?
Because they'd be easier than fluids to recover in space after battle damage to the fuel tanks. The rocket engines are gimbaled on short arms around the waist of the torus, where they can impart spin, forward, or angular momentum, or thrust reversal. The whole craft would look like a squat cylinder twenty meters long by fifteen wide, with circular indentations at each end where the inner cavity closures meat the torus curvatures. The battle craft doesn't seem very large but it could easily gross over 5, tons, fully fueled. If combat accelerations are to reach 5 g's with full tanks, the engines must produce far more thrust than anything available today.
Do we go ahead and design engines producing 25, tons of thrust, or do we accept far less acceleration in hopes the enemy can't do any better? Or do we redesign the cylindrical crew section so that it can eject itself from the fuel torus for combat maneuvers? This trick -- separating the crew and weapons pod as a fighting unit while the fuel supply loiters off at a distance -- greatly improves the battle craft's performance.
But it also mans the crew pod must link up again very soon with the torus to replenish its on-board fuel supply. And if the enemy zaps the fuel torus hard enough while the crew is absent, it may be a long trajectory home in cryogenic sleep. Presuming that a fleet of the toroidal battle craft sets out on an interplanetary mission, the fleet might start out as a group of parasite ships attached to a mother ship. It's anybody's guess how the mother ship will be laid out, so let's make a guess for the critics to lambaste. Our mother ship would be a pair of fat discs, each duplicating the other's repair functions in case one is damaged.
The discs would be separated by three compression girders and kept in tension by a long central cable. To get a mental picture of the layout, take two biscuits and run a yard long thread through the center of each. Then make three columns from soda straws, each a yard long, and poke the straw ends into the biscuits near their edges. Now the biscuits are facing each other, a yard apart, pulled toward each other by the central thread and held apart by the straw columns. If you think of the biscuits as being a hundred meters in diameter with rocket engines poking away from the ends, you have a rough idea of the mother ship.
Clearly, the mother ship is two modules, upwards of a mile apart but linked by structural tension and compression members. The small battle craft might be attached to the compression girders for their long ride to battle, but if the mother ship must maneuver, their masses might pose unacceptable loads on the girders. Better by far if the parasites nestle in between the girders to grapple onto the tension cable. In this way, a fleet could embark from planetary orbit as a single system, separating into sortie elements near the end of the trip. Since the total mass of all the battle craft is about equal to that of the unencumbered mother ship, the big ship can maneuver itself much more easily when the kids get off mama's back. The tactical advantages are that the system is redundant with fuel and repair elements; a nuke strike in space might destroy one end of the system without affecting the rest; and all elements become more flexible in their operational modes just when they need to be.
Even if mother ships someday become as massive as moons, my guess is that they'll be made up of redundant elements and separated by lots of open space. Any hopelessly damaged elements can be discarded, or maybe kept and munched up for fuel mass. Awareness of the military advantage offered by space has been prominent, in science fiction and during the age of actual exploration. Although the Soviet Union signed it, its space activities have remained basically military in nature from the first.
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