Introduction

Among science fiction stories with space flight, the overwhelming majority are about combat, both between spacecraft and between futuristic ground troops. Not to mention the occasional starship marine assault trying to board a hostile ship while in flight. Yes, there are a few non-combat stories, mostly about exploration, but space combat is here to stay.

This is just the natural continuation of the process of militarisation of space

Which naturally leads to questions about the space branch of the military of various nations. The "astro-military" in other words. Some may start out as a subdivision of an existing branch and eventually grow large enough to split off (such as how the US Army Air Corps spit off to become the US Air Force in 1947 ). Some may grow large enough to absorb other branches of the military, others may be reabsorbed into other branches. In William Keith's Galactic Marines series one of the themes of the early novels is how the US Marines fight being absorbed or eliminated. Their solution is diversifying their mission to include performing assaults on Luna and Mars.

There will generally be something like a "space navy" who deal in combat spacecraft (with a sub-branch for space fighters, even though those are unlikely). There will be "space marines", who generally are found on board combat spacecraft. They are generally elite fighters, since spacecraft usually can only carry a limited number of them. There will be a "space army", which are usually just the old ground army troops ferried to combat zones on other planets on huge lightly armed troop carriers. Finally there might be an orbit guard.

Two on-line resources I recommend are William S. Frisbee Jr.'s Tips on Writing Military SF and William's Future War Stories. Both are almost the equivalent of college-level courses in the subject. It will take you a long time to read through the many essays and entries, but it will be worth it.

Specifically for the topic of astromilitiares, you should look over Mr. Frisbee's essay on Designing Militaries, Future War Stories essay on things that military science fiction are constantly getting wrong, and Thomas Evans' The Problem with Military Science Fiction Part 1 and Part 2

Ken Burnside: So, you're design a game about the clash of whosamawhatsits — empires, democracies, concordances of the color mauve.

Why do you have a military? What does it do for you?

Historically, militaries can be thought of as insurance policies. "If you would have peace, prepare for war." During the Cold War, we prepared for a war that was unwinnable by any logical metric — all we could do was ensure that, if we were taken out, the Russians were as well.

In large part, this is because we finally had a strategic weapon that had no counter.

Now, fast forward to the 100 kps suicide ramming vehicle so beloved of the list.

(ed note: a vehicle at that speed would have about 1,000 Ricks of damage, meaning each kilogram of vehicle would inflict the damage of a 1 kiloton nuclear device. If the vehicle had the same mass as a Russian Oscar-II submarine {13,900 metric tons} it would do 13.9 gigatons of damage, equal to 550-odd city-killer nuclear warheads, or five earthquakes that are 9.5 on the Richter scale, or mixing a third of a metric ton of antimatter with a third of a metric ton of matter. In other words, that innocent looking merchant spacecraft could be a civilization-destroying weapon of mass destruction.)

We'll assume it's got a thrust of 10 milligees — high enough that orbital mechanics translates into a bit of Kentucky windage.

It's going to take a fair chunk of time (~1,020,000 seconds) to build up to its impact parameter. Call it, with course corrections, two weeks.

At what point does its acceleration parameter make you worry?

At what point do you throw diamondoid BBs into its approach path, just to be sure?

Assume you can tell who launched it from looking at its approach vector.

At what point do you set your own retaliatory strike in motion?

What role does your military play in all this?

How does it change when you're trying to protect assets across the solar system? Is there any asset that is so expensive that it's worth committing something as expensive as a military force to protect it?

We don't send aircraft carriers out to protect lemonade stands, for one example. We used to (and arguably still do) send Marines to protect oil terminals.

So what are you defending? Is it worth the candle needed to protect it?

Are there any reasonable outcomes to an armed conflict other than "destroy everything"?

Can you trust a surrender signal put out by something moving at 100 kps?


Issac Kuo: Typically, the first job of the military is to deter/suppress revolutionaries. The irony, of course, is that it's usually the military itself that revolts and takes over. (see below)


Rick Robinson:

(Ken Burnside: Are there any reasonable outcomes to an armed conflict other than "destroy everything"?)

Usually. Something easy to forget, since WW II still looms so huge in our perceptions, is that "unconditional surrender" is fairly exceptional. Most wars, even big ones, end on terms.

War motivations can range from extermination to le sport des rois (The Sport of Kings). A common motivation that can be a bit problematic in space is real estate (and natural resources generally), because there is so much of it out there. Location, location, location still matters, but current geopolitics would be a lot different if there were dozens of other Persian Gulfs out there, worth reaching once oil hit $100/bbl.


Anthony Jackson: (Ken Burnside,) Your bias is for Interesting Wargames (and interesting science fiction stories). This is an understandable bias, but not terribly relevant to realism. There's a high chance that space warfare winds up being based on a doctrine of massive retaliation and a small number of defended points, rather than defense.


Issac Kuo: Hmm...you're saying that the attack vs defense balance is probably going to be heavily tilted toward attack. That's actually the balance which makes for Interesting Wargames. When the balance is tilted toward defense, you end up with tedious WW1 style slogfests, where it's hard to make any sort of progress. (ed note: see WW1 Trench Warfare) When the balance is tilted toward attack, that's when you can get a dynamic situation with lots of action.


Rick Robinson: What is it to the defender whether you scrag his shipyards with purpose built munitions or kitty litter? Either way he loses the shipyards.

The defender's only choice is to resist or not. If war is to the knife, he'll resist, and exact whatever cost on the attacker he can. If war is not to the knife, things get more interesting. As a defender I may prefer to surrender some objective, hoping to make you surrender it back to me later in the war.

But to usefully accept my surrender you have to bring espatiers — to use Tyge Sjostrand's great alternate word for space marines — as a boarding and occupation party. That requires mass and equipment, paid for by sacrificing some torch drones or whatever munitions. So in a limited war, your ability to compel surrender is compromised by your ability to accept it.

And of course the alternatives are not surrender without resistance versus fighting to the (robotic) death. A defending force may choose a test of arms before withdrawing and surrendering some objective.

From a thread in SFConSim-l

Ain'ta Gonna Study War No More

Of course there are those who would like it if war was abolished. While that would be a nice idea, it seems to be a bit impractical. The old bromide is that people who beat their swords into plowshares tend to be killed by people who keep their swords intact, though sometimes they get lucky and are merely enslaved instead of killed. There are additional reasons for war if the others are aliens.

Chips On Distant Sholders

Getting rid of war, on the other hand, seems to me far more difficult (than FTL travel). It demands at least one, and probably two, psychological developments radical enough to be called breakthroughs, and our progress in developing and utilizing the psychological sciences has so far been disappointing.

The really necessary advance would involve some method of eliminating the almost universal human attitude that one's own rights are as important as anyone else's.

Not more important. As important.

I am not saying that people shouldn't feel that way, or don't have a right to feel that way, or that it's immoral or even unreasonably selfish. I simply say that unless and until it changes, conflicts of interest will continue to lead to violence in the name of right, freedom, and The People. What specific situation starts things off — the population of a landlocked country believing that it has the right to a seaport of its own, women believing that they have the same rights as men, or junkies believing that they have a right to a fix at public expense — is trivial beside the general principle that my right is as important as yours. If a way were actually discovered to alter this bit of human nature there would be screams against the dangers of psychological research; and if a government or some other group tried to apply the techniques, plenty of people (including me) would fight for the right to their own minds.

Please note that death, destruction, and mayhem are not primary aims of war. They may be secondary ones, as when a cannibal tribe attacks its neighbors for meat, but more usually they are just inconvenient by-products. The aim and end of war is to impose one's will on an opponent.

Unfortunately, imposing one's will on another includes the situation in which your will is merely that he not impose his on you.

From "Chips On Distant Sholders" by Hal Clement

So it appears that war will be with the human race for the forseeable future, or can be avoided by becoming not human anymore.

War caused by population pressure

But it was interesting. I caught one of those master's thesis assignments he chucked around so casually; I had suggested that the Crusades were different from most wars. I got sawed off and handed this: Required: to prove that war and moral perfection derive from the same genetic inheritance.

Briefly, thus: All wars arise from population pressure. (Yes, even the Crusades, though you have to dig into trade routes and birth rate and several other things to prove it.) Morals — all correct moral rules derive from the instinct to survive; moral behavior is survival behavior above the individual level — as in a father who dies to save his children. But since population pressure results from the process of surviving through others, then war, because it results from population pressure, derives from the same inherited instinct which produces all moral rules suitable for human beings.

Check of proof: Is it possible to abolish war by relieving population pressure (and thus do away with the all-too evident evils of war) through constructing a moral code under which population is limited to resources?

Without debating the usefulness or morality of planned parenthood, it may be verified by observation that any breed which stops its own increase gets crowded out by breeds which expand. Some human populations did so, in Terran history, and other breeds moved in and engulfed them.

Nevertheless, let's assume that the human race manages to balance birth and death, just right to fit its own planets, and thereby becomes peaceful. What happens?

Soon (about next Wednesday) the Bugs move in, kill off this breed which "ain'ta gonna study war no more" and the universe forgets us. Which still may happen. Either we spread and wipe out the Bugs, or they spread and wipe us out — because both races are tough and smart and want the same real estate.

Do you know how fast population pressure could cause us to fill the entire universe shoulder to shoulder? The answer will astound you, just the flicker of an eye in terms of the age of our race.

Try it — it's a compound-interest expansion.

But does Man have any "right" to spread through the universe?

Man is what he is, a wild animal with the will to survive, and (so far) the ability, against all competition. Unless one accepts that, anything one says about morals, war, politics — you name it — is nonsense. Correct morals arise from knowing what Man is — not what do gooders and well-meaning old Aunt Nellies would like him to be.

The universe will let us know — later — whether or not Man has any "right" to expand through it.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)
Civilians do not understand military matters 1

"Aren't you taking all this too seriously?" Horvath asked. "After all, Captain, the Viceroy's orders were given before we knew much about Moties. Now, surely, we can see they aren't dangerous, and they certainly aren't hostile."

"Are you suggesting, Doctor, that we put ourselves in the position of countermanding an Imperial Directive?"

Horvath looked amused. His grin spread slowly across his face. "Oh no," he said. "I don't even imply, it. I only suggest that if and when — when, really, it's inevitable — that policy is changed, all this will seem a trifle silly, Captain Blaine. Childish in fact."

"Be damned to you!" Sinclair exploded. "That's nae way to talk to the Captain, mon!"

"Gently, Sandy," First Lieutenant Cargill interjected. "Dr. Horvath, I take it you've never been involved in military intelligence? No, of course not. But you see, in intelligence work we have to go by capabilities, not by intentions. If a potential enemy can do something to you, you have to prepare for it, without regard to what you think he wants to do."

(ed note: And as the novel turns out, Cargill was right, and Horvath was very seriously wrong.)

From The Mote In God's Eye by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle (1975)
Civilians do not understand military matters 2

(ed note: Instead of the word "Gentlemen", Andre Norton uses the term "Gentle Homos", which is short for "Gentle Homo Sapiens". The equivalent for ladies is "Gentle Fem". These are from YA novels Norton was writing back in the 1960s, the resemblance to sexual preference terminology is strictly accidental.)

"That is the situation, Gentle Homos." It was Lugard's voice now with a rasping, grating tone increased by the broadcast. "You cannot trust such treaties -"

"Perhaps you cannot, Sector-Captain." That was Scyld Drax. "The military mind is apt to foresee difficulties-"

"The military mind!" Lugard's interruption came clearly. "I thought I made it simple — the situation is as plain as the sun over you, man! You say you want peace, that you think the war is over. Maybe the war is, the kind we have been fighting, but you don't have peace now — you have a vacuum out of which law, and what little protection any world can depend upon, has been drained. And into this is going to spread, just like one of your pet viruses, anarchy. A planet not prepared to defend itself is going to be a target for raiders. There were fleets wrecked out there, worlds destroyed. The survivors of those battles are men who have been living by creating death around them for almost half a generation, planet time. It has become their familiar way of life — kill or be killed, take or perish. They have no home bases to return to; their ships are now their homes. And they no longer have any central controls, no fears of the consequences if they take what they want from the weaker, from those who cannot or will not make the effort to stand them off. You let this ship land — only one ship, you say, poor lost people; give them living room as we have a sparsely settled world — there is one chance in a hundred you read them aright.

"But there are ninety-nine other chances that you have thrown open the door to your own destruction. One ship, two, three — a home port, a safe den from which to go raiding. And I ask you this, Corson, Drax, Ahren, the rest of you. This was a government experimental station. What secrets did you develop here that could be ferreted out, to be used as weapons to arm the unscrupulous?" There was a moment of silence. He had asked that as a man might deliver a challenge.

Then we heard Corson. "We have nothing that would serve as such — not now. When the authorities forced certain of us to such experimentation, we refused — and when that authority left, we destroyed all that had been done."

"Everything?" Lugard asked. "Your tapes, your supplies, perhaps, but not your memories. And as long as a man's memory remains, there are ways of using it." There was a sharp sound, as if a palm had been slapped down hard on some surface.

"There is no need to anticipate or suggest such violence, Sector-Captain Lugard. I — we must believe that your recent service has conditioned you to see always some dark design behind each action. There is not one reason to believe that these people are not what they have declared themselves to be, refugees seeking a new life. They have freely offered to let any one of us come aboard while they are still in off-orbit — to inspect their ship and make sure they come in peace. We would not turn a starving man from our doors; we cannot turn away these people and dare still to call ourselves a peaceful-minded community. I suggest we put it to the vote. Nor do I consider that you, Sector-Captain, are so much one of us as to have a vote."

"So be it-" That was Lugard once more, but he sounded very tired." 'And when Yamar lifted up his voice, they did not listen. And when he cried aloud, they put their hands to their ears, laughing. And when he showed them the cloud upon the mountains, they said it was afar and would come not nigh. And when a sword glinted in the hills and he pointed to it, they said it was but the dancing of a brook in the sun.' "

The Cry of Yamar! How long had it been since anyone had quoted that in my hearing? Why should anyone on Beltane? Yamar was a prophet of soldiers; his saga was one learned by recruits to point the difference between civilian and fighting man.

From Dark Piper by Andre Norton (1968)

Warfare Or Not?

Just to be complete, there are some odd activities that are arguably "warfare" but they sure don't look like it. These turn up especially in science fiction, which often is concerned with pushing the envelope and questioning basic assuptions.

I am not going to go into them in much detail, because they are mostly invented out of a whole cloth by the science fiction author. Which makes it very hard for me to generalize. Not to mention the fact that the vast majority of the readers of this website are not interested, they are here for the space navy and interstellar grunts.

Is War Obsolete?

My tentative suspicion is that war-as-we-know-it is obsolescent. This is not from any expectation that everyone is going to join hands and sing Kumbiya, or even seek mutual understanding through dialogue. But just a few days ago I saw a striking observation that the War of 1870 is the most recent inter-state war in which the side that started it achieved anything like its objectives. Certainly you could make a case that since 1945 most states would have been better off without armies: Governments have been far more at risk from their own armed forces than from someone else's.

In a post-industrial age, other modalities of political violence — terrorism, assassination, even plain old rioting — may well prove to be more efficient means of getting what you want through coercion than traditional march-across-the-border warfare, or even variations such as airstrikes, carrier task forces, or dare I say starships bristling with zappers and whackers of various fancy and expensive sorts.

Any shift from territorial states to other forms of power-political relations would certainly render war-as-we-know-it a doubtful proposition — we have contemporary evidence of the problems that very formidable militaries face when they don't know who the hell the enemy is.

I see this as (perhaps!) part of the phase shift from agrarian society to post-industrial society, a phase shift comparable in scope to the shift from hunting-gathering to agriculture. War-as-we-know-it may not have existed among hunter-gatherers. It is/was a phenomenon of the agrarian age, the jet fighter simply a super chariot with 150,000 horses. It likewise may not exist among developed post-industrial societies, its place taken by forms of nastiness we today can only vaguely guess at.

I should hasten to add that my own SF pretty much follows the conventions, with recognizable space fleets fighting recognizable wars-as-we-know-them, offering only minor conceptual innovations, often themselves rooted in past history. Which is rather odd, and calls for explanation. The short answer is that, in spite of Realistic TM trappings, my SF concepts are fundamentally space opera — starships, colonies, interstellar trade, all things that raise plausibility questions even if FTL turns out to be possible.

The slightly longer answer is that I like to write about recognizable people in recognizable settings. I am not a transhumanist; I suspect that humans in 3000 will be essentially the same messy Cro-Magnons that we are. I also suspect that the Singularity, to the extent there is one, already happened, centered around 1870-1930, though it will take at least a couple more centuries for its consequences to become clear. But the effort to create a future setting with plausible deep post-industrial power politics, would likely be so intellectually demanding that the ideas would overwhelm the story — the result might be good futurism, but probably not good fiction.

Thus I am fully complicit in the SF convention, imagining what is fundamentally a retro-future, complete with fusion-torch Indiamen and fusion-torch frigates to chase them.

Rick Robinson
Stylized Warfare 1

The uncountable miles of track, from Ishrail’s viewpoint, belonged to a primitive transport system on a remote globe. All around this globe stretched — not sky, as Davi had once idly thought — but the great, complicated highway called space. Not a simple nothingness; rather, Ishrail explained, an unfathomable interplay of forces, fields and planes. Ishrail had laughed to hear that Earth word “space”; he had called it not space but a maze of stresses. But of course Ishrail might well be crazy. Certainly nobody in Bergharra had ever talked as he did.

And through the maze of stress fields, Ishrail had said, rode the interpenetrators. Davi thought of them as spaceships, but Ishrail called them interpenetrators. They apparently were not made of metal at all, but of mentally powered force shields, which fed on the stress fields and changed as they changed; so the people of the Galaxy rode in safety between the civilized planets. At least, that was what Ishrail claimed.

And the planets warred on one another. But even the war was not as Davi understood the term. It was as stylized as chess , as formal as a handshake, as chivalrous as an ambulance, as unrelenting as a guillotine. Its objectives were more nebulous and vast than materialist Earthmen could visualize.


“Look here,” Davi said, unable to resist argument, although guessing already how useless it might be. “This tale Ishrail has told us about the great civilization of the Galaxy, the stress fields of space, the interpenetrators, all the details of life on other planets, strange animals and flowers — you can’t believe he made it all up in his head?”


“The etiquette of this incredible galactic squabble, Ishrail claims, renders an admiral or similar large fry liable to exile for life if he is captured by the enemy. As we might expect in this case, the exiling itself is a complicated business, a mixture of leniency and harshness. The exile concerned — by which we mean Ishrail — has his name struck off the rolls of civilization and is left on a planet absolutely bare-handed and bare-backed. Before he is landed, he is taught by hypnotic means to be fluent in the language of the planet or country to which he is banished.”

From "O Ishrail!" by Brian Aldiss, collected in Galaxies Like Grains of Sand (1957)
Stylized Warfare 2

Jon had studied his history of humanity in space, and especially humanity's history of warfare. War had brought him to this end. Men had taken the ancient game of chess, had given it three dimensions and a wider variety of pieces and moves and had turned warfare into a game. The basics remained the same. The Command Ship replaced the king, invested with the power to control the pieces on the three-dimensional board of space-time. Destroy the opponents' Command Ship and the battle ends in victory. The only major difference was that men still moved the pieces, but they moved them from the inside, and men died if they were lost.

A large cometary mass had entered the solar system a few years back. Once it had been determined to be of interstellar origin and a genuine scientific find, the Jovan and Lunan governments could not risk hostilities breaking out among competing exploration parties conducting a space race to claim the find in the name of a single government. Even by Jon's standards, the ideal solution would have been to mix crews aboard an international exploration caravan, but the Jovans considered Lunan lighting harsh and distracting, the air too dense and hot. The Lunans considered Jovan gravity preferences unnecessarily stressful and the side effects of the antibiotics necessary to prevent cross-biological contamination too uncomfortable. It took little more than minor grievances to result in a challenge by the Outer System Federation to armed combat, the winner to take possession of the cometary mass, the loser to trust that all findings would be fairly shared by all the nations.

But Jon not only knew the real reason for the challenge, he had anticipated it. It had been six years since the last major confrontation between the two greatest powers in space. Both were eager to probe the developing war technology of the other side.

On Earth, prior to the Holocaust, a growing population had featured relatively few races and cultures in its growing homogeneity, but it had faced the increasing stress of dwindling food and natural resources to be shared by all. Humanity had almost succeeded in creating a paradise on Earth, but it failed abysmally in controlling its own nature. When war broke out, it destroyed everything, but once free in the vastness of space, the process only intensified. As each colony left the ship-building yards of Jupiter or the inner system, a new racial variety of humanity was born, and a new culture. The same reasons for war existed, but also a heightened awareness of its consequence.

Economically, the two major spheres of humanity complemented one another. The colonies among the outer worlds specialized in the mining and processing of the lighter elements. Icebergs of insulated gases, liquids, and solids spiraled constantly down into the inner system. The outer system colonies considered themselves independent, but organized economically and militarily under the leadership of the Jovans, the outer system's largest society orbiting the four major moons of Jupiter.

The colonies of the Inner System Alliance also considered themselves independent, but, again, organized under the leadership of the Lunans, the largest inner-system colony based on Earth's single moon. Given the abundance of free solar energy close in to the sun and the heavier elements mined from Mercury, Luna, and Mars, the Inner System Alliance specialized in heavy construction and manufacturing.

Early in the days of the thriving space colonies, humanity hard learned three important facts and worked quickly to incorporate them usefully into the structure of a burgeoning society. First, a highly technical civilization meant increased specialization and interdependence between its parts. Second, the psychological distance between cultures in space would surpass anything seen on Earth in mankind's history. And, third, as long as man could bunch his hand into a fist, violence as a viable alternative to negotiation would remain too great a temptation to ignore. There would be war, but war would have to be contained. The rules of the wargames had been established by the Ganymede Convention less than two centuries after the Holocaust. Wars would be fought, but civilian populations would not be the target. Each population center understood, regardless of the intensity of their hatred, that their own welfare depended upon the welfare of an integrated whole.

War became a sport. The struggle of opposing warfleets to destroy the Command Ship of the opposition made the wargames the most intensely fascinating and challenging sport man had ever known.

The Outer System Federation voiced the initial challenge over the issue of the interstellar comet and its anomalies. Therefore, the Inner System Alliance had the choice of a defending position. Luna Nation chose Earth as a backdrop to their defensive position, forcing the Jovan forces to attack at a shallow angle across the interference provided by the face of a full-sized planet.

The Jovan fighter squadrons had been brought in by the carrier Saratoga. Jon's squadron had been assigned to defend the battleship Ganymede. The Ganymede engaged early in the apparently suicidal attack upon the Lunan Command Ship Brystol. But the battleship deflected at the last instant, attacking the fortress defending the Brystol. The maneuver forced the Brystol to take evasive action, a move to place more of the mass of the Earth directly behind it in relation to the incoming Jovan forces.

The wargames would have been little more than mass destruction of automated equipment without the deliberately imposed handicap of human-piloted machinery. Because of their human pilots and crews, the Jovans couldn't move directly against the Lunan formations. At velocities of hundreds of kilometers per second, the human body couldn't survive the G forces necessary to pull away from the bulk of the planet lying behind the Lunans. Automated vessels were legal, but limited in firepower. Still, in the excitement of battle, the Lunan forces panicked in the face of the onslaught of the carrier Saratoga barreling in on a full-frontal attack, decelerating engines of over fifty million tons of thrust burning like full-fledged supernovas.

Long before the Saratoga reached maximum deceleration, swarms of fighters fell away from the craft, blossoming outward to attack the flanks of the Lunan fleet on the horizons of Earth, the hurtling Saratoga little more than a weapon of fear, a lightweight shell never intended for combat worthiness. The Brystol had only seconds to analyze the bizarre strategy and respond. As the juggernaut deflected from its suicidal trajectory, skimming the Earth's atmosphere and disintegrating from numerous missile hits, the Brystol moved out of harm's way, directly into the firing trajectory of a Jovan weapons barge that had moved into position during the confusion.

Jon had studied the entire battle and its subtly shifting strategy during the seconds it took to engage, fire, and pass from the scene on his own individual mission. The Brystol should have vanished in a fireball of thermonuclear fury. It somehow survived, the Lunan formation reorganizing for its offense and a tighter defense around its Command Ship. The Jovan forces had incurred high losses in order to accomplish a probable victory. Knowing they would not survive another pass, Jon heard the concession to victory an instant before a random proximity mine detonated a few kilometers away. The blast reduced the underbelly of his Cobra to slag.

His computer had assessed the damage as terminal, blown off the shell of armor and ignited the emergency retrorockets to kill as much of his forward velocity as possible. Regardless, crippled fighters spinning into deep space at several hundred kilometers per second were not prime candidates for immediate rescue in the after battle cleanup.

A pilot in a fighter too heavily damaged to decelerate always had the option of entering a state of suspended animation and be rescued at convenience in the outer system. Jon had slept twice under such circumstances. He would have preferred to sleep again, but captured by the gravitational field of Earth, he had orbited the planet once, sweeping inward to skim tenuous atmosphere. He lost even more orbital velocity. The fighter had skipped once into space and arced back down for a final confrontation with the unknown.


For the first time since the Holocaust, a warfleet violated the rules of the Ganymede Convention. No command ship existed among the fleet to end an armed conflict. Most of the craft appeared to be scientific in nature, a true exploratory caravan, but it included warcraft capable of unacceptable levels of devastation.

Moore listened to the communication between Luna Authority and the Supreme Commander of the Jovan fleet broadcast on an open channel.

"Luna Navigational Control," a heavily accented Jovan voice spoke, "we are assuming a fifteen hundred and sixty kilometer equatorial Earth orbit. We are on a peaceful mission."

Luna Authority responded instantly. "The spirit and the letter of the Ganymede Convention has been violated. Never in the history of the space nations has civilization faced such grave risk of irresponsible catastrophe."

From Silent Galaxy aka Battlefields of Silence by William Tedford (1981)
War or Harvesting Jovian Resources?

Since Jupiter pretty certainly lacks a solid surface, its life forms should be of the flying/floating/swimming type (see Arthur C. Clarke’s “A Meeting With Medusa”). A conflict between such beings and our own species would represent one of my extremes, which I am arbitrarily calling the 1 or high end of my strangeness spectrum. I am quite aware that this may require revision when we get to the stars. This involves pairs of species which cannot come anywhere near to living under each other’s conditions and would presumably have no interest in acquiring either territory or properly of the other. In the present example, the Jovians might be unable even to grasp the concept of territory; They might find it easier to communicate with dolphins than with mankind.

An intermediate situation (about 0.3, maybe?) would involve Saturn’s big moon Titan and possibly—we don’t know much about the place yet—Neptune’s satellite Triton. If I had been writing this fifteen years ago I would have included Mars. These are all fairly small bodies, but Titan quite certainly has a fairly dense atmosphere and, a little less certainly, complex local chemistry. I regard it as the third most likely place in the Solar system to have native life.

Titanians could be relatively humanoid to the extent that they would be adapted to existence at a solid/gas interface, possibly with liquid also present. Face-to-face contact and hand-to-hand combat could occur between human and Titanian beings. The fact that one party or both would need space suits is minor compared to the human-Jovian differences; hence the low estimate for the strangeness spectrum number.

Zero strangeness would involve human-against-human or Jovian-against-Jovian conflict. In one way, it is likelier to be more complex than the higher-level situations. I cannot, of course, say that no human beings would sympathize with Jovians or Titanians in a higher-strangeness conflict; the negative chauvinism, or Ugly American complex, or whatever one wants to call it which has been so widespread in this country for the last decade or two could easily expand to cover our whole species. However, the whole who’s-for-whom question can get much more mixed up in an all-human or all-Titanian war.

Some people might feel that the Category 1 situation would not permit warfare at all because of the mutual exclusiveness of the environments; the parties could never cross each other’s paths or have conflicts of interest. Sorry, this is too idealistic even for me.

It is easy to imagine the Ugly Earthman using up his supplies of organic raw materials—petroleum and coal— even if he outgrows the present idiotic practice of burning them. Jupiter is rich in hydrocarbons and, by tonnage if not by percentage, in compounds of nitrogen, sulfur, oxygen, phosphorus, and probably anything else one could want. After we settle our Type Zero wars over local resources, we may very well start sending automatic collectors—ramscoops or something like that—into the Jovian atmosphere to accumulate the local equivalent of plankton for use as organics. The Jovians might reasonably resent such devices plowing through their equivalents of orchards, gardens, and flocks, not to mention their families and themselves. If they have the scientific competence to figure out where the things come from and to do something about it, war would seem a very likely result.

(If one prefers virtuous Earthmen, of course, it would be easy enough to work out a situation in which the Jovians were the heavies. There is no need to pursue both lines, which differ mainly in who does what, and with what, to Whom.)

This war, like any space conflict prior to the development of instantaneous unlimited-distance teleportation, is being conducted at very long range. This automatically means very high cost. This last word is to be taken, throughout this article, as a measure of traction of available effort, not some supposedly absolute unit like the dollar, the ruble, the Scrooge, or anything else which can have its quantitative meaning reduced indefinitely by inflation.

In the present situations the Jovians have a vast cost advantage; their logical strategy would be to make the most of it. After all, they win if humanity merely stops coming.

Tactically, they would reasonably remain in their own atmosphere (leaving it might be prohibitively expensive for them) and simply prevent the return of as many ramscoops as possible. The quantitative effect of this would depend on the cost of the scoops. If each one were the equivalent of a missile submarine or even a Boeing 747, even a very low batting average might give a Jovian victory. Of course, if the scoops were more in the family-car class, the process might take longer or might not work at all.

In this connection we must remember that the scoops may well represent a most unusual, and possibly very valuable, concentration of elements from the Jovian view-point. If they understand clearly enough what is going on at the human end of the line (perhaps too much to expect) the Jovians might deliberately arrange a capture rate low enough to avoid discouraging the suppliers, and accept losses and damage at the Jovian end as a reasonable price for the treasure coming in from space. What would be an acceptable price for either species would of course depend on their psychologies. I don’t see how this is to be predicted. I myself belong to a race apparently quite willing to spend several tens of thousands of lives a year for the convenience of privately—owned transportation equipment, but reluctant to pay a fraction of one percent of this price for a continuous and reliable energy supply (yes, I am pro-nuke). In other words, I find human psychology incomprehensible, and suspect that the Jovian variety would be even more so.

The foregoing situation should, ideally, be worked out as trade rather than war, but the parties involved will have to get into intelligible conversation first. This, unfortunately, is not a prerequisite for combat. The high-strangeness category carries another serious implication. Neither opponent can make direct use of the other’s home world. The destruction of that world, or at least of its habitability, is therefore a matter for strategic consideration, assuming its technical feasibility. Either species might have moral objections to such a course, but unless Jovians are much more moral than Earthmen this would probably not be a decisive consideration. On the practical side, Jupiter would have an enormous advantage; not only does it have over a hundred times Earth’s surface area, but it would be difficult to confine the effects of any destructive technique to the Jovian “surface.”

Just what the technique might be will depend, of course, on the scientific and technical capacities of the warring species. The most predictable from the basis of our present knowledge would be biological agents, with radioactive dusting a very poor second from the human viewpoint. I don’t really see how we could hope to contaminate Jupiter effectively with anything not self-replicating.

From "Chips On Distant Sholders" by Hal Clement

Chain of Command

On spacecraft in general, and military spacecraft in particular, there will be a strict "chain of command." People with no management or military experience may not see the point behind a chain of command, but if such a person is suddenly given the task of managing a project (even a high-school bake sale) they will suddenly discover why it is vital. Attempting to run a spacecraft by a democracy or other laissez-faire system will probably result in the destruction of the spacecraft and the death of all the crew. Space is a far too deadly environment and spacecraft are far too full of dangerous equipment to leave things to chance.

Starship Troopers

We would be "temporary third lieutenants" — a rank as necessary as feet on a fish, wedged into the hairline between fleet sergeants and real officers. It is as low as you can get and still be called an "officer." If anybody ever saluted a third lieutenant, the light must have been bad.

"Your commission reads 'third lieutenant,' " he went on, "but your pay stays the same, you continue to be addressed as 'Mister,' the only change in uniform is a shoulder pip even smaller than cadet insignia. You continue under instruction since it has not yet been settled that you are fit to be officers." The Colonel smiled. "So why call you a 'third lieutenant'?"

I had wondered about that. Why this whoopty-do of "commissions" that weren't real commissions? Of course I knew the textbook answer.

"Mr. Byrd?" the Commandant said.

"Uh . . . to place us in the line of command, sir."

"Exactly!" Colonel glided to a T. O. on one wall. It was the usual pyramid, with chain of command defined all the way down. "Look at this — " He pointed to a box connected to his own by a horizontal line; it read: ASSISTANT TO COMMANDANT (Miss Kendrick).

"Gentlemen," he went on, "I would have trouble running this place without Miss Kendrick. Her head is a rapid-access file to everything that happens around here." He touched a control on his chair and spoke to the air. "Miss Kendrick, what mark did Cadet Byrd receive in military law last term?"

Her answer came back at once: "Ninety-three per cent, Commandant."

"Thank you." He continued, "You see? I sign anything if Miss Kendrick has initialed it. I would hate to have an investigating committee find out how often she signs my name and I don't even see it. Tell me, Mr. Byrd . . . if I drop dead, does Miss Kendrick carry on to keep things moving?"

"Why, uh — " Birdie looked puzzled. "I suppose, with routine matters, she would do what was necess — "

"She wouldn't do a blessed thing!" the Colonel thundered. "Until Colonel Chauncey told her what to do — his way. She is a very smart woman and understands what you apparently do not, namely, that she is not in the line of command and has no authority." He went on, " 'Line of command' isn't just a phrase; it's as real as a slap in the face. If I ordered you to combat as a cadet the most you could do would be to pass along somebody else's orders. If your platoon leader bought it and you then gave an order to a private — a good order, sensible and wise — you would be wrong and he would be just as wrong if he obeyed it. Because a cadet cannot be in the line of command. A cadet has no military existence, no rank, and is not a soldier. He is a student who will become a soldier — either an officer, or at his formal rank."

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)
Antares Dawn

Two Marines from Alexandria’s fifty-man contingent flanked the main entrance hatch into the ballroom when the three officers arrived. The Marines snapped to attention and saluted. Drake returned their salutes, and then stepped over the raised coaming into the ballroom.

The large compartment had been configured as an auditorium, with rows of seats arrayed in front of a raised dias and podium. As Drake stepped over the threshold, there was a cry of "Ten-hut!" from one of the Marines. Scattered figures, all in uniform, jumped to their feet with ramrod straight spines and eyes facing front. An occasional civilian figure also stood, although in a much more relaxed manner. Most of the hundred-plus occupants of the compartment merely glanced up, and then went back to their individual discussions.

Drake strode down the aisle at the side of the compartment, mounted the dias, and moved to the podium. While waiting for the noise to subside, he let his gaze sweep across the compartment. ... Professor Planovich was also seated in the second row, three seats to the right of Aster. Drake recognized a dozen other members of the scientific staff, including several women. Standing toward the back of the crowd were the captains and executive officers of the cryogen tankers, as well as several scout and landing boat pilots from Discovery and City of Alexandria.

Drake ordered those standing to be seated. The military personnel sat down, and the buzz of conversation began to slowly subside. Drake waited until the crowd had grown silent before beginning to speak:

"Thank you for coming, ladies and gentlemen. I asked Captain Fallan to call this meeting in order to get a few things straight before we leave orbit for the deep black. First of all, I would like all those who did not stand when I entered the compartment to please do so now."

There was a renewal of the crowd noises and no one moved for a second. Then, slowly, hesitantly, the powerful of Alta began to climb to their feet. First one, then two, then small groups, until finally, the scene was exactly reversed from that of a minute earlier.

"For the next several months, you will all be living and working aboard this ship. As I am sure you have noticed already, we are too many people crammed into too little space, and there is little opportunity for incompatible personalities to get away from each other. This is quite normal, and we spacers long ago developed a code of conduct to minimize the stresses of shipboard life. The code is based on three principles: respect for one’s fellows, common courtesy, and the fact that a ship in space is no democracy.

"One of the most basic principles of this code involves the respect given a commanding officer aboard ship. For many of the same reasons that one stands when a judge enters a courtroom, so too should you stand when a captain enters a compartment. The act is intended to show your respect for the position rather than for the man who fills it. Since each of you now standing has chosen to ignore this simple courtesy, you will pay for the oversight by reporting to Captain Fallan immediately after we leave orbit. He will assign you to forty hours of ship’s maintenance as a penalty.

There were several seconds of shocked silence, followed by an explosion of protests. Drake let the noise wash over him, making no move to stop it. Eventually, all was quiet again.

"I take it from your reaction that you think I’m being overly harsh," he said.

"Damned right!" someone yelled from the back row.

"You should be thankful to get off so easily. True, I could have ignored the unintentional insult you gave me. I could have explained why we have these quaint customs aboard ship, and asked you to humor us by complying with them. I could have, but I didn’t. In an emergency, your lives may well depend on your immediate, unquestioning obedience to my orders, or those of Captain Fallan. Since such obedience does not come naturally to anyone, I have chosen to educate you in a way that you will remember."

"What if we refuse to knuckle under?" one white haired man in the fifth row asked.

"Your name, sir?"

"Greg. Tobias Greg, Labor Council Chartered Representative."

"Well, Mr. Greg. My response to willful disobedience of orders depends on the stage of the mission we are in at the time. For instance, if you are refusing my order at this moment, I will have the Marines put you bodily onto one of the supply shuttles and have you returned to Alta. Should your refusal come after we’ve left orbit, however, I just may have you shot as am example to others."

Several Adam’s apples bobbed up and down as their owners swallowed hard, but no one spoke up. Drake continued: "Now, then, enough of this. Shall we get on with the real reason for this assembly? Commander Marston will read you the expedition orders."

Organization

The organization of an astromilitary is a complicated subject.

The structure of any military may seem a bit strange to civilians who have had no contact with it. One thing to keep in mind is that it is the result of thousands of years of refinement. The important thing is that it works. It ain't easy training rational human beings to advance into harms way on command when the logical self-preserving option is to run away.

In "boot camps", civilians joining the military are trained to become soldiers by the sergeants. This includes a necessary transformation of the civilian's personality. This is sort of like brain-washing, but in a good way. A civilian mind-set will not work at all in a military environment, the change to a military mind-set is vital. It takes a military person to obey a command to charge into an enemy position blazing at you with a hail of bullets, most civilians would would be running the other way.

When a new soldier gets their first three-day pass to go visit home, they are often warned that "home" will seem to have radically changed (actually it is the soldier who changed). The soldier will find that their familiy will understand their words but not their language.


For those who are unfamiliar with the theory behind military ranks herein follows a simplistic primer. If you are familiar you can skip to the next section. Please note that this is simplistic, and I the author am a civilian. Take what I say with a grain of salt. If you want true accuracy I'd advise you to talk to real military personnel.

The main division is between Officers and Enlisted Men. Basically the officers tell the enlisted men what to do. Specifically the officers hold "command" over the enlisted men. They also hold command over officers who are lower in the chain of command. The officers plan strategy and tactics to win the current war, and the enlisted men actually fight the battles according to the plan.

It is vaguely similar to the difference between management and labor in a corporation, but with differences.

The various ranks of officers have different names, but in English speaking nations it runs broadly in order of rank Marshal, General, Colonel, Major, Captain, Lieutenant, and Officer Cadet. Enlisted men in the US are Corporals and Privates.

In terms of the movie Metropolis the officers are the "head" and the enlisted men are the "hands."

In stereotypical formula science fiction writing, characters who are officers are often archetypes from the trope "Command Roster", while characters who are enlisted men are often archetypes from the trope "The Squad".


In between the officers and the enlisted men are the Non-commissioned officers (NCOs), though they are technically part of the enlisted men. These are the Sergeant majors and Sergeants. Officers hold command over the enlisted men, but the NCOs have "control" or "charge" over the enlisted men. Simplistically the officers command What while the NCOs control How. For instance, the Colonel will tell the Sergeant major that hill Whiskey-Tango has to be captured, and the Sergeant major will issue orders to the enlisted men to ensure that the ensuing battle achieves the objective. Sergeants are considered to be the backbone of the military.

Sergeants also have the vital role of training civilizan recruits into enlisted men, "turning boys into men". See "boot camp" above.

The senior sergeants also have the role of subtly training junior officers. As Wikipedia puts it, the senior sergeants give advice and guidance to junior officers, who begin their careers in a position of authority but generally lack practical experience. Meaning the junior officers are clueless newbies, often full of ivory-tower but totally impractical ideas of how to run things. The senior sergeants gently show the junior officers the error of their ways and show them what actually works in the real world.

Wise junior officers rely heavily upon their sergeants. It is also a serious mistake for a junior officer to make a sergeant major angry at them. There are millions of subtle and deniable ways a sergeant major can make a junior officer's life miserable.

Sergeants are the interface between the officers and the enlisted men. It is a big mistake for an officer to attempt to by-pass the sergeants and directly order the enlisted men. And if an officer wants to know the latest military rumors and scuttlebutt, they should just ask a sergeant.


There are also Warrant Officers. While they are considered to be officers, their main job is being technical experts in various specialized fields.

Officers are further divided into line officers and staff officers. The difference between line and staff is that line has the job of doing the core work of a military (i.e, winning battles) while staff has the job of administrative, operational and logistical needs of its unit.

In the novel Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein creates a rank known as "Sky Marshal". This is the supreme commander over both the space army and the space navy. Candidates for Sky Marshal need experience in both branches. As the protagonist of the novel puts it: "A man can't buck for Sky Marshal unless he has commanded both a regiment and a capital ship — go through M. I. (army boot camp) and take his lumps and then become a Naval officer, or first become an astrogator-pilot (naval officer) and follow it with Camp Currie (army boot camp), etc. I'll listen respectfully to any man who has done both."

West of Honor

(ed note: Lieberman is sergeant major, the lieutenant is the junior officer in charge. Lieberman is performing his function of subtily training the lieutenant.)

"We're safe enough," Lieberman said. "If the lieutenant would care to turn in, I'll see the guard's changed properly."

He followed me back to my quarters. Hartz had already fixed the place up. There were fresh adobe patches over the bullet holes in the walls. My gear was laid out where I could get it quickly. Hartz had his cloak and pack spread out in the anteroom.

There was even coffee. A pot was kept warm over an alcohol lamp.

"You can leave it to us," Lieberman said.

Hartz grinned. "Sure. Lieutenants come out of the Academy without any calluses, and we make generals out of them."

"That may take some doing," I said. I invited Lieberman into my sitting room. There was a table there, with a scale model of the fort on it. Flawn had made it, but it hadn't done him much good. "Have a seat, Centurion. Coffee?"

"Just a little, sir. I'd best get back to my duties."

"Call me for the next watch, Centurion."

"If the lieutenant orders it."

"I just — what the hell, Lieberman, why don't you want me to take my turn on guard?"

"No need, sir. May I make a suggestion?"

"Sure."

"Leave it to us, sir. We know what we're doing."

I nodded and stared into my coffee cup. I didn't feel I was really in command here. They tell you everything in the Academy: leadership, communications, the precise form of a regimental parade, laser range-finding systems, placement of patches on uniforms, how to compute firing patterns for mortars, wine rations for the troops, how to polish a pair of boots, servicing recoilless rifles, delivery of calling cards to all senior officers within twenty-four hours of reporting to a new post, assembly and maintenance of helicopters, survival on rocks with poisonous atmosphere or no atmosphere at all, shipboard routines, and a million other details. You have to learn them all, and they get mixed up until you don't know what's trivial and what's important. They're just things you have to know to pass examinations. "You know what you're doing, Centurion, but I'm not sure I do."

"Sir, I've noticed something about young officers," Lieberman said. "They all take things too serious."

"Command's a serious business." Damn, I thought. That's pompous. Especially from a young kid to an older soldier.

He didn't take it that way. "Yes, sir. Too damned serious to let details get in the way. Lieutenant, if it was just things like posting the guard and organizing the defense of this place, the service wouldn't need officers. We can take care of that. What we need is somebody to tell us what the hell to do. Once that's done, we know how."

I didn't say anything. He looked at me closely, probably trying to figure out if I was angry. He didn't seem very worried.

"Take me, for instance," he said. "I don't know why the hell we came to this place, and I don't care. Everybody's got his reasons for joining up. Me, I don't know what else to do. I've found something I'm good at, and I can do it. Officers tell me where to fight, and that's one less damn thing to worry about."

From West of Honor by Jerry Pournelle

In the days of wooden sailing vessels and iron men, large ships operated for months, sometimes years, out of communication with their home port. Ships' officers had to have excellent generalist educations, familiarity with all manner of nautical engineering, what passed for science and medicine, and the forms of management psychology appropriate to all-male crews, some of whom had been "pressed" (impressed or shanghaied) and some of whom were such social misfits that they either liked or accepted being locked up in a tiny vessel with the scum of the earth for years.

Unsupported ships far from home encounter situations that require instant, appropriate, response. There is no time to take a vote. And if a vote were taken, the result would likely not be optimal, since if the crew were sufficiently competent to make management-level decisions in the first place, they'd likely not have been drunk under the tables in those bars where there "Press Gangs" dug them up.

Hierarchical command structures became the norm, even for ships on non-military missions, LONG before we had formalized governments and armies and navies. It was the only way to insure that the ship would probably return home!

The reason for NAVAL structure over "Army" or "Air Force" has to do with organizational psychology; over centuries, civilized Navies have specialized in operating and caring for ships which represent a huge capital expenditure on the part of their society. A ship's Captain SIGNS for that ship when he takes command; he is personally responsible for every nut, bolt, and person aboard. He is responsible for maintenance, training, condition, survival, of the vessel.

If an Army unit gets shot up, the survivors can run in all directions and try to regroup. If an Air Force aircraft gets shot down, parachutes and internment are a potential option. If a Naval vessel gets whacked, all you have are several hundred (or several thousand) expensively-trained people swimming around in circles while the sharks pick out lunch.

Thus, the SHIP is the heart of the naval unit, and the Captain and his command staff the godlike nerve center of the commensal entity. A naval craft is a city-state, a small nation, sufficient unto itself, capable of performing hugely varied missions.

So, to answer your question in brief, it's a tradition of centuries that exploratory and research vessels are operated Navy-style, preferably "ship-shape and Bristol fashion."

Note that Heinlein was a Naval Academy grad who served on shipboard, Malcolm Jameson was a Naval command officer, Theodore Sturgeon served in the Merchant Marine, A. Bertram Chandler spent his entire career at sea as a command officer, a skipper from the early forties on.... and so on, and so on. (E.E. Smith was an Army officer, and as far as I know, John W. Campbell, Jr., never served.)

While folks like Russell had a field day sticking pins in brass hats and military pomp, even they accepted at least a quasi-Naval organizational structure as the automatic best default. (I believe EFR was Royal Army, by the way, a Sandhurst brat.)

Lastly, the initial model Roddenberry used was A.E. Van Vogt's composite novel, "THE VOYAGE OF THE SPACE BEAGLE," which was very loosely modeled on the voyage of the Royal Navy craft, H.M.S. Beagle; and Roddenberry served briefly as a Navy (sic actually USAAF) pilot in WWII. (Although not a terribly distinguished one, he did manage to get out of the war with his rank and flight qualifications intact, and flew as a commercial pilot for a time.) Thus, "Old Trek" was imbued with a slight naval tradition at the outset, and since it's been an unconscious model for TV-SkiFfy for three decades, we get some naval tradition in TV SF as well as the more formalized standard in written SF.

The major problems with the handling of the military in "BABYLON 5" come from the fact that none of the writers and producers appear to have any actual military experience, and I strongly suspect that JMS had no understanding of traditional military rank structures and protocols at the outset, thus generating himself a mishmosh of errors that it will be a great deal of trouble to clear up. Naval and Army rank systems have been fairly standardized for centuries, and it's very unlikely that something that works so well will have gone by the board in a mere 150 years. While it may happen that rank-names or insignia become standardized across branches of service, it still makes some sense to maintain a bit of differentiation between branch ranks.

(Our present-day mismatch of the rank "Captain" is worth a repair job, for example; a Land Captain is an O-3, rarely in charge of more than a Company (figure 150 men, tops.) A Naval Captain is an O-6, in charge of major vessels or installations; he's the equivalent of a Land Colonel, three ranks above a Land Captain. This kind of thing could use some work, in all likelihood.)

David G. Potter

Captain Christopher Thrash of the US 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment disagrees with the paragraphs above in red:

This part of the essay is misleading: the commander of an Army unit or an Air Force aircraft is exactly as personally responsible for their respective success and well-being as a Naval commander is for his vessel, at least in US law.

The meaningful distinctions are centralization and duration:

Any Army (or Marine) unit of whatever size will, since the American Civil War, "run in all directions" virtually all the time — except on the parade field. The exercise of command is therefore indirect (via nested orders of increasing detail and specificity) and decentralized, as opposed to the "one will rules all" of a ship at sea or in space. In this sense, ground units are more akin to squadrons, wings or fleets of ships or aircraft, rather than individual vehicles.

Aircraft are the heart and focus of an Air Force organization, every bit as much as a ship is for a Navy. The difference here is that aircraft depart from a (more or less) secure base, conduct their mission, and return to it in a matter of hours, not weeks or months. An Air Force therefore puts its combatants (officers, mostly) in harm's way, while leaving the supporting crew behind. Naval vessels carry most of their support with them wherever they go.

The distinction the author makes between downed aviators and naval crew in the water is a cheap shot: bailing out over enemy territory is no more safe or pleasant than being cast adrift, and naval crews are every bit as subject to capture and internment. Again, the distinction is that only the direct combatants are at risk in an aircraft, while all the support personnel are exposed in a ship (or a ground unit, for that matter).

Captain Christopher Thrash

Traditionally, the areas of the craft closest to the control rooms is known as "officer country", while the greasy cabled and be-piped areas inhabited by sergeants and enlisted men is known as "below decks" (though which is below what becomes an open question in microgravity).

Terminology

In the game SPI's Universe, there are some colorful names for various professions.

NameDescription
AstroguardMember of a planet's or star system's local military spacecraft force.
Star SailorMember of the federal spacecraft navy.
FreefallerSoldier in the zero-gravity branch of the federal armed forces.
RangerSoldier in the standard ground branch of the federal armed forces.
SpacetrooperSoldier in the assault force branch of the federal armed forces.
ScoutMember of the exploration branch of the federal armed forces.

Tyge Sjostrand suggest the term Espatiers for space marines, since after all the term "marine" implies the ocean (French marine, from Latin marinus, derived from mare "sea"). The best guess I have at how it is pronounced is "Ess pa tee yea". Rick Robinson really likes Mr. Sjostrand suggestion:

"Espatier" is a twofer. Its formation exactly parallels "Marine" (also French-derived, as are nearly all basic military terms), and it also parallels the English word "spacer," but with a nice shade of meaning — a spacer is anyone who lives/works in space; an espatier is a space soldier.

Tyge Sjostrand

Frederik Vezina disagrees about the pronunciation.

While the suggested "Ess pa tee yea" isn't especially unlikely, the French would be much closer to "Ess pa cee yay", as the t in the French "spatial" is pronounced like an s or a soft c.

The English adaptation would almost certainly end in "yea", because that's what usually happens to French words, but the c sound would likely remain, IMO.

Frederik Vezina

Another term for ground troops is "Gropo". A contraction of "ground-pounder", as opposed to sailor. Term coined by British Navy, popularized by J. Michael Strazynski in an episode of Babylon 5.

And in the anime Macross, the (Japanese) writers noted that the military on the ground is called the "Army" and the military on the ocean is called the "Navy", so logically the military in space would be called the "Spacy" (alternatively it could be a contraction of "Space Navy"). Since the release of Macross, the term has been used in other works: Martian Successor Nadesico, Voices of a Distant Star, and Mobile Suit Gundam.

Alas, "Spacy" is a little too similar to "Spacey", which in the slang of the United States means "vague and dreamy, as if under the influence of drugs".

Military Coup

This is always a delicate question in any nation that has a military. Unless the nation is ruled by a military junta, the military is theoretically controlled by the civilian government. But how does the civilian government enforce this when the military is the one with all the guns? Or worse, what if the military decides it deserves to control or even become the government, and tries a Coup d'état? As the Roman poet Juvenal said "Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?" or "Who will guard the guards themselves?"

  • If the military seized power over the government, the coup is successful and the government becomes a military junta.
  • If the military is defeated the coup is unsuccessful, and the punishment for the coup leaders is likely to be very savage. Civilian politicians have absolutely no sense of humor about somebody trying to take away their power.
  • If the military coup is a draw, you probably have the start of a horrific decades-long civil war.

There are a few methods of asserting civilian control over the military. They work pretty well, but none are fool proof.

Examples of military coups in science fiction include Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ, the movie Akira, new Battlestar Galactica, the story arc of Babylon 5 with the virtuous General Hague leading an attempted coup against evil President Clark, and in Deep Space 9 Starfleet Admiral Leyton attempts a coup on Earth.


Amusingly enough, General Hague and Admiral Leyton were played by the same actor: Robert Foxworth. The creator of Babylon 5, J. Michael Stracynszki, was annoyed at the producers of Star Trek. It seems he approached them when trying to get Babylon 5 produced and showed them the concept and story arc. The Trek producers turned him down. Then a few months later they suddenly created Deep Space 9, which has a suspicious number of similarities to B5's concept and story arc.

So Mr. Foxworth taking an acting job with the Star Trek producers was an act of treason, as far as Mr. Stracynszki was concerned. Mr. Foxworth discovered that he had no future role at Babylon 5 since his character was abruptly killed off in a hasty re-write of the current B5 episode.

Issac Kuo: Typically, the first job of the military is to deter/suppress revolutionaries. The irony, of course, is that it's usually the military itself that revolts and takes over.


Rick Robinson: This is one of the grotesquely funny things about the modern era. At least since 1945, political leaderships have generally had far more to fear from their own army than from anyone else's.


Issac Kuo: Yeah, 'cause the Ancient Romans never had this problem.


Winchell Chung:

(Rick Robinson: This is one of the grotesquely funny things about the modern era. At least since 1945, political leaderships have generally had far more to fear from their own army than from anyone else's. )

Back when I was in high school, I noticed that South American nations seemed to be prone to military coups and juntas. I was curious as to why that did not happen in the United States. The answers I got boiled down to "the indoctrination which new officers receive at West Point."


Arius: At this point, I think there's more to it. When is the last time a first-world democracy had that problem? I think there's a cultural/social aspect to it, and a wealth aspect. It's hard to get a lot of people to overthrow a government when life is good. And let's face it: compared to any place that's had a military coup in the last 60 years, life is generally pretty good in the US. It's hard to get people who have Nintendo, 1000 channels of cable movies, complete Internet access, and a beer fridge to get excited about overthrowing the government.


Rick Robinson:

( Issac Kuo: Yeah, 'cause the Ancient Romans never had this problem. )

LOL. But the intriguing flip side is eras in which the military coup was more or less unknown. European monarchies generally had very loyal forces from the end of the era of baronial revolts till the 19th century. In Scotland the Stewarts never got usurped, even though for 200 years they had a consistent pattern of long royal minorities.

Also, navies have been far more loyal than armies — historian William H. Neil observed that sailors hitting the beach have other things in mind than staging coups on behalf of their commanders. Space empires whose primary forces are fleets may be safer domestically than if they depended mainly on armies.

Which also plays into the layered defense of a planet. You may want to put more of your resources into the space layers, as less prone to march on the capital than a last ditch surface-army layer would be.

( Arius: At this point, I think there's more to it. When is the last time a first-world democracy had that problem? I think there's a cultural/social aspect to it, and a wealth aspect )

Agree. Officer indoctrination is just the final layer of a layered defense, so to speak. For one thing, the indoctrination would be useless if cadets picked up the vibe from their instructors that it was all a mickey mouse drill to make civilians happy.

When IS the last time a western democracy had a coup? Hitler came to power legally, even Mussolini demi-legally, and those were democracies with very shallow roots. The French Third Republic, no tower of stability, had only the Boulanger farce. I'm not counting coups backed by overwhelming foreign force, like Czechoslovakia c. 1948.

Spain had an abortive coup in 1979, but it was only just emerging from Franco. (Incidentally, it is striking how much Spain has "joined Europe" after a very long period of being stereotyped as stranded in 1648.)


Eric Max Francis:

( Winchell Chung: The answers I got boiled down to "the indoctrination which new officers receive at West Point." )

think that's a bit too glib. It's more about reliable on the rule of law, and built-up reliance in the stability of the democratic system.

From a thread in SFConSim-l

Space Navy

For details about starship combat, there is an entire section devoted to it with eight sub-sections.

Also informative is Future War Stories entry on History of Space Warfare, from the Third Reich to the present. For a list of nomenclature for aggregate fleet units there is the TV Tropes Common Military Units: Navy units, TV Tropes Useful Notes: Types of Naval Ships and TV Tropes Standard Sci-Fi Fleet. For a list of space fleets in media science fiction, there is TV Tropes Space Navy entry and Wikipedia's List of fictional space navies.

US Navy Units
UnitCommanding
Officer
Description
Task ElementCommander to CaptainOne large vessel (plus escorts)
Task UnitRear admiral to Commodore3 to 4 task elements.
If no capital ships = Flotilla
If any capital ships = Squadron
Task GroupRear admiral2 or more task units
Task Force or
Battle Fleet
Vice admiral2 or more task groups
FleetAdmiralall vessels in a general region
Navy or
Admiralty
Fleet admiralNation's entire naval forces.

In the current "wet" Navy, a "Fleet" is more of an organizational fiction rather than an actual entity. A group of ships belong to a fleet. But what is generally encountered at sea is a "Task Force." A few ships from a fleet are "detached" to form a task force charged with performing a specific mission. When the mission is completed, the ships of the task force are dissolved back into the fleet.

There are two classes of ships in a fleet: Main Units and Auxiliary Units.

Main units include Dreadnoughts (which were never an official type of unit but is included here as a tribute to E.E. "Doc" Smith, who spelled it "Dreadnaught"), Battleships, Battlecruisers, Heavy Cruisers, Light Cruisers, Escort Cruisers, Anti-aircraft ships, Destroyer Leaders, Destroyers, Submarines, Submarine Minelayers, Minelayers, Aircraft Carriers, and Aircraft.

Auxiliary units include Destroyer Tenders, Sub Tenders, Mine Sweepers, Aircraft Tenders, Fuel Ships (Oilers and Tankers), Supply (Logistics) Ships, Transports, Repair Ships, Hospital Ships, Colliers (missile supply ships), and Ammo ships.

There are ships that generally operate on their own, apart from any fleet. These are called Independent Units. They include Cruisers, Submarines, Gunboats, Torpedo Boats, Minelayers, Sub Chasers, Yachts, Aircraft, and assorted auxiliaries.

For more classes refer to the main page about space warship design

Don't sneer at the auxiliary units. An army marches on its stomach, and a rocket ship jets with its propellant tank. The old bromide is that amateurs study military tactics but professionals study logistics.

Suggested Terminology

Going off of a very rough historical comparison to WW1 and earlier naval organizations try:

Squadron = More than 3 ships of same type/class/mission.

Flotilla = more than 1 Squadron operating independently under one commander.

Division = same as a Flotilla except operating as part of a Fleet.

Fleet = Multiple Divisions.

The logistical support ships, cargo, colliers, oilers, etc. usually operated to support the battle Fleet (Flotilla etc) and could be called a Division, Squadron, or Fleet Train. Some support vessels were never organized into units at all.

The US Navy still uses Squadrons, but formed units are generally called Battle Groups or Task Forces when operating alone, though they are still part of the Fleet.

ssand_46
Suggested Classification

There's a decent functional space to discuss here.

Most navies really have three sizes of ship.

  • Small ships
  • Medium sized ships
  • Capital ships

Most navies have two roles that ships are designed for:

  • Independent patrol
  • Main battle fleet

Independent patrol sacrifices firepower (and sometimes protection) for cruise endurance and multi-mission capabilities.

Main battle fleet requires ships to be 'honed to the bone' — anything that doesn't make the ship more capabile in a fight is usualy a luxury.

History hasn't been kind to independent patrol capital ships. They're generally too expensive for the benefit they give the navy (something that eats independent cruisers for lunch and can do commerce raiding. Jackie Fisher's Battlecruisers in WWI and the German pocket battleships are two examples.

So this leaves:

  • Frigate (Small ship, independent patrol)
  • Destroyer (Small ship, main battle line)
  • Cruiser (Medium ship, independent patrol)
  • Armored Cruiser (Medium ship, battle line)
  • Battlecruiser (Capital ship, independent patrol)
  • Battleship (Capital ship, battle-line)

Within each role, you have specific missions, and you'll have different sizes of ships within each niche, depending on what specific navies did with their doctrines.

The frigate is the smallest thing that can be armed with guns capable of doing shore bombardment.

The destroyer may have less armament than a frigate; it's job is to shoot down threats to the bigger ships in the battle fleet.

The cruiser is a frigate that's generally got more armament, more armor, and more survivability. It usually has greater endurance.

The armored cruiser trades endurance for enough armor to maybe survive a hit from a capital ship's gun without being mission killed, and usually has the same number of guns as the cruiser with heavier throw weights.

The capital ship has Massive Firepower and the armor to stand up to it. Endurance is usually traded off somewhere.

Independent patrolMain battle fleet
Small sized shipsFrigateDestroyer
Medium sized shipsCruiserArmored Cruiser
Capital shipsBattlecruiserBattleship
Ken Burnside

Rick Robinson: If you have some space war tech that a) requires crewed ships, and b) makes combat missions suicidal, you are really pretty much outside the scope of historical experience. The kamakazes are not a real counterexample, because Japan did not go to war expecting to use them. The Bushido warrior was fully ready to die for the Emperor, but like Patton he far preferred to kill the other poor bastard for the Emperor.


Ken Burnside: Unless you have enough faith in your AIs that you'll let them run completely autonomously, there will be a crewed ship somewhere in the flotilla of cruise missiles.

At which point, that crewed vessel becomes the prime target.

At which point, it turns into "everyone launches their cruise missiles at the crewed ship on the other side", and we can both generate more inbounds than can be plausibly stopped...

So, it's a mutual suicide pact....which for most forces is a completely unacceptable outcome.


Rick Robinson: I just need enough faith in my AIs to keep the crewed control ship behind the flotilla, just far enough back that if its flotilla loses it can bug out.

Simplistically, but not too simplistically, I flush my pod, you flush yours. The missiles meet in the middle, most of them blow each other up. Whoever has a few missiles that get through the scrum, they've won, and the other control ship bails.

It won't be a thriller tactical game, but it would be nice easy tactical play in a strategic game, with a few possibly interesting subtleties about holding missiles back for a second strike or later use.


Eric Henry: Your missile flight might also include a laser armed missile. That missile's job is to whack inbounds vice target the opposing control ship. That variable means you cannot be confident that more missiles than the other guys means you'll have enough missiles.

Even today we don't build UAVs for one way missions. We arm them but expect them to come back. I envision this will continue for any space conflict. a laser drone can still be used as a kinetic weapon of course. But that would likely be a last resort response.


Rick Robinson: Mixing beams and missiles sexes up tactical combat some, but under Realistictm assumptions it is probably still too Lanchesterian to be playworthy in its own right. (ed note: Lanchesterian means whichever side has more combat units in the battle automatically wins. As a game, this is boring.) Some kind of tactical microrules might still enrich a strategic/operational game.


Anthony Jackson:

(Ken Burnside: At which point, it turns into "everyone launches their cruise missiles at the crewed ship on the other side", and we can both generate more inbounds than can be plausibly stopped...)

No, we can't. You can block torch missiles with torch missiles, so what happens is that the side with more torch missiles wins. (ed note: torch missiles are missiles that have a spacecraft-sized propulsion system. They have far more delta V than a conventional missile.)

From a thread in SFConSim-l
Wikipedia: Space Warfare in Fiction

Fictional space warfare tends to borrow elements from naval warfare. David Weber's Honorverse series of novels portrays several "space navies" such as the Royal Manticoran Navy, which imitate themes from Napoleonic-era naval warfare. The Federation Starfleet (Star Trek), Imperial Navy (Star Wars) and Earthforce ("Babylon 5") also use a naval-style rank-structure and hierarchy. The former is based on the United States Navy and the Royal Navy. The United Nations Space Command in Halo fully echoes all ranks of the United States armed forces, even the pay-grade system. Naval ship-classes such as frigate or destroyer sometimes serve as marker to show how the craft are assembled and their designed purpose.

Some fictional universes have different implementations. The Colonial Fleet in Battlestar Galactica uses a mixture of army and navy ranks, and the Stargate universe has military spacecraft under the control of modern air forces, and uses air-force ranks. In the Andromeda universe, officers of Systems Commonwealth ships follow naval ranking, but Lancers (soldiers analogous to Marines) use army ranks.

Designing A Space Navy

Let me give sort of an introduction, that is, reason why you should pay very close attention to the following analysis.

If you are into science fiction, starship combat, and have not been living under a rock for the last twenty-odd years, you are aware of David Weber and his Honor Harrington series. Mr. Weber has experience with interstellar combat simulations, being involved with the Starfire board game and collaborating with Steve White to write novels set in that universe.

The Honorverse, however, attracted the attention of Ken Burnside, who adapted his award winning Attack Vector: Tactical system. The Saganami Island Tactical Simulator is a scientifically accurate (except for the Honorverse's handwavy bits) tabletop wargame using the Honorverse as its background.

You may have noticed the numerous quotations from Ken Burnside in this website.

The wargame attracted the attention of fans of Attack Vector: Tactical, who were all fans of hard science, and many were technically skilled (and many were fans of this website). Some were scientists, some were in the military. A large group of them formed the BuNine group, devoted to bringing hard science into the Honorverse.

One of the original founders of BuNine was Christopher Weuve, who works at the US Department of Defense as a naval analyst. Knowing about the structure of a navy is his job.

You may have noticed the numerous quotations from Christopher Weuve in this website as well.

Anyway, David Weber and Christopher Weuve collaborated on an article about how the space navy is organized. Specifically how a science fiction writer creating a space navy for their science fiction universe need to lay the foundation by answering certain strategic questions. The article is Building A Navy In The Honorverse and it appears in House of Steel: The Honorverse Companion. The main framework comes from Mr. Weuve's "Naval Metaphors In Science Fiction" lecture he often gives at science fiction conventions (podcast here).

The bottom line is, when people with those credentials speak, you would do well to listen.

I'm just going to skim over the high points, for details refer to the article.


While there are several branches of the military, it is convenient to start with the navy. This is because spacecraft are the sine qua non of writing space military novels. Unless you are using star gates or other spacecraft replacements. The point is that the space army will have to adapt itself to the transportation types offered by the space navy more often than the other way around.

The six key parameters of a space navy are:

  • Strategic Assumptions
  • Strategic Goals
  • Fleet Missions
  • Fleet Design
  • Force Size
  • Force Management

In the diagram above, they are in the black boxes at the top. The arrows indicate that each depends upon the preceding. Often the science fiction author will have to backtrack if the decisions at a previous level prevent what you want at the current level. The six parameters have sub-topics, in the columns of white boxes immediately below.

By the time you have finished answering all these questions, your space navy will be solid enough to walk on.

Christopher Weuve observes that in most science fiction the author will cover the "Fleet CONOPS", "Fleet Capabilities", "Fleet Size", and "Fleet Mix" parameters, and totally ignore the other factors (sometimes they get fancy and also cover the "service Roles & Missions" and "Fleet Laydown"). But we are going to do it the right way and cover them all.

You should also keep in mind that these factors are dynamic, they may change over the historical period the science fiction story covers. This analysis also does not cover military doctrine nor Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures (TT&P) because that the sort of thing you'd need to learn by auditing a course at, for instance, the US Naval War College.

Also these six factors only cover the space navy proper. Meta to the discussion are such things as the star empire's political will to create a space navy in the first place.


Late breaking news: master spacecraft designer Ray McVay has started a series of articles where he will use the Space Navy Design System. You may remember Mr. McVay from his work on the Mission Control Model and his spacecraft designs. Mr. McVay will be doing a step-by-step example of how he uses the Design System for his own SF background universes, with all the juicy details. I will be following this with interest, and you should as well.

Ray McVay says

How can a little chart do so much? I've said it before: Soft Science Fiction tries to make technology fit the imagination, and Hard Science Fiction tries to imagine what fits the technology. This chart provides a great framework of technology, logistics, and practical organization to fit one's imagination into.

Strategic Assumptions

Strategic Assumptions are where the author defines the context that the space navy operations. The two parts are:

Security Environment

These are the threats being defended against.

This is more than just a list of enemy interstellar empires. Often the implications of an author's faster-than-light drive help define the sort of threats the space navy will be facing. Many authors adopt something like Niven and Pournelle's Alderson Jump Drive to avoid giving the space navy a huge threat that is impossible to defend against.

Having said that, the character of each enemy empire is important as well. For instance, if the prime enemy empire is of comparable size to yours, the situation will be like Cold War United States vs the Soviet Union and huge battleships will be indicated. But if the enemy is a diverse group of small pirate corsairs preying on your merchant ships, you'll have a situation more like the US vs the pirates of Somalia, and lots of smaller ships would make more sense.

Other factors include the enemy's motives, how rabidly insane they are, are they human-alien-natural phenomenon-unintelligent giant space creatures-etc?

Fiscal Environment
Resources available to pay for the star navy: is the military-industrial-complex fat and healthy or are you going to have to build your navy on a shoe-string budget? If your navy is a group of privateers, they get paid according to their performance. The government can enhance the military budget with taxes and/or war bonds.

Ray McVay has an example here.

Alistair Young has another example:

Building the Imperial Navy: Strategic Assumptions

In this first part, we’re looking at the Strategic Assumptions, the starting place that defines the context within which the IN operates. This is divided into two parts – the Security Environment (the general threats to be countered) and the Fiscal Environment (the resources available to pay for it).

Security Environment

Let us consider galactography. The Worlds are ~10,000 star systems scattered across a volume of space that contains perhaps ~100 million star systems in total. The Empire, by contrast, is composed of ~175 star systems sitting right in the center of said 100 million, plus another ~100 scattered through the ecumene, ~275 in total, further plus a number of sub-planetary exclaves here and there. At that, it’s the biggest polity in the worlds: its nearest competitors, the Photonic Network and the League of Meridian, are only 120-150 world polities. Most of the worlds is made up of a variety of polities from that size on down to multiple hundreds of single-system polities.

The Worlds, however, directly abut the Voniensa Republic, which contains ~8,000 star systems. Fortunately, the Republic has a considerable technological disadvantage (for reasons elaborated on elsewhere), but it does have a fleet befitting its size, and the same reasons behind its disadvantage also make it hostile. (One might have gathered from certain aspects late in The Core War some hints as to why exactly it needs such a fleet and why it has internal reasons not to throw all of it at the Worlds, but this is an area in which, well, spoilers.)

As for the worlds themselves, all the polities which make them up aren’t exactly unified (for a variety of reasons, from fundamental cultural and biological disagreements up to various efforts, the Empire’s not least among them, to spike any notion of evolving galactic governance). They vary in makeup from firm Imperial allies, through other major powers that are at least reliable (say, the Consolidated Waserai Echelons) down through a motley collection of malcontents and rogue states.

So what are the resulting security concerns?

  1. Hot war with the Republic.
  2. Hot war with major Worlds powers.
  3. Brushfire wars among the states of the Worlds, especially as they impact:
    1. Trade: the Empire has a huge merchant fleet, and disruptions of trade are most unwelcome;
    2. And the stargate network: which while it extends throughout the Worlds, is primarily owned by Ring Dynamics, ICC, an Imperial starcorporation.
  4. Piracy (likewise for its trade impact) and terrorism.
  5. Perversions erupting from inadvisable seed AI experiments.
  6. Internal-void threats: subluminal attacks from worlds not connected to the stargate plexus, such as the skrandar berserker incident.
  7. RKVs, relativistic kill vehicles, an appallingly dangerous planet-wrecking technology that even relatively primitive starfaring technologies can built, albeit with a longer time-to-kill.

Fiscal Environment

By and large, the IN – and the Imperial Military Service in general – does not have to worry about money.

It’s not unlimited, budget-wise – even a post-material-scarcity society can’t manage that – but the theoretical ceiling on its budget is so far, far above what they already spend to be basically irrelevant. The Imperial governance collects a 3.6% rake in the shape of the Empire Services fee (plus fines, donations, and purchases of titles of privilege); of that, the Admiralty gets maybe 12-14%. Of the Admiralty budget, the IN gets roughly 48%. Which is to say, in re these last two figures, that battleships are kinda expensive even when the majority of payout goes to personnel, outsourced services, and exotica.

The most relevant part of the former figure, on the other hand, is to say that the Empire, in time of war, can raise the Service Fee by a factor of five-and-a-half while still staying within the Imperial Charter’s previously agreed constraints on what’s permissible, So, yeah, there’s a lot of upside before running into a hard constraint.

(Unless, of course, the shit-fan convergence reaches the point at which the Council of the Star is willing to sign off on CASE ADHAÏC PARASOL, which turns the demons of autoindustrialism sleeping in the depths of Fortress’s well loose, thus allowing autonomous AI battleships to self-replicate and fork more and more autonomous AI battleships on an exponentially rising curve…

…while they have been carefully designed not to violate any of the rules – or indeed commonsense safety guidelines – where oopsing heggie swarms into existence are concerned, ADHAÏC PARASOL does skim close enough to the limits and other people’s nightmares about that sort of thing that it would take some real serious shit-fan convergence to be worth initiating it, though.)

Rather, the chief constraints are twofold: personnel, inasmuch as there are only so many sentinels looking to take up a Navy career during peacetime, and while the Navy does recruit digisapiences just as eagerly as it does everyone else, there is a limit to how much it wants to substitute with non-sophont AI. (CASE ADHAÏC PARASOL notwithstanding.) Fortunately, the IN has no trouble filling the ranks of its peacetime complement, because per the above, it has no trouble offering generous salaries, providing excellent training, and so on and so forth.

The other is “political”: on the one hand, the Empire’s firm belief that it isn’t, or at least doesn’t want to be, a giant military fist poised over everyone else’s face. It doesn’t have the self-concept of a military power – not for many centuries – and doesn’t particularly want to develop one, preferring to believe in its, really mostly justified, status as a neutral power that’s friendly with the Worlds, or at least that portion of the Worlds that isn’t 100% dicks.

On the other hand, it’s equally firm belief that si vis pacem, para bellum, or in less formal terms, that the way you ensure the peace is by being such pants-wettingly terrifying bastards that no-one this side of sanity would seriously consider attacking you.

It is the ebb and flow of this particular somewhat schizophrenic belief-pair that has had, historically, the most influence on the size and scope of the IN.

Technologically speaking, the IN can generally be assured of technical superiority over its opponents, for reasons which can partly be summed up as “moon-sized space brains” and can partly be summed up as “mad scientists gonna science madly”.

Indeed, the major issues faced by the Admiralty in the technical arena is ringmastering the tendency over at BuInnov to want to stick all their latest innovations on whatever the newest starship class is, and occasionally reminding them that neither ‘punching holes in the universe’ nor ‘cracking a planet in half and frying it like an egg’ is a currently desired tactical capability over at BuPlan.

Strategic Goals

Merge the Security Environment with the Fiscal Environment to decide the strategic outcome the Space Navy is shooting for, and the role the fleet has in the big picture.

Basically you have to budget your resources among your threats. You will probably not have enough resources for everything so you'll have to prioritize. Some threats you'll just have to ignore and hope for the best. These goals may change, especially if an unexpected attack make the citizens disagree with the space navy's current priorities.

Ray McVay has an example here.

Alistair Young has another example:

Building the Imperial Navy: Strategic Goals

This is the second part of our six-part series on Building the Imperial Navy (first part here), in which we extend the strategic assumptions – regarding the security environment and the resources available to meet them – we made in that part into the actual outcomes the Imperial Navy is supposed to achieve.

As is often the case, this is relatively simple. As of 7920, the Imperial Navy’s strategic goals and responsibilities, in order of priority, are defined thus:

  1. Preservation of the assets required for civilization survival in the event of invocation of CASE SKYSHOCK BLACK (excessionary-level invasion posing existential threat) or other extreme-exigent scenario (i.e. concealed backup sites, civilization-backup ships, etc., and other gold-level secured assets).
  2. The defense and security of the Imperial Core (including those portions of it extending into the Fringe), including population, habitats, planets, data, and Transcendent infrastructure against relativistic attack.
  3. The defense and security of the Imperial Core (including those portions of it extending into the Fringe), including population, habitats, planets, data, and Transcendent infrastructure against non-relativistic attack.
  4. The defense and security of stargates and extranet relays throughout the Associated Worlds volume and other associated critical corporate assets of Ring Dynamics, ICC and Bright Shadow, ICC1.
  5. The defense and security of Imperial ecumenical colonies throughout the Associated Worlds volume.
  6. The continued containment of perversions of any class, including but not limited to enforcement of the Containment Treaty of Ancal (i.e. containment of the Leviathan Consciousness).
  7. The maintenance of defenses against possible invasion or other violations of the Worlds-Republic Demarcation Convention.
  8. The protection of Imperial commerce including but not limited to the Imperial merchant fleet.
  9. Intervention, as required, for the protection of the Imperial citizen-shareholder abroad.
  10. Enforcement, as required, of the Accord of the Law of Free Space, the Accord on Protected Planets, the Accord on Trade, the Imperial Plexus Usage Agreement, and the Ley Accords.
  11. When requested or otherwise appropriate, the defense and security of Imperial client-states and allies.
  12. General patrol activities to maintain the perception of security, suppress “unacceptably damaging” brushfire wars, piracy, asymmetrism, and the interstellar slave trade.

It should be noted that with the exception of (7) and certain elements of (6) these are not targeted at specific enemies, of which the Empire has a distinct shortage requiring specific identification at this level; rather, the strategic supergoal of the Imperial Navy is the maintenance of the peaceful status quo, the Pax Imperium Stellarum if you like. Also, specifically, note that none of these goals requires the ability to conquer and occupy; they are all highly defense-focused.


1. This may seem a little high on the list to you, oh reader mine, especially since they’re specifically corporate assets. Well, think of it this way: if you lose the interstellar transportation and communications networks, which those two companies own most of, your fleet can’t find out where to go and couldn’t get there even if it could find out. This, most admirals deem, is something of a problem.

Fleet Missions

This section is where you define your space fleet's relationship to other military services in your star empire. This is also where you define how your space fleet supports its own missions.

Service Roles & Missions

What other branches of the astromilitary are there in your empire? Space marines, space army, mercenaries, orbit guard, laser guard, logistics, scout service, merchant marine, other? How do these other services fit into the big strategic picture?

Now that you have established these other branches of astromilitary, what kind of services will the space navy offer them? Transport, logistics, dropships, orbital bombardment support, anti-pirate escort for merchant convoys, etc?

Don't forget to define services the space navy does for itself.

This will often tell you how some of the space navy's resources will have to be spent, e.g., on supply depots or forward bases.

Ray McVay has an example here.

Fleet CONOPS

CONOPS is Concept of Operations.

When and where will the space navy perform the inter-service missions defined in the last step? Is the space navy mostly offensive or mostly defensive? Does the space navy operate mostly inside the empire, at the border, or outside? What is the standard operating procedure?

CONOPS might change, especially if they are fossilized conservative procedures that apply poorly to the new situation.

Ray McVay has an example here.

Fleet Posture

Is the fleet homeported inside your star empire ("garrisoned") or is it forward deployed in foreign territory so it can rapidly deploy to known threats? Does it frequently patrol or deploy outside your empire or does it say inside except for training missions? Fleet posture is not where the spacecraft are based, but instead how they are based and how forward-leaning it is.

Again the details of the faster-than-light drive influence this. With wet-navy ships if they form a defensive line, the enemy has to fight in order to penetrate it. With FTL often you can jump around any defensive line without encountering them, making the line worthless.

Ray McVay has an example here.

Alistair Young has another set of examples:

Building the Imperial Navy: Fleet Missions

This is the third part of our six-part series on Building the Imperial Navy (first here; second here), in which we extend the strategic goals we made in the second part by defining the Navy’s role relative to the other parts of the Imperial Military Service, and define in general terms what the fleet does in support of its missions. In this step, there are three sub-steps:

Service Roles & Missions

What services (the Navy included) exist, and which parts of the larger strategic puzzle are allocated to each service? Which types of mission does each service consider a core capability? How does the Navy support its own missions, and what services does it offer to the other services – and vice versa?

In the Imperial Military Service, the Imperial Navy is definitely the senior military service, as tends to be the case for any interstellar polity. While (in a relatively unusual case for a star nation) it does not directly control the other services – that being the responsibility of Core Command and the Theater Commands – IN admirals dominate these by the numbers, and strategy is heavily driven by fleet actions.

The IN is, after all, tasked to provide all combat and patrol functions anywhere in the Worlds (and, quite possibly, anywhere else in the galaxy), along with all necessary support functions for the Legions when operating outside the Empire or off-planet within it, and any support functions required by the other stratarchies likewise. With a remit like that…

Well. The First Lord of the Admiralty may be officially styled Protector of the Starways, Warden of the Charted Void, Warlord of the Empire, but it’s the Second Lord, the Admiral of the Fleet, who rejoices in the nickname “King Of All Known Space”.

To achieve all of this, the majority of the Imperial Navy is organized into a number of fleets: the Home Fleet, the Capital Fleet, and the “directional fleets” – the Field Fleets Coreward, Rimward, Spinward, Trailing, Acme, and Nadir. The first of these, the Home Fleet, is based at Prime Base, Palaxias, and is the garrison fleet for the Imperial Core and Fringe, keeping up patrols and strategic defenses along access routes; meanwhile, the Field Fleets operate outside the Empire, each in its assigned sextant, providing continuous patrols and security services from their associated fleet stations.

Capital Fleet, meanwhile, has a double name: on one hand, it is the defensive fleet for the Capital District, the throneworld, Conclave Drift, Corícal, Esilmúr, and Prime Base itself. On the other hand, it also possesses the highest proportion of capital ships in the Imperial Navy, because it forms its major strategic reserve in the event of war breaking out, and is also the fleet from which flotillas and task forces to handle situations that the lighter units of the Field Fleets cannot is formed from. As such, curiously enough, it’s probably also the fleet that sees the most full-contact military action.

There are also certain very specialized functions (command of certain fixed defenses, including tripwires and englobement grids; anti-RKV defenses; the RKV deterrent fleet; relativistic war operations; and so forth) using equally specialized starships that don’t fit neatly into the fleet structure, which are grouped together under specialized areas such as Nightfall Operations Command, Perimeter Security Command, Fortress Command, Tripwire Command, and so forth.

The Imperial Legions are the Empire’s “ground” combat organization, with the understanding that in this case “ground” includes in habitats, on asteroids, in microgravity temps, underwater, and basically anywhere else you can’t fit a starship, including starship-to-starship boarding actions.

They serve both as onboard “ship’s troops” – providing shipboard security, boarding and landing forces, and additional damage control personnel – and as an offensive combat arm with their own assault cruisers, drop pods, shuttles, and ships, and organic light and heavy armored cavalry, which is attached to Naval task forces as required.

The Navy, in turn, is responsible for the Legions’ transportation, escort, and orbital fire support.

As the possessor of the “misc”, various specialized forcelets that don’t fit anywhere else, the Stratarchy of Military Unification is called upon by the Navy and the Legions when they need one of those specialties somewhere, relies upon them for transport, etc., and otherwise has a similar but much less called-upon relationship to the Navy-Legions one.

It is perhaps notable that the Empire has no “Army”-equivalent service: i.e., no branch concentrating on mass warfare, long-term occupation, etc., the Legions being highly specialized in the raiding/commando/special operations/strike-hard-and-fast role. This is entirely deliberate, as the Empire has chosen a policy of deliberately eschewing those types of warfare in the current era[1] to the extent that they are not substitutable. This policy is intended to have a twofold effect:

First, reassurance of the Empire’s neighbors with regard to its own peaceful intentions; the Empire may have a large and potent military force, but any strategic planner with eyes should be able to tell instantly that it is extremely badly adapted for attempts at conquest, and would need considerable reengineering to become a suitable tool for setting out on imperial adventures.

But second, of course, those hostile polities or sub-polity factions whose strategic calculus might let them conclude that they can get away with fighting a long guerilla war against an occupation should think twice when it’s equally obvious to the trained eye that that isn’t one of the options on the Empire’s table, and that the most likely substitution from the force mix they do have is to blast them back into the Neolithic with orbital artillery.

(Occasional miscalculations on this point in the Conclave of Galactic Polities have led to accusations of “k-rod peacekeeping” and on one occasion the Cobalt Peace Wall Incident, but it’s unlikely to change any time soon.)

The IN coordinates its operations and provides transportation (when necessary) for the Stratarchies of Data Warfare, Indirection and Subtlety, and Warrior Philosophy, as well as certain other special services (like, say, preemptively burying hidden tangle channel endpoints where they might be useful). By and large, coordination is the main relationship: Indirection and Subtlety, for example, might consider it a failure if they’ve let things get to the point of there being a war at all, but as long as they’re doing assassinations and sabotage in wartime, it is best if it happens at the appropriate time, belike.

Their biggest relationship apart from the Legions is with the Stratarchy of Military Support and Logistics, which owns the oilers, the logistics bases, the transportation and supply contracts, the freighter fleet, medical and personnel services, etc., etc., and basically all the other logistical back-end needed to run the Military Service that the Navy would be doing for itself if the people who designed these systems didn’t much prefer that they concentrate on specifically naval things. They work closely together to get logistics done, and in wartime, ensure that the logistics functions are adequately escorted and otherwise protected.

The IN has very little at all to do with the Home Guard, it being a domestic security militia force only.

Fleet Concept of Operations

In general what does the fleet do? When and where will the fleet execute the missions defined in the last step? Will the fleet fight near home, along the border, or will it fight in enemy territory? Is it offensive in orientation, or defensive? What’s the standard operating procedure?

In orientation, by and large, the Home Fleet is defensive; the Field Fleets are mostly offensive (although less so to spinward and nadir, where they rub up against the borders with the Republic and the Consciousness, respectively); and the Capital Fleet, which can be called upon to reinforce either, splits the difference with a bias to the offensive side.

On the defensive, the rule of thumb is, as it has always been, “fight as far from whatever you’re trying to defend as possible”. Space battles are messy, and if at all possible, you don’t want to be fighting them with anything you care about preserving as the backstop. Home defense, therefore, involves a “hard crust” – although one backed up by a “firm center” – around the core Empire’s connection to the greater stargate plexus, but expands this by placing pickets, and of course the “field fleet” patrols, well in advance of these. The intent is that the defensive fleets should advance to meet any attacker and take them out, or at least greatly reduce them, before they ever reach Imperial territory.

And, of course, the best defense is a preemptive offense – when Admiralty Intelligence and Indirection and Subtlety can arrange that.

On the offense, the IN adheres to the military doctrine the Empire has always practiced, given various factors previously discussed, namely that only an idiot chooses a fair fight, and only a double-damned idiot fights anything resembling a frontal war of attrition. Misdirection, whittling flank attacks, deep strikes on crucial nexi, and eventual defeat in detail are the hallmarks of the IN’s strategy on the attack.

In terms of scale of operations, the IN plans for disaster: conventional readiness standards call for the IN and the rest of the Military Service to be able to fight three major brushfire wars simultaneously and/or one sub-eschatonic war (i.e. one step below ex-threat, like invasion from a massively larger polity such as the Republic or an unknown higher-tech polity), even while sustaining normal operations. The former, at least, is known to be possible. The latter… has not yet been tested in a completely stringent manner. But that’s what the Admiralty is planning for.

Fleet Posture

Is the fleet forward deployed (so that it can rapidly deploy to known threats) or based outside of the home system(s)? It is garrison-based, i.e., homeported in the home system(s)? Does it conduct frequent deployments or patrols or does it largely stay near home space and only go out for training? (Fleet posture is not where the starships are based, but instead how they are based and how forward-leaning it is.)

The nature of superluminal travel in many ways defines the nature of the strategic environment. Since travel between star systems is normally done using the stargates, a surface defined in terms of a list of stargate links can be treated, effectively, as a border or as an effective defensive line. While it is possible to bypass such a surface by subluminal (relativistic) travel, this is a sufficiently difficult and expensive process (and one requiring specialty hardware) as to make it a minor strategic consideration, for the most part.

That, at least, frees the IN from having to picket every system all the time.

That said, its posture is as forward-leaning as they can make it. Both the Home Fleet (within the Empire) and the Field Fleets are kept in constant motion, on patrol; the field fleets, in particular, travel on randomly-generated patrol routes from the Imperial Fringe out into the Periphery via various fleet stations and then return, throughout the entire volume of the Associated Worlds. (This requires a great many agreements with various other polities for passage of naval vessels, usually gained with the assistance of Ring Dynamics, ICC, who find this desirable with reference to the defense of their stargates.) Constant motion is the watchword: the IN doesn’t want its task forces to be pinned down or for it to be known where they are at any given moment, and this additionally helps make it very likely that anywhere there’s a sudden need for a task force, there will be starships available for relatively ready retasking. (I say relatively ready: the nature of stargates means that while you can cross from star to neighboring star instantly, you have to cross the star systems in between from stargate to stargate the slow way – and while brachistochrones at single-digit gravities are skiffily impressive by Earth-now standards, they still aren’t exactly express travel between, say, two points 120 degrees apart on the orbit of Neptune.)

The Field Fleets are, in short, about as forward-leaning as it’s possible to be.

The Capital Fleet spends more time in garrison, by its nature, but in addition to training operations, units and squadrons are routinely transferred back and forth to the Field Fleets or dispatched on special operations so that every IN unit maintains at least a minimum degree of seasoning. It’s the view of the Second Lord and BuTrain in particular that a Navy that doesn’t fight is likely to be bloody useless if it ever has to fight, so it’s best all around to keep everyone out there as much as practicable.

[1] In previous eras, such tasks were the responsibilities of the Legions: should they be needed again, the remit of the Legions is likely to be once again expanded.

Fleet Design

Up until now, the questions have all been about fleets. Now it is time to ask questions about the spacecraft composing the fleet. Remember that "capabilities" are the different types of things you can do and "capacity" is how much you can do.

Fleet Capabilities
These are the tasks that the fleet is capable of performing. This influences the types and design of the various kinds of spacecraft and base types. This is complicated, the site has an entire page devoted to space warship design. But don't forget logistics, repair, and maintenance.
Fleet Size
This is the total number of ships in the fleet.
Fleet Mix
This is how many the fleet has of each different kind of spacecraft.
Fleet Laydown

Where are the parts of the fleet located? How many bases are there? How many ships are located at the bases? What mix of ship types are located at the bases?

Again the details of the faster-than-light drive influence this. If the only FTL entry into your solar system is through a fixed jump point, you might want to site some defending fleet units and/or orbital fortresses there to deal with a surprise invasion.

Ray McVay has an example here.

Alistair Young has another set of examples:

Building the Imperial Navy: Fleet Design

And so to the fourth part of our six-part series on Building the Imperial Navy (one; two; three), in which we talk about the starships that compose the IN’s fleets, and their general disposition to fulfil the fleet’s missions. This section comes in four parts:

Fleet Capabilities

Well, honestly, on an ship-type-and-class level, we’ve actually already covered most of this in the article Ships of the Fleet, so the first thing I’m going to do is suggest that you go there, and read that, which should give you a good idea of what each type is for in isolation.

What it doesn’t really talk about is how these combine to perform the various functions the IN needs in order to perform its missions, so that’s what we’ll talk about here. The Imperial Navy has three-four more-or-less standard ORBATs depending on the operation type it’s engaging in. Of course, as has been said of the US military a time or two, having read the book is not all that much use when the Imperial Military Service so rarely follows their own book – but it’s still useful to know the standard forms so you can tell what they’re deviating from.

All of these are generally built around a six-ship squadron.

The first is the “plane of battle”, the ORBAT adopted for major fleet actions, with capital ships in play going up against their own kind. A single task group for that looks like this:

  • A squadron (six ships) of capitals (battleships, dreadnoughts, or superdreadnoughts), two of which in any case may be specialized SDs; accompanied by
  • Two squadrons (twelve ships) of heavy screening elements (CCs for BBs and DNs, BCs for SDs);
  • Four squadrons (24 ships) of light screening elements (DDs and FFs).

Alternate versions of this may include carriers instead of traditional capitals, in which case an additional squadron of point-defense cruisers are included in the task group out front to protect the more vulnerable carriers. Maulers are attached organically as required, usually with their own squadron of pd cruisers to protect the glass cannon.

Each squadron rates a Commodore (O-8) at the squadron command level, who may or may not also hold down the captain’s slot in the squadron’s senior vessel; each task group has a Real Admiral (O-9) for group command, who definitely doesn’t.

These task groups are designed with the notion that they’re modular; you plug as many as you need to match the opposing force together to form your actual task force. Typical off-the-shelf mixes include the doublet (two matching groups, or a capital and a carrier group together; commanded by a Vice Admiral/O-10) and the triptych (usually involving a single DN group with two BB groups as flankers/screens or a single SD group with two DN groups; commanded by a full Admiral/O-11); anything bigger rates a High Admiral/O-12 or [Fleet|Grand] Admiral/O-13, and may have its own internal hierarchy for flexibility including further admirals of less exalted seniority.

The second and third are both patrol ORBATs, one for cruisers and one for destroyers. Nominally, they’re both fairly simple – the cruiser version is functionally a squadron of BCs with a pair of CC squadrons for screen, while the destroyer version is a squadron of DDs with a pair of FF squadrons for screen. (In practice, given that cruisers and destroyers, cruisers especially, are the most flexible and heavily used types in the IN, it’s not uncommon for these task groups to end up all the same type, or with the ratios reversed, or otherwise mixed up due to whatever-was-available-at-the-time syndrome.)

While it varies quite a bit for ad-hoc missions, the nominal ORBAT for long-range patrols is one BC/CC task group, as above, with a pair of DD/FF task groups attached. The former travels the main route of the patrol, while the latter take divergent routes to either side around it and crossing its path (making rendezvous regularly, of course), looking for trouble that needs shootin’. In practice – well, depending on what they find or need to look into, patrol commanders have been known to slice their forces down as finely as two-ship task elements to meet current needs.

The final ORBAT is that intended for planetary assaults, which defines additional task groups for orbital fire support (assault cruisers and screen), habitat assault (troop transports and screen), ground assault (assault carriers, dropships and, yes, screen), space-traffic interdiction (interdictor cruisers and fast DDs), and so forth, which are organically inserted into task forces containing the requisite numbers of the above task group types also to form the assault task forces.

There are also a number of peculiarly specialized starship classes operated by the IN, such as the Skyshine-class cautery; the Legends-class fleet carrier (i.e., a relativistic transport framework to move a task force between stars without using stargates); the Supremacy-class mobile fleet base (of which more below); the Winter-class relativistic kill vehicle and its opposing anti-RKV superdreadnoughts, and so forth, which don’t fit neatly into this taxonomy of types and groupings. In practice, many of them operate alone, attached to a task force, or with an organic support squadron or two of CC/BCs.

Fleet Size & Mix

As for size and mix…

(And while I have some notes on hard numbers at various points in history, please forgive me for not crawling through those strictly numeric details here to avoid complications as to the whens and the wherefores… and also, honestly, to leave myself some breathing room.)

The IN is, not to put too fine a point on it, very big. In keeping with the “three idiots or one Armageddon” policy mentioned back here, each directional fleet wants to be able to keep at least three task forces configured as planes of battle (appropriate to the size of their anticipated local opponents). They’d like double that if they could get it, because you can never be too prepared, but it’s very specific policy not to let it fall below that point. Mix-wise, the fleets are relatively cruiser-heavy; both the strategic goals the fleet has to produce and its concept of operations rely very much on its nimble middleweights rather than its heavy hitters, as I think we’ve established, so you can safely triple their strength-in-plane in terms of cruiser/destroyer squadrons.

Field Fleets Spinward (which has an extra three task forces, with extra reinforcement in times of tension, spread along the Borderline) and Nadir (which has an extra three task forces parked outside the Leviathan Consciousness Containment Zone as its contribution to the Containment Treaty) are heavier than that in capitals, although only Spinward also makes up the extra numbers in lighter types.

(If this starts sounding like a vast and overpowering mass to you, do remember that each directional fleet has to patrol or otherwise keep an eye on something like 1,600 star systems, and a star system, not to put too fine a point on it, ain’t exactly small.)

The Capital Fleet attempts, approximately, to maintain the same strength as all six of the directional fleets (if you don’t count the special additions to Spinward and Nadir) simultaneously, half of which is active and the other half of which should be considered the “spinning reserve”. While the Capital Fleet is divided into a number of special-purpose flotillas, most of this strength is packed into “Heavy Six”, the Sixth Capital Flotilla, whose function is to be the heaviest hammer in the arsenal. The intent of that design policy is that if they have to bring it out as a whole unit, rather than merely drawing the odd special task force from it, the outcome cannot possibly be in doubt.

Fleet Laydown

In which we answer various questions such as: Where are the parts of the fleet located? How many bases are there? How many ships are located at the bases? What mix of ship types are located at the bases?

Well, the main base of the Imperial Navy as a whole is Prime Base, Palaxias. To be clear about that, the IN’s prime base isn’t in the Palaxias (Imperial Core); it is the Palaxias (Imperial Core) star system. The entire system has been turned over to the IN’s use, complete with thousand of docks, giant complexes of cageworks, entire gas-giant moons given over to shore leave, planets with metallic rings made up of containerized naval stores, moonlet-sized antimatter cryocels, don’t even ask about the AKV-minefields, and so on and so forth. It serves as the Prime Base for both the Capital Fleet and the Home Fleet.

For extra mobility, though, the directional fleets are based not only outside the Empire, but out in the Periphery, about as far away from the Empire as it’s possible to get. It’s for this purpose that the IN invented the Supremacy-class mobile fleet base, a multimodular self-propelled space station that comes complete with absolutely everything you could possibly need to support an IN fleet, which it has used to establish fleet bases for the directional fleets: CS Unconquerable Self to coreward at Netharn (Idrine Margin), CS Armigerous Propertarian to rimward at Tainaze (Rim March), CS Liberty’s Price to spinward at Karal (Vanguard Reaches), CS Order Emergent to trailing at Quecel (Starfoam Threshold), CS Asymptotic Glory to acme at Amendin (Bright Jewel Cluster) and CS Ever-Burning Flame to nadir at Anan!t (Starfall Abysm).

The majority of each directional fleet is homeported at the corresponding Supremacy, from which it runs patrols inward throughout its direction to the Imperial Fringe, and back out again. Usually, for flexibility, it keeps a portion of its force in the Fringe (supported from Palaxias) to support operations in the inner chunk of its direction.

For additional flexibility, there are a number of fleet stations scattered throughout each direction – often but not always in association with Imperial ecumenical colonies – established in locations that might be considered future hot spots, require higher-level commerce protection, support interdicts, or otherwise are strategic nexuses: while not possessing anything like the capacities of a fleet base, they provide fleet concentration points and advanced resupply, maintenance, and communications nodes (recalling that tangle channels cannot be carried onboard) for forward operations and maintaining defensive depth. These fleet stations all have associated pickets, but except in known time of war, these usually consist of cruiser-based task forces only.

Force Size

There is more to a fleet than just spacecraft. Presumably you need crew for the ships (unless you go in for robots in a big way) and infrastructure to support the spacecraft and people. If nothing else you need officers to make decisions.

Manning Strategy
How many entities do you need for spacecraft crews? How do you get them? Are they drafted or are they volunteers? How qualified is the population base you are drawing upon? (if the population of the planet resembles the people on the Axiom in the movie WALL-E, you have a problem) Are the spacecraft of the fleet fully crewed during peacetime or do you just keep a cadre and frantically recruit and train when war breaks out? Do you maintain a military reserve force, if so how and when can they be activated? What is the ratio of officers to enlisted people? Does the ratio change between peace and war? Do you use large amounts of robots and automation with few crew, or lots of crew for flexibility? (read the quote from "Reflex")
Organic Support Functions

These are support functions that move with the fleet (i.e., "organic" means "located internally").

A fleet logistical tail of refueling tankers would be Organic Support. Refueling the fleet from orbital fuel depots would be Shore Infrastructure. Can include supply ships, tankers, maintenance and repair vessels, mobile shipbuilding modules, personnel transports.

Mr. Weuve mentions that this is a difference between the US Army and the Marine Corps. Marine expeditionary forces by definition have 30 days of supply with them. The US Army has a lot less, and needs to be plugged into the Army's substantial logistics capability fast.

There are many questions to be answered in this section, such as are fighter aircraft airborne-refueled using assets from the carrier, or assets from tanks ashore?

Another question is can you "reach back" to sources ashore for essential services such as weather forcasts, network support, and planning? Or do you rely upon the services to be located inside the fleet? Mr. Weuve notes that planning is HUGE, and he knows of at least one admiral who suggested removing an aircraft carrier's planning spaces because the admiral thought they would NEVER BE USED, since the Joint Force Air Component Commander would always send the air plan in from ashore.

Shore Infrastructure

These are support functions that do not move with the fleet: bases and depots. Can include planetary shipbuilding yards, supply depots, maintenance space stations, weapon research and development labs.

Shore infrastructure also includes military training schools. Do your sailors learn at a school ashore, or do they learn hands-on in the fleet? Mr. Weuve notes the USN has tried both, sometimes having LONG shore schools, and sometimes dramatically shortening them.

Fleet Missions can dictate the balance between Organic Support Functions and Shore Infrastructure.

If you want task forces that can move and strike quickly with the drawback of having little endurance, you would have lots of Shore Infrastructure but little Organic Support. You'd have zillions of ship depots everywhere, but the task forces would have little or no slow ponderous fleet support ships. Without Organic Support slowing it down the task force can move more swiftly and make a rapid attack. But the force would quickly run out of supplies, and would have to retreat to one of the many Shore Infrastructure bases nearby. Assuming, of course that said Shore Infrastructure bases were nearby, and not just at the start of the long logistical tail that comes out to the fleet.

Alistair Young has a set of examples:

Building the Imperial Navy: Force Size

Manning Strategy

In which we answer questions like these:

How many entities do you need for spacecraft crews? How do you get them? Are they drafted or are they volunteers? How qualified is the population base you are drawing upon? Are the spacecraft of the fleet fully crewed during peacetime or do you just keep a cadre and frantically recruit and train when war breaks out? Do you maintain a military reserve force, if so how and when can they be activated? What is the ratio of officers to enlisted people, and do you even break it down that way? Does the ratio change between peace and war? Do you use large amounts of robots and automation with few crew, or lots of crew for flexibility?

Well, to start with the obvious thing even though it’s last in the question list, the Imperial Navy uses lots and lots and lots of automation. That’s been the Imperial way of doing things since it was an urgent necessity of population demographics and when the automation consisted of clockwork automata powered by wind, water, and muscle, it stayed true when it had changed to mean steam-powered clanks with Stannic-cogitator brains, and it’s still true now that it means ecologies of ubiquitous processors, nanites, and optronic robots.

As such, Imperial naval vessels usually have significantly smaller crews than most of their counterparts in more… biochauvinist… polities. Or, to be slightly less smug about it, polities whose robotics is less sophisticated and as such less able to handle the complexities of crisis decision hierarchies and damage-control triage – although, in fairness, there is also a significant element of polities whose damage-control crews develop a stick up the cloaca at the prospect of their ship tellin’ em what to fix and in what order.

As for the personnel it does have, the Imperial Navy, as is the case for the rest of the Imperial Military Service, is an all-volunteer service. (It couldn’t be anything else even if it wanted to be: the people who wrote the Imperial Charter meant every word, no backsies or finger-crossing, when they wrote that “There shall be neither chattel slavery nor any other form of involuntary servitude in the Empire” clause, and a draft would definitely count. All that trying to institute one would do is give everyone a revolution to deal with as well as whatever other war might be going on at the time.)

Fortunately, the people in Imperial governance can generally be counted upon to adhere, philosophically speaking, to the “Any polity that can’t get its people to defend it voluntarily when the shit hits the fan deserves to end up covered in the aforesaid shit” position.

The majority of these personnel are professional, long-service officers and men who may not have chosen to make the IN a life-long career (given the very long if not indefinite lifetimes available), but who may well be spending as much time as tradition permits under the Six-Century Rule. The standard enlistment term is twelve years, Imperial calendar, with the option to extend “for the duration of hostilities” in the event of a major war breaking out. (There is a legal definition of exactly how major it has to be to enable this clause, but it’s never actually been tested.) A similar option permits the IN to recall former serving personnel who have agreed to enter the Reserve in the event of war: this, also, has not been tested except in “voluntary recall” mode.

Fortunately for the IN, it has a very technically competent population to recruit from, complete with strong cultural predispositions to maintain the generally high level of education, and with three-fifths of the population being spacers by domicile and culture, an equally high level of space-awareness. Unfortunately for the IN, these same conditions mean that the IN has to recruit the same pool of talented individuals in a very competitive market that everyone else is, and thus has to pay generous market-plus salaries; as mentioned back in Strategic Assumptions, personnel costs are one of the big three items on the IN balance sheet. It also compensates somewhat for this by the very high quality of the training offered to its personnel: it is understood to the point of cliche that a retired master chief boatswain’s mate, for example, can write his own ticket at any starport or space facility in the Empire or much of the rest of the Worlds, for almost any salary he cares to ask for.

As a consequence of this basis for its personnel, the distinctions between officers and enlisted personnel are primarily the distinctions between policy and execution; the ratio is slanted officer-heavy compared to many fleets, due to the greater automation of IN starships. Unlike many polities’ services, there is no particular social distinction between officers and enlisted personnel (everyone is a gentlesoph!); starships in the IN do not even have separate mess-decks by grade.

As should be expected from the IN policy of keeping the fleet forward-leaning and in continuous motion, peacetime manning levels are effectively the same as wartime manning levels; the Reserves are only activated, and the pace of recruitment increased, when an exceptional situation calls for it.

Organic Support Functions & Shore Infrastructure

While not entirely located within the IN itself administratively, the Imperial Navy provides for as much organic support as possible. To a large extent, this is necessitated by the limitations of secure interstellar communication and light-lag, as well as the problem of providing security for nodal bases in “hot” areas.

As such, the shore establishment is concentrated at Prime Base, at the six Supremacy-class mobile fleet bases, and at the fleet stations located at convenient points in the outer Worlds. The former are enormous concentrations of fabrication, maintenance, fueling, arming, and resupply capability, requiring very little in the way of outside support: the latter are lesser concentrations which act as nodes in the overall supply chain. Naval research, development, and prototyping is concentrated almost entirely at Prime Base, and at certain specialized facilities elsewhere.

To a certain extent, organic support is concentrated within ‘line’ starships themselves: theater and battlespace command is conducted from command-vessel superdreadnoughts, for example, while any capital ship is equipped to provide facilities for flag command. So far as supplies are concerned, fleet vessels are designed to be nominally stocked for up to a year’s peacetime cruising (allowing for on-board recycling and fabrication capacity) before requiring replenishment, although typical deployment lengths are only one-quarter to one-half of that.

In addition, though, the Imperial Navy assumes that its starships may need to operate at any time distant from the nearest available fleet station, and under circumstances which make it inconvenient at best to withdraw for resupply; as such, it coordinates with the Stratarchy of Military Support and Logistics to maintain an extensive fleet train including oilers, resupply colliers, hospital ships, personnel transports, and mobile maintenance yards, which are built to military standards regarding drives and defenses, permitting them to deploy behind the fleet and resupply it both in situ and under way. The IN also provides CC/DD/FF escort squadrons for the fleet train and its forward-deployed logistics nodes.

(In addition to the dedicated fleet train, the Stratarchy has arrangements to charter civilian vessels for equivalent services in rear areas, where defensive capacity and the ability to keep station with naval units is not a factor.)

As a final note in this area, even training is organic: while both initial and follow-up training is provided to IN personnel at the Imperial War College (a shore establishment), all the Navy’s schools include ongoing training aboard supervised by the Operational Training Command. One learns best by doing, so they arrange that one should do.

Force Management

This is concerned with keeping the fleet in top fighting form.

Personnel Policies
How much turnover is there (how many personnel "go career" instead of just serving the few years of their enlistment)? What is the personnel tempo (PERSTEMPO), that is, how often are the people deployed away from their families (if it is too high, personnel retention is a problem)? PERSTEMPO is especially a problem during peacetime.
Logistics Concept

Do you maintain large supply depots forward deployed at the battle site, large supply depots in the rear at home, or use lots of small depots and rely upon just-in-time logistics? If depots are at the home system, do you have a few outside just in case of a dastardly sneak attack upon homeworld? Are logistical ships used to ferry supplies between the depots and the fleet, or do the fleet ships periodically travel to the nearest depot?

Obviously this all relates to the balance between Organic Support and Shore Infrastructure.

Level of Readiness (Afloat and Shore)

"Afloat" refers to Fleet spacecraft and Organic support. "Shore" refers to Shore infrastructure.

Level of Readiness means how much time will it take to transition from peacetime to war. Can the ships fight immediately or will they require a ramp-up time? Are all the supply depots fully stocked or will they have to be loaded up? Is the fleet fully crewed or does it just have a cadre and a promise to kick recruitment into high gear? Has there been high levels of training during peacetime so that a high percentage of the crews are fully qualified and have not had their skills rust?

Note that there might be different levels of readiness between afloat and shore.

Acquisition Strategy
How does the space navy purchase new ships? Especially considering how expensive those monsters are, and how long it takes to design and construct. The Fiscal environment is a huge limiting factor here.

Alistair Young has a set of examples:

Building the Imperial Navy: Force Management

Personnel Policies

A good chunk of this is actually something I touched upon last time in discussing manning strategy; namely, how much personnel turnover does the IN plan for? The answer, in this case, is not much: being an effective naval officer or an effective naval spacehand depends on extensive training and experience both, and the Imperial Navy has long since concluded that offering the generous remuneration, excellent working conditions (compared to the conditions some navies consider acceptable, the IN operates a bunch of floating five-star hotels), high-quality training, etc., etc., it does is worth every taltis in keeping retention up, and that saving money there at the cost of losing its highly cross-trained, highly experienced “lifers” as the solid core of its personnel roster would be the falsest of false economies.

The other main aspect is the “personnel tempo” (PERSTEMPO) of the force: i.e., how often are people deployed and away from their families, which has a high impact on personnel retention. PERSTEMPO isn’t quite so great as it might be: as mentioned in previous parts, the Imperial Navy prefers a forward-leaning strategy and likes to keep as much of the fleet out in the black, in motion, as it can reasonably manage, which implies an uncomfortably high PERSTEMPO.

Under peacetime and “standard wartime” circumstances, as per this post, the Imperial Navy ideally prefers a 2-for-1 rotation, where half the fleet (not counting reserves) is deployed at any given time, while the other half is in dock refitting, training, etc. The logical implication of that for spaceborne personnel is that they operate under a similar PERSTEMPO: three-to-six months deployed, three-to-six months on base, and repeat.

To ameliorate this as much as possible, while the IN is not willing to countenance downright crazy policies such as letting people take their civilian families aboard starships intended to get into firefights, it does subsidize all the costs and transportation and other inconvenience necessary to accommodate naval personnel’s families aboard the Supremacy-class mobile naval bases, at fleet stations, and so forth – places not significantly less safe than any ecumenical colony – in order to keep the time-apart down to just that implied by the PERSTEMPO, as well as providing free communications over fleet channels and being happy to arrange for couples who are both in the Navy to serve on the same starship, where operational requirements permit.

Logistics Concept

The Imperial Navy’s thinking on both this and the following section (Level of Readiness) are dominated by one simple thing: space is big, really quite inconveniently so, and when things go wrong, they can go wrong awfully fast.

(And while you may be able to tolerate the local member of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms gobbling up a couple of dozen systems that you can take back from them later – assuming they’re not rampaging xenocidal bigots – the same does not apply if you’re facing a runaway perversion or a heggie swarm. The Second Lord of the Admiralty does not want to be in the position of explaining how he let an entire constellation get eaten while waiting around for the below-establishment personnel/reserve dreadnoughts/missile colliers to turn up.)

As such, in logistics, the rules are that all task forces shall be fully stocked upon deployment (typically, as mentioned, to support up to a year’s cruising), and all OPAREAs shall be within ready reach of resupply.) We touched on this last time, too, under Organic Support Functions & Shore Infrastructure, but to elaborate somewhat –

It’s certainly true that the main resupply stocks and manufacturing capabilities are located at Prime Base – as are those stocks of “special” weapons that require equally special care – but the IN forward-deploys lots of resupply, using the fleet train, to those fleet stations throughout each Field Fleet’s operational area, and in the case of the Supremacy-class mobile bases and long-established fleet stations, builds local manufacturing capabilities, too. (Some limited manufacturing capabilities are even deployed aboard starships: every starship has some kind of machine shop for making certain types of spare parts, for example, and large types that can afford the volume will carry fuel skimmers and capacity to fabricate k-slugs from asteroid materials, etc.)

(For the Home Fleet’s use, “fleet stations” are also established at several worlds within the metropolitan Empire as a backup in the unlikely event of an attack on Palaxias itself.)

Meanwhile, the Imperial Navy’s logistics doctrine is built around underway replenishment. While starships can and often do resupply at fleet stations, that’s not the purpose of the fleet stations. The fleet train is designed to take necessary supplies to forward-deployed starships as necessary rather than requiring them to return to base: the fleet stations exist to shorten the journey of the fleet train in so doing, letting them get supplies to the fleet from themselves forward-deployed nodal bases rather than having to haul them all the way out from the Core on demand – keeping the flexibility of UNREP without lengthening time-to-readiness.

Level of Readiness (Afloat and Ashore)

As with logistics concept, the Imperial Navy’s level of readiness is dominated by the notions of space being big and trouble setting in very quickly. Of course, much as most navies would like to maintain full wartime readiness, that’s also very expensive… but then, as we mentioned back in part one, the IN has a relatively comfortable fiscal environment, which is also what lets it maintain its oft-mentioned forward-leaning posture.

So, y’know, while it’s not exactly all keyed up and operating at Strategic Condition One all the time, the IN is very ready in logistic terms. A ship that isn’t fully stocked with all the necessities, live ammunition – well, insofar as inert k-slugs are “live” – included, or that doesn’t have the requisite crew establishment, does not go forth into the black. Training exercises, war games, and so forth, run more or less continuously to keep the fleet occupied while it’s leaning forward. Supply depots at the fleet stations are kept fully stocked, because if it turns out you need them, odds are that you won’t have time to stock them at that point.

In short, the IN believes very firmly in the notion that it’s the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns that get you, and behaves accordingly.

(Navies whose admirals appreciate the sense of this but whose political masters won’t spend the money and/or whose political masters’ economies can’t support spending the money grind their teeth in envy. But, y’know, if you don’t have a Navy that can fight as soon as you need it to, you don’t have a Navy at all. You have an ornament.)

Acquisition Strategy

In which we address the question of how the Navy purchases new starships, given that they’re significant capital investments with a lengthy design and construction cycle…

This, again, is a situation in which I can cite part one and said relatively comfortable fiscal environment – being basically post-material-scarcity with a huge industrial and autoindustrial base is great for acquisitions, and as I said there, most of its payout goes to things like personnel and outsourced services, not capital for capital ships, and so forth. The limiting factor, in this case, is not so much of a limiting factor especially since, as said back then, there’s a lot of upside in the budget.

The actual IN procurement cycle, for starships, is essentially continuous FIFO replacement (with slow expansion as the stargate plexus, and thus the space it needs to patrol, also expands), at a pace set to loosely keep up with the rate of relevant technical innovation that can’t be absorbed by refits. Unless there’s some specific necessity, the IN runs through its entire collection of types and classes replacing all its oldest vessels one after another with the latest model: although “replaced” in this case may well mean and probably does that the older ship is any of:

  • rebuilt into the latest model, if the basic spaceframe is still sound, in a process that’s sufficiently more thorough than a refit that the new model is basically a whole new class, maybe not even of the same type; or
  • mothballed at Palaxias or one of the Empire’s other internal fleet stations as part of the Reserve Fleet; or
  • sold into civilian service.

Rather than ending up at a wreckyard. This is a slow process, considering what refits can absorb by way of innovation – the IN has plenty of well-maintained centuries-old starships in service – but is maintained at a certain minimum level to ensure that there’s a core number of cageworks and yard dogs with experience in building IN-style ships that can serve as a cadre should the IN need to dip into its fiscal reserves for a sudden, unexpected fleet expansion.

Space Marines

Wikipedia: Space Marines

The space marine, an archetype of military science fiction, is a kind of soldier that operates in outer space or on alien worlds. Historical marines fulfill multiple roles: ship defence, landing parties, and general-purpose high-mobility land deployments that operate within a fixed distance of shore. By analogy, hypothetical space marines would defend spaceships, land on planets and moons, and satisfy rapid-deployment needs throughout space.

Wikipedia entry for Space Marines

First off, you should read Future War Stories in-depth analysis of space marines. For some of the standard features of space marines in media science fiction, there is the incredible time-sink of the TV Tropes Space Marines entry. And SF master William Keith has done a remarkable job with the creation of space marines in his Galactic Marines Series. Read a few of those novels to see it done right.

Remember that a better term for marine is "Espatier". After all, the term "marine" orginally came about because the fighters were deployed on sea going vessels. Espatier sounds better than "space-ine".

And if your science fiction universe contains space pirates, they are the natural prey of espatiers.

As previously mentioned, espatiers will tend to be elite units, compared to ordinary ground troops. This is because most combat spacecraft do not have much capacity to spare to carry espatiers, so the number of espatiers will be limited. Therefore with espatiers you will be relying upon quality over quantity. Since espatiers are usually based on board spacecraft instead of in ground bases, espatiers can be deployed much more rapidly than army troops. Unfortunately this means the espatiers will also be stuck with the job of trying to hold the ground taken for however long it takes the space army to get its act together and transport battalions of troops to the combat zone.

Since espatiers will generally be deployed in smaller numbers than ordinary troops, they have more options for insertion and extraction. To make up for their smaller numbers, they probably will have access to force multipliers, such as powered armor suits. Usually, the more elite a unit is, the more specialists it has.

Espatiers will be highly trained in hand-to-hand martial arts, though these will have to be modified for microgravity use. Espatiers will also be skilled in how to fight while wearing a space suit, and how to defend against your opponent's attempts to puncture your suit skin. Dougherty and Frier call troops with this training "protected forces" (Profors) meaning how to fight while wearing gear that protects you from a vacuum or other hostile environments. Espatiers space suits will probably be armored.

Trope-a-Day: Semper Fi

Semper Fi: The Imperial Legions – while obviously there is no direct causal connection – do have many things in common with the Marines. (Apart from the obvious troperiffic ones – yes, we all know they’re a Proud Soldier Race all their own, commanded by Colonel Badasses, the truest devotees of The Spartan Way, and almost a Church Militant… although they’re more Warrior Poets than Blood Knights (except the kaeth… no, even the kaeth), lack Drill Instructor Nasties for the reasons suggested under Mildly Military, and most of their commanders, at least, aren’t General Ripper. Except for the Sargases, as usual.) Certainly aspects of the attitude and the mythos.

But also, despite their origins in the army of a land power, in later days (due to that land power allying with a major sea power) they did do most of their fighting as an amphibious rapid-reaction force, and, of course, when the Empire went into space – see, obviously, Space Marine – as the orbital equivalent of such a force. And since imperial annexations of anything resembling a major world work very badly across interstellar distances, most of the Legions are optimized for a similar rapid-reaction, tip-of-the-spear, in-and-out role.

So differences in culture and tech aside, they’d probably recognize each other, I do believe.

Naval Boarding

Wet-navy marines can perform naval boarding. For espatiers, boarding is much more difficult, perhaps impossible.

Boarding can be necessary for many reasons:

  • Espatiers boarding an enemy spacecraft (hostile military ship or space pirate corsair) in order to neutralize and secure it
  • Space pirates boarding a merchant spacecraft in order to loot it
  • Custom inspectors or border patrol ships boarding an incoming spacecraft to inspect it for contraband or other evidence of smuggling
  • Besieging spacecraft investing a planet boarding incoming spacecraft suspected of being a blockade-runner
  • Invading spacecraft boarding a defending civilian space station or orbital fortress

If the espatiers are real sure the target is not going to resist, and the espatiers are prepared for surprises (and willing to be considered expendable), they can board by docking their shuttle to the target. Remember that if one or both of the ships are nuclear powered, both of the ship's docking ports will be on the ship's nose.

If the target has made it quite clear that it will fight boarding tooth-and-nail, things become more complicated. The target vessel can endanger the lives of the boarding party just by randomly firing its attitude jets and jerking the ship around. Espatiers trying to enter the target through an obvious airlock risk running into a very hot reception, hostiles waiting inside with all their weapons aimed at the airlock door. Cutting an entry on a random stretch of hull runs the risk of being hit by explosive decompression debris, or shorting a power line for some deadly high-voltage fun.

Some times espatiers will enter hostile spacecraft by way of a Boarding Pod. This is sort of the ship-to-ship version of a Dropship. You stuff one or more espatiers into a hollow missile with an armor-piercing nose and shoot it at the enemy ship. Boarding pods usually are guided, except in Warhammer 40,000 AD where life is cheap. The fancier models gently attach themselves to the enemy hull, then use some sort of high-tech cutting gear to slice an opening. Usually lasers. In William Keith's (writing as Ian Douglas) Star Carrier, the boarding pods use a fog of nanotech disassemblers to dissolve a hole. In the TV show Babylon 5 boarding pods are called "breaching pods". In the game Homeworld 2 they are called "infiltrator pods." In Warhammer 40,000 AD the boarding torpedoes are ballistic and unguided, but assault boats are small ships with hole-cutters (i.e., they can recover the boarding party and fly back to the mothership). The WH 40K boarding torpedoes have tank treads on the side, to let the torpedo burrow in deeper until it reaches a large open space to deploy the marines into.

One point to keep in mind: if your espatiers are in the habit of performing boarding maneuvers on hostile spacecraft, make sure they keep their space suits on. The hostiles might alter their habitat module's breathing mix on purpose, hoping to give your invading espatiers the bends or isobaric counterdiffusion. The hostiles could also vent the hab module to vacuum or something like that, but changing the breathing mix has the advantage of not harming the hostile crew, just the invading espatiers.

Space pirates have to do naval boarding as well. But generally the terrified crew of the target merchant ship offers no resistance. In the pirate days of yore on the Spanish Main, the skull-and-crossbone flag was just one of the many subtle little hints the pirate gave to their prey. Hints that boiled down to "don't give us any trouble or we will kill you in a hideous fashion and steal your cargo anyway." If the pirates are forced to use boarding pods or other extreme measures, they will video record the agonizing deaths of the merchant crew and upload it to the futuristic equivalent of YouTube as an object lesson.

And even if the boarding party is from the space equivalent of the Coast Guard and the ship being boarded is some wealthy person's yacht, the boarders would do well to be armed. At least with sidearms, just in case of an ambush. Don't worry, bullet holes in the pressure hull will take the better part of an hour to depressurize the chamber to the point where it becomes a problem.

Boarding Tactics 1

(ed note: the constraint is that the boarding actions occur in low to medium orbit, not in deep space. Author Grine_ is a moderator of Reddit's /r/hardsfbuilding and /r/scatterverse subreddits)

So the traditional wisdom with respect to boarding tactics in space is that it's ridiculously impractical. I mean, combat occurs at Stupendous Range, it's all computerized anyway, yadda yadda. All of which is fine. But my setting doesn't quite work that way, for a variety of reasons: I've got thorium-nuclear and chemical rockets duking it out in low to medium orbit, for starters, and they're all using significantly crappier weapons than most hard-SF is used to. (This is all thought out quite extensively, and is a consequence of the universe's generally low tech-level and their FTL.)

Which gives boarders a chance in the first place, because approaching someone is actually possible. After all, you don't start that far from each other, and you're getting closer and closer very quickly. (Though something tells me that you'll want to approach prograde for any kind of docking or boarding action, since you're not trying to kamikaze them.)

I also had the idea that lasers (which are practical weapons in my setting) might be able to facilitate boarding actions. Of course, if you focus the death ray on them, you're going to blow shit up (it's called a death ray for a reason). But what if you take a continuous-beam laser and intentionally de-focus it? At low levels of focus, it's basically a sensor; focus it more, and it blinds enemy sensors; focus it even more, and you do generalized scorch damage, including destroying surface sensors and possibly maneuver thrusters. And, of course, you can blow them up if this is called for.

All of which sounds like a perfectly understandable and normal escalation of force for an encounter between a crook and a police spacecraft. The police scan someone, and use the information gleaned from that scan (and other sensors, and outside intelligence) to determine that this ship is suspicious. If the police believe that an inspection is in order, they can ask the ship to prepare for boarding. If they don't comply, the blinding starts; and if that fails, the scorching starts.

My assumption here is that the scorch damage will be able to disable the ship's ability to simply up and leave. If the scorch can disable engines, then a controlled boarding operation becomes possible, though it probably remains difficult.

My questions are:

  • Is this practical in the first place?
  • Could this situation result in an "equal" struggle between attackers and defenders? Or would this necessarily devolve into a hijacking where the defenders either surrender or go out with a bang?
  • Is this workable under combat conditions, rather than just police conditions?
Boarding Tactics 2

(ed note: the constraint is that the boarding actions occur in low to medium orbit, not in deep space. This is a response to the question above. Author AntimatterNuke is a moderator of Reddit's /r/hardsfbuilding and /r/XenologyUniverse subreddits)

In any universe I can see some forms of boarding being possible. Say a group of terrorists or whoever seize a passenger liner and fly off with it. The pursuing space forces can't just vape it from Stupendous Range, there's hostages aboard. If they want to remove the terrorists, they must send people aboard. However this isn't classic swashbuckling-style boarding, while the terrorists could start shooting up the space marines as soon as they break through the airlock (and vice versa), it'd be far easier for the terrorists to threaten to execute hostages if boarding is attempted. The only sort of boarding that would occur would probably be something like a hostage negotiation team. So basically Speed IN SPACE.

The other type of boarding is taking control of a surrendered vessel. This happens in my universe, which is given over to the hard SF tropes of Stupendous Range Incredible Speed computerized combat. Inferior forces surrendering to you weeks or months in advance happens regularly during conflicts, and some people have built a whole military honor culture around it. But once again no one will actually shoot at anyone, it'd be a ritualized transfer of power, in which you put some of your people aboard the captured ship to ensure it stays captured, and take the enemy commander aboard your own ship.


If you want Space Swashbucklers, then as you say no side can have a great advantage over the other. However, I'm having second thoughts about this, because once your own people are aboard the enemy ship, you can't destroy it without killing them. To get around this you can move your own ships into close range so they can target specific parts of the ship, and have your swashbucklers wear armored space suits.

There are exceptions to every rule though, if there's some reason why you can't destroy the enemy ship or even risk firing on it (i.e. there is something/someone valuable aboard, or the ship itself is especially valuable), then you'll have to go in and manually remove the enemy crew.

That would still be an exception though, if you want boarding to be a regular feature of average combat, you need some way for all (or most) battles to end with a boarding. I'm going to guess the usual outcome of ship-to-ship combat must be both ships sustaining a roughly equal amount of damage, so in order to finish the battle you must approach and board the enemy ship.

So you'd use lasers to scorch the enemy's lasers and sensors, while taking similar punishment (you'll want both sides to have the same weapons range).

Here's how I think it would go:

  • One ship starts off with more delta-v capacity than the other, enough that it can run them down after matching orbits. Let's assume this is you, the attacker, for discussion purposes. Depending on how different your orbits are you might trade a few potshots as you try to get a long-range kill.

  • After you detect the enemy ship, you match orbits and start running them down from behind (i.e. traveling prograde). They try to run, but exhaust their delta-v capacity. Or they don't try to run and just prepare to fight. Either way the outcome is the same, it just takes longer.

  • (Aside) Since you're coming up on the enemy from behind you have to be wary of straying too close to their reactor. You could have a shielded command module, or you could come in ass-forwards, your shadow shield blocking their radiation, and your weapons peeking over it. Or maybe the enemy ship will point its nose at you to bring their weapons to bear, thus negating the problem. The enemy may draw things out by keeping their reactor pointed at you, or they may hide their engine if they consider it too vulnerable.

  • When you get close enough, the mutual eyeball frying and sunburning contest commences. You burn their sensors and lasers, they do the same to you. A few high-powered shots could destroy maneuvering thrusters. If you have missiles, those will get lobbed too. At close range they'll be deadly and hard to dodge, this might prompt a sudden end to the fight. But if you have countermeasures, or can target their missiles with your missiles, the fight continues. The latter case will have the interesting result of destroying all the missiles without damaging either ship. Presumably you want armor on these ships, so the low-power shots destroy the stuff on the outside but leave the ship and crew inside functional.

  • Now you have two ships with crippled weapons and attitude jets, drifting along on the same orbit pretty close together. The ship with the higher delta-v capacity could bug out now if it wants, if its objective was just to disable the enemy ship, not to capture it. But if you want to capture it you must board it. Your weapons are too damaged to threaten them with much punishment, so this isn't a "You have surrendered, I will send my people aboard to take control of your ship" situation.

  • You move in to board, feebly approaching with your crippled jets. If the enemy can move, they can draw things out again. If docking is too risky, just equip your swashbucklers with jetpacks and have them fly across.

  • Alternatively, attitude jets may be easy to armor--just hide them behind a little door in the armor. If that's possible then after all the weapons are disabled, you chase the enemy until they run out of propellant.

  • There may be a bit of a fight as your men make the crossing. The enemy may send people outside to shoot, in which case you can have part of your force hang back to provide fire support for the boarders. There will be an advantage in getting your boarders out the lock as fast as you can, to push the fight as close to the enemy ship as possible, and ideally inside of it.

  • Once aboard, your men seize control of the ship. If your boarders lose, or don't make the crossing fast enough, the enemy could end up boarding your ship, or both ships might be boarded by the other side simultaneously. Boarders will keep their space suits on; it's far too easy for the other ship to alter its breathing mix enough that anyone coming aboard without going through proper decompression will get the bends. People fighting the boarders may opt for suits as well, depending on how likely a hull breach is. So while one would think the swashbucklers would be huge testosterone-poisoned manly men, there may be an argument for using skinnier people, especially if powered armor/exoskeletons are available.

How likely is this to happen? Both sides must be evenly matched, so they both have motivation to build a more badass ship to roflstomp the other guy, but then the other guy can turn around and build an even more badass ship. This may actually be a very stable equilibrium because neither side will let their capabilities lag too far behind the other's. Since ships designed to fight in this way will take regular bloody beatings, the weapons, sensors, and everything outside the armor is probably modular and easily replaceable, so after a battle you go back to your supply ship, swap in new equipment, and touch up the armor.

Whether or not the boarding phase will happen depends on the orders given to both combatants and the particulars of the battle. Ships defending a planet or something else won't board attackers, since once the attackers are disabled they have nowhere to go for repairs. The defenders can just let them languish until they run out of air and voluntarily give up. But attackers will want to capture defender ships, since they can retreat for repairs.

Both sides could carry spare weapons and equipment. They can't effect repairs in battle, since anyone going outside will be cooked, but once battle is done they can use them to repair their ship AND the newly captured ship, which is now part of their fleet!

Laying out the requirements for boarding to happen:

  • Ships must meet for the first time traveling in roughly the same orbit. Given your engine tech trying to catch up with and board a ship orbiting in the opposite direction as you is probably impossible. The likely outcome of combat with that ship will be one of you getting perforated by kinetic buckshot moving at a combined dozen kilometers per second or so.

  • The attacker's delta-v capacity must be greater than or equal to the defender's. This might be true of any space combat, because if the defender has more, they can just run away or bug out once they've damaged the attacker enough.

  • The ships must be evenly matched, in number of ships and weapon strength. Otherwise the weaker side just surrenders.

This by no means guarantees a fight ending with boarding, it just makes it a viable tactic. I'm actually quite surprised that boarding seems eminently possible as long as you stick to these conditions, though a more rigorous analysis (i.e. crunch some numbers) would be called for in order to judge how prevalent it will be, relative to either destruction or surrender.

Your shields will affect this, I don't know if you've stated their exact capabilities, but I'd expect they'd make long-range kills harder, which is good, but draw out the close-in battle, which is bad but not horribly so. Your warp drive may throw a monkey wrench into this too, but I imagine a ship has to be precisely lined up before it goes to warp, else when it arrives it'll either go careening through the atmosphere of the destination planet or whizzing off into interplanetary space.

Bonus points: Ship design. A purely chemical ship designed for a boarding fight might resemble an armored sphere, with retractable doors protecting the weapons, airlocks, and engines. This will make it hard to defeat, depending on how strong the armor is it might be able to hold its own even against a nuclear-powered ship.

A ship with an atomic engine can't be armored all over, the radiation shielding would weigh too much. Maybe it would look like a cylinder or cigar atop a shadow shield with the engine aft of that. Presumably this ship will try to keep from exposing its engine to anyone it fights. If two of these ships fight they'll probably opt to point their noses at each other, which incidentally allows people to board without exiting the shadow-shielded area.

Boarding Tactics 3

“There are two types of boarding action: non-contested and contested.

“The former is only moderately terrible: which is to say it is usually carried out in the course of routine inspections or interdictions, or after surrenders, and the starship being boarded has obligingly hove to when requested; one has been able to close with it without problems, and board it through the airlocks or by taking a cutter across; and in all other ways is being cooperative.

“In other words, if it goes wrong – which can happen quite easily even if everyone on the bridge is cooperating – it’s only house-to-house fighting, at point-blank range, in a maze, filled with fragile and dangerous industrial machinery, surrounded by vacuum, with hostile parties in control of the light, air, and gravity. If you’re lucky, no-one will be sufficiently in love with the idea of taking you with them to blow a hole in the reactor containment.

“And then there’s the difficult kind.

“There are actually very few contested boardings. Starship engagements typically happen at long range (light-seconds to light-minutes) and make use of weapons potent enough that surviving vessels are rarely in any condition to be boarded in any sense distinct from salvage and rescue. The exceptions to this general rule come when it is absolutely necessary to recover something valuable from the target vessel – be it hostages, a courier’s package, some classified piece of equipment, or the valuable data stored in the starship’s command computers – which will inevitably be destroyed if the vessel is forced to surrender.

“Achieving this requires a series of highly improbable operations to all go off perfectly in sequence.

“First, the approach: getting to the ship you intend to board; i.e., closing to suicide range, which may involve either surviving the fire from its cohorts, or cutting it out of its formation. This always, however, requires both surviving its fire while closing and depriving it of the ability to evade your approach and to take offensive action against the relatively fragile boarding party.

“So, in the course of matching orbits, you have to disable the drives, disable its weapons systems able to bear on your quadrant of approach, disable the point-defense laser grid (which can slice apart small craft at close range) and defense drones likewise, and disable the kinetic barriers that would otherwise hold off your approach to the hull; all of which you must do with sufficient careful delicacy that you don’t destroy the valuable part of the vessel that you want to claim in the process.

“Second, having achieved this, you must then board the target starship. In a contested boarding, you do not do this through the airlocks: they lead directly to designed-in choke points and people whose job it is to repel boarders, and if they retain attitude control, they can throw a spin on their ship that docking clamps won’t hold against. This is the job of the microgravity assault vehicle, affectionately known as the boarding torpedo, which serves to carry a squad of espatiers into an unexpected part of the target vessel – preferably near enough to the target within the target to make seizure easy, but not close enough to cause its destruction – by ramming, burning through the armor and the pressure hull, and crawling forward until an ideal position is reached or it can go no further.

“(This assumes that you are following the standard model, which people are constantly trying to improve on. One captain I served under rigged saddles for his AKVs and had us ride them to point-blank range of the target, then drop to its hull and take out the laser grid emitters directly. I would not recommend this tactic.)

“Then it’s guaranteed house-to-house fighting, at point-blank range, in a maze, filled with fragile and dangerous industrial machinery, surrounded by vacuum, with hostile parties in control of the light, air, and gravity.

“Third, you must do all of this very fast, for one reason or another. The above operations are not subtle, and your target will know you are trying to board them as soon as you start sharpshooting to disable. If you have terrorists or pirates, this is when they start shooting hostages. If your target is a military starship, though, as soon as they see a boarding attempt, the bridge, damage control central, and the maneuvering room all put one hand on the arming keys for their fusion scuttling charges, and as soon as any two of them conclude that they can’t repel boarders, they’ll scuttle. All you have to do is get sufficiently inside their response loop that you can punch them all out before that happens. (And once armed, it takes positive action to prevent the scuttling, so you can’t take the otherwise obvious short-cut.)

“All of which should explain why espatiers ship out with six times as many warm spares as their naval counterparts.”

– Maj. Esvan Solanel, the 22nd (“Alatian Highlanders”) Imperial Legion, Retd.

Marlinspike Boarding Pod

So, since I’ve just described the nature of boarding actions, I might as well go ahead and describe the ship used to carry them out when necessary, the Marlinspike-class MAV.

The thing to bear in mind in considering the design of the Marlinspike-class is that it’s built to be disposable: much like the Sledgehammer-class drop shuttle and its kin with their habit of lithobraking, getting there is hard enough that survivability is up front and reusability takes a very distant back seat. And as such, the Marlinspike is about as stripped-down as a small craft can be and still function in role.

The basic hull form is exactly as the name suggests: it’s a narrow-tipped, heavily armored, slender spike, designed to hammer its way into the body of the boarding target and stick there. Its bow (1) is a hardened penetrator whose surface is configured as a contact-fused explosive plasma cutter; i.e., a shaped breaching charge. That’s designed to soften up the outer and pressure hulls of the target such that the momentum of impact (at the several hundred mph differential velocity traditional to this sort of maneuver) can drive the MAV in.

(That initial velocity, incidentally, is provided along with power and attitude control by a strap-on thruster pack (2), which is designed to detach and eject itself at the point of impact – because it has most of the expensive stuff in it, and can be salvaged and reused. Control up to this point is remote, from the parent craft, with limited local AI in the event of communication jamming.)

Once it’s penetrated the hull, the four strips of grip-track (3) located around the hull at 45 degree intervals come into play. Their job is to grab onto the wreckage around them and shove the MAV forward, powered by the onboard accumulators at (6), further into the ship, until it gets to the optimal – or at least a less pessimal – location for the squad of espatiers aboard to disembark. Said espatiers are located in a chamber in the center of the Marlinspike (4), sealed into their own armor (which provides their life support), doped up on anti-g and combat drugs, and strapped into racks in what amounts to a tank filled with concussion gel to protect them from the rapid acceleration and even more rapid deceleration of the ram-and-board maneuver.

Once one of the embarkation hatches (5) – a pair at the fore and aft ends of the chamber to both starboard and port, and a pair amidships to both dorsal and ventral, to allow for the inevitable mismatch between the MAV’s positioning and the target’s internal layout – is in a good position both for disembarkation, and vis-a-vis their target, the squad leader stops the MAV’s advance, detonates the shaped antipersonnel charge embedded into the outboard side of the embarkation hatch (basically the equivalent of a Claymore) to clear the way, then blows the hatch and leads his men out.

Victory or death!

Part of the Space Patrol's mission will involve checking out suspicious, rather than overtly hostile, activity, as with the present Coast Guard. If you know that Space Transport THX-1138 has been seized by Space Pirates (tm) who slaughtered the entire crew, you can lase it from a thousand kilometers away. If you're only guessing on the basis of some strange comm traffic, you've got to put a boarding party on the ship. If they are unarmed, you are only sending the pirates hostages.

From Dr. John Schilling

Evasion tactics? Easy enough. Axiomatically, it is impossible to stop a hostile ship in space. A cop can match course with a smuggler, but he cannot make an arrest unless the smuggler cooperates—or runs out of fuel. He can blow the ship out of space, or even ram with a good autopilot; but how can he connect airlocks with a ship that keeps firing its drive in random bursts? Brennan could head anywhere, and all the Outsider could do was follow or destroy him.

From Protector by Larry Niven (1973)
The Two Faces of Tomorrow

(ed note: the L5 colony Janus has been taken over by an AI computer named Spartacus. The army troops are trapped on the spinning section, but need to get to the L5 module called "Detroit". The direct route is blocked by Spartacus' robots. Spartacus has placed several antimissile electron-gun tubes on the skin. A "Gremlin" is a type of small anti-tank missile, used by the troops. Images from The Two Faces of Tomorrow Manga. Artwork by Hoshino Yukinobu.)

The Cab Depot was located not far in from the surface of the Hub and on the south side, facing Detroit. It was, in effect, a miniature marshaling yard where surplus cabs were collected and subsequently re dispersed around Janus via the spokes as fluctuations in traffic patterns demanded. At least, that was what it had been designed for. Hours after Linsay’s arrival at the Hub, it had become the scene of preparation for what must have been the most bizarre military operation ever conceived in history.

The end section of the Depot comprised a long, narrow bay in which a number of sections of cab tracks ran side by side for a distance in a direction parallel to the axis of the Spindle. Thus, had the intervening outer structure of the Hub not been in the way, they would be pointing straight out at Detroit. The tracks had been cleared of cabs and on them now stood three rafts, supported on skids constructed from hastily thrown together pieces of structural latticeworks and tubing.

The first raft carried the smaller of the two water tanks taken from the adjacent recirculation Plant. The tank had been packed with high explosives and carried at its tail end a crudely welded framework to which were attached five small solid-propellant motors, steering jets and a rudimentary remote-control box. It was, in effect, a rocket-propelled bomb.

Immediately behind it on the same tracks was an open frame, similarly equipped with rockets and loaded high with plastic-wrapped bales of powdered moonrock packed around layers of explosive charges.

Behind that was the larger cylinder, twenty feet in diameter by fifty long. Scores of two-inch rocket tubes were being fitted to fire forward from the dense framework of tubing that projected from its front end. A battery of motors was arrayed across another frame at its tail, and inside the rough access ports that had been, cut along it at intervals engineers were busily attaching lugs and brackets to secure a web of internal nylon rope work and netting.

Linsay’s plan was as simple and direct as it was audacious. First, assuming that Z Squadron arrived on schedule, a barrage of missiles would be fired by the ISA ships at anything moving outside Janus to distract Spartacus’s defenses and keep them occupied, at least for the fifteen to twenty seconds that Linsay estimated he needed. Then the whole section of the Hub that lay between the Cab Depot and the outside would be blown away by means of charges planted by volunteers who had infiltrated forward. This would create a clear launch run from the Depot to Detroit. The three outlandish craft of Linsay’s invasion fleet would then be fired in rapid succession.

The bomb would impact first and blow a gap through the outer skin into Detroit. The second vessel would follow into the gap seconds behind and explode inside to create a smoke screen. The smoke screen would be formed by the exploding mass of finely powdered rock dispersing in Detroit’s zero gravity to form a cloud that would be opaque at all wavelengths used by Spartacus’s sensors. Thus, for a few vital minutes at least, Spartacus would be blind in that region of Detroit.

The assault wave, comprising two hundred troops and their equipment, would go inside the large tank under the added protection of a layer of sandbags secured behind the metal walls. The rocket barrage from the front of the tank would be fired as a single salvo seconds before impact to neutralize anything of Spartacus that might be left functioning after the bomb and the dust screen, and to stir up the screen further. After the rockets had been fired, the framework that had supported them would collapse when the tank impacted and, together with the retro-motor fitted to fire forward, should absorb most of the momentum of the estimated impact velocity of fifty miles per hour. The harnesses and nets inside the tank were for extra shock absorption to enable the assault troops to come out in a fighting condition.

Linsay himself would be the first man out. After that, it would be straight through to the fusion plant without stopping, regardless of losses until they either got there or all died in the attempt. “If you’re hit, keep going,” he had told them. “If you can’t keep going, get outta the goddam way! Once we come out of the tank in Detroit, there won’t be any way back."

A naval captain staring out over the activity around the rafts shook his head wonderingly then turned to the major directing a welding team.

“It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my whole life,” he declared. “In fact it’s so crazy, it might just damn well work!”


And then a gigantic concussion that seemed to originate not very far away shook the floor beneath them. It was as if the whole Hub had been struck by an enormous invisible hammer.

“What the—” Solinsky began, then cut off abruptly and stared openmouthed.

A storm of debris was erupting from somewhere on their side of the Hub, but farther around. Huge chunks of outer skin and inner bulkheads were cartwheeling away into space, accompanied by swarms of smaller fragments and spinning debris.

“What is it?” Kim shouted in alarm. • “I don’t know. It looks like something’s blown half the Hub away.”

“What’s that?”

An object had come into view from around the curve of the Hub. It had emerged, by the look of it, from the same point at which the gigantic explosion had occurred. It was a cylinder of some kind, with what seemed to be rocket motors blazing from some sort of crazy framework stuck to the tail end. It was heading straight across the gap toward Detroit.

“It’s our guys’” Solinsky yelled suddenly. “We must still have people left in the Hub! They’re going in! They’re going for Detroit! Goddammit, they’re going straight in!”

Another object appeared hard on the heels of the first. This time it was an open structure loaded high with some kind of cargo. And behind that, following at a greater distance, came a second cylinder, a huge one this time—. Fifty feet long at least Solinsky estimated.

As the tiny fleet reached the halfway point, Solinsky could see that the three craft were spreading slightly into a not quite line-astern formation. They were allowing for the relative rotation between the Hub and Detroit, he realized; with that amount of offset, they would all impact at the same point. He frowned as he watched and tried to figure out what was going on. Suddenly Kim’s voice, shrill with alarm, interrupted his thoughts.

“Mat! There are two more tubes coming!”

Solinsky took his eyes off the invasion fleet. Two of Spartacus's electron guns, which for some reason hadn’t moved outward with the rest, were coming up from under Detroit and swinging around to bear on the flotilla, which still had to be ten seconds or so away from its destination. Also, something was moving just inside the port that Spartacus had constructed in Detroit—, the one from which it had previously launched its missiles.

“They’ll never make it!” Kim shouted despairingly. “They’re going to get caught out there!”

But Solinsky already had the sighter up to his eyes. Even before Kim’s shout had ceased, the first Gremlin was on its way. At the same instant as the target blew apart, Solinsky shifted aim and fired again, seemingly without having to look. Seconds later the third Gremlin streaked into the missile port and put a quick stop to whatever had been starting to happen there. Solinsky grunted with satisfaction and lifted his head to look over the eye piece as the first cylinder closed on its target.

The explosion tore a hole in Detroit that must have been fifty feet across. The second craft plunged straight into the center of the hail of debris. Seconds later a mushroom of what looked like smoke spewed out and boiled into a maelstrom as the larger cylinder at the rear plowed straight into it behind a curtain of rockets and with a retro-motor blasting from its front end.

Solinsky was on his feet, yelling and shouting as he waved the sighter above his head.

“They’re in! Did ya see ‘em, Kim? They went straight in through the side of it! By God, I love ‘em! I love every one of them crazy bastards!”

Kim stood up next to him and hauled him firmly back into the protective shadow of the lock.

“Get back in here,” she told him. “It’s not over yet. Calm down, for heaven’s sake. If they make it, I’m going to make darn sure they know who got ‘em there. Where on Earth did you learn to shoot one of those things like that?”

“Oh didn’t I tell you?” Solinsky said, still grinning uncontrollably. “I used to be an instructor on Gremlins.”


“So he was the guy who fired those Gremlins, huh?” Linsay said. “If I don’t get him made up to captain for that, I’ll quit the goddam Army.” He turned to face his circle of officers. “I’m tellin’ ya, I saw the whole thing. I was last man in the tank and hanging half out of the jumping-off port all the way across. When those tubes started coming around and aiming straight at us … boy! Remember what they said about Nelson wearing a red coat so his men wouldn’t see the blood if he got hit? Well, I’m tellin' ya, I shoulda worn my brown pants. But when the Gremlins came shooting out from the Hub—, ma-an, that was some shooting!”


from The Two Faces of Tomorrow by James Hogan (1979)
Antares Passage
The plan was simple, if somewhat dangerous for those who were to carry it out. The camera probe had provided detailed photographs of the Ryall craft’s exterior and had confirmed its apparent lack of heavy weaponry. (“Apparent” being the operative word in that sentence, Philip kept reminding himself.) The next ships to approach the Ryall bulk carrier would be the scout boats Questor and Calico. It would be their job to disable the Ryall ship’s engines and burn away all the sensor pickups on its hull. Once the quarry was immobilized and blinded, scout boats Barracuda and Horned Devil would close to within ten meters of the Ryall ship and offload their twenty-five man boarding party. The two scouts, along with Questor and Calico and the two scout vessels from Mace, would then surround the Ryall ship and provide cover while the Marines blasted their way through the hull at two widely separated points. Once inside, it would be the Marines’ job to capture the quarry.


A scout boat is a small, heavily armed auxiliary capable of interplanetary (but not interstellar) flight. It was the normal task of such warcraft to scout an enemy before battle, and to harry him while he engaged the mother ship. Scouts were also used to ferry passengers and cargo between ships and down to the surface of a planet. They were not, however, designed to deliver ground troops to the scene of battle.

Since Barracuda was not a proper assault boat (there being none such aboard the Altan cruiser), engineers had been forced to improvise. They had done so by welding a pair of rails to the upper surfaces of Barracuda’s two stubby delta wings. The plan called for the Marine boarding party to exit the cabin, pull themselves along the wings via the safety rails, and anchor themselves for the final approach to the Ryall starship. Being out on the wings would allow a much quicker assault, although it exposed the boarding party to whatever furies the Ryall captain had at his disposal.

Philip Walkirk snapped the end of a safety line to the rail leading toward the port side of the scout and stepped out into nothingness. He pulled himself hand over hand toward the far-left position on the wing. Once there, he carefully snapped other lines to padeyes bonded to the wing for just that purpose. The new lines each had a small explosive charge at the points where they attached to Philip’s armor. At a signal from him, the charges would shear the lines, freeing him from his temporary bonds. In the meantime, however, the four-point attachment assured that he would remain fastened to his perch no matter how violently the scout maneuvered during its approach.


Philip watched the Ryall starship grow in size as the scout boat bore down on it. It had started out as a mere pinpoint and had grown to the size of a half-crown piece when the pilot’s voice echoed in his earphones.

“Acceleration in ten seconds! Hold on tight out there.”

A sudden violet nimbus sprang into existence below Philip Walkirk’s feet. At the same time, a sudden surge of acceleration threatened to pull him into his boots. He slid downward inside his armor, reaching bottom with an audible oof as Barracuda’s pilot fought to bleed off the high closing rate that had developed between the two ships. Out of the corner of his eye, Philip noted another violet-white star spring forth in the firmament. That, he knew, would be Horned Devil delivering the other half of the boarding party.

Suddenly, the pressure was gone and the scout boat hung motionless a mere ten meters from the Ryall ship.

“Cut yourselves loose, now!” As Philip said it, he thumbed the switch that would detonate his own separation charges. There was a muffled whump sound and he was free. “Engage maneuvering units! Jump for that ship!”


Philip jumped for the vast spherical hull of the Ryall starship and grounded expertly between two of the large access hatches. As he did so, reaction jets began to fire around the ship’s waist. At first, he thought the Ryall captain was using them in the hope of catching one or more attackers in their white-hot flame. When the jets continued to fire, however, Philip guessed their real purpose and ordered: “Anchor yourselves! Quickly! They’re rotating the ship in the hope of throwing us off.”

There followed a flurry of Marines anchoring themselves to the hull with magnetic clamps. (ed note: it's a good thing the hull was not made of titanium or something else non-ferrous) The point where the boarding party had landed was midway between equator and pole, and the rotation did not affect them greatly. Philip felt a light tugging at his feet as his body rotated to face outward. Around him, the Marines hung like spiders from their webs. The only figure in sight not anchored was Corporal Sayers, who was using his maneuvering jets to compensate for the slow spin and move toward the spherical ship’s too close horizon. Sayers was Barracuda’s sapper. He carried a large explosive charge strapped to his chest. He disappeared from sight. Half a minute later, he was back, jetting for Philip’s position at high speed. He had just grounded expertly next to the prince when the hull plates shivered beneath his boots. Philip felt a sharp tug on his safety line just as something large and flat spun away into space from somewhere beyond the horizon.

“I planted the entry charge against one of those medium size doors a quarter of the way around the circumference, sir.”

Why the Donnager was boarded

     When the hatch opened, Holden expected all the air to rush out. Instead, there was a loud crack and the pressure dropped slightly for a second. Outside in the corridor, thick sheets of plastic had been sealed to the walls, creating an ad hoc airlock. The walls of the new chamber bowed out dangerously with the air pressure, but they held. Inside the newly created lock, Lieutenant Kelly and three of his marines wore heavy vacuum-rated armor and carried enough weaponry to fight several minor wars.
     The marines moved quickly into the room, weapons ready, and then sealed the hatch behind them. One of them tossed a large bag at Holden.
     "Five vac suits. Get them on," Kelly said.

     "I don't know," Kelly said. "But we're leaving right now. I've been ordered to get you off this ship in an escape craft. We've got less than ten minutes to make it to the hangar bay, take possession of a ship, and get out of this combat area. Dress fast."

     "Lieutenant, is the ship coming apart?" he asked.
     "Not yet. But we're being boarded."
     "Then why are we leaving?"
     "We're losing."
     As soon as everyone had given the thumbs-up, Kelly did a quick radio check on each suit, then headed back into the corridor. With eight people in it, four of them in powered armor, the mini-airlock was tight. Kelly pulled a heavy knife from a sheath on his chest and slashed the plastic barrier open in one quick movement. The hatch behind them slammed shut, and the air in the corridor vanished in a soundless ripple of plastic flaps. Kelly charged into the corridor with the crew scrambling to keep up.

     "Roger, Lieutenant," Holden gasped out. "Why board you?"
     "The command information center," Alex said. "It's the holy grail. Codes, deployments, computer cores, the works. Takin' a flagship's CIC is a strategist's wet dream."


     "That means they'll blow the core rather than let that happen, right?"
     "Yep," Alex replied. "Standard ops for boarders. Marines hold the bridge, CIC, and engineering. If any of the three is breached, the other two flip the switch. The ship turns into a star for a few seconds."


     And even if all that worked perfectly, there was still the assault team, cutting their way into the station and fighting corridor to corridor to the nerve center to take control. Even the inner planets' best marines were terrified of breaching actions, and for good reason. Moving through unfamiliar metal hallways without cover while the enemy ambushed you at every intersection was a good way to get a lot of people killed. In training simulations back in the Earth navy, Holden had never seen the marines do better than 60 percent casualties.

     The one called Mole turned around and started to walk to the elevator when his face disintegrated in a spray of pebble-shaped bits of armored glass and blood. His armored torso and the corridor bulkhead beside him bloomed in a hundred small detonations and puffs of smoke. His body jerked and swayed, attached to the floor by magnetic boots.
     Holden's sense of unreality washed away in adrenaline. The fire spraying across the wall and Mole's body was high-explosive rounds from a rapid-fire weapon. The comm channel filled with yelling from the marines and Holden's own crew. To Holden's left, Gomez yanked the elevator doors open using the augmented strength of his powered armor, exposing the empty shaft behind them.
     "Inside!" Kelly shouted. "Everybody inside!"
     Holden held back, pushing Naomi in, and then Alex. The last marine—the one Kelly had called Dookie—fired his rifle on full auto at some target around the corner from Holden. When the weapon ran dry, the marine dropped to one knee and ejected the clip in the same motion. Almost faster than Holden could follow, he pulled a new magazine from his harness and slapped it into his weapon. He was firing again less than two seconds after he'd run out.
     Naomi yelled at Holden to get into the elevator shaft, and then a viselike hand grabbed his shoulder, yanked him off his magnetic grip on the floor, and hurled him through the open elevator doors.
     "Get killed when I'm not babysitting," Lieutenant Kelly barked.
     They shoved off the walls of the elevator shaft and flew down the long tunnel toward the aft of the ship. Holden kept looking back at the open door, receding into the distance behind them.
     "Dookie isn't following us," he said.
     "He's covering our exit," Kelly replied.
     "So we better get away," Gomez added. "Make it mean something."

(ed note: They escape in the small ship. The Donnager self destructs behind them.)

     "The Donnie went up behind us, Cap. Guess the marines didn't hold. She's gone," Alex said in a subdued voice.
     "The six attacking ships?"
     "I haven't seen any sign of them since the explosion. I'd guess they're toast."
     Holden nodded to himself. Summary roadside justice, indeed. Boarding a ship was one of the riskiest maneuvers in naval combat. It was basically a race between the boarders rushing to the engine room and the collective will of those who had their fingers on the self-destruct button. After even one look at Captain Yao, Holden could have told them who'd lose that race.
     Still. Someone had thought it was worth the risk.

     It was easy to make fun of the marines when they weren't listening. In Holden's navy days, making fun of jarheads was as natural as cussing. But four marines had died getting him off the Donnager, and three of them had made a conscious decision to do so. Holden promised himself that he'd never make fun of them again.

     "So, we just wait here till Colonel Johnson gets back to us?" Alex asked.
     "No. I wait. You two prep Lieutenant Kelly for burial. Alex, you were MCRN. You know the traditions. Do it with full honors and record it in the log. He died to get us off that ship, and we're going to accord him every respect. As soon as we land anywhere, we'll bounce the full record to MCRN command so they can do it officially."
     Alex nodded. "We'll do it right, sir."

From Leviathan Wakes by "James S.A. Corey" (Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) 2011. First novel of The Expanse

Microgravity Hand-to-Hand Combat

While military troops generally use firearms, eventually your Espatiers and Freefallers are going to find themselves floating in microgravity locked in mortal hand to hand combat. Naturally this takes a much different skill set from fighting on a planetary surface where gravity holds everything down.

Joshua Whalen is of the opinion that when it comes to microgravity hand-to-hand combat, punching your opponent is worse than useless. While floating in mid air, as you throw a punch your body will tend to move backward as your fist moves forward. This robs the blow of much of its power. And when your punch connects, both of you go sailing off in opposite directions. Newton's third law strikes again. A hook or roundhouse punch will also start you rotating around your long axis. You can only punch or kick with real damage if you are braced on a wall or other massive object. Bracing yourself might not be a problem, since spacecraft habitat modules tend to be cramped.

Mr. Whalen goes on to say that the techniques derived from JuJitsu or Tai Chi/Pa Qua will work. A gentleman who goes by the handle Marsbug notes that Judo Ne-waza techniques might also work, since those are based on when you and your opponent are lying on the ground and grappling. Choke holds and joint locks are also effective in microgravity, especially if the lock breaks a bone in your opponent's limb.

Dirk Bruere has a nice article about unarmed combat in zero g here. Highlights: Thai Boxing comes into its own since grabbing your adversary while kicking them works perfectly in free fall, many joint locks do not work with the exception of the Back Hammer and Judo Arm Bar, and pressure points are still effective.

Keep in mind of course that microgravity unarmed combat techniques that work when you and your opponent are dressed in shirt sleeves inside a shirt sleeve environment might be difficult or impossible to perform when you are dressed in a pressurized space suit. Imagine fighting when both of you are wearing inflated fat-suits. With padding.

However vacuum combat adds that added dimension of killing your assailant by puncturing their space suit. This might be difficult to do with your bare gloved hands, but it is not that hard to find something sharp and pointed. A gentleman named Mangetout pointed out that if you can get behind your space suited foe they are at a severe disadvantage. It is almost impossible for them to reach behind themselves while you can tinker with their life support back pack or the latch on their space helment. You'd want some sort of short spear or sword to defend yourself.

You might want to do some research on the hand-to-hand combat techniques used by Navy Seals when both they and their opponent are underwater in SCUBA gear. Obviously cutting your opponent's air hose works just as well in space as it does underwater.

So, how about something like Doc Smith's Leybyrdite Spaceaxes, except with some sort of multipurpose firearm built into the haft, firing out the pointy end? It can be used as a reaction pistol for free-flight maneuvering (firing buckshot that won't harm friendly body armor), target designator (laser), brawl breaker-upper (to required degree of severity), fingernail cleaner, and so on.

It'd be about three and a half feet long, with blade, beak, and spike on the business end and the muzzle(s) grouped around the spike. A lanyard on the grip for zero-g retention is mandatory, no?

Mass, maybe ten pounds or so loaded (magazine(s)/battery at the center of gravity). Well, maybe it should be unloaded when onboard one's own ship and the magazine(s)/battery slapped in only when ready to sally or repel boarders.

Mark Fergerson
Tools of the Raid or Trade

"The difference between salvage and piracy is just a matter of timing."
—Captain Zag Zagig

"Right. In salvage the crew is dead before you start stripping the ship!"
—Captain Vi Hexen just before spacing Zag Zagig

Zero gravity operations of any kind are difficult. The problems of weightlessness are compounded by the operator often needing a space suit to stay alive. The first tools for eva or zero gravity were devised in the early days of space travel: high speed, low torque power tools to facilitate the removal of the primitive nuts and bolts low tech cultures and cheapskates seem so fond of. The best tools let you do your job with the minimal apparent weight of magnetic boots or elastic lines while saving a few of your fingernails (no one has ever made spacesuit gloves that were sufficiently rugged, affordable and easy to wear.)

Modern salvage operations require a number of tools for prying, smashing, and forcing mechanical solutions on stubborn derelict interiors. It should come as no surprise that many of these tools were co-opted for fights and the ever dreaded boarding operations. This should come as no surprise to anyone with any knowledge of humans. There are aliens who insist we given toilet paper, toothpaste, and floss a human will find a way to build a shiv  (or a crossbow) and do you in with same.

The first and most prominent tool/weapon is the prier. Using a simple crowbar while floating is a problem. The prier is a set of thin tough metal plates on arms extending from a fat handle holding a powerful motor the will separate the plates or close them. It's very useful for forcing interior doors among other things. About half a minute after the first prier was put into use some realized it would not do to get an extremity caught in it and modified it with a set of metal jaws. A user will typically carry several of them on his belt. Each has a small key n the base of the handle that is tied to the belt by a lanyard. In a fight the user clamps the prier onto the victim and moves away fast causing the lanyard to pull the key out. Once the key is pulled out the prier will close inexorably on the increasingly frantic victim who must either surrender, yank it free risking damage to his suit and extremity or find kill his opponent and get that darn key.

Bang-axes are another useful tool for forcing doors or destroying them. It's essentially a single bladed axe. The head opposite the blade is wide and hold 3-4 small solid rocket engines. A trigger on the bottom of the handle triggers one rocket at a time. To use it plant your feet, aim at what you want cloven and pull the trigger. It can easily split a spacesuit helmet or visor. Untrained users find the bang-axe hellishly difficult to operate without spinning out of control or losing the weapon. On more than one occasion a rookie axman has lost his weapon only to find it in his opponent's hands.

Drill-picks are used to remove locks, bore small holes, and etch metal. They resemble daggers with a drill replacing the solid blade. They are simple to modify into weapons. Basically any pressure on the drill point activates it. In use it is typically aimed at the non-rigid components of armor since rigid plating requires a a good solid stab that an opponent will do more to avoid than a lock. A few skilled brawlers have managed to grab a pick and bend it rendering it unusable before it can engage. This is usually a bad idea outside of action holos as it lose your spacesuit's glove (and the fingers it contains).

Note these weapons still are useful as tools in salvage operations or belt mining. Pirates harassing belters or salvage operations do so at their own risk.

From Tools of the Raid or Trade by Rob Garitta (2016)

Take That, You Alpha Centaurian Swine!

Noted SF author Harry Harrison had some musings about microgravity weapons that were not firearms, written up in the October 1967 issue of Amra in an article titled Take That, You Alpha Centaurian Swine!. He later used some of the weapons in a short story called "No War, Or Battle’s Sound".

Power Axe

The general level of weaponry in hand-to-hand space battling is very depressing. All of the invention seems to have been done by E.E. Smith a few generations back, and the authors who came along later have been happy to use Doc’s armory without modification. The names may be changed, but call it what you will — it is still Van Buskirk’s space axe that crunches through the helmet.

And what about that space axe? As described by the immortal Doc even the iron-thewed Van couldn’t have done much damage with it in a null-G situation. You only have to think of all the complex tools that have been designed to turn nuts and bolts in space — without having the operator turn in the opposite direction — to realize what would happen when that mighty axe was swung.

I have brooded on this problem, and the possibilities of new weaponry in space, and present the results here. They are free for all to use, I ask only that authors retain the names I have assigned so I can enjoy a bit of egoboo.

Firstly that axe. It will have to become a Power Axe that will operate independently of gravity. To all appearances a normal axe, it has a power source concealed in the haft and four small jets located in the tip beyond the blade. The only pressure required to swing it is the pressure of a fingertip on a switch.

Admittedly a great deal of practice in free fall will be required to master this device — but time is one thing that the military has in sufficient quantity and a daily drill with the Power Axe will be a welcome addition to the schedule of activities. Once mastered the axe can be used as a second source of propulsion in space as well as being a deadly weapon to be used to hack through space armor. — Harry Harrision

Lightning Prod

So much for the normal. What about the original weapons, the devices that grow out of need, that are adapted only for use in space, against space-suited opponents. The possibilities are wonderful.

Consider the situation. You are faced with an opponent in a spacesuit, armored perhaps, though weight and the resulting inertia might prove to be a handicap. In any case the problem to be solved is the same one that has faced every soldier since the beginning of time. Kill the opponent. In space this can be done two ways — by killing the individual, or by destroying the integrity of his protecting suit so that the conditions of space kill him.

First the opponent. A device that will not work against an armored opponent but which will be just dandy against a fabric-swathed enemy is the Lightning Prod.

A light weight hand-held device that can be easily maneuvered into position, it has a single operating button that triggers a jet from the rear of the handle (A). The jet drives the Lightning Prod forward at a speed great enough to force the sharp spikes (B) through the layers of cloth and rubberized fabric so that they bite into the flesh of the luckless occupant of the suit. Upon complete penetration the triggers (C) are closed and a death-dealing shock from compact accumulators is sent through the conducting spikes. End of enemy — Harry Harrision

Drillger

The Drillger may be used against armor or fabric, and is a powered weapon with driving jet in the hilt (A). The blade is a tapered drill, something like a rock drill, that turns at great speed and that can easily penetrate most materials. If a deadly wound is not inflicted the removal of the Drillger will leave a nice vent for the suit’s atmosphere. — Harry Harrision

Gropener

More useful against full space armor is the Gropener. Held in one hand it is activated by a single button (A). This turns on jet (B) that pushes the weapon against the opponent with great force allowing the oscillating blade (C) to saw a slot, hack off a limb or a head or generally cause enough damage to win the encounter. — Harry Harrision

Nipoff

The Nipoff utilizes the ancient principle of the geared down worm screw, the same simple mechanical device that enables a 100 pound woman to lift a two ton car. Held in one hand it need only be pushed gently against the enemy’ s arm or leg to become effective. At that moment the battle is over and the victor can go on to more important duties. Contact closes button (A) which causes the two blades to close on the chosen limb. Once locked in place it cannot be removed and the unlucky victim can only look on in horror as the geared down electric motor slowly closes the blade and severs the member. Very nasty. — Harry Harrision

Pryder

I think it fair to assume that technology will have advanced a bit by the time hand-to-hand space battles will be needed — if they ever will be needed — and it is not unfair to assume that a reversible adhesive will be developed. We are learning a lot about surface films these days and a film whose character can be changed electronically to be alternately adhesive and neutral seems a logical outcome. This film coats the feet of the Pryder (a prying spider if the derivation appears dubious) and enables it to walk on any space suit surface.

The Pryder can be hand launched or scattered mechanically in a mass barrage. When one of these little devices touches a surface it begins a spiral search pattern over the surface, with sensitive extensions of the prying-jaws (A) searching for any cracks or openings. As soon as a joint or wrinkle is detected the Pryder stops and squats and turns on full adhesion. The prying-jaws are inserted, the motor started and whatever crack they are jammed into is widened. The result is obvious. — Harry Harrision

Slaphole

A nasty bit of business is the Slaphole. This has an armored back that is held in the palm — and a contact fuse operated shaped charge on the inner face. In use it is a deadly slap, on the back, since contact explodes the charge which punches most of its energy straight down, blowing a neat hole through whatever material the space suit is made of. — Harry Harrision

Soot-Shoot

A final, and not so deadly, weapon is the Soot-shoot, a hand held device to be used for taking opponents out of operation, perhaps when prisoners are needed. It has a charge of compressed gas that expels positively charged particles of carbon black. Aimed at a helmet it would blanket it and render the occupant blind. Very neat. Truss him up and bring him home. — Harry Harrision

Space Army

For nomenclature about various aggregate army units see the TV Tropes Common Military Units: Army Units entry, Standard Sci Fi Army entry and TV Tropes Common Ranks entry.

Military strategies are methods of arranging and maneuvering large bodies of military forces during armed conflicts (i.e., for the entire war). Wikipedia has a nice list of military strategies here.

Military tactics are techniques for using weapons or military units in combination for engaging and defeating an enemy in a given battle. Wikipedia has a nice list of military tactics here.

US Army Units
UnitAPP-6A
Symbol
Number
of
Soldiers
Commanding
Officer
Description
Fire and
maneuver team
Ø2Senior soldierTwo foot soldiers who cover each other
FireteamØ4—5Lance corporal to SergeantMaximum tactical flexibility with the minimal size
Squad, Patrol8—16Corporal to Staff Sergeant2 or more fireteams
Platoon•••15—60Warrant officer to 2nd Lieutenant2 or more squads
CompanyI70—250Chief warrant officer to Major2 to 8 platoons
BattalionII300—1000Lieutenant colonel2 to 6 companies
RegimentIII2000—3000Colonel2 or more battalions
BrigadeX2000—5000Colonel to Brigadier general2 or more regiments or 3 to 6 battalions
DivisionXX10,000—20,000Major general2 to four brigades or regiments
CorpsXXX30,000—80,000Lieutenant General2 or more divisions
ArmyXXXX60,000—100,000+General2 to 4 corps
Army groupXXXXX250,000+General to Field marshal2 or more armies
Region, theater,
or front
XXXXXX1,000,000+General to Field marshal4 or more army groups
Infantry
Basic soldiers. Comes in Light, Line (standard), Heavy, and Elite, depending upon what calibre their weapons are.
Mechanized Infantry
Infantry transported with armored troop carriers, and trained to work in tandem with armored fighting vehicles (AFV, tanks). Combined Arms.
Cavalry
Infantry who rides something other than troop carriers, often helicopters.
Armored
Armored fighting vehicles (AFV), i.e., tanks. Some have treads (ordinary tanks), some are hovercraft (Hover Tanks), some have handwaving artificial gravity (Grav Armor), ridiculously some can tunnel through the ground (Drill Tank), even more ridiculously some have mecha legs (Walking Tank). All of them have a huge main gun.
Army Aviation
Generally helicopters. Used to strafe AFV with anti-tank rockets, inserting and recovering special forces, emergency logistics, and medical evacuation.
Paratroops/Airborne
Special troops that can be inserted by parachute, rocket belts (Jump Troops), dropship or meteoric assault (Drop Troops). Used to cut enemy logistics lines and otherwise suddenly appear in locations the enemy does not expect.
Engineers
Army engineers. Some simply do maintenance and repair. Seabees (United States Navy Construction Battalion) or Pioneers build bases, roads, and other construction projects in military theaters. Sappers and Miners specialized in bringing down the walls of enemy fortifications by digging tunnels in order to lay explosive charges ("undermining"). All of these tasks might have to be performed while under fire from the enemey.
Air Defense
Weapons used to attack those nasty enemy aircraft that are strafing you. May include electroic countermeasures to make it difficult for the enemy to even find you. May also include weapons to attack enemy spacecraft in low orbit who are dumping ortillery on you.
Headquarters
The commander of the military unit, their staff, and their support (mostly intelligence reports). And a security guard to prevent the commander from being interrupted by rude strangers.
Intelligence
Collects and studies information on the enemy, including prisoner interrogation. Not to mention computer hacking. The results of analysis are given to Headquarters.
Logistics/Supply
Troopers whose job is too keep the rest of the army supplied with ammo, food, fuel, and whatever else they need. Probably the most important troops of all. See below.
Signals
Technicians responsible for communications. In media science fiction this is often erroneously shown to be easy, in reality it is freaking difficult.
Medical
Medics, tasked with saving the lives of wounded soldiers. Will commonly help wounded enemy soldiers as well, unless the enemy was stupid enough to issue "Shoot The Medic First" orders.
Artillery
Huge guns sited at some distance from the enemy (hopefully) in order to indirectly fire death from above. Since by definition the artillery cannot see their targets, there has to be a lonely forward observer giving the artillery the target coordinates. Of course the angry enemy will try to attack your artillery with counter-battery fire. Artillery fired from low orbit onto ground troops is called ortillery. And if the combat lines unexpected shift, the artillery will be in a whole world of trouble when the enemy troops over run them.
Special Forces
The elite of the elite. US Navy SEALs, US Army Rangers, etc.
Military Police
Main job is arresting soldiers who break the local laws, generally in bar fights.
Tactics

When you boil it all down, here’s what you need to know as an officer:

Divide your command into three elements.

When you contact the enemy, pin him with one element while you use the second to try to maneuver around a flank.

Hold the third element in reserve to exploit any successes the first or second elements may achieve, or to cover their retreat in case of disaster.

It works for platoons, it works for companies, it works for divisions. There are a few refinements, which we’ll cover in the rest of this course, but if you can remember that one basic tactic, you’ll do fine.

From GURPS Traveller Star Mercs by Martin Dougherty and Niel Frier (1999)

The gallery, when the jeep emerged onto it, was empty except for casualties, a few still alive. The side of the airboat was caved in; the lifter-load of ammunition had gone up with the bomb. He moved the jeep to the right of the shaft and waited for the vehicles behind him, suffering a brief indecision.

Never divide your force in the presence of the enemy.

There had been generals who had done that and gotten away with it, but they'd had names like Foxx Travis and Robert E. Lee and Napoleon—Napoleon; that was who'd made that crack about omelets! They'd known what they were doing. He was playing this battle by ear.

from The Cosmic Computer aka Junkyard Planet by H. Beam Piper (1963)

There are some who say that in a universe full of combat starships capable of obliteraing a planet, ground troops are obsolete. William Frisbee explains why this is not the case. There are plenty of tasks that troops can perform which are not possible to do with strategic weapons.

Troopers may be much like real-world soldiers, except they will probabably have much more advanced equipment. Including advanced armored fighting vehicles. Troops will also be trained to fight alongside armored vehicles, combat aircraft, and artillery (both ground based and orbital). This is called Combined Arms.

Another piece of advanced equipment science fiction writers like to equip their troopers with is directed energy weapons instead of conventional slug-throwers. Usually laser rifles. As a general rule though laser weapons are more trouble than they are worth.

In addition to engaging in fluid battles, the army may also have to deal with planetary fortresses, either manning them or assaulting them.


Compared to space marines, space army troops will be relatively unskilled and non-elite. Quantity over quality in other words. This means specialized spacecraft will be needed specfically designed to ferry large numbers of troops to battle fronts on other planets.

Transporting battalions of ground troops to other planets will be a major headache. The troop transports will be huge, probably easy targets for hostile ships, lightly armed (if at all), and not very maneuverable. They will need escort ships for protection. Another thing needed are fleets of logistic ships to transport all the food and ammo the battalions are going to need. Finally there must be a way to insert the troops into the combat zone, and get them out if need be.

Rick Robinson:

(Nick Maggs: So once the space battle is over the 'winner' needs to enforce their will on the newly obtained planet (or whatever) does it still come down to the marines / army?)

Depends on my objectives, and your will to resist. If my intent is punishment (or genocide), I inflict it and leave. If my intent is to disrupt and dominate your trade, I don't need to land on your planet. If you wanna trade with the rest of the universe, I'm sure we can make a deal.

If I want you to pay taxes, or convert to Scientology, or whatever, then I have a more complicated choice. From space I can't actually exact obedience; absent your compliance I can only kill you. On the other hand, the more extreme my demands, the more I may be willing to kill whole bunches of you as an example to the rest. "Bombing only stiffens our resolve" failed its one test against nukes.

So I'm not sure there's really a place for space marines or not. It seems to me that, beyond what is essentially police work, space marines are only useful if you are ruthless enough to conquer planets, but not ruthless enough to do it by sheer terror.


Jon Brase: As far as I'm concerned, planetary defenses can be pretty powerful and well protected (you can have big missiles, lots of propellant for them, big lasers, big generators and heat sinks for the lasers, and everything can be very well armored by the huge amount of rock available), to the point that to soften the defenses to where they can't stop space marines from landing means slagging the planet to the point that there isn't much of value left. So your options with an enemy planet are

A. blockade them, and don't let them trade with anybody until they let you land marines and take over.

B. threaten to slag them unless they let you land marines and take over.

C. slag them.


Rick Robinson: I pretty much agree. Given anything like the sort of techs we generally imagine here, a planetary landing and surface fight against serious resistance is horribly expensive and difficult. You have to spacelift large amounts of troops and munitions, then soft-land it all, fat slow targets coming down against defenders with surface concealment. The armament of your deep space warcraft may be be more or less useless against surface targets, requiring an additional force of fire support ships.

Sure, troops can land in remote areas — but then they are in remote areas, facing a long surface slog on a planet where the locals know their way around a lot better. And no matter where you land, shuttles coming down have a long re-entry trajectory during which they are extremely conspicuous and extremely vulnerable.


Ken Burnside: See the article in Nexus Journal #1 for a lot of information on this.


Wilhelm Fritz: With all these discussions about conquering planets — isn't there a big difference between a full blown home-planet of some species and a colonial planet?

I think, even after a few centuries of colonisation, these planets should have a typical COLONIAL infrastructure. That is, they have one or two big cities, a few major mining and industrial centers and the connecting railways, highways or ports between them.

So conquering a colony seems to me the task of taking some central points and blackmailing the rest of the inhabitants with some orbital nukes.

Whatever the colonials intend, they might only have the choice to surrender or retreat into the wilderness, which is — in most cases regarding interstellar colonisation — not the very human-friendly outback of olden days of America or Australia.


Rick Robinson:

(Wilhelm Fritz: I think, even after a few centuries of colonisation, these planets should have a typical COLONIAL infrastructure. That is, they have one or two big cities, a few major mining and industrial centers and the connecting railways, highways or ports between them.)

Good point. I admit that my mental image of "planetary conquest" is something like a space Normandy against the equivalent of a major industrial country — a population on order of 100 million people.

Against a colony with population of a few million — what your description evokes — is obviously an order of magnitude or two smaller, and can bring in qualitative changes as well. A small colony with limited industries will not have a multidivision defense force with lots of heavy equipment, unless someone is helping them.

(Wilhelm Fritz: So conquering a colony seems to me the task of taking some central points and blackmailing the rest of the inhabitants with some orbital nukes.)

Quite some overkill against farmhouses! :>

Control a few central points and you probably control lots more — even outback farmers have to come to town to sell their crops and buy equipment. Outback guerillas may be tough to deal with out of all proportion to their numbers, but the problem depends on your objectives, your ruthlessness, etc.

If the population is not particularly hostile (you're just another tax collector, no better or worse than the last or next one), you may be able to land and garrison a planet with quite a small force, especially if you can rely at all on local cops.


Jon Fellows: There is another situation that discussion of plantetary assault has to consider. Liberation of a friendly planet that has surrendered to foreign forces. Obviously a threat to slag the planet is not available. Likewise chasing off the enemy orbital garrison might not be sufficient — you might still have to dig the enemy out, particularly if he's been there for a while.


Rick Robinson: On the other hand, the enemy garrison is cut off. Unless relieved, they will have to surrendereventually unless they can hold out indefinitely as a tyrannical local government. This is possible, especially if the motive for the enemy conquest was ideological.

In most cases, though, once their prospect of relief is eliminated, stranded garrisons on hostile planets are not super motivated to hold out forever. Moreover, whoever sent them may prefer to negotiate to get them back rather than have the dubious honor of having conquered a planet from which they can draw no benefit, or even communicate with.

But the real trick question here is, what is the desired force mix for a star empire anticipating war with another star empire? You have three basic force components you can purchase: space forces, ground forces, and assault spacelift for the latter. (Assuming that grunts and gyrines are otherwise interchangeable.) Whatever you buy of any, you have less of the other two.

(ed note: "grunts" is a jocular derogatory reference to "army trooper", while "gyrines" is a jocular derogatory reference to "marine")

If you are planning a war of planetary conquest you will eventually need ground troops and spacelift for them — but only after you have won in space. Maybe you should only build space forces until you have won control of space. Anything you spend on the army and spacelift going in comes out of your fleet budget, making it less likely you'll win the all important space battles. After you've won those, then you can mothball most of your warships and buildup invasion forces. Your enemies, already defeated in space, cannot support each other, so you can pick off their planets one at a time.

If you are planning a defensive war over multiple planets, what do you build? Certainly not much assault spacelift, because you have no intention to invade planets. You may eventually have to reconquer planets, but that is not a main consideration going in. Defensive garrisons are inefficient, because you haveto garrison every likely invasion target, while the attacker can pick themoff one at a time.

Surely your best defensive option is to build a powerful space force, and lightly garrison your planets so you don't face that embarrassing situation where your Invincible Space Fleet is stranded becauseall your planets were occupied by battalion-strength assault teams carried aboard corvette transports. :>

Long story short: Given techs anything like the broad informal consensus around here, interstellar warfare is like island warfare, and sea power trumps land power. Yes, island warfare in the Pacific in WW II involved lots of ground combat, but so far as I can see itwas almost entirely because the US needed island bases for ground-based aircraft. Otherwise we could have just cut them off and left them to die on the vine once the IJN was defeated at sea.

Another factor in the mix may be that armies and space forces draw on quite different resources. Space forces draw (probably) for the most part on space-specific industries, e.g. shipbuilding, and may have a very small recruitment footprint. An army probably needs a lot more manpower, on the one hand, and may get mucht of its materiel from fairly light planet-based industries.

Both presumably cost money, and that is a tradeoff, but you can build up your ground forces even if your shipyards are already maxed out.

From a thread in SFConSim-l
Sword and Sceptre

“Fall out, Wiszorik!” Calvin ordered. “Lay out your kit.”

“Sir!” Private Wiszorik might have smiled thinly, but if he did Bannister missed it. He swung the packframe easily off his shoulders and stood it on the ground. The headquarters squad helped him lay out his nylon shelter cloth, and Wiszorik emptied the pack, placing each item just so.

Rifle: a New Aberdeen seven-mm semi-automatic with ten-shot clip and fifty-round box magazine, both full and spotlessly clean like the rifle. A bandolier of cartridges. Five grenades. Nylon belt with bayonets, canteen, spoon, and stainless cup that served as a private’s entire mess kit. Great-cloak and poncho, string net underwear, layers of clothing—

“You’ll note he’s equipped for any climate,” Falkenberg commented. “He’d expect to be issued special gear for a non-Terran environment, but he can live on any inhabitable world with what he’s got.”

“Yes.” Bannister watched interestedly. The pack hadn’t seemed heavy, but Wiszorik kept withdrawing gear from it. First aid kit, chemical warfare protection drugs and equipment, concentrated field rations, soup and beverage powders, a tiny gasoline-burning field stove—“What’s that?” Bannister asked. “Do all the men carry them?”

“One to each maniple, sir,” Wiszorik answered.

“His share of five men’s community equipment,” Falkenberg explained. “A monitor, three privates, and a recruit make up the basic combat unit of this outfit, and we try to keep the maniples self-sufficient.”

More gear came from the pack. Much of it was light alloys or plastic, but Bannister wondered about the total weight. Trowel, tent pegs, nylon cordage, a miniature cutting torch, more group equipment for field repairs to both machinery and the woven Nemourlon armor, night sights for the rifle, a small plastic tube half a meter long and eight centimeters in diameter—“And that?” Bannister asked.

“Antiaircraft rocket,” Falkenberg told him. “Not effective against fast jets, but it’ll knock out a chopper ninety-five percent of the time. Has some capability against tanks, too. We don’t like the men too dependent on heavy weapons units.”

“I see. Your men seem well equipped, Colonel,” Bannister commented. “It must weight them down badly.”

“Twenty-one kilograms in standard g field,” Falkenberg answered. “More here, less by a lot on Washington. Every man carries a week’s rations, ammunition for a short engagement, and enough equipment to live in the field.”

“What’s the little pouch on his belt?” Bannister asked interestedly.

Falkenberg shrugged. “Personal possessions. Probably everything he owns. You’ll have to ask Wiszorik’s permission if you want to examine that.”

From Sword and Sceptre by Jerry Pournelle (1973)
StarSoldier

(ed note: this game is a sequel to the tabletop game StarForce: Alpha Centauri. Due to the odd background universe, literally the only valuable thing a planet has to offer is the colonists. Therefore in the game StarSoldier, the soldiers have to avoid causing civilian casualties at all costs.)

"Teleships" are starships, their faster-than-light movement is called "shifting". A "StarGate" is a sort of orbital fortress defending the planet from invading Teleships. The "Heissen Field" is a weapon that allows starships in orbit to render everybody on the planet unconsious. Everybody that is unprotected, defending StarSoldiers are unaffected.)

[20.0] ORBITAL BOMBARDMENT

COMMENTARY:

Undisputed control of local space is a doctrinal prerequisite to any attempt by a StarForce to induce a Heissen Field and land StarSoldiers on an unfriendly planet. It is therefore usually the case that only one side—the side attacking, in the strategic sense—that will be able to call upon off-surface support. And being extremely destructive, Orbital Ground Support is only utilized in extreme circumstances. In any event, the provision of support bombardment by even "unopposed" StarForces is somewhat problematic, as the presence of automated and StarSoldier manned defensive missile batteries and laser banks on the surface of the planet has the capacity to make things difficult for orbiting Teleships. A StarForce may not move or defend itself telesthetically within the proximity of the gravity fields which characterize solar systems, and so is dependent upon "conventional" kinetic drive (Energy Modulation Packs) and computer-directed laser interception for those tasks. Faced with a powerful surface defense utilized to capacity, Teleships generally adopt variable geometary orbits, which allow them to approach closely to the planet for brief and unpredictable passes. At least two StarForces (eight TeleShips) are required to provide effective ground support under such circumstances.

[27.1] PATROL SITUATION

25th Century-style ground combat features mobile, extremely independent troops and highly sophisticated data-gathering and data-dispersing systems. Given that, the classic territorial-oriented 20th Century infantry patrol activity will be unheard of, based as it is on the concept of a "front." There will be no "front" when individual soldiers, with only intermittent and minimal logistical dependency, can transport themselves at speeds in excess of 4000 km/hour.

Nevertheless, relatively immobile ground bases will be present. These bases will perform a multitude of functions: shield selected key civilian personnel from the effects of the invader-induced Heissen Field, provide repair and equipment stations for StarSoldiers in the field, perform tracking functions, provide planetary defense against the Invaders' orbiting Teleships (or against the defender's orbiting satellites), and so forth. To some extent, the bases will be concealable from off-world detection, so long as energy emissions are effectively shielded. Actual surface searches will be necessary to pin down the locations. Much of the ground combat will center around the search for, protection and defense of and assaults against these bases. The Patrol Situation represents an outer-perimeter defense of such a base pitted against a probing search/patrol. The probing force will hereinafter be referred to as the "Alpha Force," the defending force as the "Bravo Force."

Depending on such factors as the size and purpose of the base and the availability of orbital intelligence info, the Alpha Force will have a more or less vague knowledge of the location of the base. The purpose of the patrol will be to determine the location within a specific sector of the planet's surface.

[42.0] DESIGNER'S NOTES

Much of the background history for StarSoldier was derived from a previous SPI game. StarForce, which provided a general strategic framework in which the various Races could Telesthetically "shift" across interstellar distances to fight short-term wars to determine the economic and political control of planetary systems. With the strategic pattern set, it was still necessary to answer a number of tactical questions before StarSoldier could proceed. First off, why do StarSoldiers try to conquer planets at all?

Basically it is assumed that a normal attack on a planetary system would follow these general lines: a number of Friendly StarForces would shift into the area of the target system, driving off any defending Enemy StarForces, and neutralizing the Enemy StarGate (which acts as both a transfer point and defensive stronghold). Once control of local space is assured, Heissen Fields would be directed at the inhabited planets, rendering the "civilians" unconscious, (but not affecting StarSoldiers, who are protected by their Active Battle Dress).

Finally, Friendly StarSoldiers that have been carried in the StarForces would debark onto gravity sleds and assault the planetary system. After a short fight (from 12 to 24 hours), there would have been sufficient casualties so that one side or the other would surrender. (Remember, except for the Xenophobe Wars, these conflicts are not "fights to the death.").

Obviously a large amount of technological restraint is being practiced throughout, as it is within the abilities of both sides to effectively end all life on a planet should they choose to do so. (Indeed, present-day technology could probably come close to achieving this). Casualties among civilians are minimized for "humanitarian" reasons, and in order to provide a broad population base from which to draw Telesthetics. In the short run, it is also necessary to suppress Enemy StarSoldiers in order to prevent Low Energy Assaults on a Friendly StarGate in the system. Such assaults would be carried out by a small number of Soldiers making a shipboard "Newtonian" approach to the StarGate (i.e., actually traveling through space at a constant acceleration of about 30 Gs) and attempting to disable it.

Knowing both the causes and results of a Star Soldier attack, it was then necessary to determine exactly how they fight. Basically, since no one can predict conditions 500 years in the future anyway, the technology was developed to meet the situation. The trend throughout history has been to reduce the density of soldiers per given area of terrain. Thus the game scale is quite large, about one kilometer per hex, with a correspondingly low unit density. The ability to cover these vast distances is achieved through the use of high-speed travel, especially in Airborne Mode. Since units may move at top speeds of over 2500 MPH (and in an atmosphere, no less), it is assumed that a method of frictionless flight has been developed.

Moreover, because they are cyborgs (i.e., "men" adapted to make full use of a comparable technology of fairly intelligent machines), Soldiers can deal with an immense amount of information and tasks at all times. This allows them to function without the panic and disorientation that occurs (especially at the personal level) in present-day warfare. Their Active Battle Dress is more than just a convenient "combat suit." Rather, it is a complete mobile environment, equipped with its own limited level of conscious awareness. (Androids are the extreme extension of this principle). Soldiers also have a virtually unlimited source of energy (their Energy Conversion Pack), and the ability to efficiently transform one type of energy to another (neatly avoiding problems of inertia and ammunition supply).

Players will note that there are no Scenarios showing the ferocious onslaught of aroused natives on a poor outnumbered StarSoldier squad. (Except for the Dinkblog, which is a creature with certain obvious unusual abilities). Such Scenarios are not included because such an event would be, uh, unrealistic. That is, an individual who can travel at 2500 MPH in an atmosphere, can screen his own energy emissions to the point where he is no longer visible to the unaided eye, who can survive enormous G forces and both use and survive the use of terribly sophisticated weaponry is unlikely to be affected by some poor fellow armed with a medieval crossbow (or an F-14 fighter, for that matter). Murphy's Law would dictate that this would happen occasionally, but it would be on a very low order of probability. Put simply, élan has never been much of a match for competently applied technology, and never will be.

Incidentally, the technology itself is changing in the game, as the period covered is several hundreds of years. In fact, because the rate of change is considered to be fairly even, coupled with conscious efforts to prevent the technology from getting out of hand, all that actually occurs is that the game scale is probably expanding in the later Scenarios.

Asymmetrical Warfare

“You’re Liiriani, yes?” The recruiter eyed the tattered uniforms on those crowding into his prefab. “Ex-military. Wait… you’re Temple Guard? The ones left behind after the fall of Mantaniir?”

“Yeah. I was at Mantaniir. We all were.” The scarred veteran’s lip curled, and he spat. “Proud Mantaniir. Glorious Mantaniir. Mantaniir the Unfallen, Guardian of the Holies, all of that. Well, it didn’t fall, or we’d be dead. It was swept aside like it was nothing.”

“The first day could have been the last day. We —“

…were prepared, we were ready, we were the last line of defense for Iliir itself, and we knew they were coming at dawn. They’d told us that much. But we heard nothing. Saw nothing. Not until dawn.

We’d never fought a space war before. No-one understood what it meant that we’d lost the high orbitals. Not until the k-rods started falling, and then it was too late to help us. The minefields down-valley went in the first wave — to give us time to see what was killing us. The flak towers went in the next, along with communications and sensors. Then they started drunkwalking their shots around the valley, blasting walls, barracks, everything left of the fortress flat. What was left of us had run for the bunkers by then, and down through them into the deep tunnels. Couldn’t so much as get a shot off. We were down there for days — any time someone made a run for it, or poked so much as a nose-tip above ground, they dropped a k-rod on them. We had no power — if any generators started up, that bunker got a k-rod within minutes. Just hiding in the dark.

And then the machines hit us, wolves and spiders. From both sides — we heard later that their stormtroopers bypassed us and dropped on Iliir directly. Wolves, the little ones, ‘bots that run in packs, wall, ceiling, or floor, see in the dark, spit bullets or tear a man’s leg off themselves. And then the spiders, big eight-legged bastards with fire and cutting torches and rockets. All howling to each other like the gods below. And they wouldn’t die! Enough explosive might stop one, but if it wasn’t torn apart, it’d fix itself — or the rest of them would — and come after you again.

So we surrendered. The spiders herded us outside again, up among the craters, and fenced us in with electrowire. A couple of us tried to make a break for it. They didn’t get past the perimeter. Spiders didn’t care — they just sat there watching us, day and night. A couple of days later, one of their armor boys came by to look us over, and left us a crate of rat-bars and a medkit. Then he left us there with just the spiders to watch us. That was the only enemy we saw in the entire battle.

Two weeks later, we got word that the war was over, the Council had been captured, surrendered, were killed, one of those. The spiders all marched back into a shuttle and left us alone, then, so we scavenged what we could, tried to stay alive. A week after that, the new Council had all of us who’d let Iliir fall through our ‘heretical incompetence’ shoved aboard an old ore freighter and dumped us on this craphole planet.

“— are what’s left of the Liirian Temple Guard, yeah. Seventh Fist Ileer, commanding. And me an’ the boys’ll fight for you. Nothing else left for us now. But only if we’re fighting men. Nothing that don’t bleed and won’t die.”

— Sagivv’s Company recruitment interview, Márch, eight months after the Liir Conflict

Deploying To Planet

Once your troop spacecraft have made the long journey from the staging base to the planet to be invaded, there must be a way to insert the troops into the combat zone, and get them out if need be. The landing boats will need armor and weapons if the landing zone is "hot" (i.e., full of hostile troops shooting at you).

ITHACUS Payload breakdown
ItemMass
(pounds)
Troops
(x1200 @ 180 lb each)
216,000
Troop equipment
(40 lb/man))
48,000
Troop provisions
(20 lb/man
seat, restraints)
24,000
Life support
(7.5 psi)
20,000
Cabin structure
(bulkheads and floors)
145,000
Acoustic dampening12,000
Nose Faring25,000
Crew module10,000
Total:500,000

Shown above is the "Ithacus". This was a 1963 proposal by Douglas Aircraft, inspired by the ROMBUS plug-nozzle concept. This bold proposal was a semi-single-stage-to-orbit intercontinental troop transport capable of carrying 1,200 soldiers. General Wallace Greene thought that rocket commandos deployed by Ithacus would reduce the need for oversea US Army bases.

The concept was orginally called "ICARUS", but the Marines objected to that name. You do not want to name your flying transport after a mythological figure whose melting wings caused him fall to his death.

Ithacus had a range of 14,000 kilometers, with a maximum payload of 226 metric tons (500,000 pounds) in theory. But if it was launched with an easterly trajectory Terra's rotation gave enough bonus velocity that it could carry 281 metric tons (620,000 pounds). Conversely, launching it westward reduced the payload to 171 metric tons (380,000 pounds).

Ithacus had six troop decks with 200 acceleration couches per deck. A flight crew module carried a crew of four. The module could eject in case of emergencies, but this feature was only incorporated into cargo or flight testing models, not the troop-carriers. Airline passengers are unnerved by the sight of the flight crew wearing parachutes, and presumably so are rocket marines. Ithacus did have emergency floatation balloons so it could abort to a water landing. But if could only abort to solid ground, the results would be unfortunate.

The flight would be limited to a maximum of 3-g acceleration, so the troops would not be too damaged to deploy and fight. It would reach an apogee of 127 nautical miles. Flight time would be about 26 minutes for 3750 nautical miles. When it approached the ground it would have enough fuel to hover for about 30 seconds and "translate" (i.e., move sideways) about 300 meters to find a suitable landing spot. You never know when the planned touch-down spot might be full of hostile troops.

It also would be possible for Ithacus to launch into a low polar orbit and loiter there. This would make the range global, and wage psychological warfare on the enemy as they nervously watched the orbital Sword of Damocles jam packed with marines. Such an orbital launch would reduce the allowable payload.

The fly in the ointment was the unanswered question of how the heck do you get the rocket back home? Blasted thing was 64 meters tall. Even after it burnt all its fuel and unloaded the troops it still had a mass of 500 metric tons. Refueling it and having it rocket back home was out of the question. The monster had a thrust of 80,200 kiloNewtons. It can only safely take off from a custom build launch pad. In theory, if the landing site could be fully secured and if the landing site was reasonable close to a coastal port, Ithacus could be refueled with enough hydrogen to hover and translate to the port. There it could be loaded onto a special transport ship for the journey home.

For more details about Ithacus, check out Aerospace Projects Review vol 2 number 6.


Robert Heinlein's classic novel Starship Troopers took a slightly more practical approach. In each insertion there were only a few troopers deployed. Each trooper was wearing a powered armor suit making each one the functional equivalent of Iron Man armed with nuclear weapons, so you had quality over quantity (i.e., they were more like space marines than they were like space army).

Heinlein's Starship Troopers were deployed from orbit, riding one-man atmospheric reentry pods surrounded by lots of decoys and anti-radar chaff. Dougherty and Frier's term for this kind of insertion is "Meteoric Assault", the soldiers are called "Drop Troops." The reentry pods were only slightly larger than the individual trooper. After a battle the troops were retrieved by a landing boat. A "spike" was fired into a relatively safe location to act as a radio homing beacon. Both the troops and the landing boat would then head towards the beacon. Dougherty and Frier point out that troops must secure a landing zone for the spike otherwise the landing boat will be shot to pieces on the way down. Since there is no other way besides landing boat to extract the troops, the only alternatives are to fight to the death or surrender to the enemy.

But in science fiction, by far the most popular method of deploying troops from orbit to the planet's surface is the dropship (see section below).

Starship Troopers

Bump! and your capsule jerks ahead one place—bump! and it jerks again, precisely like cartridges feeding into the chamber of an old-style automatic weapon. Well, that's just what we were . . . only the barrels of the gun were twin launching tubes built into a spaceship troop carrier and each cartridge was a capsule big enough (just barely) to hold an infantryman with all field equipment.


And clang!—it's my turn as my capsule slams into the firing chamber—then WHAMBO! the explosion hits with a force that makes the Captain's braking maneuver feel like a love tap.

Then suddenly nothing.

Nothing at all. No sound, no pressure, no weight. Floating in darkness . . . free fall, maybe thirty miles up, above the effective atmosphere, falling weightlessly toward the surface of a planet you've never seen. But I'm not shaking now; it's the wait beforehand that wears. Once you unload, you can't get hurt—because if anything goes wrong it will happen so fast that you'll buy it without noticing that you're dead, hardly.

Almost at once I felt the capsule twist and sway, then steady down so that my weight was on my back . . . weight that built up quickly until I was at my full weight (0.87 gee, we had been told) for that planet as the capsule reached terminal velocity for the thin upper atmosphere. A pilot who is a real artist (and the Captain was) will approach and brake so that your launching speed as you shoot out of the tube places you just dead in space relative to the rotational speed of the planet at that latitude. The loaded capsules are heavy; they punch through the high, thin winds of the upper atmosphere without being blown too far out of position—but just the same a platoon is bound to disperse on the way down, lose some of the perfect formation in which it unloads. A sloppy pilot can make this still worse, scatter a strike group over so much terrain that it can't make rendezvous for retrieval, much less carry out its mission. An infantryman can fight only if somebody else delivers him to his zone; in a way I suppose pilots are just as essential as we are.

I could tell from the gentle way my capsule entered the atmosphere that the Captain had laid us down with as near zero lateral vector as you could ask for. I felt happy—not only a tight formation when we hit and no time wasted, but also a pilot who puts you down properly is a pilot who is smart and precise on retrieval.

The outer shell burned away and sloughed off—unevenly, for I tumbled. Then the rest of it went and I straightened out. The turbulence brakes of the second shell bit in and the ride got rough . . . and still rougher as they burned off one at a time and the second shell began to go to pieces. One of the things that helps a capsule trooper to live long enough to draw a pension is that the skins peeling off his capsule not only slow him down, they also fill the sky over the target area with so much junk that radar picks up reflections from dozens of targets for each man in the drop, any one of which could be a man, or a bomb, or anything. It's enough to give a ballistic computer nervous breakdowns—and does.

To add to the fun your ship lays a series of dummy eggs in the seconds immediately following your drop, dummies that will fall faster because they don't slough. They get under you, explode, throw out "window," even operate as transponders, rocket sideways, and do other things to add to the confusion of your reception committee on the ground.

In the meantime your ship is locked firmly on the directional beacon of your platoon leader, ignoring the radar "noise" it has created and following you in, computing your impact for future use.

When the second shell was gone, the third shell automatically opened my first ribbon chute. It didn't last long but it wasn't expected to; one good, hard jerk at several gee and it went its way and I went mine. The second chute lasted a little bit longer and the third chute lasted quite a while; it began to be rather too warm inside the capsule and I started thinking about landing.

The third shell peeled off when its last chute was gone and now I had nothing around me but my suit armor and a plastic egg. I was still strapped inside it, unable to move; it was time to decide how and where I was going to ground. Without moving my arms (I couldn't) I thumbed the switch for a proximity reading and read it when it flashed on in the instrument reflector inside my helmet in front of my forehead.

A mile and eight-tenths—A little closer than I liked, especially without company. The inner egg had reached steady speed, no more help to be gained by staying inside it, and its skin temperature indicated that it would not open automatically for a while yet—so I flipped a switch with my other thumb and got rid of it.

The first charge cut all the straps; the second charge exploded the plastic egg away from me in eight separate pieces—and I was outdoors, sitting on air, and could see! Better still, the eight discarded pieces were metal-coated (except for the small bit I had taken proximity reading through) and would give back the same reflection as an armored man. Any radar viewer, alive or cybernetic, would now have a sad time sorting me out from the junk nearest me, not to mention the thousands of other bits and pieces for miles on each side, above, and below me. Part of a mobile infantryman's training is to let him see, from the ground and both by eye and by radar, just how confusing a drop is to the forces on the ground—because you feel awful naked up there. It is easy to panic and either open a chute too soon and become a sitting duck (do ducks really sit?—if so, why?) or fail to open it and break your ankles, likewise backbone and skull.

So I stretched, getting the kinks out, and looked around . . . then doubled up again and straightened out in a swan dive face down and took a good look. It was night down there, as planned, but infrared snoopers let you size up terrain quite well after you are used to them. The river that cut diagonally through the city was almost below me and coming up fast, shining out clearly with a higher temperature than the land. I didn't care which side of it I landed on but I didn't want to land in it; it would slow me down.

I noticed a dash off to the right at about my altitude; some unfriendly native down below had burned what was probably a piece of my egg. So I fired my first chute at once, intending if possible to jerk myself right off his screen as he followed the targets down in closing range. I braced for the shock, rode it, then floated down for about twenty seconds before unloading the chute—not wishing to call attention to myself in still another way by not falling at the speed of the other stuff around me. It must have worked; I wasn't burned.


Right that moment I was feeling unusually expendable, almost expended, because I was hearing the sweetest sound in the universe, the beacon the retrieval boat would land on, sounding our recall. The beacon is a robot rocket, fired ahead of the retrieval boat, just a spike that buries itself in the ground and starts broadcasting that welcome, welcome music. The retrieval boat homes in on it automatically three minutes later and you had better be on hand, because the bus can't wait and there won't be another one along.


A suit isn't a space suit—although it can serve as one. It is not primarily armor—although the Knights of the Round Table were not armored as well as we are. It isn't a tank—but a single M.I. private could take on a squadron of those things and knock them off unassisted if anybody was silly enough to put tanks against M.I. A suit is not a ship but it can fly, a little; on the other hand neither spaceships nor atmosphere craft can fight against a man in a suit except by saturation bombing of the area he is in (like burning down a house to get one flea!). Contrariwise we can do many things that no ship—air, submersible, or space—can do.

"There are a dozen different ways of delivering destruction in impersonal wholesale, via ships and missiles of one sort or another, catastrophes so widespread, so unselective, that the war is over because that nation or planet has ceased to exist. What we do is entirely different. We make war as personal as a punch in the nose. We can be selective, applying precisely the required amount of pressure at the specified point at a designated time—we've never been told to go down and kill or capture all left-handed redheads in a particular area, but if they tell us to, we can. We will.

We are the boys who go to a particular place, at H-hour, occupy a designated terrain, stand on it, dig the enemy out of their holes, force them then and there to surrender or die. We're the bloody infantry, the doughboy, the duckfoot, the foot soldier who goes where the enemy is and takes him on in person. We've been doing it, with changes in weapons but very little change in our trade, at least since the time five thousand years ago when the foot sloggers of Sargon the Great forced the Sumerians to cry "Uncle!"

Maybe they'll be able to do without us someday. Maybe some mad genius with myopia, a bulging forehead, and a cybernetic mind will devise a weapon that can go down a hole, pick out the opposition, and force it to surrender or die—without killing that gang of your own people they've got imprisoned down there. I wouldn't know; I'm not a genius, I'm an M.I. In the meantime, until they build a machine to replace us, my mates can handle that job and I might be some help on it, too.

Maybe someday they'll get everything nice and tidy and we'll have that thing we sing about, when "we ain't a-gonna study war no more." Maybe. Maybe the same day the leopard will take off his spots and get a job as a Jersey cow, too. But again, I wouldn't know; I am not a professor of cosmo-politics; I'm an M.I. When the government sends me, I go. In between, I catch a lot of sack time.


Of course, a six-platoon transport is not big compared with a battle wagon or passenger liner; these things are compromises. The M.I. prefers speedy little one-platoon corvettes which give flexibility for any operation, while if it was left up to the Navy we would have nothing but regimental transports. It takes almost as many Navy files to run a corvette as it does to run a monster big enough for a regiment—more maintenance and housekeeping, of course, but soldiers can do that. After all, those lazy troopers do nothing but sleep and eat and polish buttons—do 'em good to have a little regular work. So says the Navy.

The real Navy opinion is even more extreme: The Army is obsolete and should be abolished.

The Navy doesn't say this officially—but talk to a Naval officer who is on R & R and feeling his oats; you'll get an earful. They think they can fight any war, win it, send a few of their own people down to hold the conquered planet until the Diplomatic Corps takes charge.

I admit that their newest toys can blow any planet right out of the sky—I've never seen it but I believe it. Maybe I'm as obsolete as Tyrannosaurus Rex. I don't feel obsolete and us apes can do things that the fanciest ship cannot. If the government doesn't want those things done, no doubt they'll tell us.

From STARSHIP TROOPERS by Robert Heinlein (1959)
Space Marine: Oh, You Think My Job Is Cool?

Misconception #1: Orbital drops are “kickass.”

Reality: No, they f*****g aren’t. Yeah, let me just cram my up-armored ass into a tiny pod that may or may not combust in the atmosphere of the hostile planet I’m about to assault and faithfully rely on all of the sensitive electronic components that are supposed to slow me down before I pummel into the ground at terminal velocity. Contrary to popular belief, those pods aren’t designed to gently deliver you dirtside. They’re only designed to keep you alive long enough to survive skipping across the planet’s crust like a flaming pinball.

There’s no doubt in my military mind that any of the sadistic bastards who designed this drop coffin ever took a ride in one. Honestly, I think it’s purposely designed to keep us so pissed off that we’ll kill everything we see after a rough landing. The sight of enraged Marines emerging from shattered drop pods, venting puke and s*** from their exo-armor, is bound to send enemy troops fleeing.

Nexus Journal #1 (PDF) is for the tabletop wargame Attack Vector: Tactical. However, of general interest to military science fiction writers is a set of three articles by Claudio Bertinetto. The first is an in-depth look at the mechanics and tactics of spaceborne assault operations. This includes the logistics of transporting the army, scouting the drop zones, the D-Day drop, and advancing to the targets. The second is a detailed look at the fictional Xing Cheng Celestial Navy Marine Corps, and I mean detailed. It analyzes the various branches and missions. The third article is the Xing Cheng Table of Organization and Equipment (TO&E), which goes on for seven full pages. Any author planning an orbital drop of troops will find the information fascinating.

Nexus Journal #1: Spaceborne Assault Operations

(ed note: this is from the first article mentioned above. The analysis is about the planet of Xing Cheng {Zeta Tucanae III} performing a spaceborne assault on the planet Novaya Rossiyan {Alpha Mensae II} )

Each vehicle is loaded in an individual capsule, and then onto its carrying transport ship, a mobilized civilian freighter. The Marines drop with their trucks and AFVs, and travel on the same ships in adapted passenger pods. Six 100-ton or ten 60-ton capsules fit onto a standard cargo pod dock. The capsules themselves are automated, allowing the vehicle commander to operate them by simple commands.


An orbital assault is accepted by the Xing Cheng General Staff to be a one-off, extremely expensive affair. The entire brigade, including enough supplies to sustain combat for about two months, would require a minimum of 300 to 350 cargo pod docks, a sizeable portion of Xing Cheng’s civilian cargo fleet.


Selection of the Drop Zones would start as soon as the Fleet secures Alpha Mensae II orbit, once orbital defences have been reduced. From this phase on to the very end, the main constraint on operations will be the Heavy Zone Defense (ZD) and orbital defences around the Novaya Rossiyan capital city of Krasnograd, and Krasnaya Zezda spaceport itself.


As the Spaceport is the main target, yet another constraint appears: care must be taken not to damage the main launching laser, as this facility will be required to regain orbit after the invasion.

As mentioned earlier, recent CNMC doctrine states that a combat drop is far too risky to undertake close to the primary target area. Heavy ZD fire would ensure that most of the assault force would never even reach the ground. The main priority for the invasion force would thus be to determine the range of the local ZD umbrella, to ensure the landings take place outside of it.

From Spaceborne Assault Operations by Claudio Bertinetto, Nexus Journal #1 (PDF)

In the quote above they note that the invaders must take care not to damage the launching laser. But they must also keep in mind is that a laser-launch site is fuctionally equivalent to a planetary fortress. It can hurl projectiles and use laser beams directly at any invading spacecraft.

The Cosmic Computer

(ed note: the ships in this novel use some sort of technobabble antigravity, so they can magically make the trip from orbit to the ground and back again with no trouble.)

"Four 115-mm rifles, two fore and two aft. A pair of lift-and-drive missile launchers amidships. And a secondary gun battery of 70-mm's and 50-mm autocannon. I know the class; we captured a few of them. Good ships."


A week later, the ship arrived from Storisende; a hundred and sixty feet, three thousand tons, small enough to be berthed inside a hyperspace transport, and fast enough to get a load of ammunition to troops at the front, unload, and get out again before the enemy could zero in on her, and armed to fight off any Army Air Force combat craft.


The ship settled quickly and daintily, while Conn and Anse and Rodney Maxwell sat in the car and watched. Immediately, she began opening like a beetle bursting from its shell, large sections of armor swinging outward. Except for the bridge and the gun turrets, almost the whole ship could be opened; she had been designed to land in the middle of a battle and deliver ammunition when seconds could mean the difference between life and death.

From The Cosmic Computer aka Junkyard Planet by H. Beam Piper (1963)
Planetary Assault Operations: A White Paper

(ed note: this is talking about assaults set in the science fictional universe of the Traveller RPG, but the author is a former member of a U.S. Army Airborne unit. So the general strategy is universal, the more detailed bits are specific to Traveller. One big difference is that in the Traveller universe, antigravity is common. There are zillions of antigravity vehicles capable of tranporting troops from surface into orbit, so extraction is usually not a problem. In other universes this is not the case, so the primary objective is to capture a planetary spaceport intact so the troops can get away.)

A blast from the past, this was originally written for Freelance Traveller in 2002! It is largely unchanged since then.

Overview

There are a number of references to planetary sieges and the taking/retaking of planets by opposing navies in the Traveller Canon, especially during the Frontier Wars. And while the Imperium mainly controls the space between the stars, there are times when the enemy isn't only in space. And while a hostile planet can be interdicted, bombed, and talked to from orbit, only troops on the ground can truly control it. This paper is my attempt to explain how I think a planetary assault would work and how one could be set up in a campaign as background, plot device, or adventure.

Assumptions and Givens

  1. This is my opinion and in your Traveller universe YMMV. Much of this is based upon my knowledge of airborne operation as a former member of a U.S. Army Airborne unit.
  2. I am using the Third Imperium from about the time of the Fifth Frontier War as a baseline for the assaulting force; this implies an average Tech Level (TL)-13 with a top TL-15. Switching this to other races should be relatively simple and I will include some notes.
  3. I am primarily a Classic Traveller game master, but I will include references to other milieux. I hope to keep this as generic as possible.
  4. I am assuming that the Imperial Army will undertake large-scale planetary actions. IMO, Imperial Marines are 'johnny-on-the-spot'; they are the visible might of the Imperium and deal with brush fires. In large-scale actions they will concentrate on 'traditional' marine roles — boarding actions and quick assaults. With 'organic' support (artillery, medical units, etc.) and heavy units the Imperial Army and its colonial units are going to be the major players in ground actions.
  5. The relative superiority of near-space by the navy of the attacking force is a given. Without close orbit superiority planetary assaults are effectively doomed. This does not mean that the attacker must absolutely control close orbit, just that they must be capable of projecting great force into near orbit at specific times.
  6. Specific tactics will vary based upon the tech level of the planetary forces. Against foes of TL-0 through TL-5 or so the Marines just set down in grav vehicles and move out. While a large TL-5 army with heavy support could actually mount a credible defense against TL-15 marines in battle dress, they will not prevail. At higher tech levels, however, you can face serious opposition as those large armies gain nuclear weapons and more sophisticated armor and aircraft. I have divided assault procedures into TL-6 through TL-10 and TL-10+.
  7. I am taking it as a given is that military forces will generally be smaller as tech level increases. This will, of course, vary based upon law level, political stability, war footing, etc. But just as many modern armies are smaller than they were in previous generations, I am assuming that the increased efficiency of higher tech levels will reduce the number of sophonts under arms.
  8. This all assumes that the attacking force actually wants to capture the planet mostly intact. If there is no interest in preserving the structures, resources, or population, I assume that a heavy orbital bombardment until the defenders were unable to resist would be sufficient.

Planetary Assaults

Objectives
A clear military objective is the key to clear military success. The ultimate goal of a planetary assault is to control the planet. In order to do this, the military objectives should be (not necessarily in order):
  1. Render defending military forces unable to effectively resist ('combat ineffective').
  2. Control or neutralize the defender's governmental or administrative functions.
  3. Control or contain major population centers.
  4. Secure means of resupply/reinforcement of attacking/occupying force.
Methods
Initially naval forces will conduct ortillery attacks against strategic targets. Defensive emplacements, command and control centers, sensor clusters, military bases, and downports will be primary targets. It is also highly likely that general infrastructure will be targeted to reduce the enemy's will to resist. Civil engineering (dams, mass transit, etc.) will be targeted. Depending on the level of resistance and the volume of ortillery fire available it is possible to reduce a planetary population to using flashlights and shipping water in trucks in a week.
The initial phase of ground assault is usually the use of drop troops (also called jump troops). Inserted from orbit, drop troops rely upon surprise, speed, and violence to secure a landing zone ('LZ'). Once secured, the landing zone is used to land heavy weapons, grav vehicles, landing ships, etc., etc. A secured LZ is called an 'orbit head'. The orbit head(s) are the start points for ground attacks against defenders and can quickly transform into the equivalent of a class C starport.
The main ground assault is performed by a mix of light and heavy infantry, mechanized infantry (infantry and g-carriers), armor, artillery, and support units. Because of the mix of units the force as a whole is called a 'combined arms army' or just 'combarm'.
Assuming the ground assault is successful, there are follow-on units that help secure the planet. Ranging from psychological warfare units to military journalists, these units strive to replace the destroyed or removed infrastructure and government of the planet with the tools of the Imperium.
 
Tactics
Although it may be unusual to think of an operation as large as attacking a planet as tactical, but to a military force capable of such an action it is. The most critical decision is; where to insert drop troops? While this should remain fluid to allow changes based upon the differences from one operation to the next, it is often very advantageous to insert an orbit head near a population center of the defenders. In addition to allowing the operation to immediately threaten defenders, it will reduce the ability of the defending military to respond with full force without endangering their own populace. The simultaneous insertion of multiple orbit heads is also preferred. This will force the defenders to split their forces and the attention of their command staff. The use of deadfall ordnance at the same time can add confusion since gravity bombs can easily be configured to 'look' like drop pods to sensors.
 
Drop Troop Insertion
The most critical period of planetary assault is the insertion of drop troops. Although supported by orbital fire the drop troops are very exposed to defenders and can suffer significant losses before reaching the ground.
To increase their chances of securing an orbit head they are accompanied by a number of tools configured to resemble troop pods to sensors.
The first such tools are 'Landing Zone Preparation Devices', also known as daisy cutters or Sylean scythes. These explosive devices are the first pods fired and are designed to mimic troop pods. About one third of these devices detonate about the LZ and use gravity lensed explosives to direct a concussive cone toward the surface. The massive overpressure is designed to detonate any mines in the LZ and knock down most plant life and structures. The remaining devices detonate on impact and are grav-focused to concentrate their force in a 3-meter high plane parallel to the surface, flattening any remaining foliage and obstacles.
The most common devices that drop amongst the troops are jammers. In addition to radio and radar jammers, there are also meaconers (devices that distort navigation signals, i.e., give false GPS results), repeaters (devices that record defenders' radio communications and repeat them over on over on a number of frequencies), and mimics (devices that send electronic and radar 'chatter' that resembles the defender's communications but give false data).
Also accompanying the drop pods on the outer fringes are defense pods. These grav-stabilized devices have radar/lidar sensors and a laser cannon, all powered by a fusion generator. These air defense systems are designed to shoot down enemy aerospace fighters, missiles, etc. Once they are on the planetary surface they will continue in this role until out of power or shut down by the drop troops.
Last but not least, each squad will have an equipment pod. The equipment will vary based upon each squad's particular mission, but will include heavy weapons, air defense systems, telecomm gear, and combat engineering tools.

Tech Levels 6 through 10

Overview
While never easy, planetary assaults against worlds at tech levels 6 through 10 are less difficult.
Defending forces do not have access to meson weapons or powered battle dress. Also, the heavier man-portable weapons are not found at these tech levels.
As mentioned above, however, a large force with the support of nuclear weapons can mount a stiff resistance. The attackers must be sure that orbiting ships can provide nuclear damper support (prevents nuclear weapons from exploding) until the drop troop can set up their own. The drop troops themselves will be optimized to repel a large number of attackers with little special attention to heavy weapons. The average trooper in battle dress with an FGMP (plasma weapon) can deal with a great many main battle tanks of a TL-8 army, after all.
The defenders will also have less sophisticated sensors, making deception more effective. Combined, these make it likely that there will be more deadfall ordnance attacks and fewer actual orbit heads (no more than one per continent, likely only one or two).

Tech Levels 11 and higher

Overview
When the defenders approach or equal the technical ability of the attacker the risks become greater.
The inherent advantage possessed by the defenders forces the attackers to take greater risks. The high mobility and concentrated firepower of high-tech forces almost compels the attacker to try and overwhelm defenses with the number of attacks.
The best option for the attacker is to release a near-flurry of troop drops and deadfall attacks combined with heavy ortillery barrages. Preparatory ortillery must especially focus on meson sites and aerospace fighter bases. The drop troops must be prepared to face a number of threats, including grav armor (antigravity tanks) and meson gun artillery.

Special Note

The use of nuclear weapons to generate an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effect is very common during planetary assaults. Against TL-6 through 10 defenders this can be a devastating attack. And the effect against high tech opponents can be more severe than may be assumed. Although most TL-11+ electronics (especially military electronics) are shielded against EMP effects it will still temporarily overload most sensors, increasing the survivability of drop troops as they enter the atmosphere. Also, while civilian communications systems may be shielded, often their antennae are not. While the means of communication will remain intact after an EMP attack, large areas of communications blackout will exist until antennae are replaced. This will add to the fear and confusion of the defenders.

Support Operations

Intelligence
Intelligence preparation can be a critical force multiplier in planetary assaults, especially against high tech level defenses. In addition to the routine strategic intelligence gathered by Imperial Intelligence, a planetary assault requires an in depth analysis of tactical response measures, apparent willingness of defenders to endanger their own populace, and overall readiness of the defenders ground forces. Effective counter-intelligence operations can also increase the levels of tactical and strategic surprise of the attacking force.
 
Commando
Commando operations in support of a planetary assault are extremely dangerous and prone to failure. However, when they are successful they can have a considerable impact upon the defender's will and ability to fight. For these reasons, they are often popular with players. If strategic surprise can be obtained commandos can be infiltrated and supplied in a large number of ways.
Their initial targets will generally be command and control, telecommunications, and strategic defense systems. The following scenario is a demonstration of the potential impact of successful commando operations in support of planetary assault:
Three commando squads are infiltrated onto a TL-13 world in advance of a planetary assault. Arriving as workers, tourists, and ship crew, they are supplied with a full combat load, including battle dress, smuggled in by intelligence operatives. In a coordinated series of attacks, two major telecomm hubs are sabotaged by pre-set explosives, a similar attack damages the refueling facilities of the major aerospace defense center, and teams of commandos in battledress armed with FGMPs assault the members of the planetary government, planetary defense commanders, and a deep meson site (planetary fortress) that defends a section of the planet. During the resulting confusion reports are received that an enemy fleet has jumped in-system and is on vector for planetary orbit. In addition to potentially neutralizing the defender's civil and military commanders and seriously disrupting planetary defenses these actions could very well panic the defenders, degrading their ability to fight.
 
Logistics
While the first step is getting troops on the ground, the key to winning is supplying and reinforcing those troops. As soon as the orbit head is secured the follow on forces must begin to arrive. Initially these forces will be as 'heavy' as possible, i.e., g-carriers, grav tanks, and artillery pieces, preferably in large landing ships. This will be followed by a mix of combat and support units.
 
Naval
The job of the Navy is not over once the troop pods are fired. Without continued naval support the ground offensive will almost certainly fail. In addition to continued ortillery, naval aerospace fighters can provide direct close support to ground troops and engage tactical targets in the enemy's rear areas. Marines can conduct assaults against orbital facilities and can even be deployed by drop ships in support of threatened ground forces. If done properly, combined Army/Navy operations can achieve true vertical envelopment.

N-Hour Sequence

The N-hour sequence is a planning tool for military commanders, logistics planners, and political leaders. It is a rough outline of what will happen and when during a particular type of attack. The initial letter may change to determine what type of attack the sequence is for (for example, a ground attack plan can be called a G-hour sequence while a boarding action against an orbital spaceport could be an M-hour sequence). And certain times can be very broad or based entirely upon the success or failure of a different operation. They key to using an N-hour sequence is to remember that it is a tool, not the plan.
This N-hour sequence is, by necessity, abbreviated. It does not include frontier refueling, naval actions on approach to the planet, or orbital combat and boarding actions. It also omits a great many logistical steps that would be included in a 'real' sequence, as well as the preparatory steps that occur before the assault fleet enters jumpspace. Again, this is a rough estimation to give an idea of the flow of battle:
  • N minus 2 weeks: Assault squadron enters jumpspace.
  • N minus 1 week: Assault squadron enters normal space in target system.
  • N minus 2 days: Ortillery bombardment begins.
  • N minus 16 hours: Decoy deadfall ordnance attacks begin.
  • N minus 8 hours: Naval aerospace fighters increase tempo of attacks against tactical surface targets.
  • N minus 6 hours: Decision phase - commanders determine if planetary defenses are suppressed enough to allow close orbit insertion of drop ships. If so, drop ships move into close orbit. Bombardment ships direct their fire to both overwhelm defenders and clear a number of possible landing zones.
  • N minus 2 hours: Drop troops finish insertion preparation.
  • N minus 30 minutes: Decision phase - commanders determine if landing zones are prepared and the drop troops are likely to secure an orbit head. If so, drop troops are secured for insertion and troop carriers prepare for drop.
  • N minus 15 minutes: Naval forces trigger EMP effects.
  • N minus 5 minutes: Secondary EMP effects are triggered to disable automated responses. Naval forces begin blanket jamming from close orbit.
  • N-Hour: Simultaneous insertion of drop troops begins, accompanied by numerous decoy insertions with deadfall ordnance accompanied by jammer pods. Naval aerospace fighters deploy for close air support.
  • N+1 minute: Naval bombardment shifted to cover approaches to landing zones.
  • N+4 minutes: Landing zone prepped by daisy cutters.
  • N+5 minutes: Drop troops begin reaching surface. Drop ships begin move to high orbit.
  • N+7 minutes: Drop troops begin deploying to secure orbit head.
  • N+10 minutes: Drop troops finish landing on surface. Drop troops begin deployment of heavy weapons and support equipment. Aerospace fighters initiate close air support.
  • N+15 minutes: Decision phase - commanders determine if orbit head is secure. If so, landing ships with armor and mechanized forces begin planetary insertion.
  • N+20 minutes: Drop troops complete deployment of heavy weapons and support equipment.
  • N+25 minutes: Drop troops complete initial defensive positions.
  • N+35 minutes: Landing ships begin to reach the planetary surface. Mechanized and armor forces begin to deploy.
  • N+45 minutes: Decision phase - commanders determine if orbit head is ready for deployment of support elements. If so, landing ships begin cycling support units and equipment to the orbit head.
  • N+1 hour: Combarm begins offensive operations.
It should be obvious that the N-Hour sequence needs to be flexible. Planets with dense atmospheres will require more time for drop troops to reach the surface than planets that have no atmosphere, for example. Deployment of follow on forces may be delayed if there is a threat of significant air defense by the defenders. The number of changes that may need to be made are almost infinite. Recognizing this uncertainty, called 'the fog of war', and being able to anticipate and react to change without panic is what separates good commanders from great generals.

Dropships

The common trope in science fiction is a specialized spacecraft designed to insert troops into combat, called a Dropship. The topic is covered exhaustively in an article at the always impressive Future War Stories. Also well worth reading is the entry on Tactical Transports. Mr. Frisbee has some notes about insertion and extraction here. For a variety of reasons, dropships tend to be spherical in shape.

Flapjack-class cavalry dropship

DROPSHIPS: EMPIRE OF THE STAR

The final entry in this section, affectionately known to the Imperial Legions as the “Big Ugly Breakfast 1” — and less affectionately known to almost everyone else as “Good gods, what is that thing?” — is the Flapjack-class cavalry dropship (Eye-in-the-Flame Arms/Artifice Armaments). Uniquely among Imperial starship designs, the Flapjack has adopted the rare “disk” or “saucer” hull form. It does this because the Flapjack-class is equipped with not merely a single, but a pair of nuclear-pulse drives, using the relatively environmentally friendly laser-fusion or (in the Flapjack II) antimatter options, the descent and deceleration drives; the dorsal and ventral hulls of these ships are in effect simply the pusher plates for these drives. The main body of the vessel, suspended between these on hydraulic dampers, is a short, wide cylinder, heavily structurally reinforced and itself surrounded by “sidewall” armor as thick and refractory as the pusher plates.

The intended usage of the Flapjack is orbital insertion of armored vehicles, en masse, into hot zones. To enable this, after being decoupled from a carrier in the high orbitals of a planet under attack, the Flapjack uses its descent drive to accelerate downwards through the atmosphere, minimizing dwell time within range of orbital and anti-air defenses. In addition, while the descent of a Flapjack obviously has far too bright a sensor signature to be concealed, the combination of the radiation hash from the descent drive’s thrust bombs and the plasma sheath formed by its hypersonic atmospheric transit together render it extremely difficult for weapons systems to attain successful guidance lock, and terminal guidance (especially to the fine degree necessary to insert a weapon into the narrow window of vulnerability between the pusher plates and the sidewall armor, even if the weapon is capable of surviving and maneuvering in the immediate environment of an active nuclear-pulse drive) virtually impossible.

At the end of its descent trajectory, the Flapjack uses the more powerful thrust bombs of its deceleration drive to perform a “suicide burn”; i.e., maximal deceleration at minimum altitude, compatible with lithobraking in a manner which preserves the integrity of the ventral pusher plate. This deceleration burn serves the additional functions of preparing the drop zone for the arrival of the dropship by flattening any structures or prepared defenses, and eliminating any but the most heavily armored, secured, and radiation-proofed resistance in the immediate area. Once the ground is reached, multiple armored cargo access doors with integral ramps and excavation drones permit the Flapjack to be actively discharging combat vehicles within minutes of a successful landing.

A proposal for an infantry dropship along the lines of the Flapjack, tentatively designated the Pancake-class, has been advanced by Eye-in-the-Flame Arms, but at the present time the high-radiation aftermath of such a vessel’s landing is not considered viable for personnel wearing M-70 Havoc combat exoskeletons or N45 Garrex field combat armor, the current legionary standards. While this would not be a problem for troops equipped with the specialized N45r Callérás high-rad field combat armor, its associated disadvantages and the expense of refit ensure that, for the foreseeable future, infantry will continue to be landed via drop shuttle (q.v.)

— Naval Starships of the Associated Worlds, INI Press, Palaxias, 421st ed.


1. A statistically improbable number of combat drops take place at planet dawn.


Robbie-Yarber: So how do you land a nuclear pulse rocket? On all the diagrams I've seen there are no landing jets, so I guess they intended to leave them in orbit permanently? But that raises the question of how do the passengers get back to the ground?

Alistair Young:

Well, so far as the Flapjack is concerned, the answer is... hard.

Disclaimer: under ordinary circumstances, this would not be the recommended procedure for landing any sort of nuclear pulse-drive ship, and it's definitely not the one any other such designs in the 'verse use, such as the old Phoenix stack. But the Flapjack-class is an odd duck because of its peculiar requirements: namely, having to survive a descent into a hot zone, and thus implicitly wanting to decelerate as hard as possible as low as possible (a "suicide burn"); which in turn implies both that you want a drive with the high thrust qualities of a nuclear pulse drive to do the job, and also that you probably want to avoid vulnerabilities such as those that auxiliary landing thrusters might create.

So, if you take a look at a Flapjack, it looks like the ventral pusher plate is massively overbuilt; which it is, because once it goes into the suicide burn part of landing, it's got to fly through its own nuclear fireballs (not usually a good idea in atmosphere), and then once it gets too close to the ground to decelerate with the nuclear pulse drive any more, it just cuts off the drive, drops under gravity, and smacks straight into the ground, finishing its deceleration by lithobraking right into the crater its drive just cut and relying on that same plate and its shock-absorption system to soak up enough of the ensuing damage. (The theory being that the ground has been nicely softened up for it by the burn, and that in any case, you don't land a Flapjack near anything that you're worried about damaging...)

If you think that sounds like an extremely rough ride, well, you'd be right. ;)

It also solves their taking off from the ground problem, in a manner of speaking: by and large, this sort of landing is very hard on the ship, too, so Flapjacks aren't designed to take off again under their own power, or indeed be used again at all without some extensive maintenance and refurbishment. When possible, they get hauled off the ground by salvage tenders and refitted in orbit, but for all practical purposes, it's a stripped-down, single-use dropship.

[And while I haven't yet done a detailed design work-up on it, I suspect the pusher plate is flat or near-flat; allowing part of the blast to escape to the sides should, I suspect, make it possible to get rather lower before needing to cut the drive. But don't quote me on that, it's yet to have numbers put to it.]


(ed note: so this thing is a two-ended Orion nuclear pulse rocket. One Orion rapidly moves the carrier from orbit to the ground, while the second combines the function of rapid deceleration and nuclear daisy cutter. Totally insane but I totally love it.)

The Sharp End

“Frisian Vessel Obadiah to FDF commander Cantilucca,” crackled an unfamiliar voice through Cokes commohelmet. “Come in FDF Cantilucca. Over.”


“There is an Obadiah,” said Johann Vierziger as he watched the rear and sides of the van for possible dangers, “on the FDF naval list. She’s a Class III combat transport.”


“— FDF Cantilucca. Over,” as Coke switched on the transmission from orbit again.

“Survey team commander to FDF vessel Obadiah” Coke said. “We’re glad to hear from you, boys, because we’ve got the Heliodorus Regiment looking for our scalps. Can you drop a boat to pick us up? The Heliodorans have secured the spaceport. Over.”


Obadiah to FDF Cantilucca,” the helmet responded. “You bet we’ll drop a boat. Hold what you’ve got, troopers. Help is coming in figures one-five minutes. Obadiah out.”


Niko Daun looked up, toward the sound of the incoming boat. Coke, suddenly fearful that Pilar would follow the direction of Daun's gaze, shot his hand over her unprotected eyes. “His visor will darken automatically,” Coke said.

Pilar pulled his hand down with a firm motion. “I’ve worked in spaceports for twelve years, Matthew,” she said. “I know that plasma exhausts can be dangerous to my eyesight.”


“Blood and martyrs, sir!” Niko said. “It’s not a boat, it’s the whole ship! They’re coming straight in and there’s no port here!”

“Class III?” Coke snapped to Vierziger as the penny dropped.

“That’s right, Matthew,” Vierziger agreed. “The Obadiah’s a battalion-capacity combat lander. She’s got pontoon outriggers, so she doesn’t require a stabilized surface to set down. And armor, in case the landing zone’s hot.”

The transport swept overhead at a steep angle. The roar and glare of her engines were mind-numbing. Foliage at the tips of trees beneath her track curled and yellowed.

The vessel's exhaust was a rainbow flag waved at Madame Yarnell and the Heliodorans, some ten klicks to the west. Either the Obadiah’s commander expected to lift again before anyone could react, or —

Or the commander didn’t care what a regiment of light infantry might attempt. The Obadiah was coming in with her landing doors open. The troops she carried were ready to un-ass the vessel as soon as the skids touched, or maybe a hair sooner.

“Bloody hell!” Mary Margulies shouted over the landing roar. “She’s coming in loaded! She’s coming in with troops!”

The Obadiah landed a hundred meters away, like a bomb going off in the forest. Her exhaust and armored belly plates cleared their own LZ. Dirt and shattered trees flew away from the shock. Coke caressed Pilar’s head closer to his chest to protect her from the falling debris.

From The Sharp End by David Drake (1993)

Continental Siege Units

A related spin-off is one very near and dear to my heart, that of the cyclopean artificially intelligent supertank. This was invented by Keith Laumer in 1960 in a story called Combat Unit. The gargantuan tanks are called Bolos and are described as being "continental siege units", that is, instead of only being able to lay siege to a fortress Bolos can lay siege to an entire continent. With firepower rated in megatons-per-second, Bolos have a computer intelligence far higher than any human. In most of Laumer's Bolo stories, the Bolos are majestically honorable and loyal. Which provides great contrast to the slimy opportunistic cowardly human politicians and rigidly dogmatic conservative human generals who are also common to the Bolo stories. Many of the stories end with the Bolo nobly sacrificing their lives defending the humans, which is a downer since the Bolo is often the most likable characters in the story. The Bolo series of science fiction has become a franchise, with quite a few short stories and novels written by other authorized authors. William Keith not only has written a few Bolo novels, he did some artwork as well.

The Bolo's main weapon is a "hellbore", which is a gigantic plasma weapon of a size usually only found on dreadnought starships. Often it has several slightly smaller hellbores as auxiliary weapons. The secondary weapons are batteries of something called "infinite repeaters", a named used for several different weapon types at the whim of various authors. Usually they are some species of railgun. I would assume the name comes from the the huge size of their ammo magazines. The Bolo's armor is composed of various types of handwavium with names such as durachrome. flintsteel, duralloy, and endurachrome. They also are defended by magic force fields known as "battlescreens", later versions not only defend but can actually convert hostile weapons fire into energy to recharge the Bolo's power systems.

Bolos have sophisticated communication systems, and can rapidly hack enemy computers and control systems given even the most constricted access. Bolos are also programmed with all military strategy and tactics from up-to-the-minute theories to historical records dating back to ancient Egypt. Bolos have artificial intelligence and are fully self-aware, using something called "psychotronic computers". Bolos can operate autonomously, but a Bolo with a human commander riding inside is a more effective combination. This is yet another example of the tired old trope that the intuition of a human being will somehow never be simulated by a computer, thus providing the humans with job security.

Bolos are organized in an elite unit called the Dinochrome Brigade. Humans generally trust and like Bolos, unless they are military leaders who feel that their job is being threatened.


Inspired by Laumer's Bolo stories, and by Colin Kapp's short story "Gottlos", Steve Jackson created a table-top boardgame called Ogre. First released in 1977, it has been released and re-released in one form or another up until 2013. In the classic scenario, the Defender player is guarding their command-post with an entire army composed of huge tanks, assault hovercraft, howitzers firing nuclear shells, and troops in powered armor. The attacker has one Ogre. And the Ogre wins more often than not. The major appeal to playing the Ogre side is the feeling of power, as the Ogre inexorably advances to kill the command-post through everything the defender can throw at it, leaving a trail of dead and burning AFV. Which probably explains why the game is so perennially popular, a feeling of power never goes out of style.

The balance is maintained by the game's rule structure. When the defender scores a hit on an Ogre, it just damages an Ogre component (like one of the many guns or a bit of a tank tread). When the Ogre scores a hit on a defender tank, the tank explodes into radioactive fragments. So the Ogre gradually gets whittle away while the defender's army melts like frost in the hot sun. It is a race towards total destruction.

In 2012 Steve Jackson games released a huge Designers Edition of Ogre, unfortunately already out of print. There is an inexpensive recreation of the original pocked game, a version to play with miniatures, a strategy manual, and a role playing game. The role playing game would probably be the most useful to a science fiction author.

Ogres are also artificially intelligent like Bolos. However they are not particularly noble, unlike Bolos. They are just massive invulnerable unstoppable killing machines. Even the troops friendly to the Ogres were a little frightened of them. The standard Ogre Mark V was armed with two main battery cannon, six secondary cannons, twelve anti-personnel weapons, and six long range missiles.

As an illustrator, I had the honor of creating the original artwork for the Ogre game.


From a military standpoint, Bolos and Ogres are nuke-bait. Such a concentrated piece of hostile military assets would be a prime target for, say, a 25 megaton city-killer nuclear warhead. In the Bolo novels they have magic anti-nuclear-explosion force fields to protect their "iodine colored flint-steel" armored skins. In Ogre, the defensive technology centers around some handwavium called "Biphase Carbide Armor", which can shrug off damage from tactical nuclear weapons. Without such defensive measures, continental siege units make no military sense.

Notes on the Ogre

The command post was well guarded. It should have been. The hastily constructed, unlovely building was the nerve center for Paneuropean operations along a 700-kilometer section of front — a front pressing steadily toward the largest Combine manufacturing center on the continent.

Therefore, General DePaul had taken no chances. His command was located in the most defensible terrain available — a battered chunk of gravel bounded on three sides by marsh and on the fourth by a river. The river was deep and wide; the swamp, gluey and impassable. Nothing bigger than a rat could avoid detection by the icons scattered for sixty kilometers in every direction over land, swamp and river surface. Even the air was finally secure; the enemy had expended at least fifty heavy missiles yesterday, leaving glowing holes over half the island, but none near the CP. The Paneuropean laser batteries had seen to that. Now that the jamscreen was up, nothing would get even that close. And scattered through the twilight were the bulky shapes of tanks and ground effect vehicles — the elite 2033rd Armored, almost relaxed as they guarded a spot nothing could attack.

Inside the post, too, the mood was relaxed — except at one monitor station, where a young lieutenant watched a computer map of the island. A light was blinking on the river. Orange: something was moving, out there where nothing should move. No heat. A stab at the keyboard called up a representation of the guardian units... not that any should be out there, thirty kilometers away. None were. Whatever was out there was a stranger — and it was actually in the river. A swimming animal? A man? Ridiculous.

The lieutenant spun a cursor, moving a dot of white light across the map and halting it on the orange spot with practiced ease. He hit another key, and an image appeared on the big screen... pitted ground, riverbank... and something else, something rising from the river like the conning tower of an old submarine, but he knew what it really was, he just couldn't place it...

And then it moved. Not straight toward the camera icon, but almost. The lieutenant saw the "conning tower" cut a wake through the rushing water, bounce once, and begin to rise. A second before the whole shape was visible, he recognized it — but for that second he was frozen. And so thirty men with their minds on other things were suddenly brought to heart-pounding alert, as the lieutenant's strangled gasp and the huge image on his screen gave the same warning...

"Ogre!"


Less than three minutes had passed. After the initial seconds of panic, the command post had settled down to business. Instead of masterminding an attack, it was fighting for its own life. Men spat orders into throat mikes, eyes on the big screen. The orange dot that was the Ogre was six kilometers closer, but green sparks were moving out to meet it — the men and machines of the 2033rd.

The general entered at a run. "Get me a picture!" he ordered. The screen flickered; moving dots gave way to an image. The huge machine ground over the landscape, incredibly fast for something so huge. Guns bristled. The tower on top rose fifteen meters high.

"A Mark V," said the general. "They really want us, all right. Who had the watch?"

"I . . . did, sir."

"Where'd it come from?"

"Sir, the river. I got a movement indication from the center of the river — I saw it come up. Nothing before that. I swear it, sir."

The general started to reply, then checked himself. He stepped to the keyboard. The map reappeared (the orange dot was closer) and shrank. They saw their island from fifty — a hundred — kilometers in the air.

The general traced the river-course. "Here . . . and here. Yes, they could have done it."

"Sir?"

"Underwater. It went into the ocean here. Through the delta — up the river and out. Very clever. I wonder . . . No, they just outfoxed us. As you were, son."

The Ogre was twenty kilometers away. On the big map, a ring of green around it showed missile tanks ready to move in; more green dots, visibly moving, were GEVs harassing the enemy machine. As they watched, one GEV light went out. Another stopped moving and began to blink plaintively. The Ogre moved toward it.


Twelve minutes since the shooting had started. The Ogre was fifteen kilometers away. Faced by eight missile tanks, it had slipped to the side; three of the tanks were gone, and two others had never gotten in range. But the Ogre had paid; it was moving slower now. On the big map, three more green dots moved toward it. The heavies were going in.

"Mercier to CP. We've spotted it."

The general punched for an image. There it was. Four of the six missile tubes were empty; two of the "small" guns along one side were scrap. Loose tread flapped; damaged motors sparked. Its guns moved and flashed. Then the screen dimmed as a nuclear warhead hit the Ogre. The image returned. There was a new crater along one of the armored sides — nothing more.

"Get those guns, Commander." The general's voice was calm; Mercier's reply was equally mild. "Trying, sir. It ducks." Then jubilation. "Good shot, Fair. You got it. Hit the misbegotten pile of junk." The big screen went completely dark. It came on again, from a different angle. The Ogre was hurt. One of those big front guns was gone — completely. The other was clearly wrecked.

"Good man, Mercier! Who did that? Commander Fair?... Mercier?... Fair?..."

"This is Kowalski in 319. It got Fair about three times. I can't find Mercier."

On the screen, one heavy tank faced the Ogre. Two GEVs swept in and out. Missile tanks and infantry moved closer — too slowly.

"Here it comes." Kowalski — commander of the last heavy. "You'll have to shoot better than that, you gadget. Gotcha! Took out its..."

Static. Then a new voice. It sounded quite human. And amused.

"Gotcha."


The Ogre rolled on. It was within howitzer range now, and the big missile cannon were scoring on it. Its missiles were gone, but it still had guns. The infantry had met it — finally — but powered armor notwithstanding, they were dying as fast as they came in.

"It's committed," said a big major, his eyes on the screen. "It can't afford to stop now." The general nodded. "Get behind it," he said into his mike. "It's after the howitzers. They're killing it."

In the flame-lit darkness, men heard the scrambled transmission. Men, and one other. The Ogre took in the surrounding terrain, considered the location of the command post and the howitzers, watched the movement of its enemies, weighed the order it had decoded. Behind, it thought. They have made a mistake.


It was very close now. Had the command post had windows, the men inside could have seen the explosions. The Ogre was moving very slowly now, but two guns still spoke. It no longer dodged; it was a juggernaut, coming straight for its target.

Inside, the general's face was gray. He spoke to no one in particular. "Smart. That thing is smart." A scream still echoed in the big room — the scream from the last missile tank commander. Out of the Ogre's path, safe behind a three-meter ravine, lashing out at the metal giant — and the thing had changed course, ignoring the howitzers, walking over the gully like it wasn't there, crushing the smaller tank. Two GEVs had died a second later; their speed was their best defense, and the Ogre had outguessed them. The side trip had given the howitzers a few more minutes; then they, too, had died.

The screen showed the Ogre grinding on — a shambling monster, barely able to move. "The treads... hit the treads," whispered the general. "Stop that thing." The image changed, and he saw what was left of his force: three GEVs and a handful of infantry.

The Ogre rolled on...

From Notes on the Ogre by Steve Jackson
Notes on the Ogre

...Like many people, I'm fascinated by tanks. Nice image: all that compact power and invulnerability. SF stories like Colin Kapp's Gottlos and the Laumer Bolo tales fed that fascination — imagine something tank-strong and human-smart. So one of the things I really wanted to put into a wargame was the intelligent tank.

But there is one small problem. Tanks seem to be on their way out. Present anti-tank technology (air attacks, laser- and wire-guided missiles, etc...) have made it too cheap and easy to kill those million-dollar tanks. Tanks will still have their uses: probably not as ultra-heavy, multi-gun monsters, but rather as fast, lightly-armored, cheap vehicles, used to exploit breakthroughs rather than create them. Which pretty well lets out the small tank concept. A cyborg like Gottlos would be incredibly expensive, and could be knocked out by a single tactical nuke; a 200-meter Bolo Mark XXIII would cost even more — and, while it wouldn't fall to one nuke, it would be such a big target that it would go out long before it paid for itself. But I still wanted to do a smart-tank game. And I did. But it had to make some kind of sense... so half of Ogre is built around the need to explain why such units would ever be built.

Problem number one, of course, is those little laser-guided missiles. If a super-tank is ever going to be practical, it has to be able to stand up to a lot of missile (and that means nuclear) fire. So the first postulate has to be an improvement in armor technology. I rejected a force screen, not because it wouldn't do the job if it existed, but because modern technology doesn't give us even a hint of when or if we'll get one. Too much like fantasy. On the other hand, we can, if we wish, assume that materials technology will continue to improve. We already have some incredibly tough two-phase materials. If an armor substance were to be developed such that a couple of feet could stop a tacnuke — and if that substance were light enough so that a vehicle could carry that couple of feet — tanks look better.

Even if the little nukes fired by opposing armor (and infantry) can be weathered, though, there is the possibility of a slightly bigger missile, fired from a couple of hundred kilometers off. We get around this by assuming (not too illogically) that jamming technology has improved. We can jam most long-wave signals now. I don't know how you'd jam a laser (except with smoke or window — unfeasible over large areas), but in a hundred years they may think of something. And satellites, which are such great spotters for missiles, are easy to knock down today. An unarmored satellite is a sitting duck for something as crude as a cloud of gravel fired into its path. A shielded one would be expensive to send up — and a little bitty nuke would ruin its electronic insides with even a not-so-near miss. So spy satellites may still be used — but they will have very short lifetimes and will be correspondingly restricted to times of maximum need.

Another problem, not so much with the tanks as with the whole game, is the big nukes — either missile-delivered or airplane-dropped. If these are still effective, they would make a mockery of conventional warfare, by eliminating all large concentrations of units, and by smashing the objectives that a conventional force might otherwise be needed to take. Again, though, we have a way out. While it's not absolutely certain that laser weapons will become practical it seems like a good bet. But a laser that can spot and destroy a missile or airplane will be big, delicate, and costly. So they will be used to protect rear areas — but forward units will have to rely on dispersion and jamming.

The net result would be a battlefield where tremendously sophisticated weapon systems would nearly cancel each other out. Target-seeking missile weapons would be countered by various jamming devices, and mass weapons would be too expensive to be used except on the most attractive and vulnerable concentrations.

So, given these assumptions, tank warfare might again become a cost-effective way to run a campaign. Having justified tanks, though, we still have the problem: robot tanks? ...


...The other nice thing about computers is that they can do a lot of things at once. I suspect that part of the reason tanks, unlike battleships, never evolved multiple-gun versions is that a group of men in the cramped, uncomfortable interior of a tank have a great deal of difficulty using one gun well. A robot unit, on the other hand, could handle as many weapons as it was given, with perfect coordination.

Which leads to an interesting conclusion. Everything else being equal, a robot tank might be expected to carry as much armor and weaponry as it could. That computer is an expensive investment, and needs to be protected; furthermore, the computer can handle more weaponry, so every gun you give it augment its strength effectively.

Enough. I managed to convince myself that yes, under certain circumstances, the robotic tank would be a workable weapons system. The next question was: What kind of robot tank?

I rejected the cyborg approach of Gottlos and Cemetery World, not because I doubt it'll work (I think it would), but because (a) it still leaves a human brain at the controls, and I want something better, and (b) I don't like the idea.

Keith Laumer's Bolo stories hit closer to the mark for me, in that he was making the same basic assumption: big, invulnerable, intelligent supertanks. But his Bolos are just too darn big.

Admittedly, we won't know until we try. But fooling around with models and sketches and thinking about the cube-square law, I get the idea that the dinosaurian Bolos would have the same trouble that the dinosaurs did. Unnecessary bulk. Consider: an ordinary main battle tank today is maybe 12 meters long. Double that and you increase the bulk eight times. Not only is that already pretty expensive, but it's already big enough to do the job. Sketch a tank — top view. Now draw a tank body twice as long, twice as wide. See how many tank guns you can give it without crowding . . .

The practical limit to the size of one of these land cruisers would be that at which it became worthwhile for an enemy to use a strategic nuke on it. Or, alternatively, the size at which you couldn't afford enough of the things to cover all the places you needed to cover. A navy with nothing but battleships would be a poor excuse for a navy, although I wouldn't want to be the first one it got mad at. So I figured a size of 50 meters or less. That should be amply sufficient to create a monster.

All in all, a supertank with a cybernetic brain would be a formidable weapon. Since it would need no crew, its interior could be almost solid. What wasn't power plant or weaponry would be armor. It would be fast, hard to kill, and frightening. In the battle line, it would be a menace: if it could pursue hit-and-run tactics, it could tie up many times its own strength.

Why name it Ogre? It seemed appropriate. Ogres — the "real" ones — were big, violent, and gruesome — and some of them were pretty smart. When someone whispers, "Here comes the Ogre," you can feel the hair rising on the back of your neck...

From Notes on the Ogre by Steve Jackson
Field Test

.07 seconds have now elapsed since my general awareness circuit was activated at a level of low alert. Throughout this entire period I have been uneasy, since this procedure is clearly not in accordance with the theoretical optimum activation schedule.

In addition, the quality of apart of my data input is disturbing. For example, it appears obvious that Prince Eugene of Savoy erred in not more promptly committing his reserve cavalry in support of Marlborough's right at Blenheim. In addition, I compute that Ney's employment of his artillery throughout the Peninsular campaign was suboptimal. I have detected many thousands of such anomalies. However, data input activates my pleasure center in a most satisfying manner. So long as the input continues without interruption, I shall not feel the need to file a VSR on the matter. Later, no doubt, my Command unit will explain these seeming oddities. As for the present disturbing circumstances, I compute that within 28,992.9 seconds at most, I will receive additional Current Situation input which will enable me to assess the status correctly. I also anticipate that full Standby Alert activation is imminent.


I built the dang thing, and it scares me. I come in here in the lab garage about an hour ago, just before dark, and seen it setting there, just about fills up the number-one garage, and it's a hundred foot long and fifty foot high. First time it hit me: I wonder what it's thinking about. Kind of scares me to think about a thing that big with that kind of armor and all them repeaters and Hellbores and them computers and a quarter-sun fission plant in her—planning what to do next. I know all about the Command Override Circuit and all that, supposed to stop her dead any time they want to take over onto override—heck, I wired it up myself. You might be surprised, thinking I'm just a grease monkey and all—but I got a high honors degree in psychotronics. I just like the work, is all.


I must of wired in a thousand of them damage-sensors myself, and that ain't a spot on what's on the diagram. "Pain circuits," old Doc Chin calls 'em. Says it's just like a instinct for self-preservation or something, like people. Old Denny can hurt, he says, so he'll be all the better at dodging enemy fire. He can enjoy, too, Doc says. He gets a kick out of doing his job right, and out of learning stuff. And he learns fast. He'll do okay against them durn Peepreps. They got him programmed right to the brim with everything from them Greeks used to fight with no pants down to Avery's Last Stand at Leadpipe. He ain't no dumb private; he's got more dope to work on than any general ever graduated from the Point. And he's got more firepower than an old-time army corps.


Hate to see old Denny out there, just a great big sitting duck, all alone and—here they come! Look at 'em boiling out of there like ants out of a hot log. Can't hardly look at that screen, them tactical nukes popping fireworks all over the place. But old Denny know enough to get under cover. See that kind of glow all around him? All right, it, then. You know, working with him—it—so long, it got to feeling almost like he was somebody. Sure, I know, anyway, that's vaporized ablative shield you see. They're making it plenty hot for him. But he's fighting back. Them Hellbores is putting out, and they know it. Looks like they're concentrating on him now. Look at them tracers closing in on him! Come on, Denny, you ain't dumb. Get out of there fast.

From Field Test by Keith Laumer

Space Mercenaries

If your government is in a war, and your army is too small, too unskilled, or otherwise inadequate, you have a problem. And the various mercenary legions will be quick to point out that they have the solution. For a price.

Mercenaries are private military companies. Otherwise known as soldiers for hire, security contractors or private military contractors. TV Trope link here.

On the one hand mercenaries could ensure that your government wins the war. On the other hand, there are many risks involved. Mercenaries might be tempted by the fact that they are stronger than the government's army: turning on the people who hired them, smashing the state, and running off with the money. The enemy might bribe the mercenaries to switch sides. Not to mention all the dire things that can happen because the hiring government and the mercenaries are not on the same page with respect to the objective, allowable tactics, and/or collateral damage.

On the flip side, the mercenaries are running risks as well. The hiring government might not pay the agreed on fees. The government might run out of money. The government might figure that the sneaky way to avoid paying is to send the mercenaries into a suicidal battle (the Uriah Gambit). Or upon the winning of the war, the government might lead the mercenaries into a trap and use the government's soldiers to slaughter them all. Finally they could merely be on the losing side, the government who hired them could be no more, and they are suddenly all alone on a hostile planet with no way off.


Pay for the mercenaries can be "up-front" or "upon success only".

Up-front means the mercs get paid regardless of success. Generally it is paid half at start and the balance upon completion. Sometimes the contract specifies that part of the balance can be lost due to failure to achieve certain objectives.

Mercs can also be on retainer. This means a potential client pays the mercs money with the understanding that if the client decides to hire the mercs, the client has priority over other clients. The client also has veto power over contracts the mercs can accept while under retainer. Retainers can be secret, to give the client plausible deniability.

Mercs can require that the client post "repatriation bond." This is a sum of money the client places in an escrow account sufficient to ship the mercs off-planet. When the bond is invoked, the mercs become legal non-combatants and are given safe passage to the nearest starport. This can be used to ship mercs who are prisoners of war off planet. It can also be used by mercs if their client is a government which was overthrown.


Citizens and soldiers belonging to governments tend to despise mercenaries because they are, well mercenary. The Mercs are not fighting for reasons of patriotism, they are just in it for the money. Mercs can be fighting another mercenary legion in one war, and be fighting alongside the same legion in a different war. They are soldiers of negotiable loyalty. Although when you get down to the mercenary individual trooper level, their immediate loyalty is to their fellow comrades-in-arms.

Large mercenary organizations tend to refrain from treacherous conduct, since getting a reputation for being untrustworthy will cause a rapid drop in the number of job offers. Mercenaries are averse to strategies and tactics that inflict high casualties, since the soldiers are basically their stock in trade. When a unit from one mercenary legion surrenders to another legion, the capturing legion treats the unit fairly. After all, not only is it not personal (it's just money), but the tables might be turned one fine day. Again it is reputation, a reputation for massacring surrendering units will ensure that your troops receive the same treatment.

But in addition, if you start killing mercenaries who surrender, you working against your own self-interest. Mercenaries will surrender when there is nothing to be gained by further fighting. If you start killing surrenderees, the mercs will come to the conclusion there is nothing to be gained by surrender. They will then fight to the last, which is the functional equivalent of shoving your own troops into a meat-grinder. You will then have first hand experience with a "Pyrrhic Victory."

Currently here on present-day Terra, "mercenaries" are not legal. Under international treaties they are neither lawful combatants, nor non-combatants. Which means mercenaries have no protection under the Geneva convention, and any government or corporation who employs them are breaking the law. To do an end-run around this, governments use the transparent fiction of "private military contractors" (PMC). Legally PMCs are glorified shopping mall guards, pay no attention to the fact that they possess armored fighting vehicles, helicopters and warships (you know how mean those mall-rat teenagers can be). Legally PMCs are forbidden to shoot at the enemy, but they can do so if forced (wink-wink, nudge-nudge). So the government will tell the heavily-armed PMCs go to hill Whiskey-Tango but don't shoot at the enemy, unless, you know, they fire at you or if you see anything that might remotely be considered a threat.

Some mercenary legions are privately owned, others are actually parts of a government's army hired out for training and profit (or to avoid them being a drain on the military budget).

Mercenaries generally have no "home planet", they are migratory workers. This means they also have to transport their administrative structure, military dependents (families of the soldiers), and any other infrastructure. Threatening the merc's dependents is an extraordinarily bad idea. The mercs will drop whatever they are doing, locate the organization responsible, kill every man, woman and child associated, burn the buildings to the ground, and sow salt into the earth.

To a mercenary, their best friend in the entire universe is their personal weapon. Their second best friend is all the other members of their mercenary unit. Mercenaries are always drastically outnumbered by the combination of enemy troops and disdainful "friendly" troops, so mercs have to help their buddies and watch each others back. Their third best friend is their communication equipment. When you are outnumbered, you want to be able to call for help. And to know exactly where your fellow mercs are located. You also want them to know where you are located, so your artillery does not inadvertently shell you and so the medic know where to find your wounded body.

Mercenary leaders put a priority on having the best medical technology they can possible afford. The mercenary soldiers are the the stock-in-trade of the mercenary band. Each merc who is medically saved from dying or becoming so disabled they have to be discharged will save the band the large cost of training a new recruit. The mercs will also fight harder, knowing that advanced medical facilities are close at hand.

The crowd had thinned enough that the Slammers officer could trust other pedestrians to avoid him even if he glanced away from his direction of movement. "You go by Jack when you're with friends?" he asked, looking at the bigger man.

"Yes sir, I do," Scratchard replied.

He grinned, and though the expression wasn't quite natural, the noncom was working on it.

Mercenary units were always outnumbered by the indigenous populations that hired them—or they were hired to put down. Mercenaries depended on better equipment, better training—and on each other, because everything else in the world could be right and you were still dead if the man who should have covered your back let you down.

Tyl and Scratchard both wanted—needed—there to be a good relationship between them. It didn't look like they'd be together long . . . but life itself was temporary, and that wasn't a reason not to make things work as well as they could while it lasted.

From Counting the Cost by David Drake (1987)

Another mission for mercenaries is "cadre." The client nation hires a small team of mercenaries as trainers for their national armies. Boot-camp for hire.

Some mercenary units specialize. There might be one that is mostly artillery or air defense. Others are more general purpose, with a balanced mix of all branches.

Mercenaries in science fiction include Jerry Pornelle's Falkenberg's Legion, David Drake's Hammer's Slammers, Gordon Dickson's Dorsai series, Glen Cook's Shadowline (which is an SF retelling of the Norse myth of Ragnarok), Andre Norton's Star Guard, John Dalmas' The Regiment, a few novels in the BattleTech series, and the webcomic Schlock Mercenary.

In David Drake's Hammer's Slammers universe, the hiring government and the mercs are kept honest by the Bonding Authority. This is run by an interstellar consortium of bankers who have the power to utterly destroy the economy of a planet or financially ruin a mercenary legion. The Bonding Authority is non-partisan, but when they enforce the rules, they are holding a huge club.

The Bonding Authority

Too often in history a mercenary force has disappeared a moment before the battle; switched sides for a well-timed bribe; or even conquered its employer and brought about the very disasters it was hired to prevent.

Mercenaries, for their part, face the chances common to every soldier of being killed by the enemy. In addition, however, they must reckon with the possibility of being bilked of their pay or massacred to avoid its payment; of being used as cannon fodder by an employer whose distaste for "money-grubbing aliens" may exceed the enemy's; or of being abandoned far from home when defeat or political change erases their employer or his good will.


A solution to both sets of special problems was made possible by the complexity of galactic commerce. The recorded beginnings came early in the twenty-seventh century when several planets caught up in the Confederation Wars used the Terran firm of Felchow und Sohn as an escrow agent for their mercenaries' pay. Felchow was a commercial banking house which had retained its preeminence even after Terran industry had been in some measure supplanted by that of newer worlds. Neither Felchow nor Terra herself had any personal stake in the chaotic rise and fall of the Barnard Confederation; thus the house was the perfect neutral to hold the pay of the condottieri being hired by all parties. Payment was scrupulously made to mercenaries who performed according to their contracts. This included the survivors of the Dalhousie debacle who were able to buy passage off that ravaged world, despite the fact that less than ten percent of the populace which had hired them was still alive. Conversely, the pay of Wrangel's Legion, which had refused to assault the Confederation drop zone on Montauk, was forfeited to the Montauk government.


Felchow und Sohn had performed to the satisfaction of all honest parties when first used as an intermediary. Over the next three decades the house was similarly involved in other conflicts, a passive escrow agent and paymaster. It was only after the Ariete Incident of 2662 that the concept coalesced into the one stable feature of a galaxy at war.

The Ariete, a division recruited mostly from among the militias of the Aldoni System, was hired by the rebels on Paley. Their pay was banked with Felchow, since the rebels very reasonably doubted that anyone would take on the well-trained troops of the Republic of Paley if they had already been handed the carrot. But the Ariete fought very well indeed, losing an estimated thirty percent of its effectives before surrendering in the final collapse of the rebellion. The combat losses have to be estimated because the Republican forces, in defiance of the "Laws of War" and their own promises before the surrender, butchered all their fifteen or so thousand mercenary prisoners.

Felchow und Sohn, seeing an excuse for an action which would raise it to incredible power, reduced Paley to Stone Age savagery.

An industrialized world (as Paley was) is an interlocking whole. Off-planet trade may amount to no more than five percent of its GDP; but when that trade is suddenly cut off, the remainder of the economy resembles a car lacking two pistons. It may make whirring sounds for a time, but it isn't going anywhere.

Huge as Felchow was, a single banking house could not have cut Paley off from the rest of the galaxy. When Felchow, however, offered other commercial banks membership in a cartel and a share of the lucrative escrow business, the others joined gladly and without exception. No one would underwrite cargoes to or from Paley; and Paley, already wracked by a war and its aftermath, shuddered down into the slag heap of history.

Lucrative was indeed a mild word for the mercenary business. The escrowed money itself could be put to work, and the escrowing bank was an obvious agent for the other commercial transactions needed to run a war. Mercenaries replaced equipment, recruited men, and shipped themselves by the thousands across the galaxy.


With the banks' new power came a new organization. The expanded escrow operations were made the responsibility of a Bonding Authority, still based in Bremen but managed independently of the cartel itself. The Authority's fees were high. In return, its Contracts Department was expert in preventing expensive misunderstandings from arising, and its investigative staff could neither be bribed nor deluded by a violator.

From "The Bonding Authority" by David Drake (1979)
The Iron Concord

Galek –

Your sept-boss says that you’re tired of fighting in other people’s companies and want to start your own, and told me to give you some advice. About damn time. Anyway, here’s what you need to know – and these aren’t rules, so don’t think they’re written down anywhere. The Iron Concord isn’t a set of official rules you can game, it’s a set of unofficial rules that can get a real army chasing you if you come too close to the edges, so be warned.

If you want to do merc work anywhere in the Worlds as a “bonded” mercenary, most polities you can base in want you to have a merc license, under some name or other, which costs money and usually comes with some pain-in-the-kveth rules and inspections and other crap. The Empire doesn’t, it just treats you like any other business, but if you want to be considered bonded, you’ve got to buy insurance from some outfit, and they’ll want to inspect you. You can avoid the whole mess if you base out of somewhere like the Rim Free Zone without hiring a bond-board or, Venirek burn you, Nepscia, but then you’re an unbonded merc, and you don’t get any of the little courtesies they save for real mercs, like not shooting you out of hand. Even if they don’t do that, if you’re bonded, you can get paroled and move along if you’ve got a repatriation ticket, but they don’t trust unbondeds to play by the rules.

And speaking of those, don’t ever forget that war has rules, even for mercs. If you even think about breaking the Ley Accords where anyone can see – and someone can always see – they will hunt you down and kill you. And if you get any psych cases on board, I suggest you take ’em somewhere discreet and introduce ’em to a bullet before they get someone looking to do it to you. Being in the killing business is no good reason to go around giving people excuses to take it personally.

Most of your employers will have their own rules they want you to fight by – some of them are fair enough, others’ll get you killed. That’s up to you, and you can usually get away with playing fast and loose with those without anything worse than losing your contract, but read ’em carefully before you start, ‘kay? Or get a good broker.

Ultimate Argument’s the big rakhan in that business. You can work for ’em or not – if you do, you’ll never be short of business, mind, they’ve got contracts and to spare, but some potential employers don’t like ’em much. Too corporate for their taste, and an Imperial starcorp to boot. Just don’t try playing both sides of the field – the Concord is not fond of mercs who try and hide their ownership or their contract history, and while most won’t work for an employer who turns on his mercs, if you lie about that, all bets are off. Too much bad history for it to be otherwise.

Anyway, there’s plenty of work around; everyone hires mercs. Governments, corporations, colonies, shipping lines, interest branches, they all hire, and they’re all pretty safe, and play by the rules. Then there’s privateering, which can be a good way to make money if you can get a letter of marque from a respectable polity. (Be careful if you can only get one from one of the more roguish nations – some navies see those as little more than a confession to piracy – and don’t bother with one from any of the people who’ll sell you one in the Free Zone. They’re just more of the kveth-lakh slash-traders peddle to gullible outies.) Rebellions are a bit more risky, but they’re not so bad by the time they’ve graduated to actual civil wars.

Filibusters too, sometimes, but rebellions, terrorists, black cartels – they’re all hiring, but they don’t play by the rules, they want you not to play by the rules, and so the people fighting them don’t either. However well it pays — and if they don’t kill you to save money — dead sophs can’t live to spend, and it’s hard to enjoy it on the run, too. Leave that for the unbondeds.

Here’s the top two rules. First, stay bought. No-one expects you to die for hire, but they do expect you to fight for the contract that brought you. Break it, however hard the fight or however good the money, and no-one’ll hire you again. Worse, some’ll try to kill you just on general principle. Everyone hates a defaulter.

Even more importantly, remember you’re paid to make war. Don’t ever try making it without being paid, or worse, try to get paid for not making it. The one unbreakable rule of the Concord is that we fight for money, not for loot, not for conquest, and not for extortion. We have a place in the galaxy because our employers find us useful. Mercs who turn pirate, conqueror, or blackmailer stop being useful, and shortly afterwards, stop being.

Don’t get anything shot off you’ll miss, boy. Your mother still has that kalsheklik flame cannon on her wall, and I like my face.

– mor-Lissek Wrokk

Prince of Mercenaries

Crofton’s Encyclopedia of Contemporary History and Social Issues (2nd Edition)

MERCENARY FORCES

Perhaps the most disturbing development arising from CoDominium withdrawal from most distant colony worlds (see Independence Movements) has been the rapid growth of purely mercenary military units. The trend was predictable and perhaps inevitable, although the extent has exceeded expectations.

Many of the former colony worlds do not have planetary governments. Consequently, these new nations do not possess sufficient population or industrial resources to maintain large and effective national military forces. The disbanding of numerous CoDominium Marine units left a surplus of trained soldiers without employment, and it was inevitable that some of them would band together into mercenary units.

The colony governments are thus faced with a cruel and impossible dilemma. Faced with mercenary troops specializing in violence, they have had little choice but to reply in kind. A few colonies have broken this cycle by creating their own national armies, but have then been unable to pay for them.

Thus, in addition to the purely private mercenary organizations such as Falkenberg’s Mercenary Legion, there are now national forces hired out to reduce expenses to their parent governments. A few former colonies have found this practice so lucrative that the export of mercenaries has become their principal source of income, and the recruiting and training of soldiers their major industry.

The CoDominium Grand Senate has attempted to maintain its presence in the former colonial areas through promulgation of the so-called Laws of War (q. v.), which purport to regulate the weapons and tactics mercenary units may employ. Enforcement of these regulations is sporadic. When the Senate orders Fleet intervention to enforce the Laws of War the suspicion inevitably arises that other CoDominium interests are at stake, or that one or more Senators have undisclosed reasons for their interest.

Mercenary units generally draw their recruits from the same sources as the CoDominium Marines, and training stresses loyalty to comrades and commanders rather than to any government. The extent to which mercenary commanders have successfully separated their troops from all normal social intercourse is both surprising and alarming.

The best-known mercenary forces are described in separate articles. See: Covenant; Friedland; Xanadu; Falkenberg’s Mercenary Legion; Nouveau Legion Etrangere; Katanga Gendarmerie; Moolman’s Commandos …

From Prince of Mercenaries by Jerry Pournelle (1989)
Colonel Jacques Chrétien

(ed note: the Dorsai are the premier mercenaries of the galaxy. The city of Rochmont hired a battalion of Dorsai. They send them along with their own troops on a suicide mission attacking Helmuth. The idea was that Helmuth would lose lots of troops, but all the Dorsai would be killed, thus removing the need to pay them. Rochmont was quite upset when the Dorsai actually defeated Helmuth. In a last ditch attempt to avoid paying the Dorsai, they seized the Dorsai commander Colonel Jacques Chrétien then falsely accused him of taking bribes from Helmuth and lying about winning the battle. Then they hanged him. Which turned out to be a mistake. Specifically their last mistake. Behind the impregnable walls of Rochmont, the leaders sneered at the angry Dorsai outside, and dared them to do their worst. The Dorsai did.)

They little knew of brotherhood,
The faith of fighting men,
Who once to prove their lie was good,
Hanged Colonel Jacques Chrétien.

One-fourth of Rochmont’s fighting strength,
One battalion of Dorsai,
Was sent by Rochmont forth alone,
To bleed Helmuth and die.

But look, look down from Rochmont’s heights,
Upon the Helmuth plain,
At all of Helmuth’s armored force,
By Dorsai checked or slain.

Look down, look down, on Rochmont’s shame,
To hide the wrong she’d done,
Made claim that Helmuth bribed Dorsai,
No battle had been won.

To prove that lie, the Rochmont lords,
Arrested Jacques Chrétien,
On charge he dealt with Helmuth’s chiefs,
For payment to his men.

Commandant Arp Van Din sent word,
“You may not judge Dorsai,
Return our Colonel by the dawn,
Or Rochmont town shall die!”

Strong-held behind her wall, Rochmont,
Scorned to answer them,
Condemned, and at the daybreak hanged,
Young Colonel Jacques Chrétien.

Bright, bright the sun that morning rose,
Upon each weaponed wall,
But when the sun set in the west,
Those walls were leveled all.

Then soft and white the moon arose,
On streets and roofs unstained,
But when that moon was down once more,
No street or roof remained.

No more is there a Rochmont town,
No more are Rochmont’s men.
But stands a Dorsai monument,
To Colonel Jacques Chrétien.

So pass the word from world to world,
Alone still stands Dorsai,
And while she lives no one of hers,
By foreign wrong shall die.

They little knew of brotherhood,
The faith of fighting men,
Who once to prove their lie was good,
Hanged Colonel Jacques Chrétien.

From "Brothers" by Gordon R. Dickson (1973)
Shadowline

(ed note: Shadowline is a science fiction retelling of the Norse myth of Ragnarok. Gneaus Storm is Odin, and the outlawing of the mercenary legions is Ragnarok)

A gust from the cranky air system riffled papers. The banners overhead stirred with the passage of ghosts. Some were old. One had followed the Black Prince to Navarette. Another had fallen at the high-water mark of the charge up Little Round Top. But most represented milemarks in Storm’s own career.

Six were identical titan-cloth squares hanging all in a line. Upon them a golden hawk struck left to right down a fall of scarlet raindrops, all on a field of sable. They were dull, unimaginative things compared to the Plantagenet, yet they celebrated the mountaintop days of Storm’s Iron Legion.

He had wrested them from his own Henry of Trastamara, Richard Hawksblood, and each victory had given him as little satisfaction as Edward had extracted from Pedro the Cruel.

Richard Hawksblood was the acknowledged master of the mercenary art.

Hawksblood had five Legion banners in a collection of his own. Three times they had fought to a draw.

Storm and Hawksblood were the best of the mercenary captain-kings, the princes of private war the media called “The Robber Barons of the Thirty-First Century.” For a decade they had been fighting one another exclusively.

Only Storm and his talented staff could beat Hawksblood. Only Hawksblood had the genius to withstand the Iron Legion.

Hawksblood had caused Storm’s bleak mood. His Intelligence people said Richard was considering a commission on Blackworld.

“Let them roast,” he muttered. “I’m tired.”

But he would fight again. If not this time, then the next. Richard would accept a commission. His potential victim would know that his only chance of salvation was the Iron Legion. He would be a hard man who had clawed his way to the top among a hard breed. He would be accustomed to using mercenaries and assassins. He would look for ways to twist Storm’s arm. And he would find them, and apply them relentlessly.


Gneaus Julius Storm was a powerful man. His private army was better trained, motivated, and equipped than Confederation’s remarkable Marines. But his Iron Legion was not just a band of freebooters. It was a diversified holding company with minority interests in scores of major corporations. It did not just fight and live high for a while on its take. Its investments were the long-term security of its people.

The Fortress of Iron stretched tentacles in a thousand directions, though in the world of business and finance it was not a major power. Its interests could be manipulated by anyone with the money and desire.

That was one lever the giants used to get their way.


The fires of the Ulantonid War had ignited a blaze of panhumanism of which Confederation was still taking full advantage. It was bulling its way into broad reaches of relatively ungovernmented space in apparent response to a set of laws similar to those defining the growth of organisms and species. Mercenary armies were among those institutions facing increasingly limited futures.

No government willingly tolerates private competition, and especially not competition which can challenge its decrees. The most benign government ever imagined has as its root assumption its right to apply force to the individual. From inception every government continuously strives to broaden the parameters of that right.

Storm believed he and Richard, if lured into a truly bloody Armageddon, would fight the last merc war tolerated by Confederation. The Services now had the strength and organization to disarm the freecorps. All they needed was an excuse.


Gneaus Storm’s agents dogged the service battlegrounds too, selecting men who had died well. Cryonically preserved, they were revived later and asked to join the Legion.

Most accepted with a childlike gratitude. A rise from a slum to the imaginary glory and high life of the Iron Legion, after having escaped the Reaper by Storm’s grace, seemed an elevation to paradise. The holonets called them the Legion of the Dead.

(ed note: this is the science fiction version of the Norse Valkyries choosing the valiant fallen warriors to be carried to Valhalla. There they battle by day til they die, are brought back to life, then they feast all night)


Cassius said there was a tacit agreement to avoid conflict Darkside. Blake would not hear the suggestion of direct strikes. He insisted that fighting be confined to the Shadowline.

“Idiots,” Storm muttered in a moment of bloodthirst. “Ought to run straight to Twilight, kick a hole in their dome, give them something to breathe when they surrender, and have done.” Then he laughed. No doubt Richard felt the same way.

Mercenary conflicts were seldom simple. Corporations, while willing to fight, seldom wanted to risk anything already in hand, only what they might someday possess.

From Shadowline by Glen Cook (1983)

Orbit Guard

Mass drivers and other rockets can be used to alter the orbits of asteroids (and mass drivers can use rocks from the asteroid itself as a built-in source of propellant). Popular with asteroid miners who want to nudge their claims into different orbits. Unpopular with the astromilitary of all nations, who think that civilization-destroying asteroid bombardment is not a power one wants to give to rock-rats.

The "Dinosaur-killer" asteroid was probably about 10 kilometers in diameter, and it caused a freaking mass extinction of three-quarters of plant and animal species on Terra. There are approximately ten thousand asteroids in the belt of size 10 km or larger. And of course there are much more than ten thousand "fun-sized" asteroids, not large enough to wipe out civilization on Terra, but big enough to obliterate a nation that you dislike. Space faring nations with asteroid moving technology will look at the list of small asteroids, look at the list of nations hostile to them, and start to get ideas.

If asteroid moving technology is cheap enough it won't be a game just for nations, you might find mere corporations and James Bond villains getting into the act.


Once asteroid-moving technology is available, one can foresee a branch of "orbital guards" in each astromilitary, patrolling the solar system to prevent unauthorized changes in asteroid orbits. Any rock-rat, corporation, or nation that wishes to move an asteroid will have to file a proposed trajectory and request a permit from the Orbit Guard.

The Guard would keep a close watch on all asteroids. If one starts to move without a permit, or if one with a permit strays off the filed flight plan, military spacecraft of the various space faring nations will pounce and blow the snot out of it. Orbit guard ships will be armed, since the evil asteroid movers will probably shoot back. Of course prior to that the evil asteroid movers will have all their crew and equipment scrubbed of anything identifying the nation behind this heinous act, since it easily fits into the category "act of war", or even "genocide."

Probably there will be a branch of orbit guards in all of the space faring nations. They will not just watch asteroids, they will also keep a close eye on the orbit guards belonging to other nations, just to keep them honest. If nation X has an orbit guard, enemy nation Y will want their own orbit guard as well. Otherwise nation X might be tempted to turn a blind eye to somebody targeting nation Y's capital city with an errant asteroid.

Requests for asteroid moving permits will have to be filed with the Orbit Guards of all nations. Things might get a bit political here, since giving all the Orbit Guards veto power can be abused. Say, if nation X was currently angry with nation Y, nation X might pressure their Orbit Guard to automatically veto any asteroid moving requests from nation Y using specious reasons. Some kind of appeals process will have to be available.


A separate but closely related duty performed by the orbit guard is that of range safely officer. If civilian ships can be used as weapons of mass destruction, in an emergency the orbit guard can trigger the civy ship's self destruct device.


Orbit guard is a nice concept for SF authors, since it gives a plausible reason for the very existence of astromilitary. And of course civilian boom-towns and settlements will spring up around any military bases. There is money to be made supplying all those enlisted people with gambling, whiskey, and prostitutes. Especially if the base is orbiting Saturn or somewhere equally remote. This gives SF authors an economic reason for an extensive manned presence in space.


Orbit Guard spacecraft will probably have the following equipment:

Large telescopes and other tracking equipment
While there will be Orbit Guard bases keeping a sharp lookout for unauthorized asteroid redirection, the fleet of ships on patrol in the solar system will provide an important part of the service's observational capacity.
Nuclear detonation detectors
Because the most quick and dirty brute force way to change an asteroid's path is with nukes.
Asteroid redirection gear
To undo the damage done by rogue asteroid movers, re-re-directing the asteroid into a safe orbit.
Weapons
The rogue asteroid movers might fight to ensure their asteroid stays on its deadly track.

The orbit guard spacecraft will carry their own high thrust equipment in order to re-direct errant asteroids. A nasty government might aim a large rock at an enemy nation then destroy the mass driver they used. The orbit guard cannot count on the equipment being available to redirect the asteroid. The equipment might also become damaged in the battle to clear the asteroid of hostiles, especially if the bad guys use the mass driver as an impromptu kinetic energy weapon. The orbit guard will be forced to neutralize the mass driver, which is never good for its warrenty.

Scott Lowther figures that Orion drive style nuclear pulse units would be perfect tools for an orbit guard to redirect asteroids. They are more or less designed for the task (spacecraft pusher plate, asteroid, what's the difference?), they are powerful, small enough that any sized orbit guard ship can carry a large number of them (about 0.6 meters tall by 0.36 meters in diameter), and are certainly far more portable than lugging a full sized mass driver. If you position the charges far enough, the tungsten propellant will spread its impact evenly over the asteroid's entire hemisphere. This helps ensure that the asteroid is just nudged off course, not shattered into a deadly charge of cosmic buckshot still aimed at Terra.

The standard nuclear charge used in the USAF Orion report had a yield of one kiloton and would hit the asteroid with about 2.01 megaNewton-seconds of impulse. The Chelyabinsk meteor had a mass of about 10,000 metric tons. One USAF pulse unit would change its velocity by 0.2 meters per seconds. Doesn't sound like much but in the real world it's pretty good. So a single USAF charge could have made the Chelyabinsk meteor miss Terra by 100 kilometer if it was placed to detonate about six days before the meteor was scheduled to strike Terra. Or ten charges could make it miss by 100 kilometers if there was only 14 hours lead time prior to Terra impact.

(ed note: Isaac Kuo is of the opinion that standard Orion pulse units are sub-optimal for asteroid deflection.)

Given the extreme expense of the sort of nuclear bombs required for an Orion style propulsion system, and the stupendous cost of developing it, I don't think it's a good idea to develop it (there are numerous practical problems with using it, even if there were a budget to perform a mission with it).

In contrast, off the shelf nuclear bombs suitable for asteroid deflection have already been developed. The main expense is the weapons grade fission primary (which Orion style drives need oodles of), but the power of a nuke can be upscaled using cheap lithium deuteride stages — and using cheap waste U238 for the casing/tamper/etc. This results in a powerful nuclear bomb which spits out mostly neutrons — pretty useless for an Orion style drive, but ideal for asteroid deflection. These neutrons will penetrate into the asteroid and cause a nice layer of the asteroid to vaporize — producing thrust in an energy efficient (but mass inefficient) way.

This is the opposite of what you want for an Orion style drive. You do NOT want to vaporize the pusher plate of an Orion style drive, and if you're going to do something so mass inefficient you might as well use a low performance chemical rocket propulsion system instead.

Basically, the parameters of what's desirable for asteroid deflection and what's desirable (or even sensible) for an Orion style drive are too radically different. For asteroid deflection, it's actually good to have a specific impulse in the low triple digits (i.e., on par with chemical rocket Isp). This minimizes the energy required, and this in turn, reduces the mass of the nukes needed to deflect the asteroid. So what if you have to vaporize a significant fraction of the asteroid to do the mission?

And an Orion style drive does not play well with the fast neutrons of a lithium deuteride bomb. Fast neutrons penetrate a pusher plate...even if you downscale the nuke enough so it won't outright vaporize the pusher plate, the neutrons will cause damage. Lithium deuteride is good because it is much cheaper than fission bomb material and it gives more bang for a given amount of mass as well. The nice thing about upscaled fusion bombs is that the size/mass of the primary remains fixed (a fixed cost), while the additional lithium deuteride is very very cheap in comparison. But you know what you get if you try and use a few humongous nukes instead of thousands of little nukes to push an Orion style rocket ship? You get a blown up rocket ship.

The use of a 238U casing/tamper/etc doesn't really mix well with an Orion style drive either. The neutrons from 238U aren't so fast, but there are oodles of them. This is great for asteroid deflection because the extra oomph from 238U is extra energy in neutrons that are still nicely penetrative.

Isaac Kuo in a comment to a Google+ thread (2015)

If orbit guard ships carrying Orion nuclear pulse units does not appeal to you, then perhaps the orbit guard ships will have mass drivers as propulsion. And a large thrust bracing on the nose. After the resistance has been neutralized (i.e., all the evil asteroid movers have been blasted or are in custody) the orbit guard ships will land on the asteroid, ship noses pressed into the aseroid's surface and the ship tails pointed skyward, deploy scoop conveyor belts to grab reaction mass, and start running their mass drivers at full bore.

Legitimate and illegitimate asteroid movers will probably have to make do with mass drivers instead of Orion pulse units. Most military forces are quite unreasonable about allowing nuclear devices into civilian hands. Evil asteroid movers might illegally use Orion units, but they will have to work quick. Multiple nuclear detonations will be visible all over the solar system and will quickly draw unwanted attention.

SpaceWorks Engineering did a study for NASA about deflecting killer asteroids on collision course with Terra. The concept they came up with is Modular Asteroid Deflection Mission Ejector Node (MADMEN) robots. They are unmanned, independently controlled, nuclear powered, and equipped with a powerful mass driver. The idea is to make a solution that is "scaleable". If the asteroid is larger, then send more MADMEN modules. Plus a few extras in case some of them suffer malfunctions.

A transfer vehicle delivers a MADMEN to the impactor asteroid. The MADMEN lands at the correct spot, the landing gear digs in to anchor the MADMEN, the heat radiator and mass driver unfurls, the reactor powers up, a drill head extend into the body of the asteroid to gobble rocks for mass driverpropellant, and the mass driver proceeds to lob the rocks at a rate of one per minute. If the asteroid is rapidly rotating, the MADMEN is intelligent enough to only fire a rock when the rotation brings the mass driver to point in the desired direction. The thrust of the mass drivers gradually alters the trajectory of the asteroid into a safe direction.

These would be useful to both Orbit Guards and to evil asteroid movers. Orbit Guards can station caches of MADMEN in strategic locations, without having to worry about life support for Guard crews (MADMEN are unmanned, remember?). Evil movers will not have to worry about Orbit Guards capturing evil crews, who might be coerced into revealing which evil nation is responsible for the evil plot. MADMEN may also be easier for evil asteroid movers to secretly emplace on a lonely asteroid, but the onboard reactor and heat radiators will rapidly give away their positions once powered up.

Baseline MADMEN lander parameters
ItemValue
Ejection Velocity187 m/s
Ejecta mass per shot2 kg
Mass driver length10 m
Shot frequency1 per minute
Total surface time of proces60 days
Total power required42.2 kW
Length13.97 m
Height2.54 m
Width2.54 m
Dry Mass1,503 kg
Gross Mass1,621 kg
Baseline mission parameters
ItemValue
Delta-V imparted to Killer Asteroid0.2 m/s
Killer Asteroid Mass2.7 × 109 kg
Killer Asteroid Diameter130 m
Delta-V to get to Killer Asteroid5,423 m/s
Dry Mass (with MADMEN payload)2,207 kg
Gross Mass (with MADMEN payload)8,816 kg

In John Lumpkin's Through Struggle, The Stars, he has the creation of an astromilitary the other way around. Initially none of the nations of Earth have a space presence, since there is no compelling reason to spend all that money on a space program when there are so many problems at home. The unexpected great asteroid strike of October 17, 2031 changed all that.

Through Struggle, The Stars

The Rock — Common term for Southern Ocean asteroid strike that took place on Oct. 17, 2031. The asteroid, about 280 meters in diameter, came from below the plane of the Solar System and was undetected by the meager capabilities of the (mostly volunteer) orbit watch organizations at the time. It created vast tsunami that inundated the coastlines of western Australia, southeast Africa, and southern Asia. Fatalities were estimated at more than three million. The event spurred Japan to develop a full-scale space program, initially aimed at preventing future potentially hazardous asteroids from striking Earth.

From Through Struggle, The Stars by John J. Lumpkin
The Last Great War

"If you guys just wanted to be left alone," said Murdoch, "why did you start the war? Why did you move Eros?"

"Ah, I see," said Vasily. "The propagandists have written your history books. We did not start the war."

"Like hell you didn't," said Murdoch. "Shifting Eros's orbit wasn't an act of war? It would have wiped us all out if it hit."

"Eros was an accident," said Vasily. "A few idiots who didn't double-check their math. We are not monsters, Murdoch. They never meant to aim the asteroid at the Pacific Ocean."

"Bad enough. And what's worse, you all banded up to protect Eros and make excuses for them, and when we asked you to help make sure it never happened again, you jerked us off."

"Your terms were impossible," said Vasily.

"Permits, Vasily," said Murdoch. "That's all we wanted. Is it that unreasonable? Each one of these rocks is a potential mass extinction event. Is filling out a form first that terrible?"

"Permits? No, they are not unreasonable," said Vasily. "An absolute veto for Earth over all orbital adjustments, no matter how minor or necessary? And the right to blow us out of the sky if we refused? No sovereign people would accept that."

"And war was worth that? It looks to me like that's what you ended up with anyway."

"Of course that's what we got," said Vasily. "You made us an offer we knew we would never accept, and then called it self-defense when you attacked us. It was imperialism. A smash-and-grab. You came, imposed yourselves on us, and forced us to mine your resources and buy the junk you made with it. You planned to do it for years, for decades. That's why you built your shining fleets. Do not try to tell me otherwise, good Murdoch. They had no purpose but to conquer us. Eros just gave you the excuse."

From The Last Great War by Matthew Lineberger (not yet published)
Matthew Lineberger

I thought I'd take the "orbit patrol" idea one step further — if Earth has sufficient military power to punish the belters for any potentially dangerous orbit shift, they have the military power to rule the belters, period. In the revised backstory, the asteroids were initially seeded by settlers when ships were too slow to make maintaining a military presence in the belt economical (the belters sent minerals to Earth in unmanned "slow boats" which were little more than chunks of ore with engines strapped on). Then when the Zubrin drive was invented, the Great Powers suddenly had the means to extend their reach all over the Solar System, including the asteroid belt. Vasily is largely right: Earth seized on a careless mistake as an excuse to conquer the asteroids and turn them into 19th century African colonies or Appalachia in Space — a place where poor local people dig out their natural resources at the behest of distant outsiders who "own" the land, get paid a pittance, and spend it on manufactured goods made by the same distant outsiders.

Matthew Lineberger
The Humanist Inheritance

Asteroid 624 Hektor was actually two bodies, a contact binary which had originally been 370 kilometers long. The Belters who'd first settled it nudged the two rocks apart and now 624 Hektor A and 624 Hektor B orbited Sol about ten thousand kilometers from each other. A was slightly larger than B, 190 kilometers long, the largest body in the "Greek camp" Trojan asteroids which preceded Jupiter around the sun at the Sol-Jupiter L4, and served as the capital and main settlement of the grandiosely named Republic of Hellas. B, 180 kilometers long, was leased to the United Nations for use as a neutral port strategically located between the inner and outer system, conveniently close to Jupiter.

The Hellans or Hellenics or whatever they called themselves (Fitzthomas couldn't remember and didn't care that much anyway) didn't particularly like having what amounted to a fleet base for half a dozen inner system Great Powers ten k-klicks from their capital, but they liked it better than frigates like New Jersey and her Chinese, European, Russian, Indian, and Brazilian counterparts roving through the Trojans blowing up their stuff. The Great Powers, in turn, didn't like anybody who wasn't as attached to Earth as they were with their grubby rock-rat fingers on the "Go" buttons of potential mass extinction events, but they needed the metals and hydrocarbons and water locked up in the rocks, and it was a lot cheaper to pay Belters to dig them out than to do it themselves. And Belters may have been pests, but they were equal opportunity pests. The Americans, Chinese, Europeans, Russians, Indians and Brazilians didn't trust their fellow Terrans not to steal all that loot for themselves and gain an insurmountable strategic advantage given a chance, and they were probably right not to. Belters only cared if they got paid.

So Hellas (and its counterpart at L5, the Aeneian Confederation) got to keep their independence and make money, the Terrans got their resources and carte blanche to blow the holy living hell out of any rocks that started moving without a permit, and the UN given the unenviable task of administering the whole thing. And it could have been worse for the Hellenics. The Aeneians had to share their capital of 617 Patroclus with the UN, with two settlements on opposite ends of the asteroid and spies scuttling out of the woodwork every time an Aeneian sneezed.

From The Last Great War by Matthew Lineberger (not yet published)
Earth Strike

The High Guard was one of the few truly international organizations operating out of Earth, a multinational task force designed primarily to monitor the outer reaches of the solar system, track asteroids and comets that might one day be a threat to Earth, and to watch for nudgers. The Earth Confederation had grown out of an economic partnership between the old United States and a number of other nations, most of them former members of the British Commonwealth—Canada, the Bahamas, Australia, and New Zealand. Several non-Commonwealth states had joined later on— Mexico, Brazil, Japan, and the Russian Federation.

The High Guard, however, included ships from the Chinese Hegemony, the Indian States, and the European Union as well, which perhaps made that organization more representative of the entire Earth than the Earth Confederation itself.

The Earth Confederation had become more than an economic alliance in 2132, toward the end of the Second Sino-Western War. In 2129, a Chinese warship, the Xiang Yang Hong, had used nuclear munitions to nudge three small asteroids in Main Belt orbits into new trajectories that, three years later, had entered circumlunar space, falling toward Earth.

The Xiang Yang Hong had almost certainly been operating independently; Beijing later claimed the captain had gone rogue when he learned of the destruction of his home city of Fuzhou, and had carried out what was essentially a terrorist operation. His plan had been to devastate both the United States and the European Union by dropping all three asteroids into the Atlantic Ocean, causing devastating tsunamis that would wipe out the coastal cities on two continents. U.S. and European fleet elements had destroyed two of the three incoming two-kilometer rocks in what became known as the Battle of Wormwood—a reference to a biblical prophecy in the Book of Revelation that sounded eerily like an asteroid hitting the ocean. One rock—a piece of it, actually, had gotten through, falling into the Atlantic halfway between West Africa and Brazil.

The devastation had been incalculable. The loss of life, fortunately, had been less than it might have been, since most of the world's coastline cities were already slowly being evacuated in the face of steadily rising sea levels. Even so, an estimated half billion people had died, from West Africa to Spain, France, and England, to the slowly submerging cities of the U.S. East Coast, to the vanishing islands of the Caribbean, to the coastlines of Brazil and Argentina. The ancient term weapon of mass destruction had, with that single deadly blow, taken on a radically new and expanded meaning. Coming hard on the heels of the deaths of 1.5 billion people in the Blood Death pandemic, Wormwood's fall into the Atlantic had come close to ending technic civilization across much of the Earth.

The partial success of the American-EU fleet, however, had spurred further cooperation, and the rapid expansion of the automated High Guard project that had been in place for the previous century. Every space-faring nation on the planet—even the recently defeated Chinese Hegemony—had contributed ships and personnel to the newly expanded High Guard, with the sacred charge that never again would mountains fall from the sky. The Guard's motto was "A Shield Against the Sky." Its headquarters was located in neutral Switzerland, at Geneva.

Two centuries later, with the Sh'daar Ultimatum, the High Guard offered the teeming worlds and colonies of the inner solar system their best first line of defense against this new and still mysterious enemy. Their charter had been expanded; besides watching for nudgers—the ships of nation-states or terrorists attempting to push asteroids or comets into new and Earth-threatening orbits—they were tasked with patrolling the outer perimeter of the solar system, identifying incoming ships and, if they were hostile, engaging them.

The High Guard's oath, a solemn and sacred promise sworn before the souls of those who had died at the Battle of Wormwood, both in space and in the thunderous doom of the incoming tsunamis, offered the lives of the High Guard's men and women as a literal shield against any threat from the solar system's depths.

It was an immense task.. .one far too vast to be practical. The High Guard currently numbered about two hundred warships, most of them aging Marshall-class destroyers like the Gallagher, or the even older Jackson-class frigates. At any given time, at least half of those vessels were in port for refit, maintenance, and resupply. Typically, they deployed for nine months at a time, patrolling out beyond the orbit of Neptune, serving as backup to the half million remote probes in the forty-AU shell.

That arbitrary shell around Sol gave scale to what was lightly called "the vastness of space." The surface area of a sphere with a radius of 40 astronomical units was over 20,000 square Alls., .close to 450 quintillion square kilometers.

That worked out to one ship per four and a half quintillion square kilometers—an obvious impossibility. In fact, both patrols and remote sensors tended to be concentrated within about 30 degrees of the ecliptic, which cut down things a bit...but there was always the possibility that an enemy would sneak in from zenith or nadir, where tens of billions of kilometers separated one sentry from the next.

Thinly spread or not, in the thirty-seven years since the Sh'daar Ultimatum, not one alien vessel had approached Earth's solar system, and the general perception of the civilian population back home was that the war was far away, too far to be a threat.

According to the data flooding in through Gallagher's sensors, that illusion of security had just been ripped away. At least thirty Turusch warships had materialized almost seven hours ago, some six light hours out from the sun and 25 degrees above the ecliptic., .roughly in the same part of the sky as Arcturus and Eta Bootis. Exactly what they'd been doing since then was not clear; the ships weren't registering on long-range tracking, and no more data was coming through from Triton since that one, quick, burst transmission.

But Lederer could make a good guess. Confederation tactics called for launching a high-G fighter or near-c bombardment of the target immediately, so that local defenses were overwhelmed. It was possible that enemy near-c impactors were already approaching Earth.

Beam Transit Authority / Laser Guard

Huge solar power stations (SPS) can power MagBeams to push little spacecraft in near orbit or to give them a kick to another planet.

SPS can also power titanic laser arrays used for beam-powered propulsion for laser-thermal spacecraft all over the solar system. Especially since non-beam powered solar sails can only do about 3 milligees and you need at least 5 milligees to be practical.

They can also launch laser sail spacecraft on interstellar missions.

Such stations would be valuable and useful pieces of space infrastructure.

All of these provide advantage to people using spacecraft, but with the cost of being at the mercy of whoever owns the SPS. Ship captains have to file their flight plan with the SPS, and have to follow it to the letter or the beam cannot stay focused. And if your bill isn't paid up Beams-R-Us will pull the plug. Sure Beams-R-Us will need massive investments to construct the powersats and laser arrays, but it will be quite lucrative.


But then there is the awkward fact that a beam which could power a freighter in the asteroid belt is also powerful enough to vaporize a battleship in cis-lunar space. Not to mention that any space garbage scow could suddenly become a laser spitting death machine with only the support of a powersat and a few half-silvered mylar balloons used as laser combat mirrors. The military will not be happy...

...Unless the military owns and operates Beams-R-Us.

Naturally this can quickly turn into a Mutual Assured Destruction situation once there are more than one nation in the beam business. Which could sabotage efforts for the first beamsellars to get established. Solar power stations are such big targets and so very fragile. There might have to be an international treaty forcing three or more nations to build large solar-powered laser arrays simultaneously.

In Rocheworld by Dr. Robert E. Forward the military had a series of such laser stations around Mercury. Given the plentiful solar energy each station could crank out a laser beam that was about 1.3 terawatts.

In Larry Niven's "Known Space" series, the warlike alien Kzinti gleefully attack our solar system, knowing that the pascifistic humans had no quote "weapons" unquote. This disaster was called the Kzinti Lesson. Among other things the Kzinti discovered that even though terrawatt batteries of lasers used to push lightsail interstellar probes were technically "propulsion systems", nonetheless they could vaporize Kzinti warships like ants under a magnifying glass in the hot sun.

In G. Harry Stine's (writing as Lee Correy) novel Manna, it was recognized that orbital bombardment high-energy lasers (HEL) could be put into difficult-to-detect satellites, provided that they were powered remotely. By, for instance, a solar power satellite.

Insurance companies refused to provide coverage for the construction of a powersat, not if it could instantly make itself into a huge fragile military target just by directing a power beam to a HEL beamer sattelite. So the international Resident Inspection Organization was created. They ensured that the power beams stayed pointed at the ground based rectennas, and in exchange the insurance companies underwrote the powersat construction projects.

Power beaming stations might well be dual purpose, the space age equivalent of the military frontier posts of the American west.

The military purpose would be to protect Earth from infalling asteroids or whatever military threat develops in deep space, but they pay for themselves by beaming power to cooperative targets like friendly shipping or energy receivers mounted on NEOs. Unless there is a red alert, shipping takes priority and even if the beam is interrupted, the ships continue to coast on predictable orbits and can be picked up after the interruption is resolved (repairs made, asteroid vapourized etc.)

Life in Fort Heinlein revolves around maintaining the solar energy arrays and maintaining the tracking systems, and life will be pretty tedious. Daily routine includes system checks and battle drills, and screw-ups get to go out and polish the mirrors under the first sergeant's unforgiving gaze. A secondary economy of service providers (saloons and whorehouses) will grow around the "fort" to service the crew, and other business might set up shop as well, everything from contractor repair depots to futures traders monitoring ship traffic and energy consumption.

Lightweight ships tapping into this system have torch like performance, economy traffic might go by cycler (although the "taxis" might need torch like performance to match the cycler or slow down to orbital velocity after dropping off) and bulk traffic will still go by low cost transfer orbits.

Military Intelligence

Military Intelligence gathers information, does analysis, and uses this to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions.

Traditionally each branch of the military has their own intelligence departments, with the exception of espionage. James Bond does not work for the British army, he is with MI5. But all the British naval warships have on-board Navy radar operators.

The three levels of intelligence are

  • Strategic Intelligence: focus on broad issues such as economics, politics, military capabilities, and intentions of foreign nations.
  • Operational Intelligence: focus on supporting an expeditionary force commander (intelligence for a military campaign).
  • Tactical Intelligence: focus on supporting forces in a battle and patrolling units (and debriefing the patrols to obtain information). Where are the enemy combat units, where are they going, are there any advantageous terrain features that can be used, those sort of questions.

The intelligence department is tasked with responding to the needs of the commander, keeping in mind the military objective and the overall plan for the campaign. The commander has information requirements. The intelligence analysis staff surveys existing information, identifies gaps in the knowledge, sends collection assets to fill in the gaps (for example Reconnaissance). The staff then produce analysis reports for the commander. This process is called Collection Co-ordination and Intelligence Requirement Management (CCIRM).

The four phases of the intelligence process are

  • Collection: information is gathered from public sources, spyplane flyovers and spy satellites, internal or external map makers, published journals of various nations, spies posing as diplomats, spies posing as journalists, eavesdropping on radio and satellite transmissions, and decryption.
  • Analysis: assessing adversary's capabilities and vulnerabilities (threats and opportunities), identifying the least defended or most fragile enemy resources (critical vulnerabilities).
  • Packaging: Critical vulnerabilities are indexed for easy access by advisers and line intelligence personnel who aid the commander. Vulnerabilities are indexed by nation and military unit, along with a list of possible attack methods. Critical threats are maintained in a prioritized file. Important enemy capabilities are analyzed periodically, with the period length set by enemy's preparation time (time varies from monthly to in-real-time). Critical vulnerabilities and critical threats are given to the commander as lists of threats and opportunities.
  • Dissemination: the analysis is sent out through databases, intel bulletins, and briefings.

In the Traveller role playing game, espionage is a part of the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service. Who originally only had the job of exploring newly discovered planets with an eye towards colonization.

In fairness, I've met few military intelligence specialists who clearly understood that their role is not the same as a military historian's.

I meant that many MI analysts are content to record and interpret what has already happened, rather than provide the operations side with useful projections of what might happen next and — most importantly — what they might be able to do about it.

As for why that is, some of it is a lack of intellectual rigor (prediction is inherently much harder than postdiction), some of it is careerist unwillingness to "bet one's bars" on predictive scenarios (compounded by a zero-defect attitude among commanders), some of it is failure to understand the operators' requirements (since few MI have worked the other side first). Most of it is a lack of good predictive tools at the tactical/operational level, especially for unconventional warfare. If MI had the "killer ap" that let them map relationships and resource flows (information, money, logistics, personnel, etc.), they might be better positioned to focus ops on taking out this linkage or propping up that ally, and what effect it would have.

Christopher Thrash (2006)

Even as the beams did their work, a web of pinhole optical cameras wired into Hangzhou’s hull studied them. The cameras fed data to a defensive control computer, which compared the information to its files on ships of Asakaze’s design. The computer deduced the precise origin of the beams, and ordered an array of counterbattery lasers to fire “up the beam” of the attacking cannon. Asakaze let its lasers linger too long on Hangzhou, and Chinese counterbattery beams slashed into the Japanese ship’s unarmored optics, disabling two cannon and damaging a third before its shutter could close. The Chinese counterbattery computer updated its records in hopes of improving its chance for a hit should the lasers hit again.

Less than half of a second had passed since the laser officer on Asakaze had fired the weapons.

In the San Jacinto’s CIC, Neil watched in fascination. Counterbattery response time was prized intelligence. He flagged the data for Space Force analysts before returning to the camera view of the Hangzhou.


“How did we find out about it?” he asked.

Sources and methods, Neil.”

“I’m sorry?”

Donovan smiled. “First lesson of intelligence: Don’t ever expect an answer to a question about our sources of information or our methods in obtaining it. That’s the stuff we have to protect the most; if we burn a source, we very likely lose that source of information for good. Word gets out we burn sources, and fewer people want to talk to us.”


“One last question,” Neil said. “The XO said you requested me as your liaison. Any particular reason?”

Donovan said, “What’s the strategic value of AD Leonis?”

Neil’s response was almost immediate. It took him more time to form the sentences in his head than to recall the information.

“Well, the star itself is a red dwarf and a flare hazard. It has a few planets, but I’d have to look up how many and their types. I have never heard of any mining there, so I would gather that the strategic value is that it serves as a critical keyhole junction for the Hans and the Kims, part of the path to both Korean planets, plus Kuan Yin and Entente. It also links to American space, so it’s a trade hub.”

Donovan said, “Well done. I’d overheard you talking to some of your colleagues on the hop to Vandenberg and later on the station. You have a pretty solid command of how intelligence works. Most of your colleagues probably wouldn’t know half of that about AD Leonis. Your recall isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. While anyone can look up almost anything, intrinsic knowledge is the key to the quick analysis your superiors will want. If you know something, you can think about it. But more importantly, you phrased your response like an intelligence officer, despite your limited training. You not only answered the question, but you told me what you knew, what you didn’t know, and you distinguished your facts from your opinions. That’s the proper way for intelligence officers to deal with information, Neil. It usually takes quite a bit of training for someone to organize their mind properly like that, but it comes to you pretty naturally.”

From Through Struggle, the Stars by John Lumpkin (2011)
Intelligence and Star Wars: Beyond Just Bothans

     Intelligence and the Star Wars universe

     Since its release in 1977, Star Wars has spawned arguments and discussions about how galactic warfare would be conducted – everything from the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (such as the Death Star), through to Counter-Insurgency and irregular warfare (such as the Ewoks). Across this spectrum, we witness an array of examples that range from dogfights between starfighters; fleet engagements between capital ships; and landwarfare between armoured, artillery, and armoured units. The ‘Wars’ in the ‘Star Wars’ title is a plural for good reason.
     One key warfare element that deserves attention is the military intelligence war that plays out throughout these films, especially within the Original Trilogy. Since 1977, Star Wars has been as much an intelligence war as it has been a battle between X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Throughout the films, both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance exploit an array of different information-gathering practices to bolster their otherwise conventional warfighting capability.
     Both sides are using military intelligence to address a shortfall within their warfighting ability. In the case of the Rebel Alliance, it’s a fight for survival – without intelligence on the Empire, they risk being eradicated. Further more, the relatively small band of Rebels can use intelligence as leverage against a larger, better equipped Empire, an organisation that they can not fight on equal terms. It’s this information that tells them what to attack and how best to strike it.
     The Empire, meanwhile, needs intelligence…
     The first ship we see in the Star Wars films is transmitted plans for the Death Star before its crew is captured, making it an intergalactic equivalent of the USS Pueblo.
     The Empire, meanwhile, needs intelligence on a largely de-centralised Rebellion that has literally the entire Galaxy to hide amongst. Intelligence provides the Empire with the means to seek out the key instruments of the Rebellion (namely, its senior leadership), so that they can be shut down for good.

     All three films are pretty even in their examples of using intelligence for military purposes. In A New Hope, the plans for the Death Star are stolen and smuggled by the Rebellion (a story that will be illuminated come December 2016 with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). The end game of this intelligence smuggling operation isn’t so that the Rebellion can build its own Superlaser, but rather, so that it sift through pentabytes of data and find a fatal weakness within the Death Stars design.
     Conversely, we see some old school intelligence gathering techniques in A New Hope – namely, the sharing of information by the spy Garindan (AKA Long Snoot) as he stalks Obi Wan and Luke to the Millennium Falcon.
     R2-D2’s venture onto the Death Star later in the film could conceivably be an exploitation of poor cyber security on the Empire’s behalf. Indeed, if R2-D2 were half the programmer that intelligence organisations use today, he would have delivered the intergalactic equivalent of a stuxnet virus into the Death Star’s memory banks, and caused the superlaser to detonate itself the next time it attempted to fire.

     The Empire Strikes Back takes the intelligence campaign further. Imperial Probe Droids – the drones of the Star Wars universe – are dispatched throughout the Galaxy (I want to know about how the Empire disseminates all of the information from these Probes and decides what videos that Captain Piett will view from the bridge of his Star Destroyer).
     The end result of this Probe Droid program is the discovery of the Rebel Base on Hoth, whose destruction yields a significant blow against the Alliance. Later in the film, the Empire goes to the private sector, commissioning freelance bounty hunters to locate the Millennium Falcon and attempt the capture of Rebel senior leadership.
     The conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back sees Luke using the Force to get information that leads him to Bespin, and his fateful confrontation with Darth Vader. Based on nothing more than a vision of ‘A City in the Clouds’, Luke travels halfway across the Galaxy and falls into his father’s trap, despite Vader making no physical attempt to contact him. Any academic who attempts to write a history of the Star Wars galaxy is likely to come up frustratingly short on answers when they question why certain decisions were made, if for no other reason than ‘the Force’.

     In Return of the Jedi, a number of Rebels plant themselves as agents within Jabba’s Palace to mount the rescue of Han Solo (arguably more of a Special Operations mission than Intelligence activity). Never-the-less, such an operation would have required careful study of disguises for Leia and Lando, who both slip into the palace in cognito.
     That operation is a success, bringing us to the film’s second and third act – a massive military operation against a Second Death Star. We learn that many Bothan Spies died to bring us the information presented in the briefing room of the Home One. What they don’t realise is that the intelligence on the Second Death Star is merely a counter-intelligence operation from Emperor Palpatine himself, intended to lure the Rebels into a trap. In three films, we’ve seen quite a robust exploration of how both sides use intelligence to their advantage.

     The Prequels warrant a mere paragraph in the intelligence stakes – not a reflection on the quality of the films, but rather, an acknowledgement that these films have no real intelligence grounding. In The Phantom Menace, the Trade Federation uses malware coded within a distress message to track the Queen’s Starship to Tatooine. Obi-Wan does some gumshoe detective work to find a Clone Army and Droid Foundries on Geonosis in Attack of the Clones, whilst ‘Clone Intelligence’ gives a few tidbits on the Separatists in Revenge of the Sith. Throughout this trilogy, Palpatine is also playing the galaxy’s greatest double agent. Perhaps The Prequels would have been considerably improved if they took a greater focus on intelligence.

     Which brings us to The Force Awakens. We should probably begin by acknowledging the geopolotical (astropolitical?) state of play in this film, with New Republic having signed a peace treaty with Imperial remnants. The New Republic has largely gotten rid of its military so that it can instead spend its budget on managing the Galaxy. That leaves the Resistance, a quasi-legal military force, to take the fight against Imperial remnants that did not go quietly into the night – namely, The First Order, which has been building its forces in secret.
     It’s a classic hawk-and-dove scenario between the Resistance and the New Republic, suggesting a kind of political nuance that the Star Wars films don’t often get credit for. Much like Europe in the 1930s, the New Republic is too busy trying to recover from the last war, and not acknowledge grim realities. A resurgent First Order is practicing a very disciplined information game – consolidating its strength, but not so obviously that the New Republic judges it necessary to re-arm itself. Had the New Republic (much less The Resistance) have known of just how powerful the First Order really was, it’s doubtful they would have allowed them to go unchecked. Just imagine if the Axis had have had a viable nuclear weapon program in the 1930s.
     Like the original trilogy, The Force Awakens demonstrates a good grasp of intelligence supporting a larger and more conventional war. This film doesn’t just illustrate the strengths of intelligence, however – it also demonstrates that organisations who ignore or de-prioritise intelligence do so at their own peril. We see examples of HUMINT (on-the-ground informants working for the First Order and Resistance at seen at Maz Kamata’s bar) through to Intel-gathering platforms operated by the Resistance. Snap Wexley pilots an Electronic Intelligence ship (possibly a mission-specific T-70 X-Wing variant) that brings back an accurate picture of the Starkiller Base, shields and all.
     In the meantime, both sides follow intelligence leads – whether they’re from The Force, through interogations, or from defections – to look for map for Luke Skywalker.

     What can we judge from each side’s intelligence capability? The First Order is, arguably, far superior in this regard. It is disciplined and well resourced. It appears to have more agents throughout the galaxy working for them, judging from the Guavian Death Gang’s tip-off that Han Solo is in possession of BB-8. The First Order keeps the construction of Starkiller Base a secret, its existence only revealed when it reaches out and destroys New Republic’s capital planet. Say what you will about The First Order repeating the mistakes of the Empire by building another resource-intensive superweapon – Starkiller Base decapitated the New Republic’s government.
     The Resistance – and the New Republic – largely demosntrate a shortfall in adequate intelligence throughout much of The Force Awakens. The disappearance of Luke Skywalker some 15 years earlier intelligence failure, given their inability to find him. When it has its first solid lead to discovering Skywalker’s location, The Resistance sends a mere single pilot to retrieve that information.
     In fact, it’s entirely possible that the obsessive search for Skywalker likely distracted The Resistance from intelligence that could have led to the discovery of Starkiller Base. If Luke had not have gone missing in the first place, the New Republic might still be alive today. Talk about your intelligence failures.
     The intelligence that the Resistance is able to garner about Starkiller Base is largely drawn from the defection of FN-2187, and a handful of reconnaissance sorties flown by X-Wings. Through sheer luck and a little bit of talent, it’s sufficient information for The Resistance to destroy Starkiller Base. Once again, blind luck also leads the map fragment containing the location of Luke Skywalker to be decoded by The Resistance.

     What we don’t see however are the repercussions of these intelligence successes and failures, and we wont know much more until December 2017 – the new release date for Star Wars Episode VIII. Disney and Lucasfilm recently announced this film would have the benefit of another six months in production time, during which I hope Rian Johnston finds the opportunity to include more ‘intelligence’ examples within the film.
     What can we expect to see? There’s nothing better than idle speculation, but the real world has a host of examples that I hope are drawn upon. R2-D2 returning to the fold as an exploiter of cyber-security shortfalls, for one. An entire starship given over to the use of COMINT, ELINT and SIGINT – our very own First Order variant of the RC-135 Rivet Joint – would be a sight to see. But there’s one intelligence cliche that, surprisingly, we don’t see in the Star Wars movies – it’s the secret agent.
     There’s a lot of characters in the Star Wars trilogy who work in the intelligence domain, but they’re largely pilots, soldiers, informants or technical specialists. None of them are a professional agent. On the one hand, I applaud the screenwriters for making seven films rich in intelligence examples without resorting to a cinematic cliche of James Bond/Jason Bourne/Jack Bauer.

Sixth Column

An intelligence service was as important as a new secret weapon—more important; no matter how fantastic and powerful a weapon might be developed from Dr. Ledbetter's researches, it would be no help until they knew just where and how to use it against the enemy's weak points. A ridiculously inadequate military intelligence had been the prime characteristic of the United States as a power all through its history. The most powerful nation the globe had ever seen-but it had stumbled into wars like a blind giant. Take this present mess: the atom bombs of PanAsia weren't any more powerful than our own but we had been caught flat-footed and had never gotten to use a one.

We had had how many stockpiled? A thousand, he had heard. Ardmore didn't know, but certainly the PanAsians had known, just how many, just where they were. Military intelligence had won the war for them, not secret weapons. Not that the secret weapons of the PanAsians were anything to sneer at particularly when it was all too evident that they really were "secret." Our own so-called intelligence services had fallen down on the job.

From Sixth Column by Robert Heinlein (1949)

Space Logistics

Logistics is the art and science of moving ones military units to the battlefield and keeping them supplied with ammunition, food, propellant, plutonium, antimatter, and other necessary items. The old bromide is that amateurs talk about battle tactics while professionals talk about logistics. The sad fact of the matter is that logistics is about ten times more difficult than tactics, but a lot less glamorous. Far too many science fiction novels and games totally ignore logistics. Armies are always trying to increase its tooth-to-tail ratio, that is, the ratio of "tooth" troops whose job is neutralizing the enemy to the number of "tail" troops whose job is giving logistical support to the tooth troops. Another term for this is "reducing the length of the logistical tail". The idea is to make the number of "tail" troops as small as possible.

Space logistics include many more items than conventional ground army logistics. For instance, as a general rule a modern-day real-world ground army can count on a breathable atmosphere being locally available, but rocket troops on Luna cannot. The MIT Space Logistics Center identified the following (non-combat) supply classes: Propellants and Fuels, Crew Provisions and Operations, Maintenance and Upkeep, Stowage and Restraint, Waste and Disposal, Habitation and Infrastructure, Transportation and Carriers, Miscellaneous.

Space army units are kept supplied by convoys of cargo spacecraft. The cargo ships should be protected by escort groups if the enemy has convoy raiders engaged in commerce raiding using wolfpack tactics. Unlike wet navy ships, the space convoy ships have a difficult task in delivering the supplies from orbit down to the space army troops, running the gauntlet of hostile weapons fire while simultaneously preventing the supplies from burning up in reentry. Whether unmanned canisters or manned orbit-to-surface craft will be used is up to you.

How much tonnage would a troop-carrier spacecraft have? Hard to say. Isaac Kuo suggested that one could get a ballpark estimate by looking at USN amphibious assault ships. LHA and LHD amphibious assault ships are carriers which deliver a couple thousand marines and everything necessary to support them. They have a displacement of about 40,000 tons per 2,000 troops or about 20 tons per trooper.

Space navy ships are kept supplied by auxiliary units. These include Destroyer Tenders, Sub Tenders, Mine Sweepers, Aircraft Tenders, Fuel Ships (Oilers and Tankers), Supply Ships, Transports, Repair Ships, Hospital Ships, Colliers (missile supply ships), and Ammo ships. Those are wet navy ships, you'll have to adapt this to your space fleet.

This is one factor that makes a planetary invasion such a challenge. Presumably the local armed forces on the planet get their logistical ammo, food, and other supplies from the same planet. The invaders, on the other hand, have to rely upon logistical convoy fleets making the long journey from the invader's staging base. If the locals can get their convoy raiders in position to cut the invader's logistical tail, the invader is in real trouble.

In some science fiction universes, space task forces try to shorten the logistical tail by bringing along "factory ships" that can manufacture items such as ammunition on the spot, given raw materials from the local asteroid belt. Factory ships will be mother-ships to small fleets of rapid mining vessels, and ships designed to scoop deuterium and other useful elements from local gas giants. You can find this in William Keith's Galactic Marines series, Steve Gallacci's Albedo Anthropomorphics, and the anime GunBuster.

The military units being supplied by the logistics tail will often attract "camp followers." These are civilian hangers-on who officially or unofficially see to needs of the troops. Official camp followers could be civilian contractors supplying official items like fuel, signal flares, and fragmentation grenades. Unofficial camp followers supply services like cooking, laundering, liquor, nursing, sexual services, and sutlery. For a price. Unofficial camp followers are notorious for after-battle scavenging and looting.

Life Support and Logistics in Realistic Space Combat Universes

(ed note: Phil Pournelle is one of Jerry Pournelle's sons. The discussion is about Attack Vector: Tactical {AV:T})

Phil Pournelle:

I’ve been lurking and reading the Realistic Weapons thread for a while and have enjoyed the discussion, though I have not really done the math required to fathom it completely. I generally understand the math regarding acceleration and fuel requirements.

Merchants will run around at a maximum of 0.1Gs acceleration, military drives could possibly top out at 1G for a short period of time at an incredible expenditure of resources. Obviously the energy costs to do all this increase as the mass of the ship increases.

Which brings me to a critical point about ship design that I don’t know has been covered here.

Spaceships with a human crew will require a significant investment in life support. Working on a ship in the water, I have a great appreciation for this. Here we can draw upon the medium we float on to generate fresh water (Reverse Osmosis, etc) and fresh air around us. In the age of sailing ships, they had to carry almost everything with them, but then they could subsidize their food stores with fish caught in the ocean and rain falling from the sky. Additionally, maritime nations went to great lengths to develop resupply stations around the world, on land.

This has two important implications: Mass of the starships and the impact of logistics on spacial battles.

Life Support systems able to sustain a crew for extended periods of time would require significant mass devoted to organics, hydroponics, water, scrubbers, etc. Being on a ship I can attest to the value to the crew of large common areas, particularly for extended periods of time. Larger ships can sustain people for longer periods of time, look at a carrier versus a mine sweeper… In the Ten Worlds Universe you could go a year before reaching a port of call with air in your hair and grass at your feet. Trust me you can keep a crew reasonably sane if you can stop at a small island place like Tinian or Catalina once in a while. It is a completely different if all you have to offer is another Spam can.

So now you have ships hauling around a large mass of life support systems. These sustain you during the month of boredom but become a significant liability in the minutes of terror in battle. I think the implications could turn the AV:T assumptions on their head. Rather than carry the mass of the life support systems around with you, leave them behind. During the short time devoted to combat, you need a short amount of life support. Employ a craft that only requires you to sustain the crew for a few hours. Battle Riders are the classic designs from Traveler. But then Battle Riders really are fighters, just a question of what is the mass difference between a fighter and a battle boat.

The second implication of all this is the impact of logistics on the operational level on spacial battles. If even warships are limited in the amount of thrust they can expend in battles, then the forces with the best interior lines of communication (resupply) will dominate the operational level of conflict. If two opposing forces of equal combat effectiveness begin an engagement, then the defender (assuming he is closer to his resupply bases) can maneuver radically or salvo large numbers of expendables and force the attacker to have to respond in kind. Exhausted the attacker must retreat, he cannot resupply. Thus the old saying returns, amateurs discuss tactics, experts discuss logistics. I view the potential Ten Worlds battles not so much as the Age of Nelson, but the age of Nimitz.

Again all of this may have been covered before I joined this group, so please let me know.

Ken Burnside:

Phil Pournelle: Life Support systems able to sustain a crew for extended periods of time would require significant mass devoted to organics, hydroponics, water, scrubbers, etc.

We ran numbers on this during one of your intermissions from the list, but...

In AV:T, one hull space (25 tons, nominal) of support cargo has the supplies needed to keep one person healthy, alive and somewhat sane for 160 weeks. Multiply surviving support cargo by 160, divide by the people in the crew, round the fractions up, and you have the cruise duration in weeks. (We use fortnights, so divide by 80, and you're fine.)

There is a separate installation that provides, for lack of a better term, "sewer plant features" and air scrubbing.

A third type of installation is an interior garden to give very long range endurance.

The numbers were taken from submarine usage, and (in a rough sense) quadrupling the amount of water and multiplying the stored air by about 200x. We also have fairly automated ships (to keep the crew levels down) and actually worked out the packed volume of a cargo support space to make sure the densities worked. We looked into hydroponics and found that for the (admittedly) small sized crews we had, they only made sense when you had about half the crew size and expected to be out for several years between port calls. We still statted them out.

Some nations build their ships with pod docks to do exactly what you describe — leave the lunch pail behind the ship before you go to fight — which means you could lose it if something slips past you. Other nations are a bit more paranoid and try to pack the support supplies internally. Still others use tenders and gunboats (your tender and battle rider part, that I snipped) as their primary doctrine, but it's a doctrine on the way out due to manpower requirements and the short life expectancy of the gunboat crews if the balloon goes up.

That being said, a gunboat tender is a very flexible ship; swap out some of its gunboats with supply pods, and you have a very long endurance ship for showing the flag, convoy escorts, relief missions, and all sorts of Missions Other Than War.

Phil Pournelle: The second implication of all this is the impact of logistics on the operational level on spacial battles.

Supply nodes are pretty clearly marked on the Ten Worlds route maps, including who owns them, who has rights for basing at them, and which ones will sell (or be coerced) support to all comers.

Every can city that hosts a permanent population has a hydroponics belt, and most all of them have a greensward, and spin gravity. It's not quite being on a planet, but sometimes the planets just aren't convenient to get to or from. And yes, pulling up to a can city for liberty does happen...and captains have the authority to accept recruits from can cities as well, inducting them into the service, usually with an enlistment term that boils down to "10 years in the Navy, and citizenship when we get you home."

(For the kids growing up in the can city, ANYTHING can seem like a better deal than growing old with the same old faces you already dislike surrounding you. Plus, as the Three Generation Rule kicks in...

Sometimes "accept recruits" and "Throw a party, get a bunch of the brighter kids drunk and have them wake up with a hangover and a Gunny yelling in their face as the ship is outbound" can get a bit blurry.)

But back to supply nodes.

Supply nodes are worth fighting over, not just with warships, but with treaty obligations. The Saladin War expanded for the Olympians when they attempted to cut the Medinan's line of supply on their flank...and Chinese didn't take kindly to the joint base being hulked by an overzealous Olympian commander.

The real issue with supply nodes is that unlike a base on an island, there is no real analog to coastal fortifications to make them secure. The only way you protect your base is to engage the enemy far enough away from it that he can't hurt it without defeating the defending force.

A defending force in its home system will be expected to trot out the nukes and apologize later if their polity survives. Nukes are about the only effective "defender force multiple" we've been able to come up with.

Nukes are banned by treaty; this treaty is nigh unenforceable, but its anemic enforcement provision means that when two warships meet in the back of the beyond, they swap junior officers for an inspection of ordnance logbooks, a dinner party, and a thorough debriefing by their XO and INTEL officer when they get back. This "courtesy call" is as much for the "know your counterpart in the opposite service" as it is for the supposed inspection regime.

An important mind set in the Ten Worlds is that within living memory, something like 99.9% of the human race vanished with the Loss. There is a strong cultural taboo (right now) against War to the Knife. It's war to specific objectives, it's war with the expectation that the negotiations afterwards will be the final determinant of who won or lost. The Chinese Drop Brigade is one of those things that makes people nervous and is primarily a deterrent. It's the lone force that could concievably drop on an enemy planet and perform an Afghanistan-type operation, and much effort and attention is paid to which camo patterns its vehicles are painted with at any time...

Another point is that in spite of this taboo, leading up to the Saladin War, every single major power had a much larger fleet than they could comfortably support, due to holdovers from Earth and the general inflation of intelligence estimates of capabilities. It was seriously impacting economies throughout the Ten Worlds, and one of the foci of the treaty ending the Saladin War is a Naval Reduction Treaty.

However, if the naval forces drop below their current levels, there are going to be systems and trade routes uncovered, and piracy may rise again...

From a thread in sfconsim-l (2006)
Fustest With the Mostest

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, apparently, US Civil War general Nathan Bedford Forrest never really said that... He did say, "git thar fust with the most men," which is close enough.

I bring this up because of Doug's comment on an earlier post that the Lanchester equations are so abstract that they merely say the obvious — if you're gonna hava a fight, it's good to have more guys. Those are the odds. Tactics are how you beat the odds. Yet one of those standard military sayings that gets bandied around is amateurs study tactics, professonals study logistics. The mark of a great general is not so much beating the odds as loading the dice.

In his next comment, however, Doug lets the cat out of the bag — confessing that the real problem with the Lanchesterian logic of deep-space combat is that it rules out cool stuff like space pirates. (Off-topic? Not in the least! This blog is fundamentally about Romance, which emphatically includes Pirates in SPAAACE!)

Logistics. The very word, like "economics," kills Romance and buries her in a shallow grave. ... Logistics and economics are both crucial to realistic worldbuilding — if you want a realistic flavor — because of the same principle: If you are a pirate, raiding galleons / starliners on their voyage each year to Cockaigne, you need to know how many galleons there are to raid.

This, however, is all in the background. The reader doesn't expect to see a table of Cockaigne's imports and exports — only to see a few of the choicest samples, when the rogueish heroes break open a chest or unseal a cargo pod. Even less do we expect to see the logistic underpinnings of warfare. We only hear about the Seabees when someone attacks them and they have to shoot back.

Yet logistics includes the time dimension — the fustest, as well as the mostest — and that is where Romance and logistics meet. Every time the cavalry pennons appear over the brow of the pass just as the fort is about to fall, it means that someone got them mounted up and on the road with the sun. That trumpet blast you hear is the triumph of logistics.

From Fustest With the Mostest by Rick Robinson (2007)
Passage At Arms

“… convoy in zone Twelve Echo making the line for Thompson’s System. Ten and six. Am in pursuit. Eighty-four Dee.”

I estimate quickly. We aren’t that far away. We could get there if we hauled ass. Must be an important convoy, too. Six escorts for ten logistical hulls is a heavy ratio, unless they’re battle units coincidentally moving up. The other firm likes to kill two birds with one stone.


So why is everyone busy? Will the Commander get even by ambushing the first destroyer?

That wouldn’t please Command. Engaging escorts is considered a waste of kill capability. That’s supposed to be employed against the logistic hulls moving men and materiel toward the Inner Worlds, or against the big warships making it difficult for Navy to stand its ground.


Are they still after us? It’s been a long time since the raid. A long time since contact. Maybe they’ve overcome their emotional response and gone back to guarding their convoy.

What’s going on out there? We’ve had no news, made no beacon connections. The biggest operation of the war… Being out of touch leaves me feeling like my last homeline has been cut.

Has the raid given Tannian’s wolves the edge they need? Have they panicked the logistic hulls? Once a convoy scatters, no number of late-showing escorts can protect all the vessels. Climbers can stalk the ponderous freighters with virtual impunity. Some will get through only because our people won’t have time to get them all.

Uhm. If the convoy has scattered, the other firm might feel obligated to keep after their most responsible foe. They know this ship of old. Her record is long and bloody. She’s hurt them. Her survival, after what she’s done, might be an intolerable threat.

From Passage At Arms by Glen Cook (1985)
Logistics Quotations

Logisticians are a sad and embittered race of men who are very much in demand in war, and who sink resentfully into obscurity in peace. They deal only in facts, but must work for men who merchant in theories. They emerge during war because war is very much a fact. They disappear in peace because peace is mostly theory. The people who merchant in theories, and who employ logisticians in war and ignore them in peace, are generals.

Generals are a happy blessed race who radiate confidence and power. They feed only on ambrosia and drink only nectar. In peace, they stride confidently and can invade a world simply by sweeping their hands grandly over a map, point their fingers decisively up terrain corridors, and blocking defiles and obstacles with the sides of their hands. In war, they must stride more slowly because each general has a logistician riding on his back and he knows that, at any moment, the logistician may lean forward and whisper: "No, you can't do that." Generals fear logisticians in war and, in peace, generals try to forget logisticians.

Romping along beside generals are strategists and tacticians. Logisticians despise strategists and tacticians. Strategists and tacticians do not know about logisticians until they grow up to be generals—which they usually do.

Sometimes a logistician becomes a general. If he does, he must associate with generals whom he hates; he has a retinue of strategists and tacticians whom he despises; and, on his back, is a logistician whom he fears. This is why logisticians who become generals always have ulcers and cannot eat their ambrosia.

Unknown Author


Logistics..."embraces not merely the traditional functions of supply and transportation in the field, but also war finance, ship construction, munitions manufacture and other aspects of war economy."

Lt Col George C. Thorpe, Pure Logistics, 1917


Logistics comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics. Strategy decides where to act; logistics brings the troops to this point.

General Antoine Henri Jomini, Precis de l'Art de la Guerre (The Art of War), 1838


Seldom will all logistics principles exert equal influence; usually one or two will dominate in any given situation. Identifying those principles that have priority in a specific situation is essential to establishing effective support.

Joint Pub 4-0, Doctrine for Logistics Support of Joint Operations, Sep 25, 1992


Logistics...in the broadest sense, the three big M's of warfare--material, movement, and maintenance. If international politics is 'the art of the possible,' and war is its instrument, logistics is the art of defining and extending the possible. It provides the substance that physically permits an army to live and move and have its being.

James A. Huston, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953, 1966


Throughout the struggle, it was in his logistic inability to maintain his armies in the field that the enemy's fatal weakness lay. Courage his forces had in full measure, but courage was not enough. Reinforcements failed to arrive, weapons, ammunition and food alike ran short, and the dearth of fuel caused their powers of tactical mobility to dwindle to the vanishing point. In the last stages of the campaign they could do little more than wait for the Allied advance to sweep over them.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, British Army Doctrine Publication, Volume 3, Logistics (June 1996) p. 1-2

Logistics Quotations from WWW Virtual Library
The (logistics) tail that Wags the Dawg...

“Logistic considerations belong not only in the highest echelons of military planning during the process of preparation for war and for specific wartime operations, but may well become the controlling element with relation to timing and successful operation.” — Vice Admiral Oscar C. Badger, USN

“Underway replenishment was the U.S. Navy’s secret weapon of World War II.”— Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, USN

“It is no great matter to change tactical plans in a hurry and to send troops off in new directions. But adjusting supply plans to the altered tactical scheme is far more difficult.”— General Walter Bedell Smith

“The history of war proves that nine out of ten times an army has been destroyed because its supply lines have been cut off…. We shall land at Inchon, and I shall crush them.”— General Douglas MacArthur

“Every unit that is not supported is a defeated unit.”— Maurice de Saxe, Mes Reveries, XIII, 1732

“Gentlemen, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.”— General George S. Patton, USA

“Bitter experience in war has taught the maxim that the art of war is the art of the logistically feasible.”— Admiral Hyman Rickover, USN

“Amateurs think about tactics, but professionals think about logistics.”— General Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) noted in 1980

“Sound logistics forms the foundation for the development of strategic flexibility and mobility. If such flexibility is to be exercised and exploited, military command must have adequate control of its logistic support.”— RADM Henry E. Eccles, Logistics in the National Defense (1959)

“The more I see of war, the more I realize how it all depends on administration and transportation . . . It takes little skill or imagination to see where you would like your army to be and when; it takes much more knowledge and hard work to know where you can place your forces and whether you can maintain them there."— General A. C. P. Wavell, quoted in Martin Van Creveld’s Supply War, Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (1977)

“And regulation entails organizational effectiveness, a chain of command, and a structure for logistical support.”— Sun Tzu

“There are five kinds of incendiary attack: The first is called setting fire to personnel; the second, to stores; the third, to transport vehicles and equipment; the fourth, to munitions; the fifth, to supply installations…In all cases an army must understand the changes induced by the five kinds of incendiary attack, and make use of logistical calculations to address them.”— Sun Tzu

“International logistic coordination must always involve some invasion of the economic rights, independence, and sovereignty of each nation of the alliance.”— Rear Admiral Henry E. Eccles: Logistics in the National Defense (1959)

"Logistics sets the campaign's operational limits. The lead time needed to arrange logistics support and resolve logistics concerns requires continuous integration of logistic considerations into the operational planning process. This is especially critical when available planning time is short. Constant coordination and cooperation between the combatant command and component staffs—and with other combatant commands—is a prerequisite for ensuring timely command awareness and oversight of deployment, readiness, and sustainment issues in the theater of war."— Joint Pub 1: Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States

“Above all, petrol governed every movement.”— Winston Churchill, on Allied operations during World War II

“It was a war begun as a fight for oil and ended by the lack of it.”— Asahi Shimbun, regarding World War II

“…any commander with three months to prepare before he is besieged, who lays in only six days stocks of ammunition deserves to be censured in the strongest terms.”— Julian Thompson, Lifeblood of War, concerning the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu

“He who owns the oil will own the world, for he will rule the sea by means of the heavy oils, the air by means of the ultra-refined oils, and the land by means of gasoline and the illuminating oils.”— Henri Berenger, French diplomat, 1921

“The war was decided by engines and octane.”— Joseph Stalin, referring to the outcome of World War II

“No matter how well fed, equipped, or officered, without oil and gasoline the modern army is a hopeless monster, mire and marked for destruction.”— T.H. Vail Motter, U.S. Army Historian

“The primary cause of our failure was a shortage of fuel.”— General Paul von Kleist, Commander, Panzer Forces, Army Group A in Russia

“Our ships sailed on water, but they moved on oil, and the demand never ceased.”— Rear Admiral W.R. Carter, U.S.N.

“The raids of the Allied air fleets on the German fuel supply installations were the most important of the combined factors which brought about the collapse of Germany.”— General Adolf Galland Commander, German Fighter Force

Emergency Rations

The always worth reading Future War Stories has a good article on Military Field Rations and Space Food.

Emergency or Survival food is typically found in emergency re-entry capsules and spacecraft lifeboats (although in reality the latter are a really stupid concept).

They also may or may not be stored in the ship proper to help deal with a temporary interruption of the food supply (such as a catastrophic malfunction in the CELSS). If all the algae got incinerated by a solar proton storm, the crew will need something to eat while a new crop of algae is grown to harvest. You see this in a couple of episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, where emergency rations are used when the food replicator is non-functional.

Real-world emergency rations typically are nutrient bars containing about 2,400 calories (enough food for an entire day).

Emergency rations are optimized to be portable (low mass + low volume), require no preparation, and stable for prolonged periods (years). Flavor is not a design consideration, the starving will eat anything.

In science fiction, emergency rations on re-entry capsules are to help you survive being marooned on an uninhabited planet long enough to figure out what part of the local flora and fauna are edible. In reality, the chance local flora and fauna even existing are remote, edible or otherwise. Especially if you are limited to our Solar System. The most famous science fiction field ration is the Federation Space Forces Emergency Ration, Extraterrestrial, Type Three (aka 'Extee 3' or 'estefee') from Little Fuzzy by H. Beam Piper.


Military field rations are portable easily prepared food issued to soldiers deployed in the field. In the US Army they are called MREs for Meal Ready to Eat. Around World War I these were called "iron rations".

Field Rations are optimized to be portable (low mass + low volume), easy to prepare, and reasonably tasty. You have to sit down to eat them, though.

The US Army Aviation uses Aircrew Build-to-Order Meal Modules (ABOMM). These are MREs designed so that a pilot can eat them while still piloting an airplane, without the use of utensils, and in a confined space. MREs typically require two hands to eat, while it is not recommended that the pilot take both hands off the control yoke.


First Strike rations are for people on the go. This can range from a First-in scout traveling from their hypothetical starship to explore and evaluate a hypothetical habitable planet to an asteroid miner living for several days in their space suit and subsisting on whatever they can squeeze through their helmet's chow-lock.

First Strike rations are optimized to be portable (very low-low mass + low volume), need little or no preparation and are easy to eat while walking or during an EVA (eaten out of hand without the use of utensils).

Passage At Arms

"Nobody home, Commander. Somebody cleaned the place out. Fuel stores zilch. Medical supplies, zip. Ten cases of emergency rations. That's it."


The First Watch Officer comes through the Weapons hatch. He has a metal case in his arms, a sheet of paper in one hand. The Commander peers into the case. "Pass them around." He snatches the tattered sheet.

Yanevich hands me a ration packet. I laugh softly.

"Something wrong with it?" the Old Man asks.

"Emergency rations! This's better stuff than we've been eating for three months." I pull the heat tab. A minute later, I peel the foil and — lo! — a steaming meal.

It's no gourmet delight. Something like potato hash including gristly gray chopped meat, a couple of unidentifiable vegetables, and a dessert that might be chocolate cake in disguise. The frosting on the cake has melted into the hash. I polish the tray, belch. "Damn, that was good!"

Yanevich gives each man a meal, then hands me another pack. They come forty-two to a case. He sets the last aside for the Chief. To my questioning frown, he says, "That's for your buddy."

Out of nowhere, out of the secret jungles of metal, comes Fearless Fred (the cat), rubbing my shins and purring. I heat his pack, thieve the cake, place the tray on the deckplates. Fred polishes his tray in less time than I did mine.

From Passage At Arms by Glen Cook (1985)
The Zero Stone

At least I was still alive, I was free of the dead ship in a Life Boat, and I had air to breathe even if it was not the air my lungs craved. It would seem my entrance into the projectile had activated its ancient mechanism.

If we were on course for the nearest planet, how long a voyage did we face? And what kind of a landing might we have to endure? I could breathe, but I would need food and water. There might be supplies — E-rations — on board. But could they still be used after all these years — or could a human body be nourished by them?

With my teeth I twisted free the latch which fastened my left glove, scraped that off, and freed my hand. Then I felt along my harness. These suits were meant to be worn planetside as well as for space repairs; they must have a supply of E-rations. My fingers fumbled over some loops of tools and found a seam-sealed pouch. It took me a few moments to pick that open.

I had not felt hunger before; now it was a pain devouring me. I brought the tube I had found up to eye level. It was more than I could manage to sit up or even raise my head higher, but the familiar markings on the tube were heartening. One moment to insert the end between my teeth, bite through, and then the semiliquid contents flooded my mouth and I swallowed greedily. I was close to the end of that bounty when I felt movement against my bared throat and remembered I was not alone. (the alien catlike creature Eet)

It took a great deal of resolution to pinch tight that tube and hold it to the muzzle of the furred one. Its pointed teeth seized upon the container with the same avidity I must have shown, and I squeezed the tube slowly while it sucked with a vigor I could feel through the touching of its small body to mine.

There were three more tubes in my belt pouch. Each one, I knew, was intended to provide a day's rations, perhaps two if a man were hard pushed. Four days — maybe, we could stretch that to eight.


The semiliquid E-ration contained moisture but not really enough to allay thirst.


My fingers closed about a tube of E-ration and I did not have to fake the avidity with which I gripped its tip between my teeth, bit through the stopper, and spit it out, before sucking the semiliquid contents. No meal of my imagination could have topped the flavor of what now filled my mouth, or the satisfaction afforded me as it flowed in gulps down into me. The mixture was meant to sustain a man under working conditions; and it would renew my strength even more than usual food.

From The Zero Stone by Andre Norton (1968)
Space Angel

"One thing," Michelle chimed in, "Kelly, take this," , she tossed him a flat metal box, about five centimeters on a side, with a metal chain. "Wear that around your neck at all times from now on. Those are your tracetabs. They contain all the trace elements your body needs. There are about three thousand tabs in that box (8.2 years). If we go on xeno-rations, you'll need them."

Kelly seemed puzzled.

"There are about a thousand planets," Sims explained, "that supply native food edible by humans. On maybe half a dozen of them, all the trace elements necessary for human survival are present in the food."

"If the soil and atmosphere are comparable to Earth's," Michelle continued, "native flora and fauna may give you all the protein, carbohydrates, and vitamins you need, but trace elements can be hard to come by. You'll die just as dead from lack of magnesium, phosphorous, or any number of other elements as from lack of water. If you get stranded on a xenoworld, that box can be your lifeline. Always keep it filled."

From Space Angel by John Maddox Roberts (1979)
West of Honor

The next day was the sixth we’d been in the fort. We were low on rations. Down at the roadblock we had nothing to eat but a dried meat that the men called “monkey.” It didn’t taste bad, but it had the peculiar property of expanding when you chewed it, so that after a while it seemed as if you had a mouthful of rubber bands. It was said that Line Marines could march a thousand kilometers if they had coffee, wine, and monkey.

From West of Honor by Jerry Pournelle (1976)

Santa Guard

If you are trying to establish a base or colony on a moon or other terrestrial body, you've got a problem. Such installations will require thousands if not millions of tons of pre-fab structures and support material. The tyranny of the rocket equation is going to make establishing the base more expensive than a mobster loan shark, because every gram counts.

This would be a perfect place to use in-situ resource utilization. But it is one thing to roast some gypsum to obtain some water. It is quite another to use local ores to create electronics and pressurized domes. Its not like there is a machine you can shovel dirt in one end and get habitat modules and stuff out the other.

Or is there?

Enter the Santa Claus Machine. You actually can shovel dirt in one end and get hab modules out the other. As long as all the chemical elements you need for the module can be found in the dirt. Such a machine will be priceless for creating planetary bases and spaceports.


But the trouble is such a machine can be a little too useful. It can make other stuff, like nuclear weapons, artillery lasers, unstoppable robot armies, and whatnot. Not to mention small items like undetectable counterfeit money. Heck, even the disassembler input stage is bad enough. It can quickly and easily turn tons of uranium ore into a lovely set of weapons-grade highly-enriched uranium ingots and a pile of waste uranium.

Blasted Santa Claus Machine is worse that a beam-propulsion array powered by a titanic solar power station. Unbelievably useful, but not the sort of thing you want in unsupervised civilian hands.

Well, lets use the same solution. Have them controlled by the military. Just like we have the Laser Guard in control of beam-propulsion arrays, we can have the Santa Guard in control of Santa Claus Machines. Also known as "Santa's Little Helpers."


So at the site of the proposed new base, the Santa Guard will emplace one or more Santa machines, and construct a secure housing where they can be kept under armed guard. The construction crew will submit blueprints to Santa Guard. The Santas will closely examine the blueprints to make sure they are not for weapons of mass destruction or other contraband, and supervise the printing. They will also be on the lookout for sub-units in several separate print runs that might be cleverly disguised components of a contraband item.

And in cases of illegal blueprints or illegal output, the Santas will do their best to arrest and bring to justice those who have broken the law.

Research And Development

Research and development budget are always a cruel dilemma for any military. How do you divide your budget between [1] purchasing military assets that are obsolete but are available now, and [2] assets that are cutting edge high tech but are still being researched?

This is a familiar problem for any player of 4x strategy games. In such games more powerful military assets and secret weapons are represented by a "tech tree". Players must allocate their budget between purchasing research on how to build new unit types and purchasing examples of existing old unit types. On the one hand the more you spend on research, the more unstoppable a super-dreadnought warship you will (eventually) be able to construct. But on the other hand your opponent might spend their budget on swarms of primitive warships which none the less are more effective than your pitifully small fleet.

Reality is even worse. 4x games and poorly written science fiction assumes that once a new weapon or warship has been researched, it is instantly ready to start production next day. In the real world there are always bugs and glitches to deal with, which slows things up. Not to mention the time required training the troops in how to use the blasted things.

(The original 4X game was the tabletop boardgame Stellar Conquest (1975). This was the first SF boardgame I ever played and {modest cough} the first one I drew illustrations for.)

The classic cautionary tale is Sir Arthur C. Clarke's famous short story Superiority, which is required reading in some courses taught at M.I.T.. My take on the story is:

Voltaire said "Perfect is the enemy of good". Shakespeare said "striving to better, oft we mar what's well". Aristotle spoke of the Golden Mean to avoid extremes in any direction.

More practically:

Pareto principle
Also known as 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity. It commonly takes 20% of the full time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort. Achieving absolute perfection may be impossible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient.
Cult Of The Imperfect
This was formulated by Sir Robert Alexander Watson-Watt in World War 2, while he struggled to create early warning radar in Britain to counter the rapid growth of the German Luftwaffe. He said "Give them the third best to go on with; the second best comes too late, the best never comes."
George Stigler's Observation
Economist George Stigler said that "If you never miss a plane, you're spending too much time at the airport."
Superiority

The situation was now both serious and infuriating. With stubborn conservatism and complete lack of imagination, the enemy continued to advance with his old-fashioned and inefficient but now vastly more numerous ships. It was galling to realize that if we had only continued building, without seeking new weapons, we would have been in a far more advantageous position. There were many acrimonious conferences at which Norden defended the scientists while everyone else blamed them for all that had happened. The difficulty was that Norden had proved every one of his claims: he had a perfect excuse for all the disasters that had occurred. And we could not now turn back — the search for an irresistible weapon must go on. At first it had been a luxury that would shorten the war. Now it was a necessity if we were to end it victoriously.

From Superiority by Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1951)
There Will Be War Vol II

There are two aspects to the military procurement dilemma. First:

A gigantic technological race is in progress ... a new form of strategy is developing in peacetime, a strategy of which the phrase "arms race" used prior to the old great conflicts is hardly more than a faint reflection.

There are no battles in this strategy; each side is merely trying to outdo in performance the equipment of the other. It has been termed "logistic strategy". Its tactics are industrial, technical, and financial. It is a form of indirect attrition; instead of destroying enemy resources, its object is to make them obsolete, thereby forcing on him enormous expenditure...

A silent and apparently peaceful war is therefore in progress, but it could well be a war which of itself could be decisive.

—General d'Armee Andre Beaufre

If we do not engage in this "silent and apparently peaceful war," we will be defeated. However:

A common argument against investment in technological weapons is the engineering maxim, "If it works, it's obsolete." True, whatever one buys, if you had waited a few years something better would be available; but if this is carried to extremes, nothing will ever be built.

Whenever a new field of technology opens up, the people who use it must learn how. They must become operationally effective. Had we waited until third-generation missiles were available before we constructed any, we would not be alive today. We certainly would have had no experienced crews to man the missiles we would only now be constructing.

A time comes when systems must be built, even though we know they will be obsolete in future years...

The fallacy that prototypes and research are all that are needed should have been laid to rest by the experience of the French in 1939. The French Army had—and had possessed for quite a long time— prototypes of aircraft, armor, and antitank weapons much better than those of the German Army. The French did not have these weapons in their inventory because still better ones were coming. While they waited for the best weapons, they lost their country. Military action must be routine. It cannot be extraordinary, planned months in advance like a space spectacular. Operational experience with a weapons system is required before operational employment doctrines can be perfected. Troops must be trained, logistics bases developed, maintenance routines learned, idiosyncrasies—and modern technological gadgetry is full of them—must be discovered. This cannot be done if the latest technology is confined to the drawing board or laboratory.

S. T. Possony and J. E. Pournelle, The Strategy of Technology, 1970

There is no simple escape from this dilemma. Suppose that you are the Secretary of Defense, and you must recommend a military budget.

You have several choices.

1. Make severe cutbacks in the defense budget. This will leave more money in the hands of the taxpayers, and allow more investment in the nation's economy. Without a strong economy we are finished anyway; while if the economy is sufficiently strong, we will be able to afford a much larger defense establishment.

2. Invest in military research and development. This can be coupled with (1). Some military research will aid the civilian economy anyway. We mean here real development studies, not merely paper studies and patches.

3. Buy the weapons available today, so that the troops can become familiar with them and learn to maintain them; so that they become operational weapons systems.

These choices come up time after time. You have a billion dollars: do we invest that in development of military lasers, or do we buy a new aircraft carrier? The choice is not obvious. Without forces in being, small conflicts become big, and small wars can grow into large ones.


You have a sum of money. You may spend it on two wings of the best existing military aircraft, and thus have a force within two years.

You can also spend it to procure two wings of much better advanced aircraft to be delivered in ten years. If you choose the second option, your over-all military capabilities will probably be enhanced due to new technology developed as part of the procurement.

That's ten years from now. Meanwhile, you will NOT have the best equipment for the period of 2 through 8 years.

In combat, there are few prizes for second place, and none at all for what you would have had next year.


There are, however, persons not of good will who will muddy the waters: who will attack R&D spending on the grounds that the money is needed for operational weapons systems, then attack the operational systems because they are obsolete. They are poltroons; and alas, their name is legion, for they are many.

From Men Of War, There Will Be War Vol II edited by Jerry Pournelle (1984)

Atomic Rockets notices

This week's featured addition is Technology Levels

This week's featured addition is von Braun's Round The Moon ship

This week's featured addition is Vacuum-rated firearms

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