How do you see space combat?

The future of ships, weapons and tactics

How do you think combat will evolve in the void of space?

I thought a thread like this would be a great place for developers to toss around ideas about ships, weapons and combat in general.

(begin brainstorm)

As far as ship size goes, I think fully developed space combat will split the ships into the fighter and heavy class, with there not being much room for middle class warships like the frigate and gunship due to the fact that it becomes nearly impossible to mount PDS systems AND sufficient weaponry on those ship classes. Fighters would be flown by remote control, probably from their parent carriers. Fighters would carry a small amount of very high-speed missiles, lasers or projectiles. Missiles would be my choice. Their purpose would be to carry the missiles closer to the target and thus lower the response time any PDS system would have to defend itself, increasing the chances of a hit.

Heavy ships, (destroyers, battlecruisers, etc) would use long-range, small projectiles traveling at high speed (railgun). Such weapons probably wouldn't destroy a ship with one hit, but if you get a lot of them the target is bound to start leaking air.

Carriers would be loaded to the bulkheads with tons and tons of missiles for the fighters. It is frightening to think of the amount of missiles it would probably take to overwhelm the PDS systems. The carriers would probably be the most protected, and most saught after, ships in the fleet. With enough nuke warheads on board to make a kaboom that would make a star seem like a dim afterglow.

Shielding I think would be negligible, unless some unique gravity shield was developed. Something like a inverse black hole (the closer you get the more gravity is pushing you away). Armor as it stands would not be near enough to stop projectiles coming in at .5-.9c, or nukes. A single nuke would pretty much tear any ship to pieces, and that would be why the fighters would be so important. Railguns wouldn't be stopped, but given that it only makes a small hole, it would take a few rounds to depressurize a compartment, and if the crew was fitted with vac suits the advantages to railguns would be greatly diminished. The best bet on using railguns would be to hit the reactor or ammo magazine.

As far as tactics go, the carrier would be the main goal. The entire fleet would have its Point-Defense grid set up so as to provide maximum protection to the carrier. It would probably be necessary to slowly peel off the layers of the defensive grid in order to weaken the point-defense to a point where the carrier can be reached. ECM would also play a major part of future combat. Whole battles may boil down to "Which side has the better computer?", the computing power needed to track the millions of tiny projectiles traveling through space, whilst trying to figure out the jamming signals being spammed at them, whilst making and projecting spamming signals of its own must be quite formidable. I think combat ranges would stay under at most 2 light-hours, due to the need for the fighters to re-arm without having to undergo a gauntlet of missile activity on their way back to their parent carriers.

(/end brainstorm)

This post has been edited by Skyfox : 06 September 2005 - 10:26 PM

I think all ship combat should be like final fantasy, each ships has a turn, they pick specific attacks and what not. 😛

I think your vision, though cool, is based a bit too much on current scifi. I think that weaponry advancements would make missiles and fighter craft obsolete. A laser connected to an advanced power plant and computer could probably track and destroy
any number of missiles or fighters before they were in range.

Think about it, unless some kind of shielding was developed (which is pure fiction and no science at this point) the laser would only need to be fixed on it's target for an instant before it's destroyed. Then it's just a matter of how quickly the computer can lock on to the next target. Considering even modern computers could handle millions of targets a second, I dont think you could overwhelm it with numbers.

Another thing you have to remember, unlike in most scifi, lasers would have effectively unlimited range in space, with almost no particles to scatter it. I think a bigger limiting factor would be the ability to focus it. Your sensors probably would only factor determining you maximum range. If you know where the target is, you can destroy it in other words.

I think space combat in the future will consist of large ships shooting at each other across vast distances, with the ship having the best sensors and power to it's weapons getting the upper hand. All this would probably happen in what seems an instant to an observer due to the speed of the targeting and weapons. Things that might help a ship survive longer in a fight would be having enormously heat resistant armor and randomly placing vital components of the ship amidst large areas of empty space so the enemy doesn't know where to shoot to cripple the ship, buying time.

Of course, alot of that is speculation, but I think it's pretty well informed. Sure as hell wouldn't make for very interesting battles in a game though. It would happen far to fast for humans to handle so would have to be completely controlled by AI.

Slow forum loads lead to an itchy add reply finger.

This post has been edited by Sealgaire : 07 September 2005 - 12:33 AM

Slow-moving ships firing missiles at one another. Think submarines. No fighters. No energy shields. No zipping around like Top Gun or Star Wars. That's space opera.

Think combat like with boats which can go in a third dimension, with almost no way to cool themselves beyond a tank of liquid nitrogen they have to re-fill requently, no friction or opposing force to control their movement against (no water or air), much greater distances and generally all movement is a dangerous pain in the ass. Space combat, unfortunately, is really not much of a possibility, and probably won't be even NEARLY as glorious as sci-fi seems to make it. Very careful, very hectic, very VERY BIG PAIN.

Sealgaire, on Sep 7 2005, 01:18 AM, said:

A laser connected to an advanced power plant and computer could probably track and destroy
any number of missiles or fighters before they were in range.

What about superreflectors? In near vacuum of space, I doubt it would be that hard to get atleast 2 or 3 nines of reflectiveness. That means only between 1 and .1 percent of the energy would actually be doing anything.

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Think about it, unless some kind of shielding was developed (which is pure fiction and no science at this point) the laser would only need to be fixed on it's target for an instant before it's destroyed. Then it's just a matter of how quickly the computer can lock on to the next target. Considering even modern computers could handle millions of targets a second, I dont think you could overwhelm it with numbers.

I was thinking about this. What if you use the right handed law of electromagnetism (thumb to the right, index up, middle forward coresponding to electricity, magnetism, force respectively). You use an ion gun to charge the incoming projectile, then induce a magnetic field around the ship. It wouldnt avert damage, but it would bend the course of the object enough. Obviously, this coats the ship in ions and magnetises the hull, both of which suck for a lot of reasons, but perhaps alternating directions and charges could cancel this out. Im still trying to figure out the way the magnetic field lines would have to be set up inorder to push the object out of the path. Im thinking the right handed rule isnt the right one because its static, not flow. I need to look over my old science papers again.

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Another thing you have to remember, unlike in most scifi, lasers would have effectively unlimited range in space, with almost no particles to scatter it. I think a bigger limiting factor would be the ability to focus it. Your sensors probably would only factor determining you maximum range. If you know where the target is, you can destroy it in other words.

This assumes you are not operating in relativity inducing distances. At 1 AU, ships have 8 minutes to dodge randomly before the beam gets there. If you loosen the focus even a little bit, power drops off rapidly.

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I think space combat in the future will consist of large ships shooting at each other across vast distances, with the ship having the best sensors and power to it's weapons getting the upper hand. All this would probably happen in what seems an instant to an observer due to the speed of the targeting and weapons. Things that might help a ship survive longer in a fight would be having enormously heat resistant armor and randomly placing vital components of the ship amidst large areas of empty space so the enemy doesn't know where to shoot to cripple the ship, buying time.
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Hmm. At vast distances, critical components seem rather needle - in - a - haystackey. As an added note, nukes really dont do that much damage in space. Sure, radiation sucks, but at astronomical ranges, its a compltetely localised event. EMP is also trivial to shield against.

I was actually thinking about gaming out whether there would even be wars once we begin interstellar flight. If we assume there arent ideological differences that cause us to kill eachother at an obvious net loss, space wars might be simply unreasonable, much like nuclear war is unreasonable now. Ill bet that if there was a war, it would be a war of information. Both sides in a tradeoff between security of communication and speed of communication. If comm protocalls are too secure (ie only accepting orders on certain days/certian something elses), then sneak attacks and catching enemies completely unaware is possible. If ships are completely trusting in orders (ie only computational encryption), it would be entirely possible for signals and orders to be hacked. Every code is brakeable given enough CPU time, and there will be plenty of idle cycles floating around in the future.

If you argue that the enemy can make a code so unbreakable that it takes 12 hours to decrypt even if you have the key (and therefore hundreds of years if you dont), all the better. Thats 12 hours of free reign attacking one of their outposts/ships etc.

All in all, i think spaceships are and will always be fancy enough that it would be in both sides best interest to leave as much materiel intact for later carting away.

The best portrayal of space combat that I've seen is in David Weber's Honor Harrington series.

Personally I find the fighter paradigm to be the most likely- small ships that can get in under an 'enemies' defences and inflict damage to external components- launch bays, engines, sensor systems and weapons- with the goal to capture, not destroy. With the sizes (and therefore implied cost, construction time and material worth) of scifi capital ships it seems totally dumb for any government worth it's salt to destroy- as opposed to capture and recover, repaint, recrew and redeploy. Large missiles can be dodged or destroyed as long as they are flying slower than C, and the difficulties of aiming a relatively short-barreled weapon an extremely long distance (even without having to take wind, gravity or atmospheric friction into account) would make long-range combat somewhat unlikely.

Haven't read any David Weber, but the Larry Niven Man-Kzin stuff, the David Gerrold Star Wolf, and Jerry Pournelle ConFederation stuff are all excellent representations of what space combat will probably really be like -- examples of what Fnoigy described while still being dramatic and interesting.

The future of space combat depends entirely on how interplanetary and interstellar travel work. Whether you can bring in reinforcements faster than light, or whether help is years away, where in the system invaders appear in real space (in the case of hyperspace), and how easily you can accelerate a rock to the speed of light can all completely change how combat between space-faring civilizations works.

At any rate, you must always remember that the enemy's gate is down.

Edwards

In space Nukes will not create a shock wave as, ther is no air for it to compress or reflect off. As a result it will just be a massive burst of EM radiation reflected off the hull of the ship. The same thing will happen with conventional explosives, they will just refelect off. As a result the only weapons that will have an effect are projectiles, or weapons designed to penatrate the sheilds/armour before detonation. Railguns would be effective, as if the crew wore vacum suites, then they would still have to worry about explosive decompresstion. An effective deffece against this would be some outer layer matterial which wouldn't break when hit by a high velocity object but rather strech, spreading the stress of the impact over a much larger area of the armour ( a similar principle to kevlar vests).

Rather than an explosive missile or a small pellet of a rail gun, what about a hit-to-kill missile. Something like a depleted uranium rod, propeled by a rocket booster.

There are problems with mass based weapons, using explosives either as propellant or as the weapon or as the energy reqired to get these amunition off the surface of the planet. So I think energy based weapons are more likely to be used.

Lasers work by heating a single point of an object till is disintagrates, by simply spinning the object the heat is distributed more evenly, so it is vastly less effective, so I don't think lasers are that likely to be used.

A weapon I've thought about is an anti-matter shell, very high density, propeled at a large fraction of c by a nukular explotion in a very very big cannon. Very wastful but very devastating.

P.s. Sorry about the spelling.

UncleTwitchy, on Sep 7 2005, 07:01 AM, said:

Slow-moving ships firing missiles at one another. Think submarines. No fighters. No energy shields. No zipping around like Top Gun or Star Wars. That's space opera.
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Slow time-wise, yes, but multiply the speeds (20ish kts) and distances (5 km, I think) a few thousand (or million) fold.

NebuchadnezzaR, on Sep 7 2005, 11:57 AM, said:

This assumes you are not operating in relativity inducing distances. At 1 AU, ships have 8 minutes to dodge randomly before the beam gets there.View Post

Eight minutes after the beam is fired, yes, but how much warning do you have (and hence time to execute that evasive maneuver) that the shot's on its way, unless your sensors work at tachyon speeds?

Really, though, you're all missing the big picture. People fight for reasons. Governments engage in wars for reasons. Generals choose battlefields for reasons. Those reasons all boil down to desireable possessions.

No one in their right mind would engage in combat in open space, unless they outnumbered and outpowered their opposition may times over and the opposition were ambushed. You fight for planets with arable land. You fight for mineral-rich asteroids. You fight for cool ships you want to steal.

If you're fighting for a planet you're going to be fighting near the planet. This limits the size and scope of the battlefield as well as the locations of the participants quite drastically.

If you're fighting to pirate a ship you're going to be fighting near where that ship frequents. Depending on the type of ship you could be in several locations.

Essentially there are three types of space combat:

The frontier attack. This is out in the boondocks where it's every man, woman, and small furry creature from Alpha Centauri for themself.

The invasion fleet. This is to be avoided. You should surrender before my fleet arrives, or I shouldn't send the fleet at all it you're able to put up a fight. If it's ideological, though, then there's gonna be a bloodbath.

The strongarm. This is most common. It's not a fight to kill, but to scare into submission. It might be used by corporations trying to "discourage" rivals from mining nearby asteroids.

Sealgaire, on Sep 6 2005, 10:18 PM, said:

I think your vision, though cool, is based a bit too much on current scifi. I think that weaponry advancements would make missiles and fighter craft obsolete. A laser connected to an advanced power plant and computer could probably track and destroy
any number of missiles or fighters before they were in range.

Think about it, unless some kind of shielding was developed (which is pure fiction and no science at this point) the laser would only need to be fixed on it's target for an instant before it's destroyed. Then it's just a matter of how quickly the computer can lock on to the next target. Considering even modern computers could handle millions of targets a second, I dont think you could overwhelm it with numbers.

Another thing you have to remember, unlike in most scifi, lasers would have effectively unlimited range in space, with almost no particles to scatter it. I think a bigger limiting factor would be the ability to focus it. Your sensors probably would only factor determining you maximum range. If you know where the target is, you can destroy it in other words.

I think space combat in the future will consist of large ships shooting at each other across vast distances, with the ship having the best sensors and power to it's weapons getting the upper hand. All this would probably happen in what seems an instant to an observer due to the speed of the targeting and weapons. Things that might help a ship survive longer in a fight would be having enormously heat resistant armor and randomly placing vital components of the ship amidst large areas of empty space so the enemy doesn't know where to shoot to cripple the ship, buying time.

Of course, alot of that is speculation, but I think it's pretty well informed. Sure as hell wouldn't make for very interesting battles in a game though. It would happen far to fast for humans to handle so would have to be completely controlled by AI.
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Lasers would certainly have a large part to play in short-range Point-defence and fighter supression. However, due to the high energy requirements of Lasers and their rather negligable damage, I think that lasers would be dropped in favor of the more damaging railguns. The kinetic energy of a small bit of matter accelerated to say .8c is incredible. And like was mentioned, reflectivity can greatly diminish the effect of a Laser.

There are particles in space, just very very few of them. When you start dealing with ranges > a few light days you will start to see distortion on a beam.

I wonder if in space, due to the factor of lag time caused by the distance between fleets, both sides will kill each other without even knowing... That would be a strange thought.

Fnoigy, on Sep 7 2005, 05:45 AM, said:

Think combat like with boats which can go in a third dimension, with almost no way to cool themselves beyond a tank of liquid nitrogen they have to re-fill requently, no friction or opposing force to control their movement against (no water or air), much greater distances and generally all movement is a dangerous pain in the ass. Space combat, unfortunately, is really not much of a possibility, and probably won't be even NEARLY as glorious as sci-fi seems to make it. Very careful, very hectic, very VERY BIG PAIN.
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Very true. No "Heroic" roles to be played by people here, since all the humans will be doing is coming along for the ride while the computers duke it out.

NebuchadnezzaR, on Sep 7 2005, 08:57 AM, said:

I was actually thinking about gaming out whether there would even be wars once we begin interstellar flight. If we assume there arent ideological differences that cause us to kill eachother at an obvious net loss, space wars might be simply unreasonable, much like nuclear war is unreasonable now. Ill bet that if there was a war, it would be a war of information. Both sides in a tradeoff between security of communication and speed of communication. If comm protocalls are too secure (ie only accepting orders on certain days/certian something elses), then sneak attacks and catching enemies completely unaware is possible. If ships are completely trusting in orders (ie only computational encryption), it would be entirely possible for signals and orders to be hacked. Every code is brakeable given enough CPU time, and there will be plenty of idle cycles floating around in the future.
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"Only the dead have seen the end of war." - Plato

I think that though warships will probably remain in the "enforcing" role in the future, there will most assuredly be conflict between starships. I don't know if it will be anything like a cold war with huge fleets duking it out, or like modern-day iraq with the big dudes squashing the little ones. Therein lies how future warship designs will be built. For instance, the heavy/light combo works best for large fleets. Something smaller like medium/light would be requirements of a "police state", I am thinking frigates would be extremely useful in that type of situation.

Lindley, on Sep 7 2005, 09:44 AM, said:

The best portrayal of space combat that I've seen is in David Weber's Honor Harrington series.
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Read "The Shiva Option" and "Insurrection" by the same author. They have very interesting fleet tactics and setups, though the shiva option drags on a bit with the statistical battles.

The heavy vs. fighter balance seems odd to me at first. But I think it balances out in this way: Starting will all shapes/sizes of combat ships, eventually it filters down to the ships large enough to mount an effective PDS system, and fighters. Now say it evolves into just large ships due to the supposed "ineffectiveness" of fighters. Once no more fighters are being built, the heavy ships will want to get rid of their now useless PDS systems to clear space for heavier weapons. Then suppose one of the sides re-discovers fighters, all of the sudden they have a huge advantage, as the other side now has ineffective point defense. This cycle could go around in circles forever. So fighters will always be a critical part of space combat.

I wonder how space vs planetary battles would go. Probably not in the planets favor, as a handful of nukes would turn any world to dust and ash. Therefore planets would have to have a very effective self defense mechanism.

Hmmm... Gravity Trap. Projecting a black hole just in front of the ship. (been discussed a million times before I know) But another side to that would be that any mass would be sucked into the black hole instead of hitting the space ship. In effect, the perfect shield. We already know how to creat black holes, the tricky part would be keeping the ship from falling into the black hole itself.

Here's a much more verbose version of my views, with a look at one case of physics (remember- how interstellar travel works is what determines how space battles work).

First, a couple Universal Laws of Space Combat. These hold true for almost all standard forms of sci-fi physics:
The enemy's gate is down.
Ship-vs-ship combat for its own sake is pointless. All battles will be fought for a reason. The flashiest reason, and the one that makes for the best gameplay, would be territorial conquest of planets.

The defender has more BLAM.
Any invading force has the disadvantage that the only supplies it has is what it can carry. A planet's defenders have the entire resources of a planet behind them.

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Now, for a specific case of physics, fairly similar to that used in EV.
Hyperspatial Travel:
Travel time is measured in days, hyperspace's boundary is around the orbit of Uranus, and you have very little velocity when you exit hyperspace.
Once you enter hyperspace, you are committed to continuing in that direction until you hit a boundary, at which point you are forced into realspace.
Hyperdrives are very large and expensive- nothing smaller than a carrier or large freighter will have one.

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The goal of the first wave of an invasion would be to establish space superiority. This would simply involve eliminating every usable base for defense ships. There is no real point in trying to keep them, as you already have usable replacements in the form of the carriers that brought your fleet, and repairing and refitting the enemy's stations to support your own ships may well be more difficult than building new ones after you win.
Once you have established space superiority, you can bring in the appropriate weapons for actually subduing the planet. I'm partial to super railguns that fling large chunks of iron at the planet, but there are many ways to attack a planet from the top of a gravity well. The attackers' main worry at this point is defending against defenders trying to come up from the planet, and relief fleets from other systems (although those would be expensive on the order of the attackers' own strike, and thus unlikely).

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The actual combat would be mainly fighter-based: torpedo-bombers to deliver heavy weapons against enemy targets, and interceptors to attempt to take out torpedo-bombers before they get within range. There would also be other methods of taking out bombers, such as explosive nets, and station-based guns as a last resort (if the bomber is close enough to shoot at it and be likely to hit, it's close enough to launch its bomb).
There would probably also be slightly larger ships designed to defend the carriers at a range between the maximum interceptor range and the carriers/stations.
Invading fighters would be based on large, slow, carriers, which would be the prime target of the defenders.

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From a somewhat different point of view, the easiest method of conquest, for almost every varient on physics, is to throw a hyper-velocity asteroid at the target, wait for the dust to settle, and colonise the freshly-cleared planet. Relativistic Smiting doesn't make for good first-person gameplay, though.

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That's my view of offensive space warfare. I may go into defensive techniques in another post.

Edwards

Edwards, on Sep 8 2005, 05:36 AM, said:

The actual combat would be mainly fighter-based: torpedo-bombers to deliver heavy weapons against enemy targets, and interceptors to attempt to take out torpedo-bombers before they get within range. There would also be other methods of taking out bombers, such as explosive nets, and station-based guns as a last resort (if the bomber is close enough to shoot at it and be likely to hit, it's close enough to launch its bomb).
There would probably also be slightly larger ships designed to defend the carriers at a range between the maximum interceptor range and the carriers/stations.
Invading fighters would be based on large, slow, carriers, which would be the prime target of the defenders.

Why fighters? Remember, in space all we have going for us speed wise is f = ma. Larger ships would be able to pack larger engines to compensate for mass, while fighters would have smaller engines, but with less mass to lug around. This means that the actual accl. gap between the capital ships and the fighters wouldn't be as large as you think. You'd have one advantage with fighters: they could be unmanned, meaning they'd be able to withstand higher accl tolerances than the poor fleshies in the (presumably) crewed motherships. Unfortunately, a small drone-like vehicle with an explosive payload has a more popular name: missile. Remember, if these are relativistic missile they are going to pack quite a wallop, even if it's only a kinetic payload. A direct hit or two would take care of even the biggest ships. Lasers are remarkably inefficient at this stage; PD would most likely be something like what we're developing now: small, kinetic-kill "mini-missiles" that can be deployed quickly and relatively cheaply.

Unless a hyperdrive is so bulky that only the biggest ships can carry one (which actually might be pretty likely) most combat ships are going to be medium-small missile gunboats, either partially or entirely automated. This also means that the defender is going to have a hell of an advantage: presumably the system under assault has a large sensor net, and can tell what's up long before the attackers can; it's pretty hard to mask big radiating power sources in the depths of space.

Which doesn't deal with the biggest problem. It's hard to get into space. Even with the cooperation of the corporate sector, not only most, but all of the big players in space will be first world nations (or the equivalent). When first world nations go to war, they don't have nice little ship battles; by this point it would be mutually assured destruction. So the combatants in space are going to be people rich enough to afford all of these nice gadgets, and crazy enough not to care how powerful they are. I'm thinking powerful corporations, or the occasional zealot faction. This doesn't negate the fact that all of the big fleets will be in the hands of the major world powers (whether they are corporations or governments), and they will be mostly for show. A similar metaphor would be our world nuclear stockpile; difficult to make, expensive (and dangerous) to sell, and so prohibitively deadly that they would not be used to solve border disputes or trading issues.

(note: I'm using the time 8 minutes to denote the time it takes light to travel 1 AU. this time value should be adjusted to suit your proximity. If you are AU/8, it would be 1 minute, but you should also be court martialed for allowing the enemy to get so close.)

Your best defenses are detection, distance, Δv, and armor, in that order.

You're looking for incoming projectiles, hidden enemy ships, your opponent, your opponent's vector and their vector 8 minutes from now ("now" is also 8 minutes previous, so you need to check both those definitions.)

Kinetic weapons take time to get to you, so distance helps your PDS. These are also the biggest threat due to explosive payloads and simple impact.

Against beaming weapons traveling at c, Δv screws your opponents targeting. Needs to be random. Random vectors in random intervals. Imagine a grid perpendicualr to a line between you and your opponent, with cell sizes defined by a bounding box of your ship. at random intervals, you want to be in another cell. This is like a game of battleship, except you can move the ships, and your opponent can't see if they hit immediately.
This just burns Δv, which you also need to get home, so you also need to keep those intervals reasonable.

Armor is dead last unless you have a few meters of it.

Offensively, you have tons of choices.
Weapons you use as you think of them. If you figure out how to shoot a star or solar flare at someone, you have an advantage in the form of surprise.
Shoot a loop of superstring? Sure*.
If you can make black holes, get your physicists on the job and drop a few into a nearby gravity well. Certainly your opponents won't like a beam of gravity dropping them into a star.
Also, you can use a series of planned shots to trick your opponent into a spot where you fired your superlaser at 8 minutes previously. Imagine the surprise when your opponent sucessfully navigates your hail fatal of projectiles, only to step infront of a high powered laser 10 seconds before it cores their ship?

More likely, space combat will probably be a series of near KT events over a few millenia as opposing planets deflect, redirect, or destroy connecticut-sized asteroids and comets.

*not just for attacking either. strings are insane with local gravity, with a decent set up, you could use lengths of the stuff to deflect even lasers, and with a nearly impossible set up, you might be able to use them to spy on your opponent's "now" in real time (assuming that works, of course. You could always just shove your attempt into the target if it doesn't work.)

This post has been edited by Artanis : 08 September 2005 - 06:33 PM

In response to relativistic smiting by asteroids, be they Connecticut or Texas-sized:

From what I understand, a relativistic bomb wouldn't need to be very big. Since kinetic energy is determined by:

0.5 x Mass x (Velocity)^2

Velocity would be more important than mass. Since we're talking about relativistic speeds anyway, you wouldn't even need Rhode Island-sized masses. A mass the size of a jet liner or a house, when accelerated to a healthy fraction of c-speed, would have enough kinetic energy to wipe out any target. It'd also be harder to detect in flight.

However, the act of firing the weapon requires vast amounts of energy, and would be visible from quite some distance away. It would signal three things to every sentient observer in the galaxy:

The ability to make a weapon of planetary destruction.
The willingness to use such a weapon.
The aggressors position. <--- This is the catch.

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From a somewhat different point of view, the easiest method of conquest, for almost every varient on physics, is to throw a hyper-velocity asteroid at the target, wait for the dust to settle, and colonise the freshly-cleared planet. Relativistic Smiting doesn't make for good first-person gameplay, though.

I would be inclined to believe, however, that a relatively small asteroid would not be able to wipe out the defenders to an appreciable extent (unless they were all concentrated in a relatively small area upon the planet's surface), while a large asteroid effective enough to take out defender bases scattered worldwide might render the planet marginally uninhabitable, or at least debilitate the planet so much it would become unattractive as a prospect for settlement (i.e. 'nuclear winter'). Of course, this is a moot issue if the planet is sought for its natural, nonliving resources.

A large asteroid on the scale necessary to reduce a planet would take quite a long time to bring up to speed, and quite an enormous total energy output. Assuming that no deus ex machina situation like 'warp the undetectable asteroid out of superhypersubspace right before it enters the planetary atmosphere' is utilized, for example if the asteroid must be outfitted and accelerated in-system, detection of gravity waves (if it turns out that they do exist to the extent that they can be reliably detected) or just simple observation may be enough to alert the defenders regarding an incoming asteroid. Granted, they would be hard-pressed to provide enough kinetic energy to deflect the asteroid once it got to speed; if the defenders realized that the attackers would be trying to accelerate their asteroid, they might have enough time to effect an attack or at least some sort of delaying action before the asteroid attained sufficient speed to become 'unstoppable'.

Changing the direction of an object with so much momentum would be a nightmare as well. Once accelerated to a healthy fraction of C, the object's path would pretty much be fixed. Especially if the object were to be the size of a jetliner or a house, providing a power source capable of affecting the heading of an object traveling at those speeds remains strictly the domain of science fiction. Right now, accelerating a large asteroid to a significant percentage of C, especially in a short period of time, remains as much science fiction as a warp drive (in terms of practicality; the former is still much easier to accomplish theoretically than the latter at the present time).

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A couple more thoughts about 'theoretical space warfare'. I seriously doubt anyone will adopt the classic sci-fi paradigm where a ship is like an onion; the top layer is the armor while the crew sections take up the whole ship. A relatively small breach could doom the whole assembly. Instead, barring artificial intelligence sophisticated enough to fight battles, large ships would probably have a very heavily armored and very small crew section within the main hull. The bulk of the internal volume would be consumed by redundant systems or empty space. If the acceptable tolerances of ship armor were modified so that a puncture (as long as it significantly slowed the kinetic kill vehicle) was acceptable, as opposed to even a puncture causing massive depressurization, crew sections would be much more viable. (Also consider that it would be nearly impossible at long distances to aim a second firing so that it would go through the hole and penetrate the crew section.)

Depending on how technologies and tactics play out, very close range battle could still be viable in a limited sense, especially if a ship were not to be completely destroyed (so, for example, an important person could be recovered alive). In this case, the standard long range combat would be utilized to attempt to pick off escort vessels. Small torpedo bombers could possibly be useful to incapaciate crucial ship components at close range (again, depending on how long it takes for a laser or KK weapon to react after the operator presses the 'fire' button, it may be difficult for such a weapon to get a bead on a small, rapidly-moving target). You could then attach booster engines and 'tow' the vessel to a location where you could board it at your leisure.

This post has been edited by UE_Research & Development: 08 September 2005 - 09:58 PM

Eugene Chin, on Sep 8 2005, 07:23 PM, said:

In response to relativistic smiting by asteroids, be they Connecticut or Texas-sized:

From what I understand, a relativistic bomb wouldn't need to be very big.View Post

Quite true. You need only launch a few (tens of?) thousands of tons of iron at most of the speed of light to wipe out or cripple a planet. In fact, you wouldn't want to fire anything much bigger, as you want to keep the planet in one piece (possibly literally, depending on scale).

Eugene Chin, on Sep 8 2005, 07:23 PM, said:

However, the act of firing the weapon requires vast amounts of energy, and would be visible from quite some distance away. It would signal three things to every sentient observer in the galaxy:

The ability to make a weapon of planetary destruction.
The willingness to use such a weapon.
The aggressors position. <--- This is the catch.View Post

Actually, I'd say that the second point is the catch. You can use the age-old tactic of misdirection, and hide who launched it by launching the rock from somewhere in or near someone else's territory, but once anyone uses a planet-destroying weapon, they have left themselves (and the rest of the galaxy) open to retaliation in kind.

Edwards

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