Realistic Space Battles
koppie Fri, 11/23/2012 - 08:58
Here's a 7,000 word essay on what realistic space battles would look like. I don't agree with every point; I do think stealth would be useful, and I think regular machine guns would be useful too. In addition, the essay briefly considers the fact that any adequately large battleship, or even space freighter, could be a dangerous weapon against a land target like a city, but doesn't really deal with the strategic implications of that. Here are a few brief thoughs on that subject:
First, if we want to obliterate a city, we don't need a space battleship to do it; we already have ICBM's. But that raises a second issue: if we already have ICBM's, why would we need space battleships? It wouldn't be hard to give an ICBM the extra thrust required to break low earth orbit. We've already got MIRV's and all sorts of awesome killing power with nukes, and at one point we had tens of thousands of them. Why bother with the extra effort of a spaceship? One answer, of course, would be other planets. But there's only an 8 minute delay to Mars. If I want to put down a Mars rebellion, the Rebels have until the last 8 minutes to surrender. As Jason Kottke already pointed out, interplanetary battles would be based on orbital mechanics. So from the time I launch my Earth missiles, the Mars rebels have at least 2 months to surrender. If they wait until the last 8 minutes (by which point my radio signal won't reach the warheads in time to stop them), then the rebels are idiots.
But what about other solar systems? You don't need to even contemplate faster than light travel. If we had spaceships that could go half the speed of light, we could colonize Alpha Centaury in four years. If they decided to rebel, it might make sense to send a heavily armed spaceship to stop them, and then the above essay might be useful. But only for battles between solar systems.
At that point, the ships wouldn't be like the ones contemplated in the essay, which the writer describes as giant gun platforms with propulsion and a tiny habitation module for a tiny crew. Rather, at that point you'd probably want a handful of super-ships, more analogous to an aircraft carrier. This is exactly what is envisioned in sci fi shows like Star Trek or Battlestar Galatica. A capital ship is essentially a giant moveable space station that can house soldiers, pilots, spaceships, fuel, and ordnance, plus the hundreds of support crew that would be required. Unlike Star Trek or Battlestar Galatica, the capital ship is not meant to engage directly; that's why modern aircraft carriers don't travel alone but are rather one ship in a large carrier group, which can have up to two dozen ships in it, most of which are heavily armed and whose job it is to protect the carrier. If I were to put down an insurrection on Alpha Centauri, I'd send a couple capital ships with an admiral trained in diplomacy and dozens of smaller ships and missiles which could launch the actual attack if necessary.
All that being said, I still recommend the original article. There's an awful lot of good thinking that went into it.