Design and critique H-SF space fighters

SF: discuss futuristic sci-fi series, ideas, and crossovers.

Moderator: NecronLord

User avatar
Formless
Sith Devotee
Posts: 3449
Joined: 2008-11-10 08:59pm
Location: the beginning and end of the Present

Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Formless » 2017-03-04 07:45pm

So this is something I've thought about for a while, but I finally decided to go for it after seeing this proposal for a stealth rocket. And of course the "design a warship" thread, of course. I know space fighters are a controversial idea within hard SF, but hear my out.

So first, I think its worth defining what I think a space fighter is and how it differs from other space warships. To qualify as a space fighter I think the following must apply:

1) Its not a drone. For the sake of tradition, and because we've gone over the practical issues with completely unmanned warships in the past, a space fighter needs to have at least one human crew member. This does not mean it cannot be deployed alongside drones, or even control its own drones. Just that the fighter itself is manned.

2) A space fighter is the smallest, lightest combat spacecraft that you can practically field other than a drone. Note that this does not mean that a space fighter has to be as small as air fighters by any means despite how they usually appear in fiction; its relative. As I recall, Sea Skimmer once said that when you look at the trend for fighter planes to get bigger and heavier over history, the space shuttle actually fits relatively well onto the line. So I'm perfectly fine with the idea that these fighters might reach the size of B-52's as long as it meets the other criteria.

3) Low crew requirements. A B-52 only needs 5 people to operate it, and a space fighter that needs much more than that seems like it stops being a fighter at all in the traditional sense. It can have more crew members for other roles besides flying the ship and manning the weapons, however. For instance, the fighter can have soldiers for boarding actions or a crew of drone operators and neither would count against its crew requirement criteria.

4) A primarily forward firing arc. This is a more "soft" criteria, since its conceivable that such a ship might just be a missile boat anyway, but it still seems like one of the main things you see on space fighters.

5) It is not expected to operate on its own. Fighters are generally meant to be deployed as part of a fleet, or attached to bases and space stations. Note that they do not have to have a mothership or carrier analogue per-say, although its fine if your proposal involves having the ship launch in stages. I just see them working with larger warships and battlestations, while being tactically useful in that environment.

So those are the five criteria. I must also note the environment that I expect space warfare will probably take place in. Personally, I expect that space will be relatively cluttered with stuff and not just military vehicles like you so often see in science fiction. Space stations and colonies, mining operations, satellites, scientific apparatus, and more. I feel like the only reason people will start fighting interplanetary warfare is if colonization efforts have reached a threshold where enough people are up there and enough infrastructure has been installed to exploit resources that its actually worth it to squabble over them. However, this means that warfare will be between space colonies and perhaps colonies on celestial bodies like the moon or Ceres that may even have their own sovereignty, while Earth based powers will likely continue to fight Earth based wars; if terrestrial nations have any stake in space wars, they will still probably engage through proxies simply because of the practical hurdle that is Earth's gravity well. Also, anything in space can in principle be armed, space stations and colonies included. So fighters may be an important aspect of defending a colony or alternatively of invading one. Also, traffic control during peace time seems like a relevant role for them to play.

My personal idea is to have space fighters that reduce weight by using beaming power from larger vehicles and stations rather than relying on big reactors on the ship itself. You could even arm them with combat lenses or mirrors that could take a diffuse laser beam fired from much farther away and re-focus it onto a target, essentially allowing them to extend the range of the heavier weapons used by larger vehicles and colonies and actually threaten larger ships. They may also do this in coordination with drones to effectively make the mirror even bigger, like how a team based solar power station works. To allow them to accelerate faster in front of the main fleet (which I think would accelerate slightly slower even if they can accelerate for longer), you could have the ship use staged rockets and/or laser rocketry as a primary engine, then also have them be platforms for coordinating drones and missiles at a range that would be impractical for larger ships to control them from. They might even be used as part of "stealth" tactics where they are radar deflective and use IR shrouds so that the enemy has a hard time distinguishing the more powerful manned craft from the missiles and drones, which receive improved guidance and tactical coordination from the human crew. For self powered weapons, I am thinking of spinally mounted rail or coil guns, although a nose mounted laser might be a good alternative from a self protective standpoint. I'm thinking that this kind of ship might primarily fight a very linear fight (like in the rail shooter genre of video games), although they could be used for attacking the flanks I guess. Plus there are the colony invasion role and intercept role in peacetime/leading up to conflicts.

So what do you guys think? I'm not really an expert on the engineering side beyond having skimmed Atomic Rockets (and yes, I realize AR advocates against space fighters), but I think this makes sense in the context I described and might just be doable. Do you think such ships could work for the roles I would assign to them? Or to others I haven't thought of? What would they look like? What shape would they be? Generally, what might you improve about them, given my criteria for what makes a space fighter? Just how small can you push it and still have an effective war machine?
"Still, I would love to see human beings, and their constituent organ systems, trivialized and commercialized to the same extent as damn iPods and other crappy consumer products. It would be absolutely horrific, yet so wonderful." — Shroom Man 777
"To Err is Human; to Arrr is Pirate." — Skallagrim
“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"

The Magic Eight Ball Conspiracy.

Adam Reynolds
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2108
Joined: 2004-03-27 04:51am

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Adam Reynolds » 2017-03-05 05:28am

On a specific technical point, beamed power for a starfighter seems problematic due to the need to keep the power source trained on your presumably maneuvering fighter. It also likely has the problem that if your power source can track you, so can an enemy weapon. Using power intensive systems like railguns or lasers on a ship reliant upon beamed power is also similarly problematic.

The rest of this isn't so much addressing the concept as much as it is addressing the purpose of adding space fighters just to have them:

When it comes down to it, I don't think they are dramatically necessary. Anything that can be done with space fighters can also be done by something more realistic.

The problems of stealth in space are similarly interesting if you operate under the assumptions that you should just go with the realistic situation and rely on deception rather than outright stealth. It is instead about exact identification, closer to modern naval surface warfare rather than submarine warfare. Which then allows tactics like hiding among merchant vessels or the use of Q-ships instead of actual stealth. If you had smaller gunships you could also use something like the interesting tactic of hiding your warships inside a larger expendable transport and separating just in front of the target, possibly throwing in a hoard of missiles and drones along with them.

Anyway, there is nothing that can be done with something fighter sized that cannot also be done with something like the Millennium Falcon or more realistically the Rocinante in The Expanse. The reason that traditional fighters are used is one of convention as opposed to dramatic need.

The advantage of fighters dramatically is that they can take casualties in a way larger ships cannot as reasonably, in addition to the nature of fighter pilots being naturally romantic. The main downside is that fighter pilots generally have to land if they wish to interact with other characters, though because of their limited endurance they generally will. While the romantic point is admittedly often lost, you can still easily have the hotshot helmsman as the pilot, especially on a more maneuverable gunship. You could even have shifts with more than one, so that there is a conflict in terms of who gets to fly.

When it comes to casualties, the solution is to lose individual crew members rather than entire ships. This is something The Expanse does nicely with the use of PDCs(rapid fire cannons) and in one case an errant railgun round removed a character's head. It can allow either individual casualties or a critical hit, whichever fits the story. Because the ships can accelerate extremely quickly, to the point at which the limit is the crews rather than the engines, it is hard to target a specific system with anything unguided at most combat ranges. Even at point blank range it generally comes down to raking the enemy ship with PDC fire as you cannot easily train a railgun at that distance. It is also notable in that it is the only series I have seen in which the crew go into battle in spacesuits with the atmosphere vented(though oddly the Martian Navy doesn't ever do this from what we have seen, presumably only gunships do this). There is also plenty of room for tension in which a character has to repair a vital component during maneuvers that move the entire ship.

You also have the same type of tension for our heroes, as they have rounds passing through the ship all around them, while they remain temporarily protected in their spacesuits but vulnerable to an unlucky hit. Shots could be capable of anything from a glancing hit to severing limbs or instant kills. You could also have a moment with your Luke Skywalker taking command of the vessel and becoming the pilot, as the only uninjured crew member left during the final stages of the attack run, allowing him to be the one who fires the fateful shot after the original pilot's arm suffered an unlucky hit and the commander was killed.

Incoming missiles are somewhat more complicated, as they would be far more likely to destroy the entire ship given that they are both guided and have larger warheads, potentially including nukes, but they are also far more likely to be shot down before hitting. Their fragments would be in the same position as unguided weapons above, regardless of how fast they are. The tension of missiles getting closer and PDCs, interceptor missiles, or lasers shooting off would also have plenty of room for drama, as the ship also burns to increase the target distance while maneuvering to give defensive weapons a better angle. Depending on the costs of the drive types involved, there is also the possibility for starships to actually outrun missiles, which might be limited to conventional rockets as opposed to torchdrives.

Against lasers it primarily would be about dodging the target lock, which would then require a fair bit of high speed maneuvering and the unpredictability to move in the direction they don't expect. The downside with lasers is that they are one weapon that undoubtedly require vulnerable radiators. While realistic engines almost certainly require them as well, with the right assumptions a la The Expanse, you could get buy without vulnerable ones. They seem to eject their heat as reaction mass instead, as well as just plain cheating otherwise.

Patroklos
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 1947
Joined: 2009-04-14 11:00am

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Patroklos » 2017-03-05 10:08am

Not enough time to rely on the larger question (and I still need to return to the warship thread!) but a quick thought.

If you are planning on delivering weapons grade power plant levels of power you need to take into account the light pressure from the laser. It might not sound like much but with the energies and distances involved if could be an issue. Especially because you can't tack like a sailing ship if the laser is pushing you in an unwanted direction. You will have to use maneuvering jets to compensate.

Then again the effect might be negligible. I might have to do the math because now I am curious.

User avatar
Formless
Sith Devotee
Posts: 3449
Joined: 2008-11-10 08:59pm
Location: the beginning and end of the Present

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Formless » 2017-03-05 06:03pm

Adam Reynolds wrote:On a specific technical point, beamed power for a starfighter seems problematic due to the need to keep the power source trained on your presumably maneuvering fighter. It also likely has the problem that if your power source can track you, so can an enemy weapon. Using power intensive systems like railguns or lasers on a ship reliant upon beamed power is also similarly problematic.

Hmm.... I'll take that under advisement. TBH, I'm not sure how small and light a reactor can get, and I have heard that laser rocketry helps keep the mass down for the payload of a vehicle, so that is part of where the idea comes from. It might be that I am mistaken and the ships can have their own reactor. Mostly I imagine that these ships will be used in main battle sequences as a forward spearhead that extends the range on the laser weapons of larger warships that have more endurance, but also more mass to accelerate. That and weaposn mounted on space stations/colonies, which obviously have no real engines to speak of but potentially quite powerful reactors. So I don't think they necessarily need to be more maneuverable in the usual sense that an X-Wing can turn on a dime, although they should be able to spin around much faster than larger ships due to their size. They would be more like interceptors than dogfighters, ships that accelerate fast and don't rely much on their engines to slow back down during engagements-- they might just use the recoil of their weapons for that if at all.

Hmm... perhaps the coil guns could be replaced instead with light gas guns and similar chemical propulsion? Would that save on weight/power requirements?

The rest of this isn't so much addressing the concept as much as it is addressing the purpose of adding space fighters just to have them:

Its not so much about having them "just to have them" as it is to reconceptualize what they are and how they are deployed or why. Frankly, it seems to me like this objection really covers warships in general, since we don't know how space wars will be fought at all; we can only make an educated guess, just as we can only guess that we will still be around to wage war in space or feel it necessary when we reach that point.

When it comes down to it, I don't think they are dramatically necessary. Anything that can be done with space fighters can also be done by something more realistic.

Well, "dramatic necessity" depends on what kind of story you are telling-- realism has absolutely fuck all to do with that, unless you want to say that nothing is dramatically necessary in speculative fiction because we can just eliminate the part where the story takes place in space. But really, I think that for a certain definition of "realistic," space fighters aren't so easily dismissed. People automatically allow warships even though most space warships aren't realistic either! They lack all manner of things that a "realistic" setting would require, like radiators or realistic maneuvering. Its only because we re-conceptualize warships to fit the context of Hard Science Fiction that they are then considered Realistic. We look at what qualities a warship must have in order to be a warship (that is, it is a manned spacecraft that fights wars), then look at what details must be changed so that it could plausibly exist. But then people's objections to space fighters are based on assuming that their depiction in soft science fiction is what defines them, including their absolute rather than relative size, and I think that is an unfair assessment. They don't allow space fighters to be re-contextualized and essentialized before dismissing them. Let me put it another way:

Anyway, there is nothing that can be done with something fighter sized that cannot also be done with something like the Millennium Falcon or more realistically the Rocinante in The Expanse. The reason that traditional fighters are used is one of convention as opposed to dramatic need.

To me, the Millennium Falcon is a space fighter. Or it would be if there weren't even smaller ships present in the setting. Look again at my criteria: Its small (for a setting with multi-kilometer long warships), its crew size is less than five people (minimum one pilot and one gunner, optimally two pilots two gunners), it isn't a drone, it can operate among other fighters, and while it can shoot in all directions that was the softest criteria anyway and it only has missiles pointed in front. Consider also the Defiant in Star Trek, or the bug-shaped warships used by the Dominion. They also seem to represent a concept of "space fighter" within their universe (although they do not meet my own criteria due to the crew requirements). They don't fight like the big old Enterprise (which tends not to move much because it can hit everything in all directions), they are relatively small, and they are effective within their combat role.

Dramatically speaking, what to me makes a space fighter different from a bigger ship is that it brings the characters deeper into the action. No one is simply sitting in a chair barking orders-- they are actually at the controls doing. It doesn't matter whether they are the pilot, the gunner, the sensor operator, or whatever else-- we have eliminated the concept of The Captain as Star Trek would understand it. These don't have to be one-man ships; in fact, real fighters are usually two man aircraft nowadays. But neither man can operate the craft alone. There is cooperation between the various crew members or squadron mates, but everyone is still active agents that must work together tactically and make individual decisions even if there is a command structure. There is minimal distractions or abstractions compared to how combat "feels" from the perspective of those commanding larger warships. Everyone on the space fighter or in the squadron is in some way essential for controlling something vital rather than having some unnamed character do it for them. This is also another reason that the Defiant doesn't quite qualify as a space fighter, but the Millenium Falcon does. Everyone is closer to the action in the Dramatic sense.

I'm not quite sure how to explain the difference in feel, because it didn't quite click with me until I tried writing Star Trek (uhgg... just... no) and roleplaying in science fiction settings. Having a captain as a main POV character makes everything come off as a lot more dry and detached (and I hate that feeling). And in RPing, any kind of hierarchy screws with the usual player dynamics. Normally everyone does what they are good at, and makes decisions accordingly. But when one person has the ability to make executive decisions, it can cause friction or boredom with the rest of the group unless that player is good at emulating Picard.

Its also, believe it or not, realistic to eliminate the command structure seen in Star Trek in favor of Crew Resource Management as it creates less distraction (the captain does not need to micromanage everyone), better decision making, and reduces human error.

Other than that, I don't feel there is anything wrong with your ideas about gunships. But I don't think that they are as conceptually different from fighters as people make them out to be.

Going backwards just a bit...

The problems of stealth in space are similarly interesting if you operate under the assumptions that you should just go with the realistic situation and rely on deception rather than outright stealth. It is instead about exact identification, closer to modern naval surface warfare rather than submarine warfare. Which then allows tactics like hiding among merchant vessels or the use of Q-ships instead of actual stealth. If you had smaller gunships you could also use something like the interesting tactic of hiding your warships inside a larger expendable transport and separating just in front of the target, possibly throwing in a hoard of missiles and drones along with them.

Actually, even Nyrath at Atomic Rockets agrees that it is actually possible to make a ship nearly undetectable as long as the exhaust and radiated heat goes in a direction where there are no detectors. The problem is that he and many others think the sky will be so saturated with detection platforms from every direction that it won't be feasible. Personally, though, I and a lot of others think that is overly optimistic because how are you supposed to saturate the sky with detector stations in the first place if not by using stealth? :P If you don't sneak them up there, they will just get shot down within the first few days or weeks of a war, and stealth goes right back on the table. AR now even has a guest article by the same blogger I linked to where he explains these objections to the orthodox view.

That said, I totally agree that messing with identification is a very good idea. Its probably cheaper and less reliant on exotic materials and fancy technology than outright hiding your IR signature from your target.

Against lasers it primarily would be about dodging the target lock, which would then require a fair bit of high speed maneuvering and the unpredictability to move in the direction they don't expect. The downside with lasers is that they are one weapon that undoubtedly require vulnerable radiators. While realistic engines almost certainly require them as well, with the right assumptions a la The Expanse, you could get buy without vulnerable ones. They seem to eject their heat as reaction mass instead, as well as just plain cheating otherwise.

Radiators can be armored, you know. It just means making them thicker and less efficient, or using transparent materials which may or may not be relatively exotic like quartz and diamond.

Patroklos wrote:If you are planning on delivering weapons grade power plant levels of power you need to take into account the light pressure from the laser. It might not sound like much but with the energies and distances involved if could be an issue. Especially because you can't tack like a sailing ship if the laser is pushing you in an unwanted direction. You will have to use maneuvering jets to compensate.

Then again the effect might be negligible. I might have to do the math because now I am curious.

I'm pretty sure the effect is negligable.
"Still, I would love to see human beings, and their constituent organ systems, trivialized and commercialized to the same extent as damn iPods and other crappy consumer products. It would be absolutely horrific, yet so wonderful." — Shroom Man 777
"To Err is Human; to Arrr is Pirate." — Skallagrim
“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"

The Magic Eight Ball Conspiracy.

Q99
Jedi Master
Posts: 1081
Joined: 2015-05-16 01:33pm

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Q99 » 2017-03-06 12:32am

Lesse, the Jag fighters from the Skolian Saga (which isn't entirely hard but is on the harder end of things that I can think of that use space fighters... and it has FTL and low level telepathy, so take of that what you will, but it respects stuff like acceleration, inertia, and relativity elsewise). Each Jag is actually pretty good-size, but they have a crew of 1 plus AI. They operate in squads of four, use a combination of telepathy and AI to maintain a coordination link, and their small size means they can make small FTL hops pretty easily and thus move around a battlefield much easier than larger ships, as well as perform small missions (which does also give rise to that unfortunate situation that shows up sometimes of the Jagernauts being also used as commandos, since a squad of 4 of them is often the best that can be sent to remote areas).

Combat wise, they fire anti-particle disintegrator beams (which are mostly close-range due to the speeds involved), and have large anti-matter missiles (which also do short FTL hops). So they use maneuverability to position where needed, and a short rack of four missiles to provide a heavy punch, past which they're limited to knife fighting with their beams.

Adam Reynolds
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2108
Joined: 2004-03-27 04:51am

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Adam Reynolds » 2017-03-06 08:28am

So I think my real problem is that you are essentially rewriting the definition of a fighter to the point at which it doesn't still feel like an accurate definition. While the same could apply to warships, space warships make sense in the context that something large and powerful enough to operate in a loosely similar fashion to a modern warship would reasonably exist. It is certainly not a perfect analogy, but something like it is necessary. While your space battleships should more accurately be built like skyscrapers with the deck perpendicular to the engine and with massive radiators(that could actually look extremely fierce if done properly now that I think about it) that prevent it from looking like a traditional warship, it is still a warship because it largely fulfills the same function as that of an ocean navy warship, that of destroying enemy vessels and controlling space/sea lanes. It is about function rather than form. Space fighters are harder to pin down in that sense, as much of their purpose is about having something specific in that size range.

In many ways you are more accurately ending up with a craft that is more analogous to torpedo boats or torpedo boat destroyers of some kind. If you want to call it a fighter you can, but it really isn't one. The big problem is that if you are building on this scale, you might as well give the craft a bit of endurance. And if you do that, it isn't really a fighter anymore as you then need a larger crew. Anything that you bother to give a competitive engine to becomes fast enough it then needs reasonable endurance so that it can operate somewhat independently. The distances involved in space wars make short endurance craft somewhat problematic, because you are then forced to fight on top of whatever you are defending. Which again serves to drive up size and thus crew requirements.

For a couple of other specific points:

Formless wrote:Hmm.... I'll take that under advisement. TBH, I'm not sure how small and light a reactor can get, and I have heard that laser rocketry helps keep the mass down for the payload of a vehicle, so that is part of where the idea comes from. It might be that I am mistaken and the ships can have their own reactor. Mostly I imagine that these ships will be used in main battle sequences as a forward spearhead that extends the range on the laser weapons of larger warships that have more endurance, but also more mass to accelerate. That and weaposn mounted on space stations/colonies, which obviously have no real engines to speak of but potentially quite powerful reactors. So I don't think they necessarily need to be more maneuverable in the usual sense that an X-Wing can turn on a dime, although they should be able to spin around much faster than larger ships due to their size. They would be more like interceptors than dogfighters, ships that accelerate fast and don't rely much on their engines to slow back down during engagements-- they might just use the recoil of their weapons for that if at all.

It all depends on the assumptions of the setting. In some cases you even have torchdrive equipped missiles. Lockheed Martin currently believes they can build a fusion power plant small enough to fit on and and power a modern C-5(conveniently this instead of a C-17) for an entire year of flight, which would certainly make it possible to fit it on something that could be called a space fighter. It is also apparently meant to be powerful enough to outright replace the gas turbines unit for unit on warships. While many rival experts think they solution will never work, assuming this works is no less implausible than having a space faring civilization in the first place.

Its not so much about having them "just to have them" as it is to reconceptualize what they are and how they are deployed or why. Frankly, it seems to me like this objection really covers warships in general, since we don't know how space wars will be fought at all; we can only make an educated guess, just as we can only guess that we will still be around to wage war in space or feel it necessary when we reach that point.

I all honesty I suspect it won't be. But it is still fun to work with the ideas regardless. What space warfare really is about is portraying warfare in an alien environment that makes it less horrible because it is less like real warfare. For the same reasons that aliens, zombies and robots are often better enemies, because they are not humans and you can mow them down without a sense of guilt. In that context you could say that anything goes in some sense, but I think it is more interesting to stay within the limits of what is at least plausible rather than just allowing anything to work.

Allowing anything to work, as is done in something like Star Wars or Star Trek, has problems because you run into the issue of things just feeling off to somewhat educated readers or viewers. When you get enough things right, even educated viewers care less about the things you don't. The Expanse is a nice example of this, with people like Phil Plait and Nyrath praising it for the things it gets right while generally overlooking the things it doesn't. The missing radiator problem is probably the biggest example of what it gets wrong with its presumably terawatt level engines. Even The Martian has the problem that Martian dust storms are not that violent because the atmosphere is too thin.

Though as for reconceptializing, this too easily goes into the idea from Atomic Rockets that Victorian era thinkers believed that air warfare would consist of flying battleships held aloft by propellers. It is certainly not what we ended up with.

Dramatically speaking, what to me makes a space fighter different from a bigger ship is that it brings the characters deeper into the action. No one is simply sitting in a chair barking orders-- they are actually at the controls doing. It doesn't matter whether they are the pilot, the gunner, the sensor operator, or whatever else-- we have eliminated the concept of The Captain as Star Trek would understand it. These don't have to be one-man ships; in fact, real fighters are usually two man aircraft nowadays. But neither man can operate the craft alone. There is cooperation between the various crew members or squadron mates, but everyone is still active agents that must work together tactically and make individual decisions even if there is a command structure. There is minimal distractions or abstractions compared to how combat "feels" from the perspective of those commanding larger warships. Everyone on the space fighter or in the squadron is in some way essential for controlling something vital rather than having some unnamed character do it for them. This is also another reason that the Defiant doesn't quite qualify as a space fighter, but the Millennium Falcon does. Everyone is closer to the action in the Dramatic sense.

True, but that again doesn't entirely require things that operate in a similar fashion to fighters. One interesting way to get closer to the action is just to have extremely powerful engines, which forces combat ranges to decrease so that both sides can accurately hit each other. It also allows relatively small ships to be competitive, in which they are potentially able to close the distance faster or escape more reliably after dropping missiles.

I'm not quite sure how to explain the difference in feel, because it didn't quite click with me until I tried writing Star Trek (uhgg... just... no) and roleplaying in science fiction settings. Having a captain as a main POV character makes everything come off as a lot more dry and detached (and I hate that feeling). And in RPing, any kind of hierarchy screws with the usual player dynamics. Normally everyone does what they are good at, and makes decisions accordingly. But when one person has the ability to make executive decisions, it can cause friction or boredom with the rest of the group unless that player is good at emulating Picard.

Its also, believe it or not, realistic to eliminate the command structure seen in Star Trek in favor of Crew Resource Management as it creates less distraction (the captain does not need to micromanage everyone), better decision making, and reduces human error.

There are a couple of potentially effective solutions both in terms of story and in terms of RPGs. On the story front, the best option is to have a group that is somewhat unconventional militarily. Probably my favorite such example is the Wraith Squadron series, which does two things well. The first is that they are somewhat unconventional in terms of how much they care about command, and the second is that they are a group of diverse experts that have differing levels of experience in different areas, so that the commander has much less expertise than most of his squad members and has to defer to them in many different areas. It is also one in which the commander has to recognize when he can't take command of something personally.

The other and in some ways better overall alternative is that the group is outside a traditional command structure, which is also what The Expanse does and what things like Star Wars Rebels or Firefly do as well. Mass Effect 2, the game that does this, is also often considered the best. The problem here is that it is then often problematic to portray your heroes as having things like ships equipped with nuclear weapons or even just drives that are as powerful as nuclear weapons.

For tabletop RPGs being in command should not be a green light to act like Shepard in Mass Effect, in which you both get to command and act on the front lines directly. You should be limited to one or the other, in which you don't fully have a choice. If you choose the command route you can potentially give orders to subordinates, but you are then forced to think about things like tactics and strategy instead of merely leading from the front. You also loose a bit of perspective by choosing to take command, which means that other players should have that role to a greater degree.

There is an interesting RPG called Kingdom that has rules dedicated to this sort of problem, being about handling the relationships between characters in positions of authority. What makes it interesting is that it is GM-less, so that the players are in effect competing to be GM with three competing roles. What makes it effective is that the character who is in charge, with Power, lacks Perspective as to the results of their action as well as the Touchstone that determines how the larger community feels about that action. While it is somewhat intended to handle traditional political dynamics, I once used it to play a caper crew as well.

Actually, even Nyrath at Atomic Rockets agrees that it is actually possible to make a ship nearly undetectable as long as the exhaust and radiated heat goes in a direction where there are no detectors. The problem is that he and many others think the sky will be so saturated with detection platforms from every direction that it won't be feasible. Personally, though, I and a lot of others think that is overly optimistic because how are you supposed to saturate the sky with detector stations in the first place if not by using stealth? :P If you don't sneak them up there, they will just get shot down within the first few days or weeks of a war, and stealth goes right back on the table. AR now even has a guest article by the same blogger I linked to where he explains these objections to the orthodox view.

That said, I totally agree that messing with identification is a very good idea. Its probably cheaper and less reliant on exotic materials and fancy technology than outright hiding your IR signature from your target.

To some extent that is the fundamental problem with anything like this, it all comes down to what assumptions you make. You could go with a heavily monitored system or a sparsely patrolled one depending on what you want in terms of stories and it would still be more or less realistic. I am largely operating under the assumption of fast vessels, which especially precludes outright hiding. Though in fact that could make things complicated in a sense, because if ships are naturally extremely hot running, then there is less reason to build sensitive monitoring equipment, which then potentially allows stealth to be possible if you don't run your engines. I suppose I just answered the question that bugged me in the first season of The Expanse.

Sky Captain
Jedi Master
Posts: 1029
Joined: 2008-11-14 12:47pm
Location: Latvia

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Sky Captain » 2017-03-06 02:01pm

There is no reason why space fighter should be as small as aerospace fighter. I think something along the lines of Roccinante is pretty good example of space fighter. It is small enough to be highly maneuverable, up to a point where crew is limiting factor, have weapons powerful enough to threaten larger ships especially if deployed in large numbers. Yet big enough to have interplanetary range, high end torchdrive. In peacetime such wessels would be well suited to perform function of a coast guard patrol boat.

User avatar
Shroom Man 777
FUCKING DICK-STABBER!
Posts: 20795
Joined: 2003-05-11 08:39am
Location: Bleeding breasts and stabbing dicks since 2003
Contact:

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Shroom Man 777 » 2017-03-06 04:48pm

It's already established that realistic space fighters won't be that good at killing capships because we've all heard how in hard-sci fi and soft sci-fi... weaponry, defenses, speed, etc. "economies of scale actually show that it's unwise and such... and that whatever fighters can do against capships using their missiles, it's something that drones or space-cruise missiles/space-antiship missiles can do by themselves without an expensive and complex manned fighter ferrying them there.

So... a "fighter" would IMO be best suited for patrol and interdiction, interception and strike roles against soft-targets IMO (no scientific backing here). Roles where individual damage-dealing capacity is less important than the ability to deploy numerous, smaller and weaker platforms to be present in more places and deal with sub-capital threats. Coast guard patrol boats, as other posters have said.

If people object to the idea that a fighter = a gunship with a handful of crew members, then have our potential Space Patrol Fighter be operated by one or two people then. TOP GUN is the most iconic fighter jet movie ever and it involved two-person aircraft. The Space Patrol Fighter can have... external "boarding team pods" then that can be attached or detached if it's sent to do gunship-type roles.

If need be, they can do long-range anti-capital strikes with the necessary weapons, but they won't be the ideal platforms for that stuff - the best they can do would be to support capships fighting other capships by intercepting incoming missiles/drones and providing extra sets of eyes, but these are, again, sub-optimal roles that drones and missiles can do by themselves.

Another idea would be if... ECM and jamming is extensive and if space-treaties and Skynetphobia prevents fully autonomous drones, or if there's a requirement for human overseers... then our Space Patrol Fighter can serve as a combat craft AND a local-area drone-control craft for operations that are too far away from the mothership.

Will it ruin the definition of what a fighter is if the fighter's missiles are actually AI-powered drones with their own submunitions?

Another potential is that... if space constructs and habitats are so huge, then fighters will be necessary for "close quarters" and "in door" combat within the superstructures of O'Neill cylinders or whatever. Places capships can't enter. So it's the Space Patrol Fighter and their optional boarding team pods and their payloads that can include optional AI-drones... heck for these tight confines, the thrust vectoring can be supplemented with additional verniers and even manipulator-limbs. So the Space Patrol Fighter's now a Gundam.
Image Image Image
shroom is a lovely boy and i wont hear a bad word against him - LUSY-CHAN!
Shit! Man, I didn't think of that! It took Shroom to properly interpret the screams of dying people :D - PeZook
Shroom, I read out the stuff you write about us. You are an endless supply of morale down here. :p - an OWS street medic
Pink Sugar Heart Attack!

User avatar
Formless
Sith Devotee
Posts: 3449
Joined: 2008-11-10 08:59pm
Location: the beginning and end of the Present

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Formless » 2017-03-06 09:00pm

Adam Reynolds wrote:So I think my real problem is that you are essentially rewriting the definition of a fighter to the point at which it doesn't still feel like an accurate definition. While the same could apply to warships, space warships make sense in the context that something large and powerful enough to operate in a loosely similar fashion to a modern warship would reasonably exist. It is certainly not a perfect analogy, but something like it is necessary. While your space battleships should more accurately be built like skyscrapers with the deck perpendicular to the engine and with massive radiators(that could actually look extremely fierce if done properly now that I think about it) that prevent it from looking like a traditional warship, it is still a warship because it largely fulfills the same function as that of an ocean navy warship, that of destroying enemy vessels and controlling space/sea lanes. It is about function rather than form. Space fighters are harder to pin down in that sense, as much of their purpose is about having something specific in that size range.

In many ways you are more accurately ending up with a craft that is more analogous to torpedo boats or torpedo boat destroyers of some kind. If you want to call it a fighter you can, but it really isn't one. The big problem is that if you are building on this scale, you might as well give the craft a bit of endurance. And if you do that, it isn't really a fighter anymore as you then need a larger crew. Anything that you bother to give a competitive engine to becomes fast enough it then needs reasonable endurance so that it can operate somewhat independently. The distances involved in space wars make short endurance craft somewhat problematic, because you are then forced to fight on top of whatever you are defending. Which again serves to drive up size and thus crew requirements.

Well, what do you think happened to torpedo boats in the first place? Someone invented the air droppable torpedo. And there are analogies between them besides that, like the fact that torpedo boats were relatively maneuverable compared to larger ships, and thus difficult to hit accurately. They were one of the driving forces underlying the development of machine guns. So to me, it isn't surprising that there is overlap between a torpedo boat and a fighter at sea. Its really about whether you consider space war to be more generally analogous to (pre-WWII) naval warfare, air warfare, or neither. Even the idea of using them as interceptors isn't that different, insofar as speedboats today do exactly that for the coast guard whereas aircraft are expected to intercept other aircraft. So no, I don't think size is the main thing that defines fighters. I mean, we can already start to see different kinds of fighters if we stop and think about it: interceptors (which emphasize speed over maneuverability), high endurance patrol fighters, reconnaissance planes, fighter-bombers, ground attack specialists (like the A-10 Warthog), and assault helicopters. Some of those might not fit the usual idea of a "fighter", but any and all of them are used in war, and all have to worry about the possibility of engaging or being engaged by what everyone agrees to be fighters.

I just tend to see space warfare as more analogous to air war than naval war (although in truth it is obviously its own beast). Shipping lanes actually are not something that you expect to see in space because everything is in motion relative to everything else, constantly. In real life, shipping lanes are a function of the geography/oceanography of the planet. The only way to maintain that analogy is to mess around with the rules of FTL (because FTL is narrative magic). However, air traffic control is a concept that almost certainly would have a counterpart in space, because you need to keep people from running into one another during peacetime or from deliberately attacking other ships. But with that comes the need for interceptors if only for police actions. Close range engagements are dismissed too, but I think you can expect there to also be an exception to that rule near or even inside space colonies.

As for endurance, there seems to be more than one way to skin that cat. Spaceships are quite likely to need a lot of automation, which may even extend into some self repair capabilities depending on the level of robotics onboard. Refeuling can always be done whenever the ship meets up with larger vessels or supply ships. The idea of endurance always does eventually come down to the reality of a supply line no matter how long any one ship can last on its own. If a ship isn't built like either an explorer or a colony, then it probably isn't self sufficient like one. And its doubtful that you want every warship to have a hydroponics bay growing its own food. Its not a great use of volume. Besides, of course, the more obvious need to reload weapons.

Having fighters allows for different tactics during battle (the spearhead idea or the forward command hub for drones), allows some tactics that would be completely impossible without them (that is, if you have literal air fighters intended mainly or solely for invading large space colonies), navigate parts of space that are more "cluttered" and potentially too hazardous to bring a larger ship (like the rings of Saturn, or in debris fields inevitably created by war), and so on. Bigger is better only for the purpose of range, but one thing I should point out is that it is not a binary thing. In space, any ship can also function as a mothership to something smaller. That isn't possible in naval war or air war.

It all depends on the assumptions of the setting. In some cases you even have torchdrive equipped missiles. Lockheed Martin currently believes they can build a fusion power plant small enough to fit on and and power a modern C-5(conveniently this instead of a C-17) for an entire year of flight, which would certainly make it possible to fit it on something that could be called a space fighter. It is also apparently meant to be powerful enough to outright replace the gas turbines unit for unit on warships. While many rival experts think they solution will never work, assuming this works is no less implausible than having a space faring civilization in the first place.

I admit, it seems implausible to me... but still, sounds cool. :)

Though as for reconceptializing, this too easily goes into the idea from Atomic Rockets that Victorian era thinkers believed that air warfare would consist of flying battleships held aloft by propellers. It is certainly not what we ended up with.

True, true. I have even at times contemplated the possibility of wars where there actually aren't warships at all, and all the fighting is done by powerful weapons and missiles mounted on the colonies themselves; but then, that quickly devolves into Mutually Assured Destruction, and the need for more limited forms of warfare, which could almost arbitrarily adapt to nearly any form of combat. So the conventional "warship vs warship" paradigm makes as much sense in the end.

True, but that again doesn't entirely require things that operate in a similar fashion to fighters. One interesting way to get closer to the action is just to have extremely powerful engines, which forces combat ranges to decrease so that both sides can accurately hit each other. It also allows relatively small ships to be competitive, in which they are potentially able to close the distance faster or escape more reliably after dropping missiles.

Now what does that remind you of? :P 8)

Shroom man 777 wrote:Will it ruin the definition of what a fighter is if the fighter's missiles are actually AI-powered drones with their own submunitions?

But Shroom! Think of the AI whose rights you are violating, putting them on a kamikaze drone ship! :P

Other than the AI being a (presumably) expensive thing to put on a missile, submunitions on missiles are quite a fine idea. Makes missile spam that much easier to achieve.

So the Space Patrol Fighter's now a Gundam.

You say that almost like its a bad thing!

TBH, Gundam was one of the franchises that convinced me that a fighter could be something more than what George Lucas envisioned back in the seventies.
"Still, I would love to see human beings, and their constituent organ systems, trivialized and commercialized to the same extent as damn iPods and other crappy consumer products. It would be absolutely horrific, yet so wonderful." — Shroom Man 777
"To Err is Human; to Arrr is Pirate." — Skallagrim
“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"

The Magic Eight Ball Conspiracy.

User avatar
Shroom Man 777
FUCKING DICK-STABBER!
Posts: 20795
Joined: 2003-05-11 08:39am
Location: Bleeding breasts and stabbing dicks since 2003
Contact:

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Shroom Man 777 » 2017-03-06 09:14pm

The drone-AI "missiles" can return to the launcher-craft. The AI don't have to be sentient.
Image Image Image
shroom is a lovely boy and i wont hear a bad word against him - LUSY-CHAN!
Shit! Man, I didn't think of that! It took Shroom to properly interpret the screams of dying people :D - PeZook
Shroom, I read out the stuff you write about us. You are an endless supply of morale down here. :p - an OWS street medic
Pink Sugar Heart Attack!

User avatar
Formless
Sith Devotee
Posts: 3449
Joined: 2008-11-10 08:59pm
Location: the beginning and end of the Present

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Formless » 2017-03-06 09:25pm

Hmmm, last I checked only suicide vehicles are considered missiles/torpedoes. An autonomous missile-spammer ship is... a drone missile spammer? Not really a missile itself.

Nothing wrong with that, mind you.
"Still, I would love to see human beings, and their constituent organ systems, trivialized and commercialized to the same extent as damn iPods and other crappy consumer products. It would be absolutely horrific, yet so wonderful." — Shroom Man 777
"To Err is Human; to Arrr is Pirate." — Skallagrim
“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"

The Magic Eight Ball Conspiracy.

Adam Reynolds
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2108
Joined: 2004-03-27 04:51am

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Adam Reynolds » 2017-03-07 06:49am

Formless wrote:Well, what do you think happened to torpedo boats in the first place? Someone invented the air droppable torpedo. And there are analogies between them besides that, like the fact that torpedo boats were relatively maneuverable compared to larger ships, and thus difficult to hit accurately. They were one of the driving forces underlying the development of machine guns. So to me, it isn't surprising that there is overlap between a torpedo boat and a fighter at sea. Its really about whether you consider space war to be more generally analogous to (pre-WWII) naval warfare, air warfare, or neither. Even the idea of using them as interceptors isn't that different, insofar as speedboats today do exactly that for the coast guard whereas aircraft are expected to intercept other aircraft. So no, I don't think size is the main thing that defines fighters. I mean, we can already start to see different kinds of fighters if we stop and think about it: interceptors (which emphasize speed over maneuverability), high endurance patrol fighters, reconnaissance planes, fighter-bombers, ground attack specialists (like the A-10 Warthog), and assault helicopters. Some of those might not fit the usual idea of a "fighter", but any and all of them are used in war, and all have to worry about the possibility of engaging or being engaged by what everyone agrees to be fighters.

The ultimate replacement for torpedo boats, which were honestly never all that effective, has been missile boats. Which are also largely crap. Going too small isn't worth the benefits in most cases when it comes to warships, unless you are talking about a glorified coast guard cutter. This is the main element in which naval warfare is a better if still extremely flawed analogy.

The primary reason aircraft are effective against modern warships is a consequence of the radar horizon. Eliminate that and the advantage all but disappears, generally giving the edge to the larger vessel, as would occur in space.

Also, nearly all of those aircraft are currently being combined into a single platform, with the exception of helicopters. The F-35 is intended to do literally everything on that list with varying levels of effectiveness.

I just tend to see space warfare as more analogous to air war than naval war (although in truth it is obviously its own beast). Shipping lanes actually are not something that you expect to see in space because everything is in motion relative to everything else, constantly. In real life, shipping lanes are a function of the geography/oceanography of the planet. The only way to maintain that analogy is to mess around with the rules of FTL (because FTL is narrative magic). However, air traffic control is a concept that almost certainly would have a counterpart in space, because you need to keep people from running into one another during peacetime or from deliberately attacking other ships. But with that comes the need for interceptors if only for police actions. Close range engagements are dismissed too, but I think you can expect there to also be an exception to that rule near or even inside space colonies.

Close range is certainly possible in a setting like The Expanse, in which the ability to target at range is often problematic due to the level of acceleration. Not to mention if things like deceptive tactics are used that force an engagement at shorter range.

You are right that ATC and patrol is a function in which smaller craft would be useful to some extent, but that is not really a full scale warfare application. Coast Guard cutters and destroyers are very different. The real underlying problem with small craft is about efficiency. Given the likely demands of sensors and weapons, it will presumably be more efficient to build bigger. Which is why modern destroyers are globally all universally in the same size range of around 7k-10k tons and even look visually similar. Some nations build smaller, but only because they can't afford to build larger. Anyone serious about having a real navy is building within that size range.

It is true that space lanes are not really a thing, but the basic idea of having warships to control space and provide a presence is still there.

As for endurance, there seems to be more than one way to skin that cat. Spaceships are quite likely to need a lot of automation, which may even extend into some self repair capabilities depending on the level of robotics onboard. Refeuling can always be done whenever the ship meets up with larger vessels or supply ships. The idea of endurance always does eventually come down to the reality of a supply line no matter how long any one ship can last on its own. If a ship isn't built like either an explorer or a colony, then it probably isn't self sufficient like one. And its doubtful that you want every warship to have a hydroponics bay growing its own food. Its not a great use of volume. Besides, of course, the more obvious need to reload weapons.

The problem is that if you have high enough acceleration to be effective as a maneuverable platform, you probably end up with fairly high delta-v by default, which then allows range. When that happens there is less reason to not give the craft a fair bit of endurance. There is no reason to not build for endurance with that assumption.

Having fighters allows for different tactics during battle (the spearhead idea or the forward command hub for drones), allows some tactics that would be completely impossible without them (that is, if you have literal air fighters intended mainly or solely for invading large space colonies), navigate parts of space that are more "cluttered" and potentially too hazardous to bring a larger ship (like the rings of Saturn, or in debris fields inevitably created by war), and so on. Bigger is better only for the purpose of range, but one thing I should point out is that it is not a binary thing. In space, any ship can also function as a mothership to something smaller. That isn't possible in naval war or air war.

That is actually true with aquatic navies as well. Underway replenishment often involves ships that are no larger than the warships, and if you are looking at something the size of a WW2 battleship, it dwarfs its refueling vessels. We still build warships relatively large because it is more cost effective overall.

True, true. I have even at times contemplated the possibility of wars where there actually aren't warships at all, and all the fighting is done by powerful weapons and missiles mounted on the colonies themselves; but then, that quickly devolves into Mutually Assured Destruction, and the need for more limited forms of warfare, which could almost arbitrarily adapt to nearly any form of combat. So the conventional "warship vs warship" paradigm makes as much sense in the end.

Honestly that is probably the more realistic model, with or without warships.

What could be an interesting hybrid case is one in which strategic weapons are in the hands of planets and colonies, while the only vessels in use are patrol ships. You would thus likely have small skirmishes with a handful of vessels rather than full scale wars. You could then have something gunship sized that is the only real warship rather than anything more like battleships. as full scale wars are not being fought enough for them to be worth building.

That is almost the direction the modern world is at, though the doctrine of flexible response gets in the way. It doesn't do to have your two options be to do nothing or launch nuclear weapons. Are Earth or Mars going to risk their cities for greater control of Gannymeade? This is the place where it is nice to have proper warships and armies.

But Shroom! Think of the AI whose rights you are violating, putting them on a kamikaze drone ship! :P

Other than the AI being a (presumably) expensive thing to put on a missile, submunitions on missiles are quite a fine idea. Makes missile spam that much easier to achieve.

Actually depending on the way the AI works, it probably doesn't care. The need to survive in the fashion that we do is an organic trait, and not even a universal one. Ants for example will become suicide bombers as a result of the fact that they are so genetically related that they have a survival instinct based upon the hive rather than individual survival.

I know that is a joke, but it is one of those things that just bugs me about portrayals of nonhuman intelligence. There is no reason to assume it would have anything resembling the same desires as a human.

User avatar
matterbeam
Youngling
Posts: 63
Joined: 2016-04-04 08:52pm
Contact:

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby matterbeam » 2017-03-08 08:08am

A few notes I'd like to make:

1) Drones vs Humans: Having humans inside space warships depends entirely on mission duration and the mass ratio impact of a human and their life support. It has nothing to do with how 'large' a spaceship is. For example, a 10 ton drone will outperform an 11 ton manned spaceship, since it has the same capabilities but has 10% extra mass dedicated to keeping a human alive. A 1000 ton spaceship will gain much more combat effectiveness from an on-board human using 1 ton of life support than a 999 ton drone spaceship. It's all relative.

In other words, if you want manned space fighters, make the fighters big.

2) In my opinion, smallest and lightest are very poor terms for defining space warship roles. The same spaceship can have 1000 ton total mass or 10000 tons depending on how much propellant it has on-board. How do you classify a set of hardware that has such widely varying masses and sizes that change with each missions? It is much better to use weapon classes, power outputs, acceleration capabilities, mission endurance, combat ranges and so on.

For example, if I want space fighters, I'd go with a combat range classification. Fighters would be the warships that fights at the shortest ranges and have the highest acceleration capability. This implies a certain weapon type and power output.

3) Crew requirements are not really a concern. On Earth, it is hard to transfer crews between ships, and pop-up threats require that combat stations be manned as quickly as possible. In space, travel times are weeks to months, and threats appear on million kilometer horizons. It is easy to implement a 'dormitory ship' where crews spend the majority of their time while in transit. Fighters will be reliant on lots of on-board automation to handle everything from targeting weapons to calculating trajectories. The human arrives on-board just before the battle to give their fighter the 'human edge', such as selecting targets, looking at the battlefield 'from above' to implement tactics instead of simple reactive strategies, make decisions against light-lag and so on.

4) I discussed this in 'Space Warship Design': a single large weapon is always optimal for space warfare.

5) Warfare is about cost. Does it cost more to pay Martian agents to fight Martian dissidents, than to send Terran soldiers? Does it cost more to destroy a warship than to buy a politician? Does it cost more to invade and takeover a mining outpost than to buy the company holding it? Regardless of the colonization situation, people will find reasons to fight over things in space. As soon as the first paranoid agency installs a gun on its asteroid rock-hopper, another person will feel threatened and install two guns. It will come to a point where it costs less to have your own warship fleet than to leave yourself exposed to the other guy's fleet.

6) Nuclear thermal rockets have astounding specific power levels, at GW/ton or more, and are scalable from the largest to the smallest practical spaceships. Chemical rockets have similar performance and even more thrust!

Basically, you will be limited by how much deltaV you want on-board, rather than how much energy you can get out of a small ship. Look here: (http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2016/10/spa ... plete.html)

The best way to design a space fighter is to have 'stages'. No expendable stages, but a spaceship built in two parts. Each stage is optimized for a specific role. The first, larger stage handles interplanetary travel and deltaV-expensive manoeuvers, such as catching up with an enemy fleet. Laser-powered rockets can help with this. Isps in the 10000s+ range are possible and have even been demonstrated (http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2017/03/las ... orbit.html) Generally, these are expected to operate outside of combat ranges, so lower thrust and vulnerable propellant tanks are O.K.

The second stage is your low Isp, high thrust engine. This one burns hard to dodge missiles and kinetics, or to boost up the tailpipe of a slower spaceship before it can run away. Multi-G performance can be designed, at the cost of flight times similar to modern jet fighters in afterburner mode (minutes).

If you win the fight, you can dock back with your second stage and return home. If you didn't win the fight, maybe its because you were dragging along useless low-thrust engines and massive propellant tanks all in one stage.

7) Combat mirrors and re-focusing drone are an entirely different ball-game (http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2016/04/lww ... n-web.html). They are friendly to a specific type of 'fighter' that redirects the last segment of a laser beam onto targets millions of kilometers distant from the laser generator.

8) 'Linear' style of attack sounds similar to lancers, described here (http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/200 ... s-not.html).

9) Stealth tactics in space are hard to fit around fighters, because close ranges and hard burns are antipathic to low signatures. Something like a Hydrogen Steamer hiding an extreme-expansion ratio nozzle to cool the exhaust from a nuclear rocket to background temperatures (http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2017/01/exp ... ealth.html) might work.

10) One way to justify fighters is to built a dominant weapon system that gives them a niche to excel in. Missiles are bad for fighters. Lasers are bad for fighters and storytelling in general, unless you use a weapon web. Big slow railguns have no place in space warfare. A solution could be pellet guns, which are halfway between particle beams and coilguns. (http://toughsf.blogspot.com/2016/10/the ... ombat.html).
Google + : matterbeamTSF

Hard SF blog: ToughSF

MetaSeed: Worldbuilding and Game Design discussion

User avatar
Formless
Sith Devotee
Posts: 3449
Joined: 2008-11-10 08:59pm
Location: the beginning and end of the Present

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Formless » 2017-03-09 02:33am

Adam Reynolds wrote:The ultimate replacement for torpedo boats, which were honestly never all that effective, has been missile boats. Which are also largely crap. Going too small isn't worth the benefits in most cases when it comes to warships, unless you are talking about a glorified coast guard cutter. This is the main element in which naval warfare is a better if still extremely flawed analogy.

The primary reason aircraft are effective against modern warships is a consequence of the radar horizon. Eliminate that and the advantage all but disappears, generally giving the edge to the larger vessel, as would occur in space.

Also, nearly all of those aircraft are currently being combined into a single platform, with the exception of helicopters. The F-35 is intended to do literally everything on that list with varying levels of effectiveness.

Wait, in what war has anyone ever used a missile boat? I'm not saying they don't exist, but... I'm pretty sure they weren't a thing in WWII. But I know for a fact that air dropped torpedoes were.

The radar horizon is a big part of the advantage aircraft has, but another is the fact that they allowed one aircraft carrier to have a larger "presence" as it were in the battle. That is, through its aircraft it could quite literally cover more ground and be in more than one place at once, while still being able to do serious damage to naval vessels. I think that is a relevant idea for space war as well. And remember, just because the enemy can spot you doesn't mean they can do anything about it-- heck, depending on how they spotted you, it may take a while to even get the information processed and communicated to those who can do something about it. This may sound mostly like a "stealth in space" argument, and it kind of is (one taken from Mike's discussions on the subject), but it has relevance here for many reasons related to your own point about radar. I think a smaller vessel can do more to mask its identity or conceal itself among a crowd than a larger warship, whether that means hiding among merchant ships, the debris of apparently disabled ships, asteroids, IR drones (one of the tricks Mike came up with for confusing enemies about the trajectory of even torchships), you name it. There are plenty of tricks you can still pull off in space, but small size can matter in these cases and can give smaller ships as well as drones (obviously) a raison d'être. Besides all the other tactical roles I've suggested, of course.

Close range is certainly possible in a setting like The Expanse, in which the ability to target at range is often problematic due to the level of acceleration. Not to mention if things like deceptive tactics are used that force an engagement at shorter range.

You are right that ATC and patrol is a function in which smaller craft would be useful to some extent, but that is not really a full scale warfare application. Coast Guard cutters and destroyers are very different. The real underlying problem with small craft is about efficiency. Given the likely demands of sensors and weapons, it will presumably be more efficient to build bigger. Which is why modern destroyers are globally all universally in the same size range of around 7k-10k tons and even look visually similar. Some nations build smaller, but only because they can't afford to build larger. Anyone serious about having a real navy is building within that size range.

It is true that space lanes are not really a thing, but the basic idea of having warships to control space and provide a presence is still there.

The thing with "bigger is always better" is that I think it falls apart when space colonies come into the equation. There just isn't anything bigger than that (except a planet). Whether its smaller colonies meant for thousands of people like the Kalpana One, tens of thousands like the Lewis One and Stanford Torus, or multi kilometer long O'Neil cylinders meant for millions of people, I really don't think you need warships to patrol space during peacetime. Colonies should have their own defensive weapons that can do the job most of the time, even if they don't have the strategic weapons to make warships a moot point completely. Weapons of course can't board a ship, I think we agree. Its only during war or building up to war that you would deploy military ships, whatever size they may be. But also, since interception and policing craft are reasonable, its also reasonable that anyone interested in preparing for war might make those craft useful in battle and able to threaten larger ships if possible.

I'm also inclined to think that wars will not be multi-year affairs in the future like the world wars. It does not seem to fit the trend; modern militaries by the largest powers seem to prefer to plan strategically for many years so that any war will only take weeks at most (hours if WMDs are involved). The main delaying factor that exists in space seems to be distance and travel time, which doesn't necessarily apply to all potential wars. A war between colonies both inhabiting Earth's Lagrange points could take less time: a war between mining interests in the asteroid belt could take more time. But neither will be interested in dragging things out if they can help it. Its a waste of resources, and tends to create dangerous debris fields or even cause Kessler syndrome if it takes place in crowded planetary orbits. So endurance isn't always better for those reasons as well.

The problem is that if you have high enough acceleration to be effective as a maneuverable platform, you probably end up with fairly high delta-v by default, which then allows range. When that happens there is less reason to not give the craft a fair bit of endurance. There is no reason to not build for endurance with that assumption.

That depends on the type of propulsion you are using, doesn't it? There is a reason I imagined using laser rocketry or two stage "mothership/ fighter (or squadron)" designs. One method displaces the power source (albeit, not the reaction mass) of the ship onto something larger, like a full blown colony or Star Destroyer. The other is efficient because it jettisons unnecessary mass just before engaging the enemy, so you can have your cake and eat it too. Moreover, jinking side to side in order to dodge incoming fire doesn't necessarily require moving more than the craft's own width (probably less, in fact), so those thrusters don't need as much power as a main engine. And unless you are dodging fire, you don't have to constantly accelerate in battle-- there is no atmosphere pushing you backwards!

That is actually true with aquatic navies as well. Underway replenishment often involves ships that are no larger than the warships, and if you are looking at something the size of a WW2 battleship, it dwarfs its refueling vessels. We still build warships relatively large because it is more cost effective overall.

And that cost efficiency equation is partially driven by factors that don't apply to spacecraft, like the need to keep the engines on in order to not stop when trying to move the ship because of friction, and the desire to have them deployed even during peacetime because they can serve useful roles (and more importantly, because our nation still has imperialistic tendencies and an unhealthy fear of being attacked by phantasms-- but lets just set that aside for now). Constant deployment during peacetime isn't really a good idea for a space warship, because it doesn't really have anything to do like a wet navy does. Observation is the only exception I can think of. And that can by done by completely automated platforms (as long as they aren't armed, for executive decision reasons I think are obvious enough).

That is almost the direction the modern world is at, though the doctrine of flexible response gets in the way. It doesn't do to have your two options be to do nothing or launch nuclear weapons. Are Earth or Mars going to risk their cities for greater control of Gannymeade? This is the place where it is nice to have proper warships and armies.

Sure, larger warships have their place. I never denied it. In fact, I assumed it. Mostly my ideas are about a situation where planetary colonization is less important than space colonies (because I admit a preference for one over the other-- we could, however, have another discussion some time about what infantry combat might look like on the Moon or Mars, though. That might be interesting.) Planets have this problem of gravity wells that just makes fighting between them feel... less than likely in comparison. At least in Hard SF. :)

Actually depending on the way the AI works, it probably doesn't care. The need to survive in the fashion that we do is an organic trait, and not even a universal one. Ants for example will become suicide bombers as a result of the fact that they are so genetically related that they have a survival instinct based upon the hive rather than individual survival.

I know that is a joke, but it is one of those things that just bugs me about portrayals of nonhuman intelligence. There is no reason to assume it would have anything resembling the same desires as a human.

Ah, but the real joke was how will future people think about the rights of robots? :P
"Still, I would love to see human beings, and their constituent organ systems, trivialized and commercialized to the same extent as damn iPods and other crappy consumer products. It would be absolutely horrific, yet so wonderful." — Shroom Man 777
"To Err is Human; to Arrr is Pirate." — Skallagrim
“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"

The Magic Eight Ball Conspiracy.

Adam Reynolds
Jedi Council Member
Posts: 2108
Joined: 2004-03-27 04:51am

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Adam Reynolds » 2017-03-09 05:49am

Formless wrote:Wait, in what war has anyone ever used a missile boat? I'm not saying they don't exist, but... I'm pretty sure they weren't a thing in WWII. But I know for a fact that air dropped torpedoes were.

It was post WW2. In 1971 they were in use by the Indian Navy and in 1973 they were in use by both the Israelis and Syrians. In the 1980s we finally saw what happened when they went up against a real navy when the USN sank several Iranian vessels with no losses, in the first and I think only USN surface to surface missile kills.

There is some argument that the LCS was designed to prevent a movement in the US Navy from producing them as well, under the mistaken belief that any ship hit was dead and thus numbers were the only thing that mattered.

The radar horizon is a big part of the advantage aircraft has, but another is the fact that they allowed one aircraft carrier to have a larger "presence" as it were in the battle. That is, through its aircraft it could quite literally cover more ground and be in more than one place at once, while still being able to do serious damage to naval vessels. I think that is a relevant idea for space war as well. And remember, just because the enemy can spot you doesn't mean they can do anything about it-- heck, depending on how they spotted you, it may take a while to even get the information processed and communicated to those who can do something about it. This may sound mostly like a "stealth in space" argument, and it kind of is (one taken from Mike's discussions on the subject), but it has relevance here for many reasons related to your own point about radar. I think a smaller vessel can do more to mask its identity or conceal itself among a crowd than a larger warship, whether that means hiding among merchant ships, the debris of apparently disabled ships, asteroids, IR drones (one of the tricks Mike came up with for confusing enemies about the trajectory of even torchships), you name it. There are plenty of tricks you can still pull off in space, but small size can matter in these cases and can give smaller ships as well as drones (obviously) a raison d'être. Besides all the other tactical roles I've suggested, of course.

Smaller ships might be able to hide, but the detection advantage is even greater for larger ships if we are talking about optics.

The thing with "bigger is always better" is that I think it falls apart when space colonies come into the equation. There just isn't anything bigger than that (except a planet). Whether its smaller colonies meant for thousands of people like the Kalpana One, tens of thousands like the Lewis One and Stanford Torus, or multi kilometer long O'Neil cylinders meant for millions of people, I really don't think you need warships to patrol space during peacetime. Colonies should have their own defensive weapons that can do the job most of the time, even if they don't have the strategic weapons to make warships a moot point completely. Weapons of course can't board a ship, I think we agree. Its only during war or building up to war that you would deploy military ships, whatever size they may be. But also, since interception and policing craft are reasonable, its also reasonable that anyone interested in preparing for war might make those craft useful in battle and able to threaten larger ships if possible.

This really is no different than the modern argument about submarines, whether it is better to be nuclear or diesel-electric/AIP. Every navy with a serious budget and no bizarre restrictions on their military still builds nuclear, because it is just more effective overall. SSKs are the king of littorals, serving as the ultimate mobile minefield, but nuclear submarines are just more effective overall.

I'm also inclined to think that wars will not be multi-year affairs in the future like the world wars. It does not seem to fit the trend; modern militaries by the largest powers seem to prefer to plan strategically for many years so that any war will only take weeks at most (hours if WMDs are involved). The main delaying factor that exists in space seems to be distance and travel time, which doesn't necessarily apply to all potential wars. A war between colonies both inhabiting Earth's Lagrange points could take less time: a war between mining interests in the asteroid belt could take more time. But neither will be interested in dragging things out if they can help it. Its a waste of resources, and tends to create dangerous debris fields or even cause Kessler syndrome if it takes place in crowded planetary orbits. So endurance isn't always better for those reasons as well.

The problem is that the costs involved with future military systems will be so high that smaller powers won't have them. They will be using space technical with improvised weapons mounted to whatever flies, not dedicated fighters or battleships.

That depends on the type of propulsion you are using, doesn't it? There is a reason I imagined using laser rocketry or two stage "mothership/ fighter (or squadron)" designs. One method displaces the power source (albeit, not the reaction mass) of the ship onto something larger, like a full blown colony or Star Destroyer. The other is efficient because it jettisons unnecessary mass just before engaging the enemy, so you can have your cake and eat it too. Moreover, jinking side to side in order to dodge incoming fire doesn't necessarily require moving more than the craft's own width (probably less, in fact), so those thrusters don't need as much power as a main engine. And unless you are dodging fire, you don't have to constantly accelerate in battle-- there is no atmosphere pushing you backwards!

But you do have to accelerate so that you can stop relative to your target so that you don't overshoot, the truly awesome flip and burn. If the relative velocities are too high then targeting becomes a problem for both sides.

Though I do really like the idea of a two stage system. Not something I had actually though about all that much for such a thing. Funny considering just how effective they are when playing KSP.

And that cost efficiency equation is partially driven by factors that don't apply to spacecraft, like the need to keep the engines on in order to not stop when trying to move the ship because of friction, and the desire to have them deployed even during peacetime because they can serve useful roles (and more importantly, because our nation still has imperialistic tendencies and an unhealthy fear of being attacked by phantasms-- but lets just set that aside for now). Constant deployment during peacetime isn't really a good idea for a space warship, because it doesn't really have anything to do like a wet navy does. Observation is the only exception I can think of. And that can by done by completely automated platforms (as long as they aren't armed, for executive decision reasons I think are obvious enough).

It doesn't have anything to do in the direct sense, but having a presence is something regardless of context. Especially with the limitations of realistic physics causing travel times to be measured in days or weeks at best. It doesn't do to have your entire fleet around Mars when it is needed over Ganymede or Earth.

Sure, larger warships have their place. I never denied it. In fact, I assumed it. Mostly my ideas are about a situation where planetary colonization is less important than space colonies (because I admit a preference for one over the other-- we could, however, have another discussion some time about what infantry combat might look like on the Moon or Mars, though. That might be interesting.) Planets have this problem of gravity wells that just makes fighting between them feel... less than likely in comparison. At least in Hard SF. :)

What I actually think might be a nice starting place is space elevators, that neutralize the gravity wells to a degree not possible with anything else. While they require engineering we are not currently capable of, they currently seem less implausible than torchdrives. It would also be nice in that such systems would neutralize the only real flaw of torchdrives, that they are likely unusable in atmosphere.

User avatar
Formless
Sith Devotee
Posts: 3449
Joined: 2008-11-10 08:59pm
Location: the beginning and end of the Present

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Formless » 2017-03-09 07:09pm

Adam Reynolds wrote:Smaller ships might be able to hide, but the detection advantage is even greater for larger ships if we are talking about optics.

But how much optics do you really want a ship to be dragging around for a given mass? Optics aren't light, you know, and they tend to be relatively delicate pieces of machinery. You also need to find a way to actually incorporate them into the design. Any large, obvious telescopes or other optical devices (which could also be lasers) are targets.

Forcing the enemy to drag around more specialized equipment is a partial win, you know. Bleeds money out of their pockets, if nothing else, and makes their ships take longer to build. Just like the need to deploy anti-stealth observation platforms all over the system is also actually a reason in itself to invest some money into stealth technology.

This really is no different than the modern argument about submarines, whether it is better to be nuclear or diesel-electric/AIP. Every navy with a serious budget and no bizarre restrictions on their military still builds nuclear, because it is just more effective overall. SSKs are the king of littorals, serving as the ultimate mobile minefield, but nuclear submarines are just more effective overall.

I'm sorry, I don't follow your reasoning here. Just because this is what wet navies do doesn't mean that this is something that a space military would do in a futuristic culture. Could you explain why you think the analogy holds, especially given that submarines are useful because of the difficulty in detecting them, whereas the warships you are talking about are presumably not trying to hide? Unless you are proposing stealth warships. Then I can totally see what you are saying. :)

The problem is that the costs involved with future military systems will be so high that smaller powers won't have them. They will be using space technical with improvised weapons mounted to whatever flies, not dedicated fighters or battleships.

I beg to differ. Every colony design out there includes plans for it to have its own industrial capacity-- in fact, many even include plans to build other space colonies. Hell, O'Neil had plans for his colonies to build the next generation of even bigger colonies. Everyone thinks of the Island III colony as being intended for up to 3 million people, but if you read further he actually says that the first colonies will be for only tens of thousands; you build up to the larger colonies. And he even speculated that if we allow for technological advancement in material science, he thought it was feasible to make colonies housing hundreds of millions of people. He actually calculates an upper limit of 700 million as being the ecological limit, and that might be an outdated calculation. At that point, I think even a modest colony or federation of colonies could fund its own military, or ally themselves with those who can.

But you do have to accelerate so that you can stop relative to your target so that you don't overshoot, the truly awesome flip and burn. If the relative velocities are too high then targeting becomes a problem for both sides.

Well, yes, though again I don't think that is impossible to do with a laser rocket or other lightweight propulsion systems. And of course any kinetic weaponry will also impart reverse thrust when fired (though I don't know how effective that would be).

Though I do really like the idea of a two stage system. Not something I had actually though about all that much for such a thing. Funny considering just how effective they are when playing KSP.

Why thank you. Though Matterbeam obviously deserves some credit for crystallizing the idea. I really was at first thinking of a one stage laser rocket until he pointed out that it could be the part that falls back during combat.

It doesn't have anything to do in the direct sense, but having a presence is something regardless of context. Especially with the limitations of realistic physics causing travel times to be measured in days or weeks at best. It doesn't do to have your entire fleet around Mars when it is needed over Ganymede or Earth.

True, but that does imply an impending war or a cold war, which goes back to the strategic planning aspect and likelihood of short duration "hot" wars.

What I actually think might be a nice starting place is space elevators, that neutralize the gravity wells to a degree not possible with anything else. While they require engineering we are not currently capable of, they currently seem less implausible than torchdrives. It would also be nice in that such systems would neutralize the only real flaw of torchdrives, that they are likely unusable in atmosphere.

That works for getting machinery up in space (assuming that besides the material strength problems you can also work out things like the wobble problem). You still need to get the people up there, and I heard that an elevator wouldn't work because for one thing the ride would be slow, and for another you pass through the Van Allen belt and suffer lethal doses of radiation. Especially because the elevator is slow. ;)

Though I think someone showed that an elevator is completely doable for the Moon with current (not future) technology.
"Still, I would love to see human beings, and their constituent organ systems, trivialized and commercialized to the same extent as damn iPods and other crappy consumer products. It would be absolutely horrific, yet so wonderful." — Shroom Man 777
"To Err is Human; to Arrr is Pirate." — Skallagrim
“I would suggest "Schmuckulating", which is what Futurists do and, by extension, what they are." — Commenter "Rayneau"

The Magic Eight Ball Conspiracy.

User avatar
Sea Skimmer
Yankee Capitalist Air Pirate
Posts: 36966
Joined: 2002-07-03 11:49pm
Location: Passchendaele City, HAB
Contact:

Re: Design and critique H-SF space fighters

Postby Sea Skimmer » 2017-03-10 03:18pm

I think low mass high acceleration fighter space fighters make maximum sense when you have at least two, and especially if you have three or more space powers on one planet. Both orbitally based, and possibly all ground based because you could have lala lands where ORBIT IS ILLEGAL because airspace has been claimed to infinite, or some very high ceiling, like Russia tried to do in real life. At that point the ability of a probably silo based fighter to pop up and hover in position waiting for incoming threats could be valuable, and control ground launched missiles from sites that will soon be obliterated by enemy nuclear missiles or jammed by millions of zombie hacked space cellphones.


Parasites and modular crews make sense...but really quickly that idea will turn exactly into LCS in space!!!!! Also because its space as mentioned, you can have all the external weapons and fuel tanks you want, as long as the engine doesn't twist the hull apart getting it moving. But the big advantage of a warship is it can go on infinitely from the get go and just needs supplies.

If you go make a lot of weapons integral, congrats, you've reinvented the frigate to the original meanings.

The first Fokker fighter in 1915 was only 800kg, and a empty F-22 is about 20,000kg and the PAK-FA and J-20 may turn out even heavier then that by the time they are finished.

Logically this mean yeah, 500 ton empty space fighter might actually be a minimal space warship. But a colony would have oh say, 8 of them maximum, not swarming swarms. But since its a space fighter the fully loaded mass might be waaay higher. Say 3,000 tons loaded, like a frigate, but able to transport hundreds of tons of expendable ordnance too. More like an SSBN ordnance payload then an F-15. It certainly won't need much crew to employ it at the point of contact.

Size is also really favorable if you want to have any real serious protection against nuclear weapons, otherwise the human crews are going to get killed way easier then electronics systems designed for high hardness.
"This cult of special forces is as sensible as to form a Royal Corps of Tree Climbers and say that no soldier who does not wear its green hat with a bunch of oak leaves stuck in it should be expected to climb a tree"
— Field Marshal William Slim 1956


Return to “Science Fiction”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Maxentius and 9 guests