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Re: Real Space Combat Help:

From: Alex Williams <thantos@d...>
Date: Wed, 9 Apr 1997 07:26:06 -0400
Subject: Re: Real Space Combat Help:

>	I'm writing a sci-fi space combat story for my creative writing
> So far I've got most of the story fleshed out.  However, I want to be
> plausable and scientific as possible. (The only place where I want to
> technically vauge is hyperdrive.)  I have some general questions for
> of you armchair physicists out there in GZG Mailing List land.

Before we get into these questions, let me heartily endorse the
tactical manual that accompanies Renegade Legion: Prefect.  EXCELLENT
discussion of the strategies and considerations of high-speed
high-thrust space combat and gives plausible and sound
tacticat/strategic considerations of the solar system as a war
theatre.  Co-written by the Canadian War College, so you know its

>	1.  Which would be better suited for space combat: lasers or
> beam weapons?

Both of them suffer the same problem in high-speed space combat, and
that's the problem of delivering enough energy to the target in a
short enough time to do any damage at all.  Lasers/masers are Time On
Target weapons.  That means that the more time you can concentrate
your fire on the hull of your target, the more likely you are to pump
enough energon (sorry, obligatory Transformer's reference) into it to
heat it up, making it do whatever that material does at high temp.
Particle beams throw bunches of high-mass high-energy particles out of
an accelerator at a target, hoping for the `tally ho, cascade!'
(sorry, obligatory Heavy Gear reference) of lower-energy showers
through the target's hull.  They too are Time On Target, but if you're
lucky, you can take out the computers in the target or utterly
irradiate the crew with a good shot.  This probably won't blow up the
ship (unless you get really lucky and take out the engine control
functions just /so/).

They both suffer from their Time On Target nature and the fact that
quantum uncertainty catches up with you beyond a fairly short range.
You start either hitting them with a monochromatic flashlight as your
laser disperses too much to transfer enough point energy or your
particle beam can't get enough density on its cascades to matter.
Both are going to be more likely seen on fighters than capital ships,
because of the range limitation, but the TOT is going to really
agonize for fighter intercept velocities, making both weapons require
jacked-up energy requirements to pump enough in in a short enough time
to matter.  On a cap ship, the only way you'll use a laser/maser or
particle beam are in /immense/ massed batteries, huge gang-fired
coherent arrays, so that your target is almost literally swimming in a
sea of quanta when you fire.  Big energy, big beam.  Other than that,
they'll depend more on missiles (see below).

>	2.  How does a directed energy beam weapon damage a target?

See above.

>	3.  Which sort of missile warhead would be better suited for
> combat?  Nuke or kinetic kill?

Depends, really, on the tech level you're dealing with.  Missiles are
going to be the heaviest weapon you can deliver to the target at the
most range at /every/ tech level; missiles at heart are little
autonomous ships that direct energy into the target.  The better your
ship tech, the better your missiles.

Whether or not you go nuke or kinetic kill in the end is really a
matter of taste.  Nukes do big damage and throw off omnidirectional
heavy radiation, very briefly, which gives them a bit of a particle
beam effect at certain ranges.	Cap ship to cap ship, you'll probably
see a lot of nukes thrown about when the closing groups are at extreme
range and really throwing hell at one another to try to win quick by
attrition.  (This means your ship groups shouldd probably /never see a
huge multi-cap-ship mass combat as depicted in Full Thrust/.  Cap
ships that densly maneuvering make easy pack kills with waves of
nukes.)  Closer in, there's a bit more chance of sensor blinding so
nukes would probably be reserved for things like taking out entire
squadrons and flights of fighters with one fell blow.  Kinetic kill
missiles only /really/ need to put submunitions (which may be as
simple as ball bearings or as complex as nuclear limpet mines)
throughout your maneuver sphere (the area in which at tine n+x your
ship could be through any application of its thrust).  With a high
incident velocity, you're going to be shredded as soon as you hit it,
and since missiles are typically fired from your forequarter, incident
velocity will be evilly high.  Fired from behind, it'll be almost
entirely a matter of how much more thrust the missile has than you
that it can apply in the terminal part of its attack, almost certainly
a lot, but much less than head on.  A side-on attack will be just as
bad as head on, because it'll just drop submunitons ahead of you in
your maneuver sphere and again, your own velocity will slam you
through them.  Kinetic kill missiles are a lot better for close in
dog-fighting between fighters and mass waves thrown at cap ships as
they close.  Missiles will /always/ win out, in the end, over directed
energy weapons, I feel, because of their inherent range benefit and
the self-directing nature of the beast, quite possibly light-seconds
distant from both firer and target.

Then, of course, there's the truly massive `spinal mount' Gauss
accelerated crowbar, but I don't think its a realistic weapon to use
against other cap ships unless they're nearly dead in the water.
They're mother-evil against ground-based targets, though.

>	4.  I've heard that it would be a good idea to depressurize a
> before going into combat (the crew would be in space suits).	Why
> that help?

As mentioned in another email to you, its an excellent fire control
measure (as in, `controlling fires').  Without O2, no fires except in
materials that give off O2 as oxidized or heated.  You don't have your
atmo blowing off into space twisting your arc of fire.	No crewman
sucked out into space dramatically, either.

>	5.  How would one target a enemy ship in space (realistically
that is)?

Very carefully.  Depends on your technology level.  At the very
highest, you use gravitic warping detectors to locate areas of mass
that are moving incident to you.  At lower levels, you'd probably use
a combination of radiation detection (most visible when the drives are
running) and checking out who's firing at you.	

A ship painted black, that accelerated way out in the area outside
your solar system, with most everything powered low, could fall down
the gravity well of your sun, right by your listening posts and you'd
probably never see them.  Putting off no radiation.  They could be
just a big rock, for all you know.  If they released a flight of
fighters that are coasting into your system on a different trajectory
to do a recon of some of your sites, the only way you'll see them is
when they do some course correction on their high-speed fly-by.  You
may or may not have some interception forces that can get into their
maneuver sphere and envelop theirs with yours.	If not, they'll likely
burn like mo'fos and rendezvous with their dark carrier once they
outmaneuver you.  All they have to do is get your forces in a position
where the open part of their maneuver sphere points them toward the
rendezvous trajectory, give a few quick burns and then go dark.  Good
luck finding them again without insane luck.  You've been sussed.

In real space combat, thrust is going to be the coin of battle.  The
larger your maneuver sphere, the more options you have and the more
choices you have about whether to engage or avoid.  The larger your
maneuver sphere and your opponant /knows/ it, the more targets in his
system you /might/ be attacking at any given time up to 0-hour and the
more targets he's got to allocate his system defenses to.  Its a
guessing game.

[Can you tell I dearly love Prefect?  Its a great entire Theatre of
War sim game ...  `Where are those Cheetah fighter groups going?  Can
I catch them with my Spiculums?  Are they going to be backed by a dark
carrier I'm not catching out yet?']

>	6.  There would happen to be a "Theoretical Space Combat FAQ"
> on the net?  If there isn't there should be.

The tactical guide with Prefect is about the only one I've ever seen,
and it includes cool little diagrams, etc.  :)

Geez, this turned into a regular dissertation ...

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