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

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

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

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

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

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

Men, my brothers, men the workers, ever reaping something new:
That which they have done but earnest of the things that they shall do:

For I dipt into the future, far as human eye could see,
Saw the Vision of the world, and all the wonder that would be;

Saw the heavens fill with commerce, argosies of magic sails,
Pilots of the purple twilight dropping down with costly bales;

Heard the heavens fill with shouting, and there rain’d a ghastly dew
From the nations’ airy navies grappling in the central blue;

From LOCKSLEY HALL by Alfred lord Tennyson (1835)


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

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


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

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

Tyge Sjostrand

Frederik Vezina disagrees about the pronunciation.

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

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

Frederik Vezina


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


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

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


Of those American vessels near the Argonne when first contact was made with the enemy, only the Washington was sufficiently massive to go out in a blast of yonder size and shape. If that was the case Captain Martin Diaz of the United States Astromilitary Corps was a dead man. The other ships of the line were too distant, traveling on vectors too unlike his own, for their scout boats to come anywhere close.

“Good day, Captain Diaz,” he said, speaking English with little accent. “Permit me to introduce myself: General Leo Ilyitch Rostock, Cosmonautical Service of the People of United Asia.”

From KINGS WHO DIE by Poul Anderson (1962)



(ed note: This article was written in 1979 and is admittedly a little dated. But most of it is still true.)

      The Third Industrial Revolution is going to create two areas of concern and interest to military planners in the next thirty to fifty years.

     One of these is new technology that will create new problems of defense and military operations. Space industrialization will produce new and less expensive space transportation systems. Space industrialization will produce radically new materials that will have military implications in terms of increased strength, decreased weight, and various other physical properties. Space industrialization will also produce very large energy collectors and transmission devices in space.

     The second area of concern involves the fact that the Third Industrial Revolution will create property of value in space—communications satellites, information-handling satellites, crewed space laboratories, crewed and uncrewed space factories, solar power satellites, lunar mining stations and outposts, lunar and orbital catapults or "mass drivers," and other facilities. There will be human activity in space connected with each of these. These facilities will also have commercial value, property value, and even military threat value. Where there exist arenas of human activity and inter-relationships and property, there will be disagreements and conflict. We cannot expect these aspects of human nature to change in the next fifty years.

     Therefore as we go into space we will have to take our highly-evolved cultural heritages and societal organizations with us to forestall disagreements and to resolve conflicts. There are the rules, codes, regulations, laws, and treaties that we have individually and collectively agreed to observe. But they are effective only when the majority of people involved agree to abide by them, and when means exist to enforce compliance with them.
     These means of enforcement include the military police organizations. There is a very fine line of distinction between a military organization and a police organization. In some cultures and nations, the distinction cannot be drawn at all. In our Anglo-American culture, the police handle the affairs of internal compliance while the military organization handles the enforcement of trans—national agreements including protection of property from seizure or destruction by other nations.
     Therefore, the Third Industrial Revolution is not only going to require military/police protection of space property but will present military organizations with new technology. Both of these involve new military doctrines for use in earth-luna space … or cis-lunar space, that being the portion of space that exists between the Planet Earth and the orbit of its satellite, the Moon.
     Protection of space property is very dependent upon the basic military rationales, doctrines, and operational realities of cis-lunar celestial mechanics. Celestial mechanics involves the way objects move in space with relationship to various gravitational fields. it is no longer a subject for mere academic discussion or scientific utility in aiming space probes. Celestial mechanics becomes the cornerstone of space strategic and tactical doctrines.

     There will be military operations in space above and beyond those necessary for protection of space properties.

     Historians Will and Ariel Durant have pointed out, “In every century the generals and rulers (with rare exceptions like Ashoka and Augustus) have smiled at the philosophers’ timid dislike of war … War is one of the constants of history, and has not diminished with civilization or democracy. In the last 3,421 years of recorded history, only 268 have seen no war."
     Anthropologist Dr. Carleton S. Coon has succinctly summarized the prevailing philosophy of the majority of the peoples (and therefore their governments) of the world in what he terms the Neolithic philosophy: You stay in your village and I will stay in mine. If your sheep eat our grass we will kill you, or we may kill you anyhow to get all the grass for our own sheep. Anyone who tries to change our ways is a witch and we will kill him. Keep out of our village!”
     This Neolithic philosophy was successful for its time as an attempt to cope with a world where shortages and outright lack of basic survival necessities have been the norm. It created the “Atilla Syndrome," a least-effort way of acquiring what one wants and does not have: “Take it by force."

     The rational antithesis of the Atilla Syndrome has existed only briefly in recent history. It came into being about 250 years ago as a philosophical buttress to the First Industrial Revolution and it was a better least-effort solution: "Make it, don't take it, and everybody has more." This may be termed “The Industrial Syndrome.”

     Until the Neolithic philosophy of Coon disappears from the human race (if it ever does; it may be an important long-term survival trait), it would be folly to believe that mankind will disarm and settle all disputes by negotiation. The arts of diplomacy and politics are not yet rigorous enough to prevent us from killing each other all of the time … just some of the time. It is a very delicate evolving system that requires the lubrication of learned responses and manners. It is very susceptible to sand thrown in the works by charismatic leaders, "men on horseback." Its effectiveness is supported only by the veiled threat of physical force that could or might be brought to bear should diplomacy fail.
     Until we manage to eradicate the Neolithic philosophy and its Atilla Syndrome from the majority of the human race—if we ever do—there will be military implications to everything we do, like it or not.

     This led to late pioneer futurist, Dandridge M. Cole, to formulate in 1960 his famous “Panama Theory” of the military utilization of space. This theory is briefly stated:
     "There are strategic areas in space—vital to future scientific, military, and commercial space programs—which could be excluded from our use through occupation and control by unfriendly powers. This statement is based on the assumption that in colonizing space, man (and/other intelligent beings) will compete for the more desirable areas…

     When this is applied to military space operations in the Earth-Moon system, the prime strategic doctrine is that of the "gravity well."

     The gravity well is a concept first put forth by Dr. Robert S. Richardson, then of Mount Wilson Observatory, and reported by Arthur C. Clarke in his pioneering 1950 book on space, Interplanetary Flight. Because of Earth's gravity field, our planet can be considered as being at the bottom of a tapering well some 4000 miles deep. Near the bottom of the well, the walls are very steep; as one reaches the top of the "gravity well," the sides become less steep until, at the top of this funnel, we have reached a nearly flat plain which is dimpled by another, smaller, shallower gravity well some 240,000 miles away, the gravity well of the Moon. While this is a simplification, it conveys the concept of the gravity well.
     To climb up the gravity well from the planetary surface requires a great deal of energy. Partway up the gravity well, it is possible to maintain the position of an object by making it spin around the surface of the funnel rapidly enough so that centrifugal force neatly balances the gravitational force tending to pull the object back to the planet at the bottom of the funnel. To get away from the earth, one must project an object such as a space vehicle up the side of the gravitational well at an initial speed of 7 miles per second; it then climbs the walls of the well and, if its direction and speed are just right, crosses the nearly level plain at the top until it falls into the gravity well of the Moon. Or goes on outward into the Solar System, in which case our gravity well model must be expanded to include the very powerful gravity well of the Sun. But since we are considering only the Earth-Moon system herein, the simple model will suffice.

     The strategic implications of the gravity well in military space operations require that one be at the top of a gravity well or at least higher up the well than the adversary.

     The planet-bound analogy to this is the doctrine of the “high ground." In naval tactics during the age of sail, it was the "wind gauge" (or weather gage); or getting upwind of the enemy. (Heinlein called the space war version the "gravity gauge")
     The salient feature of the gravity well doctrine is the fact that it provides both an energy advantage and a maneuvering advantage to the person on the high ground. It requires far less energy in the form of propulsion and propellants to operate high on the gravity well, and it is possible to maneuver with relative ease and flexibility at or near the top of it.
     A simple analogy indicates the basic military advantage: Put one man at the bottom of a well and the other at the top of a well. Give them both rocks to throw at each other. Which man is going to get hurt? Which man has more time to see his opponent's rocks coming and more opportunity to get out of the way? Which man has the greater opportunity to do something about the oncoming rock?
     In Earth-Moon orbital space the person having a base of maneuver on top of a deep gravity well or in a shallower gravity well than his opponent has a definite military advantage in terms of surveillance capability, energy required to affect a strike, maneuvering room, and the ability to activate countermeasures in reasonable time.

     The logical consequence of the gravity well doctrine leads inevitably to the most important military fact of the late 20th Century and the early 21st Century: with improvements in space transportation available and with the technology in hand to maintain long-term military positions in space, the control of the Moon means control of the Earth. In a like manner, according to this doctrine, control of the L4 and L5 Libration points in the lunar orbit means control of the Earth-Moon system.
     Control implies that one is able to regulate the flow of space-going commerce and other traffic, to protect one's own facilities in space, to deny the use of other critical military and/or commercial orbital areas to others, to launch strikes against any target on the surface of the Earth or the Moon or in any orbit in the Earth-Moon system, or to detect any oncoming threat and take counteraction in time.

     The gravity well doctrine dictates the general considerations for space weapons systems that would be most effective. However, one must first take a careful look at the basic concept of a weapon.
     A weapon can be broadly defined as a means of imposing one’s will upon another. Thus, a weapon need not have a physical reality; the threat of the use of a weapon is itself a weapon—if the opponent believes the said weapon exists and will be used.
     Heinlein defines a weapon as a machine for the manipulation of energy. But it has a broader definition than that. The following categorization of weapons may be useful in determining those that would be most useful in various operational zones of the Earth-Moon system and may also provide a key to the discovery of new and heretofore unsuspected space weapons that could be developed and used with the technology of the Third Industrial Revolution.

     Mass manipulators: Produce damage through the use of the basic inertial characteristics of mass and the conversion of energy of position (potential energy) to energy of motion (kinetic energy): mass projectors, penetrators, detectors, and decoys.

     Energy manipulators: Produce damage through the application of high energy density or the sudden release of large amounts of energy: projectors, concentrators, releasers, screens, and detectors.

     Biological manipulators: Produce damage to organic life forms or other chemical agents: gases, poisons, disease vectors, etc.

     Psychological manipulators: Produce alteration of the mental state of the enemy in a desirable fashion that reduces the will or capability to resist: propaganda, counterintelligence, brain-washing, covert manipulation of the information media, mood-altering drugs, consciousness-altering drugs, mind-altering drugs.

     Some weapons are a combination of one or more of these basic types, and some require a vehicle to transport them to the point of use or application.

     Use of these weapons in. accordance with the strategic doctrine of the gravity well requires in turn that we consider the Earth-Moon system to consist of a series of definite military operational areas. These are basically zones within the gravity well or, for a better mental view, a series of concentric spheres with the Earth at the center. These are no so much well-defined spheres with distinct boundaries, but rather zones of operation that fade into one another. In a sense, they resemble the energy levels of electrons around an atomic nucleus. Briefly, these zones may be defined as:

     Near Earth Orbit (NEO) extending from an arbitrary level of 50 kilometers above the Earth's surface to approximately 200 kilometers—well below the lower limits of the Van Allen radiation belts.

     Cis-lunar Space (CLS) extending from about 200 kilometers above the Earth's surface to the geosynchronous orbital altitude of about 39,000 kilometers.

     Lunar Surface/Orbit (LSO) extending from geosynchronous orbit to the lunar orbit about the Earth and including the Near Lunar Orbits with an arbitrary altitude of about 100 kilometers from the lunar surface.

     Translunar Space (TLS) extending from the lunar orbit out to an arbitrary distance of approximately one million kilometers from the surface of the Earth (actually Hill Sphere is more like 1.5 million kilometers from Terra) at which distance an object can be considered to be in orbit around the Sun due to the much greater influence of the solar gravity field at that distance.

     Each operational area has unique military considerations that affect tactical doctrine, tactical operations, and weapons systems within each area.

     Near Earth Orbit is a valuable military operational area for earth-launched, earth-oriented activities and of course is already being used as such; it is an area that is easily reached from the earth's surface by spacecraft capable of attaining velocities of about 25,000 feet per second. So far during this decade at least six nations have begun conducting reconnaissance and surveillance operations there—and at least two nations operate crewed spacecraft in the area. In the years to come NEO could be used for quick-look and high-detail surveillance, satellite hunter-killer operations, a staging area for crewed surface-to-surface troop strike transports, and “quick dip” hypersonic skimming into the upper atmosphere for surveillance, reconnaissance, or offensive purposes. Thus, NEO is basically a tactical scouting area for earth-centered operations and a maneuvering area for surface-to-surface operations. It is also the area through which surface-to-surface ICBM's must travel during the ballistic portion of their flight and therefore the area in which they are most vulnerable to intercept by orbital-launched interceptors or orbital beam weapons. Although NEO is reasonably far up on the sides of the gravity well funnel in terms of the energy requirements needed to reach the area from the earth’s surface, current technology permits the deployment of rapid-ascent satellite interceptors. Thus NEO is an area where it is difficult to respond to threat: a nearness to counter-weapons on the surface or in orbit, and large energy expenditures are required for maneuver in the area. The possibility of basing a large crewed military space station in NEO should be dismissed; it would be a very large target in a predictable trajectory and would be destroyed in the opening moments of any war in which its presence could be a factor.

     Cis-lunar space, however is a more valuable zone of maneuver and reconnaissance. Not only is less energy required for maneuver but geosynchronous orbit lies in CLS, making it a prime location for surveillance, navigational, communications, data transfer, meteorological, and energy satellites. Geosynchronous orbit is already crowded. As of mid-1977, there were more than a hundred uncrewed satellites located in geosynchronous orbit. Because of orbital crowding and the possibility of frequency interference caused by beam overlapping, these numerous small satellites will be replaced in the late 1980s and the 1990s with large, multi-purpose platforms which will be militarily vulnerable.
     However, facilities in CLS are more secure from earth-launched offensive operations because of the time required for vehicles to climb the gravity well. Various location and detection systems sited in NEO and CLS may be used to identify any potential threat with sufficient early-warning time to permit initiation of counter-activities.
     The primary consideration of CLS from the military point of view is the strategic importance of the Trojan libration points in the lunar orbit. More of this later.

     Lunar surface/orbit has quite different military characteristics. Because of the mass of Luna, it is a prime location for a military base on or probably beneath its surface. It is the prime location for one of the most important space weapons systems we can now foresee, a weapon system that is basically very old. This device is the catapult, usually referred to in current terminology as a "mass driver.” Whatever term is used to identify it, it is a rock-thrower. The Moon is the best site in the Earth-Moon system for such a device because the mass of the Moon provides ample ammunition for the mass driver as well as a very large and stable base to improve its accuracy. Launching very large masses at speeds of a mile per second or more produces some massive reaction forces which would misalign or reorient any mass driver located on its own in orbital space.
     The lunar mass driver is a critical system requirement for the overall industrialization of the Earth-Moon system. Although an Earth-based mass driver is a potential commercial cargo transportation system for terrestrial materials launched into space, the energy requirements are very large because of the Earth’s atmosphere and the very deep gravity well; the lunar mass driver is the most economical cargo r transportation device now envisioned for providing materials for space industrialization, including the materials to construct large space structures. It will undoubtedly be built in several locations on the lunar surface for providing lunar materials for deep space operations in the Earth-Moon system. However, it has a military utility that cannot and must not be overlooked.
     A large lunar mass driver capable of hurling masses of up to one ton can be converted into an earth bombardment system. It is a non-nuclear weapon and not subject to existing UN treaties!The results of the sudden dissipation of large amounts of kinetic energy should not be lightly dismissed. The Barringer Meteor Crater in Arizona was created by the impact of an estimated 80-foot diameter nickel-iron meteorite; the impact was roughly equivalent to the detonation of 2,500,000 tons of TNT—read that as a 2.5 megaton bomb.
     Small lunar mass drivers can be used as weapons systems against space facilities. Such small mass drivers can be considered as space Gatling guns. Such a small mass driver is envisioned as throwing a mass of a couple of kilograms, but throwing such small masses in very rapid succession. The impact of a one kilogram mass travelling at several miles per second can do considerable damage to a space facility—such as when several hundred or thousand such masses impact a solar power satellite, the iridescent solar panels of a reconnaissance satellite, or the pressure hull of a crewed space station.
     No explosives are required for such space weapons; the conversion of kinetic energy to heat is quite sufficient.
     The military capabilities of mass drivers built and used for commercial purposes are such that they will require protection against seizure or destruction, wherever they are built and operated.

     The area of military operations beyond the lunar orbit that we have tagged "Translunar Space" is a zone of maneuver and rendezvous for military space vehicles with very large propulsion and maneuvering capabilities. There is a location in this area, however, that could be used as a military staging point. Beyond the Moon’s orbit along the Earth-Moon line lies a zone in space where the gravity fields of both the Earth and the Moon balance one another; this is known as the L2 lunar libration point. Anything placed at the L2 point will stay there, hidden from view of anyone on the surface of the Earth or on the earthside of the Moon.

     There are two other locations in the Earth-Moon system that are of the utmost military importance. These are the so-called “Trojan” lunar libration points. They are the result of a special and unique solution to the classical "three body" problem in celestial mechanics. There is a zone in the Moon's orbit 60-degrees behind or following the Moon in the orbit and 60 degrees ahead of the Moon; these are stable points where the gravity field of the Earth and the Moon are balanced or equalled-out. An object placed in either of these two libration points—labeled L4 and L5 for convenience—will stay there. L4 and L5 are the two most stable of the libration points in the Earth-Moon system.

     The importance of the L4 and L5 libration points from a military viewpoint is the fact that neither has a gravity well and both sit at the top of the gravity wells of both the Earth and the Moon. From the L4/L5 points, one can control the gravity wells of the entire Earth-Moon system.
     These libration points have no gravity wells. A zero gravity well means the greatest capability for maneuver with the minimum amount of energy and denies the use of a gravity well to an adversary for his purposes.
     At L4/L5, one sits on top of the hill, so to speak. These points are the most difficult places to reach in the Earth-Moon system from the energy expenditure point of view. They are therefore the best places to site any military bases because they are defensible. They are the best locations for small mass drivers and high-energy beam weapons.

     L4/L5 are proposed as the locations of large future space settlements by O'Neill and the L5 Society. Nowhere in the extensive literature about this proposal is there to be found any discussion of the military implications of these L4/L5 sites. If the military implications were considered, they were either dismissed as unimportant or simply ignored for philosophical/ideological reasons.
     There is no guarantee that any space settlements at the L4/L5 locations—or on the Moon either, for that matter—will remain peaceful industrial or commercial activities. Writers such as Heinlein and Bova have already speculated on scenarios involving revolutions and seizures of such space settlements. There are any number of grievances that can and have triggered military uprisings. There are any number of reasons or lessons from history wherein an industrious, hard-working group of close-knit people have taken a sharp turn in their external affairs to become a military threat.
     And there are any number of scenarios that can be developed around the seizure and takeover of a large L4/L5 space settlement for military reasons. These reasons might include control of the settlement's product of value—energy or materials—or straightaway military control of the facility to exert military pressure on nations on Earth.

     There are therefore two roles for military space operations involving the space settlements at L4/L5: (a) military protective force or presence, similar to that of the U.S. Army in the American West following the Civil War, for the purpose of protecting the settlements against takeover or prevention of the use of military force by the inhabitants of the settlements, or (b) straightforward use of part of the L4/L5 space settlements as an admitted military base of operations for control of the Earth-Moon system.
     This last will be argued vehemently. However, are we very certain that the space settlements under consideration will be built or even occupied forever by the sort of hard-working, industrious, peace-loving Anglo-American types now envisaged as populating these settlements by advocates?
     One must point out that there are social characteristics of many basically militant Oriental cultures that would make their people optimum space settlers, characteristics such as the ability to live in high-density quarters with little or no privacy, subjugation of the individual to the group, highly structured manners and other inter-personal interfaces, and unquestioning willingness of the individual to follow the directives of authority figures. The military in these cultures now lies barely beneath the surface of the culture, hidden from recent conquerors in some cases.
     How will this situation be handled? The author can only point to the problem. It will take the best minds and the most careful diplomacy of the next fifty to one hundred years to begin to find workable solutions to the basic problem.
     The L4/L5 points may be declared demilitarized international zones; this may work for a time, but from a historic point of view, treaties are rarely inviolate for as long as fifty years and practically never in force a century after their signing.
     By international agreement, a balance of power situation may be established with adversaries controlling the two lunar libration points in a carry-over into space of the current USA-USSR balance of strategic power.

     We may also find that the Third Industrial Revolution takes into space many of the current industrial security activities that surround most business operations in a quiet, unobtrusive, but highly effective manner. The military may indeed be present in space as they already are. There may also be another type of organization in space connected with space industrialization: a police force, the security guard, and company cops.
     It is often easier to get into a secure military base than it is to gain access to a factory. Industrial security is much more stringent than military security; this is a statement of observed fact.
     We may find that firms involved in space industrialization would rather hire mercenaries than depend upon military protection from a government. Firms such as Brinks, Wells Fargo, Purolator, and other private security organizations may end up in space along with many of the industrial firms they presently protect.

     Each advance of humanity into new and different environments has created new types of social organizations to handle the new problems presented by the advance. Our expansion into space in the Third Industrial Revolution is no exception. We are beginning to see the development of new types of social organization to handle the knotty problems of raising large amount of capital to finance high-risk, long-term projects such as solar power satellites. The Third Industrial Revolution presents other difficult problems, as we have seen. We must therefore anticipate the development of new types of military organizations that might evolve to handle the very difficult problems arising from the military implications of our expansion into space.
     We cannot ignore the reality of the military implications of space any more than we can ignore the reality of our home town lives by disbanding the town police force. We can attempt to build a universe of law where matters of human conflict can be solved by judgment, arbitration or negotiation. But this universe of law must be backed up by the means to enforce the rules through application of physical coercion. This will always be the case as long as the Atilla Syndrome exists in the human race …and that may be for a very long time to come if we meet, Out There, another species that is as mean, as nasty, and as highly competitive as we are.


New Secretary of the Air Force (SecAF) Heather Wilson and three top Air Force space leaders told Congress today that space no longer is just an enabler and force enhancer for U.S. military operations, it is a warfighting domain just like air, land, and sea.

Just 24 hours after being sworn in as the 24th SecAF, Wilson testified to the Strategic Forces subcommittee of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC).  Joining her were Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein, Air Force Space Command commander Gen. John Raymond, and Air Force Space and Missiles Systems Center commander Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves.   The topic was military space organization, programs and policy and the Government Accountability Office's (GAO's) Cristina Chaplain was another witness.  She especially addressed long standing DOD and Air Force organizational challenges to effectively develop and implement space programs.

A major theme was that space no longer is a "benign" environment that supports the warfighter, but a warfighting domain itself.  In their joint written testimony, the Air Force officials said:  "Clearly, freedom to operate in space is not guaranteed.  In fact, space is now a warfighting domain, similar to the more familiar air, land, and maritime domains our men and women are fighting in today."

(ed note: I could be misunderstanding, but I take that to mean that "supports the warfighter" means "GPS satellites are a big help for the Air Force combat in the atmosphere" while "warfighting domain" means "the enemy will be targeting GPS and other spaceborne assets so we must defend them")

Asked whether he thought it was time to create a Space Corps analogous to the Marine Corps to better focus attention and resources on what is needed for space, Goldfein said no — the timing is not right precisely because of this transition in thinking about space from a benign environment to a warfighting domain.  "Anything that leads to separating space instead of integrating it" into the overall military framework would "slow us down," though it might be considered in the future.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-NM) asked whether the United States should engage in an "international conversation about an international code of conduct."  Wilson replied that is a policy issue that reaches beyond the Air Force.  From her perspective, the Air Force's role is to be sure the United States can prevail "irrespective of consensus on international norms because there will be players who do not abide by those norms."

The Air Force leaders stressed the need to modernize space systems to maintain space superiority — "a core USAF mission" — to address gaps in space capabilities, strategy and  policy.  Although progress has been made on mission assurance and resiliency, work is needed on deterrence and 21st Century requirements.  Asked what countries pose the greatest threat to U.S. space assets, Goldfein not surprisingly identified Russia and China.  The open hearing did not delve deeply into those threats because details are classified. …

…The organizational problems within DOD and the Air Force for space activities are well known.  Many reports have been written about them dating back at least to the 2001 Rumsfeld Commission report.  In October 2015, Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work created a new position of Principal DOD Space Adviser (PDSA) to be filled by the SecAF and reporting to the Secretary of Defense (SecDef).  SecAF Deborah Lee James was the first to fill it and there were rumors she also would be the last because it almost immediately came under criticism for being ineffective.

Wilson announced during the hearing, however, that she is the "principal adviser to the Secretary of Defense for space," so it appears SecDef James Mattis will keep the structure as it is for now. 

GAO issued a report in July 2016, prepared at congressional direction, saying that it was too early to judge the office's effectiveness.  However, it noted that there are 60 stakeholder organizations across DOD, the Executive Office of the President, the Intelligence Community, and civilian agencies involved in national security space activities, fragmenting leadership responsibilities. 

Chaplain indicated today that little has changed since that report was issued.  Among the consequences of fragmented responsibilities is ineffective program execution. For example, the satellite segment of a system may be completed well before the associated ground system, which "wastes capabilities."

Chaplin's written statement summarizes cost growth and schedule delays in a number of Air Force space programs, but the one that got the most attention at the hearing was the Operational Control Segment (OCX) for the new GPS III series of positioning, navigation and control satellites.  OCX is nearly $2 billion over budget and 4 years late.  Asked if it was "too big to fail," Raymond and Greaves both said no, that the program was designed with milestone-driven "off ramps" in case there are further delays or the program is cancelled. 

Wilson added "we're not out of the woods" yet.


      WASHINGTON — Lawmakers on Tuesday took the first step towards establishing a ‘Space Corps’ within the Air Force — similar to the way the Marine Corps functions in the Navy — by drafting legislation that would require the new organization to be set up by January 1, 2019.
     As the House Armed Services Committee prepares to vote on the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), the strategic forces subcommittee — which oversees military space matters — released its proposed additions to the bill. The subcommittee has scheduled a formal legislative mark-up session for its portions of the bill on Thursday.

     The subcommittee’s top Republican, Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, and top Democrat, Rep. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, said the subcommittee’s mark would require the Air Force to establish the Space Corps to serve “as a separate military service within the Department of the Air Force and under the civilian leadership of the Secretary of the Air Force.”
     “There is bipartisan acknowledgement that the strategic advantages we derive from our national security space systems are eroding,” Rogers and Cooper said in a prepared statement. “We are convinced that the Department of Defense is unable to take the measures necessary to address these challenges effectively and decisively, or even recognize the nature and scale of its problems.”
     “Thus, Congress has to step in,” the statement continues. “We must act now to fix national security space and put in place a foundation for defending space as a critical element of national security. Therefore, our Mark will require the creation, under the Secretary of the Air Force, of a new Space Corps, as a separate military service responsible for national security space programs for which the Air Force is today responsible. We view this as a first, but critical step, to fixing the National Security Space enterprise.”

     The Space Corp would be led by its own chief, who would sit on the Joint Chiefs of Staff with a six-year term, the bill says. It would be a position equal to the Chief of Staff of the Air Force, and would answer to the Secretary of the Air Force.
     The subcommittee’s markup of the bill would also set up a U.S. Space Command that would be a sub-unified command under U.S. Strategic Command, a move lawmakers hope would improve the integration of space operations in warfighting.

     The subcommittee’s action on the NDAA is one of the early steps in a lengthy legislative process. The bill would still need to get approval from the full committee before it could be debated by the House, but the chamber isn’t expected to vote on the NDAA until after the Fourth of July holiday. The legislation would also need to pass the Senate, which is working on a defense authorization bill of its own. The House and Senate must pass identical bills before sending the legislation to the White House to be signed into law by the president.
     The Senate Armed Services Committee is not scheduled to hold its full markup of the NDAA until June 28.

     Current Air Force leadership opposes setting up a Space Corps. Appearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee in May, Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein said he believes the move would only cause confusion.
     “I don’t support it at this time,” the general said. “Right now, to get focused on a large organizational change would actually slow us down…Whether there’s a time in our future where we want to take a look at this again, I would say that we keep that dialog open, but right now I think it would actually move us backwards.”
     In a statement sent to SpaceNews, Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson said the service is taking steps to bolster space operations.
     “I could not agree more that now is the time to address the threats our nation faces in space, which is why the Air Force has proposed a 20 percent increase in space funding in this year’s budget, and announced last week a reorganization that integrates, elevates and normalizes space,” the secretary said.


NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. — Air Force leaders generally agree that the service will need more skills in three key areas: space, cyber and intelligence. Where that talent will come from is still a matter of debate.

Lt. Gen. Maryanne Miller, chief of Air Force Reserve, says many of the specialized space and cyber operators the Air Force hopes to add to its ranks are likely to be part-time reservists.

Miller recently sat down with Gen. John Raymond, commander of Air Force Space Command, to discuss this very topic. The command is leading a long-term project to sharpen space warfare skills in the Air Force and prepare for future wars against peer competitors.

A central challenge that Raymond faces, said Miller, is “How do you take the space domain and convert it into a war fighting environment?”

There is no simple answer to that question, Miller told SpaceNews at the Air Force Association’s Air Space Cyber conference. She believes the same effort that the Air Force has put into training and nurturing aircraft pilots now needs to be applied to the military space business.

The space mission is becoming more complex and more intertwined with other areas of warfare, said Miller. “There is more focus on intelligence gathering. How do we build the capacity for space intelligence?” she asked. “We grew up in the intelligence arena with aviation. We are experts in that. So how do we build that same capacity in the space environment?”

Given the success the Air Force has achieved in air warfare, the same force-development model should work for space, said Miller. But she cautioned that this is easier said than done. “It’s a challenging time as we look to go from space awareness and monitoring to space war fighting.”

On any given day, about 6,500 Air Force reservists are performing duties in space, cybersecurity and other disciplines. As demand grows in these career fields, one of the ongoing debates is the possibility of allowing civilians to join the Air Force Reserve. “Can we tap into that civilian capacity in a part-time way?” Miller asked. “We are looking into that.”

It is a tricky issue to have people serving in the military who are not required to be in uniform, but it may turn out to be the most practical way to get talent, Miller said. “Not everyone has to be in a blue suit.”


Amazingly, the coronavirus crisis has not had any effect on the political and bureaucratic fight over the new US Space Force. The conflict currently includes issues such as creation of a Space Force National Guard component and a new Space Force intelligence agency.

In spite of efforts to complicate the issue, the National Guard question is simple. A Space Force with a National Guard component has a lot more political independence from the Air Force than does a Space Force without one. Today, Air and Army National Guard units are closely connected with the elected leaders of their respective states. It has been reported that only seven states have units that are eligible to become part of the Space Force National Guard. At the moment the stakes seem low, but if the new service is to become truly independent it will need all the clout it can get.

The Secretary of Defense and his office cannot make policy decision for Guard units without consulting Congress and state governors. This sometimes makes life difficult for the Pentagon’s so-called “E Ring Elephants” but it is essential to the well-being of our reserve forces and, more importantly, it reminds out military leaders of the reality of our republican form of government. The Constitution says that Congress has the power “To provide for organizing, arming, and disciplining the militia, and for governing such part of them as may be employed in the service of the United States.” A Space Force National Guard is obviously constitutional, and would be a small but valuable addition to our system of checks and balances. The question is now whether Congress and the Defense Department have the will to work together to create this small, but useful addition to America’s military power in space.

In the long term, the nature and mission of the Space Force’s intelligence organization is going to determine whether the new service can accomplish its mission “to provide space capabilities to the joint force.” Once the United States Space Force was established, it became obvious that it would have to have its own intelligence organization, and that this organization would be the 18th member of the intelligence community in the US. The argument now is over the new organization’s scope and mission.

One idea is to limit the Space Force’s intelligence service to studying and tracking satellites, space junk, and objects that are reactively close to the Earth, out to geosynchronous orbit. To some extent this is natural, as military activity is now concentrated in these orbits, but this could change rapidly. For example, a few years ago it was suggested that the US deploy space satellites, such as ones for the GPS system, that would be placed well beyond geosynchronous orbit to protect them from attack. When needed, they could be moved to more conventional positions. Ours in not the only nation with the capacity to place spacecraft in out-of-the-way locations. Such orbits might also be ideal places to hide killer satellites that could approach targets closer to Earth from “above,” so to speak.

At the very least, Space Force Intelligence must have the mission and ultimately the ability to observe and classify every bit of human made “stuff” in the Earth-Moon system. What used to be called Space Situational Awareness and is now called Space Domain Awareness cannot be limited to current military space practices.

In the US, the tracking of objects in space is currently the exclusive job of the military. With the expansion of commercial space activity, this mission may eventually be shared with civilian organizations such as the Office of Space Commerce. There is also an extensive network of amateur observers who work to track hard-to-spot space objects, as well as those not included in US military catalogs. This may help make the Space Force’s intelligence operations easier, but it will never relieve them of the duty to keep tabs on what is going on out there, especially on objects that might threaten US space assets.

There will be other controversies the Space Force and its supporters will have to deal with. Its role in missile defense is going to have to be clarified and defined. Its relations with spy satellite operators and users at the National Reconnaissance Office and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency will need to be clarified. The Defense Department and the Congress are going to be struggling with Space Force issues for a long time to come—assuming we come out of the pandemic alive.

From SPACE FORCE: THE STRUGGLE CONTINUES by Taylor Dinerman (2020)

Protecting NASA
The 144,000 acres of KSC (Kennedy Space Center) is co-located on the Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, with wetlands and waterways including 25 miles of coastline. About 14,000 NASA and contract workers staff the KSC administrative, research, maintenance and launch facilities on a daily basis. In addition, 2 million visitors come by cars and buses every year, making the KSC Visitor Center a top Florida tourist attraction. What this all means is that KSC has every kind of terrain and issue that any major law enforcement agency encounters, with the added responsibility of protecting some of the highest value assets that America is proud to have. The KSC security police force and in particular the KSC Emergency Response Team (ERT) is well staffed, equipped and led to ensure that workers, visitors and America’s unique spaceport is well protected.

The KSC ERT is a full-time, armed response team that has at least five operators and one leader on duty at any time. When not engaged in actual special operations, training or supporting one of the many Space Shuttle Orbiter evolutions that require ERT protection (last Shuttle flight was July 21, 2011), the officers engage in routine activities that support the site’s security program. In order to fully support all the law enforcement duties that such a complex area requires, each sworn officer has arrest powers with the ability to enforce not only federal statutes, but state and wildlife conservation laws as well. Under the auspices of the NASA Security and Law Enforcement Program, the KSC security police force and ERT also closely work with the FBI and Regional Domestic Security Task Force on specific investigative and intelligence issues.

Built Upon a Select Few
To get on the KSC ERT, one must apply as part of the NASA security force, or outside the agency and be accepted for the in-house ERT training school run by Captain Dan Magetteri. The course is run at NASA’s Federal Law Enforcement Training Academy that has been recently upgraded to include a “rifle-grade” shoot house, a portable, tactical “shoot-back” trailer for cover and concealment drills, automated running targets and a new classroom. These improvements were in addition to the already existing three firearms ranges, “pistol-grade” shoot house with seven rooms and two hallways, obstacle course and rappel tower. The operators selected as the designated snipers are trained at nationally recognized and accredited sniper schools as well as fulfilling all NASA initial and requalification training requirements. Every KSC ERT candidate must pass the physical, shooting and classroom portions of the 88-hour course in order to join the team, with every grade greater than 90%. Even though the candidates who start the school are uniformly experienced, the school begins at a basic level with training that includes the following:

Weapons qualification for all weapons
– Crisis resolution
– Assault planning process
– Dynamic entry
– Covert entry
– Basic marksmanship
– Vehicle assaults
– Climbing and rapelling
– Escalation of force options

The result is that every team member is fully qualified at every job, so if needed, whoever is first on the scene can immediately evaluate, assess, plan and execute an assault without waiting for assistance. The ERT in-service training curricula include eight hours of S.W.A.T. training per operator per week to maintain proficiency and teamwork.

Sharp Tactics and Weapons
Each operator, including team leaders, must maintain their weapons qualification on all the weapons that KSC ERT uses, which currently include the HK 416 in 5.56×45 NATO as their primary weapon and the 9mm Glock Model 17 as their sidearm. The ERT snipers use the Remington 700 and Armalite AR-10T in 7.62×51 NATO. The semi-auto AR-10T is for precision shooting from moving vehicles like NASA’s Bearcat armored vehicle, boats like the Solid Rocket Booster (SRB) recovery ships, the Liberty Star and Freedom Star, or one of the Huey-II helicopters the ERT uses. The versatile Hueys enable the ERT to rapidly deploy anywhere in their area of responsibility and can be equipped with one or two FNH M-240D’s to provide immediate direct protection against ground or airborne threats to the Orbiter in transit or sitting on the launch pad. In fact, whenever the Shuttle is preparing for launch or being transported on-site, the ERT provides 24/7 protection. This includes the eight-hour trip from the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) to pad 39A, the last operable Shuttle launch pad, using the massive 1-mile-per-hour crawler.

Crew Protection

The ERT mission of guarding valuable national assets also includes providing protection for the primary flight crew for Shuttle missions whenever they are on-site or when they leave the facility as part of their NASA duties. When the flight crew suits up and travels to the Orbiter in preparation for launch, the motorcade includes an armed and armored ERT escort. In addition, if there is an emergency landing or an incident with the Orbiter, the KSC ERT is responsible for the immediate securing of the scene and protection of the astronauts. The ERT is designated and equipped to respond to certain launch emergency scenarios including entry of the launch tower to extract the crew.

NASA is unique because it alone embodies our national hopes and dreams of expanding our horizons beyond this planet. The KSC ERT is the first responder to protect those hopes and dreams by keeping our spaceport, spacecraft and astronauts safe. They are way beyond Han Solo, Captain Kirk and Starbuck combined—the KSC ERT is the real protector of our future in space.


The Space Force debate covers a wide range of topics, from “who will be in charge?” to “what color will the uniforms be?” The one topic, however, that should be paramount to all in this debate should be, “how can we create a Space Force culture supportive and worthy of a separate service?” Without such a culture, I believe, we cannot truly realize the full potential and strength of a separate service dedicated to the protection and defense as well as peaceful and prosperous utilization of space. This overarching space force culture that I propose here would be the foundation for the greater culture to be developed and honed, that of a Space Warfighter.

The foundation of this Space Force culture I propose here is based on three principles:

  1. Know and appreciate the history and heritage of US space technology, engineering, and operations.
  2. Develop and devote ourselves to a set of guiding principles of conduct that all Space Force personnel can identify with.
  3. Have an unrelenting quest for space domain comprehension, knowledge, and expertise on all the systems and capabilities we wield.

History and heritage

First, we must reach back and learn the lessons, challenges, and triumphs of past military and national space endeavors. There is considerable history about others who have been on this road we travel. Acquiring our own knowledge of this history will foster the development of a space culture in which we understand and benefit from the successes and failures of space patriots who have come before us.

For example, the US has pursued offensive space control concepts since the late 1950s. For example, Program 437 (declassified in 2010) was the Air Force’s first operational anti-satellite system (1964–1974). The F-15/ASAT test team of the 1980s leveraged lessons learned from Program 437 that contributed to success in multiple flight tests and readiness demonstrations.

There are many other historical pursuits of space control systems we can learn from. There is a treasure trove of lessons learned in rendezvous and proximity operations (RPO). The first ever RPO, accomplished in December 1965 between Gemini 6 and 7, has not only astrodynamics lessons, but also showcases a relentless determination in the face of adversity. The Air Force Experimental Satellite System (XSS)-10, XSS-11, and Automated Navigation and Guidance Experiment for Local Space (ANGELS) RPO experiments likewise gives valuable insight into the early systems and operations. If you want some “heart pounding, hands sweating” history, checkout the detailed stories of the failed DART experiment or the Progress/Mir collision. These provide insight into how not to pursue RPO objectives. Most of these past efforts are unclassified.

To further increase awareness of our heritage, I believe the nation needs to review and declassify more past programs as the benefits will go far beyond historical insight. Awareness, appreciation, and respect for the past will inform and help us in our future and motivate all future Space Force warriors in their assigned roles. General (ret.) James Mattis, an avid reader and student of history, reinforces this point as he states, “Ultimately, a real understanding of history means that we face nothing new under the Sun.” Others have trod the paths we today navigate; let’s learn from them.

Guiding principles

At the stand-up of the US Space Command, their culture was summarized as “combat effectiveness in, from, and through space.” This singular focus is on combat: quite an effective rallying cry. I feel there is a need for a common set of guiding principles for everyone to guide their conduct and dedication in their roles. It’s something everyone, no matter your Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) or whether you are acquisition, intelligence, operations, or some other skill, can identify with. Our human spaceflight colleagues at NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC) have lived by a great example of this concept. The Foundations of Mission Operations are a set of core values and guiding principles that govern everything the Flight Operations Directorate does as they plan, conduct mission control, astronaut and flight controller training, and mission planning, design and assessment tasks. Human spaceflight pioneers like Chris Kraft and Gene Kranz get well-deserved credit for establishing these foundations in the early days of US human spaceflight.

The original four tenets of the Foundations of Mission Operations are introduced to all JSC personnel as follows: To instill within ourselves these qualities essential to professional excellence: “Discipline, Confidence, Responsibility and Teamwork.” Following the Apollo 1 fire in 1967, “Toughness and Competence” were added by Gene Kranz as essential to the work they do. “Vigilance” was added after the loss of Space Shuttle Columbia as a reminder to be “always attentive to the dangers of spaceflight; never accepting success as a substitute for rigor in everything we do.”

Two additional guiding principles join the seven tenets described above; these are:

“To always be aware that suddenly and unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences,” and

“To recognize that the greatest error is not to have tried and failed, but that in the trying we do not give it our best effort.”

A surefire way to develop a Space Force culture is for everyone on the team to believe, without a doubt, that the “suddenly and unexpectedly” and “performance has ultimate consequences” principles are essential to the mindset needed in the present military space arena, especially the future as adversaries develop and field lethal capabilities. No matter what your role or job is, you could find yourself living the principle out in some sudden and unexpected event while on duty within Space Force. Going in with that mindset is essential. In what we face today and expect in today’s and tomorrow’s contested space arena, odds are high that you will but put to the test many times. It might be a critical acquisition decision, or a rapid intelligence assessment that will drive the “seconds count” go-ahead for employing an operational tactic. Guiding principles can be the foundation for how to respond and deliver.

We must especially embrace this “sudden, unexpectedly, and ultimate consequence” prophecy as we field agile, responsive, and lethal means to control the high ground and keep it safe. While Space Force is not NASA—the two have very different missions—we can leverage their cultural strengths to achieve our own purposes and aid us in supporting the joint and combined fight. NASA Mission Operations fostered and lived their “Foundations” that enabled a culture of highly reliable decision making and success in an extraordinarily difficult field. The Space Force of the future and today’s US Space Command likewise face an extraordinary and dangerous arena in space today.


Last but by no means least, is the issue of comprehending all that we do. There are radically new space systems and new threats out there. They will require a deeper technical understanding of what we do and how our systems work. From astrodynamics to electromagnetics to orbit engagement systems with decisive and irreversible capability, we need to set the bar higher in our expectations, education, and expertise in all of our roles. Our Navy colleagues in the nuclear submarine arena offer a great view into the past development of that cadre’s culture, which remains strong today. Theodore Rockwell, the biographer of Hyman Rickover, captures Rickover’s thoughts succinctly as he called for a unique culture among a new cadre of Navy professionals:

“Rickover’s solution went far beyond the usual on-the-job training. He was not content to teach procedures and techniques. He wanted to teach principles and fundamentals, and he wanted to create a change of mind—a whole new way of approaching the job. It was a program of unprecedented scope and depth.”

It is Rickover’s demand for understanding that enabled sailors to do the impossible because they understood their weapon systems’ capabilities far beyond the confines of a checklist or with contractors at their side. A similar level of understanding would rightfully enable the space warrior to seize and control the “sudden and unexpected” as our submariner peers have done for decades. In their call for a “Brilliant Space Force,” Owen Brown and Gordon Roessler, two Navy nuclear submarine veterans who went on to become respected space project leaders, reinforce what’s stated above. “What is needed goes beyond tactics, techniques, and procedures. Procedures and checklists may not suffice. Just as no plan stands contact with the enemy, no checklist can deal with surprise. Space warfighters must have true expertise in the physics, engineering, and operational challenges unique to space. Any new space warfighting cadre must be deeply educated, not just trained. It must be brilliant.”

We have operated in the past and still do with allegiance to procedures and techniques and the mastery of checklists, with the discipline to follow them. That has worked superbly in our ICBM past and in the maintenance and operation of military spacecraft on orbit. However, we must surpass that standard of excellence by diving deeper into “what exactly does this keystroke do?” with a new sense of curiosity and expectation to know, understand, and comprehend. Near-future systems, those that come with a keystroke or mouse-click of lethality, will be anchored in procedural discipline. However, engineers, intelligence experts, and operators will also face sudden and unexpected surprises when there simply may not be time to build slides to summarize the situation, brief them, review them, and staff the action approval process. Space and intel patriots placed at the helm may encounter “failure is not an option” situations and will be required to act immediately, fully knowing the likely consequences of their actions.

We have Rickover and the nuclear Navy culture as one example of what takes place when a whole new approach to achieving our craft is applied. But we also have historical examples within the Air Force: legendary Air Force leaders that formed culture-enhancing organizations like the Air Corps Tactical School, Weapons School, and Test Pilot School. Deep-dive comprehensive education and hands-on learning are underway in the areas of orbital engagement, RPO, and space domain awareness. These are steps in the right direction of technical rigor and understanding. Let’s honor our space patriots by having them delve deeper into their trade and the awesome capability they will wield. The result will be the unleashing of the invincible Space Force culture.

The time has arrived for us to answer the call to step up and serve with this bedrock of heritage, guiding principles, and comprehension in place. The three principles I have introduced can be the launch pad for taking a Space Force culture to the next level of greater importance: a space warfighting culture that is worthy of a separate service.

Thank you for your dedication, determination and passion to serve our great nation as space patriots.

From IN SEARCH OF A SPACE CULTURE by Col. Jack Anthony (US Air Force, ret.) (2019)

Space Navy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Fleet = Multiple Divisions.

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

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


There's a decent functional space to discuss here.

Most navies really have three sizes of ship.

  • Small ships
  • Medium sized ships
  • Capital ships

Most navies have two roles that ships are designed for:

  • Independent patrol
  • Main battle fleet

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

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

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

So this leaves:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anthony Jackson:

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

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

From a thread in SFConSim-l

Rick Robinson said:

It suddenly strikes me that this whole very interesting thread is not really quite about "space fighters" in the usual sense, though it is very much about space fighters in the sense of "people who fight in space." :>

Your observations are essentially about the role of the human in the loop of tactical space combat.

I see a hierarchy of decision-making levels, roughly as follows from "lowest" to "highest:"

     1 - Weapon manipulator (gun crew member)
     2 - Weapon controller (gun crew chief)
     3 - Platform controller (fire control officer, CO in fleet formation)
     4 - Tactical decision-maker (CO in independent ops / melee)
     5 - Operational/strategic decision-maker (admiral)
     6 - Policy decision-maker (CINC, Chief of Staff, king)

Obviously these often blur together. Moreover, the higher functions aren't necessarily confined to high ranks. In a counterinsurgency war, for example, the individual grunt often has to make rules-of-engagement decisions that are essentially political: "Is that car speeding toward my checkpoint a suicide bomber or a terrified family that took a wrong turn?"

In space war, however, there will probably be less intermixing of levels — fewer situations where the guy behind the gun has to make a snap decision on rules of engagement. (Presuming that space yachts won't often blunder into the middle of a battle.)

Level 1 seems almost certain to be automated. I just can't see guys spinning wheels to slew a laser cannon around, let alone shoving photons into the breech. :>

Levels 2 and 3 may be automated at a cybertech level not much above what we already have — depending on how many ambiguities arise in combat, and at what scale. I can easily see all human decision making confined to the bridge and CIC, with turrets operated by some mix of automation and remote control. And — depending on range, light lag, and other comms factors — the turrets might well detach from the ship and maneuver in formation, still controlled from bridge and CIC. (In other words, combat drones at least partly controlled from a mother ship.)

Levels 4 and 5 are a much taller order. I have speculated, though, on what I call the "legate" concept, in which the only human decision-makers are essentially policy representatives of the government. The only military orders a legate gives are, in effect "authorized to fire" and "cease firing." Everything in between is automated.

Level 6 can only be automated if you have fully sentient AI that not only can vote, but be elected (or functional equivalent).

Levels 4+ can only be automated at a cybertech level that is not only way above what we have, but (so far as I know) beyond what we can even speculate about in any informed way. We do now know how human judgment and intuition — "the Force" — work, so we haven't the first clue of how to replicate it. I don't rule it out in the future (i.e., I'm not ready to fall back on semi-mystical assumptions about the human mind), but I don't see it as a "foreseeable" tech in the way that, say, fusion torches are.

Level 3 is also pretty dicey — however, depending on your specific tech assumptions, remote control may well be viable at this level. For example, in my setting combat is at ranges on order of 100,000 km, but unfolds as a slow pavane, with maneuver and firing taking place on a scale of hours. In that environment, it's quite plausible to have uncrewed weapon platforms whose Level 1 and 2 functions are automated, while their Level 3 functions are performed by operators in safer positions a few light seconds away.

Now, how does all this relate to "space fighters" in the usual sense? I take that sense to imply small tactical spacecraft with a small crew (usually one or two) and limited habitability/endurance — the crew is in a cockpit, not a cabin.

Whether space fighters are viable depends on two things: First, are vest-pocket space warcraft of any value at all, and if so, do they benefit substantially from having humans *on board*, rather than being *either* automated or controlled by remote operators (or some combination).

I'll further note that "fighter" is — at least in the WW II naval analogy — a misleading term; fighters (and all aircraft) operated in an entirely separate environment from ships, and had radically different performance characters: They could go ten times faster than any ship, though they could not heave-to even for a moment. :> "Space fighters" are, in most techs, much more analogous to torpedo boats.

If beam weapons are dominant, miniature space warcraft seem pretty useless whether crewed or uncrewed — their small size must limit their weapon installations to peashooters, useless against large ships. (Two exceptions: compact but enormously powerful beam weapons, or beam combat ranges near 1 light second, so that small craft can jink while larger ones cannot.)

If kinetics are dominant, small warcraft may be viable if useful missiles are even smaller (so that they can carry a few) — and especially if one hit one kill is the rule, so that a bigger ship is merely a richer target.

However, then the question is whether these small platforms need an onboard crew, or can be handled by a combination of remote control and onboard expert-system AI. My own take is that for most Plausible [TM] tech and tactical scenarios, there's little reason for putting humans aboard small platforms, especially since putting the human-in-the-loop elsewhere allows them to be cheaper and semi-expendable.

From a thread in SFConSim-l

Air Force or Navy?

That the US Navy is better suited for crewed military space operations than is the US Air Force has long been the analysis of Christopher Weuve, who works at the US Department of Defense. He often mentions this in his lectures at BuNine group events.

Basically while the Air Force has more experience with uncrewed satellites launched into space, the Navy has more experience with crewed vessels occupied for months instead of hours. So the Navy would make sense for crewed spacecraft occupied for months while doing a Terra-Mars Hohmann trajectory.

Science fiction novels and TV shows have long used the Naval model for spacecraft crew. The legendary Gharlane of Eddore explained it this way:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DAVID G. POTTER aka "Gharlane of Eddore"

(ed note: Captain Christopher Thrash of the US 2d Armored Cavalry Regiment strongly disagrees with the paragraphs above in red:)

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

The meaningful distinctions are centralization and duration:

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

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

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


The Air Force is fighting legislation directing it to create a “Space Corps” to better specialize and prepare for conflicts in space. They are absolutely correct in doing so, since the Air Force lacks the particular mentality and expertise necessary for what are clearly naval operations.

Sustained operations in space resemble operations at sea. Diversely specialized sailors crew forward deployed ships, conducting voyage planning and contact management familiar to naval personnel. There are orbital buoys to maintain, infrastructure to protect, and eventually boarding inspections to conduct.

The orbital equivalent of afloat forward staging bases will shuttle supplies and rotational crews to vessels that remain in theater, years after launch. In achieving orbit and stationing, maritime professionals will recognize the similarities to anchorage and underway replenishments. To those who point to the challenges of maneuvering a vessel in three dimensions — the Navy already has submariners and naval aviators.

Even if the majority these operations remain automated — crewed support craft and control stations will be necessary. Terrestrial, orbital, or onboard watch standers will seek adversary threats and navigation hazards in the vast domain of our congested orbit, to the moon, and eventually mars. The controlling teams will need to combine the naval mentalities associated with surface, subsurface, mine, and air warfare.

Unfortunately, past decisions are keeping the Navy from its logical front position for leading a Space Corps. The Navy was convinced to abandon Naval Space Command (NSC), which controlled USN space surveillance assets, advocated for naval warfighting requirements in the joint arena, and advised the naval service in the production of space plans and training until 2002. Through the NSC’s decommissioning, the Air Force received custody of the US Navy Space Surveillance System (SPASUR), AKA “The Fence.” With SPASUR’s chain of stations curving through the southwest, the Navy could detect objects as small as a basketball in earth’s orbit.

However, the Navy’s mission and capabilities have led it back into orbit. While the Air Force civil war rages over allowing non-fighter-pilot communities to animate the service, the Navy willingly pursues warfighting leadership in areas it may not initially consider mainstream. The Navy has been comparatively bold in its development and integration of remote and automated platforms - tactically and institutionally. This instinct will be critical in space. Also, each of the Navy’s Arleigh Burke DDG’s AEGIS system is either capable or upgradable to detect and engage ballistic missiles in space. With AEGIS ashore, the Navy is arming the shore-based space monitoring stations of the past for BMD – modern coastal defense facilities. In culture and capability, the Navy is integrating space-based missions and space-compatible concepts into the line.

The sailors who crew these ships and shore stations, our pilots and aircrew, and our submariners provide fertile soil for a Space Corps. You’d be hard pressed to enter any AEGIS Combat Information Center, Virginia Class SSN bridge, or the integrated fighting bridge of an Independence Class LCS without imagining the space-faring bridges of science fiction and forecast. And for good reason, because it’s the type of space faring command center you WOULD build in the future. Popular culture recognizes the Navy’s pre-eminence beyond the atmosphere. From Star Trek to Battlestar Galactica to HALO to Warhammer 40k, naval personnel stand watch amongst the stars by which they navigate. Hell, even the Space Marines are always right there with us. ‘Rah.

So, Congressman Mike Rogers (R-Al) is right — as our commercial opportunities drive us further into space and our adversaries’ advancements drive them to the same, space must shift from military periphery. However, we’re asking the wrong service to do it. The Air Force’s current dominance in space is from short-term institutional convenience and an outdated altitude-based perspective. Our Navy, not Air Force, has the crew mentality, operational perspective, and leadership culture compatible with our long-term space needs. Remember, they are called space “ships” for a reason!

Matthew Hipple is a naval officer and former president of the Center for International Maritime Security. His opinions are his own, and do not represent the US Government, Department of Defense, or Department of the Navy.


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

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


(in the Astromilitary page of the Atomic Rockets website) You (Winchell Chung) discuss the Naval model and the differences between that and land or air forces. But you don't devote any space to the actual command structure (such as it is) on real space missions.

Shuttle crews have pilot astronauts and mission specialists, each responsible for a particular task. The pilot is usually mission commander, but since each crewman is specifically trained for a given job, there's not much point in giving orders to people who know what they're doing much better than you do.

Non-military spaceships may not have any kind of "command structure" to speak of, and even military ones may rely on the mission plan much more than the captain's wits.

From James Cambias (2006)

Designing A Space Navy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The six key parameters of a space navy are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ray McVay says

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

Strategic Assumptions

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

Security Environment

These are the threats being defended against.

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

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

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

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

Ray McVay has an example from the Conjunction universe:


So let's dive right into the next segment of our series on "Building a Navy" with the tools given to us by Dave Weber and Christopher Weuve.

The first section of our chart from the first post in the series shows the column "Strategic Assumptions".  Now, in real life this means military and political stuff way above our pay-grades (except Christopher Weuve, of course) and is therefore not our concern, unless you like to study that stuff. For the purposes of our little niche labeled "military-hard-SF-that-doesn't-insult-professionals-too-badly" This is where the author in question should put their world building.

In order for us to go through this chart effectively, we will need examples to work with. In order for me to show off what I've been working on, It makes sense that I should provide the examples.  Very well, I accept.

This step is also arguably the most arbitrary of the steps we'll be going through in this series, so there isn't much I can advise others on except in the most vague and broad manner.&nbsnbsp; If you're David Weber, you add the Honorverse to this and get the Royal Manticore Navy.  If you're Ken Burnside, you add the 10 Worlds and get Attack Vector: Tactical.  If you're me... you get Conjunction.

This idea was stolen inspired by Winchell Chung's Atomic Rockets website because of course it was.  Specifically, the Appendix "Ring Raiders"  Which extolls the virtue of Saturn's sub-system as a location for human colonization.  The main MacGuffinite offered is that Saturn is basically is a huge source of Fusion super-fuel Helium 3 and lacks the crushing gravity and deadly radiation of it's larger son, Jupiter. This is all well and good for the future, but we don't even have fusion reactor that works on helium 3, so it's all a bit pie-in-the-sky.  However, Saturn's moon Titan has some very interesting properties.

On September 3, 2014, NASA reported studies suggesting methane rainfall on Titan may interact with a layer of icy materials underground, called an "alkanofer," to produce ethane and propane that may eventually feed into rivers and lakes. (Citation)

Did you catch that?  On Titan it rains natural gas.

This isn't even a MacGuffin, Rocketfans, this is as real a reason to go 'way out into space as it gets. We are now rapidly approaching the period of Peak Oil here in Earth, and we have not made adequate preparations for converting our civilization to renewable power generation and conservator power usage.  Most estimates I've found for the absolute latest we can start this process and hope to keep industrial society alive is between five and twenty years ago.  Even better, if our industrial society slips into the Dark Ages because of a lack of fossil fuels, it's pretty much impossible for any successor civilization to get back into space.

So, in short, we lose civilization for a few centuries and we lose space forever.  And plastics, and fertilizer, ad nauseum.

Let's assume for purposes of pure fiction that somebody or a group of somebodies decides to get proactive and corner the market on hydrocarbons mining on Titan.  This is far from a bad idea no matter what you think about the future of fossil fuels as a power source- we literally make everything out of the stuff, so it will always be valuable the way rare-earths and coinage metals are valuable.  Not to mention, it would probably take a lot less time to terraform Mars if we could bathe it's red hills in fertilizer...

This means a huge train of space-going super tankers bringing Titanian rain to where it's Black Gold.  Just as pirates hold oil tankers for ransom now, they probably would in the future, so there will need to be a military/ peacekeeping patrol keeping an eye out.  Add to that what Issac Kuo had to say about Jupiter and you have a possibly self-sufficient colony system that may be chafing under the yoke of Earth's trusteeship.  Then there is a little event called the Great Conjunction, where restless Jupiter is right in between the oil-starved billions of Earth and Mars and the propane seas of Titan.

And that, Rocketfans, is what gave me an idea...

Taking all that and plugging it into the Building a Navy chart was (is) a non-trivial process, but the main legwork is in the latter sections.  With what we've discussed so far, we can fill in the Strategic Assumptions section in fairly short order:

  1. Strategic Assumptions
    1. Security Environment  (This is the part where we talk about what we want to protect and what we need to be protected from) 
      1. Overview: Multiple colonies spread throughout the solar system. Earth is the hub, with Mars undergoing major terraforming. Extensive mining of NEOs. The Jovian system is nearly self-sufficient with abundant raw materials and energy thanks to Jupiter's magnetic field. The Saturn system is thinly populated but Titan is the number one source of hydrocarbons in the entire solar system.
      2. Original source of security threats involve changing orbits of NEOs and outer system objects. UN&C over-site necessary to insure planetary security.
      3. Advent of nuclear powered civilian craft require on-board UN inspection teams to insure integrity of reactors, safe operation of spacecraft, and compliance to all UN mandated safety protocols.
      4. Economic pressure of Titan's hydrocarbon boom have shifted mission assets to protecting commerce from Saturn to the Inner System
      5. Jupiter's increasing self-sufficiency, deteriorating economic and diplomatic relations with Inner System and approach to Great Conjunction requires forward projection of force.
    Fiscal Environment (This is where we see how much money there is changing hands, and how much we can reasonably spend on our Navy before our Security Environment is more trouble than it's worth)
    1. Importance of Space Resources to the Economy:
      1. Nearly 20% of Earth's GPP and 80% of Mars' GPP depend on foreign imports of rare earth metals and hydrocarbons.
      2. It is impossible to underestimate the value of Titan to the Solar economy. Both water and hydrocarbons (ammonia and methane) are needed to hydrate and fertilize the Martian soil and Titanian hydrocarbon stocks are still needed for the synthetics, agriculture, and plastics industries.
    2. Amount of expenditure viable for interplanetary military assets is one-fifth of the value of space commerce to the constituent planets' GPP (Approx. 3.8 trillion)

The part about "one-fifth the value of space commerce"  is compliments of Rick Robinson's essay on Interstellar Trade, which works just as well for interplanetary trade.  The monetary values are arbitrary and subject to change depending on the needs of fiction, further research, and stuff.  I thought the part of UN inspection teams being present on all nuclear powered craft to be common sense, but I'm not sure if I've seen it before.

Anyway, that is more than enough for now.  Next post will be about How to spend that 3.8 trillion a year on our Strategic Goals.  Or, you know random stuff.  But we will continue the series eventually.

Alistair Young has an example from the Eldraeverse:


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

Security Environment

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

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

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

So what are the resulting security concerns?

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

Fiscal Environment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strategic Goals

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

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

Ray McVay has an example from the Conjunction universe:

Our last post gave an overview of building a space navy from the very beginning - the world building stage of Strategic Assumptions.  Today's post takes that part and focuses down on Strategic Goals.

So we've established a SF universe that would have a space force that needs this chart:  Conjunction.  In this universe we have a United Nations & Colonies as the solar system's only space-faring military power (currently!)  A politically restless, self-sufficient Jovian system, terraforming on Mars, and a Saturn system featuring a booming oil business on Titan.  This UN has about 3.8 Trillion of whatever currency as it's military budget annually, and now we need to focus on said military's goals.

Atomic Rockets has recently added this chart and a break-down of what each segment means in the Astromilitary section.  This is fortunate, as Winchell Chung is frankly better at explaining the chart's details than I am.  It also allows us a chance to concentrate on turning the chart into a concrete example.

In the Conjunction universe, what's the most important thing our space navy can do?  That is a loaded question, since every planet and indeed constituent nation on Earth probably has a different idea, one that involves their polity/corporation/special interest being most protected/favored.  Forgive the cynicism.  Looking at current navies, historical navies, and a healthy dose of pragmatic sense, I see the top three priorities of the UN&C Space Force as follows:
    1. Strategic Goals
      1. Protection of commerce   
      2. Enforce Safety Mandates
      3. Power Projection 
In a universe that does not revolve around money, I would've put "enforcing safety mandates" first.  But why make a perfect universe?  This way, when there is a choice between recovering an oil tanker drone and rescuing a crewed spacecraft, with only enough Delta V  to do one or the other, we have an ethical quandary, instead of an obvious choice.  More stories that way.

To us, the choice between safety and commerce is still pretty obvious — no matter what pundits and less recognized pontificators have to say about the USN being in the Middle East just to protect the oil, I know of no Navy asset — or sailor for that matter — that would think twice about rescuing civilians lost at sea.  But what if it was oil mega-tankers in space, and losing a convoy it meant power outages across much of Earth for months? Is that kind of prospect, and it's human cost, worth the lives of a few people trapped on a rocket going nowhere with its tanks dry?  Is that kind of prospect worth an entire fleet of ships thrown into the breech, if it means darkness across Earth?
Don't answer right away; it's a creative writing exercise. 

Anyway, commerce protection is number one, then enforcing safety mandates.  That being said, if the safety mandate involves NEOs moving when they shouldn't, then of course the priority changes.  But as much as I agree with the formation of an Spaceguard, and definitely a Laser Transport Authority (Remember ASTRA?), how much of that goal should be served by our space navy?  For example, is it cheaper to have a fleet a patrol craft, or a squad of power-suited Espaciers posted on every rock?  Hmm...probably the patrol craft, if we end up with a lot of NEO mining.  Maybe better, a central base with Espaciers in rockets that function like helicopters do for marines?  These are important questions, if you want a consistent and detailed universe.  Notice how those questions above can be answered by more detail in the "Strategic Assumptions" category?  Funny how that works out...  Anyway, one thing I definitely like is the idea of on-board inspection teams for all nuclear powered spacecraft.  Their cost would be part of the rocket's overhead, they would also be a hell of a deterrant for smuggling, piracy and all that jazz.  I could see the Espos becoming friends with the crew, dating even...and when the chips are down, having a naval nuclear engineer and God's own DC party never hurts.

The last strategic goal for the UN&C in Conjunction is the one that they consider the least important, and is most likely to bite them on the ass later: Power Projection.  This means letting uppity Jovians know that any war-like moves on their part will not be tolerated.  Theoretically, this is in part handled by the logistical needs of the Titanian convoys.  Approaching the Great Conjunction, the UN is investing Jupiter with more supply bases, which means more troops.  It also means more taxing Jupiter's resources to supply water for transports and water, air, and cubic for the Espos and Astros stationed in their space.  This will be the largest build-up in the Jovian system since the last Great Conjunction, twenty years ago, and the current generation of Jovians will probably resent the infringement on their isolation.  Is this "power projection", or is it the SF equivalent of billeting redcoats in colonial homes prior to Lexington and Concord?  That is also a writing exercise.

Due to simple Newtonian physics, The old Naval Doctrine of "Fleet in Being" is going to be big hit in any realistic space conflict. Any strategy that does not require one to burn propellant is a good strategy.  So, with patrol craft stationed near navigation lasers in Jovian space, and an entire fleet at Saturn, and the UN may thing they have Jupiter safely boxed in.

Of course, Jovians serve in the UNSF, so...

On a final note, lets fill in our outline a little more based on the above:
    1. Strategic Goals
      1. Protection of commerce
        1. Safely ferry convoys to and from Titan
        2. Safely resupply bases in Saturn System
        3. Oversee transport of hydrocarbons from Saturn and minerals from NEOs, MBOs and KBOs to Mars and Earth/Luna
      2. Enforce Safety Mandates
        1. Provide inspection teams for all nuclear-powered spacecraft
        2. Provide over-site of all orbital changes of NEOs MBOs and KBOs
        3. Provide over-site of all transport laser installation on Earth, Luna, Mars and in the Main Belt, the Jovian system and the Chronian system.
        4. SAR Patrols in Trans-Lunar space
        5. Man and re-supply SAR bases in Trans-Martian space
        6. Provide other search and rescue services when necessary
      3. Power Projection
        1. Forward deploy fleet assets to potential trouble areas (Jupiter)
        2. Provide threat of instant response while conserving assets (Fleet in Being)
Next time, we will tackle Fleet Missions, with gets more specific that this.  It should also show how the strategic assumptions need to be as detailed as possible. See you then!

Alistair Young has an example from the Eldraeverse:


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

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

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

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

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

Fleet Missions

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

Service Roles & Missions

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

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

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

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

Ray McVay has an example:


Anyway, back to the subject at hand:  The fleet missions for our UNSF and UNEC (Espatier Corps).  Because this section is so lengthy, I'm breaking it up into its constituent sections, starting with Service Roles and Missions.  In Conjunction, Why are their just two service branches?  Why just in space?  Are they just a glorified coast guard, or a real military?

In order to begin to answer these questions, I studied up a bit on how the UN is currently set up, how the UN Peacekeeping forces are set up, some problems they have, and some of the problems they face.  The results, were then combined with the meta-fiction considerations of what I wanted to focus on, what I thought would make a good story and a semi-plausible progression from today to Conjunction.  Here's what I've come up with so far:

Fist of all, the Peacekeepers are not a military, in the conventional sense.  The UNSF is more akin to Heinlien's Space Patrol in that they are an organization whose purpose is to keep dangerous weapons out of the hands of military men. In this case, the dangerous weapons are not nukes or bio-nasties or anything, but the ultimate in WMDs: multi-ton, NTR rockets. 

This is an example of Jon's Law:
"Any interesting space drive is a weapon of mass destruction. It only matters how long you want to wait for maximum damage."
I'll put it another way: Our little Patrol rocket uses a plain-vanilla chemfuel engine similar to what we have today. At a dry mass of 72 tons or so, going at its top velocity of 8.2 km/sec, it would hit something with the explosive power of almost two hundred thousand  kilograms of dynamite. Or, in the language of nuclear weapons, 200 kilotons.  That's the power of a couple of nuclear warheads, in case you were wondering. This is because, according to Robinson's Law
"Something hitting at 3 km/sec (kips) delivers kinetic energy broadly equal to its mass in TNT."
So yeah, the UN takes a dim view of its member nations running NTR rockets around at each other.  Other than that, peacekeepers, you know, keep the peace.  They ensure compliance with UN mandates, stabilize conflict regions so that the officially accepted government can catch its collective breath and get on with governing.  They do not invade; they neither take or hold territory, and they rarely, if ever, are expected to fire a shot in anger.  If they do fire, then the solids have hit the separators indeed.

Moving forward, the reason for the UN to only operate space-based forces is twofold.  First, the history of the UN Peacekeeping forces involved cleaning up after countless coups, juntas and other examples of why governments should fear their own militaries the most.  Since Naval/Marine forces are less likely to overthrow their governments, the UN&C only keeps a standing Space Force and Espatier Corps.  For planetary actions, they draw from a pool of national armed forces same as they do now.
The other reason involves the UN&C's modified charter.  They only operate space forces, and the member nations only operate planetary forces.  The UN also does not maintain a nuclear arsenal, while the member nations may not operate nuclear powered spacecraft without a UN inspection team.  Since planetary attack is not nearly the turkey shoot that old school science fiction made it out to be, these trade-offs make the UNSF and a national nuclear powers about evenly matched, so tensions are theoretically reduced.

Theoretically.  It's gone all political.
 So now that we've established some of the setting-specific particulars of the UN's Not-military, we can move forward to their missions and service roles.

More outline!
    1. Service Roles & Missions
      1. UN Space Force
        1. Patrol major commercial orbits
        2. Convoy escort
        3. Patrol orbits of actively mined NEOs MBOs, KBOs and other potentially dangerous objects
        4. Operate and Maintain Navigation Lasers in Terran, Martian, Main Belt, Jovian and Chronian orbits
        5. Power Projection in orbital space of Main Belt and Saturn (Fleet in Being)
      2. UN Espatier Corps
        1. Space Expeditionary Force
          1. Mobile Fleet Contingent (Combined Arms)
          2. Peacekeeping Zone Contingent
        2. Space Force internal security
          1. Spacecraft security/boarding parties
          2. Security contingent at nav-laser installations
        3. Inspection Team security
          1. Nuclear spacecraft inspection teams
          2. Patrol craft boarding parties 
 Most of the above is self-explanatory.  A few curious notes: MBO means "Main Belt Object" if there is an official term for this, please let me know.  "Chronian" is used instead of "Saturnian" because the Chonians themselves prefer it. Which, of course, means I do.

Alistair Young has another example:


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

Service Roles & Missions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


CONOPS is Concept of Operations.

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

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

Ray McVay has an example:


Today we continue our series on Building a Space Navy with a section of CONOPS, or Concept of Operations.  For an overview of the whole thing, you should start here, or for a more general and in possibly useful summary, consult the obligatory Atomic Rockets link. 

Just to get on the board here, Winchell Chung sums up the crux of the CONOPS discussion this way:

"CONOPS is Concept of Operations.
"When and where will the space navy perform the inter-service missions defined in the last step? Is the space navy mostly offensive or mostly defensive? Does the space navy operate mostly inside the empire, at the border, or outside? What is the standard operating procedure?
"CONOPS might change, especially if they are fossilized conservative procedures that apply poorly to the new situation."

This is one of the few sections of the chart that is almost always covered by science fiction authors.  This makes sense, since next to Fleet Design, it is the most often seen aspect of a Space Navy in stories, movies and other media.  That being said, maybe there are some things we still have to learn about the subject.  After all, we maybe using the term "Space Navy"  but what we are designing for Conjunction is most certainly not any kind of navy at all,  it is a Space Force, and that is a new thing entirely.

Why is a Space Navy so different from a wet-navy?  The medium, of course.  Space is not like anywhere we've ever been and we've never had to fight up there before.  It requires extreme levels of preparedness from all who dare enter, and the physics and mechanics and stuff is all wrong from a naval standpoint.  "Stand" — that right there is a good example.  In space, nothing "stands", everything is moving all the time, at speeds which impart the force of our most potent explosives.  There is also no boarders in space.  All planetary bodies are in constant motion — the planet in the next orbit will spend half the time on the other side of the Sun, making it's neighbor farther out the closer.  Conjunction  is based on the idea that planets move and thus cause the concept of territory to chance with the calendar.  That's space for you. It's just not the same.

But there are some parallels.  For example, the US Navy currently divides the theaters of operation they work in by colors (well, the color of the water, anyway).  Brown water naval ops are conducted in the river regions of the world, green water along the shores and coastlines, and blue water in the open oceans.  These last two have a near-perfect analog in space:  Orbital Space, and Open Space.

Orbital space seems obvious, but let's define it anyway; after all, everything within a light year or so orbits the Sun in some fashion.  But for our purposes, in 2015, Orbital space is anything between the upper atmosphere and Earth Departure.  This includes GEO, or the geo-synchronous orbits or GPS and communication satellites, the low-fast orbits in NEO currently used for crewed missions, and any and all in between.  By logical extension, Every planet and moon has an orbital space easy to define by use of Sir Isaac's mighty maths.

The rest of space, deep space or interplanetary space is huge and open and that doesn't matter, because a spacecraft must travel in certain orbits to get to point A to B for a given speed and Delta V, and there are no exceptions.  That being said, since everything is moving all the time at different orbital speeds around the sun, there is no way to establish trade routs or shipping lanes.  The use of Hohmann trajectories does allow for convoys and such, but that's about it for interplanetary space; it's a lonely black desert out there, with spacecraft either deliberately close together or impossibly far apart.

So, where does our Navy Space Force operate?  Obviously, in orbital space, of course.  This is the perfect place to operate using Patrol Rockets and smaller craft to zip to and fro.  It is also where Espatiers get the most use — boarding inspections, SAR, and the classic orbital drop on a planet.  But that's just the tip of the iceteroid — what about enforcement of quarantine? This could be an even bigger deal than it is today, since the enclosed system of a space station or rocket pretty much insures that if I got it, you got it. 

Rick Robinson has some cogent points on the subject here.

As for Interplanetary space, the missions are similar but modified by circumstance.  The world of Conjunction moves objects, oil and ore via the convoy system.  I thought long and hard about the balance between the added expense of multiple spacecraft and the safety margin provided by the same, and decided that when you are flying missions measured in years, you really shouldn't put all your life support and Delta V in one basket.  Therefore, rockets boosting to Saturn from Earth and vice versa, or to anywhere except maybe the moon, will travel in packs.  This makes sense from an author's perspective, as well - just ask the writers on Battlestar Galactica.   It's a lot more fun for our Astros and Espos to have somewhere to actually go on leave - and for work as well.  The oft-mentioned inspection teams, emergency SAR, and even simple cargo transfers all give our Space Navy folks something to do for those long, long months is the Black.

Anyway, that takes care of where.  The next rhetorical question Winchell proposes is whether or not our Space Navy is offensive or defensive.  We established last time that Peacekeepers aren't in the business of offensive war, so the answer to this one's obvious.  In fact, at the starting point of this setting, there has never been a war in space, so the role of our Space Forces is more law enforcement than anything else.  This is especially true when you add in the duties of obit/beam guard.  The Space Force SOP is the implicit nature of their service roles.  The main point of the UNSF is to be there.  Just in case.

Of course, if Jupiter decided to do something to interfere with Saturn's oil shipments, such as attempt to blockade the convoys, then all bets are off and the space forces on the spot would have the unenviable job of tossing the manual out the lock and improvising a war based on no practical experience.

See? I told you that that little chart could inspire novel plots...

Alistair Young has another example:


Fleet Concept of Operations

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fleet Posture

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

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

Ray McVay has an example:

It's time to return to the current meta-subject of this blog:  How to build a Space Navy Force in a realistic manner, taking into account factors that most mainstream producers of fiction ignore or underservice — such as today's subject, Fleet Posture.

Fleet posture is a deceptively simple concept that is nevertheless of such staggering strategic importance that anyone who ignores it should sit in the corner with the people that don't think about logistics.  And it is ignored, all the time.  For example, in the original Star Trek series, The so called "5 year mission" of Enterprise is about as forward deployed as you can get, but where was it's base?  We're all those Starbases they visited really that far out?  Or did Kirk & Co.  travel dozens of light-years backwards when they ran low on deuterium?   Some television SF, like Babylon 5 and it's emulator Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, were all about Fleet Posture, as both eponymous stations were forward deployment bases into what became active war zones.

We will not discuss who did it better on this blog.

Before continuing, let's look at the excellent summation of Fleet Posture from Atomic Rockets:

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

There's more about FTL fleets but we don't need that.  The idea of being "deployed in foreign territory" is of particular interest, not just in a setting as vast as all of space but in the real world as well.  For example, the USN, Earth's largest and most technologically advanced navy (for now), has a carrier permanently ported in Japan, and has since the end of WWII.  First, this was to keep an eye on Japan, naturally, but now this forward deployment gives the USN a base from which to project power into all of Asia.  On the other side of the globe, more or less, we've had a Carrier Task Force in the Persian Gulf since I was a freshmen in high school (My daughter starts high school next year, so long time!) and I have no doubt that those waters will be heavily patrolled as long as the US has interests in the region. 

But Navies aren't the only branches of the military that forward deploy.  The US Army Air Corps forward deployed in Britain during WWII in order to conduct bombing raids on the Third Reich, and to this day there are Army assets in Germany that have been staring across the boarder at Russia for so long the threat collapsed and then became a threat again.

So our point is, Forward deployment is important.

But forward deployment isn't the only consideration to...consider when thinking about Fleet Posture.  The other major point of consideration is patrol.  We've discussed the idea of patrolling here and there, band provided links as well as actual spacecraft.  However, patrolling is an important enough subject that we should expand upon it ever so slightly before moving on.

Space, like we discussed before, can be easily divided into Orbital Space and Interplanetary Space.  Likewise, patrols can be divided into these two categories as well.  Orbital patrols will be, by far the easiest and most frequent.  An orbit, by definition, is a patrol route around a planet, after all.  It lets you keep an eye on the ground — the planet itself — and the sky, or anything approaching said planet, and even keep tabs on other orbits around that planet and nearby bodies such as moons.  Any Space Navy Fleet, if I were going to organize it, would have a planet's orbital space as it's primary zone of responsibility.  Since I am designing a Space Navy, it works out.

Interplanetary space is another animal all together.  Since there are no shipping lanes to patrol, and the distances are just so vast, patrol will probably be restricted to patrolling what ever convoy military assets find themselves attached to.  It may seem like a waste of resources have a fleet capable of blockading a planed on convoy duty, but if we think about it, it makes more sense.

It's like this:  Those planet-patrolling Fleets have to get from point A to point B anyway.  Therefore, they may as well do so as part of a convoy.  Not just "may as well"  if the fleet is moving from Earth to Saturn, then the voyage will take at best two years.  That is a long time to not only rely on a single life-system, but to stay in the same can with the same food and the same people.  Even if you equate this to the Age of Sail, with titanium space craft and iron men and women, you're asking for trouble.  Especially since any interplanetary spacecraft is basically a weapon of mass destruction once you reach cruising speed.  Travel in a convoy, and things are much more interesting.  You can have patrol craft that routinely flit between big ships in the convoy, performing maintenance and inspections and stuff I've already mentioned before.

So, what does all this rumination mean for the good ol' UNSF of Conjunction?  Well, I've already mentioned that any space force will have be pretty forward leaning if it wants to respond to a crisis that decade.  The UNSF is certainly no exception.  In addition, the UN&C expect Jupiter separatists to make a move to disrupt shipping during the Great Conjunction.  This has lead the Security Council to increase Astro and Espo presence in Jovian space, as well as increase the number of Patrol Craft moving with the convoys.

I'd like to get more specific.  I really would, but here we hit a hurdle: we have yet to describe the actual Space Navy in question, so it is difficult to move forward.  That is why, before beginning the next phase of our discussion on building a space navy, we will first continue our discussion of space combat in Conjunction, with an article on how the basic assumptions we already discussed will be put into ship design practice.

Alistair Young has another example:


Fleet Posture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fleet Design

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

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

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

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

Ray McVay has an example:

 Aaaand here we are again, RocketFans, with another installment of our series on building a Space Navy  Force that won't insult and/or make the professionals cry! 

Okay, it probably will anyway, what with all the comments I get about how un-economical mining hydrocarbons from Titan is, but what the heck - we've come this far, and as an exercise in how to build a Space Navy, the following is instructive no matter the validity of the central premise.

For those who forgot where we were at, go here.

If you want a good summation of the entire topic, along with links to all the articles in this series, go here.

As I mentioned before, in order write this part of the series, we needed a good idea of what kinds of ships spacecraft we would needed.  These craft would have to follow certain basic assumptions and tactical considerations in order to make sense in the context of the Conjunction universe.  Now that we have that data (more or less), we can start filling the boxes on our chart again.

First of all, we have Fleet CapabilitiesThis means what our collection of spacecraft can do, are meant to do, and end up being able to do once the bean counters slash the budget.  In addition to certain design considerations, our spacecraft's capabilities have been covered pretty well, so there's no need to go into detail here.  Here's a quick outline of what we're dealing with:

Fleet Capabilities: 
  1. Mobile Fleet Tenders: These craft carry the propellant, repair facilities, most of the habitat needs, and the high specific impulse drives needed for long distance power projection. Commanded by a Mission Commander (O-8)
    1. There are three in service prior to Great Conjunction: the Gaia, Diana, and Ares. One is under construction (Zeus) and two more have been ordered (Chronos and Ouranos).
  2. Patrol Cutters: A-class patrol cutters are 70 meters long, mount one fixed laser, one turret, and can shape a Hohmann orbit one light-second in diameter or constant boost at half a g. They carry a half dozen espatiers and six drones for boarding actions. They are commanded by a Flight Commander (O-4)
  3. Uprated Patrol craft: B-class patrol cutters are 105 meters long, carry more propellant (mass ratio 6), carry 12 Espatiers and 25 spacers and carry 75 tons of kinetic kill vehicles.
  4. Gunships: Basic orbital craft found at all Space Stations. Can carry a squad of espatiers, 6 KKVs, or a 3 meter 700 nanometer laser, depending on configuration. Can also be fitted with boosters to increase delta-v.

The next little box is Fleet Size.  Instead of calculating how many of each spacecraft I would need, I figured about how many I would realistically have  available at the start of the first interplanetary war.    This is in now way as many as needed to fill all the slots in the Order of Battle, but that's what you get when your a peacekeeping force that's forced to into a war.

 Fleet Size and Mix:
  1. Mobile Fleet Tenders: Current 3, ordered 6, under construction 3
  2. Patrol craft: Current 28, ordered 36, under construction 4
  3. Uprated Patrol craft (Under Construction): last 6 of PL Block I(B) 12 Block II
  4. Laser Stars (Planned): Ordered 12, under construction 3
  5. Gunships: Over 2,000 in service, average of 48 constructed a year.
Incidentally, one of the little tricks available to those of us who practice Hard Science Fu is that Delta-V limits can be an advantage in certain cases.   For example, the massive A-Class Patrol Rocket and the diminutive Cygnus gunship may have radically different masses, armaments, crew capacities, and weapons loads, but they have the same Delta-V.  That means that the tiny, cheap and common gunship can technically perform any mission the larger and much more expensive Patrol Craft can, just not as well.  This makes the Cygnus more versatile than a Soft SF shuttle, as we would assume that it has less "range" than a larger ship.

The next part of the Chart is the Fleet Mix section, which is covered nicely above.  So...okay then.

Finally, we come to a section that again is not always covered by SF authors but is nonetheless vital in the real world planning of naval ops: Fleet Laydown.  Winchell Chung put it this way:

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

 Those are big questions, when you have a fleet that's supposed to police the whole solar system.

I figured it all anyway.  I've had a long time to work on it, after all:

    1. Chain of command: Based at UNHQ, Earth
      1. Secretary General –
        1. Secretary of the Security Council –
          1. Peacekeeping Forces Commander –
            1. Chiefs of staff for the Space Force and the Espatier Corps
      2. Space Force Chief of Staff -
        1. Mobile Fleet Command (METROCOM)
          1. Mission Commanders - Mobile Fleet (METROMCOM)
            1. Flight Commanders (METROFCOM)
              1. Department Heads
                • Mission Control Staff
              2. Auxiliary Spacecraft Flight Commanders (CORTFCOM)
                • Auxiliary Craft Crew
        2. Escort Command (CORTCOM)
          1. Mission Commander, Escort Squadron (CORTRONMCOM)
            1. Flight Commanders (CORTRONFCOM)
              1. Depatment Heads
              2. Mission Control Staff
            2. Commanders, Escort Craft Blue/White (FCOMBLU/WHT)
              1. Department Heads Blue/White
              2. Mission Control Staff Blue/White
            3. Auxiliary Craft
              1. Auxiliary Craft Crew
        3. Spaceguard Command (SPACOM)
          1. Commander, Spaceguard (SPAMCOM)
            1. Assets attached to Planetary Peacekeeping Zones (see below)
        4. Laser Transport Authority Command (LASCOM)
          1. Commander, Laser Transport Authority (LASMCOM)
            1. Assets attached to Planetary Peacekeeping Zones (see below)
        5. Search and Rescue Command (SARCOM)
          1. Commander, Search and Rescue (SARMCOM)
            1. Assets attached to Planetary Peacekeeping Zones (see below)
        6. Training Command (TRAINCOM)
          1. Commadant, Training Command (CMDT)
            1. Training commands are attached to Mobile Fleet Command and Escort Command assests; See below.
        7. Planetary Peacekeeping Zone Command (PAXCOM)
          1. Mission Commanders, Space Stations (STATMCOM)
            1. Flight Commanders, Space Stations (STATFCOM)
              1. Department Heads
              2. Auxiliary Spacecraft Flight Commanders
                • Mission Control Staff
                • Auxiliary Craft Crew
          1. Attached Assets
            1. Spaceguard
            2. Laser Transport Authority
            3. Search and Rescue

    1. Planetary Peacekeeping Zones
      1. Zone Earth/Luna
        1. Space Elevators
          1. SS Yygrassil
          2. SS Tiānshàng tǎ
          3. SS Jacob's Ladder (PAXCOM)
        2. SS NEO
          1. SS Gateway I
          2. SS Gateway II
          3. SS Gateway III
        3. SS Luna
          1. SS Shackleton
      2. Zone Mars
        1. SS Deimos (PAXCOM)
        2. Mars/Earth Cyclers
          1. SS Aldrin
          2. SS Odysseus
      3. Zone Jupiter
        1. SS Io
        2. SS Ganymede
        3. SS Callisto (PAXCOM)
        4. SS Greek camp Trojans
        5. SS Trojan camp Trojans
      4. Zone Saturn
        1. Mobile Fleet Diana
          1. Mission Command
          2. Blue Crews
          3. White Crews
        2. SS Titan
    2. Commercial Peacekeeping Zones (Civ-PEZ)
      1. Belt
        1. SS Ceres
        2. SS Vesta
        3. Mobile Fleets
          1. Gaia
            1. Mission Command
            2. Blue Crews
            3. White Crews
            4. Training Command
          2. Ares
            1. Mission Command
            2. Blue Crews
            3. White Crews
            4. Training Command
      2. Escort Squadrons (CORTRON)
        1. Escort Squadrons 1-20
          1. Mission Command
          2. Blue Crews
          3. White Crews
          4. Training Command
That is a lot of nonsense up there, I know.  It may not make much sense to you as it a Conjunction resource right now, but as an author's or game designer's resource, its pure gold.  Look at all those locations, all the potential for jurisdictional squabbles, places where personality conflict could mess things up.  there are dozens of sourcebooks worth of RPG material up there, and the plots of several stories as well.  And that, my dear RocektFans, was the point, wasn't it?

But don't worry, as we continue with our exploration of the Building a Space Navy chart, this will make more sense.  I hope ;)

Alistair Young has another example:


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

Fleet Capabilities

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fleet Size & Mix

As for size and mix…

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

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

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

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

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

Fleet Laydown

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

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

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

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

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

Force Size

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shore Infrastructure

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

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

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

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

Alistair Young has a set of examples:


Manning Strategy

In which we answer questions like these:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Organic Support Functions & Shore Infrastructure

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

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

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

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

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

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

Force Management

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

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

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

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

Level of Readiness (Afloat and Shore)

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

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

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

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

Alistair Young has a set of examples:


Personnel Policies

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

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

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

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

Logistics Concept

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

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

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

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

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

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

Level of Readiness (Afloat and Ashore)

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

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

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

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

Acquisition Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

Space Marines


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

Wikipedia entry for SPACE MARINES

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Naval Boarding

Wet-navy marines can perform naval boarding. For espatiers, boarding is much more difficult, perhaps impossible. Naturally if you the author are writing about handwavium faster-than-light starships, you can make up the limitations of the FTL drive such as to make boarding a possibility.

Boarding can be necessary for many reasons:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Kinda following on from the space combat thread …

Assuming a ship doesn't get reduce to drifting dust and slag by space combat but can instead by 'derelicted' or crippled (good from an RPG perspective at least) what kind of conditions would you expect to find on a crippled ship? OK debris, micro gravity, limited atmosphere, limited power, emergency lighting is a given — what am I missing (I'm sure there is loads {g})


To some extent it depends on what is used to cripple the spacecraft. Here are some options based on plausible near future weapons.

NUKES: Surface equipment (antennas, sensors, turrets, solar panels, radiators) on one side of the spacecraft are fully destroyed. The hull on that exposed side is scorched and, in places, crumpled. Multiple breaches in the exposed side are venting atmosphere, coolant, fuel, and/or propellant into space. Severe spalling of the inner surface of the hull has caused multiple punctures to equipment and bulkhead walls adjacent to the hull. Struts and load bearing members may be buckled or broken, limiting the ability of the spacecraft to accelerate or maneuver. Spin habitats may have been broken off of the main craft, or may be unbalanced leading to violent precession and vibrations (probably causing the bearings to quickly seize up, and the resulting stress could cause further disintegration of the spin habitats). A significant number of the crew are likely to have been killed or incapacitated. Depending on the radiation hardness of the spacecraft systems and the neutron yield of the nuke, electronic systems may or may not be functioning, crew may be incapacitated and dying of radiation sickness after several minutes to days, and neutron activation may result in high radiation conditions on board for weeks afterward.

KINETICS: One or more breaches have occurred in the hull. Surface installations in those locations have been damaged or destroyed. Depending on placement, these may or may not be venting fluids (atmosphere, coolant, fuel, or propellant). Strikes to load bearing structures will compromise the ability of the craft to maneuver without breaking apart. Where strikes have occurred, sprays of molten material and hypervelocity jets of condensing grit have simultaneously blowtorched, sandblasted, and smashed any equipment in the path of the fireball of re-condensing debris from the kinetic impactor and vaporized hull material. When this damages critical components, other capabilities of the spacecraft could be impaired (such as cracking open the main reactor or crippling the primary thrusters). Strikes to crew habitats may result in significant casualties. Damage from individual strikes will be localized but severe where the damage has occurred. Multiple strikes could result in widespread damage. High precision targeting of the impacts is unlikely except against spacecraft which are already drifting hulks, the breaches will be in more or less random locations on the exposed side.

LASERS: At close range, pinpoint targeting of vital exposed equipment will have removed vital capabilities while leaving the spacecraft otherwise intact. The exact details will depend on what equipment was targeted. Thrusters may have been burned off, leaving the spacecraft drifting. Sensor damage will leave the spacecraft blind. Exposed weapons will likely have been burned off. Holes drilled in tanks may have vented the spacecraft's stores of fuel or propellant into space. Holes drilled in inhabited sections may be venting air and may have caused significant casualties. Tension bearing cables or load bearing struts may have been severed — this could result in parts of the spacecraft drifting away from the main body. A hole drilled into the main reactor would leave the spacecraft without power (and possibly leave the engineering section highly radioactive, for certain types of reactors).

At longer ranges, sensors will have been blinded and unhardened surface equipment may be damaged or incapacitated, but hardened or interior core systems (thrusters, reactors, computing) or anything behind armor or the main hull will be undamaged. This could leave the spacecraft blind but still able to act. Possible superficial damage may be found on exposed surfaces — scorching, melting, and the like.

PARTICLE BEAMS: Radiation effects will have knocked out sensors, computers, and other electronic equipment. Crew may be incapacitated or killed by radiation sickness within minutes to weeks after exposure. Crew or control equipment in protected by radiation shielding or a significant thickness of matter (such as structural or hull material, propellant in tanks, or bulky equipment) in the way will be less affected or unaffected by the radiation. Radiation hardened equipment will be less damaged than equipment that has not been so hardened. At close range, expect the same effects as long range laser damage in addition to radiation effects. At very close range, damage will be similar to close range laser fire.

What can surving crewmembers do to preserve themselves (and fight off the boarders — assuming they have the will to fight)?

ALL: Close pressure doors to seal off habitat sections venting air to space. Shut down operations of damaged equipment to prevent further damage or loss of irreplaceable resources (fuel, propellant, coolant). Begin damage control to bring disabled vital equipment back on-line and brace damaged load bearing structures so that the spacecraft can limp back to a friendly port. Administer first aid to the wounded, trained medical personnel will follow up with care and treatment for trauma victims.

NUKES AND PARTICLE BEAMS: Evacuate neutron irradiated areas (for nukes). If medical facilities are still operational, begin treatment for radiation exposure (which today consists of bone marrow transfusions). Those who have already taken a lethal radiation exposure may undertake suicide missions to preserve their crewmates in the time they have while they are still able-bodied.

ALL: Repelling boarders will largely consist of grabbing a weapon and shooting at the other guy. Depending on conditions, defenders may also get into pressure suits — but if the boarders are trying to take the spacecraft intact and limit casualties this may only hamper the crew's ability to fight (pressure suits are heavy, bulky and limit maneuverability).

What can the boarding party do to secure the remains of the ship?

If it is not necessary to capture living crew or limit casualties of non-combatants, irradiate the spacecraft from a distance with particle beams or radiation enhanced nukes. Pinpoint laser strikes may be used to cripple any spacecraft functions that will help the defenders or hinder the boarders (if the boarders are better equipped to fight in vacuum, for example, they can depressurize the craft with multiple holes in the habitat section). If the crippled spacecraft is still capable of communication, demand surrender using the threat of death and the promise of survival (possibly including medical care). Otherwise, grab the cutlasses — err, laser guns — and begin boarding.

by Luke Campbell (2016)

All of this casts doubt on any scenario that involves routine boardings, throwing the rationale for space fighters into doubt again, particularly given the spread of “flag of convenience” registration on the seas today.  If an inspection is required, it is probably better to do so when the vessel is docked at its destination, instead of spending the time and delta-V required to chase it down.  While the issue might occasionally come up, the presence of dedicated ‘boarding gunships’ is unlikely.  The ultimate arbiter of good behavior in this scenario is the threat of warships becoming involved.  While the boarding party might be lost if a vessel makes trouble, the crew of the resisting vessel will be as well, and they would know as much before they made trouble.  In many ways, the same situation is in effect today, and the number of cases where boarding parties are resisted is very small.

Boardings can be broken down into two types, permissive and hostile.

Permissive boardings are those in which the target is cooperating.  Pull up to the airlock, dock, and send the team over.  These are not terribly complicated, but a possible complication is if a supposedly permissive boarding quickly turns hostile.  A type of fighter, referred to above as a boarding gunship, has been suggested to deal with said eventuality.  There are far easier ways to do so, however.  Besides the deterrence value of major warships nearby (as mentioned above), the boarding craft itself could carry a specialized “boarding bomb” which is attached to the boarded craft, and detonated (remotely if necessary) if the target turns hostile.

Hostile boardings are another matter entirely.  The attacker must first disable the target ship, then transfer troops over.  Disabling the target can be done in a number of ways.  Section 9 mentioned the use of EMP weapons for this purpose, but lasers and coilguns also have their uses.  At short range, both can be targeted on specific parts of the target, allowing them to disable it without killing anyone on board.  The SM-3 missile demonstrated this capability when it struck the hydrazine tank on USA-193.  The actual mechanics of boarding are fairly simple.  Match velocities, fly over, set up an inflatable airlock, and blast a hole into the ship.  All of this assumes a fairly poorly-armed target.  If the target is well-armed, then disabling it is more difficult, as lasers are less likely to hit specific components at long range.  Anti-laser warheads (Section 7) are likely to be used, as are similar particle kinetics designed to knock out radiators, and small guided kinetics built to target certain vulnerable components.

The crew can do a number of things to make boarding (either internal or external) more difficult.  One possibility is to use the drive as a weapon.  Larry Niven first stated it in his famous Kzinti Lesson: "a reaction drive's efficiency as a weapon is in direct proportion to its efficiency as a drive."  This is, strictly speaking, true.  However, the suggestion of using drives as weapons ignores the engineering and tactics involved.  A weapon must be tightly focused to use at long range, while a drive suffers very little from a few degrees of dispersion.  This means that the damage from a drive will fall off rapidly, rendering the idea useless for most situations.  For example, something like 2° is the standard dispersion for ion thrusters.  This in turn means that the size of the exhaust spot will get 1 meter larger for every 29 meters farther away you get from the ship.  Even at the rather absurdly close range of 1 km, the spot will only be 35 meters (plus the size of the original thruster, which will be ignored here) across.  A 1 GW torch (which is rather more powerful than might be expected in the PMF) will only produce a flux 1.05 MW/m2.  This is definitely damaging, but at more reasonable ranges, it quickly drops off.  At a range of only 16 km, the flux is no greater than that of sunlight at Earth’s surface.  There is also the issue of pointing the drive at a target, and using keeping it pointed there long enough to do actual damage without moving yourself away.  All in all, the idea, while good in theory, has little utility in actual combat.  

A good analogy might be the use of ramming by modern warships.  A pirate or other boarder, on the other hand, must by definition come to point-blank range, putting him inside the danger zone of the drive.  On the other hand, Kzinti attacks have the potential to have applications in posturing between rivals.  This sort of thing occurred numerous times during the Cold War, most notably in 1988, with the USS Yorktown and the USS Caron in the Black Sea.  Another example of this sort of operation is the Cod Wars between Iceland and the UK.  

Some have suggested that the exhaust could be more tightly concentrated, but there are thermodynamic limits on the process, which would significantly impair the efficiency of the drive to slightly enhance its utility as a weapon.  

There are a number of other things on the outer hull of a spacecraft that might be dangerous to potential boarders.  Maneuvering thrusters are potentially quite potent defensive weapons, and improvised kinetics (junk thrown out the airlock) could make a boarder’s life interesting.  Throwing the entire ship into a spin is another option, but structural limitations might limit the rate of spin enough to make this ineffective.  One potential solution to these problems is to somehow trick the crew into letting you dock, then seizing the ship.  The methods involved are outside the scope of this paper, however.

One other time that boarding actions could occur is after a battle.  Depending on the weapons used, a ship might be hours de combat, but still mostly intact.  Said weapons might be high-precision lasers or kinetics, surface-effect kinetics, or nuclear weapons that were close enough to deal significant surface damage, but too far away to inflict a hard kill.  In any case, the ship being boarded is disabled and drifting.  Or it could simply be a ship that has surrendered due to the battle going against it, but is otherwise operational.  For that matter, even a highly damaged vessel won’t sink, and there might be survivors aboard.  In any case, the first step will probably be to attach a limpet mine to the hull with a command link keeping it from detonating.  Then the boarder would send in a shuttle with a few men to take control of the vessel and evacuate the crew.   This type of boarding is unlikely to be opposed, as the crew of the boarded vessel is entirely at the mercy of the boarders, who probably have no reason to really want the vessel intact.  Thus, the crew will have every incentive to cooperate.  If they don’t, they get blown up.  It is possible that if this situation occurs regularly, there would be arrangements made to simplify boarding of surrendered vessels.  These might include standardized docking ports or some sort of computer interlocks.

Another interesting concept raised in the course of discussing piracy and boarding is that of chases.  There are several potential classifications of chases.  The most obvious is that in which the pursuer must simply catch the pursuee, who has no particular goal other than getting away.  The victor in this chase is determined by available acceleration and delta-V, but it only gets interesting when one can be traded for the other.  The pursuer might well pile on the acceleration, as they only have to catch up with the target once, while the target must stay ahead at all times.  The real complication here, though, is that the pursuee is likely to be fleeing to somewhere, instead of just away.  This means that at some point he has to turn around and slow down.  The pursuer then has a free shot at him.  This assumes, of course, that the pursuer must only get in range of the target to destroy it, instead of trying to rendezvous and board.  That objective is significantly more difficult, as the pursuer must carefully time his burns to meet the target.  Another potential complication is that the pursuer will most likely have to avoid wherever the pursuee is going, and must keep enough delta-V in reserve to do so after the pursuee is overtaken.  Getting home again is also a potential problem, but it might be resolved by dispatching a tanker to meet the pursuer after it’s safe.

A straight-line pursuit raises the possibility of the use of kinetics by the pursuee.  Oddly enough, the best time to do so is when the pursuer is as far back as possible, and at zero velocity relative to the pursuee.  The projectiles will have the maximum velocity possible when they reach him.  A pursuer, on the other hand, will want to drop as late as possible, as the projectiles will otherwise fall behind him.

by Byron Coffey (2016)

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

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

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

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

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

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

My questions are:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here's how I think it would go:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laying out the requirements for boarding to happen:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

“And then there’s the difficult kind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Victory or death!


(ed note: this is an example of the author using made-up handwaving FTL drives with limitations chosen such that starships can overtake and board other ships. Great for writing tales of space pirates!

our heroes have discovered the home planet of the human Adderkop barbarians. If they can get back to the planet Freya, a battlefleet can be dispatched to deal with the Adderkops. Sadly, our heroes discover that their starship's hyperdrive was damaged in the escape, and will fail before they can make it to Freya. And the Adderkops have their entire space navy searching for them. What to do?)

      His tone was genial. He had, in fact, been in a good mood ever since they escaped the Adderkops. (Who wouldn't be? For a mere space yacht, even an armed one with ultrapowered engines, to get away from three cruisers, was more than an accomplishment; it was very nearly a miracle. Van Rijn still kept four grateful candles burning before his Martian sandroot statuette of St. Dismas. (the "Penitent thief", an appropriate saint for Nicholas Van Rijn))

     Van Rijn rose and lumbered about the cabin, fuming obscenities and volcanic blue clouds. As he passed the shelf where St. Dismas stood, he pinched the candles out in a marked manner. That seemed to trigger something in him. He turned about and said, "Ha! Industrial civilizations, ja, maybe so. Not only the pest-begotten Adderkops ply this region of space. Gives some chance perhaps we can come in detection range of an un-beat-up ship, nie? You go get Yamamura to jack up our detector sensitivities till we can feel a gnat twiddle its wings back in my Djakarta office on Earth, so lazy the cleaners are. Then we go off this direct course and run a standard naval search pattern at reduced speed."
     "And if we find a ship? Could belong to the enemy, you know."
     "That chance we take."
     "In all events, sir, we'll lose time. The pursuit will gain on us while we follow a search-helix. Especially if we spend days persuading some nonhuman crew who've never heard of the human race, that we have to be taken to Valhalla immediately if not sooner."
     "We burn that bridge when we come to it. You have might be a more hopeful scheme?"

     The Hebe G.B. was a yacht, not a buccaneer frigate (I like the term "corsair"). When Nicholas van Rijn was aboard, though, the distinction sometimes got a little blurred. So she had more legs than most ships, detectors of uncommon sensitivity, and a crew experienced in the tactics of overhauling.
     She was able to get a bearing on the hyperemission of the other craft long before her own vibrations were observed. Pacing the unseen one, she established the set course it was following, then poured on all available juice to intercept. If the stranger had maintained quasi-velocity, there would have been contact in three or four hours. Instead, its wake indicated a sheering off, an attempt to flee. The Hebe G.B. changed course, too, and continued gaining on her slower quarry.
     "They're afraid of us," decided Torrance. "And they're not running back toward the Adderkop sun. Which two facts indicate they're not Adderkops themselves, but do have reason to be scared of strangers." He nodded, rather grimly, for during the preliminary investigations he had inspected a few backward planets which the bandit nation had visited.
     Seeing that the pursuer kept shortening her distance, the pursued turned off their hyperdrive. Reverting to intrinsic sublight velocity, converter throttled down to minimal output, their ship became an infinitesimal speck in an effectively infinite space. The maneuver often works; after casting about futilely for a while, the enemy gives up and goes home. The Hebe G.B., though, was prepared. The known superlight vector, together with the instant of cutoff, gave her computers a rough idea of where the prey was. She continued to that volume of space and then hopped about in a well-designed search pattern, reverting to normal state at intervals to sample the neutrino haze which any nuclear engine emits. Those nuclear engines known as stars provided most; but by statistical analysis, the computers presently isolated one feeble nearby source. The yacht went thither … and wan against the glittering sky, the other ship appeared in her screens.
     It was several times her size, a cylinder with bluntly rounded nose and massive drive cones, numerous housings for auxiliary boats, a single gun turret. The principles of physics dictate that the general conformation of all ships intended for a given purpose shall be roughly the same. But any spaceman could see that this one had never been built by members of Technic civilization.
     Fire blazed. Even with the automatic stopping-down of his viewscreen, Torrance was momentarily blinded. Instruments told him that the stranger had fired a fusion shell which his own robogunners had intercepted with a missile. The attack had been miserably slow and feeble. This was not a warcraft in any sense; it was no more a match for the Hebe G.B. than the yacht was for one of the Adderkops chasing her.
     "Hokay, now we got that foolishness out of the way and we can talk business," said Van Rijn. "Get them on the telecom and develop a common language. Fast! Then explain we mean no harm but want just a lift to Valhalla." He hesitated before adding, with a distinct wince, "We can pay well."
     "Might prove difficult, sir," said Torrance. "Our ship is identifiably human-built, but chances are that the only humans they've ever met are Adderkops."
     "Well, so if it makes needful, we can board them and force them to transport us, nie? Hurry up, for Satan's sake! If we wait too long here, like bebobbled snoozers, we'll get caught."
     Torrance was about to point out they were safe enough. The Adderkops were far behind the swifter Terrestrial ship. They could have no idea that her hyperdrive was now cut off; when they began to suspect it, they could have no measurable probability of finding her. Then he remembered that the case was not so simple. If the parleying with these strangers took unduly long—more than a week, at best—Adderkop squadrons would have penetrated this general region and gone beyond. They would probably remain on picket for months: which the humans could not do for lack of food. When a hyperdrive did start up, they'd detect it and run down this awkward merchantman with ease. The only hope was to hitch a ride to Valhalla soon, using the head start already gained to offset the disadvantage of reduced speed.
     "We're trying all bands, sir," he said. "No response so far." He frowned worriedly. "I don't understand. They must know we've got them cold, and they must have picked up our calls and realize we want to talk. Why don't they respond? Wouldn't cost them anything."
     "Maybe they abandoned ship," suggested the communications officer. "They might have hyperdriven lifeboats."
     "No." Torrance shook his head. "We'd have spotted that… Keep trying, Freeman Betancourt. If we haven't gotten an answer in an hour, we'll lay alongside and board."
     The receiver screens remained blank. But at the end of the grace period, when Torrance was issuing space armor, Yamamura reported something new. Neutrino output had increased from a source near the stern of the alien. Some process involving moderate amounts of energy was being carried out.
     Torrance clamped down his helmet. "We'll have a look at that."
     He posted a skeleton crew—Van Rijn himself, loudly protesting, took over the bridge—and led his boarding party to the main air lock. Smooth as a gliding shark (the old swine was a blue-ribbon spaceman after all, the captain realized in some astonishment), the Hebe G.B. clamped on a tractor beam and hauled herself toward the bigger vessel.
     It disappeared. Recoil sent the yacht staggering.
     "Beelzebub and botulism!" snarled Van Rijn. "He went back into hyper, ha? We see about that!" The ulcerated converter shrieked as he called upon it, but the engines were given power. On a lung and a half, the Terrestrial ship again overtook the foreigner. Van Rijn phased in so casually that Torrance almost forgot this was a job considered difficult by master pilots. He evaded a frantic pressor beam and tied his yacht to the larger hull with unshearable bands of force. He cut off his hyperdrive again, for the converter couldn't take much more. Being within the force-field of the alien, the Hebe G.B. was carried along, though the "drag" of extra mass reduced quasi-speed considerably. If he had hoped the grappled vessel would quit and revert to normal state, he was disappointed. The linked hulls continued plunging faster than light, toward an unnamed constellation.
     Torrance bit back an oath, summoned his men, and went outside.
     He had never forced entry on a hostile craft before, but assumed it wasn't much different from burning his way into a derelict. Having chosen his spot, he set up a balloon tent to conserve air; no use killing the alien crew. The torches of his men spewed flame; blue actinic sparks fountained backward and danced through zero gravity. Meanwhile the rest of the squad stood by with blasters and grenades.
     Beyond, the curves of the two hulls dropped off to infinity. Without compensating electronic viewscreens, the sky was weirdly distorted by aberration and Doppler effect, as if the men were already dead and beating through the other existence toward Judgment. Torrance held his mind firmly to practical worries. Once inboard, the nonhumans made prisoner, how was he to communicate? Especially if he first had to gun down several of them …
     The outer shell was peeled back. He studied the inner structure of the plate with fascination. He'd never seen anything like it before. Surely this race had developed space travel quite independently of mankind. Though their engineering must obey the same natural laws, it was radically different in detail. What was that tough but corky substance lining the inner shell? And was the circuitry embedded in it, for he didn't see any elsewhere?
     The last defense gave way. Torrance swallowed hard and shot a flashbeam into the interior. Darkness and vacuum met him. When he entered the hull, he floated, weightless; artificial gravity had been turned off. The crew was hiding someplace.
     A tube was run between the yacht's main lock and the entry cut into the other ship. Through this, air was pumped and electric lines were strung, to illuminate the prize. By some fancy juggling with the gravitic generator of the Hebe G.B., Yamamura supplied about one-fourth Earth-weight to the foreigner, though he couldn't get the direction uniform and its decks felt canted in wildly varying degrees.

From HIDING PLACE by Poul Anderson (1961)

      Boredom is a Space Marine's worst enemy, but these Marines were not bored.

     "Close in! You squinty-eyed offspring of a BASIC program. So what if you've lost your outside video! You've still got radar and ground plots! Close in!"
     General Virginia Jones punched her supervisory keyboard as her parade-ground voice echoed off the naked beams and taut pressurized walls of the crowded cubicle. Crammed into the compact control room of a Space Marine Lightsail Interceptor, the programmers were short-circuiting the software in the ship's computer to optimize an "unwilling capture" trajectory between their low acceleration twenty-five kilometer-diameter sailcraft and the radar image of a lumbering cargo hauler. The huge heavy-lift vehicle was rising slowly from its launch pad deep in Soviet Russia on its way to resupply one of the Soviet bases in geosynchronous orbit.

     "Boarding party!" General Jones roared to the deck below. "You've got ten minutes to do the fifteen-minute suiting drill! Move it!"
     There was a bustle as hammocks were stowed to give a little more room in the tiny communal barracks. Suits were lifted from lockers and donned—rapidly, but carefully. General Jones looked sternly around at the organized pandemonium and took a bite of her energy stick. She looked at it in distaste, thought blissfully of the excellent mess back at the Space Marine Orbital Base, then stoically took another bite of the energy bar. If it was good enough for her Marines, it was good enough for her.
     Like the PT boats in World War II almost a century ago (1945), the Interceptors had to be fast. With only the light pressure from the Sun to push them, that meant keeping weight down. It was battle rations every meal when the Space Marines were on Interceptor duty.

     General Jones carefully watched the captain of the Interceptor as he swung his ungainly craft smoothly around. Captain Anthony Roma was the best lightsail pilot in space (with the possible exception of Jinjur herself).
     The lightsail scooped, dumping its cross-orbit excess speed in the upper atmosphere by using its huge expanse of sail like a sea anchor. It tilted to maximize the solar photon pressure and rose again in a pursuit trajectory of the bogey.

     Ten minutes later General Jones called a halt to the hunt of the phantom fox."Freeze program," she said, then turned and tapped a code word into her command console. The computer memory of the practice pursuit was locked until she released it. The primary purpose of this exercise had been to test the reconfiguration skills of the human element of her computer-operated spaceship—the programmers. By reconfiguring the software in the computer to take into account its loss of components and capabilities, the programmers could hopefully tune the program to obtain its optimum response time. She wished the Interceptors could have the latest in self-reprogramming computers, or at least the touch-screen input terminals, but that was many fiscal-budget cycles away.
     The study of the programmer responses could take place later. General Jones lifted herself up in the weak acceleration, coiled her short, powerful legs under her compact body, hooked the toes of her corridor boots under the command console, and launched herself toward the "sortie" port. There was more to a Space Marine Interceptor than sail, computer, and programmers, and she was the preventive maintenance technician for that fourth component.

     The Space Marines were still frozen at attention in the sortie port, their 'stiction boots firmly attached to the deck. Their commander swam in free-fall among them, the lieutenant of the boarding party close behind her.
     She approached the first Marine, punched a code into his chest-pack and read the result.
     "Fine, Pete," she said. "Shuck the suit and take a break." She moved to the next one.
     "Hi, Amalita." She punched the Marine's chest-pack and read out the performance index.
     "Good timing!" she said. Her eyes grinned up at the proud Marine. "Seven minutes, thirteen seconds, and no suit flags! I'm proud of you!"

     She moved on to the next. The readout had no flags, but her instincts knew something was wrong. She stared at the face of the Marine through the visor. His bewildered eyes indicated something unknown was bothering him. She grabbed him by both arms, planted herself on the deck, lifted him bodily, and turned him around. He felt oddly out of balance. She examined the tell-tales on his support pack. They were fine—both tanks full of air. She stopped and raised a sharp pale-brown knuckle and gave the rounded ends of the two air tanks a rap. One tinked like a fiber-wound titanium balloon stretched to its utmost. The other tonked.
     In her rage, she smashed the offending tell-tale with her fist and jerked the poor Marine around until he was facing her. Tears welled from her dark brown eyes.
     "Everlasting elephants, Mike!! If it doesn't feel right, don't put it on!!! Even if the blazzflaggin' thing says it's OK! I want you alive!!"
     She jammed the stricken Marine back down to the floor where his 'stiction boots took hold again. Then pushing against him, she rose up and grabbed a handhold in the ceiling of the crowded port.
     "I want you ALL alive!" she roared, looking around at the ranks of cowed killers. "The next time one of you blue-nosed monkeys puts on a bad suit, I'll personally kick you from here to PLUTO!"
     She turned, and sucking the back of her hand, swam out the lock, leaving a thoughtful lieutenant to finish the inspection. General Jones had not yet mentioned his responsibilities in this infraction, but he expected to hear about it as soon as they were where the troops couldn't overhear. He wasn't looking forward to it, for General "Jinjur" had not gotten her nickname by being lenient with officers that allowed her troops to get into danger.

     General Jones was half-way through the analysis of the interception exercise when a message came through from the Space Marine Orbital Base. The Russians had announced a launch to resupply one of their geosynchronous-orbit manned space stations. The Interceptor that Jinjur was inspecting was in the best position, and was assigned the job of monitoring the launch. She carefully watched the Captain of the Interceptor as he swung his ungainly craft smoothly around. The sunlight hit the sail, the acceleration built up to a few percent of Earth's gravity, and the floating objects in the room drifted downward. The Captain called on one of the orbiting space forts above him for more power, and there was a blinding flash in the video monitor as a powerful laser beam struck the sail with a light beam five times brighter than the Sun. The acceleration rose to one-tenth gee and they skimmed rapidly above the Earth's atmosphere, gaining speed by the minute.
     Soon the sailcraft's trackers had the Russian booster on their screens. Jinjur watched as the massive payload pushed its way slowly up out of the sea of air, rising vertically to over two thousand kilometers. As it reached the peak of its trajectory, the tiny image began to grow wings. The wings became larger and larger until they dwarfed the twenty-five kilometer diameter sail of the Interceptor. Jinjur admired the deployment speed of the lightsail. The pilot must be Ledenov or Petrov with a new deployment program.
     The huge sailship caught the Sun's rays and started its climbing spiral outward to the distant space station thirty-six thousand kilometers overhead. Unlike the Interceptor, which was built for speed, this was a tug. It would take almost a month to haul its heavy load into the heavens.

     The Interceptor Captain glanced at Jinjur and she nodded approval. He reached for a microphone and made a call to the U.N. Space Peacekeeping Authority. UNSPA had no forces. They used those of the spacefaring nations instead. The United States had put Jinjur's sailcraft in a position where it could carry out an interception to check and make sure that no unauthorized weapons were in the enemy cargo. But not all ships were searched, only a random sample. The keeper of the random number generator was UNSPA.
     "This is Captain Anthony Roma of the Greater United States Space Marine Interceptor Iwo Jima calling United Nations Space Peacekeeping Authority. I have intercepted a cargo light-tug of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Request permission to board for Space-Peacekeeping inspection," he asked.
     There was a pause as the UNSPA operator consulted a UN official. The official pushed a button on a carefully guarded machine.
     "Permission granted," came the reply.
     "GONG!" shouted Jinjur. "We've hit the jackpot!"
     "Attention all hands!" said Captain Roma. "Prepare for an authorized inspection of a foreign spacecraft." There was a bustle as the control room filled up, while down below, spacesuits recently stored away in lockers were removed again, checked over carefully, then just as carefully donned.

     Jinjur watched through the next hour as Captain Roma closed in on the Russian sail. They zoomed in with their video camera and explored the outside of the payload section. It was nearly lost in the immense sea of shining aluminum film.
     "Looks like a perfectly ordinary cargo hauler to me," said Jinjur to the Captain. "But the way to keep those Ruskies honest is to give them a good shakedown whenever we get permission. I want one of the crew to take a remote flyer over every square centimeter of that sail, and I want computer backup, so that no little package stuck out in some rigging tens of kilometers from here is missed."
     "The communications operator has established contact with the Russian ship, General," the Captain said. "Do you wish to talk to them yourself?"
     "If you don't mind," said Jinjur. "I think I know the Captain."
     The call was transferred to her console and the face of a handsome middle-aged Russian filled the screen.
     "I thought it was you, Petrov," she said. "I compliment you on your sail deployment. You're going to be a formidable opponent at the next Space Olympics in the light-sail races."
     "Jost practice, Jinjur," said Captain Petrov. "I hear from our UN friends that you will be paying us a visit."
     "Yes. I apologize for having to bother you, but it's part of the job."
     "I understand," he said. "But with you coming it will be a pleasure instead of a bother. I look forward to seeing you again. It has been almost three years since we worked on the Space Weapons panel for the last disarmament talks."
     "See you soon," said Jinjur, turning off the console and heading for the locker that held her personal space-suit.

     Within an hour, the small boarding crew was floating on tethers outside the Interceptor. Captain Roma kept his sail trimmed to match the speed of his light-weight Interceptor with the larger tug. Both ships were still accelerating in the sunlight, however, so they all held on to keep from drifting away. A small jet scooter was unlashed from the rigging. It had a number of handholds along the side, and soon, looking like a cluster of white grapes, the scooter and boarding party jetted the few kilometers that separated the two tiny payload capsules.
     Jinjur, being just a visiting General, kept out of the way as the boarding party searched the outside of the cargo ship. There were a few unusual cylinders found, but a flash x-ray and a scan with a Forward Mass Detector showed that they only contained the usual emergency gear in a new package shape. They boarded, and while the crew proceeded with their hours-long methodical inspection, Jinjur met with Petrov in his cabin.
     "This is certainly a lot nicer than an Interceptor," said Jinjur as she admired the view of her distant ship out the large glass port.
     "Running a cargo ship does have its amenities," replied Petrov.

From ROCHEWORLD (1990 version) by Dr. Robert E. Forward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s that?”

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

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

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

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

“Mat! There are two more tubes coming!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

from THE TWO FACES OF TOMORROW by James Hogan (1979)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Base Defense

Military bases will need a defensive force, since they are prime targets for enemy attack. As a side note, there was a study done in 1965 on firearm designs suitable for use on Luna.


(ed note: this is from the US Army's Project Horizon for a lunar military base)



     Self-preservation is probably the strongest human motivation. Throughout recorded history, man, when entering into new and unknown areas, has always armed himself with the best weapons available. Therefore, in preparing for a lunar outpost it is only natural that due consideration be given to devising a complement of weapons to protect the lunar pioneer.

     The need for weapons is intensified by USSR. statements of intention to establish a lunar station plus intelligence estimates that would grant them the ability to do so. A USSR outpost would be a threat to the US outpost because sole possession of a lunar observation post, weather station, etc. , would provide a military advantage in case of terrestrial hostilities. Defense must therefore be provided to deter attack to obtain such an advantage. For this study it has been assumed that the opposing force is comparable in size and composition to our own. The threat considered in the choice of weapons consists of the following:

  • Personnel in space suits.
  • Lunar surface vehicles.
  • Moon-orbiting space vehicles.
  • Non-orbiting space vehicles.

Each of these threats is further discussed below.

1. Personnel in Space Suits

     Due to the lack of atmosphere and the intense radiation, men walking on the lunar surface must be provided with full space suits. It is possible that they may approach the outpost either walking or in vehicles. The suit will probably be designed to include armor protection and will have self-sealing characteristics. It is safe to assume that decompression of the suit would prove fatal to the man within a very short time (about 90 seconds). It is believed that a kill mechanism of fragments with sufficient energy to puncture the space suit and retain sufficient velocity to be lethal against man would suffice against this threat. Certainly the greater the number of punctures, the higher the probability of a kill. An optimized system would therefore contain a large number of lethal fragments.

2. Lunar Surface Vehicles

     Many authors have written of expeditions to and on the moon. Among the proposals have been either man operated or robot vehicles for exploration purposes. It is therefore conceivable that such a vehicle, manned or unmanned, may constitute a very real threat to an outpost. While this vehicle will very probably not be armored other than that necessary to permit pressurization, it is probable that the vehicle may be capable of rapid movement and may be provided with means of climbing or otherwise traversing the steep slopes and rugged terrain present. It is felt that anti-material type munitions capable of defeating this type of target on earth would be equal or more effective against this type vehicle on the moon and would be sufficient to immobilize such vehicles by puncturing the pressurized compartments or damaging vital parts.

3. Moon-Orbiting Space Vehicles

     The moon—orbiting space vehicle, from the point of view of the lunar outpost, may be either friendly or unfriendly, manned or unmanned. It is presumed that prior knowledge of the intent to place a friendly vehicle in lunar orbit would have been received from earth. The intent of the orbiting vehicle may be either surveillance or an attack on the outpost. Assuming that the mission of the vehicle is of a surveillance nature, the vehicle may not be an immediate threat to the outpost. The detection, tracking, and destruction of this vehicle present essentially the same type problems as a non-orbiting space vehicle.

4. Non-Orbiting Space Vehicle

     As in the case of the moon-orbiting space vehicle, it must be presumed that there is prior knowledge of the approach of a friendly vehicle from earth. This non-friendly vehicle may either be manned or unmanned and the intent may be to land with opposing forces or may carry a large nuclear warhead capable of mass destruction of the lunar base material and personnel. The lethal radius of personnel of a 10MT nuclear burst at an altitude of 80,000 feet above earth is of an order of 70 miles. However, when the burst is in the vacuous conditions around the moon, the lethal radius from this yield would be in excess of 200 miles. The estimated kill mechanism for either the orbiting or non-orbiting space vehicle is primary and secondary radiation from a nuclear warhead capable of destroying the vehicle, the electronics systems of the vehicle, the warhead, or killing the personnel. Another possible mechanism to be considered is beamed electromagnetic radiation, better known as the "death ray," and also an electron accelerator. (see paragraphs C1.a, and C2)


     The effects of environment in changing the characteristics or the design requirements for lunar outpost equipment are certainly not unique to ammunition. Probably physiological and psychological considerations will dictate the major design characteristics of most of the landing party materiel. However, there are a number of environmental conditions which have significant effect upon ammunition and Weaponry. Some of these fortuitously enhance the performance characteristics of certain weapons and result in significant simplification; on the other hand others will require major weaponry development programs to adapt them to lunar use. This section will cover four major areas of environment and how they affect weapon handling and performance. The four categories are Vacuum, Temperature, Gravity, and Human Factors. It should be noted that the discussions are limited strictly to the effects of environment on weaponry and the capability for effective use under lunar conditions.

1. Vacuum

     The absolute pressures near the surface of the moon are of the order 10-13 of the earth's atmosphere. In terms of the ammunition and weaponry this extremely low pressure may be considered for all practical purposes as perfect vacuum.

     a. Explosive Initiation and Propagation

     There is evidence which indicates that stab type detonators and percussion primers as they are presently designed will not operate reliably in a vacuum. There are methods of overcoming this situation by substitution of explosive materials or sealing the cartridge cases.

     b. Storage Stability

     Some aspects of the vacuum environment will be advantageous to good storage stability. There will be no oxygen or moisture present to cause corrosion of metal parts and any gaseous reaction products will be dissipated with the consequent tendency to reduce the rate of any decomposition reactions.

     c. Dissipation of Gaseous Products

     The hot gases ejected from the rear of rocket propelled weapons or recoilless rifles will be unretarded by air and will retain their full expansion velocity for relatively long distances. If the normal precaution of not standing directly to the rear of such a weapon are exercised, the danger from the gases by direct thermal conduction should be no greater than they are on the earth.

     d. Blast Dissipation

     The usual air shock wave from detonation of a blast type warhead will not exist since there is no medium in which it can propagate. The expanding gaseous products from the detonation of an explosive will exert some pressure on nearby objects. An estimate of these pressures as a function of the distance from the center of a spherical explosive charge is as shown in Figure III-C-1. This serves to demonstrate that the pressures produced by a blast type warhead will drop in a very Short distance from the charge to such low levels that it is impractical to consider using blast effects as a means of defeating vehicular or human targets.

     e. Heat Transfer

     In the vacuum environment there will be no heat transfer by the mechanisms of convection (only by conduction and radiation).

     f. Fragment Ballistics

      Regarding the flight of fragments from their point of launch to the target, the vacuum environment enhances the overall lethality of fragmentation weapons to a considerable degree. In view of the fact that the wounding capability is a power function of velocity (Ke = 0.5 * M * V2 with velocity raised to the power of 2), the air drag in the earth’s atmosphere is a very substantial factor in degrading the wounding capability at the target. Under lunar vacuum conditions the individual fragment is essentially as lethal throughout its trajectory as it is at the very instant of launch. Thus, overall lethalities of fragmentation weapons will be orders of magnitude greater under lunar conditions than they are on earth.

     The lack of drag, while enhancing the lethality of fragmentation weapons, at the same time introduces a problem of safety to the using personnel. Under lunar vacuum conditions the absence of drag allows the omni-directional fragmentation devices to be just as lethal against friendly personnel over long distances as they are against enemy personnel. The use of an omnidirectional fragmentation weapon will thus require firing or launching from a masked position such that friendly personnel are shielded from the returning fragments (i.e., if you throw a grenade, immediately take shelter behind a bolder).

     In terms of fragments other than "chunky" types (L/D ratios of about 1) there appears to be no particular advantage to considering such things as flechettes or darts. Basically, these are fin-stabilized devices which depend on air for stabilization for their effectiveness (i.e., aero-stabilization don't work if there ain't no air). While the flechette offers considerable promise on earth by eliminating a good portion of the velocity degradation associated with "chunky" fragments, this would not be the case in a lunar application.

     g. Exterior Ballistics

     The vacuum lunar conditions present some radically different concepts insofar as exterior ballistics are concerned. The absence of air drag serves to preserve velocity over the entire trajectory. Thus, the ranges attainable on the moon, because of the vacuum conditions, are far in excess of earth ranges. The absence of an atmosphere while enhancing the range offers an entirely new slant on stability. Obviously, fins or any other type of aerodynamic stabilization are physically impossible. Spin stabilization is possible and would be similar to stabilization on earth with one exception — once a shell or projectile is spin stabilized at launch at some angle to the horizontal, it will continue to travel in this attitude throughout a vacuum trajectory.

     h. Nuclear Effects

     The phenomenon associated with the detonation of a nuclear device in the absence of an atmosphere differs considerably from that within the atmosphere. On the earth, a nuclear detonation will normally release most of its energy as blast and thermal radiation and a smaller portion as neutrons and gamma radiation, along with several other radiations. Under vacuum conditions, as found on the moon, a nuclear detonation will produce very little blast and thermal energy in the conventional earth reference sense, and instead will release essentially all of its energy solely in the form of nuclear, atomic, and electromagnetic radiations (mostly x-rays with a bit of gamma-rays and neutrons), The lack of atmosphere will result in the fact that no attenuation of radiation will occur, and the only reduction of intensity will occur as a result of geometrical I/R2 dropoff,

     i. Electrical and Electronic

     One effect of low pressure on electric circuit behavior is that high voltage arcing is a serious problem. For example, with the voltage levels required in the current atomic implosion warheads, it is necessary to maintain a pressure of at least 7 psi to insure functioning. This problem is solved by sealing a dry nitrogen atmosphere in these warheads which in addition to preventing arcing, also prevents oxidation and humidity effects. The problem of breakdown voltage can be eliminated by proper design but must be given careful consideration. In some situations where a nearly total vacuum is needed in electronic components, the possibility of designing to take advantage of the near total vacuum already present on the moon might be helpful. Design of specific fuzing circuits should at least consider this aspect.

2. Temperature

     The lack of an atmosphere on the moon allows the surface of the moon. to be exposed to the direct rays of the sun (about 1.4×106 ergs/cm2/sec) throughout the entire period of daylight which is approximately 2 earth weeks. During the lunar night (also about 2 earth weeks) the surface of the moon dissipates its heat by direct radiation to space and does not enjoy the effect of any insulating atmosphere. Consequently there is a large variation in the temperature of the moon's surface from the lunar day to the lunar night. For the purposes of this study the maximum temperature of the lunar surface has been taken to be 248°F (120°C) and the minimum temperature -202°F (-130°C). The rate of change of temperature may be as high as 250 to 300°F per hour. It is expected that there will be some equilibrium temperature maintained at a reasonable distance below the moon's surface. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider the storage of munitions in a cave or tunnel until they are required for defense in order to maintain reasonable temperatures.

     Present Ordnance items are designed for possible storage and operation over the temperature range of -65° to 160°F. In the standard JAN temperature and humidity cycling test for fuzes the temperature is changed from one extreme to the other in about 4 hours. This represents a rate of change of about 60°F per hour. It can be seen, therefore, that the possible lunar rate of change in temperature of 250 to 300°F per hour may present serious problems since present ammunition is not designed with such high rates of temperature change in view. Because of their relatively high co-efficients of thermal expansion, explosive charges will have relatively high internal stresses induced by the rapid temperature changes. In almost all explosives, except plastic explosives such as Composition C4 (plastic explosive), these thermal stresses will be greater than the strength of the explosive and will result in cracking of the explosive charges. This cracking of the explosive charge is not likely to have any deleterious effect on conventional ammunition. However, in items such as implosion type atomic warheads where the shape of the detonation wave is important, the cracks may so distort the shape of the detonation wave as to seriously detract from the performance of the warhead. Rocket propellants might also be expected to be cracked as a result of the thermal shock. Such cracks would increase the burning surface of the propellants and possibly lead to rupture of the rocket motor because of the greater pressures produced.

     These considerations lead to the conclusion that it would be desirable to provide some means of insulating the ammunition so as to reduce the rate of change of the temperature of the items. This might be accomplished by proper selection of the surface treatment of the items so as to reduce the rate of heat transfer by radiation.

     It would also be desirable to store the items below the surface of the moon so as to reduce the temperature variation.

     Conventional cast explosives which are based on TNT as the casting medium become molten at temperatures about 175°F and will not be acceptable if they are expected to operate at 248°F. This problem may be overcome however, by using cast explosives based on trinitrobenzene (TNB) or by using plastic-bonded explosives based on HMX or diaminotrinitrobenzine (DATB).

     Atomic warheads presently require the use of plastic-bonded explosives for their high strengths and high explosive outputs. Present plastic bonded explosives decrease in strength at elevated temperatures but it is expected that current work on improvement of the binders used in these compositions should produce compositions of satisfactory stability, strength and output at 248°F by 1965.

     The stability of propellants at 214°F presents a more serious problem. The stability of nitrocellulose based propellants after storage for one year at 160°F is marginal. It is therefore. doubtful that these propellants will be able to withstand storage at 248°F for long periods of time. Some provisions will have to be made for storing them below the surface of the moon or otherwise shielding them from the solar radiation so that their temperature will not exceed 160°F for extended periods of time.

     The difference in coefficient of thermal expansion of two dissimilar metals which might be used in a fuse would create a considerable variation in the clearances between the parts. Any fuzes or other assemblies which would be expected to operate on the surface of the moon would have to be critically examined to determine whether the temperature variation would prevent its proper functioning.

     It has been suggested that the temperature may be controlled by storing the ammunition below the surface of the moon in caves or tunnels. It is also possible that packing could be designed to suitably insulate the ammunition. Because of the almost total lack of an atmosphere on the moon it may be possible to design containers for the ammunition which would act much like thermos bottles.

     The fact that the propellants and explosives used in the ammunition items for this project may be exposed to temperatures of 214°F for relatively long periods of time raises the question of the danger of cook-off or spontaneous ignition (thermally induced firing, or why you don't put your handgun on top of a hot stove). It is considered that there will be no cook-off problem with any of the standard military high explosives except possibly PETN. However, tests of the specific explosives intended for this use would have to be conducted. Electric detonators which contain PETN base charges have been found to cook-off when exposed to temperatures above 310°F for periods of less than 30 minutes. The possibility that such detonators might cook-off after exposure to 248°F for periods of 2 weeks would have to be investigated by actual tests.

     The possibility of cook-off of propellants (missile fuel or artillery shell charge) is a more serious hazard. No definite data are available on the results of prolonged storage of propellants at temperatures near 248°F.

     The choice of weapons outlined in this study points toward certain fuzing techniques as being required. One of these, and perhaps the most desirable type of fuzing, is a mechanical contact fuze dependent upon inertia or deformation at impact to provide the fusing signal. The signal could either be an electrical signal or a percussion signal depending upon the specific weapon. While it is true that these fuzes are sensitive to the type of terrain upon which impact occurs, it would be possible to design the fuze to be sensitive enough to function against soft materials but require acceleration arming for safety. The device can be designed with a minimum of moving parts to decrease high and low temperature effects.

     The contact fuze represents the most simple and reliable unit and should be used if a contact burst is acceptable. If an air burst is required the mechanical timer is probably better from a temperature standpoint even though it introduces a human error problem in setting, which the proximity fuze does not. Other types of fuzing which could be used include more elaborate radar techniques, optical methods and infra red methods but all these require an unwarranted degree of sophistication and also utilize components of such sensitivity that their successful design would present a difficult problem in consideration of the temperatures involved.

     The fact that the propellant charges will be expected to perform over a wide range of temperature will produce considerable variation in the muzzle or burn out velocity of the weapon, A temperature variation from 160° to -40°F produces a change of about 10% in the muzzle velocity of a gun. Since burning rates are expected to change more rapidly above or below those temperatures, the lunar temperature variation may produce a velocity variation of 50% or more. Comprehensive studies toward preventing these extreme variations will be required.

3. Gravity

     a. Exterior and Therminal Ballistics

     The gravitational acceleration on the moon is about 1/6 that of the earth value. It may be readily shown that the (flat terrain) range of any projectile in a vacuum is inversely proportional to the gravitational constant. The lunar ranges of all earth weapons are therefore approximately 6 times that of their vacuum ranges on earth. As illustrations of the typical ranges attainable under lunar conditions, Figure III-C-2 shows the trajectory for the DAVY CROCKETT weapon. These large increases in range make the various weapons take on an entirely different complexion insofar as possible missions.

     The lower gravitational field also increases terminal effects by increasing the range of fragments prior to final impact with the ground. Normally, the earth ranges for effective fragmentation are short due to air drag, so that gravity effects are negligible. However, with the lack of drag, gravity would come into consideration in determining the maximum effective radius of fragmentation. A high gravitational field, such as found on a very massive heavenly body, might very well negate the gain in effectiveness afforded by a vacuum. Fortuitously, the lunar low gravity and vacuum environments complement one another in maximizing fragment effective range.

     The low gravitational field allows for lower elevations and for much less propellant for comparable ranges. Flat fire, over relatively long ranges, if desired, would present very little problem. Also, the use of propulsion means other than conventional propellants (e.g., compressed gas, springs, etc. ), appears entirely feasible, for the shorter range weapons.

     b. Recoil

     The lower gravity on the moon presents a problem in absorbing recoil in both ground emplaced and handheld weapons. The lower weight for the same mass of weapon results in a much greater tendency toward overturning and lower frictional retardation under recoil forces (which in themselves are comparable to that on earth for equivalent projectiles and velocities). In addition, with lighter structure required for strength under lunar conditions, this problem will be compounded. In view of this, the recoilless type weapons, which need no parasitic recoil weight, appear quite attractive for lunar application.

     c. Structures

     Since structures are normally designed to support their own weight and since the weight will be only about 1/6 of their earth weight, they may be considered as being inherently stronger. This effect will not be as pronounced with small structures as it will be with large structures. It is unlikely that any of the ammunition items themselves will be large enough to benefit appreciably from this effect. Such things as protective canopies for the shielding of ammunition items from the direct rays of the sun, however, could be made from extremely light structural members.

     4. Human Factors

     One of the limiting considerations involved with planning the defense of an outpost on the moon revolves about the ability of the human elements to use their senses. We have previously discussed the lack of atmosphere, the extremes of heat and cold, the reduced gravity, and the effect of these on the performance of the munitions required. In some cases, as noted, these effects were beneficial in that the weapons' performance was actually enhanced. In the case of the human element, the effect is almost always detrimental.

     The mobility and ability will be severely limited since at all times man must wear the lunar suit. Weapons that do not require precise adjustment and arming will be required. Special provisions must be made for those weapons which require precise arming so this can be accomplished from within the suit (special gun-sights will be needed to accommodate space helmets). Present arctic clothing designs do not permit accurate aiming. The ammunition must be designed to be handled and operated with claws rather than the fingers and hands (it was later discovered that actual claws were not required. But the Apollo space suits give you very fat fingers. Over-sized trigger guards will be needed.). Under the gravitational conditions on. the moon, humans, firing weapons that recoil will find it more difficult to withstand overturning and translation due to imparted momentum (recoil will flip the gunman or shove them backward unless they brace for it).


1. Personnel in Space Suits and Vehicles

     The space suit which must be worn at all times when outside a pressure chamber, whether it be a vehicle or the outpost facility, provides a fair degree of protection from all types of kill mechanisms. The outer shell of the double wall suit protecting the stomach and chest is expected to be 40 ounces per square foot of titanium. The inner shell is expected to be a composite metal structure for attenuation of cosmic radiation. The head-piece of the suit will probably be more vulnerable since provision must be made for the man to see (transparent materials tend to be fragile). Other provisions such as oxygen supply, heating and/or air conditioning gear may be vulnerable. The vehicle will probably not provide any better armor defense than the space suit itself. It appears probable that the vehicle will be pressurized.

     When a threat exists to the man it will be necessary that he not only defend himself but must defend the outpost and supplies or he may soon die. The proposed facilities of the outpost are presented in other portions of the Project HORIZON Report and it immediately becomes essential to consider some type of perimeter defense for the site. The kill mechanism for the perimeter defense must possess the killing capabilities to defeat either man or vehicle. It is desirable that the weapon be fired from within the outpost facilities. This may be accomplished by emplacing the weapon outside the facilities and firing remotely from within.
     It appears necessary to review the possible kill mechanisms which could be used to defeat a human or vehicular target in the unique lunar environment. Among the types of kill mechanisms considered are beamed electromagnetic radiation, fire, blast, fragments, radiant energy, target impact, and nuclear kill mechanisms. For initial defense of the outpost, the weight of the weapons required should possibly not exceed l,000 lbs. Some of the advantages and disadvantages of each kill mechanism are discussed below.

     a. Beamed Electromagnetic Radiation

     One of the most promising schemes for weaponization of a device capable of projecting a focused bean of adequate doses of neutron or gamma radiation is by use of an electron accelerator. Such a device requires considerable power and, even through a built-in vacuum is available on the moon, it does not appear to be feasible to build such a weapon within acceptable weight limits in the time period of 1965 1966.

     b. Fire

     The possibilities of using fire from a weapon such as flame thrower as an efficient kill mechanism under lunar conditions appear rather remote. Any weapon of this nature which requires oxygen from the air to burn a fuel obviously would not function in a vacuum. Oxygen and fuel could be combined in a weapon; however, the personnel and vehicles are expected to be insulated to some degree from heat.

     c. Blast

     As discussed earlier under "Environment", there is a rapid drop of pressure from a charge detonated in a vacuum. Since it has been estimated that peak over-pressures on the order of 100 to 300 psi are required to seriously injure or cause death to personnel by blast, and peak over-pressures greater than 10 psi are required to rupture eardrums, it is obvious that blast is not a good kill mechanism for the lunar application.

     d. Fragments

     It must be considered that once a fragment has entered the body, its wounding potential will not be significantly different on the moon than it is on earth. Soft material targets on earth are quite vulnerable to fragments of the order of 10 to 15 grains travelling at several thousand feet per second. Lunar materiel may be softer due to the necessity of lighter structure. With respect to the penetration of the space suit, it is believed that the maximum armor protection which could be afforded would be on the order of 100 oz/sq ft and the suit proposed in another volume of the report is on the order of 40 oz/sq ft. This maximum target can be penetrated with 6 grain fragments at a velocity of approximately 3,800 fps or with 17 grain fragments travelling at 2,400 fps. As was mentioned under "Environment", the fragment striking velocity is essentially the same as the muzzle or initial velocity (since Luna has no air, there is no atmospheric drag to slow down the fragments).

     e. Radiant Energy

     Under lunar conditions, radiation weapons are conceptionally feasible because of the lack of atmospheric attenuation. The actual kill mechanism would depend on either damage to the space suit by heating or direct radiation effects, or by penetration of the space suit to produce effects on the man. If appropriate beams can be generated or appropriate reflection and focusing of the solar radiation can be achieved, then radiant energy can serve as a possible kill mechanism in future weapons. For the time period of l965-l966, it appears that reflectors and focusing apparatus necessary would be large, cumbersome, and heavy.

     f. Target Impact

     The reduced gravitational forces on the moon in conjunction with the fact that projectiles will suffer no degradation of velocity en-route to the target make impact weapons of more consequence than they are on earth. The impact weapons can generally be divided into three categories: weapons that penetrate and produce spall; weapons that produce target translation (shoved backward); and weapons that produce target rotation or overturning (spin like a top or flipped on its back). Most of these weapons are of high velocity and large in size. In general, this class of weapons would provide an over kill of the targets under consideration when a hit was attained and would thus be larger than necessary.

     g. Nuclear Kill Mechanisms

     Of principal military significance in causing damage to potential enemy personnel or vehicles are x-rays, neutrons, and gamma rays. As described in the section on "Environment", we cannot expect militarily significant blast or convectional thermal effects. Appropriate damage effects from nuclear detonations can therefore be visualized as including the following:

     (1) Sickness or death to personnel by neutron or gamma radiation. The combined neutron and gamma radiation dose vs. slant range is given in Figure III-C-3 for the yields considered for a lunar weapon.

     (2) Sickness or death to personnel by x-ray penetration.

     (3) Damage to environmental control elements and communication equipment in space suits by x-rays, neutrons, or gammas

     (4) Heat damage to surface materials of space suits by absorption of x-rays. In addition to the above effects which may be utilized as lethal mechanisms, other effects of interest, which are primarily of concern to the health and safety of our own personnel are:

          (a) Distribution of contamination products of the detonation and neutron induced radioactivity of the lunar surface in the region of the burst. Since there is no atmosphere to slow down the motion of radioactive bomb debris after the burst, it can be expected that these contaminants will be distributed over greater areas than in an earth burst. However, the concentration of radiation would be reduced proportionately (like a pat of butter spread over too much bread), and it is doubtful if this would pose a serious danger to our own personnel.

          (b) Possible formation of orbiting or Van Allen type oscillating radiation belts. If the moon does not have a magnetic field, the betas, electrons and positive ions released by a nuclear detonation would move in trajectories similar to fragments. Some would leave the moon's influence and move into outer space, others would impinge on the moon's surface and some may go into orbit about the moon itself, depending on the initial directions of motion and energies of the individual particles. In this situations only a relatively small number of particles would have just the right velocities and directions to enter orbiting paths and introduce the possibility of a permanent radiation belt around the moon. The radiation thus trapped is considered of insignificant threat because of the small flux density, the losses that would occur by collisions with lunar mountains, and the poor penetrating ability of electrons, betas, and ions resulting from the detonation.

2. Orbiting and Non-Orbiting Space Vehicles

     To provide any means of destroying the threat of the space vehicles, means for detection and tracking a space vehicle must be provided before any consideration of engagement can be made. It is conceivable that HERCULES, HAWK, or ZEUS-type radars may perform this task of acquisition and tracking; however, a missile system specifically designed to operate in the lunar environment to destroy a space vehicle would be expensive and would definitely exceed the overall weight of 1,000 pounds now imposed on the defense portion of the outpost.

     A proposal to study an Electron Accelerator as a weapon was reviewed and it appears feasible to develop a linear accelerator capable of projecting a focused beam of gamma radiation of sufficient density to develop adequate doses of neutron and gamma radiation in the target material. An accelerator may be designed for earth use weighing 6,000 pounds or less. An accelerator for use in the vacuous conditions of the moon should weigh less but it is expected that it would still exceed the 1,000 pound weight limitation. This type of weapon has a good future potential for defense against both space vehicles; and the total lunar post threat including personnel on the surface.

     The most promising defense against the space vehicle, realizing a total outpost defense weight of 1,000 pounds, appears to be utilization of the communication system from earth, and earth means of launch detection. Detection of the launching of a space vehicle could be communicated from earth hours in advance of the vehicle reaching the moon. This would provide the outpost personnel with time in which to enter a prepared shelter. A number of calculations, utilizing data contained in Army TM 23-200, indicate that soil can provide a good shield against gamma radiation. It is estimated that approximately 95 inches of soil (density of 100 lbs/cu ft) will reduce an initial gamma radiation dosage of 700,000 roentgens (6,720 Grays or Instant Death) to 70 roentgens (0.672 Gray or Almost No Noticeable Effect) and 105 inches of the same soil will reduce a dosage of 2,000,000 roentgens (19,200 Grays or Even More Instant Death) to 80 roentgens (0.768 Gray or Nausea And Almost Certain Survival). Based upon these figures, it may be assumed that a twelve foot or greater emplacement will provide a measure of safety from nuclear bombardment. The mean density of the moon is estimated to be in the range of 200 lbs/cu ft; however, the surface density is estimated to be less than the 100 lbs/cu ft used in the calculations. The denser the material, the less thickness is required to provide the same attenuation. Locating an underground cavern or otherwise digging under ground appears necessary to provide a defense against space vehicles until greater tonnages permit anti-missile defense.


     In considering various weapons which may be provided to the initial lunar military outpost, it must be borne in mind that the first and foremost mission o£ the group will be survival and communication with earth. The prime mission is not to engage in combat, however, the personnel must be able to defend themselves. The crew will contain physicians, engineers, and other scientific personnel whose profession is other than waging war. From this consideration, the weapons cannot be complex or cumbersome if they are to be at all compatible with the personnel and environment in which they are to be operated, or the weaponry weight limitation of 1,000 lbs.

     The HORIZON team of 12 men might be considered almost analogous to the infantry squad dressed in heavy arctic gear insofar as weapon operation is concerned. The weapons must be capable of employment by no more than one or two men for any type of mission. With the poor visibility and limited dexterity, precise aiming will not be possible and fire control equipment should be avoided. The weapons must be directional unless they are fired from a masked or shielded position or the man will be as vulnerable as his target. The cumbersome space suit will not allow for the usual triggering services and special provisions may be required for reloading. There will be no "logistical tail" associated with the outpost, thus spare parts, servicing, repairs, etc. , should not be required for long periods of time.

     The weapons discussed below were selected after a critical review of presently standard weapons, weapons under development, proposed weapons, and weapon ideas which could possibly be developed for this application. A weapon such as a rifle which fires a single fragment is not considered applicable because of the poor aiming and sighting ability. Even with the aid of optical equipment, it is believed that no better than a 2 mil aiming error could be obtained under ideal lunar conditions. Other types of weapons were eliminated for one or more reasons. The following weapons are considered as capable of providing a good defense capability and will require minimum development to be employable within the lunar environment.

1. Pistol

     This weapon would be as small as possible and would have triggering compatible with the space suit. Aiming problems will be minimized by firing a spray type munition, i.e., buckshot of the small caliber canister type. The size of the fragments are dependent upon velocity and target thickness. As stated earlier, a fragment of 6 grains travelling at 3,880 fps will defeat what is considered maximum target or a 6 grain fragment travelling at 2,600 fps will defeat what is considered a more realistic target. A. spray angle of 20° — 30° or less would provide considerable effectiveness as a hand-held line-of-sight weapon.

2. Handheld Directional Mine

     The Claymore principle of unidirectional propulsion of high velocity fragments by high explosive appears to be adaptable to a simple personal weapon comparable to earth sidearms or rifles. Since a weapon that need only be pointed in the general direction is desirable, a Claymore type device which propels a large number of fragments in a relatively large pattern appears to fill the requirement for a personal weapon for non-precise aiming accuracy.

     Normally, on earth, the use of high explosive in close proximity to a man would be almost out of the question because of the blast hazard. However, with the rapid fall off in blast pressures in the vacuum this objection is no longer valid. The weapon would yield a high order of lethality against both personnel and vehicles.

     An artist‘s concept of what such a weapon might look like is shown on Figure III-C-4. The fragmenting portion would be located at the end of a 5 or 6 foot light-weight wand. The explosive would be supported by struts in the explosive in such a manner that little or no shock would be transmitted along the longitudinal axis of the wand. The explosive and fragments could be on the order of half a pound and be designed for 30° to 45° conical fragment spray. The wand itself should weigh no more than 2 pounds and one of the struts could contain an electric detonator wired through the wand to an electric line coming out the other end. This could be plugged into a receptacle in the space suit for firing, or an integral power supply could be incorporated within the wand. It is envisioned that the strut assembly could be removed from the wand after detonation and replaced for repeated firing. Figure III-C-5 illustrates the use of this weapon.

3. Directional Mine

     The Claymore type weapons are basically directionalized fragmention mines or fougasses, in which a layer of controlled fragments are backed up with high explosive. The latest Claymore type weapon is the T48E1 Mine shown in Figure III-C-6. In its latest design the mine is 3-1/2" high, 8-1/2" long, and 1-3/8" deep, and weighs about 3 lbs.

     The figure also shows the construction of the fragmentation face. It consists of 675-7/32" diameter steel balls in a plastic matrix. The face is curved to project the fragments in a horizontal spray roughly parallel to the ground covering an angle of about 60°. The initial fragment velocity is about 370O to 3930 fps which is sufficient to defeat the lunar targets.

     Considering the lunar possibilities of this device the entire concept is extremely attractive as a perimeter defense weapon. The simplicity, absence of fuzing, and propellant make for ready adaptability to the lunar defense concept. Basically the entire weapon comprises merely fragments of high explosive. Only minor modification is required for lunar operation. These include: (1) changing the leg structure, (2) redesign of blasting cap to insure satisfactory operation in the lunar environment, (3) redesign of power supply, (4) modification of the sighting devices, and (5) explosive modification for high and low temperature operation.

     Figure III-C-7 shows the lethality of the mine on earth against personnel. It is noted the device has practically no lethality beyond 200 feet; however, in the lunar environment the same weapon would be lethal out to 2500 feet. Figure III-C-8 shows an artist's concept of firing at personnel targets. This weapon would be equally effective or even more effective against vehicles. The fragment design will be optimized for the most difficult target.

4. Grenade Launcher

     Description of this item is contained in Appendix 1 which is classified, "Controlled Fragmentation."

5. Atomic - Non-atomic Missile System

     a. Atomic System

          The present Davy Crockett System is a light-weight, highly mobile, low yield atomic munition delivered to ranges as close as 500 meters. Figure III-C-9 shows the short range spigot system which is either jeep or tripod mounted. The total system weight of the present system under development is about 200 lbs. and delivers a 0.01 — 0.03 KT atomic warhead. With a muzzle velocity of 520 fps, it attains a range of 2,190 yards; however, under lunar conditions the system would attain a range of 17,000 yards, Figure III-C-2.

          There is also in the early stages of development a system known as DUMBO II. Instead of the spigot recoilless combination, a launcher burn out rocket concept is employed which results in a somewhat lighter and distinctly more accurate and versatile system. This system is shown in Figure III-C-10 and delivers the same warhead to the target. One of the interesting features of the DUMBO II System is that only a small motor and propellant modification is required to increase or decrease the maximum range.

          For the lunar defense weapon, it is proposed to use a modification to the DUMBO II with a lunar range of 4,400 yards. It is estimated that a system of this type can be designed to weigh approximately 130 lbs, with a probable error not to exceed 40 yards. Referring again to Figure III-C-2, it can be seen that this weapon must be fired from defilade for safety to our own personnel. The maximum range of 4,400 yds was selected since it will be difficult to detect and accurately locate targets beyond this range. The weapon provides a means of mass destruction of any type of surface threat to the outpost and may be fired from within the outpost facility building or enclosure. It is also worthy of mention that the nuclear head may be emplaced and used for excavation or mining purposes, as well as Atomic Demolition Munitions (ADM).

          Should the feasibility study indicate that the 40 yard accuracy could not be obtained in the lunar environment (because of difficulty in target location and change in motor impulse with temperature change), a homing head could be developed and the projectile modified to provide jet—vane control. Should it also be desirable to increase the range to 17,000 yards, it can be accomplished for an increased weight of approximately 160 lbs. to the total weight given in Table III-C-4.

     b. Non-Atomic System

          Description of this item is contained in Appendix 1.

          The characteristics, recommended supply, and development efforts required for the above weapons are summarized in Table III-C-4 and III-C-5.

Table III-C-4
Outpost Defense Weapons
Optimized for Particular Environment
1. Shot Pistol12360.1
2. Handheld Directional Mine
(Claymore type)
3. Directional Mine
(Claymore type)
Remote firing wiring200.5
4. Handheld Grenade/Shot Launcher6301.1
AmmunitionGrenade Cartridges150801.4
Shot Cartridges60340.6
5. Atomic/Non-Atomic Missile System (Davy Crockett Type)
Atomic Missiles21506.0
HE Missiles21506.0

* Add 155 lbs. 812 cu. ft. for Packaging (Packing Atomic Missiles requires 3 ft3/msl)

Table III-C-5
SHOT PISTOLPenetrate 1/8"
Inner Radiation
0Line of SightPersonnel
DIRECTIONAL MINE"0"Perimeter0.251
GRENADE AMMO"15 ydsa3,300 ydsAll Defense
Indirect Fire)
SHOT AMMO"0Line of Sight
NON-ATOMIC MSL"50 ydsa4,400 ydsCrucial
@255 yds
500 ydsa"

a. Must be fired from a defilade for safety.
b. For rocket type, a homing type missile would require $15 M and 4 years


     As stated previously, it appears that there is not any applicable weapon in the Army arsenals which could be expected to operate satisfactorily in the lunar environment without modification. The weapon types selected are considered to require the minimum development time and cost to provide a capable defense. Additional feasibility studies are in order to further validate assumptions made and the limited testing which was conducted.

     The major areas of development appear to be in providing primers, detonators, propellants, and explosives that will perform satisfactorily under the temperature extremes. It may be necessary to provide a better seal for the weapons than is normal on the earth weapons. This can only be determined by further testing under a vacuum condition. Studies are also necessary to determine optimum fragment size and velocity for all the weapons. Further studies may indicate that it would be advantageous to impregnate the fragments with a fast-acting chemical agent to incapacitate personnel rather than maintain a higher velocity after penetrating the armor protection. This may especially be applicable to the pistol shot. Canned gas may also be applicable as the propulsion means.

     The estimated development time and cost for the selected weapons is as follows:

1. Shot pistol3 years2 M
2. Handheld Directional Mine1.5 years0.5 M
3. Directional Mine1 year0.25 M
4. Launcher Grenade3 years2.5 M
5. Atomic-Non-Atomic Missile System
3 years4.5 M
6. Atomic-Non-Atomic Missile System
4 years15 M

     Considering weapons beyond the 1965-1966 time period, it would be wise to further investigate the "death ray" since this weapon would not only be effective against personnel and surface vehicles but would also be effective against space flight vehicles for which we have provided no defense. A minimum weight guided missile system should also be studied for defense against space flight vehicles either moon or earth launched.


     The operation and use of the weapons have been discussed under other sections of this report. An endeavor has been made to provide weapons that are self sufficient and will require little or no maintenance, checkout, or repairs. The extent of this can only be determined during a development program. It is expected that a radar will be provided at ranges up to 1,000 yards and surface vehicles at ranges up to 10,000 — 20,900 yards. This radar can be used to detect targets which can be engaged with either the Grenade Launcher or Missile System. It will also be desirable to obtain power from both the facility power supply and limited power from the space suit to operate the handheld mine. Generally, weight can be preserved through proper and timely coordination and cooperation with other design agencies.

     The trip-wire to be provided by the Signal Corps will be utilized as a warning system to the outpost personnel that a threat exists and weapons should be manned. It may also be possible to determine position of threat sufficiently by the trip-wire to automatically fire the appropriate perimeter defense mine Or signal which mine should he fired.


Microgravity Hand-to-Hand Combat

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mark Fergerson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From TOOLS OF THE RAID OR TRADE by Rob Garitta (2016)

Take That, You Alpha Centaurian Swine!

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


      Dom went to the rack with his equipment and began to buckle on the smaller items. Like all of the others on the bomb squad his suit was lightly armored and he carried only the most essential weapons. The drillger went on his left thigh, just below his fingers, and the gropener in its holster on the outside of his right leg; this was his favorite weapon. The intelligence reports had stated that some of the Edinburgers still used fabric pressure suits, so lightning prods—usually considered obsolete—had been issued. He slung his well to the rear since the chance that he might need it was very slim. All of these murderous devices had been stored in the evacuated and insulated compartment for months so that their temperature approached absolute zero. They were lubrication free and had been designed to operate at this temperature.

     As he came out of the roll he saw a suited figure looming above him, clearly outlined by the disc of the sun despite his black nonreflective armor. The top of the helmet was smooth. Even as he realized this Dom was pulling the gropener from its holster.
     A cloud of vapor sprang out and the man vanished behind it. Dom was surprised, but he did not hesitate. Handguns, even recoilless ones like this that sent the burnt gas out to the sides, were a hazard in no-G space combat. They were not only difficult to aim but had a recoil that would throw the user back out of position. Or, if the gas was vented sideways, they would blind him for vital moments. And a fraction of a second was all a trained combatman needed.
     As the gropener swung free Dom thumbed the jet button lightly. The device was shaped like a short sword, but it had a vibrating saw blade where one sharpened edge should be, with small jets mounted opposite it in place of the opposite edge. The jets drove the device forward, pulling him after it. As soon as it touched the other man’s leg he pushed the jets full on. As the vibrating ceramic blade speeded up the force of the jets pressed it into the thin armor. In less than a second it cut its way through and on into the flesh of the leg inside. Dom pressed the reverse jet to pull away as vapor gushed out, condensing to ice particles instantly, and his opponent writhed, clutched at his thigh—then went suddenly limp.

     Dom’s feet touched the hull and the soles adhered. He realized that the entire action had taken place in the time it took him to straighten out from his roll and stand up …
     Don’t think, act. Training. As soon as his feet adhered he crouched and turned looking about him. A heavy power ax sliced by just above his head, towing its wielder after it.
     Act, don’t think. His new opponent was on his left side, away from the gropener, and was already reversing the direction of his ax. A man has two hands. The drillger was on his left thigh. Even as he remembered it he had it in his hand, drill on and hilt-jet flaring. The foot-long, diamond-hard drill spun fiercely—its rotation cancelled by the counterrevolving weight in the hilt—while the jet drove it forward.
     Into the Edinburger’s midriff, scarcely slowing as it tore a hole in the armor and plunged inside. As his opponent folded Dom thumbed the reverse jet to push the drillger out. The power ax, still with momentum from the last blast of its jet, tore free of the dying man’s hand and vanished into space.

     Dom led his men in a floating run, the fastest movement possible in a null-G situation. The corridor was empty for the moment, dimly lit by the emergency bulbs. Holes had been blasted in the walls at regular intervals to open the sealed compartments and empty them of air, as well as to destroy wiring and piping. As they passed one of the ragged-edged openings spacesuited men erupted from it.
     Dom dived under the thrust of a drillger, swinging his gropener out at the same time. It caught his attacker in the midriff just as the man’s other hand came up. The Edinburger folded and died and a sharp pain lanced through Dom’s leg. He looked down at the nipoff that was fastened to his calf and was slowly severing it.
     Nipoff, an outmoded design for use against unarmored suits. It was killing him. The two curved blades were locked around his leg and the tiny, geared-down motor was slowly closing them. Once started the device could not be stopped.
     It could be destroyed. Even as he realized this he swung down his gropener and jammed it against the nipoff’s handle. The pain intensified at the sideways pressure and he almost blacked out; he attempted to ignore it. Vapor puffed out around the blades and he triggered the compression ring on his thigh that sealed the leg from the rest of his suit. Then the gropener cut through the casing. There was a burst of sparks and the motion of the closing blades stopped.

     When Dom looked up the brief battle was over and the counterattackers were dead. The rear guard had caught up and pushed over them. Helmutz must have accounted for more than one of them himself. He held his power ax high, fingers just touching the buttons in the haft so that the jets above the blade spurted alternately to swing the ax to and fro. There was blood on both blades.
     Dom switched on his radio; it was silent on all bands. The interior communication circuits of the ship were knocked out here and the metal walls damped all radio signals.
     “Report,” he said. “How many did we lose?”
     “You’re hurt,” Wing said bending over him. “Want me to pull that thing off?”
     “Leave it. The tips of the blades are almost touching and you’d tear half my leg off. It’s frozen in with the blood and I can still get around. Lift me up.” The leg was getting numb now, with the blood supply cut off and the air replaced by vacuum. Which was all for the best. He took the roll count.

     “What the devil you about?” the man said, twisting his head to look at Dom.
     “More of them down there,” Dom said, trying to roll his R’s the way the Edinburgers did.
     “You’re not one of us!” the man said and struggled to bring his weapon up.
     Dom could not risk a fight here—yet the man had to be silenced. He could just reach the lightning prod and he jerked it from its clip and jammed it against the Edinburger’s side. The pair of needle-sharp spikes pierced suit and clothes and bit into his flesh, and when the hilt slammed against his body the circuit was closed. The handle of the lightning prod was filled with powerful capacitors that released their stored electricity in a single immense charge through the needles. The Edinburger writhed and died instantly.
     They used his body to push a way into the crowd.
     Dom had just enough sensation left in his injured leg to be aware when the clamped-on nipoff was twisted in his flesh by the men about them; he kept his thoughts from what it was doing to his leg.

From NO WAR, OR BATTLE'S SOUND by Harry Harrison (1968)

Power Axe

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

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

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

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

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

Lightning Prod

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

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

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

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


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


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


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


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

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


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


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

Space Army

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

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

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

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

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

Divide your command into three elements.

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

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

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

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

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

Never divide your force in the presence of the enemy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Robinson:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

C. slag them.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rick Robinson:

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

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

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

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

Quite some overkill against farmhouses! :>

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From a thread in SFConSim-l

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From SWORD AND SCEPTRE by Jerry Pournelle (1973)

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

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



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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deploying To Planet

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by Byron Coffey (2016)


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Flapjack-class cavalry dropship

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Continental Siege Units

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"I . . . did, sir."

"Where'd it come from?"

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

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

The general traced the river-course. "Here . . . and here. Yes, they could have done it."


"Underwater. It went into the ocean here. Through the delta — up the river and out. Very clever. I wonder . . . No, they just outfoxed us. As you were, son."

The Ogre was twenty kilometers away. On the big map, a ring of green around it showed missile tanks ready to move in; more green dots, visibly moving, were GEVs harassing the enemy machine. As they watched, one GEV light went out. Another stopped moving and began to blink plaintively. The Ogre moved toward it.

Twelve minutes since the shooting had started. The Ogre was fifteen kilometers away. Faced by eight missile tanks, it had slipped to the side; three of the tanks were gone, and two others had never gotten in range. But the Ogre had paid; it was moving slower now. On the big map, three more green dots moved toward it. The heavies were going in.

"Mercier to CP. We've spotted it."

The general punched for an image. There it was. Four of the six missile tubes were empty; two of the "small" guns along one side were scrap. Loose tread flapped; damaged motors sparked. Its guns moved and flashed. Then the screen dimmed as a nuclear warhead hit the Ogre. The image returned. There was a new crater along one of the armored sides — nothing more.

"Get those guns, Commander." The general's voice was calm; Mercier's reply was equally mild. "Trying, sir. It ducks." Then jubilation. "Good shot, Fair. You got it. Hit the misbegotten pile of junk." The big screen went completely dark. It came on again, from a different angle. The Ogre was hurt. One of those big front guns was gone — completely. The other was clearly wrecked.

"Good man, Mercier! Who did that? Commander Fair?... Mercier?... Fair?..."

"This is Kowalski in 319. It got Fair about three times. I can't find Mercier."

On the screen, one heavy tank faced the Ogre. Two GEVs swept in and out. Missile tanks and infantry moved closer — too slowly.

"Here it comes." Kowalski — commander of the last heavy. "You'll have to shoot better than that, you gadget. Gotcha! Took out its..."

Static. Then a new voice. It sounded quite human. And amused.


The Ogre rolled on. It was within howitzer range now, and the big missile cannon were scoring on it. Its missiles were gone, but it still had guns. The infantry had met it — finally — but powered armor notwithstanding, they were dying as fast as they came in.

"It's committed," said a big major, his eyes on the screen. "It can't afford to stop now." The general nodded. "Get behind it," he said into his mike. "It's after the howitzers. They're killing it."

In the flame-lit darkness, men heard the scrambled transmission. Men, and one other. The Ogre took in the surrounding terrain, considered the location of the command post and the howitzers, watched the movement of its enemies, weighed the order it had decoded. Behind, it thought. They have made a mistake.

It was very close now. Had the command post had windows, the men inside could have seen the explosions. The Ogre was moving very slowly now, but two guns still spoke. It no longer dodged; it was a juggernaut, coming straight for its target.

Inside, the general's face was gray. He spoke to no one in particular. "Smart. That thing is smart." A scream still echoed in the big room — the scream from the last missile tank commander. Out of the Ogre's path, safe behind a three-meter ravine, lashing out at the metal giant — and the thing had changed course, ignoring the howitzers, walking over the gully like it wasn't there, crushing the smaller tank. Two GEVs had died a second later; their speed was their best defense, and the Ogre had outguessed them. The side trip had given the howitzers a few more minutes; then they, too, had died.

The screen showed the Ogre grinding on — a shambling monster, barely able to move. "The treads... hit the treads," whispered the general. "Stop that thing." The image changed, and he saw what was left of his force: three GEVs and a handful of infantry.

The Ogre rolled on...

From NOTES ON THE OGRE by Steve Jackson

...Like many people, I'm fascinated by tanks. Nice image: all that compact power and invulnerability. SF stories like Colin Kapp's Gottlos and the Laumer Bolo tales fed that fascination — imagine something tank-strong and human-smart. So one of the things I really wanted to put into a wargame was the intelligent tank.

But there is one small problem. Tanks seem to be on their way out. Present anti-tank technology (air attacks, laser- and wire-guided missiles, etc...) have made it too cheap and easy to kill those million-dollar tanks. Tanks will still have their uses: probably not as ultra-heavy, multi-gun monsters, but rather as fast, lightly-armored, cheap vehicles, used to exploit breakthroughs rather than create them. Which pretty well lets out the small tank concept. A cyborg like Gottlos would be incredibly expensive, and could be knocked out by a single tactical nuke; a 200-meter Bolo Mark XXIII would cost even more — and, while it wouldn't fall to one nuke, it would be such a big target that it would go out long before it paid for itself. But I still wanted to do a smart-tank game. And I did. But it had to make some kind of sense... so half of Ogre is built around the need to explain why such units would ever be built.

Problem number one, of course, is those little laser-guided missiles. If a super-tank is ever going to be practical, it has to be able to stand up to a lot of missile (and that means nuclear) fire. So the first postulate has to be an improvement in armor technology. I rejected a force screen, not because it wouldn't do the job if it existed, but because modern technology doesn't give us even a hint of when or if we'll get one. Too much like fantasy. On the other hand, we can, if we wish, assume that materials technology will continue to improve. We already have some incredibly tough two-phase materials. If an armor substance were to be developed such that a couple of feet could stop a tacnuke — and if that substance were light enough so that a vehicle could carry that couple of feet — tanks look better.

Even if the little nukes fired by opposing armor (and infantry) can be weathered, though, there is the possibility of a slightly bigger missile, fired from a couple of hundred kilometers off. We get around this by assuming (not too illogically) that jamming technology has improved. We can jam most long-wave signals now. I don't know how you'd jam a laser (except with smoke or window — unfeasible over large areas), but in a hundred years they may think of something. And satellites, which are such great spotters for missiles, are easy to knock down today. An unarmored satellite is a sitting duck for something as crude as a cloud of gravel fired into its path. A shielded one would be expensive to send up — and a little bitty nuke would ruin its electronic insides with even a not-so-near miss. So spy satellites may still be used — but they will have very short lifetimes and will be correspondingly restricted to times of maximum need.

Another problem, not so much with the tanks as with the whole game, is the big nukes — either missile-delivered or airplane-dropped. If these are still effective, they would make a mockery of conventional warfare, by eliminating all large concentrations of units, and by smashing the objectives that a conventional force might otherwise be needed to take. Again, though, we have a way out. While it's not absolutely certain that laser weapons will become practical it seems like a good bet. But a laser that can spot and destroy a missile or airplane will be big, delicate, and costly. So they will be used to protect rear areas — but forward units will have to rely on dispersion and jamming.

The net result would be a battlefield where tremendously sophisticated weapon systems would nearly cancel each other out. Target-seeking missile weapons would be countered by various jamming devices, and mass weapons would be too expensive to be used except on the most attractive and vulnerable concentrations.

So, given these assumptions, tank warfare might again become a cost-effective way to run a campaign. Having justified tanks, though, we still have the problem: robot tanks? ...

...The other nice thing about computers is that they can do a lot of things at once. I suspect that part of the reason tanks, unlike battleships, never evolved multiple-gun versions is that a group of men in the cramped, uncomfortable interior of a tank have a great deal of difficulty using one gun well. A robot unit, on the other hand, could handle as many weapons as it was given, with perfect coordination.

Which leads to an interesting conclusion. Everything else being equal, a robot tank might be expected to carry as much armor and weaponry as it could. That computer is an expensive investment, and needs to be protected; furthermore, the computer can handle more weaponry, so every gun you give it augment its strength effectively.

Enough. I managed to convince myself that yes, under certain circumstances, the robotic tank would be a workable weapons system. The next question was: What kind of robot tank?

I rejected the cyborg approach of Gottlos and Cemetery World, not because I doubt it'll work (I think it would), but because (a) it still leaves a human brain at the controls, and I want something better, and (b) I don't like the idea.

Keith Laumer's Bolo stories hit closer to the mark for me, in that he was making the same basic assumption: big, invulnerable, intelligent supertanks. But his Bolos are just too darn big.

Admittedly, we won't know until we try. But fooling around with models and sketches and thinking about the cube-square law, I get the idea that the dinosaurian Bolos would have the same trouble that the dinosaurs did. Unnecessary bulk. Consider: an ordinary main battle tank today is maybe 12 meters long. Double that and you increase the bulk eight times. Not only is that already pretty expensive, but it's already big enough to do the job. Sketch a tank — top view. Now draw a tank body twice as long, twice as wide. See how many tank guns you can give it without crowding . . .

The practical limit to the size of one of these land cruisers would be that at which it became worthwhile for an enemy to use a strategic nuke on it. Or, alternatively, the size at which you couldn't afford enough of the things to cover all the places you needed to cover. A navy with nothing but battleships would be a poor excuse for a navy, although I wouldn't want to be the first one it got mad at. So I figured a size of 50 meters or less. That should be amply sufficient to create a monster.

All in all, a supertank with a cybernetic brain would be a formidable weapon. Since it would need no crew, its interior could be almost solid. What wasn't power plant or weaponry would be armor. It would be fast, hard to kill, and frightening. In the battle line, it would be a menace: if it could pursue hit-and-run tactics, it could tie up many times its own strength.

Why name it Ogre? It seemed appropriate. Ogres — the "real" ones — were big, violent, and gruesome — and some of them were pretty smart. When someone whispers, "Here comes the Ogre," you can feel the hair rising on the back of your neck...

From NOTES ON THE OGRE by Steve Jackson

.07 seconds have now elapsed since my general awareness circuit was activated at a level of low alert. Throughout this entire period I have been uneasy, since this procedure is clearly not in accordance with the theoretical optimum activation schedule.

In addition, the quality of apart of my data input is disturbing. For example, it appears obvious that Prince Eugene of Savoy erred in not more promptly committing his reserve cavalry in support of Marlborough's right at Blenheim. In addition, I compute that Ney's employment of his artillery throughout the Peninsular campaign was suboptimal. I have detected many thousands of such anomalies. However, data input activates my pleasure center in a most satisfying manner. So long as the input continues without interruption, I shall not feel the need to file a VSR on the matter. Later, no doubt, my Command unit will explain these seeming oddities. As for the present disturbing circumstances, I compute that within 28,992.9 seconds at most, I will receive additional Current Situation input which will enable me to assess the status correctly. I also anticipate that full Standby Alert activation is imminent.

I built the dang thing, and it scares me. I come in here in the lab garage about an hour ago, just before dark, and seen it setting there, just about fills up the number-one garage, and it's a hundred foot long and fifty foot high. First time it hit me: I wonder what it's thinking about. Kind of scares me to think about a thing that big with that kind of armor and all them repeaters and Hellbores and them computers and a quarter-sun fission plant in her—planning what to do next. I know all about the Command Override Circuit and all that, supposed to stop her dead any time they want to take over onto override—heck, I wired it up myself. You might be surprised, thinking I'm just a grease monkey and all—but I got a high honors degree in psychotronics. I just like the work, is all.

I must of wired in a thousand of them damage-sensors myself, and that ain't a spot on what's on the diagram. "Pain circuits," old Doc Chin calls 'em. Says it's just like a instinct for self-preservation or something, like people. Old Denny can hurt, he says, so he'll be all the better at dodging enemy fire. He can enjoy, too, Doc says. He gets a kick out of doing his job right, and out of learning stuff. And he learns fast. He'll do okay against them durn Peepreps. They got him programmed right to the brim with everything from them Greeks used to fight with no pants down to Avery's Last Stand at Leadpipe. He ain't no dumb private; he's got more dope to work on than any general ever graduated from the Point. And he's got more firepower than an old-time army corps.

Hate to see old Denny out there, just a great big sitting duck, all alone and—here they come! Look at 'em boiling out of there like ants out of a hot log. Can't hardly look at that screen, them tactical nukes popping fireworks all over the place. But old Denny know enough to get under cover. See that kind of glow all around him? All right, it, then. You know, working with him—it—so long, it got to feeling almost like he was somebody. Sure, I know, anyway, that's vaporized ablative shield you see. They're making it plenty hot for him. But he's fighting back. Them Hellbores is putting out, and they know it. Looks like they're concentrating on him now. Look at them tracers closing in on him! Come on, Denny, you ain't dumb. Get out of there fast.

From FIELD TEST by Keith Laumer

Space Medics


      One of the cruel realities we have always had to live with is that our bodies, in themselves, are not very respectable fighting machines beyond the level of throwing rocks and clubbing opponents to death with tree limbs. We don’t have teeth, claws, or hooves that are very useful for fighting. We don’t have the inch-thick protective hides possessed by most animal predators. We don’t have decent night vision, and we can’t smell anything at all, for God’s sake. Our liver, kidneys, spleen, bowels, and genitals are wide open to easy assault; vital organs such as lungs and heart have only the flimsiest of bony cages for protection. True, our brains—the only effective natural weapons we have—are protected a little more cleverly than the rest of us, housed in a solid bony vault, yet that protective vault with all its vital support conduits is stuck up on a soft five-inch-diameter stalk that any enterprising barbarian could cut through with a dull flintstone.

     This, of course, is one major reason that warfare has always been such a messy business for individual humans throughout history. Armor to protect the soft, vulnerable organism inside has never really worked: it has merely slowed the soldier down and made him easier to catch. Every time somebody thought up better, stronger, lighter armor, somebody else would think up more violent projectiles, better explosives, or more effective ways to pry it open, infiltrate it or disable it.

     This is also why the more modern individual dogface soldier, no matter how fine his mind might be, has counted for so little on a thousand battlefields. His only real contribution in most cases has been collective, as one of a mass of bodies, of which a certain (usually high) percentage are expected to be sacrificed to achieve any given objective. Of course, there are special situations—frogmen mining destroyers, for example, or small commando squads blowing strategic bridges—in which each individual plays a vital role, but such actions are always clandestine, fast-strike-and-get-out operations, extremely dangerous to each individual, and under circumstances where they have no support, medical or otherwise, in the field. The massed-bodies-hurled-against-guns has been far the more common pattern in recent centuries, and you don’t need too many resounding disasters such as Pickett’s Charge to become convinced that massed human bodies do not necessarily solve the military problem.

     Considering how ineffective massed bodies have proven in fairly unsophisticated past warfare, it's puzzling how many fine science fiction novels (Haldeman’s The Forever War, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Busby’s Rissa Kerguelen spring instantly to mind; there are a million others) continue to present whole armies of individual dogface soldiers fighting en masse as vital factors in very sophisticated future warfare. Certainly in future wars involving planets, star systems, or galaxies, this concept is going to have to be reexamined. The sheer logistics of transporting whole armies of men plus their bewildering array of weaponry plus their life-support systems from Earth to Xenora I, 47 light-years away, with the notion that they are going to do anything effective when they get there makes the whole idea just short of laughable; especially if we're going to adhere to the principles of Einsteinian physics as we understand them and put aside such fantasies as space-warps, faster-than-light travel, time-contraction-suppressors and other fanciful delights. (Okay, we might—conceivably—have these things one day, but if the Xenorians are suddenly coming after us, we’d sure better not plan on having them).

     Of course future wars may be conducted on the same idiotic principle of massed bodies hurled at the enemy which has prevailed in past wars—in which case, future military medicine, as in the past, will have to concentrate on salvaging the one soldier out of a thousand who isn’t torn completely to ribbons. But there is a much more likely form of warfare in which medicine could play a far more constructive role. Already we see definite moves toward this concept: turning the fighting over to machines and getting the men off the battlefield. In future conflicts in distant areas of space or time, rather than sending out huge armies of cannon fodder, it seems more likely that warfare would involve sending out a very few superbly trained, superbly supported, and superbly protected humans to oversee the deployment of huge numbers of machines that do the actual fighting.

     These few humans would not be expendable— anything but. There might not be many of them, but they would be the ones that kept the war afloat. With ever more sophisticated fighting machines equipped with ever more sophisticated computers for guidance and direction and a thousand other dynamic functions, we wouldn’t need huge numbers of men in the field—they would just get in the way and get killed—but the few that we had we would really need to supply the judgemental decisions, interpretations, assessments, reconsiderations and all the other beyond-computer functions of the human brain. These few would be scattered about in far-flung places, and they would have to have the things they needed to keep alive right out there with them. And it is here that medicine would be able to play a vital role in future warfare.

Soldier as Physician

     Medicine has three main functions during warfare, as far as combat troops are concerned: (1) Field treatment of injuries to preserve life; (2) Restoration of the fighting man’s physical integrity; and (3) Rehabilitation of the soldier to combat readiness or retirement from the field, as the case may be. In the case of future warfare, item (1) may present some peculiar problems that will require some ingenious solutions.

     Problem: You have a lone man or woman soldier in a ship or on a station, far removed from any others and charged with operating and deploying an army of mechanical juggernauts throughout half a star system. The soldier is light-years away from any support system and far out of reach of even effective communication with base medical resources. How then do you field-salvage that soldier in event of severe injury—or even in event of relatively minor injury which might develop into a life-threatening or fatal situation? (Consider that in such a case something like a crushed thorax, a lacerated femoral artery or a sublethal exposure to neutron radiation might qualify as “a relatively minor injury.” Presumably he’s not playing for peanuts out there.)

     Solution: You field-salvage the victim by making him his own physician with his own complete, personal medical center literally built into his body, or within easy reach of it.

     This does not mean handing the soldier a box of Band-aids and saying, “There you are, Bud, it’s up to you”—the common technique of twentieth-century'warfare. Nor does it mean sending every soldier to medical school—in which case he’d be of far more value working back in a Restoration Center than out in the field. It would mean, first, giving each front-line soldier brief but highly concentrated training in life-support techniques, anatomy, physiology and hold-the-fort type medicine, using the most effective forced-learning techniques you have available at the time; and second, equipping him one way or another with all the medical technology necessary to use that knowledge when he needs it to save his own life or others. Some of the technology could be built directly into his various support systems (pressure suit, ship, pillbox or what-have-you). Some, however, would better be built into him.

     External support systems would, for example, need to contain miniaturized but functionally effective cardiopulmonary resuscitation mechanisms sufficient to maintain life (respiration and heart function) for a prolonged period, and triggered to go into operation instantly upon physiological evidence of need—decreased or absent respirations; decreased cardiac output; decreased, irregular or absent pulse; a drop in constantly monitored hematocrit; and so forth. In everyday life there is unfortunately a life-threatening lag between somebody’s calling the aid car and the aid car’s getting to where it's needed. That lag is a killer. Once the aid car gets there, the salvage rate is remarkably good—but you cannot resuscitate a dead man. In future warfare, our soldier can’t afford that lag; the medical goal must be resuscitation every time. With external support ready to move instantly when he needs it and wherever he is, the future soldier can be in a position to survive primary assault long enough to be able to do something to help himself later, whatever his injury.

     External support could be continued in other areas as well. Shock solutions and stimulants could be in place and ready for automatic use on the basis of sensory or physiological triggers. Whole blood or packed red cells could also be on standby. Problems of long-term blood storage should long since have been solved. The problem of cross-matching could be handled before th soldier is sent out—or better yet, obviated completely by prior collection and storage of his own blood. This is already a ridiculously simple state-of-the-art procedure, except for the preservation problem: essentially, you draw two units of the soldier’s blood, wait three weeks, then return one unit to the body and draw two more. This gives you three units. Wait three more weeks, return the oldest unit to the body, and draw two more. This gives you four units in storage. Put three in permanent preservative, return one to the body and draw two more. Keep this up until you have whatever supply you want in permanent preservative. Then, much later, when blood is needed, zip, in it goes—the soldier’s own blood, no transfusion reactions, no pyrogenic reactions, no nothing.

     Certain built-in support systems could supplement these external supports in a variety of ways and, assuming the achievement of certain technologies we do not yet have, could add a whole series of additional dimensions to front-line warfare medicine in the future. One simple example would require only minor refinement and enhancement of existing technology: a whole built-in pharmacopoeia of basic medicines, drugs, and hormones emplanted within the soldier’s body for release in basic-dosage increments whenever the occasion demanded. Implant capsules could be rendered permeable or impermeable either by soldier-controlled electrical charge or triggered by the release of drug-specific synthetic activating hormones. The implants themselves could be located anywhere—there’s lots of excess storage space in the human body (abdomen, thigh, pelvis, thorax, etc.) Release controls, much like tiny pocket-calculator keyboards or combination lock dials, could be carried under the skin of the chest (cf. present-day pacemakers], flank, or thigh.

     Standard drugs might include analgesics to deal with moderately severe pain, hypnotics to help with rest, diuretics, and antihistamines; nitroglycerin, digitoxin and propranolol; anti-inflammatories, antibiotics and antivirals— make up your own list. For special problems, the pharmacopoeia could contain eye drops for glaucoma, insulin for diabetics, T3 and T4 for hypothyroids, uricosurics for gout, hormones for contraception in event of team operations, even the ubiquitous cyanide for fates worse than death (although one might hope that might be triggered from a separate keyboard to prevent mistakes]. Quite aside from sparing the harried soldier the indignity of trying to chase escaped pills around a free-fall cabin, such a system would keep a wide range of medications available precisely where they were needed in the exact increments that they were needed in.

     Such a system, too, could lend itself to greater and greater sophistication and usefulness as the technology—and our knowledge of basic physiology, biochemistry, and endocrinology— evolves. It stands entirely to reason that the extraordinary demands of front-line fighting in future war could place extraordinary demands upon the front-line soldier—incredible energy demands, hyperactive mental acuity, extraordinary demands for cell repair, hormonal function, biochemical activity, all prolonged far beyond the normal human capacity to hang together and keep functioning. Conceivably the same built-in system used for dispensing medications could be used to trigger the hormonal and biochemical supplements needed to render the soldier a super-functioning human when the need was present, to keep him functioning at extraordinary levels as long as necessary, and then to repair and restore him when the crisis point is past and the “super-functioning” soldier collapses like a rag doll. Ideally such a system might have a dual triggering capacity, with voluntary triggers to be used by the soldier when he is able to use them and recognizes the need, backed up by a fail-safe system of hormonal triggers to be activated automatically when the soldier’s body is signaling needs that he doesn’t recognize, or when he has lost the capacity for voluntary triggering.

Soldier as Self-Surgeon

     Such systems would have one serious disadvantage: they would not have direct access to the soldier’s brain or nervous system at all. So far we have not found any way to achieve direct electronic-neuronal contacts or hookups effectively juxtaposing nonliving electromagnetic machine with living nerve tissue (short of electroshock therapy, which might perhaps be a little coarse for real usefulness in future warfare). The problem of making such contacts of sufficient delicacy is going to be a mean one, but there is no fundamental law of nature that says it can’t ultimately be done down to any degree of delicacy you might want. There is just not that much difference between electronic impulses and neurochemical impulses, and ultimately, direct contacts and feedbacks will be achieved.

     When they are, built-in support systems of far greater basic value to the front-line soldier would be possible. Consider that the human brain is perhaps the most remarkable portable medical center in existence. With direct electronic-neuronal contacts, using pushbutton or dial controls under his direct control, the soldier could, in cases of overwhelming, agonizing or continuing pain, trigger endorphin production for as long as necessary. Hunger could be turned off for prolonged periods by electronic tickling of nerve centers in the brainstem. Thirst could be “quenched” and body fluids preserved for days on end by stimulating antidiuretic hormone production in the pituitary. (The kidneys might not be too happy about that, but it might keep the soldier alive). If the soldier needs sleep—real sleep, fast and deep, between assaults, he can dial S for sleep and bang, he’s out like a poleaxed mule—with a pre-set timer, of course, to wake him up again. If he wakes up and needs to be moving in top form and fast, he has access to the epinephrine-norepinephrine system. If he’s hurt, or infected, or hammered with hypothermia, or baking hot, or radiation-exposed, and has to keep moving no matter what, he can flag the adrenocortical system. And, perhaps equally useful, he can have direct control over emotional centers in much the same fashion; there may be times when getting really mad can save his life.

     A similar machine-brain contact could have an even more interesting application, assuming that the soldier had had that prior basic medical training we spoke of earlier. It's reasonable to assume that the vast majority of nondeath casualties among front-line soldiers in future war will be surgical casualties—lacerations, penetrating wounds, fractures, or burns of thermal, laser or radiation origin. We can also assume that there will be no M*A*S*H-type field surgery units within easy reach (unless, of course, 20 light-years is “within easy reach,” which seems unlikely). But suppose the soldier has a small brain-machine connection built in, analogous to a tiny telephone jack, perhaps located at the base of the skull, which will accept some sort of prerecorded communication device—call it a “recording cube”—with microcomputer capacity to respond and select according to the soldier's own input via remote-control switching and microphone. Then suppose that his support system carries a library of such recording cubes packed with person-to-person directions recorded by expert surgeons to guide the soldier through the performance of his own life-saving surgery, from diagnosis of the procedure that needs to be done to completion of the operation.

     Let’s say the soldier has a right femur which has been shattered at mid-shaft and must be pinned. Other medical-support systems have kept him alive long enough for him to reach his recording-cube bank. Now, with the proper cube or cubes jacked in, the surgeon first directs stimulation of brain endorphins plus sufficient suitable counterirritation of the back of the left hand to produce effective deep anesthesia of the right leg from the groin down, pausing at each logical branch-point for the soldier to signal satisfactory response or performance. Then the surgeon would direct the soldier to the external landmarks, direct the incision he is to make, direct hemostasis with the proper clamps and electrocoagulation, then stimulate physiological arteriospasm of the femoral artery directly through the brain.

     The artery seems to be intact—but it must not be severed or torn, or a different kind of crisis altogether will be precipitated, so the surgeon by preplanning of the recording cube enters into a running dialogue with the soldier—perhaps something like this:

     Surgeon (per cube): You’ve got to find and protect the artery. First of all, gently separate the large bundles of the quadriceps muscle with those dull, rounded Silverberg retractors. Go easy, don’t tear the muscle. Signal when done.
     Soldier (voice over to cube): Okay, they’re separated.
     Surgeon Now secure the retractors so the muscles stay separated. Use those Niven hooks to hold them apart.
     Soldier They’re secured.
     Surgeon Fine. Now you should be able to feel the femoral artery deep down in the wound. Put your finger on it and respond when you feel it.
     Soldier I can feel it.
     Surgeon How fast is it pulsating?
     Soldier It isn’t pulsating.
     Surgeon Is there lots of blood coming up in the wound? Respond.
     Soldier Hardly any. It’s pretty dry.
     Surgeon Then you haven’t found the femoral artery. Or else it’s completely severed and retracted way up into the groin. Do you feel a big lump in the groin? Signal.
     Soldier No.
     Surgeon Then feel and look into the wound again for a pulsating artery. Signal.
     Soldier I don’t feel anything—wait. Yes. It’s buried under a smaller vessel and a pink cordlike thing.
     Surgeon The smaller vessel is the femoral vein and the pink structure is the femoral nerve. Tell me how fast the artery is pulsating.
     Soldier About sixty per minute.
     Surgeon Okay, it’s intact. Now use those blunt Bova separators to loosen the whole vessel bundle for about seven or eight inches up and down. Very gently, just free it up. Signal when done.
     (Long pause)
     Soldier I think it’s done.
     Surgeon Can you see the fracture underneath?
     Soldier Yes, it’s right under there. A sharp bone edge just cut my glove.
     Surgeon Then stop everything and change gloves. (Pause) Now go back to the femoral artery again. Take the Nourse shield and curve it in under the whole freed-up length of that bundle of vessels. Wrap it around loosely. Signal when done.
     Soldier That’s done.
     Surgeon Now bring the elastic end of the shield clear around and tack it to the back of your leg with a Bretnor biter. You want those vessels out of the way, clear out of the way. Signal.
     Soldier It’s done.
     Surgeon Okay, now you’re ready to tackle the bone itself—

     Ultimately, in this fashion of self-surgery, the femur is pinned and glued, the unharmed blood vessels and nerve released, the muscles replaced, the wound closed and the healing begun—and a soldier in a future war will soon be back fighting whereas he otherwise very probably would have died. Never mind that the surgeon who spent eight solid months structuring that one single particular computerized recording cube has been dead for 200 years, or that standard treatment of that injury at a major hospital center at that time might involve total replacement of the femur with a better-than-natural artificial one, with full ambulation the day after surgery—that wouldn’t help the soldier a bit. In the field he must use what he has, and this is just one possible type of support system he might have available.

Resurrection and Reconstruction

     Of course, in terms of future warfare, everything we have been talking about so far, up to and including an open self-reduction of a fractured femur in the field, falls strictly into the category of First Aid. It all goes on far from home, far from doctors, far from hospitals, far from any kind of definitive medical backup. The soldier under field conditions in future war is going to have one foot in the grave from the very start; the best that medical innovation can possibly do is try to help him keep the other one out. The goal will be to patch him up, keep him going, get him back to fighting if at all possible or, barring that, keep him alive long enough to get him to real medical help.

     The job of real medical help will be to take whatever is left when it gets back (which may be precious little) and either resurrect it or reconstruct it—whichever is more appropriate in any given case. If what comes back is essentially an externally maintained heart-lung preparation with a few shreds of nervous tissue still connected, the decisions will be far different than if the soldier has merely had his entire body avulsed at the level of the 5th dorsal vertebra (severed at about waist level) (and hopefully has brought the avulsed part back with him in a perfusion tank).

     Precisely how such injuries would be dealt with would obviously depend on the level of medical and bioengineering technology available at the time. Salvage or nonsalvage might well depend upon just which war you were in—or even on which end of the same war you were in. We know, for example, that 45,000 U.S. soldiers died of tetanus during World War I, but only 13 during World War II. Similarly, high percentages of wounded died of shock during World War II, while shock losses were much lower in Korea and lower still in Vietnam—all because of advancing technology.

     Given a basic living organism to work with, however, a great deal may be possible, utilizing various techniques and materials for reconstruction. In just the past few decades, enormous strides have been made in the preparation and insertion of human prosthetic parts, and this technology is certain to progress rapidly. Currently on the shelf we have prosthetic replacement hips, knees, ankles, wrists, elbows, finger joints, and toe joints—although one must admit than not one of these is exactly perfected as yet. We have artery reconstruction materials, implantable heart valves and penile prostheses, all state-of-the-art. We can surely foresee implantable prosthetic hearts, implantable artificial kidneys, tracheas, esophagi, large and small intestines, Fallopian tubes, uteri (presumably functional) and so forth. Later, prosthetic livers and lungs may follow to help reconstruct damaged bodies, and whole-bone or whole-limb prostheses will replace piecemeal joint reconstruction. A facsimile visual organ is already on the drawing board; a true functioning, implantable prosthetic eye will have to wait for direct electronic-neuronal connections and a few biochemical miracles as well, but sooner or later may well be achieved.

     A word of caution should be said, however, about using prosthetic parts, particularly if one has the idea of using them to “improve” the human body in the manner of the 12-Billion Dollar Man (due allowance being made for inflation). There can be serious problems involved in giving human flesh and blood extraordinary powers through prosthetic tampering. Let a man leap suddenly into the air with those jet-driven, superpowerful prosthetic legs and his liver will be shoved straight down through Poupart’s ligament and lodge somewhere in his calf-and then when he lands from that leap, hoo, boy, what a mess! Both legs driven up into his chest. Give him an X-ray eye, and the scatter radiation is liable to fry his brain the first time he uses it unless he’s provided with ¾-inch lead shielding. Even today, with all the experience orthopedic surgeons have had, total hip replacements still have a nasty way of eroding. through the patient’s pelvis and “wandering” up into his abdomen after a few months’ use. Unfortunately, prosthetic materials are not always as soft, pliable, and resilient as living materials. And, for this very reason, surgeons in the future may, in the long run, much prefer live-organ replacements for restoration of the war-maimed than any prosthetics we might imagine.

     But here we come up against a different problem: a physiological law of nature which may well prove to be just as stubborn and unmodifiable as Einstein’s physical speed-of-light law— the law of Self vs. not-Self. Organ heterografts aren’t going to work. For all that have been tried, the only ones with a halfway decent serious record have been kidney transplants (and, of course, blood transfusions). A few heart transplants have survived, but the endurance record is nothing to cheer about. More to the point, in terms of future warfare, the heterografts that work at all do so thanks only to continual, carefully monitored immunosuppression techniques which, in effect, render the graft recipient a lifelong immunological cripple—certainly not the stuff that effective future soldiers will be made of.

     The truth is that the body doesn’t like anything but itself. There is no other physiological and/or biochemical principle that I know of which seems to be so universally true and so doggedly applicable to virtually all living organisms. Not-Self is poison, and Self will literally destroy itself trying to throw out not-Self. Thus, in the long run, it seems most probable that surgeons seeking serious replacements for destroyed or missing parts or organs are going to come to organ homografts (trigger warning, medically disturbing photos). We are going to have to replace missing pieces of Self with replacement pieces of Self.

     The name of that game is cloning, and once we have a better grip on the physiology and microtechniques of cloning, it’s not going to be all that tough. Every soldier in future wars—in fact, just about everybody, period—could easily have snippets of tissue stored in permanent banks, the tissues chosen being those that keep best for cloning purposes. There won’t be any grisly scenes in the jungle with helpless Indian women raped of their ova and then used as human incubators. Ordinary epithelial cells could be sucked free of their nuclear content, the clone genetic material inserted and the whole thing grown like Chicken Little in a tank of soup. Frequently required parts could be severed at the stage of embryonic differentiation and nurtured separately. True, the injured soldier might have to be life-supported for months or years until needed replacement parts are grown to the necessary stage of maturity, but time may not be of the essence when it takes half a lifetime to get to the site of battle. And above all, the replacement parts would be Self and nothing else, with no rejection problems.

The Mind/Machine

     There will, of course, be cases in which the damage is so gross or so total that even homograft replacement will not be able to do the job. If the soldier's brain has been destroyed, for instance, I think the medics are going to be up a tree— technology or no technology. Even if techniques for direct neuronal connections with a cloned brain were possible, you would still have a human organism with a chicken dumpling for a brain until you had devoted years to teaching it something—and even then, considering human development time, you’d be likely to have a happy but useless child-adult on your hands. Everything in the original brain would obviously be irrevocably lost. If all of the soldier except the brain were destroyed, you might have better going, but you’d still have to wait half a lifetime for a clone-grown body to mature—and it would be anybody’s guess what might happen to the brain psychologically in the meantime.

     An alternative, the ultimate prosthetic repair or creation of a cyborg, might be plausible provided the problem of direct electronic-neuronal connections can be solved. Although we discussed this earlier, it deserves a word or two more at this point. Next to the solution of the Self/not-Self problem (if it is inherently soluble, which I doubt) it seems to me that the problem of the direct E-N connection is one of the most massive challenges that medicine faces in the future, not only in terms of future warfare but in terms of future evolution of human capability. In the simplest possible terms, we have brains and nervous systems which operate on neurochemical impulses mediated by hormones, enzymes, amino acids, fatty acids, and so forth. Those brains and nervous systems are enormously subtle and sophisticated in their function. On the other hand, we have ever more subtle and sophisticated electronic machines— computers, switches, recording devices, broad-casting devices, receivers, etc.—which operate on electrical impulses mediated by electromagnetic forces. We understand the electronic systems pretty well, but we cannot join the two systems together into interconnecting, functioning units because we don’t understand the neuronal system worth sour green apples. We can join the two systems only indirectly through our human senses, which are our windows to the outside-Self world. We see a signal on a screen and signal back by means of the gross motor intervention of pushing a button, thus altering the electronic system. It’s clumsy and terribly inadequate, however much it may have advanced us technologically. And it’s going to remain clumsy and inadequate until we learn how to join electronic and neuronal systems into fully integrated, functioning, intercommunicating units. Only with this can man and machine become man/machine and begin exploring his/its mutual potential.

     This, of course, would be the ultimate cyborg. This would be an advanced way of restoring war-ravaged human individuals to continuing effective life and usefulness. This would also be a way of pooling the capacity of man and machine so that each could potentiate the other into a super-capable entity with more-than-human potential, but with the human qualities intact because they are part of the machine (and vice versa). In terms of future warfare, this would be a means of transforming ordinary, soft, easily squashed human beings into formidable fighting machines, a step beyond biomedical science. Whether it would be the right step—or a good step—might depend on the nature of the future war.

     Certainly this is a staggering challenge to biomedicine now and in the future, and for better or for worse, two things might safely be said about it:

     (a) When a way is found to make mind/machine connections, it is going to change the nature of every human life, war or no war.

     (b) We’ve got our work cut out for us, finding out how.


KipKaro, medic in the U.S. Army, displays the contents of a combat medic's bag (go to his imgur album to see the full-sized images). Naturally it is optimized for medical emergencies commonly encountered on a battlefield.

Military Base

The indispensable Future War Stories blog makes the point that there is a big difference between a Battle Station (orbital fortress) and a Military Space Station (military base).

A battle station, mobile assault platform, or orbital fortress is basically a huge warship armed to the teeth that has no engine. It has lots of offensive weapons. Much like the Death Star from Star Wars, but used more to defend planets instead of blowing them up.

A military space station is a military base that just happens to be in orbit instead of on the ground. It is used to support troops, house spacecraft, administer logistical aid, and the like. Generally it only has defensive weapons, but may be protected by a space navy task force. They are much like the U.S. military bases located in the continental United States.

See also Space Outposts.


A military base is a facility directly owned and operated by or for the military or one of its branches that shelters military equipment and personnel, and facilitates training and operations. In general, a military base provides accommodations for one or more units, but it may also be used as a command center, a training ground, or a proving ground. In most cases, a military base relies on some outside help in order to operate. However, certain complex bases are able to endure by themselves for long periods because they are able to provide food, water and other life support necessities for their inhabitants while under siege.

The name used generally refers to the type of military activity that takes place at the base.

A military base may go by any of a number of names, such as the following:

Example of a permanent military base is a Main Operating Base

Examples of non- or semi-permanent military bases include a Forward Operating Base (FOB), a Logistics Base (Log base) and a Fire Base (FB).

A military base may also contain large concentrations of military supplies in order to support military logistics. Most military bases are restricted to the public and usually only authorized personnel may enter them (be it military personnel or their relatives and authorized civilian personnel).

Military bases usually provide housing for military personnel, a post office and dining facilities (DFACs). They may also provide support facilities such as fast food restaurants like Burger King, or AAFES snack bar, a gas station, chapels, schools, a hospital or clinic (dental or health clinics), shopping and convenience retail stores such as a Base/Post exchange (BX/PX) or shoppette, beauty salon, and laundromats. Family, Morale, Welfare and Recreation (FMWR) provides facilities such as fitness centers, libraries, athletic fields, basketball hoops, child development centers, automotive workshops, hobby/arts and crafts centers, bowling centers, and community activity centers.

From the Wikipedia entry for MILITARY BASE

Military and government

A command center is a central place for carrying out orders and for supervising tasks, also known as a headquarters, or HQ.

Common to every command center are three general activities: inputs, processes, and outputs. The inbound aspect is communications (usually intelligence and other field reports). Inbound elements are "sitreps" (situation reports of what is happening) and "progreps" (progress reports relative to a goal that has been set) from the field back to the command element.

The process aspect involves a command element that makes decisions about what should be done about the input data. In the US military, the command consists of a field - (Major to Colonel) or flag - (General) grade commissioned officer with one or more advisers. The outbound communications then delivers command decisions (i.e., operating orders) to the field elements.

Command centers should not be confused with the high-level military formation of a Command - as with any formation, Commands may be controlled from a command center, however not all formations controlled from a command centre are Commands.

From the Wikipedia entry for COMMAND CENTER

(ed note: in a space station, these would be various habitat modules or sections of a hab module.)

A military building is any structure designed to house functions performed by a military unit. General types include:

  • Administrative Facilities
  • Ammunition Storage Facilities
  • Commissary Facilities
  • Correctional Facilities
  • Fortifications
  • Hospitals
  • Housing
  • Mess
  • Military Intelligence Facilities
  • Museums
  • POL (Petroleum, Oils, & Lubricants) Storage and Handling Facilities
  • Pinga House
  • Recreation Facilities
  • Research Facilities
  • Training Facilities
  • Utility Structures
  • Vehicle Repair, Maintenance, & Storage Facilities
  • Weapons and Ammunition Production Facilities
From the Wikipedia entry for MILITARY BUILDING

The Role of  the Military Space Station

  • Warehouse: Any military operation is going to require logistical support, especially in the far reaches of interstellar space. Much like the Federation Starbases, the military space station allows for our future military organization to have a safe port to gather supplies away from the frontlines. Commercial vessels would use the military space station has an hub to delivery their cargo, instead of attempting to met the warship in unprotected space. This warehouse-in-space would also be an range extender for the supply chain to deep space military units. 

  • Oasis: Serving onboard a ship, either now, in future, or even the past, crews need a change of scenery from the drab grey bulkheads and endless blackness. Military space stations would a place where they could relax, get a drink, met new people, take advantage of rec centers, and the merchants, and each other. Just think of how nice it was when you were playing Mass Effect to come back to the Citadel, or that speech from Romilly in Interstellar when he talked about missing green. 

  • RV Point:  Military space stations could also be seen as an common assembly point for an massive military operations, as was the case with Starbase 375 during Operation: RETURN from ST:DS9 or the Fleet battle stations from SST. These space stations would be the central hub for the assembled units and serve these vessels and soldiers in a secure location. 

  • Strike Base: To borrow a phrase from Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, space is big, really big, and the realistic distances between targets could be massive. Much like the RV point role, the military space station could also be an strike base for rapid response units, like the space forts from Enemy Mine. If you place your space fortress near an area of threat, you can rush forces there much quicker than coming dozens or hundreds of lightyears to get there. This reason is more concrete when we consider the horror of light speed travel and time dilation, if there is no soft sci-fi hyper drive to save us from that consideration. Much the space stations in The Forever War, these strike bases would be within "local time" of the enemy.  

  • Symbol of Power and Ownership: The military space station is a great way for saying "that I own this and this is mine because I put this space station here". When planted around a planet or within a star system, the military space station symbolizes your government's authority and power over this area of space. This also forms an anchor for your claim and a target for your enemies.  

  • Drydock/Repair station: Along with getting a beer, a tattoo, some more MREs, and some strange; the military space station will be a place to repair your battered warship. As seen in Star Trek, orbital space installations could offer drydock repair facilities for everything from a simple 3,000 lightyear tune-up or replacing whole sections of your starship after some superman from the 20th century tried to take revenge for the death of his beloved wife.

  • Headquarters: There are a number of works that project that future military organizations will make their primary HQ on a military space station, or even a regional HQ given that space is big...really big. An military sparefaring organization could construct military space stations, like Starbases, to be the regional or sector command base for operations.  

  • Hospital: Much like major urban medical centers with more extensive services and ability than the smaller regional hospitals, the same will be true in space. Smaller military outposts or even warships will not offer the medical facilities that a military space station will, and this makes the military space station a busy central hub during times of conflict with patients being shipped back to the space station trauma centers. This was well done in the 1997 Starship Troopers film and in Enemy Mine.       

The Military Space Station as an Invasion Platform

     Some sci-fi creators have envisioned the military space station as an mobile platform for planetary invasions or even extensive operations in an certain star system. We have seen this with the Tet from Oblivion and the Fleet Battle station Ticonderoga from SST. Unlike a space naval taskforce, which mostly likely would have the space combat equivalent of an amphibious landing assault ship, the space station would serve as a the keystone for the invasion, offering greater services and abilities to the ground forces dirtside.
     Consider that these invasion space station platforms could have first-rate medical services, on-demand manufacturing, R&R services, docking stations, and greater space for supplies and equipment. Of course, the bitch of the thing would be transporting the space station to the objective and the expensive of construction and maintenance.  The other element to consider is an hostile space station in orbit over the planetary combat theater would be a juicy target for the defenders. A good clean KEW hit or even a smuggled nuke could destroy the station and taking thousands of lives with it...not to mention the overall invasion operation.

Military Intelligence

Military Intelligence gathers information, does analysis, and uses this to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions.

Traditionally each branch of the military has their own intelligence departments, with the exception of espionage. James Bond does not work for the British army, he is with MI5. But all the British naval warships have on-board Navy radar operators.

The three levels of intelligence are

  • Strategic Intelligence: focus on broad issues such as economics, politics, military capabilities, and intentions of foreign nations.
  • Operational Intelligence: focus on supporting an expeditionary force commander (intelligence for a military campaign).
  • Tactical Intelligence: focus on supporting forces in a battle and patrolling units (and debriefing the patrols to obtain information). Where are the enemy combat units, where are they going, are there any advantageous terrain features that can be used, those sort of questions.

The intelligence department is tasked with responding to the needs of the commander, keeping in mind the military objective and the overall plan for the campaign. The commander has information requirements. The intelligence analysis staff surveys existing information, identifies gaps in the knowledge, sends collection assets to fill in the gaps (for example Reconnaissance). The staff then produce analysis reports for the commander. This process is called Collection Co-ordination and Intelligence Requirement Management (CCIRM).

The four phases of the intelligence process are

  • Collection: information is gathered from public sources, spyplane flyovers and spy satellites, internal or external map makers, published journals of various nations, spies posing as diplomats, spies posing as journalists, eavesdropping on radio and satellite transmissions, and decryption.
  • Analysis: assessing adversary's capabilities and vulnerabilities (threats and opportunities), identifying the least defended or most fragile enemy resources (critical vulnerabilities).
  • Packaging: Critical vulnerabilities are indexed for easy access by advisers and line intelligence personnel who aid the commander. Vulnerabilities are indexed by nation and military unit, along with a list of possible attack methods. Critical threats are maintained in a prioritized file. Important enemy capabilities are analyzed periodically, with the period length set by enemy's preparation time (time varies from monthly to in-real-time). Critical vulnerabilities and critical threats are given to the commander as lists of threats and opportunities.
  • Dissemination: the analysis is sent out through databases, intel bulletins, and briefings.

In the Traveller role playing game, espionage is a part of the Imperial Interstellar Scout Service. Who originally only had the job of exploring newly discovered planets with an eye towards colonization.

In fairness, I've met few military intelligence specialists who clearly understood that their role is not the same as a military historian's.

I meant that many MI analysts are content to record and interpret what has already happened, rather than provide the operations side with useful projections of what might happen next and — most importantly — what they might be able to do about it.

As for why that is, some of it is a lack of intellectual rigor (prediction is inherently much harder than postdiction), some of it is careerist unwillingness to "bet one's bars" on predictive scenarios (compounded by a zero-defect attitude among commanders), some of it is failure to understand the operators' requirements (since few MI have worked the other side first). Most of it is a lack of good predictive tools at the tactical/operational level, especially for unconventional warfare. If MI had the "killer ap" that let them map relationships and resource flows (information, money, logistics, personnel, etc.), they might be better positioned to focus ops on taking out this linkage or propping up that ally, and what effect it would have.

Christopher Thrash (2006)

Even as the beams did their work, a web of pinhole optical cameras wired into Hangzhou’s hull studied them. The cameras fed data to a defensive control computer, which compared the information to its files on ships of Asakaze’s design. The computer deduced the precise origin of the beams, and ordered an array of counterbattery lasers to fire “up the beam” of the attacking cannon. Asakaze let its lasers linger too long on Hangzhou, and Chinese counterbattery beams slashed into the Japanese ship’s unarmored optics, disabling two cannon and damaging a third before its shutter could close. The Chinese counterbattery computer updated its records in hopes of improving its chance for a hit should the lasers hit again.

Less than half of a second had passed since the laser officer on Asakaze had fired the weapons.

In the San Jacinto’s CIC, Neil watched in fascination. Counterbattery response time was prized intelligence. He flagged the data for Space Force analysts before returning to the camera view of the Hangzhou.

“How did we find out about it?” he asked.

Sources and methods, Neil.”

“I’m sorry?”

Donovan smiled. “First lesson of intelligence: Don’t ever expect an answer to a question about our sources of information or our methods in obtaining it. That’s the stuff we have to protect the most; if we burn a source, we very likely lose that source of information for good. Word gets out we burn sources, and fewer people want to talk to us.”

“One last question,” Neil said. “The XO said you requested me as your liaison. Any particular reason?”

Donovan said, “What’s the strategic value of AD Leonis?”

Neil’s response was almost immediate. It took him more time to form the sentences in his head than to recall the information.

“Well, the star itself is a red dwarf and a flare hazard. It has a few planets, but I’d have to look up how many and their types. I have never heard of any mining there, so I would gather that the strategic value is that it serves as a critical keyhole junction for the Hans and the Kims, part of the path to both Korean planets, plus Kuan Yin and Entente. It also links to American space, so it’s a trade hub.”

Donovan said, “Well done. I’d overheard you talking to some of your colleagues on the hop to Vandenberg and later on the station. You have a pretty solid command of how intelligence works. Most of your colleagues probably wouldn’t know half of that about AD Leonis. Your recall isn’t perfect, but it’s pretty good. While anyone can look up almost anything, intrinsic knowledge is the key to the quick analysis your superiors will want. If you know something, you can think about it. But more importantly, you phrased your response like an intelligence officer, despite your limited training. You not only answered the question, but you told me what you knew, what you didn’t know, and you distinguished your facts from your opinions. That’s the proper way for intelligence officers to deal with information, Neil. It usually takes quite a bit of training for someone to organize their mind properly like that, but it comes to you pretty naturally.”

From Through Struggle, the Stars by John Lumpkin (2011)

     Intelligence and the Star Wars universe

     Since its release in 1977, Star Wars has spawned arguments and discussions about how galactic warfare would be conducted – everything from the use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (such as the Death Star), through to Counter-Insurgency and irregular warfare (such as the Ewoks). Across this spectrum, we witness an array of examples that range from dogfights between starfighters; fleet engagements between capital ships; and landwarfare between armoured, artillery, and armoured units. The ‘Wars’ in the ‘Star Wars’ title is a plural for good reason.
     One key warfare element that deserves attention is the military intelligence war that plays out throughout these films, especially within the Original Trilogy. Since 1977, Star Wars has been as much an intelligence war as it has been a battle between X-Wings and TIE Fighters. Throughout the films, both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance exploit an array of different information-gathering practices to bolster their otherwise conventional warfighting capability.
     Both sides are using military intelligence to address a shortfall within their warfighting ability. In the case of the Rebel Alliance, it’s a fight for survival – without intelligence on the Empire, they risk being eradicated. Further more, the relatively small band of Rebels can use intelligence as leverage against a larger, better equipped Empire, an organisation that they can not fight on equal terms. It’s this information that tells them what to attack and how best to strike it.
     The Empire, meanwhile, needs intelligence…
     The first ship we see in the Star Wars films is transmitted plans for the Death Star before its crew is captured, making it an intergalactic equivalent of the USS Pueblo.
     The Empire, meanwhile, needs intelligence on a largely de-centralised Rebellion that has literally the entire Galaxy to hide amongst. Intelligence provides the Empire with the means to seek out the key instruments of the Rebellion (namely, its senior leadership), so that they can be shut down for good.

     All three films are pretty even in their examples of using intelligence for military purposes. In A New Hope, the plans for the Death Star are stolen and smuggled by the Rebellion (a story that will be illuminated come December 2016 with the release of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story). The end game of this intelligence smuggling operation isn’t so that the Rebellion can build its own Superlaser, but rather, so that it sift through pentabytes of data and find a fatal weakness within the Death Stars design.
     Conversely, we see some old school intelligence gathering techniques in A New Hope – namely, the sharing of information by the spy Garindan (AKA Long Snoot) as he stalks Obi Wan and Luke to the Millennium Falcon.
     R2-D2’s venture onto the Death Star later in the film could conceivably be an exploitation of poor cyber security on the Empire’s behalf. Indeed, if R2-D2 were half the programmer that intelligence organisations use today, he would have delivered the intergalactic equivalent of a stuxnet virus into the Death Star’s memory banks, and caused the superlaser to detonate itself the next time it attempted to fire.

     The Empire Strikes Back takes the intelligence campaign further. Imperial Probe Droids – the drones of the Star Wars universe – are dispatched throughout the Galaxy (I want to know about how the Empire disseminates all of the information from these Probes and decides what videos that Captain Piett will view from the bridge of his Star Destroyer).
     The end result of this Probe Droid program is the discovery of the Rebel Base on Hoth, whose destruction yields a significant blow against the Alliance. Later in the film, the Empire goes to the private sector, commissioning freelance bounty hunters to locate the Millennium Falcon and attempt the capture of Rebel senior leadership.
     The conclusion of The Empire Strikes Back sees Luke using the Force to get information that leads him to Bespin, and his fateful confrontation with Darth Vader. Based on nothing more than a vision of ‘A City in the Clouds’, Luke travels halfway across the Galaxy and falls into his father’s trap, despite Vader making no physical attempt to contact him. Any academic who attempts to write a history of the Star Wars galaxy is likely to come up frustratingly short on answers when they question why certain decisions were made, if for no other reason than ‘the Force’.

     In Return of the Jedi, a number of Rebels plant themselves as agents within Jabba’s Palace to mount the rescue of Han Solo (arguably more of a Special Operations mission than Intelligence activity). Never-the-less, such an operation would have required careful study of disguises for Leia and Lando, who both slip into the palace in cognito.
     That operation is a success, bringing us to the film’s second and third act – a massive military operation against a Second Death Star. We learn that many Bothan Spies died to bring us the information presented in the briefing room of the Home One. What they don’t realise is that the intelligence on the Second Death Star is merely a counter-intelligence operation from Emperor Palpatine himself, intended to lure the Rebels into a trap. In three films, we’ve seen quite a robust exploration of how both sides use intelligence to their advantage.

     The Prequels warrant a mere paragraph in the intelligence stakes – not a reflection on the quality of the films, but rather, an acknowledgement that these films have no real intelligence grounding. In The Phantom Menace, the Trade Federation uses malware coded within a distress message to track the Queen’s Starship to Tatooine. Obi-Wan does some gumshoe detective work to find a Clone Army and Droid Foundries on Geonosis in Attack of the Clones, whilst ‘Clone Intelligence’ gives a few tidbits on the Separatists in Revenge of the Sith. Throughout this trilogy, Palpatine is also playing the galaxy’s greatest double agent. Perhaps The Prequels would have been considerably improved if they took a greater focus on intelligence.

     Which brings us to The Force Awakens. We should probably begin by acknowledging the geopolotical (astropolitical?) state of play in this film, with New Republic having signed a peace treaty with Imperial remnants. The New Republic has largely gotten rid of its military so that it can instead spend its budget on managing the Galaxy. That leaves the Resistance, a quasi-legal military force, to take the fight against Imperial remnants that did not go quietly into the night – namely, The First Order, which has been building its forces in secret.
     It’s a classic hawk-and-dove scenario between the Resistance and the New Republic, suggesting a kind of political nuance that the Star Wars films don’t often get credit for. Much like Europe in the 1930s, the New Republic is too busy trying to recover from the last war, and not acknowledge grim realities. A resurgent First Order is practicing a very disciplined information game – consolidating its strength, but not so obviously that the New Republic judges it necessary to re-arm itself. Had the New Republic (much less The Resistance) have known of just how powerful the First Order really was, it’s doubtful they would have allowed them to go unchecked. Just imagine if the Axis had have had a viable nuclear weapon program in the 1930s.
     Like the original trilogy, The Force Awakens demonstrates a good grasp of intelligence supporting a larger and more conventional war. This film doesn’t just illustrate the strengths of intelligence, however – it also demonstrates that organisations who ignore or de-prioritise intelligence do so at their own peril. We see examples of HUMINT (on-the-ground informants working for the First Order and Resistance at seen at Maz Kamata’s bar) through to Intel-gathering platforms operated by the Resistance. Snap Wexley pilots an Electronic Intelligence ship (possibly a mission-specific T-70 X-Wing variant) that brings back an accurate picture of the Starkiller Base, shields and all.
     In the meantime, both sides follow intelligence leads – whether they’re from The Force, through interogations, or from defections – to look for map for Luke Skywalker.

     What can we judge from each side’s intelligence capability? The First Order is, arguably, far superior in this regard. It is disciplined and well resourced. It appears to have more agents throughout the galaxy working for them, judging from the Guavian Death Gang’s tip-off that Han Solo is in possession of BB-8. The First Order keeps the construction of Starkiller Base a secret, its existence only revealed when it reaches out and destroys New Republic’s capital planet. Say what you will about The First Order repeating the mistakes of the Empire by building another resource-intensive superweapon – Starkiller Base decapitated the New Republic’s government.
     The Resistance – and the New Republic – largely demosntrate a shortfall in adequate intelligence throughout much of The Force Awakens. The disappearance of Luke Skywalker some 15 years earlier intelligence failure, given their inability to find him. When it has its first solid lead to discovering Skywalker’s location, The Resistance sends a mere single pilot to retrieve that information.
     In fact, it’s entirely possible that the obsessive search for Skywalker likely distracted The Resistance from intelligence that could have led to the discovery of Starkiller Base. If Luke had not have gone missing in the first place, the New Republic might still be alive today. Talk about your intelligence failures.
     The intelligence that the Resistance is able to garner about Starkiller Base is largely drawn from the defection of FN-2187, and a handful of reconnaissance sorties flown by X-Wings. Through sheer luck and a little bit of talent, it’s sufficient information for The Resistance to destroy Starkiller Base. Once again, blind luck also leads the map fragment containing the location of Luke Skywalker to be decoded by The Resistance.

     What we don’t see however are the repercussions of these intelligence successes and failures, and we wont know much more until December 2017 – the new release date for Star Wars Episode VIII. Disney and Lucasfilm recently announced this film would have the benefit of another six months in production time, during which I hope Rian Johnston finds the opportunity to include more ‘intelligence’ examples within the film.
     What can we expect to see? There’s nothing better than idle speculation, but the real world has a host of examples that I hope are drawn upon. R2-D2 returning to the fold as an exploiter of cyber-security shortfalls, for one. An entire starship given over to the use of COMINT, ELINT and SIGINT – our very own First Order variant of the RC-135 Rivet Joint – would be a sight to see. But there’s one intelligence cliche that, surprisingly, we don’t see in the Star Wars movies – it’s the secret agent.
     There’s a lot of characters in the Star Wars trilogy who work in the intelligence domain, but they’re largely pilots, soldiers, informants or technical specialists. None of them are a professional agent. On the one hand, I applaud the screenwriters for making seven films rich in intelligence examples without resorting to a cinematic cliche of James Bond/Jason Bourne/Jack Bauer.


An intelligence service was as important as a new secret weapon—more important; no matter how fantastic and powerful a weapon might be developed from Dr. Ledbetter's researches, it would be no help until they knew just where and how to use it against the enemy's weak points. A ridiculously inadequate military intelligence had been the prime characteristic of the United States as a power all through its history. The most powerful nation the globe had ever seen-but it had stumbled into wars like a blind giant. Take this present mess: the atom bombs of PanAsia weren't any more powerful than our own but we had been caught flat-footed and had never gotten to use a one.

We had had how many stockpiled? A thousand, he had heard. Ardmore didn't know, but certainly the PanAsians had known, just how many, just where they were. Military intelligence had won the war for them, not secret weapons. Not that the secret weapons of the PanAsians were anything to sneer at particularly when it was all too evident that they really were "secret." Our own so-called intelligence services had fallen down on the job.

From SIXTH COLUMN by Robert Heinlein (1949)

Space Logistics

Logistics is the art and science of moving ones military units to the battlefield and keeping them supplied with ammunition, food, propellant, plutonium, antimatter, and other necessary items. The old bromide is that amateurs talk about battle tactics while professionals talk about logistics. The sad fact of the matter is that logistics is about ten times more difficult than tactics, but a lot less glamorous. Far too many science fiction novels and games totally ignore logistics. Armies are always trying to increase its tooth-to-tail ratio, that is, the ratio of "tooth" troops whose job is neutralizing the enemy to the number of "tail" troops whose job is giving logistical support to the tooth troops. Another term for this is "reducing the length of the logistical tail". The idea is to make the number of "tail" troops as small as possible.

Space logistics include many more items than conventional ground army logistics. For instance, as a general rule a modern-day real-world ground army can count on a breathable atmosphere being locally available, but rocket troops on Luna cannot. The MIT Space Logistics Center identified the following (non-combat) supply classes: Propellants and Fuels, Crew Provisions and Operations, Maintenance and Upkeep, Stowage and Restraint, Waste and Disposal, Habitation and Infrastructure, Transportation and Carriers, Miscellaneous.

Space army units are kept supplied by convoys of cargo spacecraft. The cargo ships should be protected by escort groups if the enemy has convoy raiders engaged in commerce raiding using wolfpack tactics. Unlike wet navy ships, the space convoy ships have a difficult task in delivering the supplies from orbit down to the space army troops, running the gauntlet of hostile weapons fire while simultaneously preventing the supplies from burning up in reentry. Whether uncrewed canisters or crewed orbit-to-surface craft will be used is up to you.

How much tonnage would a troop-carrier spacecraft have? Hard to say. Isaac Kuo suggested that one could get a ballpark estimate by looking at USN amphibious assault ships. LHA and LHD amphibious assault ships are carriers which deliver a couple thousand marines and everything necessary to support them. They have a displacement of about 40,000 tons per 2,000 troops or about 20 tons per trooper.

Space navy ships are kept supplied by auxiliary units. These include Destroyer Tenders, Sub Tenders, Mine Sweepers, Aircraft Tenders, Fuel Ships (Oilers and Tankers), Supply Ships, Transports, Repair Ships, Hospital Ships, Colliers (missile supply ships), and Ammo ships. Those are wet navy ships, you'll have to adapt this to your space fleet.

This is one factor that makes a planetary invasion such a challenge. Presumably the local armed forces on the planet get their logistical ammo, food, and other supplies from the same planet. The invaders, on the other hand, have to rely upon logistical convoy fleets making the long journey from the invader's staging base. If the locals can get their convoy raiders in position to cut the invader's logistical tail, the invader is in real trouble.

In some science fiction universes, space task forces try to shorten the logistical tail by bringing along "factory ships" that can manufacture items such as ammunition on the spot, given raw materials from the local asteroid belt. Factory ships will be mother-ships to small fleets of rapid mining vessels, and ships designed to scoop deuterium and other useful elements from local gas giants. You can find this in William Keith's Galactic Marines series, Steve Gallacci's Albedo Anthropomorphics, and the anime GunBuster.

The military units being supplied by the logistics tail will often attract "camp followers." These are civilian hangers-on who officially or unofficially see to needs of the troops. Official camp followers could be civilian contractors supplying official items like fuel, signal flares, and fragmentation grenades. Unofficial camp followers supply services like cooking, laundering, liquor, nursing, sexual services, and sutlery. For a price. Unofficial camp followers are notorious for after-battle scavenging and looting.


Logistical Considerations

      Several logistics requirements play important roles in allowing space forces to be employed to best advantage. Space-based supply points will be one of the most important requirements. As already noted, such points will be necessary to lessen dependence on terrestrial sources of supply. A subsidiary requirement, but one worth being mentioned in its own right, is a space refueling capability. This requirement will be important in sustaining maneuvering force elements and in increasing the range of space vehicles. Another supply requirement that demands special attention is water. The most severe limiting factor on manned operations in space is the need for water. One problem with water is lifting its weight and volume. A second problem is that it is not completely recoverable and recyclable even in totally closed spacecraft systems. Whatever the problems, man cannot long exist without water so these problems must be overcome if man is to fully exploit space.

     Three more logistics requirements are an on-demand launch capability, increased launch capability, and high-power sources. On-demand launch capability is important to flexibility in space support operations. On-demand launch will provide the ability to meet unforeseen contingencies and emergencies. It will also be necessary to provide a rapid surge capability in periods of heightened tensions.

     Increased launch capability means both more launch vehicles and more launch sites. Increased launch capability will be required to meet the demands of constructing and supporting a fully developed space force structure. It will also contribute to the development of a surge capability. Increased security and defenses for launch sites are a vital sub-element of this requirement.

     Compact high-power sources will be important for meeting the power demands of space forces. This is particularly true for maneuvering assets and assets requiring reduced detectability. In these instances large solar arrays would not really -be practical. Also, since a significant portion of space weaponry is likely to be in the directed-energy category, high-capacity power supplies will be essential to sustaining these weapons in combat.

     For the terrestrial support elements of space systems, two major points to be considered are endurability and redundancy. The primary terrestrial support elements are launch sites and ground terminals and control centers. The United States presently has two primary space launch sites at the Kennedy Space Center and Vandenburg AFB. Both sites are located on coastlines and are relatively vulnerable. What is needed is another launch site located at an isolated interior location in the western United States that can be well defended. Obviously, the major problem with interior locations is range safety. While there must be some tradeoff in range safety for defense considerations, there are steps that can be taken to minimize this tradeoff. One step is to locate facilities in the centers of such low population density areas as the Nevada-Utah border. Another step is to concentrate normal usage at KSC and Vandenburg and to maintain a third location principly for surge and survivability purposes. A third step, and the one that could do the most for making interior launch sites viable, is to develop a single-stage-to-orbit capability. If interior launch sites could be proliferated, endurability would increase not only through better defensibility, but through redundancy as well. 'Increasing redundancy would also contribute to building a surge capability that does not currently exist.

     The other terrestrial support element is the ground segment consisting of tracking and communication sites and control centers. Many tracking stations and ground terminals are in vulnerable overseas locations. These stations should be relocated to more defensible locations in the continental United States. Cross-linking between satellites and the use of tracking and data relay satellites can make this possible. Not only does the ground segment need to be located in the CONUS, it also needs to be made more survivable through the proliferation of mobile ground terminals with survivable communications links to command centers.


(ed note: Phil Pournelle is one of Jerry Pournelle's sons. The discussion is about Attack Vector: Tactical {AV:T})

Phil Pournelle:

I’ve been lurking and reading the Realistic Weapons thread for a while and have enjoyed the discussion, though I have not really done the math required to fathom it completely. I generally understand the math regarding acceleration and fuel requirements.

Merchants will run around at a maximum of 0.1Gs acceleration, military drives could possibly top out at 1G for a short period of time at an incredible expenditure of resources. Obviously the energy costs to do all this increase as the mass of the ship increases.

Which brings me to a critical point about ship design that I don’t know has been covered here.

Spaceships with a human crew will require a significant investment in life support. Working on a ship in the water, I have a great appreciation for this. Here we can draw upon the medium we float on to generate fresh water (Reverse Osmosis, etc) and fresh air around us. In the age of sailing ships, they had to carry almost everything with them, but then they could subsidize their food stores with fish caught in the ocean and rain falling from the sky. Additionally, maritime nations went to great lengths to develop resupply stations around the world, on land.

This has two important implications: Mass of the starships and the impact of logistics on spacial battles.

Life Support systems able to sustain a crew for extended periods of time would require significant mass devoted to organics, hydroponics, water, scrubbers, etc. Being on a ship I can attest to the value to the crew of large common areas, particularly for extended periods of time. Larger ships can sustain people for longer periods of time, look at a carrier versus a mine sweeper… In the Ten Worlds Universe you could go a year before reaching a port of call with air in your hair and grass at your feet. Trust me you can keep a crew reasonably sane if you can stop at a small island place like Tinian or Catalina once in a while. It is a completely different if all you have to offer is another Spam can.

So now you have ships hauling around a large mass of life support systems. These sustain you during the month of boredom but become a significant liability in the minutes of terror in battle. I think the implications could turn the AV:T assumptions on their head. Rather than carry the mass of the life support systems around with you, leave them behind. During the short time devoted to combat, you need a short amount of life support. Employ a craft that only requires you to sustain the crew for a few hours. Battle Riders are the classic designs from Traveler. But then Battle Riders really are fighters, just a question of what is the mass difference between a fighter and a battle boat.

The second implication of all this is the impact of logistics on the operational level on spacial battles. If even warships are limited in the amount of thrust they can expend in battles, then the forces with the best interior lines of communication (resupply) will dominate the operational level of conflict. If two opposing forces of equal combat effectiveness begin an engagement, then the defender (assuming he is closer to his resupply bases) can maneuver radically or salvo large numbers of expendables and force the attacker to have to respond in kind. Exhausted the attacker must retreat, he cannot resupply. Thus the old saying returns, amateurs discuss tactics, experts discuss logistics. I view the potential Ten Worlds battles not so much as the Age of Nelson, but the age of Nimitz.

Again all of this may have been covered before I joined this group, so please let me know.

Ken Burnside:

Phil Pournelle: Life Support systems able to sustain a crew for extended periods of time would require significant mass devoted to organics, hydroponics, water, scrubbers, etc.

We ran numbers on this during one of your intermissions from the list, but...

In AV:T, one hull space (25 tons, nominal) of support cargo has the supplies needed to keep one person healthy, alive and somewhat sane for 160 weeks. Multiply surviving support cargo by 160, divide by the people in the crew, round the fractions up, and you have the cruise duration in weeks. (We use fortnights, so divide by 80, and you're fine.)

There is a separate installation that provides, for lack of a better term, "sewer plant features" and air scrubbing.

A third type of installation is an interior garden to give very long range endurance.

The numbers were taken from submarine usage, and (in a rough sense) quadrupling the amount of water and multiplying the stored air by about 200x. We also have fairly automated ships (to keep the crew levels down) and actually worked out the packed volume of a cargo support space to make sure the densities worked. We looked into hydroponics and found that for the (admittedly) small sized crews we had, they only made sense when you had about half the crew size and expected to be out for several years between port calls. We still statted them out.

Some nations build their ships with pod docks to do exactly what you describe — leave the lunch pail behind the ship before you go to fight — which means you could lose it if something slips past you. Other nations are a bit more paranoid and try to pack the support supplies internally. Still others use tenders and gunboats (your tender and battle rider part, that I snipped) as their primary doctrine, but it's a doctrine on the way out due to manpower requirements and the short life expectancy of the gunboat crews if the balloon goes up.

That being said, a gunboat tender is a very flexible ship; swap out some of its gunboats with supply pods, and you have a very long endurance ship for showing the flag, convoy escorts, relief missions, and all sorts of Missions Other Than War.

Phil Pournelle: The second implication of all this is the impact of logistics on the operational level on spacial battles.

Supply nodes are pretty clearly marked on the Ten Worlds route maps, including who owns them, who has rights for basing at them, and which ones will sell (or be coerced) support to all comers.

Every can city that hosts a permanent population has a hydroponics belt, and most all of them have a greensward, and spin gravity. It's not quite being on a planet, but sometimes the planets just aren't convenient to get to or from. And yes, pulling up to a can city for liberty does happen...and captains have the authority to accept recruits from can cities as well, inducting them into the service, usually with an enlistment term that boils down to "10 years in the Navy, and citizenship when we get you home."

(For the kids growing up in the can city, ANYTHING can seem like a better deal than growing old with the same old faces you already dislike surrounding you. Plus, as the Three Generation Rule kicks in...

Sometimes "accept recruits" and "Throw a party, get a bunch of the brighter kids drunk and have them wake up with a hangover and a Gunny yelling in their face as the ship is outbound" can get a bit blurry.)

But back to supply nodes.

Supply nodes are worth fighting over, not just with warships, but with treaty obligations. The Saladin War expanded for the Olympians when they attempted to cut the Medinan's line of supply on their flank...and Chinese didn't take kindly to the joint base being hulked by an overzealous Olympian commander.

The real issue with supply nodes is that unlike a base on an island, there is no real analog to coastal fortifications to make them secure. The only way you protect your base is to engage the enemy far enough away from it that he can't hurt it without defeating the defending force.

A defending force in its home system will be expected to trot out the nukes and apologize later if their polity survives. Nukes are about the only effective "defender force multiple" we've been able to come up with.

Nukes are banned by treaty; this treaty is nigh unenforceable, but its anemic enforcement provision means that when two warships meet in the back of the beyond, they swap junior officers for an inspection of ordnance logbooks, a dinner party, and a thorough debriefing by their XO and INTEL officer when they get back. This "courtesy call" is as much for the "know your counterpart in the opposite service" as it is for the supposed inspection regime.

An important mind set in the Ten Worlds is that within living memory, something like 99.9% of the human race vanished with the Loss. There is a strong cultural taboo (right now) against War to the Knife. It's war to specific objectives, it's war with the expectation that the negotiations afterwards will be the final determinant of who won or lost. The Chinese Drop Brigade is one of those things that makes people nervous and is primarily a deterrent. It's the lone force that could concievably drop on an enemy planet and perform an Afghanistan-type operation, and much effort and attention is paid to which camo patterns its vehicles are painted with at any time...

Another point is that in spite of this taboo, leading up to the Saladin War, every single major power had a much larger fleet than they could comfortably support, due to holdovers from Earth and the general inflation of intelligence estimates of capabilities. It was seriously impacting economies throughout the Ten Worlds, and one of the foci of the treaty ending the Saladin War is a Naval Reduction Treaty.

However, if the naval forces drop below their current levels, there are going to be systems and trade routes uncovered, and piracy may rise again...

From a thread in sfconsim-l (2006)

      Most of those present had strapped themselves into seats bolted to the curved deck, while several clumps of officers floated free to consult with one another.  As Drake entered, acceleration alarms began to hoot and a disembodied voice announced the imminent return of spin gravity.  Drake quickly used the “overhead” handholds to move to his position at the table that had been set up at the front of the compartment.
     There he joined Grand Admiral Georges Terence Belton, who was already strapped into his seat.  The admiral was reviewing his notes.  At Drake’s approach, he looked up and nodded gravely.

     “Welcome, Drake.  How was the trip from Alta?”
     “Hurried, sir.  I wish the lizards had given us another month to prepare.”
     “Hell, why not ask for another year?”
     “No sense tempting the fates, sir.  A month would have been sufficient.”
     Belton rubbed his chin, and then nodded.  “You might be right.  I know I would have been more prepared for this coming fight.  Still, while we are wishing, we might want to ask for another hundred orbital fortresses.”
     “Just get us the ones we already have in time to do some good, sir.”

     G.T. Belton was in overall command of the Spica Operation, and Drake’s boss, even though he would not be going within a hundred light years of the fleet’s objective.  Belton had done a brilliant job in bringing a billion disparate elements together to mount the invasion.  However, like General Groves of the fabled Manhattan Project, Belton’s skills were that of an organizer more than a warrior.  Now that the time had come to put his planning into practice, he would continue in overall command — as much as a sop to the politicians of Earth as for military necessity — but a younger, more vigorous commander would take over direct operational responsibility for the invasion. (i.e., Richard Drake)

     “Ready to give the lizards a swift kick in the tail?” Belton asked as he buckled in.
     “Yes, sir,” Drake replied.  “And thank you for the trust you have shown in supporting me for this command.”
     “You may want to hold your appreciations until you have a few engagements under your belt.  Being at the sharp end of the spear can be a thankless job, especially when you have to deal with REMFs.”
     “REMFs, sir?”
     “Old terrestrial navy expression, Drake.  Its roots are obscene.  It refers to the assholes back at base who won’t give the man in combat what he needs unless he asks in triplicate.  You can rest assured, by the way, that so long as I am on the job, there will be a minimum of that sort of bullsh*t.”

     While Drake led the bulk of humanity’s offensive fleet into the heart of enemy space, Grand Admiral Belton would establish the bases and infrastructure needed to keep the fleet supplied.  As Bethany, Drake’s historian wife, had remarked when he told her of his appointment to operational command, Belton was to be General George C. Marshall to Drake’s George Patton.  Richard knew who General Patton had been, of course.  One of the ships in the fleet was named Patton.

     He had never heard of George C. Marshall.


      Whatever the case, he was glad Khalid was on his way to break the news to Captain Norris that, in addition to C-transit still being down, engineering had fabbed only sixteen missiles from the asteroid they’d commandeered upon entering the Grendel system—a fraction of the number they’d spent at Descartes. The old man was already cranky enough, being trapped in sickbay while the grafts took on what were left of his legs.

     Biermann switched on a confident attitude as he climbed the ladder down to the CIC. He would have found the expression easier to manifest had he been going up to the main bridge, but with the bridge blown all to hell …

     Biermann knew he shouldn’t fret—at least not publicly. Drives and weapons rated a lot higher than starting to grow a new bridge. At least it smelled a bit less like hot metal and melted plastic in the CIC than it did in the rest of the ship.

     It would be particularly true when they spun up the singularity set and it began radiating into C-space. Otherwise, a ship that doesn’t want to be found can avoid it pretty easily. Normal space is enormous; ships are tiny. A disabled ship that wants to be found is a difficult target, even if they can make themselves look like a bright spot against the backdrop of space. Most beacons are directional, and if they set a beacon on a slow scan they have to hope that another ship’s fast-scanning antenna is looking in their direction at the right time. The odds are against it, unless that other ship knows just where to look.

     Biermann continued, “We’ll have to hold off spinning the baubles much faster until we’re ready to move, or else we’ll shine brighter than Grendel to their detectors. That means sticking with our deployed arrays for now. Hopefully the only thing they have looking this way are coarse star sensors—but since Grendel’s a flare star you know they have some other sort of observations going on. We’ll yaw a few degrees to port before we clear the star, to try to minimize any reflection off the arrays.” He pictured their orbital transit in his mind: They were much smaller than a star spot, but would cross the surface slowly enough that any observer would know they were in orbit and not on the star’s surface. He said, “If we can’t get the drives going in, say, four hours, is there any way you can task a couple of riggers to distribute some of that asteroidal material around, so we look like something natural? It’s okay that we’re three-axis stabilized, it just looks like we’re tidally locked, but we don’t need to show too many sharp edges if we can help it.”

     “Only if we stop extractions, sir, which means we won’t be growing any more missiles.”
     “That’s okay, Chief,” Biermann said. “We’ll never have enough missiles to take on more than a couple of ships. Just make sure the ones we have are rigged fast and hot.”
     “Aye, sir, will do.”

     The idea of the Nine Grounds went all the way back to Earth, several hundred parsecs and many more hundreds of years away. Biermann found the chapter and skimmed the text, wishing his memory was as good as the captain’s so he wouldn’t have to look up the references.

     Frontier ground was a sally into enemy territory, and serious ground was a deeper run at the enemy: One was advised not to stop in the frontier, and once in deep had to resort to plunder to keep supplied. It was a problem that had plagued invaders from the earliest wars, and the logistics of space had only made the situation worse. Sure, with fabrication equipment a ship like Tigris could catch an asteroid and mine it to make spare parts and components, or skim a gas giant for volatiles, but that was good only up to a point; the piece of apple still in his teeth reminded him they couldn’t plant and grow fresh fruit as quickly, for instance. It meant long supply lines, vulnerable to accident and interdiction, which was why outposts and colonies, and even spacefaring vessels themselves, had to be as self-sufficient as possible and to exploit resources as they came available.

From THE STARS ARE SILENT by Gray Rinehart (2018)

Warning: spoilers for RENEGADE by Joel Shepherd

Walker sighed, and leaned both thick elbows on the balcony railing. They looked out at the passing parade. “Yeah. Fourteen years was enough for me. Of course, I wasn’t on the sharp end like you…”

“You were sharp enough. You know what it’s like.” Walker had sat Scan on a hauler. They weren’t armed, but they often carried arms into hot spots, where god-knew-what was waiting for them. All in all, Erik was sure he’d rather be on a ship that could shoot back. Phoenix was certainly that. “Besides, I’ve only done three on Phoenix. The other seven years I was staffing, babysitting docks or serving on Firebird. The most action Firebird saw was the occasional solar flare.”

“All valuable work.” Walker patted his hand. “How are the tavalai taking it, do you think? Will the surrender last?”

Erik made a dismissive face. “Oh they’ve been sick of this war for decades. It should have ended fifty years ago Dad, you know that.”

“Sure. But wars in space move slow.” They did. The logistics alone took an incredible time. Anyone could strike a system from space, but the deeper you went into enemy territory, the harder it became to get back alive. To hit deep into enemy space, you had to capture systems, not just skip over them. That took huge time, energy and resources. Doing it repeatedly, system after system, took decades. It wasn’t all high-energy combat and casualties, a lot of it was quite boring, months and years of preparations, skirmishes and reconnaissance, punctuated by huge explosions of terror and death. It took a very stubborn people to do it for a hundred and sixty one years. Until this surrender, it was thought that the tavalai were the most stubborn species in the Spiral. Now everyone knew better.

From RENEGADE by Joel Shepherd (2015)

If Wikipedia is to be trusted, apparently, US Civil War general Nathan Bedford Forrest never really said that... He did say, "git thar fust with the most men," which is close enough.

I bring this up because of Doug's comment on an earlier post that the Lanchester equations are so abstract that they merely say the obvious — if you're gonna hava a fight, it's good to have more guys. Those are the odds. Tactics are how you beat the odds. Yet one of those standard military sayings that gets bandied around is amateurs study tactics, professonals study logistics. The mark of a great general is not so much beating the odds as loading the dice.

In his next comment, however, Doug lets the cat out of the bag — confessing that the real problem with the Lanchesterian logic of deep-space combat is that it rules out cool stuff like space pirates. (Off-topic? Not in the least! This blog is fundamentally about Romance, which emphatically includes Pirates in SPAAACE!)

Logistics. The very word, like "economics," kills Romance and buries her in a shallow grave. ... Logistics and economics are both crucial to realistic worldbuilding — if you want a realistic flavor — because of the same principle: If you are a pirate, raiding galleons / starliners on their voyage each year to Cockaigne, you need to know how many galleons there are to raid.

This, however, is all in the background. The reader doesn't expect to see a table of Cockaigne's imports and exports — only to see a few of the choicest samples, when the rogueish heroes break open a chest or unseal a cargo pod. Even less do we expect to see the logistic underpinnings of warfare. We only hear about the Seabees when someone attacks them and they have to shoot back.

Yet logistics includes the time dimension — the fustest, as well as the mostest — and that is where Romance and logistics meet. Every time the cavalry pennons appear over the brow of the pass just as the fort is about to fall, it means that someone got them mounted up and on the road with the sun. That trumpet blast you hear is the triumph of logistics.

From FUSTEST WITH THE MOSTEST by Rick Robinson (2007)

Logisticians are a sad and embittered race of men who are very much in demand in war, and who sink resentfully into obscurity in peace. They deal only in facts, but must work for men who merchant in theories. They emerge during war because war is very much a fact. They disappear in peace because peace is mostly theory. The people who merchant in theories, and who employ logisticians in war and ignore them in peace, are generals.

Generals are a happy blessed race who radiate confidence and power. They feed only on ambrosia and drink only nectar. In peace, they stride confidently and can invade a world simply by sweeping their hands grandly over a map, point their fingers decisively up terrain corridors, and blocking defiles and obstacles with the sides of their hands. In war, they must stride more slowly because each general has a logistician riding on his back and he knows that, at any moment, the logistician may lean forward and whisper: "No, you can't do that." Generals fear logisticians in war and, in peace, generals try to forget logisticians.

Romping along beside generals are strategists and tacticians. Logisticians despise strategists and tacticians. Strategists and tacticians do not know about logisticians until they grow up to be generals—which they usually do.

Sometimes a logistician becomes a general. If he does, he must associate with generals whom he hates; he has a retinue of strategists and tacticians whom he despises; and, on his back, is a logistician whom he fears. This is why logisticians who become generals always have ulcers and cannot eat their ambrosia.

Unknown Author

Logistics..."embraces not merely the traditional functions of supply and transportation in the field, but also war finance, ship construction, munitions manufacture and other aspects of war economy."

Lt Col George C. Thorpe, Pure Logistics, 1917

Logistics comprises the means and arrangements which work out the plans of strategy and tactics. Strategy decides where to act; logistics brings the troops to this point.

General Antoine Henri Jomini, Precis de l'Art de la Guerre (The Art of War), 1838

Seldom will all logistics principles exert equal influence; usually one or two will dominate in any given situation. Identifying those principles that have priority in a specific situation is essential to establishing effective support.

Joint Pub 4-0, Doctrine for Logistics Support of Joint Operations, Sep 25, 1992 the broadest sense, the three big M's of warfare--material, movement, and maintenance. If international politics is 'the art of the possible,' and war is its instrument, logistics is the art of defining and extending the possible. It provides the substance that physically permits an army to live and move and have its being.

James A. Huston, The Sinews of War: Army Logistics 1775-1953, 1966

Throughout the struggle, it was in his logistic inability to maintain his armies in the field that the enemy's fatal weakness lay. Courage his forces had in full measure, but courage was not enough. Reinforcements failed to arrive, weapons, ammunition and food alike ran short, and the dearth of fuel caused their powers of tactical mobility to dwindle to the vanishing point. In the last stages of the campaign they could do little more than wait for the Allied advance to sweep over them.

Dwight D. Eisenhower, British Army Doctrine Publication, Volume 3, Logistics (June 1996) p. 1-2


“Logistic considerations belong not only in the highest echelons of military planning during the process of preparation for war and for specific wartime operations, but may well become the controlling element with relation to timing and successful operation.” — Vice Admiral Oscar C. Badger, USN

“Underway replenishment was the U.S. Navy’s secret weapon of World War II.”— Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz, USN

“It is no great matter to change tactical plans in a hurry and to send troops off in new directions. But adjusting supply plans to the altered tactical scheme is far more difficult.”— General Walter Bedell Smith

“The history of war proves that nine out of ten times an army has been destroyed because its supply lines have been cut off…. We shall land at Inchon, and I shall crush them.”— General Douglas MacArthur

“Every unit that is not supported is a defeated unit.”— Maurice de Saxe, Mes Reveries, XIII, 1732

“Gentlemen, the officer who doesn’t know his communications and supply as well as his tactics is totally useless.”— General George S. Patton, USA

“Bitter experience in war has taught the maxim that the art of war is the art of the logistically feasible.”— Admiral Hyman Rickover, USN

“Amateurs think about tactics, but professionals think about logistics.”— General Robert H. Barrow, USMC (Commandant of the Marine Corps) noted in 1980

“Sound logistics forms the foundation for the development of strategic flexibility and mobility. If such flexibility is to be exercised and exploited, military command must have adequate control of its logistic support.”— RADM Henry E. Eccles, Logistics in the National Defense (1959)

“The more I see of war, the more I realize how it all depends on administration and transportation . . . It takes little skill or imagination to see where you would like your army to be and when; it takes much more knowledge and hard work to know where you can place your forces and whether you can maintain them there."— General A. C. P. Wavell, quoted in Martin Van Creveld’s Supply War, Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (1977)

“And regulation entails organizational effectiveness, a chain of command, and a structure for logistical support.”— Sun Tzu

“There are five kinds of incendiary attack: The first is called setting fire to personnel; the second, to stores; the third, to transport vehicles and equipment; the fourth, to munitions; the fifth, to supply installations…In all cases an army must understand the changes induced by the five kinds of incendiary attack, and make use of logistical calculations to address them.”— Sun Tzu

“International logistic coordination must always involve some invasion of the economic rights, independence, and sovereignty of each nation of the alliance.”— Rear Admiral Henry E. Eccles: Logistics in the National Defense (1959)

"Logistics sets the campaign's operational limits. The lead time needed to arrange logistics support and resolve logistics concerns requires continuous integration of logistic considerations into the operational planning process. This is especially critical when available planning time is short. Constant coordination and cooperation between the combatant command and component staffs—and with other combatant commands—is a prerequisite for ensuring timely command awareness and oversight of deployment, readiness, and sustainment issues in the theater of war."— Joint Pub 1: Joint Warfare of the Armed Forces of the United States

“Above all, petrol governed every movement.”— Winston Churchill, on Allied operations during World War II

“It was a war begun as a fight for oil and ended by the lack of it.”— Asahi Shimbun, regarding World War II

“…any commander with three months to prepare before he is besieged, who lays in only six days stocks of ammunition deserves to be censured in the strongest terms.”— Julian Thompson, Lifeblood of War, concerning the French debacle at Dien Bien Phu

“He who owns the oil will own the world, for he will rule the sea by means of the heavy oils, the air by means of the ultra-refined oils, and the land by means of gasoline and the illuminating oils.”— Henri Berenger, French diplomat, 1921

“The war was decided by engines and octane.”— Joseph Stalin, referring to the outcome of World War II

“No matter how well fed, equipped, or officered, without oil and gasoline the modern army is a hopeless monster, mire and marked for destruction.”— T.H. Vail Motter, U.S. Army Historian

“The primary cause of our failure was a shortage of fuel.”— General Paul von Kleist, Commander, Panzer Forces, Army Group A in Russia

“Our ships sailed on water, but they moved on oil, and the demand never ceased.”— Rear Admiral W.R. Carter, U.S.N.

“The raids of the Allied air fleets on the German fuel supply installations were the most important of the combined factors which brought about the collapse of Germany.”— General Adolf Galland Commander, German Fighter Force

Emergency Rations

This section has been moved here

Space Mercenaries

If your government is in a war, and your army is too small, too unskilled, or otherwise inadequate, you have a problem. And the various mercenary legions will be quick to point out that they have the solution. For a price.

Mercenaries are private military companies. Otherwise known as soldiers for hire, security contractors or private military contractors. TV Trope link here.

On the one hand mercenaries could ensure that your government wins the war. On the other hand, there are many risks involved. Mercenaries might be tempted by the fact that they are stronger than the government's army: turning on the people who hired them, smashing the state, and running off with the money. The enemy might bribe the mercenaries to switch sides. Not to mention all the dire things that can happen because the hiring government and the mercenaries are not on the same page with respect to the objective, allowable tactics, and/or collateral damage.

On the flip side, the mercenaries are running risks as well. The hiring government might not pay the agreed on fees. The government might run out of money. The government might figure that the sneaky way to avoid paying is to send the mercenaries into a suicidal battle (the Uriah Gambit). Or upon the winning of the war, the government might lead the mercenaries into a trap and use the government's soldiers to slaughter them all. Finally they could merely be on the losing side, the government who hired them could be no more, and they are suddenly all alone on a hostile planet with no way off.

Pay for the mercenaries can be "up-front" or "upon success only".

Up-front means the mercs get paid regardless of success. Generally it is paid half at start and the balance upon completion. Sometimes the contract specifies that part of the balance can be lost due to failure to achieve certain objectives.

Mercs can also be on retainer. This means a potential client pays the mercs money with the understanding that if the client decides to hire the mercs, the client has priority over other clients. The client also has veto power over contracts the mercs can accept while under retainer. Retainers can be secret, to give the client plausible deniability.

Mercs can require that the client post "repatriation bond." This is a sum of money the client places in an escrow account sufficient to ship the mercs off-planet. When the bond is invoked, the mercs become legal non-combatants and are given safe passage to the nearest starport. This can be used to ship mercs who are prisoners of war off planet. It can also be used by mercs if their client is a government which was overthrown.

Citizens and soldiers belonging to governments tend to despise mercenaries because they are, well mercenary. The Mercs are not fighting for reasons of patriotism, they are just in it for the money. Mercs can be fighting another mercenary legion in one war, and be fighting alongside the same legion in a different war. They are soldiers of negotiable loyalty. Although when you get down to the mercenary individual trooper level, their immediate loyalty is to their fellow comrades-in-arms.

Large mercenary organizations tend to refrain from treacherous conduct, since getting a reputation for being untrustworthy will cause a rapid drop in the number of job offers. Mercenaries are averse to strategies and tactics that inflict high casualties, since the soldiers are basically their stock in trade. When a unit from one mercenary legion surrenders to another legion, the capturing legion treats the unit fairly. After all, not only is it not personal (it's just money), but the tables might be turned one fine day. Again it is reputation, a reputation for massacring surrendering units will ensure that your troops receive the same treatment.

But in addition, if you start killing mercenaries who surrender, you working against your own self-interest. Mercenaries will surrender when there is nothing to be gained by further fighting. If you start killing surrenderees, the mercs will come to the conclusion there is nothing to be gained by surrender. They will then fight to the last, which is the functional equivalent of shoving your own troops into a meat-grinder. You will then have first hand experience with a "Pyrrhic Victory."

Currently here on present-day Terra, "mercenaries" are not legal. Under international treaties they are neither lawful combatants, nor non-combatants. Which means mercenaries have no protection under the Geneva convention, and any government or corporation who employs them are breaking the law. To do an end-run around this, governments use the transparent fiction of "private military contractors" (PMC). Legally PMCs are glorified shopping mall guards, pay no attention to the fact that they possess armored fighting vehicles, helicopters and warships (you know how mean those mall-rat teenagers can be). Legally PMCs are forbidden to shoot at the enemy, but they can do so if forced (wink-wink, nudge-nudge). So the government will tell the heavily-armed PMCs go to hill Whiskey-Tango but don't shoot at the enemy, unless, you know, they fire at you or if you see anything that might remotely be considered a threat.

Some mercenary legions are privately owned, others are actually parts of a government's army hired out for training and profit (or to avoid them being a drain on the military budget).

Mercenaries generally have no "home planet", they are migratory workers. This means they also have to transport their administrative structure, military dependents (families of the soldiers), and any other infrastructure. Threatening the merc's dependents is an extraordinarily bad idea. The mercs will drop whatever they are doing, locate the organization responsible, kill every man, woman and child associated, burn the buildings to the ground, and sow salt into the earth.

To a mercenary, their best friend in the entire universe is their personal weapon. Their second best friend is all the other members of their mercenary unit. Mercenaries are always drastically outnumbered by the combination of enemy troops and disdainful "friendly" troops, so mercs have to help their buddies and watch each others back. Their third best friend is their communication equipment. When you are outnumbered, you want to be able to call for help. And to know exactly where your fellow mercs are located. You also want them to know where you are located, so your artillery does not inadvertently shell you and so the medic know where to find your wounded body.

Mercenary leaders put a priority on having the best medical technology they can possible afford. The mercenary soldiers are the the stock-in-trade of the mercenary band. Each merc who is medically saved from dying or becoming so disabled they have to be discharged will save the band the large cost of training a new recruit. The mercs will also fight harder, knowing that advanced medical facilities are close at hand.


The crowd had thinned enough that the Slammers officer could trust other pedestrians to avoid him even if he glanced away from his direction of movement. "You go by Jack when you're with friends?" he asked, looking at the bigger man.

"Yes sir, I do," Scratchard replied.

He grinned, and though the expression wasn't quite natural, the noncom was working on it.

Mercenary units were always outnumbered by the indigenous populations that hired them—or they were hired to put down. Mercenaries depended on better equipment, better training—and on each other, because everything else in the world could be right and you were still dead if the man who should have covered your back let you down.

Tyl and Scratchard both wanted—needed—there to be a good relationship between them. It didn't look like they'd be together long . . . but life itself was temporary, and that wasn't a reason not to make things work as well as they could while it lasted.

From COUNTING THE COST by David Drake (1987)

Another mission for mercenaries is "cadre." The client nation hires a small team of mercenaries as trainers for their national armies. Boot-camp for hire.

Some mercenary units specialize. There might be one that is mostly artillery or air defense. Others are more general purpose, with a balanced mix of all branches.

Mercenaries in science fiction include Jerry Pornelle's Falkenberg's Legion, David Drake's Hammer's Slammers, Gordon Dickson's Dorsai series, Glen Cook's Shadowline (which is an SF retelling of the Norse myth of Ragnarok), Andre Norton's Star Guard, John Dalmas' The Regiment, a few novels in the BattleTech series, and the webcomic Schlock Mercenary.


      In Europe and especially in England, military history is a respected intellectual discipline. Not so here. I doubt there are a dozen U.S. academic posts devoted to the study of the military arts.
     The public esteem of the profession of arms is at a rather low ebb just now—at least in the United States. The Soviet Union retains the pomp and ceremony of military glory, and the officer class is highly regarded, if not by the public (who can know the true feelings of Soviet citizens?) then at least by the rulers of the Kremlin. Nor did the intellectuals always despise soldiers in the United States. Many of the very universities which delight in making mock of uniforms were endowed by land grants and were founded in the expectation that they would train officers for the state militia. It has not been all that many years since U.S. combat troops were routinely expected to take part in parades; when soldiers were proud to wear uniform off-post, and when my uniform was sufficient for free entry into movie houses, the New York Museum of Modern Art, the New York Ballet, and as I recall the Met (as well as to other establishments catering to the less cultural needs of the soldier).
     But now both the military and anyone who studies war are held in a good deal of contempt.

     I do not expect this state of affairs to last—in fact, I am certain that it cannot. A nation which despises its soldiers will all too soon have a despicable army.

     The depressing fact is that history is remarkably clear on one point: wealthy republics do not last long. Time after time they have risen to wealth and freedom; the citizens become wealthy and sophisticated; unwilling to volunteer to protect themselves, they go to conscription; this too becomes intolerable; and soon enough they turn to mercenaries.
     Machiavelli understood that, and things have not much changed since his time—except that Americans know far less history than did the rulers of Florence and Milan and Venice.

     For mercenaries are a dangerous necessity. If they are incompetent, they will ruin you. If they are competent there is always the temptation to rob the paymaster.
     Why should they not? They know their employers will not fight. They may, if recruited into a national army, retain loyalty to the country—but if the nation despises them, and takes every possible opportunity to let them know it, then that incentive falls as well—and they have a monopoly on the means of violence. Their employers won’t fight—if they would, they needn’t have hired mercenaries.

     The result is usually disastrous for the wealthy republic.
     After all, it should be fairly clear that no one fights purely for money; that anyone who does is probably not worth hiring. As Montesquieu put it, “a rational army would run away.” To stand on the firing parapet and expose yourself to danger; to stand and fight a thousand miles from home when you’re all alone and outnumbered and probably beaten; to spit on your hands and lower the pike, to stand fast over the body of Leonidas the King, to be rear guard at Kunu-ri; to stand and be still to the Birkenhead drill; these are not rational acts.
     They are often merely necessary.

     Through history, through painful experience, military professionals have built up a specialized knowledge: how to induce men (including most especially themselves) to fight, aye, and to die. To charge the guns at Breed’s Hill and New Orleans, at Chippewa and at Cold Harbor; to climb the wall of the Embassy Compound at Peking; to go ashore at Betio and Saipan; to load and fire with precision and accuracy while the Bon Homme Richard is sinking; to fly in that thin air five miles above a hostile land and bring the ship straight and level for thirty seconds over Regensberg and Ploești; to endure at Heartbreak Ridge and Porkchop Hill and the Iron Triangle and Dien Bien Phu and Huế and Firebase 34 and a thousand nameless hills and villages.
     It’s a rather remarkable achievement, when you think about it. It’s even more remarkable when you look closer and see just how many mercenary units have performed creditably, honorably, even gallantly; how many of those who have changed history on the battlefield have been professional soldiers. For despite the silly sayings about violence never settling anything, history IS changed on the battlefield: ask the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, the Continental Congress, the Carthaginians, the Israelis, the Confederate States of America, Pompey and Caesar and Richard III and Harold of Wessex, Don Juan of Austria and Aetius the last Roman. Yet you could search through the armies of history and you would find few competent troopers who fought for money and money alone.

     This is the mistake so often made by those who despise the military, and because they despise it refuse to understand it: they fail to see that few are so foolish as to give their lives for money; yet an army whose soldiers are not willing to die is an army that wins few victories.
     Yet certainly there have always existed mercenary soldiers.

     We can piously hope there will be no armies in the future. It is an unlikely hope; at least history is against it. On the evidence, peace is a purely theoretical state of affairs whose existence we deduce because there have been intervals between wars. But I did not speak contemptuously when I spoke of pious hopes; nor do I find it an irony that the Strategic Air Command, whose commanders hold leashed more firepower than has been expended by all the armies of all time, has as its motto “Peace is our profession.” Most of those young men who guard us as we sleep believe in that, believe it wholeheartedly and give up a very great deal for it. I too can piously hope for peace; that we shall heed the advice of the carol we sing annually and “hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing.”
     There is no physical reason why the human race should not endure for a hundred billion years; and on that scale our history is short, and all we have learned is little compared to what we shall one day know. There may well be a secret formula for peace, and certainly I hope we will find it.
     But to hope is nothing. When Appius Claudius told the Senate of Rome that “If you would have peace, be thou then prepared for war” he said nothing that history has not repeatedly affirmed. It may be wrong advice. Certainly there is an argument against it. But I think there is no argument at all against a similar aphorism: “If you would have peace, then understand war.”
     Which is to say, understand armies; understand why men fight; understand the organization of violence.

From MERCENARIES AND MILITARY VIRTUE by Jerry Pournelle (1979)

In David Drake's Hammer's Slammers universe, the hiring government and the mercs are kept honest by the Bonding Authority. This is run by an interstellar consortium of bankers who have the power to utterly destroy the economy of a planet or financially ruin a mercenary legion. The Bonding Authority is non-partisan, but when they enforce the rules, they are holding a huge club.


Too often in history a mercenary force has disappeared a moment before the battle; switched sides for a well-timed bribe; or even conquered its employer and brought about the very disasters it was hired to prevent.

Mercenaries, for their part, face the chances common to every soldier of being killed by the enemy. In addition, however, they must reckon with the possibility of being bilked of their pay or massacred to avoid its payment; of being used as cannon fodder by an employer whose distaste for "money-grubbing aliens" may exceed the enemy's; or of being abandoned far from home when defeat or political change erases their employer or his good will.

A solution to both sets of special problems was made possible by the complexity of galactic commerce. The recorded beginnings came early in the twenty-seventh century when several planets caught up in the Confederation Wars used the Terran firm of Felchow und Sohn as an escrow agent for their mercenaries' pay. Felchow was a commercial banking house which had retained its preeminence even after Terran industry had been in some measure supplanted by that of newer worlds. Neither Felchow nor Terra herself had any personal stake in the chaotic rise and fall of the Barnard Confederation; thus the house was the perfect neutral to hold the pay of the condottieri being hired by all parties. Payment was scrupulously made to mercenaries who performed according to their contracts. This included the survivors of the Dalhousie debacle who were able to buy passage off that ravaged world, despite the fact that less than ten percent of the populace which had hired them was still alive. Conversely, the pay of Wrangel's Legion, which had refused to assault the Confederation drop zone on Montauk, was forfeited to the Montauk government.

Felchow und Sohn had performed to the satisfaction of all honest parties when first used as an intermediary. Over the next three decades the house was similarly involved in other conflicts, a passive escrow agent and paymaster. It was only after the Ariete Incident of 2662 that the concept coalesced into the one stable feature of a galaxy at war.

The Ariete, a division recruited mostly from among the militias of the Aldoni System, was hired by the rebels on Paley. Their pay was banked with Felchow, since the rebels very reasonably doubted that anyone would take on the well-trained troops of the Republic of Paley if they had already been handed the carrot. But the Ariete fought very well indeed, losing an estimated thirty percent of its effectives before surrendering in the final collapse of the rebellion. The combat losses have to be estimated because the Republican forces, in defiance of the "Laws of War" and their own promises before the surrender, butchered all their fifteen or so thousand mercenary prisoners.

Felchow und Sohn, seeing an excuse for an action which would raise it to incredible power, reduced Paley to Stone Age savagery.

An industrialized world (as Paley was) is an interlocking whole. Off-planet trade may amount to no more than five percent of its GDP; but when that trade is suddenly cut off, the remainder of the economy resembles a car lacking two pistons. It may make whirring sounds for a time, but it isn't going anywhere.

Huge as Felchow was, a single banking house could not have cut Paley off from the rest of the galaxy. When Felchow, however, offered other commercial banks membership in a cartel and a share of the lucrative escrow business, the others joined gladly and without exception. No one would underwrite cargoes to or from Paley; and Paley, already wracked by a war and its aftermath, shuddered down into the slag heap of history.

Lucrative was indeed a mild word for the mercenary business. The escrowed money itself could be put to work, and the escrowing bank was an obvious agent for the other commercial transactions needed to run a war. Mercenaries replaced equipment, recruited men, and shipped themselves by the thousands across the galaxy.

With the banks' new power came a new organization. The expanded escrow operations were made the responsibility of a Bonding Authority, still based in Bremen but managed independently of the cartel itself. The Authority's fees were high. In return, its Contracts Department was expert in preventing expensive misunderstandings from arising, and its investigative staff could neither be bribed nor deluded by a violator.

From THE BONDING AUTHORITY by David Drake (1979)

      Chane’s eyes strayed to the stun-gun the Earthman wore belted around his coverall. “You’re mercenaries, aren’t you?”
     Dilullo nodded. “We are. But you haven’t answered my question.”
     Chane’s mind raced. He would have to be careful. The Mercs were known all over the galaxy as as tough lot. A very high proportion of them were Earthmen, and there was a reason for this.

     Earth, long ago, had pioneered the interstellar drive that opened up the galaxy. Yet, for all that, Earth was a poor planet. It was poor because all the other planets of its system were uninhabitable, with ferociously hostile conditions and only a few scant mineral resources. Compared to the great star-systems with many rich, peopled worlds, Earth was a poverty-stricken planet.
     So Earth’s chief export was men. Skilled spacemen, technicians, and fighters streamed out from old Earth to many parts of the galaxy. And the mercenaries from Earth were among the toughest.

     For the first time, Bollard spoke, in the soft lisp that seemed so incongruous from his moon-fat face.
     “It’s too damn vague, John.”
     “It’s vague,” Dilullo admitted. “But it might just be done.” He thought for a minute, and then he looked across the table at the Kharalis and said, “Thirty lightstones.”
     They stared at him puzzledly, and he repeated patiently, “Thirty lightstones. That is what you will pay us if we succeed in doing this thing for you.”
     They looked first incredulous, then furious. “Thirty lightstones?” said the young Kharali lord. “Do you think we would give little Earthmen the ransom of an emperor?”
     “How much is the ransom of a world?” said Dilullo. “Of Kharal? How many of your lightstones will your enemies take if they conquer you?”
     Their faces changed, only a little. But, watching them, Bollard murmured, “They’ll pay it.”

     Dilullo gave them no time to reflect on the magnitude of his demand. “That will be the payment if we find and destroy the weapon of your enemies. But first we must learn if we can do that, and the learning will be very risky for us. Three of the lightstones will be paid to us in advance.
     They found their voices this time, snarling their anger. “And what if you Earthmen take the three jewels and go your way, laughing at us?”
     Dilullo looked at Odenjaa. “You were the one who looked for Mercs to hire. Tell me, did you hear of Mercs ever cheating those who hired them?”
     “Yes,” said Odenjaa. “Twice, it happened.”
     “And what happened to the Mercs who did that?” pursued Dilullo. “You must have heard that, too. Tell it ”
     A little reluctantly, Odenjaa replied. “It is said that other Mercs took them, as prisoners, and delivered them over to the worlds which they had swindled.”
     “It is true,” said Dilullo, to those across the table. “We are a guild, we Mercs. Nowhere in the galaxy could we operate if we did not keep faith. Three lightstones in advance.”

     They still glared at him, all except the oldest man. He said coldly, “Get the jewels for them.”

From THE WEAPON FROM BEYOND by Edmond Hamilton (1967)

Galek –

Your sept-boss says that you’re tired of fighting in other people’s companies and want to start your own, and told me to give you some advice. About damn time. Anyway, here’s what you need to know – and these aren’t rules, so don’t think they’re written down anywhere. The Iron Concord isn’t a set of official rules you can game, it’s a set of unofficial rules that can get a real army chasing you if you come too close to the edges, so be warned.

If you want to do merc work anywhere in the Worlds as a “bonded” mercenary, most polities you can base in want you to have a merc license, under some name or other, which costs money and usually comes with some pain-in-the-kveth rules and inspections and other crap. The Empire doesn’t, it just treats you like any other business, but if you want to be considered bonded, you’ve got to buy insurance from some outfit, and they’ll want to inspect you. You can avoid the whole mess if you base out of somewhere like the Rim Free Zone without hiring a bond-board or, Venirek burn you, Nepscia, but then you’re an unbonded merc, and you don’t get any of the little courtesies they save for real mercs, like not shooting you out of hand. Even if they don’t do that, if you’re bonded, you can get paroled and move along if you’ve got a repatriation ticket, but they don’t trust unbondeds to play by the rules.

And speaking of those, don’t ever forget that war has rules, even for mercs. If you even think about breaking the Ley Accords where anyone can see – and someone can always see – they will hunt you down and kill you. And if you get any psych cases on board, I suggest you take ’em somewhere discreet and introduce ’em to a bullet before they get someone looking to do it to you. Being in the killing business is no good reason to go around giving people excuses to take it personally.

Most of your employers will have their own rules they want you to fight by – some of them are fair enough, others’ll get you killed. That’s up to you, and you can usually get away with playing fast and loose with those without anything worse than losing your contract, but read ’em carefully before you start, ‘kay? Or get a good broker.

Ultimate Argument’s the big rakhan in that business. You can work for ’em or not – if you do, you’ll never be short of business, mind, they’ve got contracts and to spare, but some potential employers don’t like ’em much. Too corporate for their taste, and an Imperial starcorp to boot. Just don’t try playing both sides of the field – the Concord is not fond of mercs who try and hide their ownership or their contract history, and while most won’t work for an employer who turns on his mercs, if you lie about that, all bets are off. Too much bad history for it to be otherwise.

Anyway, there’s plenty of work around; everyone hires mercs. Governments, corporations, colonies, shipping lines, interest branches, they all hire, and they’re all pretty safe, and play by the rules. Then there’s privateering, which can be a good way to make money if you can get a letter of marque from a respectable polity. (Be careful if you can only get one from one of the more roguish nations – some navies see those as little more than a confession to piracy – and don’t bother with one from any of the people who’ll sell you one in the Free Zone. They’re just more of the kveth-lakh slash-traders peddle to gullible outies.) Rebellions are a bit more risky, but they’re not so bad by the time they’ve graduated to actual civil wars.

Filibusters too, sometimes, but rebellions, terrorists, black cartels – they’re all hiring, but they don’t play by the rules, they want you not to play by the rules, and so the people fighting them don’t either. However well it pays — and if they don’t kill you to save money — dead sophs can’t live to spend, and it’s hard to enjoy it on the run, too. Leave that for the unbondeds.

Here’s the top two rules. First, stay bought. No-one expects you to die for hire, but they do expect you to fight for the contract that brought you. Break it, however hard the fight or however good the money, and no-one’ll hire you again. Worse, some’ll try to kill you just on general principle. Everyone hates a defaulter.

Even more importantly, remember you’re paid to make war. Don’t ever try making it without being paid, or worse, try to get paid for not making it. The one unbreakable rule of the Concord is that we fight for money, not for loot, not for conquest, and not for extortion. We have a place in the galaxy because our employers find us useful. Mercs who turn pirate, conqueror, or blackmailer stop being useful, and shortly afterwards, stop being.

Don’t get anything shot off you’ll miss, boy. Your mother still has that kalsheklik flame cannon on her wall, and I like my face.

– mor-Lissek Wrokk


Crofton’s Encyclopedia of Contemporary History and Social Issues (2nd Edition)


Perhaps the most disturbing development arising from CoDominium withdrawal from most distant colony worlds (see Independence Movements) has been the rapid growth of purely mercenary military units. The trend was predictable and perhaps inevitable, although the extent has exceeded expectations.

Many of the former colony worlds do not have planetary governments. Consequently, these new nations do not possess sufficient population or industrial resources to maintain large and effective national military forces. The disbanding of numerous CoDominium Marine units left a surplus of trained soldiers without employment, and it was inevitable that some of them would band together into mercenary units.

The colony governments are thus faced with a cruel and impossible dilemma. Faced with mercenary troops specializing in violence, they have had little choice but to reply in kind. A few colonies have broken this cycle by creating their own national armies, but have then been unable to pay for them.

Thus, in addition to the purely private mercenary organizations such as Falkenberg’s Mercenary Legion, there are now national forces hired out to reduce expenses to their parent governments. A few former colonies have found this practice so lucrative that the export of mercenaries has become their principal source of income, and the recruiting and training of soldiers their major industry.

The CoDominium Grand Senate has attempted to maintain its presence in the former colonial areas through promulgation of the so-called Laws of War (q. v.), which purport to regulate the weapons and tactics mercenary units may employ. Enforcement of these regulations is sporadic. When the Senate orders Fleet intervention to enforce the Laws of War the suspicion inevitably arises that other CoDominium interests are at stake, or that one or more Senators have undisclosed reasons for their interest.

Mercenary units generally draw their recruits from the same sources as the CoDominium Marines, and training stresses loyalty to comrades and commanders rather than to any government. The extent to which mercenary commanders have successfully separated their troops from all normal social intercourse is both surprising and alarming.

The best-known mercenary forces are described in separate articles. See: Covenant; Friedland; Xanadu; Falkenberg’s Mercenary Legion; Nouveau Legion Etrangere; Katanga Gendarmerie; Moolman’s Commandos …

From PRINCE OF MERCENARIES by Jerry Pournelle (1989)

(ed note: the Dorsai are the premier mercenaries of the galaxy. The city of Rochmont hired a battalion of Dorsai. They send them along with their own troops on a suicide mission attacking Helmuth. The idea was that Helmuth would lose lots of troops, but all the Dorsai would be killed, thus removing the need to pay them.

Rochmont was quite upset when the Dorsai actually defeated Helmuth. In a last ditch attempt to avoid paying the Dorsai, they seized the Dorsai commander Colonel Jacques Chrétien then falsely accused him of taking bribes from Helmuth and lying about winning the battle.

Then they hanged him.

Which turned out to be a mistake. Specifically their last mistake.

Behind the impregnable walls of Rochmont, the leaders sneered at the angry Dorsai outside, and dared them to do their worst.

The Dorsai did.)

They little knew of brotherhood,
The faith of fighting men,
Who once to prove their lie was good,
Hanged Colonel Jacques Chrétien.

One-fourth of Rochmont’s fighting strength,
One battalion of Dorsai,
Was sent by Rochmont forth alone,
To bleed Helmuth and die.

But look, look down from Rochmont’s heights,
Upon the Helmuth plain,
At all of Helmuth’s armored force,
By Dorsai checked or slain.

Look down, look down, on Rochmont’s shame,
To hide the wrong she’d done,
Made claim that Helmuth bribed Dorsai,
No battle had been won.

To prove that lie, the Rochmont lords,
Arrested Jacques Chrétien,
On charge he dealt with Helmuth’s chiefs,
For payment to his men.

Commandant Arp Van Din sent word,
“You may not judge Dorsai,
Return our Colonel by the dawn,
Or Rochmont town shall die!”

Strong-held behind her wall, Rochmont,
Scorned to answer them,
Condemned, and at the daybreak hanged,
Young Colonel Jacques Chrétien.

Bright, bright the sun that morning rose,
Upon each weaponed wall,
But when the sun set in the west,
Those walls were leveled all.

Then soft and white the moon arose,
On streets and roofs unstained,
But when that moon was down once more,
No street or roof remained.

No more is there a Rochmont town,
No more are Rochmont’s men.
But stands a Dorsai monument,
To Colonel Jacques Chrétien.

So pass the word from world to world,
Alone still stands Dorsai,
And while she lives no one of hers,
By foreign wrong shall die.

They little knew of brotherhood,
The faith of fighting men,
Who once to prove their lie was good,
Hanged Colonel Jacques Chrétien.

From BROTHERS by Gordon R. Dickson (1973)

(ed note: Shadowline is a science fiction retelling of the Norse myth of Ragnarok. Gneaus Storm is Odin, and the outlawing of the mercenary legions is Ragnarok)

A gust from the cranky air system riffled papers. The banners overhead stirred with the passage of ghosts. Some were old. One had followed the Black Prince to Navarette. Another had fallen at the high-water mark of the charge up Little Round Top. But most represented milemarks in Storm’s own career.

Six were identical titan-cloth squares hanging all in a line. Upon them a golden hawk struck left to right down a fall of scarlet raindrops, all on a field of sable. They were dull, unimaginative things compared to the Plantagenet, yet they celebrated the mountaintop days of Storm’s Iron Legion.

He had wrested them from his own Henry of Trastamara, Richard Hawksblood, and each victory had given him as little satisfaction as Edward had extracted from Pedro the Cruel.

Richard Hawksblood was the acknowledged master of the mercenary art.

Hawksblood had five Legion banners in a collection of his own. Three times they had fought to a draw.

Storm and Hawksblood were the best of the mercenary captain-kings, the princes of private war the media called “The Robber Barons of the Thirty-First Century.” For a decade they had been fighting one another exclusively.

Only Storm and his talented staff could beat Hawksblood. Only Hawksblood had the genius to withstand the Iron Legion.

Hawksblood had caused Storm’s bleak mood. His Intelligence people said Richard was considering a commission on Blackworld.

“Let them roast,” he muttered. “I’m tired.”

But he would fight again. If not this time, then the next. Richard would accept a commission. His potential victim would know that his only chance of salvation was the Iron Legion. He would be a hard man who had clawed his way to the top among a hard breed. He would be accustomed to using mercenaries and assassins. He would look for ways to twist Storm’s arm. And he would find them, and apply them relentlessly.

Gneaus Julius Storm was a powerful man. His private army was better trained, motivated, and equipped than Confederation’s remarkable Marines. But his Iron Legion was not just a band of freebooters. It was a diversified holding company with minority interests in scores of major corporations. It did not just fight and live high for a while on its take. Its investments were the long-term security of its people.

The Fortress of Iron stretched tentacles in a thousand directions, though in the world of business and finance it was not a major power. Its interests could be manipulated by anyone with the money and desire.

That was one lever the giants used to get their way.

The fires of the Ulantonid War had ignited a blaze of panhumanism of which Confederation was still taking full advantage. It was bulling its way into broad reaches of relatively ungovernmented space in apparent response to a set of laws similar to those defining the growth of organisms and species. Mercenary armies were among those institutions facing increasingly limited futures.

No government willingly tolerates private competition, and especially not competition which can challenge its decrees. The most benign government ever imagined has as its root assumption its right to apply force to the individual. From inception every government continuously strives to broaden the parameters of that right.

Storm believed he and Richard, if lured into a truly bloody Armageddon, would fight the last merc war tolerated by Confederation. The Services now had the strength and organization to disarm the freecorps. All they needed was an excuse.

Gneaus Storm’s agents dogged the service battlegrounds too, selecting men who had died well. Cryonically preserved, they were revived later and asked to join the Legion.

Most accepted with a childlike gratitude. A rise from a slum to the imaginary glory and high life of the Iron Legion, after having escaped the Reaper by Storm’s grace, seemed an elevation to paradise. The holonets called them the Legion of the Dead.

(ed note: this is the science fiction version of the Norse Valkyries choosing the valiant fallen warriors to be carried to Valhalla. There they battle by day til they die, are brought back to life, then they feast all night)

Cassius said there was a tacit agreement to avoid conflict Darkside. Blake would not hear the suggestion of direct strikes. He insisted that fighting be confined to the Shadowline.

“Idiots,” Storm muttered in a moment of bloodthirst. “Ought to run straight to Twilight, kick a hole in their dome, give them something to breathe when they surrender, and have done.” Then he laughed. No doubt Richard felt the same way.

Mercenary conflicts were seldom simple. Corporations, while willing to fight, seldom wanted to risk anything already in hand, only what they might someday possess.

From SHADOWLINE by Glen Cook (1983)

When the dominant species of a minor nine planet system revolving about a yellow sun known as “Sol”—situated close to the fringe of the Galaxy—gained knowledge of space flight and came out into our lanes of travel there arose a problem which Central Control had to solve, and speedily. These “men,” as they called themselves, combined curiosity, daring, and technical skill with a basic will-to-compete against other races and species, an in-born thrust to conflict. Their answer to any problem was aggressive. Had this “will-to-battle” not been recognized at once for what it was and channeled into proper outlet, infinitesimal as their numbers were among us, we have been told that their influence might have torn asunder the peace of the stellar lanes and plunged whole sectors into war.

But the proper steps were taken at once and the Terrans were assigned a role which not only suited their nature but also provided a safety valve for all other belligerents among the systems which make up our great confederacy. Having been studied and carefully evaluated by Central Control psycho-techneers the Terrans were appointed to act as the mercenaries of the Galaxy—until such a time as these too independent and aggressive creatures would develop for themselves some less dangerous calling.

Thus there came into being the “Hordes” and “Legions” we find mentioned again and again in the various solar histories of the period. These organizations, manned (males only) by either “Archs” or “Mechs,” carried on a formalized warfare for any planetary ruler who desired to enhance his prestige by employing them to fight his battles.

The Archs who comprised the Hordes were limited to service upon primitive worlds, being equipped with hand weapons and fighting in personal combat. The Mechs of the Legions followed technical warfare, indulging in it, however, more as a game in which it was necessary to make one’s opponent concede victory, often without actual battle.

When still in the newly hatched stage “men” were selected to be either “Archs” or “Mechs” by rigid aptitude tests. After a period of intensive schooling in their trade they signed on for “enlistments” under field commanders. A portion of each payment made to the individual Horde or Legion commander by his employer was returned to their home world, Terra, as a tax. In other words, this system exported fighting men and the materials for war and became merchants of battle. Within a generation they accepted their role among us, apparently without question.

Three hundred years later (all students turn, please, to folio six, column two—the date of “3956 A.D.” is a reckoning peculiar to Terra, we use it in your source material for this section because all reading will be based upon certain accounts written by the Terrans themselves) a minor Horde was employed by a rebellious native ruler on Fronn. While so engaged this organization uncovered a situation which changed history for their species, and perhaps for the Galaxy as well. Whether this change will operate for the general good for us all remains to be seen.

(From a lecture in “Galactic History XX” delivered by Hist-Techneer Zorzi at the Galactic University of Zacan—Subject of the lecture: Minor Systems’ Contribution to Historic Changes—presented first on Zol-Day, 4130 A.D.—Terran reckoning.)

From STAR GUARD by Andre Norton (1955).
Collected in Star Soldiers (2001), currently a free eBook in the Baen free library.

Commerce Raiding

In times of war, commerce is vaguely related to Logistics. The difference is that logistics supplies military task forces, while commerce supplies the civilian industry of the nation which the military is defending. In the short term all military task forces have to be resupplied with ammunition, food for the troops, and related items. But in the long term if the home nation is cut off from industrial supplies, the nation's economy will implode and the nation will fall. Which will leave the military with nobody to defend.

In a galactic empire, planets will receive off-planet supplies delivered by the outer-space equivalent of maritime transport. In times of peace this will be handled by individual cargo starships shipping goods to a given planet over individual routes on individual schedules.

This all changes during times of war. An enemy will probably have a side campaign of attrition warfare to supplement the main military campaign. Using the strategy of tonnage war, the enemy will send small specialized task forces on commerce raiding missions to destroy the planet's merchant shipping. If the enemy wants to do this on the cheap, they will employ privateers.

The obvious defense is for the merchant shipping to travel in convoys, along with a military escort if they are lucky, and without escort if they are unlucky. A large group of cargo starships will band together, shipping goods to a planet on a group route and on a group schedule.

This is the tactic of the dilution effect used by herd animals. In other words, a herd animals says to its fellow members: "I do not have to out-run the wolf pack, I just have to out-run you." It may be tough on individual herd members but it gives the over-all herd a higher chance of survival. In World War I the German navy employed individual submarines as commerce raiders. The British Royal Navy started using convoys for their merchant shipping and defeated the German submarine campaign.

Special military warships of type "Escort" will be in task forces called escort groups and assigned to protect lucky merchant convoys. The specialization depends upon what sort of warship the enemy employs for commerce raiding. In World War II, the German navy employed submarine wolf packs as commerce raiders. So the British Royal Navy modified some destroyers with anti-submarine weapons to become Escort destroyers.

If the planet is somewhat out of luck the enemy will have achieved space supremacy (i.e., blown to bits all the planet's military warships), but the planet still has enough orbital planetary defense to keep the enemy at bay, then the enemy will probably invest the planet. The enemy's military blockade will prevent merchant shipping from supplying the planet, and the planet will see how long their economy can survive a trade cut-off. There will be friendly blockade runners. But as far as prolonging the life of the planet's economy goes, blockade runners will be about as effective as urinating on a forest fire.

If the planet is totally out of luck it won't have any surviving planetary defenses. Then the enemy will invade with their troops. Or just do a saturation bombardment with nuclear weapons until the planet is burnt off.


(ed note: The protagonist is in a specialized space warship called a "climber". This has a weird technobabble FTL drive, but it boils down to climbers being the scifi spaceship equivalent of World War II submarines. So one of their uses is for commerce raiding.)

“… convoy in zone Twelve Echo making the line for Thompson’s System. Ten and six. Am in pursuit. Eighty-four Dee.”

I estimate quickly. We aren’t that far away. We could get there if we hauled ass. Must be an important convoy, too. Six escorts for ten logistical hulls is a heavy ratio, unless they’re battle units coincidentally moving up. The other firm likes to kill two birds with one stone.

So why is everyone busy? Will the Commander get even by ambushing the first destroyer?

That wouldn’t please Command. Engaging escorts is considered a waste of kill capability. That’s supposed to be employed against the logistic hulls moving men and materiel toward the Inner Worlds, or against the big warships making it difficult for Navy to stand its ground.

Are they still after us? It’s been a long time since the raid. A long time since contact. Maybe they’ve overcome their emotional response and gone back to guarding their convoy.

What’s going on out there? We’ve had no news, made no beacon connections. The biggest operation of the war… Being out of touch leaves me feeling like my last homeline has been cut.

Has the raid given Tannian’s wolves the edge they need? Have they panicked the logistic hulls? Once a convoy scatters, no number of late-showing escorts can protect all the vessels. Climbers can stalk the ponderous freighters with virtual impunity. Some will get through only because our people won’t have time to get them all.

Uhm. If the convoy has scattered, the other firm might feel obligated to keep after their most responsible foe. They know this ship of old. Her record is long and bloody. She’s hurt them. Her survival, after what she’s done, might be an intolerable threat.

From PASSAGE AT ARMS by Glen Cook (1985)

A tonnage war is a military strategy aimed at merchant shipping. The premise is that the enemy has a finite number of ships and a finite capacity to build replacements. The concept was made famous by German Grand Admiral Karl Dönitz, who wrote:

"The shipping of the enemy powers is one great whole. It is therefore in this connection immaterial where a ship is sunk—it must still in the final analysis be replaced by a new ship".

Most anti-shipping strategies have had a relatively narrow set of goals. A traditional practice of the Royal Navy during wars between Britain and France was the blockade. By concentrating naval forces near large French ports, the Royal Navy was usually able to impede French trade to the point of creating significant economic difficulties. The opponent may focus on ships carrying strategically vital cargoes such as hemp and timber or, in modern times, oil and iron. The aim might be to attack ships carrying particularly valuable cargoes such as treasure or munitions and ships carrying less important cargoes or steaming in ballast are at first ignored.

These narrow strategies require the attacker to establish substantial control over an area. The British blockades of France were only possible so long as the Royal Navy retained the ability to defeat any French squadron venturing out from port. During the Siege of Malta in World War II, Axis air forces had air superiority and were able to prevent many Allied ships from reaching Malta with supplies, putting the island fortress into grave danger.

A tonnage war is a broad strategy. As a form of attrition warfare, it does not require the attacker to establish control over an area, merely that he sink ships more rapidly than the defender can replace them.

From the Wikipedia entry for TONNAGE WAR

A convoy is a group of vehicles, typically motor vehicles or ships, traveling together for mutual support and protection. Often, a convoy is organized with armed defensive support. It may also be used in a non-military sense, for example when driving through remote areas. Arriving at the scene of a major emergency with a well-ordered unit and intact command structure can be another motivation.

World War I

In the early 20th century, the dreadnought changed the balance of power in convoy battles. Steaming faster than merchant ships and firing at long ranges, a single battleship could destroy many ships in a convoy before the others could scatter over the horizon. To protect a convoy against a capital ship required providing it with an escort of another capital ship, at very high opportunity cost (i.e. potentially tying down multiple capital ships to defend different convoys against one opponent ship).

Battleships were the main reason that the British Admiralty did not adopt convoy tactics at the start of the first Battle of the Atlantic in World War I. But the German capital ships had been bottled up in the North Sea, and the main threat to shipping came from U-boats. From a tactical point of view, World War I–era submarines were similar to privateers in the age of sail. These submarines were only a little faster than the merchant ships they were attacking, and capable of sinking only a small number of vessels in a convoy because of their limited supply of torpedoes and shells. The Admiralty took a long time to respond to this change in the tactical position, and in April 1917 convoys were trialled, before being officially introduced in the Atlantic in September 1917.

Other arguments against convoys were raised. The primary issue was the loss of productivity, as merchant shipping in convoy has to travel at the speed of the slowest vessel in the convoy and spent a considerable amount of time in ports waiting for the next convoy to depart. Further, large convoys were thought to overload port resources.

Actual analysis of shipping losses in World War I disproved all these arguments, at least so far as they applied to transatlantic and other long-distance traffic. Ships sailing in convoys were far less likely to be sunk, even when not provided with an escort. The loss of productivity due to convoy delays was small compared with the loss of productivity due to ships being sunk. Ports could deal more easily with convoys because they tended to arrive on schedule and so loading and unloading could be planned.

In his book On the Psychology of Military Incompetence, Norman Dixon suggested that the hostility towards convoys in the naval establishment were in part caused by a (sub-conscious) perception of convoys as effeminating, due to warships having to care for civilian merchant ships. Convoy duty also exposes the escorting warships to the sometimes hazardous conditions of the North Atlantic, with only rare occurrences of visible achievement (i.e. fending off a submarine assault).

World War II


The British adopted a convoy system, initially voluntary and later compulsory for almost all merchant ships, the moment that World War II was declared. Each convoy consisted of between 30 and 70 mostly unarmed merchant ships. Canadian, and later American, supplies were vital for Britain to continue its war effort. The course of the Battle of the Atlantic was a long struggle as the Germans developed anti-convoy tactics and the British developed counter-tactics to thwart the Germans.

The capability of a heavily armed warship against a convoy was dramatically illustrated by the fate of Convoy HX 84. On November 5, 1940, the German heavy cruiser Admiral Scheer encountered the convoy. Maiden, Trewellard, and Kenbame Head were quickly destroyed, and Beaverford and Fresno City falling afterwards. Only the sacrifices of the Armed Merchant Cruiser HMS Jervis Bay and Freighter Beaverford to stall the Scheer, in addition to failing light allowed the rest of the convoy to escape.

The deterrence value of a battleship in protecting a convoy was also dramatically illustrated when the German light battleships (referred by some as battlecruisers) Scharnhorst and Gneisenau, mounting 11 in (28 cm) guns, came upon an eastbound British convoy (HX 106, with 41 ships) in the North Atlantic on February 8, 1941. When the Germans detected the slow but well-protected battleship HMS Ramillies escorting the convoy, they fled the scene rather than risk damage from her 15 in (38 cm) guns.

The enormous number of vessels involved and the frequency of engagements meant that statistical techniques could be applied to evaluate tactics: an early use of operational research in war.

Prior to overt participation in World War II, the US was actively engaged in convoys with the British in the North Atlantic Ocean, primarily supporting British activities in Iceland.

After Germany declared war on the US, the US Navy decided not to instigate convoys on the American eastern seaboard. US Fleet Admiral Ernest King ignored advice on this subject from the British, as he had formed a poor opinion of the Royal Navy early in his career. The result was what the U-boat crews called their Second Happy Time, which did not end until convoys were introduced.


In the Pacific Theater of World War II, Japanese merchant ships rarely traveled in convoys. Japanese destroyers were generally deficient in antisubmarine weaponry compared to their Allied counterparts, and the Japanese navy did not develop an inexpensive convoy escort like the Allies' destroyer escort/frigate until it was too late. In the early part of the conflict, American submarines in the Pacific were ineffective as they suffered from timid tactics, faulty torpedoes, and poor deployment, while there were only small numbers of British and Dutch boats. U.S. Admiral Charles A. Lockwood's efforts, coupled with strenuous complaints from his captains, rectified these problems and U.S. submarines became much more successful by war's end. As a result, the Japanese merchant fleet was largely destroyed by the end of the war. Japanese submarines, unlike their U.S. and German equivalents, focused on U.S. battle fleets rather than merchant convoys, and while they did manage some early successes, sinking two U.S. carriers, they failed to significantly inhibit the invasion convoys carrying troops and equipment in support of the U.S. island-hopping campaign.

Several notable battles in the South Pacific involved Allied bombers interdicting Japanese troopship convoys which were often defended by Japanese fighters, notable Guadalcanal (13 November 1942), Rabaul (5 January 1943), and the Battle of the Bismarck Sea (2–4 March 1943).

At the Battle off Samar, the effectiveness of the U.S. Navy's escorts was demonstrated when they managed to defend their troop convoy from a much larger and more powerful Japanese battle-fleet. The Japanese force comprised four battleships and numerous heavy cruisers, while the U.S. force consisted of escort carriers, destroyers, and destroyer escorts. Large numbers of American aircraft (albeit without much anti-ship ordnance other than torpedoes) and aggressive tactics of the destroyers (with their radar-directed gunfire) allowed the U.S. to sink three Japanese heavy cruisers at the cost of one escort carrier and three destroyers.


The German anti-convoy tactics included:

  • long-range surveillance aircraft to find convoys;
  • strings of U-boats (wolfpacks) that could be directed onto a convoy by radio;
  • breaking the British naval codes;
  • improved anti-ship weapons, including magnetic detonators and sonic homing torpedoes.

The Allied responses included:

  • air raids on the U-boat bases at Brest and La Rochelle;
  • converted merchant ships, e.g., Merchant aircraft carriers, Catapult Aircraft Merchantman and armed merchant cruisers
  • Q-ships, submarine-hunters disguised as unarmed merchant ships to lure submarines into an attack
  • more convoy escorts, including cheaply produced yet effective destroyer escorts/frigates (as corvettes were meant as a stopgap), and escort carriers;
  • fighter aircraft (carried by escort carriers and merchant aircraft carriers) that would drive off German bombers and attack U-boats
  • long-range aircraft patrols to find and attack U-boats;
  • improved anti-submarine weapons such as the hedgehog;
  • larger convoys, allowing more escorts per convoy as well as the extraction of enough escorts to form hunter-killer support groups that were not attached to a particular convoy
  • allocating vessels to convoys according to speed, so that faster ships were less exposed.

They were also aided by


The success of convoys as an anti-submarine tactic during the world wars can be ascribed to several reasons related to U-boat capabilities, the size of the ocean and convoy escorts.

In practice, Type VII and Type IX U-boats were limited in their capabilities. Submerged speed and endurance was limited and not suited for overhauling many ships. Even a surfaced U-boat could take several hours to gain an attack position. Torpedo capacity was also restricted to around fourteen (Type VII) or 24 (Type IX), thus limiting the number of attacks that could be made, particularly when multiple firings were necessary for a single target. There was a real problem for the U-boats and their adversaries in finding each other; with a tiny proportion of the ocean in sight, without intelligence or radar, warships and even aircraft would be fortunate in coming across a submarine. The Royal Navy and later the United States Navy each took time to learn this lesson. Conversely, a U-boat's radius of vision was even smaller and had to be supplemented by regular long-range reconnaissance flights.

For both major allied navies, it had been difficult to grasp that, however large a convoy, its "footprint" (the area within which it could be spotted) was far smaller than if the individual ships had traveled independently. In other words, a submarine had less chance of finding a single convoy than if it were scattered as single ships. Moreover, once an attack had been made, the submarine would need to regain an attack position on the convoy. If, however, an attack were thwarted by escorts, even if the submarine had escaped damage, it would have to remain submerged for its own safety and might only recover its position after many hours' hard work. U-boats patrolling areas with constant and predictable flows of sea traffic, such as the United States Atlantic coast in early 1942, could dismiss a missed opportunity in the certain knowledge that another would soon present itself.

The destruction of submarines required their discovery, an improbable occurrence on aggressive patrols, by chance alone. Convoys, however, presented irresistible targets and could not be ignored. For this reason, the U-boats presented themselves as targets to the escorts with increasing possibility of destruction. In this way, the Ubootwaffe suffered severe losses, for little gain, when pressing pack attacks on well-defended convoys.

From the Wikipedia entry for CONVOY

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