Like the previous post, this was originally written back in 2004. I realize, eight years later, that I never finished it. Oops. Anyway, here it is, and maybe I’ll fini
sh it this week.
The primary tactical function of a battleship is to engage and destroy the enemy naval forces, which obviously supports the naval mission of protecting friendly shipping and ensuring control over the space. The essence of space power will (like sea power) rest in the ability to dominate space. You do that by denying use of it to the enemy. And you do that by destroying his navy if it comes out of port. But how will this happen, and what will future battles look like?
A lot depends on the political nature of the war in which the battle takes place, and the geography of the solar system. (Interestingly, this will be constantly changing – as the planets, moons and asteroids orbit the sun, each at their own pace, the distances and relationships between them will change. There will not be, as on earth, constant or permanent sea-lanes, straights, or territorial waters. From month to month, minimum energy orbits between the planets will be in constantly different arrangements. It will become easier to get to one place, and harder to get to others. This will affect naval strategy.) Further, what will each power be trying to achieve or trying to protect? Is the goal invasion and conquest, or merely to frustrate the goals of the enemy?
The greatest naval battles involving battleships were Trafalgar and Jutland. In each case, the British were trying to frustrate the enemy. That is to say, the British had no desire to follow up a naval victory with large-scale invasion. However, the French in 1804 and the Germans in 1916 needed to defeat the British in order to achieve other desirable goals. All the British need to do is to defeat the enemy fleet, and everything else follows. Let’s assume that the Europans, long the dominant power in the outer solar system, are content with their control over trade routes in the Jovian system, and between Jupiter and the outer planets. They are growing fat and rich on the trade that passes through their ports. However, the Titanians, upstarts and growing powers in the Saturnine system, are deeply unhappy that the arrogant Europans get all the money and all the glory. They want their own share of the trade with the populous inner system, and further want a piece of the growing pie that is comet harvesting in the Kuiper belt at the outer edge of the solar system. (Which the sneaky Europans are poaching on.)
The Titanians have built a respectable space navy, with a core of Orion drive battleships, and a larger number of smaller conventional nuclear thermal drive commerce raiding corvettes and frigates. As diplomacy falters, an unfortunate incident involving a Europan revenue cutter and a Titanian-flagged merchant solar sailship inbound to circum Mars provides the pretext for war. Europan merchant vessels are spread throughout the system, carrying almost a third of all shipping. Most of these are slow, automated solar sail freighters, but others span the spectrum of commercial ship design. The Titanian navy deploys many of its commerce raiders downsystem to strangle the Europan economy.
The Europan main battle fleet is not currently circum-Jove, as it recently moved forward to the Trojan belt to overawe the piratical kingdoms located amongst the asteroids clustered 60 degrees ahead of Jupiter in its orbit. What remains in Jupiter space is the smaller home fleet and a gaggle of small warships.
Due to the alignment of the planets (something that the Titanian high command was certainly paying attention to) there is a favorable transit from Saturn to Jupiter, as Jove is overtaking Saturn, being located in an inward and thus faster orbit. The Titanian fleet is in an excellent position to quickly drop down on Jupiter, while the Europan fleet is nearly a quarter of the way around the sun and ahead of both Jupiter and Saturn. It will be difficult for them to make it into battle in time.
The Europan home fleet can not refuse battle, because that would leave their moon open to attack. But though the quality of their crews is unparalleled, the Titanian fleet slightly outnumbers the Europans. Europan planners feel that it is a nearly even match. But tactical considerations favor the Titanians. As they will be decelerating into the Jupiter space, their heavy pusher plates will be facing toward the Europans. This provides maximum protection to the Titanian battleships, and allows uninterrupted X-ray laser fire as the battle is joined. Contrariwise, the Europans must perforce be accelerating towards the incoming fleet, and their pusher plates will generally be facing away. Smart maneuvering will mitigate this somewhat, but the front of the ship remains the front of the ship.
The Europan Navy dispatches its corvettes and cutters outsystem, using a gravity whip maneuver that will disguise their eventual position. They will coast up, powered down, and lie in wait for the enemy fleet. Hopefully, they will inflict significant damage as the Titanians pass – but losses will be high as the ships reveal their positions by opening fire. The Europans can be confident in the placement of these lurkers, because the location of the Titanian fleet is well known, and can only follow a narrow set of courses and still arrive at Jupiter.
The Titanian fleet powers on, occasionally launching a spread of sensor drones ahead in hopes of detecting enemy corvettes. These drones are soon overtaken by the fleet as it accelerates towards battle. The first combat occurs fifteen million miles out from Jupiter. The furthest of the screen of corvettes avoids detection until within a quarter million miles of the fleet – less than the distance from the Earth to the Moon. All of its X-ray laser missiles have been deployed, as have all of its sensors drones. The resulting sensor net gives the ship a much better picture than the fast moving Titanian battlefleet. All at once, the laser submunitions fire – each a small nuclear explosion pumping ten multi-gigawatt X-ray lasers. Sixty lasers hit twelve targets, a spread determined by the sophisticated targeting computers on board the ESNS Gomer Pyle (the Europans have an odd sense of humor) and the instincts of her veteran gunners. As much as possible, the gunners on the Pyle try to hit from the side, and avoid the thick refractory material of the pusher plate. In this, they succeed somewhat – the more alert among the Titanian targets detected the Pyle in time to turn tail toward the enemy. Nevertheless, the HRE Vindictiveness is completely disabled, and two others severely damaged. Light damage on the remaining ships is soon made good.
For its trouble, the Pyle is quickly destroyed in a hail of laser and particle beam fire. But the Europan command is pleased.
Over the next several hours, as the Titanian fleet slows as it backs into Jovian space, it endures several more attacks by lurking Europan cutters, corvettes and frigates. One more battleship is destroyed, but the Titanians are now alert and wary, and destroy thirty Europan warships with long range massed laser fire. Before the Europan home fleet can reach the Titanians, one more Titanian warship is hulled by a lucky long-range shot by a massdriver on the outer moon of Erinome.
Now the home fleet has completed its swing around Jupiter, adding his gravity to their already impressive acceleration. The fleet is moving toward the enemy. But now, the admiral of the fleet faces the most crucial question in a space battle – what speed and course? His decision now will likely determine the course of the battle; because as good as his gunners and drone controllers are, if he does not put them in the right place, their skills will be useless. His options are limited. He must prevent the Titanians from bombarding Europa and her orbital factories, shipyards and habitats. If the Titanians maintain their present course, they will do just that. So he must either destroy or deflect them…
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