(First, a somewhat apologetic editorial note: I know there’s been a lot of worldbuilding and not much fiction here, relatively speaking, recently, and this will probably be the case for a little time to come. Sigh. Sorry. Things are a little difficult right here and now at Chez Moi, and that makes it hard for me to get into the headspace necessary for writing the sorts of things I write. The worldbuilding, on the other hand, that I can do, so that’s what I’m putting out there right now.
Normal service will be resumed as soon as normal service is resumed.)
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:
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.
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.