On the Role of the Dreadnought

Just to clear up a few misconceptions that may have crept in:

David Weber, alas, has done me no favors by convincing much of the SF-reading world that the standard interstellar badass is the dreadnought.

And, yes, you may remember me saying “it sure would be nice to build nothing except dreadnoughts [for ships-of-the-plane]” back when we discussed ship types, but what I did not say is that if they did, they wouldn’t be dreadnoughts. They’d be battleships, because the modal ship classes for engaging in big set-piece space battles are always designated as battleships. Says so right in the name. Battle. Ship.

Or, to put it another way, there are a lot fewer dreadnoughts than there are battleships. (And a lot more cruisers than there are battleships, for that matter, because most missions don’t have any major fleet engagements in them. But that’s another story, already told.) This is principally for economic reasons: when you examine the requirements for a ship of the plane, the battleship sits right at the bang/buck sweet spot, so that’s what you build.

A dreadnought (and to an even greater extent, a superdreadnought) has four virtues, which is why they’re built at all:

  1. It benefits in internal space from volume increasing faster than surface area, which makes it a convenient class to carry extra stuff, from complete flagship suites through shipyard-class repair facilities for its cohorts and prisoner-of-war blocks to all that is required for the many, many specialized variants on the books.
  2. It can afford a hell of a lot of extra armoring, so you are significantly less likely to get your admiral shot off and your fleet coordination suffering if you give him a DN to ride around in.
  3. It can mount a Really Big Gun of the kind you’ll rarely need to use, but you might miss if you didn’t have any of in your plane of battle.
  4. It’s bloody terrifying. When naval architects are told to draw up plans for a DN or SD, the unspoken requirement is that it dominate the battlespace like Conan the Barbarian at a convention of preadolescent pacifists: it dreads nothing, and everything dreads it.

So there aren’t all that many in service, relatively speaking. There don’t have to be – say, speaking non-canonically and off the back of the envelope, eight squadrons in the Capital Fleet (mostly in the Sixth Flotilla, which is the IN’s heavy-hitting force), four squadrons in Home Fleet, two for Field Fleet Spinward (which borders on the Seam), and one for each of the other field fleets: say, 228 in total, not counting specialist classes and the reserve.

You can assume at least four times that in BBs.


7 thoughts on “On the Role of the Dreadnought

  1. Except of course that in David Weber’s Honor Harrington novels, the classic dreadnought and superdreadnought over the course of the series were made obsolete when advances in weapons and fire control made carriers and missile pod layers practical. So much so that by “Mission of Honor” the Solarian League finds itself in the equivalent of a 1935 navy facing a 1945 navy.

  2. Bloody terrifying. Excellent, in the eldrae sense.

    Speaking of terrifying: could we get a detailed look at the Imperiatrix class and God of War class hyperdreadnoughts? Or are these going to be looming vaguely in the background (in case of plot, break glass and grab hyperdreadnought)?

    • There’s not a lot to Imperiatrix that’s particularly exciting; it amounts to a fat Imperiatrix-class heavy SD with a palace and a strategic command center stuffed into the midships volume. Sure, its primaries can sear continents, crack planets open, and vaporize small moons, but that’s just a matter of linear scaling.

      As for God of War, my policy remains that I’ll write that one up when I feel capable of doing justice to a starship designed by a god for Its personal use.

      (I mean, ain’t much point in just noting that maybe two-thirds of its internal volume is occupied by disturbing-looking, did-Yog-Sothoth-fuck-the-protomolecule-to-make-this? machinery with long, elegant technical names that sound like “Plot Device” even in-universe.)

      • By “disturbing-looking”, in this case, I mean “at first glance, it appears to make no sense and have no meaning; at second glance, you think you might be beginning to find some meaning; at third glance, you’re pretty sure that the meaning in question will not fit in your brain and you really need a drink or two lest you keep thinking about it”.

        And those weapons have modes of operation like “induce amnesia in a given volume of space-time, causing all particles therein to adopt randomized quantum states”; or “transmute a randomly chosen 50% subset of protons into antiprotons with a foam of tiny non-orientable wormholes”; or “rejigger the strong force until stable elements spontaneously fission”; or, y’know, “summon a dragon to eat the sun”. That kind of stuff.

        • Yowch – from the “that’s gonna leave a mark, even by deific standards” files! Those are the sort of armaments that even make the Imperium of Man and the Galactic Empire sit up and spontaneously brown their trousers.

  3. How big (roughly) would the dreadnought be (volume-and-mass-wise) compared to a battleship, and how would the other IN starships compare likewise?

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