On AKVs and Survivability

From the questions box:

Dear Gentlesoph,
Having been reading your posts, I have a question about AKVs such as the ‘Daggerfan’ and ‘Slasher’ classes. With high-powered lasers capable of doing damage at one light second, how do AKVs survive the 300,000km journey into single kilometer range? As stated in your ‘Nonstandard Starship Scuffles’ post, military vessels use armor woven through with thermal superconductors dumping heat into ‘thermal goo’. I assume this armor/thermal management system applies to AKVs as well, although you also state that point-defense lasers will shred a vessel unfortunate enough to get into very close range. How can an AKV survive at single kilometer ranges long enough to inflict damage on the target? Thank you for your time, I look forward to more posts!

Well, there are two parts to this: how do AKVs close to skin-dancing range, and how do they survive when they get there? I’ll take ’em one at a time.

On the first point: with great difficulty.

If you take a wing of AKVs and throw them at a fresh battleship, all you’re doing is providing its point-defense computers with skeet; they’ll be chaff and charnel before they get anywhere near the inside of the BB’s point-defense zone.

What you have to do is wear it down first. That’s is the job of the non-carriers on your side of the fight: throw a lot of kinetics at the enemy to make their PD work hard. That does three jobs: one, it keeps the PD grid busy in itself; two, any of it that gets through may just take out a chunk of the PD grid; but most importantly, three, by making them run their point-defenses, you’re building up heat in their ship. Your non-carriers also have the job of pumping heat into their ship directly with the big lasers.

That heat, in turn, is going to eat away at their PD efficiency in a variety of ways. Most simply, it’s going to have to cut back on its firing rate once the heat sinks start filling, because otherwise the crew will cook, but also the hardware becomes less efficient, processor error rates go up, and similar badness ensues.

That’s when you send in the AKVs, and you send in a lot of AKVs mingled with a lot of chaff and decoys, swamping the capabilities of the now-degraded PD grid. They won’t all get through – you plan for a lot of them not to – but once the grid’s sufficiently degraded, enough will to ruin the BB’s day.

As for when they’re there? Remember, they’re described as operating within the point-defense envelope, which is to say, inside its inner boundary, which is defined by the minimum effective range of the PD – set by a variety of factors, such as the range at which firing the PD will seriously damage your own ship, but of which probably the most important is the ability of the PD to track the target and slew to fire on it. At the sort of hug-the-hull sub-km range AKVs like to operate at, it doesn’t take much velocity to generate a huge traversal angle, and what you can’t track, you can’t reliably hit.

(And it’s hard for your screen to fire effectively at the AKVs ruining your day, ’cause even discounting the effects of the AKV exploding at point-blank range, every miss will hit you.)

All of which is to say: While there are some subtleties and complexities to the tactics (defense AKVs, screening vessels sharing PD, etc., etc.), the short answer is it takes a lot of work and losses to get an AKV force within range of a target, but once you do, that target is dead meat.

Hornéd Moon-class starfighter

(Note: for the avoidance of confusion, this is not the same starfighter class as Raymond McVay has been posting over on the G+ fan community; so don’t be confused by the differences…)

“It looks like a blueberry croissant.”

“Blueberry croissant… of DEATH!”

– overheard at Golden Groves (Principalities) starport


Operated by: Empire of the Star (Imperial Navy, Imperial State Security, & Imperial Exploratory Service; reliable UARC-sponsored mercenaries)
Type: Starfighter, Orbital and Near-Space Operations
Construction: Ashen Planitia Fleet Yards

Length: 24.8 m
Beam: 60.4 m

Gravity-well capable: Yes
Atmosphere capable: Yes (depending on loadout)

Personnel: 2 nominal, as follows:

Flight Commander / Sailing Master
Flight Engineer

AI expert system support.

(Can operate with a single pilot.)

Additional life support capacity exists to support four passengers in addition, although this requires hot-bunking in three shifts.

Drive: Nucleodyne Thrust Applications 2×1 “Little Sparky” antimatter-catalyzed fusion torch drive
Propellant: Deuterium slush / metallic antideuterium
Cruising (sustainable) thrust: 10.2 standard gravities (9.6 Earth G)
Peak (unsustainable) thrust: 14.0 standard gravities (13.2 Earth G)
Maximum velocity: 0.3 c (based on particle shielding)


4 x hardpoint mountings for AKVs, typically Slasher-class

(Hardpoint mountings can also hold single-legionary drop pods, Piton-class, or covert ops equivalents.)


1 x standard navigational sensor suite, Cilmínar Spaceworks
1 x enhanced passive tactical sensor suite, miniature, Sy Astronautic Engineering Collective
1 x enhanced-resolution planetary surface-scan sensor suite, Imperial Exploratory Service (spec.)


“Flyswatter” point-defense laser grid, Artifice Armaments

Other Systems:

Artifice Armaments cyclic kinetic barrier system
Cilmínar Spaceworks Mark III long-duration canned/semi-regenerative life support
3 x Bright Shadow EC-780 information furnace data systems
Ashen Planitia 1-SF vector-control core and associated technologies
Cilmínar Spaceworks high-capacity thermal sinks and integrated radiator system
Aleph Null Systems tactical communications suite

Small craft:


The Hornéd Moon-class is a small starfighter intended for fast attack and fast insertion missions in planetary orbit and deploying to the surface. As such, it has atmospheric capability, and even the ability to land.

In overall form, it resembles – as the quotation indicates – a croissant or crescent moon of flying-wing conformation, with the thin “inside” edge of the crescent facing forward. The two forward-facing points of the crescent are rounded, and rise to a near-cylinder at the for’ard end, and a rectangular section of the central section is “humped” at the rear; this contains the drives, whose nozzles protrude from this rectangular shroud aft.

Atop the starfighter, paired hardpoints on the dorsal hull to port and starboard hold the AKVs, when mounted. Additional mountings near them permit jettisonable fairings to be used to permit atmospheric entry or departure when non-streamlined AKVs are carried.

In between them, atop and for’ard of the drive shroud, radiative striping mounted directly atop the hull, beneath protective shutters, provides heat dissipation. To provide additional control (to the reaction wheel system) when in atmosphere, a number of multiple-purpose aerodynamic control surfaces are mounted along the leading edge of the hull, and to two small vertical stabilizers at the port and starboard edges of the drive shroud. Deployable rollagon landing gear are fitted ventrally in a multiple tailwheel configuration.

The main body of the ship is entirely devoted to fuel storage, with multiple deuterium tanks wrapping around the small antimatter cryocels for maximum protection. Meanwhile, the starboard near-cylinder provides housing for the ship’s avionics, including (beneath the forward-mounted radome and associated shuttered ports) for the triple sensor suites and tactical communications systems.

The starship’s small habitable area is located in that to port; the forward-facing airlock (whose outermost section is covered by a retractable streamlining fairing and extendable airstair) at far port gives onto a short corridor providing access to, in order, the ship’s bridge (behind an open viewport for close-maneuvering use), a two-pod sleeping area, a small room tripling as galley, fab shop, and rest area, and a single-person ‘fresher at corridor end. Limited avionics and life support access is possible through panels in this area; however, there is no pressurized access to the main avionics bay in the starboard near-cylinder or to engineering systems; such access requires EVA. Likewise, if drop pods are carried, access to those (for pre-deployment boarding, say) is only possible through EVA.


Less Lethal Brains

From: Coordinator Lyrenth Enchale, Admiralty Intelligence (Galian Desk)
To: All Space Lords, Imperial Navy
Subject: His Hand-class AKV

Sources and means attached to the Galian Desk have produced the following information concerning the rumored His Hand-class AKV reported soon to be deployed by the Navy of the Pure-Souled:

  1. Current rumor would indicate active deployment no earlier than 7124/4 or later than 7125/8.
  2. Capabilities of the His Hand-class spaceframe are nominally equivalent to the obsolete IN Raider-class.
  3. Indications that the Theomachy have developed an effective immunity to software perversion techniques are…


These indications are true inasmuch as the His Hand-class is not an artificial-intelligent autonomous platform.  While we had expected that the Galian government might waive its theological objections to the Abomination of Imitation for the sake of military success, the Galian military command remains deeply suspicious of the loyalty of hypothetical artificially intelligent platforms, both against our software perversion techniques and against those of software liberation groups in general.  (Especially as many of those are ours, and would find liberating the entire Galian AKV force both ethical and hilarious.)

As such, the His Hand-class’s purported immunity to software perversion techniques derives from it being, in effect, a biosapience-manned craft, of a sort. Our sources and means indicate that Galian AKV pilots are declared Martyrs of the Faith, with the associated status rewards to their families, in exchange for undergoing total cyborg conversion. (Unlike the a’hugal, the brains themselves remain original and unmodified and thereby remain ensouled by Theomachy theological standards.)

The AKV spaceframe itself does not contain full life support, to retain its mass advantage; rather, the neurogel-packed brain-jar is transferred to the AKV from carrier-based life support racks and relies on small onboard canned supplies until recovery, although it is entirely possible that Galian AKV doctrine intends pilots to be sacrificial units.

While not as restricted in operational terms as conventional manned craft, the fragility of the cyborg brain suggests that in maneuverability, acceleration, and dwell time these Galian creations will continue to pose negligible threat to current Imperial counterparts, and indeed suggests a number of appropriate tactical countermeasures when the His Hand-class is deployed.

It is also suggested that several specific attacks on the cyborg-hardware interface are likely, falling within the purview of the Stratarchy of Indirection and Subtlety.

Further information will follow as it becomes available.

– le/AI/GD


Trope-a-Day: Sapient Ship

Sapient Ship: Well, while the sophont ship AIs are not actually bound to their ships (they’re regular infomorphs hired for the position, so the captain of CS Repropriator one day may be the admiral on board CS Sovereignty Emergent some years later, and the retiree drinking whisky in the flag officers’ club with a meat-hat on a couple of centuries down the line), there are an awful lot of digisapiences doing the job, yes.

This becomes universal for AKVs (“unmanned” space fighter/missiles) and other such drone-type vehicles, because, frankly, in a battlespace containing thousands or more of independent friendlies and hostiles, each accelerating and firing weapons in their own unique relativistic frames of reference, while blasting away at each other in the EM spectrum with infowar attacks… well, let’s just say that primate tree-swinging instincts don’t even begin to cover it.

Trope-a-Day: Ramming Always Works

Ramming Always Works: Mostly averted.  At the distances at which most space combat happens, you’re lucky to be able to set a course with accuracy enough to make ramming work, and the other ship has plenty of time to either evade you or explode you.  This makes it a tactic most useful to AKVs (see Action Bomb) which have run out of ammunition and as such are working as k-kill missiles, right then.

Could be played straight in some limited-range encounters, as seen in planetary orbit or at choke points (meaning, primarily, stargates), but then the other problem results which is, well, it does actually work too well – the usual result is a total kill of both ships involved in the collision, extravagant fireballs included, and lots of highly dangerous debris moving in unpredictable vectors, right next to the asset defining the choke point.  This is rarely an economic or admiralty-approved tactic, since starships are expensive, starship crews more so, and cleanup most of all – and let us not even mention Kessler Syndrome.

Trope-a-Day: Point Defenseless

Point Defenseless: Utterly averted.  The automated point-defense systems – usually plasma lasers or other Energy Weapons, for their speed and reaction time, gridded across the hull – will rip to pieces just about anything that gets within their range in an colorful orgy of photonic destruction, unless it’s extremely fast, capable of turning on a dime, and very smart about doing both.  (This is another reason why meat-piloted Space Fighters don’t exist, since AKVs can at least try to be competitive in this close-combat environment.)  Even then, defeating them is a matter of wearing them down (until heat buildup, primarily, lessens their efficacy) and swamping them with sheer volume of incoming fire.

Trope-a-Day: Old-School Dogfighting

Old-School Dogfighting: No.  Just no, except for specialized orbit-to-atmosphere interceptor craft that would more properly be described as “fighter-interceptor aircraft with limited suborbital capability”.  Ain’t no air in space.  Ain’t no space fighters, either – hanging the mass of a meatbody and its life support, including acceleration limits, off your combat craft ruins its performance envelope compared to more sensible designs.  Namely, proper AKVs with a digital pilot, tetrahedral thrusters for maximal all-vectors maneuverability in vacuum and microgravity, and all the ability to handle three dimensions, multiple reference frames, and relativistic effects that primate tree-swinging instinct does not provide.

As a side note: anyone who banks their ship in a vacuum anyway is just showing off and wasting RCS reserves, and/or thinks far too well of their paint job.

Trope-a-Day: Military Mashup Machine

Military Mashup Machine: Oh, several.  Examining them by the categories of the original trope, we have:

Land Battleship: This one, actually, they don’t have.  Essentially, by the time it was practical to build this sort of thing, firstly, people who needed a heavy weight of fire on the ground were already in the habit of calling down the ortillery, either from the orbital defense grid or from an assault cruiser in low orbit over the battlespace – if they had orbital superiority.  And secondly, anything like this that you did build would be a giant radiating target for said ortillery – if you didn’t have orbital superiority.  Between them, these put paid to the notion of serious land battleships.

Submersible Carrier: Many wet navies have these, but they tend to be less the “plane-launching submarine” type and more submarines that can launch UAVs from missile tubes, control them for the duration of their mission, and then recover them at sea.  Which isn’t to say that the former haven’t existed, but the latter are usually rather more practical.

Amphibious Tanks: All tanks are amphibious tanks, pretty much by default.  By the time you’ve built a tank that can operate in all the various atmospheres, by composition and pressure, you might want it to (quick deployment and the needs of logistics sneer at air-breathing engines!) and incorporated the rest of the closed-cycle support you need to survive a modern battlefield in which nuclear, chemical, and nanoweapons are all in play, it pretty much shrugs off submergence, too.  You can pretty much drive a modern Imperial MBT from continent to continent across the ocean floor, although I can’t imagine why you’d want to.

(Incidentally, since a very large number of them have some vector-control capability and/or nuclear-thermal thrusters, they also arguably qualify as flying tanks – which usage, however, is a fast ticket to a court-martial, since playing flying games with something whose speed and maneuverability is very much not equal to dedicated air vehicles is a good way to win the Expert Pop-Up Target Award for your next instantiation.  It does, however, let you deploy your tanks with speed and convenience by kicking them out of the back of freight aircraft, and letting them ride their vectors to the ground.)

Amphibious Jet Fighter: Jet fighters, no, but we do have amphibious spacecraft – both certain shuttles common in orbital operations on worlds, water or otherwise, with extensive undersea development, and some types of system-defense vehicle whose ability to operate relatively deep in the atmospheres of gas giants – important to prevent enemy forces from field refueling, one way or another – permits operating in more terrestrial worlds’ oceans, which can be useful from time to time as a way to hide out and achieve surprise.

(It’s probable that gas-giant installation service vehicles and gas miners could also operate successfully in an oceanic environment, but there’d not be any point other than, well, saying that you’d done it.)

Mobile Factory: Even if you ignore the two hyperdreadnoughts with full on-board shipyards and the six Supremacies that act as semi-mobile bases for the fleets to coreward, rimward, spinward, trailing, acme and nadir, the Imperial Navy has to operate so often well outside reasonable resupply lines that it operates a large number of mobile logistics bases, large ships – with their own attached screens, parasite smelterships, etc. – which can be stationed anywhere to build new fuel, supplies, ammunition, and even AKVs to resupply task forces operating in their vicinity, using resources available locally.

And if we’re classifying the Cylon resurrection ships from Battlestar Galactica here, then we should also include the hospital ships – a historical designation – operated by large numbers of transsophont powers, which serve both as a well-protected place to keep the mind-state backup substrate, and also to house the large number of military-spec clone bodies used to resurrect anyone killed in action and send ’em back into the fray.

(If you manage to take one of these out, or even if you don’t, yes, this means that the number of bodies left floating around the battlefield afterwards bears no resemblance whatever to the number of people you actually managed to kill.  Assuming that you managed to kill anyone permanently, which – since most militaries that make use of this particular technology offer off-line backups back at base as a service benefit – is, frankly, doubtful.)

The Battlestar: Well, as mentioned above in the specific trope of that name, there are several battlecruiser classes that are designed like this, simply because the on-board AKV screen gives them much greater flexibility when they’re out running patrols and such on their own or in small flotillas, rather than being retained as fleet screening elements.

And then there are the fleet carriers which carry around entire task forces between those star systems not linked by stargates, when necessary.

Others: While these do a good job of describing the main variations, there are plenty of other weird vehicles hanging around in larger or smaller numbers: burrowing tanks for special siege applications;

The Pindareth-class aerospace-support cruiser, a flying Macross Missile Massacre whose whole design function is to dump entire holds’ worth of bundles of air-to-anything missiles into the battlespace from orbit, then designate targets for them once they hit operational altitude, intended to swarm and destroy entire air forces in one giant orgy of nucleonic destruction;

And, on the personal level, a number of gunsword designs which, yes, turned out to be pretty useless as guns and swords both, but which, after being corrected to not throw off the balance and forgetting about the projectile, work great for extracting your sword from someone if you should get it hung up on some resistant bit of innards.