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.
And yes, this does mean that it’s horrible diagram time again.
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!
“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.
From: Capt. Idris Mariseth, Flight Administrator
To: Lt. Loric Kantinomeiros, Tactical (Security) Suboperations
Subject: Proposals for future exercises
Your proposal of 5/13, for inclusion in exercise designated ROARING EDGEWINDS, has been rejected for the following reasons:
- Ancyran units are not trained in microgravity operations and space safety.
- Neither EAVS nor skinsuits are available for the given unit composition.
- Even if standard skinsuits were available, necessary tack and equipment would interfere with their operation, and vice versa.
- A squad of this unit composition cannot be accommodated, volumetrically, within a Marlinspike-class MAV without significant modification.
- Neither skinsuits nor EAVs are rated for physical activities involved in Rampaging Beast Style melee combat.
- It is not possible to bite from within an environmentally sealed helmet.
- Commodore Corrével requested proposals from outside the box, not from outside the bloody warehouse.
The details of your proposal to run boarding and boarder-repelling drills with and against Ancyran bear cavalry has, however, been forwarded to the Operational Training Command for their future consideration.
Boarding Party: Where battered hulks and surrendered ships are concerned, yes, if the delta-v needed to catch them is within reasonable bounds. Even occasionally elsewhere, with some specially designed boarding pods – but that’s crazy-difficult enough there has to be something really valuable on the other ship. Of course, where it differs from the standard trope is in the flood of hunter-killer microbots (to turn anyone not planning on surrendering/honoring their surrender into hamburger) and infowar automation (to seize control and ensure no-one gets any clever-clever ideas about grav pong) that comes along with the guys in power suits.