Giving Flak Some Flak

Don't do this. Don't ever do this.

Don’t do this. Don’t ever do this.

There is one other small point to make, it occurs to me, regarding lasers and appropriate uses of same.

One of which is that the Imperial Navy, by and large, uses carefully targeted laser weapons for short-range point defense, the intent being to vaporize small projectiles, blind sensors, overheat close-in AKVs and send ’em into thermal shutdown (being small, they have precious little heat-dumping capacity, relying instead on avoiding being hit), and convince missile warheads (for those people who feel the need to use missile warheads, kinetic energy being plenty of fun on its own) to explode before they actually get to their target starship.

Some folks (the screenshot on the right is from Battlestar Galactica) are of the opinion that an even better way to do this would be good old-fashioned flak. Mount point-defense turrets on your ship, and fill space around you with enough projectiles that anything incoming gets shredded by those before reaching you.

What those folks forget is that Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space!, ’cause all those projectiles – all those clouds of projectiles – will keep moving, with all their kinetic energy, until they hit something, and ruin its day. If you’re lucky, that will be whatever poor bastard is next to you in the same formation, weapons and small craft you’re trying to use, or your own ship on some future occasion, and you’ll only manage to hurt yourself. If you’re unlucky, they’ll just carry merrily on hitting things completely unrelated to the original target at random and providing people with casus belli, atrocity fodder, and other reasons to whup your ass for the next ten thousand years or more.

Cleaning up the debris after a space battle to ensure this sort of thing doesn’t happen is already a giant pain in the ass (the kind that there’s even a dedicated class of fluffship – crewing which is generally thought to be the worst job in the IN – to handle) when all you have to worry about is hulks, spallation debris, ricochets and accidental misses, and such-like, without deliberately making the problem a million times worse by filling the sky with high-KE flak. You don’t fire anything without a firing solution attached to it. Here endeth the lesson.

Or, as Mass Effect 2 put it in a somewhat more pithy manner:

Trope-a-Day: Arbitrary Maximum Range

Arbitrary Maximum Range: Well, hardly arbitrary.  Very carefully programmed maximum range, in fact, since missiles are not jolly things to have ploughing on and on into space without a self-destruct mechanism, or more precisely, for acknowledgement-of-the-kinetic-kill-factor, a deceleration-before-exploding and/or deceleration-and-call-someone-for-pickup mechanism.  And then there are the fluffships, giant self-propelled balls of kinetic foam and kinetic barriers whose job – one of the acknowledged worst in the fleet – is to police the debris, railgun ricochets, etc., left behind after a battle in order not to FOD someone’s day.

But in the general case, yes, kinetic weaponry has no particular maximum range, or to put it the now-standard way, Sir Isaac Newton is the deadliest son-of-a-bitch in space.  (Even when he’s another civilization’s version and named Siao Callaneth.)

Energy weapon range is essentially determined by beam dispersion, and so is long.  Very long.  A convenient saying for Sir Isaac’s photonic equivalent has, alas, not yet been found.