And next in our review of less conventional starship types, we come to that odd duck, the aerospace cruiser. (And many of these remarks, naturally, also apply to its larger cousin, the aerospace carrier.)
Ever since the early Imperial Navy absorbed the old air forces into its Close Orbit and Atmospheric Command (CLATMOCOM, under the Second Space Lord), these specialized classes and their equally specialist crewers have existed in something of a limbo, engaging in practices often deemed unnatural among decent, right-thinking spacers. Such as, if I may write in hushed tones for a moment, streamlining.
In short, while normally one can rely on a comfortable dichotomy between airships – which stay down in the nice, warm, notably present air – and starships – which avoid atmosphere in the much the same way that a thirsty Leirite avoids water – the aerospace cruiser defies this. While even the interface vehicles that bridge these two realms tend to minimize their time spent in the inconvenient middle, it spends all its operational time in a realm too low for low orbit and too high for upper atmosphere, being beholden to neither.
This requires a large number of rather unsettling compromises. Let’s begin our examination with the fundamental reason why: the entire purpose of an aerospace cruiser is to provide a secure base from which atmospheric combat vehicles can sortie, and in order to let them be competitive ACVs, it is necessary not to weigh them down with large extra drive mechanisms just to enable them to get to and from the mama bird. Thus, said mothership must not operate merely in low orbit, but dipping well into the atmosphere – into the lower mesophere – at typical altitudes for lithic worlds no more than 65 to 80 km (211,000 – 264,000′) above the surface. Such altitudes are already painfully difficult to reach for dedicated air vehicles, but manageable with relatively small auxiliary aerospikes.
And yet, the implications! A non-interface starship at this altitude suffers from high levels of atmospheric drag, enough to rip any normal starship’s – one not designed for atmospheric entry – structure apart, and thus, aerospace cruisers must share the great attention to streamlining and the heavier structure required by interface vehicles, but to an even greater extent, since the aerospace cruiser must not only penetrate the entry interface, but hang in it while launching and receiving aircraft from its vomitories.
(This in turn involves various trade-offs in other starship systems, like radiators, which must be accommodated behind streamlined panels while still functioning effectively; the point-defense laser grid must be tuned to atmospheric frequencies despite the effects on performance – and aerospace cruisers are well within the practical offensive range of ground-based aircraft and anti-aircraft systems; the engines must not choke when run in atmosphere; and so forth.)
The next issue, fortunately, partly cancels out this one. While an aerospace cruiser sustaining (via continuous burn; copious fuel supplies and an oiler or two to restock them are also essentials for space-to-atmo operations) orbit at 72 km would have to deal with an arbitrarily long period of fending off the atmosphere at 8 km/sec, consider that the period of such an orbit is a little under 1.5 hours, meaning that an aerospace cruiser maintaining its “natural” orbital velocity will pass very rapidly over the battlespace and out of air range; and pilots in general, it should be said, are notably unappreciative when their mothership leaves them behind.
To avoid this, aerospace cruisers are required to operate in forced orbits, maintaining station above a particular location. This requires, of course, even more copious supplies of fuel and multiplies the required continuous – and for those not familiar with the concept, continuous here means if the drive ever stops, you fall right out of the sky and die – station-keeping burn considerably, but at least it spares you quite so much brutalization by the atmosphere and makes launching and receiving aircraft practical, not just theoretically possible.
So before we continue and look at specific types, let’s raise a glass to these low-flying, fuel-gulping, plasma-shocking, sky-hanging abominations of nature, and all that sail in them! We don’t look down on you – except literally – but we wouldn’t have your jobs for a Service pension and a nice retirement moon.
You may have seen a new Imperial Navy ship on the through route from Qechra to Palaxias in the past few weeks, and not been able to pin down her exact type: she resembles a Leviathan-class dreadnought to aft, but the whole forward half of the vessel seems to have been replaced by a long, four-pronged, blunt-ended ‘snoot’, which more closely resembles the working end of a stargate than anything else.
If the scuttlebutt is anything to go by, that’s exactly what she is – the latest unique special weapons platform of the Black Flotilla, CS Perfect Translocative Defender.
She’s not a wormhole logistics ship; those remain impractical. Despite all the improvements in linelayer-superlifters over the years, moving stargates around is still a very slow process, and one which makes even fleet carriers look speedy and maneuverable. This is largely due to the moon-sized mass of the kernel, which enables stargates to communicate with their paired counterpart. But as you can see, Perfect Translocative Defender does not house a kernel, only the Andracanth ram itself.
Without a kernel, Perfect Translocative Defender is only capable of opening an untargeted wormhole around her target, but this makes her a perfect weapon against those threats undefeatable by conventional means; once she closes to fire her weapon, the target is simply dispatched to a randomized location in space and time, thus removing it as an immediate problem – and, given the sheer vastness of the universe, very likely removing it as a problem entirely.
“Among things that you all can be thankful for is that gravitic weapons are of almost no practical use. Partly this is because there is very little training we can give you in dealing with the resulting casualties – due to the low survival rate – but mostly because the results are ugly even by time-of-war standards.
“Gravitic shear, first, ripping a ship in twain with an opposed tractor and pressor, is probably the least bad in damage, but the worst to attend. At least that one might have survivors in the remaining halves, albeit survivors who’ve broken almost every bone in their bodies from the abrupt acceleration, but anything near the shear line will be torn apart. Worst, though, is anyone caught in the fringe effect – that bends and stretches flesh in all the wrong ways. Sophs who’ve been twisted into abstract artwork, and some of them even live through it.
“Then there’s gravitic vibration. ‘Rattling’. Leaves no bodies to bury, because it leaves no bodies. The effects are similar to an inertial damper failure, leaving you with a ship full of meat-slurry. No call for medical treatment; cleaning up after this just needs a hose, a mop, and a well-callused soul.
“And lastly there’s gravitic implosion. There are no slides for this one. No-one, to my knowledge, has ever used a gravitic imploder in combat, but if you insist upon knowing, you can find images of the tests on the IN med-weave. I do not recommend doing so. Sphagettification should have stayed beneath the event horizons where we found it…”
– Surgeon-Commander Vinea Allatrian-ith-Aplan, lecture at the Faculty of Medicine, Imperial War College
“Finally, let us turn to the biggest megaships of them all, the fleet carriers. Including them in this work is a choice which I expect to be somewhat controversial – many would argue that a fleet carrier is a formation, not a vessel – but with respect to those readers who may hold that position, since the Imperial Navy treats fleet carriers as a single vessel for asset accounting and command designation purposes, so in turn shall I.
“Let us begin with a look at the history of the type. Fleet carriers were not known before the Exterminomachy (5782-5901). While before that time lighthuggers had met with occasional hostility, they had proven more than capable of defending themselves against local system defense forces, in particular with the Perreinar Wheel1 – and in those cases where they were not, it was because they had encountered a Power not readily opposed by pure military force. This changed with the arrival of the skrandar berserker probes, whose numbers and willingness to embrace suicide tactics made them a serious threat to even well-defended vessels, and eliminating breeding site for which required the transport of full task forces to their host systems.
“The first fleet carriers, then, were improvisations; lighthuggers pressed into service under the right of angary. Stripped down by removing all cargo capacity, much crew space, and all other less-than-essential facilities, and enhancing their fuel capacity with multiple drop tanks, it became possible to clamp a small number of light units – overstocked with fuel and supplies – to the spine of such a vessel, and have it haul them slowly and painfully to a target system.
“Such crude improvisations were fraught with problems, from wear and tear on ships and crew during the slow transit, to the risk of interception before the transported units could free themselves from the carrier – both due to the inefficiency of the mechanical clamps, and the need to cut clamps frozen in transit or actual hard welds used where clamps would not suffice, to even entire vessels lost from the carrier in transit. (The last of these to be recovered, CS Bloodwashed3, was salvaged with all hands in 6722.)
“Fortunately, by the third year of the Exterminomachy, new designs were emerging from the cageworks at Ashen Planitia and Armory. The second-generation fleet carriers were custom-built starships, or rather, the specialized elements (the “propulsion head” and “collier module”) were, since the second generation eschewed the rigid designs of the first in exchange for dispersed tensegrity structures.
“In effect, the starships transported by the fleet carrier, along with the specialized elements, formed the floating compression struts of the overall structure, while being linked by braided cables (derived from orbital elevator technology) into a unified structure. The majority of the propulsive thrust is provided by the dedicated propulsion heads, while specialized fleet mediator software enables the use of the drives of the various carried ships to balance the structure and correct attitude. Meanwhile, supplies carried in the collier modules, distributed by rigged flexpipe and by cable-crawling logistics robots, eliminated the need to overload any individual ship with supplies, and indeed enabled the transportation of greater volumes of fuel and replenishment. Moreover, such fleet carriers could separate instantly if intercepted by simply blowing the explosive cable-couplers and engaging their drives independently, the dispersed tensegrity structure providing adequate safety separation for this.
“Such dispersed-design fleet carriers served with distinction throughout the remainder of the Exterminomachy, and have remained a key element of IN subluminal doctrine since. While there exist a third generation of fleet carrier designs, these merely reflect the evolution in technological reliability that allows the physical cables of the second generation to be replaced with vector-control tractor-pressor beams, and does not reflect any change in fundamental design or doctrine.
“As ad hoc structures, of course, it would be incorrect to say that fleet carriers have classes, in the strictest sense. However, the individual propulsion heads and collier modules, the former full starships in themselves, do. Thus, we shall begin our examination of fleet carriers with a look at the most common propulsion head in Imperial service, the Legends-class…”
– Megaships of the Imperium, Lorvis Maric, pub. 7290
Perreinar2 Wheel: a fight-and-flight maneuver in which a lighthugger puts its stern towards the battle and engages its interstellar drive, thus retreating from the engagement while simultaneously treating the enemy to the close-range efflux of a pion drive – a situation which is very rarely survivable for anything larger than a baryon.
From the eponymous horse archers who had perfected the “Perreinar shot” centuries before.
Lost in the wreck of CS Cúlíän Daphnotarthius, which suffered a structural collapse of the spine while outward bound to IGS 31238 in the second year of the war.
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.
Cruising (sustainable) thrust: 5.6 standard gravities (5.2 Earth G) Peak (unsustainable) thrust: 6.6 standard gravities (6.1 Earth G) Maximum velocity: 0.3 c (rated, based on particle shielding, with flight deck doors closed)
43,200 x AKVs (loadout varies by mission, typically Daggerfan-class)
Associated thrust packs and modular swapout payloads, by mission
64 x “Buckler VI” point-defense supplementary drones, Artifice Armaments, ICC
32 x “Rook” tactical observation platforms, Sy Astronautic Engineering Collective (with supplementary IN hardware)
64 x general-duty modular drones (not counting flight operations hardware)
3 x independent standard navigational sensor suite, Cilmínar Spaceworks
6 x [classified] enhanced active/passive tactical sensory suite, Sy Astronautic Engineering Collective
Imperial Navy tactically-enhanced longscan
96 x “Slammer III” dual turreted mass drivers (local-space defense)
Artifice Armaments, ICC “Popcorn” point defense/CQB laser grid
3 x Artifice Armaments, ICC cyclic kinetic barrier system
Biogenesis Technologies, ICC Mark VII regenerative life support (multiple independent systems)
3 x Bright Shadow, ICC custom-build megaframe data system, plus multiple EC-1140 information furnaces for sectoral control
AKV repair facilities
3 x Extropa Energy, ICC “Calviata” second-phase fusion reactors
6 x Imperial Navy AKV tactical management suite
3 x Imperial Navy DN-class vector-control core and associated technologies
3 x Nanodynamics, ICC “Phage-a-Phage” immunity
6 x modular swapout regions (large)
Systemic Integrated Technologies, ICC high-capacity thermal sinks and dual-mode radiative striping; 3 x deployable droplet heat radiators
4 x Nelyn-class modular cutters
2 x Ékalaman-class pinnace/shuttle (atmosphere capable)
16 x Élyn-class microcutter
32 x Adhaïc-class workpod
(You’ll notice the obvious similarities to the Leviathan-class dreadnought in systems installed, which should come as no surprise; these two came off the drawing board at roughly the same time. And if you’re wondering why a BB-sized carrier has a DN-sized vector-control core – well, you’ll note that the much more tightly packed supplies of, for example, bunkerage plus AKV bunkerage, plus the need to propel all those AKVs, make it mass significantly more than a Leviathan in practice. Carriers tend to be thus.)
The core hull of the Hurricane-class drone battleship (carrier) is divided into five segments: from bow to stern, the flight operations section, the AKV bunkerage, the command section, the bunkerage, and the propulsion bus, laid out tail-lander style. The flight operations section, by design, is a hexagonal prism, flat faces to dorsal and ventral, and the other ship segments follow this pattern.
Attached to this on the starboard side, extending to dorsal and ventral of the core hull, and running from 100 m ahead of the flight operations section (to give AKVs exit and entrance cover) back to cover the first 100 m of the bunkerage, is the starship’s “buckler”. The core hull of the Hurricane-class is relatively lightly armored for an IN vessel, since carriers are intended, doctrinally, to stay out of CQB and mass conservation supervenes. However, to provide protection against long-distance fire in the outer engagement envelope, as a less maneuverable ship class, the buckler – heavy armor plate connected to the core hull by shock-absorbing trusses – covers and extends slightly beyond the two starboard facets, providing additional protection for as long as the vessel maintains the proper attitude.
The flight operations section at the bow, taking up the first half-kilometer of the ship, is effectively a single large flight deck, opened to space by an armored spacetight door in the for’ard hull. (Unlike smaller flight decks, this region cannot be pressurized.) The 43,200 carried AKVs occupy hexagonal cells clustered on the inner hull to port, starboard, dorsal, and ventral from which they launch themselves, while a small conventional flight deck at the aft end of the section provides space for the Hurricane‘s small craft. The after hull of the flight operations sections is heavily armored, to provide what protection it can against a lucky shot penetrating the flight deck.
Immediately behind the flight operations section is the AKV bunkerage section, which houses fuel and propellant, along with ammunition and other consumables, for the carried AKVs, permitting refueling and rearming. This is the most protected area of the ship, as AKV fuel and ammunition tends to be highly volatile.
The command section, the primary habitable area of the starship, is a relatively small area sandwiched between the AKV bunkerage and the carrier’s own bunkerage, also protected behind the buckler, and housing both the starship’s own operations and the majority of the outsize flight operations department. From dorsal and ventral, sensor towers extend beyond the buckler, allowing line-of-sight sensing and communications with the battlespace without exposing the core hull.
(As a side note, the Hurricane-class, like most large carriers, is an example of the IN’s dual command system. The starship itself is commanded by a Flight Commander, ranked Captain [O-7], from the line branch, while the AKV wings are commanded by a Group Captain, an equivalent rank. Overall command of both is held by a Mission Commander, ranked Commodore [O-8].)
Aft of these, a conventional bunkerage section and propulsion bus, equipped with droplet radiators for primary cooling, fills out the remaining length of the vessel.
Scattered about the length of the vessel is the same heavy-duty (“Popcorn”) point-defense grid used on the Leviathan-class dreadnought, along with 96 small turreted mass drivers – similar to those used on lighter IN classes – for heavier local-space defense.
(They are not intended as offensive weapons; the carrier has 43,200 of those in its AKVs, and would-be Flight Commanders who can’t resist the urge to take their ships into close-quarters battle are redirected towards frigates, destroyers, and other roles where such is (a) tactically useful and (b) much less likely to get one either cashiered for gross incompetence or relieved of command by an XO for whom it is not a good day to die.)
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 x Ékalaman-class pinnace/shuttle (atmosphere capable)
16 x Élyn-class microcutter
16 x Traest Sargas-class troop transport
32 x Adhaïc-class workpod
32 x Marlinspike-class boarding torpedo
32 x Sledgehammer-class drop shuttle
From without, the Leviathan-class dreadnought resembles a slender wedge, a dagger-blade without a hilt. It is, of course, rather larger than virtually all equivalent dreadnought classes and even some superdreadnought classes seen elsewhere, in keeping with the Empire’s naval construction policy of “shock and awesome”.
This should come as no surprise to anyone, since the realities of armoring such a vessel mandate such a glacis, and as such virtually all ships of the plane, of whatever origin, share this common feature. The Leviathan mixes this up slightly, having a change in ratio along its length that gives the hull a subtle curve and the ship entire a forward-leaning, sleek and hungry look.
(Although those who serve aboard Leviathans, especially back in the maneuvering sector, tend to describe their workplace as the ship’s “fat ass”.)
As is also usual, the apparent outer hull of the vessel is entirely composed of armor plating, which in the case of the Leviathan is a little over 30m thick, comprised of multiple layers of heavy plate, Whipple foam, radiation-absorbent material, thermal superconductors, dilatant shock gel, flexible spreader trusses, and other necessities for survivability in the modern high-energy battlespace, many of which remain classified.
(The important thing to remember about this armor plating is that it is not there to protect against a direct hit from an opposing capital ship. No practicable material will do that. It’s there to protect against the spallation debris left behind after your point-defense grid sweeps the sky like the hand of an angry laser-spewing god.)
This armor serves as a backup to the triple-layered cyclic kinetic barrier system with which the Leviathan is equipped, along with the likewise triple-layered ray shielding to protect against photonic attack.
The majority of the space within this outer hull is unpressurized volume, occupied by machinery space, bunkerage, stores (tanks and unpressurized cargo holds), accessways, robot hotels, and magazines. The habitable volume is represented by a relatively small (roughly equivalent to a 232-storey building, laid out tail-lander style) cylinder buried deep within this, above the axial passage for the primary mass driver, with two attendant counter-rotating gravity rings providing space for gravity-requiring special facilities. Below and to port and starboard of this passage can be found the eight fusion reactors providing non-thrust power to the Leviathan.
In addition to the primary (axial) heavy mass driver, the Leviathan mounts four secondary heavy mass drivers of only slightly lower power along its dorsal-ventral centerline, spread out at 15 and 30 degrees off-axis (although with off-bore firing capability), along with four heavy grasers clustered around, and aligned to, the axial primary.
Tertiary weapons systems consist of 64 turreted mass drivers and 32 turreted heavy lasers, of which half can slew far enough to be capable of broadside firing. An additional eight turreted mass drivers are mounted on the stern for kilt defense, should the prospect of attacking through, or at best in close proximity to, the emissions plume of the Leviathan‘s 24 torch drives not be sufficient deterrent. Finally, the Leviathan is equipped with the Artifice Armaments “Popcorn” laser grid for point-defense and CQB purposes, ensuring that anyone foolish enough to close to point-defense range will have mere microseconds to contemplate their folly before vaporizing in one of the most spectacular coruscations known to sophontkind.
Also pressurized are portions of the “docks and locks” sections to port and starboard, 500 meters for’ard of the drives, which house the Leviathan‘s small craft complement. These are buried beneath the starship’s outer hull armor, which is designed to retract under non-combat conditions to provide ingress. In light of this, the multiple AKV wings and drones are launched via dog-leg tubes through the dorsal and ventral armor, and recovered – if this is necessary during an engagement – when circumstances permit turning broadside to the enemy and recovering through the far-side landing bay.
As a dreadnought, the Leviathan is equipped with a flag bridge and communications/tactical mesh suite for task force command; with the capability to effect repairs on smaller vessels of its task force; with the ability to deploy starfighters for patrol or remote operations missions; and with a substantial espatier force and the means to deploy them, whether in boarding operations or for groundside raids.
(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
HORNÉD MOON-CLASS STARFIGHTER
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
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.)
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
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.
REF: TASK GROUP R-4-118
REF: OVERDUE STATUS, CS GUTPUNCH
AS PER TASK GROUP ORDERS ORIGINATING CS UNDERBELT, HAVE PROCEEDED WITH COHORT, CS GOUGER, TO LAST KNOWN POSITION CS GUTPUNCH, MALTEVIC SYSTEM.
NO TRACES OF CS GUTPUNCH OR RECENT SIGNS OF COMBAT APPARENT OR RECORDED IN SYSTEM LONGSCAN BUOYS. TRANSPONDER LOGS CONFIRM OUTBOUND GATING TO NARIJIC SYSTEM IN ACCORDANCE WITH PATROL ROUTING.
RESPONSE TO FORWARDED QUERIES TO SYSTEM ENTRY BUOYS IN NARIJIC AND KERJEJIC SYSTEMS INCLUDES NO HIGH-ENERGY EVENTS.
CS GOUGER WILL PROCEED FORTHWITH TO NARIJIC SYSTEM AND COMMENCE SEARCH GRID SWEEP.
SELF WILL PROCEED FORTHWITH TO KERJEJIC SYSTEM AND COMMENCE SEARCH GRID SWEEP.
AUTHENTICATION MORAINE HAMMOCK VAULT SIMMER GOLDEN PAWL / 0x9981ABD43E3ECC22
One thing about these: while I understand the stylistic motivation of using all-caps (reminiscing to WW2-era (and later) communiqués, in Isif’s world, that makes no real sense. In WW2, the all-caps was a result of having no distinct-case (and some bright chap thinking it was better to have all-caps, even if they are a lot harder to read).
I do not have a ready solution to carry the “fleet communiqué” vibe easily, but I think just the rest of the format (headers, enumeration, the “Ends.” trailer) would be good enough™.
Well, here’s the reasoning behind it. But first, I will note that not all communication to and from fleet vessels looks like this. We also see some that comes over more normal channels, which looks like this:
From: Executor Major Garren Melithos, Uulder Shore Constellation Adhoc, Imperial Exploratory Service
To: Cmdr. Leda Estenv, Flight Administrator, CS Iron Dragon Subject: Checking up
Your Mr. Sarathos is shaping up as well as can be expected here after his transfer. Per his request, we put him to work on the hush-hush clean-up of Ekritat’s atmosphere after his oops, and he’s doing a good job there so far. Chastened, but competent.
My colleagues have some similar projects lined up for him after this. If all goes well, we might just manage to salvage him and his career.
…so what’s the difference and why the stylistic change?
The latter is just plain old extranet e-mail, sent out over SCP (Secure Courier Protocol), and which works the same way as any other e-mail, which is to say while rather more complicated than ours (involving the use of presence servers to first link name to location, and then routing protocols to link location-of-mobile-subnet – which is to say, starship – to current-network-location), is nothing special and can transmit arbitrary formatted data. It’s routed at standard-traffic priority, being routed over light-speed links between stargates until it gets to its destination system, then over laser tightbeam between relay stations and finally to the starship’s own receiver. Since it’s going to a military destination address, the protocol probably coerces the notrace, noloc, and deepcrypto bits on, but yet.
The former, on the other hand, is an action message, being sent over the Navy’s own GLASS PICCOLO system, which piggybacks on the extranet for some routing purposes but doesn’t use standard protocols. That’s because it’s optimized for speed, security, distribution without presence servers if need be (for starships running in communications silence), etc., but most of all minimal size, because the GLASS PICCOLO system uses the IN’s private tangle channel backbone wherever it can appropriately do so for speed, but once a tanglebit has been used in communications, that tanglebit is gone forever. It can’t be reused, only replaced. And if you’re coordinating a war, you don’t want to find yourself running out of tanglebits to do it with.
So it does have some relevant constraints. Not so much lack of distinct case – think of it more like the ELF communications the US Navy used to use, except the constraint is not speed of transmission, it’s the potential permanent consumption of the transmission medium.
GLASS PICCOLO messages are converted into five-letteral code-groups – which is why the language in them tends to be stilted, because you aren’t reading what anyone actually wrote, you’re reading the computer transliteration of the code-groups – signed, compressed, encrypted to the recipient key, and squirted out on the GP network as a single-packet datablip. The recipient’s communication computers reverse the process.
All of which is to say: it’s a deliberate stylistic choice, yes, but the reason I’m invoking those very different-looking historical communication formats is to suggest to the reader that these messages indeed ain’t like those messages.
(One side note: it’s not a matter of lacking distinct case, I append for those who aren’t keen minutiae-watchers, because none of the three major Eldraeic alphabets – runic, pen, or brush-optimized – actually have a concept of letter case. Which of the alphabets either of the above would be displayed in depends on the personal UI customization of the comms officer reading them.
There might be a tendency for slight runic to predominate, since as its hexagon-based letterals and numerals are all identical in size, it was the alphabet used by the people who designed the original fixed-width computer terminals and predecessor devices, but everyone *there* has had a WYSIWYG system for more years than humanity’s had writing, these days…
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.
“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.”
Space Police: There isn’t any overall police service for the Associated Worlds – the closest thing is probably Conclave Security, which does answer directly to the Conclave of Galactic Polities, but whose jurisdiction is limited to just the Conclave Drift itself and its containing star system, and possibly the Operatives of the Presidium, who wield this kind of authority as one-off special agents.
In practice, every polity polices its own space, colonies, and the routes in between. The Great Powers often augment this with various roving fleets, asserting universal jurisdiction over assorted free-space crimes (piracy and such, usually), providing a kind of rough-and-ready frontier law and order. The loose structure of the Accord on Uniform Security provides for limited extradition and limited cooperation between polities (and Warden-Bastion PPLs), provided that hostilities aren’t, that everyone agrees that whatever happened was in fact some sort of crime, and that everyone’s having a reasonably nice day.
Within polities, of course, situations and law enforcement structures vary. The Empire, for example, doesn’t have a specific organization devoted to policing space. In planetary orbit, or among clusters of drifts, the Watch Constabulary has the same jurisdiction it does planetside or within habitats, and in Imperial in-system space, the same as its rangers do in the wilderness – the specialized divisions which operate “outside” are called the Orbit Guard and the Stellar Guard, but functionally, they do not differ from the norm. Major crimes in in-system space are handled by the Imperial Navy, but that’s functionally no different from the way that the Imperial Military Service planetside has generally been called upon to address riot, insurrection, and brigandage.
(In deep space, law enforcement is also provided by specialist units of the IN, simply because they’re the ones who can get there – and it’s outside all traditional borders anyway. And, of course, this excludes all private-conlegial/PPL bodies…)
Space Mines: There are any number of practical problems with the general notion of minefields in space, including gravity making them clump up (meaning that your mines will need station-keeping drives), the difficulty of interdicting large three-dimensional volumes, the lack of choke points to mine and the tendency of those you do have to move, the lack of stealth making minefields quite obvious to look at, the need to close on targets to make an explosion have effect or else use ranged weapons, etc., etc.
The concept has been raised a couple of times, mainly for defending fixed outposts and some of the few choke points that do exist, like stargates, but the consensus so far is that by the time you build a workable mine you’re already essentially all of the way towards building an AKV – so you could do the same job much more flexibly just with a wing of lurking AKVs, or even a monitor on station, or both.
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.
And now here we are at the last (sixth) part of Building the Imperial Navy (one; two; three; four; five), Force Management. In which we discuss matters relating to keeping the fleet in top fighting form, to wit: Personnel Policies, Logistics Concept, Level of Readiness (Afloat and Ashore), and Acquisition Strategy.
A good chunk of this is actually something I touched upon last time in discussing manning strategy; namely, how much personnel turnover does the IN plan for? The answer, in this case, is not much: being an effective naval officer or an effective naval spacehand depends on extensive training and experience both, and the Imperial Navy has long since concluded that offering the generous remuneration, excellent working conditions (compared to the conditions some navies consider acceptable, the IN operates a bunch of floating five-star hotels), high-quality training, etc., etc., it does is worth every taltis in keeping retention up, and that saving money there at the cost of losing its highly cross-trained, highly experienced “lifers” as the solid core of its personnel roster would be the falsest of false economies.
The other main aspect is the “personnel tempo” (PERSTEMPO) of the force: i.e., how often are people deployed and away from their families, which has a high impact on personnel retention. PERSTEMPO isn’t quite so great as it might be: as mentioned in previous parts, the Imperial Navy prefers a forward-leaning strategy and likes to keep as much of the fleet out in the black, in motion, as it can reasonably manage, which implies an uncomfortably high PERSTEMPO.
Under peacetime and “standard wartime” circumstances, as per this post, the Imperial Navy ideally prefers a 2-for-1 rotation, where half the fleet (not counting reserves) is deployed at any given time, while the other half is in dock refitting, training, etc. The logical implication of that for spaceborne personnel is that they operate under a similar PERSTEMPO: three-to-six months deployed, three-to-six months on base, and repeat.
To ameliorate this as much as possible, while the IN is not willing to countenance downright crazy policies such as letting people take their civilian families aboard starships intended to get into firefights, it does subsidize all the costs and transportation and other inconvenience necessary to accommodate naval personnel’s families aboard the Supremacy-class mobile naval bases, at fleet stations, and so forth – places not significantly less safe than any ecumenical colony – in order to keep the time-apart down to just that implied by the PERSTEMPO, as well as providing free communications over fleet channels and being happy to arrange for couples who are both in the Navy to serve on the same starship, where operational requirements permit.
The Imperial Navy’s thinking on both this and the following section (Level of Readiness) are dominated by one simple thing: space is big, really quite inconveniently so, and when things go wrong, they can go wrong awfully fast.
(And while you may be able to tolerate the local member of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms gobbling up a couple of dozen systems that you can take back from them later – assuming they’re not rampaging xenocidal bigots – the same does not apply if you’re facing a runaway perversion or a heggie swarm. The Second Lord of the Admiralty does not want to be in the position of explaining how he let an entire constellation get eaten while waiting around for the below-establishment personnel/reserve dreadnoughts/missile colliers to turn up.)
As such, in logistics, the rules are that all task forces shall be fully stocked upon deployment (typically, as mentioned, to support up to a year’s cruising), and all OPAREAs shall be within ready reach of resupply.) We touched on this last time, too, under Organic Support Functions & Shore Infrastructure, but to elaborate somewhat –
It’s certainly true that the main resupply stocks and manufacturing capabilities are located at Prime Base – as are those stocks of “special” weapons that require equally special care – but the IN forward-deploys lots of resupply, using the fleet train, to those fleet stations throughout each Field Fleet’s operational area, and in the case of the Supremacy-class mobile bases and long-established fleet stations, builds local manufacturing capabilities, too. (Some limited manufacturing capabilities are even deployed aboard starships: every starship has some kind of machine shop for making certain types of spare parts, for example, and large types that can afford the volume will carry fuel skimmers and capacity to fabricate k-slugs from asteroid materials, etc.)
(For the Home Fleet’s use, “fleet stations” are also established at several worlds within the metropolitan Empire as a backup in the unlikely event of an attack on Palaxias itself.)
Meanwhile, the Imperial Navy’s logistics doctrine is built around underway replenishment. While starships can and often do resupply at fleet stations, that’s not the purpose of the fleet stations. The fleet train is designed to take necessary supplies to forward-deployed starships as necessary rather than requiring them to return to base: the fleet stations exist to shorten the journeyof the fleet train in so doing, letting them get supplies to the fleet from themselves forward-deployed nodal bases rather than having to haul them all the way out from the Core on demand – keeping the flexibility of UNREP without lengthening time-to-readiness.
Level of Readiness (Afloat and Ashore)
As with logistics concept, the Imperial Navy’s level of readiness is dominated by the notions of space being big and trouble setting in very quickly. Of course, much as most navies would like to maintain full wartime readiness, that’s also very expensive… but then, as we mentioned back in part one, the IN has a relatively comfortable fiscal environment, which is also what lets it maintain its oft-mentioned forward-leaning posture.
So, y’know, while it’s not exactly all keyed up and operating at Strategic Condition One all the time, the IN is very ready in logistic terms. A ship that isn’t fully stocked with all the necessities, live ammunition – well, insofar as inert k-slugs are “live” – included, or that doesn’t have the requisite crew establishment, does not go forth into the black. Training exercises, war games, and so forth, run more or less continuously to keep the fleet occupied while it’s leaning forward. Supply depots at the fleet stations are kept fully stocked, because if it turns out you need them, odds are that you won’t have time to stock them at that point.
In short, the IN believes very firmly in the notion that it’s the known unknowns and the unknown unknowns that get you, and behaves accordingly.
(Navies whose admirals appreciate the sense of this but whose political masters won’t spend the money and/or whose political masters’ economies can’t support spending the money grind their teeth in envy. But, y’know, if you don’t have a Navy that can fight as soon as you need it to, you don’t have a Navy at all. You have an ornament.)
In which we address the question of how the Navy purchases new starships, given that they’re significant capital investments with a lengthy design and construction cycle…
This, again, is a situation in which I can cite part one and said relatively comfortable fiscal environment – being basically post-material-scarcity with a huge industrial and autoindustrial base is great for acquisitions, and as I said there, most of its payout goes to things like personnel and outsourced services, not capital for capital ships, and so forth. The limiting factor, in this case, is not so much of a limiting factor especially since, as said back then, there’s a lot of upside in the budget.
The actual IN procurement cycle, for starships, is essentially continuous FIFO replacement (with slow expansion as the stargate plexus, and thus the space it needs to patrol, also expands), at a pace set to loosely keep up with the rate of relevant technical innovation that can’t be absorbed by refits. Unless there’s some specific necessity, the IN runs through its entire collection of types and classes replacing all its oldest vessels one after another with the latest model: although “replaced” in this case may well mean and probably does that the older ship is any of:
rebuilt into the latest model, if the basic spaceframe is still sound, in a process that’s sufficiently more thorough than a refit that the new model is basically a whole new class, maybe not even of the same type; or
mothballed at Palaxias or one of the Empire’s other internal fleet stations as part of the Reserve Fleet; or
sold into civilian service.
Rather than ending up at a wreckyard. This is a slow process, considering what refits can absorb by way of innovation – the IN has plenty of well-maintained centuries-old starships in service – but is maintained at a certain minimum level to ensure that there’s a core number of cageworks and yard dogs with experience in building IN-style ships that can serve as a cadre should the IN need to dip into its fiscal reserves for a sudden, unexpected fleet expansion.
It’s part five of Building the Imperial Navy, it is. (Parts: one; two; three; four.)
In this part, Force Size, we talk about the people and infrastructure behind the fleet: manning strategy, organic support functions, and shore infrastructure.
So let’s begin:
In which we answer questions like these:
How many entities do you need for spacecraft crews? How do you get them? Are they drafted or are they volunteers? How qualified is the population base you are drawing upon? Are the spacecraft of the fleet fully crewed during peacetime or do you just keep a cadre and frantically recruit and train when war breaks out? Do you maintain a military reserve force, if so how and when can they be activated? What is the ratio of officers to enlisted people, and do you even break it down that way? Does the ratio change between peace and war? Do you use large amounts of robots and automation with few crew, or lots of crew for flexibility?
Well, to start with the obvious thing even though it’s last in the question list, the Imperial Navy uses lots and lots and lots of automation. That’s been the Imperial way of doing things since it was an urgent necessity of population demographics and when the automation consisted of clockwork automata powered by wind, water, and muscle, it stayed true when it had changed to mean steam-powered clanks with Stannic-cogitator brains, and it’s still true now that it means ecologies of ubiquitous processors, nanites, and optronic robots.
As such, Imperial naval vessels usually have significantly smaller crews than most of their counterparts in more… biochauvinist… polities. Or, to be slightly less smug about it, polities whose robotics is less sophisticated and as such less able to handle the complexities of crisis decision hierarchies and damage-control triage – although, in fairness, there is also a significant element of polities whose damage-control crews develop a stick up the cloaca at the prospect of their ship tellin’ em what to fix and in what order.
As for the personnel it does have, the Imperial Navy, as is the case for the rest of the Imperial Military Service, is an all-volunteer service. (It couldn’t be anything else even if it wanted to be: the people who wrote the Imperial Charter meant every word, no backsies or finger-crossing, when they wrote that “There shall be neither chattel slavery nor any other form of involuntary servitude in the Empire” clause, and a draft would definitely count. All that trying to institute one would do is give everyone a revolution to deal with as well as whatever other war might be going on at the time.)
Fortunately, the people in Imperial governance can generally be counted upon to adhere, philosophically speaking, to the “Any polity that can’t get its people to defend it voluntarily when the shit hits the fan deserves to end up covered in the aforesaid shit” position.
The majority of these personnel are professional, long-service officers and men who may not have chosen to make the IN a life-long career (given the very long if not indefinite lifetimes available), but who may well be spending as much time as tradition permits under the Six-Century Rule. The standard enlistment term is twelve years, Imperial calendar, with the option to extend “for the duration of hostilities” in the event of a major war breaking out. (There is a legal definition of exactly how major it has to be to enable this clause, but it’s never actually been tested.) A similar option permits the IN to recall former serving personnel who have agreed to enter the Reserve in the event of war: this, also, has not been tested except in “voluntary recall” mode.
Fortunately for the IN, it has a very technically competent population to recruit from, complete with strong cultural predispositions to maintain the generally high level of education, and with three-fifths of the population being spacers by domicile and culture, an equally high level of space-awareness. Unfortunately for the IN, these same conditions mean that the IN has to recruit the same pool of talented individuals in a very competitive market that everyone else is, and thus has to pay generous market-plus salaries; as mentioned back in Strategic Assumptions, personnel costs are one of the big three items on the IN balance sheet. It also compensates somewhat for this by the very high quality of the training offered to its personnel: it is understood to the point of cliche that a retired master chief boatswain’s mate, for example, can write his own ticket at any starport or space facility in the Empire or much of the rest of the Worlds, for almost any salary he cares to ask for.
As a consequence of this basis for its personnel, the distinctions between officers and enlisted personnel are primarily the distinctions between policy and execution; the ratio is slanted officer-heavy compared to many fleets, due to the greater automation of IN starships. Unlike many polities’ services, there is no particular social distinction between officers and enlisted personnel (everyone is a gentlesoph!); starships in the IN do not even have separate mess-decks by grade.
As should be expected from the IN policy of keeping the fleet forward-leaning and in continuous motion, peacetime manning levels are effectively the same as wartime manning levels; the Reserves are only activated, and the pace of recruitment increased, when an exceptional situation calls for it.
Organic Support Functions & Shore Infrastructure
While not entirely located within the IN itself administratively, the Imperial Navy provides for as much organic support as possible. To a large extent, this is necessitated by the limitations of secure interstellar communication and light-lag, as well as the problem of providing security for nodal bases in “hot” areas.
As such, the shore establishment is concentrated at Prime Base, at the six Supremacy-class mobile fleet bases, and at the fleet stations located at convenient points in the outer Worlds. The former are enormous concentrations of fabrication, maintenance, fueling, arming, and resupply capability, requiring very little in the way of outside support: the latter are lesser concentrations which act as nodes in the overall supply chain. Naval research, development, and prototyping is concentrated almost entirely at Prime Base, and at certain specialized facilities elsewhere.
To a certain extent, organic support is concentrated within ‘line’ starships themselves: theater and battlespace command is conducted from command-vessel superdreadnoughts, for example, while any capital ship is equipped to provide facilities for flag command. So far as supplies are concerned, fleet vessels are designed to be nominally stocked for up to a year’s peacetime cruising (allowing for on-board recycling and fabrication capacity) before requiring replenishment, although typical deployment lengths are only one-quarter to one-half of that.
In addition, though, the Imperial Navy assumes that its starships may need to operate at any time distant from the nearest available fleet station, and under circumstances which make it inconvenient at best to withdraw for resupply; as such, it coordinates with the Stratarchy of Military Support and Logistics to maintain an extensive fleet train including oilers, resupply colliers, hospital ships, personnel transports, and mobile maintenance yards, which are built to military standards regarding drives and defenses, permitting them to deploy behind the fleet and resupply it both in situ and under way. The IN also provides CC/DD/FF escort squadrons for the fleet train and its forward-deployed logistics nodes.
(In addition to the dedicated fleet train, the Stratarchy has arrangements to charter civilian vessels for equivalent services in rear areas, where defensive capacity and the ability to keep station with naval units is not a factor.)
As a final note in this area, even training is organic: while both initial and follow-up training is provided to IN personnel at the Imperial War College (a shore establishment), all the Navy’s schools include ongoing training aboard supervised by the Operational Training Command. One learns best by doing, so they arrange that one should do.
(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.
This is the third part of our six-part series on Building the Imperial Navy (first here; second here), in which we extend the strategic goals we made in the second part by defining the Navy’s role relative to the other parts of the Imperial Military Service, and define in general terms what the fleet does in support of its missions. In this step, there are three sub-steps:
Service Roles & Missions
What services (the Navy included) exist, and which parts of the larger strategic puzzle are allocated to each service? Which types of mission does each service consider a core capability? How does the Navy support its own missions, and what services does it offer to the other services – and vice versa?
In the Imperial Military Service, the Imperial Navy is definitely the senior military service, as tends to be the case for any interstellar polity. While (in a relatively unusual case for a star nation) it does not directly control the other services – that being the responsibility of Core Command and the Theater Commands – IN admirals dominate these by the numbers, and strategy is heavily driven by fleet actions.
The IN is, after all, tasked to provide all combat and patrol functions anywhere in the Worlds (and, quite possibly, anywhere else in the galaxy), along with all necessary support functions for the Legions when operating outside the Empire or off-planet within it, and any support functions required by the other stratarchies likewise. With a remit like that…
Well. The First Lord of the Admiralty may be officially styled Protector of the Starways, Warden of the Charted Void, Warlord of the Empire, but it’s the Second Lord, the Admiral of the Fleet, who rejoices in the nickname “King Of All Known Space”.
To achieve all of this, the majority of the Imperial Navy is organized into a number of fleets: the Home Fleet, the Capital Fleet, and the “directional fleets” – the Field Fleets Coreward, Rimward, Spinward, Trailing, Acme, and Nadir. The first of these, the Home Fleet, is based at Prime Base, Palaxias, and is the garrison fleet for the Imperial Core and Fringe, keeping up patrols and strategic defenses along access routes; meanwhile, the Field Fleets operate outside the Empire, each in its assigned sextant, providing continuous patrols and security services from their associated fleet stations.
Capital Fleet, meanwhile, has a double name: on one hand, it is the defensive fleet for the Capital District, the throneworld, Conclave Drift, Corícal, Esilmúr, and Prime Base itself. On the other hand, it also possesses the highest proportion of capital ships in the Imperial Navy, because it forms its major strategic reserve in the event of war breaking out, and is also the fleet from which flotillas and task forces to handle situations that the lighter units of the Field Fleets cannot is formed from. As such, curiously enough, it’s probably also the fleet that sees the most full-contact military action.
There are also certain very specialized functions (command of certain fixed defenses, including tripwires and englobement grids; anti-RKV defenses; the RKV deterrent fleet; relativistic war operations; and so forth) using equally specialized starships that don’t fit neatly into the fleet structure, which are grouped together under specialized areas such as Nightfall Operations Command, Perimeter Security Command, Fortress Command, Tripwire Command, and so forth.
The Imperial Legions are the Empire’s “ground” combat organization, with the understanding that in this case “ground” includes in habitats, on asteroids, in microgravity temps, underwater, and basically anywhere else you can’t fit a starship, including starship-to-starship boarding actions.
They serve both as onboard “ship’s troops” – providing shipboard security, boarding and landing forces, and additional damage control personnel – and as an offensive combat arm with their own assault cruisers, drop pods, shuttles, and ships, and organic light and heavy armored cavalry, which is attached to Naval task forces as required.
The Navy, in turn, is responsible for the Legions’ transportation, escort, and orbital fire support.
As the possessor of the “misc”, various specialized forcelets that don’t fit anywhere else, the Stratarchy of Military Unification is called upon by the Navy and the Legions when they need one of those specialties somewhere, relies upon them for transport, etc., and otherwise has a similar but much less called-upon relationship to the Navy-Legions one.
It is perhaps notable that the Empire has no “Army”-equivalent service: i.e., no branch concentrating on mass warfare, long-term occupation, etc., the Legions being highly specialized in the raiding/commando/special operations/strike-hard-and-fast role. This is entirely deliberate, as the Empire has chosen a policy of deliberately eschewing those types of warfare in the current erato the extent that they are not substitutable. This policy is intended to have a twofold effect:
First, reassurance of the Empire’s neighbors with regard to its own peaceful intentions; the Empire may have a large and potent military force, but any strategic planner with eyes should be able to tell instantly that it is extremely badly adapted for attempts at conquest, and would need considerable reengineering to become a suitable tool for setting out on imperial adventures.
But second, of course, those hostile polities or sub-polity factions whose strategic calculus might let them conclude that they can get away with fighting a long guerilla war against an occupation should think twice when it’s equally obvious to the trained eye that that isn’t one of the options on the Empire’s table, and that the most likely substitution from the force mix they do have is to blast them back into the Neolithic with orbital artillery.
(Occasional miscalculations on this point in the Conclave of Galactic Polities have led to accusations of “k-rod peacekeeping” and on one occasion the Cobalt Peace Wall Incident, but it’s unlikely to change any time soon.)
The IN coordinates its operations and provides transportation (when necessary) for the Stratarchies of Data Warfare, Indirection and Subtlety, and Warrior Philosophy, as well as certain other special services (like, say, preemptively burying hidden tangle channel endpoints where they might be useful). By and large, coordination is the main relationship: Indirection and Subtlety, for example, might consider it a failure if they’ve let things get to the point of there being a war at all, but as long as they’re doing assassinations and sabotage in wartime, it is best if it happens at the appropriate time, belike.
Their biggest relationship apart from the Legions is with the Stratarchy of Military Support and Logistics, which owns the oilers, the logistics bases, the transportation and supply contracts, the freighter fleet, medical and personnel services, etc., etc., and basically all the other logistical back-end needed to run the Military Service that the Navy would be doing for itself if the people who designed these systems didn’t much prefer that they concentrate on specifically naval things. They work closely together to get logistics done, and in wartime, ensure that the logistics functions are adequately escorted and otherwise protected.
The IN has very little at all to do with the Home Guard, it being a domestic security militia force only.
Fleet Concept of Operations
In general what does the fleet do? When and where will the fleet execute the missions defined in the last step? Will the fleet fight near home, along the border, or will it fight in enemy territory? Is it offensive in orientation, or defensive? What’s the standard operating procedure?
In orientation, by and large, the Home Fleet is defensive; the Field Fleets are mostly offensive (although less so to spinward and nadir, where they rub up against the borders with the Republic and the Consciousness, respectively); and the Capital Fleet, which can be called upon to reinforce either, splits the difference with a bias to the offensive side.
On the defensive, the rule of thumb is, as it has always been, “fight as far from whatever you’re trying to defend as possible”. Space battles are messy, and if at all possible, you don’t want to be fighting them with anything you care about preserving as the backstop. Home defense, therefore, involves a “hard crust” – although one backed up by a “firm center” – around the core Empire’s connection to the greater stargate plexus, but expands this by placing pickets, and of course the “field fleet” patrols, well in advance of these. The intent is that the defensive fleets should advance to meet any attacker and take them out, or at least greatly reduce them, before they ever reach Imperial territory.
And, of course, the best defense is a preemptive offense – when Admiralty Intelligence and Indirection and Subtlety can arrange that.
On the offense, the IN adheres to the military doctrine the Empire has always practiced, given various factors previously discussed, namely that only an idiot chooses a fair fight, and only a double-damned idiot fights anything resembling a frontal war of attrition. Misdirection, whittling flank attacks, deep strikes on crucial nexi, and eventual defeat in detail are the hallmarks of the IN’s strategy on the attack.
In terms of scale of operations, the IN plans for disaster: conventional readiness standards call for the IN and the rest of the Military Service to be able to fight three major brushfire wars simultaneously and/or one sub-eschatonic war (i.e. one step below ex-threat, like invasion from a massively larger polity such as the Republic or an unknown higher-tech polity), even while sustaining normal operations. The former, at least, is known to be possible. The latter… has not yet been tested in a completely stringent manner. But that’s what the Admiralty is planning for.
Is the fleet forward deployed (so that it can rapidly deploy to known threats) or based outside of the home system(s)? It is garrison-based, i.e., homeported in the home system(s)? Does it conduct frequent deployments or patrols or does it largely stay near home space and only go out for training? (Fleet posture is not where the starships are based, but instead how they are based and how forward-leaning it is.)
The nature of superluminal travel in many ways defines the nature of the strategic environment. Since travel between star systems is normally done using the stargates, a surface defined in terms of a list of stargate links can be treated, effectively, as a border or as an effective defensive line. While it is possible to bypass such a surface by subluminal (relativistic) travel, this is a sufficiently difficult and expensive process (and one requiring specialty hardware) as to make it a minor strategic consideration, for the most part.
That, at least, frees the IN from having to picket every system all the time.
That said, its posture is as forward-leaning as they can make it. Both the Home Fleet (within the Empire) and the Field Fleets are kept in constant motion, on patrol; the field fleets, in particular, travel on randomly-generated patrol routes from the Imperial Fringe out into the Periphery via various fleet stations and then return, throughout the entire volume of the Associated Worlds. (This requires a great many agreements with various other polities for passage of naval vessels, usually gained with the assistance of Ring Dynamics, ICC, who find this desirable with reference to the defense of their stargates.) Constant motion is the watchword: the IN doesn’t want its task forces to be pinned down or for it to be known where they are at any given moment, and this additionally helps make it very likely that anywhere there’s a sudden need for a task force, there will be starships available for relatively ready retasking. (I say relatively ready: the nature of stargates means that while you can cross from star to neighboring star instantly, you have to cross the star systems in between from stargate to stargate the slow way – and while brachistochrones at single-digit gravities are skiffily impressive by Earth-now standards, they still aren’t exactly express travel between, say, two points 120 degrees apart on the orbit of Neptune.)
The Field Fleets are, in short, about as forward-leaning as it’s possible to be.
The Capital Fleet spends more time in garrison, by its nature, but in addition to training operations, units and squadrons are routinely transferred back and forth to the Field Fleets or dispatched on special operations so that every IN unit maintains at least a minimum degree of seasoning. It’s the view of the Second Lord and BuTrain in particular that a Navy that doesn’t fight is likely to be bloody useless if it ever has to fight, so it’s best all around to keep everyone out there as much as practicable.
 In previous eras, such tasks were the responsibilities of the Legions: should they be needed again, the remit of the Legions is likely to be once again expanded.