Fleet Communications

A commenter raises an interesting point with regard to fleet communications, which as we have seen in various places, tend to look like this:

FROM: CS GRITFIST (FIELD FLEET RIMWARD)
TO: FIELD FLEET RIMWARD COMMAND (CS ARMIGEROUS PROPERTARIAN)

*** ROUTINE
*** FLEET CONFIDENTIAL E256
*** OVERDUE FOLLOWUP

REF: TASK GROUP R-4-118
REF: OVERDUE STATUS, CS GUTPUNCH

  1. AS PER TASK GROUP ORDERS ORIGINATING CS UNDERBELT, HAVE PROCEEDED WITH COHORT, CS GOUGER, TO LAST KNOWN POSITION CS GUTPUNCH, MALTEVIC SYSTEM.
  2. 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.
  3. RESPONSE TO FORWARDED QUERIES TO SYSTEM ENTRY BUOYS IN NARIJIC AND KERJEJIC SYSTEMS INCLUDES NO HIGH-ENERGY EVENTS.
  4. CS GOUGER WILL PROCEED FORTHWITH TO NARIJIC SYSTEM AND COMMENCE SEARCH GRID SWEEP.
  5. SELF WILL PROCEED FORTHWITH TO KERJEJIC SYSTEM AND COMMENCE SEARCH GRID SWEEP.
  6. MORE FOLLOWS.
  7. AUTHENTICATION MORAINE HAMMOCK VAULT SIMMER GOLDEN PAWL / 0x9981ABD43E3ECC22

ENDS.

…to wit:

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.

-gm

…so what’s the difference and why the stylistic change?

Protocol.

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…

But from a Doylist perspective, all-caps makes a convenient Translation Convention.)

 

Marlinspike-class MAV

So, since I’ve just described the nature of boarding actions, I might as well go ahead and describe the ship used to carry them out when necessary, the Marlinspike-class MAV.

And yes, this does mean that it’s horrible diagram time again.

…or rather not, because Winchell Chung of Atomic Rockets made much better diagram of the Marlinspike-class, which I’m now using instead:

marlinspike

The thing to bear in mind in considering the design of the Marlinspike-class is that it’s built to be disposable: much like the Sledgehammer-class drop shuttle and its kin with their habit of lithobraking, getting there is hard enough that survivability is up front and reusability takes a very distant back seat. And as such, the Marlinspike is about as stripped-down as a small craft can be and still function in role.

The basic hull form is exactly as the name suggests: it’s a narrow-tipped, heavily armored, slender spike, designed to hammer its way into the body of the boarding target and stick there. Its bow (1) is a hardened penetrator whose surface is configured as a contact-fused explosive plasma cutter; i.e., a shaped breaching charge. That’s designed to soften up the outer and pressure hulls of the target such that the momentum of impact (at the several hundred mph differential velocity traditional to this sort of maneuver) can drive the MAV in.

(That initial velocity, incidentally, is provided along with power and attitude control by a strap-on thruster pack (2), which is designed to detach and eject itself at the point of impact – because it has most of the expensive stuff in it, and can be salvaged and reused. Control up to this point is remote, from the parent craft, with limited local AI in the event of communication jamming.)

Once it’s penetrated the hull, the four strips of grip-track (3) located around the hull at 45 degree intervals come into play. Their job is to grab onto the wreckage around them and shove the MAV forward, powered by the onboard accumulators at (6), further into the ship, until it gets to the optimal – or at least a less pessimal – location for the squad of espatiers aboard to disembark. Said espatiers are located in a chamber in the center of the Marlinspike (4), sealed into their own armor (which provides their life support), doped up on anti-g and combat drugs, and strapped into racks in what amounts to a tank filled with concussion gel to protect them from the rapid acceleration and even more rapid deceleration of the ram-and-board maneuver.

Once one of the embarkation hatches (5) – a pair at the fore and aft ends of the chamber to both starboard and port, and a pair amidships to both dorsal and ventral, to allow for the inevitable mismatch between the MAV’s positioning and the target’s internal layout – is in a good position both for disembarkation, and vis-a-vis their target, the squad leader stops the MAV’s advance, detonates the shaped antipersonnel charge embedded into the outboard side of the embarkation hatch (basically the equivalent of a Claymore) to clear the way, then blows the hatch and leads his men out.

Victory or death!

 

Boarders Away!

“There are two types of boarding action: non-contested and contested.

“The former is only moderately terrible: which is to say it is usually carried out in the course of routine inspections or interdictions, or after surrenders, and the starship being boarded has obligingly hove to when requested; one has been able to close with it without problems, and board it through the airlocks or by taking a cutter across; and in all other ways is being cooperative.

“In other words, if it goes wrong – which can happen quite easily even if everyone on the bridge is cooperating – it’s only house-to-house fighting, at point-blank range, in a maze, filled with fragile and dangerous industrial machinery, surrounded by vacuum, with hostile parties in control of the light, air, and gravity. If you’re lucky, no-one will be sufficiently in love with the idea of taking you with them to blow a hole in the reactor containment.

“And then there’s the difficult kind.

“There are actually very few contested boardings. Starship engagements typically happen at long range (light-seconds to light-minutes) and make use of weapons potent enough that surviving vessels are rarely in any condition to be boarded in any sense distinct from salvage and rescue. The exceptions to this general rule come when it is absolutely necessary to recover something valuable from the target vessel – be it hostages, a courier’s package, some classified piece of equipment, or the valuable data stored in the starship’s command computers – which will inevitably be destroyed if the vessel is forced to surrender.

“Achieving this requires a series of highly improbable operations to all go off perfectly in sequence.

“First, the approach: getting to the ship you intend to board; i.e., closing to suicide range, which may involve either surviving the fire from its cohorts, or cutting it out of its formation. This always, however, requires both surviving its fire while closing and depriving it of the ability to evade your approach and to take offensive action against the relatively fragile boarding party.

“So, in the course of matching orbits, you have to disable the drives, disable its weapons systems able to bear on your quadrant of approach, disable the point-defense laser grid (which can slice apart small craft at close range) and defense drones likewise, and disable the kinetic barriers that would otherwise hold off your approach to the hull; all of which you must do with sufficient careful delicacy that you don’t destroy the valuable part of the vessel that you want to claim in the process.

“Second, having achieved this, you must then board the target starship. In a contested boarding, you do not do this through the airlocks: they lead directly to designed-in choke points and people whose job it is to repel boarders, and if they retain attitude control, they can throw a spin on their ship that docking clamps won’t hold against. This is the job of the microgravity assault vehicle, affectionately known as the boarding torpedo, which serves to carry a squad of espatiers into an unexpected part of the target vessel – preferably near enough to the target within the target to make seizure easy, but not close enough to cause its destruction – by ramming, burning through the armor and the pressure hull, and crawling forward until an ideal position is reached or it can go no further.

“(This assumes that you are following the standard model, which people are constantly trying to improve on. One captain I served under rigged saddles for his AKVs and had us ride them to point-blank range of the target, then drop to its hull and take out the laser grid emitters directly. I would not recommend this tactic.)

“Then it’s guaranteed house-to-house fighting, at point-blank range, in a maze, filled with fragile and dangerous industrial machinery, surrounded by vacuum, with hostile parties in control of the light, air, and gravity.

“Third, you must do all of this very fast, for one reason or another. The above operations are not subtle, and your target will know you are trying to board them as soon as you start sharpshooting to disable. If you have terrorists or pirates, this is when they start shooting hostages. If your target is a military starship, though, as soon as they see a boarding attempt, the bridge, damage control central, and the maneuvering room all put one hand on the arming keys for their fusion scuttling charges, and as soon as any two of them conclude that they can’t repel boarders, they’ll scuttle. All you have to do is get sufficiently inside their response loop that you can punch them all out before that happens. (And once armed, it takes positive action to prevent the scuttling, so you can’t take the otherwise obvious short-cut.)

“All of which should explain why espatiers ship out with six times as many warm spares as their naval counterparts.”

– Maj. Esvan Solanel, the 22nd (“Alatian Highlanders”) Imperial Legion, Retd.

Trope-a-Day: Space Police

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…)

Trope-a-Day: Space Mines

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.

…in SPACE!

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:

  1. Ancyran units are not trained in microgravity operations and space safety.
  2. Neither EAVS nor skinsuits are available for the given unit composition.
  3. Even if standard skinsuits were available, necessary tack and equipment would interfere with their operation, and vice versa.
  4. A squad of this unit composition cannot be accommodated, volumetrically, within a Marlinspike-class MAV without significant modification.
  5. Neither skinsuits nor EAVs are rated for physical activities involved in Rampaging Beast Style melee combat.
  6. It is not possible to bite from within an environmentally sealed helmet.
  7. 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.

– im/FA

Building the Imperial Navy: Force Management

Building-a-NavyAnd 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.

Personnel Policies

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.

Logistics Concept

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 journey of 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.)

Acquisition Strategy

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.

…and now we’re done.