Improvisation Kills

It is a truism of celestial warfare that among the most valuable targets to seize in the course of a major planetary assault operation is the primary planetary starport or local starports close to the  intended target(s) of the operation. Starports, for all the obvious reasons, make perfect orbitheads, offering existing facilities eminently suitable for the landing and disembarkation of troops and materiel in quantity. (Orbital elevators, by contrast, are usually considered too fragile and susceptible to sabotage for this purpose, if the enemy are willing to absorb the ensuing damage to their own planet, until the orbitals and the continental area surrounding the elevator have been entirely secured.)

Why, then, are combat drops rarely, if ever, targeted at the vicinity of starports?

Again, it is important to remember that which is unseen. The popular image of starports is heavily biased towards the facilities for ground-landing starships – understandably, since the giant launch/landing pads built to handle nucleonic-thermal ships, with their blast-deflecting berms, “hot” shafts, and motile structures are some of the most impressive structures ever built – and towards the shuttleport terminals used by commuters and starship passengers alike. Nonetheless, the majority of cargo in the developed Worlds is carried by dedicated spacecraft incapable of atmospheric landing, to and from which cargo is transp0rted in high volumes using suitably cheap methods: either laser-launch/deceleration facilities, mass drivers, or both, in which case the former handles light or delicate cargo and the latter hardbulk.

What this means in military terms is that, any other defense grid aside, the majority of starports in the developed Worlds have at their disposal a multi-gigawatt-range phased-array laser system, and/or a pair of mass drivers capable of accelerating a solid slug the size of a shipping container (or, equally effective, a shipping container packed with rubble or cheap heavy-metal ingots) to orbital velocities – both, admittedly, equipped with safety systems designed to prevent them from being used in exactly the manner which is desirable for military purposes, but that is something usually corrected readily enough by a software change – along with all the high-resolution traffic-control sensor equipment needed to target them effectively.

It is also a truism of warfare in general that one shouldn’t stab a heavily-armed man in the front. That is doubly relevant when the things they’re using as weapons are also the value that you want to capture.

– Elementary Principles of Orbit-to-Ground Maneuver Plans, pub. INI Press

Trope-a-Day: Bottomless Magazines

Bottomless Magazines: Not literally true, but due to the architecture of modern Imperial firearms, it often seems that way.  A typical example has three types of “ammunition”, in a consumables-you-need-to-fire sense: a metal-containing “magazine cartridge” that the flechettes the weapon actually fires are produced from; an energy cell to power the mass driver that makes it work; and a heat sink (containing the same high specific heat capacity thermal goo we’ll be talking about later in Deflector Shields) to give you somewhere to dump the waste heat produced by said mass driver so your gun doesn’t melt.

The flechettes are small enough and light enough (grain-of-sand size, made up for by extremely high velocity) that by and large you should never need to change the magazine, even in a whole sequence of firefights of unlikely length, although you may want to swap in a new one at maintenance time, just to be sure.  The heat sink usually only needs to be swapped out at maintenance time (the goo may eventually crystallize), because in normal operation the radiative striping on the gun should be able to get the heat dumped in between uses, but if you routinely keep up sustained volumes of fire, you can carry some spare heat sinks with you and field-swap them to let you keep it up beyond what would otherwise be the weapon’s thermal limit.  The energy cell is actually the thing you’re likely to need to swap most often, and it usually holds enough energy for a good couple of hours of firing, so while you may need to change it, you still probably won’t need to change it that often.

And of course, those magnificent legionaries in their combat exoskeletons have their guns plugged into the much larger energy and cooling reserves of their armor, so those guys really do have de facto bottomless magazines.