Worldbuilding: Sail Plans

Taking a brief moment to hand out a random factlet, let us turn from space navy to wet navy. Old school wet navy.

Did you know that the most widely used rig back in the days of sail, especially by the Alatian fleet, the largest both mercantile and military and which went on to form the core of the Imperial fleet, was a variation on what on Earth is called the junk rig?

(Well, no, you didn’t, because I’ve only just told you. It was a rhetorical question.)

Using bamboo battens and silk sailcloth, even, for a very Eastern flavor for the Earth reader.

The chief experimenters with alternate rigs and modifications to the standard junk rig were the actual Alatian Navy, principally because the major flaw in the junk rig is its difficulty in sailing close-hauled (i.e., close to into the wind), but in contrast, it’s exceedingly efficient at sailing with the wind, and requires – always a consideration – a rather smaller crew to manage it than a typical western rig.

With careful attention to hull design, too, the eventual junk-rigged clippers and windjammers of the Alatian merchant fleet ruled the ocean trade up to, and even into, the steam era: as their sailors would cheerfully point out, the trade winds were very reliable, and given that, that a good rig could deliver as much or more power than steam could, and also that it didn’t require all that fuel taking up space that could contain earning cargo kept the sailships in business, and in many cases those which carried steam engines used them as an auxiliary power source only, for when the wind failed.

(Why this digression into nautical history? I have no idea. But I found it an interesting piece of the universe, and so I wrote it down.)

Trope-a-Day: Standard Sci-Fi Army

Okay, let’s try this again, with much more saving of drafts…

Standard Sci-Fi Army, eh? Well, not sure how much I have to say about that that’s new, because of all the things I’ve already written about the Imperial Legions elsewhere, but let’s see what I do have.

(Actually, first I’m going to register an objection to the trope write-up up front and say that, in actuality a disturbing amount of science fiction, especially the visual kind, does not follow this army standard, because this army standard implies a balanced combined arms approach.

Compare that to, say, Star Trek, whose approach to ground combat involves landing a bunch of starship crewmen with sidearms to play the part of cannon fodder extremely light infantry, or Starship Troopers – the movie, not the book – in which they have actual light infantry but the only military maneuvers they appear to have mastered are the “broken-formation rabble charge”, the “rout” and the “circular firing squad”.

When Star Wars is the best I can think of at depicting realistic army-type military operations on screen, it should be clear that visual SF has a long way to go.)

The Imperial Legions, contrariwise, do follow a balanced combined-arms approach. Leaving aside those things specifically mentioned below, the only huge omissions from their portfolio are artillery units and an air force, both of which are supplied by the Imperial Navy: the former in the form of orbital bombardments by KEWs, and the latter in the form of atmosphere-capable AKVs sortieing from aerospace cruisers in low planetary orbit.

(They are comfortable with this, by and large, because landing a military force planetside when you don’t have orbital superiority is merely an expensive way to get lots of people killed.)

The main body of the Legions contains both infantry and cavalry: light infantry (really regular line mechanized infantry who come with IFVs which they leave behind when it’s time to play light/scout infantry) and heavy infantry (the big guys in the powered armor that lets them punch out buildings); and light cavalry (skimmer-riding “dragoons” and “hussars” who can fight both mounted and dismounted, fast-moving scouts, skirmishers, and raiders) and heavy cavalry (main battle tanks and modular swapout units of similar weight, which cover a lot of specialized territory – see article).  All of these, naturally, come accompanied by plentiful drone support and at least one attached wing of organic close air support.

(The organic close-air support is provided by the G7-BU Sunhawk (imagine the IN SPACE version of the A-10 “Warthog” Thunderbolt II reconceptualized as a tilt-turbine/hybrid rocket) and its smaller cousin the G12-BU Falcon, which can fly like a plane, float like a helicopter, and sting like the giant mass driver that the whole damn airframe is wrapped around.)

A substantial proportion of each of these types are trained as stormtroopers, which is to say, to make orbital drop assaults – and so named because they arrive with the speed of lightning and the sound of thunder, and wreck the crap out of anything that isn’t under deep cover. Yes, even the heavy cavalry. (Hello, Flapjack!)

(Further side note: and where that Super Soldier trope is concerned – hey, this is the Empire. Everyone who passes the first half of the Anvil receives the finest milspec augmentations that the budget will pay for. Quantity may have a quality all its own, but the IL prefer the quality of quality, any day.)

Everyone, including specialized legions, is one of these types first. That’s the legionary way. First you’re a legionary, then you’re something else.

Now, where these specializations are concerned, headquarters and logistics functions are usually provided by other bits of the IMS, (Theater/Battlespace Command and the Stratarchy of Military Support and Logistics, respectively), but various specialized legions built off the same basic platform provide combat engineers, intelligence, guards, field medical services, communications specialists, MPs, siege specialists, sappers, peacekeepers, snipers, saboteurs, recon specialists, special forces, Very Special forces, battle theater preparation specialists, underwater specialists, underoil specialists, subterranean specialists, hunter legions, terror legions, scouts, applied eschatologists, and pretty much any other class of military specialists millennia of experience has come up with.

Not seen: mecha. Because survivability no, and when your AKVs and drones can fly and your skimmers can hover and even your MBTs can at least hop, putting legs on things is really kinda pointless.

Finally, there’s also the wet navy. Technically, the wet navy isn’t part of the Legions, it’s part of the Stratarchy of Military Unification, but it’s the IL that call upon it when they need to deal with water worlds (or oil worlds, etc.), so it’s covered under this trope.

(Note: the rest of this is subject to change as I haven’t done a sophisticated work-up on wet-naval strategy yet.)

It’s rather more limited than it used to be, certainly in terms of that part of it that goes abroad and thus has to be delivered by dropship. That, and the age of the aircraft carrier is long since over, because when the battlespace is full of missiles and orbital weapons, it suffers from the same large, fat target problems as other giant types…

…so a modern wet navy task group tends to consist of three types, in varying proportions:

“Cruisers”, as the “capital ships”, which concentrate on mini-AKV and missile armament and a command-ship role. (Major air offenses being better launched from near orbit.)

“Destroyers”, fast and nimble attack vessels, and indeed that means they’re usually hydrofoils or ekranoplans with mass drivers. The aircraft of the sea.

And submarines, continuing their traditional role of being holes in the water that no-one notices until the no-one in question explodes suddenly for no readily apparent reason.