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Tactics.

So far we’ve talked mostly about ship verses ship battles, but the tactical ebb and flow of space conflict is just as important. Now, while I’m sure at least a few of my audience are at least familiar with 3D combat I’m going to go through a few basics[1], specifically some of the shifts from 2D warfare.

Now first, there is no line sight. If you have a rough idea where the enemy fleet is then you spot them against the background due to their thermal emissions. There is no stealth[2] and theoretically you can spot a fleet around another star if your scopes are sensitive enough, however there is a serious issue of light lag. Faster than light travel but no faster than light communications mean that information quickly becomes woefully out of date, and a ship you spot orbiting around Jupiter could have jumped and already be blasting a hole in you reactor[3].

Second, battles are fast, most being over within a half hour. Smaller battles, especially in the Independence Wars could be finished in five minutes. This is due to the sheer power of a lot of the weapons and how little armour the smaller ships can carry[4], but seriously impacts the tactical options a commander has. With no cover and little option but an emergency jump for retreat most battles are joined until one side surrenders, with no time for rest, re-arming and repairs in-between.

Thirdly, it is in fact 3D. While there is a slight tendency for most battles to take place on the solar equator[5], this is by no means a hard and fast rule, and an enemy fleet can appear above, bellow, beside, behind and even in-between your ships[6], and because of jump this can occur without warning. This naturally makes defensive formations, or even defences themselves, quite difficult to maintain and it can mean that offence is better than defence even while protecting fixed installations[7].

Finally, and most importantly, there is no resistance. A charge on the enemy lines is all well and good, but at some point you have to turn and burn or your entire fleet will be showing their tails. Likewise if you have to spin your formation to meet an enemy charge then your captains are going to have to be dealing with that momentum for the rest of the battle and it could be critical.

There are a few more general ones. Your weapons, while theoretically having infinite range are less and less likely to hit anything the further they travel so have a finite effective range[8] [9]. Distances look huge on paper, but theoretically your ships could pull twenty to thirty G and still function so you’re always closer than you think, though any gunner will tell you you’re never close enough. Also, formations aren’t just there to make your fleet look fancy, they are key to your survival. But that’s the next lecture.

Any Questions? (link to forum discussion)


[1] If anyone wishes to add to anything I’ve missed please feel free.

[2] There is still misdirection. A ten second sensor sweep will pinpoint all the major heat sources in an area and any minor power plants, but a load of chilled warheads sitting off your bows won’t be quite so obvious. Likewise, you may initially flag a vessel as a freighter fleeing the battle and, while there is no denying that it was spotted, few expect it to carry quite so many guns.

[3] There is a very good trick here where you enter from jump at an odd vector and so it can appear that you have two fleets, one waiting in reserve. This ruse rarely works for long, but easily long enough.

[4] Fighters particularly have a reputation for going down with just a kick in the shins.

[5] That’s the plane of rotation of the local planets.

[6] Cadets laugh at that last one, but when it does happen you get cut to ribbons.

[7] Beware though, this siege method has been used to draw out headstrong commanders and isolate them from their support bases. In one instance the attacking fleet gave the defenders the slip, beat the local garrison, and were in full control of the planet before the defenders could turn around for a return jump.

[8] Regardless of what a physicist will tell you.

[9] Also do spray and pray, the transport committee has a field day as all that ordinance can remain in orbit for years.

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