Space Battles

Battles in space are of course quite common in science fiction. While they can take many forms, when dealing with hard sci-fi there are a few things that need to be kept in mind.

The big one that almost all movies and TV shows get wrong is distance.

On earth because of the horizon, two targets have to be fairly close to attack each other directly (4 miles or so). The atmosphere also causes a good amount of uncertainty in even the best computer over enough distance.

Neither of these is a factor in space. The closer you get to the target the less options you have. There is no reason not to be light seconds (at least) away if you can manage it.

Acceleration or delta-V (delta is change, V is velocity) is one of the most important factors in a warship.

It is limited first by the ship itself, by its power generation, ect. This you have to determine for yourself.

The other limitation is that of the human body. We can only take 5-10 G’s for any length of time (and anything close to 10g is really pushing it). For very brief periods of time we can take more. Even at only 2 G’s it would start to be dangerous to walk or climb a ladder.

That said one workaround I have in my novel’s setting (I doubt it will come up in the first book, may not even in later ones) is that the top of the line military craft use a liquid atmosphere. Since the lungs are the first organ to fail due to high G’s, a liquid atmosphere takes care of that. A craft like that could go up to 20G’s or more.

Even though there are ways to work around the problem, it is still important to be aware that the problem exists.

Weapons, naturally are also important.

Probably the first thing that comes to mind to most people when I say sci-fi weapons is lasers. While being very cool, as a large scale weapon they leave much to be desired. Thanks to the inverse square law you have to be on top of whatever you are targeting for them to do any good. They also take a lot of power and generate a lot of heat.

I can see them used as a point defense weapon like shooting down missiles and such as they approach you, but as a main weapon I doubt they would do much good.

Plasma weapons (heat and ionize a gas until it becomes a plasma then fling it at your enemy) suffer most of the same problems, if for different reasons. Plasma also has the problem of being much slower then light. Again cool, but I doubt very useful in practice.

Rail guns and missiles are what I would expect to be the weapons of choice.

The main limitations of rail guns are the massive power they take and of course ammunition. While they would probably be little more then slugs of some tough alloy, having neither guidance nor explosives, they could still cause massive damage.

The main two advantages of missiles would be that they could course correct and that they take little to no power from your ship to launch. Depending on how easy it is to make power this could mean that all small ships are missile carriers.

One final thing; detection

The main way you could detect an enemy ship would be it’s thermal signature.

It may be possible to make a ship that is invisible to radar, and so black its effectively invisible in the visible spectrum. Hiding your heat would be much harder.

Radiating heat will be a major problem for any ship, let alone a warship. I am not saying that you can’t have a ship hide it’s heat signature but again be aware of the problem.

So You Want A War

War is, for better or worse, quite common in science fiction. If you want to use it you need to understand at least a few basic things. There are in fact books written on it. I am just going to start with the most basic ideas you need to understand.

First you must understand the goals of each side.

To give a real world example think of the American revolution. The colonies lacked the ability to get even a small military force across the Atlantic. They had zero chance of bringing the British to their knees. Yet they won. They could have lost every battle and still won the war. The goal was to make the cost of victory so high the British were unwilling to pay it.

The strategies used were very different then during the second world war. Both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany launched wars of naked conquest and greed. They had to be beaten back tooth and nail. Both sides reached the points of no return, where victory was not even remotely possible (far before the end) yet they kept fighting.

The goal of a side in war might be simply stated “Make victory cost too much” but it informs everything about how that side fights.

There are times when there is no national goal. This almost always this means someone is meddling. Someone is pushing leaders of one nation into a fight against their own national interest for reasons of their own. If this is the case you need to understand that too.

Modern wars are at least as much economic contests as military ones. Germany’s tanks were better, but the allies had 4 or 5 tanks for every German tank.

When a country is gearing up for war, it affects almost everything about life there. During World War Two whole industries were revamped. Car production stopped for a few years because tank production was more important. Copper was so important for the war effort that the Manhattan project had to use precious metals from Fort Knox when it needed a huge amount of wire.

When a country is at war it completely changes the economy. One of the more subtle ways of showing a country is at war is to start off with showing the economic effects.

A nation can act selfish, but have selfless solders. This is not a contradiction. When I was first learning about World War Two in elementary school, I read something that stuck with me to this day. It was about how when the Japanese emperor went on the radio and surrendered, a peasant was ashamed because she felt that they had failed him.

No one can blame the solders of Imperial Japan of selfishness. That however is the very thing that Japan as a whole was most guilty of. The war was little more then the people of Japan seeing something across the sea and deciding that they wanted it.

The point I am making is that a nation can and often does act in ways that the individuals who comprise it never would. It is a somewhat scary part of human nature that people will do things for their children or their nation that they would never do for just themselves.

While a number of limited wars have occurred of course, they do tend not to happen when both sides feel in danger of being wiped out. I find it hard to believe, for example, that if a nation had nuclear weapons that they would not use them in a do or die situation. It is the same with chemical and biological weapons. In such a situation you would no more hold back than if you were in a knife fight and had the chance to kick someone in the balls. Few would restrain themselves if they thought it was really do or die.