How would battles in space actually go?

Let’s ignore physics, and assume we have laser guns, anti-gravity, counter-inertial-drives, and whatever else you like zipping around.
Let’s also assume we have some people who want to fight each other in space.

What would it look like?
How would modern strategy evolve to fit the third dimension? Would moves like flanking work, when you now have so much more space to fill?

Would ships be long and thin, like they are currently, or would they evolve into spheres/disks/what?
If you had long-ships, you could broad-side someone, but if you had disks, you could point an edge at them, and pound them with a third of your weapons, while rotating to keep damaged sections out of the way of new fire, and to let weapons cool down. A sphere would have no clear place to attack (unless it’s the death star), but would be impracticle to move. Probably better for guarding something.

I suspect that initially at least, it would be two ships, as heavily armoured as possible lobbing missiles at each other, and using CIWS to take out the other guys missiles until one of them took too much damage.
But I also think that as technology developed, fighters (or at least drones) would come into existence. What better to take out those missile turrets than small, hard-to-target vehicles?
At that point it would be two mother-ships lobbing missiles and fighters at each other… If we throw beam weapons into the mix though, strategy changes hugely, as now you can target a non-front-line ship easily and accurately. If you had something to protect, you’d have to gather yourself into a solid wall between the beam and the target to protect it.

So, for you writers and brains out there, write, (or present in another way), present a semi-realistic confrontation between two groups of equal-technology people in space.

Well, surprise is always relevant,

another thing to remember, at that point you may be able to collect and recycle your robots and also the enemies , the guy with the most/strongest toys wins, so gobbling up resources to “print” weapons/vehicles etc, would be big, so “peons” from this standpoint may actually help turn the tide,

also initiating some type of star eruption always seemed like a awesome weapon,
I hit here, and a huge well of plasma erupts from the sun, vaporizing everything it hits,

another thing, the more advanced, the easier it may be to absorb incoming energy weapons, and re-direct them back at the enemy…

Ships could be any shape, for utilitarian purposes, aesthetics, or some combination.

Assuming we have the goodies you suggest, doesn’t mean are opponents do; they may have left such primitive tools behind long ago.

Personally, confrontations between parties of equal technology and ability are likely to lead to stalemate; this is likely to be very costly for little affect. I hope that both parties would suspect this so all-out conflicts might be less likely. Think the cold-war that ended in the nineties.

They could start by accident of course (or by the design of individuals for personal reasons - money and power probably.), but one would hope that both sides might actually try to resolve a situation before billions of their citizens are killed.

Wars are usually fought by the desperate with inferior technology, or by the technologically superior to enforce their will for a variety of reasons and often dressed up in terms that justify their action. Sometimes their are surprises: David and Goliath scenarios do exist.

I wrote the following as a back-story for a space invaders type game I wrote using c# and xna:


“You wanted to see me, Sir?”

“Come in, Captain. We have a little problem.”

The captain felt his eyebrow rise. Air Marshal Bennett’s definition of little tended to be fatal. Succumbing to the inevitable, he spoke.

“How can I help, Sir?”

“Splendid! `Knew I wouldn’t have to ask.”

Despite himself, Blake’s lips give an involuntary twitch.

“Indeed, Sir.”

“It’s probably nothing, but there is something that needs checking out.” The Space Marshal frowns as he glances at the directional hologram on his desk. “What I’m about to explain to you must remain Top Secret; indeed, it is beyond that. But you need the information, otherwise it could have a deleterious affect on you performing the-” he paused, still frowning at his display. His normally ruddy complexion turned a pasty white.

"Well… " Shaking his head slightly he refocussed his eyes on the Captain. “Well! It would appear to be more than a little problem. As I was about to say: about half a light-year out from Sol there is a shield system. It prevents anyone or anything from passing through. With me so far?”

“Considering who you are, Sir; I presume this isn’t an elaborate hoax, so yes. I understand your words, but it’s.” His voice trailed off.

“Indeed. Putting it bluntly, half the universe is closed off to us - at least as far as we’ve explored to date.”

“It would have to be massive. Do we know who built it? Why?”

“As to who? No. I’ve a feeling the why just might be knocking at the proverbial door.”


“We have space stations monitoring parts of the shield. A mixture of curiosity, research and good old-fashioned paranoia - which, it turns out, is a good thing. It seems the shield has begun to fail. Anything on the other side can come through. Your task is to investigate sector two two three seven…”

Captain Blake felt the memory fade as the effects from the hyperdrive’s shut down played havoc with his concentration. Up until this moment he hadn’t really believed in the shield’s existence. It was too incredible. But he could see it stretching into infinity on the viewscreens; needing to physically see it he got up from his chair and walked over to the specially reinforced viewport; it was harder to see, but still there.

As he watched ripples ran up and down, relative to his position, its surface; when they had ceased it appeared to be covered in a checkered-grey mesh. Returning to his seat, he brought up the magnification on his primary display. His eyebrows rose in surprise and he felt hairs dancing on the back of his neck.

It wasn’t a grey mesh covering it. It had broken up into countless numbers of shields(?), between each was plenty of room for a good-sized cruiser. He rubbed at the ache the suddenly formed frown was causing and increased the magnification to maximum. A chill spread through his body.

He could see craft, alien craft of some weird design, waiting just the other side. Row upon row of them.

“Little problem,” he muttered to himself. “I think this just might be the biggest little problem ever.” He smiled at his own meagre attempt at gallows-humour.

He pressed a button, setting all ancillary functions to AI controll with voice backup. “Send Report,” he instructed the AI’s invisible presence.

“Sent,” came the customary curt reply.

“Lets go greet them.”

“Be sure they are hostile. I must remind you, Captain, that I have been instructed to prevent any justified claim that we opened hostilities.”

“Noted, but they sure didn’t come in peace. Even you must accept that.”

“I deal in facts, and the facts are leaning in your favour. But leaning isn’t conclusive.”

Muttering to himself again, Blake strapped in and engaged main the thrusters.

He had a planet to save…

To make a scenario interesting, I don’t think you can completely ignore physics. I think that opens the door to too many “ultimate weapons”. You could maybe just ignore a few rules and bend some others.

That said, I do think the amount of space involved would be the biggest challenge to tactics. Their aren’t too many rocks to hide behind, and heat signatures would stand out from the background like a light bulb. So I think most of the technology focus will be on hiding and shielding. Ships might always be dark coloured, or maybe tech would move towards adaptive camouflage - able to change colour, or absorb more wavelengths depending on the environment it’s hiding in. Small cross section, stealth designed forms might reduce a ships profile against radar and other detectors. This might all probably lead to the preference of hit and run strikes with long range weapons. If we currently have the ability (albeit with some luck involved) to find dead cold, 100 meter objects that pass near to Earth with today’s meager optics, I think it will be immensely harder to hide a large ship in wide open space in an advanced future.

Small fighters might be reserved for the defense of larger vessels, atmospheric and orbital engagements or reconnaissance. I think most of the space battles seen in film and TV try to elicit the excitement and horror and chaos of the hand to hand combat of the days of yore. As technology has evolved, combatants have moved further and further apart. While having swarms of fighters in close combat in space makes a great visual, it doesn’t make military sense.

Hmm. Some interesting points made here.
I also posted this on another site, and they came to the same conclusion: stealth and not being detected is the key to survival.

After that came two opinions:

  • Missiles
  • Mass-driver

Missiles are good for super-long range, but are easy for CIWS to see and target.
A mass-driver is defeated simply by moving slightly, but nearly impossible to stop, even if you can see them. Hence: manouverability of ships is quite important.

I reckon though, that to try make missiles defeat the CIWS systems, they would slowly turn into drones. Probably not human-pilotable due to speed, but in order for a missile to get through, you either have to overwhelm the CIWS (needs lots of missiles), or be able to dodge. Insane AI could handle this, but then you have to have pretty decent control systems on board, and some brain will change the explosive warhead to a gun of some kind.

Advances in electromagnetics may mean the end to mass-driver warfare too. As a projectile comes out of a mass-driver barrel, it’s probably magnetized slightly, or at least it could be magnetized. (assuming a rail-gun style launcher). By creating a massive electric field you could change it’s course slightly, and if the projectile was in the field long enough, it would miss. because ships won’t be close (to avoid the enemies shots), there should be plenty of time.
Also, in space mass is the most vital aspect of your ship. If you have some fabrication system, then losing mass means you can repair your ship less, and so on. This would lead to a rise in energy weapons.

Space-ships are radiation hardened and well insulated to preserve crew, so they will have some natural stealth when not under power, but I think you’re right in that advances in stealth will be required.
As for hit and run, I hope you’re targeting computers are good, as you’ll pass at really fast speeds.

I haven’t yet read through the whole thread (about to get back to work) but I thought I’d mention the SSV Normandy-SR1 and SR2 (SR = Stealth & Reconnaissance), from the Mass Effect games - it uses some sort of heat-sink system (I can’t remember the details, I’d have to check the in-game Codex) to re-absorb any emissions and effectively become “invisible” to any scanners. There’s still a chance that it would be spotted visually, of course.
The stealth system also doesn’t last forever, as it would eventually cook the crew alive if not “vented”.

Haven’t finished ME3 yet, though, so I’ve yet to see the final push against those freakin’ annoying Reapers :wink:

A very devastating weapon would be a “relativistic mass cannon”

a projectile that weighs almost as much as a small moon from all the input momentum,

this would both blow a hole in a ship and turn it inside out almost, as it blew out the back,

another thing to think of,

I could steer a large asteroid in front of me, and charge at you… if you did not see me launch it, you will not know I am about to pop out from behind it,

Hmm. Heatsinking everything into some place may work, but you still have the problem of your ships engines. Even ion-drives will be detectable I think.

Asteroids are few and far between, even in the asteroid belt. Even if you do find one, it is a devastating shot, but getting it to hit would be nearly impossible. Too slow, and once you’ve started, you can’t change where it’s aimed.

A better relativistic mass cannon will accelerate a large nucleus up to 99.999% of the speed of light. I can’t find the link to it now, but several years back a single proton hit the atmosphere at some massive speed. I need to find that article again.

Sorry to reference Mass Effect again, but even if this is theoretically impossible, I’m in awe of the time Bioware spent creating all this background content :slight_smile:

From the ME wiki, on the Tantalus mass-effect field Drive core:

The Normandy’s IES (internal emission sink) stealth system is her most notable feature. For centuries, it was assumed that starship stealth was impossible. The heat generated by routine shipboard operations is easily detectable against the near absolute zero background temperature of space. The Normandy, however, is able to temporarily “store” this heat in lithium heat sinks deep within the hull.
The IES stealth system has a few limitations. The system doesn’t work during FTL flight because this blue-shifts the Normandy’s emissions beyond the sinks’ ability to store, and even while out of FTL, any visual scan (i.e. looking out of a window) will reveal her. However, this is rare since most ships rely on scanners rather than visual contact and spotting another ship in space is difficult. The Normandy can go to ‘silent running’ for around 2-3 hours, or drift passively through a system for days before having to vent and give away her position. The stored heat must eventually be radiated, or it will build up to levels capable of cooking the crew alive.

The stealth system is powered by an experimental piece of equipment called the Tantalus Drive Core which is, proportionally, about twice the size of any other ship’s core - Tali’Zorah nar Rayya is fascinated at how the Alliance managed to fit it into such a compact vessel. Joker mentions the oversized drive core affects the Normandy’s balance, but it’s nothing he can’t handle. The Tantalus drive generates mass concentrations that the Normandy “falls into”, allowing her to move without the use of heat-emitting thrusters. The core not only makes the Normandy quiet and fast, but means she can run at FTL speeds for much longer before having to discharge the drive.

Moving without emitting energy, relying on the mechanics of the universe. Now that is awesome :yes:

…only problem is, mass-related tech is dependant on Element Zero, which doesn’t exist. Oh well.

Wait…couldn’t any modern gun be considered a relativistic mass cannon? I can’t speak from first-hand experience (thankfully) but don’t bullets hit really hard compared to how much they weigh?

EDIT - Sorry, accidentally hit the Post button instead of Cancel after copy-pasting :o

I’m not sure if there is specific case BluePrintRandom was speaking of, but as far as I know you are partly correct. I think the key is the relativistic part. From my reading experience, ‘relativistic’ is usually reserved for speeds close to that of light. At such speeds something weighing as little as a potato would impart devastating energies on impact of something dense enough. Too thin a target and it would likely just pass through. Still bad news for an air-tight ship, but not likely to completely destroy a war vessel. Problem is, it would be an enormous energy expense to achieve those speeds.

The fictional tech that I like most, and may even have some chance of becoming real if those nasty little gravitons and Higgs Bosons could be utilized is that of the Yuuzhan Vong (wiki: from the Star Wars novels. Being able to control gravity enough for propulsion, shielding and capturing would be very difficult to defend against, very quite, and present no heat signature.

Good points - however I can’t read the word “potato” anymore, it always makes me think of Portal 2 :wink: I’d forgotten the relativistic part, though like you said the amount of energy required would be impractical.

I’ve never read any of the Star Wars novels, but from your description (and the quick reading I did in that link) the Yuuzhan Vong sound very similar to the Reapers in Mass Effect (there I go again), but in reverse.
Wouldn’t controlling mass be similar to controlling gravity though, since gravity is simply mass warping space-time?

Also, I wonder what it would mean for our technology if those guys over at SERN - er, I mean CERN - actually discover the Higgs? :eyebrowlift2:

This is making me want to read up on the Mass Effect game, I’ve never played it though.
My limited understanding is that the boson is supposed to impart mass to matter, and said mass warps space leading to gravity, so ya I guess if you can control the effect of the Higgs, you are in essence controlling both at the same time.

I can definitely recommend it :yes: You can actually get the Trilogy box-set for 360/PS3, which is what I have - PS3, that is. Haven’t yet finished ME3 though (no spoilers, anyone).

From what I remember that sounds about right.
Come on CERN, discover the Higgs already so we can build ourselves a Normandy :RocknRoll:

Gravity will be a good weapon, assuming you can ‘target’ it. All you do is create a gravity well near your target, and watch it tear itself apart.

As for gravity related drives, I’m pretty sure anything in the district will notice a gravity change if there is anything nearby. Grav drives are common enough in fiction, and turn up in many books (Alan Dean Foster’s books for one, the KK drive). However, the gravity drive has one limit: you can’t go near a planet or things may start being pulled up towards your ship. This includes things like gravel. You may tear the planet apart if you get to close.
Actually, a sensitivive accelerometer and hyper accurate navigation equipment may work at detecting a gravity source. This would detect a gravity drive when it’s in use, and if no-one on the ship moves, then possibly one with it off as well. No hiding anymore!!!

Blast, foiled again.

Although, in my defense, that fictional use of it is targeted. It has something to do with shaping and directing gravitational waves, but they never really explain how without using even more fictional tech, but it’s still kind of cool.

And I kind of disagree about not going near other objects. Gravity is relative to the masses and distances involved, so if your ship weighs say 10,000 kg - that’s all you need to move. You don’t need a drive with infinite power, just enough to overcome your own mass to the speed desired. If you approach a planet weighing 5x10^24 kg (approx. earth), the planet won’t even notice you. You might pull yourself past the point of avoiding crashing on it, but I don’t believe you’d move it.

Edit: Isn’t it weird that such a rhetorical topic can drive such an in-depth discussion?

Actually, if I’m not mistaken the gravitational pull of the ship would in fact affect the planet, but the effect would be so insignificant that it probably wouldn’t be noticed for a loooong time. And then another ship would affect it in this way, and another in that way, so I think the planet should be relatively safe.
Maybe asteroids would be a bigger problem, however, considering their mass is so much smaller. A sizeable ship might pull dust off of it gravitationally, and if not gravitationally then probably magnetically.

[EDIT] Basically, wouldn’t a gravity-based drive have to generate a gravitic “field” as strong or stronger than the planet itself in order to pull up material below while in space? And a gravity-based engine wouldn’t necessarily be needed once you get close enough either, so they’d probably switch to some other kind of engine for atmospheric entry. [/EDIT]

In most space-based sci-fi I’ve seen so far, you would indeed need to move further away from the planet before using a mass-related engine, or making a hyperspace jump / warp. Seems a planet can mess with trajectories (I’m thinking of Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly, Mass Effect, etc)
Or for instance in Mass Effect 2 (is anyone keeping a tally of how many times I reference the games?), because the SSV Normandy-SR2 is so much bigger than the original SR1 (twice as big IIRC), they have to use a shuttle to land on certain planets because of varying gravitational strengths.
If I’m not mistaken the USS Enterprise is similar, or maybe beaming up/down is just more practical. I’m no Star Trek expert though (however, definitely looking forward to Into Darkness​)

Edit: Isn’t it weird that such a rhetorical topic can drive such an in-depth discussion?

It’s because we’re all nerds :wink: Nerd/geek and proud to be one!

EDIT - also, I’m no physics expert, I just like reading about it from time to time :wink:

I agree with the lightspeed/hyperspace reasons, and actually Asimov’s ‘Nemesis’ had a great alternate reason - in normal space, gravity is attractive, but in hyperspace it is repulsive. But at the speeds in the SW novels, it wouldn’t be an issue. They don’t achieve much more than the tie-fighters and x-wings do.

And I knew it was a nerd thing, I was just too afraid of a virtual wedgie to say it.
“And the geek shall inherit the earth.”

Night folks.

Aah, Nemesis, I’ve yet to read that one. Love Asimov’s sci-fi, especially the first three Foundation books :yes:

What about the fastest hunk’a junk in the galaxy? :wink:

Hmmm. “How would the adept to 3 dimensions?” I don’t know. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to go back to watching F-15 launch jdams.