Home Forums Sci Fi General Sci-Fi Sci Fi Fighters – Why?

This topic contains 37 replies, has 17 voices, and was last updated by  William Minsinger 2 years, 5 months ago.

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  • #63731

    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    So I’m writing the rules for my latest project, which is essentially a ‘port’ of the old Victory Games Fleet series into a futuristic, ‘hard sci go’ setting, and I’ve hit a sticky wicket.

    The role of aircraft in planetary/atmospheric combat is obvious – increased striking range, ability to deliver payload where others can’t etc. But do any of those factors really apply in space?

    We’ve all watched squadrons of X-Wings wheel and deal, but would lots of small fighters actually be useful in space battles? Can they do anything that couldn’t be achieved more efficiently by lever vessels? After all, there’s no terrain really out there, and the fighters aren’t going to have greater range or striking power?

    Anyone got any thoughts? Do large groups of small ships have any realistic role?

    #63739
    Victoria Dickson
    Victoria Dickson
    Participant

    I’d think it depends what type of weapons your scifi setting has, if they would find it harder to hit a swarm of small targets than one big target.

    #63740
    Mike
    Mike
    Keymaster

    Assuming that huge ships fighting at long distances would have plenty of time to avoid/counter any incoming threat then how do they take each out?
    They need to decrease that time to react, so getting closer is the key.
    But can a huge ship just mosey up close to another huge ship without being shot to bits?
    Maybe a small ship can get in close to the enemy vessel without being hit?
    These small ships can deliver a small but critical hit on the big ship.
    So the other ship now needs it’s own small ships to take out the enemy ones.

    I see it as two big ships trying to get close enough to broadside one another.
    But rather than do nothing as they close, they send in smaller ships in advance to knock out the enemy weapons so when they do broadside, only their guns are working.

    #63746
    Retroboom
    Retroboom
    Participant

    Also remember that these ships are going tens of thousands miles per hour. Think about how difficult and how much cooperation it takes for our real space craft to meet each other. Dunno if that helps or hurts the case for fighters, but its an interesting part of “real” space combat depending on how “hard” you’re trying to go.

    www.RetroBoom.com
    Stafford, Va. Let's play!

    #63749
    Derek H
    Derek H
    Participant

    Rule of Cool!

    #63750
    MartinR
    MartinR
    Participant

    Most/many/all of our models of space warfare are based on WW2 naval warfare, so naturally you have swarms of fighters.

    In the harder science sets (Traveller/Imperium) fighters are pretty useless against dreadnoughts though, whereas in Starfire (which quite openly stated they were basically a naval set), they are really rather good. In Star Wars, fighters mainly run around knocking bits off the big ships so they can be disabled and heroically boarded.

    In the real hard science sets (like Battlefleet Mars) fighters have no role and instead you have the paint drying excitement of calculating vector movement on three dimensions on a 2D board.

    Many, many moons ago, my friend David and I wrote a set of space rules to game out the battles in Asimovs ‘Foundation’ series. Essentially they were Wooden Ships and Iron Men with 3D vector movement and you needed graph paper,  a protractor and a digital calculator to play them. Fighters weren’t much use in those. Happy days:)

     

     

     

     

     

     

    "Mistakes in the initial deployment cannot be rectified" - Helmuth von Moltke

    #63763
    PatG
    PatG
    Participant

    Rule of Cool!

    This – the science doesn’t support them at all.  See:

    http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/fighter.php

    #63768

    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    This kind of answers the question for me!

    It’s always slightly awkward writing sci-fi, because ‘real science’ renders most of what we see in movies (books are different) useless. I’m setting the game in what I’m calling a ‘hard futuristic’ background, inspired as I am by the forthcoming Bladerunner 2049. I want some level of reasonably believable science, and I can’t really come up for a reason to have fighters in space that isn’t thematic.

    The planetary part of the game has large elements of naval and air combat, and I don’t want the ‘vacuum’ aspect to just look like the same, but twenty thousand miles higher. I want it to ‘feel’ distinct, like it has different tactical problems, which I think it would.

    How ‘hard’ to go in a sci-fi setting is a rabbit hole of dangerous proportions; the game needs to be playable without a slide rule and calculator. In the end I want players to feel like there’s something gritty and realistic there, and I just don’t know what a squadron of fighters can do that other ships couldn’t more efficiently. Also, I quite like the idea of forcing players to think differently.

     

    #63770

    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    I’m thinking though would there be a role for them in combating bandits, long range patrols, harrasment etc.

    I like the idea maybe of giving fighters (or equivalent sized craft) a role in the game somehow, but not in those great swarming attacks. Like maybe they can utilise their tiny signature and high speed somehow to be effective, but are basically toast if deployed against anything bigger?

    #63772

    Mr. Average
    Participant

    I can think of a couple reasons, though I can’t sustain them really:

    1) Fighters can be built on assembly lines on the ground, while starships need an orbital dry dock. That means you can build lots of fighters with a relatively lower technology level that, with good leadership and tactics, could take on a larger point target.

    2) A single big starship could only be in one place at a time, while a fighter, or in long-range combat, say, a flotilla of PT Boats, could cover more territory and vector in on targets as they’re found.

    3) If you invest in large ships only, then losing one represents a huge capital loss. If you lose the carrier but save some of the fighters, you’ve at least partially recouped that loss as the fighters could be redistributed. In space this might be easier than at sea, as your hardware could drift indefinitely until you send out tugs to salvage them post-battle. You’d want to rescue the pilots sooner, but drone fighters could go into low-power mode and just wait for “rescue,” or self-destruct if the enemy came by instead.

    4) They’d be very useful for planetary defense – trans-at fighters could intercept orbital targets but be dispersed all over the planet, leaving too many targets to cover with a space fleet. Space is big and a planetary blockade would tat a LOT of ships to make it seamless. Also, in atmosphere, fighters with lifting surfaces would be buoyant and efficient and could interdict troops trying to land.

    #63776

    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    Hmmm, interesting points, thank you, all of you.

    Science doesn’t support them at all. But a game run entirely by science is going to be no fun. If my ultimate aim is to create interesting decision points and an enjoyable gaming experience, maybe I’m over-analysing.

    Fighter are going to have flaws. There’s a lot they can’t do as well as other vessels, but maybe that wouldn’t stop people building them? They have potential uses in many ways, so maybe I’ll include them, warts and all, and let players figure out the best use for them.

    #63814
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Participant

    Rule of cool, but…

    C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance/Union universe shows why you might want some fighters, or at least big gunships. You’re essentially playing peek-a-boo with bazookas in space combat. At near light speeds, you need to predict where the enemy is going to be. Having four or five battleriders on your heavily-armed carrier gives the enemy many more potential worries than a single target.

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    #63818

    Etranger
    Participant

    Rule of Cool!

    This – the science doesn’t support them at all. See:

    http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/fighter.php

    Yes. It would be cheaper and easier to just produce hordes of 1 shot ‘smart missiles’ to overwhelm defences anyway.

    #63870
    Grimheart
    Grimheart
    Participant

    Depends what you determine a futuristic “fighter” would be for, and in particular how big it would be.

    When you look most scifi settings the capital ships in space are generally much much larger than the equivalent navy ship designations we know.

    Its one thing that bugs me about some sci fi settings – massive mile long “battlecrusiers” but fighters are supposedly still tiny one man cockpits with clearly no room for weapons let alone a decent space engine.

    So lets assume space fighters should scale up as well….say to 50 meters long with a crew of 3.

    That makes a hell of a lot more sense and allows a decent mass for engines, fuel, weapons, life support etc.

    So scrap your silly one man fighters that make no sense!

     

     

    Interest include 6mm WW2, 6mm SciFi, 30mm Old West, DropFleet, Warlords Exterminate and others!

    #63890
    Darkest Star Games
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    I don’t think it’s true that science doesn’t support “fighters”.  A small attack ship would be perfectly usable nowadays, and why wouldn’t one be usable 50 years from now?  Of course, that all goes out the window if defenses like “shields” are developed, but that’s also a lot of hand-wavium.  How real do you want to keep it?

    Really, I think it all comes down to your setting and how the factions in your setting are conducting warfare.  How large are their ships?  Are they HUGE resource sinks like Star Destroyers or Battle Fleet Gothic ships, or small like modern naval vessels and crewed by maybe 500-1000 people?

    For me, fighters work because you can’t really armor a large spaceship enough to keep it protected from “hypersonic” projectiles, nor even fast moving space debris.  I suspect that that capitol ship weapons that would be used in the Bladerunner universe would be missiles, kinetic kill weapons, and the odd particle beam weapon or laser (They are mentioned by Roy Batey, though nothing technical is really put out).  I picture space combat a lot more like submarine warfare where each side is trying it’s best to not be detected and they all hell breaking loose once they are.  Those factors mean that even capitol ships are vulnerable to damage by things that can get past their active defenses, which allows something small and probably difficult to hit being able to sneak or power in close and deliver ordnance (or beam strike) a real possibility and potential major threat.

    Check out Lightening Strike by DP9.  If you take out the mecha but keep the fighters you have exactly this sort of game.  Seem realistic yet a lot simpler than, say, Attack Vector (which doesn’t have fighters due to mass considerations on vessels that are warp capable, and the ships are really small anyways), which is super realistic but also very very complicated.

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #63891
    Darkest Star Games
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    ….and I forgot to mention that your definition of a fighter is also a thing to consider.  Realistically, a fighter would not be like it’s WW2 counterpart, and would more likely have 3 or 4 crewmen and be the twice or three times the size of a modern fighter jet.  Operations would be long, not just jumping out and doing a dogfight sort of thing.  The physics involved in most sci-fi fighter combat in moviesw and TV would splatter the pilots all over the insides of their craft…

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #63894
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Thaddeus Blanchette
    Participant

    Read C.J. Cherryh’s <i>Hellburner.</i> Aside from being a damned good military sf read, it concnetrates on something military sf rarely touches upon: weapons development. The whole thing surrounds the construction of a bleeding-edge space fighter/gunboat. It is sort of like <i>The Right Stuff</i>in space. The story explains why it is necessary, given the technologial presumptions of the fictional uniberse, to have fighters.

    Basically, CJ agrees with Winchell Chung over at Project Rho: the BEST space fighter is an unmanned missile.

    Unfortunately, interstellar drives are expensive. The best mix is thus a heavily armed carrier which jumps into a system and releases four specialized battlerider fighter/gunboats, giving at least five platforms from which those unmanned missiles can be launched. Given that everyone is traveling at near light speeds, this makes the enemy’s targeting solutions more difficult by a factor of five.

    We get slapped around, but we have a good time!

    #63903

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    Not only are fighters not really viable for all the reasons already pointed out, the same logic works against small ships as well (at least in major fleet combat); unless you some sort of asymmetric attack weapon then there’s only a few cases in space combat where mounting more/bigger guns on a large hull isn’t actually more effective than splitting those same weapons up over multiple hulls.  You’ll need small ships, but they won’t be fighting with the battlefleet; they will be doing all of the ‘other’ jobs that need doing while the mega-battle-dreadnoughts are fighting the big battles.  Fleet structure looks more akin to the age of sail than WWII or WWI.

    -Will

    #63906

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    Another factor is that even if your setting has a tech base that makes a small attack vehicle plausible, there’s an even narrower range of scenarios were making it a manned platform is better than making it unmanned.

    -Will

    #63907
    Mike
    Mike
    Keymaster

    So assuming that big ass ships are big ass targets and easy to nuke from up close, how would you get infantry (marines?) from a big ass ship onto say a small space station?
    Some sort of shuttle, would that need a fighter escort?

    #63912

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    That sort of police action is one of the few cases were some sort of very small combatant makes sense; if you need to put marines on the target then your big-ass ship presumably can’t just nuke it from a distance but the station isn’t so well defended boarding is hopeless.  So yes, your boarding party might need a couple of smaller space-borne weapons on hand to make the boarding operation go smoothly. But the type of ship in this case is something probably more akin to a helicopter gunship than a fighter jet; the escort craft’s job would be to suppress any attempt by the station to stop the boarding craft while at the same time NOT blowing the station to hell and gone.  Your ‘gun-things’ in this case probably don’t (or shouldn’t) carry ship-killing weapons, they are there primarily to provide a *less* lethal option than make the station radioactive scrap.

    This sort of scenario would probably come up frequently enough (station taken over by radicals, suspicious ship refuses to heave to and submit to inspection, etc) that you’d want some small gun-things in your arsenal.  But it would be your patrol ships carrying a couple of the gun-things to fly cover (or the gun-things are multi-role and double as the boarding craft) rather than big carrier launching squadrons of them at the enemy battle fleet.

    In this scenario it even makes sense to have them be manned (potential collateral damage makes having a human in the decision loop to fire important), and depending on your technology and the needed performance envelope might be fairly modest in size.

    YMMV, and if you WANT fighters I’d always err on the side of ‘include them’.

    -Will

    #63914

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    Also as a disclaimer I think space fighters are totally unrealistic BUT I play a ton of X-wing and 5150: Fighter Command and I’m eagerly awaiting my Star Eagles kickstarter.  So I’m firmly on both sides of the fence on this one. 😉

    -Will

    #63922

    McKinstry
    Participant

    Cost would be a huge driver. A multi-bazillion complex large space warship that could be taken down by a gaggle/cloud/swarm of cheap platforms ideally at a range that your multi-bazillion complex spaceship can remain relatively safe from direct fire would be cost attractive.

    Whether those small platforms are manned or unmanned drones and the size of a 747/B-52 would be tech available at the time dependent but much of what propelled the carrier to pre-eminence was cost effective,  risk adjusted application of force over distance far in excess of the costly battleship.

    Never wrestle with a pig. You both get muddy and the pig just likes it.

    #63925

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    Whether those small platforms are manned or unmanned drones and the size of a 747/B-52 would be tech available at the time dependent but much of what propelled the carrier to pre-eminence was cost effective,  risk adjusted application of force over distance far in excess of the costly battleship.

    Yes, a plausible ‘capital ship’ design would be a giant drone bus that throws a swarm of drones at the enemy and the battle is decided by who’s drone cloud gets chewed up less while they flash past each other.   They almost certainly won’t be manned though; if you’re assuming scientifically plausibly engine tech (ie, you have to expel reaction mass to move) an unmanned platform you don’t *need* to recover has about four times the effective delta-V as a manned platform that needs to return home and that involves canceling all of the velocity it picked up in combat and picking up more velocity to return home.  So in this case the capital ships look more like the various USN proposals for Arsenal Ships than they do super-carriers.

    This assumes drones are the most cost effective for force protection, and that starts getting in to questions that are heavily technology dependent.

    If your setting has effective directed energy weapons then large platforms probably dominant; larger hulls mean larger power supplies and  larger focusing arrays and hence are more effective weapons.  The bigger laserstar is the more powerful laserstar.

    If you have no effective energy weapons and kinetics dominate then some sort of frag-ship might be the most common sort of combatant, slinging salvos of missiles/drones at the enemy.  In this case though size probably still helps, since a larger ship can carry more/larger missiles/drones.

    How effective your engine tech scales up or down is also a huge factor.  Several plausible spaceship systems don’t scale down very well so if that’s what actually works the best then small combatants are hard to envision.  If your engine tech scales down VERY well then you not need space warships at all and you have ‘cruise missiles’ with solar-system wide ranges.

    -Will

    #63926
    Darkest Star Games
    Darkest Star Games
    Participant

    And that, McK, is why i don’t believe in “Large Ship” universes.  A big battleship crewed by thousands is just as easy to kill as a small one with a couple of dozen, unless  you’ve got shield technology or super armor stuff and inertial dampers and pseudo-gravity, et.al.

    In a more near-future setting I truly believe drones will be huge, especially “self piloted” as opposed to remote control types due to countermeasures.  I also don’t think that in that same time frame ships would be going anywhere near the speed of light, especially in-system.  It’d take too long to slow down or change direction.  (plus, anything larger than a BB that hit a ship going that fast would pretty much obliterate it).

    "I saw this in a cartoon once, but I'm pretty sure I can do it..."

    #63933

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    And that, McK, is why i don’t believe in “Large Ship” universes.  A big battleship crewed by thousands is just as easy to kill as a small one with a couple of dozen, unless  you’ve got shield technology or super armor stuff and inertial dampers and pseudo-gravity, et.al.

    That’s not really true though; even a nuclear warhead isn’t an ‘insta-kill’ in space because there’s no shock wave.  Hell, the USAF had serious plans to field ships *propelled* by nuclear warheads detonating against a graphite covered plate…..  All the nuke delivers is heat and radiation, both of which can be defeated by armor.

    High-velocity micro-projectiles are defeated by whipple shields (already possible) and self-sealing hulls (being worked on), so again that’s not an insta-kill even against a ship traveling at high speeds.

    So there’s really no ‘golden BB’ that makes a battleship as vulnerable as a fighter, and in fact most of the effective defenses we know how to build would be proportionally better the more of it of you possess….

    -Will

    #63936

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    Part of the issue is the weapon asymmetry I touched on earlier; one reason aircraft gradually gained ascendancy over battleships is that aircraft carried torpedoes and bombs bypassed the armored belts that battleships relied on for protection against enemy battleships.  A battleship could devote displacement to torpedo and bomb protection but doing so cut into displacement for everything else.

    This probably isn’t true for our theoretical space battleship; whatever defenses it carries probably works equally well against enemy space battleships and whatever your space fighters (or drones, or whatever) are packing.  In order to make sense a space fighter would need need some sort of weapon system it can deliver more effectively than a larger ship could.

    -Will

    #63942
    Thuseld
    Thuseld
    Participant

    I have no contribution to make, but this topic has been an absolute blast to read. Thank you all for providing me with some food for thought.

    #63953

    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    I’d also like to add my thanks again to you all, those are some really useful posts and I’ve learned a lot.

    I was playing earlier with some rule ideas involving drones as the main weapons platforms. I’m envisaging the idea that vessels carry a mix of reusable and disposable drones, many of which are multi-role, and can be tasked to everything from all out attack to loitering and patrolling. Possibly the bigger vessels are capable of manufacturing some of these?

    The game itself places the player in the role of a high level commander, overseeing the whole campaign, so the actual details of how the vessels fight can almost be hand-waved away. But I like the idea that combat in vacuum is more concerned with denying the enemy maneuvring room, cutting them off by the use of mines and drone attacks, forcing them into a position where they can be attacked. It’s all just theory at this point, but I want to the vacuum combat to ‘feel’ different to planetary combat – I don’t want it to just feel like a naval game in space.

    There really has been tremendous food for thought on here, thanks again!

    #63956

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    I think that’s a perfectly reasonable model.  Even in an energy weapon dominated paradigm something like a drone or missile can be useful because it gives the enemy something it needs to shoot at other than your ships, which can be important.  Another possibility is using drones to extend the effective range of your lasers; give the drones their own focal array and have them ‘catch’ and direct the laser beam that your main laserstars are firing and can greatly extend how far your warships can effectively target the enemy.

    Maneuver denial also makes a lot of sense, not just in the the sense of forcing the enemy in to a position to be a attacked, but in forcing them to burn precious delta-V.  Any ships with currently plausible drive systems are going to be heavily delta-V constrained, so forcing them to spend it dodging could result in you winning a fight by default if they need to bug out and head home.

    Highly interested in seeing your project develop.

    -Will

    #63961

    McKinstry
    Participant

    I  think absolute perceived lethality will have a tremendous effect on how platforms develop. If a  speed of light fraction BB/smallrock/particle beam can with reasonable assurance both hit and likely kill or cripple a spaceship across a broad range of sizes (and defensive construction is generally harder to pull off than offensive firepower, ie it is usually easier to kill things than to effectively protect against them over time and technological progress) then a large number of cheaper platforms becomes more attractive generally than a few big expensive ones.

    Never wrestle with a pig. You both get muddy and the pig just likes it.

    #63983

    Alexander Wasberg
    Participant

    Lots of interesting points on both sides, it’s been a really interesting read!

    IMO I think that fighters would make some sense, at least from the point of increasing your delivery vehicles for your force. All the while making the loss of a single platform less critical to both operational efficiency and economic considerations.

    I do agree that if you have fighters, they wouldn’t be a single-seater “spitfire-in-space” but rather more like a gunboat or even a unmanned drone of some sort.

    #64067

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    I  think absolute perceived lethality will have a tremendous effect on how platforms develop. If a  speed of light fraction BB/smallrock/particle beam can with reasonable assurance both hit and likely kill or cripple a spaceship across a broad range of sizes (and defensive construction is generally harder to pull off than offensive firepower, ie it is usually easier to kill things than to effectively protect against them over time and technological progress) then a large number of cheaper platforms becomes more attractive generally than a few big expensive ones.

    Yes, and that’s definitely a possible/plausible model for how things could work out; if the only valid defense is dispersal then you need to achieve maximum dispersal.  The problem is that is really an argument for drones rather than space fighters per se; space fighters aren’t a great way to achieve dispersal since they would always be tied to a support platform in ways drones would never have to be.

    I’ve always found this post by the always excellent Rocketpunk Manifesto to be interesting and plausible:

    http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/06/space-warfare-iii-warships-in-space.html

    It’s a bit of a mix of the two sides of the argument, but mainly points that a futuristic war constellation probably doesn’t really look like a ‘space navy’ at all; it’s networked battle-fighting formation that is not a precise analog to anything we’ve seen before.

    -Will

    #64075

    McKinstry
    Participant

    Just offhand knowing what we know today, I can’t think of anything much more difficult than an AI swarm. If we assume that small (relative) equals harder to detect, target and kill but trades off frailty and relatively low lethality for any one individual unit, it could be very scary math. If any one swarmer can do say 1% damage over a set time unit then the math becomes simply how many swarmers can the target destroy before enough can nibble almost anything to death. Kill 100 in that specified time period and if the swarm is 200, the target is likely dead.

    Never wrestle with a pig. You both get muddy and the pig just likes it.

    #64097

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    That’s a variation on the old ‘purple vs. green’ argument that used to rage between laser advocates and missiles advocates, there’s a pretty good summary (again on the Rocketpunk Manifesto) here:

    http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/09/battle-of-spherical-war-cows-purple-v.html

    http://www.rocketpunk-manifesto.com/2009/09/further-battles-of-spherical-war-cows.html

    *My only disagreement here is that with adoptive optics the mutual-laser-frying-contest isn’t as sure a way to win as Mr. Robinson concludes for laser versus laser battles.
    The TL;DR version is that you can throw enough kinetics at any target to eventually kill it, but based on how powerful you think lasers are going to get it is possible that the laser-armed ship (or battle formation) can make such a kinetic strike cost non-cost-effective in terms of mass/velocity requirements (ie, you’re spending more on the seekers to kill the target than the target itself cost).  Unfortunately as one can conclude from the math ‘realistic’ space battles tend to be strongly Lanchasterian in nature; you either have enough seekers to kill the target or you don’t and it’s pretty clear before you even start shooting.

    From the standpoint of writing a game I think the good news is you have DO have some potential flex here;  note that the closing rate plays a huge role in how this battle plays out and so that implies that the operational stuff that happens before combat occurs (ie all of the orbital mechanics and orbital maneuvers) can effect of the outcome of the battle and that gives the players choices to make.

    -Will

    #64113

    Dan Kennedy
    Participant

    That’s where I’ve been exploring the last few days – the idea that manoeuvre itself is almost a weapon, in that if a vessel has limited fuel (and I’m most definitely playing it that way – almost no fusion powered ‘infinite fuel’ ships in this), then forcing it to burn that fuel in the posturing and positioning before any weapons are launched is a big part of it. Planetary naval vessels have to consider fuel, but for vacuum vessels it’s way more important.

    Again, this works because of the players point of view – they wouldn’t be thinking about the exact dispersal of a drone cloud, for example, more concerned with getting their forces into a good launch position and still have enough fuel to escape of things go wrong, or to continue their mission afterwards.

    The problem of course, as always, is turning the rough thoughts in my head into coherent rules on paper…

    #64225
    Robey Jenkins
    Robey Jenkins
    Participant

    I tend to feel that space fighters are conditional upon the nature of your hypothetical technology.  For example, assuming that FTL travel is possible, some people assume that fighters won’t have it and therefore need carriers.  But as the nature of FTL travel is utterly hypothetical, there’s no reason to assume that fighters (like X-Wings) wouldn’t be as capable of FTL travel as their larger siblings.  Moreover, there tends to be an assumption that FTL travel will be analogous to STL travel, requiring fuel and involving straight-line conventional motion.  But current thinking on FTL is closer to the Alcubierre concept in which travel involves a shift in the ship’s relationship with space/time, or with the Frank Herbert idea of instantaneous movement from Point A to Point B.  In either case, neither fuel nor manoeuvrability (Delta-V) is a factor in play – just the presence of the right piece of technology.

    If we assume NO FTL then fighters become even more important.  If you have a generation ship, it can’t afford to change velocity or vector.  That was planned and calculated hundreds or even thousands of years ago.  The ship may not even possess the ability to change its direction or velocity.  So smaller ships that can provide close support and scouting capabilities are essential.

    In either case, the resort to a remote operator still has to assume a certain level of proximity that, in space, can’t be assumed.  Unless we’re going for quantum entanglement, any kind of remote link will suffer relativistic effects at the sort of operator distances seen in space that will begin to affect reaction times, whilst a manned ship will never suffer from that problem.  In a related point, once you have remote-operated fighters, you also reach the point at which you have remote-operated squadrons: one human “commander” overseeing multiple fighters with on-board AI.  This has the same problem as before, complicated by a divided attention span, multiplied by the assumption (inevitably erroneous) that the AI can deal with instant problems.

    Finally, there’s one more important argument in favour of space fighters.

    Humans are stupid.

    By which I mean: humans have a natural tendency to do things that obviously aren’t in their best interests.  Scuba diving, horse riding, bungie jumping, BASE jumping, parkour, subway surfing…  We are a species of thrill-seekers (especially between the ages of 15 and 27).  So even in the absence of a formal military space fighter command, it is logical to assume the potential for a mercenary contingent of human space fighter pilots who are doing it for the yuks.

    #64940

    William Minsinger
    Participant

    I’m not sure that allowing small ships to use FTL movement makes fighters viable; if combat doesn’t happen at faster-than-light speeds then you’re still slogging through ‘real space’ when it comes to fighting. If you can fight at FTL speeds then there’s also no reason to assume bigger ships still don’t have a relative advantage.  The Alcubierre drive theory doesn’t appear to really care what’s inside the ‘warp bubble’ when it comes to moving it, a battleship would be as ‘nimble’ as a fighter.  A ‘jump drive’ that crosses space instantly means that all combat is actually still slower-than-light and all of the problems with fighters still apply, even if the fighters jump themselves into the destination system.

    I’d actually argue that if you’re trying to design a setting that makes fighters viable/important then the opposite approach probably gets closer to the desired goal; if your FTL system is bulky/delicate/shouldn’t be dragged into combat then a FTL-capable ‘mothership’ that carries non-FTL capable combat vessels is your fighter/carrier analogue.  You still need to develop reasons why it’s a space wing of fighters and not a Traveller-esque battlerider but it’s a step towards the desired outcome.

    In a purely STL universe I don’t think you’ll see any significant inter-system warfare at all (at least interstellar warfare that isn’t throwing relativistic asteroids at each other).  If you are launching an attack that won’t reach the target for hundreds or thousands of years you have to assume that your attack fleet will be completely obsolete and hence dead-on-arrival as the defenders have the chance to develop technology you might not even understand over the course of a few hundred years.  The only significant type of space warfare in STL-only settings will be almost certainly be intra-system.  Some of those situations might promote fighter-like craft (think a scenario set in Earth Orbit with a still divided Earth), others would not (An Expanse-esque Earth-Mars cold war).

    Even if you need remote operation, radio is fast.  Earth-Moon distance is 1.3 light seconds, so a radio signal is 2.6 seconds round-trip.  Even if you’re commanding a fleet of drones to beat down those Lunar Rebels you could do so from a command bunker on Earth and have perfectly adequate C3I/C4 capabilities; the only phase of the battle where faster reaction times would be required would be during the terminal attack phase and at that point the drones can safely operate autonomously.  You’ve committed them to the attack and it’s kill or be killed.  This means that even if your combat formation is strung out over the entire distance from the Earth to the Moon you can operate your combat platforms ‘on remote’ and have no real issues.  If the Martian People’s Navy is trying to attack those imperial running-dogs on Earth they have a problem (one-way lag of 3 to 22 minutes depending on the current relative planetary position) but this can be solved by sending a command ship (unarmed, just lots of fuel, hab space and comms gear) to hang a few light-seconds back from the drone swarm.  If the swarm loses the command ship bugs the hell out.  Even if your drones are just glorified R/C bottle rockets they have plenty of spatial independence from your control center.

    But the AI for these drones doesn’t even have to be ‘smart’; in a kinetics dominated universe the drone AI basically amounts to ‘fly here, kill this’ which basically takes the same amount of computerized intellect that a modern Tomahawk already has.  In an energy weapon dominated universe the situations get a little more complicated but not more than modern-day AI techniques can handle.  AI would have reaction times equal to or better than human pilots and AIs are becoming increasingly capable of handling snap decisions and unexpected new stimuli.  By the time we’re ready to fight in space AI will definitely be up to the challenge, in fact in most ways it already is.

    Humans are dumb in a lot of ways but we’re very smart at figuring out how to inflict violent mayhem on each other; I’m extremely confident future space forces will be designed as well as possible to handle the conditions of fighting in space.

    So I’ll end with my usual ‘if you want fighters just use them’ disclaimer.  Play with what you want to see on the table.

    -Will

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