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PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2014 10:48 am 
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In realistic space combat where large ships are engaging each other over millions of miles of vaccuum with lasers and missiles. Would fighters actually be any use?
In surface naval combat they are useful for pojecting power over a greater radius and engaging targets over the horizon, being much faster and more elevated than the ship carrying them. But given that there's no horizon in space and also the vast distances involved, I wonder if fighters would actually be any use - certainly not the X-Wing or Star Fury type. Perhaps a sort of small, fast gunboat might be better, being able to close the distance between itself and the target more quickly, increasing accuracy?


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PostPosted: Sun Feb 16, 2014 6:24 pm 
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Au contraire, I would say that fighters are pretty much the only effective way to fight in space. You need something that can get up close to the target over the vast ranges involved and engage it close-up (big ship lasers would never be focussed enough to do damage at long range). Missiles are also pretty useless unless they're actually smart (they're described as 'Autonomous Kill Vehicles' in Transhuman Space) - you want them to get into position and then let loose with their nuclear-pumped x-ray lasers or whatever, or better still just mount them with kinetic weapons that can tear up a ship when they get up close which would basically turn them into AI-piloted fighters.

The problem with missiles/AKVs/drones is that they need to have enough fuel to get to the target (and back, if necessary).

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PostPosted: Mon Feb 17, 2014 9:11 am 
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Scarecrow wrote:
In realistic space combat where large ships are engaging each other over millions of miles of vaccuum with lasers and missiles. Would fighters actually be any use?
In surface naval combat they are useful for pojecting power over a greater radius and engaging targets over the horizon, being much faster and more elevated than the ship carrying them. But given that there's no horizon in space and also the vast distances involved, I wonder if fighters would actually be any use - certainly not the X-Wing or Star Fury type. Perhaps a sort of small, fast gunboat might be better, being able to close the distance between itself and the target more quickly, increasing accuracy?

It depends a lot what you mean by "fighters".

The fighters that have flown off aircraft carriers since WWII have been useful for protecting ships from bombers and torpedo-planes, and for projecting air-power over land from a mobile airbase. Bombers and torpedo-planes have been useful at sea because they travel in a different medium from the ships using a different propulsive technology that gives them performance characteristic that are better than ships in one way (faster) but worse in another (much less endurance: hours instead of months). The trade-off made it worth building both ship and planes. The threat to ships &c. from bombers and the need to escort ones own bombers made it worth carrying fighters.

That a situation much like that will arise in space seems to me very unlikely. The main reason is that there is only one medium, not two. If there is a short-range potent weapon that you can mount on a small vehicle, you'll get something more like a torpedo-boat than a bomber. And with as you say no horizon and no stealth in space (at least for a high-performance vehicle) I expect that torpedo-boats would be dog-meat for long-range defensive fire.

Beam ranges of millions of miles, even through vacuum, would require either enormous objective apetures (mirrors or lenses) or such short wavelengths that we don't actually have anything that will reflect or focus them in a suitable way. But tens of thousands of kilometres, even 50,000–100,000 seem possible. And any realistic propulsion system seem unlikely to be able to get a small craft to cross such a distance in least than about an hour — probably much longer. That is a hell of a long time to withstand any sort of defensive fire. If it can be done, then the performance burden of carrying a human crew seems prohibitive, a computer is a thousand kilos less massive that a crewman and his life support, and cheaper, and probably better. And a disposable missile bus only needs enough delta-vee to close with the target and make a fast pass: a manned bomber needs that, and as much again to stop, and enough to return to the carrier after the battle. I very much doubt that "torpedo-bombers", if there are any, will be manned.

Whether fighters might be useful to defend ships against such attack drones is not as clear, but I doubt that too. You just can't get a high-performance sensor onto a small ship, and there seems to be a huge advantage to having a large objective mirror/lens in any weapon. And the attacking "bombers" will be closing for a fast pass at speeds built up over tens of minutes to hours of acceleration, not limited by airspeed as airborne bombers are, so closing in to dogfight with them seems out of the question. The only "fighters" I can see working are a sort of missile that manoeuvres a sort of claymore mine in to the path of incoming missile busses and fills it with a cloud of shrapnel. I can't see any advantage in manning them.

Frankly, I suspect that the current joint strike fighter will be the last new manned fighter built for use in atmosphere, and that by the time we are fighting in space it will be all long-range plinking with beam weapons or wholly dominated by drones. Or both.

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PostPosted: Fri Feb 21, 2014 3:05 am 
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Scarecrow wrote:
In realistic space combat where large ships are engaging each other over millions of miles of vaccuum with lasers and missiles. Would fighters actually be any use?


I could see a situation where your large ships would launch small drone "carriers". These would be purpose-built combat vessels that would deploy and control drones while the mothership stayed well back from the fighting.

The drone carriers might be something like a fighter; minimum creature comforts, comparatively short duration, maximum space devoted to weapons, defenses and fuel.

I agree with Agemegos; ranges are going to be much shorter than some sci-fi systems postulate. Given that and given the vast sensor ranges reality seems to dictate, it might just be possible to keep your main ships out of harms way while the small carriers duke it out.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2014 3:42 pm 
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The problem with trying to compare space combat with (wet) naval combat and carriers and fighters is that wet naval (modern) fighters don't operate in the same medium as the carrier. The carrier is on the water, the figther is in the air.

You need to compare a Carrier to a PT boat or something like that. BEFORE there were fighters, small, fast boats were not used in most naval battles, the powers in charge went for large ships with lots of cannons on them. So historically, a "fighter" wasn't a viable option for significant naval combat. They had their uses, harbor patrol, search and rescue, customs enforcement, but really used in naval combat against another country's ships.

Technology is also important, as EDG said, your fighter has to be faster than your battleship, it has to be able to carry powerful enough weapons to damage your battleship etc. That's asking a lot of a one-person ship. The reason we had battleships was that only the biggest ships could carry weapons big enough to mission-kill the biggest ships.

In general, a ship should be able to carry weapons big enough to mission-kill a ship one class bigger than themselves and thus have to defend against ships one class smaller than themselves.

Aircraft changed the rules. They WERE faster than ships, they could carry weapons that could mission-kill a very large ship AND they were (relatively) cheap to produce.

If you have fighters with those kinds of capabilities, then you will have carriers and not battleships (like today). If your fighters are just small ships, then likely the navies will have the biggest ships (with the biggest weapons) they can afford and you won't see "fighters" on the field of battle.

We are all tainted by movies. We LIKE the idea of a one-person fighter out there defending the line and swooping around a big star destroyer wiping out ships right and left. Unfortunately, that is more like an aircraft/naval ship setting, which is probably unrealistic in space without a lot of handwavium and unobtanium.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 06, 2014 5:08 pm 
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Cyborg IM1 wrote:
The problem with trying to compare space combat with (wet) naval combat and carriers and fighters is that wet naval (modern) fighters don't operate in the same medium as the carrier. The carrier is on the water, the figther is in the air.

You need to compare a Carrier to a PT boat or something like that. BEFORE there were fighters, small, fast boats were not used in most naval battles, the powers in charge went for large ships with lots of cannons on them. So historically, a "fighter" wasn't a viable option for significant naval combat. They had their uses, harbor patrol, search and rescue, customs enforcement, but really used in naval combat against another country's ships.

Technology is also important, as EDG said, your fighter has to be faster than your battleship, it has to be able to carry powerful enough weapons to damage your battleship etc. That's asking a lot of a one-person ship. The reason we had battleships was that only the biggest ships could carry weapons big enough to mission-kill the biggest ships.

In general, a ship should be able to carry weapons big enough to mission-kill a ship one class bigger than themselves and thus have to defend against ships one class smaller than themselves.

Aircraft changed the rules. They WERE faster than ships, they could carry weapons that could mission-kill a very large ship AND they were (relatively) cheap to produce.

If you have fighters with those kinds of capabilities, then you will have carriers and not battleships (like today). If your fighters are just small ships, then likely the navies will have the biggest ships (with the biggest weapons) they can afford and you won't see "fighters" on the field of battle.

We are all tainted by movies. We LIKE the idea of a one-person fighter out there defending the line and swooping around a big star destroyer wiping out ships right and left. Unfortunately, that is more like an aircraft/naval ship setting, which is probably unrealistic in space without a lot of handwavium and unobtanium.


So as a rule of thumb you could say that the smallest useful ship in a space navy is the smallest ship that can carry a weapon big enough to threaten the largest ship in a space navy, right?

Thus, if fighters can carry a weapon that threatens battleships (nuclear/antimatter-tipped missiles?), fighters are useful. If it takes a spinal mount weapon to damage a battleship, fighters are not useful against capital ships.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2014 12:38 pm 
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So much depends on technological assumptions that it's difficult to get beyond generalities.

What might armed spacecraft look like if we had to build one now? (Assuming an alien probe entered the system or some such).

Lasers have proven to be reluctant warriors. Could we launch a viable laser system or would we actually be using missiles and (perish the thought) guns?

I'm not a guns-in-space advocate but the Soviets apparently tried it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almaz

Could we actually launch a viable particle beam weapon in an interplanetary craft?

What would armed ships look like at a somewhat higher level; the "Martian Revolution" or the like? Was "Battle Fleet Mars" a reasonable simulation? http://boardgamegeek.com/boardgame/3662 ... fleet-mars


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 08, 2014 9:34 pm 
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Cyborg IM1 wrote:
The problem with trying to compare space combat with (wet) naval combat and carriers and fighters is that wet naval (modern) fighters don't operate in the same medium as the carrier. The carrier is on the water, the figther is in the air.

<snip>

Aircraft changed the rules. They WERE faster than ships, they could carry weapons that could mission-kill a very large ship AND they were (relatively) cheap to produce.


It's also important that they were comparatively short-range and low endurance, which left a niche for ships and allowed the possibility of the hybrid carrier/airwing that had the tactical speed of its planes and the strategic endurance and range of its carrier. If planes had only had advantages they would have replaced ships.

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PostPosted: Thu Mar 13, 2014 5:35 pm 
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Agreed.

Also, to Sir Chaos, I would NOT say that the smallest ship will that one that can carry a weapon to kill the largest ship.

I would say that a ship should be able to kill the next larger class of ship. The smallest true warship will that which can carry the weapon that kills the largest warship.

If a Handavium Mark 1 can kill anything, then the smallest ship will a ship that can carry one of these babies. If you have no single weapon that can kill your biggest ship, then you will have lots of big ships.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 13, 2014 5:58 pm 
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My thinking is that fighters, fighter bombers, torpedo ships, ... would all be useful in space combat. Beam weapons will disperse over distance for 1 thing and given the speed of light a jinking fighter, or smaller ship has a good chance of not being where you aimed when your beam gets there. Fighters can also do a sort of mass attack on a larger vessel giving the chance to overwhelm defenses.

Remember that fighter pilots are trained not to fly in a predicable manner.


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