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Old 09-04-2010, 04:05 AM   #1
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Plausible Interstellar War

Bear with me here.

Let's assume that a civilization or three has developed the technology to explore interstellar space using sunlight drives of one type or another (the actual type doesn't matter too much at this point). Let us additionally state that Einstein was absolutely right and there is no way for a physical object to achieve light speed - it remains an actual barrier.

Now, let's assume that for various reasons somebody gets mad at somebody else, decides they're a threat to their species survival, or otherwise just decides that somebody else needs their ass kicked.

Let's assume that these somebodies are all loose connections of a home world and a dozen or so colonies and that evryone's been expanding and developing for about the same length of time. Nobody knows where the other guy's home world is or where all the enemy colonies are.

Now, let's start a war and fight it logically and scientifically.

What's the first move such civilizations might make in the first step of an interstellar war?

(mods, since this is speculation with supposedly a foundation in science feel free to move it at will to the sf&f firm, please)
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Old 09-04-2010, 04:17 AM   #2
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First strikes are the important strikes...

It will also depend on do they want to annilate the others or take their stash of goodies...
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Old 09-04-2010, 05:47 AM   #3
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Taking their stuff is not economically possible, given the assumptions, so the war would need to be based on ideological grounds, although that too can have either genocide or occupation as a goal.

The first and most important questions that come to mind are the specific technological capacities of the various cultures. STL travel alone doesn't tell us enough. Are there high or low thrust drives available for example. High thrust drives make relativistic missiles a possibility, which is quite a relevant technology.

But even without further information about the available technology, the first step should always be attaining as much information pre-war as possible. Given point-to-point navigation (a given with STL) a first strike with sufficient force could wipe out an entire culture in effectively an instant.
The important part of STL travel only is that all star systems are basically on their own. Sufficiently capable sensors might enable fleets to be sent to intercept incoming fleets, but even travel between adjacent star systems will take years, a time-scale which means that any engagement taking place between opposing forces will be over a long time before any potential reinforcements could even be requested.
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Old 09-04-2010, 06:08 AM   #4
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It's a long way to go, and surely traveling in generation ships unless the species is exceedingly long-lived. One problem I see is they won't be able to carry much with them other than what they need to sustain life. But supposing they have some power to do big things once in the Solar System...

I wonder, if you could move a "relatively" large body, such as one of Mars' moons and send it into the Sun at just the right place - would it initiate a solar flare that hits the Earth and is large enough to destroy substantial amounts of life, and in doing so put technology back a thousand years or so? How big a "something" do you need to drop into the Sun to prompt it to do something like make a big flare? Has anyone seen anything like a comet hit the Sun, and did anyone notice any effect? I think with sufficient mass falling into it a star could be an interesting weapon.

A moon of Mars would be too immediately noticable, and would really alarm people when it's seen to leave Mars' orbit, as that's not possible without a large amount of energy input, and it might take it a few weeks or at least days to hit the Sun. With a huge solar sail it could take years, and if those Earthlings ever figure out what's going on they just might make start crash=course survival techniques. One or more asteroids from the far side of the Sun, where they can't be seen being moved from Earth telescopes, would be better, and might never be noticed.

If you have the energy to significantly change the orbit of that much mass, it might be as effective to just hit the Earth. Have several hit, taking out the largest cities (this will freak out and intimidate survivors who will realize this is not a coincidence). This could be accomplished wtih relatively low amount of energy (as in we on Earth could do this with pretty much current technology) by changing the orbits of Earth-grazing asteroids, many or most of whose orbits are already cataloged and listed for malevolent aliens on the Internet...
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Old 09-04-2010, 06:47 AM   #5
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What kind of tech level are we talking here? Are we looking at human(ish) critters in tin cans relying on chemical/nuclear/ion rockets? Or can I bring out antimatter-powered von Neumann replicators with superhuman AI and Dyson swarms with lasers?

Operating within the laws of physics can still do some pretty wild things.

As far as the war, there's lots of options in either scenario (and plenty in between) if you can get past the hurdle of why they'd want to fight in the first place. Religious wackos and the Them Or Us crowd are always a possibility...really the strategy and tactics will depend entirely on the technological capabilities of each side, in as much as their ability to 1. find the enemy, 2. attack the enemy, and 3. defend their own assets.
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Old 09-05-2010, 02:59 AM   #6
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Interesting comments and questions. No matter what, the races/species involved have to realize that they're probably in it for a long time. I've found, in gaming using ftl, that it 's very difficult to absolutely insure the annihilation of any other entire species. There's just too much time for them to establish themselves somewhere else and Syl makes that even more difficult because you are talking about years or decades between when your battle force leaves your world and annihilated theirs. They can do a lot to spoil your plans in the meantime.

Technologically, let's assume 3 different scenarios,

1) the races are capable of low/low vehicle/weapons accelerations
2) the races are capable of low/high vehicle/weapons accelerations
3) the races are capable of high/high vehicle/weapons accelerations

Since one of our basic assumptions is that they're all at the same basic technology level (something which is exceedingly unlikely imnsho), we should be able to develop at least some basic ideas as to how each level might fight.

As Lhun said, the idea of taking their stuff just doesn't seem to fly well, so we might assume that species ir racial survival is of paramount importance on all sides. If one side or the other gains the upper hand anywhere it's likely the war will end with the tittle annihilation of the losing side. I don't think it requires fanaticism to consider the survival if one's own species as being more important than the survival if a completely alien species.

As to being able to move big stuff around, well, that's just physics. Let's stay within the reasonable realm of plausibility though. I can't see humans moving the planet Mars for quite some time, so let's say they're not godlike in that aspect.
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Old 09-05-2010, 03:47 AM   #7
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Even if all the civilizations involved are aggressive, there is always one that will be more aggressive.

And if all the civilizations involved are intelligent enough to travel from system to system, then they are also intelligent enough to understand their own system will eventually be uninhabitable. So, this is where the question comes in of what do they want?

I think this has to be established first because not all will want the same things at the same time.

The aggressor may have information about their home system that is not good and therefore they want to expand. Survival in other words. But terrrafarming a new world might take to long, providing they can find a suitable world close enough to terrafarm. So to wipe out a world or system that is already inhabited, with known minerals, etc, would give the aggressor a platform from which to build.

I doubt ideology alone would be enough to risk going to war with another system. The expense is just too much. There has to be something to gain, something of value to risk the expense and possible annihilation if their plans do not work...
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Old 09-05-2010, 05:20 AM   #8
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I wonder, if you could move a "relatively" large body, such as one of Mars' moons and send it into the Sun at just the right place - would it initiate a solar flare that hits the Earth and is large enough to destroy substantial amounts of life, and in doing so put technology back a thousand years or so? How big a "something" do you need to drop into the Sun to prompt it to do something like make a big flare? Has anyone seen anything like a comet hit the Sun, and did anyone notice any effect? I think with sufficient mass falling into it a star could be an interesting weapon.
Nothing you can drop into a sun will impress it. Anything even close to big/fast enough to show noticeable effect will be much more than necessary to wipe out a planet by just throwing it against that.

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Interesting comments and questions. No matter what, the races/species involved have to realize that they're probably in it for a long time. I've found, in gaming using ftl, that it 's very difficult to absolutely insure the annihilation of any other entire species. There's just too much time for them to establish themselves somewhere else and Syl makes that even more difficult because you are talking about years or decades between when your battle force leaves your world and annihilated theirs. They can do a lot to spoil your plans in the meantime.
On the other hand, a problem the survivors run into is exponential growth. Even if the survivors of the losing side in a war dispatch some ark ships to re-establish their species a long way away, by the time they get into contact with the aggressor again, they'll only be a minor nuisance at best.
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Technologically, let's assume 3 different scenarios,

1) the races are capable of low/low vehicle/weapons accelerations
2) the races are capable of low/high vehicle/weapons accelerations
3) the races are capable of high/high vehicle/weapons accelerations

Since one of our basic assumptions is that they're all at the same basic technology level (something which is exceedingly unlikely imnsho), we should be able to develop at least some basic ideas as to how each level might fight.
Unless we're talking tactics (i'd recommend the space combat thread for that, lots of stuff in there already) the major consideration here is whether strategic weapons (i.e. big relativistic missiles) need a lot of room to accelerate. High thrust missiles means that missiles fired from in-system will quickly pick up enough speed to sterilize a planet. Low thrust missiles means they'd need serious time to accelerate, so would need to be launched from outside the system and thus give much more time to be intercepted.
Strategic approach to warfare would be similar in all cases though. Even high thrust ships don't allow for centralised defence, the distances are just too large.
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Old 09-06-2010, 03:02 AM   #9
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Okay...

Let's assume that species survival is a given. Everyone wants their own species to survive. Avarice is probably out as there's lots easier ways to acquire wealth and/or territory. Reasons fir war might be as simple as "let's get them before they get any ideas about getting us". Arrogance aside, it's probably in a space going species' own best interests to enter into any contact with an alien space going species with a considerable degree of caution and distrust.

In regards to tactics vs strategy, as Lhun points out, tactics have and will be discussed elsewhere. Let's look at the bigger picture and the strategies species might use at our 3 different levels.
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Old 09-06-2010, 04:40 AM   #10
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If it were me, I'd start building as many solar statites as we could build around my stars, along with some method of focusing that energy - whether its an arrangement of mirrors or phased-array laser apertures or whatever else.

I'd also make it a point to spread out in O'Neill-type habitats and not put all the civilization-eggs in one basket. Have a network of cyclers run between your habitat clusters and planet/asteroid operations, and use the solar arrays to beam power where practical. That way you're spread out all over the place, have access to most of the system's mass, and don't have to worry about any incompatible worlds (which will likely be most to all). There's no single target to take out, either.

Both of those are good practice for a space-going infrastructure anyway, and you also get the benefits of 1. being so spread out that a single strike couldn't get you and 2. you're sitting behind a defense perimeter powered by a good portion of a star's power. That leaves you pretty secure from being attacked.

As for wiping out the other guy, I don't think I'd bother with starship combat. Too impractical and costly with STL drives, and the other guy might have done the same thing I did so that the +5 Dreadnought gets a face full of sun-laser before it gets inside the local Kuiper belt.

I'd come at attack from the angle of infiltration with replicators - whether biological, technological, or memetic. And you'd definitely have to think in terms of decades, centuries, and probably millennia.
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Old 09-08-2010, 10:23 PM   #11
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Scenario 2 is probably your best bet for total annihilation. Weapons with high thrust if launched from far enough away are going to be difficult to intercept for low thrust vehicles. I assume that we're talking about simple mass drivers. Once you get up into the tens of thousands of kilometers per second range, all you really need to do is hit the planet. It worked on the dinosaurs, and at a much slower velocity (though considerably more mass).

Though, I wonder if I haven't missed the objective. Is it genocide? Or does the planet need to be habitable? Colonization? Do we care if the target's population survives?
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Old 09-08-2010, 11:02 PM   #12
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Efkelley, put yourself in the position of emperor of your home world. Do you care about any of the questions you ask?
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Old 09-09-2010, 02:16 AM   #13
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As absolute unassailable monarch? Or as an elected head of government? And are we humans? Humans generally get upset when you offer up genocide as a viable means of warfare.

But assuming that I can propose wiping out a race without serious political damage, and assuming that the enemy is completely intractable where if even one of them is left alive they'll work very hard to wipe us out as a species (sort of a Borg scenario), and assuming their worlds host the sort of environment that can host humans as well, then I think I'm going to want to wipe them out without causing too much damage to the biosphere. Cause who doesn't like free planets?

However, this is probably the most difficult objective to accomplish. And there's nothing to say they might not burn down the house as the burglars are breaking in, ya know?

So grand strategies for the three tech types.

Low/Low Drives/Weapons - Possibly generation ships housing invasion/colonization forces. Thing is, that's a one-way trip. When they arrive they either win or lose. And you can't do that for a bunch of planets in their empire. They'll send a distress signal. So any ships that aren't already at or nearly at their destinations are going to meet a forewarned enemy. I know light speed is a factor, but that's important to consider. A time-on-target attack could do it. Send a gen ship at the farthest world, then closer, then closer, then closest, all timed to arrive within a few years of each other. Depending on surprise, this may be the best bet for taking the planets intact.

Low/High Drives/Weapons - With their retaliation much closer at hand, I'm thinking a much longer game. Solid defensive perimeters around my important systems and lots of FTL missile attacks. Devastate their worlds from far far away with the gen ships enroute. Again, time-on-target to hit them all with no warning. We know we're arriving at devastated worlds, so take the sort of equipment you need to get the planet back into shape (if possible). If not then survival is going to be rough for a generation or three. Fortunes of war.

High/High Drives/Weapons - This is much more of a conventional war. With supply chains possible from home systems, you can make purely military expeditions into their territory. And you need to worry about protecting yourself since there's nothing to stop them from doing the same. Operating procedure would be to establish a forward operations base in their system and engage in whatever missions are deemed necessary to pacify the system.

All three are vast undertakings. And as you point out, there aren't many important reasons for such a war. Territory possibly, but that depends on the rarity of earthlike worlds. Once you get to interstellar travel, resources are reasonably easy to gather from uninhabited places. It'd definitely have to be an ideological/survival scenario.

Anyway, that's my 2 credits.
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Old 12-12-2010, 02:14 AM   #14
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interstellar space using sunlight drives of one type or another
Hi FOTSGreg,

do you mean sublight drives? Because if we are all using sunlight and photon sails this war will definately not be over any time soon

Pretty much regardless of the exact technology level involved, if lightspeed is a barrier then the best idea is a very hard first strike on as many worlds as you can identify.

Meanwhile you should be setting up to look for EM signals from promising worlds. Depending on how crazy your race is, and how many more advanced races you have met, you might want to first strike them as well.

If you do this right then none of your opponents' worlds gets any warning, the declaration of war is the attack. After all, the only 'sane' reason to fight over such distances is aggressive expansion and/or survival.

My first choice for the attack is self-replicating nanomachines. They don't have to be very ingenious, just make copies of themselves from everything they touch. If you manage to hit multiple points on a planet at the same time you have won.

The only defence is to guess what the attack is and vapourise (not just blow up, I mean vapourise) these sites extremely quickly the world's surface becomes 'grey goo'.

Even defensive nano-machines don't work - to be defensive they would need to be hampered by not self-replicating at every opportunity, and would be out-competed by the attack version that concentrates on making copies of itself.

My second choice (if nanomachines are out) is accelerating mass at the planet. Best do this as far outside the target system as you can manage while still hitting the target. You will have the advantage tat planets move in pretty predictable ways

Also most of yoursignature/visibility will be pointed outside the system, making your lumps of mass tough to spot. That should hopefully mean that by the time they spot the projectiles the defenders would not be able to defect the course of the bullet(s).

Apologies for wall-o-text, this was supposed to be a short post.
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Old 12-12-2010, 03:20 AM   #15
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It's been awhile since this discussion started so I'd certainly excuse the wall of text.

I did mean sunlight drives, yes.

Your comments reminded me of 3 very good stories, two novels by Charles Peligrino and Eric Flint/Travis Taylor, and the other a short story in Analog by Tom Ligon.
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Old 12-12-2010, 06:08 PM   #16
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Unless we're talking tactics (i'd recommend the space combat thread for that, lots of stuff in there already)
I searched the forum for "combat" and "space combat" and couldn't find this thread. Could somebody point me toward it?

I'm brainstorming about a STL, small-scale (within our solar system) inter-colonial squabble that could escalate to shots...
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Old 12-12-2010, 06:27 PM   #17
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I don't think it's particularly realistic and even if such a war were possible logistically, any such encounter would probably be the equivalent of machine guns vs. spears technologically.

Having said that, sometimes in sf you need to accept one miracle, be it interstellar travel, time travel, etc., in order to reasonably extrapolate on everything else interesting about the premise.

In that spirit, how about this as a possibility. You discover a habitable planet, but it is unfortunately occupied by a densely populated civilization, so you send some ship at ~90% the speed of light, which then nudges an asteroid out of its orbit and down to slam into the planet. Your colonists arrive a few years later to find a planet ripe for settling.
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Old 12-13-2010, 12:40 AM   #18
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I've been mulling over a similar scenario recently. Personally, i reckon a successful war needs to have very long-term goals if anything other than species/race annihilation and killing the planet is the objective. Whether or not long-term is viable is a whole other thing.

In my head it goes as thus: Take overwhelming ground force (backed up by more overwhelming ground force due to arrive five to eight years after you've landed), breach whatever planetary defences are in place, land troops, secure a beachhead (or whatever the planetary equivalent is; my brain hasn't fully woken up yet), fight off the first attacks of whoever lives on the planet (these will probably be the largest and most ferocious, but will weaken the planet's overall military considerably), expand occupied territory until one or two large cities are occupied (your overwhelming ground force will likely have been halved (or even two-thirded) by now, but so should the planetary forces which were, if your planning was good, weaker to begin with), sign a ceasefire, spend the next decade solidifying position and quelling internal resistance and rebuilding the economy and opening up trade.

Most likely, there'll be another war as soon as the major planetary powers feel they have force enough to take you down. However, you should be able to ride that out. Then expand a step or two further and begin the process of solidifying and rebuilding again. Likely major resistance will taper off at that point (or perhaps after one more war), but the secret to success isn't necessarily conquering the entire planet militarily, but by becoming the dominant economic force.

*shrugs* that's one theory anyway, which i haven't really had time to test (though it's not a new theory, by any means).

ETA: oh, and it'd be a good idea to have some sort of defence against tactical nuclear strikes if you're the invading force.

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Old 12-13-2010, 02:55 AM   #19
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I searched the forum for "combat" and "space combat" and couldn't find this thread. Could somebody point me toward it?
The biggest one is called "Realistic Space Warfare", and here's another one.

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In my head it goes as thus: Take overwhelming ground force (backed up by more overwhelming ground force due to arrive five to eight years after you've landed), breach whatever planetary defences are in place, land troops, secure a beachhead (or whatever the planetary equivalent is; my brain hasn't fully woken up yet), fight off the first attacks of whoever lives on the planet (these will probably be the largest and most ferocious, but will weaken the planet's overall military considerably), expand occupied territory until one or two large cities are occupied (your overwhelming ground force will likely have been halved (or even two-thirded) by now, but so should the planetary forces which were, if your planning was good, weaker to begin with), sign a ceasefire, spend the next decade solidifying position and quelling internal resistance and rebuilding the economy and opening up trade.
Here's a thread on the topic of planetary invasions. The short version is that it's incredibly pointless to try and fight a land battle on a planet if you've already got orbital superiority (which you need anyway, to land troops).
For example, landing munitions demonstrates perfectly well why it's stupid do so. Bringing 100kg of explosives down from orbit in a dropship and using it to blow up a building will result in an explosion about about thirty times smaller than simply dropping 100kg of rock onto the roof from orbit.

Edit: Whoops, had the wrong url in the buffer. Fixed the link, thanks for pointing it out Izz.

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Old 12-13-2010, 03:27 AM   #20
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Here'sa thread on the topic of planetary invasions. The short version is that it's incredibly pointless to try and fight a land battle on a planet if you've already got orbital superiority (which you need anyway, to land troops).
For example, landing munitions demonstrates perfectly well why it's stupid do so. Bringing 100kg of explosives down from orbit in a dropship and using it to blow up a building will result in an explosion about about thirty times smaller than simply dropping 100kg of rock onto the roof from orbit.
Are you sure you're linking to the right thread? That's a thread about realistic space battles.

Yeah of course you need orbital superiority, but orbital superiority only does so much. You can't starve a planet into submission from orbit. Perhaps you can cut off all their satellite communication and terrify the Net addicts into submission, but that's about it.

And size of explosions doesn't mean much either. Sure, you can cause more damage from orbit, but is that your aim? You can seriously screw a planet over from orbit, but, like i said, if your aim is something other than annihilation of the existing population, or killing the planet and letting it sit for a century or two so it can recover (bombing a planet into submission from orbit isn't a smart thing to do; for one, rebuilding base infrastructure takes a *long* time), then you need another plan. Destroying a planetary population just to gain access to a planet's resources is short-sighted too. Much more can be gained by assimilating the existing population (long-lived empires assimilate, short-lived ones destroy).

Even if you can your use orbital superiority to force a surrender, you'll have to land troops at some point anyway. And you'll have to wage a ground war at some point also, because the threat of destruction from orbit only goes so far (and even if you make good on the threat and destroy a couple of large population centers, that'll likely only stiffen the resolve of the resistance), and there are plenty of ways to wage a successful guerrilla war against forces that own the 'sky'. Much better, imo, to wage a war against a small force using guerrilla tactics than a large force, and the best way to trim the size of the opposition down is early typical military engagements.

But, anyway, i'm getting even further away from FOTS' actual question, so i'll just leave it there.
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Old 12-13-2010, 04:30 AM   #21
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Yeah of course you need orbital superiority, but orbital superiority only does so much. You can't starve a planet into submission from orbit.
Yes you can. Get rid of a few fields or herds and you cut of food supply.
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And size of explosions doesn't mean much either. Sure, you can cause more damage from orbit, but is that your aim? You can seriously screw a planet over from orbit, but, like i said, if your aim is something other than annihilation of the existing population, or killing the planet and letting it sit for a century or two so it can recover (bombing a planet into submission from orbit isn't a smart thing to do; for one, rebuilding base infrastructure takes a *long* time)
If you have a planetary population resisting, the infrastructure is going straight to hell in the fight anyway. Even that aside, economic reasons for conquering a planet are extremely unlikely. The amount of resources required to get an invasion force across interstellar distances and mount an invasion makes sure that conquering a planet will never be profitable. An invasion pretty much needs ideological motives. (Or economic motives by only a part of the aggressors society with the capability to screw the others over)
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Even if you can your use orbital superiority to force a surrender, you'll have to land troops at some point anyway. And you'll have to wage a ground war at some point also, because the threat of destruction from orbit only goes so far (and even if you make good on the threat and destroy a couple of large population centers, that'll likely only stiffen the resolve of the resistance), and there are plenty of ways to wage a successful guerrilla war against forces that own the 'sky'. Much better, imo, to wage a war against a small force using guerrilla tactics than a large force, and the best way to trim the size of the opposition down is early typical military engagements.
If you have control of the orbit you can destroy any size target at liberty, with pretty much no way for the planetbound side to defend against it and at almost zero cost. Even if you were to try and start a ground war, you wouldn't land troops, you'd just land spotters to tell the ships in orbit where to shoot and what size projectile to use.
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But, anyway, i'm getting even further away from FOTS' actual question, so i'll just leave it there.
The thread is quite old. I don't think it can be called derailing anymore.
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Old 12-13-2010, 05:51 AM   #22
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Yes you can. Get rid of a few fields or herds and you cut of food supply.
Nice in theory, unlikely to work all that well in practice. In our era, scorched earth policies have had mixed success. Plus, picking stuff off from orbit is really only useful on surface targets, isn't it? If i'm living and governing in a time when technology dictates that an attack from orbit is a possibility, however slight, i'd be advocating that most of my agriculture and horticulture is underground (the deeper the better) or underwater, (or shielded).
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If you have a planetary population resisting, the infrastructure is going straight to hell in the fight anyway. Even that aside, economic reasons for conquering a planet are extremely unlikely. The amount of resources required to get an invasion force across interstellar distances and mount an invasion makes sure that conquering a planet will never be profitable.
Not in the short term, no. War is very rarely profitable in the short-term here, now, either. But i'd still contend that assimilating a population has more long-term benefits than destroying it. Different viewpoints intermingling, different ideas, etc.
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An invasion pretty much needs ideological motives. (Or economic motives by only a part of the aggressors society with the capability to screw the others over)
I think the most likely scenario for society spread across the stars is a feudal-hybrid. The equivalent of a lord/baron/whatever title you want to give has a few fiefs (planets) they visit every so often demanding taxes from (protection money, really--'give us valuable stuff for the privilege of not having your planet blown to smithereens'). Full-scale invasion of a planet is extremely unlikely, and actual space warfare more likely to be space skirmishes (and also pretty rare--how often will ships run into each other outside of a planet or station?).

Regardless, my scenario was based around planet occupation being a necessity, for whatever reason, (idealogical, intimidatory, diversionary, etc), so that was what i was talking about (which wasn't really what the thread was about originally).
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If you have control of the orbit you can destroy any size target at liberty, with pretty much no way for the planetbound side to defend against it and at almost zero cost. Even if you were to try and start a ground war, you wouldn't land troops, you'd just land spotters to tell the ships in orbit where to shoot and what size projectile to use.
I can think of a whole host of ways to minimize the power of whoever controls the orbit. And while those won't beat them, they'll blunt them enough to be really annoying, and drag the war out.

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Old 12-13-2010, 12:37 PM   #23
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Nice in theory, unlikely to work all that well in practice. In our era, scorched earth policies have had mixed success.
Our era isn't the standard for all conflicts. Such tactics have been used with varying success, and keep in mind that it's not limited to farms. First thing an attacker from orbit obviously does is to take out all identifiable military targets, but after that they can pressure the planetary population any way they want. Take out the electrical grid, take out fuel depots to cripple transportation or just take out bridges and streets. If they want to starve the population, they don't even need to take out the food itself, just taking out important connections to the cities does the trick. Without a decent road/rail-road network and/or harbours you can't get enough food into a major city. Heck, they can just blow up every single toilet paper factory on the planet to get their point across. The thing with orbital superiority is that it's not like aerial superiority at all. Planes are expensive, bombs are expensive, they've got limited range and are still quite vulnerable against fire from below. And attacker in orbit sits above the gravity well (ok, technically he doesn't but that's physics nitpicking) and he can just dump his trash-can out the airlock and get a 30-ricks projectile for free. One that can hit anywhere on the planet and is very hard to intercept since it's destructive power comes from the kinetic energy, not from explosives that can be triggered prematurely.
Similarly, with powerful lasers available (which we can almost build already, and we're probably still centuries away from building spaceships) a single ship in orbit can hit pretty much any spot on half the planet, instantly, with pin-point precision.
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Plus, picking stuff off from orbit is really only useful on surface targets, isn't it? If i'm living and governing in a time when technology dictates that an attack from orbit is a possibility, however slight, i'd be advocating that most of my agriculture and horticulture is underground (the deeper the better) or underwater, (or shielded).
No, kinetic bombardment is pretty much a natural bunker.buster. Besides, putting agriculture underground is a huge cost, since it's solar powered and you don't get much sun in a cave. If you have the technology to create a closed natural environment big enough to create a farm, you're better of putting it on a space station. Free solar energy, and you can make them mobile, so they can run away in the case of an attack.
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Not in the short term, no. War is very rarely profitable in the short-term here, now, either. But i'd still contend that assimilating a population has more long-term benefits than destroying it.
It's never profitable, no matter how long the run. The point is that for far less resources than required to conquer a world capable of resistance (a planet with just a few million inhabitants is effectively empty, you can take over something like that easily) is hugely more expensive than just settling an empty world. War might seem profitable on earth where every wannabe imperialist is faced with the choice of conquering new lands or making do with what he has. But space, being a three-dimensional environment, always has more land to take that's unoccupied. No natural resource is ever sparse in space, and if the planet you're trying to take over is able to not only mount a fight, but a decent one, you're probably even better of to build artificial habitats instead of warships.
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Different viewpoints intermingling, different ideas, etc.I think the most likely scenario for society spread across the stars is a feudal-hybrid. The equivalent of a lord/baron/whatever title you want to give has a few fiefs (planets) they visit every so often demanding taxes from (protection money, really--'give us valuable stuff for the privilege of not having your planet blown to smithereens').
Discussion of what forms of government are possible over interstellar distances is quite interesting, but has enough variables that it's impossible to say anything without at least defining how space travel works. Specifically, speed and cost. (Without dirt cheap interstellar travel, you don't even get trade, let alone empires)
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I can think of a whole host of ways to minimize the power of whoever controls the orbit. And while those won't beat them, they'll blunt them enough to be really annoying, and drag the war out.
Go ahead, i'm always interested in tactical speculation from another point of view.
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Old 12-17-2010, 05:35 AM   #24
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There is no defense of a planet. Read the realistic space warfare thread. Lhun and I beat this horse to death.

1. Any predictable/static target (e.g. a planet), is indefensible unless you can intercept the incoming fleet/attack WAAAAY in advance (like years in advance). You cannot defend against the sheer number of planet wrecking kinetic attacks, because if the incoming fleet is screaming in at .1 C, then anything of sizable mass becomes a weapon of mass destruction. All it takes is one shot getting through and everything on the planet is done for.

2. If you are not genocidal, then conquering a planet is trivial once you control the orbitals/local space. Then you can just do pinpoint strikes with KE projectiles and destroy any sources of resistance at your leisure. Again, when you can zip in 100,000 fifty ton projectiles, when they're impacting at 100km/s all it takes is a few to get through to basically castrate any defense. Again a planet is basically a static target, and is trivially easy to hit versus a ship that's half million miles out, that's plinking at you with a large mass driver.

3. If space warfare is a real concern, on most planets there won't be permanent colonies (there might be farms and mines and stuff), and most civilizations would probably adopt a semi-nomadic existence in large mobile space stations. This is because relativistic kill vehicles are basically impossible to defend against, and if one hits, it literally will turn the crust of a target world into molten rock, and probably strip most of the atmosphere off.

4. Resources are not going to be a cause of war, unless there's something truly unique that is unavailable elsewhere and is critically important (e.g. unobtanium). Wars will be driven by basically three factors. External aggression (e.g. attacking for funzies), Ideology, or Religion.
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Old 12-17-2010, 05:43 AM   #25
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To continue, look up projectrho, for realistic numbers.

When you learn that at about .6 C the KE of any given mass is equivalent to its weight in anti-matter then you start to understand the sheer power of relativistic weaponry. There is no force in nature that is pound for pound, more dangerous than a toilet seat screaming in at a large portion of light speed.

When you work out the numbers you can see that Lhun is absolutely correct in most of assessments, in that trade would likely never exist. Star systems might talk to each other, or trade ideas/technology virtually, but the energy/time cost is so damned high for interstellar transport, that short of the unobtanium situation or faster than light travel, there is just no reason for trade. The one exception is maybe star systems sending over genetic stock (provided you can't locally manufacture it), but even then that'd just be a probe loaded up with sperm/eggs.
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