Space Warfare


I've been writing stories for my own amusement since I was four, but recently I've turned more to building my own internally consistent universes instead.

I've been working on one of my scifi universes recently and I was just thinking -

How assymetric is future warfare likely to be?

I've invented a hyperdrive justification, but it would probably be horrendously expensive to build, equip and crew a warship that moved fast enough to be of any tactical use outside of system defence.

Apart from a few major powers, the Earth Empire, the Kyriosan Cluster, the Grand Church for instance, which have the money to equip fleets.

But what of smaller colonies? Would they rely on ground forces equipped with out-of-date weaponry? Would their battles be fought with guerrilla actions and insurgent tactics? Would they use "fireships" in dockyards, and long-range radio-controlled bombs?

What does the forum think on the topic of the poor man's war in the future?


Code Monkey
Staff member
If the smaller colonies are on the same planetary body then, yeah, I would think that ground forces and older tech' would be the primary offensive tactics.

But what if the colonies were on different bodies? Traditional 'slow' ships between worlds would make any kind of conflict so drawn out that it might takes years for there to be a victor so wouldn't some type of high-speed travel be necessary?

Because of that I think a poor man's war would likely entail some type of "Nuke'em & Forget'em" mindset where essentially the only way to really win the conflict would be to get such a massive first-strike in that the the opposing side would either by incapable of responding or no longer exists.


That makes sense, between enemies that only control one planet or one system each...

But say the Earth Empire attacks a sovereign planet which is far far weaker (say a low-populace mining colony), what then?

Some sort of infrastructure would need to be maintained by the invaders, so an all-out nuke attack would be unhelpful to their goals, as well as politically unsound with relation to opinion back home.

Would guerrilla action against Imperial supply lines work? Maybe setting bombs on Imperial ships and activating them with long-range radio...

Sublight ships would also probably have either: a dead crew on board, or, like the Chios, have successive generations taking on the task their fathers took on, so they would need to essentially be colony ships, or else gamble on some form of cryogenics working and there being absolutely no unexpected complications during the voyage.

A poor colony would likely have a couple of merchant tugs equipped with Koroetz needles, and thus able to jump between worlds more directly, but nothing with planet-killing capabilities. Likely it would only have a couple of railguns for dispelling asteroids.

Still, space is essentially out as a battlefield in this sort of assymetric warfare, unless you're going to load up a tug with TNT and drive it into a spacedock! =p

Commercial space flight is often conducted in the hulls of privately owned space ships, much like in the ancient world, where traders and ship-captains were two entirely separate people with a mutually beneficial arrangement.

Obviously, if you get a rep for mucking up someone else's business, your stock with the ship-people will sink veery fast.


Well, I think you need to look at contemporary warfare. When you have two nations of relatively equal size battling against one another, their battles tend to be symmetrical and traditional in nature -- fleets of battleships, entrenched armies, etc. The rules of war are heavily codified -- in an intergalactic setting, I could easily see forces meeting at an agreed-upon neutral location to do battle, so as not to affect their home populaces.

(Alternately, I could see some race disdaining these kind of niceties and using every sort of biological or chemical or nuclear weapon they could get a hold of.)

With two unevenly matches forces, the smaller side often has to engage in a great deal of shadow combat -- guerrilla tactics, terrorism, striking at supply lines, disruption, etc., especially when they are being occupied. You can't possibly win if you stand on an even battlefield, so you have to cheat, to strike and then cower, to blend into the populace so that the larger forces can't tell who or what they need to attack.

If I were a smaller, poorer planet or colony going up against a massive empire of some sort with vastly superior technology, I would have to do something to even the odds. If I knew that they wanted to take over my planet for its resources, maybe I would poison those resources -- detonate some neutron bombs over my oceans, or burn all of the forests. Even the threat of doing that might suffice -- but if it was a choice between the annihilation of my species or the destruction of my ecosystem... well, that's not that tough a choice.


Ooh, me likey...

So something like the New Bushido of Hyperion or the rules of war in Dune?

I admit I was envisioning some kind of codified practices of war for the two main powers, the Earth Empire and the Kyriosan Cluster, mostly concerning not bombing the hell out of civilian planetary targets, although groups on the fringe would probably act in the fashion Mojo described - the Shabbaloth and the Chios especially.

I'm appreciating all the input here guys, good to have people to bounce ideas off.

Btw, there are only three sentient races other than humans in this universe, two of which are beyond warfare in any sense which we know. The Riyani, that last race, are based on the principles of Plato's Republic.


So here's an interesting thought, although I don't know where to go with it -- doubtless, advanced civilizations will have greater control over the time-space continuum. So how would the ability to alter time itself impact future warfare?


I believe the Forever War and Hyperion both have some sort of relative time-dilation in their wargames, but mostly from travel, i.e. those inside the hyperdrive warp spend less time moving than the rate of time in the outside universe might suggest.

This humorous article shows the sort of political machinations that might arise from Space/Time manipulation in future warfare.
I think that S/T.M (for the sake of brevity) would probably be used in the same way as nuclear weapons are now - not at all/very rarely, because of the immense damage they might cause. I mean, destroying one lonely planet is one thing, but unspooling the entire S/T continuum and causing the universe to collapse in on itself (like the Hadron collider might tomorrow) is quite another.


Where unequal forces meet (think Afghanistan for example) the weaker force will retreat to territory it knows well and run a guerilla warfare campaign. In a space war context, you would be looking at onplanet warfare mixed with knowledge of asteroid belts, where the best places to hide on moons/ other planets are, etc.

I would imagine that if a hyperdrive has been implemented then sub light drives would be suitably powerful to ensure transport across a planetary system without too much time lag?


Creative Writer
The kinetic weapons in Babylon5 proved that a highly technological species can still throw rocks down that can destroy cities. The same was used in Feintuchs : Hope series by alien 'fish'. Cheap and hard to stop, pick asteroids with high density and maybe too high a sophistication of weaponry couldn't stop it.

Actual space combat depends on whether inertial dampeners are a viable technology too. Whether you have crew strapped in suffering 5-6 G's and slowly curving round in space, or whether the advent of dampeners allows a craft to change course immediately.

I guess you have to choose which technology you prefer and stick with it. What is easier? Which allows for greater scope, damage and emotion.


@Tim: Internal gravity has been achieved (for human ships at least) through a variety of technologies spun off from the O'Neill cylinder.
Mass drivers a la Centuari devastation of the Narn homeworld are technically possible.
Newtonian physics apply to space combat, much like in David Weber's Honorverse.

@Chopper: It takes a few hours to cross an Earth-sized system. Commlag is a minute or two at most in civilised systems, thanks to seeded satellites. In fringe systems, it's the luck of the draw how advanced the radio systems are.
Inter-system communication is generally by courier, on a small Koroetz-capable starship. Recently though, the Earth Empire has developed a drone which lies on silent running in realspace, on the edge of a system's gravitic shadow, and takes the message from a planet or ship through traditional radio - including coordinates. It then uses its tiny Koroetz array to plunge into another system at FTL, and finally re-transmits the message with radio in the home system, thereby potentially cutting hours off the transmission time, if not months. In a military situation, this can be a godsend =]

Tbh, this universe started off as entirely hard sci-fi, as tough on science as my classicist's brain would allow, but things have gradually gotten softer, thanks to my desire to cram as many ideas into a frame as possible before moving onto the next one.


It might be like playing three dimensional "Pool" . A game you thought you knew & were good at, that'll have to be learned all over again from scratch. Perhaps the table will be moving as well and you to keep up with it.
It's fun to give away a little "Poetic License" instead of attempting a scrutiny free rendering (as with Time travel), which some will still find fault with, and most will find above them, yet annoying if you explain in detail.
With all the initial, prevailing, and terminating forces at work on your projectiles, it may be a miracle to hit anything other than a large body with gravity (the ground).
You may have to mark targets (as with smart bombs), fly them yourself (kamikaze), or have a camera in it for your eyes.
Anything with a recoil will send you the opposite direction (Newton).
Ringo addressed this in his "Posleen" series with anti-gra(ity) weapons the fired either 1 or 3 millimeter needle-like projectiles. No re-loads were necessary because the weapons carried thousands of rounds, and launched because gravity was (poetic License again) removed so as to provide no obstacle/barrier. This was in places where there was gravity, so aiming was as today.
Once "hulled" in space, you're toast. No fiery explosions, just the "Pop" of a balloon, and the resulting implosion, unless you're all in suits (Cold).


Tbh, this universe started off as entirely hard sci-fi, as tough on science as my classicist's brain would allow, but things have gradually gotten softer, thanks to my desire to cram as many ideas into a frame as possible before moving onto the next one.

I can totally relate to wanting to cram as much into a story as possible but be careful that you don't overwhelm your readers! From what I've been reading, you've got some really great ideas already so run with them for a bit before cramming in something else :smiley:

I also find hard sci-fi too limiting and can restrict your imagination too much! When I had my second book proof read, I had a major argument with a proofer who was really into hard scifi because he didn't like the fact that my rocket ships were all in one jobs. He was adamant that they should be multi section launch vehicle type things.


Don't worry, I'm not going to overwhelm my readers in-story Tolkien-style =p
I'm just building the universe as comprehensively as possible, Eddings-style.

It's just that I have far too many ideas, which is why I'm developing 6 universes (or 'frames' for stories) at once...