The Let's Play Archive

Master of Orion II

by nweismuller

Part 15: Shipkillers, Laser Cannon, and Attack Boats- The Basic Theory of Void Combat

Shipkillers, Laser Cannon, and Attack Boats- the Basic Theory of Void Combat

Theorists of void combat in this interstellar era note three basic technologies available for assembling forces capable of engaging enemies and pirates in space. The shipkiller missile and laser cannon are each basic weapons systems capable of engaging targets at spaceborne velocities and ranges, while the attack boat, a security variant of high-performance civilian small craft, is, in many ways, a hybrid of both these basic technologies.

The shipkiller missile consists primarily of a very large propulsion unit, fitted with high-power attitude thrusters, a basic sensor and seeker package to home in on its target, and a high-powered nuclear warhead. Once in close proximity to its target, rather than risking overshoot by an attempt at a contact intercept, the warhead will detonate, searing its target with the intense wave of photons created by the nuclear event. Over 50% of the warhead energy is lost uselessly to all sides, but nonetheless nuclear shipkiller missiles are anticipated to deal severe damage to any target. The relatively limited guidance package on shipkillers means that initial launch requires a turret for a launch tube, oriented to roughly capture its target in its sight window, and the high output of the propulsion unit requires a magnetically-assisted launch before the shipkiller touches off its primary drive, lest the missile destroy itself via propulsion backblast before it ever reaches its target. All this means that the required supporting machinery for a shipkiller launch tube is significant.

Laser cannon capable of engaging at the distances of space combat are high-output solid-state arrays that need the formidable input energy available from a starship fission or fusion reactor, unlike lower-output land vehicle laser weaponry, which draws power from conventional engines. Laser cannon deal modest damage, but should be capable of effective engagement of hostile shipkillers or attack boats, giving them a vital defensive role. The conversion of power into coherent light in lasers remains a very low-efficiency process, with huge amounts of heat being produced by ship-mounted laser cannon. In order to deal with this heat buildup, each laser cannon has its own radiative heatsink array installed on the hull surface surrounding the laser cannon, helping mitigate this issue before its electronics fail and the internal temperature of the ship rises to untenable levels.

Attack boats, for their part, have a propulsion unit very similar to that of a shipkiller missile, with a frame wrapped around this mounting its own sensors package, command compartment, weapons system, and even heavier manuever thrusters. The command compartment is either a lightly-armored crew compartment with a cushioned seat for the pilot, flooded with an oxygenated breathing medium as close to the density of the Narestan body as possible in order to minimise damage from G-forces, or a sophisticated package of computer equipment, transmitters, and recievers allowing remote drone piloting of the attack boat by an operator on its host vessel. The weapons system for an attack boat is a light laser mount, which has overcome the challenges of power delivery for lasers in a void environment by use of specially-designed high-density batteries that effectively slag themselves with each shot, thus serving as 'ammunition' for the weapon.

Although each attack boat is somewhat larger and more complex than a shipkiller missile and requires support equipment for refueling, rearming, and maintenance, the displacement required for a four-boat squadron bay is only half again as much that of a shipkiller launch tube, its associated turret, and magazine space for five missiles. This is achievable in large part because the intelligent guidance of attack boats allows them to 'swim' out of their bay under maneuver thrusters, orient on a target, and light off their primary drives at a safe range. Attack boats are expected to be able to effectively make intercept with targets ranging from other attack boats and shipkiller missiles to hostile ships, and should be extremely effective as missile hunters due to their ability to engage at minimal range. In the event that an attack boat's target is neutralised, it can easily choose a new target to attempt intercept with. Attack boats are low-endurance weapons, with only four shots in their laser before they must return to their home vessel to refuel and rearm, which is done by making intercept with its home vessel and then 'swimming' back in to the squadron bay. The squadron bay, for its part, is kept permanently in vacuum with airlock access to the rest of the ship, with vacuum-suited support personnel to rapidly service the attack boat before it is launched once more.