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Old 10-01-2017, 01:40 PM   #8
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Join Date: Apr 2005
Default Re: [Ultra-Tech] What would naval warfare at TL10 look like?

Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
An orbital strike is almost unavoidably going to be coming in very fast, and is consequently more likely to use a heavy solid impactor rather than a lighter warhead, adding up to something relatively hard to stop. You could make a surface-launched orbital-velocity range kinetic-kill missile, sure, but it'd take an awful lot of rocket.
Orbital strikes have a lot going for them, but they've got a lot of difficulties, too.

The most obvious is that it is, well, obvious. Unlike a sea-skimming hypersonic anti-ship missile, which might not come into a ship's line-of-sight until a few tens of seconds before impact and which can be quite stealthy, there is no way to deorbit something at near-orbital velocity without everyone seeing it. And it's not just that they'll know as soon as the missiles hit atmo. Unless you've got some super-science reactionless drives that just plain don't emit any heat or radiation of any kind, it will be perfectly obvious to any nation with basic sensors the moment you launch the attack. The ships will know there's an orbital attack in their area probably tens of minutes before the attack lands, if not longer (And an immediate change of course at high speed with a long lead-time might bleed some of the missile's energy and complicate the already difficult sensor situation during reentry).

The attack profile is also near-ideal for missile defense systems. Something like the modern SM-3 is designed to take out de-orbiting threats such as ballistic missiles, and would probably find this TL10 reentry vehicle an average target (Maneuverability when re-entering at near-orbital velocities is basically nil unless you want to tear your own vehicle apart). Further, being a solid kinetic-kill warhead provides no benefit here; most intercepting missiles would probably be kinetic-kill as well, and even a glancing blow would be enough to tear apart a reentry vehicle travelling at those speeds. And this is with a missile that's 1.5-2 TLs behind; I'd expect more advanced missiles to be even better. Then you've got air-defense lasers, which get a nice, clear shot of an easily detected target, and while the kill-vehicles' heat shielding will provide some protection, I'd expect it wouldn't save them, and it certainly wouldn't save their sensors. Finally, since we're dealing with self-guided projectiles, it's quite possible that they'd have to slow to "just" hypersonic velocities simply to detect and maneuver on-target (See modern ballistic anti-ship missiles like the DF-21D), negating their one advantage over sea-skimming missiles. Between these, I would expect high, extremely-visible missiles to fare poorly against point defense measures. You'd need to saturate enemy defenses, making it more of a brute-force option.

So if you can afford to throw dozens of guided hypersonic reentry vehicles at a surface ship, and don't mind that it might take an hour or so to land (Or, if based in LEO, potentially longer to launch), then it could be viable. Whether it's more effective and efficient than a few stealthy sea-skimming hypervelocity missiles is going to be a rather complex question.
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