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Old 01-09-2009, 05:08 PM   #1
vicky_molokh
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Default [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

Greetings, all!

Inspired, by two other current threads (one very close, the other only vaguely related), I wanted to fine-tune the question:

Under what tech assumptions are Space Fighters actually useful? Nonexistent AI seems like an early prerequisite. Reactionless drives seem like a close second. But what else? Is there more than one setup under which fighters make sense?

Yes, I know under most assumptions they're useless - I always propose to replace them with AKVs if they sound better. But it's not about proving them useless. I'm sure most of you know what the topic is about.

Thanks in advance to those who are willing to discuss it!
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Old 01-09-2009, 05:13 PM   #2
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

I'm curious about how exactly you're defining 'space fighter'.

This is kind of key, since I really don't see any reason that an AKV doesn't count.
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Old 01-09-2009, 05:25 PM   #3
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

Basically, for manned space fighters to be useful there must be something important which only humans close to the action can do. That requires weak or rare AI, and often superscience. I don't have any specific ideas right now!
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Old 01-09-2009, 05:30 PM   #4
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

No deflector shields might actually be a good idea - a smaller fighter is harder to hit, whereas the larger ships that otherwise dominate can be liabilities. Alternatively, deflector shields that small, agile fighters can fly under could increase the effectiveness of fighters - or at least increase their necessity as interceptors for taking out the small bombers. Something that prevents massive numbers of mounted weapons on large ships can also be important, as they'll be less capable of defending themselves against fighters. Something allowing for aircraft-like maneuverability in space (as seen in most space opera) can also add to the "small, agile" appeal of the fighter. Dropping the effectiveness of missiles (like large amounts of PD that can easily take out missiles, but can't do squat against fighters) and beams could make the fighter more useful - if guns dominate, it will be difficult to defend against fighters (since lasers are ineffective against the fighters, and guns have to take into account their high velocity) without using one's own fighters (which can presumably drop in behind an enemy fighter and match velocity to get rid of the speed penalty).

These are just a few off the top of my head, and several (or all) of them could be completely wrong.
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Old 01-09-2009, 05:32 PM   #5
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

Nonexistent AI is only a requirement if you don't count drones as space fighters OR vehicles have such high accelerations (10+) that humans wouldn't be able to fly them.

An important thing that makes space fighters useful is some reason for ships with higher acceleration to be useful in combat. The only reason I can think of for high-acceleration ships to be useful in the default system is if they have low-range weaponry, in which case they need to get an Attack Vector, Engaged, Rendevous, or Collision Course maneuver. High acceleration is extremely useful when making Closing maneuvers, but isn't too useful for anything else.

One thing to note is that reactionless drives allow any ship to have any possible acceleration - it's reaction drives with extremely expensive fuel that make smaller, faster vessels possible, so I'd say reactionless drives help make space fighters useless.
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Old 01-09-2009, 05:35 PM   #6
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

One thing is not necessarily (or even merely) reactionless drives, but different drives. Fighters would seem to need a high-thrust drive that ships can't match, either because of efficiency reasons, or just because the technology doesn't scale up for some reason.

Another possibility is that fighters are designed to fight somewhere that larger ships can't. Perhaps ships can't do much tactical maneuvering in hyperspace, and so have to rely on specially designed craft.

David Weber and John Ringo's Empire of Man series had such an approach, wherein carriers were designed for interstellar travel, and were sluggish insystem; they each carried a squadron of sublight cruisers and a wing of fighters to carry the fight to the enemy. They never made it clear what the fighters did that the cruisers couldn't, though.
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Old 01-09-2009, 05:44 PM   #7
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

There are only massdrivers and propelled warheads (torpedoes, missiles, rockets etc). The shot from a massdriver may be to slow to be accurate on long distances. Targeting systems on ships may have an easy time to lock-on on an approaching torpedo fired 100k miles away.
Fighters bring the weapons close to the enemy - like setting your gun against the barn.
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Old 01-09-2009, 06:00 PM   #8
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

I've got no clue what an AKV is, but space fighters tend to make sense only when absolute velocities are low and ranges are fairly short, when accelerations are very high and delta-v doesn't take much reaction fuel (really high velocity exhaust), or--as mentioned--with reactionless thrusters (especially if efficiency is an inverse ratio to mass).

Inertial sumps do help with reaction drives.

It also pretty much requires that ships not be able to carry many light weapons.

Imprecise weapons locks--for whatever reason--really help too.

There is a way they make sense without special considerations--if they are using very long range missiles and are a way of multiplying the launch and missile control capability of the mother ship. But that's not normally considered to be a "space fighter".

Another thing that might make actual space fighters useful is if large ships have really tough shields that are nearly impossible for weapons to penetrate. Fighters--with their own shields that let them get through--might be then be effective weapons. Especially if they can use weapons that make armor nearly ineffective once they are inside the shields. Massive attack waves of fighters would be the only way to take out ships then, even if the ships mount enormous point defense capability. Besides, the fighters have some survivability due to their own--somewhat weak?--shields and numbers.

If the shields were strong enough and had a large minimum radius, then the only real counters to fighters might be fast-firing light weapons at very short range and other fighters; these weapons would have to be used from inside the opposing fighter's shield. And fighters might be the only viable weapon systems if the ships' shields were up.

(Don't ask me why they don't just put shields on missiles...it may be that shields or some kind of super-maser defense can scramble sophisticated electronics. Or the shield generator may be so big that it won't fit on a missile and it is so expensive it pays to use it only on a delivery system that has some hope of returning.)

And shields might make target locks very difficult by doing nasty things to non-weapon electromagnetic radiation. The ship inside--with intimate knowledge of the shield generator and exact performance--can at least partially negate the effects of it's own shield, so it can see out. A variable fluctuation in the generator would prevent the enemy from figuring out what is needed to peer in. And a link to it's own sensors would allow the ship to still see (if not quite as well) through it's own shield in spite of the variation.

That would tend to make ranges shorter in the first place and add to the--potential--usefulness of space fighters. Fighters could be launched at longer ranges, while ships would have to get close enough for both ships to be inside a merged shield. Which might result in a lot of Pyrrhic victories with the winner staggering away with massive damage (remember, weak armor was a requirement for fighters' weapons to be effective.)

************************************************** *

Hmm. Good question though.

I was a firm believer that there were NO situations in which space fighters would be viable. Now I can imagine one that doesn't involve the combat being in orbit or at the edge of the atmosphere and mostly involving desperation on the part of planetary defenders who couldn't afford a real ship and/or crew.

But, I think it does require some careful justification.
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Old 01-09-2009, 06:12 PM   #9
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

Quote:
I've got no clue what an AKV is, but space fighters tend to make sense only when absolute velocities are low and ranges are fairly short, when accelerations are very high and delta-v doesn't take much reaction fuel (really high velocity exhaust), or--as mentioned--with reactionless thrusters (especially if efficiency is an inverse ratio to mass).
Why? How do reactionless thrusters or high delta-v fuels make space fighters more useful?
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Old 01-09-2009, 06:16 PM   #10
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Default Re: [Spaceships] Under what tech assumptions Space Fighters make sense?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Langy
Why? How do reactionless thrusters or high delta-v fuels make space fighters more useful?
I think the concept here is, if the fighter is going to be maneuvering a great deal in the fight (necessary if it's trying to capitalize on its increased maneuverability), it's going to be changing its velocity a lot, which means it's going to burn through a lot of delta-v. In order to not have to sacrifice a good deal of space for fuel tanks, either high delta-v fuels or reactionless engines are going to be necessary.
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