Post by David Johnston
While I was reading Blood on the Stars, I started to think about what a
more realistic approach to space fighters would look like. I say "more"
realistic because honestly space fighters are a stupid idea.
But at least the illusion of realistic space combat.
It wouldn't be nearly so much World War 2 dogfighting. More like
jousting knights. Assume two fighters armed with a rapid-fire beam
weapon and missiles. Well the missiles probably would have been all
fired off in the first few seconds of the battle. Our fighters are the
survivors of that exchange.
The fighters might take hours to drift into effective weapons range of
each other since they'll be conserving delta-v for the actual
engagement. One they are in range though, they light those candles and
charge at each other.
They can't fire continuously all the way in. They'll overheat. So
instead they fire a long burst and then wiggle around a little with
manuvering thrusters to try to make it hard to target them. The closer
they get the less effective that will be.
They'd probably fly in pairs at first. If there are survivors on both
sides of the first joust, they usually both pivot on a fast moving dime,
spraying fire at each other as their momentum carries them away from
each other, or if one of them wants to try to disengage and has the
Delta-V left, they turn up, down or to a side and fire their engine again.
And having said all that, I realize it's wrong because they'd most
likely be fighting in orbit, which is the only practical place to
engage. So you gotta deal with stuff like accelerating to slow down and
A space fighter must have a reason to exist. Looking at why fighter planes
were developed in the first place during World War One, aircraft of that
time had little range or payload and could not carry enough weapons to have
a significant effect on the ground battle. However, they could carry
observers and cameras. This gave the nations employing aircraft vastly
improved tactical intelligence. Note that the military had been using
tethered balloons for aerial intelligence since our civil war.
It became very important to try to prevent opposing nations from operating
reconnaissance planes over one's own territory. One way was to send up your
own airplanes to shoot them down with small arms and later with machine guns.
An arms race ensued. Nations began sending out armed aircraft to protect
their scout planes. As aircraft developed to the point where they could
carry a useful bomb load these also were escorted and opposed by dedicated
air combat planes.
Because of the laws of aerodynamics, high-speed aircraft must be compact
and streamlined. At a given speed, larger aircraft will have greater range
and smaller ones will be able to turn more sharply. Fighter planes are the
smallest that can carry a single person.
In space there is no aerodynamic drag. Even now we build "cube-sats" just
a few inches across. A swarm of craft this size could fly from here to
Sirius without loosing formation. Each would have propulsion, sensing,
computation, armor, and armaments as desired. Even without a warhead
as such they would have considerable destructive effect from kinetic
energy. Interacting as an array, the fact that the swarm extends across thousands of kilometers or more or more would enhance its sensor capability.
With distributed computing and data storage the swarm would remain
dangerous as long as any were operational. If one or more of the
elements contained sapient crew they would be making decisions on
tactics and strategy, but their loss would not prevent the swarm
continuing on its last instructions, nor would they be easy to locate.
If an author wants to use space fighters plausibly they need to tailor the technology accordingly. George Lucas actually did this rather well. His
spacecraft were surrounded by deflector screens that deflected fire from
a distance but which could be penetrated by opposing craft that could then
fire from closer range. He implied that going through the screen itself
required ongoing power expenditure.
An author could also have a space fighter being a minimum sized craft that
can mount an effective force field, cloaking device, interphase generator,
or space drive. In the _Lensman_ series, the square/cube law favored
super-Dreadnaughts, whereas in Poul Anderson's _Time Lag_ agile torpedo
boats destroyed an armada. Make it work and the readers or viewers will buy it.