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Honor Harrington's Navy



Warship design in the twentieth century of the Diaspora was dictated, as it had been for the past seven hundred T-years, by the limitations and capabilities of starship propulsive systems.

Engagements in hyper-space were far less common than normal-space combat simply because it was so difficult for ships to find one another there. As a result, designs were optimized for normal-space warfare, despite the severe tactical drawbacks this imposed on the rare occasions upon which ships fought one another in hyper.

Normal-space movement depended upon a ship's impeller wedge, the inclined bands of stressed gravity above and below the vessel. The physics of the impeller drive required that this wedge be open both ahead and astern of the ship, although the sternward opening was much shallower. Since no known weapon could penetrate an impeller stress band, this meant no ship could fire at targets directly "above" or "below" it, but it also meant that fire directed at a ship from above or below was ineffective.

The sides of the impeller wedge, unlike its ends, could be closed by gravity sidewalls, a much weaker version of the impeller stress band. A warship's sidewalls were its first and primary line of defense, extremely difficult for missiles to penetrate (though there was an unending race between missiles with better sidewall penetrators and defensive designers' efforts to build ever tougher sidewalls) and invulnerable to even the most powerful energy weapons at ranges in excess of 400,000 to 500,000 kilometers (approximately forty percent of effective range against targets without sidewalls).

The fact that a ship could no more fire out through its impeller wedge than it could be fired upon also dictated the arrangement of its armament, most of which was grouped on the broadside, with a much weaker "chase" armament arranged for fire ahead and astern. Chase armaments were intended to cover the blind spots in a vessel's broadside firing arcs, but they tended to be much lighter than broadside batteries because there was simply less hull volume in which to mount them.

Although no "holes" could exist in an impeller stress band, portals (known to naval spacers as "gunports") could be opened in a vessel's sidewalls to permit unobstructed fire of its own weapons. In theory, gunports represented dangerous chinks in its defenses; in practice, the targets were too small and fleeting—they were "open" only long enough for a shot to be fired through them—to be deliberately targeted. Nonetheless, it was not unheard of (though it was very rare) for a lucky shot to penetrate an open gunport.

Even a freak gunport hit, however, wasn't guaranteed to inflict damage. The maximum safe velocity in n-space was approximately .8 c for a ship with military-grade particle and radiation shielding, whereas merchantmen normally relied on much weaker—and less massive—shield generators, trading lower maximum speeds for greater cargo capacity. But speed wasn't the only reason military shielding was so much more powerful, for it was also used to fill the area between the sidewall and hull and could lessen or even negate the effect of a hit which managed to pierce the primary defense.

The constraints of the impeller drive and the fact that ships were designed for broadside fire also dictated their hull forms.

The nodes which generated the impeller wedge had to be very specifically located relative to the dimensions of a ship. In general, they had to lie within twelve to fifteen percent of the extreme ends of the vessel and well inside the maximum beam which the wedge allowed. Although there were a few idiosyncratic exceptions, this meant virtually all warships were flattened, "hammer-headed" spindles, tapering to their smallest dimensions at their fore and aft impeller rings and then flaring back out to perhaps a quarter of their maximum beam. The fact that starships generated their own internal gravity allowed designers to orient "up" and "down" perpendicular to the long axis of the ship, which both permitted efficient usage of internal volume and gave renewed meaning to the ancient terms "upper" and "lower" decks.

Chase armaments had to be squeezed into the flared ends of the spindle, and there was little room, relatively speaking, into which to fit them. As a general rule, a light warship's chasers might represent as much as a third of the power of its broadsides, but the proportion fell as the size of the ship grew. Truly enormous ships, like superdreadnoughts, might mount broadside weapons on as many as four or five separate decks, and their length was as much as seven or even eight times their maximum beam, which meant that each "gundeck" offered twenty-five to thirty times the weapons volume available to their chasers.

The topsides and bottoms of warships were not armed, though a portion of those areas were used to mount various sensor and communication arrays. Some navies experimented with vertically mounted missile tubes in an effort to recoup that "wasted space," but with generally unsatisfactory results. A capital ship's impeller wedge might be as much as a hundred kilometers "wide," and no missile could activate its own impeller drive inside its mother ship's drive perimeter lest its wedge impinge upon that of the launching ship. Since the interference between them would have vaporized the missile drive (and the rest of the missile with it), any missile's initial flight path had to be a straight line, directly away from the ship and ninety to a hundred kilometers in length, which no practical vertically-launched weapon could attain.

Broadside missile tubes incorporated powerful mass drivers to get the weapon outside the warship's wedge quickly, and, in theory, a vertical launcher could have used a mass driver with an internally curved path to throw a missile out a top-mounted tube at an angle which would clear the wedge. In practice, it was impossible to align the missile flight path precisely enough with a sidewall gunport, and the additional mass required by the longer, curved mass driver was prohibitive, and efforts to devise "swim out" missiles which dispensed with mass drivers and relied on conventional thrusters for their initial acceleration proved universally disappointing.

All normal-space tactics and naval doctrine had evolved around the limitations and capabilities described above. Obviously, the bow or stern of a ship, which could not be protected by a sidewall, represented its most vulnerable aspect, and the ideal of virtually all normal-space tactics was to "cross the enemy's 'T' " and gain a "down the throat" or "up the kilt" shot with one's full broadside while he could reply only with his chase armament. Since both sides knew this, however, opportunities to cross the "T" were rare even in single-ship duels and almost unheard of in fleet engagements.

The most common tactical situation was the broadside duel, in which both ships brought the full power of one broadside to bear upon the other. Even here, however, a canny captain never forgot the impenetrability of his impeller wedge. Whenever possible, he "rolled ship" to take fire—especially missile fire—which he could not avoid against that powerful defense. At close range, lighter ships, which were much faster on the helm due to their lower masses, often resembled whirling dervishes as they spun back and forth in an effort to bring their own weapons to bear and then snap back around to deny their opponent a target for return fire.

Such energetic tactics, however, were less practical for fleet engagements. First, capital ships, which could mass up to 8,500,000 tons, were necessarily slower when it came to rolling ship, but, more important even than that, was the development of the formation known as "the wall of battle."

Since broadside fire was the only practical way to bring maximum fire to bear upon an enemy, admirals evolved the tactic of stacking their capital ships both vertically and in line at the smallest intervals their impeller wedge safety perimeters permitted. This produced the characteristic "wall"—an often enormous formation, one ship wide, which might extend for thousands of kilometers vertically and ahead and astern along the fleet's base vector. This was scarcely a maneuverable formation, but at least it allowed maximum fire to be brought to bear.

Unfortunately, the tactical formalism fostered by the wall of battle also meant that major fleet engagements tended to be frustratingly indecisive unless one side was tied down by the need to defend a target which it simply could not abandon, like a populated star system. If one fleet took the worst of it and had no overriding strategic reason to fight to the death, its commander simply turned the units of his wall up on their sides, presenting only the roofs or floors of their wedges to the enemy, and then bent all his efforts on breaking away. An opponent who turned towards him to close the range and prevent him from disengaging (the only possible counter) might actually cross its own "T," permitting his ships to roll back and fire their broadsides down the throat of the pursuing fleet with deadly effect.

On the rare occasions when warships clashed in hyper-space, the tactical environment was radically different. As a rule, starships in hyper tend to stay within the area of a grav wave, using their Warshawski sails to draw acceleration and deceleration from the wave, and normal impeller drives (including those of missiles) cannot be used within the area of a grav wave.

The Warshawski sail is essentially a highly modified and very powerful impeller stress band projected in the form of a disk at right angles to the hull, not as a wedge above and below it. The sail, which is just as impenetrable as an impeller wedge, extends for three hundred kilometers (as much as five hundred for really large vessels) in all directions. This not only makes chase armaments even more important but also deprives the warship of the protection of its wedge against fire from "above" or "below." Indeed, it deprives a ship even of its sidewalls, for there are no roof and floor for the sidewall to stitch together.

One might expect admirals to avoid grav waves if forced to fight in hyper, but doing so is tantamount to breaking off the action. The reason is simple: a ship under Warshawski sail can pull almost ten times the acceleration it could under impeller drive. Withdrawing from the wave, then, allows a fleet which remains within it to run away with relative impunity.

A few navies have experimented with the idea of mounting the sidewall bubble generators used to generate 360° "sidewalls" around fixed fortifications in their capital ships for use in hyper-space engagements, but the sheer mass of the system is self-defeating. A ship so equipped has an enormous advantage in hyper, but the volume consumed by the generators cuts deeply into that available for weapons, which places the same vessel at an even greater disadvantage in normal-space combat. Since n-space combat is the rule and hyper-space combat is the exception, no navy has ever built a major class of warship with bubble generators.

Because warships in hyper are stripped of both their major passive defense against broadside fire and their longest ranged offensive weapons, conventional tactical wisdom calls for a head-on engagement, the exact reverse of n-space warfare. The idea is that the area of the ship ahead or astern of the impenetrable Warshawski sail is much smaller than its unprotected length, and that the reduction in target area (and hence vulnerability) more than compensates for any loss in firepower.

In terms of maneuver once combat is joined in hyper, the advantage of "altitude" can become even more crucial than "crossing the T" in n-space battles. If a portion of one fleet can curl "over" or "under" its opponent, it can fire down (or up) upon the unarmed topsides or bottoms of enemy ships without receiving return fire.

Moreover, rolling ship is not an effective way to break off action under such circumstances, since there is no impeller wedge to hide behind. Obviously, then, any admiral engaged from more than one bearing in hyper-space is in serious trouble.



The long-range normal-space shipkiller at the beginning of the 20th century of the Diaspora was the impeller-drive missile, capable of maximum accelerations of some 85,000 gravities and fitted with defensive ECM, sidewall penetrators, and laser warheads.

Because even the highest missile velocities are well under that of light, they can be tracked and engaged by antimissile defenses as they close. The ranges at which they can be fired also require that they be capable of active, self-guided homing on their targets, since light-speed transmission limits would quickly render shipboard control arthritic and inaccurate. Because their onboard seeking systems simply can not be as sensitive and capable as those of a full-sized starship, they are particularly susceptible to electronic counter measures, and the fleet whose ECM is superior to its opponent's has a marked edge in combat.

The tracking time enjoyed against missiles also means that a captain can employ evasive maneuvers against them. If nothing else, he can roll ship to take the incoming fire against the impenetrable roof or floor of his wedge. In longer range engagements, the flight time of the missile and the acceleration capability of his ship allow him to maneuver well clear of the position his opponent's fire control had predicted at the moment of fire, imposing a still greater strain on an attacking missile's drive and seekers.

All of this requires that for effective missile fire, the missile drive must still be active and capable of terminal attack maneuvers right up to the instant of detonation.

A missile's effective powered flight envelope can be increased by setting it for a lower rate of acceleration, which delays burnout time on its small but powerful impeller drive. Eighty-five thousand gravities represents the maximum attainable acceleration, used for snapshots at closer ranges in order to achieve the shortest possible flight times. At this acceleration rate, the missile has a maximum powered endurance of sixty seconds, which restricts it to a powered engagement envelope (assuming target and firer were at rest relative to one another at the moment of fire) of approximately 1,500,000 kilometers and a terminal velocity of approximately 50,000 KPS. By setting the drive down to 42,500 gravities, time to burnout can be extended to 180 seconds, producing a maximum powered engagement range of 6,755,000 kilometers and a terminal velocity of 75,000 KPS. Lower accelerations are possible, but the maximum range and velocity actually begin to drop as acceleration is further reduced, and most navies adopted hardwired minimum settings in the vicinity of 42,500 g. The RMN, however, had not, as it believed there were instances in which absolute engagement range and velocity were less important than powered flight time to follow an opponent's maneuvers. All of these attack envelopes, of course, can be radically extended or reduced by the relative velocities and accelerations of the ships engaged.

Because the chance of knocking a missile down increases geometrically in the last 50,000 or 60,000 kilometers of its run, as it steadies down on its final attack vector, direct hits against modern point defense are virtually unheard of. As a result, the standard megaton-range nuclear warhead was falling into general disuse for ship-to-ship combat by Honor Harrington's time, replaced by the laser head. The terminal bus of a laser head mounts sophisticated targeting systems and powerful attitude thrusters to enable it to align itself so as to direct the greatest number of bomb-pumped laser beams at the target, but it is also designed to have a "porcupine" effect, radiating lasers in all directions. Each laser inflicts less damage than a direct hit could have, but the chances of a hit—even multiple hits—from a single missile are greatly increased. Not only does a laser head's stand-off range lessen point defense's chance to kill it short of detonation, but the cluster effect allows each to cover a much greater volume of space.

Active antimissile defenses consist of countermissiles, laser clusters, and (in navies further from "state of the art" hardware) autocannon. Countermissiles are much smaller versions of shipkillers, with more limited endurance and no warheads but capable of even higher acceleration. Their weapon is their impeller wedge. If any portion of it impinges on an attacking missile's active wedge, both vaporize as their drives burn out; if the target's drive has already burned out, the "grav shear" of the counter missile's wedge is more than adequate to rip it apart. Because of their overpowered drives, however, maximum effective counter missile range is seldom more than 1,000,000 kilometers or so.

If the countermissiles miss their prey, stopping them is up to the computer-commanded laser clusters. Unlike missiles, these require direct hits, but by the time they come into play, their target is normally steadying down for its final attack run, which gives them much simpler fire solutions.

In some navies, the lasers were backed by a last-ditch autocannon defense. The theory was simple: throw so many shells that they built a wall of metal in the missiles' paths. Given missiles' closing velocities, any hit could be counted on to vaporize them, but the development of laser heads made autocannon largely irrelevant. When a missile can attack from 20,000 or 30,000 kilometers, no last-ditch ballistic projectile can reach it in time.

Note that all of the above comments apply only to engagements under impeller drive. All normal space combats are, of course, fought out under impeller drive, as are those in hyper-space but outside the boundaries of a grav wave. Within a grav wave, however, where movement is possible only under Warshawski sail, missiles cannot be used. Only energy weapons are effective there, and combat under those conditions tends to be very close and extremely brutal.

The energy weapons of choice are the laser and graser, of which the graser has both a longer range and greater effect. But grasers are considerably more massive than lasers, so most ships have mixed batteries, accepting the lower effectiveness of the laser in order to mount greater numbers of weapons (which let them engage greater numbers of targets) while retaining the "smashing" ability of the graser. Ships smaller than light cruisers are normally so cramped for weapons space that they have pure laser energy armaments.

Another energy weapon, though seldom used at this period, was the energy torpedo, which fired what were for all intents and purposes packets of plasma confined in electromagnetic bottles. Energy torpedoes moved at near-light speeds, which made them very difficult for point defense to engage, but the energy torpedo had no homing capability. This made it a purely ballistic weapon, so the initial (and only) fire control solution was far more critical than for missiles, and the endurance of its "bottle" was barely more than one second, limiting absolute energy torpedo range to 300,000 kilometers or so. In addition, the fact that they were totally ineffective against an intact sidewall restricted them to down the throat or up the kilt shots, which made them of strictly limited utility. Despite this, some navies' capital ships (the RMN'S among them) incorporated light torpedo batteries for use if the enemy's "T" could be crossed or if his sidewall failed due to other battle damage.

A new development, the grav lance, offered the ability to burn out a sidewall by hitting it with a disrupting burst of focused gravitic energy, but this weapon had a maximum effective range of little more than 100,000 kilometers. It was also extremely slow firing, mass intensive, and temperamental, and very few captains were willing to sacrifice displacement which could be used for tried and proven weapons to squeeze in something that might work . . . if they could survive to get into its range of the enemy.



The pre-war naval balance between Manticore and Haven was the result of an arms race which had lasted for almost fifty years. Despite the Star Kingdom of Manticore's wealth and the People's Republic of Haven's ramshackle financial structure, the PRH was so much bigger that the smaller percentage of total income it could devote to its military budget was larger in absolute terms. Moreover, the Star Kingdom, the core of the Manticoran Alliance, possessed only three inhabited planets; the PRH contained over a hundred, which provided a far larger pool from which to draw starship crews and support personnel, and it had begun its initial buildup well before Manticore.

The actual strengths of the two sides in 282 A.L. (1904 PD.) broke down as below:



The People's Navy thus had a tonnage advantage of almost exactly two to one, yet its overall advantage in hulls was only 1.2 to 1, despite the fact that the RMN's ships were almost uniformly more massive on a per-class basis. This apparent discrepancy resulted from the composition of the two forces. The People's Navy was designed not only for wars of conquest but to police the enormous sphere the PRH had already conquered. The large number of battleships in its order of battle were intended not for the wall of battle, where their smaller size would place them at a grievous disadvantage against "proper" ships of the wall, but to cover occupied systems against anything smaller than a wall of battle ship. (This was of particular importance against Manticore, which had always favored the battlecruiser. The BC's combination of acceleration and firepower made it ideal for raids on the orbital industrial infrastructure of enemy star systems, and the RMN had refined these tactics to a fine art over the centuries.)

The same internal policing requirements explain the greater numbers of destroyers in the PN fleet mix. In addition, both navies had large numbers of LACs (light attack craft) which do not appear in the figures above, since their individual combat power was slight and they were not hyper capable, being intended purely for local defense.

It should also be noted that, once again despite the greater mass of most classes in the RMN, Haven's total wall of battle (superdreadnoughts and dreadnoughts) contained forty-nine percent more units than Manticore's but held a tonnage advantage of over fifty-two percent. This reflected the RMN's need to build a higher percentage of smaller and less capable dreadnoughts. Not only did each dreadnought use up less of its smaller budget and require a shorter building time, but Manticore needed numbers, as well as sheer tonnage, for tactical flexibility. Despite this, however, the Manticoran Admiralty steadfastly rejected all suggestions that it should build still smaller and cheaper battleships as Haven had done. The RMN's view was that while some concessions had to be made to bring numbers up, battleships were simply too small and weak to lie in the wall of battle, and Manticore, unlike Haven, could not afford to tie up millions of tons in "capital ships" unable to bear the brunt of fleet combat.

The table below shows the relative average displacements of the latest generation ships of the two navies, but it should be borne in mind that these are only averages.



The disparity in average hull sizes is evident, but what it actually meant in fighting power can be best illustrated by comparing two ships of nominally equivalent classes: HMS Nike and PNS Sultan. Both were battlecruisers of the latest generation, but Nike massed 879,000 tons with a crew of 2,105 (including Marines) as opposed to Sultan's 858,000 tons and crew of 1,695. Although she was less than three percent more massive overall, Nike's side-walls were ten percent tougher than Sultan's, and her energy weapons were fifteen percent more massive (and much more powerful) on a mount-for-mount basis.

Offensively, Sultan mounted a broadside of nine lasers, six grasers, and twenty missile tubes to Nike's eight lasers, ten grasers, two energy torpedoes, and twenty-five missile tubes. In terms of chase armament, Sultan mounted two lasers and five missile tubes ahead and the same astern, while Nike mounted four missile tubes, two grasers, and a laser in the same positions.

Part of the Manticoran ship's superior armament was bought at the expense of magazine space, but though Sultan actually carried twenty-five percent more missiles, despite her lower number of tubes, this was offset by the RMN's superior electronics and penetration aides, which made Nike's missiles almost thirty percent more accurate (and harder to stop), and a higher rate of fire per launcher.

The two ships also reflected differences in doctrine and design philosophy. The RMN built battlecruisers as screening elements for its battle squadrons, but it also regarded them as raiders and designed them for independent operations, as well. PN doctrine, on the other hand, tied its BCs much more tightly to the wall of battle, regarding them as scaled down, faster elements of the main battle fleet with a sustained combat role in fleet engagements. The RMN believed that any BC's life expectancy against ships of the wall would be brief and that battlecruiser-versus-battlecruiser actions would be short and sharp. As a result, BuShips believed it was better to be able to throw more missiles—especially better missiles—faster and incorporate an energy armament heavy enough to make close-range action decisive than to try to outlast an opponent. It is also worth noting that the smaller Manticoran fleet contained well over twice as many BCs as the PN.

Clearly, in any engagement with her opposite number the Manticoran ship's heavier armament, superior electronic warfare capabilities, and generally more efficient point defense gave her a powerful advantage. Indeed, a single Nike could engage two Sultans with a fair chance of victory.

The personnel of the two fleets showed an almost equally striking disparity. Both officer corps were comprised of long-term volunteer professionals, but Manticore, by and large, hewed to the doctrine established by Commodore Edward Saganami. Its officers were expected to use their own judgment and trained accordingly, whereas Havenite officers were kept on much tighter leashes by their superiors. RMN admirals tended to allow their subordinates considerable freedom of action within broad strategic and tactical parameters; their PN counterparts tied their units into tight, centralized planning and expected them to do as they were told. There were exceptions—some outstanding—to the pattern in each navy, but overall a Manticoran commander was much more comfortable "thinking for himself" than a Havenite CO. Perhaps even more significantly, the People's Republic was not a forgiving master—and it was far more heavily politicized. A Havenite officer dared not deviate (openly, at least) from the "party line," and if he failed to carry out his orders, whether those orders made sense or not, his career was likely to be short. In addition, favoritism and careerism were actually more rampant in the People's Navy than in the RMN, despite Manticoran reformers' understandable concern with their own service's tradition of patronage and family influence.

There was, in addition, a tremendous difference between the enlisted and noncommissioned ranks in the two fleets, for over seventy percent of the People's Navy's lower deck personnel were conscripts. Manticore, on the other hand, had been able to crew her ships entirely with volunteers, many with previous experience in the Star Kingdom's huge merchant fleet, as awareness of "the Havenite threat" grew. Moreover, the RMN's petty officers, the backbone of any navy, averaged almost twice the length of service of their Havenite counterparts because of the higher turnover in a conscript-crewed fleet and the lesser personal incentives the PN offered.

The education levels of the two sides also differed markedly. The progressive "democratization" of the PRH's educational system had emasculated it, while Manticore boasted one of the toughest merit-based systems, especially for university and post-graduate programs, in human space (two facts which largely explain the RMN's pronounced technological superiority). It was sad but true that the best educated enlisted personnel of the PN were conscripts from conquered planets who had largely completed their schooling before the PRH's centralized education policies blighted their teaching establishments.

There was, however, one major offsetting imponderable which neither navy was able to quantify prior to the actual outbreak of war. While the People's Navy might rely on ill-educated (comparatively speaking) conscripts for the bulk of its personnel, it had also been almost continuously at war for over half a Terran century. Admittedly, none of its opponents had been large enough to offer a long or protracted resistance, but the operational experience amassed by the PN was without equal. Inevitably, its crews must have acquired a certain degree of "on the job training" to offset their initial inferiority, and its officers, on the whole, believed in their tradition of victory. It remained to be seen whether these factors overmatched the intensive training and motivation of the RMN's personnel, and only the test of battle could reveal the truth.



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