Aren’t TV and movie space battles a bit tame?

Take the battle of Waterloo. It contained approx 140,000 soldiers. The battle of Kursk was 900,000 Germans vs 1,300,000 Russians, complete with 3,600 tanks and 20,000 guns. This was a big battle between two countries in a world war, fought over 50 years ago, when the world population was smaller.

Imagine a modern day non-nuclear war between China and Russia on one side, and everyone else on the other side. Now picture it as a purely naval battle. How many people would be involved? Lets say conservatively that each side only fielded 2 million troops (a trivial subset of fit, able potential combatants). Lets look at a big US battleship : The USS Massachusetts has approx 2,000 crew involved. Lets assume only 10% of our navy serve on these big ships (200,000 men) so thats 1,000 battleships, in an all out naval war. (remember we are talking a war for survival, not the relative peacetime deployments of today).

That’s a large fight between two earth-bound nations.

But lets assume a planet with less water-coverage than earth, and slightly larger, so it has double our population. Thats a factor of two. Now fast forward another two generations time wise and assume a doubling of that population again. Thats x4. Now assume that they are all on the same side (x6) and that they form part of a federation of 20 such worlds (still an incredibly small speck in an average size galaxy). Thats 120 x 1,000 battleships.

What I’m getting at, is when the Rebel Alliance attacked the death star, they seemed to do it with the sort of navy you would use to maybe lay siege to Malta, or at best, to attack Dieppe. Hardly a clash of galactic powers.  Assume 20% of your 240,000,000 are in fighters and thats suddenly 12,000,000 fighters, or a million twelve man squadrons. Imagine how long “all wings report in” would take… Imagine how quickly you run out of colors?

“Peach-tinted fuschia leader standing by”, “Oaky pastel rose leader standing by…”

So I guess that issue, and the whole problem of ILM filming a million plastic model flybys in 1983 doesn’t help.

I know what you are thinking, Even Gratuitous Space Battles isn’t really gratuitous enough is it? Maybe for the sequel…

16 Responses to “Collosal space battles (in fuschia)”

  1. tokmitstock says:

    Actually I am thinking, I bet he meant fuchsia and not fuschia.

    I see were you are heading and although I wouldn’t support all of your estimations you are definitely right about, that space battles in science fiction are not really displayed with expectable numbers.

  2. CaesarsGhost says:

    for the record:

    Those old BBs the US Navy has are, even if upgraded, completely worthless. There’s a reason they’re no longer in commission. Their size, lack of OTH warfare capabilities, and cost of crew mean that you can have half a dozen Destroyers for the cost of a Battleship.

    If you wanted to use more accurate numbers take
    – DDG (Destroyer) or a CG (Cruiser): both of which have compliments of 300 Sailors not including Helo Airwings (another 20ish)
    – CVN (Carrier) has a compliment of 5000-6000 fully loaded with planes on deployment.
    – FFG’s have a compliment of around 100-200.

  3. says:

    AI War: Fleet Command has, from what I hear, tens of thousands of ships in its larger battles – I’ve heard 90,000 mentioned here and there as a high-end fleet for someone who concentrates on numbers? It’s not really my kind of game, being an RTS thingy, but I am tempted to get into it for the co-op. Also, Warhammer 40,000’s new RPG mocks your puny battleship crews, with its five- and six-digit crews for ships starting player characters, as merchants, can use.

    Regarding Gratuitous Space Battles 2: Gratuitous Harder, all I can say is that I would /love/ to at least have the option of significantly larger fleets.

  4. Jason Larke says:

    Looking at the history of naval warfare over the last two centuries, the cost of ships and crew have grown tremendously as technology has improved. During the Anglo-German naval arms race at the beginning of the 20th century, Great Britain could plausibly talk about laying down four dreadnought battleships in a single year. One hundred years later, the United States can barely afford to lay down a new supercarrier every three years. Of course, a supercarrier is five times the size of an early dreadnought, carries about five times the people, and could wipe out four dreadnoughts in a single strike mission. If we extend that trend out into space warefare, fleets of small numbers of very powerful ships sound quite plausible. Then there are logistical considerations, which of course vary enormously depending on your technological assumptions.

  5. Geressen says:

    I think space warfare would be more an issue of having regular patrolls to keep the trade/suply routes secure, while using space stations to defend locations, so it wouldnt be as much about the number of troops but more about the ability to keep stuff running on low as possible resources.

    …sort of like modern and medieval tactics and warfare fell in love and had a baby IN SPACE.

  6. Bluebreaker says:

    Space warfare would be matter of simply throwing rocks to the enemy planet from yours.

  7. Cliff, you have too much thoughts… ;)

  8. Fragsalot says:

    woahcomments suddenly work rofl I posted two comments earlier but they never showed up weird and I thought they were getting marked as spam/deleted

  9. Fragsalot says:

    Cliff: For inspiration for space battles, check out Macross frontier and an oldie but goodie Gunbuster anime, anime is probably one of the best places to find “gratuitous” space battles that would be what a real armada would be like in a large civilization, despite some of their cheezy aspects in gunbuster, gunbuster does a hell of a job making the unvierse seem real minus the excessive over the top giant robot bits.

    Macross Frontier and Gunbuster (old original one) has some great space battle scenes.

  10. xrdrt says:

    Got to take into account that getting stuff up into space is harder tough. Navy ships != space ships…

    Space combat speculations are always more or less retarded tough, there’s no way we could tell what it will be like if it happens. I know there’s stuff like Atomic Rocket webpage, but it builds on tons of faulty assumptions.

  11. Bluebreaker says:

    Well, pretty much like the current naval doctrine, its all based on theories as there hasn’t been a true bilateral conflict between large powers since ww2.

  12. PonWall says:

    In ‘reality’ space battles wouldn’t be so close and personal as in games. It would be a few superships shooting laserbeams at each others, perhaps a few lightminutes (as apposed to lightyears) away from each other, so the laser will have a decent chance of hitting if the enemy ship is not manuverable.

    Or perhaps they would just build nukes and be stuck in the same game as the U.S and USSR. We have rockets that can take us into outer space, and with hyperdrive and other future tech. You could probably wipe out an entire planet in minutes.

    A big part of outer space warfare would be to block fleets from their ports, they can’t stay out there forever and will need supplies sooner or later. It would be far from the dogfights in the sci-fi’s, that’s for sure.

    In other words, don’t make realistic games ;) calculating laser-balistics and waiting minutes to score a hit is no fun.

  13. Kite65 says:

    Surely once you have replicating machines, the economics starts to fade as you just let the machines get on with it. Firstly it constructs a solar power system and then it starts converting the asteroids to ship hulls. You might need to supply elements that it can’t extract from the asteroids but that should be manageable.

    Given the poor performance of humans in high gee, high radiation environments, I’d go for AI control. But then you do have worry about the AI mutiny problem, where the ships take your empire from you.

    I’m with the comments backing a really huge space fleet.
    After all, once you have close orbital superiority, any planet should surrender.
    It’s the worst case of trying to fight up hill with the opposition dropping fast heavy rocks onto to your cities, or oceans (tsunamis).

    I would thought that ownership of the planet is the aim, good habitable real estate is not that common (given our current knowledge). The fleet will win planets that you can colonise.

    There are some interesting ideas in the following books (forgive me if you already own them)

    “The Praxis” Series by Walter Jon Williams
    Small Fleet Manoeuvres (about 20 ships) with fast missiles
    Very chess like battles played across a solar system

    The Polity Series by Neal Asher
    A lot of ships (up to moon size) and tech (up to nanotech replicators)
    There are several good large battles between mostly AI ships
    Most battles are close around planets (interesting trajectories are used)
    There are dogfights with fast attack ships (about a klick long) driven by AI
    Polity Agent, Line War, Prador Moon have the most interesting battles.

  14. cliffski says:

    Interesting stuff. I’m quite taken with the idea of Iain M Banks where advanced civs will create artificial habitats (orbitals) from scratch replete with artificial sun and atmosphere, completely bypassing the need for planets, whose specific atmosphere and gravity is pretty much lucky dip, with gravity not even being changeable by terraforming.

  15. Peter Miller says:

    I always thought the old anime Legend of Galactic Heroes did a good job of imagining epic space warfare. Tens of thousands of battleships lined up across from each other in Napoleonic fashion… the true test of leadership would be in utilization of formations, reserves, and deception. The series was also interesting in the use of nonconventional tactics (in space) of scorched earth across habitable worlds, near-impervious moon sized battlestations without the weak spot cliche, political manuevering, and slinging meteors at relatively static targets.