A missile was a self-propelled guided projectile used as a weapon. While the term could refer to man-portable shoulder-fired weapons, in their most common usage missiles were large space weapons used to destroy opposing warships. By the 20th Century PD, impeller drive-propelled missiles were the most common weapons of naval warfare.
Missiles came in varying masses, depending on the warship class that fired them, with larger vessels capable of firing missiles that had greater acceleration and endurance and heavier warheads. Missiles could be tipped with several kinds of warheads, including nuclear fusion warheads, bomb-pumped laser warheads, sidewall penetrators, and electronic countermeasures (ECM) to help breach missile defenses. Some smaller missiles were even purely kinetic.
Anti-missile defenses included rolling a ship's wedge to interpose it between missile and ship, electronic countermeasures to confuse missiles, firing countermissiles to destroy or damage them, and point defense (largely computer controlled lasers).
- 1 Missile design
- 2 Missile Pod Technology
- 3 National missile technologies
- 4 References
Originally, missile tubes merely housed the missile prior to launch. Missiles would receive pre-programmed instructions from their ship, and would then use reaction thrusters to move out beyond the ship's impeller wedge before activating their own. This severely limited the fire rate.
More modern tubes contained mass drivers that "flung" a missile out past a starship's wedge, allowing the missile to activate its own wedge without fear of interference.
At one point, curved tubes and drivers were considered for the "top" and "bottom" of a warship, in order to pack more launchers into a ship, allowing for a larger broadside. But this was deemed impractical, as the tonnage required was enormous. The idea was made obsolete by the re-introduction of the missile pod, as well as developments by the Royal Manticoran Navy. The Edward Saganami C class heavy cruiser could fire a double broadside of missiles out of its tubes, and they would re-orient themselves before activating their drives, allowing them to be fired "off-bore". (SI1)
Havenite missile tube types during the early 19th Century PD included:
- LME-3(b) – Developed in the mid-1860s PD and put on Charles Wade Pope-class light cruisers. (JIR2)
- LMC-8(g) – Developed in the mid-1860s PD and put on Charles Wade Pope-class light cruisers (CM). (JIR2)
The typical capital ship missile of the late 19th and early 20th centuries Post Diaspora massed 80 tons and could accelerate at 46,000 G for perhaps 180 seconds before its drive burned out, giving it a powered flight range of over six million kilometers. Naturally, in space, it was possible to reach a target beyond powered range, but it was very easy to avoid a missile which could no longer maneuver.
The Royal Manticoran Navy's cruiser-weight Mark 13 anti-ship missile was typical of missile technology before the First Havenite-Manticoran War: it had an onboard power system of four superconducting capacitor rings, powering the seeker head and a single impeller drive module. Mobility was provided by a thrust-vectored reaction control system and midline control moment gyroscopes.(HHA5.4: AItMSAD)
Missile drives were frequently adjustable, allowing the acceleration to be "stepped down" in order to increase the powered lifetime, although at a cost of giving the opposing force more time to throw up defenses. Even within powered range, electronic countermeasures, evasive systems, point defense and countermissiles were effective, though efficiency varied amongst navies. A direct hit on a defended ship was nearly unheard of given impenetrable wedges above and below the ship, and less resistant, but still tough sidewalls. Missiles spin while in flight, to make it more difficult for point defense lasers to get a clear shot past their impeller wedges and to distribute any delivered energy across the missile's surface.
Advances in warship technology during the First Havenite-Manticoran War include the development of the MDM (multi-drive missile). First built by Manticore's researchers (see Ghost Rider Project), these missiles used the ancient concept of staging. Manticoran designs included three separate drives. Drives could be configured independently, to either fire sequentially, or incorporate "coasting" between stages, to increase their maximum powered envelope. Manticoran designs incorporated a revolutionary compact fusion plant (although launchers needed to be redesigned to incorporate a large energy transfer to initially fire up the plant). Havenite designs were forced to rely on incorporating more capacitor rings into missiles, although this allowed them to avoid the radical launcher redesign. Havenite MDMs were limited to two-stage due to the bulk of the rings. Manticoran MDMs were eventually upgraded to three-stage.
Due to their size and the launcher requirements they could not be carried by smaller starships, but this was a minor limitation. When they were first introduced, they made the Royal Manticoran Navy nearly invincible and contributed greatly to their victory in the First Havenite-Manticoran War. During the five-year armistice, the Havenites copied the weapon. By the commencement of the Second Havenite-Manticoran War, the Imperial Andermani Navy had developed two-stage MDMs, and were being refit to accommodate the Manticoran three-stage missiles.
Along with the development of the Apollo missile system, Mark 23 three-stage MDMs loaded into Mark 17-D missile pods were equipped with protective shrouds which shielded their sensors from particle damage. The shrouds would be jettisoned as the clutch of missiles approached its target, in order to allow the missiles to begin scanning and analyzing their target's defenses.
Manticore developed a four-stage system defense MDM, the Mark 25, which also incorporated longer lasing rods and more powerful grav focusing to increase its offensive power. (SI2)
During the time of Edward Saganami, missiles used megaton-yield fusion warheads. Such weapons had to get very close to the target to do damage in space, and were made practically obsolete by improvements in point defense. They were initially developed as pure contact weapons, and the advent of sidewalls made them far less effective. They remained in use largely as "sidewall busters", attempting to open an opportunity to deploy broadside lasers and grasers.
By 1900 PD, nuclear warheads were mostly relegated to "warning shots", as well as against ships with no intact defenses.
During the Second Havenite-Manticoran War, Admiral Shannon Foraker revived nuclear warheads as a means of "overwhelming" superior Manticoran sensors, decoys, and other sensitive targeting systems in a maneuver called the "Triple ripple"; it require three precisely timed and detonated volleys of nuclear missiles. While initially successful, Manticoran EW techs quickly adapted.
The nuclear warhead was superseded as a ship-killer by the laser head. Originally conceived in pre-Diaspora days, the concept of a laser head was simple. A cylindrical rod, or "medium" focused the x-ray pulse of a nuclear detonation into a high-energy gamma-ray laser beam, which would continue to fire until the medium was destroyed by the thermal pulse of the explosion. The problem was that the process was inefficient, since an explosion was spherical, and each rod would only capture a small percentage of the energy of the detonation. Since such a small amount of energy was unlikely to be sufficient to blast through a warship's sidewalls, anti-radiation shielding, and armor, laser warheads were considered too cost-inefficient to use.
Around 1800 PD, developments in fusion plants meant that the technology needed to focus the blast could be fit into a capital missile. A ring of gravity generators, placed behind the warhead, and activated prior to detonation, used gravatic lenses to focus the blast in a Gaussian shape, "aimed" at the lasing rods. By 1860 PD, refinements had been made to the point that even the most heavily armored of ships were no longer immune to an attack from a laser head. The laser rods were mounted in bays on the sides of the missile, would eject when the missile settled on its final attack bearing. Each mounted its own thrusters and sensors, allowing it to align itself with its target, and position itself about a hundred meters in front of the missile's nuclear warhead, in between it and its intended target.
Unlike a pure fusion warhead, meaningful damage could be dealt to anything within 25,000 kilometers of the detonation. It was more effective at penetrating sidewalls than a pure fusion explosive.
Both lasing rod dimensions, warhead yield, and grav lens amplification were critical factors in determining laser head power. This meant that larger capital ship missiles were much more powerful than smaller ones. Larger missiles were able to carry more powerful grav lensing assemblies, increasing the total percentage of the blast that was focused onto the lasing rods, a larger fusion warhead, which increased total energy released, as well longer lasing rods, which allowed for longer stand-off range, since the beam divergence was smaller on longer rods.
Thanks to its technological advancements, Manticoran missile were able to squeeze more destructive power out of a smaller missile (and by proxy, fusion warhead), thanks to advances in gravity lens development, sensors, and targeting. Havenite missile were bulkier because they had to rely on larger lasing rods and larger warheads to achieve the same destructive power.
Compared to a ship-board energy weapon's grav lenses, a lasing rod was woefully inadequate at focusing the laser's energy. Ships in the wall of battle were also thought to have too much point defense and armor to be seriously threatened by missiles; thus they continued to use energy mounts as their main armament until the advent of missile pods.
The first line of active defense against missile fire was the countermissile. Countermissiles were used to intercept incoming missiles at ranges of one to four million kilometers. Countermissiles typically had no warheads; they merely attempted to overlap their over-powered, out-sized impeller wedges with the wedges of the attacking missiles. The mutual destruction, as the gravitic stress vaporized the nodes of both missiles, was the reason countermissiles used their impeller wedges as their primary missile-killing weapon. (infodump) Older countermissiles such as those used by the pre-Alliance Grayson Space Navy used reaction engines due to their inability to fit an impeller drive in such a small missile, resulting in greatly reduced effectiveness. (Companion)
Counter-missiles were much smaller than ship-killers; the countermissiles used by the RMN at the beginning of the Second Havenite-Manticoran War massed about 12.5 tons and those used by the RHN were 25% larger. Countermissiles were usually fired from dedicated launchers, although they were sometimes launched from standard missile tubes through the use of counter-missile canisters. Countermissile canisters launched several missiles at once, similar to a shotgun blast. However, this was normally only used to maintain a constant level of defensive fire if countermissile launchers were destroyed. (infodump)
Countermissiles were less capable of independent targeting than attack missiles, which means they could lose lock by the electronic countermeasures carried by an attack missile. However, they were capable of much higher accelerations. The tactical reality during the First and Second Havenite-Manticoran Wars was that many counter-missiles had to be fired in order to generate a kill.
Missile Pod Technology
The Missile Pod
Originally, missile pods existed in the form of clusters of single-shot launchers designed to be towed by tractor beam. When mass-driver launch tubes were developed, they could not be fitted to pods. Pod-launched missiles were therefore slow and obsolete.
At the beginning of the First Havenite-Manticoran War, the Royal Manticoran Navy developed a miniaturized mass driver that could be fitted in a pod. Immediately, pods became crucial to warfare again, as a ship could tow pods containing far more tubes than its broadside. Pods were vulnerable to "proximity kills" since they were not protected by either a ships armor or its sidewalls or wedge, making the first salvos of a battle the decisive ones. Additionally, pods could not be reloaded under combat conditions. Towing pods reduced the acceleration of a vessel if it could not be towed inside the wedge of its control ship. The People's Navy's missiles were less individually capable than the RMN's, with slightly shorter range, but to make up for it, each of their pods had sixteen launchers to the Manticorans' ten.
The dynamic of war changed again with the design of the 'pod-layer' ships, such as Manticore's Medusa class. These vessels sacrificed aft chase armament, considerable magazine space, and some structural integrity to store enormous racks of expendable missile pods. With each broadside, a new set of pods could be dropped, fired, and discarded. Starships could carry sufficient missile firepower to destroy considerably superior enemy vessels. (Energy firepower had always been similarly excessive.) Pod-layer designs were predominant among new-build superdreadnoughts, and the first pod-laying battlecruisers had entered service by 1918 PD.
Manticoran pods also gained built-in tractors, eliminating one limitation on how many pods a ship could tow. Previously, a ship was limited by the number of tractor projectors it was equipped with. (SI1)
With the development of the bulkier three-stage Mark 23 missiles, Manticoran pods, in order to still fit them in podnaughts, reduced the load to ten missiles in the Mark 17 "flat pack" pods. With the advent of Apollo, the Mark 17 Mod D's load was reduced to eight, to make room for the bulkier Apollo control missile.
Havenite designers, unable to duplicate the miniaturization used to cram both a fusion reactor and tractor beam into a missile pod, developed the Donkey. The Donkey was a pod-sized platform, studded with tractor beam projectors, and a receiver for power beamed from the ship that towed it. Each Donkey could tow ten pods by itself, and a Sovereign of Space-class superdreadnought had enough tractors to directly tow twenty Donkeys. And if they were lined up properly, in order to receive power beamed from the ship, each Donkey could tow ten more Donkeys (up to three tiers deep if necessary). Like the built-in tractors of Manticoran pods, each pod towed outside the wedge impacted the acceleration of the ship, but if a captain was willing to sacrifice speed for weight of fire, an initial volley could be quite large. After the volley, the Donkeys themselves could be discarded like the now empty pods they towed, and potentially retrieved after a battle. (HH11)
Similar to the Havenite Donkey, Technodyne Industries of Yildu created a system dubbed Dispersed Weapons Module, Mod 2 by its designers, but Husky by Solarian League Navy tactical officers. Each Husky was a specialized towing drone equipped with a small impeller drive, a power receptor antenna, a telemetry relay, and eight tractor emitters, each capable of towing a missile pod. The Husky possessed very limited power for independent maneuvering, but could always be towed by its mothership with effectively unlimited endurance as long as it could receive broadcast power for that mothership. In addition, each Husky was designed so it could tow eight additional Huskies in four stacked tiers with missile pods serving as a fifth tier. In theory, a single starship of superdreadnought-size could therefore tow 1,024 missile pods for a initial salvo density of 6,144 Cataphract missiles.
National missile technologies
Star Kingdom of Manticore's Missile Inventory
Republic of Haven's Missile Inventory
* See: Havenite missile technology
Solarian League's Missile Inventory
Mesan Alignment's Missile Inventory
* See: Mesan missile technology
Republic of Erewhon's Missile Inventory
- The technique had been used before, even by the Republic of Haven Navy (HH6), but it required manual re-programming of the missiles' attack profiles. Mark 16 MDM missiles used by the RMN had this capability built-in.
- Other missiles developed for Project Ghostrider were adapted for smaller ships, such as the Dazzlers and Dragon's Teeth.
- most missiles didn't need this sort of protection, as their engagement ranges were short