The rationale behind when to reveal Apollo's existence
So, I understand there's been some discussion about the wisdom or foolishness of the Manticoran decision to reveal the existence of Apollo before they had the weapon available across the Fleet, and also of why Hamish Alexander-Harrington and Sir Thomas Caparelli were stupid enough to combine all of the Apollo-capable SD(P)s into Eighth Fleet, rather than splitting some or all of them off for the defense of the Manticoran home system.
Now, I'd thought that the logic they followed was fairly clear in the book. I suppose it's possible that I was as clear as Crystal, and certain readers simply don't think much of the logical explanation which they understand perfectly. However, the Manticoran decision to deploy Apollo with Eighth Fleet as soon as it began becoming available (rather than keeping it a deep, dark secret until they were ready to use it in strength, as they did with the SD(P)s, LACs and the MDM in Buttercup) was predicated on several considerations, some of which I spelled out in detail, and some of which I felt were sufficiently implicit that they didn't need to be spelled out.
(1) From the very beginning, the Alliance had been determined to demonstrate to Haven that they were prepared to operate/risk their latest and best ships and weapons in deep-raiding operations. This followed from their primary strategic objectives, which were to recapture at least part of the strategic initiative for the Alliance; to foster as much political restiveness within the Republic as possible (this being, in their estimation, one of the better ways to pressure the Republican Navy into redeploying to protect their own star systems instead of raiding Alliance systems which couldn't be adequately defended); and to hopefully bolster Alliance morale while undermining Havenite morale. The cumulative damage which could be inflicted upon the Republic's industrial sector -- and remember, that one of the objectives was less to destroy net revenue-producing systems than to compel the Republic to commit resources to rebuilding (or, at least, to the equivalent of emergency disaster relief) in the devastated systems -- was also a factor to be borne in mind.
(2) What happened at Solon demonstrated that the Republic was, indeed, doing some redeployment, but also that it was being rather more innovative, both tactically and in terms of the hardware being deployed to protect their assets, than was comfortable. The likelihood of increasingly stiff resistance to their raiding operations suggested that their raiding forces would have to operate in greater strength. They were, however, up against a fairly hard limit on the deployable number of hulls, both because of their own defensive commitments, and because the Andermani refits were coming forward more slowly than anticipated. They therefore sought a combat force equalizer in the form of their newly developed systems: Mistletoe and Apollo.
(3) The strategic situation at the time that the Manticoran Admiralty was planning Operation Sanskrit was very different from the strategic situation the Manticorans confronted when they began preparing for Buttercup. When they began their original planning and preparations for Buttercup (well before the beginning of Echoes of Honor), the strategic initiative lay largely, although not completely, in the Alliance's hands. The Alliance had technological superiority in weapon systems already deployed, they had taken a great many star systems (especially by pre-war standards) away from the People's Republic; they had yet to encounter a Peep admiral equal in quality to their own first-team fleet commanders (this was, as they recognized at the time, in no small part because of the political handicaps under which their Peep counterparts labored, but that didn't make it any less true); and their strategic position was relatively secure. Remember that their primary concerns at that time were not that the Peeps might suddenly launch an overwhelming assault on one of their star systems, but rather a question of how they could concentrate the Alliance's forces in order to resume the offensive. In other words, as they saw it, they had the advantages of better weapons, better admirals, and more strategic depth to provide them with enough security to take the time to develop the weapons for Buttercup in secrecy. When Esther McQueen uncorked Operation Icarus, it knocked them off stride and delayed Buttercup still further, but despite the damage to Alizon and to Basilisk, the fundamental security of the Alliance remained intact. No longer as comfortable a margin of superiority, perhaps, but still well short of the "we are so screwed" threat level which they faced following the success of Thunderbolt.
At the time that they planned the various Cutworm raids, on the other hand, they faced a numerically superior Havenite fleet, which had equalized the differences in their combat power to a great extent (at least with the weapons then in use by the two sides) by improvements in hardware, doctrine, and -- especially! -- numbers. Moreover, they faced one which had shown much greater strategic and operational maturity in the successful conduct of Thunderbolt. And they faced a Havenite fleet which was the one thing no Peep fleet had ever been since First Hancock and Third Yeltsin -- confident. The Havenite navy under Thomas Theisman had reinvented itself thoroughly, and it had the confidence in itself which it had won through its successful operations, both against the rebellious elements within the Republic before the current war, and in Thunderbolt. In short, the Manticoran strategists did not have the advantage of a secure, relatively stable strategic situation, and the Havenites were closing the gap between the two sides' deployed hardware with dismaying speed.
Because of that, they didn't believe that they enjoyed the luxury of waiting. This has been one of the great strategic quandaries throughout history on the rare occasions when a genuinely revolutionary weapon is introduced. During World War I, for example, the Brits committed their first tanks before they had them available in great numbers, before they'd worked out the mechanical reliability issues, and, frankly, before they had a sound operational doctrine for them. That was because they needed some sort of equalizer for the offense on the Western front, and because they required experience with them in the field to see whether or not and how well they worked. Another possible historical analogue might be seen in the existence of Window during World War II. In that instance, both sides had come up with the same innovation, but neither side was willing to use it until they believed that the other side would be unable to benefit from it. The situation with Apollo and Mistletoe was somewhat different from either of those examples, admittedly, but the pressure to utilize anything which might give the Alliance an advantage at a time when it felt compelled to carry the offensive to a numerically superior adversary was both compelling and logical. That's the primary reason Honor had been issued her first Apollo-capable ships for Sanskrit's initial execution date, before Pritchart's proposed summit brought about a suspension of operations by both sides.
(4) If you will recall, there were some references in the text to unanticipated bottlenecks in production of Apollo. At the time the first Apollo-capable ships were handed over to Eighth Fleet, the extent to which those bottlenecks would persist was underestimated. In other words, Hamish and the Admiralty expected Apollo to be more broadly available more rapidly than it was. It turned out that it took longer than anticipated to refit the Andermani ships with it, and it also turned out that the system defense variant's production rate was pushed further back by the need to get the ship-launched version produced in greater numbers. I didn't go into this in great, lumbering detail in the books, primarily because I was attempting to avoid burying the reader in the infamous "infodumps." I had hoped, however, that the reference to bottlenecks would suggest to such astute and clever people as my readers that the weapons were coming forward more slowly than had been originally anticipated.
The cease-fire between the acceptance of Pritchart's proposal and the Webster assassination was very useful to the Alliance, in that it permitted them to make up some of the lost ground on Apollo's deployment. By the time that our heroes started considering reactivating Sanskrit, the Admiralty knew that the Andermani refits, although still behind schedule, would be available soon. They also knew that they would very shortly be able to begin deploying the system defense variant of Apollo. If they were going to resume the offensive, and given that they still didn't have enough available hulls to provide Honor with a really significant numerical reinforcement, they gave her all of the relatively low number of currently available Apollo-capable ships. The strategic reasons for going ahead and launching Sanskrit were discussed in the exchange between Hamish, Elizabeth, and Willie concerning the possibility of hostilities with the Solarian League. Essentially, they believed that they had a limited window in which even if the Sollies did initiate active military operations against them, no one from the League could threaten the Star Kingdom because of the sheer distances involved. That therefore defined the time window they had to resume active operations against Haven and possibly convince Pritchart and Theisman to reconsider their "treachery" (in the form of the Webster assassination and Operation Rat Poison). The operational logic for using all of their Apollo-capable ships to get that message across was based in large part on the reasoning discussed in the next numbered paragraph
(5) Welcome to the next numbered paragraph. Okay, the reasoning on the part of the Admiralty in handing the Apollo-capable ships over to Honor was as follows. As already stated, they needed a qualitative equalizer for the numerical odds she was likely to face on her raiding operations. That equalizer had to be Apollo and Mistletoe. The timing of Sanskrit was such that the Admiralty could be virtually certain that Eighth Fleet could launch Sanskrit, hit the Lovat System, and be back at Trevor's Star well before any Havenite fleet could reach Manticore. That is, Eighth Fleet would be operating inside the Havenite response loop, and would be back in its covering position at Trevor's Star, prepared to back up Home Fleet, before the Havenites could get anything into position to attack the Manticoran home system. The entire logic of basing Eighth Fleet at Trevor's Star had included its function as a strategic reserve for Home Fleet whenever it wasn't occupied with active offensive operations. There was a certain strategic danger involved in tasking Eighth Fleet for both functions, and both Hamish and the Admiralty were aware of it. It was, however, in their judgment the best of several options of varying degrees of palatability. What they had in mind was that Eighth Fleet would zip out, hit Lovat, and return to Trevor's Star, where it would be reinforced with additional Apollo-capable ships as they became available and would be positioned as the strategic reserve for Home Fleet. In addition, the thinking was that if Apollo proved as effective in service as they hoped, then Eighth Fleet would, as rapidly as possible (the limiting factors being the production of the Apollo control missiles and the speed with which Andermani Apollo-capable units could come forward and work up to an acceptable level of competence), be transformed from a purely raiding force into what it had been during Buttercup -- the strategically decisive striking arm of the Alliance.
While I know some people are arguing that by "giving away" Apollo's existence, the Manticoran Admiralty "drove" Thomas Theisman into attacking the Manticoran home system, I have to say that I find the reasoning behind that argument extraordinarily suspect. It seems to me that the people putting it forward are completely failing to place themselves in the positions of the people making the decisions, especially in regards to the information which those people had and the evolution of the strategic concepts with which they were working.
Thomas Theisman is one of the best strategic thinkers on either side of the Havenite wars. In my opinion, he is clearly the best strategic thinker which Haven has so far produced. Exactly how he stacks up against his Manticoran counterparts is more a matter for debate and individual opinion, and that's how I want it. However, there was absolutely no reason for anyone in Manticore to anticipate that after spending so long building up the numerical advantage in ships of the wall which was fundamental to his strategy for eventually launching a decisive offensive, he would voluntarily send what was effectively better than 80% of his total modern wall on a headlong attack against the most heavily defended star system in the entire Alliance.
The defenses which the Manticorans had in place to cover the Manticoran home system, including the fixed defenses which never engaged Theisman, were far more than merely adequate to stand off an attack launched in any strength the galaxy had ever seen. I'm not talking about firepower, I'm talking about numbers of hulls, which implies an enormously greater effective combat power than had been deployed in any previous battle. Given that the other side didn't have Apollo, and given the fact that the Manticoran alliance was ignorant of Shannon Foraker's "donkey" and the size of the stupendous opening salvos that it made possible, the Manticoran Admiralty had every legitimate reason to believe that the forces it had deployed in the Manticoran home system, and available one junction transit away (in the form of Third Fleet) was more than adequate to defeat any attack Haven was remotely likely to launch. In addition to that, however, they had Eighth Fleet, which was busy working up with Apollo in the security of Trevor's Star (much as Alice Truman worked up the original CLAC at Hancock Station, but with the added benefit that its secure working up area was likewise only a single transit away from the home system). In other words, Eighth Fleet and its Apollo-capable ships were available for the defense of the home system.
Manticoran defensive doctrine for their home system was based on Home Fleet's being powerful enough, especially backed up by the in-system LACs and conventional system defense missile pods, to hold any likely attack at bay long enough for Third Fleet and Eighth Fleet to respond.
Thomas Theisman responded to the discovery that Apollo existed far more rapidly than anyone in the Alliance anticipated that he could. That's in no small part because he'd already done all of the basic planning for Operation Beatrice before he found out Apollo existed. In other words, he reached into his back pocket and pulled out a completed operational plan for what he had contemplated as an "ultimate worst-case scenario" and which he had organized long before he ever got hit by Apollo. In addition, he concluded that Apollo was available in low enough numbers that he had a chance, if he launched his blow instantly, of winning the war before Apollo defeated him. The point is that even if the Admiralty had assumed that deploying Apollo would definitely "drive him" into a desperation all-out attack on Manticore, the sheer size, power, and -- above all -- rapidity with which the attack was launched would have come as a total strategic surprise. Theisman didn't have to stop, analyze what had happened, pull together a response plan, redeploy his assets, and go. He'd already put together what he used as a response plan and redeployed his assets to carry it out, which cut at the very minimum weeks, and quite probably months, from the time which would otherwise have been required to get something like Beatrice off the ground and into Manticoran space. By which time Eighth Fleet would have been even more heavily reinforced with additional Apollo-capable SD(P)s and the system defense variant of Apollo, despite the bottlenecks, would have been deployed in strength.
As it was, the defensive strategy which the Alliance had adopted worked. The fact that Honor was off the terminus drilling her new ships threw a spanner into the timing of the response for Trevor's Star. I suppose that I could have explicitly noted that one of the reasons she felt secure in carrying out routine training operations was that, as I mentioned above, any massive offensive against the Manticoran home system specifically in response to Sanskrit couldn't be mounted that soon, which suggested that it would probably be a good idea for the strategic reserve for the home system to spend some of that time training up its new, green, inexperienced ships. I didn't think it was necessary for the purposes of the story to explain all of that, and I still don't.
The fact that Theisman had come up with a plan specifically designed to mousetrap Third Fleet, which had then been modified to make a "better mousetrap" for Eighth Fleet, as well, almost invalidated the existing Manticoran defensive planning. Again, however, I stress that it was the sheer size of his attack -- the totally unanticipated, impossible to predict, stunningly daring, etc., etc., etc. -- size of his attack which did it. The possibility of his being able to simultaneously commit two forces, one of them sufficiently powerful to punch out Home Fleet in a direct headlong confrontation, and a second one powerful enough to do the same thing to Third Fleet, simply never occurred to anyone because it was so far outside all of the existing strategic and operational parameters of interstellar warfare.
In the end, the fact that Honor was unable to accompany Third Fleet was also the salvation of Manticore. But people really have to bear in mind that authors and readers have 20/20 vision when it comes time to see through the "fog of war." The characters in the novels don't. Had Thomas Theisman been able to accurately project the numbers of Apollo-capable ships the Alliance would have in service by the time Beatrice reached Manticore, he would never have launched the operation. Had anyone in Manticore ever said "Hey! You know what, I bet you that Haven is contemplating putting its entire modern battle fleet at risk in a potential kamikaze attack on the strongest defenses in the entire Alliance!" (and not been promptly committed to a lunatic asylum), then probably Eighth Fleet would have been redeployed to Manticore itself to carry out its training operations. Neither of those things happened, however, because the characters in the novel weren't clairvoyant and had to make their decisions based on what they knew and the possible strategic variants plausibly available to both sides.
In short, I personally believe that both sides made reasonable strategic decisions, within the limitations of what they knew and the menus of options available to them. None of the decisions were perfect, and most of them were regarded as simply the least undesireable options the decisionmakers had. That virtually assured that there would be ample opportunity for second-guessers to disagree with what they did. One of the pleasures for the readers of a novel is the opportunity to look at what the characters did and see what they might have done as a better alternative. That's a perfectly legitimate thing to do. And it's perfectly fair for someone to argue that, in their opinion, the characters "should have known better," or that they "acted stupidly." I think, however, that in fairness to the characters (although I don't think that literary creations have trade unions or grievance committees yet), people ought to remember that the characters simply don't know everything.
And if they did know everything, and neither side ever made a less than optimum decision, you probably wouldn't want to read the books, anyway. ;-)