From a post to ALT.BOOKS.DAVID-WEBER dated November 5, 1997:

c-Fractional missile attack plan

    All right, this is me (and I've gotta get that computer back so I can stop saying fatuous things like that!) [Note, DW says this because at the time, Richard Maxwell (Navbouy) - yes, the Richard Maxwell - was posting using DW's laptop under DW's AOL handle. -Ed]

    For the most part, Navbuoy got things more or less right. Joe Buckley's point about the number of sensor platforms has a lot of merit, and Navbuoy was more than a little optomistic about the density of the net he apprently thinks can be deployed, but there is an additional point to consider.

    Who (besides, perhaps, a certain Navbuoy?) ever said the Star Kingdom uses drones to cover the Manticoran home system? Joe is right that the range limitation normally cited for recon drones is the range at which their signals can be picked up. He is also right that the reach of their passive sensors against a "silent" target would be lower than against active drive sources. However, the sensor platforms which the Star Kingdom has deployed to watch its own local space are much, much, much more capable than those which can be deployed/emplaced at light-year distances from its home system. We are speaking here not of drones with relatively small sensor arrays but of platforms which use both active and passive sensors and deploy arrays which are literally hundreds of kilometers across and extremely sensitive. Their detection range is whole orders of magnitude greater than for drones, which have to be small enough to be carried aboard and fired from warships and must be sturdy enough to survive radical course changes at accelerations far higher than any manned ship can manage even under impeller drive. (Just as one example, you may recall that in Honor of the Queen, the max range at which Thunder of God could detect Fearless' impeller signature was about 24 LM. That was with a BC's onboard sensors, which are much better than a drone's. One of the Manticoran sensor platforms described above, however, could detect the same drive signature at the next best thing to 5 light-days -- or at about 300 times the range.) They are also, of course, far more susceptible to attack in their own right, since their very design makes them exquisitely vulnerable to proximity soft kills. But given the sort of energy signature a missile trucking at .99 cee would have, I feel relatively confident that Navbuoy's detection scenario would hold.

    I'm not certain whether Mike's original attack profile -- boost to max velocity and then go ballistic -- or Joe's proposal -- launch but don't bring the drives up at all until targets are detected -- would be the more effective. I can see advantages for both. At the moment, however, I'm tempted to go with Joe's for two reasons: (1) the lower velocity would (presumably) make them significantly harder for even Manty sensor platforms to detect; (2) they would have a much better chance of going [after] worthwhile targets other than the orbital shipyards simply because they could change vector to attack them.

    The point about kinetic weapons is well taken, and, indeed, kinetic weapons are the perferred mode of space-to-surface attack in HH's universe (see Mercedes Brigham's comments in Flag in Exile and S.M. Stirling's short story in More than Honor. In fact, see especially Stirling's short story. It's messy.) Honor's comment in Honor of the Queen, however refers more to the need to protect Grayson's orbital farms. etc. (She makes this point a bit more clearly in Flag in Exile.) Against targets like that, the proximity effect of a nuke (and/or laser head) would be greatly to be feared.

    I'd also like to comment on Emshandar's (yes, I know it's really you, Mike, but we already have another Mike involved in this, so you'll just have to settle for Emshandar) "Goering" remark. The fellow you actually have to blame is Douhet, since no one in Europe after about 1920 doubted for a moment that in the event of a major war, cities would be heavily bombed. (The British government, for example, anticipated incredible casualties--based on the maxim that "the bomber will always get through"--and went so far as to lay in thousands of tons of quick lime and actually devise [and build] ships with huge hopper devices to dispose of bodies at sea as a consequence.) My point here is that "the rules of war" had been so thoroughly smashed by the end of 1918 that they no longer existed. Moussilini (sp?) used poison gas on the Abyssinians and Ethiopians, despite all the solemn covenants against that, because his targets lacked the one thing which would have made those covenants credible: They could not retaliate in kind. Both the Allies and the Germans had immense stockpiles of poison gas and crude bio weapons to hand throughout WW II, but they were never used because each side knew the other had the one thing which did make those covenants credible; they could -- and would -- retaliate in kind.

    Moreover, 1939-1945 is not really the period to which the mindset of Honor's universe should be compared in this regard. A much better period would be about 1700-1870, and for much the same reason a genuine set of "rules of war" applied in Europe: some of the earlier periods of interstellar warfare (from about 1300-1550 P.D.) were really, really ugly, and the "rules" grew out of the need to step back from the brink.

    Finally, the Committee of Public Safety would never allow "moral considerations" to cause it to hesitate to carry out an attack which would largely depopulate the planet Manticore if it thought that would win the war. The two things which do cause it to hesitate are: (1) It knows with absolute assurance that if it did such a thing, the Manticoran Alliance would retaliate in precisely the same fashion against Haven; (2) It knows that such an act would bring the Solarian League into the war… and not as its ally. It was, in fact, the Solarian League which originally codified the rules of war (remember who's responsible for monitoring the Deneb Accords?) following the massive bloodshed of the 16th Century, and attacks on planetary populations except to take possession of planets which still refuse to surrender even after their space-going defenders have been defeated and/or destroyed have actually brought the League Navy into action against the violator on at least three occasions in the last 300 years.

    The situation in Basilisk wasn't the same thing as the possibility of accidentally hitting a planet with two or three 175-ton missiles moving at .99 cee. (1) The Peeps thought they could build deniability into it (there wasn't supposed to be any connection to them). (2) The entire human population of Medeusa was a fraction of the population of any medium or even small-sized city on Manticore, so the body count had to be smaller. (3) A native massacre does not have the same reverberations that the use of "weapons of mass destruction" send through the human psyche in the 20th Century PD.

    In many ways, however, all of this is moot. If an attack as postulated by Mike & Joe could be mounted, and if the sensor platforms failed to pick it up in time, then it would be relatively easy to zap orbital infrastructure without allowing the "overs" or "unders" from hitting an inhabited planet, and orbital shipyards certainly are legitimate targets, even under the Rules of War, Solarian League Edition. For that matter, one could stay completely away from the planets and zap the various asteroid extraction activities, instead. One might not get as much warship or yard tonnage, but one would still put a crimp in the industrial pipeline… and probably produce the desired morale effect, as well. Of course, Donna was also right to point out that, historically, at least, even saturation bombardment has signally failed to break civilian morale. To be sure, that saturation bombardment was carried out with conventional weapons (unless we want to count Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in which cases one might argue that bombardment did break -- or at least finish off -- the war fighting spirit of a nation) while we are talking about nukes and/or their equivalent in this scenario. But to compensate for that, the planetary populations would not have been directly attacked, so I doubt very much that the Star Kingdom would collapse as the result of one or even several raids on this model.

    What such raids would do would be to disorganize industry, at the very least. If they got lucky, perhaps they would take out one or more of the major space stations, as well. Even more significantly, however, it would certainly compel the RMN to emulate the Luftwaffe of 1942-43 and move enormous amounts of tonnage into the system in an effort to intercept the attacks. As far as the war effort at the front was concerned, every ship assigned to home defense might as well have been blown out of space, which would have major implications for the war's outcome.

    Ah, well. We shall see what happens if and when such a strategy actually is employed. (And, BTW, it has been employed -- with the aforementioned care to avoid inhabited planets -- since the rules of war were codified, which is why Honor was worried about just that tactic in Honor of the Queen where, even with her recon drones, she simply did not have the sensor coverage to guard against it.)


    David Weber


    Pod variant.