From a email message posted by Richard Earnshaw to Baen's Bar BuShips dated August 1, 2004:

c-Fractional pod-based missile attack plan

    All right, I asked him. His response is at the bottom.

    [Fairly massive snip concerning the thread in which it was proposed - yet again - that a c-frac strike be made against a capital system, this time using tens of thousands of long-range relativistic missile pods against orbital infrastructure to reduce total length -Ed.]


    I didn't have time to go read the entire thread the way you recommended. I've got some deadline problems at the moment, and Sharon has my office torn totally apart for "reorganization" and painting. She does this about once a year, and I end up working in the bedroom on my laptop until she's done. It's a pain, but whether or not I could survive if she didn't do this on a semi regular basis is doubtful.

    In response to the specific questions you raised, as I understand them from your… extensive summarization.

    The short version is that I don't see any way that this particular attack could succeed, so if it was your idea in the first place, you'd better go back and try again. [G]

    First, incoming missile pods in the numbers you specified -- or, for that matter in considerably smaller numbers -- would inevitably be picked up far short of launch range. There is no known passive stealth material in the Honorverse capable of concealing the active signature they would be creating by moving at relativistic velocities (I don't know where the idea that such a material existed came from; I've certainly never suggested one), and even assuming that they could carry active stealth systems sufficiently powerful to conceal the extremely powerful energy bloom which would be being produced by their simple passage, and that they could carry the energy reserves to keep those systems active throughout such a long approach, the wake of excited -- one really ought to say "smashed" -- particles they would be leaving behind would be glaringly obvious to the passive sensors covering Manticore's home system.

    Second, you cannot put particle shielding onto pods. The particle and radiation shields mounted by ships of the Honorverse require lots of power. In fact, they require lots and lots and lots of power. Certainly more than you could install aboard a missile pod, even assuming that the pod had sufficient internal space (which it doesn't) for the shield generators in the first place. Starships underway produce a significant percentage of their particle shielding from their active impeller wedges. Warships, unlike the vast majority of merchantmen, do carry sufficient onboard generators to produce effective anti-particle protection even when the wedges down, but I believe if you go back and look at the books, you'll never see a situation in which even a warship moving at relativistic speeds with its wedge down also has its sidewalls up. If you do find such an example, it will be a case of a continuity error on my part. I'm not saying that it couldn't happen somewhere, but it shoudn't have. The reason for this is that warships can maintain their "bow shielding" without their wedges only because they're capable of diverting the protective fields of their sidewalls generators to cover their bow aspect, just as we have seen them spreading the coverage of sidewall generators to cover chinks left in their broadside defenses by battle damage. It's highly doubtful that even the Manties' new micro-fusion plans could provide the necessary power aboard a missile pod (especially given the duration of the approach voyage you specified), and, again, there's simply no place to put the necessary generators.

    Third, related to the above. Without active particle shielding, at least some of these pods -- and probably a fairly significant number of them -- won't survive the passage at all. They'll hit some teeny-tiny pinhead of solid matter and vaporize in a very visible and easily detectable high-energy event which will emit all sorts of readily detectable radiation. Not to mention quite a bit of visible light. Also, without particle shielding, the mere fact that the missiles are enclosed in pods would be grossly insufficient to protect them from the radiation and particle bombardment they would suffer. You might as well think of them as having almost the equivalent of an operating fusion plant boiling away on their "nose caps." For an extremely short period of time, the structure of the pod probably would provide sufficient protection, but again, go back and look at the books. On the occasions when pods have been deployed for extensive periods of time behind ships moving at any sort of velocity, they have been behind them, riding in the "shadow" of the ship towing them, which both protects them from particle bombardment (the ship in front of them is sweeping the zone through which they pass with its own hull and particle shielding) and also puts the pods on the far side of the towing vessel's active stealth fields. Without that protection, you'd need so many meters of shielding material, even given the capabilities of the Honorverse tech base, that your "pods" would have to be the size of fairly substantial starships themselves -- probably somewhere around the dimensions of a destroyer -- just to protect the missiles' onboard seekers, much less the computers and support systems -- and launcher grav drivers -- of the pod itself. And, of course, the bigger you make the pod, the more all of the other problems with particle collisions are going to multiply.

    Fourth, without designing and building an entirely new, much larger pod, there's no place to put active stealth systems. Pod designs use passive stealthing; active stealth is provided by the ships which carry or tow them. And, again, even if you had space for the stealth generators themselves, you run up against the problem of providing them with sufficient power for a passage as long as the one you've described.

    Fifth, only a lunatic in the Honorverse, at least as long as the Solarian League is in existence, would dare to execute in attack of this nature against a space station in a relatively tight orbit around a populated planet. Cee-fractional attacks have been executed many times in the past. usually, however, they are executed against system infrastructure well away from inhabited planets, and they are always executed at far shorter ranges than this, and backed up by the fire control capability of all-up starships. Angles of attack are critical in such maneuvers, but even more importantly, the launching ship has to have absolutely reliable fixes on its own position and that of its target at the moment of launch. Honor's concern about the orbital farms around Grayson in Flag in Exile was predicated on the assumption that the attacking Peep fleet would come in "from the side" and launch at relatively short ranges using targeting data which would probably have been refined from reconnaissance drones. In other words, the attackers would have the best possible targeting information, the shortest practical launch range to allow their weapons to accelerate up to high velocities, and a firing angle which would offer them the greatest possible margin of safety against accidental hits on the planet. Even so, the attack would have been extremely risky; she simply couldn't afford to assume that the Peep's wouldn't elect to run those risks when the possibilities for them (and consequences for the Alliance) might include the effective naturalization of Grayson through starvation.

    Sixth, and related to the above paragraph. Honor was afraid of the consequences of a cee-fractional strike against Grayson's orbital farms because they were vulnerable to such an attack. Hephaestus and the other major shipyards/space stations in the Manticoran system are protected against such attacks by the impeller wedges of "block ships" specifically placed to provide that protection. I don't know where you got the idea that a ship with an active wedge has to be under acceleration. They certainly don't. Nor is endurance on their impeller nodes a problem. (I wasn't quite certain from your post whether you were suggesting that it might be, or if someone else had made the suggestion. Although I've talked throughout the series in terms of "hours of endurance" on impeller nodes, they actually have many "hours." For example, even a warship, whose nodes normally operate at higher power levels and have substantially shorter designed lifespans, are good for several months of continuous operation at their normal power settings. They have to be, given the length of the voyages these ships routinely undertake.) In addition to their own "bubble" the generators, the space stations are accompanied at all times by specially built "ships" which are basically simply impeller rings, power plants, and the life support required for their very tiny crews. Their sole function is to remain on station, with at least a few nodes in each ring "hot." Admittedly, it would take them at least several minutes -- these nodes are not at "standby" but at permanent readiness -- to bring their wedges up. However, given the reach and sensitivity of the sensors covering the Manticore System, they would probably have days and would certainly have hours between the time your incoming attack was detected and could arrive. There would be ample time to clear the space immediately around the space stations of traffic and to arrange the block ships in overlapping positions which would block any firing angle the pod-launched missiles would be likely to be able to attain. They don't have to form a sphere with neatly curved sides if they can achieve sufficient overlap. The dispersed yards would be more vulnerable to such an attack, assuming that the pods could (a) get in undetected and unintercepted and (b) the missiles they carry have not been irradiated into uselessness, neither of which is at all likely.

    There are additional difficulties inherent in attempting any such attack -- more of them, in fact, then I have time to detail. A lot of them, however, come down in simplest terms to the mindset and the political and diplomatic realities in the Honorverse at this time. The absolutely catastrophic damage which a single missile, much less the possibility of several missiles, would inflict striking any inhabited planet at these sorts of velocities would be horrifying. I don't know who in the discussion used the phrase "poop happens" in wartime, but that is not a concept which would be applied to an attack of this sort by any of the star nations involved in the current Havenite War. It is, in fact, one of the shrug-off-the-mega-casualties mindsets which the Eridani Edict was specifically designed to eradicate. And even if that were not the case, it's the sort of consequences which only a completely outlaw regime -- like Mesa, for example -- would contemplate even for a moment. And, if they did contemplate it, they certainly would not contemplate it against anyone with the capacity to retaliate in kind. It's worth noting that, so far as I am aware, post-World War I no "weapon of mass destruction" (including poison gas) has been used against an opponent with the ability to retaliate in kind. There's a reason for that, which has nothing at all to do with altruism. If a missile incoming at 80% to 90% of light-speed impacted on an inhabited planet -- even if it was only as a moving plasma front after firing its own self-destruct charge -- the devastation would be almost inconceivable. And if the planet in question were the capital of a star nation with a powerful navy of its own, the consequences would almost certainly be an intentional retaliatory strike against the inhabited planet(s) of the attackers. The willingness to even consider an operation of this sort, which could result in millions, or even billions, of civilian casualties, is much more likely to be the product of a war-gamer's mentality, and not of any real-world strategist. Or not, at least, of any sane real-world strategist who didn't see it as the only remaining alternative to the total defeat and destruction of his own side. Someone like a religious fanatic from Masada, for example, who is not "sane" in my sense of the word, probably would. Thomas Theisman would not, under any circumstances of which I can conceive.

    Trust me, this is not a can of worms anyone in the Honorverse is going to be eager to open. It isn't going to happen, unless possibly within the highly unlikely format of someone's being effectively totally confident of their ability to lay responsibility for the act on someone else. Especially not given the enormous odds against the technological feasibility of the entire concept.


    Traditional variant.