From a post to DAVIDWEBER.NET forums on 12/30/2011

Civilian-hulled 'scout frigates'

Cheopis wrote:

    I hope you aren't done, since you have finally actually shown me what you don't understand about why I disagree with you.

    1) You either have some mighty funky economics in your military industrial complex, or you are completely misunderstanding most of the reason these ships would be cheap. They are not warships. Build them with civilian technology except the FTL coms, and perhaps the fission drives. A 40-50kton civilian tech recon boat is going to be MANY times cheaper than a bleeding edge 220-300kton full function warship. In many places you have mentioned that EW, ECM, military grade drives and nodes, etc, etc are expensive compared to civilian equivalents. Is it, or isn't it?

    2) Civilian tech recon frigates could be built in tiny shipyards scattered throughout Silesia and Talbott, rather than taking up the (post Oyster Bay) rare high tech building slips that warships will need. They won't need the same components or warship-specific materials & building techniques, and they could be built in places where it would be impossible to build useful warships. If you can utilize low tech facilities in small, poorly educated planetary economies (that would otherwise simply be another economic weight around your ankles as you try to improve their tech and education base) to make useful contributors to the war effort, then it's win-win.

    3) The recon ship crews are small because they don't do anything but get from point A to point B, drop off drones, pick up drones, and collect data. The crew would be FAR smaller than the crew of a destroyer because there would be no need of most of the job duties normally performed on a destroyer. If locked up by a real warship, the crew would immediately frag their FTL coms and databases and drop their wedge. Crew losses would be minimal because they would not be trying to fight. EVER. The recon drones that they drop would be programmed to record any attack on the scouts and hide outsystem for a later pickup. One drone might be sacrificed to make it really clear to the attackers that there are other drones watching to see what they do to the surrendering ship.

    4)The use of large numbers of scout frigates allows you to have that same number of expensive warships doing warship things, while cheap scouts do scout things. There is no possible advantage in having a destroyer doing scouting duties over a civilian scoutship unless your destroyer decides it wants to act like a warship rather than a scout. Yes, having that *opportunity* might be handy now and then, but if a scout dropping off or picking up ghost rider drones in a system designated for strategic monitoring approaches closer than a light week from the hyper limit, then the captain of that vessel is being ignorant, whether they are in a civilian tech recon ship, or a bleeding edge destroyer. In the case of a mass dispersal of drones surrounding a star system during an assault, see #3 above.

    5) If it's civilian tech, you can sell it if you don't want to mothball it. There is nearly always a market for any type of civilian vehicle that can move. Prospectors, news agencies, smaller star nations, courier services, specialty shipping lines, etc, etc, etc. Disposing of these civilian tech ships during peacetime would be absurdly easy, and you would get far more value from them than the equivalent tonnage of military ship that would have to be stipped and/or scrapped before going to market.

    6) Several scouts would ideally work with some crappy minimally customized freighter as a supply ship, and keep several systems under monitoring. Said freighter would be parked in deep space, dozens of light years from anything, and would move around regularly. The scouts would not make direct translations from target to supply. With Laocoon, it's not like as if there aren't going to be a LOT of shipping lines willing to sell off some older, smaller freighters. The drone carrying capacity limitations based on size are meaningless, provided that a frigate could haul around 2-4 or more recon drones. Destroyers with many more crew and much higher energy budgets and maintenance needs would need resupply at least as often as a civilian tech recon frigate, so some sort of tender would be required to to the job no matter what.

    7) The scouts will not approach closer than a light week or so from the hyper limit. Only the drones would enter the hyper limit. In the case of an assault scenario, LACS are incapable of going from point A to B in hyper and dropping a few drones because the fleet admiral wants to see what's behind that gas giant on the far side of the system. Sure a destroyer can do it, but then you have detached an expensive destroyer and weakened your fleet marginally when you could have simply had a cheap civilian vessel pop over there and drop drones then either surrender if trapped, or zip away without worry about lost warfighting capacity in the fleet.

    As for why you would want to have scout frigates? Very simple.

    1) Knowing is half the battle.

    2) Wasting resources loses wars.

    3) Every warship used scouting is not being used for war.

    4) You don't have to blow up information to gather it.

    The cost benefit analysis only works against civilian tech scout frigates if:

    1) You don't think through what they actually needs to do and build/crew them only to do that job

    2) You don't think through how much data could actually be gathered by ghost rider drones kept on station in a system, rotating monthly, for several months, even if they are extremely cautious and unobtrusive.

    You would only need to visit each system about 1x per mintenance cycle of the recon drones, which is roughly 1 month on station if I'm recalling right, and that visit will then grant you 1 month's history of everything all the drones saw. Add it to the file, pass it up the list. This level of strategic data, conceivably covering YEARS would have any long term planners drooling. You see a shipyard being started? Wait a few months for there to be significant investment with no return in it, then hit it. You see lots of freighters with military grade drives entering and leaving system? This system is likely manufacturing consumeables or components, a surgical strike on the facilities they dock with might be a good idea. You pick up planetary emissions from communications systems indicating that President Joe seems to return from the capital system to visit hos home planet every founder's day? It might be worth it to slip in a few mistletoes in time for a founder's day fireworks demonstration.

    As for the aircraft & satellite vs recon frigate and scout drone thing, I'm afraid you aren't thinking it through. LACs are no faster than other ships in normal space, though they might reach their top speed a bit faster. Comparing LACs to aircraft would be like saying recon aircraft are no faster than the aircraft carriers that launched them, which would make them marginally useless for extended recon, though they might make excellent close recon.

    If the recon frigates are spending 5-8 minutes in system at 1 light week in a random place once per month, they are just as untouchable as the SR71 ever was. Sure, someone might, eventually, win the lottery, but in reality, winning a real life lottery would be FAR more likely than catching a ship doing a random approach at that distance from the hyper limit, unless you put millions of recon assets in that volume.

    The drones are doing all the recon. Every month (or maintenance cycle of the drones), based on the take from prior months, they get updated instructions just like a satellite will get new instructions on every pass it takes over something of interest to our current governments.

    Thank you for responding. Sorry to make a fuss, but you have been rather aggressive yourself without actually understanding what I've been saying, as your misunderstanding of my arguments above shows clearly.

    It's fine if you want to simply declare it author prerogative that no Honorverse navy will ever build anything less than six-to-eight times more massive than it needs to be to enter hyperspace, regardless of how much waste would be involved. We don't have to use the "hand" word which you seem to have some sort of visceral dislike for. I'm using your own rules in your own universe. You might not want it to work that way, but based on your own writings, it easily could.


    You're right, it never occurred to me that you were talking about building civilian hulls since the term "frigate" kept turning up in the debate [Earlier discussion -Ed.]. What you're actually talking about would be something much more like the current USN SURTASS ships, in which essentially civilian hulls are used to tow long sensor arrays at relatively low speed and with long endurance.

    This makes rather more sense, but I'm still doubtful about the concept. In order to avoid the "value laden" term of "frigate," let's agree to call your proposed ship type the Long-Range Surveillance Platform or LRSP and take your points one at a time.

    (1) I've explained in another post why fission drives are going to be impractical for the energy budget of the ships. That's neither here nor there in a lot of ways, though, because a fusion plant isn't going to be a lot more expensive than a fission plant. It's going to be bigger, which is going to have an impact on hull size, but again, not a huge. If you build a ship which is only 40-50,000 tons, however, it's going to be an inefficient drone-carrier for the sort of operation you're spelling out here. Not to mention the fact that you're not exactly comparing it to what most people think of when they use the term "destroyer" as an alternate to it. A dispatch boat, with minimum crew and no cargo capacity, no military sensor suite or FTL com, etc., is already at or above that tonnage level. A Roland-class destroyer masses right on 190,000 tons, not 220-300,000 tons; a "conventional" destroyer tops out at around 80,000 tons; and a pre-bracket creep light cruiser is only around 120,000 tons, so your tonnage saving over a destroyer not armed with Mark 16s would be much smaller, and certainly a lot smaller than a heavy cruiser-sized hull, which is what (by most navies' standards) you're getting into at 300,000 tons. To some extent, then, comparing them to a "220-300kton full function warship" is a bit of a strawman. I haven't been attempting to argue that all navies would build Rolands instead of scout frigates; I've been arguing that all navies have been building their "destroyers" instead of frigates and that the process will continue. Therefore, you're actually talking — for most navies — a tonnage differential of 50,000 tons at most per unit, not the minimum tonnage saving of 170,000 tons your numbers above suggest.

    Your actual savings over a warship hull of the tonnage you're specifying would obviously be higher if you eschew any military systems. Convincing a navy to build large numbers of an unarmed essentially civilian auxiliary type is still going to be a hard sell, however, and your proposed technique of operation is clearly going to require a very large number of these vessels, given the number of star systems you appear to intend to keep under surveillance. Those vessels are still going to have to be manned, are still going to require maintenance and upkeep, and they're still going to have to be fitted into the logistics pipeline somehow. Again, not a deal-killer, but a point to be borne in mind when trying to decide whether or not a navy is actually going to build/buy them. The only cost-saving that you'll show here, however, will be in whatever purely military systems you leave out, like electronic warfare capability, ECM, etc. And, frankly, the number, volume, and expense of the purely military systems you could cram into a 50,000-ton hull would be distinctly on the small side, so the absolute savings over a warship of the same tonnage would not be as great as you seem to be assuming. On the other hand, the savings over a warship of twice the tonnage would become rather more significant, especially if you're talking about building hundreds of these things.

    The biggest drawback to a vessel this small is going to be capacity to carry deployable munitions (drones) and onboard drone management systems. I know you've come up with a theoretical mode of operation to minimize the requirement for onboard drone stowage, but I'm skeptical of the entire approach for reasons I'll get into below.

    (2) Civilian tech LRSPs could be built in shipyards almost anywhere. That much is true. Whether or not they could be built in systems were the workforces are comparatively ill-educated and the infrastructure sucks wind is another matter, of course. However, I'll concede the point that if you can convince the Admiralty of your navy to buy itty-bitty, civilian-grade, unarmed platforms at all, then you could build them just about anywhere.

    (3) An LRSP's crew would not be "FAR" smaller than for a military vessel of the same tonnage. It would be smaller than for a 189,000-ton Roland, but it would be larger than the crew of a dispatch boat, which would be the closest military vessel in terms of tonnage. It would have to be, if only to provide for the necessary mission specialists… and there would be mission specialists necessary even for the bare-bones operational technique you're proposing. I'm not sure exactly how "sacrificing" one drone "to make it really clear to the attackers that there are other drones watching to see what they do to the surrendering ship" is going to affect operations one way or the other. I suppose you're arguing that if the other side doesn't allow the crew of the LRSP to surrender when it strikes its wedge, the good guys will know about it and the bad guys can expect punitive action, either in the form of reprisal against their own crews during the war or punishment after the surrender. It's an intriguing argument, but I'm not sure of its validity or applicability. And from a military perspective, POWs are still "casualties." The actual loss of life may be lower, but the loss of trained manpower is exactly the same as if every member of the crew had been shot in the head.

    (4) I am a bit at a loss to understand why you seem to think that such vast numbers of LRSPs would be necessary. From what I'm seeing here, it sounds to me as if you are suggesting that your navy needs to continually monitor activity in scores of star systems. I know you've set up a schedule — hopefully not one so regular that the other side can anticipate it — on which your LRSPs will translate out of hyper close enough (I know, you're talking about light-weeks, which in my opinion is a nonstarter for a lot of reasons, but we'll concede that it would be practical for the purposes of this argument) to service a continually cycling stream of Ghost Rider platforms which are sweeping in and out of the star system recording data. The recovered platforms are taken aboard the LRSP and transported to a freighter mothership for processing, and then — presumably — the recovered data is couriered back to base for ONI and/or fleet staff analysis. I seem to remember an argument that you also put forward for effectively "englobing" a star system with your "recon frigates" as a preliminary for an actual attack, arguing that very large numbers of LRSPs would be necessary to sweep the critical value in a relatively compressed timeframe. That doesn't seem to be part of your thinking at this time according to the points in your last post (except for that bit about peeking behind the local gas giant). Has it been abandoned or are we just not discussing that side of the application at this point? I ask because many of my objections to the type rest on that application of it.

    The number of star systems on which you are going to require current surveillance data — or as close to "current" as data at the ends of message loops weeks or even months across can be — is not going to be huge. Data on long-term capabilities, shipbuilding strength, etc., is going to be better obtained through other forms of information gathering, exactly as it has been historically here on Earth. What you're talking about here is much more the equivalent of satellite reconnaissance — the long-range, long-time tracking of ship movements and types and (hopefully) signal intelligence in a specific, relatively isolated area. Absent the sudden arrival in your vicinity of a significant increase in enemy combat strength, this type of data — while potentially useful in the long run — is not going to have very much immediate strategic or tactical importance. The long-standing practice in the Honorverse has been to maintain a periodic sweep of secondary systems in the area of proposed operations and to carry out more intensive, more detailed sweeps of the important systems in the area of proposed operations, augmented by very intense sweeps immediately prior to actual operations.

    Given the transit times between star systems, and the fact that it's not very difficult for anyone on either side to know which star systems are going to be valuable enough to protect (or attack) and which star systems' infrastructures are capable of supporting long time naval deployments, the number of systems you're actually going to have to keep track of is going to be relatively small. I'm not saying you don't have to keep tabs on what's happening throughout an entire sector. What I'm saying is that the resource commitment to intelligence-gathering is (or ought to be) commensurate with the value of the intelligence gathered, and monitoring the day-to-day operations of dozens of star systems when the message transmission loop for the gathered data is going to be as long as we're talking about here, is not going to be incredibly high on most navies' lists. To use a non-naval historical example which is perhaps somewhat flawed (but still applicable, I think), an American Civil War general in Louisiana needed to know only in the most general terms about the tactical situation in Virginia. Nothing going on there was going to have an immediate effect on his own operations, and nothing he did in Louisiana was going to have an immediate effect on the Army of Virginia or the Army of the Potomac. The people planning grand strategy and apportioning troops between Louisiana and Virginia needed the best general strategic information they could get on both theaters, but they didn't get it by sending cavalry patrols from Louisiana to Virginia. They got it by combining internally generated reports from both theaters with reports from spies, newspaper articles on the other side, prisoner interrogation, etc. The distances between star systems, relatively speaking, in the Honorverse are at least as great as the distance between New Orleans and Richmond in 1863, and information flow speeds are even slower, because there is no equivalent of the telegraph between star systems.

    My point here is that the "bubble" in which detailed information on events in star systems is going to be significant is smaller than you seem to be assuming. Major star systems with major infrastructure in an immediate theater of operations will need to be covered; beyond that immediate theater of operations (or immediate target for an individual strike), the timeliness of delivering the data is going to make it suspect, it simply isn't going to be relevant on any sort of operational (as opposed to strategic) level, and there will probably be equally effective, less expensive, and ultimately more informative means of acquiring the information that is operationally or strategically important.

    Operating on that basis, the number of systems you're going to have to cover is going to be low enough that huge numbers of platforms — especially if the platforms are capable platforms — won't be required. Using smaller numbers of ships which are capable of not simply deploying Ghost Rider platforms but actually managing and monitoring them in real-time will provide a far more flexible and responsive system for immediate pre-strike reconnaissance and will also allow a timely sweep of other "systems of interest" in the operational area. Moreover, those more capable platforms will be multi-function platforms. If they find themselves forced to fight on a recon mission (which they shouldn't, any more than your proposed LRSP would), they'll be more capable of it. They are also perfectly capable of making the circuit of their assigned systems once per month or so (as your proposed LRSPs would) but with the important difference that because they will be monitoring and managing the platforms themselves — and can carry the onboard stores to replenish as necessary — they will be in a far better position to immediately you evaluate the importance of the collected data and handle it appropriately — which may mean an immediate return to base to hand that information over. More significantly, they can be used for other missions entirely when necessary.

    (5) I disagree with you that "disposing of these civilian tech ships during peacetime would be absurdly easy." They are going to be extraordinarily limited function (i.e., useless) vehicles for anything besides moving minimal numbers of human beings — basically their own crews — over interstellar distances. You've already decided that they aren't going to carry anything except the systems they need to get from Point A to Point B hauling "2 to 4" drones on external hard points. So exactly what makes you think there's going to be a large market for them? Prospectors? Why do they need hyper capability, and where are they going to load the supplies necessary for prospecting? Survey work? Where are you going to mount the sophisticated instrumentation for that mission? News agencies? They aren't going to be interested in relatively slow ships with civilian-grade hyper generators, compensators, and particle screening. Specialty shipping lines? What are you going to ship that's going to be small enough to be moved aboard a ship which has zero cargo or passenger capacity? I strongly suspect that the vast majority of the ships would simply be thrown away after their military usefulness (if any) was done.

    (6) If I visualized a pressing need for what amounts to day-to-day monitoring of numerous star systems from a freighter "dozens of light years from anything" this might make sense. I don't, however. If your "crappy freighter" (I use your term only with the deepest affection, you understand) is 24 (about the smallest "dozens" you could have) from a star system being scouted and an equal distance from the star system to which the information needs to be reported — total of 48 light-years — the information transmission loop for-a-civilian-grade compensator and particle screening (i.e., rising no higher than the gamma bands of hyper-space) would be approximately 25 days, or the next best thing to an entire month for information to be recovered from the star system and transmitted to the base where it's needed. A military-grade hyper generator (capable of operating in the delta bands), but not particle screening, would allow the message transmission time to be reduced to 17 days, or two and a half weeks. Military-grade hyper generator, compensator, and particle screening would reduce it to 13 days, or approximately 2 weeks. And that's assuming that your central processing node freighter is located directly between the star systems in question.

    Now while I will admit that information which is between two weeks and a month old is much better than no information at all, I seriously question how useful routine data from secondary systems is going to be. It would make much more sense from an intelligence gathering perspective to commit resources much as they were committed in pre-radio, pre-aerial reconnaissance naval operations (i.e., operations in which individual ships could not be given orders in real-time over strategic distances and reconnaissance was limited to what an individual ship could actually see). Under that format, what you do is use two or three light but capable platforms to keep a general eye on ports (star systems) of particular interest. If there is a significant change in activity in that port — such as the arrival of a naval squadron from the other side, or a troop convoy — one of the patrolling vessels is sent off home with that information. The other(s) continue to monitor the situation, staying outside the reach of the shore fortifications (i.e., outside missile range and/or the hyper limit) and being as unobtrusive as they can (i.e., hidden as deeply in stealth as possible) while they do it. If the naval squadron or troop convoy moves on, then that information is couriered back to base (assuming a second ship is available) and the movement is shadowed so that its destination can be reported and that port (star system) can be added to those to be watched. A British admiral operating out of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1813 against American ports between Maine and New York State doesn't really need to know the details about what's happening in New Orleans on a day-to-day or even a week-to-week or month-to-month basis. He doesn't even need to know what's happening in Newburyport, Massachusetts, if he already knows that the big American frigates are in Boston and New York. More general, strategic information on American naval planning, movement of supplies, ship building, etc., is going to be useful to him in the long run, but he's not going to attempt to obtain it by full-time, direct monitoring. He's going to rely upon very periodic sweeps and other means of intelligence-gathering to get it.

    Destroyers would not need "many more crew" to perform the same mission you're proposing for your freighter-supported LRSPs. They would not need "many more crew" primarily because a single destroyer could substitute for several of your smaller, less capable ships, could manage and monitor its own (larger) number of drones independently, and could cycle back and forth (independently) between its assigned area of surveillance and home base without requiring a mothership (and its crew). Destroyers will require tenders — for this mission — only if you're going to leave them on station for months at a time, which is going to be pretty pointless unless there's something really, really significant going on in a given star system. At that point, you assign three destroyers to the mission. Two of them are on station at any given moment, providing a courier who can be sent home immediately if there's any significant change. The third is so that they can be relieved on station at staggered intervals.

    (7) Why does having a "cheap civilian vessel pop over there and drop drones" make more sense than having a "combat-capable platform" pop over there, drop drones, and then pop back? If you're outside the hyper limit, the time lost in sending a destroyer over to take a look and then come back again is going to be minimal. If you're inside the hyper limit, your "cheap civilian vessel" may very well never get to the point it needs to reach. On the other hand, you're planning on deploying platforms from a light week beyond the hyper limit and then recovering them in deep space. If your probes are that effective (and I should point out that nobody except Manticore — and its allies — have Ghost Rider technology), then why the heck is the admiral going to have to assign anybody to go find out what's behind the gas giant? He's got recon platforms that can penetrate the system without needing to send any manned vessel anywhere near the gas giant to give him that information. True, LACs can't independently "pop" anywhere through hyper; they can, however be transported aboard a CLAC to a point at which they then fight their way in to get the information if there's a threat to be fought against. If there isn't, they recover to their carrier and — just like that fleet destroyer — pop right back to the rest of the fleet in minimal time. The argument that you are going to disperse valuable combat platforms so that they won't be available to support one another when the entire task force is still outside the hyper limit does not hold up.

    It seems evident to me that what you are proposing here is supposed to provide long-term — as in months or years — of observations of a whole bunch of star systems as a way to compile in-depth data on everything going on. This would be nice to have in an ideal world. Presumably, however, in a wartime situation, both sides are going to be aware that people are trying to keep an eye on things and will be taking the best deception measures possible. You aren't going to be able to keep an eye on any militarily significant star system without the other side knowing you're doing it, whether you're deploying your drones from a light-week out or from directly on top of the hyper limit. Their passive arrays will detect your hyper footprints, and if you're using unstealthy, civilian-grade ships they'll undoubtedly be able to track your impeller signature, as well. They probably won't be able to intercept you, but they will know what's going on and they'll take steps to deceive you to the greatest possible extent unless they're idiots. (And, admittedly, the human race has its fair share of idiots. I'll grant you that.)

    Besides, suppose a shipyard is being started. I need to monitor a secondary system which doesn't already possess a shipyard on a monthly basis to become aware of this? No. I need to drop by, say, every four months to become aware of that. I see lots of freighters with military-grade drives entering and leaving system and on the basis of that decide a surgical strike on the facilities they dock with might be a good idea? If there are facilities sufficient to provide useful numbers of consumables or components, then I don't need "military-grade drives" to tell me about them. I already know they're there, and I'll get around to them as soon as I can free up that CLAC squadron to go deal with them. Oh, and by the way, while you're there, guys, bring back a good recon picture of the rest of the system, too, won't you? For that matter, why is the other side using freighters with military-grade drives? I'm not saying they wouldn't be, I'm just saying that if I knew that a star system was under surveillance (from all those hyper footprints popping in and out) and I were going to be moving critical components in and out of it, I — being the sneaky and devious sort I am — would deliberately use commercial freighters to transport those critical components. It would extend my transportation loop somewhat, but why give the other side a tipoff by using what amount to military transports if I can find liberty ships to carry them, instead?

    And, contrary to what you may think, I did think through the comparison of aircraft and satellites versus recon frigates and LACs. I'm fully aware that LACs are no faster than other ships in normal-space — a point I've made repeatedly to people who persist in thinking of them as fighters. I'm not comparing LACs to carrier-launched reconnaissance aircraft in terms of performance; I'm comparing them in terms of function. They are individual platforms, capable of penetrating defended space, and of bringing back intelligence from that defended space, without risking major combatants in the same volume of space. If it makes you feel better, you can think of them as really slow aircraft, à la World War I biplanes, but they still perform the same basic function (and are a hell of a lot more elusive where tracking and interception are concerned). After all, recon aircraft took over the reconnaissance function from scout cruisers, which took over the function from frigates and sloops, which took over the function from rowed galleys, which presumably took it over from hollow log canoes; the function remains the same even if the modality changes. Recon aircraft (and particularly carrier aircraft) are normally used for "excellent close recon" rather than strategic reconnaissance. Again, I specifically compared your "recon frigate" to the U2 as a strategic air-breathing reconnaissance system, and my reference to the SR71 was, again, simply to point out that (unlike the SR71) your recon frigate has zero ability to penetrate defended volume and would have to operate in a standoff role, which is precisely what you're talking about doing.

    One of the problems I have with your entire analysis is that all of it is based on the capabilities of Ghost Rider, which most navies don't have. I believe you are underestimating the size of the Ghost Rider platforms, and I disagree strenuously with your notion that having essentially "dumb" LRSPs dropping them off and picking them up on a rotational basis rather than stationing a competent platform to monitor them continually in real-time is a better use of resources. However, this is a system which could work only for the Manties or their allies at this time. No other navy is going to be pursuing it because no other navy has the capabilities that the Manties have, and the Manties aren't going to be pursuing it because they — surprise! — think about reconnaissance needs and assets the way I do. If that constitutes authorial fiat, then so be it.

    Traditionally, the Manties have relied upon the ubiquity of their merchant marine to keep them apprised of general strategic information and on their naval reconnaissance assets for point reconnaissance of systems of particular interest. It's been a flexible system which has allowed them to stay on top of galactic events far more effectively than anyone else has managed, because no one else has had the sheer breadth of observers (all those Manticoran merchant spacers) or the technological competence (Ghost Rider and its immediate predecessors) to do it as well as they have. With the closing of the warp networks, the penetration of their merchant traffic is going to be enormously reduced, and they will be stepping up their point reconnaissance of important star systems in their operational areas. There's not much point, however, in their sending reconnaissance forces six or seven months' one-way transit time into the heart of the Solarian League to gather strategic data on core systems, and what happens in secondary peripheral systems outside their immediate operational areas, frankly, is going to have very little significance to them. They aren't going to be dispatching major strike forces months away from their operational area to hit targets — even shipyards — unless and until those shipyards become a significant threat even if they know they are there.

    I'll concede that a civilian-hulled LRSP makes more sense than a "frigate" on a military hull, but "more sense" isn't the same thing as "very much since" in my analysis of what an Honorverse navy/star nation needs, wants, can obtain, and can make use of in a practical timeframe out of its reconnaissance assets. The Manties will operate — and have operated, for years — genuine warships very much in the manner you're describing (although not hypering in and out a light-week beyond the hyper limit). They do it on a specifically targeted basis, however, not on the sort of shotgun, broadband approach you're suggesting. (I can see advantages to a "broadband approach," you understand; I just don't think those advantages are sufficiently significant to underpin the operational methodology you're suggesting.) The introduction of steadily more capable platforms, culminating (so far) in Ghost Rider, makes the technique as currently practiced by the RMN much more effective (and less risky) than it used to be. At the present time, the Royal Manticoran Navy doesn't feel especially starved of strategic information, and it is taking steps to acquire operational information using well-established techniques. It's not likely to change its mind about those techniques any time real soon. And no one else — except its allies — has the capability to operate LRSPs in the way you're describing because everyone else lacks those capable, long-endurance reconnaissance platforms.

    I'll reiterate. No one's going to be building frigates, and even your civilian LRSP is going to be (a) impractical for people who lack the critical component of stealthy, long-endurance reconnaissance platforms and (b) not especially attractive to Manticore (who has that critical component) because it doesn't fit into their intelligence-gathering model and as yet they've seen no reason to change a model which has worked very well for them for the next best thing to 20 years of combat.

    And now, alas, I do have to go and begin devoting my time to writing 5,000 words of novel per day instead of 5,000 words of argument per day.