Artificial divisions within the SLN
Okay. I wasn't going to get into this, because it's not the sort of information I really like handing out ahead of time. (Joe, are you listening?) [I have absolutely no idea who David may be referring to here. No, sir. Not at all. - Ed.] And I'm not going to go into a lot of detail. But I see some people painting themselves into corners on the basis of some assumptions (about already published stuff) which may or may not be valid.
First, Richard Earnshaw is closer to correct than some people seem to think.
The SLN is divided into two separate communities, what Richard is calling "Battle Fleet" and "Frontier Fleet." I may go ahead and incorporate this terminology into the novels as canon, but the way I visualize it right now, this is an unofficial division which is not supposed to exist, but does.
Effectively, SLN officers spend their entire career in one branch or the other. They are supposed (by law) to be transferred back and forth, but they aren't, in large part because of what Richard seems to have picked up on (at least obliquely) and other people are ignoring: that the SLN is considerably more corrupt and decadent than either the RMN or the PRN were at their worst. Officers who opt to serve in Frontier Fleet are essentially barred from Battle Fleet service because the SLN has come to regard the former as a police force/border patrol/customs force and the other as a "battle-fighting" force. (Hey, I didn't say that the division rested on a realistic view of the Universe!) In addition to the division between the "Oh, they're just glorified cops!" disdain Battle Fleet feels for Frontier Fleet (which, by the way, despises Battle Fleet's fat-and-happy arrogance), careerism, padding accounts, outright payoffs from the bureaucrats running the system, illegal disposal of public property for private gain, etc., these are rampant within the SLN. And they are also far more rampant in Battle Fleet than in Frontier Fleet.
Why? Because as Richard has been arguing, Frontier Fleet does useful, essential work every single day and Battle Fleet does not. As someone pointed out, the Battle of Farley's Crossing is referenced in IEH as the last major battle of the SLN. It happend approximately two centuries ago (a little less) and the simulation being used wasn't an SLN sim; it was a Peep sim, because the Peeps were studying the battle as a training tool and the SLN wasn't. In addition, there were 600 ships present, but less than a dozen ships of the wall. It was essentially a Frontier Fleet action, with about 160 SLN ships standing off and trashing around 3 times their number of smaller units (including some from a "rogue" system defense fleet contingent; the aforesaid Farley's Crossing System). They trashed the opposition because of superior technology, which masked the fact that their tactics sucked wind, and Battle Fleet's opinion of the battle is that if those Frontier Fleet yahoos can handle the neobarbs that handily, it just proves that no one would stand a chance against us! In other words, the SLN, institutionally, managed to learn virtually nothing from the battle.
Reference has been made to the SLN observers at the front and the fact that they have been ignored. One reason they have been is because virtually all of them were Frontier Fleet officers, and the institutional arrogance of the Battle Fleet officer corps means that anything they say is discounted.
The biggest problems the SLN faces in terms of providing an effective battle fleet are really remarkably close to the ones Richard has adduced (and I wanna know who showed him my notes, damn it!)
(1) Battle Fleet has not fought an actual battle in over 300 years.
(2) The SLN knows that no one can threaten the League for the reasons everyone else has been putting forward here on the Bar, so there is no credible threat to the League's security, regardless of whatever silly new toys some of the neobarbs are playing with. (Please note: the fact that everyone "knows" something does not necessarily make it true or accurate.)
(3) The SLN has prolong and no equivalent of the RMN's policy of switching out senior officers to make sure their experience remains current. The senior officers of the SLN are almost all well over a century old, with habits of thought and views of what makes an effective military ship/fleet that were formed when they were in their thirties and forties. (And which were formed in the institutional bosom of a fleet which hasn't been to war in centuries.)
(4) Prior to the emergence of the innovations introduced (in no small part thanks to the much-despised "Horrible Hemphill" and her much-derided jeune ecole), warship technology had been basically plateaued or frozen for about three hundred years. Advances had occurred, but they had been incrememental only, built around the same pattern, the same weapon systems, the same EW, all of it simply adjusted for minor improvements in specific areas of capability. Most importantly of all, doctrine had been frozen, and all SLN Battle Fleet procurement decisions were made through the demands of doctrine, not the possibilities offered by new tech which had not yet been fitted into existing doctrine.
(5) The SLN is a part of a hugely corrupt bureaucratic system, and that bureaucratic corruption has spilled over into its budgetary and procurement priorities, as well as into private corruption and profiteering. In addition, funding for the SLN is fought out at the level of the permanent civil service, not the legislature, which further distorts and insulates the process from reality (or, at least, accountability).
(6) A lot of the money which the SLN does receive goes into the pockets of corrupt admirals, corrupt civilian suppliers, etc.. What actually gets made available to pay for the needs of the navy has to be prioritized somehow, and, again, Richard has a point when he suggests that the side of the Navy which is actually doing something (Frontier Fleet) has got to be paid for somehow. Virtually all new construction funds go to Frontier Fleet. Frontier Fleet's training budget is several times as high as that of Battle Fleet's. Frontier Fleet gets upgrades in electronics on a regular basis; Battle Fleet doesn't. Battle Fleet is regarded by almost every star nation (including the Solarian League and the SLN itself) as the premier battle force of the galaxy, despite the fact that it hasn't fought a battle in centuries, so it obviously doesn't need all that training and new equipment.
(7) Frontier Fleet trains regularly in the operations which it has to carry out on a daily basis. Battle Fleet trains using established simulation scenarios which all fall neatly within the framework of its existing doctrine. As a result, Frontier Fleet's simulations tend to uncover potential problems and weaknesses, while Battle Fleet's training simply reinforces its perception that it has the bases covered.
(8) Solarian technology does not compare as favorably to Manticoran technology, even in Frontier Fleet's case, as some people seem to be assuming. It is substantially better than the technology Haven has been fielding, and a time or two it has taken Manty skippers by surprise because they allowed themselves to assume that they would not be facing it. But if you look at the relatively few examples in which a Manticorain ship has actually gone up against Solarian technology (and known she was doing so), the Sollies have not yet come up with anything that gave them any sort of decisive advantage. In fact, their technology has been inferior to that of Manticore virtually across the board.
(9) The basic platforms of the SLN's Battle Fleet average almost 200 years in age. They do not build new units on any regular basis, mainly because procuring the funds for new construction is so difficult in the face of a demonstrable lack of a threat. Someone mentioned the "10-year rule" Great Britain used between the World War I and World War II. Well, the Solarian League is using the equivalent of a "100-year rule," and all procurement and weapons development decisions are made on that basis.
(10) I think it's entirely fair to argue as several people have that what's happened between Manticore and Haven ought to have served as a wake-up call for the SLN. In fact, it has for quite a few Frontier Fleet officers. But the war between the SKM and the Republic of Haven has been going on for less than 20 years, and the introduction of radically new weapons really wasn't a major feature of the war until Buttercup, which means that the lessons of the SLN's technical disadvantages have had less than 10 years to percolate. That's 10 years set against an institutional mindset which has taken centuries to develop and is held by officers who are themselves a century or so old, and the reports they have are coming from Frontier Fleet observers whose judgment Battle Fleet's senior officers automatically discount.
(11) Given the age of the SLN's wall of battle, the nature of the refits which would be required to make them combat-worthy against modern Manticoran or Havenite designs would amount to rebuilding. It would be cheaper -- and faster -- to begin with an entirely new design and build from the keel out.
(12) The warship-building capacity of the SLN is concentrated in perhaps a couple of dozen major nodes. There are any number of star systems within the League which could become major warship-building centers, but they haven't been developed. This has two major implications. (A) The warship design and building industry is very much a "closed community." Not only that, but certain building centers specialize in certain types of construction and maintenance. Eighty percent of the existing yards doing active construction specialize in supporting Frontier Fleet, and build nothing heavier than battlecruisers. The yards which build the limited number of ships of the wall which are actually funded do so very slowly, partly in order to keep an experienced workforce in existence, and partly because they are very "traditional" in their design and construction techniques. This slow building rate, by the way, also drives up the cost of new SoW construction to something at least two or three times that of the SKM, far less the GSN. (B) Because there are so few major building nodes, the entire SLN's current building capacity constitutes one huge potential point source failure. In effect, the SLN has an entire succession of Grendelsbanes, of varying degrees of vulnerability. Again, this is something Frontier Fleet is aware of and has pointed out (without much effect) to Battle Fleet.
Now, as I say, this is a lot more information than I really wanted to hand out at this stage, and I have no intention of going into all of the detailed implications for what may happen in the novels, or what the Solarian League's long-term war-fighting capability might actually be. But, the fact is, that the destruction of the SLN's entire force of active ships of the wall, hopefully with a sizable chunk of its ossified officer corps on board, might very well be the best thing that could possibly happen in terms of its fighting ability. Think of it as the Japanese sinking the American Pacific battle-line at Pearl Harbor and thereby forcing the United States Navy to rely upon carriers. The biggest difference between that scenario and what might face the SLN in any shooting conflict with the Star Kingdom and its allies would be that at least the USN's strategists and operational planners actually did quite a good job in the interwar years, aside from their failure to fully recognize and embrace the realities of naval aviation -- which, in their defense, no one had any actual experience with prior to about 1939 -- and Battle Fleets planners have not.
At the same time, however, please do bear in mind, Richard, that however bad Battle Fleet may be, Frontier Fleet is an entirely different animal, and it's big enough all by itself to substantially out-mass the entire Manty Navy, superdreadnoughts and all. If I were the commander of Frontier Fleet and I suspected that a war with the Manties was coming, I'd be concentrating on developing the MDM, the missile pod, and probably a huge number of battlecruiser-sized (and thus fairly rapidly built) mine layers like those Honor and Sarnow used at Hancock, but optimized to deploy pods to be taken over and controlled by the large number of battlecruisers I already have in inventory. I'd be concentrating on maintaining as much acceleration and maneuverability advantage over the Manticoran wall of battle as possible and pursuing an attritional policy using the mine layer-deployed pod/battlecruiser combination.
However, I am not saying that that is what's going to happen. For that matter, I'm not saying that the RMN is ever going to find the SLN at all. Of course I'm not.
Someone argued in an earlier post that it would be necessary for the SLN to build ships of the wall on a regular, ongoing basis because of their deterioration. This is not the case. The vast majority of Battle Fleet's wall of battle is mothballed in vacuum and completely depressurized. Those which are in commission are refitted in a regular maintenance cycle. The fact that there had been no major innovations in warship design and construction for so many hundreds of years prior to the recent unpleasantness between Manticore and Haven has created a situation in which the same basic platform remains in existence for years and years, much as happened with wooden sailing warships, some of which were 30 years old (or even older) despite service in a far more corrosive and destructive environment. Yes, the fact that they contain atmosphere and are subject to all of the wear and tear of human existence does have an effect on the ships in active service, but it is far cheaper to repair/restore/maintain the environmental sections of the ship that it is to build an entirely new hull. I happened to agree with you that it would be far more cost effective to add new-build ships to inventory, but the absolute price tag is much lower the other way, and that factor controls policy in the absence of any credible threat or challenge to the institutionalized orthodox dogma of the Battle Fleet officer corps.