The League vs the Star Empire of Manticore: What does the ONI know about the Solarian League's real capabilities?
How much does the ONI know about the Solarian League's real capabilities?
The short answer is quite a lot more than the United States Navy knew about the Japanese Empire and the Imperial Japanese Navy in the 1930s which, unfortunately, wasn't very much.
In point of fact, the USN was woefully ignorant in many regards where the Japanese Navy was concerned. For example, they were unaware of the fact that the Kongo-class battlecruisers' reconstruction had increased the ships speed to the 30-knot mark. They listed the Nagato-class as good for a maximum speed of only 22 knots, when in fact the ships were capable of 27. They didn't have a clue about the existence of the "Long Lance" torpedo, they underrated the effectiveness of both the Val dive bomber and the Kate torpedo bomber, didn't realize how long-ranged the Betty bomber was, and despite reports from the Chinese and Claire Chenault and the American Volunteer Group, they severely underestimated the capabilities of the Zero fighter. And, of course, they listed the Yamato-class ships' tonnage at 45,000 tons and the main battery at 16 inches until after the end of World War II.
In regards to that last point, one of my favorite historical examples of how to mislead your opponents while being scrupulously honest relates to the Yamato-class. Under the terms of the Washington Naval Disarmament Treaty of 1921, battleships were limited to a maximum tonnage of 35,000 tons and a maximum main armament caliber no greater than 16 inches. Later, in one of the follow-on agreements, the United States and Great Britain agreed to limit maximum main battery size to 14 inches (which was what the Brits had wanted all along) and battleships to 35,000 tons, but with the proviso that there would be a clause permitting armament size to be increased to 16 inches and tonnage to escalate to 45,000 tons if there was credible evidence that any foreign power was building something bigger than the treaty mandated limitations. (This is why the American North Carolina-class battleships were originally designed to carry 14-inch guns, not 16-inch guns. And the reason that they were armored against 14-inch fire, not 16-inch fire, despite the long-standing American policy that a capital ship should be armored against the fire of her own guns. FDR very carefully waited until he'd been reassured of election before certifying that Japan was building ships larger than the treaty limits and invoking the escalator clauses. After all, he couldn't afford to infuriate the isolationists too severely before the election.)
The Japanese, who had never been a party to that particular follow-on treaty, scrupulously observed the limitations on capital ships imposed by the Washington Treaty until they had formally (and legally) withdrawn from it, following notification of their intent to do so in 1936. Like every other navy, however, they had been free to continue paper studies, planning, and designing even when they weren't actually building any new ships, and they had been steadily working away at what became the Yamatos for a long time. There had been persistent rumors that they were doing so, and, after all, what was the point in withdrawing from the treaty in the first place if you intended to be bound by its limitations? So, when the Japanese began construction of their first new battleships since World War I, reports said that they were building 45,000-ton battleships armed with 16-inch guns, which had been generally accepted as the next upward step in battleship displacement and armament. The Japanese, however, replied with perfect honesty that they were not, in fact, building any 45,000-ton, 16-inch-gunned battleships. Why, the very notion was ridiculous! What they did not mention, was that instead, they were building 65,000-ton battleships with 18.1-inch guns.
ONI is somewhat better informed than that, but there are still major and dangerous holes in Manticore's available information. There is a huge amount of information available on the Solarian League Navy from open sources, much as is true of the United States Navy today. Jane's Fighting Ships of the Galaxy is still in production and lists with pretty close accuracy the numbers of ships in Battle Fleet reserve, what new classes are coming into service, what ships have been formally stricken from service, what ships have been sent to the breakers, what ships have been disposed of by transfer to friendly client states, etc.. It's not difficult at all for ONI to locate, evaluate, and analyze the relatively small number of military shipyards in the League, either, since no one's ever made any particular effort to hide them. The exact state of the League's hardware is much more problematical, however, and there is even less Manticoran penetration into such areas as military R&D. Given the fact that the League hasn't fought a real war in so long, no one -- including the League -- has any sort of accurate yardstick for judging the war-fighting capabilities of the Solarian officer corps, and ONI at this time has no feel at all for what -- if any -- war plans the SLN might have on file.
The biggest reason for this state of ignorance is that ONI's resources are not infinite, and, for obvious reasons, Manticore's attention has been focused on Haven for the last 50 or 60 T-years. The Solarian League wasn't perceived as any particular threat, and gathering information about it was therefore assigned a very low level of priority. In addition, one should also bear in mind that without the Mesan Alignment's interference, the Manticoran assessment of the Solarian League as "no particular threat" would be 100% accurate and, of course, no one in Manticore knows of the Mesan Alignment's existence.
With the emergence of the threat of a possible direct confrontation with the Solarian League in Talbott, ONI's priorities are inevitably shifting, and, frankly, neither the League as a whole nor the SLN in particular is anywhere near as security conscious as the Republic of Haven. Indeed, they leak like sieves, so obtaining a lot of the information Manticore currently lacks would not be particularly difficult if Admiral Givens had the time in which to set up an entirely new espionage network in the League. She doesn't have that sort of time, however, so at the moment, her analysts are concentrating frantically on everything available from open sources while searching for any additional bits and pieces of information they can lay their hands on. But there are huge question marks in the minds of any Manticoran planners confronting the possibility of a direct conflict with the Solarian League, and those question marks are confounded by perceptions, beliefs, and assumptions about the League which have been in existence for so long that virtually no one questions them. I've touched on many of them in previous posts, so I'm not going to drag them all out here (especially given how long this post has already gotten), but most of them would tend to make the League look bigger, tougher, more monolithic, and generally much scarier than might actually prove the case. The problem for the Manties and there analyz e at this point, however, is that there's no way for them to know that those perceptions and assumptions are, in fact, in error, and it would take years for them to build up the espionage infrastructure and general knowledge base to realistically challenge beliefs which have been held literally for centuries.