Fighter Guide/Tactical Spacecraft Generally
|The Fighter Guide|
The 'Real' History
From the earliest days of manned flight, it quickly became clear that armed conflict had gone from two dimensions to three. He who controlled the 'high ground' had a gradually more significant advantage over an adversary who did not.
Air balloons used primarily for spotting enemy formations were particularly vulnerable to attack, as they were slow, when maneuverable at all. Biplanes, used for the same purpose, were shot at by other such planes with guns, necessitating that planes dedicated to fighting escort the spotter planes. Small improvements in speed, climbing, gunnery and fuselage durability became significant, and as the twentieth century came to a close, tactical aircraft were critical to control of any battle environment.
The first salient point conveyed by the above is that as the pace of technological improvement accelerates, small changes become significant. A slight edge in speed, armor or weapon range will mean something to the people whose job it is to plan doctrine for the exploitation of those advantages. Only a fool would fail to make use of a longer weapon range for ship A when engaging ship B. If the pilot of A is doing her job, she should be flying her craft to continually open the range between she and her enemy.
In Terra's WWI, for example, the moment that German engineers managed to develop a better drive to weight ratio for their aircraft than allied biplanes (the drive to weight ratio determines how fast a plane can pull its weight in a climb), the German tactics changed to take advantage. German pilots would continually seek to drive their enemy into diving contests, the better to bleed away the Allied plane's altitude. Then the Germans would climb above the enemy and, well, it was pretty grim there, for a while.
The second important lesson conveyed by the first paragraph is that, resources being generally equal, developers and deployers of tactical craft will immediately begin to find counters to any advantage.
This point cannot be understated. 'Countermeasures' are a religion to military planners and designers, and again, the pace of technology dictates the response time of countermeasures. UFOP simmers must repeat this mantra every time the clever character 'improves' something so that advantage is gained. If it is a 'true' improvement that will change the relationships upon which the improvement touches, countermeasures will follow quickly and the advantage will disappear.
To make this point crystal clear, we once more return to Terra's WW I. Continuing with the example of drive to weight, the immediate response from the allies (besides getting shot down more) was to derive not just an engine that was as good as the German one, but better. The result: Advantage, allies.
Here is another example from the late 20th century. As soon as radar-guided missiles were deployed, the countermeasure was 'chaff,' dispensers, which shot out of the plane's rear aluminum strips to create a false radar signal.
This paradigm continues, obviously, in the 24th century, as a product of the intervening years. And since, one presumes, the 'technological' wave front resulting from the combined efforts of all the races in the galaxy pollinating the ideas of all the others means incredibly fast development times, the countermeasures should follow almost immediately.
The 'Inferred' History
While the earlier part of the 21st century did not see a significant jump in airframe performance for tactical aircraft, this changed during the middle part of the century, just before WWIII.
As Terra's nation states squabbled over increasingly diminishing fossil fuel reserves and living space, warfare in and above Terra's skies once more became common. The 'triumph' of pre-holocaust tactical aviation was the Bergmen-Hsang Conglomerate's IE-5 'Indo-Exo' Atmospheric Attack Plane ('Avenger'). Using hydrogen cells to provide maneuvering thrust in ultra-thin air and in near space, the IE-5 saw heavy action in anti-satellite (ASAT) operations.
By the time other nations had craft to fight off the IE-5 and her variants in order to protect the few satellite networks remaining, it was too late. An advance in tactical craft had altered the course of world events because that advance was an advantage that first one, and then all, nations exploited, to their mutual regret.
After the reconstruction and the advent of the Warp era, tactical spacecraft development, at least on and by Terra (and then eventually by her growing circle of allies) stagnated. The principal reason for this was the character of early Starfleet contacts and policy. Not much more need be said of this than that the Romulan Wars were fought with capital ships almost exclusively; armor, shields and energy weapons were still primitive, heavy and costly (from every angle: space required, resource, energy, logistics, etc), and could not be effectively utilized on tactical craft. When it was realized that capital ships could not enter atmosphere, but troops and landing craft could, the dedicated planetary defense tactical craft created were not terribly evolved from the IE-5 design.
During the latter part of the 22nd century (after the birth of the Federation) and the early part of the 23rd, tactical spacecraft were still essentially weakly armed variants of shuttles. Although they were called by various and sometimes ambitious names, the issue was still that the things that made a ship capable in a battle (armor, shields, weapons) were still too 'bulky,' costly and just plain 'big' to fit on small ships. Nonetheless, just as the advent of the transistor (and then the microchip) had revolutionized Terran technology in one bold jump, tactical spacecraft were to see their true Renaissance in the 24th century as a result of a similar technological epiphany.
The same advances that made the 'next generation' of shield generators, phaser power cells and armor tiling possible in capital ships after 2355 also made it possible for Federation R&D personnel to begin to 'think small' once more.
The result was the 'modern line' of tactical spacecraft with which this Guide is principally concerned.
The Care and Feeding of Tactical Craft
As was previously offered above, one does not deploy tactical craft to a location unless one feels they are the best option for the need, as tactical craft are in all respects more 'costly' than their more versatile and reliable shuttle forbears and cousins. This section, rather than highlighting the actual list of things one needs to have, do and supply for such craft, will point out the differences between the needs for tactical craft and their non-specialized kin. In the discussion of the differences will lie the lesson.
Everything comes down to space and cost. For example, take hangar space, for starters. A typical large capital ship such as a SOVEREIGN or GALAXY will have an assortment of support craft suited to its particular mission or its general variant-hull mission profile. This comes with the obvious acknowledgement that wartime or times of extreme crisis will result in re-allocation of all resources, including what small craft capital ships carry. These support craft might include shuttles of various types (from thruster only to warp capable), worker pods and the like. Each of these craft, by virtue of its type, takes a certain amount of space.
Tactical craft of the same 'size' (and that only pertains to the smallest tactical craft) take more. The reason is simple: support.
Tactical craft require more frequent maintenance, more personnel to perform it, more support equipment and more room to store and use it. As well, tactical craft are far more complex than shuttles (shuttles are to tactical craft what biplanes were to jets), which means in almost every case dedicated flight crews must be posted to the vessel (or installation) and housed, fed, and otherwise cared for.
This is also true of the support people. No offense to the engineering corps, but a typical starship engineer's mate can repair and maintain a shuttle. Only specially trained support crews suited by type of tactical craft can care for and maintain a fighter or gunship. It's not that the engineers can't do in a pinch, but after time and use, the difference will tell, sooner rather than later. Of course, once again, this means more space for them ('them' being the support crews) and less for everything else a starship has to carry, most importantly, people.
For the larger tactical craft (and almost all of them are larger than even the larger shuttles), all of the above is true plus the need for more actual space to park the things.
In addition, and as a corollary to the above, tactical craft require more energy and parts to operate, maintain and repair. While most shuttle parts can be replicated, many are stored. Storing parts for tactical craft is more common, because replicated parts, while all right for the tolerances of variation for shuttle systems operation, will not work in the high performance world of tactical craft. So again, more space.
Lastly, money might have gone out of use, but that's just the paper currency or whatever other mode of exchange was being used. Medium of exchange (in terms of convenient shorthand expression of a person or government's 'wealth') is still the name of the game. When Starfleet builds a hull, an economic process is as involved in 2381 as was the case when the Phoenicians laid their first keels on Terra almost 3400 years ago.
The materials, for example, come from somewhere. The labor must be paid in credits or whatever other media of exchange represents the value of their skilled work and its corresponding ability to be used by those workers for other things elsewhere. And of course, given that the Federation must account for each of these costs for each of the hulls (large or small) that it builds, there is a cost factor as concerns tactical craft, as well.
It 'costs' from between twice as much (in the case of the simplest short range fighters) to ten times as much (for the FA-150) to build a tactical fighter as it does to build a type seven shuttle. Combined with the 'cost' in terms of space for the vessels and their flight and support crews, the reason why all capital ships are not running around with fighter wings becomes clear.
Of course, space and cost work the other way, too. For example, the years 2368-2378 were not very good ones for the Federation. Successive Borg incursions, the short Klingon conflict and then the Dominion War (followed by another Borg incursion) were, in short, a flat disaster for the various fleets stationed around Federation space. Although certain hull designs suffered more than others as a result of each of those conflicts, the bottom line was that the Federation lost about nearly 70% of it's capital fleet in a span of just about a decade. Had not other local powers suffered proportionate losses, this Guide might well have been written in Romulan, Breen, Cardassian, etc.
That having been said, the Federation still needed to defend its colonies, constituent worlds and allied non-member worlds, as well as resume its mandate, exploration. Lastly, it needed to be able to project power over a suddenly rather large, empty area of claimed space. Tactical craft fill this niche nicely.
Tactical Craft In 2380: Current Mission Profiles and Uses
While a discussion and breakdown of specific tactical craft follows later, general observations about overall differences will serve at this point.
As has been noted, tactical craft are costly, but only relative to shuttles and other craft of like size. Tactical craft are a 'bargain and a half,' as the Ferengi would say, in relation to capital ships.
It "costs" in resources (of all types) from ten times as much (in the case of small, unsophisticated capital ships) to fifty times as much (in the cases of 'top of the line' hull types to build a capital ship as it does to build a wing of FA-150's. Given that a wing of those gunships is more than a match for a small capital ship, the cost issue becomes obvious. Of course, while you can have the same tactical capability in your FA-150 wing as you can with your NOVA class, you can't do much deep space exploring with the gunships. Nor can you do about a hundred other things NOVA classes can do by virtue of their range, size, versatility, etc.
But if your goal is protecting a colony world for the next ten years until the fleet is back to a semblance of its former self, you can protect (or at least patrol) ten systems with gunships or you can protect one (at a time, at least) with your NOVA. Wouldn't one want a starship exploring the stars, where it belongs, anyway?
Thus now and for the foreseeable future, starships are still rare where they used to be thicker 'on the ground,' as the saying goes. But planets, installations and even high-traffic trade routes have the bases, space and people to provide the proper care and feeding to tactical craft, and so these 'few trick ponies' thrive in the new military-strategic niche provided them.
Personnel Associated With A Tactical Air Wing
This section is not meant as a rigid rule, but it does provide a good basis to sim NPC's and the like.
Let's name our squadron the "Devil Rays" (thus their typical designations would be "Devil Ray Lead," "Devil Ray Two," etc). Let's say they're attached to the USS IWO JIMA, a marine corps NEBULA attack cruiser. The unit also needs a number designation, usually (and believe it or not, randomly) assigned by command when the unit is created. So let's call them the 27th. And since we need to know what kind of ships we're dealing with, let's say they're state of the art, FA-150's.
So the formal name for our squadron is: "The IWO-JIMA 27th Assault Squadron (Devil Rays)."
The squadron is four flights of four gunships each. As you'll learn later herein, these are the largest tactical spacecraft which can claim the name before we start getting into strange "in between" places where ships are neither tactical nor strategic (capital), like DEFIANT, for example. But we digress.
Being large, FA-150's, also affectionately called "Mauls" (the same way modern F-15's are called Eagles, for example), need lots of people to keep them flying, as well as lots of space (in fact, a capital ship can house between 3 to 5 shuttles for each FA-150 it doesn't carry).
Assuming the Maul is not going to carry a boarding party, special ops team or other passengers, the Maul needs at least a pilot and a "TSO," or "Tactical Systems Officer." This is a partial holdover from Terran aviation's Weapon Systems Officers (also known as "Wizzos"); the name has been changed over the years, however, to reflect the increased responsibilities of this officer or enlisted-person (the title not withstanding, it can be either). The TSO is a second seat who navigates for the pilot, releases complex ordinance and weapons, deals with the craft's defensive systems and, when necessary, coordinates communication between the Maul and other craft in the area. About half of all tactical craft need a pair of operators, though they can all be flown by one in a pinch. This is different from a shuttle, which requires one person, and sometimes, not even her.
In addition to requiring 10 more people for each of its four flights (four flight teams and one backup) than shuttles would (since no special training is needed to fly a shuttle), the 27th also requires support personnel to fuel it, care for the gunships and conduct launch operations. The caretakers usually number between 5-7 specially trained crew per flight which do nothing else. The launch operations people usually number another 2-3 (again, per flight) to coordinate the operations of the often hectic hangar deck which services tactical craft in combat. A computer, on the other hand, can control a hangar deck that services only shuttles.
So the 27th Squadron costs IWO JIMA an extra 68-80 people who need to be housed, cared for and the rest. Space in space, as the saying goes, is at a premium. So one can see where a capital ship could make lots better use of that space if she had shuttles instead of fighters. And unless there's a war on, or her mission profile is martial in nature, she's liable to put that crew, deck and storage space to better use. Captains creating their ships should bear this in mind.
What Tactical Flight Operations Are Like
This one's a toughie, because of that darned Gene Roddenberry. Confused?
Alright, here's the explanation:
As everyone knows, physics is a harsh mistress, even in the age of warp speed. Without the inertial dampening systems (IDS) every impulse (and certainly warp) capable ship carries, it would be impossible to accelerate to anything remotely approaching luminal velocity without allowing weeks for the effort.
Yes, we said weeks. Unless, of course, you want to end up a red stain on the bulkhead when the ship jumps to high impulse all at once. And warp? Forget it. You'd be, well, we don't know, but it'd be ugly.
So we have the IDS. Now, since these tactical craft have at least high impulse capability and many have warp, they all have to have IDS's also. The "toughie" part is figuring out just how effective the IDS is compensating for all inertia. From every indication (in other words, from watching every ST, STNG, DS9, VOY and ENT episode and every movie), it's pretty clear that never has an IDS system done anything other than eliminate all inertia. It does that literally with not even a delay of nanoseconds between the g-force of inertia when the ship accelerates and when the IDS kicks in. Have you ever seen Picard, Kirk or Janeway lean back when their ships jump to warp? Yeah, we didn't either.
And that's kind of crappy, because your authors have both had the pleasure of feeling the inertia of tactical acceleration. Now, we never went to warp (which is why we're still here), and the acceleration vectors we experienced were quite a sight less than what you'd get at warp, but it is a hoot, all the same. Having two turbofan afterburning engines underneath you is, well, indescribable.
If our aircraft had IDS systems, well, I suppose we'd fly better, and have more maneuverability, but we have got to tell you, part of the fun would be gone. Well, to be fair, also gone would be the pleasure of trying to make your body think it's going 'number two' in order to prevent blackout when pulling high-g turns, but you take the bad with the good. The point here is that Gene, may he rest in peace, never left us any clear mandate on this issue of inertia as applied to small craft which accelerate to appreciable vectors of impulse and warp even faster than do capital ships.
So we did what good simmers do. We made a command decision, and put the fun back into this. Just for you people.
So here's the technobabble, for those who enjoy it:
A tactical spacecraft, say a high-accelerating, sharp turning SG-50, for example, in order to be effective, has to make those turns and change speeds faster than a capital ship, or what's the point, right? So what we've decided is that the IDS systems used in tactical ships are basically smaller, less refined (for space and energy reasons) versions of the capital vessels, in other words, the same ones as in shuttles. As such, they simply cannot react instantaneously (or as near so as makes no difference, such as is the case with capital vessels, where you never feel a thing), especially when we add in the even higher performance capabilities of the space-frame and engines in those little darlings. The result: the fun is back! The IDS in a tactical craft reacts within appreciable fractions of a second. Once the first few dozen gee's are pulled (which will kill you if you don't wear a g-suit,) in the jump to full impulse (which is like, a few hundred thousand gee's at once), the system restores null inertia for the rest (i.e., the lethal part) of the acceleration.
Thus once more, pilots can feel an aviator's birthright; that wonderful feeling of having your chest pushed against your spine, the air pushed from your lungs, and the need to visit the little girl's room all at once. Nothing like it, folks.
So please, if you're an engineer and reading this, please don't 'invent' some great new way to make the IDS as responsive in fighters as in shuttles and capital ships, ok? Rachel has an awful temper. Thanks.
As will happen from time to time, the fighters used by a capital ship will be severely damaged and/or destroyed. In such a case, the aviator, being the most expensive component of any ship, will need a way to save him- or herself. The Transporter Ejection System, or the "beam-jector" as the pilots have come to call it, is the first option of a two-part system. If manually activated by the pilot or through an automatic computer assessment of the situation as needing ejection for the pilot, the fighter's high-speed tactical data-link to the carrier ship or installation allows for the fighter's transporter to sync with the shield frequencies of the base. This in turn allows the pilot to be beamed directly to the Sickbay without the shields having to be dropped.
If for any reason the transporters cannot make such a connection, whether the tactical data-link is down, the base is out of range, or any other of a myriad of possibilities, the second part of the ejection system comes into play. The entire cockpit module is ejected and, using a set of thrusters, is moved away to a safe distance from the main hull of the craft. An automatic distress beacon is activated during this sort of ejection to facilitate the recovery of the aviator.
While not strictly necessary, a good balanced simming environment will involve realistic losses of fighter craft. A good rule of thumb for this is about 1-3 or 1-4, or one loss for each 3-4 enemy kills. This is based on Allied fighter-craft losses during the Terran Second World War, when a rough technological parity was reached between the Allied and Axis powers over the skies of Europe. Of course, this ratio should certainly change depending on the enemy engaged. To cite an extreme but illustrative example, a flight of four FA-150's is going to have a much harder time dealing with a Borg Cube than it will handling a Cardassian Galor-class cruiser.
What Aviators Say
Today, aviators have a lingo unique to their calling and status. We imagine the same will hold true several centuries from now. So here are a few items to spice up your simming.
When fighters land, it's called "recovering" the craft. When they take off fast, in an emergency, and need to reach full acceleration right away so that they're not picked off as they launch (the way shuttles would be), it's called a "full power" or "combat" takeoff/launch. The person who runs the hangar deck in a fight, launching and recovering the craft, is called the 'Deck Boss'.
Now, here are some nifty items of slang and lingo which the authors have either stolen from their simmers over the years or have imagined would make sense in the logical extension of tactical craft combat in the 24th century. For these examples, we'll assume our tactical craft is a fighter:
- Beam-ject: When a crew has to be beamed out of a fighter breaking up around her. They hate that.
- Buck Rogers: Named after the popular 20th century space-fiction hero, this is a pilot who flies just a little crazy. A showoff.
- Get Heavy: Load up with heavy, deliverable ordinance.
- Rock-hop: Actually, both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it's a battle or combat mission over or onto a planet, planetoid, or similar body (but not a star). As a verb, it's going from space to atmosphere.
- Rock-stop: A layover, forced landing or deployment to a planetoid or the like.
- Rock-drop: Deploying deliverable ordinance (i.e. M/AMR bombs or the like) against a planet-based target.
- Thread-out: When a fighter drops out of warp because her short range fuel cells are gone.
- Turkey Shoot: Attacking a stationary space target (even when it can defend itself, the slang still applies).
- Slow-blow: Attacking a big, 'slow' (relative to the fighter, anyway) capital ship. Yes, that's you people.
- Stretching: Going to warp.
- Watch-stopping: Extended operations at high impulse, which carries time dilation effects (since full impulse is .2c, extended operations will make you younger; read Einstein).
- Note: The conversion to hydrogen fuel cells was unequal from nation to nation and the global environmental collapse of 2033 served to significantly reduce the arable land for a geometrically increasing world population.
- Note: The dependence of all weapon systems and military units on GPS for position and function was so complete by 2015 that destroying such GPS networks effectively blinded not only the military and their weapons but the enemy nation state as well. This was far easier than attacking the enemy units themselves.
- Note: Some of those variants and copies included: The French Bloc 'Russard-75,' the European Centrist 'Union-Cavalier,' the Russian Federation 'Mig-99,' the South Asian Union 'Typhoon-5,' the Indian Union 'S-84' and the New Median Confederation 'Persia-636.'
- Note: It is interesting to note the irony attendant to the relationship between the deployment of the IE-5 and her competitors and the start of WWIII itself. The nations of the world had become utterly dependent on satellite networks of every kind had every nation state become (not only for the guidance of its weapons and military units but also for all official and private communication, entertainment, etc). Very quickly, every nation had IE-5's or something like them. The destruction of these systems had the very real effect of thrusting the suffering nations into the position of having no alternative but to fall back on the very weapons they had all tried so hard to ban. The lesson: the effectiveness of the IE-5 in dictating the terms of battle on the 'high frontier' (as space was then called) neutralized what every nation had come to think of as it's divine right. The rule of tactical improvement, therefore, discussed in section 2.1 and embodied by the IE-5, was a significant factor in the first resort to nuclear weapons.
- Note: Though it was hastily updated with improved systems and composites the craft was, in most respects, the same 'plane' it had been a hundred years before.