23 June 2015

FWS Ship of the Line: The Missile Cruiser

Technology seems to be the friend and foe of the naval warship, and often, advancements in technology alters the types of naval warship constructed by a government. While rockets have been used by military organizations since the Mongol Invasion of the 13th century, the more modern guided missile was one of those pieces of technology that forced the evolution the navies around the world. No more was naval weaponry dominated by larger bore cannons, the guided missile became the dominate ship-killer. This advancement in rockery allowed for more offensive and defensive power in the hands of smaller warships. But, this also meant that those larger warships with massive naval artillery cannons doomed, and became a thing of the past. Today, the missile is the primary weapon system of most global navies. Of course, the naval rail gun could alter that...In this installment of Ship of the Line, we will looking at the Missile Cruiser.

What is an Missile Cruiser?
Missile Cruisers are warships around 500 feet long and uses advanced early-warning systems to find and target incoming threats from the air, the surface of the water, or below it. As their name implies, the missile cruiser uses missiles of various types and roles to counter the threat. Also being a cruiser, allows for longer ranges. Most missile cruisers are actually called "guided missile cruisers", and these are the only type of cruisers constructed for modern navies. The old light, medium, battle, classifications of cruisers have been replaced, due to advancements in technology, and the guided missile cruiser continues the tradition. The Missile Cruiser is a dying breed with only a few still in service, due to the guided missile Destroyer.

Modern Naval Guided Missile Cruisers and Its Future
The missile cruiser is one of the most deadly surface warships modern navies have, and they are packed with technology to deliver their missiles on-target and to protect their battle-group. This protection of their battle-group involves locating possible threats from all fronts on the battlefield, gauging the threat level, and then strike the target(s) with accuracy at a distant. In some ways, the missile cruiser is the sniper of the seas, especially those equipped with the AEGIS Combat System. These ships are very expensive, costing over a billion dollars, but are more deadly than a World War II era battleship.
The modern guided missile cruiser are designed around being a grand protector of their group with weapons to counter threats of different types with all manner of weapon. This is not just limited to seaborne threats or even aerial threats. With guided missiles like the American Tomahawk, land targets up to 1500 miles away from the missile cruiser can be engaged, aiding friendly forces on-land. This was famously seen in First and Second Gulf Wars. The first Tomahawk guided missiles fired in the Gulf War of 1991 were fired from the USN San Jacinto (CG-56), an Ticonderoga class guided missile cruiser. This speaks to tactical flexibility of the modern guided missile cruiser.
The future of the guided missile cruiser could be in jeopardy. Due to the changing face of naval warfare, budgetary limitations, and lack of clear enemy, we could see the end of the guided missile cruiser, and the role and duties of that class being rolled into the guided missile destroyer. This is true in many navies around the world, who have just guided missile destroyer in service, and it looks like the US Navy is following. The US Navy's new futuristic guided missile destroyer, the Zumwalt class will be the taking the place of the iconic Ticonderoga class as more Zumwalt class are constructed. This new class will also see another addition in armament, the EM naval railgun. All of these factors could mean the end of the last of the cruisers...well, until Starfleet is created, and it will builds nothing but cruisers.       

The Science Fiction Missile Cruiser
In the modern naval missile cruiser, one missile is sufficient to destroy most targets, and given the mission of the missile cruiser is to locate and engage targets well away from the naval taskforce, they are not armed with dozens of launchers or banks of rockets, like some World War II warships. With this role of the missile cruiser being the long-arm of the fleet, and as to have eyes to match. This is does not match in the realm of sci-fi, and while they fulfill some of the same role, they are much different.
The missile/torpedo cruiser of science fiction is not as surgical as the modern naval missile cruiser, and nor are missiles/torpedoes unique to a certain class of spacegoing warship. Take the majority of starships seen in Star Trek as an example. Nearly all of them use an directed-energy weapon and some sort of missile/torpedo system. This makes the role of the missile/torpedo cruiser somewhat different, especially, if the sci-fi universe has energy shielding.
The Star Trek Federation Akira class missile cruiser was designed to shower it target(s) with photon torpedoes, crushing the shields, and destroying the ship. The key ability of the Akira class was in the rapid-fire delivery of these missiles/torpedoes. While the standard Federation starship has one to three photon torpedo launcher, the Akira class has 15 launching tubes that puts down a heavy spread of torpedoes. This means that it can lay down more fire than an Galaxy and Sovereign classes or any other warship in the Star Trek universe. In other works, the missile cruiser is the long-range artillery of the fleet, designed to pound the enemy, but lacks the close ship-to-ship weaponry, relying other ships for protection.    

The Difference between Missiles and Torpedoes
In Space Battleship Yamato 2199 and in Star Trek, we see warship carrying both torpedoes AND missiles. Why would a spacegoing warship carry both of these similar weapon systems and what is the difference between the two? In modern naval warfare, missiles and torpedoes occupy important but separate roles in naval combat. Missiles are used for surface-to-surface and surface-to-air naval engagements, while torpedoes are used for underwater engagements. Some surface naval warship and aircraft use torpedoes to engage other surface warships or underwater targets. Torpedoes are not used to attack land targets like missiles, or airborne targets.
Of course, submarines use torpedoes in submarine-to-submarine engagements. Another difference is in propulsion. The Missile uses a rocket motor, while torpedo uses a propeller and supercavitation to move them through the water. In terms of their use in science fiction is mixed, often criminally mixed. Some works use the term torpedoes, like Star Trek, but there is no real difference between their spacegoing torpedo and a missile. This is another example of creators using naval combat as a basis for space combat. In realistic terms, no real space warship is just going to carry missiles and torpedoes. Maybe missiles, drones, kill vehicles, but not torpedoes.

The Weapons of the Missile Cruiser

Surface-to-Air Missiles
The primary function of most missiles on naval missile cruisers is to used their SAMs to engage incoming aerial threats, like bombers, fighters, and drones. This allows the missile cruiser to be the defender of the naval group, however, what makes the SAMs of the missile cruiser more effective is the AEGIS system onboard the American missile cruisers. The most common SAM in the USN is the RIM-66 Standard missile. This can be used against ships as well.

Surface-to-Surface Missiles
With naval warships being the offensive arm of any nation's military, it makes sense for them to be an platform for attacking land-based targets. Naval artillery via guns or missiles were used to soften up amphibious landing sites. With modern technology, missiles like the United States Tomahawk long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile can engage land targets like specific buildings in a major metropolitan area, as seen in the first Gulf War.

Anti-Ship Missiles
It is used to be that naval warships pounded each other with massive long-range artillery cannons. After World War II, naval warship launch anti-ship missiles like the Harpoon and the infamous Exocet to knock out hostile warships. Unlike naval gunfire, the anti-ship missile can be one-hit effective, and can cripple a warship as was demonstrated in the Falkland War of 1982.  

Naval Artillery Guns
Despite the use of missiles, there still a place for naval artillery guns, and like many of the US Navy surface, the Mk. 45. This rapid fire naval cannon chambers 127mm shell and can fire them many kilometers out from the ship. Similar cannons are used on most modern surface warships. Not only are these cannons used for ship-to-ship engagements, but also amphibious landing support and even some limited anti-air defense. It is likely that railguns could replace the guns.
Close-In Defensive Weaponry
Unlike in sci-fi spaceship engagements, naval warships lack energy shielding. To protect themselves, most naval warships are equipped with the Close-In Weapon System. These Gatling style electric rotary guns spit out vast amounts of lead due to very high rate-of-fire (1,000+) and these rounds are normally tungsten or other hardened metals. The CIWS is normally fully computer-controller, but is not always a gun system. There is missile point-defense systems and even laser DEW CIWS as well.

Anti-Submarine Torpedoes
Since World War One, the submarine has been the hunter of surface warships, and to counter that, missile cruisers and other surface warships are armed with anti-submarine torpedoes. This allow some defense against roaming submarines, even if they do not hit the target. These torpedoes are launched via deck air-compression launchers, but anti-submarine drones armed with torpedoes are become more common, and could replace these deck launcher systems.

Examples of Modern Naval Missile Cruisers

The US Navy Ticonderoga class Missile Cruiser
This is likely the best missile cruiser class in the world, and the Ticonderoga class missile cruiser is also most likely the last missile cruiser to be built by the US Navy. While the Ticonderoga class does look like much on the surface, she is loaded to bear with all manner of weaponry and the technology to land those missiles on target with the AEGIS system. First launched in 1978, there are 27 of this class are in-service with the USN, and are the most expensive cruisers in the world at over one billion dollars. This class launches their missiles via vertical launchers on the deck, hiding the power of this warship. This class is tasked with protection duty of a carrier battle group, escort missions, and support of landing operations. This class was to be decommissioned, but budget issues prevented the replacement, allowing the Ticonderoga class to continue service. The very futuristic Zumwalt class destroyer will most likely replace the Ticonderoga class when there is enough of them.

The Russian Navy Slava class Missile Cruiser
One of the only other nations that has guided missile cruisers in service is the Russians with the Slava class. Much the USN Ticonderoga class, the Slava was designed for the Cold War, and while 10 were planned, only three were built before the collapse of the old USSR. However, unlike the more technologically advanced Ticonderoga class, the Slava has its launchers on the deck, and this makes the Slava "heavier" than the American guided missile cruiser. It is believed that the Slava class will be the last of the guided missile cruisers used by the Russian Navy.

The Hard Science Missile Cruiser
With the modern navies of the world slowly streamlining their surface warships, will there be a place for an missile cruiser class in our future? Maybe. I think do to the massive expense of a real-world space navies, there will a limit to warships, and most of them will be armed with everything needed on the cold battlefield of outer space. While I think there will be battleships and cruiser, it could stretching things to say that specific type of hard science ship will be constructed to fire a specific weapon system. It could be that hard science cruiser type warships could be armed with more missile systems and other KEWs to keep the heat generation lower than if the warship was armed with DEW. Cruisers could use more missiles and KE weapon systems to allow the smaller ship to take on larger threats if needed. Missiles could allow a smaller ship the firepower without the heat costs and the need for larger heat radiators. In larger engagements, these cruisers could fire all manner of missile types at the enemy that larger warships with DEW systems would not possess.

Science Fiction and the Missile Cruisers
When we examine the missile cruisers that appear in sci-fi, we can see that there are few examples that do not exist outside of a RPG wargame or video game. For the most part, only the Akira class from Star Trek and the alien Exterminator class from Space Cruiser Yamato are only two. Why? Most starships that appear on television, animation, or movies are normally going to be generalized warships or from a widely known classification of naval warship, like carrier or battlecruiser. These familiar classes carry a public precipitation that creators used to give this fictionalized warship an identity.
Also, there are few non-written works were a complete space fleet is featured and that the creators attempt to show a variant of warship classifications, hence Star Trek. The shame of it is that missile cruisers are one of the few surface warships classes being still built by countries, and it seems that sci-fi has not caught up. I am sure that some of the reason that works like Babylon 5, Space: Above and Beyond, and Andromeda did not include more warships is simply budgetary, and thus caused creators to be choosy about what types of starships are seen on-screen. All of this means that sci-fi missile cruisers are exceedingly rare and will remain that way.


The Andor class Missile Cruiser from Star Trek FASA RPG
For us Star Trek fans growing up in the 1980's, there was two Starfleets. The one we saw in films and the television, and the other one in created by FASA. The FASA Starfleet was filled with warships of all classifications that we never saw on-screen, and this Starfleet was more constructed around a hostile galaxy. Some of the more offensive-minded warship including this alien designed missile cruiser, the Andor and the Thufir class Destroyer.
According to the 1985 FASA profile, the Andor class was the creation of the Andorian race have their "blue fleet" within the ranks of Starfleet that forms the offensive arm of the FASA vision of Starfleet. This Blue Fleet squadrons uses the Andor class to attack targets at 160,000 kms with the impressive torpedo spread due to its 8 launchers. These Federation warships were so feared by the Klingons and the Romulans that they would run from the Andor class after a few exchanges. This class was buried in the sea of Federation starships in the FASA game, and I only knew of the Andor class due to owning the Federation Ship Recognition Manual, and I always thought it was an interesting idea wrapped up into a badly designed (ugly) starship. The ship was redesigned by fans of the old FASA combat game, but it pales in comparison to the 24th century Akira class badass missile cruiser. In the end, the Andor class is a relic of that other Starfleet presented in the FASA games.

The High Guard Righteous Fist of Heaven Stand-Off Attack Ship from Andromeda
In the television show Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda, the High Guard was the military force of the Systems Commonwealth that fell hundreds after an invasion. One of the primary warships in the High Guard was the Righteous Fist of Heaven that served as an artillery vessel that stood off from the main engagement zone and bombarded the enemy with sixty electromagnetic launching tubes along with other missile launching systems, making this class a heavy hitter in space engagements. These vessels operated in packs of two, and could also be used against planetary targets as well. There is some controversy  about what the Righteous Fist of Heaven looks like, and since it was never seen in the series, this is the only image available.

The Akira class Missile Cruiser from the Star Trek Universe
The Akira is a straight up badass little ship. So badass is this Federation ship that they should have one called this class the Samuel L. Jackson, because it is one bad mother fucker. Unlike many of the Federation starships, the Akira class is designed for combat duty, and lacks what FWS reader Christopher Phoenix called "the bipolar" nature of most Federation starships. Due to the mostly combat role of the Akira class, Starfleet only has a limited number of these warship prior to outbreak of the Dominion War. In peacetime, Akira class starships are used for patrol, showing the flag, and escort duty.
This is one of those Federation ship classes that grew out of the Battle of Wolf 359 and was under development in the 2370's. This class was heavily used against the Borg, the Klingons, and the Dominion. Everything about the Akira class was developed around offensive power, and that theme is continued by the 40 Peregrine class attack fighters, allowing the Akira class to serve as a light carrier. The ship class was named for the landmark anime film of the same name and was designed by ILM artist Alex Jaeger for the First Contact film. Unlike other Trek ships, the Akira class was a CGI model, leading to continued debate on the size of this unique Federation starship. This vessel has become a fan favorite, and is one of my personal favorite Trek ships.

The Avalon class Missile Cruiser from the Battletech Universe
The massive McKenna Shipyards and Universal Air created a joint project, the Avalon class missile cruiser in 3061. Several Inner Sphere governments bought the Avalon class and rightly so, the Avalon class has 14 launchers for AR-10 missiles, along with over 1,000 tons of armor. This class can mount dropships and some aerospace fighters, rounding out the ship. Only a few were sold to the Word of Blake, Federation Commonwealth, and the Federation Suns...because the fucking thing costs 20 billion c-bills!

The White Comet Empire Exterminator class Space Attack Missile Cruiser
In the second series of Space Cruiser Yamato, the enemy is the dickbag White Comet Empire that filled the power vacuum left over from the fall of the Gamilon Empire. Instead of the blue-skinned Gamilons, the White Comet Empire aliens are green. This group of aliens wasn't fucking around and mounted a serious offensive space navy with tons of warships. On of the most commonly seen warships was the Exterminator class space attack missile cruiser. This 240 meter long missile cruiser was crewed by 90 and armed to the goddamn teeth with all manner of laser pulse cannons, missiles, and torpedo launchers.
The most iconic feature was the massive twin anti-matter missiles that dominates the forward section of the warship. The White Comet Empire constructed hundreds of these ships, and the Earth Defense Force combated many of these during the bloody battles over the Sol System. These were also the primary assault ship for the zealot General Radnar attack in 2201, which came only a few weeks after the devastating invasion of the main White Comet Empire assault. This class is one of the symbols of the White Comet Empire and a favorite among fans. It is unknown if the White Comet Empire will be in the next rebooted Yamato series, and if this class will return.

The Missile Ships of EVEonline
Missile ships are common among all of the races in the game, but the Caladari use the most missile ships in the game. Unlike other missile cruisers, the missile ships of EVEOnline are not a class onto themselves. The missiles of the game cannot miss their targets if the launching vessel is in range, and come in four warhead types with several missile classifications. The missiles used in ship-to-ship or ship-to-drone engagements appear to be firing in swarms, and hit the target vessel at various points. It would have been easier for this blog article if they just used missile cruisers.

The High Guard Siege Perilous class Stand-Off Attack Ship from Andromeda
Another missile ship of High Guard fleet that served the massive Systems Commonwealth is the Siege Perilous class stand-off attack ship. This class replaced the aging Righteous Fist of Heaven. This has been considered the most lethal ship-killer of its era, and fought against the Magog and the Nietzschean Uprising. Only four of the star-shaped warships were built before the fall of the Systems Commonwealth. The preferred tactic of this class was to emerge from Slipspace, and bombard its target with a massive storm of outgoing fire of kill-vehicles, missiles, torpedoes being fired from 180 EM launchers. 180. Fuck me. This ship could end a taskforce if properly targeted. This class was under consideration, and had not been formally named. When a Magog raiding party hit the colony of Brandenburg Tor, the testbed Siege Perilous was in the area and responded to the Magog attack. Sadly, despite the bravery of the crew, the ship and crew were lost. The High Guard named the entire class after that heroic ship and crew.

The EarthForce Sagittarius class Missile Cruiser from the B5 Universe
The Sagittarius class missile cruiser class is one of the older surviving classes of Earthforce warships that fought in the pivotal Dilgar Invasion and the bloody Earth-Minbari War. Between the Dilgar Invasion and the Minbari War, the Sagittarius class was armed with greater anti-fighter defensive weaponry and interceptors, with greater armor. The primary weapon of this class is missiles, and two ranks of 20 missiles are stored in the forward firing arch. This ship seems to be designed to lay down the hate from a distance which explains why the Sag class suffers from poor defensive and offensive capabilities (save for the missiles). It will not operate along.
The really queer thing about "Sag" class is that it lack jump-engines. This means that this space navy missile platform completely dependent on other EarthForce ships to open a jump-point for the Sag class. That would suck. Of course, if the system has a jump-gate then problem solved. Due to the budgetary limitations of the show, there was limit on how many ships could be seen on-screen, and the Sagittarius class was one that only appeared in the B5 combat game, Call to Arms.

Next Time on FWS...
Shrapnel is a series of military sci-fi comics that tells the story of a war between humans in the solar system printed by Radical. When originally published in 2009, the limited comic series were popular enough to warrant a sequel, and there was also interest from Hollywood and a video game company. The next installment of FWS, we will reviewing both of the Shrapnel comics.


  1. In depth post about a type of warship that does not get much play in space bound science fiction. You are correct that most warships in such stories tend to be either a carrier type vessel or a generic battle cruiser or battleship. Oh and just so you know the warhead launcher count and "carrier" role of the Akira class from Star Trek are debated just as much as the ship's size; http://www.ex-astris-scientia.org/schematics/starfleet_ships1.htm.

    P.S. I am not trying to be picky but there is a small grammatical error and a typo error in opening section of "The Hard Science Missile Cruiser" section. You will know it when you see it.

  2. Thanks for the heads up, and that portion came from an old version of the blogpost. Some of the fan debate around the Akira Class can be heated, and I wonder if we will see anymore of this class in the future?

    1. It is a beautify designed ship for trek, yet one that constantly throws fan tantrums as the Writers and directors of the various treks never set a solid cannon size, and especially brain hurting is they threw in the fighter bit. 40 Peregrine class fighters. Again the Trek production people never set a scale or identified exactly which of the craft seen on screen is "Peregrine class" we saw tords the end of DS9 Starfleet using fighter type craft but the given length for those seem to jump all over the place in scale they help little in fact might even hurt more as a length of 30 meters is way outta wack to allow 40 aboard the small bays of Akira well still allowing a crew and torpedoes. If they were half that about 20-15 meters perhaps and that would be about the scale of a conventional fighter of today like F35B. Personally though I always felt Akira was used less as a true carrier and more like the JMSDF's carrier Destroyers like the new Izumo class where the "40 Fighters" would be 40 armed shuttle craft but only used in a special mission mostly with it packing may be half that and relying more on it's own defenses.
      I loved the Siege Perilous from Andromeda, I mean Rommie as a ship was hot.... ( and not just the AI) but Siege Perilous was scary beauty.

  3. In the board game Twilight Imperium (later incorporated into the Classic Traveller rpg continuity in a big way), inexpensive missile boats were a key component of the successful Terran strategy against the much larger alien empire that threatened them.

  4. David Weber's Honor Harrington books use missiles primarily for long range combat, with energy weapons for close combat or for anti-missile use.
    Over the course of the series, the range and capability of the missiles changes dramatically how battles occur.

  5. It's bad thing in Hollywood that space warfare is ,,naval"mostly like in XVIII century, short distance and colorfull battles of beautiful ships. And these torpedoes... Arggh, why?! Isn't better to call it missile? Uhhh... Ok, now, i think the hsf missile cruisers can be something like orbital kinetic weapon satelites and/or stations with attached engines, throwing things using magics of relative velocity. Or coilguns, railguns and if we are poor spacemans, normal chemical fueled cannons. Closing to end, well written blogpost William! After i found you through Google images search: ,,space based railgun", you always know how to interest me! It's one of best series here, i think, thanks for your work.
    And, at end, surely i'm hard to understand with my English language knowledge level, sorry for that ;)

  6. Torpedo has a cool vibe to it. Rule of cool does win sometimes.

    In settings where torpedoes and missiles co-exist in space combat I often find the terms are used to easily differentiate between capabilities. One outstanding, if not loose example, is in Star Wars where torpedoes are short range, powerful and unguided. Missiles in that setting are longer ranged, lighter payload and guided/tracking.

    All comes down to the setting.

  7. Torpedo has a cool vibe to it. Rule of cool does win sometimes.

    In settings where torpedoes and missiles co-exist in space combat I often find the terms are used to easily differentiate between capabilities. One outstanding, if not loose example, is in Star Wars where torpedoes are short range, powerful and unguided. Missiles in that setting are longer ranged, lighter payload and guided/tracking.

    All comes down to the setting.

  8. I’m surprised that no one has brought up the arsenal ship. In essence a missile cruiser, but packed with missiles the same way a freighter is packed with cargo. The concept behind this type of vessel is to have as much fire power as possible, while using as little man power as possible.

    The primary weapon of the arsenal ship is the vertical launch missile system. All this system needs to function is to be on the top deck of the vessel. The individual launch tubes are packed on deck so that any individual missile could fire without effecting any weapon around it. Because most of the Navy’s missiles are capable of vertical launch, each tube could hold any weapon. Tomahawk, Harpoon, ASROC, or RIM-67 could be launched by the same system.

    The vessel itself would resemble a container ship without its containers. Without a traditional bridge, and most of its systems flush with the deck, the only significant part of the ship visible would be the hull.

    The launch tubes would be grouped together in racks. This would not only make resupplying easier, but allow the missiles to be replaced with other systems. Hangers for VTOL aircraft, marine Barracks, extra cargo space, and recreational areas could all be installed depending on the mission.

    I have seen a couple of starships from various systems that were called “Arsenal Ships,” but the only one that looked different was a fan made drawing of a federation starship that looked similar to the USS Reliant. The difference was this ship had photon torpedo tubes lined up on the rear half of the hull like cannon on the HMS Victory. If what I remember from Star Trek 2; The Wrath of Khan,” it take about six crew members to fire one photon torpedo launcher. This defeats the minimal man power needs that the concept of a arsenal ship implies.

    Rodney J Kelly

  9. One of the vest exampels of this kindo of ship are the destroyers form baner of the star anime
    They are just raks of gided FLT torpedos (which is a correc term sinse this torpedos dont have sub lus propultion) and the minimal c3 ,crew and propultion to funtion

  10. Honestly, I think that relatively small cheap and disposable missile armed crafts, possibly even drones, could be the ultimate way to wage war in space. As offensive as it is to my own sense of grandeur as an author, simple often beats fancy and complex. For my example I'll use a railgun and laser spitting nuclear spacecraft versus a cheap missile bus.

    First, the space warship would be able to carry and deploy more munitions due to the lower mass and size of externally propelled projectiles (with electric lasers having virtually unlimited "ammo"). But this does not necessarily make them more suited to extended battles of attrition. The bane of any directed energy weapon system is heat generation, and this problem increases dramatically in vacuum. The only way to get rid of it is to either push it all into heat sinks or project it into space with radiators. Radiators would most likely be large and vulnerable, and although certain designs (curie point, liquid droplet) could potentially be armored they would still require massive surface areas in order to dissipate the tremendous heat generated by the weapon systems. Heat sinks, on the other hand, can be armored and can store a huge amount of thermal energy. Unfortunately this comes at the cost of greatly increased mass and lack of reusability: a radiator would have to be used to remove the heat and cool the sinks back down. What system would predominate would depend entirely on how battles would be expected to play out. Long battles of attrition could very well make good use of radiators, whereas short term conflicts with massive amount of ordnance expenditure would favor heat sinks. Our missile bus however could likely overwhelm both types of ship.
    Compared to a ship fitted with heat sinks, our missile bus has the advantage of not needing much heat sink capacity: missiles carry most of their own heat away from the ship. This makes it a smaller target, harder to hit with less vulnerabilities. One puncture in a liquid heat sink tank could be enough to cripple the effectiveness of a warship, or mission kill it entirely. The missile bus is less vulnerable to this type of damage.
    On the other hand, long term battles against radiator equipped ships would allow the missile bus to simply deploy all its ordnance at once, which would likely overwhelm the slow firing counter battery fire of the warship. One damaged radiator lowers it's rate of fire even more, allowing the next barrage to be even more effective.

    The design of the missile bus itself would likely be very similar to cargo vessels, in fact it would likely be very easy to convert a peacetime cargo vehicle into a missile bus. The ability to use established technology, available in our own current time, to fight off billion dollar warships would make for an interesting and very plausible assymetrical warfare scenario. Of course one could ask "why build the expensive ships on the first place? why not focus on missile busses and eliminate the middle man?" My answer to that would be ego. A space faring empire that could afford billion dollar warships would likely build them simply because they could, so their own people could stand in awe at the might of their armed forces and make their enemies cower in fear.

    Honestly, I beleive missile armed ships in space could not only exist but have the potential to be a very effective, perhaps the most effective type of space to space warship. Orbital bombardment would be a different story due to the higher payload efficiency of guns, however....

  11. One big problem I see in many SF stories and games is missile range. Today we think of missiles as long range weapons, but depending on propulsion technology missiles in space might be a short range weapon.

    If it takes hours for the missile to reach its target, lasers will dominate. Lasers will have plenty of time to destroy or blind an incoming swarm of missiles without taxing their cooling capacity. Closer in with a flight time of minutes, missiles will dominate by overwhelming a ship's defenses.

    If missiles have the same SF engine tech of their targets, the missiles will be expensive and used sparingly. If they use simple chemical rockets they will be cheap and common.

    The key is to think about the implications of the technologies in your story instead of assuming missiles are long range weapons.


    1. You make a good point. I propose that perhaps both types would likely be used, although for reasons of economics chemical rockets would predominate. For disposable munitions chemical rockets are light, simple, and cheap, but still very powerful, if inefficient. Their propellant tankage is a major vulnerability, but if tankage is compartmentalized then all damaging one section would likely do is reduce the rockets delta-v, rather than causing the rocket to explode as they do in atmosphere due to lack of oxygen. If the oxidizer and fuel both were pierced and allowed to mix then perhaps explosions or fires could result, but even if disabled a projectile would still be lethal unless totally vaporized or deflected. Deflecting would be the most efficient method, similar to a space broom although more effective due to the higher output of a weapons grade laser, or maneuvering the defending vessel out of the way once the missiles guidance systems are disabled. However if the missiles were networked with each other, then one single sensor array could be enough to keep a whole swarm on target.

      As far as advanced propulsion goes, I beleive it would be preferable to use these on recoverable drones rather than totally disposable missiles. A drone could be used like a small, semi disposable warship, not burdened by life support or habitat space, to deploy missiles of its own and perhaps even provide defensive laser coverage, disabling the vulnerable optics of the enemies laser systems. Even if they only succeed in heating up the enemies energy weapons they would still reduce their effective rate of fire.

      Another thing to consider is if your advanced propulsion missiles are nuclear: radiation can travel a long way in space. Heavy radiation shielding is impractical for a missile, which would mean increasing the distance from any occupied structure. This is another benefit from using drones instead of manned spacecraft, although it is likely on manned craft under combat conditions the crew would be in a radiation hardened room in the center of the craft. Still it would be useful to use chemical boosters to push the nuclear rockets away from the craft before they reach peak output.

      Still, the issue of range could perhaps be more dependent on the real world performance capabilities of weaponized lasers, rather than the propulsion systems of the missiles themselves. If orbital lasers, perhaps operating in the UV spectrum has an effective range approaching a light-second, it would be difficult for missiles to form an effective counter. Especially if the installation sinked its heat into an asteroid or perhaps even a moon. Then again, an attacking force could mobilize some asteroids of their own to occupy the defensive lasers, allowing the encroaching war fleet to close the distance. A defensive laser network has to defend an entire planet, a weakness not shared by a small mobile attack fleet.

  12. I think that you have missed one Japanese sci-fi series that exclusively uses missile ships: Seikai no senki (Banner of the Stars in English).

    Although they are a series of books, they were translated to both manga and anime (as movies or OVA as they are known). Just look for it. No official english version has ever been released so you will have to look for them in any of the sites that provide access to fansubs.

    Seikai no senki ships travel in warp bubbles like Star Trek ships. They are impervious to attack from outside the bubble, You have to intercept the bubble and get into it to attack the ships.

    Battles usually start with the release of long range guided missiles (inexplicably called mines) which burst through the enemy's warp bubble in a globular swarm. So these ships have advanced CIWS for such an event. It is only after the enemy has been softened by the missile attack that the two opposing fleets merge their bubbles and close quarters ship-to-ship action begins.

    Their main ships are nothing more than massive boomer type missile buses that can launch hundreds if not thousands of missiles at the same time.

    As I said, look for the series, despite being anime it is quite mature in outlook and plot.

  13. For space combat, the name "torpedo" might actually be more appropriate, because in wet navy combat, torpedoes move at speeds more or less comparable to the ships they're launched at. You can dodge a torpedo with a warship if you spot the launch in time. (Yes, I know, supercavitating torpedoes may change that. But still.)

    So in space, missiles will behave more like ocean torpedoes: they're things that move the way ships do, rather than superfast "sniper" attacks like modern antiship missiles.

    Of course, if you're restricted to the solar system, why bother launching the cruiser when you can just launch the missiles on their own?

    1. Fuel constrains. The longer the range the more the need for maneuverability, to correct course due to target's evasion tactics. At some point the missile/torpedo will run out of fuel and thus the target can successfully evade it.

    2. Not necessarily; it depends on the technology behind a missile's propulsion system. If you can take a ship's drive and squeeze it down into a missile-sized package, and your ship drives can cross a solar system... then so can your missiles.

  14. Another interesting blog entry to get the gears in one's head to turn when it comes to their own space opera setting, and this one just gives even more ideas when it comes to combat spacecraft design such as the type of weapon systems mounted upon the combat spacecraft platform.

    Also interesting that the Guided Missile Cruiser is considered the sniper of the Blue Water Navy, a useful analogy though makes sense considering the weapon type in question. Though, when it comes to hard sci-fi and "guided missile cruisers", perhaps it should be renamed as a "guided munitions cruiser" or similar?

    And speaking of which, on the Atomic Rockets webpage dealing with missiles ( http://www.projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/spacegunconvent.php#id--Missiles ), Rick Robinson did mention something about the difference being that Torpedos are those whose propulsion bus has an acceleration capabilities on par with a similar spacecraft, while Missiles have higher accelerations.

    Though for my own "hard" space opera setting, I think I'll use a different terminology if only due to the handwavian technology being used: Torpedoes being guided, rocket-propelled munitions equipped with a very, very, VERY cheap interplanetary warp drive capable of long rage, if not interplanetary, "ranges" to strike at distant targets. Missiles do not and typically either shot ranged or akin to ballistic, artillery missiles.

    As for the Akira-class, yeah I agree on that choice as well. And it being a pure military spaceship for the Federation? Lovely, but apologies for Gene Roddenberry. I'm sure there's a story out there where the Star Fleet crew mans an Akira-class, or at least someone needs to write one.

  15. I would also go the way to name it "torpedo" for several reasons:
    the first
    the scale of a missiles deltaV is similar to that of a space ship- ok the missile might not use that super efficient fusion/am fuel but otherwise when you are able to have a fusion torch drive, you will also have adequate chemical rocket fuels (metastable, metallic hydrogen...)

    the second is bearing - consider a setting were you know were the attacker wants to go. For example steaming for the planet or jump point.
    Based on this your missile cruiser wait in the void. Oh the other guy might know that you are there but there is hardly anything he can do about that.

    So this missile cruiser has 4 torpedo tubes (huge magnetic accelerators that gave those torpedoes an initial speed bump) - say +11km/s
    maximum deltaV of those torpedoes are 20km/s
    Our torpedoes are launched when the target is around 2-3 light seconds out. target moves with 5-10km/s
    If he doesn't run active sensors he might not "see" the incoming sharks as long as they simple coast. Intercept might happen after 9.5 hours.

    Ok I want to have him death sooner then later - so my torpedos ignite their drives as soon as they have cleared my ship. Now they might only need 3.5 hours to target. But this time the guy will see them.

    He turns 120° in the y direction and 45° in the z direction and takes a full burn. As mentioned the scale is similar. A full burn might be 2-3m/s² in this scenario.
    Range doesn't matter much but deltaV aka fuel does.
    So at our intercept point at 3.5 hours the deltaV of the target might have changed for ~ 10km/s. So when your torpedos already spend all their fuel to get there they will miss. So this intercept course is not practicable.

    Its important for the captain of the missile cruiser to have a very good knowledge of the targets ability's. So he might choose an intercept point of his attack were his missiles still have enough deltaV to alter their course accordingly.

    Ok but this game goes both ways - when I know I can't evade a missile attack - I will not burn my fuel to do it. (because evading costs fuel - spending to much fuel will cause my mission to be a fail - because I can't change deltaV to get in the orbit of the planet eg.)