Lies, Damn Lies, And Logistics...

In my opinion, one of the most neglected aspects of military science-fiction is the need for logistics. That’s probably true of most military fiction in general, but the old maxim that ‘professionals study logistics’ will almost certainly continue to be as true in the future as it is today. All navies have as many support ships as they do combat vessels, the proportion rising the further the fleet is to operate from its own shores. For any sort of expeditionary work, a range of vessels are required to keep combat ships fighting, and they have only grown in size and complexity over the years. Even the U-Boat fleets hunting the Atlantic in the Second World War had tenders they periodically visited for resupply.

The need for supplies must be solved in two ways. First is the construction and maintenance of a network of repair and refuelling stations in key strategic locations. This has featured heavily in a few Alamo books to this point - much of the action in ‘Stars in the Sand’ revolves around securing such an outpost, and ‘Aces High’ covers this as well. (As does the pending ‘Triple-Edged Sword’, but that’s for the future.) No ship should be forced to operate on the edge of its range as a matter of routine, though there are always compromises in the interests of economy and politics.

These bases, naturally enough, can be the source of stories themselves. While usually they will be under the control of the government they support, this is by no means always the case. Until recently, I could cite the presence of the Russian Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol as just such an example. Ascension Island, used by British forces during the Falklands (the British borrowing an American base on a British territory...nice and confusing.) Historically, you have examples such as Hong Kong, Goa, and the like. All examples that I will be...but that’s something I can’t talk about yet.

What’s more interesting here is the fleet trail. One of the general assumptions of the Triplanetary setting is the fabricator, a device that is essentially an nth-generation 3D printer. This has advantages, in that many spare components can be replicated, but it does still require source materials to work from, and the more complicated the device, the harder it is to build. It’s extremely helpful, but it isn’t a replicator.

Even with such an advantage, a fleet train is still needed. Tenders provide engineering support for major jobs, as well as additional fabricators - not to mention that someone has to build the outposts and spacedocks. Fuel can be refined on site, but that requires specialist equipment; Tankers might well travel to their location empty, and start hunting down ice as soon as they arrive, acting almost as temporary space stations. Transports are needed to move personnel around in large numbers, though I still think that many new crew will find themselves on whatever ship is heading their way.

All of this is ignoring the Espatiers. In the doctrine I’ve established for the Triplanetary Fleet, all capital ships carry a platoon of troops - theoretically for boarding actions, though of late they have also been used for planetary work. (A post of its own for the near future.) There are always going to be circumstances where a capital ship is not needed but the Espatiers are, or they will be needed in numbers larger than platoon size. I’ve dealt with this in two ways. The stopgap is the Assault Carrier - small fighter carriers converted to carry troops, similar to the Commando Carriers operated at various times by the Royal Navy, many of which originally flew fighters.

That’s overkill, though. What is really needed is something that can carry a company of Espatiers, three platoons and a command unit, as well as - preferably - operate a large number of shuttles and aerospace fighters. There’s no suggestion that they will engage in space combat, not without protection from other warships, so they don’t need a lot of the systems that warships have. The model I’m using here is RN again - HMS Ocean, a helicopter carrier built in a rather...civilian way. And probably the most-used ship in the Fleet since it was launched.

No, this is not ideal. In a better world the larger assault carriers would be retained. They’re better, with more capability and more survivability. I’m illustrating a point that I almost never see in military science-fiction - that the best approach will not always be used. I cite as an example...frankly, every military organization in the world. Each has equipment that was the result of a compromise that didn’t result in the best outcome - often, not even the best for the money that was spent. Sometimes doctrine turned out to be flawed, sometimes technology, sometimes politics just gets in the way.

In the Triplanetary Universe, the latter is what happened. The Assault Carriers were expensive to run, and the new Progressive President was brought in to cut military spending as part of his election pledge. Given the current threat levels, that wasn’t practical...but that didn’t mean that corners wouldn’t be cut. The Assault Transports are cheaper, faster to build, and have fewer eggs in each basket. (Spoiler Alert - Losing an Assault Carrier in the Battle of Hades Station really did not help their cause.) Furthermore, there is promise that the design can be adapted to civilian use, meaning a potential export market - often difficult with warship designs.

Even that didn’t completely solve the budgetary problems. So, out of the four planned Assault Transports, two get delayed by a couple of years. (Technically two will be built, but intended for sale rather than deployment with the Fleet. As the Ottoman Empire learned at the start of World War One, that can have interesting ramifications if wars start at the wrong time.) As a stopgap, two Light Assault Transports are commissioned - and these are conversions of new-build Rhodan-class Transports. Actual civilian ships.

I’m reaching back into the canon here a little. On two occasions (more spoilers!) Rhodan-class ships have been used by other governments in a military role. Someone in the Confederation Government was obviously paying attention, and decided to follow the crowd. Now, these have one single advantage - they are quick to convert. A matter of a few months. The problem is that all they can do is deliver two platoons (yes, two platoons each - they can manage a company between them) to the surface. No real support capability, no aerospace fighter squadron, no defence systems.

Strange as it may seem, these ships aren’t completely crazy. Even when all four planned Assault Transports are ready, they will still have a role, if only for moving Espatiers around or for training purposes. They might be surprisingly useful - but not in the rule that expediency is going to force them into for a few years. And yes, we’re seeing T.S.S. Hengist in Triple-Edged Sword, which is where all of this began...

1 comment:

  1. 'Merchant Ships at War' by Roger Villar is about the ships 'taken up from trade' for the Falklands War and might be worth a look for inspiration (as if you need any). Doing a dockyard job in an open anchorage during a storm does not really translate though.

    I could see nickel-iron asteroids being useful sources of raw materials or lighter ones for hydrogen and oxygen, presumably obtained by robot ships with a small human crew riding herd on them from a mother ship, itself a small craft carried by a larger factory ship. That would not be a fun duty but they might stumble upon something strange or be left behind when the ship has to flee...