How would Space War work with today's technology?

Let’s seriously assume, however preposterously, that there’s a new U.S. Space Force, it’s a military organization, and we’re in some kind of conflict with a rival space-power, and from now on we want all American spaceships – manned and unmanned – that go up to be equipped to fight other spaceships, i.e., to try to destroy them or to subdue/capture them, while holding up under or dodging the enemy’s return fire. How would we build it and what would it do? Would it use ordinary chemical-projectile firearms? Lasers? How do you effectively armor a spaceship and still make it launchable? Or would it have to be built in orbit (in a fortified shipyard)? And how would you armor a space-habitat?

If they are on this same planet then the most I could see would be something like the Crowbars of the Gods type scenario. Possibly defensive oriented lasers designed to do what we have air craft doing right now, namely a platform to put a big as chemical laser to shoot down missiles. Offensively you’d probably have hunter killer satellites to take out the other guys satellites, and possibly kinetic weapons alike the already mentioned crowbars. I don’t seem armored space-habitats or stuff like that if you are fighting other folks on this planet…or even if you weren’t, since they would be highly vulnerable no matter how well you armed them (smack a habitat that can’t maneuver very much with an iron bar going 17,000 miles per hour and I don’t care what the armor is you are going to get hurt).


It’s really hard to say what would be effective without knowing what the other side has.

I’d armor a space habitat other than a space station by putting it underground.

I’m thinking there is probably a problem with chemical weapons even working in space. It’s hard to make a big boom without oxygen, but I suppose we could simply contain oxygen in a warhead; and of course if a weapon penetrates a ship’s hull, there will be oxygen inside.

Assume the other side has roughly equivalent tech.

And ignore Earth’s surface. In this thread we are designing for spaceship-to-spaceship combat only.

Guns fire underwater. Even ordinary black powder contains its own oxygen supply (in the saltpeter).

For virtually all chemical weapons used on this planet, in every military context, in every possible configuration (missile, bomb, IED, whatever…) the Oxidizer is an integral part of the explosive device. Practically none (that I am aware of) need atmospheric Oxygen to sustain the explosive impact. If the device is incendiary in nature (causing the area of effect to burn) then, of course, ambient Oxygen is required to sustain the conflagration. For an explosive devise to have maximum impact, it cannot depend on ambient Oxygen to reach the combustible material quickly enough. A possible exception may be “air burst”-type weapons, which initially use a low-yield explosive to atomize a volatile substance at some low altitude, then an incendiary device ignites the dispersed fuel to create a massive concussion explosion.

It’s not a great book, but I suggest Cyborg IV, Martin Caidin’s fourth and last Steve Austin novel, the character that would be adapted into TV’s The Six Million Dollar Man. It’s fairly hard sci-fi about the main character connecting his cybernetic prostheses to a revolutionary space-plane, vastly extending his abilities though not without cost. An orbital skirmish with a crew of Soviet cosmonauts depicts, with fair plausibility I thought, how a space-dogfight would play out.

You don’t. Mass is too critical and the energy involved in space flight too large; any armor you could add wouldn’t be enough to make a difference against a projectile coming in at astronomical velocities.

Weapons would probably be nukes (mostly for radiation kills, not blast), and kinetic impactors. Battles would be what I’ve heard described as “rocket launcher duels”; first one to hit wins.

Build it inside an asteroid or under the lunar surface.

Actually, you probably wouldn’t have much of anything for long. Send up a few rockets into an orbit moving the opposite direction that most spacecraft orbit, then blow them up; you’ve just filled that orbit with shrapnel that will smash anything in that orbit until its own orbit decays; and every impact adds more debris from the destroyed satellite. It’ll be many years before anything civilian or military can use that orbit again. It’s one of the criticisms of the Star Wars program; near-Earth space is too easy to render unusable by anyone else who can reach orbit. We’re having problems not rendering it unusable by accident.

I think it would be extremely hard for spacecraft to hit each other with any kind of weapon. Lasers aren’t strong or efficient enough, and explosives and bullets aren’t fast enough. If there was any kind of ship-to-ship fighting, it would be at orbital speeds. In that case, we’d get a lot more bang for a buck shooting stuff from the ground at the orbital targets than sending a weapons platform out into space to do essentially the same thing.

But the O.P. is not limited to Earth-Orbit battle only. Suppose the U.S. Space MArines are sent to protect our interests on Titan and Europa? Suppose those interests are described as stopping the Chinese Space Forces from gaining a foothold, and let’s suppose, for added flavor, that the O.P. includes a scenario we’re also at war on earth? Flat out war, none of these police actions, a war to win at all costs.

Then by the time the US and Chinese forces arrive they settle down as refugees because neither of their homelands exists anymore.

Ok, considering weapons, I still think there’s a problem with chemical weapons in that firing very many would wreak havoc on navigation. It would get extremely consumptive of fuel and computing power to be similar to aircraft dogfights on earth. I think we can rule that out.

At the same time we have to rely on manuverability over armor for defense.

Lasers would not have the same action/reaction problem of chemical weapons but are comparatively weak. So we’d have a couple missile shots maybe and lasers if we get close in.

I think initially we’d go back to pre 20th century naval warfare and boarding the enemy vessel would become a major tactic again.

U.S. Space Marines, GO!

Quite possible, but we’re really trying to imagine how a battle might happen, I think.

I don’t know enough about how weapons would work in space, but my thoughts are that whichever country decides to begin building up a military force in space FIRST would gain superiority pretty easily.

There aren’t many countries with the ability to launch, and launch sites are not easy to hide. I would assume that any ship or satellite being launched to fight would be at its most vulnerable during launch (unable to maneuver, weighted down by extra fuel, etc.), and would be easy to take out if you already have something in orbit.

Just a thought, but who knows, I may be way off.

Right. However unlikely the geopolitics, however unlikely that a space battle could ever be a useful part of any Earth-based conflict, in this thread we’re just trying to puzzle out how.

I concur with those who are saying that mass wins in space. If you can hurtle big (or even relatively small) lumps of mass fast enough, you’ll do massive damage in space.

I would think that some sort of nuke would be developed that upon detonation, sends chunks of very dense metals hurtling at extreme velocities in a particular direction. Detonate a few of those toward your enemy, and they’d be toast.

action/reaction means if you fire a projectile from your spaceship your spaceship moves the opposite direction. firing a good burst from your buck rogers rotary vulcan cannon will probably send you spinning out of control forever. favorite pet peeve: every dang space movie i see has shockwaves being propagated in a vacuum. 2nd pet: space movies showing space fighters flying like the bad cg mustangs in redtails. also, in orbit, if you go faster, you go higher. these are just some of the problems to be worked out from commander gingrich’s 2020 moon base…

Old School Dogfighting!

[shrug] It wouldn’t be hard to rig a gun so it fires a small retro-rocket simultaneously to compensate. Or just use rockets instead of explosion-launched projectiles.