A poster on Reddit named Nodisc asked:
Let’s assume our technology continues along a predictable path and let’s assume that simply existing in space is still the ridiculously dangerous affront to god it is today. Would it be single fighters swirling in pew-pew dogfights? Railgun platforms sniping things from unimaginable distances away? Would there be any weapons at all, or would it be more like trying to fry the enemy in your thruster wake? I really don’t know much about space, and I’ve been wondering for a while, so I turn to you.
Oh, and please feel free nitpick the tiny technical details, as those are what I’m most interested in.
The discussion he got was many pages of interesting discussion, the first being the best:
The most “realistic” space combat I’ve ever seen was in a long space opera series by Peter F. Hamilton. He makes some convincing arguments as to why pretty much everything you see in modern sci-fi wouldn’t work.
The basic argument goes something like this: Humans are limited to accelerating at only a few g’s, while your weapons can tolerate accelerations of many times that. In the book, I seem to recall antimatter drones accelerating at 40 g’s or so, which isn’t as sci-fi as it seems since we have already created antimatter in the lab, just not in very large quantities.
Now, by analogy with modern warfare, why don’t we use swords anymore? Because rifles have longer range, and a sword-toting army would be decimated by a basic infantry long before they ever got in range. Well, lasers and railguns are the swords in outer space. Once your target is even so much as a light-second away, it’s pretty much impossible to hit them (assuming they are maneuvering, which they should be). Let alone light-minutes or light-hours.
Basically, future space combat will take place between ships that are incredibly far apart, exchanging salvos of self-guided missiles at extreme ranges. Because anyone not adopting this strategy will be destroyed long before they get into range.
You can see this trend with modern naval combat already. All naval guns are pretty much obsolete, having been replaced with missiles. We don’t operate any battleships anymore, and destroyers operate more than anything else as screens for our aircraft carriers, which use planes to strike targets thousands of miles out. There’s no reason space won’t be any different.
But the rest also makes for interesting reading, if like me you’re into such things. 🙂
This forum thread has some interesting stuff too: