Essay: SLDF Naval Doctrine
- The following treatise was originally posted on the CBT Forum by user "Jellico" in 2009, and is reproduced here with his explicit permission. The original text was edited for formatting and minor correction of typos, etc..
- 1 Unified SLDF Doctrine
- 1.1 Definitions
- 1.2 Roles
- 1.2.1 1 - Transport SLDF
- 1.2.2 2 – Establish aerospace superiority to enable 1.
- 1.2.3 3 – Defend trade lanes and assets
- 1.2.4 4 – Interdiction
- 1.2.5 A Note on Numbers
- 1.2.6 A Note on What is Missing
- 1.3 Nuke Proofing SLDF Style
- 1.4 House Navies
- 2 Overview
- 3 2017 Update
- 4 About LF Batteries
- 5 See also
Unified SLDF Doctrine
What follows is a fairly comprehensive look at the SLDF. I have maintained for a long time the SLDF is far more internally coherent than suspected. I have previously provided a description of an SLDF Task Force as a layered system designed to operate in a hostile environment offering far greater capability as a whole than the House ships could offer on their own. This takes a step back from the Task Force to look at the Fleet as a whole.
It should also be noted that while I will describe role based assets the SLDF navy was divided into geographical fleets. Any one fleet would be made up of assets assigned to the various roles.
- Hegemony 2300 – 2550
- Early SLDF 2550 – 2650
- Late SLDF 2650 – 2750
- Transport Fleet – Ships assigned to transport and escort the SLDF.
- Fast Fleet – LF capable ships grouped together
- Regular Fleet – Non LF capable ships grouped for space superiority operations
- Reconnaissance Fleet – Ships assigned to an observation and picket role.
1 - Transport SLDF
It has to be understood from the beginning that the role of the Transport Assets was to get the SLDF from point A to point B and keep it fed and supplied. Its role was certainly not to fight fleet actions.
This role had several components.
The first is to delivering troops and supplies in a non hostile situation. This is easily accomplished with standard JumpShips and DropShips. Some escort is likely given the nature of BattleTech space but it in no way needs to be more than a destroyer or even a corvette.
The second role is to deliver troops and supplies in a hostile situation. While JumpShips and DropShips are still the core of this role there is a need for capable escorts. It is important to remember that even in this situation there is minimal chance of an extended battle against capable opposition. In a hostile environment a covering force of cruisers or battleships will always be near by. Indeed, during the Star League the availability of LF battery equipped ships meant that support was only minutes away. Additionally the presence of a large number of JumpShips means there was no need for the escorting WarShips to be able to carry DropShips.
After leaving the JumpShips (properly protected) at the jump point the transporting DropShips, with DropShip and WarShip escort, can move into the hostile zone. As noted if operating in an attacking role they may be preceded by an offensive screening unit that will establish aerospace superiority. Alternatively in a supply role the screening unit may be pre-positioned in a supporting location within the system ready to respond to trouble.
The final role the Transport Assets may be called upon to perform is direct support of grounded troops. This can be fire support, or perhaps more simply providing security for supply ships operating near orbit. Even a corvette is overwhelmingly powerful in a fire support role. Powerful ships are not necessary. However, orbit is a hostile environment with little time to respond to any threats so any unit used here has to be expendable. DropShips, destroyers, corvettes and frigates would operate in this environment. Additionally, all offer cargo space that can be used by the grounded troops without fear of it being overrun.
The Hegemony was a very different time to that of the Star League. Competent aerospace fighters did not exist until the 2360s, with advanced fighters only becoming available at the dawn of the Star League. There were no militarized DropShips until the 2460s. While the SLDF was operating Monsoons and Farraguts the best the Houses and Periphery were known to offer were Du Shi Wangs and Winchesters.
The familiar JumpShip/DropShip combination barely existed. A military force would be transported by civilian ships, often with jump cores. Additionally, in the early days of the Hegemony there were no BattleMechs and their supporting infrastructure.
The Transport Assets military units would be primarily Essex I’s, Lola I’s, the occasional Riga I in a command role, and later on Vincents. All low cost and expendable. Likely opposition would not have a chance.
The SLDF spawned the first flowering of militarized DropShips, initially with light weight ships like the Leopard and Gazelle, then later with heavy lifters like the Dictator and Triumph and the first ASF carrier, the Leopard CV. Pentagons and Achilles were operational. Baron, Whirlwind, Carsons, Lola II and Confederates would expand the escorting units and swarm over planets being attacked.
Carrack and Potemkin would begin service in the later half of this period, offering hardened transports for hostile environments. Both would be built in large numbers. Additionally, the Star Lord and Invader would add flexible JumpShip options.
Advanced aerospace fighters would become numerous but the availability of carrier DropShips would mean that the Transport Assets could adapt with little trouble.
While most of the known House ships were developed in this period their influence on SLDF thinking was minimal. Basically the ships of the Great Houses could not reach the Transport Fleet, and even if they could the defenses were far more formidable than in the previous century.
By the Late Star League the Fleet’s Transport Assets were truly formidable. Ships like the Colossus and Union were enhancing flexibility. The Mule was improving supply capabilities and the Volga would add a level of utility between the Carrack and Potemkin.
Lola IIIs, Nagas and Essex IIs would provide a close guard. The new Titans reinforced by imported Samarkand IIs would offer very heavy ASF defenses that would make attacking a fully escorted convoy suicidal.
2 – Establish aerospace superiority to enable 1.
While the primary task of the Fleet was to support the Army the fact remained that to achieve that aim battles had to be fought and won in space. With this goal in mind the SLDF developed a multilayered array of heavy units to simply smash their way through. While superficially blunt and inefficient the end result was surprisingly effective and these inefficiencies were the mark of a true power rather than a pretender.
Starting with the Dreadnought the Hegemony created a doctrine that allowed it to overwhelm its less advanced opponents. A heavy battleship or group of battleships would smash its way through any defending force, simple, brutal and effective. While the Fleet would build cruisers to perform the same role they would never be available in the numbers of the battleships.
This reflects a surprising tactical reality. Naval combat in the Inner Sphere is all about massing strength at single points. While a dispersed defensive function existed it was adequately performed by the Hegemony’s smaller craft as discussed later. With the role of large ships defined by major assaults at discreet locations with no requirement to be able to disperse this firepower beyond these locations it is far more cost effective to build a single large battleship that a pair of smaller cruisers.
In addition to the battleships and cruisers a number of escort vessels would be available to act as pickets. The battle cruiser/frigate Quixote would primarily serve with battleships, notably the Farragut, where its superior docking collars and anti-ASF ability would complement the battleship’s weaknesses in these areas. The more traditional escort of Monsoons and Aegis was the Riga I. Additionally, these frigates were routinely fitted with advanced sensors to improve the task force’s detection capabilities.
Equipped with the first generation of combat DropShips and aerospace fighters these ships would form the sharp end of the Hegemony’s navy.
Three factors would separate the Hegemony Fleet from the Star League Fleet: Lithium Fusion Batteries, combat DropShips, and advanced aerospace fighters.
The LF Battery manifested itself first in the Avatar cruiser then spread to the Kimagure and refitted Aegis. This turned the cruiser from a poor man’s battleship into something different. Able to cover vast distances quickly, operating in squadrons the SLDF’s cruisers became rapid response cover.
In the meantime battleships remained close cover retaining their smashing role.
Notably no escort units were fitted with LF batteries. The impact of this was lessened by the introduction of combat DropShips and effective ASF.
Additionally at this time the SLDF began to adopt a long range doctrine for combat. Using defense in depth provided by its DropShips and aerospace superiority WarShips began to adopt clusters of capital weapons rather than single large weapons to increase their capabilities at longer ranges. This was not noticed and adopted by the Houses.
Our knowledge of opposing fleets at this time is most complete for House Davion with its fleet of Davion IIs, old Aegis, Congresses and Robinson Is. These would simply not have a chance against an SLDF battleship or cruiser squadron.
At the same time the FWLN was operating Aegis and Atreus. While a competent ship compared to the Monsoon, the superior docking collars of the latter meant that it could adapt to the changes in ASF and DropShip technology better than the Atreus. Unfortunately, the Farragut suffered similar problems to the Atreus leading to it being discontinued by the mid point of this period though examples continued serving till the end of the Star League.
The key change of the late SLDF was the introduction of the McKenna. With the addition of a LF battery this ship became the SLDF’s fast battleship. Equipped with the new Titans and constructed in large numbers this ship effectively moved the cruisers back into a supporting role.
At the same time removing the McKenna from the Regular Fleet created a weakness. With the retirement of the Monsoon only the Texas and remaining Farraguts were able to serve in this role. Unwilling to build additional battleships the SLDF returned to a concept not seen since the Quixote three hundred years before. The Black Lion and Cameron classes were cruisers designed to support and supplement battleships rather than roam like the preceding Avatars. Lacking LF batteries they were intended to stay with the close cover.
Three more ships should be mentioned.
The first is the Luxor. The first balanced cruiser build since the Avatar, it combined LF batteries, long range firepower, DropShip escorts and advanced ASF into a package that could threaten anything known to be deployed by the Houses. However, with the advent of the fast battleship it could be considered a dead end.
The second is the Sovetskii Soyuz. Much maligned, the Sov Soy offered a useful mixing of the abilities of a frigate and cruiser to allow it to replace the old Riga Is in the Regular Fleet. The simple fact was that by this time ship to ship engagements were increasingly unlikely thanks to the increasingly powerful distant cover. The only forces likely to reach the close cover were asymmetric and better suited to be targeted by ASF, DropShips or capital missiles, threats the Sovetskii Soyuz was well suited to supporting.
The final ship that needs to be mentioned is the Riga II. These represent a merging of the roles of the frigate and the destroyer. Perhaps the most intriguing possibility is that these solid craft carried a LF battery bringing escort WarShips to the Fast Fleet for the first time.
3 – Defend trade lanes and assets
Defending a nation’s trade lanes is a complex and thankless task. The nature of KF drives means that this is primarily a task of defending points, for example planets or Jump Points. The vast number of these points means that the defenders have to be dispersed over a wide area, contrary to the basic principle of concentration of force. Additionally, financial restrictions mean that the force represented by a single powerful ship has to be spread over several smaller ships.
Naturally this leaves a defender open to being defeated in detail. Worse even, with this dispersal a defender can’t be everywhere at once. Ultimately the key to defense in the context of the Inner Sphere is having sufficient force to slow an enemy down, then having the sensors and communication systems to identify an arriving enemy and send an appropriate response.
Sadly this can often best be achieved by letting an enemy land and holding them with a Castle Brian. The limitations of HPG technology prevent a warning message being sent from a ship in most cases while a picket ships own sensors are limited and even if it does see the enemy it still has to chase said enemy down and then be able to successfully engage the enemy.
Finally while the light ships bear the brunt of this work through patrolling the influence of the Regular and Fast Fleet can not be ignored. These heavy ships were not always on distant offensive service. Their presence and continuing patrols were the force behind the eyes of the Reconnaissance Fleet. Indeed the mere presence of a battleship squadron could prevent the threat of hostile action.
The Hegemony was the time of the picket ship. Corvettes, destroyers, frigates and even cruisers plied the space ways getting involved with all manner of single ship actions. Distances were small and communications bad. Towards the Core the large numbers of battleships could be expected to provide cover. Towards the edge of the Hegemony cruisers like the Dart provided heavy support. But ultimately the tactics of the time were successful due to the weakness of the opposition rather than any strategic brilliance.
The improved strength of the Star League’s army in relation to that of the Terran Hegemony allowed defense to take place on world. Effective ASF allowed a planet or space station to defend itself relatively cheaply. LF batteries allowed cruisers to provide cover over long distances though the majority of the burden was still borne by old Vincents and frigates.
The key part of the defensive structure was the Castle Brian. Able to resist major forces for long periods with good communications to other League worlds they bought the necessary time to allow help to arrive. In parallel to this major industrial operations were also secured in heavy fortifications.
This was the age of the automated defense system. Major worlds were no longer willing to accept enemy forces being allowed to land and spent massively on defense systems. These formed hardened shells around specific points to prevent an attacking force from even reaching the target. As with the Castle Brian, help would be called for as no defensive system could ever be considered unbreakable.
This allowed far fewer WarShips to be stationed in the Core regions of the Star League and allowed them to be used offensively in the Periphery. This would come back to haunt the Star league when the Rim World Collective seized control of many of these systems.
The usual WarShips on picket duty were Vincents and frigates. The presence of large numbers of LF capable McKennas and cruisers offered a new twist on the ability to respond. And towards the end Sovetskii Soyuz offered good light coverage in the style of a frigate.
4 – Interdiction
Interdiction represents the reconnaissance and interception role of the SLDF. While most famously performed by ships like the Bug Eye it was also the preserve of corvettes and frigates. Operations generally consisted of placing a ship in system, hostile or friendly, then just monitoring everything it could. Naturally this is an ideal job for the sensor intensive ships described.
The second part of the role required acting on the intelligence gathered. For a lightly armed Bug Eye this could simply mean reporting back to Terra. For a combat ship this could mean acting directly on the intelligence gathered. Many of the great single ship actions of the SLDF involved frigates or corvettes performing this role.
Defensively the Interdiction role parallels trade lane defense and often overlaps with combat ships being tasked to both tasks at the same time. Even large ships equipped with neutrino detectors would be used in this role though it lacks the subtlety normally associated with it.
Offensively this ranges from spying to offensive patrolling. Quietly placing an observation ship in another power’s space lanes is hardly a peaceful action but the SLDF had several classes tailored for this role. Offensive patrolling could happen in enemy or contested systems and lacked the deniability of using a more discrete ship. Of course this ignores the number of non compact core JumpShips the SLDF had available to do the same job.
This was the age of the corvette. The Bonaventure, Vigilant and Vincent all had their heyday at this time. Also all of the classic SLDF spy ships began service. The Riga was available for heavier operations.
The SLDF’s arsenal was finalized at this time. While the Vincents and new Bug Eye continued service the Riga came to be supplemented by the Congress.
Nothing really changed here. Same ships, same role.
A Note on Numbers
The first case is the cruisers. There are simply not enough of them. In the Hegemony they could be seen as cheap battleships but they are outnumbered by the larger ships. There are only 100 Aegis. Assuming the same number of Darts they are out numbered by the Monsoons and Farraguts.
Throughout the history of the Hegemony and the Star League, based on known classes there were probably around 200 cruisers until the launch of the Sovetskii Soyuzes.
There are a lot of BBs based on the known 70 Texas and 280 McKennas. There are interesting changes forced by the McKennas but it is reasonable to assume a 300 ship BB force in the Hegemony and early SLDF.
During the Early SLDF the use of LF batteries make cruisers viable as an elite core of rapid response units. But in the Late SLDF the McKennas have the same capability and outnumber the cruisers. The Sovetskii Soyuzes have the numbers to fix this but they replace the Riga class frigates, not add to the number of cruisers in operation.
There must be a lot of frigates out there. If the 400 ship Sovetskii Soyuz class replaced 400 Rigas we can expect a similar number of Congress and about 250 Quixotes based on the number of Volgas. 800 frigates at any one time should do the job. 300-400 for WarShip escort. The remainder are available for command and single ship tasks.
Don’t be concerned about the low numbers of destroyers. Destroyers have a very different role in the SLDF compared to that of a 20th century destroyer. No class survived Amaris with more than 40. 50% loss rates are horrific so it is hard to see any one class with more than 100 members. Given their role a 300 ship destroyer force is reasonable.
Armed transports. There were 200 Volgas and 100 Potemkins. Given the firepower represented by these ships it gives you some idea how tough hitting an SLDF convoy was. There is a big question mark over just how much escorting ships like this needed. With suitable DropShips it is not unreasonable to say a pair of Volgas was basically untouchable by anything less than a battleship. This makes the low number of DDs and CTs far more palatable.
As for combat DropShips? In the Hegemony we don’t really know what was available. In the opening period of the Star League we could expect Achilles, early Pentagons and Leopard CVs. A cruiser could offer a pair of CVs and a pair of assaults. A battleship might offer 2 CVs and 4 assaults. Frigates seemed to offer two assaults. Given 300 BBs, 200CAs and 800FGs we could have 1000CVs and 3200 assaults, not counting those carried by JumpShips.
By the late SLDF we have Titans. We also have 200 Volgas, the Potemkins and 400 FGs replaced by Sov Soys. Who knows if Titans, as competent assault ships, forced the traditional assault ships off the FG docking collars? 2000 is not an unrealistic figure alongside the existing 3000 assaults ships.
A Note on What is Missing
Technical Readout: 3075 gives us an interesting window on the SLDF. The Royal refits offer real possibilities. The fluff for the Pentagon suggests for the Navy these might be regular upgrades, not Royal treatment. The key point is somewhere around 2600 SLDF ships started mounting Advanced weapons. A number of ships like the Volga, Pentagon, Colossus and Elephant are known to use them. A number like the Titan and Achilles should be at least upgraded to use the tech, if not using it from the start. Late ships like the Union and Overlord have no excuse.
Finally we are missing a lot of early stuff. I can’t even date the Leviathan JumpShip. (Editor's note: The Leviathan has since been statted as a JumpShip with 8 docking hardpoints, introduced in 2468 but found "easy targets" for boarding attempts or crippling damage and thus poorly suited for military purposes; largely supplanted by Star Lord and other large JumpShips within a century.) The oldest I have is the Merchant. There are a couple of early DropShips but not enough to define a coherent use.
- Congress: ER Large Lasers?
- Riga II
- Essex I
- Leopard Upgrade/Royal?
- Triumph Upgrade/Royal?
- Achillies Upgrade/Royal?
- Titan Upgrade/Royal?
- Confederate Upgrade/Royal?
- Dictator Upgrade/Royal?
- Intruder Upgrade/Royal?
- Union / Overlord Actual?
Nuke Proofing SLDF Style
The ships of the SLDF are often maligned as the worst ships ever made, their primary advantage being size. This may be so. I certainly think their roles were never thought out. Having said that an analysis of these ships design and possible use in a nuclear environment offer some disturbing insights which may cause us to rethink their use and utility.
Let’s start with a basic understanding of nuclear naval combat. Space borne nukes can be delivered in three ways.
- Carried in a ship
- Anti Ship Alamo via aerospace fighter
- Anti Ship Santa Anna via capital missile
The first is essentially a stealth and or suicide operation. The ship can be anything from a fighter to a multi-megaton WarShip. To defeat it the vessel must be detected and stopped outside detonation range of the nuclear weapon. Basically this is contact range.
The second is essentially a short ranged fighter weapon. It turns every fighter into a potential ship killer. Stopping them basically means killing the fighter outside of launch range. For all practical purposes this is no different to normal fighter defense.
The third is an option for most WarShips and some DropShips. Again the best option is to prevent launch, however the size of the launching platforms can make this problematic.
There are two basic methods of getting into combat range.
The first is an in-system jump. Moderately dangerous it can get a craft relatively close very quickly. Deploying weapons systems will take time but unless the target is operating at a high level of alertness it will face the same time delay. Naturally this method is only available to JumpShips and WarShips. While it is possible for them to deploy additional units like fighters there are serious time issues. Indeed jumping inside a target is probably simpler in many ways.
The second method is to approach under regular thrust. Again there are two basic options, a high speed approach and a low speed approach. The first is based on a few seconds of firing after approaching at high speeds to limit exposure to return fire. This is the realm of craft with cruising engines able to maintain 1G thrust for long periods. However small fighters can be deployed once the desired speed is reached as the vacuum of space will allow them to maintain station. Of course this is dangerous given the complete inability of the fighters to slow down.
The second is an approach at slow speeds using firepower to cut through the defenders. This is the typical AT scenario. Fighters are the primary unit here given the short ranges, and their massive firepower to mass ratio.
So how can we defend against these threats?
Firstly you can hide. Space is big and empty. Even under thrust a space craft can be hard to find without sophisticated equipment. This is advisable for small groups.
Secondly there is defense in depth. This is establishing a series of defensive barriers along a threat axis. This is best suited to regular thrust attacks but can be effective against in-system jumps by forcing the attacker to arrive further away from the core of the Task Force for fear of destroying oneself on an escort.
It is this second method that we are most interested in given that hiding is self evident and able to be performed by everyone at little cost.
Defense in depth is at the core of SLDF doctrine. The heart of an SLDF TF is a heavy WarShip. A cruiser or battleship. These are surrounded by a group of frigates or destroyers. In turn these are protected by a series of assault DropShips. The primary assault ship of the SLDF is the Titan, a notable carrier platform. Outside of this are lone ships like corvettes. These essentially fall outside our discussion because they exist by hiding and operating against low threat targets.
It is important at this point to explain the concept of a threat axis. It is easy to imagine a TF as a series of concentric spheres around a central point. While certainly effective this is a massive waste of resources. A more effective use of resources is to position one’s forces along the axis a given threat is likely to approach on. At its most sophisticated multiple axis are used with specific forces aligned to deal with specific threats.
So what does this mean in an SLDF TF? Assume a basic formation. A cruiser, two destroyers, two Titans and a pair of assault ships. Let’s consider likely some likely scenarios.
In the first a JumpShip tries to jump into the middle of the TF and deploy capital missiles in a stationary situation. Firstly the JumpShip has to negotiate the threat of jumping into an escorting destroyer. Secondly it has to survive the threat of the capital weapons of the destroyers and cruiser. Thirdly there is the threat of the local Combat Air Patrol. I will return to the CAP but it is enough to note that the center of a TF represents a significant concentration of firepower tailored to deal with jump capable ships. Deploying a nuclear weapon in this manner is certainly do-able but at significant cost.
The second scenario is that of a high speed fly-through. Provided the maneuver is detected early this is relatively easy to deal with. Station the threat axis to chew the threat up as it flies through the formation. Ideally fighters would be deployed in both a slow and fast moving scenario forcing the enemy to face two fighter bubbles, 4 assault ships, the destroyers and the cruiser, in that order. While the potential exists for each of the layers to be overwhelmed in the process they will break up and weaken the attacking force making its strikes against the primary target far less effective. A slow assault is basically the same.
The third scenario is a stealthy strike by a disguised raider. This is simply dealt with by the outer layer investigating anything within range.
Hopefully you can see the advantages of a defense in depth from these examples. The most important thing about them is that they keep the nukes far from the core units of the TF.
So what makes the SLDF uniquely suited to this form of combat? Basically all those things that we cite as failings.
First of all is their minimal fighter capabilities. It has been said time and time again that SLDF warships lack fighter capacity. With an average of 18 fighters per cruiser this seems to be the case but it misses a vital truth. In a nuclear environment you don’t want your fighters near the mother ship. You want them out on the threat axis. The fighters carried by the warship are the last line of defense. The real fighting power is elsewhere. In the years of the Star League there were only two real carrier DropShips: The Leopard CV and the Titan. The first was originally deployed by the SLDF and later replaced by the far more capable Titan. The Titan would not be surpassed until Vengeance after the SLDF collapsed and was virtually never seen in House hands. These DropShips allowed the SLDF to put fighters out on the threat axis in a way impossible to the Great Houses. Even though Great House ships often carried more fighters they were all but forced to commit the WarShips to battle when the SLDF didn’t. We all know what happens when you expose a WarShip to fighters.
We can see the outcome of this in the nature of House and SLDF WarShips. Where the SLDF carries virtually no point defense, the House ships have to because of their closer position to the front line. The SLDF only sees warship combat when facing an in-system jump or when they choose to.
Secondly we have the SLDF destroyer, universally derided for their lack of armor, docking collars and massive cargo bays. Let’s now look at them again in the light of the Task Force. Firstly their weapon load out limits an SLDF destroyer to two roles: Bombardment and killing large craft. A craft operating in a bombardment role is very vulnerable. It basically gives up the advantage of mobility and becomes a clearly identified and located target. Such a craft has to be expendable and an SLDF destroyer is clearly this. Yet additionally it is likely to be in a dominant position. To be stationed in a bombardment position space dominance will have already been won. Threats are minimal though still possible. So the minimal armor and lack of supporting craft is not as great a weakness, especially with the assets of the invading force nearby.
As for killing large craft we need to remember the likely location of a destroyer: The inner ring of a TF. It is not exposed to massive aerospace attack. Its most likely opponent is a JumpShip attempting an in-system jump. Again it is not a likely target. Having exposed themselves the jumper has far more valuable units to target. Instead, the destroyer has to make a kill as quickly as possible and most of the SLDF destroyers are hardly lacking in firepower. Especially long range firepower to allow them to be stationed at some distance to the core of the TF.
The third likely position for a destroyer and more likely a frigate is out on the threat axis with the DropShips. This seems to go against what I have just said but there are scenarios where it may be of advantage to have heavy guns out there. Additionally a destroyer and frigate offer superior re-supply capabilities than those offered by a DropShip without having the DropShips drop off station and go back to the core of the TF. The true SLDF destroyers and frigates (not the Whirlwind) have usable small craft and large cargo bays. This also does not include simple docking without jump capable collars. Additionally with the frigates they bring extra DropShips and sensor capabilities.
So these traditionally weak ships go from being targets to the glue that hold a TF together providing useful support and exposing themselves when the TF can not be risked.
Thirdly there are the SLDF’s massive cargo bays. Their existence has been speculated over before but defense in depth shows a clear use. These continuous operations have enormous demands on fuel and hardware. Swinging a threat axis is an enormous undertaking over a wide area that has to be performed as quickly as possible. No known DropShip has the cargo bay for these kinds of operations. Only by continually tapping into the motherships could it be possible.
Fourthly we have the SLDF capital ship. These were clearly designed and described as “one ship task forces”. With 4-6 docking collars and their notorious cargo bays they are the primary centerpiece for any defense in depth system. Even a Sovetskii Soyuz starts looking good when it is realized that its primary role is not to fight but support carrier DropShips. These are the core of the SLDF and a class of ship notably lacking in the House navies as we know them. Also interestingly those ships that do not conform, like the Farragut and Kimagure, are evolutionary dead ends.
Finally SLDF armor and point defense. SLDF armor is notably weak. However as the current rules make clear it is mostly capable of surviving a single penetrating strike from an Alamo in all but the weakest ships. Santa Annas are universally fatal but much harder to deliver.
Frankly this is all you can ask. Nukes are most deadly when they penetrate and that is a matter of luck that no amount of armor can prevent. As it stands all of the SLDF cruisers can absorb two hits. Considering the difficulty in penetrating to the cruisers of the SLDF this is somewhat acceptable. AMS would be helpful and its omission is worrying. The lack of conventional AA is not the great weakness it seems because by the time they are in range nuclear launch is a given. As has been established earlier the attacking craft has to be stopped earlier.
So how does Great House design and doctrine compare?
Firstly as noted the House and Periphery ships currently revealed have larger numbers of fighters and genuine point defense systems. They also have similar cargo bays and more docking collars in their small ships than SLDF units. They also mostly appear to be more combat capable than their contemporaries.
However, they have notable limitations. Firstly they lack the cruisers of the SLDF with their large numbers of collars. Secondly, they lack competent assault DropShips and carriers. This limits their ability to project power and forces their ships to be correspondingly more capable. Very few carry more than 18 fighters. They can expect at least twice this many from the escorts of a single SLDF cruiser. Even if victory is achieved they are likely to be too weak to continue offensive operations.
From a nuclear point of view they are even more exposed. Lacking power projection they are unable to form a layered defense. As a result they are very vulnerable to nuclear attack. Point defense systems help, but even very heavy batteries can be overwhelmed at relatively little cost.
For the modern House navies this is even more pronounced. Most ships are designed to operate alone. They have serious supply issues limiting their ability to deploy defensive units. For example the Federated Commonwealth WarShips have large numbers of docking collars but must use them for supply rather than power projection. The Draconis Combine seems to be adopting an SLDF light approach with frigates in the traditional role of cruisers. The downside being a corresponding lack of capability as well as a misdirected interest in raiding units. The FWLN is disturbingly reminiscent of the SLDF. Lightly armored escorts. Well defended fleet centerpieces. It even has effective point defenses. The primary weakness is a lack of effective carrier DropShips. It compensates with heavy fighter defenses in the inner circle but this is a dangerous compromise.
As a rule all non-SLDF navies suffer from a similar problem. Their inability to build large numbers of hulls. This is something that the Star League could do with ease. This in turn allowed them to build large numbers of large ships as well as expendable units for riskier operations. The Houses are forced to produce more capable ships both because of their limited production and corresponding inability to develop effective Task Forces. Historically this was exacerbated by the lack of effective carrier DropShips though by the 3050s new craft like Vengeances and Okinawa have modified the situation. All House navies remain very vulnerable to nuclear attack despite their best efforts.
I hope this has been an educating document. I hope it changes the view of the SLDF navy. It was more than just a mass produced navy, but rather a fleet of specialist ships designed to limit their exposure to combat in an age when nuclear weapons made any contact potentially fatal. While a House or Periphery navy could certainly mass their forces and dint an SLDF TF, the depth of the TF’s defenses made ultimate victory unlikely, hurting the attacking fleet and leaving the TF mostly intact.
In many ways this won’t change much for most players. In the ship to ship duels we love to play the SLDF will still remain weak. But hopefully it will change the way we make scenarios. Instead of trying to match a Lola to a Davion we will see a force of Davions and corvettes forcing back a Lola and a group of DropShips. Sure the SLDF will lose. But will the Davions be able to push deeper into the TF? And what happens when both sides start throwing around nukes?
So I hope you enjoyed this document and I look forward to your comments.
In March of 2017, "Jellico" posted, with regards to additional ship types that had been introduced in newer publications since the initial posting in 2009, that "The new hardware is compatible with the old document. The fleet organization potentially isn't. If someone can inspire to see how it is I will have a look."
In October of 2018, he added "Probably the main change I would make with what I wrote so long ago is to find a word to replace the concept of fleets. More recent source books have made clear that the SLDF mixed its ships, the concept of Fast Fleet and Slow Fleet remains to explain the role of the ships within a single fleet." and also observed "It is worth noting in the Hegemony and SLDF cruisers tend to have NAC heavy broadsides for comparatively good firepower to tonnage ratios. They tend to have relatively low cargo fractions compared to other SLDF classes. This makes the more fighting ships than any other SLDF ship. The question then becomes, what does this mean in the largely peacetime SLSF?"
About LF Batteries
Also in October of 2018, in a tangential discussion about Lithium-Fusion Batteries, it was pointed out by user "marauder648" that the LF Battery-equipped Avatar was introduced 2531, and infamously suffered from electrical gremlins. Then the LF Battery was eschewed in new designs until several new designs with LF Batteries appeared from 2618 onwards. It was suggested that the Avatar may have been something of a test-bed design and that LF Battery technology had to be refined for 87 years afterwards before it was considered for widespread deployment again (discounting the Kimagure class proof-of-concept design from 2582 as a special case).
In reply to this, "Jellico" posted:
- "Cruisers tend to be available in low numbers until the Sov Soy which is much later than the first batch of LF battery cruisers. (Yes the Sov Soy doesn't have a battery. The second batch consists of solely the Luxor.)
- Firstly cruisers seem to be rare in the Hegemony navy. Their role seems to be that of cheap battleship but the Hegemony seems to feel it more effective to pay for the full priced product.
- You will note that the first batch of LF cruisers comes out just before the Reunification War. To a large degree these seem like test beds. Their function is to test LF tactics in a price efficient package. All up there are about 150.
- After the war the Hegemony decides the best package for a LF battery is a battleship, cuts the Texas program short at 50ish, the Farraguts are inappropriate, pumps out 280 LF battery equipped battleships and never builds another LF cruiser until the 2740s."
The Riga II class, a frigate in all but name yet classified as a destroyer or carrier (and curiously not as a frigate like the Riga I), was introduced in 2747 as a lithium-fusion battery equipped escort for the McKenna class so that the larger battleships would not have to deploy alone now that their services were called upon more often.