A question about naval tactics


Rear Admiral
I was recently watching a WWII Documentary on the History channel and they were talking about the crude beginings of formation flying and defense tactics for bombers and carriers . What I was wondering is,

1. Would current Naval Tactics be able to translate into a space navy pretty easily, I mean, the difference in space is no water so really that'd only require a minor adjustment, right?

2. Where might I be able to find a guide that talks about different formations and their particular use?

3. Is there much indication in the WCbooks or anywhere else about their tactics or is it much like the games, Chaos and Luck? "Break and attack, I hope you come back."



Vice Admiral

1: Maybe not that easy; with gravity gone, no ballistic weapons, the (at least in WC pretty theoretical) laws of Newtonian physics [e.g. Shelton slide et al.] you'd have a lot of adjustments to make, even with simple escort formation scenarios. But as WC is using the fully guided "atmospheric" flight model, all the physically existing limitations can be disregarded up to a point.

2: I'd start with http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Military_tactics Pretty good collection of different maneuvers there, covering infantry, air force and naval theories.

3: Don't have the time to look things up right now, but I think I remember different formations (diamond, flying wedge..) being mentioned, as well as capship tactics with escort destroyers hanging back to create diversions or pulling in to shield carriers.


There would be so many different factors differing a space navy from a traditional one that I doubt if the tactics would be similar at all. you've got the already mentioned physics thing as well as the tremendous speeds and distances involved. As your sig says, space is very big, so minefields for example would be much more difficult to deploy. Also, the ships would be navigating through three dimensions instead of two.

Nomad Terror

Rear Admiral
One of the things I like about the Homeworld games are the 3d formations.

Maneuvers in space would require a paradigm shift; new training to remind us that now we have a Z axis instead of just an X and Y.


Cry some more!
For the pilots there is a huge difference... no ground means no altitude, no "energy" concerns i.e., in ww2 the fighters performance at each altitude and climb/dive rates made a hell of a difference. in WC, all you have to worry is turn ratios, which seem to be invariable... it is a hell lot different.


Nomad Terror said:
One of the things I like about the Homeworld games are the 3d formations.
Funny, what I didn't like about Homeworld were the 3D formations. :) They were pretty, but didn't seem to add much. Sometimes the formations were more of a pain to maintain than a help for blasting the baddy of the minute.

Anyway, some things to think about:

1) Combat in the air and space is both three dimensional. However, due to the lack of gravity, space is somewhat more three dimensional (you can fly inverted or sideways for extended amounts of time without getting a head rush or falling out of the sky, there's no concept of altitude besides don't run into that planet, etc.). I think removing these limitations actually makes space combat more simplistic, however; for instance, do a search for "basic air combat manuevers" and you'll turn up pages about energy management and very little about off-bore gunnery, which is almost completely opposite of what you'd expect for deep space.

2) The horizon is space is much longer, which complicates things in all sorts of way. Stealth and jamming is certainly going to be more important when you've basically got no cover/terrain (worse than even in the open ocean); submarines-in-space probably isn't too bad a metaphor. Related to this is that the speed of light starts to become important for luminal and subluminal sensors/weapons. Also, you can develop enormous amounts of speed over time; this plays a prominent role in the tactics used in the Wing Commander novels.

3) Contradicting some of what I said in #1, energy management would play some role in space combat, but it'd be on a much bigger time/distance scale. This is basically due to the gravitational wells set up by various celestial bodies, which creates an even more complicated potential energy pattern than in air combat. This is where you get such gimmicks as sling shot and aerobraking manuevers and the like. However, again due to the scale, I'm not entirely convinced it would be useful in a real combat situation, as you'd be talking about manuevers taking place over days, weeks, even months or years, but who knows. Another thing to consider about energy, though, to take a page from Heinlein, is that you can "drop rocks" down the gravity well (you can't actually drop things from orbit, you need to actively deorbit, but at least they'll accelerate and go splat).

4) To inject a bit of reality into all this, formation flying isn't actually used that much in real world air combat. Formations are generally used for going to/from the destination, and if you're dropping bombs, well, you'll probably stay in formation, too. For dogfights, maintaining a tight finger four isn't the best thing in the world. :) The basic unit of real world air combat is a two-plane element (the official name for which escapes me at the moment), basically the wingman/buddy system, where you've got someone to work with to beat the stuffing out of the bad guys, leading the enemy into the sights of your buddy and having someone to guard your back. This is a basic truth you can even find reiterated numerous times in the Wing Commander manuals and game play; more complicated tactics are built from this two-plane units.

5) Really modern jet air combat with guided missiles is about picking up the other guy on radar and launching your air-to-air missiles at him. :) In this respect, it resembles Prophecy/Secret Ops a lot. A good sim if you want to play around with this is Falcon 4.0. This tends not to be as exciting as a dogfight, though, which probably explains the relative popularity of sims for earlier time periods compared to the latest jet fighters. :)

6) I-War/I-War 2 has a neat Newtonian flight model if you're interested in what combat in space would be like in real life (well, minus some of the fancy science fiction gizmos). I-War 2 in particular is lots of fun, if you can get the hang of it (main tip here is to play it more like an FPS than a traditional flight sim).

7) Babylon 5 also had a Newtonian flight model, if you want to look at some of the Starfury tactics used in that series' combat sequences. One of the major differences between space combat vs. atmospheric is that you have a very tight turn radius, practically 0 in many cases (used to great effect by the Starfuries). This is true even in the Wing Commander flight model (Shelton slide, autoslide, etc.). This makes it much easier to aim than to dodge (because of inertia, you'll tend to keep moving in a straight line), so offensive tactics will really dominate over defensive in space. Compounding this is the lack of cover mentioned in #1. In this way, space combat will be a lot more like naval combat than ground combat: a key tactical maxim in naval combat is to attack first-est with the most-est; everything else is secondary, and reserves just divide your force uselessly.

These points are a mix of things that would apply to real life space combat physics and Wing Commander, so not all of them apply to each case. Still, I hope they provide some inspiration for further thoughts along these lines.


As far as offense vs. defense as touched upon in the previous post, if you are the first to go on the offensive, you have a huge edge. As air combat (at least in the RL) goes, if you fly perfect defensive ACM and your opponent flies perfect offensive ACM, you will be the one getting shot down.


Nomad Terror said:
One of the things I like about the Homeworld games are the 3d formations.

Maneuvers in space would require a paradigm shift; new training to remind us that now we have a Z axis instead of just an X and Y.

You still use all 3 dimensions in atmospheric flight too. It's just unlike space, they don't all extend forever and the way each force acts in each of these planes, is very different to space.

For example: when "diving" in space, you're not going to have a normal reaction force acting equal and opposite to the direction of motion, hence why you'll continue on forever.

Nomad Terror

Rear Admiral
I obviously realize that there is altitude and that you can use angle of attack to your advantage in A-A or A-G engagement in aerial warfare nowadays.

However in space you are unlimited in all directions. No one today expects a fleet or bombing formation to come from directly above you or below you, because we are limited to chiefly two dimensional tactics when dealing with naval warfare.

In space, we can recon an enemy fleet and assess a good attack strategy that includes what angle we want to come in from. We can maneuver our fleet to attack from underneath if we wish, making ourselves small targets (showing only the bow of our ships) while making the enemy much larger targets, and perhaps even unable to return fire until remaneuvering has occured.


Victory, you say?
Following Star Wars, Wing Commander is pretty much WW2 combat in space.

It gets a little more complex later on, when missiles have a bigger role, and mission have military sounding names like "CAP". Before it was pretty much "get out there, go around and shoot people".

(Actually, each WC mission type had its own music. Patrol, Strike, Escort. It was very cool.)