Press Release

For Immediate Release 03/03/2303 15:20 TST

Royal Wellon Joint Staff Institute : Press Office



The Royal Wellon Joint Staff Institute (RWJSI) is the Wellon Defence Force's premier staff college. As part of its ongoing programme of education for all levels of staff officer the RWJSI hosts the prestigious series of Wellington lectures by invited Senior Officers of both Wellonese and allied militaries. While attendance at the lectures, or access to the transcript, requires a security clearance the JSI Press Office provides, where possible, an edited version for public release.

The Spring 2302 Wellington lecture, entitled "Fighting The First Interplanetary War" was given by Vice-amiral Jean Michel Nathan, Commandant de Recherche of the MSIF's Escadre d'Interface Ecole d' Assaut Interface Spatiale.

Lecture - Fighting The First Interplanetary War

My Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen I should like to begin by thanking Commandant Morris for his kind invitation to speak to you tonight, and the Officer's Mess for their excellent hospitality at last night's dinner.

Interplanetary War

Although the nations of mankind have fought many interstellar wars since the advent of the Jerome Drive over two centuries ago none of us had ever fought an interplanetary war until the Kafer invasion of 2298. But, you may ask, what about the First Interstellar War over the right to colonise the very planet on which we now stand? What about the Central Asian War, the War of German Reunification? These wars were not interplanetary wars, they were combinations of an intra planetary and an interstellar war fought by starships between stars and by troops on a single planet.

Where the current war is different to any conflict we have fought before is that it involves the transport of troops and equipment from the combatants home planets to the planets held, or threatened by, enemy troops and equipment - in other words an interplanetary war. Of course the war against the Kafers also involves interstellar and planetary warfare however it is about the interplanetary aspects that I wish to talk to you tonight.

Interplanetary war, as I have defined it, involves the movement of men and materiel from our home worlds (primarily in the core) to the colony worlds threatened or invaded by the Kafers. Never before have we had to address the problems and challenges of such operations - problems and challenges made all the harder by the unknown nature of our foe. Over the last four years we have had to invent the strategies and tactics to overcome these difficulties in order to repel the Kafer attack and liberate our colonies from occupation. Hopefully, in the future, we will continue to develop and evolve them as we take the war to the Kafer Worlds. It should also be remembered that the Kafers face exactly the same problems and challenges that we do ourselves, although their solutions may differ from ours. It also seems likely that the Kafers have fought several interplanetary wars in their past and we should not be afraid to learn from their experience!

The Six Stages of Interplanetary War

The prosecution of an interplanetary war is a process that falls into six distinct stages that have become known within the Escadre d'Interface as Raise, Lift, Transport, Drop, Fight and Support.

Firstly troops have to be raised and trained and their equipment manufactured on their home planet. This is the Raise Stage.

Secondly the troops and their equipment have to be transported from the planet's surface into orbit. This is the Lift Stage.

Thirdly, once in orbit, the men and materiel require safe interstellar transport to orbit, or at the very least close approach to, the target planet. The Transport Stage - which is really a part of the interstellar war.

Fourthly the ground forces need to be taken down the gravity well to a, reasonably, soft landing. This is the Drop Stage.

Fifthly the troops and have to engage and defeat the enemy. The Fight Stage - commonly known as planetary warfare.

Finally, and sixthly, the troops have to be supplied and supported from orbit, and ultimately from their home planet.

There are of course overlaps between the stages, interactions between what I have defined as interstellar, planetary and interplanetary warfare and parts of the process that do not neatly fit into any of the six stages.

In the Escadre d'Interface we are primarily concerned with the Lift, Drop and Support stages and it is on these phases of interplanetary war that I intend to concentrate. I will also cover the other stages, but only insofar as they impact our main areas of interest.

Raise : Troop Recruitment and Equipment Procurement

The difficulties of the Lift stage can be eased by appropriate measures taken during the Raise stage of operations. As we require men and women to be soldiers and men and women are born, brought up and enlist on planets there is nothing we can do to avoid the necessity of lifting people out of the gravity well. Where considerable savings can be made however is in the provision of the equipment and supplies those soldiers require.

Let us take as an example the simple truck - that vital piece of military technology! Trucks are normally built and used on planets therefore the easiest, and cheapest, way to obtain a truck is to go to your nearest truck factory and buy one (you might even get a discount for buying in bulk). Unfortunately you now have to get it into orbit and you can't use a cheap catapult you have to use an expensive space plane or, if you've bought your trucks on Earth, a moderately priced beanstalk.

From a purely "Lift" point of view the cheapest method is to arrange for the trucks to be manufactured in orbit - the transport costs then are negligible. The drawback to this approach is that there is little call for trucks in space operations so the manufacturing costs are likely to be high - possibly cancelling out the savings on transportation.

The reality, of course, lies somewhere between these two extremes. Heavy, durable components are often lifted by catapult with more delicate parts lifted by space plane or beanstalk. The parts can then be assembled in orbit (if required for immediate use on final delivery) or even at their final destination. Alternatively some components can be manufactured in orbit, with only specialist parts requiring transportation from the planet below.

There are also other considerations to bear in mind.

What is the expected duration and size of the campaign?

A large campaign expected to last many years, such as the invasion of Kafer space for example, might mean that it is more economic to construct truck factories in Earth or Tirane orbit. A small campaign of short duration however would not warrant such expense.

What facilities are available on, or nearby, the target worlds?

If significant local resources (trucks or truck factories for example) are available locally then much of the required equipment should be obtained locally. Rather than shipping whole trucks from planet to planet maybe all that is required are a few items of specialist equipment (secure comms equipment and the like) to be fitted to local vehicles. A good example of this local procurement was in the reconquest of BCV where local production and requisition in the free areas was used to aid the liberation of the occupied areas.

The mixture of techniques used therefore varies from equipment type to equipment type, from nation to nation and with the particular circumstances.

Lift : Home World Interface Transport

As you are all aware the most expensive part of commercial interstellar travel is the cost of the interface transport at the beginning and end of the journey. The same laws of physics and limits of engineering apply equally to military transport as they do to civilian transport. Consequently it is usually the interface element of fighting an interplanetary war that causes the greatest logistical problems. The laws and limits also conspire to make getting from the surface of a planet into orbit an order of magnitude more difficult than the reverse. Thus it is the Lift stage of operations - the transport of men and materiels from the surface of our core worlds into orbit - that is often the most critical part of the whole war.

Once the the appropriate measures have been taken, in the Raise stage, to reduce the amount of lift transportation required the people and equipment have to be boosted into orbit and transferred to their interstellar vessels.

While this is a complicated and intricate process it is one that both commercial and colonial organisations are familiar and experienced with. Indeed until the last few years military experience in these areas was severely limited.

It is fortunate for humanity that, at the time the Kafers invaded the French Arm, we had been engaged in a significant colonial programme along the Arm for several decades. As a consequence several national governments had infrastructure in place to move large amounts of men and materiel (or colonists, their possessions and development equipment as the Colonial Ministry would call them) from the core to the colonies. There had also developed substantial private shipping lines to service the trade between the colonies and their parent nations.

The Kafer War also had the effect of halting colonisation efforts in the French Arm and making normal shipping lanes extremely hazardous for unescorted merchantmen. As a result the Lift stage of interplanetary operations has been able to utilise the civilian and colonial transport infrastructures already in place. These have been supplemented by military interface transport only for those items requiring specialist handling.

As I am most familiar with France's Lift arrangements I shall describe these however the other major powers in the French Arm all have equivalent facilities. I will also restrict myself to the situation in the Sol system but again similar arrangements are present on, and above, Tirane.

Firstly all the heavy equipment, by which I mean all non-personal equipment, is delivered to one of the two main orbitals (the Gare des Etoiles or the Crystal Palace). This can be by intra-orbit transfer from space based manufacturing facilities, primarily L5, or via catapult, beanstalk or space plane from Earth. Equipment is shipped in protective packaging to allow handling in zero gravity and vacuum conditions during transportation - the nature of the packaging naturally varies depending upon the contents.

Most of the equipment requiring downwards space plane transport is containerised to allow rapid transfer from starship to interface vehicle at the destination. More robust equipment is assembled into batches in orbit and incorporated into single-use drop capsules. There are a range of drop capsules available with a variety of mission profiles - I will cover these later when I discuss the Drop stage of operations.

Once all the equipment is assembled in orbit it is loaded onto the interstellar transports as either internal or external cargo. The loading sequence has to carefully planned so that the final unloading, over the target world, can occur quickly, easily and in the correct order. It is no use finding yourself in the middle of a planet head with all your artillery but no ammunition or a squadron of tanks but no fuel.

With the equipment fully loaded the uplift of the personnel can commence. Housing humans in orbit is an expensive business and requires considerable resources, therefore personnel are generally loaded last within the minimum of interval between take off from the planet and boarding of the interstellar vessel.

People are perhaps the most difficult "cargo" of all to handle during interface operations. Tanks and trucks do not get motion sickness, neither do they suffer from muscle and bone wastage during prolonged zero-G conditions. When transporting large numbers of people, especially people not fully trained and experienced in zero-G operations it is imperative to keep the travel time without gravity to a minimum.

Although some zero-G time is inevitable during interface operations, including those on the beanstalk, we have once again been saved by the infrastructure in place for colonial operations. Just as in interplanetary warfare, interplanetary colonisation also requires the movement of large groups of non zero-G trained people from one planet to another via orbit and interstellar space. As a consequence France, and the other colonial powers, have developed procedures and equipment to minimise the potential distress of interface travel.

France's primary orbitals, for example, both have facilities that allow interface vehicles to dock and transfer passengers under spin gravity. The Gare des Etoiles, our main colonial terminal above Earth, also allows the direct transfer of colonists - and therefore troops - from interface vehicles to colony vessels, all under spin gravity.

Once all the necessary vessels are assembled and cargo and troops loaded the task force is ready to depart. Once the force leaves orbit we enter the Transport Stage.

Transport : Interstellar Shipping

The Transport stage of interplanetary warfare is also a part of the interstellar war. The local conditions of the interstellar war will determine if the cargo and troop carrying vessels can transit singly in civilian vessels or if military, or militarised, vessels are required, or if all transits must occur in convoys with military escorts. I do not intend to deal with these aspects any further today other than to note that these considerations obviously have a considerable impact on the organisation of the Transport stage.

The only other aspect of the Transport stage that I intend to comment on is the nature of interstellar transport available to us in prosecuting an interplanetary war.

For the Transport stage all that is necessary is for the vessels to move equipment and troops from home world orbit to the target world orbit. Ideally they would transport equipment in a form suitable for immediate use during the Drop stage and troops in a standard Earth atmosphere at the full gravity of the target world. Unfortunately reality does not conform to the ideal and the shipping available to us can only partially meet these requirements.

The available interstellar vessels can be broken down into several general classes.

  • Firstly there are commercial civilian cargo and passenger vessels - unarmed merchantmen carrying out their normal roles of moving equipment and people between the stars along established trade routes.
  • Secondly there are colony ships - vessels specifically designed to move large numbers of people and large loads of equipment from the core to the colony worlds.
  • Thirdly there are warships, some of which can carry troops and equipment useful in interplanetary warfare.
  • Finally there are military transports designed and constructed specifically for interplanetary warfare.

I have listed the four classes in the order of the number of available hulls.

Commercial carriers are extremely vulnerable to enemy action and normally require orbital terminal facilities for loading and unloading. Commercial carriers are also normally civilian crewed and corporately operated and as such cannot be deliberately sent too far into harm's way. As a consequence they are mainly useful in maintaining supply lines once the initial planetary assault has succeeded.

Colony ships however are designed to transport and unload large quantities of equipment and large numbers of people at the often minimal terminal facilities present above colony worlds. In addition colony ships are normally crewed by naval reservists, or at the very least government employees, and are government owned. This combination of design and operation makes them ideal troop transporters but of little direct use during initial assault operations during the drop phase.

If I may again use French experience as an example. The Asterie class colony vessels were designed to transport 8,000 colonists and up to 180,000 tonnes of cargo from the core to the colony worlds of the French Arm. It takes no modification at all for the same vessel to transport 8,000 troops and 180,000 tonnes of military equipment from the core to Aurora of BCV. What is more the Asterie carries its cargo pre-loaded in Vairon single use drop capsules ready for delivery to the planet's surface. The Asterie colonist modules are also designed to link directly to interface vehicle docking facilities that allow troop transfers to occur under spin gravity. Indeed the colonist modules and docking facilities were designed to be transported by the Asterie to the colony to form the core of the colony's orbital terminal. Thus the Asterie can quickly replace damaged orbital terminals or greatly increase the capacity of existing facilities.

The modular nature of the construction of the Asterie vessels has also allowed us to develop specialist military modules for transport to the front line of the interplanetary war. These have included fully equipped hospital facilities, basing facilities for fighters and drones, remote object command and control centres and many more.

"Normal" military ships often carry ship's troops and interface craft both of which are trained and experienced in planetary assault techniques. They are therefore highly valuable assets for interplanetary warfare. Their primary purpose however is interstellar warfare and as a consequence their capacity for interplanetary war is limited. Indeed their value in the interstellar conflict often limits their availability for interplanetary operations.

Finally we come to those military vessels expressly designed for interplanetary warfare as epitomised by the British Normandy class and the French Verdun class of Assault Landing Ships (or LSAs). LSAs are capable of moving large numbers of assault troops and interface vehicles and of launching both quickly to deliver high concentrations of force to the surface of the target planet. As such they are, unsurprisingly, the ideal vessel for interplanetary war however their numbers are limited requiring us to make up the deficit from amongst the other categories.

Drop : Target World Interface Transport

The Drop stage is what most civilians think of when interplanetary warfare is mentioned. While it may the most dramatic stage it is not necessarily, as we have already discussed, the most critical. The Drop stage is also the stage where the most variation is possible. There are only a limited number of practicable solutions to the problems of the Raise, Lift and Transport stages that I have already outlined. In this section of my lecture I intend to firstly lay out the range of options available to us and then to discuss a number of possible scenarios that make use of them.

There are many ways to move troops and equipment from orbit around a target planet to the surface of that planet. Again I will drawn on the MSIF equipment with which I am familiar but, as with all my examples, other nations have their equivalents.

Firstly, and most conventionally, there are space planes. These vehicles use aerobraking to reduce their orbital velocity and once in the atmosphere are capable of normal flight. Most space planes require a significant length of runway to land and to take off from once their cargoes are discharged. There are a number of military space planes however that can operate from shorter or impromptu runways (such as the Pelican or Tournade II) and in the last few years a number of nations have introduced VTOL space planes that require no runway at all. Examples of this latter group are the French Zenith and the British Raven.

The second option is the use of rotons. If a space plane is an interface vehicle based upon an aeroplane then a roton is an interface vehicle based upon a helicopter. As such rotons, which also use aerobraking to reduce orbital velocity, are capable of vertical flight and consequently require no runway for landing or take off.

The third and final option (assuming the enemy has not been kind enough to provide a functioning and undefended beanstalk) is the use of drop capsules. These are essentially single-use shells built around their cargo. Drop capsules are regularly used in colonial operations and basically fall into two categories. The first is a simple ballistic design that wraps a heat shield around the cargo and slows the final, vertical, descent with parachutes or rockets. The second uses an aerodynamic lifting body to protect the cargo. This gives the added advantage of controllable flight within the atmosphere and reduced vertical descent rates. The Metal class freight containers are good examples of the former type of drop capsule while the Vairon drop capsule, used by the Asterie class colony ship, is a good example of the latter. The Vairon is a large example of the class, capable of transporting 10,000 tonnes of cargo. From a military standpoint however it has the disadvantage of requiring a relatively high speed water landing and port facilities for unloading. There are however several ways in which these basic civilian designs can be modified to increase their military utility.

Smaller capsules can be fitted with parafoils. These give significantly improved lift to lifting bodies, and therefore allow much lower velocity landings making a ground touchdown practicable, and give ballistic capsules an aerodynamic flight capability. Capsules can also be fitted with crash bags and braking rockets to soften ground landings. One other option, for those capsules carrying a functioning vehicle capable of flight, is to release the cargo at some stage during the descent and to allow it to proceed under its own power. This type of drop capsule, commonly known as a drop shell, is useful in the deployment of aircraft, missiles and hover vehicles with a jump jet capability.

While the types and numbers of available interface vehicles are obviously an important component of the drop phase there are also other considerations.The most significant of these is the capacity to transfer men and materiel from their interstellar transports to the relevant interface vehicles. This is especially true of troops as much of the materiel can be transported pre-loaded in drop capsules of one kind or another and ground troops are not normally experienced in zero-G operations. Indeed the transfer capacity is often the limiting part of the Drop stage and it tends to be this that determines the numbers of participating interface vehicles and interstellar transports.

Transfer capacity is normally measured as the number of men that can be transferred from their interstellar transport into an interface vehicle and to the planet's surface per hour of operations. The process is normally limited by bottlenecks in the process at one of three phases of the operation. Essentially these are transfer from the interstellar transport to the interface dockside, transfer from the dockside to the interface vehicle and the round trip time for the interface vehicle (the latter is of course also modified by the number and capacity of interface vehicles). The round trip time is the time from one undocking to the next, including flight time down the gravity well, unloading at the planet head, flight time back up the gravity well, refuelling and return to the docking port. Transfer capacity can also vary over time in that it may be possible to sustain very high capacities for short periods of time (known as surge operations) but over the longer term overall capacity is significantly reduced.

The MSIF has addressed the transfer capacity problem in a number of ways, some of which I have already touched on. I will outline three of these solutions the first of which has addressed the need for short duration, high capacity operations, the second which can maintain a moderate capacity over a long duration and the third which enhances the inter operability of the whole range of interstellar and interface vessels.

Firstly the Verdun class LSAs provide a very high surge transfer capacity as the troops are housed in the vessel (making transfer to the dockside negligible) and the vessel has 12 internal hanger bays. Thus while the internal complement of troops is being dropped the capacity is limited only by the round trip time and the number of space planes. However once all the internal troops have been dropped the capacity is then limited by the need to transfer troops from other interstellar vessels. Nevertheless the very high surge capacity is vital in establishing a secure planet head at the start of the assault.

Secondly the Asterie class colony ships can be fitted with an interface docking port capable of docking up to four Pelican slew wing space planes simultaneously. Indeed, as I mentioned before, it is possible to detach the interface dock so that other Asterie vessels can make use of the facilities. As the Asterie dock operates under spin gravity and only a single interface vehicle can dock or undock at any one time the transfer capacity is limited. However, unlike the Verdun LSA, this capacity can be maintained almost indefinitely as emptied Asterie Colonist Modules (known as MCAs) can be detached from the interface dock and fully loaded MCAs attached, all without interrupting interface operations.

Thirdly an alternative Asterie docking system has also been developed that forgoes the use of spin gravity but provides universal docking adapters to allow the full range of interface vehicles and interstellar vessels to dock with the MCAs and each other. In this case the transfer capacity is not limited by the docking capacity but by the rate of transfer from the interstellar vessel to the interface dock.

Having reviewed the range of interface options available to us I will now discuss the ways in which they can be combined with the men and materiel required for planetary operations to bring interplanetary war to the target world.

The combination of troops, materiel, interstellar transports, interface vehicles and other equipment required for any operation will depend upon the circumstances of the individual operation. The circumstances themselves are determined by the available resources with which to mount the assault and the opposition present on the target world, as well as the general state of the interstellar war.

As we are drawing short of time, and I wish to give you all the opportunity of questions once I am done, I will limit myself to the most common of the many possible drop scenarios.

For the purpose of simplifying today's discussion let us assume that the target is a human colony world completely in the hands of the enemy with no secure, friendly areas on the planet surface. I will further assume that the orbit of the target world has been secured by friendly naval forces and that the system and supply lines to it are adequately defended from enemy interference. Of course war is not really like this, no matter how much some commanders might wish it so, and there is always the constant threat of enemy action.

In these circumstance our goal is obviously to liberate the human colony, with the minimum of damage to colonial infrastructure and the minimum loss of human life. The enemy will presumably be concentrated in the colonial areas, as this is where the usable resources are. In addition the Kafers know that we will be unwilling to simply resort to carpet bombing colonial areas due to the presence of human civilians. Thus holding the colonies gives them protection from our most powerful weaponry.

The sequence I am about to outline is a very idealised, deliberate one allowing sufficient time to resolve the difficulties encountered at each stage before proceeding to the next. In the real world there is usually at least one constraint that requires commanders to rush, combine or miss out completely one or more of the following stages.

The first key decision is how close to the colony we should attempt to land. A close landing minimises supply lines from the planet head to the battle front but makes the initial landings more vulnerable to counter attack. This is a difficult balance to strike and the final answer will depend upon the individual circumstances.

The choice of landing area must also be informed by the ease of setting up landing facilities on the planet's surface. While some of our interface capability (such as the rotons and VTOL space planes) does not require any runway at all the majority does require a paved surface of reasonable length in order to land and take off again. Also most drop capsules require planetary facilities for reliable landing and unloading. The ideal scenario would be to seize a runway as part of the initial assault. This would obviously make reinforcement and supply of the planet head far easier. The downside of course is that the enemy also knows this and is likely to either guard any suitable runway or simply destroy it as soon as our forces enter orbit.

Once the landing site has been selected then a number of preparatory operations are necessary before the landing can begin. The first of these, which actually would probably have commenced as soon as human forces entered orbit, is the orbital bombardment of enemy facilities. This will hopefully kill a good number and hamper the operations of the remainder. However, as I mentioned before, it is likely that the enemy will be in close proximity to civilians which will severely limit the available targets. Next would be the insertion of intelligence gathering assets onto the planet. This could be special forces delivered by roton, crewed hover vehicles delivered by roton or drop shell or remotely piloted vehicles of one sort of another - again delivered by roton or drop shell. These assets would attempt to obtain intelligence on enemy locations, scout out possible landing sites and possibly contact local resistance or stay-behind forces. Most, if not all, these insertions would be to remote locations making them difficult for the enemy to locate and intercept. Once delivered the assets would then have to make their own way to colony areas to conduct their intelligence gathering.

Once sufficient intelligence was available special and pathfinder forces would be inserted, again initially to remote locations, to provide forward observation for orbital bombardment, secure landing zones and to attack key targets not amenable to orbital attack. Such activity would not of course be concentrated around the proposed landing site but would be dispersed to give the enemy the minimum amount of warning as to the eventual location of the planet head.

The attack proper would normally commence with the deployment of remotely piloted vehicles via rotons or drop shells to secure the airspace around the planet head. These would consist of RPVs such as the Longview LTA Airborne Early Warning drone to provide sensor coverage and the Hydra LTA Air Defence platform. The later, for those of you not familiar with it, is a LTA vehicle carrying multiple air-to-air and anti-missile missiles in cell launchers that can salvo large numbers of missiles simultaneously under control of the Longview. Both LTA vehicles are air deployable from a drop shell and have long duration loiter times allowing them to maintain coverage for a significant period.

With air cover in place the initial landings can begin. As it is unlikely that suitable runways (or equivalents) will be undefended this will of necessity be by drop capsule, drop shell, roton or VTOL space plane. Suitably adapted hover tanks and APCs can be deployed by drop shell, fully crewed and armed. Infantry can be deployed by roton or space plane and heavy equipment and supplies by drop capsule - although only smaller capsules can usefully be used in the absence of handling facilities. The initial drop, as well as securing the main planet head, would typically place blocking forces on the likely approach routes for an enemy counter attack. At the planet head, while the perimeter was being secured, engineering assets would commence the construction (or repair) of minimal runway facilities to allow space planes and larger drop capsules to operate.

Once the first wave has been landed there is normally a pause in interface traffic while the vehicles return to orbit and reload and landing facilities are prepared. The destination of the second wave of landings, using the returning VTOL capable craft, will depend upon the initial actions of the enemy. The intention would be to reinforce those positions most under threat as quickly and directly as possible. It is at this point that any landing is most vulnerable. The surge capacity of any attacking force is likely to be exhausted after one or two sorties (the Verdun class LSAs for instance can land their entire troop compliment in two sorties of their landers). Thus any further substantial reinforcement relies on the rapid construction of a runway and drop capsule handling facilities. Until that time however the planet head is vulnerable to a counter attack.

This critical dependence on runway construction has led to the formation of dedicated construction engineering teams formed from the EdI's Operations Flotilla and the Intervention Brigade's organic Engineer Company - known as the Groupement de Construction de la Piste or GCP. They in turn have developed a number of specialist construction techniques and equipment. As the GCP play such a crucial part of the drop phase I will attempt to briefly outline their operations.

Members of the GCP will join pathfinder units deployed before the main landing in order to properly survey potential landing sites and prepare detailed plans and schedules. The GCP's equipment is delivered in drop capsules as part of the first wave and the team themselves would be delivered by roton only just behind the first troops. The first task is to clear the site of obstructions, this process is aided by the bombardment of the site, prior to landing, by specialist air-bust munitions that knock down any large vegetation present. Any remaining obstructions are also cleared explosively and the ground is then graded to provide a relatively flat surface.

The runway is constructed from a series of interlocking, inflatable cells, constructed of high strength fibre textiles. These are laid out on the prepared surface and secured to the ground by explosively driven, self deploying piles. Each cell is then filled with a mixture of foaming, quick curing polymer (for rigidity) and water (for mass) to produce a common flat surface for the runway. The "inflatable" runway provides a very quick construction method that minimises the mass of material that needs to be transported. The system also allows easy repair (if damaged by enemy attack or a crash landing) as each cell can be deflated, severed from its securing piles and replaced with a new one. The main drawback is that the cell filling is not very durable and the runway can only be used for a limited number of landings.

While the runway is under construction other teams from the GCP erect instrument landing systems, navigation beacons and cargo handling equipment. A water filtration plant is also set up, firstly to supply clean water for the runway cell inflation and secondly to provide feed stock for hydrogen generation plant. This latter may be in orbit, in which case the water is lifted by the otherwise empty interface vehicles and the hydrogen fuel returned on subsequent flights. Alternatively once the planet head is fully secured a modular nuclear reactor may be dropped from orbit to provide local power.

Once the runway is completed conventional interface operations can begin, initially with Short Takeoff and Landing space planes (such as the Pelican) and, as the runway is lengthened, by standard civilian models. This third wave of landings brings down the main body of the invasion force and the heavy equipment.

At this point the Drop stage gradually transforms into the Support stage as the combat moves away from the planet head.

Fight : Combat on the Target World

The Fight stage of interplanetary warfare begins almost as soon as the invasion fleet enters orbit with the bombardment of planetary targets. I have already mentioned most of the early stages of the Fight stage in our discussion of the Drop stage - intelligence gathering, pathfinder operations, securing the planet head and the placement of blocking forces.

I do not intend to elaborate much more on the Fight stage - that is the subject for a whole lecture in itself. I will mention however a few aspects that have an impact on those stages that I am dealing with today.

By definition interplanetary warfare requires the transport of the bulk of the military equipment from the core to the target. This means that the heavy equipment (main battle tanks, heavy artillery, a wide range of specialist combat aircraft etc.) typical of recent terrestrial wars are impractical. Consequently the type of equipment deployed for the Fight stage of interplanetary war is what would be regarded as suitable for air mobile operations on Earth. Thus hover armoured vehicles, combat walkers, multi-role combat aircraft and light infantry are the order of the day. These types of unit are also used to operating at the end of long supply lines - a necessity when the nearest supply depot is tens of light years away. There are of course some exceptions to this rule witness the Kafer "Behemoth" heavy tanks encountered on Aurora.

To date the first interplanetary war has taken place on the human colony worlds of the French Arm. All of these worlds have been, with the possible exception of BCV, sparsely populated with one or more colony areas surrounded by untouched wilderness. Also the population and resources of each colony area tend to be concentrated in turn in one or two cities. In the context of interplanetary warfare this has a number of consequences.

Firstly planet heads tend to be established at some distance from the colony areas to give the assaulting forces time to establish their defences before a significant counter attack can be mounted. This has resulted in campaigns that start off with a manoeuvre phase as the attackers make their way from the planet head towards the colony followed by assaults on enemy concentrations in urban centres. This latter facet is actually one of the few differences between human and Kafer assaults. For Kafer attackers urban centres offer the defenders no particular protection from orbital bombardment, the only advantage to the human defenders is concealment and cover. When humans are on the offensive however the presence of large numbers of civilians significantly inhibits the use of more destructive weaponry.

Support : Maintaining Interplanetary Operations

Once the fighting is underway the issue of supporting the ongoing campaign becomes an increasingly important concern. The Support stage can also be viewed as a repeat or continuation of the first four stages (Raise, Lift, Transport and Drop) however it has a number of distinct features not already covered in our previous discussions.

Supplies and reinforcements can be dropped to the advancing forces either via the original planet head, using facilities captured during the campaign or directly via drop capsule or roton. If all is going to plan supply, while still a complex logistical problem, is relatively straight forward. If things take a turn of the worse however supplying retreating forces can be both difficult and hazardous. As forces advance they are often able to capture intact, or repairable, runways allowing the supply point to be moved closer to the battle front. Alternatively new, temporary runways closer to the front can be constructed by the GCP. In the case of a retreat forces tend to fall back on the planet head however if the planet head is lost or interdicted then the situation can become dire. If the planet head is unavailable the only way to resupply troops is via roton, VTOL space plane or drop capsule. While such methods can support small numbers of troops they cannot sustain large forces and by the time such a situation arises evacuation should be underway.

In an interplanetary war supply lines are tens of light years long. In fact the distances and travel times are so long that supply ships and reinforcements have to depart well before the assault fleet arrives at its target. As a consequence supplies cannot be called up depending upon events on the ground - by the time a request had made it back to the core, been processed and the equipment shipped out several months may have passed. Instead supply deliveries have to planned in advance with sufficient flexibility in the delivered loads to accommodate deviations from the plan.

The need to cover as many eventualities as practicable inevitably leads to the shipping of significantly more supplies and equipment than are actually required. One of the key aspects of the Support stage is ensuring that only those supplies needed on the planet are dropped down the gravity well. This has been particularly critical in recent operations where human forces have been required to mount assaults on a number of worlds. Any item of equipment that is dropped on one planet is almost certainly useless for deployment elsewhere due to the lack of lift capacity on the colony worlds. In fact we have a saying in the EdI - "What goes down stays down." As a rule the only part of an invasion force that is returned to orbit following the defeat of the enemy are the troops with a bare minimum of equipment. There is rarely sufficient intact interface capacity to return any of the heavier equipment to orbit. It is normally significantly cheaper and quicker to supply new equipment from the core and to utilise any surplus equipment remaining in orbit.


To summarise tonight's lecture.

Humanity is fighting it's first interplanetary war against the Kafers involving the movement of men and materiel from our home worlds to the colony worlds threatened or invaded by the enemy. This new form of warfare has required us, over the last four years, to invent new strategies and tactics to liberate our occupied colonies. I have argued that the prosecution of an interplanetary war can usefully be analysed as a six stage process. The six stages have been characterised as Raise, Lift, Transport, Drop, Fight and Support and I have discussed each in turn as they pertain to my experience in the Escadre d'Interface.

I hope that you have found this, perhaps, unfamiliar view of an all too familiar conflict a useful one and that it has given you an appreciation of some of the wider problems involved in fighting an interplanetary war.

Finally I should like to thank you all for your kind attention and hand you back to Commandant Morris who will chair the Question and Answer session. Thank you.

Questions and Answers

Commandant Morris (RWJSI) :

Ladies and Gentlemen when I select you please state your name, service and question for Vice-amiral Nathan.

Major Pieter Moerdani (Royal Doorn Regiment) :

Amiral, during your discussion of the Transport stage you mentioned the Asterie colony vessel and the Verdun and Normandy class LSAs. The RSN also operates a number of VC class troopships, each capable of carrying a battalion, what other specialist vessels does the MSIF operate?

Thank you for your question Major. I'm afraid I did not have time to go into any more detail about the range of specialist vessels utilised during a planetary assault. To briefly answer your question other specialist vessels include drop capsule and drop shell carriers, mobile docks, fuel and armament transporters and orbital bombardment ships. These are a mixture of stutterwarp and reaction drive vehicles. The deployment of drop shells is a good example which makes use of three of these. Firstly the shells and their cargoes are delivered mothballed to orbit by stutterwarp transport. There they are transferred to a specialist maintenance dock and prepared for action. Finally they are transferred to a reaction drive carrier which deorbits a cluster of drop shells and decoys simultaneously. Nathan.

Commander J.J. Luck (RSN) :

Amiral, what role do you see orbital strikes and bombardment having in such a campaign? What sort of weapons should be brought to bear?

First of all let me attempt to set the scene for those less familiar with the intricacies of Orbital Bombardment.

Like all missile combat Orbital Bombardment requires the ability to locate the target and the ability to strike it.

Orbital Bombardment differs from "normal" artillery bombardment due to three main factors.

  • Firstly the relative positions of the target and the weapon platform. The bombarding vessel can be a long distance (several hundred kilometres) from the target and with a very high relative velocity.
  • Secondly the angle of attack. The bombarding vessel is generally above the target .
  • Thirdly and finally there is a change in medium. Any Orbital Bombardment must first pass through vacuum before entering the planetary atmosphere and finally striking the target.

These in turn result in difficulty in target aquisition (a long way away, only visible for part of the orbit, obscured by full depth of atmosphere etc.) and a large delay between release of the munitions and their impact on the target.

In practice there are essentially three defining factors for targets for Orbital Bombardment : Size, Concealment and Movement. The latter relates to movement on the timescale of weapon release to weapon impact.

The easiest targets are large, in the open and stationary the hardest are small, concealed and/or moving.

In order to effectively strike any given target with Orbital Bombardment we need to match both target location and target strike with its defining factors.

Targets can be located in three ways - directly from the bombarding vessel, by a forward observer (friendly ground troops, RPV drones) or autonomously by the weapon.

Targets can be damaged in two ways - by the kinetic energy of the weapon due to the fall from orbit or by delivering a conventional weapon (explosive, chemical, nuclear) on to the target.

Now to finally answer your original question.

In the context of Interplanetary War Orbital Bombardemnt is a necessary tool for the invader. Orbital Bombardment is vital to destroying the enemies fixed positions, denying him the use of infrastructure (roads, runways, secure comms) and supporting friendly ground forces. Note that in the 1st Interplanetary War (to date) Human and Kafer use of Orbital Bombardment has been very different due to the presence of human civilians and valuable (to humanity) real estate. Thus Human Orbital Bombardment has been (largely) limited and precise while Kafer Orbital Bombardment has been indiscriminate and overwhelming.

As I've already noted weapon selection is dependent upon the target.

Large targets, in the open and stationary (for example runways, bridges, roads etc.) normally receive orbitally targetted Kinetic Energy weapons for destruction or orbitally targetted mine dispersal for denial, weapon guidance via GPS or inertial.

Concealed, stationary targets (such as bunkers, prepared defensive positions) require forward observation providing co-ordinates and GPS or inertially guided munitions. Kinetic Energy for bunker busting, flechette or cluster munitions for soft targets.

Small and moving targets (like troops and tanks) need forward observation with laser painting of the target for laser seeking munitions. Alternatively area bombardment with autonomous target seeking munitions or mine dispersal can be used.

These missions require a range of munitions. Stationary target weapons can be relatively simple combined re-entry vehicle and weapon while moving target weapons are more likely to be conventional weapons of the relevant type delivered by drop shell. The RSN's Striker Ground Attack missile is a good example of both. In normal mode it is a stationary target weapon capable of delivering a range of warheads to a fixed point. However it can also act as a drop shell for an ARM with autonomous target seeking.

I trust that I have gone some way to answering your query - and my apologies to those of you already familiar with the subject for the basic introduction.

Notes to Editors

The Lecture was originally given in French. Translation and transcription was provided by Polyglot V12.3 using the Janes' 2301 Anglo/French Military Dictionary.

The text of the original lecture was edited by the RWJSI Secretariat to remove any classified data. The edited text was subsequently approved by Vice-amiral Nathan.

The text of this press release has been cleared for issue to the public by the RWJSI Secretariat and MSIF Media Ops. Persons with a security clearance wishing to view the original text should contact either RWJSI Library or MSIF EdI Ecole d' Interface Choc.

Vice-amiral Jean Michel Nathan is Commandant de Recherche of the Marine Spatiale Imperial Francaise, Escadre d'Interface, Ecole d' Assaut Interface Spatiale (Research Director of the Imperial French Space Navy, Interface Fleet, Interface Assault School).

Vice-amiral Jean Michel Nathan has had a distinguished career in the MSIF EdI. He served as an Escadron commander during the Elysian campaign on Joi, 61 Ursae Majoris. During the First Interplanetary War he has served as a Station Commander on BCV, commander of the 1re DdD during the liberation of BCV and was appointed, six months ago, as Commandant de Recherche of the Ecole d' Assaut Interface Spatiale.

The Escadre d'Interface (Interface Fleet) is the organisation within the MSIF responsible for the operation of all interface vehicles.

The Ecole d' Assaut Interface Spatiale (Interface Assault School) is dedicated to the evolution and revolution of interface assault tactics for the Escadre d'Interface (EdI).

The Gare des Etoiles is France's colonial orbital above the Earth.

The Crystal Palace is France's primary military orbital above the Earth.

Further information on the Asterie class colony vessel can be found at the following link.

Further information on the MSIF Verdun class Landing Assault Ship (LSA) can be found at the following link. Note that

Further information on the RSN Normandy class Landing Assault Ship (LSA) can be found at the following link. Note that

Further information on military specification rotons can be found at the following link.

Design Notes

The contents of this lecture represent my view of interplanetary warfare in the canon 2300ad universe, as interpreted by the Etranger Site.

I intend to include any relevant discussion of this article on the Etranger List or directly as part of the Q and A session - so please supply a nomme de guerre and parent service as requested by Commandant Morris! I'll credit all questions in future versions of these notes.

Major Pieter Moerdani : Dan Hebditch

Captain J.J. Luck : Bryn Monnery

Version 1.1


Copyright J.M. Pearson, 2003