Space Combat

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Eureka!
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Space Combat

Postby Eureka! » Sat Apr 03, 2010 8:15 pm UTC

After marathoning Star Wars and laughing at how impossible the physics are, I was wondering how real space combat might work.

There's no sound in space, or shockwaves, so we can take that out of the equation.

There's also no air resistance, so in theory there's no maximum speed. So I figure that space fighters wouldn't have a maximum speed. So then would combat be based on purely on the ability to out accelerate each other? Also, wouldn't it be possible, with enough fuel, to keep accelerating until you hit the speed of light?

Iunno, after growing up watching all these sci-fi space battles, I wonder how one might really work in space.

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Re: Space Combat

Postby Josephine » Sat Apr 03, 2010 8:26 pm UTC

Space warfare is likely to be very long range. fighters are generally useless in space. It would probably be more like a few stations, perhaps unmanned, firing railguns at each other. Nothing like Star Wars.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Robert'); DROP TABLE *; » Sat Apr 03, 2010 9:02 pm UTC

There are two very major things that make combat in space different from combat in an atmosphere:
  1. It is nigh-impossible to hide. Any manned spacecraft will be hot, and thus will put out a huge amount (compared to the interstellar medium) of infrared radiation.
  2. The distances involved are very large. (Because everything is visible at stupendously long range, however has a longer-ranged-but-still-accurate weapon essentially wins.) Because the distances are so large, dumb missiles can be avoided easily, and lasers will diffract too much to deal any damage.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Hooch » Sat Apr 03, 2010 9:11 pm UTC

What effects does firing a vehicle's weapons (particularly an automatic weapon) have on it speed?
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Re: Space Combat

Postby SecondTalon » Sat Apr 03, 2010 9:14 pm UTC

You want this thread.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby -KF- » Sat Apr 03, 2010 9:37 pm UTC

I would guess that space combat would be similar to naval combat - large ships firing at each other over long distances. No fighters involved at all.

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Re: Space Combat

Postby Dave_Wise » Sat Apr 03, 2010 9:57 pm UTC

You're probably right, given that any manouver more complicated or sharp than a gradual, smooth turn is impossible to a spacecraft, reason being that an object in motion etc. and there is no air resistance to steer the craft.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby SecondTalon » Sat Apr 03, 2010 10:30 pm UTC

Why pay 1,000,000 for a manned fighter, another 500,000 for the training, and 10,000,000 + 750,000 per operator for the rescue shuttle when you can just drop 100,000 on a guided missile?*



*All currency in SPACEBUX!
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Aaeriele » Sat Apr 03, 2010 10:32 pm UTC

This game attempts to be a bit more "realistic" about space combat: http://www.shatteredhorizon.com/
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Fin Archangel » Sat Apr 03, 2010 11:05 pm UTC

Made me think back to the Ender's Game series, where Ender (or was it Bean? Can't remember) considers how to defend in a space battle, the problem being that static defenses are completely useless since there is a spherical object that can be attacked from every direction (a planet).

I would venture to say that if true space combat was developed planets would have to outfitted with huge amounts of defense and weaponry and basically just be large space stations.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby You, sir, name? » Sun Apr 04, 2010 1:26 am UTC

My feeling is that space combat sans massive hand waving really isn't particularly feasible. You're just too vulnerable, and you can't hide. Considering the huge investment of building just a handful of space vessels, compared to how cheap it is to cause massive damage to said ships with something like a nuke (yes, even without the atmosphere to transfer a shock wave).

Space combat would subsequently have to be exclusively through small unmanned vessels (as there is just no way something a manned vessel can outmaneuver something that can stand say 250 G). Which really isn't particularly effective as controlling these unmanned vessels becomes a problem, especially so authenticating their orders.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Fin Archangel » Sun Apr 04, 2010 5:17 am UTC

You, sir, name? wrote:My feeling is that space combat sans massive hand waving really isn't particularly feasible. You're just too vulnerable, and you can't hide. Considering the huge investment of building just a handful of space vessels, compared to how cheap it is to cause massive damage to said ships with something like a nuke (yes, even without the atmosphere to transfer a shock wave).

Space combat would subsequently have to be exclusively through small unmanned vessels (as there is just no way something a manned vessel can outmaneuver something that can stand say 250 G). Which really isn't particularly effective as controlling these unmanned vessels becomes a problem, especially so authenticating their orders.


Really? From the first part of your argument I got the feeling that the battles would be waged between large parties that launched big nukes at each other. (i.e. like what people expected the Cold War to turn out into)

For example, if the moon was built into such a station, small planes would have lots and lots of trouble actually doing anything to it short of bombers, and that would require lots and lots of bombers to cover the entire area, and if the moon had a defense fleet or turrets or spare nukes to just Wrath of God the smaller planes. A barrage of long-ranged missiles launched with space in between from many directions could do the job much better and much cheaper (consider the raw mass of resources require to construct a large fighter/bomber fleet and the nrg needed to power all of them to a faraway location, even in space.)

I think space warfare may develop into simply battles of attrition - you send more nukes than they have anti-nukes.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby CHR1110 » Sun Apr 04, 2010 7:02 am UTC

Real life space combat?

Remember Missile Command?

Yeah. It'd probably be like that.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Aaeriele » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:47 am UTC

Fin Archangel wrote:I think space warfare may develop into simply battles of attrition - you send more nukes than they have anti-nukes.


Alternatively, you send in a few nukes and a lot of things that can't be distinguished via sensing devices from nukes.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby SecondTalon » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:47 am UTC

Why bother with nukes when you can just throw a couple of asteroids at a planet?
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Aaeriele » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:49 am UTC

SecondTalon wrote:Why bother with nukes when you can just throw a couple of asteroids at a planet?


Nukes are lighter.

K.E.W. might be cheaper as far as materials go, but they take a lot more force to aim unless you've got plenty of time on your hands.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby SecondTalon » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:52 am UTC

If you're fighting that sort of war, time is really all you have. I mean, if you're assaulting a planet - you're doing it from the next solar system away, if not farther. Flying a cruiser or something into the system is just asking for your shiny ship to get blasted into vapor. When target's 10 light years away and the fastest you can get something there is a quarter of light speed, what's an extra year or two?
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Dave_Wise » Sun Apr 04, 2010 9:20 am UTC

But given those sorts of paramaters, it's difficult to imagine an interplanetary war ever happening. Even if there was another inhabitable planet within 10 light years, it's hard conceive a situation where the two planets would get sufficiently pissed off with each other for war to occur. They're not exactly in competition for resources, and their politics are pretty much irrelevant to each other. If it's going to take 80 years to intervene, then why bother? The oither planet's socio-economic makeup may very well have changed by that time. War only really becomes a possibility if we invent FTL travel.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Dasboard » Sun Apr 04, 2010 11:41 am UTC

It's just awesome to go to a forum, click on General and then there's a serious discussion about space combat.

Really, this is very awesome.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Jimbobjeff » Sun Apr 04, 2010 11:49 am UTC

This website is very good for this kind of thing, as long as you dont mind constant references to cheesey 60's scifi.

http://www.projectrho.com/rocket/index.html

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Re: Space Combat

Postby quadmaster » Sun Apr 04, 2010 12:00 pm UTC

really, I think you will see the same structure in space warfare as modern warfare now. The consequences of an all out war would be far too devastating for both sides. Instead, the main issue will be space-terrorism, because of the inherent delicacy of space vehicles.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby You, sir, name? » Sun Apr 04, 2010 12:47 pm UTC

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You, sir, name? wrote:My feeling is that space combat sans massive hand waving really isn't particularly feasible. You're just too vulnerable, and you can't hide. Considering the huge investment of building just a handful of space vessels, compared to how cheap it is to cause massive damage to said ships with something like a nuke (yes, even without the atmosphere to transfer a shock wave).

Space combat would subsequently have to be exclusively through small unmanned vessels (as there is just no way something a manned vessel can outmaneuver something that can stand say 250 G). Which really isn't particularly effective as controlling these unmanned vessels becomes a problem, especially so authenticating their orders.


Really? From the first part of your argument I got the feeling that the battles would be waged between large parties that launched big nukes at each other. (i.e. like what people expected the Cold War to turn out into)

For example, if the moon was built into such a station, small planes would have lots and lots of trouble actually doing anything to it short of bombers, and that would require lots and lots of bombers to cover the entire area, and if the moon had a defense fleet or turrets or spare nukes to just Wrath of God the smaller planes. A barrage of long-ranged missiles launched with space in between from many directions could do the job much better and much cheaper (consider the raw mass of resources require to construct a large fighter/bomber fleet and the nrg needed to power all of them to a faraway location, even in space.)

I think space warfare may develop into simply battles of attrition - you send more nukes than they have anti-nukes.


The problem is that there just isn't any feasible way to defend yourself from such nuke-warfare (essentially the same problem that resulted in the cold war stalemate). Decoy missiles have already been mentioned as a serious problem for missile defenses. Furthermore, good old fashioned inertia allows missile barrages to be completely passive (and therefore insanely hard to detect and hard to distinguish from an asteroid or some space debris) most of the journey.

So it's essentially naval battles in glass ships.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Vieto » Sun Apr 04, 2010 1:28 pm UTC

What if, say, there was a war over an asteroid mining colony? Would fighting in an asteroid belt change the dynamics?

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Re: Space Combat

Postby CombustibleLemons » Sun Apr 04, 2010 1:56 pm UTC

space combat would evovle the way that naval combat did. at first there would be huge ships bombarding each other (ie battle ships.) then people would figure out that you could just load a cheaply made ship up with lots of missiles then you'd have a misslecraft carrier.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby silent man » Sun Apr 04, 2010 5:49 pm UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
SexyTalon wrote:Why bother with nukes when you can just throw a couple of asteroids at a planet?


Nukes are lighter.

K.E.W. might be cheaper as far as materials go, but they take a lot more force to aim unless you've got plenty of time on your hands.
On the other hand, a nuke is also much easier to disable. All the defender needs to do is damage the trigger mechanism, or deform/scatter/break a piece off the fissible/fusible material and all you have left is a very expensive, weak and possibly radioactive KEW.
With a designated KEW, the defender must either dodge or transfer enough kinetic energy of his own to make it miss.* With anything less, the best one could achieve is to break it up to spread the impact across a larger area.


*They could also use antimatter to annihilate it, but that would also take huge amounts of energy.

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Re: Space Combat

Postby Fin Archangel » Sun Apr 04, 2010 7:43 pm UTC

Dave_Wise wrote:But given those sorts of paramaters, it's difficult to imagine an interplanetary war ever happening. Even if there was another inhabitable planet within 10 light years, it's hard conceive a situation where the two planets would get sufficiently pissed off with each other for war to occur. They're not exactly in competition for resources, and their politics are pretty much irrelevant to each other. If it's going to take 80 years to intervene, then why bother? The oither planet's socio-economic makeup may very well have changed by that time. War only really becomes a possibility if we invent FTL travel.


This makes a lot of sense, actually, except eventually someone's gonna want to overtake another planet. But yeah, I agree that terrorism and piracy will be the biggest problems, and it is there that ship-to-ship combat will actually matter.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby quadmaster » Sun Apr 04, 2010 7:45 pm UTC

It really would be just like warfare on land now: major powers simply cannot engage in all out war. If they do, certainly neither side wins. It wouldn't even be a war of attrition, each side would simply blow up.

One possible development, though, is treaties against certain strategies to make war possible, as you see today (no one is nuking each other, despite wars everywhere). Why people want to make war possible is anyone's guess.

So, new idea? What would space piracy look like? it would require close proximity and does not run into the issue of 'just nuke the home planet'
Anyone here remember the orion program? that could conceiveably be an actual space pirate ship, because it can actually carry enough armor to survive a hit, as well as weapons. What I could see is accelerating to intercept a valuable cargo from a ways away, pointing the pusher plate at it, and radioing that if the target accelerates or fires weapons it will destroy them. mad is averted if one party will always survive.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Dave_Wise » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:09 pm UTC

This makes a lot of sense, actually, except eventually someone's gonna want to overtake another planet

Sure, but how? If you send a conventional land army to take over another planet, all the soldiers will be past military age by the time you get there, and you will certainly be dead by the time they get back. You could arrange for your descendants to continue your program of conquests, and arrange for your soldiers to train the next generation on the way- with great difficulty, as this would involve accelerating a training area to 0.25c. And most empires seem to fall apart at least partially after the death of the initial conqueror (charlemagne, ghenghis khan, etc.) and the few that don't often have difficult transitionary periods (Rome being the obvious example) Assume we've solved every difficulty except the length of the journey there and back, and it's still going to be next to impossible. How will you establish your chain of command when it takes 10 years to even get a radio signal to your men? What's to stop them joining the enemy or taking the planet for themselves? I'd argue that the difficulties involved are too great. But I suppose, human nature being what it is, that's not going to stop some idiot trying.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Fin Archangel » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:11 pm UTC

FTL travel would solve everything?
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Re: Space Combat

Postby You, sir, name? » Sun Apr 04, 2010 8:34 pm UTC

Fin Archangel wrote:FTL travel would solve everything?


There's nothing to indicate that's even remotely possible. It's a hell of a convenient plot device, but that does not physical laws dictate.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Dave_Wise » Sun Apr 04, 2010 10:10 pm UTC

FTL travel would solve everything?

Magic would solve everything. That doesn't mean we should take it seriously as a solution. Besides which, it would have to be many times faster than light. The roman empire managed to govern an area of land that it would have taken much less than a year to transverse, but only by maintaining large garrisons at strategic points- something that is impossible in the vacumn of space. Sorry to keep shooting everybody down like this, but...
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Re: Space Combat

Postby You, sir, name? » Sun Apr 04, 2010 10:34 pm UTC

Dave_Wise wrote:
FTL travel would solve everything?

Magic would solve everything. That doesn't mean we should take it seriously as a solution. Besides which, it would have to be many times faster than light. The roman empire managed to govern an area of land that it would have taken much less than a year to transverse, but only by maintaining large garrisons at strategic points- something that is impossible in the vacumn of space. Sorry to keep shooting everybody down like this, but...


Yeah. Space empires are definitely out of the window.

Interstellar trade could work to a limited degree and at relatively short distances. Though the commodities traded would have to be exceptionally rare.


Pirates or raiders could hypothetically exist, if nomadic space travel is sustainable (which is debatable).
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Dave_Wise » Sun Apr 04, 2010 11:08 pm UTC

I think if one planet had an overabundance of gold and the other had a calamitous iron shortage, things could work out well, and that's only one of the more obvious scenarios. The commodities would need to be traded in huge quantities to make it worthwhile, and the idea of getting such a huge amount of stuff out of the earth's gravity well quite frankly gives me the screaming heebie jeebies. Interstellar trade is definetly on the agenda though. But I'm not sure about piracy- I have no idea what the difficulties involved in getting two spacecraft to intersect are, but I imagine they're quite large. And the pirates would have somehow to acquire the resources for travel in deep space. That means, above all, food, which they would have to get from a planet. All a government would have to do to prevent space piracy entirely would be to ban bringing food into orbit except under licence. Might not be 100% though.

This could be a really interesting application of the 'how many piano tuners are there in chicago' kind of estimation if I could be bothered to do it at midnight.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Fin Archangel » Mon Apr 05, 2010 12:51 am UTC

I think perhaps there will be mining stations on asteroids and such, where there will be little atmosphere and gravity; perhaps these stations will be self-sustained, as in they can land, mine the asteroid/moon/whatever of resources, then take off, and once they're full, simply go to a planet and make the trade. (It's hard to imagine that it could be profitable otherwise, since you'd have to build a mining station on every one of your mining targets and then periodically go there to pick up stuff. That's assuming the place didn't get ravaged by pirates first.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Aaeriele » Mon Apr 05, 2010 1:01 am UTC

silent man wrote:On the other hand, a nuke is also much easier to disable. All the defender needs to do is damage the trigger mechanism, or deform/scatter/break a piece off the fissible/fusible material and all you have left is a very expensive, weak and possibly radioactive KEW.
With a designated KEW, the defender must either dodge or transfer enough kinetic energy of his own to make it miss.* With anything less, the best one could achieve is to break it up to spread the impact across a larger area.


Space is big relative to your targets, even if you targets are planets. Assuming you can detect the K.E.W. at a decent distance, you don't actually have to expend a lot of energy to make it miss - after all, even a small amount of deflection will result in a large amount of perpendicular distance from the target.

Decoy missiles tend to help with the disabling issue - after all, the attacker only has to win once; the defender has to "win" against everything they can't definitively rule out as a live warhead.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby SummerGlauFan » Mon Apr 05, 2010 1:01 am UTC

Until FTL happens, intersteller warfare is almost certainly not going to happen, barring some highly illogical reason (like religious warfare), and even then would be highly impractical.

Limited to sublight, I agree that mostly pirating, terrorism, or at worst warfare between planets in the same system is the only time you will see combat.

What I believe to be the most likely weapons in space warfare:

1. Very long-range weapons. Combat between ships will require lasers, or possibly guided missiles. Lasers because they go the speed of light and cannot be detected until they hit you, and missiles will likely be cheap to produce and only need to spend fuel to get up to a good speed and change course. Of course, even over long ranges most space vessels probably aren't going to be able to outmaneuver such a missile, and will likely have countermeasures, such as point-defense lasers, interceptor missiles, and maybe decoys.

2. In combat between two relatively stationary targets, nukes and kinetic weapons are your best bet. Railguns/coilguns are your best bet on anything not protected by a dense atmosphere; projectiles can be hurled at very respectable speeds, and the energy they release on impact may even negate the need for explosives (or even nukes!).

3. Drones. The fact of the matter is, especially if dealing with relatively small-scale threats like pirates, reusable, maneuverable unmanned fighters probably will be a weapon of choice. I foresee them deploying nukes, using railguns, etc. on ships, and being an effective screen against missiles (or other drones). Their re-usability would also be a bonus. Finally, since they are unmanned, they can pull G's that would liquefy a human pilot.

4. For taking a planet, you either drop rocks on it, or you detonate nukes at high altitude to cover the planet in EMP. Then you invade. Chances are you probably want the planet relatively intact, so large-scale nuking or dropping extinction-level asteroids will probably be out.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Aaeriele » Mon Apr 05, 2010 1:03 am UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:Chances are you probably want the planet relatively intact, so [...] dropping extinction-level asteroids will probably be out.


Depends on what definition of intact you desire.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby Fin Archangel » Mon Apr 05, 2010 1:08 am UTC

SummerGlauFan wrote:4. For taking a planet, you either drop rocks on it,


Made me lol :D

I think it's most likely that planets will become self-governed, but that there will be lots of alliances between them. Perhaps pseudo-USA?
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Re: Space Combat

Postby SummerGlauFan » Mon Apr 05, 2010 1:15 am UTC

Aaeriele wrote:
SummerGlauFan wrote:Chances are you probably want the planet relatively intact, so [...] dropping extinction-level asteroids will probably be out.


Depends on what definition of intact you desire.


And of course assuming the planet is earth-like to begin with. However, if limited to sublight, I'm guessing a planet with a sustainable ecology is going to be particularly valuable, and hard to replace (even if possible, terraforming would likely take at least a few centuries, but that is somewhat OT), so you probably would not want to muck it up too much.

Fin Archangel wrote:Made me lol :D

I think it's most likely that planets will become self-governed, but that there will be lots of alliances between them. Perhaps pseudo-USA?


Possibly. Maybe something like the Alliance in the Serenity/Firefly universe. Indeed, there may even be separate nations on a single planet.
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Re: Space Combat

Postby extrablue » Mon Apr 05, 2010 4:18 pm UTC

OT

For taking out a planet/population center. What about bio weapons? Why go to all the trouble of big explosions and forces when you could release an aerosol of virus or bacteria that you can genetically aim for a species or class of life.

On reading this what occurred to me is that if everything gets bigger it might go the opposite way from bigger nukes, hotter plasma, larger comets, and go back to cloak and dagger style where one side barricades themselves into their indestructible death star or stasis field, until some double agent or what not betrays them and lets in the others.

More on topic if there were fighter and close combat, wouldn't the fighter be able to move in every direction, not the nice atmosphere style arcs?
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