In this scenario let's assume that we have the technology, and exotic matter to build one and have the energy to reach the 0.62912863×10^11 GJ (700 kg mass energy equivalent) requirement under Harold Whites' equations.

The biggest downside of warp drives is they create potentially planet destroying shockwaves when they halt on destination. Could this end fleet, on fleet combat, because all you have to do is point a warpdrive at the enemy and everything within a lightsecond or more is obliterated, making ships die so easily it would be expensive to have them?


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    $\begingroup$ What do you mean by the "end" of fleet-on-fleet combat? We've never had any space combat, so there's nothing to end. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Apr 4, 2018 at 10:27
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ The end of the idea DUN DUN DUN..... $\endgroup$
    – Efialtes
    Apr 4, 2018 at 10:30
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Would a scientifically plausible hard science fiction universe ever have fleet-on-fleet combat? $\endgroup$
    – Philipp
    Apr 4, 2018 at 10:58
  • $\begingroup$ Not the fleet combat of the 1800s, it would be a more long range affair, more like an aerial dogfight with sniper rifles. $\endgroup$
    – Efialtes
    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:24
  • $\begingroup$ Apart from anything else (like Mike Scott's comment) you don't link to a source for your claim of how this works, making it unlikely anyone will look it up to check your conclusions/ideas. $\endgroup$ Apr 4, 2018 at 12:14

5 Answers 5


Each new weapon or technological development simply changes the means of combat, but so long as we are humans, and driven by things like fear, anger, duty or seeking glory, then humans will discover ways to carry on fighting. Humans still fight wars, and even conventional wars despite may of the combatants being armed with nuclear weapons.

The idea that an Alcubierre warp drive releases a massive radiation "pulse" when the drive bubble is collapsed is interesting, but it simply places new constraints and restraints on both the individual ship Captains and the organizations controlling the ships.

For Captains, they will need a very accurate plot of where their compatriots are going to be in space, to avoid "frying" their own ships in "Blue on Blue" events. Given the radiation pulse is thought to have a range of one light second, it suggests that the tactics in a squadron or flotilla will need to take light second spacing into account when planning manoeuvres. This immediately makes many traditional ideas of fleet manoeuvre and battle obsolete: one light second is almost the distance from the Earth to the Moon. Mutual support between ships will be exceedingly difficult, and ships themselves may have to become quite massive to both fight individually (since support os a light second away), and also to house weapons that can be effective against targets a light second away (anyone who was closer when you exited warp is already a casualty).

The Atomic Rockets "Conventional Weapons" page outlines a laser weapon which fits the bill, but the Ravening Beam of Death (RBoD) is a Free Electron Laser driven by an electron beam accelerator a kilometre in diameter, which gives you an idea of the size of the ship

enter image description here

Ravening Beam of Death

At 1 light second, therefore, the beam is depositing 2E12 W/cm3 in iron at the surface and 7E11 W/cm3 at 0.25 cm depth; 1.2E11 W/cm3 in graphite at the surface and 5E10 W/cm3 at 4 cm depth; and 2E11 W/cm3 in glass at the surface and 7E10 W/cm3 at 2.5 cm depth. Using 6E4 J/cm3 to vaporize iron initially at 300 K, we find that iron flashes to vapor within a microsecond to a depth of 0.9 cm. The glass, assumed to take 4.5E4 J/cm3 to vaporize (roughly appropriate for quartz) will flash to vapor within a microsecond to a depth of 4 cm within a microsecond. Graphite, at 1E5 J/cm3 for vaporization, will flash to vapor to a depth of 0.7 cm within a microsecond (the laser performs better if we let it dwell on graphite for a bit longer, we get a vaporization depth of 10 cm after ten microseconds).

So instead of close combat or exciting dogfights between ships, we have massive arsenal ships mounting gigantic laser weapons. The ships are dispersed in an "open" grid over an imaginary sphere, separated by a minimum of one light seconds distance. The enemy is also widely dispersed, to avoid being fried by the energetic release of photons when the invading fleet arrives, and so are similarly sized and equipped, capable and indeed having to fight on their own, at extreme ranges, in order to prevent themselves from being fried by the energetic radiation of their own or the enemy fleet's Alcubierre drives.

enter image description here

Ships arrayed o this grid would be a minimum of 300,000Km apart

Fleet tactics and strategy will be driven by these extreme ranges, and ship design will emphasize the ability of ships to fight without any form of close support, trusting other ships in the grid to prevent enemy ships from gaining the position to do a flank shot.


Perhaps you've discovered the answer to the Fermi paradox - if there is an invention that makes it so easy to obliterate a planet with no effort, then it isn't war we are talking about, it's simply The End.

You wouldn't need any fleet to fleet combat. You wouldn't need fleets. You wouldn't need any ships - just an engine, point in a direction, and presto - complete destruction faster than a blink of an eye (in fact even the light from your destruction wouldn't reach you till years later).

Such a horrifying thought.

Even more horrifying though is combining it with a Von Neumann probe - ie a self replicating planet obliterating tide of wanton senseless destruction that can quickly turn the galaxy, actually the universe, into a swirling mass of entropy, at the simple whim of the lowest common denominator.

Actually, perhaps that's why we haven't yet encountered other aliens: we could be the first to end it all...


As far as the Alcubierre Drive goes, even a small trading vessel with one on it could become the next Death Star, unless some form of technology that prevents all that radiation from escaping in the first place is developed.

You could just fly in circles with that thing for a couple of days, then go to the enemy's homeworld and roast half the biosphere and atmosphere off. And if life turned out to be plentiful in the universe ( and by that I mean dumb life not intelligent one necessarily ), it could even be seen as 'ethical'.

I mean, for 50 years most of us believed that bringing the literal end of the world in the name of eradicating communism was 'ethical'.

And it's harder for a human to be emphatic with an alien, so in a literal war with them, it won't be hard to pull off some propaganda to make the people believe it's 'ethical', unless you have slow comumunication.

And when it comes to fleet-to-fleet combat, see what Thucydides wrote.


A 2002 paper by Jose Natario argues that an Alcubierre drive would be incapable of steering or stopping under its own power. This implies that if they're capable of stopping, it's because something external to the ship has stopped them; that there's some sort of "warp gate" that is capable of detecting and collapsing the bubble.

This, in turn, would imply that space warfare would revolve around the defense and assault of these warp gates, with all the forces possessed by the local power assaulting the attackers as they arrive one-by-one.


Could this end fleet, on fleet combat, because all you have to do is point a wapdrive at the enemy and everything within a lightsecond or more is obliterated, making ships die so easily it would be expensive to have them?

The atomic and hydrogen bombs were supposed to end warfare, but they didn't, because obliterating everything is seen as uncivilized overkill. It's why we didn't nuke North Korea and North Vietnam.

Likewise, the alcubierre drive (aka doomsday device) would be used in a Total War scenario, but there's a heck of a lot of war "below" Total War.

  • $\begingroup$ I did not mean it used to destroy planets, but to obliterate star-ship formations from light seconds away. $\endgroup$
    – Efialtes
    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:27
  • $\begingroup$ of course destroying planets is so uncivilized. $\endgroup$
    – Efialtes
    Apr 4, 2018 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ @Efialtes we don't even know what space combat would look like, since the distances are so enormous, lasers aren't phasers and missiles & KEPs take time to get where they're going. (There are lots of questions regarding it on WB.) $\endgroup$
    – RonJohn
    Apr 4, 2018 at 12:24
  • $\begingroup$ I would say that the atomic and hydrogen bombs did end the idea of warfare nations that had gone into Total War periods like those characterized by WWI and WWII. Warfare still exists, but it's not on the scale of the early conflicts of the 20th century. $\endgroup$
    – hszmv
    Apr 4, 2018 at 17:04

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