This is a fairly simple question, and the heading is pretty self explanatory, but I have a feeling there are a lot of implications to it that I haven't thought of. To be more specific, would it be possible to have warships in space that did NOT use the traditional lasers/missiles/projectiles usually depicted in space combat, but instead rammed each other, in the classic greco-roman trireme style? If so, how, and what would be needed to pull this off from a technological/structural standpoint? If not, why?

Once again, I'm essentially envisioning spaceships with the ability to ram each other (instead of shooting each other), thus destroying enemy ships, either by loss of air, severe structural damage, or both.

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    $\begingroup$ Assuming they are moving at lower than light speed and are fairly agile (can be steered quickly), I think it would be possible (like asteroids colliding). I imagine the biggest drawbacks are the same as with any collision-based attack style, which is you invariably do some damage to yourself in the process and risk inflicting on yourself the same risks that you are trying to inflict on your enemy, like loss of air and severe structural damage. This is why armies don't just drive their tanks at other tanks. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 8:53
  • $\begingroup$ Another problem is that it's much riskier to do any kind of close quarters fighting, since you make yourself more vulnerable to counteract. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 9:00
  • $\begingroup$ No brakes in space... $\endgroup$
    – nzaman
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 11:35
  • $\begingroup$ Are you looking for ramming to work at all, or for it to be the weapon of choice in a settings where projectile/energy weapons exist? $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 14:47
  • $\begingroup$ Also, are we talking about "normal", slower-than-light speed space combat or faster-than-light ramming? Both are difficult, but different enough to merit separate questions... $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 14:58

3 Answers 3


The reason why people developed ramming as naval battle technique is pretty simple: there was nothing better at the time, and waiting for archers or sling shooters to be in range and kill the enemy crew would have turned the battles into a boring spreading of arrows and stones into the sea.

Now, I have a hard time imagining a civilization being able to build space ship but nothing better than bows and arrows or slingshots as weapons.

Also, considering that space navigation is bound to orbital mechanics, I see it pretty hard to set up a collision course.

Moreover, ramming can be pretty dangerous for the hitter, too. And space allows no room for failures. Better off giving an unmanned object the task of damaging the target.

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    $\begingroup$ My thoughts exactly. But I do appreciate any sci-fi that uses guns instead of laser/energy weapons. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 8:55
  • $\begingroup$ What about a thrusted ram? So you are "punching" the other ship instead of throwing yourself at it? $\endgroup$
    – Anthony
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 8:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Anthony, "thrusting a ram" is just a different way to call a cannon ball... if you want to fight a war with semantics... "we don't have cannons, we only have ram thrusters!" $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 9:17
  • $\begingroup$ Except it would be retractable. $\endgroup$
    – Anthony
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 9:18
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    $\begingroup$ Or perhaps manned by a few brave (and potentially suicidally patriotic) souls! The ram itself could serve as a way of ingress for a small crew of sappers to infiltrate the enemy vessel and secure it for later boarding. Ramming becomes more of an ad hoc docking manoeuvre! $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 13:17

Space is big! So the closer your world observes ours the more your answer becomes no. Basically the problem is that missile in space generally do not need explosives in them. The kinetic impact is enough. The lack of drag gives any missile a huge advantage over ships namely the have a lots of room to accelerate (because engagement distance's are large) and unless everybody was in the exact same orbit the relative velocity will just exponentially make the impact bigger. And also missiles are by definition smaller than the ships they're fired from and there is just no dodging a guided missile. And is simple a question if your counter measures are better then theirs. So long range fight will be the norm in most relativistic space sages. They spot a dot on the radar, so they fire missiles; They observe fast moving stuff being fired back and they will probably deploy some decoys. A few hours later there might be confirmation on a hit or miss.

Space bubbles is one way your setting can solve this issue of space being big. Make everyone travel faster than light in a smaller subspace. Traveling in such a subspace might require a ship to make a bubble of real-space inside this subspace, everything outside said bubble's boundary gets disintegrated. So shooting projectiles and missiles will simply be impossible unless they have their own bubble generator. Perhaps ramming the front of your bubble in the side of the enemies will weaken their's more than yours, perhaps forcing them back into real space. Whilst your ship can then drop a nuke 500 meters from their point of entry into real space. So other options would be.

  • Colliding warp bubbles will merge into one big one. Therefore you just suddenly appear 50 meters away from their port side with some initial ramming velocity.
  • Both ship appear in real space with relative speed intact so yeah the ships will collide just not at mutual disintegration speed.

I would imagine if a observer in real space would observe a battle in sub-space as follows. First contact would be the galleys when they ram each other head on and both appear in real space only 10 meter apart. After the collisions, smaller corvettes might phase-in and out into real space near those galleys to try and do hit-and.runs. Of course for fear of friendly fire no nukes are used. The galleys will try get clear of each other to phase back into subspace. Leaving possible nukes and mines behind. Or go for a old fashioned boarding. Ship of lines might take another approach the could try and extent their bubble and make it larger. When the bubbles collide the ship will fire a salvo of kinetic weapons then accelerate passed the other ship and phase back into subspace in a attempt to dodge counter fire.

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    $\begingroup$ The theoretical, real-life Alcubierre drive suggests such a bubble, with space behaving differently in front of the bubble and behind it - so bubbles hitting each other will have different effects according to their direction - making FTL ramming possible and a-symmetrical, giving favorable results to the attacker if he can "T-bone" the target. Now, how do you hit something moving so fast you literally can't see or detect it? $\endgroup$
    – G0BLiN
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 16:15

As I see it, the main problem with ramming another ship is that both ships would have to slow down enough to allow one of them to ram. The reasons for this are two-fold.

First, it's extremely difficult to ram another ship that is just in a stable orbit going at orbital speeds. This is due to orbital mechanics being extremely complex and spaceships being very small compared to space.

Second, if both ships were going at orbital speeds, then one of them hitting the other would destroy both. Not a good outcome for either of the crews. :(

And when I'm talking orbital speeds, I mean everything from Earth orbit, to the various solar orbits needed to get from planet to planet.

To help in imagining the damage a ramming space ship can do to itself and the other ship, just look at the accident reports on an interstate highway during icy conditions. Often times both cars involved in a collision are totaled, along with the people inside them.

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    $\begingroup$ If the two ships share similar orbits then relative to each other they aren’t moving fast at all... $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 12:17
  • $\begingroup$ And it is still extremely easy for the target ship to change course just a bit to avoid the attacker. Though in this case, the ships might not destroy themselves. $\endgroup$
    – NomadMaker
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 12:35
  • $\begingroup$ the problem is missile and such. You have hours of fore warning that collision is likely. And you can fire even faster and nimbler torpedoes to try and hit the enemy before there close. $\endgroup$
    – Mellester
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 15:37

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