I have been reading lately the Honor Harrington series and I wonder how would torpedoes and missiles work in space. What Weber uses is some kind of nuclear head that pumps several lasers, does that makes more sense than, let's say, a fragmentation head or a nuclear blast or some plasma release that would melt the spaceship hull? Any suggestions/ideas on this?

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    $\begingroup$ Nukes in space? There's a site for that! projectrho.com/public_html/rocket/… -- Pay special attention to the Casaba Howitzer. $\endgroup$ – Ghedipunk Jun 27 '19 at 16:00
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to the Stack. This is something we would generally consider too broad of a question. Can you be more specific about what you're trying to find out? Ultimately the payload is entirely dependent on what kind of defenses you have to overcome. In a far-future setting where spacecraft have active shields or heavy armor, you need a completely different kind of payload than in a near-future setting where spacecraft are extremely fragile and it's point-defense or nothing. $\endgroup$ – Morris The Cat Jun 27 '19 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ Probably depends on the target, and on your intentions. Total destruction vs. disable and capture, for example. $\endgroup$ – puppetsock Jun 27 '19 at 16:19
  • $\begingroup$ Could you better describe what you mean by a "nuclear head that pumps several lasers". Also, this question seems a bit open ended. "Any suggestions/ideas on this?" will almost always get a question closed as being too broad. I would suggest instead asking something along the lines of if a Honor Harrington style warhead would be better in space than one that relies on a fragmentation, nuclear, or plasma cloud based warhead. Just asking for suggestions opens up the floor to an infinite range of space-based weapon systems and endless debate. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jun 27 '19 at 16:34
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    $\begingroup$ @elemtilas You're welcome. Humorous military SF is a much better choice. Knew you had good taste. I like Harry Harrison's Bill the Galactic Hero, but not the follow-up sequels (ghastly, just ghastly) and Bob Shaw's Warren Peace novels (two only, but who's counting?). $\endgroup$ – a4android Jun 28 '19 at 2:40

To address the two steps of your question :

How missiles and torpedoes would work in space ?

First, you won't have "real" torpedoes in space. It will be really missile like cause you can't use a propeller because there is no medium the propeller can use to put weight on. It leads us to how missiles work (even modern missiles): Newton's third law, conservation of movement quantity. It means you need to throw mass backward, to go forward (and it's true in all direction). It works pretty well even in space, as India proved once again several months ago. All rockets are based on this law, as well as reaction engine for planes and hydrojet for jetski or high-speed boat.

Why nuclear pumped-laser ?

Classic nuclear explosives work in space, as Americans used to demonstrate it. But you will only have the radiative effects, which may be long to act and will only destroy electronics and kill the crew (it may be enough), since there is no medium in space to propagate heat and shockwave. The heat, which is one of the dangerous and high energetic part of the blast, will mostly be lost to space as it will radiate in all directions. With a laser you can concentrate most of the heat in a single beam and hopefully smash a hole through the hull, which is really a good solution to get rid of a spaceship.

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Modern missiles in the Honor Harrington universe use nuclear-pumped x-ray lasers, a technology that had been considered for the real-world SDI program.

Older missiles use "ordinary" nuclear warheads. The fantastically efficient drives also make kinetic attacks a possibility, but the advantage of laser heads is that they can be triggered at a standoff distance. This is easier against a working point defense system than hoping for a direct hit.

Read the space battles in the first two books to see how different warheads have their uses in different tactical situations. If a "contact nuke" can be guided through EW and point defense, it is devastating. Against unshaken defenses, laser heads are the weapon of choice, and Fearless has both in her magazines.

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  • $\begingroup$ The nuke's issue isn't EW and point defense so much as the sidewalls and keel. The sidewalls act as shielding. If they're up, the nuclear blast dissipates harmlessly even if the EW and point defense don't kill it first. The laser heads can carve into the sidewalls. So in the Honorverse, they use laser heads until the sidewalls drop. Then the other side surrenders before they blow it up with a nuke. In theory someone could steer the nuke around the sidewalls, but that longer journey is impractical. That's where the nuke is more vulnerable to EW and point defense. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Jun 28 '19 at 2:11
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan, Weber talks about penaids, penetration aids, which help to get through sidewalls. Same name, different concept as penaids on ICBM which were defensive decoys. $\endgroup$ – o.m. Jun 28 '19 at 4:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan there's a pretty easy solution to that. either use a shaped charge or have a penetrator that blows up after it pierces the hull. this is the same way that conventional explosives are used against hardened targets today. $\endgroup$ – MParm Jun 29 '19 at 20:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MParm You're missing the point. The sidewall and wedge aren't part of the hull. They're giant bands of gravity. They are between the hull and the missiles. Your shaped charge/penetrator doesn't penetrate them. They tear apart any matter that reaches them. That's why they use lasers and grasers to penetrate them, because light and gravity actually can penetrate them where materials (e.g. a bomb) won't. If you're interested, you'd be far better off asking your questions on SFF.SE or at Baen's Bar than in comments. $\endgroup$ – Brythan Jun 29 '19 at 20:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Brythan Yup I missed the point... :( didn't realize there was gravity manipulation in this setting. how big are the generators? gravity distortions will foil laser attacks too, so can you use a gravity weapon to penetrate the "side walls?" $\endgroup$ – MParm Jun 30 '19 at 14:36

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