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So in my books I have a couple of boardings. Some of my previous questions make that clear. So I was wondering... Is it better to:

  • A: use the available railgun tech to kill easier and just plug the ship up if you want to keep it. The railguns are assault rifles with 2kps muzzle velocity. Assuming these higher quality weapons used by the marines can punch through the lower quality armor and ships of the opposition. Why not have my marines fight in vacuum armor and breach the hull as much as they want.

  • B: Preserve the ships on both sides by using less penetration but less lethal weapons. Not to be confused with less than lethal weapons these guns would definitely be lethal but would have a lower chance of getting through the armor. Better for if they board you.

So the question is which makes more sense? And if one is better why is the other worse?

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  • $\begingroup$ So its between railgun and lower powered railgun? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:17
  • $\begingroup$ Yes or some sort of chemical gun firing plastic slugs. Should I make it more clear? $\endgroup$
    – 11Bravo
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:18
  • $\begingroup$ This problem is part of why I suggested HELs in your previous question. worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/a/193388/57832 An HEL kills a man in power armor MUCH more easilly than it can burn through the side of a ship; so, you don't have to sacrifice stopping power to keep the ship in one piece. So you can have A without giving up on B. As for making a high energy laser strong enough, if you can power an assault railgun, I can guarantee you have good enough of a power source to make an equally lethal laser. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Jan 8, 2021 at 23:00

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I reckon that you go for the powerful shots and armour with built-in air supply.

The problem with tying your hands by trying to maintain cabin pressure is that your enemy might not do the same. You might be using half-power shots but they don't have to. If your troops do not have vacuum suits with air supplies then the enemy can just vent the air to defend themselves. So you need to be prepared to fight in vacuum. Once you are prepared for it you might as well do it.

Indeed, in "The Expanse" novels space-ships depressurise in preparation for battle. Everyone suits up and the air is squeezed into gas tanks. They explain that it is to reduce the risk of fires breaking out or of escaping gas from a hull tear blowing the ship off-course or causing other problems.

Also, just because the air leaks out doesn't mean the ship is useless. Assuming that the escaping air caused relatively little mechanical damage then you can bandage up the holes and re-pressurise later.

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Traditional military doctrine, especially in modern democracies, places a lot of importance on an individual soldier's life. This doesn't mean there isn't an exact monetary value ascribed to each soldier in the dark corners of game theory and military strategy/tactics, but generally, a modern army is willing to expend a very large amount of money to preserve the lives of soldiers. For example, the military would perform CAS (close air support) to save a single squad or even a single pinned down solider--a mission where potentially millions of dollars of ordinance are deployed and multi-million dollar aircraft are put at risk.

Practically, this means that your soldiers are going to choose option A every time and riddle the opponent with holes to reduce the risks during boarding. They don't want to die, and boarding actions are among the most brutal fights that can happen in a modern war due to how close-quarters it is. Option B has a very high morale cost as it requires that every single soldier know that the enemy ship--which is just hardware--is more valuable than their lives. The boarding party knows that the money being saved in ship repair costs is going to be expressed in lives lost, and this does not make them happy.

Option B is only really an option if:

  • The enemy ship has something extraordinarily valuable aboard like a prisoner or artifact that needs to be captured intact--something or someone that soldiers can be convinced to risk their lives for
  • The soldiers are trained to have unbreakable morale or are preconditioned/brainwashed to value military hardware over their own lives. An example of this would be Japanese soldiers in WWII.
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    $\begingroup$ Option C is of course to pull up beside the other ship, point out that you have railguns and few if any compunctions against ventilating the ship with them, and suggest that if they want to live, they should probably surrender. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jan 8, 2021 at 22:32
  • $\begingroup$ This. Everyone onboard already being dead is indubitably the 'better' option. There's several ways I can think of accomplishing that and none of them involve punching holes in the ship. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jan 9, 2021 at 3:07
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So the question is which makes more sense? And if one is better why is the other worse?

The sense depends on what are your goals in boarding the ship. To use an age of sail comparison: if you are at war you want to sink the ship, if you are a pirate you want the ship to stay afloat and be able to loot it. And of course a sunken ship is a tad hard to loot...

Same train of thoughts for space boarding: if you are interested in keeping what's in the ship intact, go for something less destructive. If you want to score a -1 on the enemy scoreboard, go for the more destructive option.

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I have to go with B. Here are two possibilities:

  1. Neutron Bomb.

There are existing ideas on how to kill people but leave structures untouched, one is a neutron bomb. As long as the neutrons are low enough energy not to induce fission but high enough to break chemical bonds then a neutron bomb will kill all the people and leave the structure both unharmed and non-radioactive.

  1. Cosmic rays.

Another possibility is cosmic rays. Most cosmic rays consist of ionized hydrogen, i.e. a proton without an electron, giving them a positive charge. Whenever a charged particle is accelerated it will emit radiation (see Bremsstrahlung). This is where the majority of radiation exposure to the crew of modern day space ships comes from. Essentially when a proton hits an atom in the hull of the vessel it is slowed. This acceleration causes it to emit photons. Since the cosmic rays are high energy the photons they emit are well into the uv and x-ray range. These photons then flood the craft.

Luckily there is not enough cosmic rays to immediately cook our astronauts and earths magnetic field protects us for the most part. Furthermore, magnetic shields for cosmic ray have been proposed. However, a weapon could be designed which uses a magnetic field to gently redirect cosmic rays from a large area of space and focus them onto a ship, overwhelming the shielding. The occupants would then find themselves inside an x-ray oven. (side note: no amount of magnetic shielding would protect against neutrons as they have no charge.)

One short-coming of this is that blasting a ship with high energy charged particles may damage some of the electronics (Voyager 2 suffered a malfunction due to cosmic rays). You you may be left with a giant metal casket full of dead marines floating in space.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well sounds good but if you ever present that to a future government leave out the “ You you may be left with a giant metal casket full of dead marines floating in space.” thanks $\endgroup$
    – 11Bravo
    Jan 8, 2021 at 18:44
  • $\begingroup$ Both of these are profoundly unlikely to be a problem for occupants of a space ship. Secondarily ionizing radiation (neutron radiation) is a threat in space, so surrounding a long-term space ship with moderators (lead, water, etc.) is a necessity of space travel. Likewise, protection from cosmic rays. It would be much more practical to use a bomb-pumped x-ray laser than try to magically concentrate naturally-occurring cosmic rays. $\endgroup$
    – jdunlop
    Jan 9, 2021 at 3:02
  • $\begingroup$ +1. Long Range Acoustic Device $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Jan 9, 2021 at 3:10
  • $\begingroup$ @jdunlop neutron radiation is rarely a threat in space except as a by product of cosmic radiation. Cosmic radiation is 99% protons or alpha particles. Surrounding a ship in lead or water would cripple its speed and maneuverability. Magnetic fields are not magic and using them to concentrate ions is already used on Earth and is the source of the Van-Allen belts. Finally bomb-pumping is inferior to plasma acceleration. $\endgroup$
    – onb
    Jan 9, 2021 at 19:31
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Depends on Whether Your Marines Want Prisoners

Operating a spaceship could require experienced crewers, so while you could occupy the ship, if you want to take it, you want some of its crew to remain alive.

If you're punching holes through the hull in the course of an antipersonnel sweep (!) you're not going to be leaving any survivors, unless standard practice has the crew vac-suit themselves as well.

It also seems like you're establishing something of a false dichotomy. Why are you using km/s firearms when any fighting inside the ship is going to be close-quarters? Your marines could be equipped with plasma torches for close-range, or monomolecular filament whips, or any variety of melee weapons that would be profoundly lethal to their opponents but not endanger the integrity of the ship as a whole.

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