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Imagine that you're the admiral of a fleet of warships in orbit around Saturn. You need to capture targets on Titan, the largest moon. (This could also be applied to, say, Venus or one of the gas giants. This is an example. EDIT: this has been pointed out to me as false. This could work on Earth or Titan; that's about it.) You realize that your opponents live in airships (filled with hot air, not helium/hydrogen), not surface habitats!

This makes invasion extremely tricky, as you have no airships with which to board these ships. Instead, you decide to try to pop the envelopes from your comfy orbit.

The ideal result

  • The airships have all been forced to land.
  • Few, if any, lives are lost. (in other words, killing them all is not an option. Just put a small hole in the balloon so that they can't keep the inside hot enough to stay afloat without massive energy expenditures.)
  • Minimal resources are expended. (so nix on taking a troop transport and crashing into the envelope. Using just a projectile dropped from orbit is ideal.)
  • The life support of the habitats still works, so the fleet isn't forced to choose between genocide or rescuing thousands of people.

Please note that the standard tools the fleet has for orbital are not very great for the job because they are massive, heavy "Rods from God" made for absolutely obliterating surface targets. You will need to repurpose an object you already have to be able to complete the mission.

Good luck.


EDIT:

I've been asked to give more information on the resources available.

To respond to @DWKraus's specific questions:

  • The tech difference is... interesting. To put it simply, the Titaneans in my story don't have all the tech that the attackers do, but they know what it does and how to exploit weaknesses in that tech. See another question of mine about this story: How would one hack a battleship in space warfare?
  • They don't care a ton about deaths, ideologically, but their goal is to be in control, not to destroy. They don't want the Titaneans dead, they want them to come under their rule.
  • Flight packs and drones are viable solutions, too! Orbital bombardment was the best solution I could think of on my own, but I am open to more creative ways to pop a hole in the envelope. The main limitation is that the resources used need to be things they might plausibly already have since they can't afford to wait for a supply mission.
  • The ground troops are not robots. Let's just say that humanoid robots never caught on in this timeline (there's a story behind that, but this is the simplest way to put it).

Now, to @Dragongeek's question: why not just use laser arrays? Um... I don't know. From my perspective as an author, it's because that's not nearly as cool as orbital bombardment, but I'm going to need a more convincing reason. I'll probably put out a separate question about that. Just assume that hitting the envelopes with lasers from orbit is not an option.

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  • $\begingroup$ I assume the warships are armed in some way--can't I just use them? Any directed energy weapon like a laser should be able to do the job just fine. Similarly, any modern missile/bomb has dial-a-yield capabilities which could make the perfect sized hole. $\endgroup$ – Dragongeek May 9 at 17:26
  • $\begingroup$ I think we need more information on the resources that are available, and the defenses that will be mounted. If there is a fairly large tech difference, then defense is negligible. Take flight packs from soldiers, turn them into drones with small explosives/projectile weapons, then fly them down to blow holes in air ships. If 'ground troops' are robots, then they probably fly already and the problem is even easier. Why do we care about deaths? What are the resources being competed for? What were they going to use to conquer the planet if there HAD been surface habitats? $\endgroup$ – DWKraus May 9 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ On most of your examples, dropping the balloon cities to the "ground" will probably kill all the humans due to the pressure. Not sure about Titan, though. $\endgroup$ – NomadMaker May 9 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Dragongeek Good point about lasers... The main ships are armed with particle beams, which are useless in atmosphere, but there are others with laser arrays. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 0:27
  • $\begingroup$ @DWKraus I'll try to put some more info about that up in a little while-- I don't have time now. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 0:27
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If my superiors "don't care a ton about deaths" I would target one airship and use it's destruction as an example to force the other airships to surrender.

Rods from God are perfect for this even if the airships are to small to target accurately. Have your engineers hollow out a cavity inside the rods and pack them with explosives. Then target a volley of these Explosive Rods From God as accurately as possible at an airship. When the rods reach an altitude 1k(or whatever your engineers deem appropriate) above the airship the explosive detonates and fragments the rod into a cloud of chunks that rain down.

A volley of these could cause serious problems for any balloon supported airship in the area.

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  • $\begingroup$ Very smart. I'll check my story notes and see if there's an airship that's not as important as the others or that has fewer people and could be evacuated more easily. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 4:36
  • $\begingroup$ Alright, I checked and you're in luck, there's one airship, the Alexandria, that's pretty much just a library. "The largest collection of physical books this side of the belt." They'd probably have a couple minutes' warning, plus the minute or two it would take to fall, so enough time for most of the librarians to evacuate. And, since most of the Titaneans are bookworms (it's part of the story), there's some great emotional territory there: "Oh God, if they destroyed the LIBRARY, what wouldn't they do?" $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ I'll likely use this in combination with one of the other answers (since the others are good for threats before the actual deed) $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 4:48
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Ballistic Frozen Meatballs.

It's a well known fact that meatballs are a universal constant:

G'Kar: It's an Earth food. They are called Swedish meatballs. It's a strange thing, but every sentient race has its own version of these Swedish meatballs! I suspect it's one of those great universal mysteries which will either never be explained, or which would drive you mad if you ever learned the truth.

(Babylon 5, by J. Michael Straczynski, tribute to Douglas Adams)

Dropping them in batches by hand from an orbital posture might take some tricky calculations, but if you've got a space fleet at your disposal, I'm sure you can aim well enough. Will produce many holes of sufficient size to "encourage" airships to land.

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  • $\begingroup$ ...and this is what happens when I post an answer thinking of my stomach not the science. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. May 9 at 19:18
  • $\begingroup$ Mmm meatballs. Same, though, goes for what I said about on Wilik's answer--how do they survive reentry through Titan's copious atmosphere? $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 0:22
  • $\begingroup$ @BenjaminHollon As per my comment, I was hungry not intellectual. Titan's atmosphere is not subject to easy assault by foodstuffs, that's for sure - maybe with some sort of "re-entry sauce", but I've not designed that yet. $\endgroup$ – A Rogue Ant. May 10 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ Good to know. 😅 It's a fun answer for sure, thanks for it! $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 0:32
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Divert the rings.

titan and rings from cassini

What a sweet photo. But now - on to the mayhem! Your ship snuggles down into the ring and then begins to move along it like a lawnmower. Each chunk you encounter is electrostatically hurled towards Titan, which is following you a couple of blocks away. It is effectively a meteor shower on Titan.

You have a lot of ring to throw. Most will not hit the airships but the people on Titan will see them coming down - because the things you throw will be glowing on re-entry like meteorites do. It will be spectacular and scary. After an hour or so you will pause and let the Titan folks know what you are doing, in case they have not figured it out. You will give them another hour to land their balloons. If you dont see them landing you will turn back on the bombardment.

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    $\begingroup$ Hmm, very interesting idea. I'm just not sure how feasible it is--Saturn's rings are made of particles ranging from micrometers to meters, none of which, I feel, would survive entry through ten times the atmosphere we have on Earth. How would you combat that? $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ You dont want them to make it to the surface. You are after things that are floating a considerable distance off the surface. Also, you are fine if things burn up in the atmosphere. You want shock and awe for the Titanians. You want them to see what you are capable of. If 90% of the things you throw make streaks in the sky there will be plenty of streaks for them to gasp at. When you stop the bombardment. notify them it was a demonstration because you would prefer not to kill them all. $\endgroup$ – Willk May 10 at 1:17
  • $\begingroup$ Alright, good point. I'll definitely consider this answer, though I'll probably look somewhere else for a way for them to actually carry out this threat. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 1:19
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Who owns the orbitals, owns the planet.

A battlefleet above an unprotected civilian population does not need anything as crass as physical weapons. A simple radio call should suffice. The threat of obliteration should be enough to let the airships do whatever they demand, since everybody knows that they can be grounded or destroyed, at any time.

Any reasonable populace will do what is asked of them, unless they have to fear cruelty by the invaders, or it's a religious zealots situation, but your scenario doesn't look like that. (minimal casualties etc.)

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  • $\begingroup$ Interesting-- the problem is that in my specific story at least, the Titaneans can survive a siege. They even have help on the way, so there is a time-sensitive aspect here. I wouldn't quite describe them as "zealots," but they are definitely idealists who are all willing to die fighting for their cause. But yes, orbital bombardment is a very real threat, and I can see the fleet trying to leverage that. $\endgroup$ – Benjamin Hollon May 10 at 0:25
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Aerial depth charge. Fill up a missile with more explosive and shrapnel than normal and drop it from orbit. Just have to get close enough to create a pressure wave to either damage them enough to land or make being higher in the atmosphere dangerous.

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Just use the rods themselves.

A pack of a thousand rods could easily deliver a yield of around 10% to 100% of the Little Boy nuke. That will conjure a huge mushroom cloud - you don't want to hit the airships with that. But you do want them to be in the vicinity of the cloud so that the blast waves shake them up real good. The airships will be damaged and will have to land for repairs.

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