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To avoid detail in the name of getting at the underlying question, I've got a modern-adjacent military being invaded by well-equipped nomads supported by angry aliens in space who have far too many nuclear missiles for anyone's good, but very little manpower. The protagonists' air force is intercepting most of the warheads, but not all of them. Neither the protagonists nor the nomads have their own nuclear arms.

This war was a shock to people, but they had hours before the initial strike, and an alien attack like this has been THE thing people have been paranoid about for centuries, so they would have a plan of action if this kind of war happened, as it has.

I want to know what a planetary military in this kind of situation might do to avoid being nuked as it fights on the ground.

After reading far too much about the Pentomic Army, and why it's a very bad idea to spread out to the point nukes are ineffective if you are trying to fight a conventional war at the same time, I need some better ideas to throw at the wall of plot relevance. I'll settle for directions to the people who've been throwing stuff at this kind of wall for the last seventy years.

If you have too, just suspend your disbelief that people would continue fighting after the atomic bombs began to hit. I believe it is more interesting if they did.

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    $\begingroup$ Tactics are determined by strategy (and resources). Strategy is determined by goals, culture, and resources. We don't know anything about either sides' goals, culture, or resources so any answers may be too broad and useless to you. $\endgroup$
    – user535733
    Mar 2, 2022 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ Nukes are expensive. Even for a force that has "far too many". Stay hidden, be mobile only under circumstances where you can't immediately be spotted, and use guerilla tactics. They cannot use all of their nukes even if they have 10 million, or the only victory they win is a lifeless, glowing rock. $\endgroup$
    – John O
    Mar 2, 2022 at 22:31
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    $\begingroup$ The help center states, "Questions must be specific as well as answerable. If you are looking for discussion, brainstorming, or an overall process rather than specific questions and answers, Worldbuilding might not be a good place for your question." Further, the help center states, "To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where every answer is equally valid." Finally, the [help/on-topic' states, "When asking questions keep in mind that the goal of the site is to help you build your world, not to tell your story." $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Mar 3, 2022 at 1:35
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    $\begingroup$ It sounds like you built a world with an unwinnable war and need someone to serve as Commander in Chief of a people who want to fight to keep the creator interested. This really isn’t building a world. Try a question with one front. VTC. $\endgroup$
    – Vogon Poet
    Mar 3, 2022 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ My story is actually about a minor ephor in a sci-fi nation that is a lot more democratic than Sparta, who earned his citizenship as a soldier fighting this war. He is investigating a murder, because there aren't a lot of detectives and it's basically the same skillset in the eyes of the government. I just thought the way he was describing the wider war when a Terran asked him about it was a bit off. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2022 at 3:34

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Self Induce Kessler Syndrome

If a satellite is catastrophically damaged it will produce many, small, high velocity pieces. These pieces will remain in orbit for some finite time, and are likely to hit other space craft.

This would catastrophically damage those spacecraft, producing more dangerous debris.

When this process enters a run-away cascade, it is called Kessler Syndrome. It basically denies the space environment to ALL players until an expensive clean up is conducted.

As soon as the first space-missiles start raining down, the modern-adjacent military force should detonate the dozens to hundreds of satellites it had deployed into LEO for just this purpose. It's going to suck to lose GPS and space based comms, but nuclear war sucks more.

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    $\begingroup$ The question doesn't really have a positive answer, so I guess this is as good as anything Hollywood puts out. But you can't blow up a couple of satellites and have those blow up the rest. The debris will simply lodge in any satellite it hits. If you somehow had enough debris the aliens are scared, you could have just put a bunch of auto-turrets in orbit. Then they aren't endangering your planet's ships, plus they're far more likely to hit something. You can even ensure the projectiles are traveling at escape velocity so misses aren't coming back. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Mar 4, 2022 at 9:49
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    $\begingroup$ Launch into opposite direction in the orbit of choice. Impact speed = 2 x Vorbit - around 30,000 - 40,000 mph in lowish earth orbit. Your planet may vary. $\endgroup$ Mar 4, 2022 at 10:05
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelS - Kessler Syndrome is literally named after the NASA scientist who identified it as a potential problem. From his 1991 paper, based on Air Force satellite collision data: A 1 kg object impacting at 10 km/s, for example, is probably capable of catastrophically breaking up a 1,000 kg spacecraft if it strikes a high-density element in the spacecraft. In such a breakup, numerous fragments larger than 1 kg would be created. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Mar 4, 2022 at 13:17
  • $\begingroup$ You're talking kg objects at like 10 m/s, not km/s. Or sub-gram objects at high speeds. And the odds of it happening are astronomically low. Especially over the couple of hours you'd have. The idea Kessler had is that over many decades, occasionally objects will impact at high enough speeds to cause problems. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Mar 4, 2022 at 14:44
  • $\begingroup$ A claymore mine, for example, has projectiles under half a gram in mass that only get up to 1200 m/s. You're not accelerating kg-massed objects to 10 km/s with conventional explosives. And if you could, you're still better off using that power against the aliens. $\endgroup$
    – MichaelS
    Mar 4, 2022 at 14:56
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If you have too, just suspend your disbelief that people would continue fighting after the atomic bombs began to hit. I believe it is more interesting if they did.

When your enemy has an unassailable high ground, and has weapons of mass destruction that you can't defend against and that they're entirely willing to use, you cannot keep fighting.

I mean you literally cannot keep fighting, even if you really wanted to, because you're going to be reduced to radioactive ash and mud.

this has been THE thing people have been paranoid about for centuries, so they would have a plan of action if this kind of war happened

"Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face" - Carl von Clausewitz. I may be paraphrasing slightly

The plan should be "Never get in this situation. Ever. Because you're doomed".

If you can't stop the nukes falling, then the enemy control space. You are at their mercy. They can sprinkle you with hypersonic re-entry vehicles at their leisure until nothing is left. They don't even have to use the real things... a dumb penaid at terminal velocity can ruin your day, and you have to try and intercept it with your limited supply of counter-missiles, because the alternative is that you get nuked.

They can deny you satellite communication and observation capabilities. Probably already have done. They can see everything you're doing. They can pop some warheads at high altitude and cripple you with EMP.

The only thing you can really do is to deny them orbital space and have a robust detection and interception system, but it sounds like this sort of capability was either beyond your defenders, or if they had it once they clearly don't anymore, because if they did they wouldn't be getting slaughtered with nukes.

Best to surrender now and hope an insurgency is worth something (spoiler: probably not very much) because its the best you can hope for, barring some deus ex machina.

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Stay Home.

"an alien attack like this has been THE thing people have been paranoid about for centuries" suggests that the planet might have an inkling of their enemy's capabilities already.

It also suggests that the planet has had time to implement a defensive strategy that matches their goals, culture, and resources available: For example, a strategy might be "To deter attacks by maintaining the capability of smashing an attack before it can imperil the population".

One way to implement this kind of strategy is...

  1. Underground cities (and armories) to keep their citizenry safe from marauders.
  2. Immunization to a plethora of nasty biological agents that will begin to degrade and consume the marauders on the surface as soon as they open their airlocks.
  3. Clouds of tens of thousands of Orbital interceptors to sweep the skies clear those pesky aliens.

After the skies are clear, the aliens fleet reduced to wreckage, hidden launchsites swing open their doors and launch replacements to the interceptor cloud.

And a week later, when 90% of the marauders lay dying in their own infected filth and vomit having never discovered a way to the underlands, THEN the hidden passages swing open for soldiers to smash the remnants.

If you want to win the war, then start by knowing what you want to achieve. If one side just wants to sit on the surface and let the enemy have all the advantages and limit themselves to pretty firefights that accomplish little, that suggests they don't know what they want to achieve.

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  • $\begingroup$ We're on the same wavelength with the interceptor idea. $\endgroup$ Mar 2, 2022 at 22:31
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The aliens don't want a radioactive wasteland

The humans can't stop a technologically superior force. The only reasons for not being nuked is the aliens really don't want to use nukes if they can help it.

The aliens will nuke the humans if they can hit their forces hard enough to make it worth it but if the humans stay spread out and hidden, it would take too many nukes to get them all and there would be no prize left to win.

Basically the aliens want the Earth and would prefer not to irradiate it before they move in. Letting the monkeys kill each other is easier before the mop up operation.

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The aliens have not nuked you already. Why not?

What do they care? They are aliens. They don't live there. And they are angry! Just nuke you all and be done. It is like the Bugs in Starship Troopers. They had no interest in Earth except to hurt it. So they threw a big rock to seriously mess things up. Could have been a big nuke.

But that is not what happened. The aliens instead choose a proxy ground war using these nomads.

To understand how not to get nuked in the future you must understand how you did not get nuked in the past. You need to understand the motives of the aliens. Maybe they want to punish you but they want to preserve the rich animal life on Earth. Maybe they really like the nomads because they are bare chested hotties and some of them might have their hair fall out from radiation. Hair meaning long flowing locks because these nomads wax their chests and then oil their gleaming bare skin to reduce air resistance. Also the nomads ride around on beautiful horses with flowing manes that might have their manes fall out.

But the aliens: whatever their reasons were in the past you need to make sure those reasons persist into the future.

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    $\begingroup$ This has some of the most important elements of a good answer. Prejudice will not prevent violence. If the aliens perceive your civilization as violent scum they will only have that prejudice reinforced by violent conflict. You must come to understand them and they must come to understand you. This cannot happen without embracing diplomacy to come to understanding. $\endgroup$
    – pygosceles
    Mar 3, 2022 at 20:41
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The nomads and aliens are fighting against the city, and the city is the protagonist? (Wasn't quite sure after reading OP, but I'm going with that assumption.)

You could mix the forces. This might depend on how large the nomad tribes are. Like, if the roles were reversed, I would have the nomads hide in the city (in abandoned buildings and sewers and whatnot), since the aliens probably won't nuke the city of allies. In your case though, that only works for the urbanites if the nomad caravans are huge, and relatively static (which they might be, since they're now they besieging a city). You would probably lose your city though.

Your urbanites could also allow the nomads to take the city. Send the non-combatants to scatter into the hills and woods, leave your military behind to hide in the abandoned buildings and sewers, and to run a guerilla campaign.

If there are a lot more urbanites than nomads, what about human shields? In this case, you don't allow the nomads in so much as take them all captive. Maybe the aliens won't nuke the city if their allies are imprisoned there?

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  • $\begingroup$ That last one is incredibly brutal, but it also fits the pragmatics vs virtue thing I've got going. I wish I had more checks to throw around. $\endgroup$ Mar 3, 2022 at 22:58

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