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According to two websites I respect a great deal (Atomic Rockets and Rocketpunk Manifesto), weapons fall into three broad groupings: kinetic, explosive, and energy.

But if we're talking about winner take all combat, why do we limit ourselves to just fighting by doing damage? Maybe our electronic warfare capabilities can be expanded to include the ability to destroy, incapacitate, or hamper the enemy spaceship by other means.

Consider that today nearly every computer has networking connections (sometimes wireless networking) built right into the system's motherboard.

How might an EWAR (electronic warfare) suite be used to incapacitate a ship (e.g. as shown [imo, unrealistically] in the Battlestar Galactica reboot)?

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  • $\begingroup$ FYI, I'll be "off grid" for the next 1.5 weeks so I will also be unresponsive to questions. I'll try to get caught up when I return. $\endgroup$ – Jim2B Aug 15 '15 at 0:05
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The former Soviet Union had heavily invested in Radio Electronic Combat, and there is no reason to assume the successor Russian government has not continued along these lines.

The first and simplest way to use Radio Electronic Combat is signals spoofing and jamming. We normally associate radio jamming with powerful "Barrage" jammers flooding the airwaves with white noise, but jammers can be very specific and jam single frequencies or a spread. The Soviets also introduced "silent" jamming, where the air is deceptively quiet, but upon using the radio you have no transmission or reception (this works best when initiated in a quiet zone during a period of low radio traffic, the net is naturally quiet then and you may not notice the initiation of silent jamming). Spoofing is just what it sounds like; skilled linguists are monitoring the net and at the appropriate time they begin transmitting as well. Unless the rest of the operators can catch on quickly, they may end up talking to the unknown operator assuming it is a replacement, or worse yet, taking orders and information from them.

Modern communications systems use encryption and techniques like frequency hopping to limit the ability to jam, spoof or listen in to a net, but since the net continues to emit energy every time a radio is used, Direction Finding allows you to discover the locations of the radios (or their radio antenna, at least), allowing you to direct physical attacks against the transmitters. Jamming can still work as well, even interrupting a percentage of the message could degrade the information enough to slow down operations as requests for clarification and having the message repeated become a larger percentage of the traffic on the net.

Cyber-warfare falls into this as well, and various forms of malware exist, ranging from crude to very sophisticated. Once again, the more sophisticated attacks are "better" since the opponent might not realize that their data and communications have been compromised. Examples like the Stuxnet worm released against the Iranians or the Chinese theft of personal data of millions of American government employees show large scale attacks can be running for years before discovery, and the effects can be very subtle (causing the centrifuges to run at sub optimal speeds in the Iranian nuclear enrichment program, or allowing the Chinese to apply pressure against individual Americans to support espionage, economic or military goals).

Finally, using enough energy can simply overwhelm the defenders electronic systems, rendering them inoperative. The best known example is EMP, which can be triggered by nuclear and non nuclear means and introduce enough energy in circuitry to physically damage or destroy them. This can be scales from frying individual units, computers or antenna to pumping enough energy into the electrical grid to cause the entire nation to be blacked out.

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    $\begingroup$ FWIW -- EW is something the West has sunk plenty of money into as well... :) $\endgroup$ – Shalvenay Aug 15 '15 at 6:51
  • $\begingroup$ Indeed, but why talk about us.... $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Aug 15 '15 at 13:14
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There are several attacks that might implemented through hacking. All have the advantage of leaving the ship intact for salvage and sometimes even killing the living components so you don't have to.

Reboot cycle

Throw a figurative goto 0; and the beginning of their boot cycle and then crash the computers. Now they're stuck in a loop.

Blow the airlocks.

Surely when the ship is drydocked they need to access it readily and won't want to go through an airlock cycle every time they come in and out. So, make the system believe it is in drydock and open all the hatches.

Poison the atmosphere.

Instead of removing CO2, start adding it back in. This should incapacitate and then kill any crew breathing the air aboard the ship. Make sure to set all the connected space suits to begin their tank maintenance cycle by draining the O2 tanks first!

Signal a core meltdown.

Don't really melt the core, but make all those humans aboard think it's going to meltdown. When they follow their training and abandon ship, you can have the ship for yourself (though it is missing some lifeboats).

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