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I'm trying to flesh out the military capabilities of my universe and just started to move into defining sea power.

When defining the air power I created a few things, the important ones for the question are the Cruiser and Frigate air ships, and slightly less important are the smaller ships(Fighter, Bomber, Shuttle, Fighter/Bomber). When I made these I was mostly considering air-air and air-land combat, but now that I'm considering sea powers, I think these air ships essentially make surface warships unnecessary.

The Frigate is a flying extruded metal T with a bunch of guns all over it. It is significantly faster than the Cruiser, but is still outpaced by any of the smaller ships. It shoots a lot, can take a decent amount of punches, and is useful for getting around the sides of large enemy craft.

The collection of smaller ships are used mainly to get rid of enemy fighters, support/drop ground troops/vehicles, or in odd occasions, bomb someplace a Cruiser can't hit with the big guns.

Cruisers are big things. Essentially a SHIELD heli carrier with extra guns and an extra big gun. They take hits, hit back harder, and launch the smaller ships. In combat they take out large enemy ships, ground emplacements, or whatever needs that extra boom-power.

All of these ships are able to warp in and out of combat for surprise attacks or quick retreat, but cannot warp to different places on the battlefield. I tried making a reason for this and have basically settled on handwaving. They all also have some basic detection equipment, so if a submarine is nearby they can usually see it, and destroying it can be easily done with a depth charge the extra boom-power from a cruiser.

Yes, a Carrier ship does exist, but it is only used for transporting damaged small ships after combat is over or significantly reduced. They are pretty much giant slabs of burnt toast. They look big and ugly and if you punch them with a missile they fall apart.

I'm fairly certain that if a group of these air ships went up against some sea ships with similar capabilities, it would be a bad day for the sea ships. I also don't see any advantage to having sea ships when you have these air ships other than just in case and backups. I do plan on having submarines though, mainly for stealth operations.

Is there a reason to have surface warships when you have this air force?

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    $\begingroup$ the big reason is recoil, a ship can absorb tremendous amount of recoil by transferring it to the water, anything in the air is just going to get knocked around. the other is energy a ships uses little ot no energy while parked, an airship need to expend tremendous amounts of energy. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 22 at 23:43
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    $\begingroup$ If you have ships, can they warp in and out? How does the airship stay in the air? I can answer with the answers to both of those questions. The biggest thing I can think of is that a disabled airship crashes. A disabled ship might still float or be able to warp out. But the sheer mass and reserve power on a floating ship (even a light fast one like a giant hydrofoil) will potentially outcompete airships (depending on the answers to those questions). $\endgroup$
    – DWKraus
    May 22 at 23:56
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    $\begingroup$ Do you have fusion power in this scenario? Else, how does everything stay aloft, and for how long for without refuelling? $\endgroup$ May 23 at 5:55
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    $\begingroup$ I'm fairly certain that if a group of these air ships went up against some sea ships with similar capabilities. . . Do you mean the sea ships can teleport too? $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 23 at 12:07
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    $\begingroup$ You may want to also describe the cost of your airships relative to conventional naval vessels. Military spending is done to accomplish a goal, if the same goal can be accomplished for less money than that greatly affects purchasing decisions. Keep in mind that nations may also have less cost effective prestige projects that are less about military effectiveness but projecting the idea of military effectiveness. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 23 at 15:28

8 Answers 8

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Not for the reason you think.

Planes are bad because they run out of fuel. You can send your planes to fly over my house. But they can only fly around a few hours before they need to fly back to your house to refuel. It is very expensive to have planes flying around my house at all times.

That is why ships are good. You can park your ship next to my house for months or years on end. Some ships are nuclear so they never run out of juice.

If your ship is an aircraft carrier then you have parked an entire airport next to my house. You have a boat, and can send the planes out at a moment's notice. They don't have to be out all the time, and they can refuel on the nearby carrier instead of going all the way back to your house.

Your ship can also carry bigger guns than the planes in her belly. It can attack at longer range.

Both problems do not exist for your the air force described in the question. The range and fuel issue is not there because the planes can warp to any part of the planet then warp back to refuel. The big gun problem is not there because as you say some of your planes are ginormous:

enter image description here

So they can already carry huge guns.

The reason you might want a ship is simply to look at things. If you suspect you might want to teleport planes over my house this year if I leave the house you have two options. (a) keep a single plane flying around at all times, to make sure I don't leave. When it needs to refuel it teleports home and is replaced by another plane. If it seems me go outside it sends a message and the rest of the fleet teleports in. (b) Use a boat. This might be the cheaper option.

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I'm fairly certain that if a group of these air ships went up against some sea ships with similar capabilities, it would be a bad day for the sea ships.

"With similar capabilities" yes, but in the same world with the same technology, the capabilities won't be similar.

At the same overall technology level, you'll always be able to build bigger ships than aircraft. Floating is easy structurally, the loads can be distributed gradually over the whole hull so with any available material a ship can be bigger

If your air cruisers are roughly the size of a modern aircraft carrier, which is ~100 times the mass of the largest aircraft, then your fantasy sea ships could go 100 times bigger than that - so like a mobile island or city, that would need a sustained bombardment from a fleet of air cruisers to damage significantly

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    $\begingroup$ If the ships have similar capabilities and that includes teleporting, they can pop into place, fire their guns, and then teleport away before the shells hit. This exploit works because teleporting is allowed when you are out of combat, and the game only starts combat when the shells hit. Not when they are fired. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 23 at 12:09
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    $\begingroup$ Sure, you can build a bigger ship, but the question is, should you? This may depend on the rest of the world-building, but for example in the real world, the age of battleships is rightfully over. At some point mobility and increased numbers trumps extra armor, so excluding some prestige projects, modern military ships tend to get build at the minimal size where they still can properly fulfill their role, not at the maximal size that is possible. $\endgroup$
    – mlk
    May 23 at 12:26
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    $\begingroup$ @mlk a modern Zumwalt-class destroyer is larger than a WWII pocket battleship - the end of the age of battleships is more a change of armament and roles rather than scale in many ways. Volume is proportional to dimension cubed, area to dimension squared, so there's nearly always some logistical advantage to making something bigger to get more useful volume per area-cost. And the structural loading means the optimum size for a ship will be bigger than an aircraft, if they're fulfilling similar roles (cargo ship vs jumbo jet, frigate vs fighter etc) $\endgroup$
    – sqek
    May 23 at 12:44
  • $\begingroup$ @Daron ah but think of the waves caused by suddenly displacing a floating city's worth of water! Air displacement is much less of a problem. $\endgroup$
    – user253751
    May 23 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ @user253751 Good point. If the waves are big enough you won't have to fire the gun at all. $\endgroup$
    – Daron
    May 23 at 14:42
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A Few Thoughts:

Without knowing a little bit more about how your systems work, I can only conjecture about possible reasons why you would still have sea ships and not just air ships. But here's what I was thinking.

  • Legacy ships: Your navy already exists. While you might not be able to compete with an airship, you already have the sea ships. They can teleport in, fight as much as they can, and bug out.
  • Cheap conversions: Some part of your tech is fairly swappable. Sea ships can have your newfangled tech strapped on, and a guided missile destroyer suddenly can become a guided missile airship. Or perhaps your airships are lightly built, and many are structurally not much more than a big freighter with guns & engines strapped on. So your maritime transport fleet is readily converted to your air fleet.
  • Landing difficulties: If your airships are as difficult to land and control near the ground as traditional zeppelins were, then landing and taking off could be quite challenging. While you struggle to deploy your air ships one at a time, 30 sea ships have already teleported in and are unleashing clouds of missiles at the enemy. Sea ships can land and depart from any of thousands of existing ports maintained for old-fashioned ships. In fact, your air ships might even be built to be able to land on water and operate as sea ships in the same way sea planes are today.
  • Convoy Shipping: Your air ships might not be cheap to run for cargo, and teleporting could be tricky. Old-fashioned freighters still move most of the goods around the planet, and it simply isn't economical to keep an airship hovering around freighters on the sea. But a sea ship moves at freighter speeds, and can sit close to the water where the freighters are.
  • Defense: Your airships are quick to deploy, but they aren't sitting everywhere. Communications still takes time, and airships on the ground are vulnerable. But a sea ship can loiter on a position, ready to fight any airships that show up at a moment's notice.
  • Cheap Sea Ships: Teleportation isn't just great for airships. Because they don't need to move very fast or go long distances, REALLY big, cheap sea ships are developed. Foamed reinforced concrete hulls bristling with missiles, or huge pykrete aircraft carriers are SO cheap to make that many fleets still build these floating behemoths. They don't need to stay out at sea for long periods and so don't need big crews or expensive and dangerous nuclear power plants. They might even be semi-disposable if cheap enough.
  • Land ships: Your sea ships are still bigger, heavier, and more massively armored than your air ships. So what happens if you teleport a flat-bottomed battleship to a defensive position on land? It is an instant deployable fortress that can teleport back out if they take too much damage. And if they do take damage, they can't crash or sink.
  • Cargo capacity: Even with huge airships, sea ships can still haul more - a LOT more. If teleporting is energy-intensive, fuel ships are teleported in. If a base needs to be built, you teleport in a sea ship to carry the cargo.
  • Mobile bases: You want your air fleets to maintain mobility and still have a safe base to go back to for supplies, arms, fuel, etc. But the enemy knows where your bases are and can teleport anywhere your base is. Just materialize, spray area-denial weapons everywhere, and leave. With that extra capacity to hold weight that sea ships have, you want to maintain a floating base that can be teleported around the oceans of the world so your fleet can have a safe harbor. And of course, what is better to defend a floating base than floating sea ships...
  • Stealth: No, not submarines. I've been told by questionable sources that stealth tech on planes actually works a LOT better on ships. Because of the slow speeds of ships, this can rarely be used offensively since the ships reveal their locations when they fire, and then can't fly away. It's mostly used for intelligence gathering. But a stealth sea ship that can sneak up, fire a massive salvo and then teleport away can be a great surprise weapon.
  • Gunships: These vessels are not meant to be pretty, or good fighters, but simply massive gun batteries. They show up, bombard a coastal position with the longest range weapons they have, and leave. Or they can be area denial weapons themselves, simply huge anti-aircraft platforms to force the enemy to maneuver around them while your own ships can use their firepower as a shelter.
  • Nuclear Weapons: One of the reasons governments are considering moving away from armadas of big, expensive ships is that a small nuclear weapon carried by a modest plane or ship can make super-ships obsolete. Airships, with thin armor, thin radiation shielding, vulnerability to EMP effects (oops, the engine shut off...) and vulnerability to being easily buffeted by shockwaves may make them expensive and vulnerable targets in a full-scale war. A naval cruiser with missiles and nuclear weapons (and armor, radiation shielding, plus a teleporter) might be the only kind of ship you still have "sailing" after such an exchange.

All of these things can be mixed and matched, so gunships can show up, attack a coast, heavy sea transports can drop thousands of ground troops, and secure a port that cna then be a hub of your fleet.

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Well, ships have one nice advantage that water helps them stay afloat. Your heli thingy needs say 4 huge propellers to keep it up there, so its size vs space for putting guns is more limited than on a ship which can have 100% of "above water" covered by guns. So, your fleet of surface ships has a sizeable advantage in amount of firepower for size.

Besides the number of guns advantage, ships would have larger guns and/or better shields:

water helps cushion the kick of a powerful railgun, so ships could have larger guns than same size of fighter, plus ship could turn off nuclear power from engines and use all of it to charge shields or lasers. Fighters could do that only for a short while before reaching ground or sea.

But, fighters are way faster. It is possible that such superior speed will make ships tactically irrelevant despite superior firepower of each - fighter will linger in range only until it gets too damaged, then it would fly out - meanwhile, ships will be stuck there until victorious or dead - so, 100 ships vs 100 fighters would see few ships destroyed and all fighters severely damaged. Ships inflicted more damage and held the battlefield, but it was fighters that didn't lose a single one.

There are two obvious plausible options: "ships can be larger" and "ships can be small above water with huge missile capacity underneath". I am ignoring these two, assuming size is mainly a cost/shipyard limitation with magitech handling the structural engineering, size is the same for both. There is also not much point in having a small ship with huge missile bay underneath, as with sufficiently good aiming you have essentially one shot one hit so your small surface size doesn't really help you.

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Submarines. Your aircraft won't fare very well against them. You can control the skies but the sub can sneak in and lob missiles at coastal targets.

Sub hunting either requires aircraft-dropped sonobouys (which get depleted fast) or helicopters with dipping sonars--and it's reaching the point where the sub could prove quite dangerous to aircraft hunting it. Take an AMRAAM, encase it for subsurface launch, when you have a bearing to an enemy helicopter you fire the missile on that bearing.

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Your Air Ships are Also your Sea Ships

Cruisers are big things. Essentially a SHIELD heli carrier

^ Note that the SHIELD heli-carrier was also a normal naval carrier.

Your air ships need somewhere to land, and even normal aircraft require huge flat places to take off and land from. As others have pointed out, flying all the time uses up way too much fuel, and while Warping lets get back home to refuel, if your ships are all the size of modern naval ships, that could mean that any specialized landing port built on land could easily be very cost prohibitive. The reason being that, any airship designed to attack land targets will ideally have all the stuff that is on top of a modern cruiser located on the bottom: guns, missle tubes, sensor towers, etc. This means it's not enough to just have a big flat runway you can land any aircraft on, but you need very large and sturdy landing platform custom built for the model of airship you are using so that you don't smash all your delicate protruding bottom bits.

enter image description here

... but you don't need to land on dry land at all. Water conforms to any shape; so, any adequately dredged seaport will work for any ship of about the right size, and be way cheaper to build.

Furthermore, warping itself is likely to be very expensive. In general the faster you move to get somewhere the more expensive it is; so, while your fleet CAN warp anywhere it is needed, the amount of fuel you expend doing so may be so great that it is only considered as an action of last resort. So if it costs you 1 million dollars to sail a ships out to where you expect to need it a few weeks from now, 10 million dollars to fly your airship where you need it a few hours from now or 1 billion dollars to warp there right away... then chances are, most operations will be done by sailing and flying with warp being reserved only for special/emergency operations.

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Peace Time Capabilities

Armies and navies don't just exist during wartime. Even when your country is not at war with anyone else, there's still plenty for them to do. I doubt you want to send your heavily armed flying/teleporting ships to catch rickety boats loaded with illegal immigrants or drugs, that's just a waste of assets. Protecting civilian shipping against pirates is also not something you need your teleporting sky ships for, although they do come in handy as "cavalry". Sky ships would also be overkill if you're trying to hunt down a Not-Pablo Escobar. Lots to do for which you want humble water-borne ships instead of sky fortresses.

Amphibious landings

Sometimes heavily entrenched air defenses may prevent the use of sky ships to drop boots on the ground. You may need amphibious landing craft to do that job instead.

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Mobility design:

A ship has a relatively simple mobility. Propellors/jets at the back and a mechanism to steer their direction. If that mechanism is damaged or destroyed the ship is immobile but still afloat.

An airship like the Avengers aircarrier is much more vulnerable. A realistic version would barely be capable of stable flight with 4 turbines and crash when one is damaged (not even destroyed!), a fantasy version like in the movie will crash at 2 turbines lost.

You might say "but it will simply teleport to the ground somewhere safe the moment that happens" but you have literal seconds or less before it reaches crash speed. Worse is that the very second it starts crashing it will cause everyone onboard to go weightless and have trouble engaging a teleport drive. That is even assuming it will fall neatly straight down, and its remaining turbines wont cause it to start spinning and kill the crew by G forces and smashing them to the insides.

A good combat airship would have a massive amount of redundant turbines and jets to stay aloft, and a computer system capable of handling all the changes of normal flight and damaged/destroyed turbines to keep it stabilized.

Another problem is fuel distribution. There have to be fuel lines and storage all across the ship, making fires and explosions more likely when damage occurs. Worse is that the sheer amount of air you need to push down for lift creates air vortices that will feed the fires and make many repair actions impossible.

For the same price package a sea ship is less vulnerable, can save up computer power for distance and defense calculations (say intercepting anti-ship missiles) and it takes a fraction of the resources and fuel to operate.

Weapon design:

An airship needs weapons on all sides facing above, below and on the same level. A sea going ship only really needs weapons facing above and level. torpedo's and ASW warfare works differently and you can safely dump things off the top of the ship, while an airship needs dedicated canons for below defense. Additionally you need radar systems above and below for proper target acquisition.

This means you need more ammo throughout the airship, much of it near the surface of the airship. You also need to design the weapons around the giant turbines and jets required to steer and stabilize the ship.

A sea ship might not teleport, but its reduced cost, reduced vulnerability and more efficient firepower would more than make up for it.

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