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Rules of the universe

In this universe (which yes is related to the one in this question), a species has achieved faster-than-light travel with some caveats. A ship with a warp drive, a device that uses microwave-generated plasma to deform spacetime around the ship, can be used to generate an Alcubierre-style warp field that can allow for faster-than-light travel. On smaller scales, weaker warp drives can also generate artificial gravitational effects, allowing someone sufficiently capable to use artificial gravity to make "magic" and levitate objects, throw things across rooms, etc.

The caveat is that performing the calculations necessary to actually tell a warp drive what to do to produce a given effect is extremely difficult, and the species that has access to the warp drive technology doesn't yet have sufficiently advanced computers that would allow them to do the calculations there. So in order to travel across the stars, one must spend a long time calculating exactly what parameters must be input to the warp drive in order for the drive to take them to their destination instead of collapsing the ship into a black hole (which happens frequently in this universe).

One thing that can be done with the warp field without much calculation is a geonic communicator, a device that generates geons (essentially self-contained gravitational waves) wrapped around alpha particles so that the geon has built into it a warp field that carries the alpha particle forward at an exponentially-accelerating speed, eventually exceeding the speed of light. The time it takes for a geonic communicator to send a message increases logarithmically with increasing distance as opposed to linearly for normal light-based communications; these are high-energy devices and usually require large electric generators to power, but they allow the conveyance of information across space faster-than-light so that interstellar colonies can effectively communicate with each other.

Minor notes: warp drives are considered expensive but not unobtainable; a small single-person orbital ship might cost around \$100,000 equivalent, and the warp drive to go with it might bring the total cost to \$250,000 equivalent. Geonic communicators are very expensive devices, usually government-owned, that cost upwards of \$300,000 equivalent per communicator and require about 10 kW of power and an alpha-particle source (like a brick of americium) in order to transmit or receive messages, which cap out at a bandwidth of around 1 MB/s. Additionally, if a warp drive is improperly used, it collapses the ship's mass into a black hole.

The issue that I'm having

The species with access to FTL isn't a peaceful one - in fact, wars post-FTL happen frequently and are a major issue in this universe. The thing is, why can't a belligerent stuff a willing militant in a warp-capable ship, have them fly directly into the enemy planet's atmosphere, and intentionally set the drive to collapse the ship into a black hole and destroy whatever happens to be near the ship when the warp drive detonates?

By mass-energy conversion, a one hundred ton ship (including warp drive and kamikaze bombers) would detonate with an energy of around 2.148 trillion tons of TNT, which is 2.5 times more energy than was released at the last Yellowstone eruption and almost 4,000 times more energy than has been released by all nuclear warfare and testing on Earth combined.

Obviously, the power of this weapon is so immense that if a few of them (<10) were used properly, an entire planet's population could be wiped out in a single attack. The other issue is, you can't see these weapons coming because they're arriving via warp drive: if the bomb has no geonic communicators on it, then the light containing information about the bomb's deployment will only reach ground zero after the bomb has already detonated, at which point there will probably be more obvious evidence.

This is a major issue for any kind of storytelling in this universe if there's a war going on. Pretty much everyone has access to warp bombs, which functionally act as perfectly-invisible planet-destroying weapons that are virtually impossible to stop. So why aren't these warp bombs ever used in actual warfare?

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    $\begingroup$ Nope, that's not how MAD works. MAD works by ensuring that there will always be a second strike capability. In practice, here on Earth this means that the relevant powers will at all times have one, two, or more ballistic missile submarines at sea somewhere in the ocean, nobody knows where, not even the power to whom they belong. If worse comes to worst and the SSBNs feel a great disturbance in the force (= no contact from command for a preset time), they will rain fire and destruction on preselected targets no questions asked. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Apr 15 at 14:30
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    $\begingroup$ Can I recommend editting your question right down to the critical core, eg. "How do I prevent warp-drive FTL weapons being used to destroy everyone", sort of thing. Geons and microwaves aren't relevant. Pause briefly to consider Burnside's Advice and maybe state the outcome you want, because that's a much more tractable question because it isn't nearly so open-ended. $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ I'm unclear on what happens when this "bomb" goes off. At one point you say that the drive (and the ship attached to it) become a black hole, but then later you mention mass/energy equivalence, which is usually relevant to an antimatter explosion. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Apr 15 at 14:56
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    $\begingroup$ @Cadence Black holes evaporate with speed inversely proportional to their size; if a low mass of 100 tons is compressed into a black hole, the mass-energy of the black hole is almost-immediately turned into Hawking radiation in the span of 81.44 milliseconds $\endgroup$ Apr 15 at 15:01
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    $\begingroup$ Voting to reopen. The cited close reason is that this is a story based question when the OP clearly asks "why can't" a ship be used as a WMD not "why wouldn't" it. This question is clearly looking for an in universe mechanic to prevent it from being possible. Not a plot based reason that it won't happen. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 16 at 19:15

9 Answers 9

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Geon Communicators mean Stable Micro Black Holes

if a warp drive is improperly used, it collapses the ship's mass into a black hole.

One thing that can be done with the warp field without much calculation is a geonic communicator

You cannot have your hyper-luminal geon communicators without stable geons existing in your setting. Since this establishes the ability of this technology to make stable geons, it means that any relatively small mass, condensed into a blackhole may likewise be stable and would not be consistent with Hawking's Evaporation equations (which have never been observationally proven). If you assume that spacetime is discrete at the Planck scale (also never been proven one way or the other), then an adequately small black hole would not experience waves at the event horizon small enough to create hawking radiation. This would mean no Hawking Radiation, or at least way less than Hawking's equations predict, and therefore no instant mass to energy explosion.

This means that if you want an explosion, from gravitational collapse, you would need to stop the collapse just before the matter becomes a micro black hole. Like a warp jump, this would require very precise calculations. But, even with the best calculations there is just too unknown in your ship to get meaningfully close to a point singularity without creating a point singularity.

In most cases you will either stop the collapse too soon or too late for a meaningful explosion making the tech too unreliable as a weapon system. If you stop it too soon, you will have a highly compressed mass, but not enough to trigger any nuclear events. Because the ship's heat is conserved, the ship's temperature will increase to thousands of degrees resulting in a thermal explosion, plus secondary explosions from any volatile chemicals on the ship. Such a detonation would be somewhere on the same scale as a normal chemical based bomb.

If you stop the collapse too late, then you fall into a micro black hole. A 100 ton ship would become a mostly stable black hole with an event horizon that is about 2 million times smaller in diameter than an electron. The resulting black hole will be so small, that it will simply pass through the planet harmlessly aside from maybe a little bit of radiation.

Even if everything goes perfectly, you will not get anywhere near a 2 teraton explosion. The closest you might get would be to compress all of the matter down until any hydrogen on the ship reaches fusion pressure, at which point you'd only get a thermonuclear event involving an element that you probably don't have a whole lot of on your ship. The hydrogen blast will rip apart the rest of your ship's mass before it can continue to collapse any further. It could still create a very nasty city leveling explosion, but nothing more impressive than a traditional nuclear bomb, and far less reliable; so, such a weapon would only ever be attempted on an improvised basis, and only by the handful of people with the time and expertises to rewrite thier ship's warp-drive software in a meaningful way... since "turn me into a weapon of mass destruction" is not going to be a feature that your average ship factory is going to be building in on thier own.

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The device doesn't work well near big gravitational bodies.

The physics of such a device are quite sensitive, and the massive gravity fluctuations near planets and stars tend to disrupt their machinery. You can get some stuff to happen, e.g. murdering boars, but you can't get faster than light travel in atmosphere.

There are some efforts to bypass this, but none have been that successful as of recent scientific efforts.

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FTL disrupting plasma barriers (shielding)

In the proposed universe, the mechanism of attaining FTL is precisely, not grossly, deformed spacetime using microwave generated plasma.

The solar wind is ionized plasma. There is a lot of plasma to be had around those giant fusion balls of plasma suns/stars, and a requirement of life sustaining orbiting bodies is a magnetic field that deflects the plasma and keeps the atmosphere and oceans from otherwise being scraped off by it.

Even though it is hard to maintain "quality" plasma, is it likely easier to maintain good enough "dirty" plasma such that a dead-fire weapon like that would be preventatively corrupted in its FTL-nature? If the FTL-drive vehicle transited the "dirty" domain, its FTL operation would be reduced, or damaged.

If so then perhaps roaming random plasma corruption pods around a solar system might be a functional stochastic barrier without needing to be located at the planet? (I'm imagining "sky trenches" while thinking about this.)

No free lunch with conservation of energy

It takes energy to compress a spring. It takes a lot of energy to compress it a lot. To get the mechanical transformation of an object to black-hole critical density is extremely energy expensive. That energy must come from somewhere, and likely it is from mass-energy conversion of some percent of the object being compressed. So while a side effect is putting the mass of the ship into the black hole, most of the mass is lost making the compression of the rest of the mass to universe-warping critical density.

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Everything warp drills a hole into subspace. You can almost instantanously create a wormhole back into a catastrophe

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  • $\begingroup$ This answer could use more explanation. What would the effects of a wormhole in this context be to prevent warp drives from being weaponized. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 16 at 13:26
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The Black Hole Moves Much Faster Than Light

It takes a finite (but small) amount of time for Hawking Radiation to dissipate the energy in a small black hole.

If the black hole is moving at an extreme velocity, this Hawking Radiation could be spread over light years, and the average energy released in a given area would be small.

A 100 ton black hole would have an event horizon on the sub-atomic scale - it could probably pass through a planet without grabbing more than a few stray atoms due to direct hits to the nucleus.

This means that a warp drive implosion is useless as a weapon, but that outside observers can detect the rough size of the ship and direction of travel if it blows up, based on light-years long energy burst. This gives you the ability to find secret bases, fleets, or hidden colonies with an unlucky implosion if that serves your narrative.

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Can't land close enough.

A armed warp-capable ship won't be able to get close enough to the planet before getting shot down. When a warp is normally used, the arrival point is precise enough to target a certain spot in a solar system, which would be followed by a final approach to their destination. In this case, it gets shot by the planet defenses long before reaching the planet.

Let's say the ship has an accuracy of 10.000.000km, hitting close enough to the planet is now REALLY hard. And that is only about 30x the distance to the moon, or about a 7th of the distance to mercury (closest planet to earth).

Add to the inaccuracy that gravitational wells make it worse, and you won't even be able to land close to a planet if you want it. The wells kinda function like hills when warping, and while you compensate for the star, each additional gravitational body gets far more difficult to calculate. Your ship would function like a marble that gets dropped on a large sphere and just roll off to a side. Making it impossible for all (bar theoretical) attempts to even land close enough to just send a bomb-ship through to directly detonate.

Moreover, this isn't a bug, it's a feature that is directly part of the most base calculations of the warp, just so the race wouldn't ever have to deal with a ship dropping out of warp intersecting with a planet (or even another ship).

Edit:

"Loud" engines and warp exclusion zone.

Through the way they function, warp engines are capable of being detected from far away, and take time to 'warm up' before they can warp/detonate. If somebody approaches the no-warp exclusion zone around a planet, with their warp active, they get shot down. Same for if they start their warp engines up too-near a planet.

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    $\begingroup$ This assumes all ships are known hostiles. If any ship whatsoever can be used, then making a fake merchant ship would be trivial. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 16 at 13:30
  • $\begingroup$ @Nosajimiki Identification codes could help against this. Maybe even have a spool up/spool down on the warp drives that can be detected from outside the ship, which take long enough to notice and get shot down if they are turned on, or aren't turned off. $\endgroup$
    – vinzzz001
    Apr 16 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ ID codes are nothing a half intelligent insurgent can't overcome. At as little as \$250,000, warp ships are dirt cheap, meaning that a planet could easily have thousands, if not millions, of privately owned ships coming and going each day. With that much traffic, there are countless ways to blend in with normal traffic. The spooling up thing might work though if you enforce a large enough exclusion zone. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    Apr 16 at 13:47
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1: required travel time by disruption.

Your Alcubierre field uses very difficult calculations to create the plasma and travel FTL. So if anything can disrupt that field prematurely, your ship now has to travel through regular space (or with a less fast but more stable Alcubierre field so travel times aren’t months or years). This can be as simple as using some kind of energy to charge the dust in a solar system. Now any willing militant will be detected in advance and have to fly a gauntlet to get to the planet in the first place, then do the black hole calculations while under fire and potentially things like lasers disrupting the attempt.

2: disruption of the Alcubierre field to prevent black holes.

Any ship with an Alcubierre field generator will be targeted by something like a laser that keeps switching frequencies. While creating a black hole is possible, it’s still not easy to pull off. Like a nuclear bomb it needs a specific set of conditions to create the black hole, and these lasers prevent that.

In fact, why use lasers at all? The plasma needed to create the field is delicate after all as it requires precise calculations, so the very atmosphere would disrupt the creation of the field necessary for a Black Hole.

3: move the resulting Black Hole quickly.

The calculations to create the proper plasma wall for a ship are difficult, but with the ready made plasma surrounding the resulting black hole the calculations are exceedingly easy. Installations on the planet are constantly looking for ships with Alcubierre drives, if any Black Hole is created the installation instantly uses the Black Hole’s resulting plasma shell to launch the Black Hole into space, mitigating most of the damage.

4: Catastrofe Inhibitor (CatIn).

So you can fold space with Alcubierre tech if there’s plasma, so any explosion big enough to create a certain amount of plasma can be influenced. Using this you can extend space on the explosion and reduce the total size it will travel.

5: MAD.

Yeah still this one. If anyone can pull this off, then you want to have something against everyone else as well. People are stationed in deep space with ships designed for one purpose: once someone uses a Black Hole on a planet, any potential enemy will suffer the same fate. This means that everyone is constantly on the lookout for any potential group who might do this just to prevent retaliation. No one does it because then everyone would be dead.

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Warp Countermeasures

You have some devices surrounding planets and key critical infrastructure which prevents warp travel.

This is similar to an issue created in Schlock Mercenary where Kevyn invents the Teraport (device that can almost instantaneously travel around 200,000 light years), and then invents teraport countermeasures which disintegrates anyone teraporting somewhere they shouldn't be.

With however your warp drive works it probably doesn't follow newtonian principles so even though it can be travelling past light speed it doesn't mean if you turn it off you will still be travelling at speeds enough to core through a planet.

So light information cannot be used to detect incoming warp drives, but they could send out some FTL incoming warning so they could be detected approaching and subsequently countermeasured to be diverted into the nearest star or what have you.

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Any explosion is instantly solved by a black hole

What happens if you explode the full nuclear force of Earth in a black hole? What about the constant nuclear explosion that creates a star? A black hole by definition can't be escaped, so both simply add mass and energy to the black hole. You can argue about interesting things happening on the rim of a black hole, but these forces are childs play with what is going on in a black hole.

Your gravitational waves create a black hole, pressing your several ton ship into a black hole. Some energy might not go beyond the event horizon and escape into the world for a sizable explosion. The rest will be caught in the black hole and evaporate there via hawking radiation.

Are they out of the woods? By no means they would be. It would be a small black hole. Smaller black holes evaporate Hawking radiation more quickly, and this one would be small enough to evaporate in a very short time. However, there is a saving grace. At first, paradoxically, the black hole will start to shine visible light, after which the Hawking radiation will become large enough to be actual particles. That means that much of the energy will be turned back into mass, reducing the explosion. Though I do not know the exact results, we can take it and say that it would be no more than a very big nuclear explosion.

"Very big nuclear explosion? That can be a weapon!" Sure it can, but at what cost? You're throwing an expensive and important craft to the enemy. At that point I expect many other (nuclear) weapons can be created for cheap with better effects. Not to mention that scorching a planet is blowing up potential resources for yourself. Livable planets are probably the most important resource in the universe, making it important not to destroy them. So smart precision strikes instead of full scale armageddon.

Not to mention that nuclear bombs burst high in the atmosphere would trigger strong EMP effects that can render much electrical things useless, unless very well protected. Safer and more effective.

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