I have a setting with space fleets fighting, the include both capital ships and human flown 'space fighters', which I already put some work into justifying: How to keep humans pilots instead of AI in sci-fi future?
I want to encourage smart tactics, maneuvering, the equivalent of outflanking and surprising enemies etc to some degree within my world, particularly since my main focus is on a small group of folks flying powerful crafts, but who would ultimately need to use tactics to make the most of battles due to their small numbers.
The problem is that space is big and empty. Most tactics don't work well when you can't surprise anyone, and you don't have any terrain to exploit to gain an advantage. I'm looking for ideas to add variables which encourage more tactics and planning on the scale of one fleet engaging another (Larger strategic concerns are less in scope to my story, and also carry over better from current warfare to space warfare so it's easier to imagine them).
I'm open to modifying technology, weapons, and environment to a degree to create or encourage better use of tactics. However, I'm trying to stay somewhat hard sci-fi, it's okay to make up a technology that feels somewhat plausible, but full ramifications of such technology existing must be explored. I'd love general suggestions for making any space warfare more tactical, as well as specifics for my world.
As to my world, here is how the technology works, some of it already was altered to encourage or better use tactics but I still don't have enough of it:
The general world:
- Travel is done at sub-light speeds except at specific points where one can open up jump point to another region, only larger ships have the power and equipment to make jumps usually. There are quite a few of these jumps between regions. I'm open to tweaking these and suspect tweaks to how jump points work is probably the easiest way to add more tactical options.
- Limited faster than light communication exists. however, it is not entirely instantaneous and can only travel so far before the signal degrades. Most jump points also act as relays to strengthen and pass comms through, but obviously whoever owns a jump point can prevent relaying enemy comms. Messages can be sent without jump points but require more energy and suffer more lag. In combat FTL communication is less efficient due to weapons and jamming systems, only short data grams can get through and they may come in irregularly.
- Geneva convention insists space battles must be held a certain minimum distance out from any inhabited planet or habitat to avoid stray bullets destroying all life on a planet. Battles for these locations occur, but generally far enough away from the actual planet that someone isn't going to be able to jump around a moon and surprise you
- Space. Is. Big. While I've created systems to encourage closer range battles I plan to stay accurate in regards to the size of space, and the limited rate of sublight engines producing acceleration compared to the size of space. In short, hiding behind a moon and jumping out of nowhere isn't as effective when it takes over an hour of acceleration to even begin to move around the moon to surprise someone...
Enemy crafts and shield technology.
Shield technology exists and is used on all capital ships, but most smaller crafts are not shielded and easily destroyed. Shields are best destroyed with certain types of energy weapons that have rather short ranges, encouraging battles at 'close' range, from an astrological standpoint.
The efficiency of shields means just throwing more energy at them is a bad way of destroying them, instead, all weapons and tactics for taking out capital ships are focused on intentionally ruining the resonance of the shields, which causes destructive interference and drains the shields energy reserves. As long as a shield knows what attack to expect it can be calibrated to be very effective against it, however, it can't be perfectly calibrated against all types of attacks at once, and if poorly calibrated for an attack the shields will lose power with an inefficient deflection...
A combination of a few strong attacks with lots of weak attacks tends to be a very effective way of draining shields because the way to configure against lots of weak attacks is very different from defending against a strong attack. For this reason, all capital ships carry a number of smaller fighters and bomber crafts. Bombers swarm shields and attack from all sides while capital ships hit with one large energy weapon, the combination draining the shields far better than either tactic alone; fighters simply protect bombers and destroy enemy bombers.
To squeeze efficiency out of shields they are calibrated for the anticipated fight when they are brought up, and then they slowly adjust their calibration during the fight (Once shields are turned on the calibration must be slowly shifted to a new one, quick changing of celebration while shields are active will waste a large amount of energy). For instance, if two capital ships are fighting the shields will be calibrated for one capital ship hitting from the port side and a few dozen bombers attacking from multiple angles. As bombers are destroyed the shields recalibrate to focus on being more efficient at defending against the capital ships weapons at the expense of being worse against bombers, as there are fewer bombers to defend against. Likewise, as the enemy capital ship moves the shields will recalibrate to keep the shields strongest in the areas the capital ship could hit with its beam weapon.
capital ships tend to have only one, or at most two, beam weapons, and very little in way of point defenses against bombers; it's difficult to fire through your own shields and limiting the number of places you're firing through allows shields to be calibrated to higher efficiency. Beam weapons grow weaker with distance and thus can grow increasingly devastating as capital ships close; not that closing on an enemy ship is always the best way of engaging them.
Obviously, shields have been modified intentionally so that sneak attacks and baiting the enemy into starting with a shield that is poorly calibrated for a fight is a good way to get an upper hand. The problem is that the idea of 'sneak attacks' is kind of hard in space. The enemy can pretty well anticipate exactly what you're throwing at them and where since they see you coming hours or days before you arrive, and there are limited ways to surprise them or maneuver differently since your maneuver speeds are so limited.