Lets say I have a space fleet flying to attack an installation. The enemy knows I'm coming but not my numbers or exact disposition. Since I'm moving much slower then C the light from my fleet will race ahead of me and they will be able to see me coming, and my disposition and numbers, well in advance of my arrival.

To prevent this I want to throw up some 'electronic camouflage'. Start creating a massive amount of electronic radiation, in random chaotic patterns. The idea is to create so much 'white noise' that they can't make out my fleet and it's units through all the noise. They will still know I'm coming, but not what I bring with me.

How much energy expenditure would it require to throw up sufficient noise to hide the fleet from passive scanners, assuming the enemy has scanners for all major frequencies (I'm not just blocking visible light)? Is it a viable method of hiding my fleets units? if so how hard is it to create a radius much larger then my fleet requires, to further hide size and exact attack angle? How close can I get before it starts to get easier to make out what the enemy is seeing, and are there any obvious protections against the strategy?


This is actually a real life technique used in some jammers, known as random noise jamming (wiki link). One of the real challenges with this is that, in an attempt to mask your presence, you end up giving them really loud signal to send anti-radiation weapons against (wiki link). There are solutions to this; you can research them if you like. Countermeasures, counter-countermeasures, and counter-counter-countermeasures are a fascinating topic.

If you think about it, jamming also means they will be more likely to fire first and ask questions later. The mere act of trying to obscure your numbers is often a sufficiently aggressive act to cause the other party to open fire on you rather than hailing you. They still make jammers to this day, so clearly they provide value, but it does require some care in application. Used poorly, you may find that instead of letting you get close before asking questions, they'll fire on you at a distance.

  • $\begingroup$ yes, but can you send a tiny jammer to make them waste resources on attacking a presumed enemy fleet that doesn't exist? $\endgroup$ – dsollen Nov 20 '15 at 16:02
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    $\begingroup$ @dsollen That is a very good logistics question that depends on a lot of cost factors which adapt over time. Thinking along the lines you're looking at lead to development of things like MALD (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ADM-160_MALD). The way militaries deal with decoys is a long history (at least a few thousand years). For a space-faring warfare book, I'd say you have a lot of latitude to write clever strategies and technologies related to the topic. $\endgroup$ – Cort Ammon - Reinstate Monica Nov 20 '15 at 18:05

Well what you are trying to do is hide behind a small sun. You are sending electromagnetic radiation out across the spectrum so you can 'hid behind it'. Depending on what you are hiding it could be quite a lot of energy.

However, to simplify things, you just all travel in a straight line toward your destination largest ship in the lead, at any great distance they won't be able to tell how many are behind it. To help you can set your 'sun' in front of the lead ship, helping to disguise any attempts to see 'around' the lead ship, since those are the energy readings they will be trying to catch and understand.

Edt: you can also try to vector in directly in line with a large star, since it will also help hid the fact you are coming at all.

  • $\begingroup$ Couldn't they send a scout/drone out on a perpendicular vector that will then transmit back? $\endgroup$ – Dan Smolinske Nov 19 '15 at 20:41
  • $\begingroup$ yes, I'm kind of thinking it would potentially be too expensive, but I'm really not sure. If you create algorithms to create the most distracting noise possible how much can you lower the energy output by using it most efficiently? I'm not really sure how to define that question since I don't know how hard it is to correct for such noise. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Nov 19 '15 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ Is it the Empire? No, but we are meant to think so. Those ships are single file. The Empire always fly side by side to show their numbers. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Nov 19 '15 at 20:49
  • $\begingroup$ @DanSmolinske, yes, but since we're talking large values of c these are great distances and how far do you need to send out a drone to get a fix? These ships are likely going to be much smaller than Pluto and coming from much greater distances, Even finding them amongst the background stars will be difficult $\endgroup$ – bowlturner Nov 19 '15 at 20:49

If I am understanding the question correctly, the fleet is coming at a large fraction of c. This means they will be coming right behind their own light cone, and no further action is going to be needed, since the fleet will not be where an observer "sees" them, and the time between detection and effective countermeasures would be far too small to really do anything.

While sending a wall of "white noise" won't add too much, you should consider that since the transmitters (aboard the ships) are already moving at a high fraction of c, the energy being radiated will be drastically blue shifted, possibly to the point that this is no longer ECM but rather a weapons grade wave of high energy radiation. This might help the fleet in a different way, since this wave of high ultraviolet or soft x ray radiation will vaporize any small particles of dust or even small objects ahead of the fleet. At high fractions of c, even a single gas molecule could pack an incredible amount of energy, and the fleet would be "sandblasted" as it moves through space towards the target. This wave of energy will preserve the fleet during its travels.

  • $\begingroup$ I said explicitly that they were moving much slower then C :) They have different faster then light approaches to get to a system, but they use traditional propulsion in a system, and it takes time to build up any momentum. They won't get to anything like C, lacking both time and reason to waste that kind of fuel. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Nov 20 '15 at 16:05
  • $\begingroup$ @dsollen in the question, "I'm not moving much slower then C" makes it sound like the opposite... $\endgroup$ – 2012rcampion Nov 21 '15 at 2:46

The essence of astronomy is picking a patch of sky, grabbing a telescope and wondering what the heck it is you are looking at.

The white noise isn't actually necessary as a masking maneuver - although it does have very interesting potential as a deflector shield, as another answer cleverly pointed out.

But a more than adequate mask could be had by simply making the front of your column of ships really quite bright. Any attempt to visually observe the moving column would have a difficult time resolving any details at all. Shorter "exposures" (sample times) dull out the darker components beyond recognition, and longer ones are washed out by the point source of the light.

A little clever engineering should also be able to intentionally account for blue shift, making the light ahead of the group appear to be appropriately shifted for a star in that part of the sky of the target planet.

Using exotic transmissions has the problem that, if used as a tactic, it can be learned. If the attack doesn't result in total annihilation of the enemy, survivors can pass on the information along with estimates of the remaining size of the attacking force.

  • $\begingroup$ Shorter "exposures" (sample times) dull out the darker components beyond recognition, and longer ones are washed out by the point source of the light. -- The solution is simple: take lots of very short exposures and add them together. This avoids saturating your detector and lets you detect the darker components. $\endgroup$ – Peter Erwin Sep 10 '17 at 12:39

I think it will be partially effective, but not at the speed of light. There's a few other aspects to consider as well consider the other aspects:

1. Does your jamming move faster than the speed of light?

In order for your electronic jamming to work, it would have to travel ahead of you - aka faster than the speed of light. I don't think we know of any means of communication which would fit that bill. It would work once you slow down, however.

2. Looking out the window

The mark-1 eyeball. Or better yet, the mark-5000 Visual Ship Detection System. Get a single scout ship within line of sight of your fleet, and they will be able to estimate your force size pretty accurately (how many engine lights do you see? Over what area are the stars flicking in and out of existence as ships pass in front of them, etc). You may develop tactics to confuse such sensors, but only to a point. Keep that in mind.

3. Why bother jamming at all?

Simply shut down all wave-form communications. Communicate with each ship only via directional laser impulses (not weapons, look it up, this technology is used today). It's basically impossible to intercept, and even then, you'd have to decode it. A fleet, approaching in electronic silence, from a random direction, and communicating only by shooting invisible laser messages at one another? Have fun finding them. Of course this wouldn't work at light speed, but nothing is perfect.

  • $\begingroup$ The fleet is moving slower than the speed of light, though that information was conveyed in kind of a confusing way. So point one and part of three are moot here. $\endgroup$ – Samuel Nov 19 '15 at 20:39
  • $\begingroup$ I'm not expecting to go at the speed of light. Long distance travel is handed by other means (jump points in my case). In a system there is only so much time to accelerate. The ships may go absurdly fast by earth standards, but no where close to C. And I asked in response to my last question, the close distance ships need to close, and the fact that people no where to look particularly if they anticipate an attack, means that passive hiding isn't effective. thus Kick in active scrambling when your too close for passive hiding allows continuing to keep details about the fleet hidden $\endgroup$ – dsollen Nov 19 '15 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ In that case, sure - spam electronic signals, but also keep in mind you have to visually mask your approach somehow. $\endgroup$ – AndreiROM Nov 19 '15 at 20:48
  • $\begingroup$ point 1 they are at sub light speed, point 2 visible light sensors can be blinded just like any other sensor shine a bright light in its face, point 3 any object that is warm is an infrared radiation source because of black body radiation so ships can't stop sending waveforms $\endgroup$ – sdrawkcabdear Nov 20 '15 at 1:16
  • $\begingroup$ If you jam all electronic frequencies you jam your visual view as well. what we see with our eyes is just electromagnetic radiation of a specific frequency... $\endgroup$ – dsollen Nov 20 '15 at 16:03

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