I had to think this one through, and even now I don't know if it belongs here, hopefully you guys can help.

Most scifi media has the World War II approach to combat, chasing and maneuvering in dogfights or "running silent" when it comes to larger ships.

What I want to know for now is:

Is "jousting", in the terms of running at each other guns blazing repeatedly, a viable tactic against other combat vessels or, would extreme Ranged Combat still reign king?

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    $\begingroup$ I found a discussion by some people who seem to play a computer game involving space-battles with one another. From their experience it seems that Jousting isn't very effective unless you've got a ship you know can take the hits and they have a ship you know can't. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 16:35
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    $\begingroup$ It's going to be difficult to answer this without more information on technology level. For instance, what sort of weapons/armor do these spaceships have, and how fast can they go? These factors have affected how battles are fought throughout history. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 16:44
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    $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. This question can work here; however, as others pointed out, it would be good with some more information on what type of ships and technology you have in mind as it will influence the answer. Please, edit your post to add some more information, else there is a risk that the community will think that the question is too broad and close it. Should it turn out that you get your question closed, then please edit and then click "reopen" next to the edit link. If you have any questions on editing or reopening, then ask in Meta $\endgroup$
    – Mrkvička
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ The ships in the Lost Fleet series tend to follow this pattern due to relativistic engagement speeds and the cheapness of ball bearing manufacture. Not an answer in an of itself, but certainly an example of it in other people's worlds. $\endgroup$
    – Joe Bloggs
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ Vast amounts of space * intense speed = very slim chance of colliding with opponent. Keep in mind that a rendezvous in space is very tricky and thats when both parties ar cooperating. $\endgroup$
    – Octopus
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:56

6 Answers 6


This is possible in some extreme situation, but I think, that it's less effective than ranged weapons.

Missiles and long range lasers are quite likely to disable the craft which tries to run on the other before it could use it's close range weaponry.

But one can make up situations, for example:

Hard sci-fi like:

1) Enemy ship with powerful laser weaponry is on very low orbit around celestial body having no atmosphere. (like moon.) Our ship is docked in a subsurface hangar, and has weaker power generation. Both ships have well aimed but low damage missile defense systems. Our ship takes off when the enemy is on the other side, and sets a retrograde intercept orbit relative to the enemy. They have a very high relative velocity encounter, and when they are only 200m away, we fire our computer aimed machine guns, and destroy the key systems of the enemy. Thus it's possible to minimize the time spent in line of sight, and giving less chance to their lasers to bake us.

2) The primary objective is to capture the enemy intact. We have to go close to launch our space marines. We will choose a decent velocity, since the rockets placed on the spacesuits of the marines have to compensate for it, (otherwise they would smash into the enemy hull.) but the faster we come, the less time does the enemy have to fire on us.

Handwavium like:

1) Both sides have powerful energy shielding, which are superior to beam and simple kinetic weapons, but can only be mounted on larger ships. But the unstable warhead of QWERTZUIOP-torpedoes is able to penetrate the shields. But the warhead quickly disintegrates after launch and/or is vulnerable to enemy point defense. So the ships try to get close to each other to minimize the chances of the enemy to destroy or manover out their torpedoes.

2) We are capable to FTL travel and combat, but engaging in FTL requires close proximity/warp field frequency matching...

Scrap like:

1) Both sides have combatants, which weren't originally designed for warfare. They have high dV, but weak power generation, are fragile, and they don't have access to professional weapon systems. So their tactic is to charge towards the enemy, and immediately before flyby release a massive piece of metal (A tungsten mining drill for example.) and hope to score a kinetic kill.


This will never work in hard science fiction

The that differentiates space combat from WWII combat a la Star Wars, is that shots fired never stop going wherever they are going.

For example, in the Return of the Jedi, we see a tightly clumped formation of Star Destroyers near the Death Star around Endor. Any shot fired into that group will undoubtedly hit something. There is no concept of range, as there is with a battleship on the ocean. A battleship at sea can fire short, or fire over the target. In space, if you fire a laser or mass driver or non-maneuvering torpedo, you can't fire short, or long.

If you are charging someone to 'joust' them, in space, your direction of motion has to be directly at them. Therefore, any shot fired from the target of the joust at you will hit you. It can't miss short or long.

Given the potential destructiveness of space based weapons (especially relativistic kinetic projectiles, or nuclear/anti-matter torpedoes), being hit is probably a bad thing. Shields don't really exist as such in science-based sci-fi, and armor doesn't stand much of a chance against the aforementioned weapons. To avoid being hit, you would want to fire on your target from long range, so that projectiles fired at you take a long time to get to you, and you have a chance to not be there when they arrive. If you are at ramming speed, you don't really have that chance, and you are probably going to be annihilated.

How to make jousting work

That being said, if you aren't sticking to strictly hard science fiction, anything is possible. There could be powerful energy shields, or even impenetrable ones like the impeller wedges of the 'Honorverse.' But the point still remains: If in your universe weapons do a lot of damage, and they have computer guided aim, the chances of successfully jousting seem to be small.

The best way to make jousting reasonable is to make space combat similar to other methods of warfare that involved the 'joust' (which also, keep in mind, wasn't a real combat tactic so much as a form of entertainment). You could have spaceships like knights with heavy armor, limited visibility, and no long range weapons. You could have spaceships like age of sail ships-of-the-line, with lots of small weapons of short range and high damage, thereby giving people a reason to close and board. Or you could have ships like galleys with no real effective way to damage each other than by ramming.

How realistic those are in your universe is up to you.

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    $\begingroup$ > If you are charging someone to 'joust' them, in space, your direction of motion has to be directly at them. Actually, you should be able to dodge while still moving generally towards your target. And at distances where the speed of light come into effect, that dodging may actually work. I've seen this somewhere in SF, but don't recall where. $\endgroup$
    – papidave
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 17:46
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    $\begingroup$ Lasers beams have a finite focus, so they are not going to be equally effective at all distances. Charged particle beams will also spread out due to mutual repulsion. The further away a missile is fired, the longer the enemy has to deploy countermeasures. So really only relativistic mass weapons can completely ignore range. @papidave: are you maybe thinking of Alistair Reynolds' Revelation Space series? I think I remember some language about the "slow crawl" of relativistic weapons of solar system scales. $\endgroup$ Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 22:18

EvE Online would be a great place to test this idea out... well by test I mean observe because it is already tested by players XD. Truth is, ships that are charging into the front are usually built with a ton of armor and shielding. Even then, the hard part about this is that the ships are built to defend against KNOWN weapons. In other words, if they are going against unknown alien technology, there is a good chance that even these tanker ships are going to be torn up. Armor'd plating is good vs kinetic weaponry... shielding, well in theory, disperse laser fire due to being calibrated to the right frequencies.

If you also think about naval combat.... the old days of the gallons they would go guns blazing at each other side by side and completely knock the crap out of each other.... even if your ship won, you might as well lost. Even with today's destroyer's and battleships, they attack at range or with aircraft / torpedoes. ships are designed to output damage and take minimal risks. You didn't mention anything bout costs, however, warships are not cheap to produce. So if economics plays a factor, having to constantly repair/replace ships would get costly.

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    $\begingroup$ EVE is not great for that, as it is not a simulator, and they care too much about balance. Children of a Dead Earth - probably a game for testing, as they care less(if at all) about balance and more about simulation. $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Commented Feb 27, 2017 at 19:54

Assume that beam weapons are relatively weak. Missiles and gun/railgun slugs do the killing. Their destructive potential depends on the relative velocity. If the warhead is fast enough, even a tiny splinter would be lethal, so a warhead can be explosively fragmented into tiny splinters to increase the hit probability. Many weapons in the setting are optimized for moderate to high relative velocities for the tactic outlined below.

Assume that there is an efficiency of scale effect for engines. Big ships are much faster than little missiles (or little fighters), or at least they have more delta-V.

Ships and fighters can and do fight in a furball dogfight, especially if that happens near a station, planet, wormhole, or whatever is stationary and important. But it is an effective tactic to keep a few warships out of close combat and to have them make a high-speed firing pass through the furball.


Sure- if the combatants set themselves up in the same orbit, but traveling in opposite directions, they could "joust" repeatedly while expending minimal delta-v. A very elegant and chivalrous way to fight a space battle!

It still wouldn't look very movie-like; the range of weapons in space is going to be much higher than for WWII-era warplanes, so they're going to start shooting well before a combatant's human eyes could pick out their foe. Also, the sheer relative velocity that their projectiles are impacting with will guarantee it's likely to be a short fight (and both sides are liable to be taken out!) unless extremely strong armor/forcefields are available.


For spaceships from Earth, computer navigation technology would make any form of jousting or even combat with ranges close enough to see your target completely redundant.

However, perhaps an alien species that has highly advanced space-travel technology but very primitive computer technology might use jousting as a means of fighting effectively - if your missile can only fly bullet-like in a straight line, then a tactic would be approaching from the direction of their nose getting as close as possible, to minimise the effect of your bullet taking time to get to them and them not being where they were when you pulled the trigger.

Having said that it might be only useful against inexperienced impetuous enemies. An experienced pilot would recognise when you have the advantage over them and just steer away, calling off the joust.


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