Throughout history, the details of military technology have driven tactics. Often we end up with what might be called a "classic tactic".

I'm thinking of things like: In the age of sailing ships, the classic tactic was "crossing the T": maneuver so that the broad side of your ship is facing the enemy's bow or stern, so that you can fire with a large number of guns while he can only fire with one or two.

With fighter aircraft, the classic tactic is "stay on his tail": position yourself directly behind the enemy, so that your relative velocity is as small as possible and you can easily see him while he has difficulty seeing you, and as most weapons fire forward you can shoot at him but he can't shoot at you.

With muskets, the classic tactic was "the line", or for the British who carried this tactic to its limits, "the thin red line": Form your troops into a long line and fire simultaneous volleys, so that even though your weapons are horribly inaccurate you send a wall of lead at the enemy and have a good chance of hitting SOMETHING.


So we generally suppose that future military spacecraft will use missiles and/or lasers or some other sort of beam weapon. What would be the "classic tactic" of such ships? Anything more interesting than "start shooting once you get in range"?

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    $\begingroup$ This depends a lot on details you did not give. How well can missiles turn? Is there any side easier to protect? How big accelerations can your ships get? And your missiles? How good are anti-missile systems? How "smart" are your missiles? How well / poorly they behave without control from a ship that shoot them? How thick ablative shilelding can you have, against lasers? and so on, and so on. $\endgroup$
    – Mołot
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 6:15
  • $\begingroup$ Depending on how far the technology has advanced. Future Space-age may has develop cloaking of some sort, wormhole-opening, teleporting, and such. $\endgroup$
    – Vylix
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 7:12
  • $\begingroup$ This may be helpful: worldbuilding.stackexchange.com/questions/9717/… $\endgroup$
    – James
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 13:51
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    $\begingroup$ This is way too broad. Your tactics are going to depend entirely upon what specific technology you have at the time. See Schlock Mercenary for what happens to warfare when technology changes even over the course of a single year. For a nice implementation of "military tactics in space", read On Basilisk Station by David Weber (warning: that series starts strong, and goes downhill fast). $\endgroup$
    – Azuaron
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 13:53
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    $\begingroup$ @Jay : I wanted to make it an answer but your question was closed meanwhile... We played this scenario in my military academy days once. Short answer: The weapons are extremely precise once they are locked on you, so your best bet is to avoid detection. Use nebulae, planets, asteroids; make a large fleet of small vessels (harder to spot in open space), use sensor-jamming and aim for the "eyes" (destroy sensors first). $\endgroup$ Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 14:07

4 Answers 4


This is pretty much a guessing game, since we do not know the available technology (e.g. quality of targeting systems).

But if we look at other tactics, we can see, that the tactics with new weapon technologies often is just a variant of old tactics. E.g. the "wall of lead" with muskets is not that different from the arrow-volleys of pre-musket times.

Space combat with small fighters will probably just be a variant of modern air combat. Main difference is the lack of gravity, which will allow more 3D-maneuvers. The classic V-formation will probably turn more to a disc- formation.
The ranges will be bigger (no air - no friction, no dispersion) so evasive maneuvers will be more effective against ballistic weapons like machine guns. But beam weapons and advanced targeting systems may render them pointless.
If there are no shields, but targeting systems let beam weapons hit with every shot, there will probably not be any kind of battle with small fighters, but only with bigger ships that can take a few hits before breaking apart. Especially since the lack of gravity makes building small and light not as important as it is with fighter planes.

So these big space ships will probably be roughly like naval warships only with 3D-mobility. Their battle tactics will probably remind a lot of naval battle tactics. The weapons will be mounted in a way, that they can turn in many directions, like the guns on battleships, just not only at the top, but on every side. So turning the ship before firing is not that important.
Radar/scanning technology will probably have a very big range. And if you hit first, you probably win. That means, like in naval battles, if you spot the enemy, you quickly fire all weapons and then wait to see, if you aimed well.

  • $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that the fighters are going to be limited in range and power, and will have to operate at a range where beam weapons won't kill them quickly. The most effective fighter usage would be as a defensive weapon for space stations or planets where the fighters would engage larger and less agile enemy ships with kinetic or explosive weapons before they got within effective beam range. If we're talking lasers, it's a question of how close before the dispersal is low enough that it can punch through any armor. $\endgroup$
    – John Smith
    Commented Mar 16, 2017 at 19:43

As with existing air combat, it's dependent on how far your sensors can reach. Most air-to-air combat these days is fire-and-forget missiles like the Meteor BVRAAM

The Meteor BVRAAM features a state-of-the-art active radar seeker, a two-way data link communication, and a solid-fuelled Ramjet motor to engage a wide range of targets with pin point accuracy. It also carries a blast fragmentation warhead with proximity and impact fuses for optimum lethality. The missile has high countermeasures resistance and offers the biggest 'no escape zone.'

Of course in space, there's no sense of 'ground' and 'ceiling' so strategic tactics come into play when defending or attacking an objective can be from many angles. It seems natural to assume that you're going to have sensors detecting engine emissions (radiation/heat) and fire missiles accordingly.

For close quarters, you could have projectile weapons (The Expanse Series employs a notion of Point Defence Cannons). Again, the aiming mechanism would be automatic.


It depends on the specific technologies in use to such a degree that it's kind of like asking what the tactics would be in ground combat without knowing if we're talking about pike squares or main battle tanks.

The best way to go about it would be to use resources like Project Rho to gain an understanding of the subject and then think through what the consequences for your setting are. That said, sometimes the conclusions (like the one from Project Rho about there being no room for tactics quoted in Mormacil's answer) can be a bit questionable, but you can roll your own conclusions once you have a grasp of the facts.


Funny things happen if we add relativistic effects to the equation (i strongly recommend series: The lost fleet).

Basicaly, the force that will warp to the system will know at a split second where enemy forces lie (warp zones can be mined), while signals from ships that just materialized would take some time to spread at speed of light. You get the more accurate information, the closer you are to the enemy.

Engagement would consist of series of front charges, that would last microseconds, so only AI systems would be able to handle that. You could arrange ships in different formations to maximize their damage output, or to hide strategically important ships. If you were to lose, you could choose to ram the enemy, then everyone dies.


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