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Certain galactic trade union (the Blue) has a base on a distant planet, where they mine extremely rare unobtanium. They have set up anti-spacecraft cannons and essentially turned the planet into an impregnable fortress. Everything in range except Blue cargo ships gets pulverized. Their competitors (the Red) want to get their hands on the unobtanium and decide to put the planet under blockade (or siege, don't know which word is better). For that purpose, they build a megastructure around the planet, which works like this:

  • It prevents Blue cargo ships (and everyone else) from landing on the planet or leaving it. This way the Blue can not trade unobtanium, and also life on the planet gets really harsh without outside help. The Red expect the Blue to surrender after some time.
  • This "blockade" consists of large number of space stations positioned at regular intervals forming a ball around the planet, out of range of Blue cannons.
  • These stations are not orbiting the planet. Instead, they are interconnected and held in place by tethers (tractor/repulsor beams of sorts), therefore forming a kind of dyson sphere. Thrusters are used occassionally to compensate for unwanted drift.
  • Each station is heavily armed. Whenever something is about to pass the blockade, tethers are used to pull the closest station into range and then back, after destroying the offender. Sensors can pick up anything big enough to carry a sufficiently dangerous payload or significant amount of supplies.
  • Whole thing is controlled by a computer. It also used to be inhabited by a large number of military personnel and engineers, but after a long time without any incident they have been made redundant. Now it is manned by only a few people, just in case.
  • There are still life support systems available on every station. Tethers can be used by personnel to travel rapidly from station to station.
  • Red cargo ship visits this contraption from time to time to replace personnel and bring some supplies. This does not happen too often, as this planet is quite far from civilization

This blockade has been going on for a long time, until the Blue managed to sabotage it somehow, without the Red noticing. The question is, how did they do it?

The Red are much smarter than I am. If you see any obvious flaws, please point them out, but assume the Red have solved them (unless they break this whole concept entirely).

The computer can not be directly hacked, but perhaps it can be outsmarted somehow.

Update:

Understand, that there is not much of anything on this planet (except unobtanium, which can not be used to manufacture weapons/ships/anything useful). The Blue are starving down there (metaphorically speaking), that is a crucial point of all this. They can not pull off anything too expensive (like swarms of missiles of bigger cannons). They have to be smart, brute force is not an option.

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  • $\begingroup$ Is it a puzzle? $\endgroup$ – Alexander Jun 23 '17 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ @Alexander No, it is not. I just really need this thing destroyed before it completes its purpose. $\endgroup$ – J. Joscak Jun 23 '17 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ The 'ball' structure simply won't work. Basic orbital dynamics (stations at the 'poles' will simply fall onto the planet) and the fact that tethers work only in tension (not compression). Think up a better blockade method. $\endgroup$ – user535733 Jun 23 '17 at 16:22
  • $\begingroup$ @user535733 Tethers work in compression too, probably shoud not have said "tractor beams"... $\endgroup$ – J. Joscak Jun 23 '17 at 16:27
  • $\begingroup$ In space there's no such a thing as "out of range". Blockade was never established because planetary weapons turned everything into space-dust. $\endgroup$ – M i ech Jun 23 '17 at 16:56
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Much depends on actual contraption topology, but, given the info we have, there is a strategy that might work:

  • wait for a Red inspection convoy to arrive and leave (to maximize the "blind period").
  • Send out a series of armored (i.e.: difficult to destroy) spaceships in a zone between blockading stations triggering contraction in that open space.
  • Keep sending such decoys in sequence before system can fully recover (the exact sequence depends on contraption topology) so that the system gets severely unbalanced.
  • After a while the computer will face the choice of either avoid further contraptions (and thus leaving something escape) or to destabilize the whole system risking its collapse.
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  • $\begingroup$ Make computer tangle the network into jumbled mess. Sounds awesome! $\endgroup$ – J. Joscak Jun 24 '17 at 11:33
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Some approaches that come to mind.

Overrun it. Bring in so many ships that the stations can't cover all of them.

Blow up the computer. A swarm of missiles should overcome its defenses. No more computer, no more blockade.

Slip a ringer into the crew of the supply ship. Put a bomb on the computer's station and blow it after the ship leaves.

Replace all the personnel of a supply ship and take over the computer station.

Put poison in the supply ship food.

Get someone on the supply ship sick with something that takes a long time to develop.

Stop all the supply ships. At the source if you can. Or blockade the blockade.

Chase the computer station closer to the planet and allow the fortress to get rid of it.

Throw a meteor shower at it. Cheap, because you can use local materials. One ship can start a whole lot of fragments on the move.

Economics

The biggest problem is that the blockade is going to be expensive. Red has to buy a whole swarm of space stations. Why can't Blue just buy more ships and outgun them? This is inherently cheaper because Blue only needs the ships for a brief period of time. Red has to outlast Blue throughout the whole process. Red has to maintain the whole structure. If Blue destroys part of it, then Red has to replace it. Meanwhile, if Blue destroys the computer, they don't care if Red destroys all but one ship. They can resume shipments.

Blue offers Orange unobtainium if it breaks the blockade. Orange attacks the blockade but all its ships are destroyed. Red loses some of its blockade. But Blue still has all of its unobtainium and fortress. Blue allies with Green. Green can launch a whole new attack, because the prize is the same. Green overwhelms Red, which is weaker after the Orange attack.

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  • $\begingroup$ Yes, but what if Red is such an intergalactic power that no one will attack it? Unobtinium would have to be so diabolically rare that Orange and Green would have to challenge the equivalent of, say, the Federation, or comparable Empire. $\endgroup$ – Imperator Jun 23 '17 at 23:39
  • $\begingroup$ @Imperator Exactly. No one even thinks about outgunning the Red, they are too powerful. I like the idea of somehow compromising the supply ship, though. $\endgroup$ – J. Joscak Jun 24 '17 at 11:29
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You said

Whenever something is about to pass the blockade, tethers are used to pull the closest station into range and then back, after destroying the offender.

This implies that there are places the Red guns can't reach without moving. All Blue needs to do is send up a few decoy ships (the exact number depends on the layout of the Red stations) to move a few Red guns away from one of those spots, so that a Blue cargo ship can fly through that spot.

Also, if this particular type of unobtanium is the The Core kind, and not just a really rare and expensive but otherwise unspectacular kind, Blue could use a portion of what they've mined to build a special blockade-destroying weapon or ship.

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  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps a weapon boasting a gun to punch through this fluid barrier. (Pun always intended) $\endgroup$ – The Nate Jun 23 '17 at 22:45
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Fool the targeting computers.

The blue targeting computers have a subroutine for identifying friendly ships and not destroying them. These subroutines probably have several redundant methods of identification and you have to fool all of those methods. The station computers do not have many data links to the outside world; if you want more than a video call with someone, you have to go there. This is a headache for the IT professionals, but a boon for securing the station against hackers. IRL this practice is known as airgapping.

One day some low level tech support guy travels to the station to fix the minor problems that all major engineering systems have. He plugs in his data crystals with all of his tech support programs on them, fixes the problems, and leaves. Unbeknownst to him, someone had put a virus on his data crystals that slipped into the station computers. The computers now recognize a few additional types of ships as friendly. These are the ships that will be running the blockade, starting next Thursday. The virus also creatively edits the stations data logs. Anyone looking at the records of ship friend or foe identification afterwards may not realize that anything was amiss.

When the blue blockade runners come they are hidden with an advanced biphasic stealth detection scrambling system. It does almost nothing, but it looks cool, and baffles the red scientists who immediately start trying to figure out how it works. Meanwhile the virus quietly deletes itself without ever being detected. Blue is now free to pull further virus related shenanigans.


This security and the way to defeat it are inspired by the Stuxnet virus, "the largest and costliest development effort in malware history." Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) are the computer brains that run machinery. Iran was using a bunch to control their nuclear centrifuges. The Stuxnet virus ran the centrifuges so fast that they broke, disabled the alarms that should have alerted the operators about broken centrifuges, and told the operators that nothing weird was going on. The PLCs were networked with computers that were not networked with the wider internet. A Russian contractor probably brought them a infected USB drive.

We still don't know who wrote the Stuxnet virus, but it would have taken significant resources to do it. Most experts believe it was an intelligence agency for a government.

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Well, Blue has an entire planet's worth of resources at it's disposal. It also has a bunch of scientists and engineers, and, presumably lots of good equipment. Also, let's not forget the anti spacecraft cannons

I'm going to have to assume that the Red blockade network is also just out of range of the guns, otherwise Blue would have shot them up from underneath.

Here is the thing, the further out you have to build your network the less effective it would be. You have issues of response time to move around (space is really big), the sheer logistics of building that many stations. Staffing them is a nightmare, supplies and such all have to be brought in from outside because they can't get past the Blue to use the surface.

How will blue get out? There are a couple of ways to weaken the blockade:

1) Build bigger, better guns right at the entrance of the mines, preferably out of sight. You have the engineers available. use them to get more range, or to create energy weapons that can effectively reach the blockade network. Once you destroy a few of the network stations, you can make a hole to get out. If the shots are coming from known unobtanium deposits, Red will hesitate to shoot back for fear of losing access to the stuff. Use the existing cannons as a point defense network to block incoming fire.

2) Coordinate with your allies coming in. Instant pincer. The stations will be getting fired on from 2 directions at once. Blue comes in an masses at one point and the ground guys start taking out the network from the other side. Red tries to re-contract around the weak spots and blues external forces start hitting them in various spots. Pull the defenses this way and that where you can pick them off from underneath.

3) The most likely to work is the old classic. Bribe the dickens out of someone in Red to cough up a network vulnerability. The most common way to break a siege throughout history was to get someone to open the door from the inside.

4) Blockade the blockade. This kind of network is a logistical nightmare, and they will not have the ability to re-supply from the planet. They can't go down, they can't get out, or if they could, they can't get back in. It's a no win situation. Even if a supply ship got in, pick it off from underneath.

Red really is in an un-sustainable situation. They would have to get in fast, because anything protracted they won't be able to win.

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  • $\begingroup$ And then they blockade the blockade that is blockading the blockade. XD $\endgroup$ – Sasha Jun 23 '17 at 21:40
  • $\begingroup$ "entire planet's worth of resources" is not a lot, not for this specific planet. Aside from unobtanium, it is a total dump. $\endgroup$ – J. Joscak Jun 24 '17 at 11:52
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My first idea would be to hack some of the stations, if they are so old and the blockade is going for so long then you can be sure that some bored technician will spend his time in the internet.

Other good option would be to bribe or seduce some of personnel in the stations, even if they are well paid, they certainly could come with other things to barter.

"So, you have a diploma in space politics and they put you locked in a station as some low life grunt? You know, if you worked for us, we could have you in a top of the line space yacht, sipping martinis."

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