Feb 12

Space-Ops Strategy: Defining your defensive posture

Defensive Posture Feature Image

An important subject to consider when planning for the possibility of unwanted aggression during space operations is your unit’s defensive posture.

Put another way, the relevant question is: How do you plan to secure your people and hard assets when traveling in space? How can you ensure your operation will be defensible?

We can further break this subject down into three equally important sub-topics:

  • Planning and preparation
  • Space control
  • Defensive formations

I’m going to skip over planning and preparation today because this is a subject we plan to cover in-depth, in future Space-Ops Strategy posts. It’s also difficult to talk about preparation as part of one strategy because it is a key activity associated with every strategy. Frankly, I’m thinking about developing a universal strategic planning framework which can plug into all operations.

Maintain space control

Similar to a planet-side naval force, it is necessary for any defensible unit or organization to maintain control over an envelope of space around their vessels. In modern naval warfare during the 21st Century on Earth, they referred to this as ‘sea control’ or ‘command of the sea’ and it extended below the vessels, to defend against submarines and above, to protect against airborne attacks.

Although it may seem obvious, it’s worthwhile to point out that the term control, in this context, is quite literal. The basic, fundamental truth is that if you are able to deny aggressors access to the space around your vessel or fleet, their boarding capabilities are a non-issue.

Defining The EnvelopeThe size of this envelope and the specific rules of engagement within each bubble are matters which will be decided at the discretion of the unit’s commander. They are typically elastic depending on the threat profile of the current scenario and the unit’s capability to efficiently control space.

As seen in figure 1 here, the envelope is actually made up of two, concentric, 3 dimensional bubbles of space around the vessel or fleet. The inner, red circle is the Space Exclusion Zone or ‘SEZ’. The outer bubble is the Recon Zone, or limit of the operating unit’s ability to detect incoming threats. A well-organized, and clearly communicating unit with enough vessels could further mitigate risks by expanding the Recon Zone out further, with scouts or out-riders.

As is the case with all things relative to the security of the unit or organization, the establishment and architecture of the envelope is at the discretion of the captain or commander. One possible variation is to have a declared stand-off or buffer zone around the Exclusion Zone. The unit’s communications officer may go to the trouble to warn inbound, non-friendly units of their fate, should they cross into the SEZ from the buffer zone.

We will go into threat level management in subsequent posts at some length, but for the purposes of our discussion today, let’s consider some examples:

  • No threat: Assets are in hangar.
  • Minimum threat: Assets are in tightly controlled UEE space.
  • Moderate threat: Assets are in loosely controlled UEE space.
  • High threat: Assets are in uncontrolled/lawless space.
  • Extreme threat: Assets are in imminent danger of engagement.
  • Engaged: Assets are in a battle.

At threat levels High and above, a highly risk averse commander might give his units authorization to destroy any non-blufor (non-friendly) units which enter the SEZ without authorization.

Another question relative to the architecture of the envelope is the size of each zone. Naturally, the primary consideration is efficient control of space, but at threat level high or above the question is likely to be more about maximum range of standoff weapons. In essence, the prudent commander would do well to ensure the boundary of the SEZ is within his maximum range, but above the maximum range of his most likely aggressors. Hopefully it goes without saying, maximum range for Blufor includes escort vehicles within formation.

Formations for success

Within the military, police, and security industries, there is no debate on the value of employing scenario-specific formations or other maneuvering disciplines such as bounding, peeling, or tactical spacing. The fact is, better unit maneuvering mitigates risk and leads to better outcomes. There is little reason to believe this will not also be the case for units operating in space.

However, operating in space also has unique challenges and opportunities so the standard land, air, and sea formations such as wedges, lines, and columns are likely to come up short. First of all, space is 3 dimensional and attacks may come from any bearing (Azimuth) or altitude above or below the unit’s beam. Coincidentally, the unit’s direction is the direction of the command vessel (command vessel) and the unit’s beam is the beam of the command vessel. For those without a nautical background, the beam of a vessel is the measurement of the width of the ship at it’s widest point. It is also a plane 90 degrees to the center line or keel.

Consider the following, top down view of a formation I’m egotistically calling ‘Larsen’s Diamond’.

Larsen's Diamond

For the purposes of this discussion it doesn’t matter what the exact hull types are. Our  unique classes in the example are command vessel and fighter/escorts. Unit 1-7 is the command and the remaining vessels are fighter/escorts.

Unit 1-1 is the ‘point’ and her position should be at 1-7’s zero degrees, abeam. (Neither above or below). 1-2 is abeam at 90 degrees, 1-3 abeam at 180, and 1-4 abeam at 270 degrees. As described in the previous section, their range would be set by the Commander’s discretion and would likely be the boundary between the SEZ and Recon bubbles.

Larsen's Diamond - FrontOf course, this is not the full picture. Unlike a standard diamond formation, Larsen’s Diamond includes an escort gunship at 90 degrees high, and 90 degrees low to round out the bubble, indicated here by units 1-5 and 1-6.

At the time of this writing members of Ghost SRE and the INN editorial team were still debating on how to call out the bearings of enemy contacts. I am personally leaning towards using compass headings relative to the command unit for azimuth and 1-90 degrees plus high! or low! for altitude headings.

Interestingly, this issue of how to call threats is a matter various commanders throughout the ‘Verse should come to some consensus around. Otherwise it’s going to make ship to ship and affiliated organization communication near impossible. Future editions of Space-Ops Strategy will be dedicated to the subject of tactical communication in space operations.

Larsen’s Diamond is a great general purpose formation and can be used for maintaining security in any situation where the threat vector is presently unknown. In essence, it is a good way to monitor 360 degrees of space.

The Larsen Diamond can also scale infinitely. For instance, imagine a scenario where you are the captain of a single Constellation Andromeda with your own 6 fighter escorts. In this scenario your unit of 7 vessels are the point (1-1-1) for a massive battle wing in a Larsen’s Diamond around a capital ship. In total, this fleet would be made up of 43 vessels. (1 capital ship, plus 7 vessels at each node in the Diamond).

But what if the threat vector is known, and you have time to reorganize your unit to provide appropriate mass in the right direction? Consider the following example, where you are the commander of a squad traveling through lawless space in a Larsen’s Diamond in uncontrolled space and your 1-1 calls out:

1-1: “1-7 this is 1-1 I’ve got contact starboard side! Bearing 045 Altitude 10 degrees high. Looks like Vanduul Scavengers times four.”

1-7: “1-1 copy that…Contacts bearing 045 altitude 10 degrees high. Fleet, move to echelon right.”

1-1: “Copy, Echelon right.

1-2: “Echelon right.”


In this situation the commander is ordering the fleet to move to a modified version of the old classic echelon right where the six units maintain their elevation in relation to the command vessel so 1-5 and 1-6 continue to maintain high and low security. See below:

Echelon Right

Regardless of your specific approach to establishing and maintaining a defensive posture, the important detail is to think about this in advance, have a plan, and communicate it to your crew so everyone knows how to handle various situations.

We’d love to know what you think so please leave a comment or continue this conversation on Twitter with the hashtag: #SpaceOpsStrategy

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  1. Tiger_Venn

    Communicating hostile positions is one of my biggest concerns for combat in the PU. The problem with using the command shit as your point of reference is that the ship changes position and orientation. So what was 0 azimuth a second ago might be completely different now, and I can’t be always aware of its position. I suppose having its model up on my HUD would help, and that might be the reasoning behind the current weird perspective of its display but I dunno.

    The other problem is, if a target is close enough, say weapons range, then what is dead ahead for one ship might be a at a much different angle for another. For example, if a scythe is between me and the command ship, they would have no effective way of giving me its position, just using your radial system.

    I’m hoping our ship’s computers will use a nearby celestial body as reference instead. They already seem to be doing this, since the “speed” value has to be based off of something. So to expand on that, we would need an intuitive coordinate system to point out locations in space relative to the planet who’s orbit we’re in, the nearby asteroid field or some such.

    • WolfLarsenSC

      All really great points. As for the situational awareness piece, I think there’s definitely a need for command and control in coordinated operations. This person’s responsibility would be to keep the escorts at our near station until all hell breaks loose and keep them updated on changing conditions in the battle sphere.

  2. Zos

    I agree with Tiger, there is need for navigation tool and as far as I can think of it the only reasonable instrument for this kind of purpose is the Navball like in KSP.


  3. Apokolypze

    The only improvement i could see to make to your diamond formation is really a simple one, as you have most of the bases covered.

    The Ship in the Low! position (in your diagram it was hornet 1-5) Should probably be flipped 180 degrees (flying with its belly towards the connie) in order to greater fulfill its role of monitoring the section of space it has been assigned to. One of the greatest misconceptions with space fighting (and its visible in the connie too, that damn lower turret) is that there is an “up”. Space is 3d, as you say, and since there is no gravity in the black, there is no up or down. Hornet 1-5 would have no difficulty at all flying “flipped” in order to better survey the area it has been assigned to.

    • WolfLarsenSC

      Great suggestion, great point! Thanks.

    • Zos

      I think flying upside down would put the pilot off to much in sense of the team coordination. He would essentially have to interpret communication and orders opposite way. Surveying should to be done by AWACS type of of craft not a escort imo. Visual confirmation is important but threat should be identified before entering visual range.

  4. Vass

    Gonna end up with either a True heading with a system or galactic north or a Relative heading, based off whatever your HVU (High Value Unit, whatever the crud you’re protecting.) is up to. In most things, that HVU shouldn’t be really… Whipping about like a crazed man, if anything, that’s gonna mess up their gunnery, and that’s what you have escorts for. The only issue I have with your echelon is you’re leaving your other quadrants completely open, and someone coming in from the other side on a 180 heading is just going to have a free shot at your HVU.

    Suggest you just narrow the assigned sectors down, or throw another unit or two to that side, but still have at least two escorts covering the other sectors, keeping their eyes peeled and scanning. Don’t always go for the obvious threat.

    • WolfLarsenSC

      Very good point. I was thinking 1-5 and 1-6 can continue to keep eyes on the other quadrants/stay in reserve while a battle rages in the top right, providing a 1/3 cover the rear, 2/3 eliminate the known threat ASAP kind of approach. Ideally, there would be more coverage of course…But a commander’s gotta think about costs as well.

      • Zos

        Not every escort ship have to be exactly the same. For example; 1-1 to 1-4 could be F7C’s upgraded to military standards and 1-5, 1-6 , both or just one could work as a team leader, flying Hornet Tracker or Supper Hornet modded in to a tracker.

        Also when engaging, pilots could use similar system to infantry – the buddy system, so the minimum unit that would go out to engage single threat would be consisting of at least 2 ships. Keeping the bulk of the force on stand -by.

        The safest bet is to expect that 3 ships to 1 should always win. Getting it down to just two ships might seem a bit reckless but that all depends on the strength and numbers.

        The unit does not always have to fallow through with the attack, there are times when tactical retreat has to be considered and hesitating to pull out will just get the pilot killed.

  5. Xenapan

    The biggest gap in your diamond assuming you spread out your formation to maximize scanner range and minimize overlap.. would be something like this http://imgur.com/YDWIpJf

    The problem as you can see… is the diagonals are very thin. and depending on where they come from at a 45 degree angle from your diamond, they could practically be on your command vessel before you detect them which would allow a practically unchallenged run at it. All they would need are longer range sensors than your convoy (which isn’t hard to imagine since hornets are dodgefighters and not explorer/trackers. Keep that formation tight to avoid that blind spot in the diagonals!

  6. Zarthon

    Off of this, I think that the hornet in the back should be rotated 180 degrees to face backwards behind the connie. This would be in case someone came from behind behind (some ships might be fast enough to catch up with the hornet -connie formation).

  7. Gecko

    It’s probably better to distinguish between the command vessel and the supporting fighters. “1-Actual” for the primary/central/command ship and 1-2, 1-3, etc. for potential convoy craft.

    Then have squadrons of fighters each starting with a new designation. So maybe:

    2-Squadron (with “2 actual” as flight leader) for Close Support
    3-Squadron (with “3 actual” as flight leader) as Interceptors

    This way 1-Actual communicates with the flight leader and the flight leader communicates with their crew, making coms easier. In addition, this distinguishes the roles ensuring that when contact is made not everyone rushes to engage and drops the ball on defending the convoy/cap ship.

  8. Tom

    I am a supporter of the concept of a static formation against NPC attackers. However, I very much prefer the concept behind the Combat Air Patrol ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Combat_air_patrol ) (which I will subsequently refer to CSP) against player marauders. If I had an escort of 3 to 6 Super Hornets or Sabres, I’d have them in relative close formation flying 3+ times the speed of my HVU on a search and destroy mission around it. If I had 6 instead of 3, I might have two of these instead of one.

    Regrettably, this may be all pre-mature until we find out how dense CIG is going to allow space to be with ships in a single instance. We don’t know the details of the sensor ranges vs. maximum speed and the speed differential of various ships. For example, if the speed differential between fighters and HVUs is low, one could run towards your CSP. If it is high, the CSP should stay at the edge of the HVU sensor range so they can close with their HVU in the time it takes the attackers to arrive.

    We don’t even know the time it will take N attackers to break through the shields of the various HVUs yet, or the relative effectiveness of larger HVU weapons on the various fighters. The details of all these parameters will drive the OpsResearch. Ultimately, CIG can determine whether it is an attackers game or a defenders game. I personally want to be able to explore and safely run if confronted. However, I know that their is a sufficient number of gamer sociopaths that CIG will not set things up that way, and I’d rather have them sitting at their computers attacking my virtual space ship than sitting at their desks in Government offices and banks attacking my real civilization.

  9. Wonderer

    Thanks for leaving this unlocked for everyone to view over the internet .. just need to google it.

    Thank you.

  10. Coppa

    We have always called it the Octahedron formation, squad leader usually calls out “Form up: Octa”.

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