Weapons - A Discussion

First of all the following point must be clear. A weapon is the item that achieves the aim on a target. A bullet is a weapon. The gun that fired it is not a weapon. A projectile that hits and destroys it,s designated target is the weapon. The device that fired the projectile is the delivery system, not the weapon.

A weapon system is the sum of all the components that gets the weapon to the target and can comprise of:

  • The weapon
  • The delivery system
  • The target acquisition and guidance device
  • The logistics of getting the weapon to the delivery system, inclusive of storage.

A weapon can be:

  • A projectile fired by a Gun or Cannon
  • Energy release by a projector
  • Missile/Torpedo, self launched or release
  • Loitering, such as mines and booby traps.

A additional point to note is that inert projectiles are fired by a gun while an explosive projectile or one that delivers a payload is fired by a canon.
A important factor in weapon design is the target it is designed to neutralize or destroy. The weapon must achieve the purpose for which it is designed, or achieve a result within the zone of the weapon. The zone being the acceptable parameters of the weapons capabilities.
Examining each type of weapon with the designs of XPlore.
I am assuming that our purpose is to neutralize or destroy an opposing space craft designed for combat.
It needs to be fast in response. No waiting time for recovery of energy.
Speed is also an essential part of a projectile or missile as it needs to be able to “catch” its target.
Energy weapons have the speed built in as most would include a concentrated light source which therefore would travel at light speed. Sound producing energy weapons have so far proved too slow and only effective against the human component of a target and not the machine he sits in.
A high cyclic rate. The ability of the projector to reload the next projectile and release it.
The propellant should not reveal or compromise the position or location of the weapon system.
Have an effecting and accurate target acquisition and aiming ability.
Finally in adding our design requirements we can be assured that most of the forces that act against the trajectory of a weapon in Earths atmosphere are irrelevant as they do not exist in space. These include, Air density, gravity and non rigidity.

Attributes and Failures.

- 1. Sound Weapons: Useless in space as sound does travel in a vacuum.
- 2. Energy Weapons: Light Amplification by Simulated Radiation (Laser)

For:Excellent range, Fast, Accurate, powerful.
Against: High power requires high energy (for us possible). Energy weapons are easily deflected by energy or even mirrors. A laser burst has to remain illuminated until it hits the target. Turn it off and the beam stops. However this also means that if a target is illuminated the laser continues to cause damage.

Photon Amplification by Simulated Emission of Radiation (Phaser) (Not the star trek version)
For: Very powerful, Fast,
Against: Limited Range. Sound can be included as the source but not in our case. Energy requirements not as high as Laser. Again energy weapons can be deflected by energy.

3. Inert Projectile Weapons (Gun)

For: Limited Propellant required as there is no effect on the projectile once fired. High rate of fire can be achieved resulting multiple impact on target.
Against: Logistics in the amount of space required to carry a high quantity. Modern and even futuristic metals could stop inert projectiles.

4. Explosive Projectile Weapon (Canon)

For: As for inert projectiles. Dependant upon fuzing can detonate on impact, in proximity or once penetrated target.
Against: Again logistic but not as bad as for inert projectiles as the result per hit is greater.
Note: The type of explosive projectile would be a big question. Today the most effective explosive projectile against any armour or type of metal or composite material is diffused uranium. On impact it generates an incredible amount of heat instantly and combined with the impact pressure punctures any current known surface sending a molten stream of plasma into the target which in turn ricochets inside the target. (Very Nasty)

Logistic factor in both inert and explosive projectiles:
The amount of propellant needed would be far less than on earth due to absence of those factors mentioned. Today a projectile can also house the propellant eliminating the need for any form of cartridge case or propellant carrier which makes logistics easier. Such weapons also need an obturation device (a method of prevent any propellant gases from escaping.) This is not a problem. A bigger problem would be recoil as any action creates an opposite and equal reaction. This means that sustained fire would push our space craft backwards or slow it down. We dont have to design this but make it an acknowledge factor.

My favourite would be rapid fire canons firing titanium projectiles fitted with diffused uranium heads. 40mm with integral propellant fired from a multi barrel canon.
Example: Currently 4200 rounds per minute from a single Vulcan canon.

To continue:

5. Missiles

In my view a must. Aim, fire and forget so no subsequent tracking required.
First variant for small targets. Missile must travel at mach 3 with a multiple (3) warhead. Each Titanium tipped to puncture the target before detonation 5 kilo warhead.
Second variant for large targets. Mach 2 with a single warhead of 25 kilos. Device can be self sensor guided after aiming and firing.
Third variant as a flak weapon. As above but mach 1 with a multiple (10) proximity warhead each of 2.5 kilos. This is an area weapon with limited range.

6. Torpedo

A heavy slow device of mach 1 but an intelligent weapon. Once target has been selected and acquired the torpedo does not cease until it has hit its target. Even if lost the torpedo searches, reacquires and homes in on target until successful or the torpedo has run out of fuel when it self destructs. Payload 100 Kilos.
Plasma Weapons
Currently a dream as Plasma is a gas, well the next matter state of a gas, very hot, will burn through anything, very short range and slow plus it uses an exceptional amount of energy.
Combining these the question is, how do you contain it? how do you contain it when fire over distance as it disperses quickly? how do you produce enough energy to create it?
Putting these challenges aside it would make an exceptional weapon and if such a device was possible today then the military would be using it.
One last challenge in space is that it consumes oxygen so once fired how could you sustain it long enough to do the job?
In the realms of XPlore and tomorrows world, is this possible?


  • Since writing this I have turned my attention to the consequences of weapon use in space and the effects on the enviroment of space and space travellers. My thoughts will follow in 2 parts the first being projectile weapons with energy weapons as part 2.
    I invite comment.

  • edited January 14

    The use of weapons in space

    Part 1 – Projectile weaponry

    There has been, and still is, much discussion into the power and effect of weapons used in gaming and how we could improve them. While Space Syms are games based upon science fiction we should guard against science fantasy being a dominating factor. In an effort to end some confusion or misunderstanding, and to assist in players, admins and designers suggestions for weapon enhancement, I offer some facts and some reality into the effects of any projectile fired in space. This text does not deal with energy weapons which is the subject of a follow on discussion.

    Please be advised that I consider the projectile that is designed to hit, immobilise or destroy a target to be the weapon. The delivery system is that component which delivers the Weapon to the target be it a propellant charge, rocket/jet motor, gun barrel or energy release such as linear accelerator. The combination of both plus any other component that is used in sighting, tracking or releasing the weapon is termed the weapon system. As a final point, an inert projectile such as a bullet is fired from a gun. An explosive projectile is fired from a canon or launch tube/rail. If you are unaware a howitzer is a canon designed to fire above a 45 degree angle in order to drop a projectile on top of or behind a target such as a mortar.
    To start let us list those items that effect the trajectory of a weapon at sea level. These are:

    • Muzzle Velocity.
      The speed at which the projectile leaves its delivery system.
      Air Density and Temperature. Basically the bio-metric air pressure and the air temperature along the path of the projectile including the variations of such as the projectile rises and falls in altitude.

    • Drag.
      Every object that travels forward through air has a drag co-efficient that tries to arrest that forward motion. Good aerodynamics and base bleed are some of the measures incorporated to reduce drag. (Base bleed is a working concept that releases air from the base of the projectile thereby filling the space created by the effects that cause drag which in turn nullifies that drag.

    • Gravity.
      Speaks for itself at approx 9.8 m/s. The figure varies between the equator and the poles and is greater at the equator.

    • Wind speed and its direction in relation to the path of the projectile.

    • Non Rigidity.
      This is the rotation of the Earth as the projectile flies over it. The greater the distance traveled the more the Earth rotates under the projectile.

    • Caliber Length.
      A factor which few consider is the caliber length of the barrel which simply is the amount of turns the projectile would make before it leaves the muzzle. The longer the barrel the more twists possible which is a contributing factor of range and accuracy. However it should be noted that longer barrels do not imply that the caliber length is high. 1 full rotation equals 1 caliber length.

    There are other factors such as the Ballistic Co-efficient but the main points are the ones we will deal with. Each weapon system has its own Muzzle Velocity or Launch Speed (MV). For our needs I will use the MV of a low velocity weapon, a hand gun of an average low MV of 300 m/s (meters per second). After approx 25 meters from the barrel the bullet has been subjected to all of the above mentioned forces less for non-rigidity as this factor is more problematic over ranges measured in kilometres. Ballistic Air Density as pushed against its forward momentum, general weather conditions and drag may have effected our projectile’s forward momentum in varying ways while gravity has dragged its momentum downwards. Our bullet is loosing its MV at an alarming rate. By 50 meters its effect is has caused our bullet to become almost useless (depending upon the bullet construction and target density). Finally Newton’s Law which states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, has produced some recoil in the handgun which also downgraded the speed at which the bullet was ejected from the barrel which, in turn, produced the MV. So in a nut shell the effective accurate range of a low velocity hand gun, say 9mm parabelum, is 25-50 meters depending on barrel length.

    Now lets take that same hand gun and use it in space. First we should assume that the craft or body releasing the projectile has a mass that is not large enough to produce its own gravity. Secondly if we assume that the weapon system does not have a recoil system and is stationary then the body that releases the projectile would be propelled backwards at the same MV as the projectile leaving the launch device, Newtons Law. Something must be in place to arrest that recoiling motion. It could be assumed that the crafts momentum, if high enough, would be sufficient, depending on the MV. A rail-gun, if static, that discharges it’s projectile at Mach 3 would be propelled rearwards at speed equaling the projectiles MV. We can assume the ratio would be an equal split between projectile and firing platform. This of course means that a firing platform should never be static when engaging its weapons if they are projectile weapons.

    As none of the affecting factors that exist on Earth actually exists in space, any projectile released has nothing to slow it down therefore it journey would continue until it is finally stopped by its target or it hits any other floating body. As the universe continues to expand this ultimately means that our bullet would go on, possibly, forever if it failed to hit anything. If our projectile had an explosive charge then you would think that some fail safe self destruct mechanism would be critical to prevent projectiles of varying velocities from cluttering up space and become a severe hazard for space travel. You would be wrong if you thought this. An explosive charge would just increase the amount of projectiles flying in space however it would now be flying in many different simultaneous directions. Bigger weapons with higher MVs and multiple projectiles such as chain guns or scatter cannons only increase the hazard.

    So you may come to the conclusion that projectile weapons in space are too hazardous to use. This time you would be right but remember space is mind bogglingly huge so it would take time before we would have to invent some kind of debris vacuum cleaner to arrest all these speeding projectiles that threaten to take out or damage our space vehicles in the same manner that space dust and small asteroids do. Currently there are over 500,000 pieces of junk orbiting Earth, put there by ourselves. Travelling at approx 28,000 kph these could cause considerable damage should any collide with space craft or persons working in space. These items are currently tracked by NASA to ensure such calamities are avoided if possible.

    • Conclusion.

    In an effort to avoided polluting space with high velocity explosive and inert devices it may be best if such devices are banned before our space craft run the gauntlet through space junk. Or, develop phenomenal shielding to protect such craft but do we have to right to pollute space as well as our home world?

    To be continued on Part Two: Energy Weapons in Space

  • edited January 15
    • Missiles

    It occured to me that I did not include missiles in the above text, Please note that the weapon is in the payload of the missile. The propulsion method of delivery the payload forms part of the weapon system. This matter will be expanded upon at the start of part 2.

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