(U//OFFICIAL) Tactical Addenda: Experimental Orbital Assets

Experimental Orbital Assets Program : Goals and Justifications

The Coalition made a valiant crash effort at building up our own space assets tech-base, but it became rapidly apparent that just because humans could rapidly master the basics of many technologies, actually refining these technologies was almost impossible. It would take decades for humanity to catch up. While our learning curve was vastly superior to the asari or even salarians, we did not have the time needed to learn everything well enough to make a difference on the field of battle.
Worse, given that even once we did catch up we would need more time to adapt the technology into purely human systems, phase out existing systems, and try not to disrupt our own economy, such an effort might never have worked in the first place.
Special Projects, NITD and several other think tanks considered the issue at length and came to a startling conclusion – matching alien capability in fields we barely understood such as optronics was a waste of time and money. Rather than attempt to match alien technology, we needed to combine it with our own and create entirely new methods of attack and defense that they could not counter easily.

Taking the lead on this somewhat extreme position, NSPC Director James Dierg wrote a position paper just after the FCW about tailoring our tech to what alien races either didn't know how to recreate or (better yet) avoided bothering with. Taking his cues from World War II, Dierg suggested recreating the three technologies that completely changed the face of warfare – mainly, submarines and the commerce raider.
The paper pointed out the most glaring issue – the ESBOPSCOM didn't have close to enough strength. We needed a large area of colonized space to encourage trade, find raw materials, and support both expanding our tech base and repairing the damage to Earth – but defending it would be impossible using purely conventional tactics. Sinking money into improving our technological basis in the long term would pay off, but in the short term humanity would be limited to appliques of existing asari technology and whatever our 'cousins' (gah) would teach us.
Force multipliers were the only way to really counter this weakness. The best force multipliers were disruptive technologies – those unexpected developments in a given system that made existing systems obsolete. The bulk of alien military naval power was predicated around the dreadnaught as being the centerpiece of the fleet, just as battleships were on Earth prior to the carrier.
Rather than try to build up more dreadnaughts – which were limited by treaty and, in Dierg's opinion, dreadfully limited in use as well – adding fighter capability to as much of the Coalition space navy as possible, and building out cruiser-sized light carriers, would give us many advantages. With powerful enough torpedoes and enough fighters, a dreadnaught turned from a super weapon into a big and expensive target.

Dierg's other two suggestions were more radical in scope and usage.

Project DRAKE : The Corsair Fleet

Commerce raiding was huge for the German Navy in World War II, and given the distributed and difficult to patrol nature of space, would be huge in the modern day as well. The basic idea was simple: commission ex-Marine units with experienced private captains to act as a mix of militia and privateer. Such units, or Corsairs, were given a commission to hunt pirates, an open offer for free docking and refueling, and bounties for 'acquiring' certain technological items. Merchant ships were carefully overhauled and upgraded to pack a heavy set of weapons and defenses, while still appearing to be a merchant ship.

Project DRAKE, or, as it was officially called, the Corsair Program, was mainly responsible for three goals.

  1. In peacetime, it made piracy of human ships a risky endeavor. Modern piracy works because most merchant ships offer no threat to pirate vessels. Most pirates were turian outcasts, mercenary freelancers, or batarian separatists. They couldn't afford even moderate damage in fights, since they had limited funds and no real safe place to lay up and repair their ships.
    If pirates hitting human merchants and transports kept running into armed resistance, eventually the cost of raiding human shipping would simply be too high considering the lost ships or damage taken. A pirate who attacked an unarmed civilian ship was, after all, not risking much – most merchant ships had no weapons and only weak navigational kinetic barriers, with no defenses on board.
    Corsair merchants, on the other hand, were armed with both older photonic batteries and missiles as well as mines, plus carried at least two detachments of former Marines on board. Corsairs would mix with other unarmed merchants and act as a boarding deterrent – a pirate couldn't board another ship if there was a hostile force waiting to attack.
    Ultimately, reducing levels of piracy would increase SA trade and tax revenue, even while redirecting the pirates to focus more on other aliens, weakening their merchant forces without the SA being held responsible.
  2. Second, Project DRAKE was self-supporting. It allowed striking back at criminals and pirates to aid its own efforts at funding itself and adding new ships to its ranks.
    Dierg's analysis of most piracy trends showed that pirates operated in rough networks, clearly funded by a mix of criminal elements, gangs, and off-the-books transactions by mercenaries. The pirates had decent ships – in many cases, older turian models that were superior to first-gen and second-gen human ships of the same weight class. As the Corsairs struck, one of their primary bounties was capturing pirate crews and especially pirate vessels. SA Engineers would reverse engineer what they could, while allowing the Corsair to keep the ships once they were done.
    Many Corsairs were able over time to amass small fleets, adding significant fleet count to the strength of the SA Navy off-the-books. By the rough calculations I can make based on what we know of the program, the Corsairs added at least fifty frigates, around thirty destroyers and over twenty cruisers to our defenses through merely capturing ships. That's not including the large amounts of seized drugs, weapons, and other materials that were sold off to raise cash and thus build more ships.
  3. Finally, in time of war, merchant raiding rapidly crippled enemies. The current conflict with the Batarians is becoming increasingly difficult for the batarians to maintain as the Corsairs have ripped the merchants of Khar'Shan to pieces in space. A society that can't get it's goods to foreign markets or receive shipments of raw materials will soon lose it's ability to pay for and supply it's war machine.

Right now, the Corsair Fleet has well over two hundred frigates, around a hundred destroyers, about sixty cruisers, and thirty or so heavy cruisers. There are also some four hundred heavily armed merchant ships roughly on par with a light cruiser, sixteen cruisers converted into light carriers, and some sixty thousand ex-Marines that serve as 'Corsair security'.
Corsair Command is mostly flexible. Each Corsair captain organizes his ship or ships how he sees fit. The Captains obtain a Letter of Operation and Marque from ESBOPSCOM, and the letter details their responsibility to coordinate with whatever Fleet is in their area of operation. When it comes to disposing of captured drugs and other illegalia, the JIA’s Department of Extraterrestrial Intelligence handles such transactions on a cash-and-carry basis.
Corsairs have been given strict instructions not to antagonize the forces of Omega too much, since Aria's navy rivals that of the Systems Alliance. Lesser warlords, however, are fair game, as well as anything batarian.

Project NAUTILUS

Dierg noted that due to a combination of reasons, alien navies rarely experimented with ship sizes smaller than that of a frigate. While they all had things like cutters and police boats, these were typically an afterthought, used primarily for in-system crime control. Likewise, most aliens had played around with stealth concepts, but their focus on the dreadnaught tended to end with such efforts grinding to a halt and eventually falling by the wayside.
When the asari's technology sharing program included designs for tiny mass effect cores, the biggest use for them was in our MAKO program. But Dierg suggested they could be adapted to actually allow very small ships to use the mass relays as well. Combined with small FTL drives, the framework of Project NAUTILUS was borne.

NAUTILUS-class ships are tiny – roughly cutter sized, or a third the size of a scout frigate. The initial research into stealth had nothing to do with curtailing heat emissions, but the suppression of particle traces from our engines and more importantly, the ability to nullify FTL sensor emissions. The current prototype vessel, CNV Silhouette, uses this technology along with heat and radiation absorptions to achieve nearly true sensor invisibility, but even the more limited version used by NAUTILUS is devastating, since almost all early-warning systems are based on detecting FTL emissions of incoming ships.
The sensor emissions are created in FTL, the result of drive charge creating irregularities in the FTL field. These irregularities eventually build up to the point where they stop FTL travel altogether if not grounded. For ships of frigate size or bigger, these charges were too powerful to be re-channeled into anything useful.
On a cutter, though, the electrical charge is just weak enough to simply be cycled back into powerful batteries and power systems, which provide power for the craft rather than rely on engaging the mass core. Tinkering showed that with certain hull shapes, speeds, and careful use of power, a cutter could reach W2/FTL35 velocity and not generate a detectible sensor emission at all.
Combined with sensor-absorbent coatings, a low-emission engine system and a powerful ECM suite, the NAUTILUS ships were damned near invisible. They were too small to use any kind of mass accelerator weapons or even most missiles – instead, each one is equipped with powerful plasma casters, supercharged by the conserved energy, and small, VI controlled matter/antimatter mines, each one around the size of an old fashioned book. The cutter can store hundreds of those and deploy them like a mine-layer.
NAUTILUS cutters’ only weaknesses were their heat dissipation, and thanks to turian technology used in the latest shielding upgrades, the IES system developed by humans can now even suppress that. Cutters can operate independently moving invisibly behind enemy lines, or they can be stowed aboard mega-freighters and scattered across the galaxy. Imagine the chaos if ten of them mined the main lanes to and from the Citadel, or inserted mines into the trade orbits of Ilium.

In a battle, the NAUTILUS is almost impossible to detect, much less target. They can sneak up on unsuspecting warships and lash out with dozens of particle beam lances in a fraction of a second, crippling the ships entirely.
The Coalition has been careful not to deploy these ships very often, although they've been tested heavily against the batarians. In war they would be used to cripple enemy repair facilities, demoralize enemy merchants, sabotage trade lanes, and the like.
Much like early-model submarines, they are not even remotely capable in a stand up fight. As a security precaution, the ships are rigged with powerful antimatter charges to prevent capture, and the crews are hand-picked by the JECNI to prevent surrender or worse, desertion.

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