"Gunless Stars" was written by engineer and historian Moshe Kalu. It is an entry-level sociology book aiming at answering a simple, yet often eluded question: why are firearms so rare in human space? Why are they mostly confined to law enforcement and militaries, with regular civilians having little to no understanding of guns and civilian firearms themselves being exceedingly rare?
Firearms, posits Kalu in the introduction, are still among the deadliest and most effective personal weapons ever made. Electromagnetic small arms (railguns and coilguns) remain too power-hungry and complex for regular use, and lasers are too weak in atmosphere to be used as personal weapons. Modern guns, on the contrary, have benefited for six hundred years of incremental improvements and remain ubiquitous on battlefields, from the slow-burning wars of the Serene Sea to the special operations against eldritch Sequence remnants. However, there is another constant: the average civilian in human space has generally never seen a live gun in their life, let alone used one. There are about nine billion inhabitans on Earth and beyond, and three hundred million registered firearms in active use. About 95% of those are used by law enforcement and militaries.
So where did the guns go, ask Kalu? First, they fell victim to heavily restrictive gun laws, many of which implemented since the post-apocalyptic Low Age, where weapons control in local communities would be very strict. Be it in the Earth's superpowers or in interstellar polities, it is almost impossible for a civilian to legally acquire anything deadlier than a single-shot, manually reloaded rifle -- even including "antique" Low Age guns that may not be microchipped and marked like modern ones. However, adds Kalu, pure legal limitations are not sufficient in the age of 3D printing. While illegal, it is not terribly hard to 3D print effective firearms, and regulating the blueprints has proven almost impossible. This means people, in general, choose not to arm themselves with guns. Why is that?
In Kalu's eyes, this is a matter of culture first and foremost. From a historical standpoint, the majority of humans since the mid-Low Age, three centuries ago, have never seen a live firearm, let alone shot one. Guns are just not part of the popular consciousness. For most, they remain firmly in the realm of fantasy, having no more (and in fact, arguably less, as we'll see later) presence than medieval swords. The vast majority of regular citizens would not know how to properly operate a firearm. Personal guns are not seen as a valid way of opposing the government, even in the most anarchic places: self-reliance and the ability to deploy and administer systems of community governance are seen as far more reliable than weapons -- especially considering that, in many polities, the central government would outright collapse if it went against the bottom-up communes and cooperatives. Revolutions don't need a single shot, except in active low-intensity war zones, such as the Serene Sea (but those are different context altogether, argues Kalu). Conducting home defense with guns is not even part of anyone's mental space, and law enforcement is very rarely armed either. In general, argues Kalu, the absence of firearms in human space is thus the result of a feedback cycle: guns are historically not familiar to people, and in return this absence from the collective consciousness makes them very rare, simply because they aren't part of the broader human culture. Firearms are the tools of the community and, by extension, the state. Not of the individual.
Interestingly enough, it doesn't mean *other* kinds of weapons are absent, which is why Kalu doesn't necessarily consider modern human civilisation as a "society of personal peace" as some have theorized. The cultural exclusion of firearms has made close combat weapons, as well as bows and crossbows, quite widely used by criminals and fringe groups alike, both for their cultural value and practicality -- tracking down a knife or a bow is vastly harder than a modern gun and a modern military-grade crossbow is effectively a small, silent anti-personel missile launcher. Many planets have civilian martial traditions centered around close combat weapons, with zero-g fighting styles even existing among spacer populations. While rare, leisure hunting of wild animals generally relies on modern bows and boar spears. On Elora, the second largest populated planet in human space, several cultures even hold melee weapons as significant markers of social and gender roles. It is not uncommon to offer someone a sword or spear in celebration of a gender transition -- and that weapon is not just ceremonial, even though carrying weapons in public is not a widespread tradition.
This partly explains, notes Kalu, why firearm designs tended to stagnate somewhat, while non-firearm weapons have seen plenty of adaptations in the interstellar age, from short spears for zero-g combat to shamshirs made of Eloran coral.
Illustration: Eclipse Phase RPG, Posthuman Studios, CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0.
The High Fleet of the United Socialist Republics of Earth is the single largest human spaceborne force in the milky way, and, probably, the largest FTL-capable navy in the known universe.
Origins and mandate
The High Fleet was founded in the transition period between the Low Age and the Interstellar Era, as the first bouts of space-based warfare erupted in the newly settled solar system. Though the first space military forays of the then-young USRE emanated from its air force, the spacebound navy quickly obtained its independence and, some two hundred years ago, was officially established as a military branch of the Union. Unable to compete with the Moon Communes and its Selene Fleet during the Earth-Moon conflict, the High Fleet managed a spectacular comeback with the discovery of the geometry drive, becoming the first space navy to pivot to modern FTL combat, with the famous Luciole Interceptor. Since 0.56, the Terran headquarters of the High Fleet are located in Toulouse.
In the modern USRE constitution, the High Fleet is tasked with "upholding the integrity and values of the Union of Socialist Republics of Earth on its territory and on off-world expanses as defined by the New Delhi Treaty", which includes low Earth orbit and a large part of the stellar neighbourhood. Its is, officially, envisioned as a defensive force; contrary to Laniakea, the USRE doesn't have off-world colonies, albeit it maintains a large influence over most human settlements.
High Fleet uniform
Scope and scale
The High Fleet maintain 52,000 active personnel, out of which 26,000 zero-g trained personnel crew slightly more than 1,200 vessels. Half these ships are combat vessels suited to peer conflicts, while the rest of the USRE roster is divided into "coast guard" vessels, transports and tenders. This makes the High Fleet the largest cohesive human spacebound force in the galaxy, with the Laniakean Fleet (450 combat vessels) and the Algorab Expeditionary Corps (250 ships) lagging behind by a significant quantitative but also qualitative margin. While it is the smallest military branch of the USRE, the High Fleet accounts for the two thirds of the Union's military expenses, totalling 1.5% of its gross domestic product.
Technology and doctrine
The High Fleet is often seen as large but relatively outdated in popular culture, due to its reliance on the century-old Luciole Interceptor design. In truth, the USRE is not the most high-tech space fleet -- this would be the Lebanese Space Interest Militia -- or the most battle-hardened -- this honor goes to the Algorab Expeditionary Corps -- but it is the only one to equip, train and maintain ships for large-scale peer conflicts. Interstellar-scale exercises and direct involvement in medium-intensity conflicts in the Smyrnian anarchy have made the High Fleet into a formidable force, living up to the USRE's place as a human superpower.
Mirroring its ground counterpart, the USRE High Fleet relies heavily on a "deep battle" approach to space warfare, creating depth by building on dense networks of orbital stations and highly mobile operational elements, combined with a real capacity to conduct combined operations with extensive ground forces. This doctrine is limited by the USRE's focus on Earth, and in deep space, the High Fleet reverts to more standard methods -- high mobility, alpha striking and swarm tactics. The High Fleet also has extensive experience in spaceborne counter-insurgency warfare, collected in the Smyrnian region. While its high ranking officers are often noted for their cautious, methodical approach to combat, tactical crews -- and especially Luciole Mk4 pilots -- are stereotyped as hot-headed daredevils, a cliché that isn't entirely removed from reality, albeit reversed: it is not the High Fleet culture that encourages this attitude but the technical parameters of the ship itself.
A Luciole Mark 4 Interceptor
The most numerous component of the USRE is SOLCOM, which oversees the "coast guard" vessels, handling search and rescue, asteroid defence and dangerous debris management in low Earth orbit and the asteroid belt. The peer combat component is FLEETCOM, handling the 600 warships of the USRE, and primarily deployed in Earth and cislunar space. FLEETCOM is regularly involved in inter-polity exercises, and some of its wings are well-known for playing the role of "agressors" in such occurrences. Some of its units may be versed to EXCOM, the external command of the High Fleet, overseeing "opex" or external operations, beyond the solar system, typically in the Smyrnian region. Strategic Earth defense is handled by two entities. ORCOM oversees the ground-to-space and space-to-ground defenses of USRE territory, including the Brilliant Pebbles network keeping AUSCOM in check and the sub-surface-to-orbit "last line of Terran defense". STRATCOM manages USRE strategic defense via the relativistic FTL kill vehicles stored on solar orbits and the Geometry Offset Facility dedicated to early warning Earth defence.
The High Fleet is a relatively open military, albeit three secretive aspects stand out.
-- The actual extent of High Fleet involvement in the Smyrnian region is unknown; albeit High Fleet vessels are currently limiting their presence to the protection of shipping lines and research outposts, persistent rumours of High Fleet q-ships abound in the region.
-- Officially, the High Fleet doesn't engage with the Sequence. Officiously, it has been shadowing a large 50,000 years old crusade fleet en route to the solar system for decades. As the ancient Sequence fleet closes in, with intents unknown and no communications, the USRE has engaged in limited strikes on the forward vessels, and is seriously examining the possibility of larger attacks inspired by the infamous killer asteroid incident.
-- For the past five decades, the High Fleet has been working on a secretive space station, installed in a sun-synchronous orbit shadowing the Earth. This installation, only known as the Geometry Offset Facility, is said to be an experimental strategic defence array, geared towards the interception and neutralization of FTL relativistic kill vehicles directed at the Earth. As STRATCOM already operates interception facilities, it is speculated that the Offset Facility is a paracausal defense system, capable of interfering with the very physical processes behind a faster than light translation.
-- The Luciole was made by Lilly Harper, as a commission for Starmoth
-- Uniform from Steven Sander's Symbiosis Artbook, Creative Commons CC-BY-NC6SA 3.0
-- Eagle steppe and sun is a public domain design.
The Myth of Planetary Invasion is a sociology and history book written by renowned historian Athene Saadi and published by the Eloran University Press in 1.27.
In this seminal work, Saadi develops her thesis that planetary invasions, in the modern era, are not merely hard, but outright impossible.
The problem is first and foremost technological notes Saadi in the first part of her book. Advances in rocketry have made it so that even relatively rudimentary missiles defenses can effectively counter-battery orbital ships and deny re-entry. Thus, planetary invasions do not only require orbital superiority, but ground superiority, in an age when even truck-launched missiles can threaten spaceships, and shoulder-launched projectiles engage landers. Orbital superiority is a myth, argues Saadi, and cannot be compared to air superiority. Ships in orbit are extremely vulnerable, as they are visible all the time, and cannot hide from dispersed ground defenses.
But the issue with planetary invasions do not stop at a technological problems. The real, profound issue, says Saadi, is that there is no way to curb ground-based defenses while still keeping the political and sociological state of things that justified the invasion in the first place. A planetary invasion, explains Saadi, stems from the desire to capture or control a planet, and it is impossible to destroy dispersed planetary invasions with orbital bombardments in a way that doesn't damage the planet's environment and society to an extent that doesn't render the war itself impossible to justify. Kinetics and conventional explosives would have to be used in numbers so large they'd wreck the planet, and nuclear weapons quickly create unjustifiable damage. As long as planetary invasions happen in a modern geopolitical context, asserts Saadi, it is politically impossible to destroy ground-based defenses without rendering the invasion unacceptable.
Even concentration of forces doesn't work, argues Saadi. The rampant proliferation of edge-of-atmosphere weaponry makes it so that even platoon-level infantry can effectively engage re-entry vehicles, even when used en masse above a specific point. Worse even, the tradeoff between lightly trained ground infantry and orbital drop troopers is so unequal that just a handful of missiles can render a regular invasion force economically unsustainable. Saadi is not optimistic when it comes to technological progress either; if orbital firepower will grow in accuracy in the future, this is also true for ground-based missiles.
Saadi's thesis, while controversial, was rightly confirmed when, five years after the publication of her book, the large-scale invasion attempt of the icy planet of Smyrnia by an interstellar warlord turned into the largest military disaster in recent history. She even added a new chapter to her book, entitled (with a certain amount of glee) "Seventy-Five Percent Casualty Rate" and dedicated to the analysis of this battle.
The soldier illustration was modified and extracted from the Eclipse
Phase Sourcebook, published and authored by Posthuman Studios and whose
art is under a Creative Commons CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 license.
For a long time, it was military wisdom that orbital superiority was impossible to counter -- that a ground-based army did not have meaningful ways of engaging ships in planetary orbit on atmospheric planets where lasers or coilguns are suboptimal. Advances in rocketry, and the tireless work of a few Smyrnian communes, have dispelled this idea with two pioneering designs specifically made to even the odds: the Sunspear missile and the Temülen rocket truck.
Sunspear is a four-staged, solid-fueled, nuclear-tipped interceptor that can be fired from trucks, camouflaged ground bases or ships. It doesn't have enough delta-v to actually go in a low planetary orbit, but it doesn't matter -- it doesn't have to circularize the orbit, only to intersect the target's orbital trajectory, which requires much less energy. The tracking system is very simple; orbital ships are impossible to camouflage and can be acquired with a simple infrared sensor. The missile includes basic decoys and electronic warfare systems, just enough to be a credible threat. The Sunspear's launch weight is 2,500 kg, with a 50 kg compact nuclear warhead, in a format not dissimilar to ancient long range anti-air missiles or small ballistic vehicles. It is a pure orbit denial weapon, designed to be launched en masse from various emplacements, rendering counter-battery extremely costly. Even if it doesn't outright kill the target -- and a nuclear warhead on a collision course at 6 km/s definitely has its chances -- the Sunspear forces enemy ships to adapt their orbits, limit their exposure, conduct costly counter-fire operations and, in general, is incredibly insufferable. Its appearance on the market has led space-based powers to reassess the value of orbital superiority, and especially its advantage against a ground-based enemy without orbital defenses. Orbital superiority is, indeed, a game everyone can lose.
The Temülen rocket truck, on the other hand, is designed to counter "rods from god" and other kinetic strikes. The colourful pitch by the Smyrnian armouries is as follows, transcribed from a tight beam ad broadcasted on Silesia:
So the enemy is throwing kinetic vehicles at you. "Telephone poles from space", tungsten rods, you know the drill, you've seen the movies. Now, while your horses are busy engaging the spaceships, you need to take care of these things; at least, make their work harder. This is where the Temülen weapon system comes in.
Most people think the rods are invulnerable to anything smaller than a nuke and you know what, they're right, the rods are -- but not the rest of the weapon. The Temülen missiles contain but a few dozen kilograms of shrapnel. Pityful, you might think. But that's a few dozen kilograms of shrapnel, accelerated at hypersonic speeds, meeting a tungsten rod that travels at several kilometers per second, right at the edge of space as it starts its re-entry. That's quite a lot of kinetic energy. Guidance systems? Gone. Re-entry tiling to prevent erosion? Gone. Thrusters? Gone. Datalink to the launching ship to adjust trajectory? Very funny. Trajectory? What's that? Just a mere glancing shot will throw the rod off course due to the sheer kinetic energy released. Oh, yes, in theory it can correct that, but see the first item on this list. Oh, the rods will reach the ground...but with the accuracy of a drunk frog, and shredded to hell and back. And contrary to nukes, they need that pinpoint accuracy to be anything more than fireworks.
A dumb weapon, meeting a dumb defence.
This isn't the worst part. Temülen vehicles are extremely cheap, even by Smyrnian armories standards, they're effectively repurposed industrial-era rocket launch trucks that somehow survived the Low Age. They can be deployed in massive numbers, forming a continent-wide net of camouflaged vehicles that will have to mobilize some very serious firepower to shut down. Can they get return fire from spaceships picking up their radar, or just identifying them on satellite? Of course. But every single minute spent reducing these antiquities to silence is a minute they don't spend chasing down the much more dangerous surface to orbit missiles that are targeting them.
Sometimes, annoyance is the better part of valour, say the Smyrnian Armouries.
In reality, are the Temülen efficient vehicles? Good question, as no one has waged a true surface to orbit war in decades, but one thing is certain: in combination with the Sunspear missiles, they have created a tactical backbone that makes this question even more theoretical than it already was.
The Enhanced Mobile Infantry concept is a weapon system based on the alliance of modern semi-vegetal exoskeleton suits, enhanced mobility harnesses with impulse thrusters, portable smart weaponry and military personal specifically trained for high mobility combat. It is an interesting and fairly unique case of cross-pollination between Flower War disciplines and conventional military tactics.
1 - In Flower Wars
Infantry combat has often been at the forefront of Flower Wars, owing to the spectacular and visceral nature of close range, human-to-human battles, that makes it easier to stage epic stories, bitter alliances and unexpected betrayals on the great stages of pretend wars. The relatively recent emergence of legged combat mechs as the combatants of choice for Flower Wars is but a continuation of this focus on individual, grounded combat. With the flamboyance of mechs, regular infantry found itself relegated in the background of Flower Wars, most often under the shape of sicarii, bipedal drone combatants that serve as fodder and extras for mech skirmishes. A regular human soldier cannot hope to keep up with mechs and the sheer firepower of a well-piloted armoured walker -- even if it is mostly for show -- makes infantry formations too expensive to field in Flower Wars, except as a pure statement of wealth and carelessness.
Except for one very specific type of infantry.
They're sometimes known as spectres, wind blades, voltigeurs, war acrobats or just enhanced mobility combatants. These highly trained athletes use exoskeletons optimized for running/climbing and lower back-mounted impulse thrusters to move at high speed around the battlefield in unpredictable patterns. While extremely physically and mentally demanding, their enhanced mobility makes them hard to hit with mech weapons and allows them to waltz between groups of sicarii and horse soldiers. Trained voltigeurs can confront mechs directly, engaging them in very close, one on one combat, using their speed and clever manoeuvring to best even the most nimble of walkers. The most daring among them might even leverage their vertical mobility to attempt a boarding action, jumping on the mech's back to disable it. This high-speed, wallrunning-addled style of combat is among the most spectacular displays of Flower Wars, and good voltigeurs are among the finest athletes in human space, some of them competing with mech pilots in terms of fame and interstellar prestige.
2 - Beyond Spectacle
Mechs have never been used in "real" combat, owing to their extreme vulnerability against modern weaponry, but war acrobats are another story. In military circles, they're known as Enhanced Mobile Infantry, and fill a similar niche, albeit with different characteristics. While Flower War infantrypeople value physical prowess over practicality, refusing to use cognitive assistance to perform their moves, soldiers need clarity of mind in combat. EMI soldiers are equipped with a neural node, directly linked to their monad, allowing them a greater degree of unconscious control over their exoskeleton and thrusters. When correctly attuned to a monad, this neural link enables the wearer to reach a state of flux, where complex moves in three dimensional space become as instinctive as walking or running.
The state of flux allows the soldier to focus on the other features that separate them from their Flower War counterpart. Enhanced Mobile Infantry soldiers wear full combat suits and complete light exoskeletons, enhancing their strength by a factor of three to four. Their impulse thrusters are more complex, allowing for true all aspect movement in the atmosphere and in vacuum. Shoulder and upper back racks allow them to carry flares, decoys, drones and micromissiles with at-glance lock-on and target selection. Their weapons include anti-materiel launchers, self-locking smart submachine guns, proximity mines and armor-piercing assault rifles. In modern military doctrine, Enhanced Mobile Infantry formations are envisioned as shock-focused, high-mobility, close range artillery platforms used in high-verticality environments with short lines of sight. They are often deployed in tandem with drones -- especially on low-gravity planets where hovering robots can be widely used -- that shield their movements and provide active defences. Their mobility is both tactical and operational.
In small-scale conflicts, Enhanced Mobile Infantry is often used as special operations units, leveraging their mobility for infiltration missions and targeted assassinations. Small groups of EMI soldiers have thus been at the forefront of the Causality War on Cassandre, in the Smyrnian Bubble. In the Serene Sea, EMI combatants equipped with non-causal weaponry have been fielded with great success against Sequence warforms in multiple Algorab operations.
Illustration by James Mosingo for Eclipse Phase, distributed by Posthuman Studios under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-alike 3.0 Unported License.
All content in the Starmoth Blog is © Isilanka
Written content on Starmoth is distributed under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike 4.0 license