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The Trashcans of Death: Sunspear and Temülen

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.

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