The voidcraft of the Stardust universe are highly varied in scale, ranging from fighters and corvettes to massive kilometer-long freighters. There is a soft limit to how large a ship can realistically be built before metallic stresses and propulsive efficiency become restrictive factors. For this reason, the Terran megaliths inhabited by the Empyrean Commonwealth have achieved some religious reverence among many peoples of The Bary, even among scientists and engineers, who have been restricted from unlocking their secrets.
The first distinction among larger deep-space vessels is made between ships bearing two different propulsive technologies: unrated versus rated ships. Atmospheric and Single Stage to Orbit (SSTO) craft do not have shear drives and, much like strike craft, rely on arcjets to ascend through the upper atmosphere and travel through suborbital space where they must quickly refuel at a spaceport. Only a ship with a shear drive can be considered a rated naval vessel.
One optional convention that is shared across the navies and privateer commands of The Bary is the definition of a light or standard warship versus a heavy warship. This is a modifier that may be applied to any rated warship. Light and standard warships do not carry missiles, kinetic kill vehicles, torpedoes, fighters, or combat drones. Heavy warships do. The designation can be omitted entirely, but if a vessel has any significant added dry mass in the form of missiles or auxiliary combat craft, it is appropriate to speak of it as a “heavy” vessel when disambiguating it from similarly sized ships. This is particularly relevant for frigates and cruisers, which are two cost-effective and popular types of warship.
For assessment purposes, rated warships may also be broken down into independent or fleet support roles by officers, logisticians, and naval historians. The latter is more common in a main battle fleet where mutual support is available and force multipliers are important. Independent ships are meant to patrol spacelanes and sacrifice firepower and armor for maneuverability and self-reliance.
Clippers & Cutters
Clippers & cutters are large Single-Stage to Orbit or SSTO spaceplanes. They are unrated vessels without shear drives and most do not carry weapons. Sanctioned interdictors are really the only lawful exception.
Built to interface between low orbit and the ground, cutters were first designed around the combined-cycle rocket engine concept, and later on thermal arcjets. Using the planetary atmosphere as a propellant greatly increases the craft’s specific impulse when it needs it most: the needy early acceleration phases of orbital insertion. As powerful shear drives are only capable of safe operation off-world, arcjets remain the best way to shuttle payloads to and from the surface.
Lightweight clippers have incredible speed and are often operated to their limits by smugglers. Cutters are heavier but more versatile.
Corvettes are the smallest rated warship with a shear drive and are found in a handful of special situations: on orbital patrol duty such as in port and trade zone law enforcement, on recon missions in crowded celestial systems, or close enough to a refueling ship in a larger fleet. Corvettes are cheap and easy to produce en masse. Because they are light, corvettes are quick and make great proactive missile interceptors. Corvettes may be equipped with out-sized sensor suites as their high-g acceleration profile makes them excellent at recon and threat assessment. Further, a corvette’s miniscule cross-section and ultra-high maneuverability make it difficult to hit, even with railguns or particle beams. Their point-defense arrays make short work of missiles, drones, and smaller strike craft squadrons at close to medium range.
Corvettes can, however, easily be overrun. They have a limited armament selection and less tactical flexibility than frigates. Other downsides include a limited fuel reserve impacted by afterburner use. Corvettes are lightly armored and crewed by only a handful of people; they are the least desirable assignment in wartime due to their susceptibility to even stray weapons fire. However, when utilized properly, they can shield capital vessels from long-range harassment.
Frigates are effectively larger and better armored corvettes. Lighter frigates focus on the quality of their point-defense array. Heavy frigates are armed with a guided missile complement for use in fast attack ambush operations. Frigates are necessarily a bit larger and better protected than corvettes on account of their fleet escort role, as they are a vulnerable early screen for capital ships. Missile stocks on heavy frigates are typically smaller, low-yield interception vehicles rather than nuclear torpedoes, which can not penetrate an enemy’s early point-defense screen.
Destroyers are long-endurance, maneuverable missile boats. Destroyers are the workhorses of any navy. A destroyer is completely capable of taking care of itself. If the officers of a destroyer class vessel are tactful, they can founder an enemy vessel of any size, hence their name.
Because of the destroyer’s vast stores of high-yield explosive munitions, armament detonation is of some concern. A few precautions are made. First, the missile stores are compartmentalized with vacuum gaps. Secondly, the destroyer class vessel is large enough to contain several auxiliary fusion power plants capable of providing laser-based point-defense in lieu of vulnerable autocannon magazines used on corvettes and frigates. Finally, destroyers will generally favor a high percentage of nuclear weaponry as nuclear warheads do not chain react as conventional explosives do (this is a common misconception).
Assuming the nullification of the enemy’s point defense, a destroyer’s nuclear torpedo salvos are excellent at heavily ablating outer layers of armor and disabling external modules. The destroyer can then make a kill with conventional weapons.
Cruisers do what they say on the tin: cruise around and look menacing. Cruisers are bulky vessels with a large cross-section and the heat signature of several massive power plants and drive sections to match.
Despite their size, cruisers actually have the optimal thrust-to-mass ratio when fitted with the largest capital size drives to dash around The Bary under a near-constant acceleration of up to 1g, particularly the more common light cruiser. This makes them optimal for rapid response or force projection in foreign volumes of space. Their powerful networked reactors and capacitors allow them to wield a suite of reasonably strong railguns or ion cannons.
Heavy cruisers carry missiles and nuclear torpedoes for the earliest stages of engagement as well as for harassment and orbital bombardment.
Battlecruisers & Battleships
Battlecruisers and Battleships are rare capital ships and valued more for the psychological impact of their arrival in the battlespace than their cost-effectiveness. They can be over a kilometer in length, and their armored turrets house kinetic weapons that may deliver energies well in excess of 100 megajoules per round. Battleships have the same extended range as the cruiser but only move at a fraction of the speed due to their thick bulkheads and great mass of layered composite armor.
Because they represent such a massive investment, battleships were designed to also be fleet support vessels. They can triage themselves and their escorts with a supply of repair drones, repair skiffs, and reserve fuel. Battlecruisers have less of this fleet triage capability and are often utilized in tactical combat groups to ward off cruisers with super-heavy spinal mounted kinetic or energy cannons.
Carriers may have a wide arsenal of strike craft, and will always carry some drones, recon, triage, and non-combatant craft on board as well. A carrier’s bulk is taken up by its squadrons of fighters, repair drones, and complement of auxiliary craft, so in practice a carrier can be any size and have a spectrum of combat and logistical capabilities, but they are typically about the size of a cruiser. To maximize force projection, carriers are often found lurking at the end of hyperlanes, through which they can send their squadrons of strike craft.
Siloships are the ultimate bombardment platforms. These hulks are essentially massive, slow, and highly vulnerable destroyers hauling a huge spectrum of guided missiles. They are never found in range of enemy guns unless they’ve made a lethal mistake. Siloships must always be well-guarded by the rest of the fleet.
As force auxiliary platforms, the value of the siloship is in establishing “beachheads” and softening up enemies at range for expected capital engagements. Their swarms of missiles and torpedoes will overwhelm even the densest point-defense arrays. Siloship magazines will consist of a varying degree of conventional warheads, nuclear torpedoes, and kinetic kill vehicles.
Novani Republican Fleet
The Novani retain by far the largest military-industrial complex of the Barystates, which nominally gives the Republic a strong logistical edge in wartime. The speed at which the Novani can mobilize their forces from all corners when the political willpower calls for it is nothing short of astonishing, particularly given the massive and unrivaled population of their naval armed forces.
When not mobilized for a declared war, the Republican forces are in a much more pedestrian mode. Novani defense contractors are busier catering to the foreign allies and private security outfits that make up the difference in a slowdown of work commissioned by the Republican Fleet. With factories and engineers spread more evenly over a wider customer base, and strong lobbying from the defense industry to keep markets accessible with few stipulations for classified materiel, Fleet warships can often fall behind on their regular maintenance and upgrade schedules.
After Admiral Forrester's humiliating defeat to the Royal Navy, the Republican Fleet shifted over time from its reliance on drones to a reliance on its numbers. Novani naval squadrons are often particularly littered with smaller ships like frigates that screen for a much smaller capital group of cruisers, a couple of battleships, or a siloship. Missile-bearing ships are inclined toward plasma warheads that act as a very effective middle-ground between conventional and nuclear warheads. As mentioned elsewhere, the Novani like to weaponize their exhaust: the magnetic bottles of these missiles are primed directly from a shear drive’s engine block.
Battleships and battlecruisers are hybrid carrier vessels in the Novani Republican Fleet, where they include strike craft squadrons of any type deemed to suit the mission profile, generalizing a Novani battleship’s role and making it more self-sufficient. Republican admirals prefer the term dreadnought for their purpose-built battleships and battlecruisers armed without launch bays (ie. with only artillery and missiles).
Sibylean Royal Navy
After successfully fending off the imperial ambitions of the Novani, the young Sibylean Royal Navy took stock of what it could count among its assets. These advantages included a highly-educated albeit smaller populace, a ruthless defense of the Kingdom that galvanized commoners and nobles alike, and unparalleled early progress in energy weapons and ECM. Queen Rhiannon II commissioned the best and brightest minds to devise a naval strategy that would ensure Sibyl could never be blockaded again.
The Aegis Commission returned with several recommendations that echo to this day. Sibylean ships are unparalleled in their ability to handle mid-range engagements, where their laser and ion weapons are the most impactful. This may sound counter-intuitive at first, because lasers have a muzzle velocity exactly the speed of light, and ultra-relativistic ion beams achieve velocities not much slower. Surely energy weapons should be the ultimate long-range weapon?
In engineering practice this is not the case. Photons (as well as singular massive particles) are associated with a specific wavelength. Diffraction is a phenomenon that occurs when light encounters an obstacle or aperture. An aperture of any kind produces beam scattering effects in the space downstream of the aperture, as every obstacle or opening produces a secondary effect on the generated wave. Diffraction causes a precipitous drop in fluence—or the energy delivered to target per unit area—with increased range. Coupled with thermal stress and the high power consumption of energy weapons, the Sibyleans faced significant engineering challenges in improving their energy weaponry, all of which were at least partially overcome in pursuit of their advantages.
Laser and other energy weapons are quick to train between multiple targets at once, and energy weapons can only be countered, not dodged. Lasers in particular make short work of drones and missiles from near or far. When pulsed with q-switching, a laser can be made to fire in sub-nanosecond bursts at a higher power and thus higher fluence than in a continuous mode, working to rapidly ablate enemy armor by turning the thermal gradients into mechanical stress in the target material.
A contemporary Sibylean battlegroup will be a squadron of multi-role strike craft with lasers and standard missiles, picket ships with point-defense laser arrays or dedicated ECM, and capitals fitted with ion cannons for longer range firepower. The weakness of the Sibylean capital ship lies in its radiators, which work overtime and encumber the vessel with a very large targetable cross-section. That said, if a Sibylean ship is powering up its weapons, it doesn’t mind that the enemy knows it is there.
Geminese Self-Defense Force
The Geminese Self-Defense Force takes a very defensive stand-off posture. Favoring long-range engagements if they have to return fire at all, Geminese ships use this gap in the battlefield to help them better assess a given situation. Their railguns and guided magnetic accelerators (mass drivers with a KKV payload) are unmatched in quality. The final velocity of a Geminese guided munition relative to the vessel that launched it regularly exceeds 25 km/s.
As with their strike craft, the maneuverability of the GSDF’s warships is generally lugubrious. This weakness has been mitigated by the careful positioning and highly attuned situational awareness among GSDF officers. One particularly useful feature of Geminese ships is that they all mount some number of stern-chaser artillery, making them excellent at fighting retreats, and giving them the leeway they may need to make a withdrawal.
In the Geminese Self-Defense Force is an armada with a storied history of seafaring over its two ocean worlds. The Geminese find it appropriate to speak of battleships and battlecruisers as “ships of the line” of first and second rates. Their cruisers comprise rates three and four. The modern destroyer is sometimes referred to as a great frigate. Carriers are a relatively new addition to the GSDF, and an unpleasant one for pilots of strike craft who have generally served aboard luxurious stations and outposts.
Much like with their strike craft, the Feronian Guard favors practical ship design and ease of repair over all other concerns. The Feronians are the kings of autocannons, conventional artillery, and both plasma and nuclear warheads. Feronian Guard vessels are quick and carry oversized munitions packages for their weight class. Guard vessels get down and dirty, with extra thick armor around their most important sections, large caliber depleted uranium rounds, and strategically timed nuclear torpedo drops. Unique among the Barystates’ navies, Feronian Guard ships all feature powerful retrograde thrusters for enhanced tactical mobility.
The Guard is particularly fond of its destroyers. In some ways, destroyers are the perfect class for the Feronians, allowing them to pursue the most cost-effective fleet in The Bary. The destroyer is an almost perfectly versatile class. It has speed. It has substantial firepower. And it has at least some decent armor. A destroyer flotilla can unleash a wall of torpedoes impossible to counter or dodge in deep space, and particularly upon a hyperlane exit. The ablation and softening of enemy armor makes the rest fairly trivial for heavy autocannons, as the conventional rounds slice through the melted armor like a knife through hot butter.
When working in tandem with its strike craft, the Guard does need to be extra cautious, as its rapid-fire munitions increase the danger of a friendly fire incident. Feronian strike craft will typically approach an enemy from an angle perpendicular to the battle line in order to minimize this risk.
Keepers of the Commonwealth
The Keepers of the Empyrean Commonwealth maintain static emplacements of energy weapons on their stations but no known naval vessels. This is just as well, as their stealth fighters are fearsome machines, watchful and vigilant in the night. It is thought by analysts abroad that these strike craft could come in part from mobile carriers as well as from permanent outposts, but an Empyrean carrier has never been sighted.