The Periphery War

In setting description:

The Periphery War was Humanity’s first interstellar war. It started because of a political movement on Earth and then spread out to many other star systems. The idea was a desire for a greater political and economic unity between all the human settlements and nations among the stars.

This was not acceptable to five frontier star systems who prized their political and cultural independence. This lead to an expedition being dispatched from Sol to the largest of the resistant colony systems, with the intent of subduing the colony as an example.

The expedition was opposed and not allowed to land. The Commonwealth next decided to blockade the world and interdict all space travel within the star system. This sparked an emergency conference between the other four independent minded worlds.

These worlds put together a hastily gathered expedition of ad hoc armed ships and set out to contest the Commonwealth’s blockade of the main world. The first engagement was indecisive, but the ships of the Peripheral Worlds, after engaging the Commonwealth, pulled back to the second gas giant in the system and awaited the arrival of further forces.

Within a month the second wave of Periphery star ships arrived in the star system, and set course to rendezvous with their compatriots. During that month the Commonwealth task force made a sortie with a secondary force to the gas giant to keep a checking force on the 1st Periphery force. This holding force was instructed to block the Periphery rebel star ships from attacking the transports and other naval ships in the orbit of the main inhabited planet of the system.

In time the Periphery star ships gathered and launched a coordinated attack on the Commonwealth forces. The holding force fought the Periphery star ships in a running battle as both forces moved toward the primary planet. Once the battle reach the main inhabited world, the planetary rebels launched aerospace forces from the planets surface.

The Commonwealth commander became shaken by the slashing attacks from the aerospace forces, and the determined hit and run tactics of the Periphery star ships. In a period of bad maneuvering by the Commonwealth forces, their flagship was destroyed, which demoralized the Commonwealth task forces. A negotiated settlement soon followed which saw the Commonwealth forces begrudgingly departing the star system under a truce.

By the standards of later battles it would be a minor one, but it would be the start of the Periphery War, humans’ first interstellar war.

The Commonwealth of Worlds faced the same problems as the new United Peripheral Worlds. Star ships had been rare and heavily utilitarian over the first 3 centuries of human star faring colonization. This meant that neither side started the war with dedicated warships. The ships the Commonwealth had dispatched to the Peripheral world of New Frontier, had been law enforcement transports with some spatial combat capacity.

Each side took a long hard look at their resources and what strategy would best achieve their war aims. These factors dictated what warship designs were developed by each side. The UPW was faced with the age old problem of the insurgency and the rebellion. How do you defend the territory you have against offensive action by the larger force that wishes to dominate you, while at the same time projecting sufficient force to discourage the larger force or nation. After the first battle, the provisional government of the UPW decided that they could not remain merely on the defensive with a guerrilla war approach. With successive expeditions, the main Commonwealth would wear each of the five rebelling star systems down eventually, then merely occupy their worlds. So that meant there had to be an offensive component of the Peripheral Worlds war strategy, to take the war into the Commonwealth and force it to expend resources defending its own member star systems.

The UPW’s answer was to develop highly efficient system ships within each rebellions star system for defense against any Commonwealth expeditions. For an offensive component they would adopt a raiding strategy aimed at attacking the shipping and spatial infrastructure of the Commonwealth worlds. By sticking to a pure space based strategy, it allowed them to focus their power in a fluid war with no set front. It also minimized the chance of high civilian casualties. The Peripheral World government realized they were conducting a war for the hearts and minds of the rest of Humanity as much as a physical war. If they killed to many innocent bystanders, the civilian populations of the Commonwealth worlds would be firmly behind the Commonwealth war effort.

For the offensive component of their raiding strategy,the Periphery developed a space force built around a multi-role, multi-mission star ship they called a strike ship. These ships were designed for extensive independent operations, with long cruising times. The concept was that the strike ships could launch strike missions across the Commonwealth star systems. Strike ships were mostly armed with kinetic weapons that could carry simple munitions that could be in situ replaced.

Large laser weapons were an inherent part of the Carsmir relativistic engine. The UPW adapted this technological capacity to make it more usable for space combat. That required the ability to focus the beam with a more variable intensity and to aim the beam with a wider range of weapons angles. Secondary laser weapons were installed for point defense, and small target attacks.

For assault and boarding missions, almost 4000 space troops were barracked aboard the strike ships. This troop number combined with the 300 member crew made for tight quarters for all aboard the ships. The long mission duration required some amenities and luxuries be built for crew morale.

The war requirements of the strike ship, plus the extensive fuel and reaction mass storage needs, made the ships some of the largest star ships built by mankind up till that point in time. A decision was made by the Periphery Space Force to emphasis for engine reliability and power, instead of a pure acceleration. This made strike ships able to conduct long strategic voyages, but were not always the most rapid tactical performance. The United Peripheral Worlds felt this was acceptable, because the strike ship missions were to be offensive operations, picking their targets careful, and practicing prudence in their battle operations. Strategic withdraw was not uncommon during the war by strike ship captains facing questionable odds.

The Commonwealth of Worlds had a very different strategic problem. How to impose the political will of the central government without inflicting such high casualties on rebellious populations, while still defending loyal colony star systems. To address these war aims, the Commonwealth developed a space navy capable of sustained battle operations. The concept was that any strategy that heavily fortified the colonial star systems would be economically cost prohibitive to the war effort. Instead the decision was to develop common star ship classes that could be dispatched to defend colonial star systems, defend the central developed star systems, and still project power in expedition forces to attempt to conquer the rebellious worlds.

The Commonwealth Navy was developed around 3 combatant star ship classes. Fleet documents would equate these classes to maritime historical analogies of battleships, destroyers, and scouts; but in the popular vernacular they would be called Battlers, Brawlers, and Reconners.

The Commonwealth Space Navy chose shorter logistic mission duration for their classes in comparison to the Peripheral Space Force, due to having the ability to resupply more easily and to deploy a fleet logistic train. With these increased logistic capacities, the Commonwealth were able to deploy more smart munitions for their ships, leading to more smart kinetic munition, and missiles.

These would be the fleets that both sides conducted their war strategies for the next 127 years Earth time. While the Carsmir inducer and relativistic engines did allow superluminal travel, the crews still were subjected to time dilation. Time dilation, suspended animation, and the extended longevity of all of humanity in the 27th century lead to a long war being conducted with the same combatants throughout its duration.

Creator’s note:

The Periphery War as a story plays within that classic of space opera, the colonial rebellion. In most golden age and silver age science fiction stories, the colonial rebellion in more realistic contexts are interplanetary wars. In pure space opera settings, where faster than light travel is a simple thing, interstellar rebellions occur with not much more challenge than in the age of fighting sail.

Some authors tried a slightly more realistic approach such as Gordon R. Dickson’s Tactics of Mistake, or C.J. Cherryh’s Downbelow Station. Dickson took the approach that sociopolitical influences were critical to new settled star systems rebelling against Earth’s control, while Cherryh tried for a more space based infrastructure and long war as a larger society and economy goes on around the combat.

Each of these authors, and others, are trying to show that such rebellions would be complex affairs, because any settled star systems are built from new, implying a complex star faring economy and political system. Historical rebellions usually were long established populations rebelling against central governments, instead of very new population centers and societies rebelling against a central controlling government.

With those considerations the Periphery War is world built so that young colony star systems had enough centuries to develop strong industrial infrastructure and sizable populations. Also superluminal travel is a must to make interstellar warfare for political gains even reasonable, yet such a fanciful FTL capacity can not be so quick that the military and industrial might of the Solar System can be applied rapidly against the rebelling systems.

The strategic situation of the Periphery War is comparable to the American War of Independence. The United Colonies, later the United States, needed to defend their territory against soldiers deployed to North America by the British Empire, yet any attempt to project power to conduct strategic offensive operations by the Americans against the English required naval raiding of commerce as their only reasonable effective method. This compares to the United Peripheral Worlds having to defend their star systems against expeditions by the Commonwealth Navy, while sending out their strike ships to raid Commonwealth space infrastructure in the various Commonwealth systems.