Please note that this is a preliminary report with two major qualifications.
1) Analysis of the data from Mississippi’s records and debriefing of the command crew is still ongoing at this time.
2) Given the severe system damage sustained by Mississippi in the first strike, combined with the ship’s aging systems, data quality was comparatively low.
On the August 12th the River Class Cruiser Mississippi, while engaged in a survey of the system tentatively identified as A046-026, was fired upon and severely damaged by a starship of previously unknown design. In the exchange of fire that followed, the unknown starship was crippled then self destructed. Mississippi retreated from the system shortly afterwards.
While there was initial speculation that the vessel was of Aèllr origin, both the technology and behavior observed, have resulted in this possibility being largely discounted. Until or if evidence to the contra surfaces, it is accepted that this ship is from an unknown and previously un-encountered alien race. While our colleagues in the diplomatic corps are right in pointing out that the apparently aggression of this nameless race could have been due to host of reasons, the lack of any form of communication before firing is troubling and given that A046-026 is positioned within a handful of light years of the colony of Landfall, we can not rule out further encounters. For this reason a tactical analysis of the vessel and appraisal of its strengths and weaknesses is of significant importance.
Comparative Technological Levels
It is worth reiterating that there is no such thing as a consistent technological level. Based on human experience we tend to assume that alien species will develop technologies in approximately the same order and time frame as humanity. This is an error, as has been demonstrated to a certain extent by the Aèllr, Mhar and Tample. Technological progress is driven by social priorities and resources, therefore no two races will go through all the same steps and indeed, certain steps might be skipped completely.
In the case of the Mississippi Incident, this principal is more pronounced than we have ever before seen. Based on the Mississippi’s readings, this alien ship appears to be a mixture of technological levels, with some systems clearly several steps behind their human contemporaries, while others markedly more advanced. The most interesting of these – and the one most immediately identified in Captain Crowe’s report – was their scanning technology, which demonstrated Faster Than Light feedback. Not only has this impressive feat been achieved for starship sensor systems, but this system is apparently small and cheap enough to use in a missile guidance system.
The only possible way to achieve FTL scanning that we know of, even in principle, is by gravitational detection. However to detect something as small as a starship by this means is well beyond our understanding. The second advanced system observed was the Faster Than Light transmitter. While this appeared to operate on the same first principals as our own, its pulses were much fasted than our own one point five pulses per second. Even more impressive is the apparent size of this transmitter. Currently the smallest human FTL transmitter is the American Jefferson Three in Texas and the resonance chamber alone of this device is nearly as wide than the entire alien vessel. While we are aware that the Aèllr are capable of building FTL transmitters smaller than our own, it is only by perhaps ten to fifteen percent. So to have fitted such a transmitter into a vessel, suggests that the device was tiny compared to our own. It has been suggested that if such transmitters are a commonplace for this race, this may explain why there was no response to Mississippi’s attempts to communicate; quite simply radio transmissions may no longer be a method of communication used. However Mississippi detected no FTL transmissions prior to the attack so this suggestion appears very speculative.
In contrast to the scanning and communications technology, their propulsion systems are far less impressive. The image below is from the opening stages of the gun range engagement. Range at this point was under two hundred and fifty kilometres – at such close quarters even Mississippi’s old Mark III’s cannons could penetrate the main belt of a Titan class battleship.
To the left and behind the alien ship we can see the plasma bolt that struck and went through the ship. It is estimated that at the moment of this frame, the bolt was seven hundred kilometres beyond the alien ship and as you can see from the close up, the bolt has retained coherency. Even at point blank, had it struck any form of armour, then the bolt would be close to final decay. If the vessel’s engines had a comparable output to those of Mississippi, then we would expect the alien ship to have demonstrated a much greater level of acceleration and manoeuvrability. As it was, the vessel only approximately matched Mississippi and the reading from her passive sensors indicate fairly low output throughout the engagement. Therefore we believe their engine technology is significantly inferior to our own.
On the subject jump drive we have nothing to offer. Since the vessel was not seen jumping in and none of the planets of the A046-026 system gave any indication of ever having supported life, we must presume the alien ship is jump capable. The ‘horns’ that can be seen on the forward hull on either side of the forward launcher, with a matching pair on the ventral hull are assumed to be the housings for the jump drive nodes.
The Mississippi Incident Engagement
The following diagrams are not to scale and obviously only approximately indicate the movements of the two vessels in three dimensions. The engagement itself can be broken down into two clear phases. In the first, uncertain as to what he was facing and in line with the standard rules of engagement, Captain Crowe attempted to break contact when faced by a vessel of unknown origin. As he was inside a planetary Mass Shadow, he was unable to jump away and Mississippi was unable to out-accelerate the approaching contact. He then attempted to open a dialogue, it was only as the contact accelerated in that it was identified as a missile. By this stage decoy and evasion were no longer possible and the missile struck the port side cargo pod. Mississippi sustained heavy damage from this strike with numerous personnel casualties. In his report Captain Crowe has stated an opinion that a direct hit against the primary hull, would have destroyed Mississippi outright. Damage control efforts were still under way when a second missile was detected, this weapon was successfully spoofed by the jettisoning of Mississippi’s starboard side cargo pod. With his ship seriously damaged and no further contacts detected, Captain Crowe chose to power down and let Mississippi drift clear of the planetary Mass Shadow.
The second phase saw direct contact between Mississippi and the alien ship. Approaching from the same direction as the two missiles, the objective of the vessel was clearly to investigate the wreckage of the two cargo pods, which we assume they mistook for the wreck of Mississippi herself. Captain Crowe held his fire until certain his ship had been detected, at this point the two ships engaged at a range of less than four hundred kilometres. The alien attempts to fire a third cap-ship missile at close range, however this weapon was destroyed as it launched. The alien then attempted to cross Mississippi’s stern to target the cruiser’s engines while Mississippi engaged with guns. Mississippi outmanoeuvred the alien vessel and hit it with a single long lance missile; this and the secondary detonation of the alien’s fuel supply crippled the ship. A FTL transmission was detected from the alien before the ship self destructed. Mississippi withdrew from the system.
The first and most obvious feature of this vessel is its complete reliance on missile armament. At no point in the engagement with Mississippi, did the vessel use any form of gun armament. While certain Tample star nations have fielded missile cruisers and we have currently have in service missile strikeboats, a vessel of such size without even a point defence grid is unprecedented. While in theory a missile could have much greater effective range than any direct fire weapon, in practice against a target capable of manoeuvring, the lags introduced by light-speed transmissions have always made them unacceptably inaccurate at ranges beyond half a light second. The alien FTL sensor systems appear to solve this problem, with the large missile which we are dubbing Cap-ship missiles, able to react to the target long before it could receive light-speed transmissions. Exactly what range this system is capable of firing out to is pure conjecture, based on Mississippi’s reading it is certainly capable of engaging a target from beyond plasma cannon and possibly heavy plasma cannon range. If so, this largely offsets the disadvantages of their lack of protection.
While the target of a cap-ship missile would have several minutes at least in which to engage, we can not overstate how difficult this would be. The frontal aspect of the missile – the one the target will see – was less than two metres square. Plasma cannon while capable of ranging out to one hundred thousand kilometres, are at such range only accurate to twenty metres. Only once the missiles have closed to twenty thousand kilometres, do cannons stand any serious chance of hitting. At this range, plasma cannons will only have time to complete two full firing cycles. While this is likely enough against single missiles, against multiple in-bounds it is likely a target ship would be overwhelmed.
This capacity for long range fire only appears to extends to the Cap-ship missiles, the smaller missiles, used at close range do not appear to have this capacity. Indeed these smaller missiles appear to fulfil a dual purpose. During the second phase of the engagement they were used in a close range anti-ship capacity and in a point defence role when attempting to intercept Mississippi’s Long Lance missile. In neither role did they appear to excel, being somewhat heavy for the point defence role and too light for effective anti-ship against an armoured target – in essence the classic Jack-of-all-Trades problem.
The close range encounter with Mississippi was clearly not the one the alien ship was optimised for. What we can draw from this is that any further clashes with this nameless race will be very dependent on range. Assuming all of their ships follow the same design philosophy, they will avoid at all costs close range encounters, instead long range fire should be expected.
In event of a second or large scale engagement, our most important defensive asset would be the Luna Class Flak Cruisers. With their rapid fire flak guns, a single Luna could stand off a significant number of these alien ships. While on the offensive our carrier based fighters would be our attacking vessels as these would have the acceleration to close on the alien.
This alien ship is unlike anything we have previously encountered, built around an entirely different philosophy and in the event of combat, it would require a completely different approach. Currently the tactical implications are being examined as a matter of urgency by the Tactical Analysis section. However to what extent this nameless race presents a threat can not be answered on the basis of this one encounter. No matter how impressive this one vessel, it was only one ship. Questions of this race’s economic and military strength, along with their physical location need to be answered as a part of the wider appraisal. For the moment however believe that this race presents only a moderate threat and our forces stationed around Landfall are adequate, subject obviously to review should better information become available.
The Mississippi Incident is available to read. Click this way for the sample on Amazon.