Now the design of most modern warship doesn’t just concentrate on dealing out damage, but also on taking a hit. Use to be that ships of equal weight classes would pound each other, sometimes for hours, before there was a clear winner. That winner would then go about repairing as much damage as possible so it could be ready for the next fight. Torpedoes made it possible for smaller ships to sink larger until some defenses, like fast firing guns and protective bulges were added to the ships. Then aircraft started dropping bombs that could penetrate armor, and massed of antiaircraft guns were added to ships to shoot the little pests down before they could drop a 2,000 pound bomb down the stacks. Then along came nuclear weapons and armor was considered obsolete, even though the Bikini Atoll tests showed it really wasn’t. Now ships depend on electronic systems, countermeasures, fast firing gun systems and counter missiles to defend themselves. And almost no armor, even though modern warships have yet to face nuclear weapons, and instead face systems that take advantage of the lack of armor. The captain of the BB Iowa was once asked how he would handle an attack by an Exocet missile. His reply was that he would scrap the hull where it hit and repaint it. And Exocet is no threat to a ship with sixteen inch armor plate.
So how will ships in space defend themselves against attack? A force field? While they are cool to imagine, we’re not even sure that the force fields of Star Trek and Star Wars are possible. After all, we only know of four basic forces in the Universe; Gravity, Electromagnetism, and the Strong and Weak Nuclear Forces, and none of them lend themselves to the creation of the standard scifi screen of force. Someday we mat be able to manipulate gravity, which might lend itself to a gravitic force shield (and don’t ask me how that might manifest itself). But we already know that a electromagnetic field could be used to offer some protection. We are already experimenting with light bending, and an electromagnetic field could be used to bend light. How is this useful? Well, let’s say someone is firing a laser beam at our ship. It’s pentajoules of energy coming in on a couple of meter thick beam, striking the surface of the ship and imparting huge amounts of heat energy across a small area. But with an electromag light bending field in place the beam might be expanded to cover a hundred square meters of hull versus less than four. Still a lot of energy coming in, but over a larger area, so the area damage is not as great. This would also help with another idea I will discuss when we get to armor. In a best case scenario the field might even bend the beam completely around the ship and avoid a strike altogether. In another variation the electromag field could deflect incoming charged particle beams, including antimatter, and even material objects like shells, if they were of a metallic construction. It wouldn’t do much of anything to an uncharged beam, which is one reason they might be used.
Any other possibilities for defensive fields? Well, the light bending field might be used to confuse an opponent as to the exact location of the target, or a holograph projection might do the same. Or something can be suspended in the electromagnetic field to help it to deflect or attenuate the beam. I had originally thought of using metallic particles that could be formed into a screen around the ship, absorbing heat from incoming beams or breaking up the cohesion of particle beams. Then I read about cold plasma fields, and thought that might even be better. The idea of both is that the particles will absorb heat and rise in temperature, maybe even to millions of degrees. But that is heat energy that is not hitting the hull of the ship. When it gets to the point where it is radiating enough heat to become a threat to the ship (and remember, half the heat will be radiated out away from the ship, which is still a net gain for the vessel), the electromagnetic field could be switched off or used to move the particles to the back of the accelerating ship. Poof, it and all its stored heat is gone, more particles are released into the field, and we start over again. I think a powerful enough beam might still get something through onto the ship, but any decrease in what hits the ship is a gain for the vessel.
Last thought on fields. It might also be possible to fire missiles that detonate away from the ship and spread particles in the path of the enemy, also deflecting or attenuating beams. In the next section we will move on to discuss other methods of defense.