THE SABRE CLASS FRIGATES
The Sabre was one of the great failed occasions of the Earthforce procurement, in the aftermath of the Dilgar War.
During the War, some lessons were learned and some new technologies were acquired.
The battles fought against the powerful alien empire enlightened the strengths of the EA technology and tactics: the triad of Firepower, Armour and Starfuries was in fact a winning concept, and the relevance of interceptors and E-Web was furtherly proved. All our units in a way or another, proved to have great strenghts, but even some limits surfaced.
The Nova Dreadnoughts were instrumental in the victory, but they were expensive warships, and not without bugs, particularly in terms of tactical mobility. Even a better point antifighter defence was a desirable improvement.
The Hyperion cruisers were the real workhorses of the conflict, and, even if they showed some weakness in terms of damage tolerance, (at least, in respect to the though Novas) were well suited to cover a molteplicity of roles, and easy to be mass produced. Even the older Olympus corvettes and Artemis frigates performed well: the Olympuses, used essentially for escort and short range defence duties, were indeed useful in fleet engagements, in which provided two significant activities: antifighter escort to the Novas, freeing a part of the Hyperions from this burden, and flanking and encircling actions, in which operated with the Artemis Frigates; these last ships, jump capables, fast and well protected and with their deadly railgun batteries, were excellent shipkillers, even if their age begun to show, particularly in respect of the sensor performances and the point defence.
The Admiralty, while overall satisfied of the technical performances of its forces during the war, nursered a dream: a fleet ceneterd upon Novas as main battle units, eventually with the improvements dictated by the combat experience, and on a new unit, aimed to replace both Hyperions and Artemis, and, in a certain measure, Olympuses, at least in the main fleet operations. This type of ship was an ambitious design: it would have almost all the good qualities of the units it was called to replace, without the limits shown by them, in one or another field.
The basic concepts beyond the new units requirements were the following:
1-The cost would have to be signficantly lower than the Nova, and, if possible, not superior to an Hyperion last series.
2-The manufacturing methods would have to be well suited for mass production, but the frame must ensure a structural thoughness and durability similar to the Novas.
3-The armour protection, at least for the critical areas of the crew compartments, jump engines and engineering section, would have to be as resistant as the one of the Nova.
4-Speed and manoeuverability would have to be superior to the Hyperion last series, and, if possible, on par to the Artemis.
5-The line of fighter would have been of at least eight starfury.
6-Was requested a potent interceptor grid, capable even of excellent antifighter/point defence performannces.
7-Was requested a short range antiship firepower with performances on par or superior to the Hyperions, and a railgun firepower superior to the Artemis frigates.
8-Was requested a decent inhabitability, and large amount of expendable reaction mass for the high acceleration combat maneuvres (one of the weak points of the Hyperions).
9-was requested an acceptable medium and long range offensive power, eventually based upon the fighters and upon a missile battery.
This is, seen now, the portrait of the ideal medium unit (and many of these concepts are still valid and have been applied today). A very ambitious target, but not out of the world.
The Karmatech Industries replied with a variant of the Hyperion, slightly enlarged and with upgraded engines and systems, whose latter outcome would have materialised in the "Midwinter" cruisers variants.
The competitor Rocketdyne, builders of the Nova dreadnoughts and of the Avenger and Dauntless carriers among the others, presented a totally new project, the Sabre class Frigate, that, from every point of view, satisfied or exceeded the conceptual requirements of the Navy.
The overall layout is simple: the starting point were the engines and the reactors of the Nova. Instead of the four engines of the Draednought, the block was made of only two of them, but in an improved, more powerful variant, that, matched to a projected mass of 15 millions metric tons, ensured acceleration and overall performances superior to the Nova and to the Hyperions, close to the Artemis. Even the power generation was well enough to provide significant growth capabilities.
The design of the hull and the technologies employed, more than innovative, were someway revolutionary.
The Rocketdyne, in the 2220s, had made enormous investments for the industrial plants and the technologies needed to produce the Novas, and in the 2230's the technologies were mature for a spreadig in the new designs: the main frame of the Sabre, as the one of the Nova, is made of carbon nanotubes in a polimeryc matrix, pultruded in linear plates and beams that make up the structural bridges, longitudinal walls and structural bulkheads; the structural members are quickly assembled through molecular bonding, and make a frame enormously sturdy and significanly lightweight, at a more than acceptable cost and with reduced working time.
The Sabre, conceptually, sets the technology and the building schemes that will be found, decades later and in an evolved form, in a totally new family of Earth ships: if this is not evident to a casual observer, a technical specialist will immediately notice that the structural layout of the Sabre is designed with the same concepts of the hull of the Warlock.
The internal systems are installed to enhance the damage tolerance and the thoughness of the ship: the hull can be divided in three main section: engineering at the rear, center section (the "neck" of the ship) and frontal section, that is subdivided in five main sections by triple armoured bulkheads. The two forward sections, bow and section two, hold part of the weapon systems and the sensors: in the section two, just rearward of the bow, is placed the missile magazine. The long section three holds the main propellant tanks, an enormous reservoir of liquid xenon, subdivided in a multitude of cellular tanks, that contribute significantly to the passive protection: an energy weapon shot that pierce the armour sinks itself in a mass of inert liquid gas, with a significant dissipative effect.
Furtherly backward there is the section four, with a double thickness of multilayered armour, in which are the crew compartment, the life support systems, the COC (combat Operation enter) and, above and below, the two antennas of the jump engines. Just rearward are installed the life support system, accumulator batteries, escape lifepods, an auxiliary control bridge, and a relatively large gravity wheel, in which are placed the crew quarters and some facilities.
In the centeral section are installed the hangar for the fighter, and, at the stern, as usual, the reactor and engineering section.
The whole assembly is surrounded by the double sandwich hull, and by a multilayered spaced armour as thick as the one of the Novas. Overall, this was a masterpiece of structural and system engineering, in which each part contributes to the passive defence and to the structural integrity of the hull, and to the survival of the crew.
The weapon system is a good matching of human technology with the new technologies acquired from the Dilgars and something salvaged from the LONAW tech.
The main artillery pieces are four twin pulse bolters, a devlopment of the Dilgar bolters, that, with an high but still manageable power consumption ensure high power, good penetration and an excellent rate of fire: the overall firepower of a Sabre is less than a half the one of a Nova, but the piercing power of the bolts is very close to the one of the Dreadnought (and higher than everything available on the Hyperions), the bolters were designed as antifighter and interceptor capable, and the concussion/explosive effect on the targets is not too far from the one of an Omega cannon in bolt mode.
The four Railgun turrets were the most powerful ever installed on an EA warship, and their concentrated fire, matched with an exceptional penetration, was something that went well beyond the capabilities of an Artemis, a single salvo was capable to cripple or destroy even the mightiest capital ships of the known alien powers.
In terms of artillery combat and armour, to face a Sabre at short range was potentially more than dangerous.
Even the close in defence was excellent: all the pulse turrets were interceptor capable, and the CIWS was based upon twelve compact, high rate of fire bolters, even these developed thanks to the technology acquired from the Dilgars, but merged with the human designed interceptor technology, that matched more than average power (they were more powerful than the Hyperion secondaries cannons, yet an overkill against the fighters and as interceptors) with high rate of fire and great accuracy.
The long range offensive arm, beyond the twelve starfuries carried aboard, was centered upon eight missile launching tubes, with 40 long range missiles held in a magazine with a sophisticated autoloader, and a piece of technology inherited by the Hyacs, the first sample of human designed spinal laser.
The weapon, a smaller, shorter and solid state design, whose power, while reduced in respect to the original, was still enough to allow impressive long range penetration and effectiveness, was surrounded by a cooling jacket directly connected with the main propellant tank: the exploitation of an energic evaporative cooling with forced high pressure circulation of liquid xenon, and the use of the large propellant tanks as heath sinks, allowed a nearly unrestricted use of the weapon for a few minutes, and, with a prudent heath management and reduced rate of fire, even a prolonged combat.
THE "SABRE QUESTION"
All in all, the Sabre was a very good and capable warship design, an ideal complement for the Novas and a quantum leap in respect to the older designs, Artemis but even Hyperions. from many points of view, and taken into account the technical progress, a Sabre is a very valid warship still today, and the excellent Lupo Class Frigates are, from every point of view, the updated equivalent of this project, and have well proven the validity of the concept.
So, the question could be: what went wrong? Literally, everything except the ship.
In first, in the aftermath of the war, a program of shipbuilding for something like 1200 or more medium warships, and the scrapping of units that have, indeed, shown a good operational capability, was very difficult to propose to the public and to the new politic majority emerged in the elections of the 2235, more than favourable to reduce the military expenses, grown very high in the decade before the Dilgar war.
There were more factors that were heavily leveraged by the opponents to the program: the weapon system of the ship, totally new and, by the way, excellent, had two "original sins": all the direct energy wepons were based upon alien technologies, being the plasma bolters a development of the Dilgar pulse technology and the antiship spinal laser a development of an Hyach weapon, while the other components of the offensive arm of the ship, railguns and missiles, were ordnance based weapons, and the Dilgar Campaign was logistically complex and enormously expensive due to the high consumption of missiles and, in a lesser measure, of railgun impactors.
The missiles were a real problem: during the fightings, the EA ships fired their missiles in ripples or volleys, to saturate the enemy defences and overcome their electronic warfare, and the consumption of ordnance was enormous: after the surrender of the Dilgars, the depots of Earthforce had missiles left to sustain not more than a couple of months of fighting. To mass produce the Sabres implied to produce two and an half or three missile reloads for each ship, and each reload was 40 pieces, so, overall something like 100,000 expensive, cumbersome, heavy antiship missiles, with their fusion warheads.
The Sabre was put under fire from every side: by the press, that branded her as a replica of Dilgar and LONAW systems, (both of the technolgies branded of having "lost the war"), concepts "recovered from the scrap and the relics of the battlefield". The Sabre as a whole was deemed to be too expensive for a "recycled product", or too cheap to be a really valid unit. She received the broadsides of the Ministery of Defence, for the relevant use of ordnance dependant weapons, by the new politicians, worried to issue nuclear tipped missiles in so large number to a military structure in which they had no thrust, too much popular after the triumphs of the Dilgar war: there was even an extremely strong and effective lobbying activity, mostly of the Karmatech Industries, that was menaced to be excluded from the military procurement by the Rocketdyne Shipbuilding Venture consortium, ready to become the Prime Contractor for the whole frontline of the Navy: dreadnoughts (Nova), carriers (Avengers and Dauntless), landing ships (Tarawa), and medium units (Sabre). The ties of Karmatech with the press and with many political exponents allowed the lobbysts to leverage every single potential point against the new design, and the Sabre was doomed.
The Rocketdyne, that was capable to crank out more than 400 Novas in ten years, and 108 of them during the Dilgar war, yet convinced of the success of its new creature, had made significant investments not only in terms of research and development, but even for the Yards and the assembly lines, and with her even the subcontractors for the weapon systems, that invested heavily to present fully functional systems: Westinghouse (heavy pulse bolters and interceptors) and Raytheon (missiles and E-Web), and, in a lesser measure, Oto-Melara (railguns), General Electric (reactors and power systems), Selenia-Marconi (Laser) and Dell (sensors, Integrated tactical system and computer network) paid the price until the last drop of blood.
What were the real consequences? Well, the military research and a large part of the production capabilites fell in about ten years of coma, and to resuscitate them quickly under the pressure of the Minbari war was impossible: only in the last months of war the shipyards were capable to produce something signifacnt (too little, too late); whole sectors of the technology were dead and buried (the firsts antiship missiles and missile equipped starfuries were available for use only on the last day of war, at Io and at the Line, in a risible quantity, and, overall and even in relation with the whole military budget reduction, the Navy faced the Minbari in a shape, and with quantitative and qualitative levels, below the ones of the mighty structure that defeated the Dilgars.
Overall, the Sabre would not have deeply changed our performances in the Minbari war: the new class of ships, and the improvements not applied to the Novas, would have not changed the effectiveness of the Minbari Stealth System the determinant factor in the war, would have not eliminated the enormous power of their weapons, would have not erased the weight of a force of two or three thousands warcruisers.
But. Two prototypes were built and completed, the Sabre and the Bayonet. The Sabre disappeared, with all the hands, during the third month of war, nothing was known of hers destiny until the 2262 (SEE NOTE - "The destiny of the Sabre").
The Bayonet was assigned to the Eight Fleet of Orion, fought against the Minbari with the rest of the fleet and was lost in combat.
But before being destroyed, she was hit by the cannons of a Tinashi frigate, its E-Web and its Armour allowed to survive the punishment, she literally cut in pieces the Minbari Frigate, damaged a Sharlin with a salvo of railguns, was hit again by another Warcruiser, and, heavily damaged but still capable of manoeuvering, rammed through and destroyed the Sharlin she had crippled. The Bayonet did not survive the consequent explosion.
In fact, the "Sabre question" has been discussed in the specialised press and in the military circles in terms of cause, in terms of "how the things would have gone, if we would have fought against the Minbari with a force of 1500 Sabres, how the things would have gone if we had exploited all the R&D activity after the Dilgar war?" and so on.
This is a logic mental exercise, but the whole issue can be seen from another point of view: the Sabre Question, is not a cause, it is a symptom of a whole change of perspective in political terms.
The Cancellation of the Sabre and of all the other technical and strategic choices made in the 2235 - 2245 decade were the outcome of a different behavior in terms of internal, strategic, economic and, mostly, foreign policy: were consequences, not causes.
If the Fleet, in the 2245, would have had 1500 Sabres, or one thousands Nova-Evo, for the sake of discussion, this would have been the symptom of a different politic guideline, of different people in different places in some determinating moments: the whole panorama would have been changed.
In this hypothetical situation, we would have not needed the sabres to fight against the Minbari, because would have lacked the causes that led to the war; we would have been besides the Minbari, the LONAW, the Narns, the Vorlons and even the Centauri, and the opponents of the Sabres, of the Novas, of the Omegas, would have not been, eventually, the Sharlins and the Tinashis. Their enemies, our enemies would have been the Shadows battlecrabs.
This is the real "what if", the real "Sabre question".
Type: Heavy Strike Frigate
Length: 1,225 meters
Mass: 16.5 million metric tons Acceleration: 3.45 G
Fighters: 12*Mitchell-Hyundyne SA 26-A Aurora Starfury
Other: 1* Lockheed-Coronado C27N space shuttle.
2*Westinghouse "Vulcan-VI" Fusion Reactors.
2*Beagle-Bryant BB9-U-FF fast feeding plasma engines.
2*Lockheed-Mitchell M47-G12 Jump Vortex Generators.
1*Marconi-Selenia "Javelin Mk.1" spinal laser.*
4*Westinghouse M100 plasma pulse bolters, in twin turrets.**
4*O.T.O.Melara 256/180 RG32 twin railgun turret.***
12*Westinghouse "Firebarrier-X" interceptor/pulse cannon turrets.****
40*Raytheon "Matador II" Missiles. (Eight launching tubes with automatic reload system)
8.5 to 12.5 meter armored hull, Aegis-E Multi-layer composite armour, double hull, armoured internal bulkheads. 16*Interceptor Mk.II Defense Grid Energy Projectors, Mk.2 Energy Web.
Notes on the weapons:
|Weapon||Power/energy||Calibre||Rate of Fire||Piercing power|
|250 Terawatts||1.5 meters||10 discharges/minute||45 meters steel|
|270 Terawatts,45 terajoules/bolt||4 meters, barrell 8 meters||180 bolts/barrel/minute||25 meters steel|
|***||RG32 railgun||0.7 terajoules||256*152 mm||110 Rounds/minute/barrel||65 meters steel|
|6 Terajoules||0.7 meters, barrell 1.2 meters||450 bolts/minute||6 meters steel.|
The Sabre at its maiden cruise - 21 March 2235