Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Severed Dreams


In this mid-series episode from Babylon 5, we see the culmination of a number of plot threads leading to a climactic battle between the forces of a corrupt central government, and an ad-hoc group of freedom fighters. In the episodes leading up to Severed Dreams, the staff of Babylon 5 had discovered proof that the current Earth Alliance president, William Morgan Clark, was responsible for the death by explosion of his predecessor, President Luis Santiago. This information was released, leading to investigations, riots, and the declaration of martial law. The Earth Senate is suspended when Earthforce troops forcibly seize the chamber and capture members not loyal to Clark. The military is split, with a faction loyal to President Clark fighting a rebellious faction led by head of the Joint Chiefs, General Hague.

At the start of this episode, General Hague's ship, the EAS Alexander, is fighting its way to Babylon 5 for refuge, repair, and support. General Hague is killed in this battle, and command is assumed by his aide, Major Ryan. Upon arrival at Babylon 5, he is given sanctuary to complete repairs. Shortly afterwards, they are joined by the EAS Churchill, commanded by Captain Sandra Hiroshi. She informs Captain Sheridan and Major Ryan that she's intercepted orders to an Earth Force task group to seize control of Babylon 5, arrest its command staff, and place the station under the direct control of President Clark. Major Ryan offers to flee, and hopefully draw away the heat from Babylon 5, however, the two ship captains and the Babylon 5 staff agree that the best course of action is to stay and fight.

Order of Battle

1st Wave:
2 Omega Class Destroyers (EAS Roanoke, EAS Agrippa)
2 Hyperion Class Heavy Cruiser (names unknown)
Multiple squadrons of fighters (Thunderbolt)
At least 1 breaching pod
GROPOS (ground force) in at least company strength, but likely higher.

2nd Wave:
2 Omega Class Destroyers (EAS Nimrod, EAS Olympic)
1 Hyperion Class Heavy Cruiser (names unknown)


Babylon 5 Defense Grid
2 Omega Class Destroyers (EAS Alexander and EAS Churchill)
Multiple squadrons of fighters (Starfury and Thunderbolt)
Babylon 5 Security Force (mixed Human and Narn, in company strength)

1 White Star cruiser (White Star)
3 Minbari Sharlin Class War Cruisers



Seize control of Babylon 5 and arrest its command staff, and place the station under the direct control of President Clark and the Nightwatch. Destroy or compel surrender of EAS Alexander and EAS Churchill.


Prevent conquest of Babylon 5. Avoid capture by Loyalist forces.

The Plan


Deliver ultimatum to rebel forces. If ultimatum is not accepted, take Babylon 5 by force. Use shipboard and fighter weapons to disable Babylon 5 defense grid, and deliver a breaching pod to the station. GROPOS on board the breaching pod will attempt to seize control of the station. Opposing capital ships will be destroyed by shipboard weapons and fighter weapons unless they surrender.


Oppose all attempts to take Babylon 5 by force. Use shipboard and fighter weapons to disable or destroy opposing force. Babylon 5 security forces will engage any attempt to forcibly board the station.


The Loyalist faction drops out of hyperspace and broadcasts an ultimatum to the rebels to surrender and prepare to be boarded. Captain Sheridan broadcasts his intent to resist and declares President Clark's orders to be illegal. All rebel ships deploy fighters -- the Loyalist fighters had already been launched while in hyperspace. Captain Sheridan orders his fighters to hold fire until fired upon. This happens quickly as the loyalist ships open fire on Babylon 5, the Alexander, and the Churchill. The rebel ships respond in kind, and the two factions of fighters quickly engage in combat. The two sides appear to be roughly evenly matched. During the melee, a breaching pod of GROPOS is launched, and manages to breach the hull of Babylon 5 in Brown Sector. They are cut off by the Babylon 5 security force and a firefight ensues. Outside of the station, the EAS Churchill sustains heavy damage. Unable to get to lifepods before the ship blows up, Capt Hiroshi decides to ram the Churchill into the EAS Roanoke, destroying it. On board the EAS Alexander, Major Ryan decides to take the initiative and orders his ship to close on the EAS Agrippa, and uses his cutting beam to severly damage the Agrippa. Additional damage is caused by fire from Starfurys and Thunderbolts from the rebel fleet, as well as long range fire from the Babylon 5 Defense Grid. The EAS Agrippa refuses to abandon ship and is destroyed by explosion. Back on board the station, the Babylon 5 Security Forces defeat the GROPOS boarding party, but with heavy losses among the Narn.

Although the battle appeared to be won, a loyalist reinforcment group consisting of two Omega class destroyers (EAS Nimrod and EAS Olympic and an unknown Hyperion class frigate), arrives and demands the surrender of the diminished rebel forces. At this moment, a Minbari task force of three Sharlin class war cruisers arrive, led by Ambassador Delenn in the White Star. She declares the station to be under her protection and orders the loyalist task force to retreat with the memorable line: "Only one human captain has survived combat with the Minbari fleet. He is behind me, you are in front of me. If you value your lives, be somewhere else." Faced with these odds, the loyalist faction retreats.


Earth Defense Force:
EAS Roanoke (rammed by EAS Churchill)
EAS Agrippa (cutting beam from EAS Alexander)
Multiple Thunderbolts

EAS Churchill (Massive fires, committed kamikaze death by intentionally ramming EAS Roanoke)
Multiple Thunderbolts and Starfurys (30% of B5 Starfurys destroyed or disabled)

Rebels maintain control of Babylon 5.


This battle provides the first significant check to President Clark's power and his efforts to suppress the rebellion on the colonies. Because of this, the station will be a focus of plots by Clark and his minions (e.g. Psi Corps) for the remainder of the 3rd and 4th seasons. Also of signficance, the open rebellion by the station provides a rallying point for other Earthforce ships willing to defect. Later in the 4th season, the EAS Agamemnon (Sheridan's old ship) will join the cause. The EAS Alexander will leave the station and attempt to find and rally other Earthforce ships to the cause.

After the battle, the station will come under the protection first of the Minbari, and later, other alien races. And with the station in open rebellion, Sheridan and his crew can more openly move to support the Army of Light resistance against the Shadows.


Now let's start the critique...

Strategy and Operational Planning

The key issue wrt strategy is the decision on both sides to seek battle. President Clark is basically carrying out a coup d'etat by declaring martial law and suppressing the Senate. In order to seize total power, it's essential that he seize control of all of the major population centers and military bases. Babylon 5 counts as both, and in addition is a major point of interaction with the alien races. It's absolutely essential that Clark seize control of Babylon 5 to limit the resources available to the rebel faction. And to be successful, he needs to move quickly before the rebels can rally at Babylon 5 in significant force, and possibly enlist the support of alien races. Typically, speed is of the essence in a coup, and it helps to have your people in the right places. Clark had done this, and thought he had Sheridan in his pocket (he was selected to replace Sinclair just for this reason), but events in the last few episodes gave him reason to doubt Sheridan's loyalty.

Likewise, the rebels need Babylon 5 as a secure base of operation to assemble and build their forces. They need to buy time for more Earthforce units to defect to their side. And the longer the conflict goes on, the more likely they are to win. And let's not forget the symbolic value of John Sheridan as a hero of the Earth-Minbari War and the Mars Rebellion. He's well respected among humanity in general, and Earthforce in particular. Keeping him free and in charge of the rebellion is invaluable to the freedom fighters. So the rebels must stay and fight.

Now let's look at the operational plans. Earthforce sent two waves of forces to capture Babylon 5. However, rather than concentrate their forces in one overwhelming attack, they committed their forces piecemeal. In the first attack, they actually operated at a numerical disadvantage -- 2 Omega class destroyers vs 2 Omega class destroyers, and 1 Hyperion class destroyer vs Babylon 5. I would expect the rebels to have a numerical advantage on fighters as Babylon 5 should carry more fighters than a Hyperion. So it makes no military sense for Clark's forces to attack when they did. The smart move would have been to wait for reinforcements. True, that would have delayed the attack until Delenn showed up with Minbari reinforcements, but that could not have been forseen. In that case, Clark's forces would have avoided the senseless loss of two Omega class destroyers, many Thunderbolts, and the boarding party. Perhaps the decision to engage was driven by the political urgency, the knowledge that the EAS Alexander was damaged in the fight with the EAS Clarkstown, and perhaps the military commander was overruled by a political officer.

With respect to the rebels, I think they played this well. Despite Brave Sir Robin, er, I meant Major Ryan's offer to "draw away the enemy" from Babylon 5, the smart move was to concentrate their forces in the face of the attack to get the most favorable odds. As a result of this, they actually had numerically advantage and achieved a 2 to 1 kill ratio for capital ships.

Tactics, Techniques, Procedures (TTPs)

Since this is a civil war among forces from the same military, TTPs are expected to be the same for each side. Capital ships will slug it out among themselves with heavy weapons, while fighters will target the defensive systems of enemy capital ships so their own capital ships offensive weapons will be more effective and try to keep the enemy fighters from doing the same to their own capital ships.

Fighters did appear to specialize in roles. Ivanova gave an order for one squadron of Starfurys to sweep an approach lane clear for another squadron of Starfurys to attack the enemy ships. In addition to the strike package, there seemed to be another group of Starfurys hanging around Babylon 5 to provide defensive CAP.

One item that wasn't talked to was the problem of IFF (Identification Friend or Foe), or in layman's term, how to avoid "Friendly Fire." Both sides were using similar equipment, and it would seem to be very difficult in the heat of battle to identify which Thunderbolt belonged to which side. This is compounded by the fact that both sides were essentially ad hoc forces thrown together hours before battle, so it's not like you had a chance to memorize your allies paint schemes. In addition, consider the problem faced by defensive batteries on B5 and the Omega Class Destroyers, trying to sort out friendlies from enemies. One possible answer is the spacecraft might have carried electronic IFF systems. There was mention in prior episodes of Earthforce vessels transmitting authentication signals in a subchannel for their communications systems, so it's likely they addressed IFF as well.

A quick note on electronic warfare -- it's clear electronic support measures are being used. Lt Corwin reported a "mode change", i.e., enemy sensors switching from a search mode to a target track mode. No mention is made of electronic attack being used.

With respect to fight with the GROPOS boarding party, I noticed two problems: 1) the failure to use grenades to repel the boarders, and 2) the decision by the Narns to make a frontal attack against the GROPOS. Grenades are very useful in urban combat, as shown by the Germans during World War II. Perhaps they weren't used because they wouldn't be necessary for station security. With respect to the Narn attack, it was an unnecessary loss of life. The B5 security team had the breach contained, had numerical superiority, and when the space battle ended, the breaching party would be cut off from support. True, it added drama to the story, but it didn't make sense from a pragmatic standpoint.

Other comments.

Overall I thought this was an excellent episode, possibly the best in the series. Although one can find fault with the decision by Clark's forces to engage the rebels when they did, there didn't seem to be anything unreasonable in how this played out.

Now, let's consider the issue of Major Ryan. For a guy who's supposed to be an aide to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, he seems to lack aggression. Most general's aides I've met seemed to have an excess of testosterone. But this guy 1) delayed firing on the Clarkstown, 2) offered several times to "draw fire away from Babylon 5" by running from the fight. I'm suspecting a little bit of PTSD from the Earth-Minbari War. The other thing that's odd is he seems to be a bit "above the zone" to be a General's aide. These guys tend to be "below the zone"--young people promoted early. Definitely miscast for this role. JMS admitted he wanted Everett McGill (Stilgar from Dune), not Bruce McGill--the casting director messed up.

Another noteworthy omission is we didn't see much of the Hyperions during the battle. One came in with the initial force, but we didn't see it during the battle. In addition, when the 2nd wave retreated, we only saw its Hyperion retreat, so I assume the 1st wave Hyperion was also destroyed.

Finally, I'd like to commend JMS for the post-battle scene with the GROPOS showing the suffering among the ground troops. True, it isn't Saving Private Ryan in terms of authenticity, but neither is it the post-battle scene in Star Wars where everybody is celebrating with high-fives despite a 90% battle attrition. War is hell, and kudos to JMS for acknowledging it, even if it was done with a PG rating.

Next, we look at The Battle of Cimtar.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Battle of Yavin


One of my favorite battle scenes of science fiction. This scene from the original Star Wars movie made all of us nerdy junior high kids want to be X-Wing fighter pilots. The Galactic Empire is in a state of civil war. The Rebel Alliance has recently won their first victory in a major battle against the Imperial Fleet. The Empire is determined to destroy the Rebellion, if necessary, by using a large, heavily armed battle station to destroy planets supporting the Rebellion.

Order of Battle

Empire: A heavily armored battlestation with an energy beam weapon capable of destroying an entire planet, numerous anti-ship blasters that are largely ineffective against fighters, several squadrons of short-range Tie Fighters, and a Sith Lord

Rebellion: Twenty-three starfighters, seven of which are the older, but heavily armed Y-Wings, and the balance are the newer X-Wing class. In this group, one of the fighters is piloted by a young Jedi wannabee.

Independent: A Corellian freighter (The Millenium Falcon) will show up late in the battle with a decisive result.


Empire: To defeat the Rebellion "in one swift stroke" by destroying the Rebel base at Yavin IV, along with its leadership, personnel, and logistics support.

Rebel Alliance: Destroy the Death Star, and by accomplishing this act, demonstrate that the Imperial military is not invincible, and hopefully convince some fencesitters to throw in their lot with the Rebellion.

The Plan

Empire: Using the coordinates obtained from the tracking beacon placed on board the Millenium Falcon, close on the rebel base, ignoring resistance, and blow up Yavin IV. This will demonstrate once and for all that resistance to the imperial order is useless. There is no preparatory bombardment or attempts to reduce any resistance by the rebels, it is assumed the Death Star is impervious to any Rebel counterattack, as the onboard weapons are sufficient to defeat any attack by capital ships, and small fighters are not a threat.

Rebellion: Use two squadrons of starfighters to attack the Death Star at its weak point -- an unshielded exhaust port that leads to the main reactor. A squadron of X-Wings will carry out a diversionary attack against the surface of the Death Star to draw attention away from the main strike force of Y-Wings that are attacking the exhaust port. The Y-Wings will use proton torpedoes against the exhaust port, but to do this, they need to maneuver through a narrow trench to achieve the correct release geometry for their weapon. This mission profile consists of three fighters in an inverted "vee", with the leader as the shooter, while the trailing wingmen essentially serve as shields to complicate the shot by any pursuing fighters. In case the Y-Wings fail, the X-Wings will carry out their own attack using the same mission profile. No provision is made for fighter escort for the shooters, nor is there any mention of means of electronic attack (jamming) to confuse Imperial sensors.


The Death Star entered the Yavin system on the far side of the gas giant from the Rebel base on the moon Yavin IV. The Rebel strike package sortied from their base, penetrated the Death Star's deflector shields, and encountered no initial resistance from enemy fighters. The Y-Wings peeled off from the main formation to attack the exhaust port, while the X-Wings conducted a diversionary attack against the surface of the Death Star. When fire from surface batteries proved ineffective at targeting the Rebel fighters, Darth Vader ordered Tie Fighters to intercept the Rebel fighters. The Tie Fighters appeared to have the protection of electronic attack (jamming), or at least unintentional electromagnetic interference, as Rebel pilots were unable to detect them with their onboard sensors. However, they were detected as a "new set of signals" by the Rebel command post -- implying the Rebels were using some capability for "electronic support" to monitor the Imperial "Order of Battle."

When the Imperial staff detected the presence of the Y-Wings conducting a separate attack, Darth Vader personally led a three ship formation of fighters to intercept the attack. He successfully destroyed all three Y-Wings from Gold Squadron. When this attack failed, Red Leader and two wingmen conducted their attack, with the same results -- being destroyed by Vader. Red Leader managed to get off his shot, but missed his target. The last wave of X-Wings led by Skywalker was successful in hitting their target, however, one wingman was damaged (and survived), while the other wingman was destroyed. Skywalker likely would have been destroyed as well, however, Captain Han Solo of the Millenium Falcon showed up at the last moment to intercept the pursuing Imperial fighters, destroying two with the colllateral effect of spinning Vader's ship out of control.


The Rebel Alliance achieved its objective by destroying the Death Star and averting the destruction of their base. The Sith Lord Darth Vader is the only known survivor of the Imperial forces and makes his way back to the Empire. However, the Rebel assault incurred severe losses. Of the Rebel attack force, only three starfighters are seen escaping the explosion -- Luke Skywalker, Wedge Antilles, and one unknown Y-Wing pilot.

With respect to the shooters on the attack run, losses were severe. Of the three attack waves, the first two were entirely wiped out by Tie Fighters, and in the last (Skywalker) wave, one ship was damaged and aborted (Wedge), one was destroyed (Biggs), and only Skywalker survived thanks to the intervention of the Millenium Falcon.

As far as combat away from the attack on the exhaust port, the Rebel Alliance lost several ships to enemy fighters, but mostly when the X-Wings lost mutual support. When mutual support was available from wingmen, they were able to successfully destroy trailing enemy fighters.


Despite the destruction of the Death Star, the Rebel Alliance would have to abandon Yavin IV and find a new hidden base as they were not strong enough to indefinitely hold off an attack by the Imperial Fleet. This would lead to evacuation of Yavin IV, and establishing a new base on the ice planet Hoth (which is the subject of another movie).

The destruction of the Death Star was a serious blow to the Empire as it seriously hurt the reputation of invincibility for the Imperial forces. The loss of all hands (except of course, Darth Vader) would deprive the Empire of many of it senior commanders (e.g., Governor Tarkin), and skilled technical staff. As a result of this loss, the Empire would place increased emphasis on finding and destroying Rebel forces. In addition, construction of a second Death Star would commence, near the planet Endor.


Now let's start the critique...

Strategy and Operational Planning.

For starters, let's examine the decision by the Rebellion to stay and fight. This was not an inevitable battle. Princess Leia suspected the Millenium Falcon was bugged and that the Empire would follow them to Yavin IV. Why not 1) ditch the Falcon at some random planet and take another ship back to Yavin IV, or 2) give warning to the Rebel Command to start the evacuation? Staying and fighting the Death Star against near-impossible odds risked the entire Rebel cause in one battle. This is not how successful revolutions are fought. George Washington knew that the way to beat the Redcoats was to always make sure he had a line of retreat so he could live to fight another day. In comparison, the Jews who fought at Masada to the death ensured the extinction of their cause. Han Solo was on to something when he said the idea of going up against the Death Star was his idea of suicide.

It's not like evacuation wouldn't be inevitable. Even with the Death Star destroyed, the Rebels would not be able to fight off the massed Imperial Fleet, and would need to find a new hidden base to avoid destruction.

Now what would be the exception to the rule of avoiding a decisive battle? When the alternative is worse. For example, George Washington risked the Battle of Trenton (preceded by his "Crossing of the Delaware") because his army's enlistment was up, and he needed a victory to get a morale boost so his troops would reenlist instead of deserting a lost cause. Likewise, I attribute this normally flawed strategic decision to General George Lucas needing a decisive Rebel victory to have a feel good happy ending so the Hollywood suits would enlist in his next movie. And to be fair, with Alderaan already falling victim to the Death Star, that would have gotten Princess Leia's "Irish up" for some payback for destroying her home planet, and there's also the sense of duty to prevent other planets from being destroyed.

Next, let's look at the Empire. Their strategy was essentially a direct frontal assault against the Rebel base. Just march right up to the weapons engagement zone for their killer laser beam, and zap the planet. No reconnaissance (like they did with Dantooine), no fighter sweep to suppress planetary defenses, and no supporting fleet to block an evacuation. Hey, it worked with Alderaan! But as Princess Leia noted, Alderaan had no weapons. (Mark another victory for gun control).

Had the Empire conducted a preparatory fighter sweep and bombardment of the Rebel base, the attrition of the Rebel fighter force would have occurred closer to the Rebel base, their counterattack on the Death Star likely would not have occurred, and the Rebellion would have been defeated "in one swift stroke." But then again, there wouldn't have been all of those sequels, not to mention the merchandising.

Tactics, Techniques, Procedures (TTPs)

Now let's look at the Tactics, Techniques and Procedures employed by each side in the conflict. We'll begin with the use of electronic warfare. Both sides used something akin to electronic warfare in the Battle of Yavin. As previously mentioned, the Rebel Alliance had some sort of electronic support capability, as they were able to detect enemy signals that indicated the presence of enemy fighters. The Empire likely used electronic support as well--note Red Leader telling Red Two to "cut the chatter." Radio discipline is important for denying information to electronic support systems. Likewise, the Empire used some sort of electronic attack capability to jam the onboard sensors for the Rebel fighters. What we didn't see was the Rebellion use electronic attack techniques to support their attack on the Death Star. This seems like a glaring omission as they had a complete schematic on the Death Star systems, which should have given them a good Electronic Order of Battle of the defensive systems, and an indication on how to defeat their anti-ship detection and targeting systems. Had the rebels employed some support jammers, perhaps placed on some of the Y-Wings, this would have made it more difficult for the Imperial battlestaff to detect the Y-Wing strike package headed for the exhaust port, and given them the time they needed to carry out their attack before Vader intervened.

Next, let's look at the predictability of the attack. Three waves tried, three waves died (or would have, without Han Solo's deus ex machina appearance). All with the same attack profile. Understandably, this was forced on the Rebellion because the release geometry of the proton torpedo against the exhaust port forced them into this particular delivery profile. So the attack had to be predictable. But because it was predictable, that means the only way to succeed is to ensure you get it right the first time!

Before we get into how the Rebels should have conducted the attack, let's talk about the consequences of predictability in warfare. First of all--it's bad--very bad. You might even say, it's unhealthy. During the closing days of the US active involvement in the Vietnam War, the US Air Force conducted a strategic bombing campaign called "Linebacker II" against Hanoi and Haiphong (the so-called "Christmas Bombing" of 1972). The USAF employed B-52s carrying heavy bombloads against strategic targets intended to bring the North Vietnamese to their knees (and to the peace negotiations). However, their initial tactics were flawed. The strike trains of B-52s were made up of multiple cells of three aircraft each, with each cell following at a time interval behind the previous cell, but following the same flight path. (The geniuses at Headquarters Strategic Air Command dreamed this one up). Now, the North Vietnamese weren't stupid. They figured out they needed to observe the first cell, then they would know how to target the following cells of B-52s. The US lost a lot of bombers that way. Eventually the bomber aircrews had their way and were able to change their tactics to a multiple axis attack with better support from suppression of enemy air defense assets. This dramatically decreased B-52 losses, and led to the successful conclusion of the Linebacker II campaign.

The lesson learned here is to avoid being predictable.

Now given the limitations of the proton torpedo delivery profile into a predictable attack vector, how should the attack been carried out so that the first attack works? Let's go through this:

1) Choose your best shooter. I assume the Y-Wing was chosen because it was the most stable, accurate weapon platform available. And the Y-wing crews would be most proficient at using this weapon. Sorry Luke, you don't get to save the day here.

2) Deny warning to the adversary. Warning is the earliest part of the "kill chain", and disrupting this slows the enemy response. Support jamming might have given the Y-Wing strike force sufficient time to carry out their attack on the exhaust port before being discovered and attacked by Vader

3) Provide escort. The value of escort for the strike force was seen when the Millenium Falcon showed up to save Red Five from Vader's attack. I would have thought a reasonably proficient ops planner would have provided Gold Squadron with a few X-Wings to provide top cover against Imperial fighters. Maybe the rebels thought the distraction provided by Red Squadron would be sufficient to enable them to carry out their attack. But they were wrong.

Had these three steps been carried out, I think the odds would have been better of the Rebellion winning the battle with much fewer casualties.

As for the Empire--their problem was overconfidence, a lack of imagination, and the will to produce a sequel and sell a lot of merchandise.

Next, we look at "Severed Dreams."