Written by Bucherm on Tuesday, September 13, 2011 at 6:52 pm
If you’re a milblog nerd, you probably saw the “article” on the poor state of the Deathstar program in the Star Wars trilogy by a LTC in the USAF last week. There were a few whoppers in the article, not the least the claim that the second Deathstar didn’t fire it’s primary weapon. It also didn’t take long for the usual suspects to begin to make the inevitable comparisons about how we “can’t afford Deathstars” and that small, “cheap” programs(like the LCS, or something like it) are needed. Being a sci fi nerd with a sign hanging on my life that says ‘CONDEMNED’, I wonder which Star Wars movies these guys watched.
The Original Deathstar
The original Deathstar(going solely by the movies and movie novelizations, if we include the various EU novels we’ll be here all day) took approximately 20 years to build, not counting the years of design work that went into it before actual construction began. When it was finally finished it sought out the Rebel Alliance base and was destroyed by a half trained jedi due to a serious design flaw. The author of the original article, and many of the milbloggers who picked up on it, took it as a sign that the original Deathstar program was a failure.
(1)This ignores that the Deathstar deployed without escorts, or more importantly, without deploying it’s many thousands of starfighters. It would be like a modern American CVN sailing into the Western Pacific unescorted and without deploying it’s aircraft for defense and then everyone being shocked, yes, shocked, that the Chinese were able to sink the carrier with cheap shorebased missiles and fighters. It would be like the RN Grand Fleet of WW1 deploying into the North Sea without destroyers for escort and then watching a inexpensive U-boat sink a very expensive battleship. Of course, the Deathstar was largely able to provide it’s own fighter screen but Grand Moff Tarkin opt against it, possibly because he wanted to prove that “his” Doctrine was the way of the future, and traditional naval assets were no longer needed. The Deathstar was heading into potential disaster no matter how you wiggled it.
(2)The Deathstar had a serious design flaw, and it’s likely the designers were well aware of it. The Rebel Alliance, who probably didn’t have a whole heck of a lot of aeronautical engineers in it, were able to spot the design flaw quickly. Staff officers on the Deathstar were able to bring up the plans for the station and eyeball the flaw quickly. It beggers the belief that the designers weren’t well aware of the flaw. So why was it there? Well, given that the original Deathstar took 20ish years to build, a strong argument could be made that it was intended to be a jobs program first, and a weapons system second. Possibly part of the Imperial Clone Wars Recovery Act. Someone signed off on the design knowing full well that a well aimed shot could blow the whole thing up…but they just didn’t care. Perhaps because they assumed any sane commander would deploy the stations fighter screen.
The Second Deathstar
The second Deathstar was much larger, and had a much more effective primary weapon. The design flaw in the first had been deleted. It also was very close to completion after only 3 years of construction, in secret, in orbit of a backwater, with only one company contracted for the logistics. It destroyed several major combatants of the Rebel fleet before it was destroyed itself. Despite this, the article and the milbloggers who picked up on it again pan it as a failed program. Indeed, because it didn’t destroy any planets it didn’t “fire it’s planet-busting weapon once”!
(it did, several times).
A complaint is made by the usual suspects that the program was a failure because it had an lightly defended external shield generator while it was under construction, and that it was destroyed with fighters zooming into the uncompleted superstructure to blow up the primary reactor. Again, I wonder which Return of the Jedi these guys saw. The Empire clearly placed a premium on the construction of it being secret and fast, so much so that the Rebels were unable to pin down the locale until the Emperor deliberately leaked the information. A minimalist approach to the garrison was probably necessary for to maintain it being secret. The construction site was, in fact, extremely secure thanks to it’s secrecy.
As for complaints about it being destroyed with it being half built, that’s a bit like saying that the Jean Bart was a terrible battleship because the Massachusetts managed to shoot it to ribbons while it was immobile and incomplete. If the Jean Bart, by some quirk of fate, destroyed the Massachusetts then people would be impressed. As it is no one is surprised that a stationary, halfcompleted battleship was mission-killed. So why is this the case with the Second Deathstar, which still managed to gouge a hole in the Rebel Wall of Battle?
By any stretch, the second DS program was well run with the end product being a good one.
Deathstars, Star Destroyers, Aircraft Carriers, LCS
Inevitably, comparisons have been made about how the US should be spending less money on Deathstars and more money on more practical assets. Unfortunately, this ignores a pretty vital fact: in the SW movies the Empire(and the Republic before it) spends an enormous sum of money on smaller, “practical” assets. The wedged-shaped combatants known colloquially as “Star Destroyers” are useful in fleet actions, are motherships for small craft, can carry troops for ground operations…hmm, does this sound familiar?
The Galactic Empire, like the United States, also was in possession of several capital ships in addition to the Deathstars(“There’s a lot of command ships Luke.”). Big expensive warships are big and expensive, but are needed for a balanced fleet. Crappy little modified luxury ships(whether rebel or American) are of dubious worth in highly kinetic operations. Going the el cheapo route is the route you pick if you know you can’t win in a standup fight. And once you go down the road, it’s hard to ride the ramps and turn around.