Shadow Of Freedom – Snippet 29
“And which you would prefer to discuss rather than Minister Krietzmann’s relationship with Admiral Bordelon, Mr. Prime Minister?” Khumalo responded innocently.
Khumalo was a full head shorter than Alquezar, but the planet of San Miguel’s gravity was only .84 g. For all his height, Alquezar looked almost frail beside the considerably more massive Khumalo.
“Admiral, I’d rather discuss almost anything rather than Henri’s ‘relationship’ with Bordelon!” the prime minister said emphatically, and Krietzmann grinned. Then Alquezar’s expression sobered. “And all humor aside, the truth is that at the moment the disposition of our naval forces is more important than just about anything else we could be discussing.”
Khumalo nodded, then glanced at Michelle before he turned back to the other people at the conference table.
“Since Admiral Gold Peak is the commander of our mobile forces, I’ll let her address the specifics of your question, Mr. Prime Minister. Before she does, though, I’d just like to emphasize that she and I have discussed the situation exhaustively, both between ourselves and with our squadron commanders, and with Minister Krietzmann and the members of his staff, as well. I don’t think anyone’s genuinely satisfied with the deployment stance we’ve come up with, but under the circumstances, I believe it’s the best available to us.”
He looked around the attentive faces, then back at Michelle.
“Thank you, Sir,” Michelle replied with rather more formality than had become the norm between her and the man who commanded Talbott Station. Then it was her turn to look around the table, making eye contact with the men and women responsible for the Quadrant’s governance.
“Essentially,” she began, “our problem is that while Admiral Khumalo and I believe we’ve decisively demonstrated our combat superiority, we simply don’t have enough hyper-capable units to cover the entire Quadrant. I doubt anyone back at Admiralty House is any happier about that than we are, although I’ll grant our unhappiness has a little more immediacy than theirs does. Unfortunately, I don’t see any way the deployment priorities are going to change anytime soon. Given the combination of what’s happened to the home system, the fact that we have no reason to believe at this time that the Sollies have an additional force anywhere near the size of Crandall’s in our own vicinity, and the activation of Case LacoÃ¶n, there simply aren’t any more ships for the Admiralty to send our way.
“So we have to make do with what we have, and while neither Admiral Khumalo nor I like that situation, it’s one that Queen’s officers have had to deal with more often than we’d like to remember.
“After careful consideration, we’ve concluded that the best use of our current forces will be to cover each system of the Quadrant with four or five LAC squadrons for local defense, backed up by a couple of dispatch boats. The LACs should be more than adequate to deal with any ‘pirate’ stupid enough to come this way, and given what we’ve seen of SLN technology, they also ought to be able to deal with any Solly raiding force that doesn’t include a core of capital ships. Given Crandall’s losses, it’s unlikely there are enough Solarian capital ships anywhere near the Quadrant to provide that kind of force. Obviously, that’s subject to change — possibly without much warning — but even in a worst-case scenario, the local-defense LACs should be able to at least delay and harass any attackers while one of the dispatch boats goes for help.
“I realize there’s been some thought of splitting up our own capital ships in order to give our star systems greater protection.”
She carefully didn’t look in the direction of the two men sitting on either side of Samiha Lababibi. Antonio Clark, from the Mainwaring System, was the Quadrant’s Minister of Industry, while Clint Westman, a Montanan cousin of the famous (or infamous) Stephen Westman, headed the Ministry of the Interior. On the face of it, they should have been almost as unlikely allies of an oligarch like Lababibi as Krietzmann once had been, but the nature of their responsibilities gave them a certain commonality of viewpoint. Inevitably, all three were worried — deeply — about what would happen if the Quadrant’s star systems were hit by anything like the Yawata Strike. Westman and Clark, especially, had argued in favor of dispersing Tenth Fleet to give every star system at least some protection. After all, they’d pointed out, the decisive superiority of the Manticoran Navy had been conclusively demonstrated, so the traditional risks of defeat in detail for dispersed units must be less applicable than usual.
Lababibi had found herself in the same camp, although she’d been a rather less fervent spokeswoman for their position.
“There are several reasons we’re not proposing to do that,” Michelle continued. “The two most important ones, though, are that dispersing our capital ships wouldn’t provide any appreciable increase in system security against the sort of attack which hit the home system, but it would disperse the powerful, concentrated striking forces it’s vital to maintain to respond to any fresh Solarian activity in our area.
“At the moment, the Admiralty and ONI are still working on how the Yawata Strike was launched. From the information available so far, Admiral Hemphill is more convinced than ever the attack relied on a new, previously unknown drive technology. In effect, we believe the attackers were ‘invisible’ to our normal tracking systems. So far, at least, no one’s been able to suggest how whatever drive they used might work or how we might go about figuring out how to detect it in the future. In the meantime, however, analysis also suggests the attackers were probably operating in relatively small forces, relying on their cloak of invisibility rather than raw combat power. I realize that may sound absurd, given the damage inflicted, but I assure you that if a single podnought — or even a couple of Nike-class battlecruisers — had been able to get into range of the inner system totally undetected, that would have been ample to have inflicted all of that damage.
“My point is that the problem in Manticore wasn’t lack of combat power or lack of defenses; it was the inability to see the enemy coming. Scattering wallers around the Quadrant’s star systems isn’t going to appreciably increase our ability to detect these people. We can deploy enough remote sensor platforms — in fact, we’re already in the process of deploying them — to give each of our systems more detection capability than an entire squadron of SDs could provide. The LACs will give us large numbers of manned combat platforms to chase down and prosecute possible contacts; the dispatch boats will be available to send for help in the case of an attack in strength; and we’ll be deploying enough missile pods in planetary orbit to provide the long-range missile firepower of at least a pair of SD(P)s in each system. We won’t have the sort of sustained firepower superdreadnoughts could provide, or the area missile defense they could offer, but we’ll have enough to deal with anything short of a Solly battle squadron, assuming we see it coming.”
She paused, and this time she did look across the table at Lababibi, Clark, and Westman.
“I believe those deployments will give us at least as much defensive depth as splitting up my wallers could accomplish. In addition, however, it will permit Admiral Khumalo and me to concentrate my hyper-capable units into two striking forces, each with a powerful LAC element of its own. One will be deployed to Tillerman; the other will be based on Montana.
“Obviously, the Tillerman force will be closest to Monica and Meyers, which would normally be the most probable threat axis where any fresh Solarian adventures were concerned. Frankly, though, at the moment I’m not really very concerned about something coming at us out of the Madras Sector, given the fact that we just polished off seventy-plus superdreadnoughts that were stationed in that sector. It seems unlikely they have still more capital ships tucked away out here, even with Mesa and Manpower pulling every string they can reach.
“If the Sollies do decide they have anything else to spare and send it our way, it’s more likely to come in direct from the Core. That’s why I’m planning on basing the second force at Montana to cover the Quadrant’s flank, and the Lynx Terminus picket force will be available to cover any threat that might come in past Asgerd. There are some arguments in favor of staying right here in Spindle instead of moving to Montana, given Spindle’s more central location within the Quadrant, but so far Admiral Khumalo and I don’t find them persuasive. To be honest, our objective is to get sufficient combat power — enough combat density — deployed across a broad front to permit me to respond quickly to dispatches from the star systems behind me while simultaneously positioning me to operate offensively into Solly and Mesan space, if that should become desirable.”
She saw one or two sets of eyes flicker at the reference to Mesa. Not everyone in the Quadrant endorsed her own suspicions of Mesa and Manpower, Incorporated. It wasn’t that anyone questioned Manpower’s involvement in what had happened at Monica and New Tuscany. Nor did anyone in the Quadrant doubt Mesa’s and Manpower’s implacable (and thoroughly reciprocated) hostility towards the Star Empire. More than one of the people sitting around that table, though, remained of the opinion that Frontier Security (and possibly other interests within the League) had been using Manpower as a catspaw. Certainly that made more sense, in their view, than the possibility that a single outlaw transstellar corporation was using the entire Solarian League as a catspaw!