House of Steel The Honorverse Companion
Author:David Weber

House of Steel The Honorverse Companion - By David Weber

December 1844 PD

LIEUTENANT R. WINTON—Commander Janofsky (“Commerce Protection and Societal Disintegration,” Proceedings, No. 3673) is to be commended for the clarity with which he makes his points. The continuing slide into even more pronounced and widespread civil disorder, privateering, terrorism, and outright piracy in the territory of the Silesian Confederacy must give any navy pause. Commander Janofsky rightly points out the increasing cost, not simply in financial terms but also in terms of manpower and platform availability, inherent in maintaining existing levels of security for Manticoran merchant traffic in and through the Confederacy. Indeed, his arguments assume even more cogency when one considers the still greater costs associated with any expansion of our secured trading zones, patrol regions, and roving piracy suppression missions.

Where Commander Janofsky’s analysis may break down, however, is in its intense focus on commerce protection as the Navy’s primary mission. I would suggest that it would be appropriate for Her Majesty’s Navy to consider the potential requirements of additional missions. Not to put too fine a point upon it, we in the Navy have narrowed our professional focus to a potentially dangerous degree, concentrating upon the mission in hand rather than stretching our imaginations to consider other challenges and threats.

The function of the Royal Manticoran Navy, as currently defined (see “Naval Security and the Star Kingdom’s Fundamental Interests,” Office of the First Space Lord, 01-15-249 AL) is to “(1) defend and secure the Manticore Binary system, its planets, its population, and its industrial base; (2) defend and secure the central terminus of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction and the industrial and economic base associated with it; (3) defend, protect, and expand Manticoran commerce and the Manticoran merchant marine; and (4) in conjunction with (3) enforce the Cherwell Convention for the suppression of the interstellar genetic slave trade.” It should be noted that, in fact, this formulation establishes that commerce protection comes only third in the hierarchy of the Navy’s missions. In addition, it is, I think, significant that in Commander Janofsky’s article the first two of these four objectives are taken as givens. That is, Commander Janofsky’s emphasis is on how to provide for the third and (by extension) fourth of them, which appears to assume that the first three are already adequately provided.

That assumption may be in error.

At this time, Her Majesty’s Navy’s wall of battle consists of eleven Thorsten-class battleships (the youngest 250 years old) and eleven Ad Astra-class dreadnoughts (the youngest of which is a century old and three of which are presently mothballed while awaiting long overdue repair and refit). The Thorstens, while fine ships in their day, are barely half the size of younger, more modern battleships, with far lighter armaments and much weaker defenses than their more recent counterparts, and as the Ad Astras’ delayed and badly needed refits indicate, even they are far from the equal of more modern units. We are currently in the process of building the first three Royal Winton-class dreadnoughts, which will be superior vessels for their tonnage when completed, and a single superdreadnought: Samothrace. This ship will also be a modern, first-rate unit upon completion, but it is worth noting that the build number for the Samothraces was originally to have been a mere three ships . . . and—in the event—was actually reduced to only the name ship of the class with an “intent” to request additional units in later Naval Estimates.

While it is true that the Royal Wintons and the Samothrace will provide a significant boost in the defensive capacity of the Fleet against threats to the home system and, in conjunction with the Junction fortresses, to the security of the Manticoran Wormhole Junction, they can scarcely be classed as a true wall of battle when procured in such minute numbers. Moreover, it would appear that even less thought has been given to the development of proper doctrine for their employment than to developing a procurement policy which would maximize platform numbers and capability. Nor would it appear that any thought has been devoted at this time to their potential usefulness for power projection. One cannot avoid the conclusion that the mere existence of this relative handful of new and powerful ships is regarded as adequately providing for “the Star Kingdom’s fundamental territorial security” and the protection of its subjects. The question is whether or not that faith is merited.

At this time, the Navy has clearly adopted the traditional tactical, operational, and strategic paradigm which has been developed over the past several centuries by the Solarian League Navy. It is scarcely surprising that the largest, most powerful, and most successful naval force in galactic history should be seen as an appropriate model from which lessons and best-practices approaches might be drawn. It might, however, behoove the Star Kingdom of Manticore to bear in mind that, as the paucity of our wall of battle demonstrates, we are not the Solarian League. Despite the unquestionable prosperity and generally very high standard of living which the Star Kingdom has attained due to the many favorable factors stemming from its possession of the Junction, the Star Kingdom remains a single-system polity. As such, it must lack the population base, the sheer economic and industrial breadth, and—above all—astrographic depth of the Solarian League. The unpalatable truth is that we have only a single star system to lose in any confrontation with any potential adversary.

The Star Kingdom overlooks that vulnerability at its peril. While three hundred T-years have passed since Axelrod of Old Terra financed the attempt to seize the Manticore Binary System before the Junction had been plotted, surveyed, and mapped, it is a lesson we would do well to remember. The very source of our wealth and industrial and economic power must make the Star Kingdom an attractive target to any aggressive adversary who believes he possesses sufficient combat power to take it. If that conclusion is granted, then the Navy’s primary mission—“to preserve the Star Kingdom’s fundamental territorial security”—requires the creation and maintenance of a genuine battle fleet capable of deterring any such ambition. Moreover, that battle fleet cannot, as is the case for the Solarian League Navy, depend upon sheer, irresistible numbers and the strategic depth available to the League. It must be demonstrably and visibly capable of defeating any attack not simply short of the Manticore Binary System’s hyper limit, but short of the Junction itself. And that leads inevitably to a requirement on the part of that battle force of the capacity to project power against—to take the war to—that hypothetical aggressor.

In light of that requirement, I would submit that Commander Janofsky’s eloquent appeal for additional light units, the doubling of our cruiser force, the establishment of formal naval stations and forward enclaves within Silesian territory, and additional tactical, training, and financial support for the Confederacy Navy, while fully logical from the traditional commerce-protection perspective should be reconsidered. The Royal Manticoran Navy’s record in commerce protection is second to none. It is a mission we fully understand, one which we have the training, the doctrine, and—for the most part—the means to carry out. Indeed, what we do, we do very well.

What we have not done, and what we must do, is to acquire the capability to discharge the rest of our mission and our obligation. We must recognize that we cannot, as a single star nation of extraordinary wealth, afford to ignore the temptation we must present to less prosperous but militarily powerful star nations. As the ancient pre-space philosopher Machiavelli pointed out, gold will not always get you good soldiers, but good soldiers can always get you gold. The Star Kingdom, and the Junction, are that gold, and it will require good soldiers—or, in our case, a qualitatively superior navy—to protect it. We cannot continue to embrace a vague, poorly articulated strategic and tactical doctrine based on an uncritical acceptance of the Solarian model as the best and highest available to us. We must accept instead that we will not be able to match the numbers of platforms an adversary may bring against us, and we must capitalize upon the most precious tactical resource we have: the tradition of independent judgment and responsibility taking we have inculcated into our officer corps ever since the days of Edward Saganami and Ellen D’Orville. We must value that initiative properly, cultivate it, and integrate it into our operational and tactical doctrine at every level. And we must provide that initiative with the tools it requires—the innovative approach to weaponry and war-fighting technologies—to make it fully effective.

Initiative thrives upon exploitable asymmetrical relationships, upon the ability to oppose qualitative superiority to quantitative predominance. It is not sufficient for us to accept that the gradual, stable evolution of war-fighting technologies which has typified naval doctrine and capabilities for the past several centuries is inevitable. It is time that we began significantly investing in an aggressive search for new capabilities, innovative applications, to provide an officer corps trained to think for itself with levers it can use to offset its almost inevitable numerical inferiority when confronted by a powerful aggressor. Our wall of battle’s ship strength must be increased, but it will never be possible for the Star Kingdom to produce, man, and maintain naval forces on the scale of a star nation such as the Solarian League or even the People’s Republic of Haven. Since we cannot have the most numerous navy in space, we must instead strive to have the most efficient one.

Commander Janofsky’s call to bolster our forward deployed presence in Silesia is clear, logical, and concise. Despite that, however, one cannot avoid the conclusion that from the perspective of our primary mission, it is time and past time for the Navy to look to its wall of battle and the acquisition of the true war-fighting capability absolutely essential for any single-star system nation to adequately defend itself against a much larger multi-star system nation.

(ED: Lieutenant Winton is currently assigned to HMS Wolverine, serving as her executive officer.)

—From “On the Event Horizon:

Letters from the Deck Plates,”

Proceedings of the Royal Manticoran Navy Institute,

Issue number 3675, 12/10/249 AL

CAPTAIN E. JANACEK—Lieutenant Winton’s comments on Commander Janofsky’s article (see “On the Event Horizon,” Proceedings, No. 3675) are as perspicacious and insightful as one might readily anticipate from a member of his family and an officer whose career to date has demonstrated not only intelligence and ability but diligence and dedication. Nonetheless, there are certain pragmatic realities to which he has attached insufficient weight.

While it is true that the Navy’s current mission formulation rightly emphasizes the security of the home system, it is also true that the actual work of the Navy requires a concentration upon the mission in hand, and the mission in hand is, in fact, commerce protection, as Commander Janofsky so ably pointed out. At this time, there is no realistic threat to the security of the Manticore Binary System itself or to the Manticoran Wormhole Junction. The completion of the Royal Winton class will provide the Navy with a powerful, flexible deterrent force capable of holding its own against any projected threat. Lieutenant Winton is quite correct to underscore the invaluable advantage of our officer corps’ flexibility, initiative, and independence of thought. That advantage, coupled with the enormous increase in combat power represented by the Royal Wintons and HMS Samothrace and backed up by our older but still perfectly serviceable dreadnoughts, is fully adequate to the mission of protecting our home space and our fellow subjects from any realistic threat. And while Lieutenant Winton is also correct to emphasize that initiative and operational innovation are most effective when provided with the tools they require to concentrate combat power as flexibly as possible, the diversion of funds needed for critical expansion of our commerce protection capabilities into problematic quests for some sort of technological “equalizer” must be considered a questionable policy. The Royal Manticoran Navy is well informed upon the capabilities of other navies, including that of the Solarian League itself. At this time, it would be both rash and, in this writer’s opinion, quixotic to believe that what Lieutenant Winton correctly points out is a single-system polity could somehow single-handedly devise or discover a technological breakthrough (one hesitates to call it a panacea) which has hitherto evaded all of the galaxy’s other naval powers.

The wall of battle we now possess—or will possess, when all units of the Royal Winton class are completed—will be fully adequate to our immediate security needs. Those security needs may, indeed, change in the future, as Lieutenant Winton suggests, and at that time a reexamination of our posture and capabilities may well be in order. Surely, however, considering that no navy in history has ever possessed an unlimited budget and that the fiscal realities (which must include a realistic appreciation of Parliament’s willingness to spend money) are unlikely to change in that regard in the case of Her Majesty’s Navy, it makes little or no sense to spend scarce dollars on capital ships we do not presently need. Nor can we afford to expend dollars urgently required for pressing presence mission requirements in Silesia on problematical, ill-defined, unpredictable, and dubious efforts to somehow short-circuit or telescope the inevitable and steady evolution of war-fighting technologies which has been clearly established over the last three T-centuries.

With all due respect to Lieutenant Winton’s persuasively and eloquently argued position, it is neither reasonable nor appropriate for a single star system of ultimately limited resources to divert its focus from the provision of the best-tailored and most operationally potent force it can practically provide in order to pursue hypothetical technological “equalizers” to be employed against a theoretical adversary fleet which does not even currently exist.

(ED: Captain Janacek is currently attached to the Admiralty, serving as Second Space Lord Havinghurst’s deputy chief of staff for Intelligence.)

—From “On the Event Horizon: Letters from the Deck Plates,”

Proceedings of the Royal Manticoran Navy Institute,

Issue number 3676, 13/10/294 AL

“AND THAT’S ABOUT IT, Sir.” Lieutenant Roger Winton flicked off his memo board and looked across the briefing room table at his commanding officer. “Better than I really expected it to be, but the delay on those missile pallets is . . . irritating.” He grimaced. “‘As soon as practicable’ isn’t what a good, industrious XO likes to tell his captain when we’re pushing a deployment deadline.”

“No, I suppose not,” Commander Pablo Wyeth, HMS Wolverine’s commanding officer said judiciously. He tipped back in his chair, regarding his executive officer sternly, then smiled. “On the other hand, if that’s the worst thing that happens to us, we’ll be luckier than we deserve. And while I realize it’s likely to undermine my slave-driving captain’s reputation, I can’t see how I can reasonably construe it as your fault, Roger.”

“As always, I am awed by your restraint, Sir.”

“I’m sure you are.”

The treecat on the back of Lieutenant Winton’s chair tilted his head, ears twitching in amusement, and Wyeth shook his head, and found himself—again—wondering just why his exec had decided to pursue a naval career. Part of it was obvious enough. Lieutenant Winton had the talent, drive, and innate ability to succeed at anything he’d cared to turn his hand to, and his love for the Queen’s Navy was obvious. Yet he had to find it immensely frustrating, as well. Promotion was glacially slow, and likely to get more so as the prolong therapies began extending officers’ careers. There was more cronyism than Wyeth liked to think about, as well, although it was nowhere near as much a problem in the Royal Manticoran Navy as in some navies. (The Solarian League Navy came forcibly to mind, as a matter of fact.) And the RMN had its cliques, its little mutual-protection clubs, too many of them built on birth and privilege, which had to be especially frustrating for Winton.

Thirteen T-years out of the Island, and he’s still only a lieutenant, Wyeth thought. Of course, I was four T-years older than he is now before I made lieutenant, but not all officers are created equal, whatever the Island likes to pretend. I can think of at least a dozen of his classmates who’re senior to him by now, and not one of them is as flat out good at his job as Roger is.

And that, he reflected, was particularly ironic given the fact that cronyism, patronage, and raw nepotism accounted for most of those accelerated promotions . . . and that it was only the lieutenant’s own fierce refusal to play those games which prevented him from being senior to all of them.

Once upon a time, I would’ve thought being Heir to the Crown would have to work in someone’s favor, the commander mused. But that was before I met Roger. I know some of the “upper crust” think this is some sort of silly hobby on his part—or that his refusal to trade on the family name is some kind of perverse hairshirt he’s chosen to wear—but that only confirms their idiocy. The Navy’s important to him, and at least he by God knows he’s earned every promotion that came his way. It’d take someone with big brass ones to blackball Crown Prince Roger Winton when his name comes before a promotion board, however it got there, but I’m inclined to think it would probably take a pronounced lack of IQ to go ahead and promote him just because of whose son he is. He’s going to be King himself one day not so far down the road, and Wintons have long memories. Somehow I don’t think the career of any brown-noser who “helped” his career along in hopes of some kind of payback down the road is likely to prosper when that happens.

Oddly, that thought gave Commander Wyeth a certain profound sense of satisfaction.

On the other hand, there was no point pretending Lieutenant Winton was just any old lieutenant . . . even if he had insisted his fellow officers address him as if he were.

“I read Captain Janacek’s response to your letter to the Proceedings,” Wyeth said after a moment, his tone carefully casual.

“So did I, Sir.”

Winton’s calm reply would have fooled most people, but Wyeth could watch his treecat, and Monroe’s ears flattened instantly at the mention of Janacek’s name. The captain was less than five years older than Roger Winton, but his family was deeply involved in politics, one of the movers and shakers of the Conservative Association, and they’d pulled strings mercilessly to speed along his promotions.

Probably never even gave it a second thought, either. Hard to blame them, some ways. Promotion’s slow enough and plum command slots are thin enough on the ground to make just about anyone figure he’d better use whatever edge he can if he wants to get command of a major combatant before he’s too old and senile to remember what to do with it when he’s got it!

It was an ignoble thought, and Wyeth knew it. Worse, he’d found himself thinking it more often as more and more of the officer corps became prolong recipients. The therapies had reached the Star Kingdom barely fifteen T-years earlier, and Wyeth had been too old to receive them. In fact, Roger himself had been close to the upper age limit when the treatments became available. But Pablo Wyeth was already fifty-two T-years old; the chance that he would make flag rank before his age-mandated retirement was virtually nil, whereas an arrogant prick like Janacek—just young enough to sneak in under the wire for prolong—would probably make it within the next five or six T-years . . . and then have something like a century in which to enjoy it.

Calmly, Pablo, he told himself. Remember your blood pressure, you antiquated old fart!

The self-reminder made him snort mentally, and he saw Monroe’s ears flick back upright as the telempathic ’cat picked up on his own amusement.

“I thought the good Captain went out of his way to be gracious while he was stomping all over your suggestion with both feet,” the commander observed out loud.

“With all due respect for Captain Janacek’s seniority, I’ve never been especially impressed by the scintillating brilliance of his intellect,” Winton replied. “He was careful about exactly how he phrased himself, though, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, he was,” Wyeth agreed with a grin. Then his expression sobered slightly. “On the other hand, you realize he never would’ve written that if he didn’t know quite a few other officers—especially senior ones—agree with him. I know you don’t really like me to mention this, Roger, but it takes a fair amount of chutzpah to publicly sign your name to something likely to piss off your future monarch. I don’t see Janacek doing that if he didn’t figure there’d be more than enough senior officers around to back his view of things.”

And if he didn’t have a pretty shrewd idea of just how much you hate the family interest game, Wyeth added mentally. You’re right about his lack of brilliance, whatever he and his cronies think, but he’s not really outright stupid, however he acts sometimes. He’s got to know you’re not going to use your “family interest” to step on him the way he probably deserves, or he never would’ve opened his mouth.

“I know there are. That’s the problem.” Winton reached up, and Monroe flowed down from the chair back to curl in his lap, his buzzing purr loud as the lieutenant stroked his fluffy coat. “We’ve been thinking in one direction for so long that two-thirds of our senior officers are so invested in it they don’t even realize they’re not looking at what’s really happening.”

“Oh?” Wyeth cocked his head, raising one eyebrow.

“It doesn’t take a genius to realize how juicy a target the Junction is,” Winton said. “Hell, Sir! All it really takes is a working memory! There was a reason I mentioned Axelrod of Old Terra in my letter.”

Wyeth nodded, yet he couldn’t help wondering if there was more than simple historical memory involved in his executive officer’s position. Unlike quite a few of their fellow officers, whose attention was focused almost exclusively on the Navy’s commerce-protection duties, particularly in the face of the worsening situation in the Silesian Confederacy and the Andermani Empire’s increasing interest in fishing in those troubled waters, Wyeth tried to keep an eye on the broader picture. He wasn’t especially happy about what seemed to be happening in the Haven Quadrant these days, mainly because of the People’s Republic’s naval buildup, despite what most of the pundits believed had to be a rapidly disintegrating fiscal position. Still, there were possible explanations for that buildup that were relatively innocuous. It wasn’t the way he’d go about creating jobs and pumping money back into the economy, but he wouldn’t have done most things the way the People’s Republic’s political leaders had done them for the last, oh, two T-centuries or so. And whatever they might be thinking, nothing he’d seen so far suggested that Haven might be considering reprising Axelrod’s attempt on the Manticoran Wormhole Junction. For that matter, even if it was, and much as it pained Pablo Wyeth to contemplate agreeing even conditionally with Edward Janacek, the Junction fortresses and the new Royal Wintons and Samothraces—assuming the idiots in Parliament actually did go ahead and built the rest of the originally requested SDs—should be able to handle the People’s Republic’s battleships if it came to it.

All of that made nice, logical, reassuring sense. Unfortunately, whatever his own attitude towards his birth, Lieutenant Winton was also Crown Prince Roger of Manticore, only a single heartbeat away from the crown. As such, he received regular in-depth intelligence briefings unavailable to any other junior officer. Or to the commanding officers of any of Queen Samantha’s destroyers, if it came to that.

And he’s not about to let a single classified word slip, either, is he? Wyeth reminded himself. He wasn’t even willing to suggest obliquely in his letter that he might know something Janofsky doesn’t. He’s going to make one hell of a King one day.

“Well, you’re young,” he said out loud. “You’ll have time to wear them down.”

“I hope so, Sir.” His executive officer sounded grimmer than usual, Wyeth thought. “At the moment, though, I’m feeling like a character out of an Old Earth fairy tale.”

“Really?” The commander chuckled. Ancient fairy tales and fables happened to be a hobby of his, and Winton knew it. “Let me see . . . If we asked Captain Janacek, I’m sure he’d be able to come up with quite a few. Like the little boy who cried ‘Wolf!’ for example. Or did you have Chicken Little in mind?”

“Actually, Sir, I was thinking of the Three Little Pigs. Especially the last one.”

“So you’re trying to convince the rest of the Navy that it’s time to build a house out of bricks instead of straw—is that it?”

“Mostly, Sir.” Winton nodded, looking down at his hands as they stroked the purring cream-and-gray treecat in his lap. “Mostly.” He looked up, brown eyes dark and very level. “Except that if I’d been the third Little Pig, I’d have held out for something even better. I think steel would’ve worked very nicely, actually.”