The jumpgate network, as beneficial as it has been to humanity, has given rise to all sorts of threats, from rival corporation and undetected asteroids to pirates and thieves. These risks have lead to almost every single ship being equipped with some kind of weaponry. Those that aren’t are eventually eliminated by those who prey on the weakest.
For centuries the main weapons aboard spaceships are based on one of three basic types: Direct energy, Kinetic and Guided weapons. In simpler terms, these can be thought of as lasers, bullets and missiles.
As time progressed, technology improved and combat range increased, focus has shifted away from kinetic weaponry. At long range, a relatively slowly traveling projectile has no chance to hit a maneuvering target. This leaves two main weapon systems: Direct Energy, and guided weapons.
Direct energy weapons
Direct energy weapons, more simply known as beams are the primary weapon used on ships. They range from low powered, single weapons aboard transports to batteries of dozens of high-powered beams aboard patrol vessels.
While numerous types of laser weapons are in use, most ships expecting combat are equipped with Free Electron Lasers. Modern Von Liebig armor requires the ability to adjust the frequency of a beam to deal optimal damage, therefore a FEL, while large and expensive compared to other lasers, it often preferred because of its adjustability.
A FEL uses a particle accelerator to shoot a beam of electron through a bank of powerful magnets to create a directed energy beam at almost any desired frequency. This beam is then stored in an optical cavity until the limit of this optical accumulator is reached. It is then released at any desired at the speed of light. Larger ships usually have several different types of optical cavity, and can therefore use a single laser at several frequencies, defeating a targets armor.
An advantage to beams is that it travels at the speed of light, and is therefore impossible to dodge. The beam is invisible until it reaches its target, only when it hits will the target know it is under attack, unlike unguided projectiles, which can easily be dodged. This works in reverse as well. You will not know you are under attack until you are hit, at which point a tactical computer will plot the path of the beam.
Guided projectiles are weapons that can adjust their own heading and speed. Usually referred to as missiles, but more often called torpedoes, to distinguish from weapons used on planet surfaces. Torpedoes consist of three different parts. The guidance package, the warhead and the drive.
The guidance package is a set of sensors and computers that identify and track a target, while avoiding any countermeasures. This can be as simple as a heat seeking suite, or as complicated as a gravity sensor with motion predicting and analyzing. Commonly used packages include several sensors and advanced computing, making the torpedo almost impossible to avoid.
The drive is generally a simple chemical rocket, accelerating and steering the torpedo. Though there are low-emission ion engines and more exotic drives, these are only used in very special cases.
Finally, the warhead is what is used to damage the target. This can be a simple and relatively low-powered chemical explosive, a powerful contact-detonated boosted fission weapon, EMP devices and many others. The rest of the torpedo is always destroyed by the warhead, as is, hopefully, the target.
With the advance of weapon technology, armor got thicker, denser and heavier to defend ships. Denser and heavier slows down ships, making it slower and more expensive to move. When it seemed like the tipping point was reached and energy weapons seemed powerful enough to defeat any armor, Justin von Liebig invented Non-Piezoelectic Electro-Reflective Composite Alloy, better known as Von Liebig armor.
A ship covered in the armor can, with an electrical signal, adjust the frequency at which it best refracts electromagnetic radiation between radio and deep ultraviolet. This means that no matter which frequency is used by incoming weapons fire, the armor can always reflect a large percentage of incoming energy.
The adoption of the FEL, combined with Von Liebig armor means that two vessels in combat will constantly shift weapons frequency, hoping to catch their opponent unaware and dealing maximum damage.