Dronn, we’ll be talking a lot about you, again. It’s not that I hate you or anything, though I do. But the reason I’m picking on you is due to the fact you brought the largest air force of any invasion. So you’re going to be an example of what not to do.
Dronn thought air-to-air combat would be a snap. After all, his ships could fly through the cosmos. The humans could barely get to their own moon.
Back up there for a second. It isn’t as simple as that. To do this the right way, you need atmospheric fighters. And most spaceships aren’t aerodynamically designed, at all. There’s no need for it outside an atmosphere, and that frees up space on the craft that you can use to put more weapons or shield generators. Sure, these ships can still fly in atmosphere – anything can fly if you give it enough thrust. They just don’t handle very gracefully.
Ships that can fly in both atmosphere and in space need to carry more fuel. They need two separate forms of propulsion. In space, you can just heat up plasma as hot as you want it then send it out your thruster. In atmosphere? One: you need to be constantly providing thrust for your vehicle. And two: you’re in an atmosphere. There is a limit to how fast you can travel, and how energetic your exhaust can be. Are you planning on sticking around this rock after you conquer it? If so, it’s probably a bad idea to irradiate large portions of its air and water vapor. Gravity manipulating craft get around this problem. But gravatic drives eat up even more fuel. So you have to store an even greater amount of antimatter. And we’re back to cost effectiveness.
Dronn’s army did include a large fighter wing. The ships were gravatic, too; they could fly in both atmosphere and in space, with no loss of handling. He gets good marks for that.
He gets failing marks for the rest of his invasion. In particular, how he used his fighter wing. It wasn’t that he didn’t use his fighters enough; he over used them. He assigned fighters to tasks that they shouldn’t be used for, for instance as a heavy assault force, instead of using tanks or infantry. They were assigned as an exploitation force, a screening force, a security picket, and for intimidating conquered areas. Dronn’s fighters were used for just about everything, and that was a gigantic mistake. Those units were vulnerable on the ground, so they had to constantly stay in the air, burning up energy. And they couldn’t make use of natural ground cover. They were easy targets. This gave the Earthlings plenty chances to attack the fighter craft. Eventually, they were able to come up with an attack that worked.
Worst of all, Dronn’s fighters only fired at point blank range. Instead of staying at high altitude and striking at targets from an extreme distance, they flew low to the ground. Every ground attack was a low level strafing run.
Air combat is tricky enough to master as-is. Once it was introduced, warfare became truly three dimensional, and the rule books were completely changed. The old notions of territory and control went out the window. The size of an airbase could be tiny, which meant parcels of land that were too small to be on most maps suddenly became vitally important. Adding additional restrictions, like only using strafing attacks, makes a difficult task near impossible.
First and foremost, the job of your air force is to engage enemy aircraft, and achieve air superiority. This should be no contest. Even with the limits of atmospheric flight, your fighters will be faster. They’ll have defensive shields that make the humans’ missiles bounce off. With inertial compensators, they can pull maneuvers that will make the humans drop their jaws.
Dronn’s air force did this. But what did they do after achieving air superiority? Not much.
Close fire support: They should be used to assist attacking ground troops, but as support, not the full force. Dronn had them carry the entire offensive load themselves. That didn’t work because, as awesome as their weapons were, they had to fly back to base after every attack to refuel. They had no staying power.
Strategic bombing: Dronn had his aircraft zipping along, just skimming the surface of the planet. At that altitude and at those speeds, if the pilot makes one little error, the craft will be plowing into terran soil in less than a nanosecond. In the battles that followed, many of Dronn’s fighters just crashed because their pilots were flying too low and too fast.
Also, they couldn’t see as much when they were close to the deck, and their attack angle wasn’t very good. Had they operated higher up, they could have seen more of the landscape and fired at distant targets.
Special forces insertion and extraction: Dronn didn’t even attempt this. All that air superiority, and not once did he try to insert a commando force. Of course, fighters would be the last vehicle I’d pick for this operation. For this job the craft should be fast and quiet and piloted by special operators who understand the need for stealth. This is the one mission where it is okay to hover over a target area for a long stretch of time. And this is why special operations aircraft are the ones that get shot down the most.
Transport: Dronn did not use any of his craft for logistical purposes. His mother ships had to double as supply and refueling depots. So when they were successfully attacked, his invasion crumbled. We’ll get into this in detail in a moment, but let me stress, you have to have a system for storing and moving a lot of crap. And some of it has to get there quickly. A few air transports would have given Dronn’s forces a lot more flexibility and staying power.
Non-powered flight: Earth has an atmosphere. But Dronn decided not to make use of it for transport purposes. If he had to move a crate from one area to another, it needed to be transported in an anti-matter burning fighter craft. Is there a more efficient way? Yes, it’s called an airdrop. A parachute will slow the descent of nearly any object. It may not look fancy, but it gets the job done. And non-powered flight has other uses. Gliders and parachutes can be made of translucent, radar absorbing material, providing a nearly silent and invisible means of insertion for special forces operators. Provided you remembered to bring special forces in the first place, of course.
Surveillance and reconnaissance: Dronn’s biggest failing was in not using his aircraft to provide up-to-date intelligence on enemy movement. He didn’t have high altitude craft looking over the landscape. He didn’t send aircraft in flyover missions. Reconnaissance aircraft can gather all kinds of vital information on the enemy’s position and disposition. But Dronn kept his own force blind. He might have been able to see that the Earthlings were getting ready for a counterstrike if he had just sent out a few scout craft.
Drones: This is something Dronn has in common with the Gorgonians, the Sondrak, and the Scythian Bloodlords; every time a vehicle was destroyed it resulted in a casualty. Why? Unmanned drones are part of the modern warfare landscape. Whether they are commanded remotely, or by an on board AI; whether they fly, swim, or roll along the ground, they have an important part to play. Of course, I can see why they are underrepresented in your invasions. A drone’s primary function is to reduce the number of casualties your army suffers. It’s no surprise that none of you developed drone warfare capabilities, since none of you care about your own casualties. This is one of the many disadvantages to being a heartless dictator; you don’t even think about stuff like this.
Speaking of casualties, let’s get off Dronn for a second and talk about the Xernians, who were the first invaders, and who lost to a bunch of cattle wranglers. They had aircraft. But what happened was the Earthlings rolled an explosive packet into their ship. It was a lucky shot, but it took out the pilots’ barracks on the Xernian mother ship. So the Xernians weren’t able to launch any aircraft after that. They had ships, but no one to fly them. And that’s the point. Losing aircraft isn’t always that big of a loss. What’s bad is when you lose pilots or aircrews. These are some of the most highly trained members of your force. Those aircraft are some of the most sophisticated machines you have. Operating them and getting them ready for battle takes real skill and training. Replacing even complex and expensive machines is easy; just put in an order at the factory. Replacing troops with the necessary skills to use those machines? Not so easy.
Control of Earth’s skies means nothing if you don’t take full advantage of it. As Dronn learned, combat sorties are just part one of a wide range of operations you should be undertaking. Like everything else we’ve gone over, if you’re not doing this, it’s like handing the Earthlings a victory. If you’re too lazy to conduct a reconnaissance flight, the end result is no different than if the humans seized control of that airspace from you. Which they may be able to do now, anyway.
You can thank your buddy Dronn, here. Because of his failure, the Earthlings captured a large number of his fighter craft. There won’t be any more easy victories in the skies.