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I started thinking about the realities of interstellar war. The workings of this kind of event still eludes me. What do you think, how would the war would happen in realistic space war? (I mean the grand scale rather than the individual scale)
No, I don't mean hardcore reality. Just realistic. All the space fantasy is fine, but it should be consistent and not so absurd that magical deus ex machnimas enter the play. Use any universe as an example, just make the quirks of the universe clearly implied.
As I understand, it would be very costly to have the large scale battle engagements one could see in movies. That since the battle fleets are nothing more than guns with engines and thus require a constant access to a supply infrastructure. The bigger the fleet, the bigger supply infrastructure. The bigger the supply infrastructure, the bigger economic infrastructure. Basically each large scale fleet would be tethered to the empire. The "tether" would be the supply fleet's bringing supplies and flying off to bring more. Thus, the further the fleet is from restocking locations, the more expensive it becomes to supply the fleets. This means that one of the objectives in war would be to establish new restocking locations within the enemy borders - possibly conquering settlements that can provide supplies to the fleet. Then again, one of the other options would be to try to attack enemy supply lines and restocking locations. A successful attack like that could potentially weaken fleets that are reliant on that conquered location for supplyes. This might result in either fleet having to do without supplies or the empire that controls it must spend more resources to establish a new supply line.
I don't think that the space war would be about destroying other ships. Making quality equipment is always going to be expensive and thus, why destroy something which could save a lot of resources if it was captured instead. Of course not all gunships are worth the effort of not destroying them. Automated drones or mass produced fighters would not really be worth anything next to the bigger ships. Then again it is times easier to board a large carrier than a fighter. Therefore I conclude that in a space war, large flagships could potentially switch hands multiple times and small ships would be used as cannon fodder. In fact, the large flagships could have extensive backlog of engagements. They could be decades or, in cringe cases, centuries old. But I hardly worry that they are outdated, since it would be logical to have the larger ships built in a modular fashion. This means that when an important piece of the ship gets damaged or a new and better version of that module is made, it is easily replaced without having to decommission a craft that is worth more than its weight in gold.
The actual engagements themselves would most probably be scattered minor fire exchanges between harass parties. And perhaps some harass parties would infiltrate and send stealth bombs to damage bigger ships. And then the fleet that got bombed, should make a decision, to stay with their weakened gunships that could potentially be destroyed or captured in engagements or to retreat and repair them to fight another day rather than risk losing precious equipment.
About capturing stars and stuff. I don't think that the usual 4X model makes sense. In 4X games one sieges a star and if the siege succeeds, the star is fully in control of the attacking empire. Realisticly captured stars would not automatically integrate into the empire, especially when stars are at the front line of the war. They might have a function of being the refuling location for the supply ships delivering supplies from the empire to fleets, but not much else. A proper siege would strongly damage the star's economy and thus, sieging stars during a war would not really be useful if you plan on using them later on. And as the saying goes "Don't fight with the tentacles, fight with the head and once the head falls, the tentacles follow." Smarter would be to do military actions that hamper the power of the ruling body rather than messing with the subjects. Stuff like severing the empire's connections with important industrial settlement(preferrably those that you don't want to capture anyways). Other approaches would be to decimate the military or to attack the ruler. You know, instead of killing millions of innocent peasants in attrition war, you could go and deliver a direct engagement to the emperor himself and incapacitate their empire.
Also, wars don't usually end with the attackers holding whatever they conquered(exept total wars). Usually a peace treaty is made, where the details on who gets what are worked out and agreed upon. Often times the area occupied during war is times larger than the actual annexed area after war. Paradox games have pulled that part of pretty neatly.