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Missiles

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The Vela Pulsar, very much resembling an exploding missile. Image by NASA/ESA

A Missile is a small self-propelled projectile that contains an explosive warhead and/or a sensor. Missile warheads explode on impact, creating a triangular damage pattern in armor.

Mines, Drones and Buoys are just categories for specialized types of missiles.

Missiles must be designed and researched, built by ordnance factories on a planet, loaded onto ships' missile magazines and launched by missile launchers. They use fire controls of the firing ship for target acquisition. Having their own sensors allows them to acquire targets on their own.

Missiles require missile launchers of an appropriate size to launch them, however missile launchers can launch smaller missiles than they were designed to accommodate, i.e. a size 5 missile launcher can launch size 1-5 missiles. Each launcher can store one mounted missile. All reloads have to be carried in missile magazines. Missiles cannot be transported in Cargo Holds. Having dedicated ammo transports (colliers) can be quite useful, both in battle and to supply outposts with missiles and mines.

Missiles cannot be used inside of Nebulae.

Warning: there is a glitch in the game that can prevent incoming missiles from being detected and fired upon by your automated defenses if you choose a long increment time in battle. It's safer to stick to increments of under a minute.


See the Anti-Missile Tutorial for an introduction to defending against missiles.

Your first missile designs

...will probably leave a lot to be desired. While players have different missile design philosophies, early-game technology doesn't allow you to build anything impressive. Just keep investing in engine technology (for that you have to research reactor tech first), engine power modifier, agility and warhead tech. Also make sure you understand missile damage - one strength-16 warhead hurts a lot more than two strength-8 ones.

  • Probably the most common mistake of new players is to make their missiles and ships too slow. Keep in mind that even early-game tech (ion engines) can allow warship speeds of 4000-5000 km/s and hit chances depend heavily on missile speed, so use an engine with maximum power modifier. Your missile should be a lot faster than the target. Which means that anti-missile missiles should be even faster.
  • The second most common mistake is to give them a much higher range than your active sensors or fire controls.
  • Don't bother with sensors on missiles before you get an idea of the distances involved. A sensor with a range of 10,000km might or might not do you any good.

Missiles and other systems

A successful missile system contains three components that need to work together:

  1. a Missile
  2. at least one Active Sensor that can see the target. The sensor doesn't have to be on the firing ship, not even in the same Task Group. If the missiles don't have sensors of their own, one Active Sensor needs to see the target continuously until missile impact.
  3. at least one Fire Control directing the missile to the target. This has to be on the firing ship.


Range and resolution of sensors and fire controls should be matched to the missile. There's no harm in Active Sensors with the best range possible, but if missile or FC are mismatched, you're wasting tonnage, time and money.

It follows that a ship armed with two different missile types (one anti-ship and one anti-missile) needs two different sets of sensors and fire controls, each having a different range and resolution.

ECM and ECCM

Enemy ships equipped with ECM degrade the range of your Fire Controls (but not Active Sensors) by 10% x ECM level. A Fire Control sensor with a range of 30m km trying to target a ship with ECM-2 would have only a range of 24m km. ECM is pretty common, so you might want to slightly overdesign your fire controls: If your missile has e.g. a range of 50m km, having a fire control with a range of 65m km means you can still target a ship with ECM-2 at maximum missile range.

An ECCM assigned to a fire control offsets the effects of ECM by 10% per level.

If you have researched ECM tech, you can also spend a maximum of 1 MSP on ECM in your missile designs, making them more difficult to shoot down.

Missile Warheads and Damage

Damage templates for missiles (left) and laser (right) strikes.

Missiles create triangular holes in armor (also note the article on Armor). For example, a strength-4 warhead will apply the first three damage points to the first armor level before the fourth damages the second level (see diagram on the right). The most efficient warhead damage sizes for armor piercing are therefore square numbers: 4, 9, 16, 25, 36, etc., because that's the minimum amount you need to penetrate armor level 1,2,3,4,5 etc. Note the difference between strength-9 and strength-10 warheads in the diagram: the 9th point of damage will penetrate the deepest, the 10th point however will just scratch the first armor layer again.

Only damage that gets through armor will damage internal ship components (see Internal Damage). A strength-25 warhead will penetrate four levels of undamaged armor and cause one point of internal damage. If the target has only three levels of armor, the same warhead causes four points of internal damage.

Finally, Shock Damage to internal ship components can result from severe explosions, even if they don't penetrate the armor. The larger the explosion, the greater the chance of causing shock damage.

Armor damage is permanent until repaired in a shipyard. Multiple weapon hits, even if non-penetrating, will slowly erode a ship's armor. Hit location (i.e. the armor column being hit) is randomly determined, though, so a large ship can potentially take a large number of non-penetrating hits before any damage gets through.

For example, a 10,000-ton destroyer with only three armor layers will have 3 layers x 42 columns = 126 armor boxes. A 24,000-ton cruiser with six layers would have 6 x 72 = 432 armor boxes. Slowly grinding the armor away with small missiles requires a lot of hits, but large swarms of small missiles are harder to defend against. Large missiles with large warheads might require only a few hits on a target, but a good enemy Point defense might shoot them all down before they can do any damage. You have to experiment yourself and see what works best for you.

Laser warheads

See the main article: Laser warheads. Note that currently (7.1), laser warheads are reported to be somewhat broken.

Missile Design

The Missile Design button is at the bottom of the Create Research Project window. Missile Engines are found in the normal Create Research Project dropdown, though.

In the Missile Design window, you will have to experiment with fractions of whole numbers, e.g. 2.667 warhead size may result in exactly 16 damage points, 0.01 points may be enough fuel for your purposes etc.

Missile Size

One Missile Size Point (MSP, not to be confused with Maintenance Supply Points, also called MSP) equals 1/20 HS (Hull Spaces), or 2.5 tons.

Missile size can be a fraction of whole numbers (e.g. a 1.25-size missile), but they can only be fired from a launcher with a size of the next whole number (e.g. a 1.25-size missile needs a size-2 launcher).

The smallest size permitted in Aurora is 1. There appears to be no maximum size, but the largest launcher size is 100 and you can't launch without a launcher.

Anti-missile missiles tend to be size 1 because they need to be fast and you need lots of them, while most anti-ship missiles tend to be between size 5 and 15.

Missile size is always a trade-off between missile capabilities on the one hand and salvo size as well as magazine depth on the other. A size-12 missile is a lot more capable than a size-6, but your ship can carry only half as many, the launchers are twice as large and most importantly, if your fleet can launch only 20 in one salvo while the enemy fleet's point defense can reliably shoot down 30 missiles, your shots are wasted.

Larger missiles can be spotted - and thus fires at by point defenses - at longer range than smaller ones, but there is a limit: missiles smaller than 6 MSP are treated as size 6 by sensors.

Missile Engines

Missile Engines have to be designed separately and researched before you can use them, and a single missile can have multiple engines (of the same type). The four elements of missile engine design are described below.

Engine Technology: Exactly as ship-based engines. For example, the Magneto-plasma Drive has a rating of 16 power per hull space, so a Magneto-plasma missile engine of 1 MSP would provide 16/20 = 0.8 power.

Fuel Consumption: The base fuel consumption of a missile engine is five litres per Engine Power Hour (which is one point of engine power for one hour) and can be improved through research. So a max size missile engine (5 MSP) with 4 power and a racial fuel consumption technology of 0.6 litres per engine power hour would use 12 litres per hour. This is higher than shipboard engines as missile engines are designed for single use and therefore long-term fuel efficiency is a low priority in their design. They are also solid-fuelled for easy storage, which is less fuel efficient than liquid-fuelled ship-based engines.

Engine Size: Missile engines can range in size from 0.1 MSP to 5 MSP. Smaller missile engines suffer a penalty to fuel consumption. For example, the following sizes of missile engine have the listed fuel consumption per Engine Power:

5 MSP x1.00 3 MSP x1.42 1 MSP x3.00 0.5 MSP x4.82 0.1 MSP x14.47

Power / Efficiency Modifiers: Missile engines use the same principle as ship engines and use the same tech lines (Max Engine Power Modifier and Min Engine Power Modifier). However, the upper end of the range is doubled for missile engines. So if the Max Engine Power tech is x1.75, missile engines can use up to x3.50. The rationale is that these are designed for single use, unmanned craft and therefore have significantly different engineering requirements, such as no radiation shielding or maintenance access requirements. As with ship-based engines, increasing power has a significant effect on fuel efficiency and decreasing power can provide huge savings in fuel efficiency. As the missile modifier is double that of ships, power can be increased by up to six times normal and decreased to 10% of normal if you have the prerequisite techs. Each engine power modifier percentage is accompanied by a fuel consumption modifier, based on the formula Fuel Efficiency Modifier = Engine Power Modifier ^ 2.5

For example, a 1 MSP missile engine with a x3.00 engine power modifier would have a x15.59 fuel consumption modifier for the engine power modifier and a x3.00 fuel consumption modifier (x3) for the size of the engine, which gives a total modifier of x46.77.

A 0.5 MSP missile engine with a x5.00 engine power modifier would have a x55.90 fuel consumption modifier for the power modifier and a x4.82 fuel consumption modifier for the engine size.

Here are the three examples of 1 MSP magneto-plasma drive missile engines, using x1 power, x3 power and x6 power, with a racial base fuel consumption of 0.6 Litres per Engine Power Hour

0.8 EP Magneto-plasma Drive
Engine Power: 0.8      Fuel Use Per Hour: 7.2 Litres
Fuel Consumption per Engine Power Hour: 9.006 Litres
Engine Size: 1 MSP      Cost: 0.2
Development Cost for Project: 40RP
2.4 EP Magneto-plasma Drive
Engine Power: 2.4      Fuel Use Per Hour: 336.92 Litres
Fuel Consumption per Engine Power Hour: 140.385 Litres
Engine Size: 1 MSP      Cost: 0.6
Development Cost for Project: 120RP
4.8 EP Magneto-plasma Drive
Engine Power: 4.8      Fuel Use Per Hour: 3811.86 Litres
Fuel Consumption per Engine Power Hour: 794.137 Litres
Engine Size: 1 MSP      Cost: 1.2
Development Cost for Project: 240RP

Missile Agility

How maneuverable the missile is. Agility and speed determine hit chances. Agility Points per MSP can be increased through research.

Play around with the Agility value and see how it affects hit chances. Begin with 0.2, then 0.4, 0.6, etc., until you see the numbers drop again. You'll find a maximum somewhere, after which additional agility makes the missile just heavier and lowers hit chances again. When you've found it, play with the second decimal, e.g. 0.42, 0.44, 0.46 etc., for optimization.

Range

As mentioned before, ranges of missile and fire controls should be in the same ballpark. You can try to plan ahead, though: If you know your next generation of grav sensors and therefore improved fire controls will be around in a few months and increase range by 50% for the same size, then you can give the missiles you design today that extra range.

Opening and closing shots

An opening missile shot is one where the target is moving away from your missile, opening the range. A closing shot is one where the target is closing the range instead.

Imagine a missile with a range of 50m km and a speed of 15,000km/s. You fire a salvo at a target 40m km away which is running away from you at a speed of 5,000km/s. Your missiles will take 2666 seconds to reach the point where the target was when you fired. Unfortunately, by then it is already 13.3m km further away; your salvo will run out of fuel and self-destruct. A fast missile moving at twice the speed would have reached the target instead.

Armor and ECM

These make it more difficult to destroy your missile. Only full armor points count (?). For ECM, see above.

Missiles and Sensors

The most simple missile designs have no sensors at all. They are guided to the target by the firing ships' fire control. If that fire control is destroyed or you lose the active sensor contact (usually because another salvo already destroyed the target), the missiles self-destruct.

If you spend points on sensors, a small reactor to power them is automatically added. Missile reactors have unlimited endurance. The power requirement for any sensor is equal to its 20% of the sensor strength. So one missile size point (MSP = 1/20th of a HS) allocated to an EM Sensor using a base EM sensor strength of 8 would result in an EM sensor strength of 0.4 (8/20). This would require a reactor with a power output of 0.08 (0.4/5). The reactor space is allocated automatically (ship-based sensors do not require reactors as their needs can be met from the general power generation of the ship). On a per HS basis, passive sensors are much less powerful than active sensors at the same tech level, which means missiles will require less reactor space per MSP of passive sensors compared to active sensors.

A missile with a sensor will not look for new targets until the original target contact is lost, in which case it will continue to fly toward the last known location while in search mode. It will engage any enemy contact it can find. If it reaches that location without finding a new target, it self-destructs.

A missile with active sensors will attack the largest target it can detect, one with thermal sensors will attack the strongest thermal signature and a missile with EM sensors will attack the strongest EM source, which tends to be ship with the strongest shields.
(this needs to be verified, though)

Note: each missile, sensors or not, gets only one attack roll to see if it hits the target. Missiles never turn around for a second attack. If the roll fails, they self-destruct.

Since detection only happens every five seconds and most ships travel at least 20-30,000km in that time, low-tech or low-powered sensors will hardly ever detect anything.

Two-staged Missiles, Drones & Buoys

"Drone" is a general term for a missile with a less powerful but fuel-efficient engine. A "buoy" is a missile without an engine.

A two-stage missile contains one or more smaller missiles (the second stage) that are launched when either:

  • the first stage reaches its target, or
  • the first stage comes within a predefined distance of the target. That's the Separation Range set during design of the first stage.

The second stage has to be researched by your scientists before you can select it in the menu.

There is no limit to the number of stages. You can design a three-stage missile by adding your two-stage missile as a second stage to a new missile, and so on.

Drones

A drone is generally a type of missile with a fuel-efficient, but slow engine and no agility. It is designed for great range and can be used as sensor platform or as as very long-ranged missiles with terrible to-hit chances, or to carry submunitions (fast and small missiles for the final attack run).

Long range Anti Ship Drone

Since drones usually have fuel-efficient engines, they can have ranges exceeding 1 billion kilometers while the average missile sits around 50-100 million. The downside to using them like this is that their hit chance is very low due to low speed and perhaps low agility. Also, it might be difficult detecting targets at that range.

Submunitions (MIRV) Drone

A drone that carries within it one or more smaller missiles that make up the second stage that, when near its target, will split off at much higher velocity to their final target. You select the distance from the target when the second stage (the submunitions) will separate when designing the first stage. The second stage inherits the first stage's target. Sensors are optional, as with normal missiles.

See the example Submunitions (MIRV) Drone below.

Buoy

A Buoy is a missile without an engine. It can be used as a mine, early-warning sensor or a geosurvey-probe.

Mine

Mines are very cost-effective two-stage weapons for jump-point defense without dedication of ships. The first stage is a buoy with a sensor and releases its payload of one or more missiles when an enemy is detected within the separation range setting.

To deploy mines, create a waypoint (usually at a jump point) and move your ship there, then use the Fire Missiles button on the Task Group screen, or set a waypoint and use the Combat interface to fire at the waypoint when your ship is on it.

Sensor buoy

Sensor buoys, having just a sensor and a reactor, are good if you want a look at a system to see if there is any activity without risking a ship. Just put a waypoint on the jump point, drop one of these on the waypoint and go back home while this tells you everything that is occurring in the area.

Examples

All these use early-game Ion Drive engine tech:

Offensive Missiles

Swarm missile
Missile Size: 1 MSP  (0.05 HS)     Warhead: 2    Armour: 0     Manoeuvre Rating: 10
Speed: 18000 km/s    Engine Endurance: 63 minutes   Range: 68.5m km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 180%   3k km/s 60%   5k km/s 36%   10k km/s 18%

These can overwhelm the target's point defense through sheer numbers, but individual damage is low.

High damage, medium range
Missile Size: 3 MSP  (0.15 HS)     Warhead: 9    Armour: 0     Manoeuvre Rating: 12
Speed: 12000 km/s    Engine Endurance: 51 minutes   Range: 36.6m km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 144%   3k km/s 48%   5k km/s 28.8%   10k km/s 14.4%
Fast, medium range
Missile Size: 3 MSP  (0.15 HS)     Warhead: 4    Armour: 0     Manoeuvre Rating: 12
Speed: 24000 km/s    Engine Endurance: 25 minutes   Range: 36.6m km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 288%   3k km/s 96%   5k km/s 57.6%   10k km/s 28.8%

Note the difference in speed and therefore hit chances.

Active sensor, medium-long range ASM
Missile Size: 6 MSP  (0.3 HS)     Warhead: 9    Armour: 0     Manoeuvre Rating: 14
Speed: 12000 km/s    Engine Endurance: 74 minutes   Range: 52.9m km
Active Sensor Strength: 0.98   Sensitivity Modifier: 80%
Resolution: 100    Maximum Range vs 5000 ton object (or larger): 780 000 km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 168%   3k km/s 56%   5k km/s 33.6%   10k km/s 16.8%
Armored Torpedo
Missile Size: 12 MSP  (0.6 HS)     Warhead: 16    Armour: 1     Manoeuvre Rating: 13
Speed: 12000 km/s    Engine Endurance: 134 minutes   Range: 96.7m km
Active Sensor Strength: 1.4   Sensitivity Modifier: 80%
Resolution: 100    Maximum Range vs 5000 ton object (or larger): 1 120 000 km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 156%   3k km/s 52%   5k km/s 31.2%   10k km/s 15.6%

A design by the Bigger-is-Better school of thought. Best used against stationary targets, like the broadside of a barn.

Questionable long-range Size 4 ASM
Missile Size: 4 MSP  (0.2 HS)     Warhead: 5    Armour: 0     Manoeuvre Rating: 11
Speed: 25000 km/s    Engine Endurance: 6.3 hours   Range: 567.3m km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 275%   3k km/s 88%   5k km/s 55%   10k km/s 27.5%

Range might be excessive, unless you have matching Active Sensors and firecontrols.

Point Defence Missile

Also see the tutorial on missile defence.

A missile best designed with a 1 damage warhead, this missile should instead balance out speed, agility and fuel. They should also be at max size one, as any bigger is a waste of space and material unless an enemy is throwing size 50 missiles at you then situations may deem a change in tactics. PD Missiles need to be at least Strength 1 to destroy enemy missiles.

Badly designed Size 1 Anti-missile Missile
Missile Size: 1 MSP  (0.05 HS)     Warhead: 1    Armour: 0     Manoeuvre Rating: 10
Speed: 28000 km/s    Engine Endurance: 142 minutes   Range: 237.8m km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 280%   3k km/s 90%   5k km/s 56%   10k km/s 28%

Very useful design if you can spot incoming missiles at 237 million km, which unfortunately you can't.

Submunitions (MIRV) Drone

A size-2 missile engine with low power but good fuel efficiency and 4 points of fuel. No warhead or agility are required. The second stage consists of six size-1 missiles with a range of 2.5m km, so that's what the Separation Range has been set to. The drone itself would be easy to shoot down, but the second stage missiles are (hopefully) released outside the enemy's missile defense range.

Missile Size: 12 MSP  (0.6 HS)     Warhead: 0    Armour: 0     Manoeuvre Rating: 10
Speed: 16000 km/s    Engine Endurance: 190 minutes   Range: 182.0m km
Second Stage: Dagger Mk4 x6
Second Stage Separation Range: 2,500,000 km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 160%   3k km/s 50%   5k km/s 32%   10k km/s 16%

Mines

Captor M41S50
Missile Size: 50 MSP  (2.5 HS)     Warhead: 0    Armour: 0     Manoeuvre Rating: 10
Speed: 0 km/s    Engine Endurance: 0 minutes   Range: 0.0m km
Thermal Sensor Strength: 2.948    Detect Sig Strength 1000:  2 948 000 km
Second Stage: Pilum M40S20 ASTMM x2
Second Stage Separation Range: 3 000 000 km
Overall Endurance: 35 minutes   Overall Range: 23.1m km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 0%   3k km/s 0%   5k km/s 0%   10k km/s 0%

No engine, but a passive sensor and two Pilum submunitions that are released when a hostile contact comes into sensor range. Note that this mine would detect a contact of thermal strength 2000 at almost 6m km, but would not release the submunitions.

Pilum M40S20 ASTMM
Missile Size: 20 MSP  (1 HS)     Warhead: 25    Armour: 1     Manoeuvre Rating: 11
Speed: 10800 km/s    Engine Endurance: 35 minutes   Range: 22.7m km
Active Sensor Strength: 4.62   Sensitivity Modifier: 80%
Resolution: 150    Maximum Range vs 7500 ton object (or larger): 4 520 000 km
Chance to Hit: 1k km/s 118.8%   3k km/s 33%   5k km/s 23.8%   10k km/s 11.9%

This submunition's range is much higher than required - it can't see targets beyond its own sensor range.

Loading missiles

You can either use the Load Ordnance command, which loads the standard loadout for the type, as defined in the ship design window (unlike other design parameters, this can be changed after the ship type as been built). Or you can use the Ordnance tab in the Individual Unit window.

Loading missiles during battle

Transferring missiles between ships or a ship and the planetary depot happens instantaneously. That might be unrealistic but feel free to exploit it by reloading your warship's magazines during battle from other ships or a dedicated ammo transport (collier). Adding a collier to a task group has the advantage of adding a lot of ammo depth while keeping your warship's size down.

Destroying your own missiles

Note the second tab of the Ship Combat screen.

Missile series

Missiles can be organized into missile series. This feature allows a ship rearming in a depot to load another missile similar in size and role if no stock of the required missile is available. For example, your standard loadout for a Broadsword destroyer is 25 Long Lance Mk4 missiles. If only 8 are available at the depot, the game will automatically try to load other missiles from the same series, so you might end up with 8x Long Lance Mk4, 13x Long Lance Mk3 and 2x Long Lance Mk5, because they all belong to the Long Lance series and perform a similar role.

Missile Design Spreadsheet

There are a couple of very useful on-line spreadsheets available for calculating optimal missile configurations.

As with any Internet source... Caveat Emptor 

Contributors

Chubbypitbull, Erik luken, Havan IronOak, Herode, Icecoldblood, Journier, Mor, Morrigi, Tarran, Tssha, Whitecold, Zook