Common Damage Types Used in Naval Parlance
By Cpt D. Gallieo
In both literature and common discussion around the Navy you will hear the term "damage types" used in referring to four specific categories: Electro-magnetic or EM, Kinetic, Thermal, and Explosive. The more astute amoungst the class might note that they are all just different names for energy and question how thermal is to be unique from kinetic and so forth and so on. In this article I will explain that these "damage types" are for convention and refer to four classes of energy transference as used in weapon technology.
You should all recognize the basic equation for energy:
E = mv^2
Where m is mass and v is velocity. Primitives throw rocks at each other to fight and quickly discover that bigger rocks and rocks thrown faster hurt more. For all our advancements this rule holds true and in reality we are all just throwing rocks at each other from space ships instead of caves. That our rocks are atomic particles and our throwing speeds are relativistic to the speed of light is beside the point.
So with this handy equation in hand, let's look at how it works in the four damage types.
In EM damage we are referring to nearly mass-less particles like photons moving at the speed of light. Furthermore, the particles also have a frequency velocity associated to them so that infrared light is the same vector speed as ultraviolet light but the latter is more energetic due to its shorter and more energetic wavelength.
Despite these particles having infinitesimal mass they can still do damage as the weapons that utilize them generate them in massive quantities and focus them in tight beams, i.e. Lasers. These particles are not as damaging to dense materials like tritanium armour plates (although they do strip electrons off at a decent clip which leads to matter disintegration in the right scenarios) but are especially damaging to high energy fields and electronics, both important components of shielding used by star ships and stations.
If we move from photonic particles to subatomic particles we enter the thermal damage type, so named because the effects of such attacks are typified by resulting high temperature radiation in the infrared range. Essentially the subatomic particles are considerably heavier than photons but are still lightweights compared to the matter they come into contact with. Instead of simply stripping off electrons and causing some radioactive decay, dense matter literally "heats up" in a catostrophic manner.
While no where near the sheer number of particles in EM beams, Thermal beams are still considerable in particle density and hence are effective against high energy shielding as well as being very effective against armour plating and superstructure of ships.
Kinetic damage type encompasses any weapon that directs atomic particles or clumps of atomic particles at a target. This is broadly typified by the "hybrid" weapon systems that accelerate atomic and subatomic particles to relativistic speeds and more primitive slugs fired by projectile weaponry.
Because the mass of atomic particles is many magnitudes greater than subatomic particles, the speed to get them to cause comparable damage is far less thus while Thermal damage is delivered around speeds of 0.1c to 0.9c, Kinetic damage is more in the range of 0.001c to 0.003c. Shields are naturally effective against kinetic damage because the particles are so slow thus giving the shield energy matrices enough time to deflect or destroy the incoming particles as it passes through them. Dense materials like armour plating do not far as well as the particles collide into them with 99.999999999% energy and smash the atomic structures to bits, much like shooting an arrow through a piece of tinfoil.
In scenarios of larger "slugs", the speeds are even less and can be measured in kilometers per second but the end effect is the same: shields very effective while armour plating is more likely to be punched through with all the difficulties that implies for the target ship.
In the navy we use the term Explosive as a damage type to not so much describe the incoming particles as per the other three, but rather to describe the area versus magnitude. In EM, Thermal, and Kinetic damage we are dealing with focused beams of particles at various speeds and how the shields and armour deal with the impact sites. Explosive damage is an area effect damage type often delivering all three classes of particles at once but in a dispersed pattern.
The end result is the shields can easily deflect the incoming particles while armour plating can be buckled and stressed beyond endurance as well as punctured. Many naval strategists recommend that regardless of the normal damage type a ship deals, once the target's shields are inoperative that switching to explosive weaponry is ideal.
Since device explosions radiate out from a single point and thus become less powerful as you move away from the point of origin (at a squared rate) they often require a delivery system to get them on target. Missiles are one such common choice, and the other is projectile weaponry as perfected by the Minmatar Republic. In that case the warhead is launched from a "bullet" at the projectile and uses proximity fuses to detonate beside the target.
Now you should have an understanding of what your instructors are referring do when they talk about the various damage types weapons can deal and resistances that star ships can have.