Sunday, August 19, 2018

Hunger in the year 3058: Feeding Sarna from Kaifeng

Someone challenged me to justify low JumpShip counts in BattleTech. 
I believe I've done so. 
(These other threads are also relevant.)
Warning! This is like my other "bean counting" posts except EVEN MORESO.

We're looking specifically at the Sarna/Kaifeng situation in 3058. The Chaos March sourcebook says "Kaifeng supplies almost all of Sarna's food and exports agricultural products to other nearby worlds as well," and Binding Force says Kaifeng's biggest export is "four hundred million metric tons" of rice. (It doesn't specify whether that's 400 million per Terran year, per Capellan or Kaifeng year, or if that's just what happens to exist at that particular moment.)

Assuming Sarna's population increases at a constant rate from 2.618 billion in 3025 to 3.534 billion in 3067, they should have about 3.314 billion in 3058. At 400 grams of rice per person per day (what the UN World Food Program estimates in 2018), that's 484 megatons per year.

I have to ignore how the 3067 Liao Handbook gives Sarna a "D" in agriculture, because that "D" means the planet isn't so completely dependent on agricultural imports. Do I then also ignore the billion people the Handbook added to go with that rating? Comparing Atlases for the two Houses, both past and present, I would've expected Sarna's population to fall instead of rise.

Regardless, the easiest (and still canonical) avenue is the Ryan Cartel method (StratOps page 131). You can jump gigatons of a substance if it's distributed fairly evenly through its volume and if you don't mind the mountain of it fracturing on arrival. A riceball satisfies both conditions, and Sarna's annual needs are a mere twentieth of what the method can deliver in a single jump.

But let's ignore that and instead ship rice in the dumbest way possible.

Assume 100% of it comes offworld from Kaifeng, and assume 100% is carried by Behemoths from TR:3057:revised, at .75 gravities, on 2 collars each. The 3067 Liao Handbook raised Sarna's transit time from 9 days to 12.01 days; it doesn't have an entry for Kaifeng, but Chaos March gives Kaifeng a 10 day transit, which in the 3025 housebooks means a star in the F0IV to F7V range. I'll average that range and round up to the longer transit, putting Kaifeng at 17.36 days with an F3 star.

We need a total of 1385 Behemoths (6458 annual ship loads divided by 4.66 annual trips per ship) with 124 arriving per week (6458 annual ship loads divided into weeks). Sarna has sixteen jump station batteries and a 179 hour unassisted charge time, while Kaifeng has eight batteries and a 174 hour unassisted charge time; that means the first 7.7 ships each week have a 200 hour round trip (batteries on both sides, with no risk of failure because 2pt bonus for station charging (SO page 87) plus 1pt bonus for not being fatigued (SO page 41) earns us a risk-free 100-hour recharge (Campaign Ops page 133)) while the next 7.6 get a 250 hour trip, and the rest get 300 hours; we need 68 Star Lords to make sure 41 of them cycle into Sarna each week.

Starting from 2000 jumpships and 25000 dropships in 3025 and growing to 3000 jumpships in 3055, the Inner Sphere should have at least 8000 Behemoths and 230 Star Lords by 3058. Enough to handle another three or four worlds like Sarna. Yeah, it might mean the Top Dog Cartel Boats are occupied differently than you might have thought, but not liking it doesn't make it impossible (Sarna isn't small fry in 3054), and it doesn't affect the player-side experience of trooping or trading at all.

That's more ships than Sarna actually needs, of course.

(Which begs the question - what % of the Federated Commonwealth's 5000 drop collars would you commit to rapidly re-industrializing those giants on the crossroads between the two realms? Check the ol' Succession Wars boardgame - the Sarna March holds almost 10% of the FedCom's industry.)

Start with a more reasonable (though still ambitious) assumption that 5/6ths of Sarna's food comes from offworld, and 5/6ths of that is interstellar. Since Sarna and the Suns build Mammoths, we'll ride Mammoths at a safe 1.5 gravities.

I can't find a default value for JumpShip Piloting/Control rolls, but Total Warfare suggests regular dropship crews default to a base TN of 5. As this is an especially important route, with billions of lives at stake, let's call the crew veterans with a 1pt specialization in this particular route. Your average military unit may not be well rested, but this crew is, so we'll also take a 1pt bonus for having no fatigue. Our control rolls now start at TN 2.

Kaifeng should have a pirate point less than half a day out. We must roll 8+ to calculate the jump from Sarna's recharge stations to Kaifeng's pirate point; we'll fail an average of 2.4 times per success, costing an average of 4.8 hours per failure, while successes average 2.8 hours; it amounts to 14.4 hours altogether, we suffer no other drawbacks and we skip Kaifeng's lengthy standard transit. (The easier return calculations amount to 3.7 hours.) We need 9027 Mammoth visits annually, so a round trip of 17.8 days means 439 Mammoths. That's 173 Mammoth arrivals weekly, as well as 29 Star Lord arrivals weekly; the first 15.4 jumpships per week enjoy the Sarna batteries for a round trip of 268 hours, and the rest have a round trip of 318 hours; that makes for a total of 52 Star Lords.

I could shave another ten Star Lords by returning to the standard transit pattern, but it would mean doubling the number of Mammoths which I'm reluctant to do. Granted, this is EXACTLY the work Mammoths are said to do, and at least one other "uncommonly" sighted ship (the Union) numbers in the low thousands.

Point is, 3200 jumpships and the corresponding dropships are enough to accommodate a handful of worlds like Sarna, or a double handful if they're half-sized or have more conveniences.

And you don't even need to get hung up on that because the setting has had an explicit, purpose-made solution for bulk transport of raw materials since 1986 which is still canonical.


  1. Are you suggesting that the "Ryan Cartel" method of transporting billions of tons of material at once has been in continuous use in the Inner Sphere (at least through 3025) and was expanded to materials other than water (ice)?

    And if so, what about the logistics of transporting planet-bound material, such as rice, into space for the jump? You still need to lift that amount of material off-planet via DropShip and deliver it to the nadir/zenith point for transport. The DropShip needs would seem to me to quite similar whether your using traditional JumpShip transport or the Ryan Cartel method.

    1. I am suggesting that, yes. Curtiss Hydrosystems operates a fleet of 37 iceships through 3025 (HM:FWL p129), a fleet of 51 in 3067 (HB:HM p137), and iceships weren't unknown in other states; one was captured from the Capellans in 2910 (HM:FWL again, p39). Substances jumped in this fashion seem to be subject to the usual "proximity damage" (StratOps p130-131), but that doesn't matter as long as we're not trying to move manufactured goods or living tissue.

      Ideally we'd use a pirate point on both ends. It's a difficult roll, but the cartel group has multiple navigators with weeks or months to get it right, and the shorter transits mean we'd need only two or three dozen Mammoths in each star system.

      Whatever the transit length, we also have the option of using tugs to give the cargo an initial push, letting it coast for most of the transit, and using other tugs to catch it near the planet. How effective this is depends on how much cargo you're comfortable having in-system at any given moment; I haven't done the math, but theoretically, I think we're only limited by how quickly Sarna's food needs ramped up.