All capital ships need escorts, and the MCRN Donnager of The Expanse was no exception.
In the universe of The Expanse, the MCRN Donnager was the lead ship of the Donnager-class battleships in service with the Martian Congressional Republic Navy. The Donnager measured almost 500 meters/1640 feet long, and massed about a quarter million tons. She was armed with 14 torpedo tubes (6 fore, 8 aft), 2 Foehammer ultra-heavy railgun turrets, and 59 40 mm point defense cannons. In addition, she had a large internal hangar capable of housing up to 8 support ships.
At the time of her destruction, the Donnager‘s hangar housed only a single broken civilian shuttle and 1 corvette: the MCRN Tachi. For some reason, it was otherwise empty. Bear in mind that at the time of writing this article, I have only watched up to Season 1, episode 7; so if there was any reason why the Donnager only had 1 corvette as its escort, I’m not aware of them.
The Donnager in battle
Shortly after picking up the civilian shuttle Knight and all aboard her, the Donnager was approached by a single unknown ship. That single ship, however, suddenly split apart into 6 ships upon arrival, and proceeded to launch torpedoes at the Donnager. The Donnager returned fire with her own torpedoes, destroying one of the mystery ships, but was unable to shoot down all of the incoming torpedoes in time. 2 hit, with one of them hitting the reactor compartment and leaving the Donnager dead in the water, so to speak.
When the mystery ships closed in for the kill, the Donnager opened up with her railguns and PDCs, killing 3 more enemy ships. By this time though, the mystery ships had returned fire with their own railguns, and had disabled the Donnager’s weapons. This left her helpless as the 2 remaining mystery ships sent in boarders. In the end, the captain of the Donnager, Theresa Yao, was forced to scuttle the battleship to prevent her capture.
This entire battle highlighted a very important fact: capital ships aren’t meant to travel alone. Capital ships travel with escorts for a reason. Many reasons in fact. I will list 5 of them here.
1. Point Defense
Escorts are able to contribute to point defense. Even if the escorting warship had very little in the way of point defense, she would still be able to defend a capital ship by adding to her own point defense network. The Honor Harrington novels by David Weber vividly shows us this, depicting escorts shooting down missiles meant for larger capital ships.
Even within The Expanse, we see that mutually supporting point defense systems can shoot down large numbers of missiles before they reach their target. The 6 mystery ships managed to shoot down all but 1 of 20 torpedoes launched at them before they could hit. Had the Donnager herself had escorts supporting her point defense systems with their own, the battle would’ve looked less like this:
And more like this:
It’s like that old saying: a stick can be easily broken, but a bundle is a lot harder to break.
2. Supporting the Donnager
Escorts are able to add their weapons fire to your own. This is especially important when your target has powerful point defenses of their own. Consider that in the previous battle, the Donnager fired 20 torpedoes at the mystery ships, but hit and killed only 1 of them. A hit ratio of only 5% is not good accuracy, especially when we’re talking about some very expensive torpedoes. These aren’t dirt-cheap bullets we’re talking about here.
Had there been even one more ship launching torpedoes alongside the Donnager, more mystery ships could’ve been shot down. This would’ve degraded their ability to shoot down further missiles. In addition, it would’ve also limited their ability to continue their attack. Without numbers on their side, the mystery ships could’ve been forced to retreat, sparing the Donnager.