A Brief History of The Base Delta Zero Fallacy

Quick Reference:

I.     Introduction
II.    History
    A. "Scavenger Hunt"
    B. Imperial Sourcebook
    C. The Star Wars Adventure Journal
III.   The Reformulation
IV.   Updates: The Resistance
    A. Sarli vs. Saxton II
    B. Additional Counter-Evidence
V. Conclusion

I. Introduction

In the modern era, a certain segment of Star Wars fans and an author who comes from that segment have crafted a concept from disparate parts of the Star Wars EU.   In the EU we have a type of planetary attack called a Base Delta Zero . . . but the concept as found in the EU and the concept as held by that segment of fans do not match.   Their version involves melting the whole surface of a world . . . the EU version does not. 

In the below, we'll look at the chronology of events and EU datapoints that led to the Base Delta Zero Fallacy.

II. History

A.  "Scavenger Hunt"

In 1989, West End Games published a work called "Scavenger Hunt". Within that work, a Rebel base on planet Dankayo is attacked by three Imperial Star Destroyers, whose orders were . . .

"... to rendezvous at Dankayo and reduce the tiny base to molten slag. Even before the last of its atmosphere drifted away, before the dense clouds of atomized topsoil could begin to settle, Imperial transports Elusive and Timely, as well as a complement of TIE fighters, moved in to perform "mop-up" operations and a thorough search of Dankayo's now evenly-cratered surface."
-- Scavenger Hunt, p.3

So, three Star Destroyers slag (melt) a base facility, and attack the rest of the surface, leaving it evenly-cratered and without an atmosphere (or one made of atomized topsoil . . . that's less than clear).  We do not know the size of Dankayo, so much of that information is useless for gauging firepower.  But in any case, the Empire made its point . . . slagging the base and pock-marking the surface with craters is a definite way of informing the Rebellion that their bases are not welcome.

It is clear, though, that the planet itself was mostly unharmed, considering that a survivor in a "deep planet shelter" of the "tiny base" survived. Transports and TIE fighters moved in to perform "mop-up" operations.

This act was not described as a Base Delta Zero, though we get a sense of what three Star Destroyers can do.

B.  Imperial Sourcebook

Then, in 1994 and 1995, a mass of new books started to come out, and three of these had planetary attack references. The slagging of a Rebel base in "Scavenger Hunt" suddenly became:

"The Imperial Star Destroyer has enough firepower to reduce a civilized world to slag."
-- Imperial Sourcebook

Well, now, that's quite a change! Now we've gone from three Star Destroyers against a tiny base on a small moon to one Star Destroyer against an entire civilized world!   Not much need for mop-up then.

Of course, if you can reduce an uncivilized world to slag, there would seem to be little point in mentioning the presence or absence of civilization.  This would seem to argue that instead of melting the surface of a planet, the ISD is instead claimed to have enough firepower to melt the traces of civilization.  Also intriguing is the following from the same source:

"System bombards are used when the Empire would rather completely destroy a world rather than see it fall into Rebel hands."
"System bombard contains an average of 100 ships divided between three bombard squadrons and a light squadron. If an admiral feels that force superiority has done less than a thorough job of removing hostile craft from the system, a system bombard squadron will be augmented with ships from the light squadron."

As per the Sourcebook, the 100 ship fleet may include a few ISDs.  Thus, it seems clear that a lone ISD isn't going to be slagging the entire surface, when three out of four of the squadrons are required to "completely destroy a world".  How could a single vessel achieve the same goal against an uncivilized world?

The answer, of course, is that it can't.   A Star Destroyer can wipe out a planetary civilization per what we've been given, but it takes a number of ships to support the maneuver.  By analogy, a modern warship might be able to sit off the coast and destroy a city, but it takes a fleet and other assets to do it safely.

C.  The Star Wars Adventure Journal

Indeed, what it might be expected to do may not be too different from what we're told in The Star Wars Adventure Journal. The SWAJ was a little more modest in its approach, but it has given us the name of the order for a total planetary attack:

"Sir, what about bombardment? Is there a stage for that?"
"Blasting a planet from orbit is easy -- you don't need me to tell you how to do that. Limited orbital strikes would occur during the invasion stage. Just hope you are never given a Base Delta Zero order, lieutenant. Ah, yes, another question?"
"Sir, what's the Base Delta Zero order?"
"Base Delta Zero is the Imperial code order to destroy all population centres and resources, including industry, natural resources and cities. All other Imperial codes are subject to change, as you well know, but this code is always the same to prevent any confusion when the order is given. Base Delta Zero is rarely issued. ...."

-- "A World to Conquer"

This makes a little more sense. Three Star Destroyers can fire on and eventually slag a Rebel base facility of unspecified size, so simply destroying the population centers, resources (presumably major ones, unless we wish to consider every speck of dirt strategically valuable) and industry (perhaps melting some buildings and such) shouldn't be too much worse, given a sufficient number of Star Destroyers. 

This view is supported by the Star Wars Technical Journal of 1995, which makes reference to turning a planet's surface into "smoking debris". The problem comes with what is said after that . . . "a matter of hours".

III.  The Reformulation

Naturally, caution has been thrown to the wind by some Star Wars fanatics. The popular claim today is that a Base Delta Zero operation involves a single Star Destroyer's act of *melting* the *entire surface* of a world in *a single hour*.

So, basically, they decided to pick and choose. They took the name BDZ without bothering to use the definition of it given by the Adventure Journal. They took the slagging from "Scavenger Hunt" and the Sourcebook without bothering to acknowledge the targets which were offended in that manner. They took the "entire surface" from the Technical Journal, but failed to acknowledge the smoking cinder. And finally, they took the mere hours from the SWTJ without acknowledging the utter lack of slagging involved in that example, and even made it faster.

They claimed support for their view in the new "New Jedi Order Sourcebook" of 2002, which (they say) claims that a planet named Caamas was bombarded and all life wiped out in the space of a day.  Naturally, the fact that the number of ships involved in this maneuver is not given doesn't even make the fanatics blink.

And so, the legend of the Base Delta Zero maneuver has grown and grown, until it is now codified as part of the inflated numbers and statements in the Episode II Incredible Cross Sections, written by one of that fanatic segment, where the idea of slagging an entire planet's surface in a matter of hours is stated to be the Base Delta Zero command. This makes it as good as canon fact to many in spite of the horrendous inconsistencies.

IV.  Updates:  The Resistance

The above sections have existed on this site largely unchanged since sometime prior to November 2002.  As of 2006, others who help shape the EU have realized the errors inherent in the fanatics' reformulation.  Given that much of Saxton's work on his website and the numbers he placed in the ICS children's book are based on his Base Delta Zero calculations, it should come as little surprise that other EU authors have derived different numbers for Star Wars reactor energies and firepower.

A.  Sarli vs. Saxton II

One such author is Gary Sarli, who had previously conducted his own analysis of the Death Star II size that was contrary to Saxton's, earning him no friends among the fanatic Saxton supporters.  His more recent analysis of Star Wars fuel supplies and reactor energy for an EU work was repudiated by Saxton fans, and his defense of his analysis wound up involving discussion on the Base Delta Zero:

Finally, Saxton's numbers are based off of several sources wherein he attempts to calculate the energy required for a star destroyer to do what we see on screen: the comment that a SD uses more energy in a hyperspace jump than "some nations" use in their entire history (a quote originally from WEG's Imperial Sourcebook); the calculation of the energy that shields must be able to absord given observed asteroid impacts (in ESB); the calculation of energy required to vaporize an asteroid (again in ESB); and, finally, a calculation of how much energy it would take to perform a "Base Delta Zero" command. [...]

All the numbers are in the same ballpark except this last one, and those of us who know Star Wars really well can immediately spot the error: He decided that "Base Delta Zero" (the destruction of all "assets of production" including cities, mines, arable land, factories, sentients, and droids, according to its original source in WEG's Imperial Sourcebook) meant "total liquification of the entire surface of the planet to a depth of 1 meter." Needless to say, this is not necessary to fulfill the definition of a Base Delta Zero! Not by a long shot. It appears that Saxton interpreted the phrase "reduce a civilized world to slag" quite literally and, more importantly, assumed that this was a reference to Base Delta Zero (but it most certainly is not). The "slag" comment is another "flavor text" quote from WEG's Imperial Sourcebook, not a part of the Base Delta Zero definition or discussion -- Saxton unfortunately conflated the two concepts in addition to treating the word "slag" as absolutely literal instead of as hyperbole or an expression (much as how you or I might use the word "nuke" to refer to something other than a nuclear detonation, or how you might say that a military force "crushes" its opponent without literally referring to physical crushing).

To give you an idea: Saxton calculates that it would require over 400 million megatons of energy, equally distributed over the surface of a planet, to melt its entire crust to a depth of 1 meter. Now, as a comparison: 100 megatons is enough to wreck the Earth and cause nuclear winter (see Carl Sagan's "The Nuclear Winter"), and the total US and Soviet arsenals during the height of the Cold War was somewhere around 400,000 megatons (give or take a hundred thousand), enough to completely obliterate every human on the planet several hundred times over. Saxton, meanwhile, assumes that the Imperial Navy would choose to spend its time liquifying the surface of a planet for no good reason -- why keep shooting once everyone is dead and there's nothing left in a usable form? -- and thus he comes up with a number about 1,000 times more than the combined arsenals of our entire planet. (Another comparison: This is 8 times more than the energy that would be produced by a 6-mile asteroid or comet smashing into the Earth, the current likely suspect for killing the dinosaurs and almost all life on the planet other than the the smallest scavengers such as rodents and insects.)

Now, realistically, is that necessary to fulfill the definition of "destroying all assets of production"?

Also, Saxton assumes that a single Star Destroyer can do this in one hour (ostensibly to prevent the enemy from evacuating from the other side of the planet) -- I can only assume that he completely forgot that the definition of Base Delta Zero was given in the context of Imperial Navy support to an Imperial Army occupation of a planet, a mission that would normally require about a squadron of capital ships (described in the section on the Order of Battle just a few pages later in the Imperial Sourcebook). Thus, the Star Destroyer wouldn't be acting alone, so it need not have this capability all by itself, and it certainly wouldn't be necessary to do it in less than an hour because the Navy would have already established space superiority prior to the Army's pacification efforts -- thus, there wouldn't be anyone with any starships left who could evacuate [...]

So, we have the following things that I, as a fellow scientist, can only characterize as erroneous assumptions:
* Overestimating the energy required for Base Delta Zero, by at least a factor of 1,000. (Note: Even at this reduced level, the surface would be "slagged" in the form of ejecta from the craters created from turbolaser blasts -- the liquified rock would essentially settle over the entire planet's surface to an average depth of approximately 1 mm, give or take depending on how much is blasted out of the planet's gravitational pull.)
* Underestimating the amount of time required for a Base Delta Zero, possibly by an order of magnitude or even more.
* Underestimating (again perhaps by an order of magnitude) the number of starships that would normally be involved in a Base Delta Zero.

Put all that together, and you get a completely inaccurate estimate of how much energy the turbolasers must be capable of projecting and, by extension, how much energy the reactors and engines must be capable of generating.

Saxton himself notes that this number was several orders of magnitude higher than any of the other calculations he'd made (hyperdrive, shields, vaporizing asteroids, etc.); now, rather than question these assumptions and ask if it's really reasonable to think that the ship needs to liquify the entire surface in 1 hour all by itself to fulfill its mission, he just uses with the higher numbers. To me, this is a serious mistake -- you should always be ready and even eager to challenge your starting assumptions, especially when dealing with so many unknowns.

As a result of this, he gets the unrealistic figures that he put in ICS [...]

Now, do you see why I called his numbers "unreasonable"? [...] This is the reasoning I presented to Leeland Chee and his continuity minions over at LucasFilm when I submitted Jedi Counseling 94, and they approved it.

Saxtonian fanatics from StarDestroyer.Net, having already swarmed Wookieepedia where the discussion began, soon swarmed the Wizards of the Coast forum where the above post was made.   Given that this group is largely composed of the same fanatics who harassed  EU author Karen Traviss all across the internet for failing to wank out Star Wars to the levels they desired, earning them the title "Talifans", their attacks on Sarli should come as little surprise.

Aside:  Nuclear Winter - Wong vs. Sarli

One of the more entertaining claims they made was that, in the above, Sarli had claimed a 100 megaton blast would wreck the planet.   As Wong put it,

For those who don't know, a 100 megaton blast would not cause noticeable environmental damage to the Earth, never mind "wrecking" it (the Soviets set off a 60 megaton device in the 1960s with no noticeable effect whatsoever).
   - http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?t=103495

 This is wrong, of course, though it became the SDN mantra . . . Sarli never suggested a single 100 megaton blast event.  He referred to Carl Sagan's paper "The Nuclear Winter", based on the TTAPS study.  Within it, Sagan refers to a small nuclear war featuring a total of 100 megatons exchanged, presumably in the form of 50 of the 2-megaton bombs mentioned in the first paragraph (though that's not specified with 100% certainty):

Perhaps the greatest surprise in our work was that even small nuclear wars can have devastating climatic effects. We considered a war in which a mere 100 megatons were exploded, less than one percent of the world arsenals, and only in low-yield airbursts over cities. This scenario, we found, would ignite thousands of fires, and the smoke from these fires alone would be enough to generate an epoch of cold and dark almost as severe as in the 5000 megaton case. The threshold for what Richard Turco has called The Nuclear Winter is very low.

Wong also claims that the TTAPS study has been debunked, a unique view of the history of the idea.  If anything, it's been enhanced and refined.   Further, in 2006 researchers stated that even a limited regional nuclear exchange, featuring 100 individual 15-kiloton bombs (a total of only 1.5 megatons) creating urban firestorms, could produce a decade of several-degree-cooler temperatures, wrecking much of civilization due to a sudden difficulty in sustaining crop yields.

However, Wong calls his own counter-statements "absolute proof that Sarli is an ignorant moron".  


B.  Additional Counter-Evidence

Also probably an absolutely "ignorant moron" according to Wong is TFN and WotC poster "Thrawn McEwok", who posted the following:

2.) Coruscant and the Core Worlds describes the bombardment of Caamas without reference to crust-melting: a "firestorm decimated all vegetation and animals and most of the sentient Caamasi", leading to ecological and climatological collapse: a lack of plant-life to convert oxygen or provide food killed off surviving animals, and "Immense clouds of soot and smoke" rendered the atmosphere toxic to most sentients, requiring "a breathing mask for any sustained activity". The lack of vegetation led to widespread erosion and dust-storms, and "even the oceans have become polluted from run-off".

The actual devastation seems somewhat less absolute than some people were assuming - but no less devastating, in many respects.

Seems the EU authors that the fanatics are so quick to attack understood firestorms and nuclear winter better than they do.   Incidentally, I, Jedi also supports that view:

Well back before I was born, right after the Clone Wars, the
world of Caamas was brutally attacked and hit with enough
firepower that the vegetation boiled off the world, leaving it a
dead rock, and the vast majority of the Caamasi dead with it.

Now, back to McEwok:


4.) The planned BDZ at Nar Shadda in The Hutt Gambit involves a surface landing: Han's POV is that "even droids were to be captured or destroyed." (my italics); and Soontir Fel reflects on what the operation would entail: "they'd have to send down shuttles and ground troops to mop up, and he, Fel, being a conscientious commander, would have to oversee that operation. Visions of smoking rubble strewn with blackened corpses filled his mind".

5.) And my favourite: infantry can carry out what's basically a local BDZ:

"The First Sun is a repulsorlift infantry regiment designed primarily to run search-and-destroy missions, which he troops of the unit jocularly refer to as SLAMs (Search, Locate, Annihilate mission). Indeed, the regiment often undertakes missions with the same objective as the "Base Delta Zero" command: the elimination of all assets of production, including factories, land, mines, fisheries, droids, and sapient beings (particularly any witnesses that may have seen atrocities being commited)."--Galaxy Guide 9: Fragments from the Rim

That Hutt Gambit example (#4 above) is part of a new claim by the fanatics.   In the novel, we get the following:

Han tensed, but made himself stay calm. He could tell Greelanx was
really tempted. "Sir, what are your orders?" he asked. "Perhaps we
can think of something that will benefit us both, and yet leave you
free of any charge of wrongdoing."

Greelanx laughed bitterly, a short, bitten-off laugh. "Hardly, young

My orders are to enter the Hutt system, execute order Base Delta Zero
upon the Smuggler's Moon, Nar Shaddaa, and then blockade Nal Hutta and
Nar Hekka until the Hutts agree to allow full customs inspections and a
complete military presence on their worlds. The Moff doesn't want to
cripple the Hutts too badly, but he wants Nar Shaddaa reduced to

Han swallowed, his mouth dry. Base Delta Zero was an order that called
for the decimation of a world--all life, all vessels, all systems--even
droids were to be captured or destroyed. His worse nightmare come

Later in the book we get the following:

The worst problem, as far as Fel was concerned, was implementing order
Base Delta Zero on Nar Shaddaa.

Fel knew that last wasn't Greelanx's fault. The Sector Moff had issued
that order. But in the admiral's place, Fel would have at least tried
to get Sam Shild to modify that instruction. The Emperor's directive
had been to shut down the smuggling operations out of Nar Shaddaa and
other smuggler nests, especially the gunrunners. The directive hadn't
included anything about razing the entire moon. Fel had had
considerable combat experience, and he knew that sentients of most
species would fight like cornered Corellian vrelts when it came to
protecting their homes and families.

There were millions of sentients on Nar Shaddaa, many of whom were only
peripherally involved with the smuggling business. Elderly sentients,
children . . . Soontir Fel grimaced.

This would be his first Imperial-ordered massacre. He'd been lucky to
avoid such an order for this long, the way things were going.

Fel would carry out his orders, but he wasn't happy about them. He
knew images of the flaming buildings would haunt him, as he gave each
order to fire. And afterward . . . they'd have to send down shuttles
and ground troops to mop up, and he, Fel, being a conscientious
commander, would have to oversee that operation.

Visions of smoking rubble strewn with blackened corpses filled his
mind, and Fel took a deep breath.

Per the above, Base Delta Zero involves reducing the smuggler's moon to rubble.  While the reformulators might wish to presume that this means reducing the entire moon to rubble, the context makes it clear that this BDZ will merely involve destroying the traces of civilization.   After all, if you're slagging a world there won't be droids to capture or ground for ground troops to land on . . . certainly no blackened corpses in the rubble of burned buildings.  The Essential Chronology suggests that Sarn Shild was authorized to turn the moon to slag, but obviously such "flavor text" hyperbole doesn't reflect the reality of the orders given or what was to be expected.

V.  Conclusion

Saxton's calculations are based on a fundamentally-flawed understanding of the Star Wars EU.   The fact that he and his SDN associates managed to get some of their beliefs into the ICS children's books was the highlight of their mindset, bringing those flaws into the EU itself.  However, the SDN Talifan have squandered that success with their behavior, and, per Traviss and Sarli, Saxton's erroneous numbers are steadily being retconned from the Star Wars EU continuity.

Saxton's assessment of Star Wars does not reflect Lucas's vision . . . and now, it's becoming clear that it doesn't even reflect Lucas Licensing's EU vision.

All that's left is apocrypha and fan fiction.

Oh, and by the way, if you take a Base Delta Zero operation for what it actually is, the destruction of the civilized areas and assets of production of a planet, you'll find a remarkable similarity to something which already existed in Star Trek, much to the Talifan's chagrin. Known as General Order 24, this order required a starship to destroy the entire civilized surface of a planet.