Already Ready Already Colony Program
The Already Ready Already Colony, or ARAC Program for short, was a joint venture between the Alliance and the Gudersnipe Foundation. The Alliance refers to the program as Project Mike, and the Foundation used the code-name "Project Pop-Top". The project consisted of building pre-fabricated bases and placing them in areas the Kamians were not likely to suspect.
Early in the Succession Wars the Kami had established a pattern. Whenever a solar system fell, they would evaluate it for strategic value. If it was strategically useful or had valuable resources, they would fortify the solar system and occupy any habitable worlds. If there was no value to the system, they would render any habitable worlds uninhabitable (regardless of the local population), thus rendering them unusable by the enemy.
The Coalition forces were in dire need of bases for operation. Supply depots, repair facilities, any number of things. The Alliance was especially so: as most of the UESAF ships had very short endurance, forward supply bases were vital to their ability to participate in the war effort.
The concept was originally conceived by the Alliance and brought to the Foundation, whom they believed possessed the technology necessary to make it work. The Foundation, however, could not spare the resources, and instead helped the Alliance develop alternative technologies on their own, and aided with logistical support. Most of the work on the true ARACs was done by Alliance citizens, aided by the industrial might of the Foundation.
The Alliance named the project after a type of instant meal, whose ad. campaign made light of how easy it was to prepare. The Foundation made a similar decision, instead substituting easily opened cans. It was both a reference to easily prepared foods and a jab at the bases themselves, which were highly vulnerable to attack. The Foundation did use the fully Alliance name on most documentation, since it translated awkwardly and frustratingly into Kamian.
The basic idea was to build a fully pre-fabricated base that could be towed to a strategic position, used for a time, and moved again as the war effort demanded. The Alliance had proposed building space stations, but the Foundation felt that surface bases would be considerably more valuable.
The Kamians felt they were denying the enemy strategic positions by destroying habitable worlds. With nowhere to build a surface base, they reasoned, the enemy would leave the solar system alone. The Foundation countered by proposing 'Pop Top' surface bases anyway, but in places the Kamians would never suspect, such as asteroids, small planets, and moons.
The bases themselves were surprisingly cheap to construct, and did not require many materials that were in high demand during the war. Re-enforced concrete, cheap steel, even some wood was used in the construction of very large habitats. These could actually be built deep inside Alliance territory, on planetary surfaces, using easily trained labor forces. Building them was, by and large, not much different from constructing a parking garage or hydro electric dam; it was not entirely a "simple" task, but it could be done, and it could be done for a fraction of the cost of construction in space.
Once complete, Foundation ships would arrive for the heavy lifting. Moving a structure that weighs several million tons off a planet surface is not a simple matter. In fact, getting it out of the gravity well of a normal, habitable world, is generally regarded as impossible.
Unless you have a terraforming ship.
WorldCraft had moved its main terraforming fleet as far from the fighting as possible (In fact, the fleet was even part of a backup plan being put into place by the Foundation to simply cut losses and relocate to an unexplored region beyond the Kamian reach). However, nine of the original Golden Age-era ships were still operational (despite being nearly five thousand years old), and were much more than equal to the task (Alliance engineers were very concerned about weight on the first ARAC, being completely terrified at the Foundation instructions to make everything stronger and thicker than needed. When the time came, the terraforming ship had no difficulty whatsoever in lofting the massive colony into orbit).
Of course, even at five thousand years of age, the old terraforming ships were far too valuable to risk taking anywhere near the front lines. Fortunately, once in space, an ARAC was easily manageable. It still took multiple Crimson Blade capitol-class ships to bring one under an FTL tow, so each ARAC deployment called for around eight battle groups. (After the first, each ARAC came pre-loaded with supplies, making them "ready" from touchdown)
Typically, most outer solar systems are considered no-man's-land, sparsely defended and seldom visited. The "ideal" location for ARAC deployment was on rocky moons orbiting gas or ice giants in the outer system. Small planets or asteroids, if sufficiently rocky, were also acceptable. A few were even placed on rogue planets. Nebulae were favored if available, since they provided additional cover.
The ideal site was in a solar system that previously had no habitable worlds. Someplace that, since the Kamians did not see any value at all, was unlikely to even be charted.
No ARAC was ever deployed on a place with a breathable atmosphere, and the majority were surrounded by hard vacuum.
Generally, each ARAC built back on Alliance soil was a large cylinder or hexagon. Each base would usually include at least three of them, though most used at least five and some as many as ten. The bottoms of deep craters were considered the best location. Once a sight was chosen, the orbiting ships would use energy weapons and even occasionally missiles to roughly level a site.
Although the area was much too large to effectively grade, a cursory geologic survey was also necessary to ensure the ARAC would at least sit level on the site. One base had almost a two degree tilt, which the crew manning it never stopped complaining about.
It took every large vessel in the deployment fleet working together to place a single ARAC on the surface. The massive structure would be unmanned during its descent, and all ships involved would use tractor beams to gently "lower" the structure. Surprisingly, despite the huge loads, the landings were always. ARACs had artificial gravity but no inertial dampers, so a popular game for the final inspection crews were to balance as many things as they could all over the station, then see what fell down once they arrived on the surface.
Each ARAC could function on its own, with full life support and hangars for delivering supplies to orbiting ships. Once all ARACs were in place, a base could actually begin operations immediately, the first inventory of supplies was already on hand. Still, tunnels would be constructed connecting the bases, and orbital elevators if possible. If an ARAC were thought to likely have a long operational lifespan, tunnels would be dug beneath it to expand the base into the planetary body. For this purpose, the Foundation supplied nuclear-powered tunnel boring machines with plasma cutting heads. While not safe to be ANYWHERE NEAR during operation, these could melt the sides of a tunnel to make pressurization much easier and compress the materials outward so that no waste had to be removed. Such devices had been perfected centuries earlier, but were not considered safe for use on terrestrial planets. Fortunately, such concerns are not an issue on lifeless rocks.
Under Project Pop-Top, the Foundation also constructed FTL-capable stardocks and space stations. Since the mass of these contraptions were ultimately determined by the available size of FTL-drives, most were assembled out of modules like old-fashioned low-orbit space stations. In most cases, the FTL drives were removed after deployment and returned to the factory to be fitted to ships. Plans were drawn up to construct mass drivers, ships that were essentially just FTL drives with bridges, that could deliver station modules.
In some rare cases, the stations were even constructed in inter-stellar space, in direct violation of standard Foundation policy. This of course left the stations very vulnerable, but navigation challenges in reaching a specific point in the void were helpful in defending them.
The Foundation did not share it's FTL-capable space stations with the Alliance and kept their existence secret through most of the war. Very little information has been made public on the subject.