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In the BattleTech universe a DropShip is defined as any spaceship massing between 200 and 100,000 tons that is itself incapable of faster-than-light (FTL) travel. They essentially conduct all other aspects of space travel, including transit between planets and Jump Points and planetary landings (hence their name). For FTL interstellar movement, they dock with JumpShips by means of a Docking collar.
The mass range is given in the construction rules and reflects the fact that it is more or less impossible to build DropShips which are smaller than 200 tons or larger than 100,000 tons. Since DropShips are meant to be carried by JumpShips, a Docking collar is an implied necessity and is automatically included in the structure of any DropShip.
DropShips are the workhorse of interplanetary space travel. It is the DropShips (and occasionally their smaller cousins, the Small Craft) that move cargo and passengers between planetary surfaces, orbits, space stations and jump points. While transport is their primary role, some have been built for special purposes and act as tugs, rescue ships, fighter carriers or even designated combat DropShips. Accordingly, a wide and diverse variety of DropShip types exist.
Even though many DropShips serve as military spaceships, naval terms such as "Corvette", "Destroyer", "Cruiser" etc. are never applied to them; these are exclusively used for true WarShips, i.e. the huge Combat JumpShips that outclass DropShips by an order of magnitude (typically massing several hundred thousands or even millions of tons).
Construction and Subtypes
While DropShips often are very large for their tonnage compared to ground- and water-based combat vehicles, they reserve most of their enormous volumes for cargo. As a result, crew facilities in DropShips are usually cramped inside, featuring relatively little in the way of creature-comforts or extra space. Every possible hole or space in a DropShip has some sort of system or mechanism important to the operation and maintenance of the vessel. Most crews live in small, spartan quarters bunking four crewman or more a piece, though Star League-era DropShips, as well as some newer ones as of the late 3060s, feature comparatively spacious twin cabins. Except for passenger liners, which afford their attendants a bit more privacy, DropShips are very public places. Most military DropShips described talk of stale air and overly-cramped living conditions.
They are based around two basic hullforms, aerodyne, and spheroid (egg-shaped). Depending on their intended role, DropShips can be constructed following either of these two alternative approaches.
Spheroid (egg-shaped) DropShips use sheer thrust to vertically descend onto a planetary surface and take off in the same way. This allows them to operate independent from runways or even spaceports, making them ideal for exploring unknown planets and giving them a tactical advantage in military operations. However, their simple and versatile landing and taking off pattern comes at a great risk as there is no failsafe whatsoever. They are utterly dependent on the functionality of their powerful engines to generate lift, and a control computer to manage their unstable flight. These systems require more maintenance than on aerodyne ships, and their failure means a swift and deadly crash landing that leaves few if any survivors or salvageable parts.
Any DropShip that is not a spheroid design is considered "aerodyne" even if it is in fact incapable of atmospheric operations.
Truly aerodyne DropShips are shaped roughly similar to conventional aircraft. They are generally smaller than spheroid DropShips and cannot be bigger than 35,000 tons (the biggest known aerodyne class being the 17,400-ton Conquistador). Through their speed, they generate lift within an atmosphere which makes them easier to control. Even if the ship suffers damage or loses thrust it is often still possible to facilitate an emergency landing so that crew and cargo might survive. Aerodyne DropShips usually require runways to land and take off, making them impractical wherever runways are not readily available. Some, however, such as the Leopard, can operate from very short and/or makeshift runways, making them almost as versatile as their spheroid cousins.
Deep space DropShips
Although all DropShips are either of the spheroid or the aerodyne subtype, there is arguably a third subtype: Ships which are limited to operating in deep space for one reason or another and would be destroyed when attempting to enter an atmosphere or land on a planet, rendering the differences between aerodyne and spheroid designs irrelevant to them. Examples include the super-large Behemoth class cargo hauler, which is a spheroid design but has insufficient acceleration for planetary operations and was also described as too large and fragile to operate in gravity, and the nominally "aerodyne" (i.e. non-spheroid) Achilles and Vengeance class military DropShips which were never designed for atmospheric operations.
Classification of DropShips
In addition to their type, DropShips have mission profiles that they were originally designed for. They include the following.
- Assault - This primary military DropShip is designed for maximum firepower. Typically used for anti-aerospace fighter and anti-DropShip operations, they can be used ground assault purposes but this is rare. Some models of assault ships which carry anti-WarShip weaponry are referred to as Pocket WarShips. This type of DropShip is also known to carry limited quantities of BattleMechs, Battle Armor, Marines, and aerospace fighters; Usually just enough to provide "point-blank" defense.
- Fighter Carrier or Aerospace Carrier - Designed for carrying/supporting aerospace fighter craft operations. Though other DropShips are referred to as 'Mech Carrier, Troop Carriers, etc., a ship described as a "carrier" is understood to be a fighter carrier. These ships typically have CV (for Carrier Vessel) appended to their name, as in Leopard CV.
- Cargo Ship - Typically civilian model of ship, used for hauling bulk cargo. Some ships are fitted to transport liquids and are usually referred to as Liquid Carriers.
- 'Mech Carriers - Military type of DropShip, principally designed to carry BattleMechs into combat. They are generally modestly armed.
- Pocket WarShip - A military DropShip type based on the Assault DropShips. These ships are designed to carry Capital Missiles and sometimes Sub-Capital Weaponry. Most are typically heavily armed with standard BattleMech scale weaponry. Early versions of this ship type were known as Q-Ships. Following the Jihad, with so many nations' shipyards damaged or destroyed, many factions turned to these as the backbone of their navies.
- Q-Ship - Military conversion of a civilian vessel, typically cargo ships. First introduced by the Star League Defense Forces prior to the Star League Civil War.
- Troop Transport - Typical infantry carrying DropShip, which may have capacities of moving various size vehicles. They are normally modestly armed craft.
- Liner - Civilian DropShip design for passenger service. Normally, these ships are lightly or never armed. Rarely these ships are used as Troop Transport for infantry.
Maintenance of a DropShip usually costs more in resources in a year than the average citizen in the BattleTech universe would ever earn in several lifetimes. The chassis itself costs a large fortune to make, let alone the weapons, armor, avionics, and the powerful engines required to even lift it off the ground.
The smallest known spaceship to meet the DropShip criteria is arguably the 200-ton K-1 DropShuttle, although it is generally classified as a Small Craft instead. The largest DropShip ever constructed is the 100,000-ton Behemoth, which due to its sheer size is incapable of leaving gravity wells stronger than .6 g. The biggest DropShip that can actually leave atmosphere in standard gravity is the 52,000-ton Mammoth.
The most common military BattleMech transport classes are the Leopard (one Lance: 4 'Mechs, 2 Fighters), the Union (one Company: 12 'Mechs, 2 Fighters) and the much rarer Overlord (one Battalion: 36 'Mechs, 6 Fighters); the most common Aerospace Fighter carrier is the Leopard CV class (one Squadron: 6 Fighters).
Known DropShip classes include (sorted alphabetically):
|Achilles||4,500||2582||military||aerodyne||Designated assault ship geared for space combat; incapable of atmospheric operations.|
|Arondight||12,000||3075||military||spheroid||Designed by the Federated Suns as low-cost mass production Pocket WarShip.|
|Arcadia||3,000||3066||military||aerodyne||First exclusive ProtoMech carrier (15 ProtoMechs), small and agile.|
|Assault Triumph||8,000||3062||military||aerodyne||Assault transport (the original version was configured carry 6 'Mechs, 6 Fighters, 24 heavy vehicles, 6 Battle Armor squads) developed from the older Triumph class.|
|Aurora||1,600||3069||military||aerodyne||Typically a 'Mech carrier (4 'Mechs), but highly adaptable for a variety of roles.|
|Avenger||1,400||2816||military||aerodyne||Designated assault craft and heavy aerospace support.|
|Behemoth||100,000||2782||civilian||spheroid||Cargo carrier. Bays for 20 Small Craft.|
|Buccaneer||3,500||2708||civilian||aerodyne||Conceived as a (failed) military transport, but proved successful as a civilian cargo carrier.|
|Broadsword||1,850||2979||military||aerodyne||BattleMech transport (5 'Mechs). Designed to replace the Leopard class among the Clans.|
|Cargoking||12,500||2789||civilian||spheroid||An advanced fully automated, self-loading civilian cargo carrier developed at the end of the Star League, almost identical to Cargomaster class. After a series of lost prototypes, the design was cancelled.|
|Cargomaster||12,500||2790||military||spheroid||An advanced fully automated, self-loading military cargo carrier developed at the end of the Star League, it had slightly better fuel reserves but was otherwise identical to the Cargoking class. However due to manufacturing cost, only one prototype was built and was later dismantled.|
|Carrier||5,000||2882||military||aerodyne||Clan built heavily armed fighter carrier (10 Fighters).|
|Claymore||1,400||3054||military||aerodyne||Designated assault craft.|
|Colossus||20,000||2718||military||spheroid||Designed to move an entire combined arms regiment (36 'Mechs, 72 vehicles, 12 platoons).|
|Condor||4,500||2801||military||aerodyne||Troop transport (20 light vehicles, 12 platoons).|
|Confederate||1,860||2602||military||spheroid||Star League era 'Mech transport (4 'Mechs, 2 Fighters). Clans have refitted theirs to carry 5 'Mechs.|
|Conquistador||17,400||3063||military||aerodyne||Combined assault transport and command ship (24 'Mechs, 18 Fighters, 12 heavy vehicles, 16 platoons, 20 Battle Armor squads). Extensive command facilities. Highly automated, requires only skeleton crew. Bays and quarters can be converted into a field hospital when empty.|
|Danais||3,200||2728||civilian||spheroid||Unarmed cargo ship based on the slightly larger Union class. A popular and numerous class, being one of the few DropShip types that the Star League allowed subjugated periphery states to build themselves. The armed and upgraded blockade runner version introduced by the Taurian Concordat is known as the Trojan.|
|Dictator||9,000||2600||military||spheroid||Star League era 'Mech carrier (36 'Mechs), eventually replaced by the superior Overlord class.|
|DroST IIa||5,300||2445||military||aerodyne||Among the earliest purpose-built military designs. Used by the Terran Hegemony, the design was used ferry infantry, vehicles and some variants as Fighter Carriers.|
|Excalibur||16,000||2786||military||spheroid||Combined arms transport (12 'Mechs, 90 heavy vehicles, 12 platoons).|
|Fortress||6,000||2613||military||spheroid||Heavily armed combined arms transport (12 'Mechs, 12 heavy vehicles, 3 platoons). Noteworthy for mounting a Long Tom heavy artillery piece; capable of securing its landing zone by itself.|
|Fury||1,850||2638||military||aerodyne||Common troop transport (8 light vehicles, 4 platoons).|
|Gazelle||1,903||2531||military||aerodyne||Common tank transport (15 heavy vehicles). An upgraded version was launched in 3055.|
|Gorgon||6,800||3096||military||aerodyne||Free World League build Fighter Carrier (18 Fighters)|
|Hamilcar||3,575||3054||military||aerodyne||Specialized space assault transport (8 'Mechs, 4 Fighters).|
|Hannibal||4,850||3055||military||aerodyne||Heavily armed troop/tank transport (12 heavy vehicles, 4 platoons).|
|Hercules||7,200||3053||military||spheroid||Troop/tank transport (36 heavy vehicles, 12 platoons). Shares many components with Overlord class, making production and maintenance easier.|
|Hrothgar||military||spheroid||BattleMech carrier (one lance).|
|Interdictor||9,400||3074||military||aerodyne||The ship was noted for its high speed and multiple anti-warship armaments.|
|Intruder||3,000||2656||military||spheroid||Heavily armed assault transport (2 Fighters, 4 platoons).|
|Jumbo||14,800||2343||civilian||spheroid||Based on a Terran Hegemony design introduced in the early 25th century and the first bulk-cargo DropShips; eventually replaced as a class by the Mule.|
|K-1 DropShuttle||200||2536||military||spheroid||Passenger/cargo shuttle. Usually classed as a Small Craft, not a DropShip. Clan version known as K1-C is identical except for better armor and upgraded (though similar) weaponry.|
|Kuan Ti||2,200||3054||military||aerodyne||Designated patrol/assault craft.|
|League||military||spheroid||Star League relic; no further details known.|
|Leopard||1,720||2537||military||aerodyne||Standard BattleMech transport (4 'Mechs, 2 Fighters) since Star League era. Affectionally referred to as the "Brick". 1,800 ton upgraded version launched in 3056.|
|Leopard CV||1,720||2581||military||aerodyne||Standard fighter carrier (6 Fighters) since Star League era. Looks decidedly different from the classic Leopard, having a round fuselage. 1,800 ton upgraded version launched in 3054.|
|Lion||7,215||2595||military||spheroid||Combined arms transport (8 'Mechs, a light vehicle company and possibly unspecified numbers of infantry). Predecessor of the Union class. Essentially extinct in the Inner Sphere; all Clan Lions were modified to carry 10 'Mechs and 10 regular infantry Stars.|
|Lung Wang||2,550||3055||military||spheroid||Heavily armed raider/transport (4 'Mechs, 2 Fighters, 1 platoon).|
|Mammoth||52,000||2808||civilian||spheroid||Cargo carrier. Largest DropShip capable of planetary operations.|
|Manatee||1,900||2449||military||spheroid||First 'Mech carrier ever (4 'Mechs), designed off a freighter design of the same name. Predecessor of the Confederate class. Flawed design, discontinued soon after introduction for inadequate armor and weapons.|
|Mercer||4,500||3065||military||spheroid||Heavily armed and armored assault transport (10 'Mechs).|
|Merlin||2,500||3063||military||spheroid||Assault DropShip (2 Fighters).|
|Miraborg||9,750||3053||military||spheroid||Fighter carrier (30 Fighters). Originally named "Charybdis" during its design phase, the class was renamed in memory of Tyra Miraborg shortly before the launch of the first ship.|
|Model 96 (Elephant)||15,000||2652||military||spheroid||Star League predecessor to the Model 97 tug which was described as a refit of the Model 96 class.|
|Model 97 (Octopus)||15,000||3051||civilian||spheroid||Designated tug/rescue ship.|
|Monarch||5,000||2759||civilian||aerodyne||Standard passenger liner.|
|Mule||11,200||2737||civilian||spheroid||Common cargo carrier.|
|Nagumo||4,200||3056||military||aerodyne||Heavily armed troop transport (12 platoons).|
|Nekohono'o (Flaming Cat)||16,000||3065||military||spheroid||Powerful assault DropShip (6 fighters, 9 Small Craft, 27 Battle Armor squads), also provided to Clan Nova Cat. Ship carries a limited quantity of teleoperated capital missiles.|
|Noruff||1,900||3056||military||aerodyne||Designated assault craft. Only one prototype known to exist by 3057.|
|Okinawa||4,500||3055||military||spheroid||Fighter carrier (18 Fighters).|
|Outpost||7,000||3063||military||spheroid||Combined arms transport (5 'Mechs, 4 Fighters, 10 tanks, 1 elemental star) developed from venerable Fortress class.|
|Overlord||9,700||2762||military||spheroid||Common BattleMech transport (36 'Mechs, 6 Fighters).|
|Overlord-C||11,550||2818||military||spheroid||Fighter transport (45 'Mechs). Clan re-design of the classic Overlord class.|
|Pentagon||4,000||2623||military||spheroid||Star League era DropShip class designed as "little more than large gun platforms" for WarShip escort.|
|Princess||11,800||2657||military||spheroid||The design was known for its luxurious amenities.|
|Rose (Bara no Ryu)||16,000||3054||military||spheroid||Heavily armed freighter with advanced avionics, designed to have an inconspicuous appearance. Can carry 1 platoon of infantry and 4 Small Craft.|
|Sassanid||3,000||2875||military||spheroid||Clan Battle Armor carrier (15 Elemental Points). Based off the Intruder design.|
|Saturn||1,200||2243||military||spheroid]||Used the Terran Alliance as colonial patrol ship. It is one oldest known DropShip designs used for military purposes.|
|Seeker||3,700||2815||military||spheroid||Troop transport (64 light vehicles, 4 platoons).|
|Seleucus||2,600||3100||military||aerodyne||Early 32nd Century troop/tank transport (20 Battle Armor Squads & 12 light vehicles) utilized by the Free World League.|
|Titan||12,000||2647||military||aerodyne||Heavily armed fighter carrier (18 Fighters). Extinct in the Inner Sphere powers, but still in use with the Clans.|
|Triumph||5,600||2593||military||aerodyne||Common troop/tank transport (45 heavy vehicles, 8 light vehicles, 4 platoons). Upgraded version launched in 3057.|
|Trojan||3,200||2720||civilian||spheroid||"Blockade runner" version of the ubiquitous unarmed Danais class merchant, introduced by the Taurian Concordat. Features 2 Small Craft bays and weapons which are typically concealed to appear like a common Danais class vessel.|
|Trutzburg||6,000||3112||military||spheroid||A Combined Arms transport ship, one few made in Lyran Commonwealth in the 32nd Century. (6 fighters, 12 BattleMechs, 4 Battle Armor Squads)|
|Union||3,500||2708||military||spheroid||Standard BattleMech transport (12 'Mechs, 2 Fighters). Iconic DropShip class.|
|Union-C||4,700||2829||military||spheroid||'Mech transport (15 'Mechs). Clan re-design of the venerable Union class.|
|Vampire||400||2715||military||aerodyne||Tiny, super-fast infantry transport from the Star League era. The design became extinct during the Succession Wars.|
|Vengeance||10,000||2682||military||aerodyne||Fighter carrier (40 fighters, 3 Small Craft).|
|Vulture||3,500||2312||military||spheroid||These ships carried infantry and a limited number of light vehicles it main payload. They were known to be similar to what became the Seeker class that was based on the Vulture.|
- Technical Readout: 3026 Revised, p. 116: Production of the CargoMaster was cancelled in the midst of the 1st Succession War; no more than 1 prototype was constructed.