Corporal O’Moore didn’t know what the Dracs were thinking. Wave after wave of aerospace fighters fell to his RFL-3N Rifleman‘s paired Imperator Autocannons and Magna Mk. III Large Lasers, many before they could even fire a salvo or release their bomb payloads. His Rifleman‘s Garret D2J–still state of the art even after half a century of warfare–continue to work like a dream, swatting down Kuritan Sabres like flies.
It was enough to make O’Moore forget he and the rest of the First Clovis Guards were desperately trying to defend their home. But it only lasted for a few moments.
“They’ve broken through!” came the panicked voice of Major Yasser over the unit-wide comms. “First and second battalions fall back to waypoint Charlie. Third battalion, we need you to defend the logistics corps until they can pull out.”
Third battalion. That was O’Moore’s unit. He took his eyes off his Rifleman’s scope for a moment to bring up his external cameras. Soldiers were all rushing to vehicles being loaded with munitions, desperate to pack as much as they could before the Kurita forces arrived.
It didn’t take long. Not two minutes after the last of the Sabres fell to O’Moore’s guns did the first Drac ‘Mech appear on sensors. A Panther, of course–you couldn’t spit without hitting a Panther in the DCMS. But its particle projection cannon still made it dangerous.
O’Moore’s targeting computer easily picked out the 35-ton ‘Mech as it confidently stomped into range. At 600 meters, he squeezed both triggers, sending twin bursts of tracers that stitched explosions up the Panther’s chest. He followed up with both his heavy lasers that melted more armor over the light ‘Mechs left arm and right leg. The machine staggered under the sudden loss of so much armor, but managed to fire its PPC in response, missing O’Moore’s Rifleman wide.
Another salvo should take it out, O’Moore thought. Once again he depressed both triggers, but this time the paired autocannons that made up the Rifleman’s arms were silent. His internal diagnostics reported his ammo bins had run dry firing at the Sabres earlier. And with his ammo being whisked away on the beds of his regiments’ logistics craft, they wouldn’t be refilled anytime soon.
Instead, O’Moore fired his heavy lasers again. One struck the left arm again, shearing it off at the shoulder. The other hit the Panther dead center, opening a smoking wound that made the machine’s heat signature spike on O’Moore’s screen. An engine hit. No doubt that Panther’s cockpit was a sauna for its pilot.
And no less hot for me, he noted as a fresh wave of heat caused O’Moore’s cooling jacket to kick into overdrive. His Rifleman’s heatsinks weren’t designed to dissipate repeated firings of his large lasers, so he’d be down to just his Magna Mk. IIs. That’d be enough to finish the Panther off.
Just then, O’Moore’s radar pinged with another signature–this time a Dragon. Its own Imperator-A struck him in the shoulder, while a flight or LRMs rang deafening explosions just outside his cockpit’s glass. Slapping the override button, O’Moore fired at the new threat with everything he had, desperately trying to convince the Drac to find a new target.
Alarms were blaring and his cockpit was hotter than an active volcano, but O’Moore knew there was no escape. The Dragon could just run him down, and besides, the Rifleman’s heat burden made it feel like it was trying to move through molasses.
The Dragon’s pilot was smart. Rather than engage in a slugfest, it began maneuvering to O’Moore’s right, threatening the truck convoy that was making its escape. He turned with it, slowly, trying to breathe air hotter than the sun while deciding if he could survive firing even a single laser just one more time.
He never got the chance. The Dragon suddenly pivoted and before O’Moore could react, it was in his rear arc. The Rifleman’s paper-thin rear armor couldn’t hold up to a stiff breeze let alone a full brace of autocannon, missile, and laser fire. His only consolation, as a flash of light signaled his Rifleman’s fusion engine losing containment, was that at least the Drac pilot was blowing him away rather than the retreating convoy of First Clovis Guardsmen.
The Rifleman is an exceptional ‘Mech. Exceptional in that the only reason why the Rifleman remains popular is because every attempt to replace it has somehow miraculously managed to be worse. This gave the Rifleman‘s engineers centuries to come up with better, more combat-viable variants. However, while the RFL-3N Rifleman is perhaps the most popular and numerous variant, it remains one of the worst heavy ‘Mechs ever designed, so cripplingly handicapped by a lack of ammunition, armor protection, and heat capacity that it’s only useful for guard duty in rear supply lines or in one-on-one gladiatorial combat where the pilot won’t have to gauge heat spikes beyond a single opponent.
Getting to the RFL-3N will actually take more than two centuries of failure. The initial RFL-1N was first designed in 2505 by Kallon Industries as a medium fire-support unit. As one of the earliest ‘Mechs ever made, one can forgive Kallon for some missteps. The RFL-1N suffered from chronic overheating owing to its all-energy payload and criminal lack of heatsinks. Over fifty years later, Kallon would improve upon the 50-ton ‘Mech in the RFL-2N, upgrading its primitive components to open up payload capacity to replace the 1N’s large lasers with twin PPCs and add two additional medium lasers as well as six additional heat sinks. Although a marked improvement, the RFL-2N still suffered from the original’s dismal overheating issues.
It wasn’t until 2770 that Kallon introduced the RFL-3N during the Amaris Civil War. Intended for long-range fire support and anti-aircraft work, the Rifleman RFL-3N was ten tons larger than its forebears. It used that additional weight to mount an Imperator-A AC/5 and a Magna Mk. III Large Laser in each arm. A pair of Magna Mk. II Medium Lasers offered the RFL-3N additional defense should it lose any of its main weapons, but its paltry 10 heatsinks made it impossible to continuously fire its energy weapons without suffering massive heat spikes.
What made matters worse for the RFL-3N was its equally paltry ton of AC/5 ammunition shared between both cannons. This offered pilots just ten shots before needing to resupply. Combined with its inadequate heat-sinking and mere seven-and-a-half tons of armor, the RFL-3N is completely unable to perform in sustained engagements.
Scholars will argue that the Rifleman was never intended to serve as a front-line heavy ‘Mech. In its intended role of defending supply lines from marauding air assets and the occasional light scout, the Rifleman excelled. Its Garret D2J targeting-tracking system–a system so potently accurate that it remains in production to this day–allowed the Rifleman to easily swat down incoming aerospace assets and deter lighter ‘Mech elements from a safe distance.
However, as the Succession Wars wore on, House militaries pressed more specialized ‘Mechs into roles for which they were never intended. The Rifleman increasingly saw postings to front-line regiments where its lack of armor (especially in the rear arc), ammo, and heat capacity were a liability.
Despite this, the Rifleman remained popular with MechWarriors thanks to its menacing silhouette, its impressive firepower, and its unique ability to swing its arms 360-degrees in order to engage opponents attempting to approach the ‘Mech from behind. This tactic was made famous by Solaris champion Gray Noton, whose custom Rifleman, Legend-Killer, ended the career of more than one promising competitor who thought they’d managed to get the drop on Noton.
Before the ultimate dissolution of the Star League, two replacements emerged for the Rifleman. Kallon introduced the JagerMech in 2774 intended to replace the Rifleman in the anti-air role, while Technicron Manufacturing brought the Quickdraw to market in 2779 as a front-line heavy ‘Mech. Neither ‘Mech succeeded in replacing the Rifleman in either role, with both machines instead serving alongside Riflemans in various militaries across the Inner Sphere.
The RFL-3N would exist for over two centuries before finally seeing significant improvement. The RFL-3C, introduced by Davion engineers in 3026, replaced the twin AC/5s and large lasers with paired AC/10s and an additional two medium lasers as well as an extra ton of armor and autocannon ammo. This variant finally fixed the Rifleman‘s heat problems, although its ammo remained limited. Eight-and-half tons of armor was also still regarded as insufficient for a 60-ton ‘Mech.
The Gray Death Memory Core offered enhanced technology as the solution to the Rifleman‘s problems. Double heatsinks (including two more) effectively solved its heat issues, while an additional ton of armor mitigated some of the ‘Mech’s protection problems. One issue that was made even worse was its singleton ammo bin, which was tasked with feeding two ammo-hungry Ultra AC/5s capable of exhausting that bin twice as fast.
It wasn’t until the Civil War era that the Inner Sphere saw a Rifleman that was truly capable of extended firefights. The RFL-8D saw Vicore Industries remove the Rifleman 5M’s armament in favor of twin Mydron Model RC rotary autocannon/5s fed by a staggering six tons of ammunition. Double heatsinks and a pair of ER medium lasers kept the ‘Mech cool, and 12 tons of armor kept it well protected too. Jump jets provided the Rifleman with an all-new feature for the chassis, and the same Garret targeting computer continued to direct its new armaments at any foe unwise enough to approach.
Curiously, it wasn’t merely Inner Sphere armies that saw the future potential of the Rifleman. Alexander Kerensky’s SLDF had several Riflemans amongst its regiments, eventually leading clan engineers to upgrade the design. The Rifleman IIC leans into its anti-aircraft role by pairing four large pulse lasers with an Active Probe. Even with five additional tons added to the chassis, the Rifleman IIC is curiously slower than the RFL-3N, although it does mount three jump jets to better position the ‘Mech to address incoming forces. Eleven tons of ferro-fibrous armor keep the ‘Mech protected and 19 nineteen double heatsinks keep the pilot relatively cool, although they can eventually be overwhelmed by repeated alpha strikes.
Both the Inner Sphere and the Clans have so many different variants of this venerable design that the chassis requires its own encyclopedia to identify them all. One could attribute the Rifleman‘s success to the business acumen of Kallon Industries, who spread production of the ‘Mech across multiple facilities in multiple House nations to ensure the design survived the Succession Wars. Kallon also licensed the design heavily, allowing other manufacturers to make their own variants using common parts. This kept the Rifleman fighting even as so many of its contemporaries faded into obscurity.
But let’s not forget that it took centuries for iterations of the Rifleman to eventually raise the chassis to its fullest potential. And while the Rifleman remains in service with militaries, mercenaries, and even Solaris gladiators, the most popular machine isn’t always the most potent.
And as always, MechWarriors: Stay Syrupy.