28 October 2012

FWS Topics: Troop Transports

One of my pet peeves about military science fiction works is the lack of conformity when it comes to terminology. Quick umbrella terms, like blaster, are often the best way for the writer to communicate to the reader without eating up page after page. Chief among the muddled terms is the ship-to-shore troop transports/landing craft that are a cross between the modern helicopter transport and the gunships. Words like jumpship, jumpshuttle, assault shuttles, gunships, dropships, and tactical transports get flung around often talking about the same thing: trans-atmospheric assault VTOL vehicle can haul troops and light vehicles into the battlezone, with supportive firepower.
Transporting troops and vehicles from point A to point B has always been a critical consideration for warfare and how technological advancement change the face of war. In the future warfare situations, point A and point B may be separated by lightyears, making transportation matters much more complex. Over the next few weeks, FWS will detail future war-vehicle over several blogposts to straight out the confusion. Here is the blogpost on all manner troop transports, from jumpships, jumpshuttles, dropships, and tactical transports. By the way, the next FWS blogpost will be a video game review of Medal of Honor: Warfighter and will be coming in two weeks.

Real-World Troop Transportation: Past, Present, and Future
For much of the history of warfare, the lucky soldiers traveled between battlefields on horse or animal pulled-carted, but the majority, used their feet. Marches to the battlefield were measured in days, and this travel time caused exhaustion, decrease in supplies, and wear and tear on equipment, as well as the soldiers themselves. The slow progress of troop movements in the old days of war are often attributed to extending the length of the conflict, and causing wars to grind to a halt during winters when roads became impassible.
When trains were developed in the 19th century, generals had a faster way to move soldiers and supplies to the front...if they had tracks running that direction. During the American Civil War, the North used their industrial rail infrastructure to speed up the transport of supplies and troops to the front. During the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871, more than 400,000 Prussian soldiers were rapidly deployed to the front using the extensive German railroad network, outstripping the French's ability to send about 200,000. Weapons being mounted to armored trains were seen in the 2nd Boer War, when Boer guerrillas attacked the British rail network to disrupt British military movement around the vast South African frontier during the insurrection. This fueled the British to armed and armor their trains, along with stationing troops in the so-called 'rifle cars'. These two conflicts demonstrated the rapid progress of the industrialization on mobile in warfare, however, trains were still bound to the tracks, making for still limited troop transportation.
It was not until the First World War that first generation military trucks transported supplies and soldiers to the front, aiding in rapid transport. These vehicles were limited by the small engines that could not haul the weight loads nor navigate the grueling road conditions. The massive movement of troops on the battlefield were still via rail or their feet. However, that changed in the Second World War, when vehicles like the GMC CCKW truck and the iconic Willys MB 'Jeep' had both the off-road ability coupled with large enough engines for true mobile troop transport.
Also transported soldiers to the new modern battlefield, or dropping them in rather, were aircraft like the C-47 plane that altered the battlelines, were enemy soldiers could be behind your lines, wrecking havoc. Rapid deployment was also coming in from the seas in the form of landing craft, like the Higgins Boats. All of these factors added up to a more rapid war, where soldiers could cross distances that would have taken weeks, in days, and attack from new fronts, the sky, and sea. By the Korean War, a new aerial vehicle was pioneering air assault doctrine of modern warfare: the helicopter. By the mid-1950's, helicopters have evolved pass their tiny insect phase to vehicles that could transport troops to the battlefield and exfil them out. The first combat use of helicopters in an air assault operation was Operation: Musketeer in 1956 during the Suez Canal Crisis, when British Commandos landed via helicopters during a seaborne operation.
By the time of the American Vietnam War, the doctrine of air assault was greatly enhanced by the UH-1 'Huey' armed helicopter that allowed a great deal of flexible in deploying soldiers to the extremely hostile environment of Vietnam and getting them out. This altered the focus away from trucks, jeeps, and APCs, to feet and helicopter in getting the troops to the fight. Due to the experience of the Americans and her allies, air assault tactics became a focus of military organizations around the global, causing the near-end of massive paratrooper drops. Along with the helicopter, armored personnel carriers (APC) and infantry fighting vehicles (IFV) were developed for taking infantry along with the mechanized tank platoon common in the modern doctrine of rapid armored warfare.
This was a tactical was born out of the armored combat that might break if the Warsaw Pact came over the East German border, and some of this type of troop transport was used during the First Gulf War, but given the heat, APC/IFV were not the first choice. During the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the bulk of US and Allied troops were sent to the front via Humvee, Toyota Hilux trucks, and transport helicopters like the UH-60 Blackhawk or even the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor, rather than the heavy armored vehicles. It was during the conflict in Iraq that a new wheeled armored troop transport, crossed with some of the tactical capability of a main battle tank was introduced: the IAV Stryker. This seems to be the future of ground troop transport system, either armored transport vehicles with heavy weapons, or the next-generation of light military utility vehicle that will replace the Humvee.
When it comes to the future of troop battlefield transport, there will the next-generation of tilt-rotors, helicopters, and even the possibility of ducted-fan vehicles, but they will be close to what we see today. DRAPA and the US Air Force are exploring the SUSTAIN or Small Unit Space Transport and Insertion program. Using a military space plane, similar to Burt Rutan's Space Ship One design, to drop an elite combat team of twenty into hot-spots around the global within two hours notice.

Defining the Terms: Assault Shuttles, Jumpships, Jumpshuttles, Tactical-Transports

Assault (Attack) Shuttle
Basically, the assault shuttle is a trans-atmospheric armed shuttle craft, that is more at home in space than in-atmosphere. These could be a normal fleet shuttle model that could be armed in case the need arises. The Imperial shuttle from Return of the Jedi or the Danube class Runabout from the Star Trek universe are prime exmaples.




Dropships
This is one of the terms that gets thrown around sci-fi works, and blankets everything from the Pelican from HALO to the massive spherical landing vessels from the Battletech universe. To me, the term dropship is dual use. It could be used to describe the capability of a military vehicle, being drop-capability for example, or used to label a specific type of ship-to-shore craft. A true-blue dropship is closer to the Battletech example. Trans-atmospheric heavy-landing craft designed to delivery a greater number of infantry or even armored vehicles, like mechs. FWS will cover this type of mislabeled sci-fi vehicle in a full blogpost in the near future.

Jumpship

Jumpship is another ambiguous term that defines either multirole, VTOL equipped military trans-atmospheric vehicle or even FTL capable starships, particularly  in the Battletech universe. I first ran across this term when I watched Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, when these 1980's soldiers were talking about their larger aero-vehicle that was their mobile base-of-operations. Then I would read the term in the NOW Comics Terminator series in issue #1 when the resistance were talking a larger Skynet craft than the typical aerial HK. To me, a jumpship is military utility endo/exo atmospheric craft that unlike shuttecraft, are designed for a variety military missions. The Pelican from HALO or the Raptor from BSG could be considered a jumpship.

Jumpshuttle
This one is a little harder, jumpshuttle is not a common term in the realm of science fiction, and I must have picked it up during my days playing Traveller or some other 1980's MSF RPG game. I think of a jumpshuttle as a craft that primarily goes from ship-to-shore and back again with the aid of some sort of VTOL system, and is a military grade vessel, but not often used for combat missions. This could be a craft that a military starship carries just in case the balloon goes up. The Valkyrie from AVATAR could be the closest thing I've ever seen to a jumpshuttle on-screen along with the Eagle from Space:1999. 

Drop Module
In my book, Endangered Species, the American armored power suit teams are deployed dirt-side in glorified military-grade cargo drop modules. This are the least favorite option among APS soldiers for getting down planet-side, due to the lack of maneuverable, rudimentary AI pilot software, and limited counter-measures. They are normal used for dropping non-critical supplies, and ground vehicles that are broken down. Given their cheap costs, drop modules are non-recoverable vehicles that are often stripped of metal for local resources.


Tactical Transport or the Aerial Armored Personnel Carrier (A/APC)
Being the strangle child I was, I created vast and complex Lego future military organizations. After watching the Vietnam War documentary, Vietnam: the ten thousand day war, I witnessed the power of rapid transport to and off of the battlefield, and so I coined the term 'flying APCs' back then to describe the marriage between an M113 and Huey helicopter. I upgraded the term in high school, to the 'Aerial Armored Personnel Carrier' or A/APC or even endo/exo armed troop carrier. In the pages of the Battletech Technical Readout of 3057, they have the 'tactical transports' that fulfill the same role. Then when I first saw the ISSAPC from Space: Above and Beyond, I realize I wasn't the only one who had thought of the concert.
These tactical transports would be the equal to combat helicopters that primary role of shuttling infantry during planet-side combat operations. Unlike gunships, which are primarily designed to provide CAS to ground units, the A/APC is designed to get troops into the battlezone with limited defensive/offensive armaments, like the M113 APC or the M2 Bradley IFV. These futuristic aero-vehicles would use some sort of VTOL system, often in sci-fi, is some- sort of thruster system, like the Pelican. In my last flash-fiction, The Empty Places, the colonial military used Anti-Gravity armored aero-vehicles called 'Hoppers', which were A/APCs.

So, What the Hell is the Pelican and the Cheyenne?
The simple answer is the tactical transport. The longer answer is: utility drop-capable endo/exo atmospheric tactical troop transport. These craft are used in a similar to the way people use their pickup trucks here in Texas and Afghanistan, for every-frakking-thing.







The Challenges of Endo/Exo Atmospheric Military Vehicles
Given the nature of hard science starships, they will not be able to land within a gravity well  (Sorry Star Trek Voyager and Prometheus) making the need for embanking craft critical for any planetary combat operation. Now, getting down to dirtside is easy, human space exploration has been during this since Yuri Gagarin, but it is getting back starside that create the challenges of an dual atmospheric military vehicle. For years, science fiction has glossed over these issues, presenting us with an imaginary future were space fighters zoom in and out of the planetary combat theater back into space with the easy of merging into the freeway, but that is anything but the hard truth. There are the major issues of fielding these types of futuristic space vehicles:

Single-Stage-to-Orbit (SSTO)
Launching a space vehicle from the surface of the Earth to low Earth orbit (LEO) without the cumbersome and expensive booster rockets is the goal of single-stage-to-orbit (SSTO) spacecraft. Today, launching any space vehicle takes weeks to prepare, fuel, and transport the booster rockets to the launch pad, then marry the rocket to the space vehicle. This would not be a workable situation for troop transports on exo-planetary battlefields, let alone the vast and complex launch complex needed on every single world. To make the vision of military science fiction happen, there needs to be SSTO.
One of the main problems is dual-use single-fuel sources that would feed both the endo and exo atmospheric needs, or else, the vehicle would need two engines and two fuel sources, adding weight and complexity. This is because no air-breath engine can achieve break away velocity, and then operate in the exo-atmosphere. To solve this problem with the space plane vehicles, like the Space Shuttle, Space Ship One, and the rumored Aurora military space vehicle use a booster vehicle to get them airborne, then the space vehicle seperates and launches via a rocket motor. That will not work for a Cheyenne like troop transport.
Some options for non-rocket or engine launches are to use magnetic launchers, firing the space vehicle like a railgun kinetic round or MagLev (StarTram) sled launching system. However, these would require a massive complex and power generation needs to launch one returning troop transport, and for an operation to hoist the space vehicle on the magnetic launcher. Others, point to the ramrocket engine, a hybrid between the chemical rocket and the ramjet engine that The UD-4L Cheyenne dropship from ALIENS is a good example.
The only successful use of SSTO happened during the Apollo program. The LEM modules on the Lunar surface used their booster rocket to dock with the command capsule in orbit. This was made much easier for the booster by the lower lunar gravity of course.

Vertical-Takeoff-and-Landing (VTOL)
VTOL military craft range from the helicopter, to the tilt-rotor, to the modern day F35B JSF, and this element would be a critical element for any tactical transport. According  to most MSF works that feature tactical transports, they can hover like the helicopter, launch back into LSO like a rocket, and fly in-atmosphere like a conventional plane.
To achieve several of these requirements, the craft would require a highly advanced VTOL system would be capable of lifting the endo/exo space vehicle to attitude for it's main thrusters to kick on, to hover, and land vertically on a LZ, deposit the space marines, then take-off again, all on a world similar to Terran normal gravity. Preventing this technologically marvel are three issues: weight, fuel, and heat.
The F35B S/VTOL uses a centrally mounted lift-fan, coupled with thrust vectoring nozzle. All of that to lift a one-pilot strike fighter that weights in around 14.5 tons, while the empty US Space Shuttle Orbiter weights in at 29.25 tons, and the UD-4L Cheyenne dropship is at around 20.52 tons, loaded (couldn't find empty weight). To lift our tactical transport would require several huge turbines to get that mass of the ground, let alone up to several thousands feet above the ground, which gobbles up fuel.
The British Harrier and F35 JSF use a massive amount of fuel to achieve their limited VTOL. To operate in the way sci-fi projects, their fuel thirst would be incredible  along with the added weight of the require fuel.  With the operation of thrusters or lift-fan, there will be thermal build-up. This limits the time that a Pelican or Cheyenne can hover, lessening the time it has to land on the deck or get off-world. It is doubtful that a spacecraft could use it's VTOL system all the hell up to the attitude needed before the heat build-up shut down the engines...or the fuel would give out...or the gross loaded weight of the spacecraft would be too much to lift against a normal Terran gravity world.
The solution? Weight could be saved via carbon nanotube construction and other next-generation lightweight material. Thruster could be handled by a fusion rocket motor, and some of the hydrogen fuel could be gathered via Scramscoop jets, similar to what the Valkyrie shuttle from AVATAR uses. Of course, if the Grey Alien UFOs can do it, than so could we...right?


Thermal Protection
None of us need a reminder of the dangers of atmospheric entry by a spacecraft since the tragic loss of OV-102 'Columbia' and her brave crew on February 1, 2003. We have to remember that any future military landing craft will be under fire, and any damage to the thermal protection could maroon the vehicle to on-planet until repaired. If any (un)lucky strike impacts the thermal protection during reentry, the entire spacecraft could be lost. Any enemy force defending their world from incoming war-shuttles, could use fragment explosive ring missile to pepper these dropships with a hail of metal, dooming them in reentry.
When it comes to current thermal protection for reentry, there are options beside the old style heat titles. The Space Ship One uses graphite-epoxy composite for most of the sections, while the hotter sections use a trowel-on ablative thermal protection layer to less cost and time for turn-around. While the recent Martian Science Laboratory used the Super Lightweight Ablative-56IV by Lockheed Martin. Phenolic Impregnated Carbon Ablator (PICA) is a low density material used in the Stardust probe that was designed to descent back to Earth in 2006. For the Deep Speed 2 Mars impactor probes, silicone impregnated resusable ceramic ablator material was shaped into a cone for the aeroshell, and is one of the only materials on this list that can be manufactured into shapes. Another system is the inflatable heat reentry shield  made out of layers of silicone Kevlar fabric, and future military space vehicle could have more than one of these in case of weapons damage.

Atmospheric Entry 

Besides the risks of a failed thermal shield mentioned above, reentry causes communications blackout due to ionized air for a period of about three to four minutes. During the landing of Mars Rover Curiosity, it was seven minutes of terror until touchdown on Maritain desert. This would be worst for any marines riding down in their APC. Their landing craft's thermal protection would be beaming from the 1500 degrees Celsius to every Tripe-A battery on the defending planet, making them an easy target. If there is incoming, the flight crew wouldn't know anything about, they are dropping blind and dumb. Under the ionized air blackout, the sensors and communication gear are off-line, and their first hint they are taking fire could be when their hull is breached. Not fun.

Some Assembly Required
To avoid some of the issues mentioned above, a future military could just use drop modules and be done with it, and pack endo-atmospheric into drop-crates. In my own more hard-science novels, there is only one dual atmospheric vehicle, and is was very expensive, and not really rated for combat, but used for recon. The bulk of combat endo-atmospheric troop transport or gunships, had to dropped down from the mothership in pieces, then reassembled at a secure location, making securing a planetary DZ critical for combat operations. Given the nature of trans-atmospheric combat vehicles, this could be the method of delivery the goods on-planet.


What about the Gunships?
Much like the term dropship, gunship is an overused to label various futuristic war vehicles, even I've been guilt of using this term for the wrong vehicle. Gunships are classically small, agile heavily armed close-air support aero-vehicles, like the AH-1 Cobra, or the AC-130. In the futuristic setting, gunships and tactical transport are often often mixed up in fictional works, where heavily armed transport vehicles are used in both roles, the Pelican from HALO for example. FWS will be covering this type of vehicle in a full blogpost with the helicopters and tilt-rotors as well.

What about the Troop Transport Starships?
One must consider the interstellar vehicle that will transport the space marines and their landing craft to the distant battlefield...but just not here. FWS will be exploring this type of starship and the example of such in sci-fi in an upcoming more in-dept blogpost, and yes, there will be a mention to Starship Troopers so where in there.





What about a Space Elevator?

Some believe that the only way to have cheap and easy space travel to occur is via a space elevator. These are used in military science fiction, like HALO and Old Man's War to ferry troops and supplies to ships in orbit. For any invasion fleet expeditionary force, this would the most effective way to bring supplies and personnel up from the surface to military space stations, but what about the other way? What if a space invasion platform ship could employ a space elevator to delivery their shock troops and war-machines to the surface? A space invasion elevator, if you will. While this would be more efficient than a fleet of dropships or the risk of a mass space capsule drop. it would involve an engineering feat of technology. It would also be easy for the planetary defenders to know the exact location of your LZ, and require some sort of holding force, deployed prior to the space elevator to hold and secure the LZ. Given the scale of this construction, any planetary defenders would have no issue with locating and targeting the space invasion elevator with all manner of bombardment.

The Easy Way Out: Teleportation and Nano-factories
It is well known fact that Gene Roddenberry developed the Transporter to save money on the special effects budget for shuttlecraft landings to these strangle new worlds. Could the development of teleportation technology void the use of troop transports? Yes...if they could be developed in the real world. Dr. Michio Kaku explains that modern science can teleport a single photon about 100 miles, and within my lifetime, we could teleport something has complex as a virus. But, the issue is transporting some thing as complex has yours truly from ship to shore, who is composed of 50 trillion cells would require something on the order of millions of trillions of current technology computers to store that level of data. That level of copying of data could take millions of years to complete. It is also near impossible to break you down on a subatomic level, then rebuild you atom-by-atom until you are you, that's not even taking in account the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle! Most important, any technology, no matter how advanced, has a counter. The enemy could block or interrupt the data flow, scrambling you into the void of nothingness. Lovely.
Despite the lack of hard science possibility of human teleporators, there is the reality of nano-machine molecular assemblers, nano-factories  and 3D nano-machine pattern printing. Instead of carrying the armored vehicles, and other heavy tools of war, a warship could transmit the 3D patterns of these war-machines to an on-planet military nano factory to assemble there, and not have the expensive and time to drag them down the gravity-well then back up after the fighting is over.



Examples of Troop Transports in Sci-Fi

Valkyrie SSTO Jumpshuttle from AVATAR

According the AVATAR official guide, the RDA single-stage-to-orbit Valkyrie shuttle is one of the more critical chains in the longest highway in mankind's history. This massive shuttle, four times the size of the America Orbiter, is brought to Pandora via the RDA Capital class starships to ferry supplies and personnel down to Hell's Gate Compound, and return to GSO with returning personnel and the Unobtanium mineral. Powering this VTOL capable jumpshuttle are four fusion-powered SCRAMScoop jets engines that rotate for vertical lift-off operations, and can gather hydrogen fuel from the Pandorian atmosphere. In order to climb back to to starside, the Valkyrie uses three modes of their powerful fusion engines.
The VTOL engines get the craft off of the tarmac and upwards until the speed 130 knots or about 150 MPH, when the engines re-tilt to forward propulsion. At supersonic Mach-3 speeds, the vehicle is in full-on SCRAM Jet, and accelerates to Mach-7 for break-away speeds with the orbital fusion engines coming on-line, all without the need for booster rockets.



D77-TC Pelican Tactical Transport from the HALO universe
Much like the Cheyenne tactical transport from ALIENS, the D77-TC Pelican has become an icon of future military vehicles in science fiction because of clever and unique design. Bungie mined ALIEN and Space:Above and Beyond to forge this dual atmospheric armed troop-carrying vehicle, first appearing in 2001. In the HALO universe, the Pelican is used for all manner of work on the battlefield, from ambulance, to transport, to gunship, making it akin to UNSC version of the Toyota Tacoma pickup! It can haul 70 tons of equipment, including a Warthog via a powerful magnetic field and fifteen fully equipped marines.
Fully dual-atmospheric, the Pelican is used for space-drop missions, as well as boarding, and shuttle duties. VTOL and propulsion are handled via four thrusters, two mounted in the rear, and two on the wing assembly, all operate in a tilt-rotor fashion, allowing for VTOL and hovering.There are few troop transports in the realm of science fiction that are more iconic or designed as well to seem like a fully possible war-machine. To many fans, this flying APC is has iconic in the HALO universe has the Warthog or the Master Chief himself.


UD-4L Cheyenne Tactical Transport from ALIENS

FWS discusses ALIENS, the best MSF movie of all time, a great deal, and when it comes to futuristic troop transports, ALIENS  once again, is a leading in the field. Until the arrive of the Cheyenne, there was simple nothing like it, and it changed the way sci-fi creators looked at futuristic aero-vehicles, giving rise to the ISSCV and the Pelican just to name a few. For ten years, fans like me, had geeky questions about the UD-4L's operation, technology, and abilities until the ALIENS: Colonial Marine Technical Manual arrived in 1996. I can say, that no other dropship-like sci-fi vehicle has ever been so examined in print. Out of 249 pages of the tech manual, author Lee Brimmicombe-Wood devoted 14 pages to the Cheyenne alone spelling out every detail of the vehicle's operation, technological, and flight behavior.
It would be impossible and unethical for FWS to discuss the UD-4L in that level of detail, however here are few.
For the trans-atmospheric flight operations, two propulsion systems are used with a common fuel source, which the technical manual fails to mention what it is. The endo-atmosphere system is based on a ramjet with VTOL being handled by turbines producing 310 kilo-newtons of static trust. For the power needed to achieve escape velocity, the Cheyenne uses two ramrocket spikes deployed to the ramjet, creating a dual engine setup without much additional weight.
Some websites have criticized the fold-out arms of the Cheyenne has been a sci-fi visual gimmick and generating drag on the vehicle. However, those folding arms are another reason why Cameron is a brilliant mutha futha. Any dual atmospheric armed military vehicle will have to submit to the punishment of 1,500 degree Celsius during atmospheric entry. External weapon hardpoints on the vehicle will also be exposed to these extreme temperatures  causing munition to cook-off. The UD-4L stows its missiles in the shielded body of the air-frame  protecting them against the hellish conditions.

The Republic LAAT/i Tactical Transport from the Star Wars Prequels
FWS is hard on the Star Wars prequel films, but I will give credit were credit is due, because the first time I witnessed the badassness of the Low Altitude Assault Transport/infantry (LAAT/i) Republic gunship, I swear I got a little horny! Then I asked my wife if I could buy the toy vehicle or Lego set, she told me that she would break over my head! This one of hell of a design that is futuristic, yet pays homage to the Russian  Mi-24 Hind-D gunship in both design and function. Using the fictional anti-gravity repulsorlift technology, this tactical transport with a crew of four-to-six, can transport thirty clone-troopers to the battlefield with advanced VTOL and protect them via a host of offensive armaments. Much like a troop helicopter, the LAAT/i can insert and extract troops under extreme combat and environment conditions.
Emergency medical care can be given via a medcial droid carried onboard, making any LAAT/i a medical-evac bird. The basic design of the LAAT is used for several variants, including a heavy-lift vehicle that transports armored walkers to the battlefield from the Acclamator class assault ship.
An interesting point about the LAAT  is that it is not really a dual atmospheric, it does have limited operation in space, but cannot reach low-orbit without assistance. Eighty of the LAAT/i vehicles were folded down  to be slowed on the Republic Acclamator class Assault Ship, and deployed once on-planet.

Federation dropship from Starship Troopers films
In the original 1958 book, the Mobile Infantry in their armored power suits are dropped down via capsules from starside, and then recovered in the 'recovery boats' dirtside, has seen in the first few pages of the book during the Skinny raid. In the 1997 film, the recovery boats are a dropship like endo/exo atmospheric craft appears to be startling a cargo container. Deployed from the Corvette class transport, these serve in the Fleet and MI has both a traditional dropship, jumpship, and shuttle. Some might consider this a tactical transport, but it is not seen on-screen ferrying troopers around the planetary combat theater, and is really not armed. I say not really armed, because only once during the invasion of Klendathu did the dropship fire these wimpy looking cannons mounted near the cockpit. I assumed at the time, that these were some sort of artillery cannon designed to soften up the enemy or cover the drop...didn't really work on Klendathu.  

The United States ISSCV/APC from Space: Above and Beyond
In the 1990's live-action MSF series Space: Above and Beyond (AKA: Space 2063), the most common space vehicle seen was the Inter-Solar System Cargo Vehicle/APC (ISSCV) used by the Earth Forces. This was the Toyota Hilux truck for the Earth Forces, serving has medical EVAC, to cargo hauler, and shuttle through the Chig War. This 50 meter long craft unitized four He3 rockets, two mounted on tri-position arms while in exo-atmospheric conditions, then converted over to twin SCRAMjets for endo-atmospheric operations. To defend itself from Chigs, there were two pulse laser cannons, and cargo-module mounted 10mm Gauss cannons manned by the passengers. The interesting feature of the ISSCV was that middle cargo module section could be easily swapped or deposited on-planet for troop/cargo delivery, while the rocket sled could drive on back to home-base. These cargo modules could vary greatly, from portable MASH unit, to long-term Marine barracks, to simple cargo hauler.Given the ISSCV's modular nature, there could be a case made that the Eagle from Space:1999 was the inspiration, much like the ISSCV led to the Pelican from HALO.   

The Astro-Commando Tactical Transport/APC from Starblazers: The Comet Empire
In the second Starblazers/Space Cruiser Yamato series, the EDF Space Marines led by Sgt. Knox use one of the more usual troop transports I've seen in sci-fi: the Astro-Commando flying APC. Incorporating design elements of an APC via its tank-like continuous tracks for dirtside ground missions and the flight characteristic of tactical transport from its VTOL and rear thruster packs, the Astro-Commando was a prefect vehicle for the Space Marines of the EDF. Able to space drop, has was seen on the operation on Telezart, then delivery its forty marines with their equipment with the protection of armor and twin pulse laser cannons. With the tracks, the Astro-Commando was comfortable with conventional APC duties, allowing for a great deal of flexibility. Shame it was so ugly, though.

The ISA Intruder troop-transport from the Killzone universe
In the first few trailers for the second Killzone game, we witnessed ISA soldiers being ferried down from their cruisers in atmosphere via an insect-looking vehicle with a cargo bed on the top. This odd-looking dropship was used in the ISA invasion of Helghan to insert troops and marines from the cruisers that were parked within the atmosphere, down to the surface. After the initial drop, these vehicles were then used to ferry the wounded, fresh troops, and supplies from the cruisers down to the combat zone. Despite my love for the Killzone games, the Intruder is one shitty design for a troop transport. In the Killzone wiki article, they point out the primary design flaw of the craft, open-air cargo bed. Think about, these soldiers/marines are forced to sit on a flat-topped surface on top of the aircraft while it rapidly descents under enemy triple-A. These exposed soldiers would be peppered by the weather and any shrapnel, not to mention if they were not strapped down, they could be bucked right out of the aircraft to a nasty death. I wouldn't ride this thing into a hot-zone even if Jessica Alba was naked waiting on me...well, maybe.

The DropShip from the Battletech universe
One of the key elements in planetary combat in the Battletech universe is the dropship that weight in at between 20 to 100,000 tons. Not only are they military transport vehicle, but also move cargo, passengers  and even acting has aerofighter carriers. There are two forms of the dropship in Battletech: aerodyne and spheroid (egg-shaped). The more egg-shaped are the classic dropship, using powerful rocket motors to slow decent, then deploy their mechs, then lift back off via the same rockets back to low orbit. Given their size and role, the military dropships are well armed to secure the DZ.


The Imperial Lambda Assault Shuttle from Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

This tri-winged Imperial shuttle craft is an all-around space vehicle, able to carry twenty soldiers or eight tons of supplies on-planet, and return via use of fictional anti-gravity repulsorlift technology coupled with twin ion-engines. Adding to the usefulness of this little beauty is the limited hyperspace motivator that allows the Lambda to act has scout, tactical special forces insertion vehicle, and personal space vehicle of high-ranking Imperial officials.
I've always loved the Lambda from the first time I watched ROTJ, and yes, I'm old enough to have seen ROTJ in the original theatrical release. In Xmas of 1985, I was lucky enough to get the Imperial Shuttle, and it became one of my favorite toys. I don't know how many hostile alien world that GI Joe figures invaded with this excellent piece of 1980's plastic glory. Much later, the bulk of my childhood toys were stolen from my parents' mini-storage by a fucking meth-addict, but he did leave my Imperial Shuttle! I sold it to raise money for a new paintball gun and pistol. One day, in my writing office, I will have an Imperial Shuttle...one of the best designs for a future shuttle in sci-fi.


The Jump-Ship from Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future
In the post-Metal Wars dark future of 2147, Captain Power and his gang of future soldiers patrol the wastelands of desert and urban rubble scouting for survivors, and their primary mode of transportation is the Jump-Ship. Built has part of Dr. Power's Soldier-of-the-Future program during the Metal Wars, the Jump-Ship was designed to the transport vehicle for these new human warriors to wage a mobile, rapid campaign against the machines. Aiding in this mission, the Jump-Ship was armed with laser blasters, a cloaking device coupled with a holo-generator (think the TARDIS chameleon circuit), shields, along with PowerJet XT-7 that could dock with the ship to extend the fighter's range and incrase the Jump-Ship's offensive power. the most impressive feature was the Jump-Ship's ability to access the transit-gates that allowed the HQ of the Power Team to remain a secret, and cut down on the travel time during operations. Fans debate if the Jump-Ship used a form of terrestrial hyperspace system or matter-energy teleportation when jumping locations via these transit-gates.

The Starmax Assault Shuttle from STARCOM: The United States Space Force

It seems that 'official 'STARCOM' website that was around for years has been stun down, so, I'm doing this one from memory. The US Space Force of the 21 century, STARCOM was tasked with protecting and patrol America;s nascent space colonies and outposts against the terrorist-science Emperor Dark. One of the key space vehicle for STARCOM was the Starmax bomber-shuttle. Throughout the 1987 cartoon series, the main characters were often seen tooling around the solar system in the Starmax bomber, treating it closer to an long-range assault shuttle. This vehicle was armed to the teeth, with a rear bomb-bay, three laser cannons, and even the ability to carry a Star-Wolf micro-fighter on the top via the MAG-LOCK system. It became a transport vehicle via it's expansive cargo-bay, allowing to carry Astro-Marines or small vehicles to the solar battlefields, and provide CAS when it got there.
If and when I ever get an office space for my writing hoddy, I plan on buying one of these 1980's beauties to satisfy my inner-child and geek!

Colonial Fleet Raptor class utility jumpship from Battlestar Galactica 
Before I started watching BSG, I believed the Raptor to be one ugly frakking craft that was used in a E-Warfare role for the Colonial Fleet. Of course, once I watched the series, the little bugger grew on me. Acting has the utility transport vehicle for the ragtag fleet, marine tactical transport, along with roles has varied has FTL scout, bomber, and sheepdog. Flexibility ought to be the main word that comes to mind when thinking of the Raptor, it could make ten-to-twenty FTL jumps, without endangered the whole fleet, then turn around and transport Adama to Colonial-One. Unlike many of the vehicles on this list, the Raptor was not normally armed with offensive weapons, but could be. Normally, the vehicle was in the rear-with-gear, providing intel and support to the Vipers, and if it got hairy, the Raptor could dump a few drones or chaff then FTL jump out of the hotzone. It is unknown if the vehicle was used in this roles due to the situation of the ragtag fleet, or just the limit of SFX money by the show.

Danube class Runabout Assault Shuttle from the Star Trek universe

In the 1993 Timescape episode of Star Trek: TNG, we Trekkies got our first look at a new type of long-range Federation shuttlecraft, called a Runabout. This new type of class of wrap-capable ship was sandwiched between shuttcraft and full-on starship, preforming duty has a multirole space vehicle from scientific to military duties. These would go to become one of the iconic vehicles in the DS9 series.
The Danube class Runabout was fitted with a modular rear section that could be replaced with mission specific modules with easy, including a sensor 'roll-bar' pods.
This modular nature was true of the tactical systems, phasers feed from the warp nacelles were standard, but the tactical systems could be upgraded with micro-quantum torpedo that measure in at 5.23inches! This allowed the Runabout to serve has tactical for their homebase, either a space station or starship, such as was seen when Deep Space Nine's Runabouts aided the Galaxy class Odyssey and helped defeat the Maquis Crisis at Deep Space Nine. With it micro-warp drive engines, the Danube class could reach 125 times the speed of light (Warp Factor Five), and the range to be effective science vessel, as seen in the mission through the Bajorian Wormhole. Danube class just the Star Trek standard thrusters for VTOL, and impulse drive escape velocity, and this vehicle was as close as Starfleet came to fielding a military assault shuttle.

The Eagle transport Jumpshuttle from Space: 1999
According to my research, the Eagle was construction via materials found on Luna by base engineers and was the Toyota Tacoma of the Alpha Moon Base, making this a utility jumpshuttle. Unlike most space vehicles on this list, the Eagle was primarily designed for operations on and around Lunaspace, and not exploring strangle new worlds...that was until the moon got loose (I blame the Moonities). After this, the Eagle was just for all manner of missions. To this day, the Eagle is one of the coolest and iconic designs of a future space shuttle. As a kid, my brother had the full-scale Eagle transport toy, and it was pretty badass.

The Imperial Valkryie Tactical Transport from Warhammer 40K 

The in the dark world of WH40K, the Imperium uses the VTOL capabile armed Valkryie troop transport to hot-drop members of the Imperial Guard (the normal soldiers) and aid the ground operations with close air support in a gunship role. Valkryies are used by the Imperial Navy for orbital deployment of mostly specialized infantry unit, Elysian Drop Troops, then later, used by the Imperial Guard for dirtside operations. If the Valkryie is to remain an endo-atmospheric vehicle, it is modified from the space-drop model. There exist two variants of the Valkryie, one modified for heavy-lifting ability, and another is used more heavily armed for gunship specific roles. 

The Puddle-Jumper (Gate-Ship) Jump-Shuttle from Stargate: Atlantis
Taking a page from ST:DS9, the producers of Atlantis allowed the main characters to travel beyond the confines of their floating city in some shuttle-like craft. These were the gate-ships of the Ancients, christened the 'Puddle-Jumper' by Atlantis Expedition member John Sheppard, and were their go-to vehicle for off-world missions through the series. Equipped to travel great distances via a Stargate interface, fitted with an excellent cloaking device, the craft was often used in place of larger craft.
To defend itself, it carried the normal sci-fi energy shielding, but mainly engaged the Ancient level technology cloaking device, however, if the shit hit the fan, the Puddle-Jumper could be armed with 12 drones, or be used has to delivery nukes. Throughout the Atlantis series, Puddle-Jumpers were the utility vehicle of the expeditionary members, be used for science, military, and cargo missions, making this little cylinder shaped vehicle a jumpshuttle in my book.