Science fiction is filled with futuristic technologies and machines. From blasters, to warp drive, to lightsabers, you take your pick. In the genre of military sci-fi, one of the iconic pieces of future hardware is the tactical transport. Designed to transporting troops, vehicles, and supplies from ship-to-shore within in a ruggedized and well-armed dual-atmospheric spacecraft, the tactical transport handles the always difficult and painstaking job of military transportation. Any operation that involves ferry duty in a combat zone is some of the riskiest in any combat zone. It only gains more complication when we factor in the challenges of space into the tactical environment along with the challenges of ferrying troops, vehicles, and supplies from starside to planetside. Science Fiction has created several unique space vehicles to deal with those challenges: the dropship and the tactical transports. While they are similar, they are quite different and are often badly confused in the realm of science fiction across all media. In this blog article, FWS will be exploration and explaining the tactical transport.
What was an "Tactical Transport"?
How is the Tactical Transport Different from the "Dropship"?
How is the Tactical Transport Different from the Helicopter/Tilt-Rotor?
In the iconic HALO Reach, the difference between the tactical transport and the sci-fi helicopter is spelled out. During the Battle of Reach, NOBLE Team uses Pelican tactical transports to stage an VBSS operation on an alien warships in orbit of Reach. But while on-planet, the SPARTAN SpecOps team uses the UH-144 Falcon. While the Pelican can and does operates in both endo and exo atmospheric environments, the Falcon is more suited to endo-atmospheric operations and burns through less fuel for VTOL and hovering. I can see a future military organization using tactical transports to establish a beachhead during the initial planetary operations, then once the DZ is secure, they will bring down helicopters in a dropship for later planetary operations.
How is the Tactical Transport Different than the Troop Transport?
The Roles of the Tactical Transport
With the tactical transport being one of the more mission flexible spacecraft in any space navy, they are tasked with all manner of ship-to-shore duties. Here is the main three roles of the tactical transport:
"Gunship" is overall term that encompesses aerocraft that are similar to 20th century attack helicopter like the badass Mi-24 Hind-D, but are not just kept aloft using blades. One of the roles of the tactical transport is to act as an gunship when the need arises to provide CAS to friendly units. This abilities allows the tactical transport to be part of the combat team, and very tactical flexible. The soldiers being ferried in the tactical transport can rely on the armament of the vehicle if CAS is needed or to soften up ground targets or just simple protection. With all of these duties, the armaments of the tactical transport would be varied and flexible to counter most known threats.
The Challenges of an Real-World Tactical Transport
The Progenitor: the ALIENS UD-4L Cheyenne Dropship
When researching tactical transports, I realized that the concept of tactical transports is more recent in sci-fi lore. During the pulp era of science fiction, when our gallant space heroes wanted to explore strange new worlds, they landed their rocketships on those dangerous alien planets, often vertically. This vision of space exploration and the landing craft of these astronauts was also backup by NASA art and countless pulp era sci-fi covers at the time. During the 1950's, a new tool of warfare was seen in Korea and the French War in Algeria, the helicopter. After this, and especially during the Vietnam War, the idea of a military-grade troop transport that was space rated was beginning to enter into the literature, as with the Ornithopters in DUNE.
These armed shuttles, like the retrieval boats in 1959's Starship Troopers, were still not the armed spaceborne troop transport as in ALIENS, but this were the idea became to enter the genre. Vietnam Veteran Joe Haldeman wrote about scoutships that landed UNEF APS troopers in The Forever War (Oddly, the graphic novel showed American Space Shuttles being used). This idea of using shuttles was reinforced by works like Star Trek. The marriage between the shuttle and the military helicopter would only take shape, in a grand fashion, in ALIENS. The loving designed Colonial Marines space transport was a marriage of high-tech and Vietnam-era steel that created itself as the progenitor of the military science fiction "dropship" tactical transport.
The UD-4L "Cheyenne" Tactical Transport from the ALIENS Universe
The genesis of the one most iconic pieces of Colonial Marine hardware was after the Tientsin Conflicts when the CMC put out a contract for an multi-role light aerospace shuttle capable of carrying payloads up to 35,000lbs. The UD series of tactical transports or Cheyenne is the workhorse of the aerospace wing of the Colonial Marines and the US Army. It serves in various roles from gunship, shuttle, medical evac bird, to cargo transport. The UD-4 series is at home in atmosphere or in the cold void of space due to its unique engine design that allows VTOL and transatmospheric flight.
Given the limitations of starlift capability, the UD-4 series was designed to make the most of a single spacecraft by allowing the massive cargo bay to not only haul Colonial Marines, but those marines packed into a M577 APC. This allows for rapid protected deployment of boots on exo-planetary dirt. There are several limitations to the UD-4 series. If engaged by hostile aircraft, the Cheyenne cannot behave as an attack jet fighter, and any damage to the spaceframe can result in the Cheyenne being trapped on-planet and unable to transverse to outer space. Also the Cheyenne is limited on fuel. Under normal circumstances, the Cheyenne can make one complete loop of ship-to-shore-ship. During a hot engage, the fuel supply could be sucked down beyond the level of allowing the Cheyenne to return to its homebase. Despite this, the current UD-4L Cheyenne tactical transport is one of the symbols of the Colonial Marines and the United States colonial effort.
The D77 Pelican Series UNSC Tactical Transports from the HALO Universe
Where the UD-4L Cheyenne left off, the Pelican tookover. This is one of the most iconic tactical transports in all of science fiction, and much like the UD-4L in ALIENS, the massive popularity of HALO has propelled the Pelican to legendary status. This is the workhorse of the UNSC and is used to transport marines from ship-to-shore, to act as an CAS gunship, or even a military shuttle or medevac transport. During the Human-Covenant War, thousands of Pelicans were on the frontlines, and for everyone lost, another was cracked out by Misriah Armory factories on Earth and Mars. This spacecraft was fitted with VTOL thrusters and forward thrusters allowing for transatmospheric and space flight, however, it was limited on range in atmospheric operations due to fuel consumption and in space by not being equipped with an FTL drive.
An interesting note about the Pelican in UNSC service, while it is one of the most used pieces of UNSC hardware, most serious UNSC planetary installations use endoatmospheric UH-144 Falcon tilt-rotor aircraft as seen in HALO: Reach. One of the elements to HALO games that fans have been asking for is to pilot an Pelican...and this was accomplished via easter eggs or glitches. It was not until HALO 4 that a Pelican became playable. I wonder if HALO 5: Guardians will feature an playable Pelican?
The Cylon Heavy Raider from Battlestar Galactica
The Crow and the Goblin Tactical Transport from Titanfall
The Covenant Type-52 Phantom Troop Carrier from the HALO universe
The SMC Dropship from the Quake Universe
In the more "story" games of the Quake universe, the Space Marine Corps (SMC) uses a transatmospheric spacecraft, yet another "dropship" tactical transport based around the ALIENS model. Interestingly, the SMC dropship is not armed save for countermeasures to defend Strogg missiles. This are used to transport the bulk of invading SMC forces in the games, and to defend various installations in the Quake Wars game.
The D79H-TC and G79H-TC/MA Pelican UNSC Tactical Transport from HALO 4
Like the D77, the D79 can transport troops as well as vehicles. Some of the design of the D79 appears to be taken from the Soviet Mi-24 Hind-D gunship with the double bubble cockpit design. There is a playable variant to the D79, the G79H-TC/MA, "the gunship" used in the HALO 4 level "Shutdown". This was the first fully playable version of the Pelican in the game's history and heavily armored with the crushing 70mm autocannon along with side-mounted heavy machine guns pods that troops and/or crew can use to provide more defensive fire. However, the G79 does mount a newer version of the "SPARTAN Laser" DEW system, the M8C Grindell/Galilean Nonlinear Rifle...which can zap Type-44 alien transports into debris in one hit.
The Terran Quantradyne APOD-33 Dropship from the Starcraft Universe
The R-165 "Raven"Assault VTOL from Elysium
The bulk of the craft's interior space is devoted to hauling troops with a few workstations, and more space was created by the lack of cockpit.
So, why is there an white painted Oryx emblazoned on the side of the camo'ed tactical transport? According to Neill Blomkamp, he took inspiration from the Bear Paw symbol of the old Blackwater PMC and designed the "Oryx Warfare Group" PMC with an outline of the Oryx as its symbol. Not only is this seen on the side of the Raven spacecraft, but also patches worn by Kruger's two creepy mercenaries buddies. The very African Bush camo pattern itself is similar to the old SADF camouflage that itself was based on the badass and much beloved Rhodesian Brushstroke camo pattern of the Bush Wars. All of this adds up to one hell of an tactical transport!
The SICON "Dropship" from The Roughnecks: The SST Chronicles
In the American animated TV series, The Roughnecks: the SST Chronicles, our brave MI troopers use an very standard piece of MSF hardware: the "dropship". This insect-shaped VTOL spacecraft is seen throughout the series, and during it transition between exoatmosphere and enodatmopshere, it deploys a folded out VTOL thruster arms, like the weapon arms of the Cheyenne. It is likely that the SST dropship is inspirited by the ALIEN UD-4L. What is interesting is that the dropship is launched at a 45 degree angle ramp from the belly of the transport ship. Once the dropship gets over the target planet, it can deploy the troopers via high altitude insertion from special airlocks on the bottom of the spacecraft. The MI troopers in their jump armored protection suits land via thrusters as the dropship moves along home without needing to land. During the first episode of the Roughnecks, we see quite a bit of this tactical transport, including its great amount of interior space.
Next Time on FWS...