05 April 2015

The Flightline: Tactical Transports

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"?
The best way to think of the tactical transport of the military sci-fi is they are an dual atmospheric military spacecraft that is 1/3 Space Shuttle, 1/3 helicopter, and 1/3 gunship. It is go-to-utility-vehicle for spacefaring military organizations, and is used for a number of roles. Mostly, they transport a limited number of soldiers, and/or supplies, and/or armored vehicles from ship-to-shore and back again with enough firepower to provide aerial close fire support for planetary units and defend itself. Tactical transports use VTOL thrusters for landing and taking-off and some sort of rocket motor to achieve breaking away speeds. These can be the primary military aero-vehicle for any spacefaring military organizations that operate in both endo-atmospheric and exo-atmospheric environments and often call their homebase a starship in orbit. Their range in space is limited and often are not FTL capable. With the tactical transport being such a flexible platform, the basic design is altered of various models that serve various roles, like CASEVAC, gunship, and C2 bird.

How is the Tactical Transport Different from the "Dropship"?
 FWS covered the science fiction dropship in some detail recently, but I will summarize. The term "dropship" as I bitched about above, is not the same as a tactical transport. Dropships are a more limited role military spacecraft that is designed to ferry a greater number of space marines/vehicles/supplies from the space navy flotilla to the planetary battlezone. These dropships are not designed to operate like an airplane once in atmosphere. They are a bus, there to drop off the goods and marines, and haul ass back to the stars. They can be armed, but are not designed to delivery close air support like the tactical transport. The best dropship is the egg-shaped spacecraft from the Battletech universe.

How is the Tactical Transport Different from the Assault/Military Shuttles?
Space shuttles and tactical transports are similar in their transatmospheric operational capabilities. Shuttles and tactical transports can go from orbit to ground and ground to orbit, and both will be used by future military organization for peacetime and wartime operations. The difference is in capabilities. Shuttles are primarily designed to be a transport system, while tactical transport are more Blackhawk helicopter than Orbiter. While tactical transports are more flexible and more heavily armored, they are limited in range once in outer space. Shuttles of any space fleet, like what we've seen in Star Trek, could serve a short-range transport and even may possess a limited FTL ability.
Tactical transports do not possess that because they are already pulling double-duty, excluding them from being more useful in deep space operations. Tactical transport are more orbital-based spacecraft. Of course, there is the "Assault Shuttle" that has elements of the tactical transport within it. These are more well-armed military shuttles design to be more tactical flexible in combat zones and planetary operations. Instead of an starship carrying an tactical transport and normal shuttlecrafts, the assault shuttles could be a nice fusion of both and allow less auxiliary spacecraft from being carried onboard. Assault shuttle examples are the Lambda class Imperial Shuttle from Star Wars and the Raptor from BSG.

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?
When any military, now or in the future, the need to mount an all-out assault or invasion with serious presences, they need a serious people/machine mover...and it is not the tactical transport. We have to remember that the tactical transport is not a orbital dropship that can land tanks, mechs, and hundreds of space marines to a planet-side DZ. Rather, tactical transport can transport a dozen to twenty troopers in armored and armed comfort and is more tactically flexible than the heavy-mover dropship. It is difference between the V-22 Osprey and the C-130 Hercules or the military hover landing craft and the Mi-8.

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:

Troop Transporter
One of the most common (and critical) roles of the tactical transport is the ferrying of spaceship troopers from starside to dirtside in an armored and armed spacecraft. In most science fiction, tactical transports are slightly larger the size of an V-22 Osprey and carry around two dozen full-outfitted soldiers from ship-to-shore with some supplies. However, in other sci-fi tactical transports are even larger with expanded capabilities, like the ALIENS Cheyenne, that can transport an specially designed APC (the M577) in the belly cargohold with marines inside. The HALO Pelican is capable of carrying the Scorpion tank or the Warthog via a powerful magnetic field that does not effective the amount of interior cargo capability. While the tactical transport cannot compete with larger troop transport shuttles on delivery the numbers of troops, it does have the ability to place their more limited number of soldiers anywhere on-planet and support them.


"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.
However, the tactical transport is not an endoatmospheric gunship nor is it an attack fighter able to engage in ACM. Any extended endoatmospheric operation for a tactical transport would tax the engine, consume a great deal of fuel, and create more maintenance. Any invading spacefaring military organization is going to pack endoatmospheric attack craft that fulfill the traditional roles of the attack helicopter on-planet. However, during the initial phases of establishing a beachhead on the planet's surface, the tactical transport will be the default gunship of the invasion force. Once that secure DZ is established, the orbital starships can send down the traditional gunships and take the more fuel-greedy tactical transport off of the frontline.

Space Shuttle
Tactical transports are dual atmospheric vehicles, designed for orbit-to-surface-to-orbit flight, and this ability gives this military vehicle a great deal of flexibility. During combat operations, tactical transports will ferry soldiers and support them with their offensive armaments. However, during other times, the tactical transport would serve as a general space transport system, like the US and Soviet Space Shuttles. In that role, the tactical transport would move personnel and cargo up-and-down the gravity well. This will burl the lines between military shuttle and tactical transport, because both would be used. A good example of an military shuttle being used as an tactical transport and general utility spacecraft is the BSG Raptor. 

The Challenges of an Real-World Tactical Transport
The closest we have to the tactical transport in the real-world is the old American and Soviet Space Shuttle Orbiters. Take that real-world vehicle and mix it with the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft abilities, and you have an idea of the challenges of a real-world tactical transport. Much like we discussed in the older FWS Topics: Troop Transports blog article, the challenges of a military-grade dual-atmospheric are many, from AAA to climbing out of a gravity well, the job of an tactical is a hard one. Once the tactical transport is hauled to a combat zone by its mothership, its job begins. Using the tactical transport in orbital space is much easier than in-atmosphere, and is less taxing on the fuel supply allowing gravity and Sir Isaac Newton in the driver's seat.
Once the vehicle enters atmospheric reentry, the thermal protection system takes over, along with the computer system (nearly all Space Shuttle reentries were conducted by the HAL-9000). If the thermal protection is damaged or the computer is faulty during this chaos, the spacecraft is lost along with the troopers. After this, the spacecraft will transform into a endoatmospheric aircraft, as the crew regains control, determining their position as the sensor systems sweeps for incoming threats. This is when the tactical transport is vulnerable to interception or AAA systems, especially as they close to their ground DZ. The closer to the ground the dual atmospheric craft comes, the more threats that can engage the tactical transport.
From traditional AAA weapon turrets, to ground-based lasers, to even personal portable SAMs. If the craft survives the trip to the DZ, and drops off the space marines and their shit, there is still the matter of getting starside. If the spaceframe of the craft is damaged, than spaceflight could be impossible or if too much fuel was expended as well. This concept of a VTOL spacecraft that is able to use its own engines and not a rocket booster to escape the atmosphere is one of the biggest technical challenges of the tactical transport...only if anti-gravity generator pods are not a reality, of course (and that is just cheating anyway!).

The Progenitor: the ALIENS UD-4L Cheyenne Dropship 
Sometimes, one work can inject a concept into the collective imagination and ALIENS was the perfect vehicle to host the progenitor of the tactical transport and import the concept to all of us fans. The reasons for the term "dropship" to be used for tactical transport, the overall design of this type of futuristic transatmospheric vehicle is all due that uber-classic and its very well designed UD-4L Cheyenne. The Cheyenne  design moved away from the more military shuttle designs, with some of those being based on the American Orbiter. The UD-4L itself was based around the UH-1 "Huey" and the AH-1 "Cobra" gunship and give the Cheyenne a certain look.
This created the fusion of modern military vehicles and space transport technology that still exists today. What the Cheyenne did as well is to boldly demonstrate the role of this type of military science fiction spacecraft. One also to remember that the Cheyenne is very well designed. Speaking to this, take the protected secondary weapon bays. All UD-4s have the caseless 25mm rotary cannon, but in that iconic scene in the film, missile launcher unfurl from the body of the spacecraft. While a cool scene, it does have it practical purpose: protecting the missiles from the violence of reentry. In the end, without the UD-4L "dropship" we could not have similar spacecraft in science fiction...can you imagine HALO without the Pelican?

Science Fiction and the Tactical Transport
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 gave birth to the look, operation, and the use of the (wrong) terminology for futuristic spacecraft of this design: the dropship. After that landmark 1986 film, science fiction creators of all types, began to include similarity designed troop tactical transports. Some of these were little more than thinly veiled copies of the UD-4L Cheyenne and still others were armed shuttles patterned after the American/Soviet STS spacecrafts, but all carried the label of the dropship. In 2001, Bungie would forge the game for the new Microsoft Xbox with HALO: Combat Evolved. In that game and the following works, the UNSC would ride into battle across the stars in the other iconic tactical transport: the Pelican. Today, the tactical transport is hallmark of military science fiction media and literature, including my own.   


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.
These vehicles were used on nearly every UNSC base, outpost, and warship due to the toughness and flexible. Adding to the flexible ofthe D77 is the magnetic tail section that allows for the transportation of vehicles, including the Scorpion tank. A large troop carrying pod, the "troop deployment pod" can be added to the tail section for more troop capacity, from 10 to 20. With the vast numbers of Pelicans in service and their abilities, most SPARTANs and ODST personnel are trained in rudimentary flight operations.
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
Given the limitations of budget, only a few types of ships were seen in the BSG series on either side. Much like the multi-role Colonial Raptor, the Cylon Heavy Raider was designed for one role, but used for various other roles in their fleet and was equipped with an FTL drive. However, unlike the Raptor, the Heavy Raider was primarily a heavily armed and armored troop transport. While not seen extensively in the series, the Heavy Raider was used to ferry toasters, equip, and skinjobs from ship-to-shore-ship, along with VBSS operations, and serving as a general transport vehicle. Also unlike its compart in the Colonial Fleet, the Heavy Raider was heavily armed with heavy rotary KE cannons and missile launchers.   

The Crow and the Goblin  Tactical Transport from Titanfall
In one of the best military sci-fi games on the next-gen consoles Titanfall starts off with the players riding into the battlefield onboard a tactical transport. The Goblin is an IMC transatmospheric transport designed around picking up and dropping off the mech pilots of the Titanfall universe. This spacecraft has an odd look that reminds me of the old Soviet Mil Mi-6 helicopter. The Militia uses the Crow tactical transport for the same duties as the IMC Goblin. The Crow is the older tactical transport to the Goblin. I have to say, having the matches opening with mech pilots being dropped off in a tactical transports is a very cool element to the game.

The Covenant Type-52 Phantom Troop Carrier from the HALO universe
The Phantom  is one of the few examples of an alien tactical transport in science fiction. The Covenant Type-52 Phantom is a troop carrier for all of its member races and can carry about 30 soldiers in battle with defensive 360 degree weaponry. Unlike its Terran counterpart, the D77 Pelican, the Phantom has a crew of four and has a gravity lift to allow rapid entry and exit from the spacecraft. Much like the Pelican, the Phantom is the workhorse of the Covenant military and is a transporter of various vehicles as well as being a troop transport and shuttle. After the end of the Human-Covenant War, the Type-52 was replaced by the upgraded Type-44, but was the Type-52 was upgraded and changed several times from HALO: Combat Evolved to HALO 3. Despite being alien in construction, human forces have taken control of Phantoms as seen in HALO 3: ODST.

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
From the time of the end of the Human-Covenant War, the UNSC redesigned its iconic workhorse, the D77 Pelican, and the HALO 4 D79H-TC Pelican was rolled out. This spacecraft takes lessons and technology from the bloody Covenant War to form a more heavily armed and armored military spacecraft. More thrusters propel the D79H-TC faster and more smoothly than the older D77, and the chin-mounted 70mm autocannon allows for more punch in ACM. Soldiers are able to access armory stations on either side of the spacecraft.
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

Given its military science fiction setting, Starcraft simply must have an tactical transport. That workhorse of the Terran Confederacy is the APOD-33 "dropship". This heavily armored and armed spacecraft is dual atmospheric flight capable, able to transported about 8-10 powered armor wearing Terran Marines and even Siege Tanks from ship-to-shore in armored and armed protection. Like the majority of tactical transports and modern military helicopters, the APOD-33 serves as a platform for much more than an tactical transport. There are several variants, like a shuttle, assault variant (seen in the aborted Ghost Xbox game trailer), and medivac transport.  This Terran Confederacy tactical transport seen in the Starcraft games is a offspring of the ALIEN UD-4L dropship (along with the dropship pilot) but given the popularity of this video game series, it has become its own symbol of this type of spacecraft.

The R-165 "Raven"Assault VTOL from Elysium
This is called an "Bird of Prey" VTOL aerocraft by its designer TyRuben Ellingson, and was designed from the beginning to be an military dual-atmospheric spacecarft with VTOL capabilities. This aerocraft was the base-of-operations for Kruger and his two other PMC buddies while hunting Max in LA. This craft hosts all manner of weaponry and toys, including drones, a rapid fire doorgun that fires 5mm electro-chemically propelled rounds at an astonishing high RPM. The R-165 Assault VTOL is piloted via computers in the film, and does not seem to have any type of cockpit. This is backed up by the creator of the Raven...and this could mean that the flight control computer could accept voice commands. 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-4LWhat 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...
The question is often asked online about what is "the best" of something. Even I have been asked via e-mail, what is the best military sci-fi works often. That lead to the genesis of the new blog article serial here on FWS: the Masterworks of MSF. Here will be discussing the best of military science fiction in every media type. To kick things off, FWS will start off with the best damn MSF movie of all time: ALIENS....was their any doubt?


  1. Good read for Easter... BUT!

    I'm greatly disappointed that you did not put one he list the mighty Thunderhawk or Storm Eagle of Legiones Astartes. Also we miss Helghast Overlord, GDI many types of tac' transports, BM-17 Griffin & A-M12 Sky Crane from Section 8... ect.

    BTW: I will ask again is there is any other way to send you email, the option on blogger is not working for my for unknown reason I'm afraid.

  2. It is always a struggle for me to not include too many examples...and I will look over those suggestions and may include more. Is the halghast transport in atmosphere only? Thanks for suggestions.
    Very sorry about the email situation. Here is my email: williambregnardATgmailDOTcom

  3. Great work, as always.

    I had forgotten the SICON dropship myself.

  4. One real hard-science method for delivery of payloads from orbit to surface could be the space elevator. Of course for any military landing deploying tens of thousands kilometer long tether from a fix point in orbit above LZ would be suicidal for the starship and elevator cars.
    But who says that the tether must reach to the surface? A ship, not necessarily at geo-synchronized orbit, could fold tether/s down to the plant's higher atmosphere and simply lowering like beads on a wire the Tactical Transports down to higher atmosphere from then the Tactical Transport engines do the rest.
    This 'lowering like beads' will decelerate the transport without the need to burn fuel and carry heavy heat shield for the entry. Climbing back would be tricky, the transport will need some sort of climbing gear to catch to tether end and began climbing.
    Another armament is a close loop rather than open end tethers. The ship deploys down a conveyer belt and cycles it like in cable car with the transports as cars attaching/detaching from belt when leaving /entering planet atmosphere.
    There are already plans & schemes for Momentum exchange tethers rotating and non- rotating to grab an endoatmospheric craft from high atmosphere and launch it to orbit or taking it from orbit to atmosphere.
    Any spacefaring civilization could easily deploy such tethers around the target planet to cut down the amount of fuel needed for marines transporting in & out during the campaign.


    1. The easiest method to deliver a payload from orbit to the ground has always been to simply drop it, that is push it into a decaying orbital trajectory outfitted with a heat shield, parachute, and possibly retrograde rockets. A tether system would greatly cut into the payload of its mother ship, and would most likely be slower and more predictable in its orbit than free falling payloads, thus more vulnerable to hostile AAA fire. The only advantage offered would be an easy way back up to orbit, but what actual strategic advantage would that provide? For repair, maintenance, and medical treatment it would be far easier to deploy the necessary facilities, equipment, and personnel to the planet, or commandeer those already constructed by the enemy, rather than to be constantly ferrying troops and vehicles to orbit and back again. While it is true that after the invasion is over and the war is won, troops would have to be returned to their own home planet, but at this point it would be assumed the majority of the planet would have been pacified and thus one can assume that the invaders, now the conquerers, would have access to all the orbital delivery infrastructure available to the planet before the war broke out, minus those lost to battle damage or sabotage of course. A space elevator already located in the planet would likely be destroyed during the initial attack: the defenders could use it to deploy missiles, drones, attack spacecraft, etc. providing an incentive for the attackers to destroy it, or the attackers may choose to comandeer it for themselves, using it to assist their own efforts, which would likely result in the defenders attempting to sabotage it themselves. The truth is a large, static or at the very least predictable structure such as a space elevator is an easy, vulnerable target, and may be avoided entirely by both sides, as it would be a valuable investment to the well being of the planet as as whole, thus beneficial to both sides. Far more valuable to a sustainable colony or city than to an invading force, as it provides a means for the exportation of goods and people, which are far more difficult to deliver to orbit, at least without the transportation rendering goods or travel prohibitively expenisve, than it is to deliver goods or personnel from orbit. An invasion is a temporary situation, which is what this article pertains to, whereas an occupation is at the very least a semi-permanent situation which requires a totally different strategy and a approach. While a space elevator is a very economical and sustainable means of orbital delivery and retrieval, sustainability and economics are not the only factors that have to be considered.

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  6. I have been thinking about orbital assault, mostly for my mind set I imagined a conflict between a industrialized Mars against Earth. the longer range battles happening across the solar system, eventually however the day must come where if Earth is to win blue boots have to hit the red ground, And that's what this is all about. This is basically Amphibious assault from space. A lot of writers like to make the analogy to the Marine Corps and it fits. I prefer to analogous to Airborne forces but most likely its a blend of the two.

    now When I first thought of this I established for my self a set rule of tonnage. In real life you cant take a Aircraft carrier into brown water. In the Same vain larger space craft are dedicated space craft. Dreadnoughts and cruisers would likely be built in space never to enter a planetary gravity There Crews would be Ferried from ship to shore by smaller ships, as well because getting out of G would be impractical.
    So with this rule in mind I figured the max you could enter and leave a atmosphere with likely be locked at say destroyer class for a maximum. with this in mind I imagined "Cap's", "Pods",attackers, Jumpers(light transports),medium Transports ( osprey/ chinook sized) cutters ( C130 or better sized tactical transports) Corvette ( C17 sized transports) and then Mulberry Shells.
    Caps are one-two man Capsules they drop much like in Starship troopers the novel or Halo, basically a scaled down SpaceX Dragon Capsule mostly for SF and behind the lines stuff they are small fast one way craft that would take the Job of a Parachute today.

    Pods Are squad sized versions and pull triple duty. Some are manned most however are decoys fired off in rapid numbers much like the decoys in a ICBM. large numbers would be dropped to overwhelm enemy radar and triple A well Destroyers and frigates in orbit strike triple A sites
    the Final job being that the same design would be used as life boats for capital ships

    Attackers would be more or less Endo/Exo fighters launched by Carriers Which are more LHA then Cv intended only to drop troops. meant to supply CAS.

    Jumper would be smaller Tactical transports more like Hueys or black hawks in scale based around a Aerodynamic lifting body.

    medium transports would be the larger models dropping light ATV's. using a blended wing lifting body

    Cutters would be a duel mission type craft, in Assaults they would each carry light armor ATV's and Tanks built for atmospheric drop as well as troops and some logistics. They would also be configurable to perform there traditional name sake role of SAR and planetary patrol. because they have short range they would be carried in by a Carrier ship.

    Corvette as I see it could be C17 sized in cargo capasity and act as the largest of the duel role ships in atmosphere they would serve as transports deploying armor and troops as needed they are much larger then Cutters but would still need a carrier because of there shorter range. I image that Cutters and Corvettes would lack any form of rotational gravity generation

    Ships above this like Frigates and Destroyers can enter a atmosphere but there main role in Orbital would be shelling the enemy and dropping light transports. They would be Hybrid ships having the weapons of big capital ships and rotational sections for living and working but still a atmospheric design.

    then I see the final Mulbery shells. Named after the Mulbery Harbors that the British made for D day they would be to large to ever leave the planet once dropped they hit the ground and open up serving as transports for large volumes of equipment and as a ready built hanger, Barracks command center and orbital tether for future operations Prefabricated in space and serving as factories to build the equipment they deploy they are towed onto position and dropped with just enough power to keep from crashing in to the planet. They would be the TOCs and FOBs towed by military versions of space container ships.
    That's how I thought of it anyway

  7. This one was great. Are you going to do a post on close air support (CAS)

  8. Yes, the CAS blogpost is in the queue, and will feature some sweet A-10 pics...of course.

  9. In my experience the most difficult aspect to get right is the actual aerodynamics of orbital transports. Anything capable of aerodynamic reentry will be poorly suited to anything resembling close air support. Their time on station would be cripplingly short, and they would likely require an arbitrarily long and well maintained runway for landing and takeoff. Modern aircraft use wing and aerodynamic layouts designed around compromise, in an attempt to maximize both low and high speed performance, unfortunately this leads to an airframe incapable of performing either duty particularly well. A variable-geometry wing layout can alter it's aerodynamic properties and thus optimize itself, at least to a certain degree, for maneuver at varying velocities, but this increases complication of design, maintenance, and increases possible points of failure.
    In my own science fiction musings, my heavy transport craft is a massive oblique flying wing which enters orbit flying "sideways" utilizing a scramjet/rocket hybrid, with air breathing engines mounted on pivots which maneuver and power the craft at lower speeds. It's massive size still limits it's rough field capability, but it's role is optimized for bulk transport and heavy gunship duties. It's payload capabilities allow it to provide massive fire support but it is extremely slow, large, and vulnerable, severely limiting it's usefulness. The flying wing layout also makes it difficult to mount weapons in such a way as to be conducive to the typical "pylon turn" method of close air support from gunships, so it may be necessary for it to maneuver more similarly to an A-10 than to, say, a C-130. My attempts at a smaller, more capable close air support craft have proven far more elusive, and I'm considering a reverse-variable-sweep wing layout which, while greatly contributing to construction and maintenance costs as well as more intensive training processes for personnel to pilot and service the vehicle, would allow superior performance at both low and high de-orbiting speeds. This vehicle would be too large to be deployed from inside another aircraft, and using drop pods would delay it's entrance into combat in the critical early stages, thus it being self-deploying from orbit is critical to its success. My goal is for a common airframe to be specially outfitted for both troop transport and close air support duties, transport vehicles with a large cargo bay and gunships with more extensive weapons and countermeasures, with the possibility of additional "appliqué" armor plating. These vehicles actually have no capability to reenter orbit on their own, at least not without a rocket booster and minimal payload. Smaller aircraft, more akin in role and configuration to the MH-6 Little Bird helicopter, could be stored inside the heavy transports or even dropped in pods on their own, to be deployed once on the ground for both rapid transport and close air support. My air superiority fighters are actually high speed arrow shaped craft which deploy from orbit and are never intended to actually land on a planet, and as such they are extremely fast high altitude vehicles poorly suited to supporting those on the ground. They are deployed, retrieved, and maintained from orbiting warships.
    Troops, equipment, and ground vehicles are deployed primarily from drop pods, with transport aircraft used primarily to move assets after they have been deployed.

  10. Great article as always though I can't believe you didn't add the iconic LAAT from Star Wars!

  11. I originally, especially since the LAAT is a beautiful craft, until I researched more about the vehicle. Since it is not dual-atmospheric in most cases, although, there is a variant that does, it could not make the list. The LAAT will appear on the gunship/helicopter/tiltrotor blog article in the near future.

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