In the pantheon of combat starships, naval ships, and ancient sailing vessels, the bulk of attention has been paid more on the combat vessels in both the real world and the fictional one. However, one of the most important vessels in any navy, either in on the ocean or in space, is the ones that bring the troops, the coffee, the bullets, the mail, and the fuel. In one of the final installments of The Ships of the Line articles, we will be focusing on the troop transports, medical ships, and the assault ships of the logistical end of most navies and fleets.
The Troopship Then and the Troopship Now
The history of waterways being used as a means to deliver violence to the enemy is likely as old as boatmaking. It is believed that boatmaking goes back to about 800,000 years before the common era, with Homo Erectus likely being the first to use some form of boat. While the boat was used for food and exploration, it was mostly certainly used to carry out raids on other human settlements or even hunts. These river or lake raids by early humans was the very beginnings of amphibious warfare as we understand it and the watercraft they used were multi-role as well. With the beginnings of human civilizations being founded along rivers, like Uruk on the Euphrates River, the use of boats for waterborne operations, including the transporting and landing of infantry is in no doubt.
If the events of Homer's Trojan War are to believe, the 12th century Troy (Troy VII) in modern Turkey was the site of a massive seaborne invasion by Greek city states that used early versions of the classic Greek Trieme sailing ship with Homer citing that Protesilaus of the Phylaceans was the first off of the boat onto the beach and was then killed by Hector. During the Peloponnesian War between the key citystates of Athens and Sparta, there was troop-carrying variant of the Trieme that cut down on the amount of oarsmen for more Hoplite.
What Happened to the Naval Troop Ship?
The troop transport seagoing vessels that have been around since the days of the Greeks are basically gone and the amphibious warfare assault ship are the modern inheritor of that mantle. But, what happened to the old troop ship? Basically, the jet age happened. The last use of a classic troopship in my mind is the use of the QEII and the Canberra cruise ships as troop ships by the British Navy to retake the Falkland Islands during the 1982 Argentine junta invasion of the islands via amphibious landings. For the most part, the bulk of infantry and marines have been moved to foreign battlefields via large military cargo/transport planes like the C-17 Globemaster, the Airbus A400M Atlas and the Russian llyushin II-76. These massive cargo aircraft can move a large numbers of soldiers and gear from a secure airfield to another airfield in hours rather than days, speeding up the deployment and security of infantry coming to a battlefield. At times, civilian aircraft companies have been used to move soldiers into the warzone, like during the Vietnam War when soldier came into South Vietnam and left sometimes onboard the civilian operated passenger planes. The maritime portion of moving troops to the beaches was taken over by the naval amphibious assault ship that houses landing craft, VTOL craft, and the helicopters.
The Assault Ship/Amphibious Assault Ship/LHA/LHD/LPH
In the modern Naval structure, the battleship as been replaced by the aircraft carrier and the old troop ship has been replaced the amphibious assault ship. In modern navies, the Amphibious Assault Ship is an odd vessel and not all navies possess these craft and then there is the confusion between the assault ship and a helicopter landing craft (AKA Landing Helicopter Assault "LHA") and even the "escort carrier" of the 2nd World War. Basically the assault ship is designed to transport and support VTOL, helicopter, amphibious landing craft, tilt-rotor aircraft during land-based operations. Expeditionary Marine forces stationed onboard these modern assault ships, like the America class of LHR(A) can launch operations via the MV-22, landing crafts in the well-deck, and traditional helicopters with CAS coming from VTOL fighter aircraft.
About 1900 Marines are onboard the LHA(R) class ships with a crew of about 1200 with Phalanx CIWS, and missile launchers rounding the offensive and defensive weapon systems. Much like their larger cousins, the aircraft carrier, the assault ship is the foundation of the Expeditionary Strike Group that is more designed for maritime land operations rather than sea control than the traditionally carrier group. Some of the new America class that are of the Flight variant will not feature well-decks and even smaller medical bays to promote larger space for aircraft support. The origin of the assault ship came out of the escort carrier (nicknamed "Jeep carrier by GIs) of the 2nd World War that was designed to support landing operations while troopships had infantry and marines to scale down rope ladders on the sides of ships to man landing craft, like the American Hughes boats. Given the dynamic nature of modern warfare, the amphibious assault ship is a key element of any force-in-readiness and power projection strategy. To that end, the beginnings of a conflict could come from forces launched from an traditionally aircraft carrier and the assault ship. While the utility of such ships is well known, they are expensive...very expensive, billions of dollars. At presently, the US Navy has the most assault ships in operation with the British Royal Navy being second and an handful of other navies fielding assault-style ships with the Chinese looking to expand their assault ship fleet in next few decades.
The Assault Spaceship of the Sci-fi: the PASP
The Medical/Hospital Ships
Will there be Space Going Hospital Vessels?
There are levels to the off-world mobile medical centers that we could see in the real-world. Given the harsh realities of interstellar space travel, I seriously doubt there will be dedicated medical vessels in space fleet organizations that deploy starships to exo-solar locations. Any outside the Sol System space travel that involves a exo-solar deep space space transport system carrier, like the ISV Venture Star from AVATAR, will have extensive medical facilities onboard the vessel that will make use of robotic or android-based medical staff. An example of this is what we saw at the end of SW: TESB with Luke being under the tender care of a Rebel Alliance 2-1B-series medical droid and the FX-7 medical assistant droid at the Rebel base on Hoth. The establishment of off-world frontier medical centers will be one of the foundational buildings of any colony, outpost, or waystation and this could also impact the development and deployment of medical ships.
Should Spacegoing Medical/Hospital ships be armed?
Will there be Spacegoing Troop Transport Vessels? The Case for the DSATCV
Sci-Fi and the Troop Transport
Sci-Fi and the Medical/Hospital Vessel
In the bulk of science fiction spacegoing hospital ships seen in the genre are confined to the pages of book, RPG manual, fan-work, or technical manual rather than a visual works. This is due to the settings of most sci-fi starships operate within. While medical themed episode are common in shows like Star Trek, it is sick bay that solves that issue, not a dedicated medical starship. There was an attempt to have a ER-like deep space medical station themed TV show on UPN back in the 1990s called "Mercy Point"...FWS will dive more into that later with its own article. I think some of the lack of dedicated medical starship or even a sci-fi space medical show is due to a lack of interest by studios and networks to fund a show set around a hospital ship, as we saw with idea of the Hopeship, the Star Trek hospital ship themed show. It is not sexy enough, forwarding medical technology into the future is hard, and most attempts are written off as being too much M*A*S*H or ER.
The Progenitor: The USS SULACO from ALIENS
forest of antennae coming into frame from the left".
heavily armed commercial freighter."
The 6 foot long model was constructed by Peter Astin and detailed (only done to one side given the way the ship was to be shot in the film) by Pat McClung, John Lees and Robert Skotak. Ron Cobb, another titan of sci-fi design, helped with the interior design and Cobb had also worked on the ALIEN Nostromo vehicle. The original Sulaco model was recycled for ALIEN 3 and painted a brownish hue. Currently, the original model is owned by Bob Burns and Syd Mead repainted the model back to its original ALIENS color for free.
The UCF Corvette/Transport from the Starship Trooper
The United States Aerospace Force Conestoga class Light Assault Ships from ALIENS
The Redemption Medical Frigate of the Rebel Alliance from Star Wars
The USS Hope from the Star Trek Hopeship Concept
The Mercy class Earth Alliance Hospital Ship from B5
The USASF Bougainville-class attack transport from the ALIENS Universe
The Olympic class Medical Ship from Star Trek
The Legion Troop Ships from Alien Legion Comic Series
The Shimada Enterprises LCA-12 Horizon Assault Transport from ROBOTECH/MOSPEADA
The UNSC Pillar of Autumn and the Spirt of Fire from the HALO Universe
The Rebel Alliance GR-75 Medium Transport from Star Wars
The Invid Carrier from ROBOTECH/MOSPEADA
The Kolm-An Class Assault ship from the FASA Star Trek: STOC
The Various Troop Ships and the Guild Heighliner from the DUNE Universe
The Earth Force Condor class Long-Range Troop Space Transports from Babylon 5
The M'benga class Starfleet Hospital Ship
Next Time on FWS...
boards don't hit back" and he was right...but for some of the military training, that's what happens...training soldiers on non-active targets and paper targets. The better, more effectve way is to train like you fight, but using Force-on-Force (FOF) training princples to train and develop warfighting skills on the living. In the next installment, FWS will be diving into the present and future of Force-on-Force training!