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This article is an overview of technology found in the fictional universe of BattleTech, a wargaming and science fiction franchise created by FASA and owned by WizKids. Technology, particularly military technology and its application on the battlefield, is central to the BattleTech series and is one of its most ubiquitous elements.
BattleTech conveys a sense of realism through a depiction of future technology that, though a thousand years removed from that of the modern world, has much of its foundation in accepted science. The fusion reactors that power many BattleTech machines are the subject of current research, while the myomer muscles used to animate robotic articulations exist as electroactive polymers. The principles of other common BattleTech equipment such as Gauss rifles, directed-energy weapons and sonic weaponry are also understood, though as yet undeveloped. A handful of exceptions, notably faster-than-light interstellar travel and superluminal communication, depend on purely fictional or speculative principles.
Entirely absent from BattleTech are such science fiction staples as teleporters, time travel and alien tech. Other less radical futuristic technologies, such as artificial intelligence, energy shields and advanced nanotechnology, are also generally absent or downplayed.
The frequent appearance of anachronisms is another distinctive aspect of BattleTech technology. Attrition resulting from protracted wars slowed and in some cases reversed the flow of technological development during the third millennium, most notably following the collapse of the Star League in the late 28th century. The result is an uneven blend of technologies, in which the highly advanced (interstellar travel) mixes with the contemporary (machine guns, internal combustion engines) and even primitive.
Technological advancements occur throughout the history of the fictional BattleTech universe, which extends from the late 20th to mid-32nd centuries. The earliest published technical readout dates from the year 2750, but the majority of such publications describe technologies as they exist in the 31st century. It's largely around this latter period that BattleTech centers.
One of the earliest and most significant events in BattleTech technology was the advent of faster-than-light travel, the principles of which were first described by Stanford University physicists Thomas Kearny and Takayoshi Fuchida in 2018. Scientists first successfully tested an FTL engine based on Kearny and Fuchida's work on 3 September 2107, and late the following year mounted the first long-range manned voyage, a 12-light year jump to the Tau Ceti star system. Though based on similar principles, faster-than-light communication in the form of Hyperpulse Generators wouldn't be developed until 2630.
Technological advancements continued slowly but steadily through the third millennium, notably including the development of the first BattleMech by Terran Hegemony engineers in 2439. This advancement reached its zenith during the latter years of the Star League with computing, communications, sensors, power and motor systems, medical sciences and other technologies reaching high levels of refinement.
Following the collapse of the Star League in 2781, the league's constituent states fell into a protracted struggle for supremacy known as the Succession Wars. The conflict saw the wide-spread destruction of factories, ship yards and research facilities, resulting in a slow but steady degradation of scientific and technological expertise. By the dawn of the fourth millennium, few sites in the Inner Sphere retained the ability to construct or even repair the more sophisticated Star League-era devices, and lost or hidden caches of such lost technology, or "lostech", became highly sought after. A mercenary unit, the Gray Death Legion, discovered one such cache, including a Star League memory core, on the planet Helm in 3026, a discovery that sparked a minor technological renaissance.
The exodus of much of the Star League Defense Force after the league’s collapse was also a significant blow to technological development in the Inner Sphere since it included many of the most advanced vessels and pieces of hardware. Later to become known as the Clans, these forces, unlike those in the Inner Sphere, generally retained a Star League level of technology, and though not advancing considerably beyond it over the following centuries, did make many refinements and enhancements that set them ahead of their Successor States counterparts. The return of the Clans to the Inner Sphere in 3048 prompted a flurry of technological development on both sides of the front, with numerous weapons and military systems quickly developed and deployed.
In August 3132, a mysterious calamity collapsed the Hyperpulse Generator Network, inhibiting interstellar communication and heralding a slow-down of technological development.
Faster-than-light travel across interstellar distances is common in the BattleTech universe and depends on an advanced space-warping technology known as the Kearny-Fuchida Drive. Interplanetary and orbital space travel is also common practice, generally conducted by fusion-powered dropships and various smaller aerospace craft.
The theoretical underpinnings of the Kearny-Fuchida (or K-F) hyperspace drive originated in the early 21 century with Stanford physicists Thomas Kearny and Takayoshi Fuchida, whose experiments revealed that particles exposed to a hyperspace energy field jumped almost instantaneously between two points. Though originally dismissed, the effect was confirmed in the early 22nd century and a drive subsequently developed by the Terran Alliance to exploit the principle.
In a K-F jump, an initiator produces a hyperspace field which is then magnified and focused by a large, superconductive mass of titanium/germanium. The amplified field envelopes the ship and pushes it through a hole in normal space called a "jump point", through which it enters hyperspace. Depending on the distance to be traversed, the ship spends up to 15 seconds in hyperspace before reemerging into normal space through another jump point at the destination. The opening and closing of jump points destroys large numbers of subatomic particles and produces a pulse of electromagnetic energy that can be detected at considerable range.
Jumps are normally made to and from points far above a solar system's ecliptic, usually near the zenith or nadir points of the system's gravity well where the gravitational influence in the system is most stable; however, so-called "pirate points" where local gravitational pull is stable enough to used; though quicker, using such points is also more dangerous due the random appearance of such "LeGrange points" most Jumpship crews are left stranded in most cases of an emerngency.
Jumping requires copious amounts of energy, usually gathered from the nearby star over the course of approximately a week by large solar collectors similar to solar sails and stored in giant capacitors. Recent advances have dropped this to around 14 hours. A quicker but less common technique is to draw the energy from a fusion reactor, or to take advantage of recharge stations in the vicinity of major jump points. Jump failures can result from charging the drive too quickly, poor drive maintenance or spatial anomalies.
BattleTech spacecraft range considerably in size and function, but generally fall into three broad categories – jumpships, dropships and small craft.
Vessels equipped with K-F drives are known as jumpships and range in mass up to 500,000 tonnes, though warships, a subclass of jumpship hardened against attack and fitted with naval weapons, may mass up to 2.5 million tonnes. The size and delicacy of a jumpship's K-F drive and the danger of jumping while in a gravitational well limits such vessels to deep space and precludes planetary landings. Jumpships often use sail-like collectors to gather solar energy and fusion engines for sub-light maneuvers, and normally travel with a small retinue of dropships.
Dropships are fusion-powered craft built to transport people and cargo between space-bound jumpships and planetary surfaces, or between jumpships. Dropships lack faster-than-light engines and instead use fusion motors for covering short interplanetary distances, for orbital and atmospheric maneuvers, and for takeoffs and landings. They mass anywhere between 400 and 100,000 tonnes, and are usually of either aerodyne (aerodynamic) or spheroidal configuration. Dropships in the BattleTech universe are used for both military and civilian/commercial transportation.
The smallest vessels capable of space travel are known simply as "small craft", or as aerospace craft if capable of planetary landings. They may serve military functions (as fighters or bombers) or civilian purposes (e.g., transportation).
HyperPulse Generator (HPG) arrays serve as the primary means of interstellar communication in the BattleTech universe and operate on worlds throughout inhabited space.
Developed by professor Cassie DeBurke, HPGs operate on a similar principal as the Kearny-Fuchida jump drive, sending a directional radio transmission instantaneously from one station to another over a distance of up to 50 light years. Though the nature of the technology allows only unidirectional broadcasts, paired HPGs can provide simultaneous bidirectional communication. HPG stations are generally categorized as A, B, C or D: A stations, located on some 50 worlds throughout the Inner Sphere, have high volume capacity and transmit messages regularly, usually every 12 to 24 hours; B stations are present on most other Inner Sphere worlds and transmit every few days; C and D stations, more common on backwater worlds or in the Periphery, transmit less frequently. Given the demand and expense of hyperpulse communication, messages are frequently bundled into batches of hundreds, sent simultaneously. While the transmission itself is nearly instantaneous, it may be days, weeks, or months before a message is sent, though one can pay a higher fee for "priority service". A message can reach any station in the Inner Sphere in approximately six months, with transit times of as little as a few days possible at great expense.
The first successful hyperpulse broadcast occurred on New Year's Day, 2630. Over the next 150 years the Star League constructed a network of generators that extended hyperpulse communications to numerous worlds throughout the Inner Sphere. During the Succession Wars ComStar assumed the operation and maintenance of the network, shrouding the system's operation in mystical trappings. Though ostensibly neutral, ComStar leveraged its communications monopoly for political purposes, occasionally imposing "interdictions" (denials of service) on opposing organizations. Following the schism of the Word of Blake from ComStar after the battle of Tukayyid in 3052, hyperpulse technology slowly begun to disseminate to the states of the Inner Sphere, with ComStar and the Word of Blake accepting money to fund the creation and operation of new stations. A mysterious calamity collapsed the Hyperpulse Generator Network in August 3132, effectively ending practical interstellar communication over much of inhabited space. In the wake of the collapse, jumpships served as a kind of "pony express", ferrying messages from world to world.
The most visible and distinctive machinery in the BattleTech franchise are the mecha known as 'Mechs. Those tailored for combat are known as BattleMechs and, with other less common forms such as WorkMechs, Agromechs and ProtoMechs, are central to BattleTech wargaming and feature prominently in most spinoffs and related fiction.
BattleTech's wargaming core and the prevalence of warfare in the franchise's fictional universe makes weaponry a key technology. The numerous models of weapons fielded in BattleTech fall into a few distinct categories.
Energy weapons deal damage by directing a concentrated beam of particles or radiation against a target, and are common in many forms in the BattleTech universe:
- Lasers which direct beams of coherent radiation. These vary considerably in size (micro, small, medium or large), range (regular and extended-range), power (regular and heavy) and firing pattern (regular and pulsed).
- Particle Projection Cannons (PPCs) which release lightning-like beams of charged particles that inflict kinetic, thermal and electrical damage. The iconic PPC, usually depicted as emitting a blush-white beam, is fielded on many of the strongest and best-known units.
- Flamers which project plumes of plasma vented from a fusion reactor.
Warships often mount up-sized versions of such energy weapons, including three sizes of capital PPCs and three of capital lasers. Energy weapons also exist in numerous smaller forms suitable for use by individuals and range from handheld laser pistols to semi-portable man-sized PPCs.
Ballistic weapons fire high-speed, unguided projectiles designed to inflict kinetic and/or explosive damage. In BattleTech these weapons fall broadly into the three classes:
- Machine guns, small projectile weapons with high rates of fire.
- Gauss rifles, which use electromagnetic acceleration to project non-explosive metal slugs at extremely high speed.
- Autocannons, the most common ballistic weapon, which are auto-loading and fire a variety of explosive rounds over short, medium or long ranges. Variants include the shotgun-like LBX, quick-firing Ultra, multi-barreled Rotary, long-range Hyper Velocity and Light. Calibers range from 20mm to 200mm.
Gauss rifles and autocannons are both manufactured in large-scale form for use on warships and can mass from 2000 to 7000 tons.
Missiles are explosives-laden rockets equipped with guidance systems and normally fired in flights. BattleTech categorizes most battlefield missile systems by their ranges:
- Short-range missile (SRMs), limited to a range of approximately 270 meters and fired in flights of 2, 4 or 6
- Medium-range missiles (MRMs) with a range of 450 meters and fired in flights of 10, 20, 30 or 40
- Long-range missiles (LRMs) with a range of 630 meters and flights of 5, 10, 15 or 20
- Extremely long-range missiles (ELRMs) with a range of 1140 meters and flights of 5, 10, 15 or 20
Various accompanying technologies improve the accuracy and efficiency of missiles, including the Artemis Fire Control System, NARC Missile Beacons and Streak. Most launchers also support varied munitions, including missiles designed to light fires, lay down mine fields, etc., as well as torpedo variants.
Space-borne warships often field much larger capital missile systems for ship-to-ship combat, with ranges of hundred of kilometers.
Some BattleMechs field low-tech, physical weapons such as swords, hatchets, clubs and maces, usually integrated into the hand. Others mount industrial equipment that, though clumsy, can be used to inflict damage. Though relatively uncommon on the battlefield, these weapons appear more frequently in 'Mechs designed for arena or gladiatorial combat.
Nuclear weapons exist in BattleTech but are seldom deployed because of their highly unbalancing effect on most games. In the fictional universe, the absence of such devices is credited to the Ares Convention, a set of prohibitions agreed on by the rulers of all the Great Houses to prevent catastrophic destruction during their protracted wars.
Though little used in battle, sonic weaponry is not uncommon in civilian and law enforcement settings where non-lethal force is required, with handheld sonic stun guns being the most prevalent. Electrical stun devices, including electric whips, are also widely available.
Neural engineering, particularly in the form brain-computer interfaces, is not uncommon in the BattleTech universe. Its principal application is the "neurohelmet", a device used in nearly all BattleMechs that gives the 'Mech's pilot the ability to control some aspects of the machine's behavior simply by thought. The neurohelmet provides balance information to the 'Mech to assist in walking and maneuvering. It also acts as a security device, limiting access to authorized users via alpha brain wave pattern recognition (many BattleMechs mentioned in the novels also incorporate conventional security measures such as voice-recognition and personalised codes). Enhanced Imaging (EI) technology developed by the Clans uses a subdermal skein of wiring to grant better control over a machine.
More advanced neural engineering technologies include the experimental Direct Neural Interface (DNI), a system that provides a MechWarrior fuller mental control over a 'Mech than offered by a standard neurohelmet. The system's potential for serious neurological damage to the MechWarrior prevented the technology from advancing beyond the prototype stage, though Vehicular Direct Neural Interface (VDNI) was later successfully deployed by the Word of Blake to create the "cyber-soldiers" of the Manei Domini.
Other applications of bionics range from prosthetic limbs, such as the hand of Justin Xiang, to elective implants intended to improve strength or enhance the senses. An extreme example of bionic augmentation was Captain-General Gerald Marik who in 2667 received extensive implants following a life-threatening injury.
Created by Clan developers, OmniTech is a system of equipment modularization that allows key components of 'Mechs and vehicles to be easily mounted, swapped and replaced. "Omni units", as machines fielding the system are known, are built with standardized hardpoints and bays (called "pods") into which components are fitted. The system reduces repair time and allows units to be customized for varying missions.
Little hard data exists on the nature and power of computer technology in the BattleTech universe, but what's been revealed suggests capabilities somewhat (but not radically) beyond that of today. The central DI computer of a 31st century BattleMech automates the majority of the unit's functions, but lacks autonomy of action. Other BattleMech-mounted computers, designed for targeting or command and control, are massive by modern standards (from 500 kg to 3 metric tons), though how much of that mass is shielding or other supporting systems is unclear. More independent computers are said to have been used to control some Star League vessels, but at least one source suggests that the power and autonomy of some computers may be limited to prevent the possibility of danger should anything go wrong.
- Myomer, similar to modern electroactive polymers, is a fibrous material consisting of microscopically thin tubes filled with a substance (acti-strandular fiber) that contracts when voltage is applied and serves as artificial muscle in applications ranging from BattleMechs to artificial limbs.
- Armor materials such as ceramic boron nitride, honeycombed titanium alloy, and "ferro-fiber", a resilient armor infused with diamond fiber.
- Structural materials such as endosteel, a form of endomorphic steel manufactured in zero-g with a foamed titanium core.
During prosperous eras of colonization, entrepreneurs employed jumpships to transport ice bergs from water-rich planets to arid colony worlds. Colonies dependent on this ice trade prospered while it continued, but little true terraforming was accomplished in this way and the colonies tended to wither when the trade was interrupted by wars. The practice was largely abandoned in the 27th century due to advances in water purification.
Terraforming, the process of adapting an inhospitable planetary environment into one suitable for human occupation, occurs with varying degrees of success through BattleTech history. Terran engineers mounted repeated attempts over the course of centuries to moderate the dense and acidic atmosphere of Venus, succeeding enough to allow limited surface colonization under protective domes.
- ↑ Bills, Randall N.; et al. (2006). "A Time of War". Total Warfare. Classic BattleTech. Chicago: FanPro LLC. ISBN 1-932564-77-2.
- ↑ 2.0 2.1 2.2 Hess, Clare W.; et al. (1989). "Star League Technology". In Donna Ippolito. Technical Readout: 2750 (Corrected Second Printing ed.). Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-089-1.
- ↑ 3.0 3.1 3.2 Hartford, Chris; et al. (1993). "History of Naval Warfare". In Donna Ippolito. Battlespace Sourcebook. Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-208-8.
- ↑ 4.0 4.1 4.2 Donna Ippolito, ed (1991). "Historical Overview". MechWarrior (Second Edition ed.). Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-129-4.
- ↑ Keith, J. Andrew; Jim Musser (1990). "The Clans". In Donna Ippolito. Technical Readout: 3050 (Revised Second Printing ed.). Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-090-5.
- ↑ Donna Ippolito, ed (1992). "Inner Sphere Prototypes". Technical Readout: 3055 (Corrected Second Printing ed.). Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-164-2.
- ↑ Hartford, Chris; et al. (1993). "Naval Technology: Jumpships". In Donna Ippolito. Battlespace Sourcebook. Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-208-8.
- ↑ 8.0 8.1 Donna Ippolito, ed (1991). "Space Travel". MechWarrior (Second Edition ed.). Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-129-4.
- ↑ Donna Ippolito, ed (1991). "Hyperpulse Generator". MechWarrior (Second Edition ed.). Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-129-4.
- ↑ 10.0 10.1 10.2 Hartford, Chris; et al. (1993). "Construction Rules – Master Weapons Table". In Donna Ippolito. Battlespace Sourcebook. Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-208-8.
- ↑ Stein, Kevin; Sam Lewis (1987). "Weapons". In Donna Ippolito. Technical Readout 3026 (Vehicles and Personal Equipment). Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 0-931787-32-7.
- ↑ Donna Ippolito, ed (1991). "Equipment". MechWarrior (Second Edition ed.). Chicago: FASA Corporation. ISBN 1-55560-129-4.
- ↑ 13.0 13.1 Nystul, Mike; Blaine Pardoe (1991). "New Tech". Unbound. Chicago: FASA. ISBN 1555601065.
- ↑ "New Equipment". A Guide to Covert Ops. Classic BattleTech. FanPro. 2004. ISBN 1932564152.
- ↑ House Mark. Chicago: FASA. 1988. pp. 23. ISBN 1-55560-034-4.
- ↑ Bills, Randall N.; et al. (2007). "Construction Basics". TechManual. Classic BattleTech. Lake Stevens, WA: Catalyst Game Labs. ISBN 0-9792047-2-0.
- ↑ 17.0 17.1 Bills, Randall N.; et al. (2007). "BattleMech Tech: A Primer". TechManual. Classic BattleTech. Lake Stevens, WA: Catalyst Game Labs. ISBN 0-9792047-2-0.
- Classic BattleTech official website
- BattleTech Wiki
- HeavyMetal, official design software for Classic BattleTech
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