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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.
Science and technology
BattleTech is largely based in hard science fiction concepts—much of technology used is either similar in advancement to that of the present day, or based on technology considered plausible in the near-future, such as the railgun. A handful of exceptions, notably faster-than-light interstellar travel and superluminal communication, depend on purely fictional or speculative principles.
The frequent appearance of apparent technological anachronisms is another distinctive aspect of BattleTech technology. Attrition resulting from protracted wars are said to have 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 The Succession Wars. The conflict saw the widespread 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 21st 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 where the gravitational influence in the system is most stable; however, so-called "pirate points" exist where local gravitational pull is stable enough to used; though quicker, using such points is also more dangerous due the random appearance of so-called "Lagrange points". Most Jumpship crews are left stranded in most cases of an emergency.
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.
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 began 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 and ProtoMechs, are central to BattleTech wargaming and feature prominently in most spinoffs and related fiction.
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 more 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. Armor in BattleTech is ablative in nature. This means that it is generally destroyed or blown off when hit, but in the process of doing so, it absorbs enormous energies, protecting the unit upon which it is mounted.
- 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.
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