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Roberts Space Industries ®






May 14th 2024

Whitley's Guide - Hercules
This article originally appeared in Jump Point 7.10.

Crusader Industries Hercules


Development of the spacecraft that would become the modern Hercules began in the mid-28th century during a particularly introspective period for UEE military leadership. Keen to examine the potential lessons of the last war, UEE commanders undertook an unprecedented analysis of the Second Tevarin War followed by a series of simulated wargames covering major battles. One of the outcomes of this effort was a new understanding of the impact of support logistics on interstellar warfare. During the Tevarin wars and prior, interplanetary operations meant establishing an initial beachhead on a hostile world using small, heavily armored landing assault craft. Once a base was established, heavier equipment would be brought in using a support column of freighters and transporters not specially equipped for combat. Analysis of this practice in action suggested it had created a major choke point that had significantly delayed necessary assets in several cases. Not only did transporting weaponry crated aboard traditional transports slow the ability to deploy heavier artillery, missile launchers, and armored tanks, it also limited their immediate range once deployed. Even successes like the famed 2605 Battle of Koren Pass were cited as examples of situations where casualties resulted from a lack of logistics: if the UEE had the lift capacity to deliver fighting vehicles directly from orbit, losses on the ground could have been significantly reduced.

The solution, military leaders determined, was two-fold. The first was organizational. In an attempt to reduce time lost to inter-service confusion, the decision was made to establish UEE Starlift Command – a cross-service support framework intended to better coordinate the UEEN assets responsible for delivering personnel and materiel that would address the UEEA and UEEM’s granular battlefield needs. The second was to set forth the specifications for a complete quantum-to-battlefield support spacecraft that could deploy armored units and other assets to a variety of alien terrains while under fire. Instead of amphibious operations focusing on establishing individual fire bases to bring in heavier assault weaponry, this command and its theoretical spacecraft could deliver advanced units directly to active theaters. The plan would prove incredibly effective and significantly alter the shape of planetary-scale battlefields. Additionally, this new spacecraft could be maintained locally and be used to quickly relocate already deployed assets should flashpoints evolve.

The formal request for a proposal was issued in 2814. It asked for a large, well-protected transport that was jump-capable, able to sustain concentrated artillery fire, and able to deploy multiple armored vehicles quickly. Significant proposals were developed by both Aegis Dynamics and Crusader Industries. Crusader, then a premiere manufacturer of carriers and associated industrial conversions, was expected to adapt their serving Jupiter-class carrier for combat operations. Aegis was expected to develop a bespoke design specific to the UEEN’s needs. In an unexpected twist, the opposite proved true: Aegis suggested adapting existing military freighters with armor and defensive turrets, while Crusader developed a much more expensive proposal to create an entirely new design that would eventually become the Hercules starlifter. Despite Crusader’s proposal having three times the price tag of the Aegis conversion, the feeling was that such a major reorganization of tactical doctrine would be better supported with an entirely new spacecraft. The military decided to invest, despite the cost of developing such a system and the inevitable organizational issues that would come with its adoption. With that, Crusader Industries launched an all-out four-year program to develop their first dedicated military support spacecraft.

The first active-duty starlifter unit was formed in May 2821 with a dozen first model spacecraft (formally designated the ‘M2 Hercules’). In initial training exercises, the new ship worked perfectly. Capable of taking sustained fire and deploying a tank or armored car in minutes, the Hercules met the military’s requirements and then some. However, delays to Hercules deployment occurred due to the difficulty of integrating the new interservice command, with those involved facing a great deal of bureaucracy in order to allow these new processes to supplant the tried-and-true support chain. Nevertheless, the wisdom of the decision became clear in March 2824 with the first active combat deployment of the Hercules system, when UEE armed forces were called upon to put down a heavily armed group of pirate forces located on a frontier world near the Xi’an border. Instead of attacking the site from orbit, planners determined that it would be worthwhile to capture assets intact in order to pursue further antipiracy operations elsewhere. Two Hercules squadrons, escorted by deep space support fighters, quietly deployed troops and an armored column which defeated the stunned criminal forces in short order. The battle, previously thought to be a particularly hazardous prospect, was won with no losses of UEE personnel and the resulting capture of information would lead directly to the destruction of two pirate outposts and a small capital ship.

As use of the Crusader starlifter normalized, it quickly became a favorite among soldiers and ground crews. Crusader’s experience with civil space transport meant they understood how to build a spacecraft intended for ease of maintenance. Additionally, the hulky, armored appearance of the Hercules became a comfort to soldiers and marines, who came to associate it with much safer deployments. The sight of a Hercules on the battlefield inevitably meant the delivery of additional supplies or reinforcements. Within two decades, Starlift Command had organizational structures in place across the empire that would allow the rapid movement of Hercules to any battlefield within a jump of a currently settled star system. Several units of starlifters are kept on ‘ready five’ status around the Empire already loaded with tanks and missile launchers and teamed with special operations troops that can be used to address rapidly developing situations.

Over the decades, Crusader has continued to update and enhance the original Hercules design and has made a tidy profit performing fleet enhancements and producing battlefield update kits in the progress. This steady dedication to modernizing the fleet has been strongly supported by Starlift Command and has allowed individual examples to remain in service well past their intended retirement. As of 2948, a significant number of first and second generation Hercules hulls were still being operated thanks to these extensive maintenance processes. Similarly, Crusader has continued to apply their ‘frame-and-role’ design process developed in starliner construction to the Hercules line, which has allowed the rapid creation of a number of role-specific variants including refuelers, heavy armor support ships, and information runners. Crusader’s philosophy allows the creation of variants to proceed rapidly as the need requires without disrupting existing production lines. This has allowed role-specific Hercules to be constructed as needed and retired just as quickly. One of these variants has become a significant part of the UEEN inventory: the A2 is a dedicated heavy gunship that adapts the Hercules’ heavy armor and other defensive systems for more a sustained combat role and uses the design’s extensive cargo capacity for munitions storage. The A2 Hercules is now constructed on its own factory line and has seen extensive combat operations against planetside forces.

In 2940, Crusader surprised the aerospace industry by announcing the development of the first standalone civilian variant of the Hercules, the C2. Long seen as a military-only spacecraft design, the decision was especially unexpected as Crusader’s factories did not have the immediate capacity to produce more than the Hercules already requisitioned by the military. In order to produce the C2, three more Hercules lines would need to be opened. Crusader, however, saw this as less of a gamble, believing that even if interest in a civilianized Hercules was not immediately apparent, the investment would ultimately be useful as military demand increased in the face of increased conflict with the Vanduul. The C2 Hercules design drops some of the armor and specialized hardware from the current generation military type in exchange for an overall improvement in cargo. Formally targeted at frontier concerns, the C2 variant has been positioned as a way for planets with less developed infrastructures to rapidly move vehicles from place to place. In their example study, Crusader imagined a mining corporation seeking to reallocate heavy equipment to sites around a newly explored planet in order to make use of claims before unlicensed jumpers could move in. The move proved to be a success, with civilian organizations quickly taking to the sturdy spacecraft design and corporate partners happy to have a ship with such a well-developed lineage and extant support apparatus. In addition to miners and explorers, the C2 Hercules quickly proved to be popular among militia groups eager to move small spacecraft and ground vehicles from place to place on individual worlds

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