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Author Topic: Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?  (Read 258 times)

MrPig

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Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?
« on: 17 July 2021, 02:27:34 »
So I'm part of a Battletech RP community that allows custom units and someone asked if there was a Dropship that used Stealth Armor / ECM, and we weren't entirely sure. So I was wondering if anyone knew if there were any rules stating if this was theoretically possible or not.
From what I understand of Stealth armor is that you need an ECM, and that it generates heat. Mech Factory lists the rules as such:
 
Introduced: 3063 (Capellan Confederation)
Based on an effort to recover the long-lost Star League-era null signature system, the Capellan Confederation’s stealth armor technology is actually a complex system of heat baffles and layers of radar- and EM-absorbent materials that—while about as bulky as ferro-fibrous armor—provides the same physical protection as standard armor. Limited exclusively to BattleMechs, this system requires the use of a Guardian ECM suite to function, but when activated, the ’Mech becomes virtually invisible to hostile sensors and EW devices. Radical in form and design, stealth armor can undermine even the abilities of active probes, though this system also scrambles its user’s own targeting systems and traps a great deal of waste heat when active.
Game Rules
A ’Mech with the stealth armor system must also mount an ECM suite. When the stealth armor system is not engaged, the ECM suite functions normally. When the stealth armor system is engaged, the ECM continues to function normally, but the ’Mech suffers effects as if in the radius of an enemy ECM suite see p. 134). If the ECM suite is destroyed, the stealth armor system cannot function. A player may turn the stealth armor system on or offduring the End Phase of any turn. A ’Mech may also start the game with the system engaged; this must be indicated on the unit’s record sheet. While the system is engaged, attacks against a unit equipped with stealth armor receive additional to-hit modifiers of +1 at medium range and +2 at long range. In addition, a ’Mech with its
stealth armor system engaged cannot be attacked as a secondary target (see Multiple Targets Modifier, p. 109).
Finally, while engaged, the stealth armor system generates 10 heat points per turn.
Aerospace Units: Stealth armor has no effect on attacks by aerospace units.

It says "Limited to Battlemechs" but the Aerospace Units rule, does that mean being attacked by Aerospace, or Aerospace with Stealth Armor?
Further, there are rules for Vehicle Stealth Armor.

 
R&D Start Date: 3065 (Capellan Confederation)
Prototype design and Production: 3067 (Capellan Confederation)
Shortly before the start of the Word of Blake Jihad, Capellan engineers began to adapt their groundbreaking stealth armor for use on Combat
Vehicles and aerospace forces as well as BattleMechs. The onset of the Jihad and the predations of the Federated Suns and the Word of Blake have disrupted full-scale production of this armor.

Game Rules
Rules Level: Experimental
Available To: CV, SV, AF, CF
Tech Base (ratings): Inner Sphere (E/X-X-F)
Game Rules
Finally adapted for use in vehicles and fighters, Vehicle Stealth Armor offers the same capabilities as BattleMech Stealth Armor, with the same requirements and drawbacks (see p. 142, TW), including the need for a functioning ECM suite (of any type) and the heat generation for operating the system. Vehicles and conventional fighters do not require fusion engines or power amplifiers to mount Vehicle Stealth Armor, but do require heat sinks to contend with the heat costs of using the system.
Aerospace fighters with Vehicle Stealth Armor do not receive stealth benefits when operating above the space/atmosphere interface on the space map if they expend any Thrust Points during the turn. When landed, operating in atmosphere, or when in operating in space without expending Thrust, the range modifiers to hit an aerospace unit equipped with active vehiclular stealth armor apply as they do for ground unit (adding a +1 modifier at medium range, and +2 at long or extreme range).

Is a Stealth Armor dropship possible? More importantly, is it feasible?
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Alan Grant

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Re: Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?
« Reply #1 on: 17 July 2021, 05:21:39 »
Short answer: Unless something new has popped up in the rules that I'm not aware of, dropships aren't eligible for stealth armor according to the construction rules.

Longer answer:

I've seen it added to aerospace fighters and small craft because an ECM offers some real benefits in and of itself there. Thinking in tabletop rules terms, ECM adds to the to-hit difficulty to target whatever it is. It's like how ground units use cover. Only it's in space, it's an electronic cloud and it's moving with the craft.

All dropships by default, have their own ECM "cloud." You could say they have some kind of ECM automatically, a fairly large field that extends well beyond itself and can be useful for providing ECM coverage to other things such as fighters.

So the first problem, is that adding a Guardian ECM to a dropship, I don't think is technically rules legal, but also becomes entirely redundant and so a waste of tonnage.

Second problem is the armor itself, the experimental rules note that if the target is in space and fires any thrust it receives no benefit. So the only way this benefits a dropship is if they don't move. That's not a great system, for dropships, going dark (not expending thrust) makes you a considerably easier target to shoot at, or even board. It's when you are under thrust that it gets much harder to hit you.

So engines off, coasting, stealth armor works, but the stealth armor benefit gets offset by the lack of movement and the easy To-Hit modifier. Engines on, you are moving, harder to hit, stealth armor not useful and you'd have more/better armor with a different type for more protection.

It's important to realize that in Battletech, stealth tech doesn't work like real world stealth. You can still be seen on radar, you aren't invisible, it's just more difficult to get a lock and hit you.

Stealth in Battletech has been made a niche thing, good for some things but not all. It's not just outright superior. We have an unarmed variant of the Cheetah designed to be a purely sneaky stealthy recon bird and coast through an area, drifting, uses its sensors to gather intel. If you deploy several of those along different flight paths, spread out, it's annoying but the opponent has to consider if its worth deploying interceptors to chase those individual ASFs down, especially if there's a larger battle raging, and the answer might be no, not worth it, they are unarmed so a commander decides to ignore them. That's the kind of thing stealth in space is good at. But while you'd probably be willing to risk a handful of ASFs on that kind of extremely vulnerable duty, you wouldn't be as willing to risk a whole dropship that way. That's a much juicier target, much more likely to be intercepted.

The dropship equivalent to that is most typically some kind of Q-ship like the Trojan or Mule Pocket Warship. Or a modified civilian craft designed to look like a typical civilian dropship but is really a high tech surveillance and reconnaissance platform that is scooping up sensor and communications data and basically acting as a spyship. We have seen examples of this in canon.

Outside of that, for fancy combat with lots of zooming around maneuvering or dropship acting as scouts you are better off having lots of thrust to work with. I'm talking like Achilles and Noruff level speed, with enough armor and firepower to fend off attacks by pesky light ASF interceptors and the few dropships that can catch you. But the sheer thrust and speed at your disposal makes it difficult to catch you. So everyone can see and detect you just fine, but you are racing at speed 8-12 and outrunning most of your pursuers while they shake their fists at you in frustration.

If the thought/concept here is a stealthy insertion vehicle (troop transport) remember that the BT stealth tech doesn't make you invisible to sensors, just harder to hit with a weapon, but again, only if you aren't thrusting, and to get the troops from A to B, you probably need to fire firing those thrusters and engines a lot. Just getting into the correct flight path to enter atmosphere requires a lot of thrusting and positioning. Not to mention the powered flight from jump point to planet.

So I hope that helps, and someone please correct me if I got anything wrong here. But the essence of this is I don't believe it's possible if you are following the construction rules by the book, and even if you tossed out the book and did it anyway, it technically doesn't offer a lot of value. Not thrusting in space makes you a vulnerable easy target to both hit and board, and stealth armor requires that you not thrust in order to add value.
« Last Edit: 17 July 2021, 10:46:39 by Alan Grant »

AlphaMirage

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Re: Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?
« Reply #2 on: 17 July 2021, 11:00:45 »
I think Grant states a number of salient points. I would also like to pose an alternative question. Is it necessary?

What kind of mission profile would it be doing that couldn't be done by a low powered satellite or hacked computer that was regularly linked to a Military Intelligence asset.
Additionally Battletech sensors are really pretty bad at detecting objects in comparison to real probable ones. Also something like the Bug-Eye or Pueblo were more protected by their disguise than any stealth tech. You could see them but they didn't register as unusual objects unless you went out there to inspect them which is something that most people are unable or willing to do.

If you want to launch a surprise attack then you are better off using a high speed closing engagement and some missiles than close at low velocity utilizing stealth tech

Weirdo

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Re: Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?
« Reply #3 on: 17 July 2021, 13:13:16 »
You want a stealth ship, what you want is a vast cargo bay, and a grav deck as pioneered by the Argo. That allows you to do an initial burn in the outer reaches of the system, then coast in on a ballistic course for a few weeks or months. The active drive plume is the single easiest way to detect a DropShip in transit, eliminating it is pretty much the bulk of the work of hiding a DropShip in deep space.

There's nothing whatsoever a DropShip can do about radar, but that has to be actively scanning to pick you up, and we can't assume that every system even has deep space radar, or if they do that they keep it on at all times, or if they do that they have total sky coverage. Even if radar is actively scanning along your approach vector, it won't spot you until you're barely a few days out.

You pretty much WILL be spotted when you hit orbit or enter atmosphere, but if that's when defenders first spot you, that's an extremely short period of time to organize any kind of response to your approach.
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dgorsman

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Re: Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?
« Reply #4 on: 17 July 2021, 14:11:53 »
It's important to realize that in Battletech, stealth tech doesn't work like real world stealth. You can still be seen on radar, you aren't invisible, it's just more difficult to get a lock and hit you.

Not quite.  Double blind/sensor rules have benefits for various stealth equipment that reduce the range at which they can be detected.  So stealth armor functions in both modes - making the target harder to hit in tactical combat, and more difficult to detect in strategic combat.
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Alan Grant

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Re: Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?
« Reply #5 on: 17 July 2021, 15:05:49 »
Not quite.  Double blind/sensor rules have benefits for various stealth equipment that reduce the range at which they can be detected.  So stealth armor functions in both modes - making the target harder to hit in tactical combat, and more difficult to detect in strategic combat.

Fair enough I forgot about this part of the rules. I stand corrected.

It doesn't really change my overall conclusion though. As soon you thrust you nullify the advantage. Once detected at least once, the area you are in can be focused on, scanned with active radar, patrolled etc. If the enemy got a sense of your course and speed it can project where you'll be in the future and try an intercept. To avoid that kind of trap you have to change vectors, meaning thrust again and once more nullify the stealth tech.

It would be like driving an attack submarine that blew an air horn every time it started up it's engines or changed course.
« Last Edit: 17 July 2021, 15:09:01 by Alan Grant »

Weirdo

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Re: Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?
« Reply #6 on: 17 July 2021, 15:45:19 »
Pretty much, yeah. For a DropShip that doesn't want to be spotted, there are two major defences: the sheer size of space, and ballistic physics.
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Paul

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Re: Stealth Dropship - Possible or feasible?
« Reply #7 on: 21 July 2021, 21:42:02 »
Even if radar is actively scanning along your approach vector, it won't spot you until you're barely a few days out.

Excellent points, full agreement.


Quote
You pretty much WILL be spotted when you hit orbit or enter atmosphere, but if that's when defenders first spot you, that's an extremely short period of time to organize any kind of response to your approach.

Also a great point.
I also feel that the majority of planets only have any significant inhabitants in one small portion of the planet. IE a 500 million (or less) population that's largely on North America. If you know this, and then land in Asia, there could well be 0 observers. Once landed, you could opt for some low altitude transits, or some long marches.

Overall I agree with the notion that stealth doesnt buy you anything since radar detection is pretty far down the chart of things that give you away.