Ships and Vehicles (Codex)
 Primary Codex Entries
 FTL Drive
Faster-than-light drives use element zero cores to reduce the mass of a ship, allowing higher rates of acceleration. This effectively raises the speed of light within the mass effect field, allowing high speed travel with negligible relativistic time dilation1 effects.
Starships still require conventional thrusters (chemical rockets, commercial fusion torch, economy ion engine, or military antiproton drive) in addition to the FTL drive core. With only a core, a ship has no motive power.
The amount of element zero and power required for a drive increases exponentially to the mass being moved and the degree it is being lightened. Very massive ships or very high speeds are prohibitively expensive.
If the field collapses while the ship is moving at faster-than-light speeds, the effects are catastrophic. The ship is snapped back to sublight velocity, the enormous excess energy shed in the form of lethal Cherenkov radiation.
 Military Ship Classifications
Larger warships are classified in one of four weights:
- FRIGATES are small, fast ships used for scouting and screening larger vessels. Frigates often operate in wolf-pack flotillas.
- CRUISERS are middle-weight combatants, faster than dreadnoughts, and more heavily-armed then frigates. Cruisers are the standard patrol unit, and often lead frigate flotillas.
- DREADNOUGHTS are kilometer-long capital ships mounting heavy, long-range firepower. They are only deployed for the most vital missions.
- CARRIERS are dreadnought-sized vessels that also carry a large amount of fighters.
Smaller vessels are exclusively used in a support role to the warships during combat:
- FIGHTERS are one-man craft used to perform close-range attacks on enemy ships.
- INTERCEPTORS are one-man craft optimized for destroying opposing fighters.
 Normandy Armor Upgrade: Silaris Armor
Asari-made Silaris armor can resist even the tremendous heat and kinetic energy of starship weapons. The armor is nearly unsurpassed in strength because its central material, carbon nanotube sheets woven with diamond Chemical Vapor Depostion, are crushed by mass effect fields into super-dense layers able to withstand extreme temperatures. That process also compensates for diamond's brittleness.
Diamond armor itself has two limiting disadvantages. First, while nanotubes and CVD-dimaond construction have become cheaper in recent years, it remains prohibitively expensive to coat starships or aircraft larger than fighters in Silaris material. Second, the armor must be attached to the ship's superstructure, so shock waves from massive firepower can still destroy the metals beneath the armor itself.
A popular misconception holds that the diamond composition of Silaris armor gives it a sparkle. In fact, atmospheric nitrogen impurities during the super-hot forging process give the armor a metallic gray or yellow sheen.
 Normandy Shield Upgrade: Cyclonic Barrier Technology (CBT)
Cyclonic Barrier Technology (CBT) attempts to solve the higher-end limitations of traditional kinetic barriers. Traditional barriers cannot block high-level kinetic energy attacks such as disruptor torpedoes because torpedo mass effect fields add mass. The CBT violently slaps aside rather than halting incoming linear force. By rotationally firing their mass effect field projectors, ships create rapidly oscillating kinetic barriers instead of static ones. Shooting through the CBT is like trying to shoot at a target inside a spinning ball.
Significant drawbacks to current CBT configuration prevent its use on anything other than frigates and fighters. Its many high-frequency sensors and emitters require frequent maintenance and replacement. A partially damaged CBT can endanger its operator, who is surrounded by rotating mass effect fields skewing in unpredictable directions. Fortunately, if an emitter is damaged, the CBT corrects to become a traditional shield array, a safety feature that makes it most effective during opening volleys.
 Normandy SR-1
The Normandy is a prototype starship, developed by the human Systems Alliance with the assistance of the Citadel Council. It is optimized for scouting and reconnaissance missions in unstable regions, using state-of-the-art stealth technology.
For most ships, the heat generated through standard operations is easily detectable against the absolute-zero background of space. The Normandy, however, is able to temporarily sink this heat within the hull. Combined with refrigeration of the exterior hull, the ship can travel undetected for hours, or drift passively for days of covert observation. This is not without risk. The stored heat must eventually be radiated, or it will build to levels capable of cooking the crew alive.
Another component of the stealth system is the Normandy's revolutionary Tantalus drive, a mass effect core twice the standard size. The Tantalus drive generates mass concentrations that the Normandy "falls into", allowing it to move without the use of heat-emitting thrusters.
 Normandy SR-2
With elaborate secrecy, Cerberus labored for years to build a new, superior Normandy. The vehicle's many alterations produced a craft nearly double the original size, requiring an even larger Tantalus drive core to compensate.
The new Normandy features greater space in living quarters, research laboratory, observation deck, and cargo bay. Its shuttle can make landings the Normandy cannot attempt. In addition to tightbeam communicators, Normandy's Quantum Entanglement Communicator (QEC) provides instantaneous contact with the Illusive Man. The Enhanced Defense Intelligence A.I. coordinates many of the ship's combat functions, assisting and even supplanting human piloting.
Personal upgrades are numerous: the airframe could support additional armor and an axial mass accelerator, the thrusters could support recent advances in fuel technology beyond H2/O2 chemical rockets, and the hull can mount double the standard number of kinetic barrier projectors, leaving space for stronger shields, easily sustainable via the new eezo drive core.
 Normandy Weapon Upgrade: Thanix Magnetic-Hydrodynamic Weapon
Following the Battle of the Citadel, human and turian volunteers conducted a massive three-month survey effort to clear the station's orbit of debris. Secretly, the turian Office of Technological Reconnaissance "volunteers" were technology recovery specialists salvaging the main weapon of the geth flagship Sovereign, and large amounts of its valuable element zero core.
Contrary to popular belief, Sovereign's main gun was not a directed energy weapon. Rather, its massive element zero core powered an electromagnetic field suspending a liquid iron-uranium-tungsten alloy that shaped into armor-piercing projectiles when fired. The jet of molten metal, accelerated to a fraction of the speed of light, destroys targets by impact force and irresistible heat.
Only 11 months after the battle, the turians produced the Thanix, their own miniaturized version of Sovereign's gun. The Thanix can fire reliably every five seconds, rivaling a cruiser's firepower but mountable on a fighter or frigate.
Sovereign is the flagship of the rogue Spectre Saren. An enormous dreadnought larger than any other ship in any known fleet, Sovereign is crewed with both geth and krogan. At two kilometers long, its spinal-mounted main gun is likely capable of penetrating another dreadnought's kinetic barriers with a single shot.
How Saren acquired this incredible warship is unknown. The prevailing opinion is that Sovereign is a geth construct, while others believe it is a Prothean relic. Its design, however, hints at a more alien and mysterious origin.
The attack on Eden Prime demonstrated Sovereign's ability to generate mass effect fields powerful enough to land on a planetary surface. This implies it has a massive element zero core, and the ability to generate staggering amounts of power.
 Space Combat
Ship mobility dominates space combat; the primary objective is to align the mass accelerator along the bow with the apposing vessel's broadside. Battles typically play out as artillery duels fought at ranges measured in thousands of kilometers, though assault through defended mass relays often occur at "knife fight" ranges as close as a few dozen kilometers.
Most ship-to-ship engagements are skirmishes between patrol vessels of cruiser weight and below, with dreadnoughts and carriers only deployed in full-scale fleet actions. Battles in open space are short and often inconclusive, as the weaker opponent generally disengages.
Once a ship enters FTL flight the combat is effectively over; there are no sensors capable of tracking them, or weapons capable of damaging them. The only way to guarantee an enemy will stand and fight is to attack a location they have a vested interest in, such as a settled world or a strategically-important mass relay.
 UT-47 Kodiak "Drop-Shuttle"
The Systems Alliance UT-47 drop-shuttle landing craft holds 12 soldiers in a cramped, uncomfortable cargo bay and two more in the cockpit. Officially named the Kodiak, the drop-shuttle is better known to Alliance marines as the "combat cockroach" due to its appearance and durability.
The vehicle's robust environmental sealant technology exposes few vulnerable parts to the elements. First tested in the sulfuric acid and extreme temperatures of Venus, the Kodiak can land in hard vacuum, high pressure, and temperatures from near-absolute zero to over 900 degrees Celsius.
A true contragravitic vehicle, the Kodiak's substantial element zero core allows flight by entirely countering the vehicle's mass. Its small thrusters are for directional control only, so if the mass effect field fails, the vehicle becomes a proverbial "three-million-credit coffin". The unarmed shuttle forgoes weaponry-space for active masking, electronic countermeasures, and a robust kinetic barrier system. It is ideal for dropping troops undetected.
 Vehicles: M35 Mako
The "Mako" infantry fighting vehicle was designed for the System Alliance's frigates. Though the interior is cramped, an M35 is small enough to be carried in the cargo bay and easily deployed on virtually any world.
With its turreted mass accelerator and coaxially-mounted machine gun, the Mako can provide a fire team with weapon support as well as mobility. Since Alliance marines may be required to fight on any world, the Mako is environmentally-sealed and equipped with microthrusters for use on low-gravity planetoids.
The Mako is powered by a sealed hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell, and includes a small element zero core. While not large enough to nullify the vehicle's mass, the core can reduce it enough to be safely air-dropped. When used in conjunction with the thrusters, it also allows the Mako to extricate itself from difficult terrain.
 Secondary Codex Entries
 A-61 Mantis Gunship
The workhorse of mercenary bands throughout the galaxy, the Mantis is a two-man, vectored-thrust aircraft that excels in close air support roles. Highly modular in construction, the Mantis can be reconfigured as a low-altitude gunship, a fighter, a high-altitude bomber, or even a single-stage-to-orbit spaceplane that can engage enemy craft around a planet or a space station. The only role that the mantis cannot perform is that of a true deep-space fighter, as it has no FTL drive.
First rolled off the assembly lines in 2170, the Mantis remains in service in dozens of armies across the galaxy. It is most commonly used as air support in pitched ground battles, in a configuration that sports two pods for Inferno PKRs (Precision Kill Rockets) and a chin-mounted M350 mass accelerator cannon. Its kinetic barriers, thermal decay system, and electronic countermeasures suite make the Mantis far less vulnerable to surface-to-air attacks than previous generations of aircraft. Like most modern planes, the Mantis uses an element zero core to ease the load of the engines with a mass effect field, allowing it to take off vertically or hover in place using minimum fuel. This also gives it far greater range and speed than the helicopters and jump-jet aircraft that once filled its niche - a Mantis can take off from Baton Rouge, reach Moscow in a few hours, fly a ground attack mission, and return home before having to refuel.
 FTL Drive: Appearance
New space travelers ask, "What does it look like outside a ship moving faster-than-light speed?" Part of the answer can be seen in a simple pane of glass. Light travels slower through glass than it does through open air; light also moves slower in conventional space than it does in a high-speed mass effect field. This causes refraction - any light entering at an angle is bent and separated into a spectrum. Objects outside the ship will appear refracted. The greater the difference between the objective (exterior) and subjective (interior) speeds of light, the greater the refraction.
As the subjective speed of light is raised within the field, objects outside will appear to red-shift, eventually becoming visible only to radio telescope antennae. High-energy electromagnetic1 sources normally hidden to the eye become visible in the high blue spectrum. As the speed of light continues to be raised, x-ray, gamma ray, and eventually cosmic ray sources become visible. Stars will be replaced by pulsars1, the accretion discs1 of black holes1, quasars1, and gamma ray bursts1.
To an outside observer, a ship within a mass effect drive envelope appears blue-shifted. If within a field that allows travel at twice the speed of light, any radiation it emits has twice the energy as normal. If the ship is in a field of about 200 times light speed, it radiates visible light as x-rays and gamma rays, and the infrared heat from the hull is blue-shifted up into the visible spectrum or higher.
Ships moving at FTL are visible at great distances, though their signature will only propagate at the speed of light.
 FTL Drive: Drive Charge
As positive or negative electric current is passed through an FTL drive core, it acquires a static electrical charge. Drives can be operated an average of 50 hours before they reach charge saturation. This changes proportionally to the magnitude of mass reduction; a heavier or faster ship reaches saturation more quickly.
If the charge is allowed to build, the core will discharge into the hull of a ship. All ungrounded crew members are fried to a crisp, all electronic system are burned out, and metal bulkheads may be melted and fused together.
The safest way to discharge a core is to land on a planet and establish a connection to the ground, like a lightning rod. Larger vessels like dreadnoughts cannot land and must discharge into a planetary magnetic field1.
As the hull discharges, sheets of lightning jump away into the field, creating beautiful auroral displays on the planet. The ship must retract its sensors and weapons while dumping charge to prevent damage, leaving it blind and helpless. Discharging at a moon with a weak magnetic field can take days. Discharging into the powerful field of a gas giant may require less than an hour. Deep space facilities such as the Citadel often have special discharge facilities for visiting ships.
 Helios Thruster Module
Intended for next-generation fighter craft, the Heed Industries Helios Thruster Module propulsion system far outpaces the typical liquid hydrogen/liquid oxygen reactions that power a frigate's maneuvering thrusters. By using metastable metallic hydrogen, the Helios boasts a fuel that burns at far greater efficiency than liquid H2/O2. Navigators can execute the numerous small course corrections inherent to any long-distance travel without fear of exhausting the ship's fuel supplies. This net gain extends to forward impulse as well: a ship powered by antiprotons can coast temporarily using the Heliios to reach an inferior but highly sustainable speed. Such efficiency lowers antiproton consumption, a constant concern for any warship.
When a Helios-propelled ship must refuel, however, it typically relies on a large carrier or nearby planetary factory to synthesize the metallic hydrogen. This process uses extremely dense mass effect fields to create the metal under pressures of over a million Earth atmospheres, an activity most safely done while planetside. While that process may seem like a drawback compared to "skimmer ships" that can gather hydrogen and oxygen from anywhere in the universe, the combat superiority of the Helios' maneuvering capabilities is often a worthwhile trade-off. The same efficiency that allows for microburn course correction can power rapid bursts of motion. Once a pilot becomes used to the ship's new energetic responses, she can easily put the ship wherever and at whatever angle she desires.
 Space Combat: Combat Endurance
Heat limits the length and intensity of ship-to-ship combat. Starships generate enormous heat when they fire high-energy weapons, perform maneuvering burns, and run on-board combat electronics.
In combat, warships produce heat more quickly than they can disperse it. As heat builds within a vessel, the crewed spaces become increasingly uncomfortable. Before the heat reaches lethal leaves, a ship must win or retreat by entering FTL. After an FTL run, the ships halts, shuts down non-essential systems, and activates the heat radiation gear.
Combat endurance varies by ship design and by the battle's location. Battles in the deep cold of interstellar space can go on for some time. Engagements close to a star are brief. Since habitable worlds are usually close to a star, battles over them are usually more frantic.
 Space Combat: General Tactics
Shells lofted by surface navies crash back to earth when their acceleration is overwhelmed by gravity and air resistance. In space, a projectile has unlimited range, it will keep moving until it hits something.
Practical gunnery range is determined by the velocity of the attacker's ordinance and the maneuverability of the target. Beyond a certain range, a small ship's ability to dodge trumps a larger attacker's projectile speed. The largest-ranged combat occurs between dreadnoughts, whose projectiles have the highest velocity but are the least maneuverable. The shortest-range combat is between frigates, which have the slowest projectile velocities and highest maneuverability.
Opposing dreadnoughts open with main gun artillery duel at EXTREME ranges of tens of thousands of kilometers. The fleet close, maintaining evasive lateral motion while keeping their bow guns facing the enemy. Fighters are launched and attempt to close to disruptor torpedo range. Cautious admirals weaken the enemy with ranged fire and fighter strikes before committing to close action. Aggressive commanders advance so cruisers and frigates can engage.
At LONG range, the main guns of cruisers become useful. Friendly interceptors engage enemy fighters until the attackers enter the range of ship-based GARDIAN fire. Dreadnoughts fire from the rear, screened by smaller ships. Commanders must decide whether to commit to a general melee or retreat into FTL.
At MEDIUM range, ships can use broadside guns. Fleets intermingle, and it becomes difficult to retreat in order. Ships with damaged kinetic barriers are vulnerable to wolfpack1 frigate flotillas that speed through the battle space.
Only fighters and frigates enter CLOSE "knife fight" ranges of 10 or fewer kilometers. Fighters loose their disruptor torpedoes, bringing down a ship's kinetic barriers and allowing it to be swarmed by frigates. GARDIAN lasers become viable weapons, swatting down fighters and boiling away warship armor.
Neither dreadnoughts nor cruisers can use their main guns at close range; laying the bow on a moving target becomes impossible. Superheated thruster exhaust becomes a hazard.
 Space Combat: Planetary Assaults
Planetary assaults are complicated if the target is a habitable garden world; the attackers cannot approach the defenders straight on.
The Citadel Conventions prohibit the use of large kinetic impactors against habitable worlds. In a straight-on attack, any misses plough into the planet behind the defending fleet. If the defenders position themselves between the attackers and the planet, they can fire at will while the attacker risks hitting the planet.
Successful assaults on garden worlds hinge upon up-to-date intelligence. Attackers need to determine where the enemy's defenses are, so they may approach from an angle that allows them to fire with no collateral damage. Note this is not necessary for hostile worlds.
Once control of orbit has been lost, defensive garrisons disperse into the wilderness. An enemy with orbital superiority can bombard surface forces with impunity. The best option for defenders is to hide and collect reconnaissance in anticipation of relief forces.
Given the size of a planet, it is impractical to garrison entire conquered worlds. Fortunately, colonization efforts tend to focus on building up a dozen or fewer areas. Ground forces occupy the spaceports, industrial facilities, and major population centers. The wilderness is patrolled by unmanned aerial vehicles1 and satellite reconnaissance. If a defender unit is spotted, airmobile rapid deployment units and satellite artillery are used to pin down and destroy them.
 Space Combat: Pursuit Tactics
Dependent on light, sensors cannot detect objects moving at a faster-than-light speeds. No ship can be detected at interstellar ranges. Detection at interplanetary ranges suffers from light speed lag: observers see ships not where they appear to be but where they were when the light bearing their image left them, minutes, hours, or days before. To counteract light speed lag, battle fleets surround themselves with spheres of screen and scouting frigates.
Pursuers cannot detect ships and directly intercept them. Instead, pursuers track where objects were, where they were heading, and at what speed they were moving. Such data reliably predicts an object's future location and for pursuit along its light-lagged "wake". Ships trying to evade pursuit follow erratic zigzag courses, requiring pursuers to make stops to update their projections.
 Space Combat: Trans-Relay Assaults
The crucial choice for any attack through mass relays is how to divide the fleet for transit. The accuracy of a relay's mass-projection depends on the mass being moved and how far it’s going. Any long distance and/or high mass jump will see "drift". That is, a ship may be hundreds or millions of kilometers from its intended drop point, in any direction from the relay.
Distance can't be chosen by admirals, but a relay is told how much mass to transit. For example, if told to move a million metric tons of mass, the relay will scan the approach corridor, find four 250,000-ton freighters, and transit them together, maintaining their relative positions.
A commander has the option of moving his fleet as one large, coherent formation that may be wildly off-position, or breaking it up into many smaller formations that will be individually closer to the intended attack point, but could be widely dispersed.
Conservative assault doctrine holds that fleets should be moved en masse, maintaining concentration of force and reducing the chances of collision. The only time it is reasonable to split up a formation is during blockade running.
 Starships: Crew Considerations
Cabins give each individual ten cubic meters of space. On larger vessels private rooms are common. As ships get smaller, the number of crew packed into a single wardroom increases. Asari prefer shared spaces even on large vessels while krogan territorial instincts make it impossible for them to cohabitate even on the largest ships.
On smaller vessels, "hot bunking" is the norm. Crew members are assigned different watches share the same bunk. When one gets off-duty, he wakes up the person in the bunk. While that crewman is on duty, the first gets his rack time.
Spacecraft compartments can be isolated by air-tight doors in case of decompression. The cinematic version of explosive decompression is fiction; holed compartments either take enough damage that the occupants are killed instantly, or leak slowly enough that they are able to reach protective gear.
Compartments are equipped with Emergency Life Supports Apparatus: fireproof plastic bubbles with air bottles. Small when stowed, ELSA comfortably accommodate one individual inflated. Damage control procedure cuts off ventilation to burning compartments. Without oxygen to consume, fires die in seconds. The compartment is re-pressurized afterward for crew recovery.
Mass effect fields create an artificial gravity (a-grav) plane below the decks, preventing muscle atrophy and bone loss in zero-gee. Large vessels arrange their decks perpendicular to their thrust axis. The "highest" decks are at the bow, and the "lowest" decks at the engines. This allows a-grav to work with the inertial effects of thrust. Ships that can land arrange their decks laterally, so the crew can move about while the vessel is on the ground.
Warships normally turn off their a-grav systems during combat, reducing heat generated by systems and increasing combat endurance. To provide a point of reference for navigating in zero-gee, floors are painted a different color from the walls and ceiling.
 Starships: Cruisers
Cruiser-weight starships are the standard combat unit encountered away from large naval bases, the "poor bloody infantry" of most fleets. Nimble scouting frigates have neither the punch nor the stamina to stand up to serious combat, and the mighty dreadnoughts are a strategic resource, carefully hoarded and committed to the most critical battles.
Cruisers perform routine independent "show the flag" patrols in settled systems and lead flotillas of frigates in small engagements, such as pirate suppression campaigns. In major fleet engagements, cruiser squadrons support the dreadnought battle line by screening their flanks against enemies attempting to maneuver for a main gun "bow shot" from their vulnerable broadsides.
Alliance cruisers are named after cities of Earth.
 Starships: Dreadnought
The dreadnought is the ultimate arbiter of space warfare; millions of tons of metal, ceramic, and polymer dedicated to the projection of firepower against an enemy vessel of like ability. No sane commander would face a dreadnought with anything less than another dreadnought.
A dreadnought's power lies in the length of its main gun. Dreadnoughts range from 800 meters to one kilometer long, with a main gun of commensurate length. An 800-meter mass accelerator is capable of accelerating one 20 kg. slug to a velocity of 4025 km/s every two seconds. Each slug has the kinetic energy of 38 kilotons1 of TNT, three times the energy released by the fission weapon that destroyed Hiroshima.
When used to bombard planets, some of this kinetic energy is lost due to atmospheric re-entry friction. As a rule of thumb, each Earth-atmosphere of air pressure saps approximately 20% of a projectile's impact energy.
The turian fleet presently has 39 dreadnoughts; the asari, 21; and the salarians, 16. Humanity has eight. Alliance battleships are named for mountains of Earth.
Everest-class: Everest, Fuji, Elbrus.
Kilimanjaro-class: Kilimanjaro, Tai Shan, Shasta, Aconcagua, Orizaba.
 Starships: Carriers
All races provide their fleets with organic fighter support. Cruisers fit a handful in the space between the interior pressure hulls and exterior armor. Dreadnoughts have a hangar deck within the hull. Humans – who had only recently "graduated" from surface to space combat – were the first to build ships wielding fighters as the main armament.
In fleet combat, carriers stay clear of battle, launching fighters bearing disruptor torpedoes. Fighters are the primary striking power of the ship; if a carrier enters mass accelerator range of the enemy, things have gone very wrong.
It is possible to recover and rearm fighters during combat, though most carriers seal the flight deck and try to stay out of the way. The flight deck is essentially a corridor through the armor and into the heart of the vessel. A single well-placed torpedo is enough to gut a carrier.
Alliance carriers are named after great leaders, artists, and intellectuals from human history.
 Starships: Fighters
Fighters are single-pilot combat small craft. They are lightweight enough that they can be economically fitted with powerful element zero cores, making them capable of greater acceleration and sharper maneuvers than starships.
Kinetic barrier shields changed starship battles from short, vicious bloodbaths to extended, indecisive slugging matches. Only the main gun of a dreadnought could punch a mass accelerator slug through the barriers of an opposing dreadnought. This changed with the development of the fighter-launched mass disruptor torpedo, a short-ranged weapon that can penetrate kinetic barriers to destroy their projector assemblies.
Starship GARDIAN defenses must be overwhelmed through swarm tactics. Fighter groups can take heavy casualties pressing their torpedo attacks home. Once fighter-launched torpedoes have crippled an enemy's barriers, the mass accelerators on frigates and cruisers can make short work of them.
Interceptors are a type of fighter optimized to attack other fighters, with no ability to damage starships. Interceptors are used to screen friendly units from incoming fighter attack.
 Starships: Frigates
Frigates are light escort and scouting vessels. They often have extensive GARDIAN systems to provide anti-fighter screening for capital ships, and carry a squad of marines for security and groundside duty. Unlike larger vessels, frigates are able to land on planets.
Frigate drive systems allow them to achieve high FTL cruise speeds. They also have proportionally larger thrusters and lighter design mass, allowing them to maneuver more handily. In combat, speed and maneuverability make a frigate immune to the long-range fire of larger vessels; in the time it take projectiles to reach them, frigates are no longer where they were predicted to be.
In fleet combat, frigates are organized into "wolfpack1" flotillas of four to six. Wolfspacks speed through enemy formations, hunting enemy vessels whose kinetic barriers have been taken down by fighter-launched disruptor torpedoes. The wolfspack circle-strafes vulnerable targets, using their superior speed and maneuverability to evade return fire.
Alliance frigates are named for great battles in human history.
 Starships: Heat Management
Dispersal of heat generated by onboard systems is a critical issue for a ship. If it cannot deal with heat, the crew may be cooked within the hull.
Radiation is the only way to shed heat in a vacuum. Civilian vessels utilize large, fragile radiator panels that are impossible to armor. Warships use Diffuse Radiator Arrays (DRA), ceramic strips along the exterior of the armored hull. These make the ship appear striped to thermographic sensors. Since the arrangement of the strips depends on the internal configuration of the ship, the patterns for each vessel are unique and striking. On older ships, the DRA strips could become red- or white-hot. Dubbed "tiger stripes" or "war paint" by humans, the glowing DRA had a psychological impact on pirates and irregular forces.
Strip radiators are not as efficient as panels, but if damaged by enemy fire, the ship only loses a small portion of its total radiation capacity. In most cases, a vessel's DRA alone allows it to cruise with no difficulties. Operations deep within solar systems can cause problems.
A ship engaged in combat can produce titanic amounts of heat from maneuvering burns and weapons fire. When fighting in a high heat environment, warships employ high-efficiency "droplet" heat sinks.
In a droplet system, tanks of liquid sodium or lithium absorb heat within the ship. The liquid is vented from spray nozzles near the bow as a thin sheet of millions of micrometer-scale droplets. The droplets are caught at the stern and recycled into the system. A droplet system can sink 10-100 times as much heat as DRA strips.
Droplet sheets resemble a surface ship's wake through water. The wake peels out in sharp turns, spreading a fan of droplets as the ship changes vectors and leaves the coolant behind.
 Starships: Quarian Liveships
There are few wide-open spaces in quarian spacecrafts; liveships are the exception. Each ship is a massive hydroponics facility, growing thousands of tons of genetically modified staple crops under artificial light and in highly enriched soil.
The surface of a liveship is studded with docking bays so as many shuttles as possible can distribute the foods throughout the flotilla on a daily basis. When received, the crops are sterilized with radiation, ground up into nutritious paste, and pumped into quarian suits through feeding tubes. In return, waste products are that could be used as fertilizer or compost are returned to the liveships through an efficient (if odorous) recycling program.
Liveships do not hold animals. The quarians consume a vegan diet, driven not by ethics but by practicality. Captive animals require living space, and consume large amounts of water and plant matter. The quarians cannot afford such an inefficient resource-to-calorie ratio, to say nothing of a live animal's disease or allergen potential. As a result, when the flotilla arrives in a star system where life is based on the same dextro-amino acids that the quarians consume, pastes based on animal proteins fetch highly inflated prices, and the vendors are typically mobbed by quarians wanting a new taste sensation. The sickness that often follows these binges is treated much the same way as hangovers are in human culture; painful, but part of the overall experience of excess.
 Starships: Sensors
"Light lag" prevents sensing in real time at great distances. A ship firing its thrusters at the Charon Relay can be easily detected from Earth, 5.75 light-hours (six billion kilometers) away, but Earth will only see the event five hours and 45 minutes after it occurs. Due to the light-speed limit, defenders can't see enemies coming until they have already arrived. Because there is FTL travel and communications but no FTL sensors, frigates are crucial for scouting and picket duties.
Passive sensors are used for long-range detection, while active sensors obtain short-range, high quality targeting data.
Passive sensors include visual, thermographic, and radio detectors that watch and listen for objects in space. A powered ship emits a great deal of energy; the heat of the life support systems; the radiation given off by power plants and electrical equipment; the exhaust of the thrusters. Starships stand out plainly against the near-absolute zero background of space. Passive sensors can be used during FTL travel, but incoming data is significantly distorted by the effect of the mass effect envelope and Doppler shift.
Active sensors are radars and high resolution ladars (LAser Detection And Ranging) that emit a "ping" of energy and "listen" for return signals. Ladars have a narrower field of view than radar, but ladar resolution allows images of detected objects to be assembled. Active sensors are useless when a ship is moving at FTL speeds.
 Starships: Thrusters
A mass effect drive core decreases the mass of a bubble of space-time around a ship. This gives the ship the potential to move quickly, but does not apply any motive power. Ships use their sublight thrusters for motive power in FTL. There are several varieties of thruster, varying in performance versus economy. All ships are equipped with arrays of hydrogen-oxygen reaction control thrusters for maneuvering.
Ion drives electrically accelerate charged particles as a reaction mass. They are extremely efficient, but produce negligible thrust. They are mainly used for automated cargo barges.
The primary commercial engine is a "fusion torch", which vents the plasma of a ship's power plant. Fusion torches offer powerful acceleration at the cost of difficult heat management. Torch fuel is fairly cheap: helium-3 skimmed from gas giants and deuterium extracted from seawater or cometary bodies. Propellant is hydrogen, likewise skimmed from gas giants.
In combat, military vessels require accelerations beyond the capability of fusion torches. Warship thrusters inject antiprotons into a reaction chamber filled with hydrogen. The matter-antimatter annihilation provides unmatched motive power. The drawback is fuel production; antiprotons must be manufactured one particle at a time. Most antimatter production is done at massive solar arrays orbiting energetic stars, making them high-value targets in wartime.
The exhaust of fusion and antiproton drives is measured in millions of degrees Celsius. Any vessel caught behind them will melt like wax in a blowtorch.
Any long-duration interstellar flight consists of two phases: acceleration and deceleration. Starships accelerate to the half-way point of their journey, then flip 180 degrees and apply thrust on the opposite vector, decelerating as they finish the trip. The engines are always operating, and peak speed is attained at the middle of the flight.
 Vehicles: Combat Drones
Drones are small robots used to support and supplement organic soldiers on the battlefield. They have no artificial intelligence of any kind, but follow fixed, minimally adaptive programs. Most varieties employ mass effect levitation to improve mobility.
All modern armies rely on veritable fleets of drones for routine soldiering (static garrisons, patrols, etc.). The use of drones in non-critical duties keeps manpower need down and reduces casualties in low intensity conflicts. Less advanced races and cultures with less sensitivity to casualties have correspondingly fewer drones in their inventory. Drones are of little use in conventional open field battles, as they are poorly armed and armored.
In addition to combat drones, support drones are used to assist organic units in the field. Reconnaissance drones are small, stealthy craft that screen combat units in the field and warn commanders when enemies are spotted. Electronic Warfare drones supplement battlefield technicians, serving as mobile jammers and ELINT (ELectronic INTelligence) gathering platforms. Military and civilian police utilize "dazzler drones" equipped with powerful strobe lights to disorient and subdue intruders using nonlethal force.
Drone formations are officially referred to in wings (i.e., "Deploy the 4th Assault Drone Wing on the left flank!"). Common soldiers often refer to friendly formations as flocks and enemy formations as swarms.
 Weapons: Ablative Armor
A warship's kinetic barriers reduce the damage from solid objects, but can do nothing to block GARDIAN lasers, particle beams, and other forms of Directed Energy Weapon (DEW). The inner layer of warship protection consists of ablative armor plate designed to "boil away" when heated. The vaporized armor material scatters a DEW beam, rendering it ineffectual.
A scaffold was built around the interior pressure hull, with sheets of ablative armor hung from the structure. Ships typically have multiple layers of armor separated by empty baffles, spaces often used for cargo storage. Cruisers, which lack the internal space to fit dedicated fighter hangers, store the shipboard fighter complement in the baffles. It is not unknown for enlisted crew to build illicit alcohol distilleries in some obscure corner of the baffles, safe from prying eyes.
 Weapons: Disruptor Torpedoes
Disruptor torpedoes are powered projectiles with warheads that create random and unstable mass effect fields when triggered. These fields warp space-time in a localized area. The rapid asymmetrical mass changes cause the target to rip itself apart.
In flight, torpedoes use a mass-increasing field, making them too massive for enemy kinetic barriers to repulse. The extra mass gives the torpedoes a very sluggish acceleration, making them easy prey for defensive GARDIAN weapons. So, torpedoes have to be launched at very close range.
Torpedoes are the main anti-ship weapon used by fighters. They are launched from point-blank range in "ripple-fire" waves reminiscent of the ancient Calliope rocket artillery launchers (thus their popular nickname "Callies"). By saturating defensive GARDIAN systems with multiple targets, at least a few will get through.
 Weapons: GARDIAN
A ships' General ARea Defensive Integration Anti-spacecraft Network (GARDIAN) consists of anti-missile/anti-fighter laser turrets on the exterior hull. Because these are under computer control, the gunnery control officer needs to do little beyond turn the system on and designate targets as hostile.
Since lasers move at light speed, they cannot be dodged by anything moving at non-relativistic speeds. Unless the beam is aimed poorly, it will always hit its target. In the early stages of a battle, the GARDIAN fire is 100% accurate. It is not 100% lethal, but it doesn't have to be. Damaged fighters must break off for repairs.
Lasers are limited by diffraction. The beams "spread out", decreasing the energy density (watts per m2) the weapon can place on a target. Any high-powered laser is a short-ranged weapon.
GARDIAN networks have another limitation: heat. Weapons-grade lasers require "cool-down" time, during which heat is transferred to sinks or radiators. As lasers fire, heat builds within them, reducing damage, range, and accuracy.
Fighters attack in swarms. The first few WILL be hit by GARDIAN, but as the battle continues, the effects of laser overheat allow the attacks to press ever closer to the ship. Constant use will burn out the laser.
GARDIAN lasers typically operate in infrared frequencies. Shorter frequencies would offer superior stopping power and range, but degradation of focal arrays and mirrors would make them expensive to maintain, and most prefer mechanical reliability over leading-edge performance where lives are concerned. Salarians, however, use near-ultraviolet frequency lasers with six times the range, believing that having additional time to shoot down incoming missiles is more important.
Lasers are not blocked by the kinetic barriers of capital ships. However, the range of lasers limits their use to rare "knife fight"-range ship-to-ship combat.
 Weapons: Javelin
The Javelin is an experimental close-assault weapon fitted on a handful of newer Alliance warships. It consists of a "rack" of two or more disposable disruptor torpedo tubes bolted or magnetically "slung" on to a ship’s exterior armored hull. The torpedoes are fired on converging trajectories, and detonate in a precisely timed sequence that allows the dark energy emitted by their warheads to resonate. This magnifies the resulting space-time warp effects.
Javelin mounts are most often fitted on swift frigates, which expect to enter "knife fight" torpedo ranges as a matter of course. Javelins may also be fitted on heavier ships during short range engagements, such as trans-relay assaults. They are particularly useful in this role for dreadnoughts, which are unable to lay their main guns on targets at close range.
 Weapons: Mass Accelerators
Mass accelerators propel solid metal slugs via electromagnetic attraction and repulsion. A slug lightened by a mass effect field can be accelerated to extremely high speeds, permitting previously unattainable projectile velocities.
The primary determinant of a mass accelerator's destructive power is length. The longer the barrel, the longer the slug can be accelerated, the higher the slug's final velocity, and therefore the greater its kinetic impact. Slugs are designed to squash or shatter on impact, increasing the energy they transfer to it target. Without collapsibility, slugs would punch through their targets while inflicting only minimal damage.
Rather than being mounted on the exterior, starship guns are housed inside hulls and visible only as gun portholes from outside.
A ship's main gun is a large spinal-mount weapon running 90% of the hull's length. While possessing destructive power equal to that of tactical nuclear weapons, main guns are difficult to aim. Because ships must be able to point their bows almost directly at their targets, main guns are best used for long-range "bombardment" fire.
Approximately 40% of the hull's width, broadside guns inflict less damage and can be mounted with greater numbers and more flexibility. The modern human Kilimanjaro-class dreadnoughts mount three decks with 26 broadside accelerators apiece for a total salvo weight of 78 slugs per side, firing once every two seconds.
However, mass accelerators produce recoil equal to their impact energy. While the mass effect fields suspending the rounds mitigate the recoil, recoil shock can still rattle crews and damage systems.
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