BattleMech (Mech), in the science fiction of BattleTech, is a war machine 10-12 meters in height, and 20 to 100 tonnes in weight. These vehicles are powered by fusion reactors and are capable of fighting underwater and in outer space.
BattleMechs use a muscle-like artificial fibre called myomer to allow the 'Mech to walk and move. Powerful gyroscopes provide stability, which the pilot controls with a neurohelmet that effectively links the 'Mech's computer into the pilot's sense of balance and nervous system. The movement of a 'Mech is controlled by joystick.
BattleMechs are armed with a frightening array of weaponry, including lasers, short, medium, and long range missiles, (interestingly, BattleTech missiles are far shorter ranged than their modern counterparts which was explained by guidance technology being lost over time, through the Succession Wars.), machine guns, autocannons, gauss rifles, flamers, particle projection cannons (PPCs) and the 'Mech's own arms and legs. A single 'Mech can easily destroy a city. A BattleMech's only true rival is another 'Mech - artillery, aircraft, and tanks are nearly worthless against them without BattleMech support or a strong advantage in numbers.
The first BattleMech ever developed was the Mackie, a well-described 100 tonne box with legs. It was developed in 2439 by the Terran Hegemony, first deployed in 2443, and produced throughout the rest of the Inner Sphere after the BattleMech construction plans were stolen in 2455.
Rarely used configurations of battlemechs are the quad (four-legged 'Mech) and LAM (Land Air 'Mech).
The Land Air 'Mech
The LAM had the ability to transform into a conventional aircraft and revert to BattleMech mode, enabling it to quickly traverse great distances in a short time. However its weight limit, real life legal conflicts with Harmony Gold (The LAMs, as well as several other 'Mechs, were based heavily off of mecha designs from The Super Dimension Fortress Macross and other anime series) would end its official existence within the universe. The Wasp, Stinger and Phoenix Hawk were famous LAMs. These Land Air Mechs can be found in the original edition of Technical Readout: 3025, along with the other "lost" or "unseen" BattleMechs such as the Marauder, Crusader, Warhammer, and the non-LAM versions of the Stinger, Wasp, and Phoenix Hawk.
As an interesting side note, a flying 'Mech was made as add-on to Combat Flight Simulator 2, copyright of Microsoft, by a third party. It was called the Stormcrow (not to be confused with the canon 55 tonne Clan medium mech of the same name), and had two wings projecting from the top. It is capable of vertical take-off and landing.
The Quadruped 'Mech
The quad 'Mech, though much maligned, has experienced a bit of a renaissance in the years after 3060. With the rediscovery of more efficient weapons, internal structure, and armor, the quad 'Mech's stability and ability to carry heavy weapons has much improved. However, the stigma associated with the general design still lingers, leaving the normal dual-legged battlemech the vastly more common 'Mech. Notable quad designs include the 55 tonne Scorpion, 80 tonne Goliath and 70 tonne Barghest.
Certain 'Mechs have become iconic within the Battletech Universe. The birdlike 75 tonne Timber Wolf/Mad Cat (pictured in the Legend of The Jade Phoenix novel cover) is popular both for its aesthetic quality and in-game performance. The Timber Wolf is a very popular subject for art, both in official Battletech material and fan artwork. Interestingly, the Timber Wolf bears more than a passing resemblance to the original Marauder (which is no longer pictured in official Battletech material due to copyright issues), which is another popular (and arguably effective) design.
Primary characters in Battletech stories often use customized mechs. For example, Kai Allard-Liao pilots a unique Centurion medium battlemech called "Yen-Lo-Wang" which features a slightly different weapons configuration than a standard centurion. Prince Victor Steiner-Davion uses a custom Dire Wolf Assault 'mech with more high-calibre weapons (the usual configuration sports multiple small and medium weight weapons). Jade Falcon hero Aidan Pryde pilots a custom jump-capable Timber Wolf. Gray Norton piloted a customized rifleman fire support and anti aircraft 'mech dubbed "Legend Killer", although exactly what modifications were made to the chassis are unknown (although they transformed the otherwise mediocre rifleman into a deadly area fighter). Finally, Natasha "The Black Widow" Kerensky piloted a customized Dire Wolf somewhat similar to Victor's.
OmniMechs are a special class of BattleMech whose weaponry and equipment may be mounted and unmounted in a modular manner, allowing MechWarriors to customize their war machine's loadouts to emphasize their own skills and environmental considerations, making them all the deadlier foes to face in battle. Though beginning to appear more and more in the standard armies of the Inner Sphere, the OmniMech is still predominantly used by the Clans of Kerensky. Having mastered the design of the OmniMech many years before their invasion of the Inner Sphere in 3050, the Clans used these machines with frightening efficiency, decimating whole garrisons with nearly 3 to 1 or even 5 to 1 numerical superiority stacked against them. Incorporating a majority of Star League-era technology as well as native Clan technological advances, the OmniMech went on to symbolize the Clans themselves to much of the Inner Sphere.
Already in a technology race, all House armies treated these Mechs as the Holy Grail of Battlemech technology. Captured OmniMechs themselves usually never saw battle again until the Inner Sphere began to make small advances against the unstoppable Clan juggernaut. During that time, many of the Inner Sphere nations, most notably the Federated Commonwealth and the Draconis Combine, made remarkable headway when they released reverse-engineered designs of some venerable Clan designs. Still, these OmniMechs paled in comparison to their parent designs. Not until after the Truce of Tukayyid did the Inner Sphere begin to decidedly close the gap between their technology and their aggressors. Now famous new designs such as the HA1-O Hauptmann, the TLR1-O Templar and the MS1-O Men Shen have begun to shine in the militaries of House Steiner, House Davion and House Liao respectively, with many houses following suit.
The real power of the OmniMech lies in the modular construction of its design. The OmniMech was originally based off of the Mercury BattleMech and is simply an evolution of that style of design. Though not solely created for modular weapon loadouts, the OmniMech design proved advantageous for repair and construction as well. Damaged components such as arms and legs could be easily replaced in half the time it took for common Battlemechs even without the experience of the dedicated Technician Caste of the Clans servicing them. On top of this, many of the Mechs seen in the invasion also sported similar limbs to each other (most notably the Summoner and the Hellbringer Omnimechs), leading many to believe that some parts serviced many chassis instead of solely one design. In a logistical sense, this greatly improved the Clans' ability to wage war. The ability of a front-line unit to quickly service, re-arm or even modify the weapons loadout, and put pilots back on the battlefield kept the Clans moving at their amazing pace. Also, the modular design caused a sizeable decline in weight for many weapons and components, hence allowing, for example, a 75 tonne Timber Wolf (known as the Mad Cat to the Inner Sphere armies) heavy OmniMech to feature as much weaponry as Inner Sphere assault Mech has, without the penalties to maneuverability a typical Assault-class mech has.
Ironically, the first Mech ever seen by the Inner Sphere was one such Timber Wolf on the planet The Rock at the beginning of the invasion in 3050. To this day in the storyline, the Clans still field this and many other designs from the invasion in frontline Galaxies, spanning almost 2 or 3 design generations in the Inner Sphere that have fought and been destroyed at their feet. It has since become the symbol of the Clans as a whole, and is a true testament to the tenacity and brilliance of Clan technology
Jumpships are what make interstellar exploration, colonization, and warfare possible. Dropships dock to the Jumpship, which is almost always positioned either at the nadir or zenith points above or below a star, where gravitational influence is negligible and FTL travel is possible. To jump, the Jumpship calculates the correct course and field strength and fires the Kearny-Fuchida drive, which instantly transports the ship to the projected star system, up to 30 light-years away.
It is possible for a jumpship to use "pirate points" which are closer to the planets--and are caused as the planetary bodies of a system orbit, canceling one another's gravitational influence--but these points are much harder to navigate to compared to the traditional nadir and zenith points around a star.
Instantaneous interstellar travel would make warfare extremely volatile were it not for the limitations of the Kearny-Fuchida FTL drive. The jump, or teleportation of a very large mass, cannot be triggered at will. A number of days (typically a week) must be spent collecting copious amounts of energy from the nearby star, which is done by means of a solar collector with an area of many square kilometers. The immense energy is accumulated in storage pools/banks/batteries/capacitors, and dumped into the drive system wholesale to achieve the jump. Jump drives may also be charged by the JumpShip's fusion reactor, which can result in a significantly faster recharge, but has several drawbacks, namely: increased consumption of fuel for the fusion reactor and a slightly higher chance of a misjump due to the higher speed of the charge. Ships with Lithium Fusion Batteries typically charge the drive with the sail and the batteries with the onboard reactor.
Some Jumpships are equipped with "Lithium Fusion Batteries" which allow the jumpship to store two 'charges' for the jump drive, allowing the ship to make two jumps in quick succession. This places heavy stress on the jump drive and increases the risk of a failure in the drive or a misjump. There are two primary causes for jumpdrive failures or misjumps. One is overstressing the drive, and the second is via spatial anomalies. The former is much more common, and results from poor maintenance, charging the jump drive too quickly (minimum time to do what is generally considered a safe jump is 150+ hours), or making two jumps in succession with lithium-fusion batteries. Spatial anomalies are far rarer, but are suspected to have caused the loss of several jumpships over the several hundred years of their use.
During the time of the Star League and before, there were massive armed and armored JumpShips called WarShips. At the height of Star League, fleets of thousands of these behemoths roamed the stars, enforcing the League's will. The majority of these, and those belonging to the Inner Sphere's Houses, were destroyed during the fall of the League, or disappeared along with Aleksandr Kerensky and the SLDF, and most of their shipyards were heavily damaged or obliterated. It has only been in the later part of the 31st century that technology has risen to a point where building fleets of new WarShips is even somewhat feasible. Still, only the most industrious of Successor States can even construct more than one at a time because their astronomical costs.
While JumpShips move units and other hardware from star system to star system, it falls to the DropShips to move them inside the system. Almost all DropShips are capable of landing on a planet, and they are the primary method of moving goods and armies. These workhorses, though, are still technological wonders, much like their bigger brethren, the Jumpship.
DropShips range in mass from 400 tonnes (Vampire Troop Carrier) up to massive 100,000 tonnes (Behemoth Cargo Carrier) and all sizes in between. This massive bulk, though, would be nothing without the large and very powerful fusion engines that propel them through space. Despite their massive size, though, these DropShips are usually cramped inside, featuring relatively little in the way of creature-comforts or extra space. Every possible hole or space in a DropShip has some sort of system or mechanism important to the operation and maintenance of the vessel. Most crews live in small, spartan quarters bunking 4 or more a piece, though Star League Era DropShips, as well as some newer ones as of the late 3060's feature comparatively spacious twin cabins. Except for passenger liners which only afford their attendants a bit more privacy, DropShips are very public places. Most DropShips ever described talk of stale air and overly-cramped living conditions. Still, in terms of the needs of humanity, these DropShips and their crew are technological god-sends.
They are based around two basic hullforms, aerodyne (aerodynamic, resembling that of the space shuttle) and spheroid (egg-shaped). Aerodynes are generally smaller than spheroids, require runways to take off and land, but are capable of at least crash-landing. Spheroid must rely on brute drive strength to remain in flight. To facilitate these designs, most colonized planets feature massive starports in order to service and unload/load these behemoths. Though designed to land on any terrain, DropShips mainly set down at these facilities in order to minimize the chance of damage. Any maintainence to a DropShip usually costs more than even the average citizen of BattleTech's storyline will ever see in 3 or 4 of their lifetimes combined, let alone that of many companies. The chassis itself costs a large fortune to make, let alone any weapons, armor, avionics, and those powerful fusion engines required to even lift it off the ground.
The most common DropShips in military service are the spheroid "Union" and "Overlord" class DropShips. The Union can carry a full 12-'Mech company, and the Overlord can carry a battalion, consisting three times a Union's complement. More recent designs such as the Federated Suns Conquistador can carry even more, delegating space for heavy combat vehicles, aerospace fighters, and even battle armor. Also, some DropShips have been pressed into duty to provide support or suppression fire in combat against enemy WarShips. These designs give up space in order to carry the massive weapons fielded by Warships, even though in terms of survivability, they would never last in a head-to-head fight. Still, these designs have gained popularity for being much cheaper to field in relation to WarShips.
The HyperPulse Generator
The HyperPulse Generator (HPG) arrays are based upon numerous worlds all across the Inner Sphere. ComStar owns and operates these, collecting payment from those who wish to transmit messages. The FTL devices are the primary means of interstellar communications, and ComStar has a virtual monopoly on their usage.
However, following the schism of the Word of Blake from ComStar after the battle of Tuukayid, HPG technology has slowly begun disseminating to the states of the Inner Sphere, with ComStar itself accepting money to help fund the creation of new stations.
As transmission is expensive, messages are frequently bundled into batches of hundreds, sent simultaneously. So, while the transmission of HPG array messages is done nearly instantaneously, it may be days, weeks, or months before a message is sent; one can pay a higher fee in order for "priority service". The maximum range of an HPG pulse is 50 light-years.
Transmission stations are categorized by a rating, either A, B, C, or D. Most stations in the inner sphere are class A or B stations, meaning that they transmit regularly and have high volume capacity. Class C and D stations are more often seen in the periphery or in backwater worlds, and they only transmit once a week or month, sending a few batched messages.
The transmission itself is a variant of the jumpdrive. The system effectively allows a radio transmission to travel through hyperspace for distances of fifty light years. The transmission cannot be bidirectional due to the manner that jumpspace works, but if two HPGs are used to establish a connection, one can receive transmissions and the other can send them, effectively bootstrapping a bi-directional comm system. This was first seen in the years leading up to the FedCom civil war, when the Archon subsidized construction of more HPG centers to allow real-time communications between New Avalon and Tharkad, effectively across the entire inner sphere.