Cockpit builders take note, the section about 'mech controls has been extensively revised and clarified and should be of more use to you now!
Intro: OMG! TL, DR!
Ok, now that I posted that, everyone else doesn't have to. Really, I don't expect this Post to be read in one sitting; but more power to you if you do.
Wait, how did I miss this stuff?!?!
You haven't poked very far into the Sarna BattleTech wiki (or clicked my sig link either...) ... or you haven't been into the off-topic section of the MWO forums before now.
Why is this post in the Off topic section of the forums?
I have no idea why it was moved here. Don't look at me, I'm not the one that thought a post about BattleMech technology was somehow "off topic" in a MechWarrior forum.
What's the point?
You're a person who's interested in giant, stompy robots that blow each other up, right? Why are you even asking this?
But I'm not interested in giant, stompy robots!
You must be, you're on a MechWarrior Game forum... and if you came here by accident or don't know what MechWarrior is all about, this post will give you an education on what the Giant, stompy robots that MechWarriors Pilot are really like.
You're not just making all of this information up, are you?
No, I'm not. The vast majority of the information in these posts comes from the BattleTech Rules Book "TechManual" and some other things in it are from an older BattleTech Source book called "Classic BattleTech Companion." None of this stuff is my original work - both of the tech write ups that formed the majority basis for this post were written up in those books by a fellow that Goes by the handle "Cray" over at the Classic BattleTech forums. We have him to thank for this stuff and the BT publishers to thank for giving it to us. All I've done is re-write it all into the current format, for the MechWarrior Video game community. If you really enjoy this kind of stuff, make sure to say thank you to Cray and the BT publishers.
So, just what kind of information does this post represent, anyways?
It represents the current (as of the time of the latest revision of this post, to the best of my meager abilities) state of BattleMech technology in the BattleTech Universe Lore, from the newest source books. It does NOT represent "how BattleMechs would work in Real Life, etc, etc, etc.
Hey, there's a bunch of stuff that's newer (and some older) technology that you haven't talked about... what's up with that?
Well, besides wanting to at least have SOME life beyond BattleTech Lore, I didn't intend this post to cover much beyond the working basics of BattleMech technology... and not much past the Word of Blake Jihad years. I might add some of the other stuff if I get out of the right side of the bed and I generally feel like it some time in the future... just don't hold your breath.
Hey, I found an error in this post!
As long as you're sure it's an error, make a post about it in the thread. I'll look into correcting it when I get a chance. I do have to point out though, that the newer source books (in this case, TechManual) supersedes the older source books, so where the two contradict, the newer one is "canon." This is not my rule ... it's the rule of the people who's job it is to maintain the BattleTech universe. Oh, and also, the art in the source books doesn't represent any sort of rules either - again, the BT publishers rules, not mine. The art is for "Cool factor," not for representation of the rules in visual form.
Oh my gosh, I'm already lost!
I was nice; I put in a trail of bread crumbs so you can find your way around... a table of contents.
2 Internal Composition
o 2.1 The Internals
o 2.2 Standard Internals
o 2.3 Endo-steel Internals
o 3.1 Motor Control Units
o 3.2 Myomers
+ 3.2.1 Triple Strength Myomers
4 Gyroscope System
o 4.1 Balance-Sensing
o 4.2 Force-Generating
5 The Neurohelmet
o 5.1 Putting Data In
o 5.2 Getting Data Out
o 5.3 Fine Tuning
o 5.4 The Limitations of the Neurohelmet Control Interface
o 6.1 Standard Armor
o 6.2 Ferro-Fibrous Armor
o 6.3 Stealth Armor
7 Fusion Engines
o 7.1 Containment and Power Generation
o 7.2 Shielding and Fusion Engine Types
o 7.3 Engine Cooling Systems
o 7.4 Fusion engine explosions
8 Cooling Systems
o 8.1 Heat Effects
o 8.2 Heat Sinks
o 8.3 Heat sources
o 8.4 Collecting Heat
o 8.5 Heat Pumps
o 8.6 Dumping Heat
9 Jump Jets
10 Major Computer Systems & Sensors
o 10.1 Battle Computer/Targeting & Tracking system
o 10.2 Diagnostic Interpretation Computer
+ 10.2.1 Manager
+ 10.2.2 Security
o 10.3 Systems status sensors
o 10.4 The BattleROM
o 11.1 Life Support
o 11.2 Amenities & Storage
o 11.3 Configuration
o 11.4 Displays & Audibles
o 12.1 On the left
o 12.2 In the center
o 12.3 On the right
o 12.4 The rear cockpit wall
o 12.5 The command Chair
13 Overall 'Mech functionality
An in-depth look at the various technologies and systems of a BattleMech and how they operate together in concert with a MechWarrior to animate an BattleMech.
2 Internal Composition
BattleMechs have a large amount of articulation (joints). The basic design approach is to mimic the skeletal structure of humans by using an endo-skeleton. This means that most BattleMech systems are mounted to the exterior of the internals ("bones") instead of being caged in frames. This is somewhat similar to how a human skeleton supports muscles, organs, and the rest of the human body. It is the Internal structure ("bones") that support the whole structure of a BattleMech. A BattleMech's armor only looks capable of supporting the 'Mech's overall structure. BattleMech armor is actually quite thin and unable to support much weight.
2.1 The Internals
'Mechs normally have around sixteen to twenty five bones. The low number of bones compared to human structure is due to couple of reasons: some structures that encompass a dozen or more bones in a human - for example the ribcage - are a one piece structure in 'Mechs. In other areas, simplified components serve the function of several bones - for example, the human foot is a very complex structure of bones, yet it is replaced effectively with simple shock pads. This structural streamlining results in 'Mechs generally being less articulated and flexible than a purely human bone structure would allow.
The exterior surfaces of the bones are configured to mount the assorted equipment 'Mechs carry. Struts extend outward from the bones to hold the armor shell. Attachment points for the Myomer "muscles" and various electrical servo motors are built onto the bones. All of the Internal structure (bones) are rigged for easy attachment of sensors and equipment.
Weapons frame attachments, however, are custom designed into the internals for each 'Mech. Sometimes a bone is built around a weapon which attaches directly to that bone, such as the Panther's PPC. Sometimes weapons are attached on an independent mount which "sits between" the weapon and the bone and is attached to both, such as the Shadowhawk-K's shoulder PPC mount. Different weapon models (even of the same class, like two different models of medium lasers) require different mountings. For these reasons there is always some customization, design, and engineering work required to mount different types of weapons, classes of weapons, or even different models of the same weapon class in any particular BattleMech.
Omnimechs, however, are very different - so different that they are not referred to as BattleMechs. OmniMech weapons and equipment load-outs are much easier to customize because OmniMechs are designed to be modular. Instead of designing an OmniMech's internals for a specific load-out, they are designed to mount modular "Pods." All weapon systems and most equipment can be placed into an Omni-Pod and mounted in the "free space" of an OmniMech, far more quickly and easily than customizing the Internal structure of a BattleMech. The "free space" in an OmniMech is referred to as it's "Pod space."
The differences between BattleMechs and OmniMechs encompass far more than just changes to their Internal structures ("bones"). However, these other differences are beyond the scope of this article and will not be addressed herein.
2.2 Standard Internals
Standard Internals are multi-part structures. They consist of a core of ultra-light foamed aluminum which is shrouded in directionally oriented stressed sheets of silicon carbide mono-filament fibers. The fiber layer is rigged with structural sensors and data lines. The shrouded aluminum core and fiber layers are than clad with titanium-alloyed steel.
2.3 Endo-steel Internals
Endo-steel Internal structures are of the same basic configuration as Standard Internals, with the only major difference between Standard and Endo-steel internals being the materials used in their construction. Endo-steel structures are made of endomorphic steel; whereas Standard Internals are not.
Endo-steel is much stronger than standard Internal structure, allowing Endo-steel internals to be built with structurally thinner walls and no fiber wrap reinforcement around their core (they still have the sensor and data lines wired into them, though). These thinner Endo-steel internals have the same strength as thicker walled Standard internals - which results in a lighter structure that is bulkier.
The downside is that the thinner walls make Endo-steel internals less stiff than same overall diameter of Standard Internals, which means that Endo-steel bones must be made with larger cores. These larger cores are necessary because stiffness and strength are not the same qualities: for example a thick cardboard panel is stiffer... less likely to buckle... than a thin sheet of metal, even though the metal is far stronger than the cardboard. Endo-steel is stronger, but its thinner structures are far more likely to buckle, requiring a physically larger core to support the same amount of weight that standard Internal structure can.
Due to its composition, Endo-steel must be made in zero-g to avoid chemical segregation (think of oil and water) which would severely weaken the alloy and make it brittle. Endo-steel's foamed aluminum core is also formed in zero-g, which promotes a more regular pore size, giving the core superior strength. Zero-g production makes Endo-steel internals more expensive, but allows for the elimination of the fiber layer, meaning faster production than standard internals.
'Mech joints are generally referred to as actuators. The term "actuators" refers to a 'Mech's joints (elbows, hips, etc), and the Myomers and Motor Control Units associated with these joints. The joints themselves are usually ball type, like hips, or hinge type, like elbows. These joints are sealed and normally are filled with dry lubricants such as graphite or hexagonal boron nitride. Each actuator has a degree of local motor control and feedback. These joints are moved by the Myomers in much the same way that human muscles motivate their structures the are attached to. However, these actuators are too slow and too clumsy to provide the quick, fine movements necessary to maintain the BattleMech's balance by themselves.
3.1 Motor Control Units
Each joint has a Motor Control Unit (MCU) that controls the joint by sending electrical power to the joint's attached Myomer bundles and monitoring feedback from the joint and its Myomers. For redundancy, the power controls for Myomer strands are mounted at both ends of the Myomers. The MCUs manage thousands of Myomer fibers in each Myomer bundle, contracting them on demand.
The MCU's also monitor feedback from sensors wired into the actuator structures, which provides the MCU with the positional information of the joint relative to the rest of the BattleMech. The MCU's than take this positional information along with all known programmed movements and pulses this information to the Diagnostic Interpretation computer (DI).
The entire group of MCUs together is known as the 'Mech Movement Sub-System (MMSS). The MMSS system receives data from the DI computer about the current tension, strength, position, and power usage level of all of the various Myomers in the 'Mech, along with balance data from the Gyro system and inputs from the Battle Computer.
This data is used by the MMSS to compliment the 'Mech's Gyroscope system's capabilities, helping the Gyro system to keep the 'Mech upright and stable under the varying conditions encountered on the battlefield, whether those conditions be massive incoming weapons fire (for example, the MMSS system will "lean the 'Mech into" incoming kinetic fire), or recoil from firing the various weapons systems mounted to the 'Mech, or an earthquake. MCUs are capable of self-adjusting a 'Mech's actuators at humanly undetectable levels without input from the MechWarrior... in fact, Clan actuator systems are advanced enough that they can adjust for a slight breeze, compensating by subtle shifts of the 'Mech to lean it into the wind.
Lastly, when a BattleMech is shut down, its actuators lock into place in whatever position they were last in. This can result in everything from keeping a 'Mech upright in its gantry in its 'Mech hanger to causing a 'Mech to lock up in mid-stride and fall over onto its face on a battlefield.
Myomers are made up of microscopically thin polyacetylene tubes filled with a contracting substance. Each individual polyacetylene tube is extruded in a microscopic form and spun into a bundle along with others to form a Myomer bundle. These bundles are laced with sensors and data/control lines. The contractile filling in the tubes - "acti-strandular fiber" - is produced by genetically engineered bacteria in vats. This acti-strandular precursor material is strained out of these vats, and combined with specific polymer fillers. This combination is squirted into the polyacetylene tubes. The tubes are then electrified, which causes the acti-strandular precursor material to self arrange into complex nanoscale structures somewhat like the contractile protein filaments (myosin and actin) in natural muscle.
When enough electrical energy is applied to activate a Myomer bundle its fibers contract in a process virtually identical to the contraction of protein filaments in natural muscles, excepting that the power is applied in a direct electrical form instead of a chemical one. This contraction is an all or nothing process - the level of force generated by a Myomer bundle is controlled by the number of individual Myomer tubes contracted, rather than the amount of electrical current applied to each individual Myomer fiber. Because Myomers are far more powerful for their weight than human muscle and can be built on larger scales, they make 'Mech scale movement possible.
However, Myomers are not merely 'Mech scale plastic muscles. Rather, they are very powerful electrical motors. For reference, the Myomer bundles in a 'Mechs fingers are multi-kilowatt motors. The leg Myomers of a 'Mech are far more powerful than the 'Mechs finger Myomers. The downside of Myomers is that they aren't efficient electrical motors because of their high internal electrical resistance. Myomers are roughly as wasteful of energy as natural muscle or internal combustion engines... much of the energy required to activate a Myomer is simply wasted into heat. Myomer bundles are also laced with a network of flexible tubing carrying coolant fluids to and from the BattleMech's Heat Sink system to dispose of this waste heat. How heat effects myomers is discussed more fully in section 8.1.
As an important side note, it is a misconception that lightning or PPC fire (which actually is nothing like lightning) can spasm a 'Mech and cause it to rip its Myomers apart. 'Mech structure and armor provides a very low resistance conduit to earth ground and as such will protect the Myomers from the electrical energy. The WOB 'Mech tasers work because they provide a much closer ground (lower resistance path) to the feed channel of the taser - whatever is in between the contacts (or is electrically connected to the area between the contacts) of the 'Mech-taser is subjected to massive electrical energy. By the way, it's the amps that do the damage, not the voltage.
3.2.1 Triple Strength Myomers
"Triple strength Myomers" are very much like normal Myomers but they operate more efficiently in a higher specific range of heat because of a simple endothermic chemical reaction within the them. Triple strength Myomers are also bulkier than normal Myomers - and more powerful for their size.
4 Gyroscope Systems
The 'Mech's Gyroscope system provides the swift, fine changes in force - the kinds of changes in force that the 'Mechs MMSS systems can not generate - which are necessary to keep a BattleMech upright. Without an active Gyroscope a 'Mech can not move - it will fall over if its pilot attempts to move it. A 'Mech that has its Gyro destroyed in combat or when it is otherwise mobile will fall over and its pilot will not be able to get it up onto its feet.
A 'Mech's Gyroscope system consists of a balance-sensing 'Mechanism and a force-generating 'Mechanism.
The balance-sensing part of the Gyroscope system usually encompass a small computer with balance-sensing components in it in the 'Mech's cockpit. The balance sensors in this computer operate in differing manners - they can be laser ring gyroscopes, or harmonic vibration gyroscopes, or even mercury bead setups. These sensors can also act as a 'Mechs inertial navigation system.
While these balance sensors are an effective system for keeping a 'Mech upright, they are fairly easily to fool. Extremely fast impacts to the sensors, or extremely fast changes in the 'Mechs weight distribution (such as having large amounts of structure or armor destroyed in an instant), sudden changes in altitude, and especially the loss of one or more frames of reference (such as falling in mid air - the loss of gravity as a frame of reference) can exceed their balance capabilities.
Also, 'Mechs are not good at determining when they should be off-balance, which is surprisingly useful and even sometimes a necessary thing in combat. Leaning away from an attack, or leaning into a physical attack, and a myriad of other tactics are essential on the battlefield.
Located in the torso is a multi-ton assembly of reaction wheels. Reaction wheels are spinning rings. This is the Gyroscope proper.
The Gyro is made of two major assemblies. The first is the housing, made of a carbon nanotube reinforced polymer inner shell and a light ceramic outer layer. The internally mounted reaction rings are made of carbon nanotube reinforced graphite.
When a 'Mech loses its balance, the gyro 'Mechanism will stop one of the (very) fast-spinning wheels and impart a reaction in the direction the wheel was spinning, or it will speed up a ring and as a reaction will impart a shove in the opposite direction of the push on the wheel.
Gyroscope configurations vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Most gyros have at least three reaction wheels set at 90 degrees to each other. Some gyroscopes mount the reaction rings in a free-spinning sphere in order to avoid the reaction wheels inhibiting a BattleMech's movement with unwanted gyroscopic effects. This kind of design requires locking the outside sphere in order to use the reaction wheels. Some gyroscopes use six reaction wheels set up in three counter-rotating pairs, also to cancel gyroscopic problems. None of these designs is necessarily more capable than the others.
5 The Neurohelmet
The Neurohelmet's main job is to enable the MechWarrior to control the balance of the BattleMech... any other things that a Neurohelmet is used for are minor in comparison to this job.
The MechWarrior normally uses the Neurohelmet to compensate for what the 'Mech's Gyroscope system and MMSS system cannot handle, helping the 'Mech to "regain its bearings," and to tell a 'Mech when and in what direction it should be off balance. Those few "other" things that the MechWarrior can use the Neurohelmet to do will be addressed in sections 5.1 and 5.2.
The massive Neurohelmets of the Succession wars that sat on the shoulders of a MechWarrior and inhibited the MechWarrior's ability to turn their head are very different in configuration than modern Neurohelmets.
These older and cruder Neurohelmets required the use of an internal heads-up display (HUD), usually a 160 to 180 degree display showing a compressed a 360-degree view from external cameras and sensors, with the different weapons system firing arcs delineated and individual reticules for each firing arc where necessary. However, not all older Neurohelmets were so crude - the first Star League did develop some very capable Neurohelmets, the best of which were big clunkers used in aerospace fighters.
Modern and more capable Neurohelmets, such as Clan versions, are smaller and lighter with larger visors. Because these newer Neurohelmets allow the MechWarrior to turn their head they do not require the older style HUD display in the helmet visor. Modern (post 3050) Neurohelmets that do not have an internal hud can be modified to display one, if a MechWarrior wants one.
Neurohelmets also have audio systems which generate audible cues, alerting a MechWarrior to threats. Older Neurohelmets used simple non-directional audibles, while modern Neurohelmets generate audible cues in three dimensions, allowing the MechWarrior to quickly locate a threat.
5.1 Putting Data In
Advanced and Modern Neurohelmets are capable of providing some sensor and balance information to the MechWarrior. However, this "direct neural virtual reality" is very weak, because even the best Neurohelmets can not put enough signal power into the brain to overwhelm the natural biological sensory signals without literally cooking brain cells. This input limitation is due to the wireless method that Neurohelmets use to send information into the brain cells. At best, a well trained and capable MechWarrior can use these inputs to gather a small amount of their 'Mechs kinesthetic and tactile sensor inputs and possibly some poor quality information to substitute for some other sensor displays.
5.2 Getting Data Out
Getting information out is less dangerous because it is a passive process - there is no risk of cooking brain cells. The achilles heel of getting complex information out of a brain via a Neurohelmet is the complexity of the human brain - this complexity makes the human brain a hard thing to read. Because of this, Neurohelmets "watch" only a few specific centers of the brain which are easily translated into commands. The end result of this is an interface that makes it possible for MechWarriors to communicate their basic and simple intentions to their 'Mech more quickly and clearly than speech controls would allow for. This overall process is not quick or smooth, but it does work.
For instance, when charging at another 'Mech, the pilot would use the Neurohelmet to, at a very visceral and low level, command the 'Mech to throw itself off balance towards the targeted 'Mech; or a MechWarrior would be able to make certain that when picking up a fellow warrior in his 'Mech's hand that his 'Mech knows not to crush the relatively "squishy" warrior in its hand. MechWarriors that are very talented at communicating in this way with their Neurohelmets can pull off some pretty impressive feats - witness the Noisiel Summer Games.
5.3 Fine Tuning
Because the human brain is variable in configuration ("plasticity") each Neurohelmet must be tuned to it's individual user so that it can receive from and transmit to the appropriate brain centers.
5.4 The limitations of the Neurohelmet Control Interface
While the Neurohelmet can help translate the MechWarrior's basic intentions to the BattleMech and give a small amount of sensory feedback to the MechWarrior, they aren't capable of real-time "mind reading" that would be necessary in order to directly control a BattleMech's movements or weapons systems - nor can they input enough data to a MechWarrior to replace the cockpit information systems.
The first Star League could not make helmets capable of this and neither can the Clans.
The only exceptions to the limitations of the Neurohelmet interface listed in sections 5.1, 5.2, and 5.4 -
...and these limitations are the rules that hard limit the extent of the capabilities of the brain-machine interface in the BattleTech Universe for EVERY other BM-I other than these two exceptions...
- are the ludicrously rare and heinously dangerous Direct Neural Interface (DNI) and the Vehicular Direct Neural Interface (VDNI).
The DNI was a nominally "successful" experiment by an insane scientist (yes, quite literally, a mad scientist) who continued his work on Solaris 7 after he was kicked out of the NAIS. The DNI interface basically involved extremely invasive brain surgery to allow for a computer jack to be shoved into a port in the MechWarrior's head/brains in order to pilot their 'Mech. The result? godly combat performance. The downside? A necessity for the MechWarrior to take massively addictive pain-killing drugs to control the blinding headaches caused by the interface in his brain ... AND a "slight" problem of ensuing mental breakdown caused by overwhelming megalomania and other numerous delusions triggered by the nature of this kind of Brain-Machine link... AND Every time a DNI equipped 'Mech takes any damage, it's MechWarrior suffers brain damage... AND any MechWarrior with this interface implanted dies an early death. ALSO: There was only ONE DNI equipped 'Mech EVER made. Nobody else has ever replicated it.
The VDNI was made by the Word of Blake, as a take-off on the earlier DNI interface... and it's ... "somewhat" more successful in use than the older DNI interface - in that it doesn't kill off MechWarriors so quickly and battlefield performance that's nearly as godly as the earlier DNI imparted. The downside? Again, drugs are necessary... AND brain damage is suffered every time the Internal structure of their 'Mech is damaged... AND worse mental breakdown than the users of the older DNI interface suffered (never mind that they have to WOB cyborgs just to have the VDNI implant)... AND in the tenth year of having this system implanted, it's implantee will die of braindamage. ALSO: The WOB 'Mechs equipped with this system have had ALL of the normal control systems removed and their cockpits reconfigured in such a manner that ONLY a Word Of Blake cyborg with a VDNI implant could pilot them; not to mention the severe taboo that was placed upon any hardware related to the WOB (I.E. : beyond rare and you couldn't pilot it if you had it).
Also, engaging in heavy combat (imagine the brain damage one would absorb from, say, three missile boats or just one heavy LRM carrier unloading onto a 'Mech equipped with either of these systems) with either of these setups will most likely leave the MechWarrior dead from his brains being turned into a smoking mass of burnt and scrambled eggs.
The VDNI and the DNI represent the extreme, teetering, on the bleeding razor's edge of BattleTech Universe BM-I technology; never meant for use by players in any normal situation... or even most abnormal situations. I've only mentioned them here to clarify the that the usual Neurohelmet interfaces really aren't the panacea some think they are for BattleMech operations/control. Even these two most absurdly rare and experimental implementations of Brain-Machine Interface technology technology in the BTUniverse simply do not measure up to the expectations tossed around for the usual Neurohelmets from time to time.
BattleMech armor consists of tightly bonded multiple layers. Only the outer - first - and second layers are actually armor.
BattleMech armor usually consists of variously formed plates of 'Mech Grade armor. These plates are mounted to struts that extend outwards from the Internal structure of the BattleMech. These mountings and the armor plates are configured so that the armor plates overlap each other, leaving only relatively small gaps, usually just barely large enough for atmosphere or liquids to transverse.
There are other types of armor on 'Mechs besides the aforementioned armor plates. Actuator armoring can be made from a wide range of protective materials - ballistic or ablative fabrics to articulated plates of standard armor. Cockpit view screens use a large selection of transparent armors in combination, anything from ferroglass to alternating diamond and polymer sheets.
6.1 Standard Armor
The first and outer layer is an extremely strong, extremely hard layer of steel. This layer fragments projectiles. It also ablates and conducts heat to provide protection from energy attacks. The crystalline structure of this steel is carefully aligned and radiation treated for maximum hardness and strength. Because of its phenomenal strength and hardness, the first layer suffers the trade off of being quite brittle - so brittle that the second layer of armor under it has to act as a backstop for shattered fragments of the outer layer.
The second layer, cubic boron nitride - which is a very hard layer in its own right - is processed to avoid porosity. This layer includes a micro fiber web of man made diamond mono-filament fibers, along with sensors and data/control lines. This weave imparts a little bit of flexibility for this second armor layer. This second layer back-stops molten outer armor, and even outer armor converted into plasma by heavy attack. This layer also stops High Explosive Armor Piercing (HEAP) rounds and fast neutrons.
The third layer is a titanium alloy honeycomb. This layer provides no armor protection - it is instead used to support the outer armor layers. The first and second armor layers are millimeter and centimeter level thin in order to cover the massive surface area of a 'Mech with a proportionately small quantity of armor, which makes the armor very thin in relation to its length and width. As such, it is the titanium honeycomb layer that holds the armor in place and (normally) keeps the brittle first and second armor layers from flexing.
However, when the outer layers are flexed too much, they will shatter like a pane of tempered glass... it is this tendency of the outer armor layers to shatter due to their extreme hardness that is one of the reasons why BattleMechs lose armor when they fall, suffer physical attacks from other BattleMechs, or collide with structures. The comment about the difference between strength and stiffness from the description of Endo-steel applies here as well.
The last and innermost layer is a polymer sealant, which seals off the gaps between the individual armor plates, making a BattleMech air tight and water proof. The polymers used usually have some self-sealing capability (just enough to handle small punctures and gaps) and are heat resistant in order to survive the high internal temperatures of a BattleMech in combat. It is this layer that allows a BattleMech to operate under water, in outer space or other such extreme conditions.
6.2 Ferro-Fibrous Armor
Ferro-Fibrous armor adds a weave of diamond fibers to the outer steel layer itself. This is quite the trick because steel is a combination of iron and carbon, would normally mean the diamond weave, which is pure carbon, would dissolve into the iron component of the steel. The techniques used to keep the diamond from melting into the iron component results in bulkier but lighter armor. Originally researched and made in the first Star League era, the technology became "Lostech" in the inner sphere for a long time. Clan Ferro-Fibrous is denser and is more capable of being shaped, allowing maximization of internal space in a 'Mech. Inner Sphere Ferro-Fibrous doesn't shape well into anything other than flat plates due to its bulk.
There are various types of Ferro-Fibrous armor in the Inner Sphere providing varying levels of protection by mass and weight. These variations are achieved by changing the amount of diamond fibers in the armor. Light Ferro-Fibrous armor has fewer fibers. It is less bulky but also less protective by weight. Heavy Ferro-Fibrous armor has more fiber and has better protective capability by weight than even Clan armor, but the downside is massive bulk.
6.3 Stealth Armor
Stealth armor is a Capellan development that is actually a variation on standard Ferro-Fibrous armor. It is an attempt to duplicate the functions of the first Star League's Null Signature System. Stealth armor, though, has to use a separate guardian ECM suite in order to attain its capabilities, and must incorporate a number of emission suppressing materials that are fairly heavy, which makes it roughly as protective as Standard armor by weight. The suppressing effect is not attained through materials and equipment alone - the BattleMech's structure has to be set up to use stealth armor - Heat sinks are rerouted so they can be suppressed, corners and surfaces molded to control radar reflections, and internal baffles are used to mask the massive magnetic field of the fusion engine itself.
7 Fusion Engines
Fusion reactors generate huge quantities of electrical power by fusing light elements like hydrogen into heavier elements like helium. Nuclear fission, on the other hand, splits heavy elements like uranium into lighter materials.
The usual fuel used in modern fusion engines is normal hydrogen, the protium isotope to be specific. Historically other fuels were used in early fusion reactors; anything from heavier hydrogen isotopes like deuterium and tritium, to the helium-3 isotope and even lithium. These heavier isotopes are easier to use, but the fusion engines that operated on them generated more nuclear waste than modern fusion engines.
In modern fusion reactors, the normal hydrogen used for fuel is extracted from any number of sources - particularly water. Because of this is most military fusion engines include an electrolysis unit to extract hydrogen from water (yes, it is possible to "refuel" a 'Mech with urine in the field).
In the early days some BattleMech designers experimented with using fusion engines that produced more power than a particular chassis needed. The idea was that the extra power produced would provide some nebulous benefits in combat. This idea turned out to not only be false, but the oversized engines actually would generate too much waste heat and would either cook off explosive ammo stored in the BattleMech; or the engine safeties would cut in and automatically shut down the engine. A BattleMech can only use so much power... trying to force it to use more simply does not work.
7.1 Containment and Power Generation
The fusion engine utilizes a super hot (tens of millions of degrees Celsius) ball of hydrogen plasma which converts into helium to create energy. In order to keep the plasma ball from melting the engine it is contained within a magnetic field. This is possible because plasma is electrically charged and thus it can be positioned and shaped by magnetic fields - there are magnetic fields inside the plasma ball and fields generated outside the plasma. In fact, the plasma never (normally) touches the walls of the engine. Fusion engine reactor chambers are kept at a vacuum to help insulate the 'Mech from the heat of the plasma and to help regulate the internal temperature of the plasma. Also, because punctured fusion engines are ruined by contact with superheated oxygen (this causes oxidization - "rust") fusion engine safety settings will normally stop the fusion reaction when the engine's external shielding suffers too much damage.
Power is extracted in two ways - the first is called "magnetohydrodynamics" or MHD. The shorter and mostly correct description of this process is that the plasma is like a dynamo, generating electrical currents in conductor loops that wrap around the reactor. MHD directly converts heat from the fuel into electricity, and because this process operates at extreme temperatures it can exceed 90 percent efficiency in changing heat energy into electrical energy.
The second way of generating power is purely secondary and is called regenerative cooling. Regenerative cooling uses waste heat to generate power. Usually this is done with a closed-cycle gas or steam turbine. In a small way this is a part of the 'Mechs cooling system, even though this is not a part of the Heat sink system proper - these are the so-called "free" Heat sinks in the engine, and in configuration they are nothing like the other Heat sinks mounted in the 'Mech elsewhere.
While the regenerative cooling machinery is very different from purpose built Heat sinks, it still benefits from the materials and technology advances that have made "double strength" Heat sinks possible. The regenerative cooling system adds negligible volume to the engine, because it uses the existing plumbing of the engine's cooling system. It would be quite useful if all the waste heat from an engine could be soaked up by these so-called "integral Heat sinks," but practical limitations mean only so much energy can be extracted from this lower-quality energy source (bigger engines make more waste heat and can have larger regenerative cooling systems)... most 'Mechs require the use of some conventional Heat sinks placed elsewhere to handle the leftover heat that is not converted into energy.
It is important to note that excessive heat from combat or other conditions can cause the magnetic fields that contain the plasma to be disrupted. If this happens there is the potential for an uncontrolled fusion reaction, which could irradiate the insides of the BattleMech and expose the MechWarrior to lethal levels of radiation.
7.2 Shielding and Fusion Engine Types
All fusion reactions generate radiation... they irradiate their interiors, which causes problems when the reactor must be serviced or decommissioned. Because of this radiation shielding is the largest portion of a 'Mech scale fusion engine's mass.
Standard fusion engines use a very dense ceramic for shielding, usually tungsten carbide reinforced with short boron ceramic fibers mixed into the carbide. This shielding is actually thick enough to survive battle damage and act as a heat sink (thermal mass) that can disperse the heat from the plasma should the magnetic containment fields fail and allow the plasma ball to expand and touch the walls.
Extra-light (XL) engines reduce the mass of the tungsten carbide reactor walls but reinforces them with an oriented crystalline plastic that creates a bulkier but lighter engine. Making large blocks of this shielding is very hard for engine manufacturers and the scrap rate is prohibitive, which accounts for some of the high price of XL engines.
So-called "light engines" use layered shielding materials and secondary magnetic screens. They are not quite as light as XL engines but they are less bulky.
7.3 Engine Cooling Systems
Fusion engines also have their own integral cooling system in addition to their regenerative cooling systems. These other cooling systems are separate from the rest of the Heat sink network. Liquid nitrogen jackets are used over key components, which allows minimal engine operations without having to activate the external Heat sink systems. Any more use of the engine requires the larger cooling capacity of the main Heat sink and regenerative systems.
7.4 Fusion engine explosions
This is an urban legend that will not die ... fusion engines going critical and making miniature nuclear explosions.
So, what does happen to a 'Mech's fusion reactor, from time to time, that makes everyone think they explode as if they were nuclear bombs?
First, some necessary and foundational information: The fusion reactions in a BattleMech fusion reactor only occur in a very narrow band of temperature and pressure conditions. The hotter and the higher the pressure, the faster the reactions occur. Thus the magnetic fields which contain the plasma also protect the plasma from the frigid (relative to the temperature of the plasma) reactor chamber walls.
When heat is added to a gas, it expands. If it can't expand, its pressure goes up. Thus when the reactions spike a bit the plasma gets hotter and in turn it tries to expand. However, the magnetic fields in a fusion engine aren't rigid and they will expand a little a bit, allowing the plasma ball to expand, which, in turn, lowers the pressure in the plasma ball, giving the engine controls just enough time to slow the fusion reactions back down to their normal operating range, so the plasma ball can return to its normal size. In fact, there is a little bit of extra room designed into reactor chambers for just this reason - to allow the plasma to expand a little bit.
There are, however, other ways the reaction can cool down. If the magnetic fields don't do their job, the plasma ball can actually touch the frigid walls of the core which results in the plasma ball "blinking out." This barely even scuffs the walls of the reactor. When the plasma ball contacts with the frigid walls of the fusion reactor the fusion reactions in the plasma stop almost instantly because there is no stored thermal mass in the plasma ball. All of the heat in the plasma comes from active reactions. The multi-ton reactor walls have so much thermal mass (comparative to the thermal mass of the plasma ball) that they can soak up the thermal energy of the plasma and barely heat up. The plasma ball does not normally have enough thermal energy to do more than add a little heat to the walls of the engine around it.
That said, fusion reactors sometimes do on, very rare occasions, die in a spectacular manner.
What happens most of the times we see a fusion engine die spectacularly is that the reactor core is breached by weapons fire, allowing a large quantity of relatively cold air into the vacuum of the reactor chamber. This intrusion of cold air puts out the fusion reactions in the plasma ball instantly... but in so doing, the intruding air in the reactor chamber soaks up all the heat from the plasma and comes blasting back out in a white-hot blinding gout of flame. Considering that it takes massive damage to breach a reactor core so quickly that the safety fields can't snuff the fusion reactions before something intrudes into the chamber... the visual end effect is that the 'Mech has very nearly been blasted in half, followed very quickly by a blinding fireball. This is a spectacular way to decommission a fusion reactor - a rampaging super-hot oxygen flash fire - but it is not a nuclear blast, and is (relatively) not very destructive to surrounding units.
In some very rare instances it will happen that a MechWarrior will figure out that they can overcharge their 'Mech's fusion engine, causing the plasma ball to heat up to an amazingly high temperature - far beyond its normal operating range - and than disable the magnetic field so that it shuts off instantly, causing the extremely overheated plasma to hit the reactor walls which than causes the reactor lining to explosively evaporate. The result of this is that the reactor is over pressurized, which causes a respectable explosion - but again, not a nuclear explosion.
8 Cooling Systems
8.1 Heat Effects
BattleMechs are sealed and insulated vehicles, allowing them to fight under nearly any conditions. This prevents heat from venting off and 'Mechs have a lot of heat to shunt from the continuous megawatts of power they consume, not to mention heat from weapons fire and the environment. Excessive heat can impair or even damage a BattleMech's computers, electronics, and sometimes even cause the breakdown of its Heat sink systems!
High Heat levels can also be dangerous to the safety of the MechWarrior, causing heat stroke and possibly even death. High heat levels can even cause the magnetic fields in the 'Mech's fusion engine to fail, exposing the 'Mech and it's MechWarrior to lethal levels of radiation. Excess heat can also cause any stored explosive ammunition to cook off explosively - usually a catastrophic event for the 'Mech and it's MechWarrior.
Incidentally, Myomers impose one of the primary limitations on the temperature a BattleMech can operate at, because as the Myomers heat up, they become more electrically resistive and thus less efficient, and less predictable at the same time. This translates into a 'Mech moving sluggishly and erratically and having trouble bringing its weapons to bear. In fact, if Myomers become too hot, they will actually cook themselves, which results in the black smoke seen rising from extremely overheated BattleMechs in combat. The acti-strandular materials in Myomers do not respond well to high temperatures.
8.2 Heat Sinks
There is quite a bit of confusion about what BattleMech Heat sinks really are. "Heat sink" is actually the wrong name. 'Mech "Heat sinks" are actually Heat pumps. However, the rest of this article will continue to use the term "Heat sinks" instead of "heat pumps," because virtually all of the literature on this topic refers to these Heat pumps as Heat sinks.
8.3 Heat sources
'Mech fusion engines generate waste heat, because the balancing act of keeping a fusion reaction going often results in more fusion reactions being produced than needed for current energy demands. These extra reactions create waste heat, since they aren't converted into electricity by the fusion engine's regenerative cooling systems. Energy weapons are inefficient at converting electricity into laser or particle beams, ballistic weapons create heat in their bores and barrels, and jump jets create a lot of waste heat. Lastly, Myomers generate a large volume of comparatively lower temperature waste heat.
8.4 Collecting Heat
The fusion engine and weapon systems have cooling jackets hooked up to tubes which are networked into their frames. These tubes connect to the Heat sink network. Myomer bundles have coolant lines laced through them in a manner not unlike a vascular system. All of these coolant lines run into collection systems that connect to the heat pumps and radiators that dump the heat.
Coolant fluids differ between depending on the manufacturer of the Heat sink. Oils, chlorofluorocarbons, water-based solutions, liquid nitrogen, gaseous nitrogen, gaseous helium and other formulations are used. There are no 'Mechs using molten metals like the Tharkad City fusion engine - that would simply be too hazardous in combat. This coolant solution is then circulated through the 'Mech by a wide variety of pumps. Most modern Heat sinks no longer use 'Mechanical pumps. Instead they use Myomer wrapped flexible tubing that pulses (peristaltic) in order to circulate coolants. This setup is more tolerant of damage than centrally located 'Mechanical pumps. In addition, the whole system of coolant lines employs many computer-controlled cut off valves to stop catastrophic loss of coolant due to damage, and computer controls can also reroute coolant around damaged systems.
8.5 Heat Pumps
Heat pumps collect and condense heat until it can be easily shunted out through the radiator component end of the Heat sink network, even into environments hotter than the 'Mech. Many different heat pumps are used by different manufacturers. There are vapor-compression systems, sonic cooling systems, magneto-caloric systems, expansion compression systems, heat expansion systems, and others.
8.6 Dumping Heat
At one end of the Heat sink assembly is the radiator. BattleMech radiators aren't very different from car or refrigerator radiators. Radiators consist of finned tubing carrying hot coolant that is either air or water cooled. BattleMech radiators are usually made of graphite which is five times more thermally conductive than copper. These radiators are always hidden under armored grills. Some Periphery nations have used copper for Heat sink radiators which actually works fairly well because copper allows for thinner construction, meaning more surface area to radiate heat from. The net performance drop from using copper radiators is fairly negligible.
The wonder plastics of the first Star League had a big hand in enhancing radiators. While these semi-crystalline polymers don't quite have graphite's thermal conductivity, they are dramatically lighter, allowing larger radiators for the same mass as standard Heat sinks. This what allows for "double strength" Heat sinks. Unlike most recovered Lostech in the Inner Sphere these double strength Heat sinks did not originate from the helm memory core. The New Avalon Institute of Science was experimenting with this tech before the helm core was found. The Clans never lost this technology and they even improved it by making the material more crystalline, which makes for a more thermally conductive and compact but more brittle radiator. The required reinforcements to compensate for this brittleness keep the Clan double strength Heat sinks at about the same mass as Inner Sphere versions.
Radiators are why "Heat sinks" actually have to use heat pumps. The laws of thermodynamics state that heat flows from hot to cold. Thus, if your 'Mech is operating in a very hot environment, the radiators would actually send heat into your 'Mech's coolant system.
9 Jump Jets
Jump jets work by ingesting atmosphere via a system of turbo compressors to be used as reaction mass in reaction chambers. The system hits the ingested and now compressed reaction mass with electron beams powered by the magnetohydrodynamic tap from the fusion engine, which converts the compressed reaction mass into an explosion of plasma. This superheated plasma is than channeled through a magnetically sealed venturi baffle, resulting in a controlled and concentrated flow out of the jump jet exhaust port.
BattleMech jump jets don't add plasma vented from the fusion engine - only Aerofighters do this. Because jump jets work with plasma, their reaction chambers closely resemble fusion reactors; right down to the magnetic containment fields.
Jump jets can only be run for so long due to a couple of reasons; the first being that they can not survive their operating temperatures for an extended amount of time, and the second is that they normally ingest oxygen rich atmosphere for reaction mass - the super heated oxygen would destroy the assembly if it were continuously used. BattleMechs normally carry a small supply of reaction mass - usually hydrogen, water, or mercury - in order to operate where there is no atmosphere.
When underwater jump jets will not work. Firing a jump jet filled with incompressible water generates enough pressure to rupture even the toughened jump jet casings. Jump jets can not use stored reaction mass under water either - the jets will not work with water plugging their nozzles.
10 Major Computer Systems & Sensors
10.1 Battle Computer/Targeting & Tracking system
The Battle Computer (BC), located in the cockpit, coordinates and monitors the overall movement and weapons fire of the BattleMech. It is the BC that makes sure that the MechWarrior's commands have priority. The BC makes certain that weapons are pointed towards what the MechWarrior is indicating, even if that requires overriding other systems and warnings and, for example, putting the 'Mech's arm through the wall of a nearby building. It is the BC that does the computing for "Targeting and Tracking."
The BC is the "gateway" that filters the data from the DI computer, converting it into information that is useful for the MechWarrior so the MechWarrior does not need to interpret it. It also coordinates all of the weapons Targeting and Tracking (T&T) systems, feeding them and the MechWarrior data on internal checks that the DI computer has run. The BC also controls the Target Interlock Circuits (TIC) of the 'Mech.
BattleMech Targeting and Tracking systems consist more than just the BC - the system is a network of sophisticated sensors, sub-computers, and complex software programming. Thermal imaging, light amplification, radar, laser tracking, uv tracking, and magnetic anomaly sensors are generally used as primary sensors, supplemented by seismic sensors, motion detectors, chemical analyzers, microwave, visual tracking, and many others, depending on what equipment a 'Mech mounts. However, MechWarriors are not overwhelmed with raw data... The BC interprets, prioritizes, and compresses the information so that when the MechWarrior gets the info, it is streamlined. Normally this data is displayed on the cockpit Hud displays or on the Neurohelmet Hud with all the various selected sensor information synthesized into a single viewing mode, with important things tagged by the computer with graphic icons onscreen.
Sensor readouts can either overlap a target or reveal an area. For example, thermal sensors display a green (cold) to white (hot) image of the battlefield. The MechWarrior can opt to display other 'Mechs with thermal imaging and leave the battlefield in true colors. Extra sensor readings can be added or to subtracted from the displays as the MechWarrior wishes. Normally the battle computer will synthesize all of the various sensor inputs onto the display, although in a simplified form.
Identify Friend/Foe (IFF) is a key ability of the T&T system. It eases the burden of identifying targets for MechWarriors in battle conditions, especially in poor visibility. Friendly and enemy 'Mechs are tagged with differing graphic tokens. IFF broadcast beacons are used by the BattleMech's Targeting and Tracking system to avoid accidental missile fire at a friendly 'Mechs, though the system can be manually overridden.
BattleMech sensory processors and programming stand out for their ability to recognize other units and classify them by type and as friend or foe. Virtually all T&T suites can tell what type of unit is being detected, and can even make educated "guesses" at what variant that unit is. The system is surprisingly intuitive and at times it will present an interesting "guess." For example, the famous Inner Sphere naming of the Clan Timber Wolf OmniMech. The first Inner Sphere BattleMech to encounter one "saw" it as a cross between two designs it already knew - the Marauder and Catapult designs, thus the name "Mad Cat" was born.
BattleMechs can also share some sensor data. Specialized C3, C3i, and other hardware takes this to new heights, but all BattleMechs can at the least handle basic sensory data from friendly 'Mechs in order to pinpoint enemy positions, or share more detailed information. This is usually done with a separate communications channel, and can be difficult to maintain during battle.
In a pinch, the BC can stand in for the DI computer, but this reduces the amount of information gathered and degrades the overall performance of the BattleMech to about 60% of normal. This translates to 60% of the sensors giving "old" or inaccurate data and weapons systems being unable to track and accurately hit whatever the pilot is indicating.
10.2 Diagnostic Interpretation Computer
The DI computer is a network of distributed computers that monitor and coordinate the majority of the internal functions and components of a BattleMech. As noted earlier, the Internal structure, armor, actuators, Myomers, and other components are wired with sensors and data/control lines. The DI computer uses this network to monitor the health and status of all of the so connected components. In doing this, the DI tracks the 'Mech's state of readiness and feeds this to the Battle Damage Assessment computer (BDA) which in turn translates and displays this information on readouts for the MechWarrior. All other interpretive computers and all sensors are subordinated to the DI.
However, the DI handles more than simple status assessment. The DI also uses its network of lines as a back-up data feed to other components. For example, if a BattleMech's hand is dangling by a piece of armor, the DI can determine the status of the finger actuators through data lines in the armor. While the BattleMech would not be able to do much with the hand, it would be able to communicate with it. This capability allows BattleMechs to function even as they suffer from massive internal damage. The DI computer itself is quite redundant and damage resistant. The DI locates some key hardware in the cockpit, but the rest of its hardware is scattered throughout the BattleMech nearer to systems the DI hardware controls. These sub-processing units are setup very redundantly and are capable of managing systems for other damaged DI sub-systems. For example, DI computers located in the engine might wind up handling leg actuators after a penetrating shot lobotomizes the DI processors in the legs. It is the DI, via sensors attached to the ammo bins in a 'Mech, that activates the automated pilot ejection system in the case of an ammunition explosion.
The DI can stand in for a damaged Battle Computer, but the 'Mech operates at about 70% of it's normal effectiveness.
The DI computer manages all of the systems in a BattleMech. All 'Mech components have their own controlling sub-computers which are brought together by the DI system. The DI, for example, sends commands to actuator MCUs in order to promote smooth limb motions. Each weapon system sub-computer will send it's state of readiness or malfunction to the DI computer. More advanced DI computers will indicate to the MechWarrior what the cause of the problem is and try to fix the malfunction, all with no input from the MechWarrior. The DI also keeps the 'Mech from damaging itself. For instance, it will cut back on systems that generate heat when the 'Mech suffers from Heat sink damage or is in a very hot environment. It is also capable of overriding the "common sense" of the component level systems. When the MechWarrior demands it, the DI will run the engine hot even if the engine control computer is trying to keep the engine cool. When a MechWarrior pushes throttle forward, it is the DI controls the engine power, the gyro, and coordinates actuators. When a BattleMech takes damage, the DI is what reconfigures leaking Heat sinks, bypasses severed Myomers and tries to re-route power to disconnected weapons.
The DI computer also handles a 'Mech's dedicated security measures. Normal security routines involve the MechWarrior thinking his way through several commands while wearing the Neurohelmet, along with audible voiced code phrases. Codes can also be typed in from a 'Mechs keyboard. Older security routines had a MechWarrior move his 'Mech through a set of 'Mech gesture "code keys."
The DI computer uses these inputs to decide whether to allow a would-be pilot to activate and control its 'Mech. If a 'Mech's owner is particularly vindictive they can program the DI computer to scramble a would-be thief's brain with the Neurohelmet if they do not pass the 'Mechs programmed security checks. Incidentally, Clanners normally do not normally utilize these extra security routines, since, according to them, "there are no thieves in Clan society."
The Neurohelmet is also used as a part of the security system of a 'Mech. Any would-be thief must match the Neurohelmet's built in custom MechWarrior tuning profile, or they most likely will not be able to plot the 'Mech.
10.3 Systems status sensors
BattleMechs have an extensive network of status sensors that send information about various systems up to higher-level systems. There are jump jet ready indicators, ammo low/critical indicators, heat build-up, proximity warning, incoming transmission warnings, IFF engaged/disabled, limb overstress indicators, engine shielding sensors that track the status of the fusion reactor core and magnetic shielding, armor sensors, and various others.
The Internal structures, Myomer, armor, and other systems are laced with sensors and data lines connected to the various computer systems of the BattleMechs . Sensors will transfer their information across any part of the 'Mechs internal data network that is not damaged. This sensor information is usually sent via multiple routes, in case one route is damaged. 'Mech sensors are very redundant in this right.
10.4 The BattleROM
All of the sensor, MechWarrior condition, and communications data are recorded into capable "black box" computers that can survive virtually any kind of damage, from an ammo explosion to a failed orbital drop. This is the so-called "BattleROM" box. It uses "read only" memory chips, which are very hard to modify in the field. Because of this, battleROM data is used for court-martials and other such sensitive proceedings. BattleROM boxes usually record the last 200 active hours of a BattleMech. These boxes are, rather ironically, usually pained with highly reflective paint so they may be easily found.
BattleMechs are ground vehicles, yet their cockpits are more similar to those of aerospace fighters than other types of units. Inner Sphere cockpits normally include features tailored towards long engagements. Clan cockpits, however, do not usually incorporate these features, and are smaller and narrower than Inner Sphere cockpits, reflecting the clan ethos of efficiency and short, brutal campaigns.
11.1 Life Support
BattleMech cockpits are sealed, pressurized, and equipped with life support systems. There is a lot of gear that must be built into a cockpit, and this limits amount of volume and mass available to use for life support systems. BattleMech life support systems are not capable of unlimited air and water recycling - there simply isn't enough weight and space available to build systems that can do so. 'Mechs can operate for a few hours to several days in vacuum depending on their design. In environments with oxygen or water, the life support system can make oxygen as long as the fusion engine is running. In order to achieve this life support system pulls in oxygen through filters or uses an electrolysis system to separate the oxygen out of water. If the 'Mech is shut down, most life support units have ports for conventional personal battery packs that can keep them running for hours.
The filtration systems in common use around the time of the late succession wars, however, are not capable of filtering out the chemical weapons used by the Word of Blake. Many 'Mechs still use such filtration systems.
Climate control systems are of utmost importance in BattleMechs. Although it is very rare, 'Mech cockpits can get too cold for the pilot. There are fusion-powered heaters that kick in to bring the temperature up to levels that are more comfortable. The vast majority of time a 'Mech cockpit bears more resemblance to a sauna... overheating is a serious issue. BattleMech cockpits have stout cooling systems, but unfortunately, 'Mechs can and do run hot enough to heat the cockpit up to unsafe levels.
Because of this heat problem MechWarriors universally don a suit of cooling tubes when they pilot a 'Mech. These suits hook up to the 'Mech's life support systems in the cockpit in order to carry away enough heat to keep the MechWarrior safe in extremely hot conditions. These wearable cooling systems run the gamut from crude bunches of tubing forming a vest of sorts (Succession wars era) to extremely well built and capable full body suits (first Star League era). In fact, 'Mech cockpits can get so hot that if the life support systems aren't functioning the pilot can be killed by the heat, although if they are functioning modern life support systems are normally capable of preventing heat stroke. This heat problem is why MechWarriors pilot their 'Mechs wearing uniforms more appropriate for a beach than the cockpit of an armored combat vehicle.
11.2 Amenities & Storage
Most BattleMech cockpits have storage lockers for rations, field gear, medical and other supplies. They will also have a sizable amount of water for the MechWarrior's use in a cooled or insulated container. Larger cockpits are sometimes well equipped with amenities, such as small microwave ovens, refrigerated food storage, and even sleeping and sanitary amenities for extended engagements in the field. Most command chairs have a small storage locker for emergency supplies in the case of command seat emergency ejection.
Many 'Mechs have a foldout passenger seat; some 'Mechs even include a full ejection seat for passengers and give them access to some controls, such as communications systems. Most Inner Sphere BattleMechs have one more seat in the cockpit - a foldout toilet. Most 'Mechs dispose of the waste via a high-powered electrical arc or microwaves, and will capture water produced by incineration for flushing the waste out... the amount of endurance a 'Mech has in the field can be limited by how much toilet paper a MechWarrior chooses to carry. Spartan clan cockpits rarely have toilets.
In terms of ergonomics and layout, there is no such thing as a truly "standard" cockpit. Layouts vary between manufacturers. That said, there is enough similarity between cockpits that a MechWarrior can usually acclimate to the controls of a new BattleMech in a short amount of time.
Configurability or the lack thereof is a source of much debate. Inner Sphere 'Mech designs tend to go through cycles of either being setup with multi-function displays and programmable switches or being setup with fixed displays and single function switches. Fixed function setups are somewhat more damage tolerant in that one destroyed control won't take out an entire suite of functions. Proponents of fixed control setups also say they allow for quicker operation, because controls never change. Ironically, adjustable control setup proponents also claim reflex advantages. They say this because a MechWarrior can customize his controls and displays to suit his preferences, which supposedly allows for quicker operation. In reality, the difference in speed is not much, if it even exists. This is mostly because MechWarriors have so much to learn just to qualify to pilot a 'Mech that they don't alter their control setups. In fact, standard training 'Mech layouts are very similar between the Clans and the Inner Sphere. Thus, virtually all 'Mech cockpits and default configurations are similar. OmniMechs, though, practically require configurable and customizable controls.
11.4 Displays & Audibles
While 'Mechs have dashboard and Primary HUD displays, Neurohelmets have often used an internal HUD. The average MechWarrior will customize the way the data is presented to him in his cockpit. These preferences can be saved on the battleROM chips that MechWarriors usually carry, in order to transfer settings between 'Mechs. Audible cues and verbal commands are also used to control a BattleMech.
BattleMechs have majoritarily had excellent speech recognition systems which are capable of understanding commands from the MechWarrior when he is screaming in combat, wounded, or otherwise engaged. Most inner sphere MechWarriors use the speech recognition only for 'Mech security. Audio cues are usually handled via speakers mounted in the Neurohelmet that generate either simply monotone warnings, or 3-D positional alarms to help a MechWarrior quickly locate threats.
The actual controls for a BattleMech are fairly simple, regardless of the complexity of the average BattleMech. This is not because the of the ignorant idea that the MechWarrior links directly with the BattleMech through the Neurohelmet. BattleMech controls are simple because the 'Mech handles the majority of the mundane details of operation. 'Mechs usually have two or three main control sticks.
Again, not all BattleMechs will have the exact same setup, but most 'Mechs utilize control setups fairly similar to each other, much like how most Ground car controls (steering wheel, brakes, accelerator, shift control, light and wiper controls, etc.) are similar.
Provided for reference (DIY cockpit builders, this section should be a realhelp for you), the cockpit control setup of a T-IT-N10M Grand Titan, Produced by EarthWerks Industries, Circa 3054:
12.1 On the left
1- Access Hatch Controls - Used to seal the cockpit in order to keep intruders out, or to activate the emergency blast release system that unlocks the hatches.
2- Water supply, in an insulated removable container.
3- Food storage.
4- Medical Kit.
5- IFF (Identify Friend or Foe) transponder bank, where the 'Mechs IFF circuit card is.
6- Left weapons status display, displays information for half of the 'Mechs weapons. Ammunition counts, reload status, and energy using weapons recharge status are shown here. The Target Interlock Circuits (TICs) for half of the 'Mech's weapons are controlled here by a series of toggle switches.
7- Primary Cockpit Hud viewing mode controls. One switch here toggles the 'Mechs sensors between active and passive state. Another switch here toggles the display of IFF readouts on the main HUD, another toggles the searchlight function, and the last switch toggles Infrared (IR) tracking mode.
8- The Throttle. Forwards movement is achieved by moving the throttle forwards. Reverse movement requires pulling the throttle backwards with the reverse mode toggled on. The throttle is locked in place whenever the thumb button on the throttle is not depressed. 'Mechs equipped with Myomer Acceleration Signal Circuitry (MASC) will have a second thumb toggle on the throttle to control this system.
9- Speaker/Microphone Controls. This is where the MechWarrior activates or deactivates the microphones in their Neurohelmet, cockpit, or the 'Mechs external mics. Internal and external speakers are controlled from here as well.
12.2 In the center
1- Emergency ejection handlebar. Activates the explosives panel blow-outs on the cockpit and than triggers the rockets in the command chair in order to blast the MechWarrior free of their 'Mech. Some more advanced 'Mechs blast their entire head assembly off instead of just the command chair (for instance, the Hatcheman). Also, Clan cockpits usually locate the emergency ejection handlebars on the top sides of the command couch.
2- The Computer Message Replay - this displays a visual readout from the DI computer of damage to critical systems, such as heat damaged equipment and dangerously weakened armor.
3- Main Control Rocker switches. These have various functions:
o Cross-hair (reticule) window limiting toggle - Overrides normal Targeting and Tracking behavior allows the MechWarrior to track a target with the reticule out to the extreme edges of the HUD, beyond the normal firing pattern of the weapons systems.
o Reverse Movement Mode toggle - Used in conjunction with the throttle to enable backwards movement.
o TIC (Target Interlock Circuit) Reconfiguration toggle - unlocks the current TIC setup which allows the MechWarrior to reconfigure the TICs via the side weapon status display controls.
o Sensor Reconfiguration toggle - Unlocks the current sensor scanning configuration so that it may be configured.
o Heat Lock-Out Override toggle - Stops the 'Mech's computer systems from locking out the 'Mech's ability to fire it's weapons systems when the 'Mech is dangerously overheated.
4- Primary View Screen - a polarized see-through screen where the main HUD is projected - this is usually the front window/viewing port on the cockpit. This screen shows a compressed 360 degree view generated by the 'Mech's computers from all of it's various sensors. The weapons aiming reticule is displayed here, along with other information from the Targeting and Tracking computers. Target lock quality is usually indicated by color-coding of the reticule. Red is normally indicative of poor or no weapons tracking, while Gold (along with an audible) is usually indicative of the best weapons tracking. Alternative sensor display modes, various indicators, and icon tags are also possible on this screen. Information about movement is also displayed here. This screen will also automatically darken in response to blinding flashes. There is a pull-down curtain mounted above this screen
5- Secondary View Screen - Displays 'Mech status, target status, long-range sensor sweep readout, and short-range sensor sweep readout.
6- Secondary View Screen Controls - Only one of these mode switches can be used at a time. Their functions:
o Short range sensor sweep - This displays a sensor sweep with a 2 Km sweep. Normally used in this mode are heat sensors, movement sensors, and sensors tracking fusion engine radiation signatures. The scanning 'Mech is displayed in the center of the screen, with sensor contacts displayed around the scanning 'Mech in a top-down form of view.
o Long range sensor sweep - Displays a 32 square Km map. This map is usually built from information that the Battle Computer pulls down from satellites (if there are any available). Terrain features, friendly 'Mechs, and enemy 'Mechs are shown on this map. No details beyond location about these features and 'Mechs are shown if they are outside of the 2Km sensor sweep range (or if a C3/C3i system is in use and a friendly so-equipped 'Mech is within 2 Km of the contact).
o Armor Damage status - Displays armor damage information relayed from the DI computer to the Battle Computer. This information is read out in a visual outline of the 'Mech, with damage indicated by shades from red to black.
o Internal Damage status - Shows a readout of damaged weapons and/or internal equipment. This information is also shown in a visual outline of the 'Mech. A blank screen in this mode indicates no internal damage. Any component outlined in yellow indicates it is damaged. A red outline indicates a destroyed component.
o Enemy armor damage status - The same as for the scanning 'Mech, except information is given from scanned targets.
o Enemy internal damage status - The same as for the scanning 'Mech, except information is given from scanned targets, and the internal heat levels of the targeted 'Mech are also shown.
o Beagle Active Probe sweep - Reads out the information gleaned from the 'Mech's active probe (if the 'Mech is so equipped), showing shut down or concealed 'Mechs and other concealed units on the battlefield, along with more detailed information about targeted units.
7- Battle Computer keypad & disk/chip input slot - used by the MechWarrior to control and reprogram the 'Mech's DI and BC computer systems. Information entered here is displayed on the Secondary View screen. Normally the MechWarrior uses this keypad to activate the 'Mech's anti-theft security routines. Also, the DI and BC computer's functions can be switched here to compensate for each other if one of them is taken out of operation. More complex programming, such as rigging sensor ghosts, is usually done off of the battlefield via hookups to external computers and hardware. The disc/chip input slot is accepts discs with embedded chips and usually used to transfer customized programming to the BC or for initiating full system reloads.
8- Heat scale - shows the level of waste heat built up in the 'Mech on a scale that runs from "safe" (green), to "risk" (yellow), to "danger" (red).
9- Anti-Missile Warning System - A large red warning light that engages when incoming missiles are detected. There is also a readout for the amount of AMS ammunition available and a control switch to activate/deactivate the AMS system.
10- 'Mech Kick Control switches - When these are activated the Foot Pedal controls can be used to kick instead of maneuver. There is one switch for each leg.
11- 'Mech Punch and Grab switches - When activated these convert the firing (main) joystick over to physical combat/movement mode for the 'Mech's arms. The first two switches activate the physical combat mode for an individual arm. The third switch activates physical combat mode for both arms in which both arms carry out the same commands at the same time (usually used for pushing and charging attacks).
o Punching - is carried out by activating the switch for the desired arm or arms, aiming with the reticule on the main HUD, and pulling the main trigger. Manipulation of the weapons control stick enables the execution of simple jabbing and more powerful punches - while punch and grab mode is enabled, the control stick can move up and down as well as left and right. BattleMechs with two control sticks can control both arms individually at the same time via the activation of both punch and grab switches.
o Clubbing - Aimed and triggered in the same way a punch is.
o Grabbing - 'Mechs are generally programmed well enough to recognize when they should punch and when they should Grab. Grab commands are aimed and triggered similar to punches. Clubs and other weapons (makeshift or purpose built) are locked into the 'Mech's hand by fully closing/compressing the hand controls that the 'Mech uses (these controls are listed out below).
o Other modes - More dexterous movements:
- Older 'Mechs use either a pair of waldo gloves placed on either side of the command chair or sensors built into the MechWarrior's gloves in order to execute more deft hand movements; the 'Mech simply mimics the MechWarrior's gestures while these systems are activated.
- Newer 'Mechs utilize more capable and complex Actuator Programming along with input from touch-sensitive surfaces on the control stick (or sticks) in order to carry out all but the most complex movements. However, for very fine movements, such as those involved in some combat engineering, they still have to use the same pilot-gesture-movement mimicking setup that the older 'Mechs did (the comments from section 5.2 also apply here).
When any single one of or any combination of the 'Mech's kick or Punch and Grab modes are switched on the 'Mech gives the Neurohelmet finer control over the Gyroscope system and the Neurohelmet also feeds the 'Mech supplemental balance controls specifically constructed for the 'Mech's Kick/Punch/Grab routines.
12- Gyroscope start-up and calibration control - Activates the Gyroscope system and transfers gyroscopic balance control to the Neurohelmet. There is also a manual control for off-loading a limited amount of the balance chores to the Gyroscope system if the Neurohelmet should be damaged in combat.
13- Foot movement Control Pedals - Located on the cockpit floor at the front. These are normally used to control which way the 'Mech turns. They also activate the 'Mech's jumpjets (if it is so equipped), and control the 'Mech's legs while kick-mode is activated. To turn the 'Mech to the left, you press down on the left pedal; to turn to the right, press down on the right pedal.
More Complex movements can be done with the foot controls - they can be unlocked and move on other axes besides just up and down - for instance, to get the 'Mech to side step.
In order to activate the 'Mech's jumpjets, you quickly press down fully on both pedals; doing so again will deactivate the jump jets. Directional control while jumping is usually achieved with the foot pedals. More complex air-borne maneuvers involve the use of the joystick - for instance, the reticule on the HUD can be used pick a landing point.
14 - DI computer access and Main DI control panel - The controls allows the MechWarrior to activate or deactivate the DI computer, while the panel is normally opened by Techs when they have to access the DI system.
15 - Security control circuit box - Placed down near the foot pedals, this holds the ROM circuitry, on which is the 'Mechs security access codes are stored.
12.3 On the right
1- Right weapons status display, displays information for half of the 'Mechs weapons. Ammunition counts, reload status, and energy using weapons recharge status are shown here. The Target Interlock Circuits (TICs) for half of the 'Mech's weapons are controlled here by a series of toggle switches.
2 - The main Control Stick. This is the primary control for targeting the 'Mech's weapons systems and control of the 'Mechs arms. It has firing triggers for each of the target interlock circuits (TIC), with as many as six triggers. Weapons aiming is achieved by using this stick to "point" with the reticule on the primary view screen HUD and "clicking" with the desired weapons triggers to trigger the desired weapons. The finger rests are touch/pressure sensitive and are used to help control the 'Mech's hands when the physical mode toggles are activated. When in physical mode the joystick unlocks and can move up and down as well as side to side.
3- Emergency ammo dumping control - used on conjunction with the left and right weapons status displays to eject unused ammo.
4- Communications Panel - Used to interact with and control the various communications and other networks which the 'Mech is capable of interacting with. These networks can be conventional RF (radio frequency), satellite, microwave, laser link, or land line hookups; along with the various secure communications modes these networks use. In addition to the controls located on this panel some Neurohelmets include sensors that facilitate channel switching by sensing when a MechWarrior clenches and unclenches their jaw, or opening the mouth fully. This panel also controls ECM, Tag, C3/C3i, standard jamming modes, communications interception and decryption, and Artemis IV/V fire control systems.
5- Life support controls - These control the cockpit environmental systems and give a readout of the cockpit temperature and life support systems status.
6- Battle Computer - The access panel for the battle computer.
7- Fire Extinguisher.
8- Coolant lines hookup and control - This is where the MechWarrior's coolant vest is attached to the Mech's life support systems. It also has controls for coolant flow rate.
9- The emergency cockpit blast away system - This fires the explosive bolts on the cockpit view ports so that they fall away - but it does not activate the MechWarrior ejection system.
10- Cockpit Light controls.
11- Ignition switch - This large red bar which is used to bring the fusion reactor up to minimal operational levels, which powers the gyro and cockpit systems for BattleMech start up. It locks into place upon start up.
12.4 The rear cockpit wall
1- The Neurohelmet cable hookup, known by the acronym NCCI. This hookup is designed such that the cables will break away cleanly if they do not automatically disconnect in the event of emergency pilot ejection.
2- The air supply and recirculation system which contains about ten hours of air in tanks and a recirculator which filters and brings in external air when in atmosphere.
3- Personal Gear locker.
4- Tool Rack & Net - A 'Mech field repair kit is usually stored here.
5- The potty.
12.5 The command Chair
These are designed to move in order to compensate for shocks and they have a full seat belt harness to hold the MechWarrior In place. Built into the seat is an emergency rocket ejection system, a parachute or rockets for landing, a homing beacon under the seat cushion, and a small storage locker which usually contains flares, a jumpsuit, and some other emergency supplies. There is also a pistol holster (most clan 'Mechs don't have this feature). The seat cushions double as personal flotation devices.
13 Overall 'Mech functionality
Structure, Actuators, and Myomers for mobility; Armor, gyroscope; the fusion engine; the commanding cockpit; the Battle Computer for Targeting and Tracking; and all of the other systems in the 'Mech. Given that the Neurohelmet can not function as a direct brain-machine link, the question is - what coordinates all these systems and unifies all of their functions together into a smoothly functioning and capable armored combat unit? The DI computer.
BattleMechs are actually quite capable and well-programmed robots, with most of that capability stemming from the DI computer network and programming. A BattleMech's computers handle a massive amount of lower-level decision making so that the 'Mech can be piloted by a single person. For instance, the Battle Computer system sorts, processes and translates sensor data into a simplified format and displays it for the MechWarrior, such that the MechWarrior needs only look at his readouts to ascertain his situation on the battlefield.
While it is the MechWarrior that must indicate what is to be targeted and has to track what is to be targeted, and decides when to fire the 'Mech's weapons (and does so by using the main weapons control stick to aim a reticule on the targeting display) it is theBattleMech that actually does, in real time, the calculations as to where to aim it's weapons and than it is the BattleMech that must actually physically aims it's weapons at the target the MechWarrior is indicating.
It is the BattleMech that does the majority of recoil compensation and compensates for blasts of incoming hostile fire. While a MechWarrior can help the BattleMech keep it's balance, for instance, by "telling" the 'Mech when to ride with recoil rather than leaning into it, or when to throw itself off-balance at another 'Mech, it is still the DI that handles most of the decision making when it comes to balance chores.
Moving is yet another task that the BattleMech does a lot of work at. Though a BattleMech may have proportionately large feet, it still must choose every footstep with care in order to compensate for outside forces or in anticipation of environmental features. Again, it is the DI that handles this, via a 'Mech's many sensors. Hand actuators are also tools that the BattleMech will handle via the DI network, especially more modern 'Mechs, which are programmed with very capable and complex actuator routines. BattleMechs will actually move their limbs and torso to avoid collisions. The agile movements of a light BattleMech threading its way through a forest is not only the result of a talented MechWarrior, but the 'Mech's own DI computer avoiding the trees.
All of that said, 'Mechs are not built or programmed to be autonomous, mostly because they carry a prodigious amount firepower and are physically so large. In fact, MechWarriors must handle all of the higher-level decisions, essentially handling "higher level thinking" and balance tasks for their 'Mech. This is why BattleMechs do sometimes simply crash their way through forests, clip buildings, or trip down into ravines. BattleMechs are programmed to obey their pilots, regardless of the "common sense" programmed into the 'Mech. For instance, a 'Mech will swing its arms through the side of a building if that is what's required to bring weapons to bear on a target. BattleMechs will give collision warnings, but they don't override their pilots. Ironically, this is one of the reasons why it takes a long time to train good MechWarriors. MechWarriors actually have to learn how to think for their 'Mech and exploit the machine's "intelligence" in order to get the results they want.
TechManual, pgs 31-43
Classic BattleTech Companion, pgs 233-246
If you want more goodness, you can get the TechManual and Classic Battletech Companion source books; they have a lot of interesting stuff in them.
Also, again, please, stop by the http://bg.battletech.com/forums/ and drop "Cray" a thank you; he did all the work and original writing. All I did was retype it so everyone could enjoy it and be informed.
Edited by Pht, 02 February 2013 - 04:24 PM.