Also known as an Armed Merchantman, Bulk Cruisers are increasingly common in the CE
The Cosmic Era Bulk Cruiser is a space-faring ship that has modest armor and weaponry and ample cargo hold. It can perform second-line military duties in times of need, but can also do logistic and commercial operations.
The problem with ship of the line warships is that they are only good for that one specific, or similarly tightly clustered group of tasks. They are also expensive to build, expensive to operate, and to remain relevant have to be regularly upgraded and updated.
National governments support the fitting of Bulk Cruisers because it takes the demand off of front-line ships. As bulk cruisers are doing support work, they don't have to have the armor, firepower, and sophistication of the main fleet. Thus, bulk cruisers can be sent out to do routine patrols, screen for pirates, participate in blockades, and provide fire support for less important operations. As they can carry large amounts of cargo, these cruisers are good for providing fleet support, resupply anchorages, and distant military bases, and picking up logistic roles that regular cruisers and other warships would be wasted resources.
The Eurasian Alliance, Pacific Rim Coalition, and the ACPS employ large numbers of bulk cruisers. For the Eurasian Alliance, the greater part of their entire fleet is composed of bulk-type craft. While this tends to make Alliance fleets slower, they are never lacking for supplies, and are happy to trade speed for more armor and more firepower. The Alliance Bulk Super Cruisers are easily battleships and are a solid match for any warships other than the elite ships of the Hanse or the Nipponese fleets.
Aside from the cost of ships of the line, there are other concerns when it comes to non-nation interests owning warships. The New Earth Governments would have it so that no other interest can own proper warships because they want no competition to their naval power. This means that the megacorps and hypercorps, which can easily afford such ships, and the obscenely wealthy are actively discouraged from it. This can be made problematic because there are shipyards, and shipbuilders are going to build ships. Fleet Sterling isn't just a mercenary navy, it represents a shipbuilding power, and they build to order. NOMAD of Jupiter, the space hippie super-yard is the same, building whatever for whomever.
The Corps love their fleets. They adore playing the Game of Thrones, fielding their own (para)militaries, administrations structured to resemble state and federal governments and their own ships. For some, this is natural. As the largest shipbuilder in the Solar System, it would be weird if SEMDRC had no fleet. They don't have battleships, battlestars, or aerospace carriers. They do have vast numbers of light bulk cruisers (Bulk cruisers with light armor, and the weaponry associated with a light cruiser) and Shuttle Tenders, aka bulk escort carriers that are stocked with industrial and commercial purpose utili-pod craft, shuttles, and drones.
The ultra and obscenely wealthy will have their own private ships. They will have their bulk ships, and use them like anyone else would, as armed merchantmen out doing whatever it is they want. When it comes to them taking their own fleshy bodies into space, they will either have their own cutting edge pleasure craft, or proper hired escort ships. This doesn't mean they don't secretly have their own ships of the line, but when you are a person of importance no one needs to know that with a text, a previously unknown super-dreadnought battlecruiser can be in location in ninety minutes. Much more suiting to openly own a few bulk cruisers and frigates to escort the palatial family estate into space.
Most bulk versions of military craft follow a general set of guidelines. They tend to be somewhat larger (10% or so) dimensionally than their military counterpart, but mass a good deal less (55%-65%). This represents that military ships have more armor and substantially more weaponry and other systems. Bulk type ships are also accordingly slower, as they have less need for moving at flank speeds. Most bulk cruisers can run 1G acceleration non-stop, and move to somewhere between 1.5 and 2G for short periods. Designated light bulk ships might creep above 2G, but most max out around 2.2G. The difference in weight is the ship empty. With a full load of cargo, the bulk cruiser might go from 65% the mass of a similar cruiser, to being 150% or 175% mass. Fully loaded, the bulk cruiser might push to make 1G constant acceleration and could instead opt for an easier .85G casual cruise.
Armor tends to be less comparably.
The exception is when a ship is termed as Armored. A Bulk Cruiser defaults to a Medium Cruiser, having a bit less armor, and similar weaponry to a medium cruiser, just less of it. A Federation medium cruiser might have nine medium naval particle cannons and two meters of ferro-ceramic armor. The Medium bulk cruiser would have three medium naval particle cannons and 1.25 meters of ferro-ceramic armor.
The Armored Bulk Cruiser would have the same armor as a military version.
Bulk Gun Cruisers have the same weaponry, and tend to be comparable to coastal monitors. Decent armor, lots of gats, low speed.
Heavy Bulk Cruisers are the size of battleships.
Heavy Bulk Carriers are the size of Battlestars, and are used to deliver space habitat components, heavy machinery, and aerospace mining equipment, or transfer things like gas mining facilities down into the atmospheres of the gas giants. Despite all the fanfare around Hanse battleships and Federation Battlestars, the Heavy Bulk Carriers are among the largest and most powerful ships humanity has, and they are used for the most pedestrian of purposes, moving factories, refineries, and cities in space.
Mediocre and lackluster.
Bulk Craft are filler, 2nd, and 3rd rate ships, not intended for heroic action. When used as intended, bulk cruisers fend off pirate attacks, or protect their own cargo and that of other ships in their convoy against naval raiders in corvettes and destroyers. The ships take damage but tend to use superiority in mass, and their own numbers as deterrents.
When it comes to actual fleet action, and the bulk ships are pulled into task forces, they fill in the gaps. The number of actual warships is fairly low. They are restrictively expensive and the navies that have them aren't going to throw them away willy-nilly. The bulk cruisers form ranks and squadrons with the warships as the leaders and command ships. This presents numbers and massed tonnage, as well as concentrated firepower. In a supposed fleet battle, the bulk ships can screen, and present more targets so that the enemy cannot concentrate their fire on a small number of ships. Also, if unable to ID the ships in the fleet, the enemy might pick their targets by mass or appearance, and often the bulk cruisers are longer and overall just larger, making them more likely targets.
Bulk Cruisers and similar ships are logistically important to the commerce and naval action of the Cosmic Era. When temps are cool, bulk ships are out there in space acting like gunned-up big rigs. When things get hot, they are supporting the actual warships and probably being blown up.
Bulk cruisers are a thing that I first noticed in the context of Star Wars fleet games. They were large ships that were pretty good as long as you were fighting much smaller ships, or where you had a major advantage in numbers. These ships did fine against pirates, raiders, enemy corvettes, and destroyers, and even not too shabby when your bulk cruisers fought their bulk cruisers, slugging matches straight out of WWI. When the actual warships showed up, aka the Imperial star destroyers, even the smaller Victory class would wipe the floor with the bulk cruisers, cutting them to pieces. And thus, this what they are in the Cosmic Era, rank and file fodder. In the context of a story, the bulk cruisers are going to be the big bad for about the first half of the narrative, and when the chips are down, they are splattered and the real big bads show up bristling with real guns and squadrons of fighters ready to throw down.
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