The Cataphract Assault Platform was a massive mobile artillery base that was built in small numbers. It carried enormous firepower and heavy armor at the cost of speed.
The Cataphract was an impressive machine. Not an effective one, but certainly impressive. The core of the Cataphract was a compact fusion reactor, providing power to the drive train, electronics suite, and the weapons systems. The powerplant suffered all of the problems associated with the early period of compact fusion cores, meaning that the majority of the time, the 8 Cataphracts built were out of service due to core problems. The handful that have combat history more often than not were operating off of umbilical power sources, or were running off of internal batteries.
The Assault Platform was incredibly large, massing well in excess of 2,200 tons. This placed enormous stress on the suspension system and the drive train. Even with tens of thousands of horsepower going to over a dozen massive electric motors connected to each drive wheel, the Cataphract was painfully slow. It could move faster, but the faster it moved, the more likely it was that the suspension would fail, a wheel would collapse, or the most common problem, vibration through the hull would shake the platform to pieces. Cataphracts were restricted to the flattest terrain, and seldom moved more than a few miles an hour. Their weight made them too heavy to move by anything available at the time of their construction.
The best way to actually move a Cataphract was to disassemble the vehicle into 5 pieces, and then move those pieces with heavy lift vehicles or super heavy cargo haulers. It was simply faster to built them in modular pieces and then ship the pieces to their deployment site and literally assemble the assault platform on sight.
The Cataphract had a crew of approximately 50. The command staff accounted for almost a dozen. Gunnery officers counted for half, and the rest were engineers and technicians tasked with keeping the platform in service. The command center of the Cataphract was a full mobile command center with extensive command and communications capabilities, while the actual guts of the platform were cramped, claustrophobic, and dangerous to the crew. Much like the First World War tanks, the Cataphract was desperately hot inside, and some sections could quickly fill with fumes and smoke.
The one thing that did redeem the Cataphract was the amount of firepower and intimidation the machine brought to the field. The centerpiece of the platform was a 400mm hybrid cannon. This massive artillery piece mixed a precursor linear rail in the barrel to magnetically accelerate rounds as well as using conventional explosive propellants. This meant that normal heavy artillery ranges could be reached with much less powder, and much less stress on the barrel. If full powder charges were used, the gun could lob rounds 3 times the distance of conventional cannons of the same caliber.
The upper deck of the assault platform was ringed with gun emplacements. The original layout had twin-linked lasers, or single mount plasma cannons in the emplacements, tapping the fusion core for nigh unlimited firepower. These weapons proved to be battery sappers, so most of the Cataphracts were refit with coil guns or conventional high power cannons. These were typically sourced from tried and true tank pieces, meaning that the weapons were completely and solidly reliable.
The top of the Cataphract was a landing platform for VTOLs and helocraft. The intent was for the Cataphract to function as a VTOL tender, rearming and refueling the whirlybirds before sending them back out. This proved problematic because a landing VTOL was vulnerable to ground fire, and if it was shot down while landing or taking off, the flaming wreckage would fall directly on the Cataphract. Eventually, the deck was used as a central command for VTOL drones, and the previous helocraft tending space was turned over into a drone control center. Thus, a Cataphract could have spotter drones for it's big gun, and a variety of other drones to patrol and protect around it.
8 Cataphracts were completed, a testament to the wily political machinations of OCP and their counterparts in the Rocky Mountain Republic, Republic of Texas, and Dixie. The vehicles were treated like land battleships, with the army officers commanding them being given honorary Captain titles and associated privileges. The service of the Cataphracts ranges from spotty to terrible. Most of the time, the machines were undergoing repair, or were being worked on due to problems afore mentioned in the drivetrain and power plant. The few times they were functional, they were wildly limited by their size and low speed. The only way a Cataphract would be instrumental in a battle was in a defensive role, when it was already in the right place, before the right time.
There were no notable battles where the Cataphract proved it's worth beyond a shadow of a doubt. Even when the machine was functioning properly, it was more common for them to be well away from the front lines. Each was expensive, and the loss of one would be considered devastating.
The Cataphract would see it's replacements come from three directions.
The Self Propelled Turret class of vehicles would be smaller. While still burdened by weight and low speed, these vehicles proved to be much more reliable. They were also cheaper.
The aerial warship proved it could be as large or even much larger than landships like the Cataphract. While certainly more expensive, the appearance of flight capable destroyers and frigates, and then cruisers and battleships spelled the end of ultra-heavy vehicles. The flying warships proved dramatically more capable than the landships, even factoring in the ships lost due to catastrophic failure of their a-pod systems.
Finally, the widescale development and manufacture of true mecha brought about the replacement for the main battle tank, and changed how war was fought.
The 8 Cataphracts were slated for retirement and then scrapping. They were purchased from the respective Atlantic Federation nations by McCullen Metals and Refining, based out of the Rocky Mountain Republic. None of the machines were scrapped. Instead, they were hidden, repaired, and upgraded to serve as mobile fortresses for Amerikka Command. This coup came at the hand of The Iron Ghost who used his contacts to gain the scrapping contracts. For three decades the Federation assumed the machines were long since reduced to ingots.
This was not the case.
Each Cataphract was fitted with shroud technology, allowing them to vanish from smart and droid based sensors. Their electronics and other systems were upgraded with all the strange tech available from the Silk Road. Approaching a Command Cataphract is a dangerous endeavor as it can fire off EMP missiles, unleash barrages of cannon and beam weapon fire, and then send up a screen of commandos in flight gear to rain ruin down on their opponents. This is in addition to the fact that almost all of the Command modified vehicles now have internal space dedicated to housing infantry troopers.
The Cataphract, an obsolete white elephant of a war machine, is now a figure of terror. Despite their limitations, most of which still remain, the machines and their zealot crews are still able to cause fear and destruction towards a far superior foe. Most Federation leaders blanch at the thought of hunting down a Cataphract, more so than even attacking Command armies and bases. Cataphracts are simply unknown factors, and in the few engagements the Cataphracts tend to come out ahead. This isn't a function of superior technology, but more the Command's exploitation of the Federation's over-reliance on electronic and cyber warfare.
Thus, a former wonder weapon has been turned against those who created it.
The failed Cataphract has become the preferred mobile base of Amerikka Command warlords. The 8 machines are still in service, and now all bear the names of deceased American generals: Washington, Patton, Lee, Grant, Pershing, Scott, MacArthur, and Eisenhower. They are scattered across central North America, and have made terrible thorns of themselves. Attempts to hunt down and destroy these machines are their supporting armies has lead in defeat and failure, with a number of ships damaged or lost in the process. One of the problems about losing a ship in the North American DMZ is that it all but hands Amerikka Command a new ship to add to their deplorable fleet.
There are concerns that Amerikka Command has either overcome the low mobility of the Cataphract, or that they have managed to build more of them. The machines move about far quicker than they should be able to, and even after being seriously damaged, the Federation has yet to completely destroy one.
Ever ingenious, the Command has several mundane heavy cargo craft. These cargo haulers are very low priority, around no interest even in the DMZ because of their complete lack of military value. The Cataphract can easily be picked up by these aerial container ships, suspended in a web of steel cables, and then moved with relative ease.
The Command boffins have reconfigured the 400mm cannon into an anti-ship weapon, allowing them to use it to contest the skies with Federation and Pacific Rim cruisers. Wire guided rocket munitions can be steered by a man on the ground, regardless of electronic interference.
Destroy - the PCs have been hired to infiltrate Amerikka Command, to find a dingus/VIP/etc. The culmination of this search is the Cataphract Eisenhower, which is being moved by the ElectroCorp heavy hauler Vanguard Ranger II. The PCs must break into a land fortress as it hangs under a cargo ship, and do so before the Federation sends a strike ship to blow the VRII and the Eisenhower out of the sky regardless of what it has inside of it.
Seek - the rumors are true, Amerikka Command has a secret factory that is producing new Cataphracts. Even worse, these new Cataphracts have superior armor, kleinshe field generators, and have replaced the 400mm cannon with a graviton cannon. This secret factory must be found and destroyed, as well as whatever they have built. Time is of the essence!!!
Additional Ideas (1)
So, there would be quite the irony that the anti-gravity ships that made the Cataphract obsolete are highly vulnerable to it. What do you think?