7 Variants of the Thunderbolt Mech and a glimpse of the history of one of the most venerable war machines in the Cosmic Era
The Prototype, the First Assault Mech
The TDR-1 Thunderbolt was the first 'assault mech' produced within the borders of the Atlantic Federation. The platform was designed with the purpose of carrying a wide variety of weapons so that using a single load out, the machine could face almost any foe without issue. To this end, the TDR-X1 massed eighty tons, and carried a variety of weapons, the most prominent being an artillery/short range cruise missile launcher and the largest mobile laser system created at that time. This was supported by batteries of machine guns, smaller diameter lasers, anti-armor short range missiles, and other equipment. It was intended to walk into a battle and dominate it, regardless of what faced it.
Detractors of the TDR-X1 complained that despite the sophisticated electronics, advanced armor, and wide array of weapons, the new 'Thunderbolt' lacked a true killer punch. They agitated for integrating one of the rail cannons, or plasma weapons into the design, to give it a heavyweight punch. The forces behind the machine contended that the X1 already had enough untested and untried equipment in it, and were able to push the machine through these objections, without burdening it down with more weapons or tying it to more contractors or overly new gear.
This would prove to be a wise decision because the first generation of plasma weapons were unreliable, and the mobile gauss systems were even more temperamental.
The TDR-1 entered service fifteen tons lighter, a concession to using a smaller and more reliable powerplant, and integrating other solid state systems. The Atlantic Federation would use this machine through no fewer than seventeen official configurations over more than a century. More than half of these configurations were little more than cosmetic changes and updates to core systems like swapping in new powerplants or upgrading the computer cores. The largest numbers produced fell into the R and S series, with hundreds of these machines still in service.
The main production line of the Thunderbolt was downgraded to a heavy mech as larger and more powerful machines were produced and introduced. The difference was that many assault mechs only lasted a single machine generation, with many only getting a single production run before contracts were cut, and the machines were moved into standby modes, auctioned off to garrison and guard units, or simply sent to scrap. These new machines, with more armor, more firepower, and larger price tags lacked one important factor, staying power.
What was the reason for the success of the Thunderbolt as a weapons platform? It was reliable, cost effective, and crews operating it loved it. The Thunderbolt was the machine that would bring them back in one piece. It could limp off a battlefield trailing smoke, with a punctured reactor, ammo bins empty, and in three days be back ready for action.
The Thunderbolt II
After five decades of service, there was concern over the long term viability of the original TDR chasses. Such components had innately limited lifespans, as walking, running, and combat were constantly stressing and damaging the core chassis and other components. While they could be repairs, and part by part, replaced, eventually the cost of keeping a TDR-1 in service would become prohibitive, even with the machine still in limited production. The answer was simple, a massive rebuild and upgrade of the design to bring it into the newest century and take advantage of the newest tech available. With the numbers of Thunderbolts in service, there was no reason not to.
The Thunderbolt II or Super-Bolt, upgraded the core chassis to an endosteel model, as well as upgrading the 260 gigawatt reactor to a more powerful 385 gigawatt powerplant. This made the new 'bolt faster and more agile, as well as having more available power for beam weapons and high power electronics. Many of the desires of the original opponents of the Thunderbolt were realized as the TDR-2P replaced the laser with a particle cannon, while the TDR-2G traded the missile launcher and the laser for more intermediate range weapons and a finally combat rated gauss rifle.
While more pleasing the the military industrial complex, the Super Bolt never gained the popularity of the main model. As such, the Mk II was only produced for ten years, while the Mk I remains in limited production, twelve decades after its introduction.
The Thundercracker was introduced as a fully new war machine, intended to replace the Mk I. Attempts to replace it with the Mk II had failed, so the Thundercracker integrated most all of the changes from the Mk II and on top of that massively upgraded the electronics, and the chassis to accept modular systems. Largely considered to be superior to the Thunderbolt, the mech was not widely accepted on earth, and many considered it to be an unneeded and overly expensive replacement for the Thunderbolt. To their credit, the Thundercracker costs as much to field as four TDR-1s, even the upgraded versions with improved weaponry.
While panned on Earth, the Thundercracker enjoyed popularity offworld. The Lunar Free State ordered a large number of the machines, using them to form the core of their Lunar Guards regiments. The Kingdoms of Scandinavia favored quality over quantity, and they rebranded the Thundercracker as the Thor and fielded a significant number of them.
The Thud is considered a travesty in many circles. The chassis is a low tech implementation of the main design. Everything is low tech and solid state. The engine is much less powerful, and the weapons have all been replaced with conventional autocannons, and semi-guided rockets. Most consider it primitive in the extreme, but have bowed to admit the design remains viable even at the lowest end of production.
Wastelanders have been using the Thud and similar frankenmechs made of salvaged parts to great effect. One of the aspects of the Thud that has allowed it to survive is not just the reliability of the chassis, it is the wastelander's willingness to strap almost any weapon to the machine. Wastelander Thuds have deployed with atomic munitions, chemical weapons, and even arcanotech weapons like x-ray cannons, implosion rifles, or cryongenic beam weapons.
The Ghost is a represents the most expensive version of the Thunderbolt made. It was constructed from a Mk II endosteel chassis, but the entire thing is new except for those bones. It has a more powerful powerplant, stealth armor, an incredibly sophisticated AISC core, and military cyberwar suit. Superficially resembling a regular Thunderbolt, the Ghost is a state of the art surveillance and electronics warfare platform. It's weapons are likewise upgraded, with smart missiles, an enhanced range laser, and drone capability. Unlike other mecha, the Ghost has the ability to link to drone slaved vehicles. This can be as simple as spotted quad-rotors, and as high end as drone controlled mecha. The most commonly used drone is the Federation's Comet class drone, a VTOL craft capable of mounting heavy weaponry and medium armor. In a combat role, the Ghost can have up to a dozen Comets under its control. In a surveillance role, the machine can rip into local security systems and use every camera and computer in the net of smart devices.
The Ghost is a black force machine, and their actions in field are attributed to pilot skill, luck, and coordinated ground forces, giving greater legacy to the venerable Thunderbolt I.
Rumblers aren't made, they are last stop upgrades for Thunderbolts that are considered on their last legs. The cockpit is removed and much of the safety equipment is also done away with. A drone control system takes the pilot's place, and not needing to protect said pilot, the machine is allowed to run hotter, generate more radiation, and carry more unconventional weaponry. While it is common for Ghosts to coordinate with Rumblers, putting them in their drone fleet, they are more often used in suicide missions, or as screening forces. These machines, lacking pilots, can keep going despite horrific damage, with some likening them to 65 ton iron zombies.
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